A Travellerspoint blog

Isn't it good, Norwegian wood?

overcast 18 °C
View Year of the Nink on Buccas's travel map.

Our exploration of Oslo didn't get off to a great start. We made our way into the city centre on the bus and arrived at the tiger statue outside the main station at 9.59am, just in time for a 10am walking tour. Except that there was no guide. Some other tourists, yes, but guide, no. We even waited fifteen minutes to get to the front of the information centre line to enquire about the situation, and were told that the guides only turn up sometimes. Right.
So off we went on our own walking tour. We started at the opera house, which looks somewhat like an iceberg and would have offered panoramic views of the bustling, multicultural city if it wasn't for the thick fog.
We meandered through the city to the National Gallery, which had free admission on Thursdays. Accidental ninking, huzzah! So we enjoyed our Munch, Picasso, Cezanne and Rodin for zero dollars. We learned that Munch's 'The Scream' is known as 'Skirk' in Norwegian, and I rather enjoyed his 'Self portrait with the Spanish Flu' as well.
From there we accidentally stumbled upon the Royal Palace and a bit of changing of the guards action - full marks for dapper uniforms, but they lost points for the lack of musical accompaniment.
We then continued on to Vigelandsparken, a park full of the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland and several bus loads of Chinese tourists. The sculptures were... interesting. Possibly symbolic of the human struggle, and possibly just an excuse to sculpt naked people. Possibly a bit of both.
The rain started in earnest at that point, and so we decided to utilise our 24-hour public transport passes and just jumped on the first bus to come along in order to stay dry. While on the bus we worked out how to get to Grunne Lokke, a trendy neighbourhood, but we quickly worked out how to get out of there once we saw the food and drink prices. We got ourselves to Aker Brygge, the trendy neighbourhood by the harbour with good views, lots of public art and more palatable prices. After dinner by the water, we strolled about and enjoyed the Oslo vibe before getting ourselves home again. Public transport triumph.
Friday was a day back in the car - renamed 'Joe' because 'Snaefellsnes' was just too long. We had a long drive north to Trondheim, punctuated by coffee stops, doughnut breaks and tree-filled views. And the occasional person practising their skiing technique on the snowless terrain. Because Norway.
We arrived in Trondheim and settled in to our awesomely Scandinavian apartment, before making an awesome but very un-Scandinavian chicken curry for dinner. Most satisfactory.
On Saturday morning the rain did its rainy thing, so we made for the shelter of Rockheim, the national museum of popular music. This was not your average museum, oh no! This was a touch stuff, press buttons, wave your hands, play the guitar and remix a hip hop song kind of museum. Most entertaining. We discovered that we did in fact know more Norwegian artists than we realised (a-ha, Datarock, Ida Maria) and learned that Belinda has the best remixing skills, while Pat and Simon look the most convincing as musos. We pulled off some brilliant karaoke to a song we'd never heard before and generally had a good time.
By the time our music careers were over, we were hungry (bordering on hangry) and we went to the nearest microbrewery to sample the local brews and get some food. Excellent move on our part. From there we checked out the cathedral (vast, impressive, excellent statue work on the front), the old town bridge and the old town, which was a haven for hipsters and cruise ship passengers. As we wandered back to the city centre, the boys had to dodge the affections of some Italian girls who had started their Saturday night celebrations a tad early, but we all made it back home alive and in one piece ready to eat fried rice, drink Norwegian beer, eat Swiss chocolate and watch American movies. With Norwegian subtitles, of course.

Posted by Buccas 01:52 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Takk fyrir, Iceland!

