Going north

The transition to Oslo was smooth, quick and easy. The biggest challenge in Norway, as it was in Iceland, was to find food that wasn’t going to blow holes in my wallet instantaneously. Luckily, by this point I had already learnt to zero in on cheap (cheap being a relative term) places with edible food. The staple foods I was used to through the west of europe had changed going north, so I was due to chew through pizza and hotdogs mostly, due to their 79 nok all you can eat pizza menus at lunch. Everything else came easy, because Norway is an easy place to fall hard for. Spine tingling, erectingly hard.

How did I pull through the money sucker that norway is? Well, free breakfasts tend to run with hostels these days. So, I eat huge in the morning. Bowls of muesli, toast and fruit is the general gist of breakfast, unless you’re lucky enough to score a sweet deal on an all you can eat buffet. This will keep me going most of the day, then i’ll usually look for something of a medium size for dinner. Well medium is relative, I love to eat. But if you’re smart, you’ll do a little research and find places at half the cost of the regular spots. And I endeavour to avoid drinking in town too. Normally I’ll play the beverage card at ‘home’, and then when I’m properly toasted, time to go into town for a drink or 2. It’s much more economical then spending 100-150 nok on 10 beers – which ends up being around 200 plus au. Anyhow, enough of economics, we aren’t here for economy and business class. We’re here to adventure, and do some life changing stuff.

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Eniro Norge

Racing around for a pair of snow pants that actually fit around my well trained buddha belly, considering it’s Norway, one of the most expensive countries in the world, finding a ‘cheap’ pair of snow pants is a challenge to say the least. I finally settled for a pair that I liked, moreso because the shops were closing and I had to find something to trundle through snow in, because denim doesn’t cut it when stomping through snow and thin summer hiking pants weren’t going to cut it in minus fifteen degree temperatures either. An expensive investment for a backpacker, but a necessary one, and in the long run will likely save me a bit more cash over the next month, now I have better gear to get through snow trails around Nordmarka in.

Trekking through the snow covered woods and trails, ankle to skinny calf, deep in snow, music musing in my ears softly while the snot from my nose superglued my scarf to my moustache, I couldn’t have found a better spot to hang out for a few days. Shame I didn’t pack a tent and sleeping bag. I’d happily trade them for most of the crap (more on this in another blog) I’m carting around europe for dual seasons. It’s a definite case of a winter wonderland north-west of oslo. The snow here falls like glitter from a magician’s bag of tricks, caressing anything it touches in a soft white kiss. Branches are magnified in size by the snow stacking itself like a winter jacket around the many forked arms of the pines. Slipping my headphones off I stopped and listened. They say silence is bliss and this was the proof.

I came to a proper standstill around the halfway mark of my hike. Time stopped, and for the first time in 2 years, the weight I’ve been hauling around on my shoulders began to slide off. I was a little humbled by the terrific view of the mountains, the trees christened in white crystalline snow, and for once I managed to forget about everything and found a place to drop the sackful of figurative shit I’d been hanging onto for a while. It was amazing. I don’t even know if I’ve felt that feeling before. It’s kind of like… the worries and thoughts you have completely disappear, there was nothing in mind but the beauty of the area. It was a blessing. I can’t remember how long I stopped and gazed for, but I left, with a lighter heart. My best experience to date.

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Nordmarka

I spent three days wandering around the north west trails outside of Oslo, drinking icy water out of freezing bottles, climbing up and down frozen creeks, tracking through knee deep snow, across tiny wooden bridges carpeted in snow listening to nothing but the sweet silence of the north. Little did I know that in the coming days I’d be subjected to some of the most amazing scenes in the arctic. It’s alot of fun spending a day out in the middle of nowhere. I could’ve spent a few days wandering around town, shopping and doing musuems, but that’s no life, I can do that anywhere. Besides, I’m half night owl in town, when the city empties itself of the civilians on the street, it becomes my domain for a few short, quiet hours. It was time to move onto Bergen, which was unfortunate, I would have happily hiked about in Nordmarka and the surrounds for days.

It was a six and half hour trip of white snow outside my window to bergen. What is one of the most beautiful railways in the world was fettered by the stinging winds of white snow broken up by black rocky tunnels. When the Norweigans see a mountain they just drill though it. Or put a set ski’s on and ski down. Towards the end of the journey I zoomed through tunnel after tunnel, getting a few minutes break of the black stillness, into which views of beautiful fjords ran between a typical mountainous and forested nordic landscape. Coloured houses and boatsheds were sprinkled across the curving shores. A most welcome sight after the previous five hours of whipping snow. The warm -3 degrees in Bergen was warmly welcomed after the freezing -15’s of Oslo. Dropping my bags off at my abode, I heading straight for… you guessed it, the waterside docks, picking up two rather large reindeer hotdogs on the way.

