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Found 11 results

  1. Last night was our final night in Kiruna, so we decided to go out for an evening walk to see the Christmas lights in the town centre. The big Christmas tree looked pretty in the dark... ...and Tim looked quite regal in the ice throne We walked past the display of snow sculptures. It was actually a bit easier to make our some of the shapes in the dark. Once we'd done a circuit of the town centre, we headed back to our apartment for the night. We're flying back home from Narvik tomorrow, so the main aim of today was to travel back from Sweden to Norway. Our train wasn't until the afternoon though, so we were able to have a leisurely start to the morning. We'd just finished breakfast and were considering starting to pack, when I looked out the window of our apartment in Kiruna and was amazed to get a glimpse of some polar stratospheric clouds, just like the ones we'd seen in Abisko earlier in the week! We didn't have to check out of the apartment until 11, so we quickly pulled on our warm clothes and boots and ran outside to have a look. We walked along the main road from our apartment, trying to find a place from which we would have an unobstructed view. The clouds were the most amazing colours. Tim managed to capture them more accurately by making his camera darker. We walked down a rather slippery pavement, towards the park we'd discovered yesterday. From there we had the clearest views, without any buildings in the way... ...and the clouds looked beautiful above the snowy landscape. I could have stayed and stared at them all day Unfortunately, however, we had to return to the apartment to pack up our things and check out. Our train to Narvik wasn't departing until 14.51, so once we'd successfully checked out we had some time to kill in Kiruna. As we walked back into the town centre, the sun was rising and there were some beautiful pink colours in the sky There's a small indoor shopping centre in Kiruna, so that was our first stop. It had a cafe, where we got two rather strong Americanos From there we moved on to Kiruna's English pub (bizarrely, Kiruna has an English pub called The Bishop's Arms!!), where we were able to get lunch. I had a burger, while Tim had fish and chips. It was really dark in the pub (loads of places in Sweden seem to be really badly lit!) so we then moved back to the slightly brighter cafe for another coffee and some cake It was while we were having the coffee and cake that I got a rather disturbing text from Swedish Railways about our train When Google-translated, this informed us that due to a "nature incident" the train line to Narvik was closed. Oh dear We made our way towards the station, hoping for the best. It was still really snowy everywhere but the snow was flattened down and much easier to pull our cases on than it had been the day when we arrived It was much easier walking downhill from the town to the station, as opposed to uphill from the station to the town As we got close to the station, we passed a hill with an illuminated ski run which I hadn't even noticed on the day we arrived. When we got to the station the train to Narvik was sitting on the platform, so we boarded it and hoped for the best. It departed promptly, without any announcements about the line being closed. In the absence of announcements, I checked the Swedish trains website and found a message said that the "nature incident" had now been resolved and the line was opened again. Phew!! It was a big relief that we were going to make it to our destination; I don't know whether they would have put on a rail replacement bus if the train couldn't run, but if they didn't I think it would have cost more than our life savings to take a taxi We eventually made it to Narvik only 15 minutes or so behind schedule. It looked like it had been snowing quite heavily here and there was lots of fresh snow everywhere. Pulling our suitcases up Narvik's steep streets in the fresh snow was not the most fun we've ever had! Everywhere did look beautiful in the snow though And it was actually easier to walk on this snow than on the ice which had been here when we caught the train on Sunday. As we're just staying one night in Narvik this time and departing for the airport first thing tomorrow morning, I'd booked us into a small hotel rather than re-book the Airbnb apartment we stayed in at the start of the holiday. 895 Norwegian Krone (around £78) got us this tiny room which just about has enough space for both of us and our suitcases We do have free breakfast included in the morning though (which we intend to eat as much of as possible to get our money's worth!) and from our window we can see out across the whole of Narvik. Tomorrow will be a very long day of travelling, with two flights and about 9 hours to kill in Oslo airport, which I don't think will be worthy of a blog! But we've had a fantastic holiday, exploring a completely different part of Lapland and seeing some really amazing clouds, and I think it's definitely been worth the journey
  2. One of the main things which had convinced me to book flights to Narvik earlier in the year was the fact that it is the terminus station for a railway line known as the Ofotbanen. The train line was built between Sweden and the Norwegian coast in the late 19th century, to enable iron ore being mined in the Swedish town of Kiruna to be transported to the ice-free port of Narvik. Iron ore is still transported on the line today, but there are also two passenger trains per day which run between Norway and Sweden. This means that flying to Narvik is actually quite an easy way to get to Swedish Lapland. The journey itself is supposed to be really scenic, most notably between Narvik and a station called Riksgränsen, which is located at the Swedish border. We'd therefore decided to catch the first train of the day, to ensure that we saw the scenery in daylight When I opened the curtains in Narvik this morning, I saw to my surprise that it was raining The rain had stopped by the time we'd packed up and checked out of the apartment, but it had interesting consequences for the condition of the roads. It was really hard to tell which bits of the road were wet and slushy and which bits were more icy and slippery. Luckily our Yaktrax seem able to cope with all surfaces and we made it to the station without falling over! I'd already bought the tickets in advance online and we had reserved seats, so all we needed to do was wait on the platform for the train to arrive. There were actually some nice views of the fjord from the platform. The train was due to depart at 10.48 and it arrived promptly. There were some groups of Chinese tourists, but overall it wasn't too busy and we were soon on our way towards Sweden As the train pulled out of Narvik, we got a view of a bridge across the fjord which I think we crossed on the airport bus in the dark the night when we arrived. By chance we were sitting on the best side of the train for views The photos are all a bit blurry as they were taken through the glass of the train window, but we travelled along the fjord for miles. As we got further on, it became increasingly narrow... ...until eventually we got close to the end of it. By this stage, the scenery was becoming increasingly mountainous. Finally we passed the end of the fjord. The train took us right across the top of it... ...and then we were properly inland. On the sides of some of the mountains I could see frozen streams. We were getting close to the Swedish border now. We had decided to get off the train at the border station of Riksgränsen, where we were hoping to get lunch and kill some time before catching the second train of the day on to Abisko. We could have stayed on this current train all the way to Abisko, but we would have ended up getting there three hours before we were able to check into our accommodation and, as research suggests that there aren't very many amenities in Abisko (a village with a population of 85 people), that didn't feel like a good plan. Having researched various destinations along the route, Riksgränsen had sounded the most promising place in terms of restaurants and cafes. The guidebook had described it as Sweden's best ski resort and recommended it as a day trip from Narvik. First impressions when we got off the train in Riksgränsen were that it looked a bit small. It was scenic though, with lots of snowy hills. And we were now in Sweden, which was exciting We started walking down to explore the village. Google maps suggested that there would be a restaurant up this road but, when we got there, we found it was all closed up. Trying a different direction, we passed this bus shelter completely buried in the snow There didn't seem to be very many people