Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two days in Oslo

We arrived in Oslo early Wednesday afternoon to clear skies and sunshine. We walked through downtown to our guesthouse ("pensjonat"), which is definitely the way to go when looking for accommodation in Europe. After a quick lunch from the grocery store - reindeer salami, cheese, and potato salad - we wandered the city for a few hours. Our first stop was City Hall. Not expecting to see much, we were pleasantly surprised by the art in and outside of the building, much of which was created before and after WWII. It was also a good way to learn more about Norwegian history and mythology.

Oslo happened to be hosting many big festivals this weekend, such as Gay Pride, Oslo Live, and a summer "cross-country skiing" event. The sounds from the crowd and bands led us down to the pier, where we were able to observe much of the festivities. We think we were even on live tv during the race! Because it had been a long day, we cooked dinner back at our hotel and relaxed while watching a little Jersey Shore (after 3 weeks without tv, you would watch it too).

Thursday meant more sightseeing in Oslo, so we started the day off by taking a ferry to the Fram Museum. This museum houses the Norwegian Ship, the Fram, and showed its successful history. This ship sailed further north than any other ship and later brought Roald Amundsen to Antarctica, where he was the first man to ski to the South Pole. It was interesting to read all about polar expeditions from a century ago.

The rain that set in cancelled our plans to walk to a nearby sculpture park, so we took the ferry back to downtown Oslo and stopped in a cafe for some lunch. We had a rich Norwegian meal of meatballs, potato dumplings, and lamb. Afternoon meant more museums as we went to the Norwegian Architecture Museum next. This relatively new museum showcased a variety of structures including private dwellings, commercial buildings and public spaces. Finally, we headed to the National Gallery to see the history of Norwegian art. The highlight was easily the Edvard Munch collection, including the very first version of The Scream (see pic - colors enhanced by Instagram). Three museums in one day is probably a record for us, so we came back and packed up for our journey home.

After three long weeks of trekking around Scandinavia via every possible mode of transportation, we are ready to head back to the U.S. to spend a little time relaxing and seeing family and friends...oh, and getting a Chicago apartment as well. We hope you've enjoyed reading and look for updates from the next trip.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

København - Day 2

The second day of Copenhagen started off with much nicer weather and even a bit of sunshine. We took the bus into the city and walked the streets looking for another place to have coffee and pastries for breakfast. In Denmark, this was an easy task as we found pastry shops at every corner (but no Starbucks, which is both weird and great).

The first stop of the day led us to Christiansborg, an island which houses the national parliament and government offices, as well as some royal buildings. We wandered around the grounds for a bit before heading off to another part of the city.

We walked toward the west side of Copenhagen called Vesterbrogade. We were on our way to a restaurant that our guide book told us was a "carnivore's dream." We were excited to sample some of Denmark's tasty meat dishes, such as Flæskesteg and Hakkebøf. To get there, we strolled down a street that was a unique blend of fancy hotels, adult stores, hair salons, and ethnic food shops. After walking for a good 30 minutes, we couldn't find the restaurant, and eventually found out it had closed, "many years ago," according to the florist next door. We ended up finding an artsy British cafe with an amazing Croque Monsieur and a Danish egg smørrebrød.

Next stop was a visit to the famous Ølbutikken bottle beer shop. Its stock had been cleared out due to the recent Copenhagen Beer Festival, but we still found some goodies to load up in our packs to bring back to the U.S. Right around the corner was the Mikkeller Bar (see attached pic - an example of Danish interior design). Mikkeller is a gypsy brewer with no facilities, so the bar is his showcase. This bar easily had a world-class bottle list, featuring some of the best from Northern Europe, as well as others. We stuck to the Mikkeller beers and had a Bourbon Aged Beer Geek Brunch Weasel (made with kopi lowak coffee - beans digested by a civet, then harvested) and others. However, the highlight was Mikkeller Black aged in a cognac barrel, which is definitely a world class stout on par with the cognac Stormaktsporter.

After spending the afternoon at the bar, we sought out "Denmark's greatest hot dogs." Sadly, this shop had moved, so we headed into Tivoli Gardens for some dinner to accompany our recreation. Luckily, we found a Danish restaurant and tried hakkebøf for dinner. This was basically a hamburger with onions, but it hit the spot. Relaxation was the theme for the rest of the night while we wandered around Tivoli, people-watching and just enjoying our last night in Copenhagen.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

København - Day 1

We arrived in Copenhagen late Sunday night and saw a "dark" sky for the first time in two weeks. We set up our tent at a campground less than 3 miles from the city center. This campground exists temporarily each summer in a giant park, for tourists we assume. Regardless of why it exists, it's perfect for us, especially with our last-minute decision to visit Copenhagen.

It poured rain all night (loud enough to keep us up at times) but we woke up to a dry, gray sky and hopped on a bus to the center of Copenhagen. Kicking it off in true Danish style, we stopped at a bakery for coffee and pastries. We spent the entire day walking and covered almost ten miles, only seeing half of the city. This walk included a visit to Christiana, which is like an eclectic 70s commune with people even selling hash on the street at 10am. Throughout the day, our walk took us to numerous other sites like The Little Mermaid, Kastellet (a fortress), Rosenborg Castle and the Royal Gardens.

We were amazed at how much there is to see and do here and pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of people and quick paced atmosphere. There is definitely a mix between new Scandinavian and old European architecture, which is something that has captivated us already. Bicyclists rule the streets and there is never a shortage of cruisers parked along the sidewalk.