Not as mind blowing as I thought it might be, I left the waterside and wandered into Bryggen by mistake, after walking out of a barren Bergenhus Fortress. Total awesomedom. Yes awesomedom is a word. That I made up. Timber put together so gracefully, it made my skin tingle with nostalgia. Stepping into the 300 year old merchant district, small lights lit the timber buildings into unique shades of yellows to browns. Winding staircases created new paths up to the higher deck floors, where there was even more loving craftmanship to be ogled at. Old coloured roof tiles shone in the lights and painted colours of red, yellows and greens mixed in with varnished finishes created a hole in time. It was the prettiest, homeliest kind of area I’ve visited so far, I’d go as far to say romantic within it’s austere, sentimental walls. Calm radiated around the small UNESCO area, and could imagine curling up in a homely old bed and snoring comfortably behind the artful wooden doors and soft walls.

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Old town vibes in Bryggen

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Rosendal

After enduring an extremely blowy sunrise on the top of the ferry towards Rosendal, I glanced at a monitor on the way off the ferry for any hint of what I might find there. A waterfall and some mountains appeared on the screen. Mega, I thought, that’s a done deal dude. A sweet little town resting on the water, trademarked as Norweigan by the quaint sloping, colourful cottages spread around the water. I found my way to Hattebergsdalen quite quickly by following a walking man sign (when in doubt follow the walking man) headed straight for the mountains. I crossed through the Barionet (virtually a big old house in a neat sort of estate, surround by green pastures and mountains) and headed straight up the trail alongside the frozen waterfall, through a steep and very green pine forest, coming to rest on a fancy, cold, craggy rock to enjoy the inspiring view and my lunchtime banana.  Well worth the hike up, as was the hike down the waterfall. An old house had almost sunk into the frosty green lands, with a foot wide trail winding its way over rock, ice and grass. Returning on the ferry, I was graced with a remarkable sunset off the back of another very blowy ride back to Bergen. The sun glazed the water in soft pinks and oranges, the islands in the fjords providing the perfect contrast to the colourful setting sun. Another perfect day.

On route to Tromsø a realization dawned on me as I sat in the mostly empty Widerøe aircraft watching the wing propeller spin. I was going inside the arctic circle for the first time in my life. Polar nights. A million crazy thoughts of what to expect were hurled into my mind by a tornado of wanderlust and excitement. I felt strangely reflective on what I had experienced so far, not so much in terms of where I have been, but how I had noticed a small positive change to myself, through the adventure so far. Awed by the beauty outside my window, I witnessed the fjords mixed among thousands of islands spanning out towards the west steadily grow smaller. Houses dotted the islands like thousand colour sprinkles on toast. Snow capped mountains caressed by the sun’s rays layered the west coast, the icy rivers and lakes snuck their way through the snowy landscape. Nature had artfully sculpted gorges which made the nordinary waters guests in their rocky abodes.

Upon landing in Tromsø, I was greeted with seven minutes of sun. Well that’s what the meteorological website I was looking at said. By the time I’d fallen onto my bed at 2.30pm after walking through the relatively warm -7 degrees it was already dark. I was so enthralled with the flight and the landscape that I’d forgotten to eat, and I was getting picked up to hunt the northern lights in an hour so by the time it came it eat it was rush time – a cheap $40 AUD burger and fries with a pint, knocked off in a healthy 8 mins and a race back to get changed for the conditions in case we were heading inland. Thermals on, gore-tex on, it was time to rock and roll. After gearing up in the oversized arctic suits and moon boots, it was hunt time.

On the way to the first ‘spot’, I connected with Yvy on the rock and roll bus, a rockstar sensation from Wolfsburg, Germany. We swapped stories in the cool kids seat, gazing through the combi van glass windows trying to spot some colour in the sky. Within minutes of stopping next to a hill above a village by a fjord, the aurora’s had begun to streak across the sky. Very suttle, first one, then another, and another squeezed out from behind the mountain next to where we had pitched our tripods on. A few dazzled cheers broke out, we hadn’t been on the road longer then a half hour and we were already graced with the green aurora’s presence. It was the beginning of a series of nights not to be forgotten.