in Riksgränsen and so far we hadn't seen a single restaurant which was open. We did find a shop, and Tim asked the staff for directions to a cafe. They told us that everywhere in Riksgränsen was closed and that the nearest open establishment was in a neighbouring village They described the village as being 15 minutes away, but the only way to get there was to walk down the main road which they said was a) slippery and b) dangerous because lorries drive along it quite fast. When I looked it up on Google maps, Google suggested it would be more like a 40 minute walk than 15 minutes anyway, so we quickly ruled that out as an option. We could see ski lifts on the hills above the village, but those weren't operational either. The girls in the shop explained that the skiing season hasn't started here yet because, despite the fact that there's lots of snow, there isn't enough daylight. The fact that a ski resort would be closed in December had never occurred to us when we booked this trip We didn't have any options but to walk back up to the train station and wait for our train to Abisko. The station didn't exactly have a lot of facilities. We were able to buy bread, cake and crisps at the shop and have a picnic lunch in the snow; not quite what we'd been hoping for for lunch, but better than nothing We also had some wine in Tim's suitcase (which we'd brought with us because Abisko is too small to have its own alcohol shop) and that livened the picnic up We were lucky that it wasn't actually very cold today; I think the temperature must have been above zero, because we could hear snow melting from the station roof. It was warm enough for Tim to take his coat off anyway I suppose it's fair enough that they don't ski here in December, because there really wasn't a lot of daylight. By 2pm, it was already looking like twilight. By the time Tim went down to the shop again to get some more supplies, it was properly dark. Everywhere looked very pretty in the darkness though. By 3pm it may as well have been the middle of the night! Every so often while we were waiting, freight trains came past bearing the logo of LKAB, the Swedish mining company. The trains were enormous, with so many carriages that it took several minutes for each one to pass. Needless to say, we were incredibly pleased when it was finally time for our train to arrive. This train had sleeper carriages which were continuing on all the way to Stockholm. Perhaps that's an idea for a future holiday! Our journey to Abisko only took around 45 minutes. There are actually two stations in Abisko - Abisko Turiststation, which is the site of a youth hostel, and Abisko Östra, which is the station for the main village. We were getting off at Abisko Östra. Abisko is a very popular winter destination and so, when I was booking accommodation here, options were extremely limited. There were no available apartments or hotels, so I booked us into a small hostel where we would have a bedroom to ourselves, plus use of a shared kitchen and bathrooms. The prices here are reminiscent of Icelandic prices, and so our stay here is costing £98 per night. As you can see from the photo, the room we're getting for that price is a bit on the small size It's warm and comfy though and all the shared facilities seem clean. Best of all, the owners messaged me days in advance with the check-in instructions, including the code we needed to get our keys out of the key safe, so Abisko is already winning over Narvik in that respect! The area around Abisko is supposed to be beautiful, so we are looking forward to exploring it in the daylight tomorrow
  3. We woke up feeling rested this morning and a bit more enthusiastic about exploring Narvik than when we'd arrived last night It was still dark at around 9am when Tim set out to find a shop to buy breakfast. It seems like things are slow to get started in Narvik on Saturday mornings, so it took a while before he found one that was open. By the time he'd returned and we'd had breakfast and were ready to set out again, things had got a bit brighter. Our apartment is in this red wooden house. From our windows we can see this big mountain, with its illuminated ski slope. Hopefully this picture also helps to illustrate how steep the side streets in Narvik are! We were prepared for the slippery pavements today though and had our Yaktrax on, which made it a lot easier to walk. Our first stop was the local shopping centre, because we wanted to track down Narvik's branch of Vinmonopolet, the state-owned alcohol store. We knew from our previous visit to Norway in 2013 that these shops have restricted opening hours and are often closed at times you might expect to be able to buy alcohol, like on weekends or bank holidays. The good news was that when we found the shop, we were able to establish that it was open until 15.00 on Saturdays, so we knew we'd be able to return later and buy some wine It was worth going into the shopping centre anyway to see the Christmas decorations We headed outside again, walking along the town's main street. The mountain we can see from our apartment looms across the whole town. There aren't a lot of sights in the town centre, but there are a few strange landmarks like this huge pyramid. We realised that we could see down towards the bus station, from where we'd started our uphill climb last night. In the distance, we could also see Narvik's main church. The town feels quite large, but it only has a population of 14,000 people so it's actually pretty small by UK standards. Our aim was to walk downhill, towards the harbour area, in the hope of getting some views of the fjord. It wasn't long before we got our first glimpse of the sea! As we walked towards the water, we passed this unusual building. Once we got to the far side of it, we realised that it was a church The further we walked, the more impressive the views became. We began to get better views out across the water. In places the side of the road was quite rocky and we passed some incredible icicles. I don't think I've ever seen icicles this big before Eventually we made it down to the harbour. Despite the fact that it is located very far north (the furthest north we've ever been) Narvik is warmed by the Gulf Stream and so the harbour here is always ice-free. The town grew up here in the 19th century, when a Swedish mining company realised that they could use the harbour to export their iron ore. A significant amount of iron ore is still shipped from here today, and so although some of the views of the fjord were stunning, overall Narvik does have a bit of an industrial feel to it. The ice-free nature of the fjord had unfortunate consequences for Narvik during the Second World War, because the harbour was of strategic importance to both sides. It's hard to imagine when it all looks so peaceful today, but two naval battles were fought in the fjord in 1940. There is a war museum in the Narvik but we didn't go. The views were starting to get obscured by clouds at this point and light snow was falling, so we decided we'd walked far enough around the harbour and turned around to climb back up towards the town centre. The Christmas lights in the main square were pretty. Walking along the main street in the opposite direction from before, we came across this signpost showing the distance between Narvik and various destinations. It turns out we're slightly closer to St Petersburg than we are to Oslo The daylight is quite limited here and before it got dark, we wanted to locate the train station from where we will be catching a train to Abisko in Sweden tomorrow. It turns out that it's actually not that far from our apartment. Walking towards it, we had some more beautiful views of the mountain. We were hungry by this stage, so we walked back towards the shopping centre, where we'd spotted a pizza restaurant earlier. I went for a tropical pizza, which unusually featured pineapple and spicy pepperoni, while Tim had a chicken burger. The food was filling, and not too expensive; we stuck with the free tap water again, so just had the main courses, and the bill came to just under £30. We weren't in the restaurant for long, but by the time we stepped outside, darkness had fallen. Walking back up towards our apartment, we could see the ski run illuminated again. Having explored Narvik today, the apartment is actually in a good location, not far from the train station or the main street. It was a bit of an unpleasant surprise last night to have to do so much walking uphill with our cases (and then not to be able to get into the apartment), but that aside it hasn't been a bad place to stay We're spending tomorrow travelling to Sweden, where we'll be staying in less glamorous accommodation, which will hopefully be compensated for by some amazing scenery!