sunny 20 °C
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Monday morning saw us heading to the west - we stopped off at the turf church in Vidimyrarkirkja and although all the signs said it was open and listed an admission fee, all the doors were closed and we kept our ISK in our wallets. From there we continued to Gauksmyrartjorn and had a picnic lunch beside the bird watching hut there. There were no birds to be seen, even when using the expensive telescope thoughtfully provided in the hut. While the telescope was a nice touch, the design of the hut had essentially made it into an oversized fly trap, which was less than ideal.
We kept heading in a roughly westerly direction, stopping to admire the scenery and purchase refreshments as needed. We ran into our Austrian friends at one lookout, and also managed to unintentionally upset a German lady who felt that she and her busload of mates were more entitled to park at the view point than we were. Terrible.
We unsuccessfully tried to pick up hitchhikers twice (before AND after Kirkjufell) and eventually made it to Arnastapi and most Icelandic house we had stayed in so far. As we pulled up in the drive way, we spotted some whales having a rocking good time out in the bay. We had a wild and crazy night in, doing a jigsaw puzzle and partaking in some Icelandic gin. Excellent.
The next morning we were given more sunshine, which we used to our advantage, taking in the views over the west coast and climbing up to see the rainbow slicing through Bjarnafoss. From there we moved back east, pausing at our new favourite coffee shop in the middle of nowhere (Rjukandi) before driving through an 11 kilometre tunnel under the water to get us back to Reykjavik. We had one final stroll around the city, dinner at the Chuck Norris grill (aw we miss Chuck...) and then traipsed out to the tourist mecca that is the Blue Lagoon. We navigated the check-in process and the bathroom process, and then commenced the relaxation process. Warm water, lava landscapes, setting sun, silica mud masks... ahh. An iconic way to spend our last night in Iceland, and an ideal chill-out opportunity after some mad rushing around and waterfall chasing adventures. Just wonderful.
Unfortunately this morning was considerably less zen - another one of those early morning trips to the airport, I'm afraid. We'd been warned, we'd been told horror stories and we'd been scared into getting to Keflavik airport as early as possible and so it was that Harald took us for his final journey at 4am. Such joy. I'm afraid that all the youthful invigorating and skin rejuvenating effects of the Blue Lagoon were completely negated by the three hours of sleep. We got to the airport on schedule, returned Harald and zombied our way into the departures department. Simon earned a gold star by scoring a perfect 20.0 on the luggage weigh in, and Icelandic airport security earned a gold star by being the most efficient security process we've been subjected to so far. Suddenly it was 6am and we were checked in, boarding passes in hand. We experienced the delightful sensation of having plenty of time in the airport and spent the last of our ISK on duty free deliciousness, duty free sun protection and, most importantly, breakfast - now that we were awake enough to eat it.
We caught a bus out to our plane, and the next few hours were a blur of trying to sleep, trying not to laugh at the lady buying one of everything from the inflight store five minutes before landing, and trying to choose my favourite Icelandic musician from the inflight entertainment system. Kudos to IcelandAir for their stylish uniforms, and kudos to Iceland in general for their rather attractive population on the whole.
At 7.50am our Icelandic adventure officially ended, and at 12.20pm the Norwegian one began - but without any stamps in the passport! Heartbreaking. Transiting out of Oslo airport and into Snaefellsnes (our new car, and Belinda's new favourite word) took longer than anticipated, but we were pleased to discover an in-car navigation device, thus absolving me of all navigational responsibilities. We eventually made it to our Airbnb apartment and met our hosts, only to hear Spanish spoken instead of the Norwegian we had expected. Because you never know who you are going to run into in this world.
Once we had settled ourselves in, we found the closest food source and settled for McDonald's and Subway because when you are tired and hungry you tend to prioritise convenience over quality and cultural experiences. There's a time and a place for everything in life - this was the time, this was the place.
After grocery shopping (thank goodness for free wifi and google translate in supermarkets) and bus ticket buying, it was time for lifestyle channel watching, taco cooking, tea drinking and chocolate eating. And tomorrow we take on Oslo!