Moving along up the coast to clearer weather, about half hour later, a truck charged up the road, bulling us out of the way and into a steep, icy ditch. After a team effort of pushing, we had achieved nothing, except falling headfirst into the snow a few times and enjoying a refreshing norweigan snowcone. While planning our next move, a pair of combi vans cruised through and pulled over, offering us a tow to get out. A tow? Hell yeah baby, we’ll take that! After pulling a worn, questionable rope out of their boot, we decided to go forward with the gig despite a few misgivings. What choice did we have, stuck in the middle of the islands? With the drivers revving their engines the games began. Our driver Mafi was doing her best to combat the slick and slippery layer of ice under two of the wheels, as the car wheeled back it began its descent further into the ditch, before almost rolling on it’s side. A panicked shout from Yvy managed to get our overly helpful rescuer to stop blasting his engine before we lost Mafi, and the van, into the trees below. Abandoning the mission, we got Mafi out of the car, one wheel high up in the air and the combies went on their merry way. It was time to enjoy the nature around us while we waited on another tow.

A half hour later, a brother from another mother turned up in a 2 tonne ute, with some proper towing gear, or at least a thick 5 tonne sling and some shackles. It was time to put my rigging skills to the test. After slinging up the front axle, (which at this point was our only option since their was no tow point on the front of the car) it was action time! Slowly we got the tension, and talking both drivers through it, finally got the vee-dubs fat arse out of the ditch and onto the road. Victory was ours, and we were going to live to fight another day!

Mafi happenened us onto an icy lake a half hour later, the shore frozen over, which was typically surrounded by a mixture of woodlands and mountains. Within minutes of marching towards the edge of the icy lake the lights appeared, dancing across the sky in radiowaves as if to say ‘hey dudes, let’s boogie!’. Again and again the lights assaulted the starry sky overhead, layering and curling in bright green hues, leaving the lake green in it’s trails. I kicked back on my foam mat in the snow, and enjoyed a cool half hour nap while the graceful show streaked overhead. Once waking, I wandered over to the warm fire Mafi had kickstarted and sucked down a hot chocolate under the flirtacious green sky.

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The following nights shone green on our different crews, and we were all gifted with remarkable shows again and again. With Richie it was to the edges of small hilly lands overlooking the ocean, listening for whales, munching on chilli con carne and norweigan sweets. Parking our arses in the snow on a hilltop and enjoying the silent and windless evening, while the ocean brushed gently over the shore. Just off piste we walked through a dark night to watch the lights shoot rays north-south spinning and curling like a spinning top while the crescent moon was sneaking off to hide behind a faraway mountain. Storybook land. Fairytales coming to life. All those books I read as a child immediately came to mind, these places really did exist in real life.

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Stef managed to hook up an epic drive inland, cruising along winding snowy roads to her ‘secret’ place. A frozen lake surrounded by thickening woodland, reindeer tracks spread across the snowy shore, the perfect dip of neighbouring mountains allowing a green and pink rainbow to fire a bridge to join them together. I wouldn’t have been surprised if ice giants had appeared to cross the bridge and bash some rock golems on the head. Flicking our boots off in the negative seventeen degrees, we toasted our toes by the fire while the hot chocolate coffee supply took a heavy beating over the passing hours. The funnymen Sumit and Vatsal put together a spit to warm up our now frozen Lefse (a typical norweigan desert, thin pastry with fruit spread in between) on while I fed the fire some oxygen and wood to get it going nice and proper. The fire crackled away while we swapped jokes and banter in our little circle of friends, downing reindeer stew to stay warm. On the drive back, chilling to Tom Rosendal with the heat blaring, we caught one last mischevious green streak, across the sky over a neighbouring village. A grand finale for an aweing night.

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Alot can happen over a couple of weeks. Alot can happen over a day. I leave Norway enlightened, but sad to leave such a beautiful place behind. What an experience I had here, combine that with the many people I met throughout my short stay, it makes it hard to write about what Norway and the Arctic did for me. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect before I arrived, and having no expectations tends to lead to great surprises. I spent 3 glorious nights under a twinkling starlit sky, glittering starry belts and dippers complementing the outrageously beautiful green and pink northern lights snaking across the skies above me. I don’t know if i can give you an exact moment when I fell head over heels for the north. Maybe it was the first glimpse of the aurora borealis itself, perhaps it was falling asleep on the edge of an icy lake and waking up a half hour later to a blueberry night streaked with wavy green icing, mayhaps it was all the people I met along the way, or the forests, fjords and snow I hiked through. Whatever the case, the spell of the north had been cast…

 

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