  4. We had some difficulties with planning our post-Christmas Lapland trip this year. We'd decided that, after a few years in a row of going to Äkäslompolo in northern Finland, we wanted to try somewhere different and we were considering travelling to Ivalo, a village even further north. We spent ages waiting for Ivalo flights to be released by Norwegian, before eventually realising that they'd discontinued their Ivalo route. By the time we'd figured that out, flights to Finland after Christmas were far too expensive, and so it was too late to change our minds and go to Äkäslompolo again instead. While searching for cheap flights to anywhere snowy on the dates we wanted, I stumbled across a good deal to a place in Norway called Narvik. I can't pretend that I'd ever heard of Narvik before, but it seemed sufficiently far north that it ought to have snow, and once we did some research we realised that it was situated at the far end of a train line leading into Sweden. That sounded promising, so we decided to give it a go and I booked the flights while they were still cheap Getting to Narvik involved flying with Norwegian via Oslo, and so it was that our alarms went off at 4am this morning for another early morning drive down to Gatwick. We were flying from the south terminal this time, as opposed to the north terminal for Bolzano, so that was a bit of variety at least; it really didn't feel like very long since we were last in Gatwick We arrived in plenty of time for our 09.20 flight and survived the chaos of self-check in with only a minor blip when Tim's suitcase turned out to be over the weight limit. This may or may not have had something to do with an attempt to import our own alcohol into Scandinavia Luckily, Norwegian is a much friendlier airline than Ryanair and while we had to go to a separate desk to get the bag checked in, we didn't have to pay anything extra. All that remained to do was to keep our fingers crossed that our baggage labels were properly stuck on this time and neither of our suitcases would get lost en route! Our flight departed promptly and we had a pleasant journey. The first part of the flight was very cloudy, and although the sky cleared up about halfway through the journey, the majority of the flight was over the sea so there wasn't actually a lot to see. It was only about half an hour before the end of the flight that I got my first view of the Norwegian coast. As the plane moved further inland, snowy mountain tops suddenly became visible. We flew over the mountains, looking down on frozen lakes and rivers below. As we got closer to Oslo, the countryside became a little flatter. There seemed to be snow everywhere, even this far south. Oslo itself was covered in cloud and there was an announcement saying that the pilot wanted all electronic devices on board switched off to help him land in it We landed safely though and were soon inside Oslo airport, where we had 5.5 hours to kill before our second flight to Narvik at 17.55. We decided to kill some time by having lunch and walked around exploring the various eating options at the airport. We settled for Jamie's Italian, which I thought had gone out of business in the UK but which still seems to be going strong in Oslo. Tim had a tagliatelle bolognese... ...while I opted for a spicy meatball pizza. Both were good, although the Norwegian prices are going to take a bit of getting used to; each main course cost around £18. A glass of wine would have cost £12, so we decided to save money and drink the free tapwater Then there were just a few more hours to wait before our internal flight to Narvik. I passed them with reading, drinking strong coffee and starting to write this blog. We also had to move from the international terminal into the terminal for domestic flights, which provided a bit of variety. Overall Oslo airport is really nice. The seats were comfy and there were plenty of water fountains. We had come prepared with our own water bottles so that we didn't have to pay for bottled water. Our flight to Narvik started boarding promptly at around 17.30. I had expected this to be a smaller plane because I didn't think Narvik would be a very popular destination, but it was actually the same size as our flight from Gatwick and seemed to be completely full. I had high hopes of us departing Oslo on time, because the flight was scheduled to land at 19.35 and the airport bus was due to depart for the town of Narvik at 19.50. If the flight was delayed and we missed that bus, it wasn't the end of the world because the was another bus scheduled for that evening... but not until after 22.00, so we would have quite a long wait. Unfortunately, despite the promising start we didn't take off on time. The plane got close to the runway, but then had to join a queue of planes which were waiting to be de-iced. We sat for about half an hour before it was our turn to be sprayed with the de-icer and we could get on our way. The flight took around 90 minutes, so it was after 8pm before we landed in Narvik. There were no views on this flight as it was so dark, but as we came into land in Narvik we could see that it looked pretty snowy The airport which I've been referring to as "Narvik" is actually called Harstad/Narvik airport, a name which it seems to have acquired by virtue of being located equally far from both Harstad and Narvik, in a place called Evenes. It is a very small airport, so we walked straight off the plane and into a room which seemed to serve both as an arrivals hall and as baggage reclaim. We had to wait a while before the baggage carousel to start up, so I had time to get increasingly nervous about whether our bags were going to have made the connection... happily they both did, and so all that remained was to see whether the airport bus had waited because the flight was delayed. Amazingly, when we stepped outside the airport we found that it had indeed waited I had already purchased the tickets online for 297 NOK, which is about £26 each for a journey of around an hour. The bus waited for a while longer to make sure that everyone had had time to collect their luggage and that there were no more potential passengers, before setting off on its route. The journey took us around the edge of the Ofotfjord, so I had tantalising glimpses of the coast out of the window, whenever there was sufficient light to see anything The snow seemed to go right down to the water, but the water itself was frozen. The bus stopped at various hotels in Narvik, terminating at the bus station. I'd decided that the bus station would be the best place to get off, although I'd done so without realising that the bus station was at the bottom of a rather large hill and the rest of the town was at the top of that hill. We spent 10 minutes or so pulling our cases up very steep and icy pavements, before arriving at the same level as the penultimate bus stop outside one of the town's hotels. Oops - it would have been much better if we had got off there! We are staying in Narvik for two nights and I had booked an apartment via Airbnb. This is the first time I've ever used Airbnb, normally preferring booking.com, and I had only been tempted to use it on this occasion because the apartment I'd found was a mere £60/night which by Norwegian standards seemed like an absolute bargain. I had been a bit nervous about it all day though, because I hadn't had any information from the host about how we were supposed to check in, save for some instructions in Norwegian on the reservation which, when Google translated, gave the address, explained that we needed to enter via a back door and that the apartment was on the second floor, with a key in a key box. That was all well and good but I assumed that there was a code required for the key box, so I'd messaged the person on Airbnb yesterday morning, explaining what time we were arriving and asking for instructions. I hadn't received any reply, so I was hoping that it would turn out to be obvious when we got there. Getting there turned out to be more difficult than I had anticipated. Nothing I had read about Narvik in advance had mentioned the fact that the town is built on a steep slope. The apartment was only 1km away from the bus station and a couple of streets away from the town's main street, so I'd figured it was in a pretty central location. It may be, but we spent most of the kilometre walking uphill on pavements which were covered in frozen snow. Our snow boots have a good grip and some of the pavements were gritted, but even so it was a difficult walk. We arrived at the address on the reservation around 22.15, cold and out of breath. Following the limited instructions we did have, Tim went in through the back door of the building, and found what might be the apartment; a door on what to us was the first floor (but could possibly be the second floor in Norwegian) with a key safe inside it. The key safe was, of course, locked with a code and we didn't have the code. Oh dear The Airbnb app had a "call the host" option, so Tim attempted to give them a ring. Nobody picked up initially, but we did get a call back shortly afterwards as a result of which we got the key code and were able to get inside. Yay No apology or explanation though as to why we hadn't been given this information in the first place! Once I'd recovered from the stress of check-in, I could see that the apartment actually is quite nice. We've got a little kitchen with a dining table... ...a comfortable living area... ...and a slightly cramped bedroom where there's only just enough space to walk around the bed We'd been travelling for 17 hours at this point, leaving home at 04.30 and getting into the apartment around 22.30 Norwegian time, so we decided to call it a night