Posted by Buccas 13:23 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

The North

sunny 18 °C
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Breakfast on Saturday included some Havre Crunch to go with the Special Flongor and skyr, which is a surefire way to start the day. We headed off towards Viti and developed a rating system for comparing the views on a scale of i to iceland. We cursed a few of our fellow tourists for deciding to pull out in front of us unnecessarily, and cursed the fact that the temperature had halved since yesterday. But by the time we actually arrived at Viti, the sun was back out and the hats were back on and we may actually need to buy more sunscreen!
Viti greeted us with that familiar sulphur smell that can only mean one thing - geothermal energy. The crater was formed by an eruption in 1734, but on Saturday it was eruption-free and we were able to walk around the rim of the crater and laugh at the people who decided to swim in the icy cold water. And even Belinda enjoyed the hilarious Italian pun written on the back of one of the dirty cars in the carpark - "lava me". It's funny because it means "wash me" AND we were in a volcanic area. Brilliant. We sat by the edge and had totally deluxe sandwiches for lunch (ham and cheese AND mustard) before moving on to Namafjall for some serious moon landscapes, serious sulphur smells and serious steam.
The landscape changed again at Dimmuborgir, a lava field with more trees than we had seen anywhere else in Iceland. The lava had formed various columns and caves - one cave was even inhabited by a troll, who was (thankfully) out when we popped in for a look.
To finish the day off, we decided to walk up Hverfjall, a well preserved circular volcanic crater. It was a long way up but it was worth being 396 metres up for the views. Iceland earned itself a gold star for its diversity and quality of landscapes, and an extra gold star for three days in a row of sunshine.
We stayed the night in Laugar at a B&B, and went out for dinner at the local restaurant/servo/supermarket because that was the only option in town. We ended up with amazing pizzas and 'meat soup', which tasted a lot more appealing that it sounded (essentially chunky lamb and vegetable soup with free refills - perfect on a nink budget). We finished the meal with salted caramel icecream and that was the end of that.
This morning we breakfasted with an Austrian couple and a Dutch couple, and got given a sachet of vegemite by our Icelandic host. Emma will be pleased to hear that I had nutella on waffles, giving the old peanut butter a bit of a break, and I also discovered that pear flavoured skyr is really quite good.
It was a very short drive down the road to Godafoss and Geitafoss, more spectacular waterfalls and more tourist buses. We headed north to get to Husavik, a picturesque town on the coast and the home of whale watching in Iceland. Since we had all had previous whale encounters without paying a squillion dollars, we opted against the whale watching tours and instead went to a place called Fish & Chips which, of course, sold fish and chips. And even the three of us who are not known for our fish eating tendencies ate and enjoyed the fish - winner. We checked out the local church (which didn't need any sprucing up) and wandered the streets soaking up the vibe, before moving on to Akureyri and promptly using the washing facilities to their full potential. We went for an amble around the town, which had a certain Canberran vibe about it. The signs lured us uphill to the 1920s-skyscraper-styled church and then took us onwards to the botanic gardens, a peaceful and beautifully colourful location that seemed a million miles away from the Arctic Circle, instead of just 50 kilometres away.
And then it was time for a raging Sunday night of watching television with Icelandic subtitles - the best way to finish off a weekend.

Posted by Buccas 14:55 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Peanut butter peanut butter peanut butter

