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About Me

Found 5 results

  1. 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
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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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