  5. Clare

    Day 3: Myrdal

    For today's journey we were retracing part of yesterday's steps, taking the 08.45 bus from Bergen to Flåm. The aim of today was to complete the bit of the 'Norway in a Nutsell' tour which we missed out on yesterday; the railway between Flåm and Myrdal. The weather wasn't quite as good today as it had been yesterday, and so it was fortunate that we had a day of activity which mainly involved being indoors. It was pouring with rain as we left Bergen, and that theme continued as we made our way through the various valleys and tunnels from yesterday. There was one slightly sticky moment when our bus got stuck in a traffic jam outside a tunnel where there were some ongoing road works, but in the end it only resulted in a delay of about 20 minutes and we arrived in Flåm just in time for our trip on the Flåm railway. The Flåm railway is a 20km stretch of track between the small village of Flåm and the even smaller hamlet of Myrdal. So far it doesn't sound very exciting, but Flåm is located at just 2 metres above sea level, while Myrdal is located at 864m, and so the track has a very steep gradient. It's also supposed to be one of the most scenic rail journeys in Europe, so we were excited to give it a try. I was a little bit worried that the train was going to be really busy, but either because it was a fairly rainy Monday in May or because we had chosen a different train to the official one timetabled for the Nutshell tour, we ended up with only a handful of other tourists in our carriage. I had researched online which side of the carriage would be best to sit and the answer seemed to be that it was the right hand side as you travel from Flåm to Myrdal, but actually there were brilliant views on both sides of the train at different points, so it was lucky that the carriage was empty enough for us to switch sides whenever we needed to. The train began climbing quite steeply as soon as it pulled out of the station in Flåm. There was multi-lingual commentary in Norwegian, English and German throughout the journey, which was really useful in telling us what to look out for as we pulled in and out of the various tunnels. One such piece of advice recommended that we look to the right to see this spectacular waterfall. As we travelled further uphill, we were treated to views of increasingly rocky mountains capped with snow. Unfortunately because the sky was white with clouds today as well, it's hard to tell what is snow and what is sky in some of the photos The train continued to pull in and out of tunnels... ...and we had some lovely views back down into the Flåm valley as we turned corners. We lost track of how many waterfalls we saw. About twenty minutes into the journey, our train paused at a small station where there was a passing place for the train coming down the mountain. Then we were off on our way again The higher we climbed the more we were surrounded by snow. One of the most impressive sites which the train commentary pointed out to us was this track winding up the mountain. The highlight of the journey, however, is supposed to be when the train makes a five-minute stop at the Kjosfossen Station, where a special viewing platform has been built across the enormous Kjosfossen waterfall. I had seen some pictures of it online and it looked amazing... but what I hadn't bargained for was that in May it would look like this... Yes, it was 2 May and almost the entire waterfall was completely frozen!! But in some ways perhaps it looks more impressive like this than it does in summer After Kjosfossen, there was only another 15 minutes or so until we reached the final station, Myrdal. As we got nearer and nearer it became so snowy that we could easily have believed that it was Christmas and we were in Lapland again. The brochure for the Flåm railway warns tourists that there isn't a lot to see or do in Myrdal; "the attraction is the journey and not Myrdal", the website explains. They certainly didn't lie when they said there wasn't much there, but the landscape was really beautiful. Improbable as it seems, Myrdal is actually a station on the main railway between Oslo and Bergen. Within a few minutes of getting off our train from Flåm, we were able to get into a normal train on the main Norwegian rail network, which would take us directly back to Bergen. The journey on the main train line was spectacular in itself, as the track descended for another half an hour through the snow, then began to follow the path of a steep gorge. Once back in Bergen, we just had time to grab some food before heading off for the bus back to the airport. There were no difficulties with check-in this time around, and rather amazingly Norwegian Air offer free wi-fi on their flights, so we've been able to update the blog from the skies Norway is definitely not a cheap country and some of the prices on this holiday have definitely made our eyes water, but we have had a brilliant time this weekend and it must surely rank as one of the most beautiful places we have been
  6. We were quite tired after our early start yesterday, but there wasn't time for much of a lie-in this morning because we were off on an adventure to see the fjords We had tickets for a bus that left Bergen at 08.45 and would take us to the small town of Flåm. Flåm is located at the end of the Aurlandsfjord, and so has a very scenic location in what is already a very scenic country. From there we would be able to take a boat along the Aurlandsfjord and into the neighbouring Nærøyfjord. All we needed was for all the transport connections to work. And for it not to rain! We didn't get off to a very good start with the latter, as we got caught in a torrential shower which appeared to start as soon as we stepped outside of our apartment in Bergen. It wasn't far to the bus station though, and we had a a whole three hours on the bus to dry out. Luckily the bus was warm and quite comfortable, and we enjoyed a spectacular journey through the mountains. The bus passed through numerous tunnels and each time we emerged in a new valley the weather seemed to vary between sunny and raining. There was still a lot of snow on the mountains and at one point we drove past a big lake which looked as if it had been frozen all winter, with the ice just starting to melt in places. The bus made a brief stop in Voss, which looked like a beautiful place. The snow on the mountains looked almost too perfect to be real. We arrived in Flåm promptly at 11.45 and immediately had a fantastic view of the fjord. During the summer Flåm is a tourist hotspot but there were no cruise ships in the fjord today and we seemed to have arrived before most of the other tourists. The village itself is quite small but it is in a spectacular location. We wandered around for a while to enjoy the views... ...and then made sure we knew where our boat would be leaving from, before finding a cafe to have lunch. By the time the boat was due to depart at 13.30, a few more tourists had arrived via the Flåm railway, but it still wasn't overly busy. The boat was quite relaxed, with no set seating; there were piles of plastic garden chairs on the deck which you could rearrange and sit wherever you liked. It didn't really matter where you sat, because the views on all sides of the fjord were equally beautiful. One slight annoyance (apart from the people with selfie-sticks!) were the seagulls, which persistently circled the boat for at least half an hour. I think some of the tourists must have been throwing them food. The sides of the fjord were incredibly steep and rocky. We passed occasional hamlets which seemed to be in very inaccessible locations. The most exciting point of the journey came about an hour in, when the boat turned a corner from the Aurlandsfjord into the Nærøyfjord. This is a really narrow fjord, only 250m across at its narrowest point. You can probably tell from the photos that it was rather windy! So much so that the plastic chairs began blowing about the deck and the staff had to come and collect them up. We passed numerous waterfalls as we made our way along the fjord. The good thing about the wind was that it became a bit quieter on deck, as some of the worst selfie-stick offenders went inside to stay warm Two hours after we set off, we began to approach Gudvangen, the village at the far end of the Nærøyfjord. Again, the snowy mountains here were amazing. Gudvangen itself is a very small place, but there was a cafe where we were able to warm up and get a coffee. We didn't stretch to cake as it was £7 a slice! There were lots of coaches waiting in Gudvangen to pick up tour groups from the boat. We made our way up to the main road to catch the public bus back towards Bergen. We have packed a lot of travelling into today, but it was definitely worth it