sunny 16 °C
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We awoke to the sound of sheep, had uncontrollably hot showers and then tucked in to a hearty breakfast of leftover pasta, skyr, Special Flongor and peanut butter on toast. Just because we’re ninking doesn’t mean we’re missing out on the good things in life.
We were blessed with sunshine and we made the most of it, so we trekked four kilometres out to see the wreckage of an American navy plane that had been on the beach ever since it crashed there back in 1973 on account of a fuel shortage (everyone survived, don’t worry). The plane was set against a spectacular mountainous backdrop and made for a dramatic scene. As we walked back to the car, the sun continued and we even had to take our jackets off. Icelandic summer for the win!
Further along the ring road we turned off to Dyrholaey for some puffin spotting, and to admire Iceland’s version of the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge. We found a picturesque spot in Vik to eat our ham and cheese sandwiches, and were grateful to find toilet facilities there as well. We backtracked slightly to the black sand beach at Reynisfjara, where fierce waves came crashing in over the black pebbles. Didn’t expect that we would go to the beach in Iceland – and didn’t expect to need sunscreen either! The basalt columns on the shore made up the walls of a cave, and served as a climbing frame for the entire range of the human species. Small children encouraged by their parents, barefooted men showing off to their friends, and an awkwardly posing Japanese girl in a flowing white dress – they were all there. Waves are always mesmerising, but the stark contrast of white foam on black rocks against a blue sky was particularly captivating. And did I mention that the sun was still shining?
On we went around the ring road, past more waterfalls, more mountains, more green carpeted moon surface landscapes, until we got to Fjadrargljufur, which has been described as the most beautiful canyon in the world. Big call, but I’m not going to argue.
Our final scenic stop for the day was Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. This is the lake where glaciers go to melt. They break off in chunks with a cracking sound that echoes around the hills, and slide into the lagoon to display their colours and shapes before eventually becoming part of the crystal clear water. And oh the serenity! Except when a group of tourists arrives chattering loudly and then a family turns up and all the children throw the biggest rocks they can carry into the lake and the parents yell at them to stop. But if you wait, find a quiet alcove and can filter this out… oh the serenity. Nothing but the click of Belinda’s camera, the occasional glacial crack and the shouts of excitement when Pat and Simon spot a seal. Perfect. And then the light starts to fade and turns that special sort of golden… and then I remember that we still have a three and a half hour drive to get to our accommodation. Sigh.
The drive turned out to be a bit of a blur of turbo sounding bridges, tunnels through the mountains, admiring the moon shining over the ocean and listening to the terrible CD that had been left in the hire car by some forgetful person. Although with lyrics like “a rose couldn’t smell any redder”, we did think that maybe the CD was left behind on purpose… Eventually we made it to Stodvarfjordur and into our Airbnb for the night, and we quickly abandoned our pasta-based dinner plans, substituting them with peanut butter on toast instead. We were exhausted, our camera batteries had run out, but we were content.
We eased ourselves into Friday morning in no particular rush. Peanut butter toast reappeared as a breakfast option, and then we went for a wander around Stodvarfjordur to find out what the place actually looked like (since it had been dark when we arrived). The colourful houses, the fjord, the mountains… it looked pretty good.
We tootled along towards Seydisfjordur, stopping to admire the scenery several times along the way, as well as finding a suitably picturesque spot to consume peanut butter sandwiches and Maltesers. The sunshine continued as we drove over the mountain which meant we had amazing views over the fjord… and I am really starting to wish that I had brought my thesaurus with me because I’m running out of suitable adjectives pretty quickly. Curse you and your natural beauty, Iceland! The town of Seydisfjordur itself was picture-perfect, with brightly coloured houses and decent coffee and local beer and friendly locals and all the things you could want from a town. As we sat down to our beverages, the clouds rolled in and promptly obscured the view completely as well as taking the temperature down at least five degrees. Lucky we had arrived before the clouds! We strolled around the town and found a playground… and twenty minutes later we left the playground, laughing and feeling slightly nauseous from the whizzy dizzy thingamy. We drove back over the mountain and stopped off at Fardagafoss for some more waterfall appreciation (which we are now very good at, if I do say so myself). Simon got chatting to a local who turned out to know where Camperdown was, on account of having done a Rotary exchange to Warrnambool four years ago! Small world… We also came to the conclusion that the only people in Iceland who aren’t helpful and welcoming are the staff at the visitor information centres. Whose job it is to help and welcome visitors. Go figure.
Sufficiently natural beautied out for the day, we checked into our guesthouse and managed to score the last table at the best restaurant in Egilsstadir. We managed to look clean enough so that we didn’t stand out too much, and enjoyed good hearty food that completely made up for the high prevalence of peanut butter in our last three meals. The famous Icelandic lamb made an appearance, and so did skyr. Eating like locals – living the dream.

Posted by Buccas 01:39 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Don't go chasing waterfalls