  7. Clare

    Day 1: Bergen

    You would think that planning a three-day break to Norway would be relatively straightforward, but this trip has possibly been the most problematic one I've ever tried to organise! It got off to a good start in early January when I found extremely cheap flights from Gatwick to Bergen with Norwegian for the first May bank holiday. £50 return seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, even though I knew from our previous experience in Oslo that everything in Norway was going to be extremely expensive once we arrived. I figured we could afford three days of Norwegian prices though, and once the flights were booked I started making plans for what we could do. Having read a lot about it on the internet, I was keen to try the 'Norway in a Nutshell' tour, which aims to give visitors with a limited amount of time in the country a taste of the fjords via a one-day circular trip by train, bus and boat. It looked amazing, and the best thing about it is that although you could buy your tickets altogether as part of a tour package, it isn't actually a guided tour and the entire route is made up of normal public transport. I developed a cunning plan which was going to involve catching all the transport involved in the 'Norway in a Nutshell' tour, but at different times to the ones advertised for the package so that all the trains etc would be significantly quieter. It also looked like it would potentially be cheaper to buy all the tickets individually rather than purchasing the offical tour ticket. I had it all sorted out.... and then I went on the website of the Norwegian train company to double-check I had the timings right and realised that they had just announced rail engineering works on Sunday 1 May which would mean that a crucial bit of train line between Bergen and Myrdal, whose existence was integral to the entire trip, was going to be closed all day. There was going to be a rail replacement bus along part of the line but it wasn't going as far as Myrdal, which rendered it useless. Brilliant. Several days spent poring over Norwegian timetables later, I managed to develop another slightly more innovative route which will hopefully allow us to still experience the key parts of the tour, but split over Sunday and Monday. It remains to be seen whether all the timings will work out. But at least, I thought, I had now got my one piece of travel bad luck over and done with for 2016. Hahahaha. No, not quite. I heard my phone vibrating while I was working on Thursday afternoon, and when I went to check it I found I had an email from booking.com about my apartment reservation in Bergen. I thought perhaps they were sending me some instructions about checking in, so imagine my horror when I opened it to find that they were informing me that my reservation had been cancelled... because of an on-going strike by hotel workers in Norway!!! Since when do hotel staff go on strike?! Is this a thing in Norway the same way air traffic control strikes are in France? Who knows. It was extremely bad luck that the apartment I had booked was linked to a hotel and so caught up in the strike. Also quite bad luck that it was one of those bookings where they take the cash off you as soon as you make the reservation, because now I'm having to negotiate with booking.com about getting my money back. When I first read it I panicked that there would be no alternative accommodation available in the whole of Norway this weekend, but Tim swiftly got on booking.com and managed to find an alternative apartment. Not quite as nice as the first one, but it looked adequate and wasn't going to break the bank. Now we just had to keep our fingers crossed that this reservation didn't get cancelled as well. By Friday evening we hadn't had any more worrying emails from booking.com, so we concluded that all our bad luck was definitely over now and set our alarms for 3am on Saturday morning in preparation for the journey to Gatwick. At least we were confident that driving at such an antisocial time meant we would be spared the chaos on the M40 and M25 that almost ruined our trip to Lapland at Christmas. Everything went like clockwork and we actually arrived at the airport nearly 30 minutes earlier than planned. Result At this point I need to explain that we hadn't checked in online. Normally we would do that, but with Norwegian it doesn't seem very straightforward; you can only check in once it is 24 hours before your flight, and online check-in isn't available for all their routes. I had given up trying to figure it out on their website and decided that we would just queue to check in at the airport, although we were only flying with hand luggage. So when we got to Gatwick, the first thing we did was try to find the Norwegian check-in desk. This seemed to be more difficult that you would expect, because there weren't any helpful displays telling you which desk numbers related to which airlines. As we wandered around the terminal, however, we did notice a number of self-service check-in machines which were displaying the Norwegian logo. Seeing as didn't have any baggage to check in, we figured we'd used one of those.... but every machine we tried seemed to be broken and displayed an error message like a browswer which couldn't connect to the internet once we got halfway through the process. We found the proper Norwegian check-in area after a while and were pleased to see that there wasn't a queue. When we approached one of the staff, however, he explained that the airport was experiencing a system problem and so they weren't able to check anyone in. Aha, so that explained why the machines weren't working and why all the display boards were blank! It didn't sound like it was anything too serious though, because he suggested we come back in 10 minutes once the displays had switched back on. We found a convenient place to sit and waited. It was about 6am when we arrived at the airport. 6.30 came and went, and the displays still weren't on. It was clear that the airport must be experiencing a serious computer failure, although you wouldn't have been able to tell from the announcements, which just blandly apologised for "any inconvenience caused" at irregular intervals. 7am arrived, and the scene in the terminal building was becoming increasingly chaotic as more and more people turned up to the airport and no one was able to be checked in. By the time it got to 07.30, I was seriously worried. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 08.40, but there were no announcements about whether flights were actually cancelled, or whether the system failure was just affecting check-in. I decided to switch my phone on to see whether I could find any useful information online, and when I did I found I had a text from Norwegian telling me that my flight to Bergen was on time! Oh dear. If only I had checked in online in advance! Then we could at least have tried to make our way to the departures area and see whether they were letting people through security. As it was, even if the systems came back on in the next split second, the queue of people waiting to check in for Norwegian was already so enormous that it seemed highly unlikely we would be able to make the flight if it was on time In what may be the first time anyone has ever had this thought, I said to myself "It's such a shame we're not flying Ryanair!" If it was Ryanair, I could just have checked us in via the app... an app... perhaps Norwegian has an app! It turns out Norwegian does have an app I held my breath as it downloaded because it wasn't clear whether it was just going to allow me to check the status of flights or to actually check it. Once it had installed, I was delighted to see there was a "check-in" option, but would it let me check in now that my flight was only a little over an hour away?! Fortunately it did Within about 30 seconds I had two electronic boarding passes for the 08.40 flight to Bergen. Phew! We made our way to security where there was an enormous queue but thankfully it started moving pretty quickly. The barriers where you were supposed to scan your boarding passes weren't working, so they had to have people manually checking them. I think the systems must have been starting to come back online at this point, because once we got through security we did find a display telling us which gate our flight was on. Although clearly not everything was back in working order, because when the staff at the gate were supposed to be checking our passports and boarding passes they had nothing to check them against, so were reduced to writing down our names and seat numbers on a piece of paper! It turned out the flight was delayed, ultimately by about an hour, but at least that gave some more passengers chance to get to the gate. I think they had organised some sort of manual check-in, but the lack of computers meant some people had been allocated seat numbers and others hadn't, so in the end they had to give up on reserved seats and allow people to sit where they liked. The Norwegian staff were really helpful and at least told us what was going on, which was a big improvement. At last, we were sitting on the tarmac and the pilot started his welcome message, giving us some details about the upcoming flight to Bergen. Suddenly there was a bit of commotion a couple of rows ahead of us. A man stood up and said "Are you all going to Bergen?!", then he and his wife started frantically trying to gather up their baggage. It turned out they were supposed to be flying to Copenhagen and had accidentally got on the wrong plane They managed to get off before the doors were sealed - though goodness knows whether they got to Copenhagen or not - but I guess that illustrates what sort of breaches in security are possible without computerised checks at the airport! Anyway, with that the trauma of the day (and hopefully the entire weekend!) was over and we were finally on our way to Bergen It was actually a very pleasant flight, and as the aircraft began its descent towards Bergen we had a beautiful view of snow-capped mountains. Bergen airport seemed very efficient and we were through passport control within minutes of disembarking from the plane. I had pre-bought tickets for the airport bus online to save money and an airport bus was conveniently waiting right outside the terminal building as soon as we stepped outside. Things seemed to be improving The journey into Bergen took less than half an hour, so we had soon arrived and were able to start exploring the city. Our first priority was to find some food, as it was now 1pm and we hadn't eaten anything except a muffin on the plane. We made our way to the city centre, but it seemed that a marathon had been taking place in Bergen this morning, so everywhere was extremely busy. We eventually gave up trying to find somewhere we could get a table and went to Burger King instead. Burger King was nice, although at 240 krone (approximately £20) it was definitely the most expensive fast food Tim ever hopes to have in his life! Next task was to find our replacement apartment. This turned out to be quite easy, as it's located not far from the main train and bus stations, and the complicated check-in instructions they'd sent us with door codes all worked like clockwork. The apartment itself is a bit small (and has bunk beds!) but it's definitely a lot better than nothing. Just down the road from our apartment is the Domkirke, Bergen's cathedral. It's not very ornate as cathedrals go, but we thought it looked very Norwegian somehow. The first place we wanted to make sure we saw in Bergen was Bryggen, the historical wharf area. It consists of a series of Hanseatic houses, which were originally built in fourteenth century, although most were destroyed by a fire in 1702, so the current buildings are much more modern. Some of them looked very old based on how crooked they were! All of the buildings today are occupied by shops, hotels and even a night club! We walked along the edge of the water until we got to the Bergenhus Fortress. This is the site of an ancient Norwegian fortress, which continued to be used for defence up to WW2. Today it is mainly a park, where you can walk around and admire the various buildings and statues. We noticed that Norway isn't quite as far ahead with spring as we are in England - these daffodils looked like they had only recently come out, and all the trees were still very bare. At the edge of the fortress there was large statue of King Haakon VII, who was king of Norway during the war. The statue shows him looking out to sea with his binoculars. All he would see today if he looked out to sea was a large cruise ship! Although there was a ship that looked a bit more military in the harbour too. As we turned around to walk back into the centre of Bergen, we had some beautiful views of the hills behind the city. We spotted some more Hanseatic houses - these ones looking a little more solid as they were made from bricks. The centre of Bergen seemed very pleasant. Although it is the second largest city in Norway and it had been hosting a marathon today, it didn't feel overly crowded. We found the street where we were supposed to have been staying in our original apartment. It looked rather posh, with some formal gardens stretching up to the national theatre. The theatre itself was a somewhat strange building, with this rather frightening statue of Henrik Ibsen outside. Having already walked along the Bryggen side of the harbour, we decided to stroll along the opposite side. Some of the buildings on this side weren't as scenic, but as we got to the end of the peninsula we did get some amazing views out to sea. We took a slightly different route on the way back and passed all sorts of buildings which made us want to stop and take our cameras out. Bright colours are definitely popular in Bergen. As are churches with roofs like this one. I think the award for best view of the day goes to this one though, because of the snow These houses might have won though if they hadn't had a car park in front of them! Back in the centre of town, we found the statue of Ole Bull, a famous Norwegian violinist and composer who was born in Bergen. From there we had a bit of a steep uphill climb to get a view of the Johanneskirken, an imposing red brick church which towers above the town centre. At this point it was feeling suspiciously like rain, so we decided to quit while we were ahead and go back to the apartment for a rest and some blog writing. Bergen is beautiful and I'm very glad that despite everything we managed to get here
  8. Clare

    Day 5: Oslo

    After a day of travelling yesterday, we decided to spend our final day back in Oslo. After a leisurely start to the morning, we set off on a walk towards the Bygdøy peninsula, on the western outskirts of Oslo. The guidebook suggested that it was a pretty forested area, with popular beaches in the summer and a large number of museums. We weren't sure how long it would take us to get there - and we weren't sure how to pronounce the name of the place either(!) - but it sounded like a nice way to spend a morning. Here's an idea of where we were planning to head: Our route led us through the city centre, where we had time to enjoy the unusual Christmas decorations again. From there we walked down to the harbour and began to make our way along the seafront in the direction of the peninsula. We were slightly concerned at one point when we caught sight of what appeared to be a cruise ship, but it turned just to be an extremely large ferry which had come from Kiel in Germany. After just over an hour, we rounded the corner and entered Bygdøy. We followed the main road through an increasingly rural landscape, surrounded by fields on one side and dense forest on the other. Every now and again we came across signposts which pointed the way to the various museums. Unfortunately with it being New Year's Eve, they were all closed. It looked like the Norwegian folk museum might have some interesting buildings though. After another hour of walking, we came to the end of the peninsula and were rewarded with some beautiful views out to sea... ...and back towards Oslo. We had walked about 8 miles by this point, so decided to catch a bus back to Oslo rather than walk. It was about 1pm, so we thought we would head to the Vinmonopolet in the central station and buy a bottle of wine to celebrate the new year, just in case the shops were due to close early. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the station and found Vinmonopolet in darkness! Several other people were standing around in confusion. One man explained in English that Vinmonopolet was closed today... not just this branch of Vinmonopolet, but every Vinmonopolet across the country. In other words, it is impossible to buy a bottle of wine in Norway on New Year's Eve :'( This was an eventuality which we had not foreseen, although possibly it is what the guidebook meant when it said that Oslo was once voted the most boring capital in Europe!