rain 14 °C
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At this point, I think it is important to mention that we all now smell faintly of rotten eggs. The water of Reykjavik has a fairly strong sulphurous odour (particularly when the hot water tap is used), which is slightly disconcerting when you are trying to clean yourself or your dishes. The smell seems to contradict the concept of cleanliness – but if it’s good enough for Icelanders, it’s good enough for us.
On Tuesday we did what we nearly always do when we end up in a new city – we went on a walking tour. Our guide had a rather dry sense of humour (which worked for us – maybe less so for some other tourists) and we got an overview of Icelandic history and culture. We were particularly impressed by the power of the spoon and pot protest, surprised that Iceland only became independent from Denmark in 1944 and amused at how well one volcano eruption could be turned into a tourism marketing strategy. We had the opportunity to practise speaking some Icelandic – would you believe that “Már á Á á á” is a grammatically correct sentence?
After lunch we headed back to Hallgrimskirkja and caught the lift up to the ninth floor for glorious views of Reykjavik, and then enjoyed a coffee in one of the oldest coffee shops in the city. We joined the Icelandic football team for a hotdog, and while the mustardy sauces were nice, sometimes you just want tomato sauce on your sausage in bread.
From there, Belinda had convinced Pat that we were booked in to a very exclusive art gallery with an exhibition of masters. He wasn’t particularly keen, but peer pressure sorted that out. And we even told him that we needed to leave Harald at home and take a taxi because there were so many “toll roads” on the way to the art gallery. The taxi arrived faster than any taxi we had ever ordered in Australia, and we managed to tell him our destination before Pat got in the car. The taxi driver had never heard of this “art gallery” but took us to the street we told him, which turned out to be a rather industrial area with no “art galleries” to be seen. We convinced him that we would be able to find it and got out (after he gave us a discount – must have been the Australian accent) and started wandering the street aimlessly. The taxi driver then returned, got our attention and pointed us in the right direction after doing some Googling on our behalf. Legend. We walked towards the “art gallery”, the roller door went up and revealed Iceland’s first whisky distillery! Happy birthday Pat 
We had the most entertaining tour from Páll – very relaxed, very informal, and very informative! My favourite quote from the afternoon was “we can keep talking, but we shouldn’t forget to drink as well”. We tried the full range of whisky, gin, sloe gin and aqua vit, finishing with the ‘sheep shit smoked’ whisky – reckon that would be a winner in the Australian market!
We lashed out and had dinner at a semi-posh restaurant nearby, and it was worth every kroner. Another taxi took us home, and he was just as much of a legend as the first one. We had birthday cake (caramel biscuit flavoured Vienetta) and that was Pat’s birthday surprise done and dusted. You can have another birthday any time you like, Pat!
Wednesday morning started with a trip to the visitor information centre to check whether Harald would be up to the challenge of certain roads, and there we encountered our first ever Rude Icelandic Person. You would expect a certain level of friendliness and helpfulness from someone whose job it was to assist visitors, but no. Not even the Buccheri charm could wrestle a smile from her lips, and in the end she dismissed us from her presence by saying “Is there anything else I can not help you with today?” Right. Sorry to have troubled you, madam.
We stopped in Selfoss for fuel and tried again at another information centre – we got a cool reception, not quite rude but not exactly friendly or helpful either. At least our questions were answered this time, and we continued on our merry way to find some natural beauty. Seljalandsfoss cheered us up immensely – even though it was raining, it was hard to be miserable in the presence of such an awesome waterfall, one that you could walk behind as well! Just 500 metres down the road was Gljufrabui, deceptively hidden within a cave but totally worth walking across rocks in the river to get to. It felt like such a secret, other-worldly waterfall and we even had the privilege of having it all to ourselves for a little while (quite the special occasion in peak tourist season). And then Pat bought everyone a pink doughnut, which was also quite a special occasion.
A short trip down the road we stopped at some old turf houses (definitely elf country) and then arrived at Skogarfoss, a campsite for many and photo opportunity for many more. Just another spectacular waterfall I’m afraid… ah it’s a tough life. We climbed 421 steps (or thereabouts) to get to the viewing platform up the top, but the best views were from down below or off to the side. Simon decided to see how close he could get without drowning – for those of you playing at home, he got VERY close but also got VERY wet. We had basically spent the day admiring waterfalls and being varying degrees of wet on account of rain and/or waterfall spray… and even though every time we got dry (thank you, Harald, for your seat warming facilities) we promptly got wet again, we had an excellent day of waterfall based exploration.
We checked into our cosy cottage for the night and headed to the local supermarket for supplies. Icelandic bread seems to come as a half loaf or a double loaf, and we enjoyed guessing whether or not we were buying flour or bread mix. The young boy who served us fairly threw the food down the conveyor belt at us, and seemed like he would rather be somewhere else. Don’t blame him really. I’d rather be looking at waterfalls than serving annoying Australian tourists if I was him.

Posted by Buccas 00:53 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

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