  9. Having spent a few days exploring Oslo, we were keen to travel further afield and visit a different town in Norway. There were all sorts of interesting places we could have gone to, but ten minutes researching the prices of train tickets on the Norwegian railways website was enough to confirm that we couldn't afford to travel very far at all. In the end we found a regional train to a town called Halden, which we had never heard of but which the Visit Norway website was quite enthusiastic about. At £25 each per direction, the tickets weren't exactly what Tim would have called a bargain, but for Norwegian prices they seemed to be quite good value, so we decided to give it a go. Our train to Halden left Oslo at 10am and arrived shortly before midday. We have had some extremely cramped experiences travelling on regional trains in Italy and in Latvia this year, but regional trains in Norway proved to be so comfortable that we almost felt compensated for the price of the tickets. The seats were so spacious that we were initially worried we might have strayed into first class by mistake, and all the carriages were equipped with coffee machines and free wi-fi. Halden didn't seem to be a very popular destination, so we almost had a carriage to ourselves as we enjoyed a scenic journey through the forested countryside. When we arrived in Halden, we found it to be surprisingly icy. It hadn't been particularly cold in Oslo and there wasn't any frost on the ground, but as we travelled further out into the countryside we had noticed a thin covering of white on some of the fields. It appeared that it had rained in Halden overnight, then the water on the roads and pavements had frozen leaving parts of the town positively treacherous, even though it was nearly midday. We made it as far as the main square, and caught our first glimpse of the imposing Fredriksten fortress. We slipped and skidded our way around the town centre for a bit, crossing a bridge over the river and passing this unusual church. We had hoped that we would be able to climb to the top of the fortress, but once the path started seriously sloping upwards, it became clear that that wasn't going to be possible. There was so much ice, and it was almost impossible to see before you stepped onto a particular piece of pavement whether it was safe or not. The path would have been steep at the best of times and if by some miracle I had managed to get up it without falling over, I was pretty sure that I would never manage to get down it again in one piece, so this is as close as we got. Back down on flat ground in Halden, we began to feel that we might exhaust the local sights long before the limited daylight ran out. We skated along a few more pavements and came across a beautiful view of the Iddefjord, but it was impossible to walk along the waterfront because of the ice. We headed back to the station instead to see whether there was anywhere else we could travel to. As luck would have it, we found a timetable indicating that a bus would be departing for the town of Strömstad in Sweden within the next 15 minutes. The prospect of visiting another country was too exciting for us to resist, and so before long we were sitting on the bus and watching more forests pass us by. The journey to Strömstad took about 45 minutes. Crossing the border was almost unnoticeable, except for the fact that shortly afterwards the bus stopped at an enormous out-of-town shopping mall and nearly all the Norwegians got off. I had read in the Oslo guidebook that food, clothes and alcohol are cheaper in Sweden and that large numbers of Norwegians regularly travel across the border to do their shopping. First impressions of Strömstad were that it was a pretty coastal town. The town hall was very interesting, with an unusual turquoise-coloured roof. Best of all, there was no ice on the pavements We explored the town centre for a while and then walked down to the sea, where we had a lovely view of the harbour and some islands. We were pretty cold by this point so we headed to a pizzeria to warm up and fortify ourselves for the long journey back to Oslo.
  10. Clare

    Day 3: Oslo

    It was a nice sunny day in Oslo today, so we decided to make the most of it by heading out to see the ski jump at Holmenkollen. According to our Oslo guide book, this is the most popular tourist attraction in the whole of Norway, so although we weren't entirely sure what there would be to see when we got there, we wanted to give it a try. Holmenkollen is located in a hilly district, about 10km outside the centre of Oslo. It seemed like a bit too far to walk, but luckily there is a metro line which runs from the main train station to the bottom of the ski jump. This was our first attempt at using public transport in Oslo, and it nearly ended in disaster as we came to the erroneous conclusion that our destination was within Zone 3 of the public transport map and tried to purchase tickets valid to there. When the ticket machine informed us that a single ticket would cost £7 each, Tim started making mutterings along the lines of "maybe it wouldn't be such a long way to walk after all!" Abandoning our ticket purchase, we stopped to review the transport map again and this time - fortunately - realised that all underground lines were within Zone 1 and that we had been getting confused by a place with a similar name to our destination which happened to be in Zone 3. Tickets within Zone 1 were about £3 each, which seemed like a positive bargain in comparison. Phew! The journery to Holmenkollen was more enjoyable than I had expected, as after three stops the train ceased to be an underground and became decidedly overground instead. As we travelled through picturesque Oslo suburbs, the train began to climb slowly uphill and we caught sight of the ski jump in the distance. There was also an amazing view back down towards Oslo and the sea. From the station there was a short walk uphill to reach the bottom of the ski jump. On the way, we passed this pretty Norwegian hotel. When we eventually arrived, we found that there was a museum about skiing and a lift which would take visitors all the way to the top of the ski jump. At £11 each it was a bit expensive to get in, but having come all this way we thought we'd better give it a go. I think you would have to be extremely interested in the history of skiing to read all the exhibits in the ski museum, but the glass cases of skis were interspersed with large stuffed animals which made things slightly more exciting. Having negotiated the skis, next stop was the lift to the top of the jump. We had to queue for a little while as the lift - which is actually more like a small funicular - can only carry 13 people at a time. When it was our turn we sped to the top in a couple of minutes and emerged out onto a viewing platform on the top of the ski jump. Wow. There were some amazing views out over the Norwegian countryside. Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy and so the view back towards Oslo and the fjord was partially obscured. It was a long way down the jump and hard to imagine why anyone would want to throw themselves down there on a pair of skis! Having soaked up as much of the view as we could, we caught the lift down and began our walk back to the train station. The clouds had cleared a little bit by this point and so we had a better view out towards Oslo. When we got back to the city centre, our first stop was a visit to Oslo's opera house. Opera houses aren't normally part of our sight-seeing itinerary, but this one is special in that it has been constructed with a sloping roof which allows members of the public to climb up it from ground level and enjoy a panoramic view of Oslo. It's so unusual that it's hard to explain, but it looks like this: From the top we had a beautiful view out across Oslo.... ...as well as a lovely view of the waterfront and harbour area... ...and an amazing view out to sea. From the opera house we were able to stroll along the sea front and around to the Akerhus fortress. By this time it was nearly 3pm, so we headed back to our apartment in an attempt to have lunch before darkness fell. I think we definitely made the most of the daylight hours
  11. Our choice of where to go for a post-Christmas holiday was largely determined by the availability of cheap flights. We wanted to go somewhere which would be cold and snowy, ideally leaving on December 27th and being home on time for work on January 2nd. Everywhere in eastern Europe was ruled out, because the flights home were almost sold out with people returning to the UK after Christmas. We were struggling to think of a suitable destination, when Tim came up with the idea of Oslo. Oslo should definitely be cold and snowy, and there were some reasonable flights from Stansted on the days we needed. Our visit to Helsinki over the summer had made us aware that going to a Scandinavian country could prove rather expensive, so we decided to book an apartment rather than a hotel, in the hope of keeping costs down by self-catering. The weather forecasts prior to our departure were not terribly auspicious. First of all, the temperatures in Oslo were reported as being unseasonably mild, with light rain expected rather than snow. Secondly, a storm was forecast for England over the night of the 26th and morning of the 27th which could potentially have scuppered our flight. Luckily Stansted seemed to escape the worst of the weather, however, and while our drive down was a bit windy and the flight itself a bit bumpy in places, there were no delays and we were treated to the infamous Ryanair jingle upon arrival, informing us that yet another flight had touched down on time. Seeing as we were travelling with Ryanair, we didn't actually land in Oslo but in a town called Rygge, about 40 miles to the south of the city. Reaching Oslo was easy though, with a free shuttle bus to take us from the airport to the nearest train station and then a direct train into Oslo. We were lucky enough to get seats in the silent compartment and so enjoyed a peaceful journey through the Norwegian countryside with views out across the Oslo fjord. We arrived in a wet and windy Oslo shortly after 2pm and after the usual confusion after exiting a train station and finding that none of the roads bear any relation to the ones on your map, we eventually located our apartment block, which was only a kilometre or so from the main town centre. Having searched in vain for a doorbell, we realised that we had to ring a number posted on the door to alert someone to come and let us in. This seemed like an unfortunate system given the cost of international phone calls, but once we managed to get through a lady soon arrived and showed us to our apartment. We were pleased to see that it was a nice spacious room, with a good-sized kitchen and enough implements to enable us to cook. We were less pleased when we tried to pay in cash and were told that we could only do that if we had the exact change. The bill happened to come to a figure ending in 8 - and we only had krone notes in mulitples of 10 - so this was a bit problematic. Tim ended up having to go across the road to a grocery shop and buying a can of Pringles in order to get the correct change! Successfully checked in, grocery shopping was our next task and one which proved to be somewhat painful. We picked up a few necessities, including some bread, ham, cheese and juice for breakfast, and some mince and pasta for tea, and were horrified to find that the cost came to the equivalent of £37. I hasten to add that the shopping did not contain any alcohol, as the supermarket was strangely devoid of wine. We had located the drinks aisle, only to find that it was stocked with beer and nothing else. At a price equivalent to £3 per can, Tim declined to buy any but we asked the cashier as we paid where we could find wine, and he informed us that we needed to go to a place called Vinmonopolet. Vinmonopolet (The Wine Monopoly), it turns out, is controlled by the Norwegian government and is the only shop in Norway allowed to stock drinks with an alcohol content of 4.75%! It was pouring with rain by this point so we didn't try to locate an outlet that evening, but resolved to track one down the next day. I was intrigued to know how much the Norwegian government would sell wine for. After a quiet and sober evening in, we were up early on Saturday morning, eager to explore Oslo and make the most of the daylight hours. Having started getting dark at about 15.30 the previous day, the sun began to rise around 9am which gave us a better window than we had anticipated to see the sights. We set off promptly, and the first sight we came to was the rather impressive Oslo cathedral, the main church in the Church of Norway which is the location for public events of the Norwegian royal family. Round the corner from there, we came across the building of the Norwegian parliament. From there the road continued down towards the Royal Palace. Plant pots along the route had been filled with beautiful purple heather rather than flowers - presumably to withstand the cold winter, although today was still rather mild. The Royal Palace itself was rather impressive, and had a very low security presence compared to London. Downhill from the palace was Oslo town hall. It doesn't look like a very attractive building, but it's one of the most famous buildings in Norway, because it is here that the Nobel peace prize is awarded each year. More attractive than the town hall was the sea, which we found just across the road from it. The photo looks dark, although it was about 11am by this point; this seems to be as much daylight as Oslo gets in December! The next sight on our agenda was Vigeland Sculpture Park, a park housing a large collection of sculptures by the Norwegian artist, Gustav Vigeland. This was described by the guidebook as one of the biggest attractions in Oslo, so we were quite excited to see it. After a lovely stroll through the suburbs of Oslo, we arrived at the entrance to the park. There are 212 sculptures in the park in total, of which 58 are located along this bridge. Some of them were stranger than others! The highlight of the park is the so-called 'Monolith' sculpture, a huge granite structure which apparently represents man's yearning for the spiritual and divine. We struggled to see it personally There were some amazing views of Oslo and the surrounding area from the top of the staircases though. On the walk back into Oslo city centre, we came across the elusive Vinmonopolet. There was a very extensive display of wine, almost all of which was way outside our price range. After scouring the shelves for some time, the cheapest we could find was a bottle of Riesling for just over £10. Tim managed to charm the checkout operator into giving him a free carrier bag, and we carried it back to the apartment very very carefully indeed lest we break it. Vinmonopolet closes at 3pm on Saturdays(!) so there would be no opportunity to acquire any more.
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