Lunch consisted of a platter of traditional smørrebrød, which are basically gourmet open faced sandwiches (see pic in other post). Later, after seven hours of walking, we decided to rest our feet and have a beer. We stopped by a local brewpub, Nørrebro Bryghus, and had their sampler of eight different styles. On our way back to the bus, we decided to hop into another good beer bar for a half-glass each, while sitting outside across from a park. We made our way back to the campsite to cook a late dinner before resting up for another big day in Copenhagen.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Town of Kvanndal on Hardangerfjord

Two hours into our ride, the bus dropped us off at the ferry dock, across the street from the entire town of Kvanndal, which consisted of no more than 20 buildings total, including houses. We set up camp at the campsite in town, right across from the ferry. We made dinner and planned the hike for Saturday.

Walking around in the Bergen rain must've worn us out, since we both slept like rocks until late morning. After an energizing breakfast we hit the trail in full rain gear, since the rain from Friday had not let up. With low clouds, we knew there was a slim chance of a gorgeous vista of Harsangerfjord, but we started climbing anyway. We ascended about 1500 feet in a few miles over steep, wet and rocky terrain and were rewarded with exactly the view we expected: clouds. However, the hike was gorgeous as we walked through a dense canopy along the cliffs and even crossed under multiple waterfalls. Moreover, upon our return, the rain let up and the clouds lifted just long enough to get a couple snapshots, including the attached pic. All-in-all, the four hour hike was well worth it, especially since we managed to stay dry.

The rest of the time in Kvanndal consisted of eating, sleeping, relaxing and doing more crossword puzzles until the bus came on Sunday. This took us back to Bergen, where we are now at the airport, anxiously awaiting our flight to Copenhagen. Hopefully our luggage will join us this time.

Bergen, Day 2

After 13 days of sunshine, we got our first glimpse of wet weather. The city of Bergen gets 260 days of rain each year and we saw it firsthand. This was no Seattle drizzle, but rather a solid shower for endless hours. But, we were leaving town that day, so we had our waterproof gear on while we spent the afternoon around the town.

We walked past the fish market again, tempted by the smoked fish, caviar and sausages, but we refrained from purchasing any "souvenirs." Next was the Brygga, which is a row of more than fifty 18th century buildings still standing. These are probably the only buildings in Scandinavia this old that have never burnt down. Seriously, look up the history of any city we've been to and you'll see that each city has burnt down at least once. This makes the Brygga that much more impressive.

Just down the street lies the old Bergen military fortress. The parts of the fortress that weren't destroyed in WWII were pretty cool, and we could tell that the fortress would've been quite imposing in its entirety.

The other attractions in Bergen consisted of a leprosy museum and numerous art galleries, which are not really our thing, so we wandered around in the rain for a while. We saw some old houses, statues and the lake and fountain (see pic) before catching the bus to Kvanndal for the weekend to see a fjord.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

From Lofoten to Bergen: Gateway to the Fjords

We've had a lot going on in the last 48 hours, so here's a little rundown.

Wednesday afternoon was spent wandering around the town of Å, most of which is designated as part of an outdoor museum, explaining the history of the town. There were thirty buildings in all, including the founder's mansion and gardens, a boathouse and a cod-liver oil factory, which was simply disgusting, though in an entertaining way. We watched a super cheesy video about making cod liver oil, even though it was in Norwegian. Free tastes of the oil were offered, but one whiff of the stuff drove us both straight out of the building.

After finishing up in Å, we walked back north to the town of Sørvågen (see pic) for a traditional Lofoten dinner, which was appreciated after days of dehydrated backpacking meals. We had sei (fish) and a whale steak, and were happily educated on the politics of whale hunting by the server. If you have any questions, we'll tell you all about it. Regardless, the whale was a unique opportunity that we couldn't pass up, and it just so happened to be delicious.

Next was the final walk back to Møskenes to catch the overnight ferry to Bodø. From there, we flew to Bergen, though our luggage arrived about 10 hours later than us. We spent the afternoon walking around the Bergen, as well as planning our next moves. Unfortunately, the snowpack in Jotunheimen is still too deep and the public transportation is not conducive to us through-hiking at this time of year. So we audibled and now are planning on visiting a fjord near Kvanndal for a couple days before flying to Copenhagen. We plan to see more of Bergen tomorrow, then heading to the fjord and we'll try to update from there before our trek to Denmark. Not exactly as much backcountry backpacking as we planned, but this is why we call it adventure traveling.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Walking to Å, the End of Lofoten

From Møskenes, we loaded up our packs and hit the road, heading south. This stretch took us past the fishing villages of Sørvågen and Tind, before we walked into Å. This walk wore us out and we were happy to have lunch and enjoy the view from our seaside hostel room.

We wandered around the tiny village a bit, which consists of a restaurant, a number of rorbuer (seaside fisherman's huts), and a couple museums, which we plan to check out tomorrow. The entire village smells like stockfish, which we will tell you more about in another post.

Since it stays light out late, we headed out at 7pm for an evening hike around Lake Ågvatnet. The meandering trail took us through marshes, over a couple small creek crossings, as well as up some chain-assisted rock climbs. The views all around the lake were stunning (see pic) and the 5-miler was enough to stir up an appetite before a late dinner back at the hostel. That should bring us up to the present and we'll update again when we can.

Ramberg til Møskenes

We finally caught the bus to Ramberg on Monday morning (whew!). The hour drive along the lakes and sea were breathtaking. The weather changed dramatically from hot and sunny to cold and windy. Once in Ramberg, we walked to the beach and made lunch. It wasn't going to be a swim in the ocean and lay out kind of day that we had expected, but nonetheless the beach was beautiful (see pic). After eating and relaxing on the beach, we decided to ditch our packs and attempt the climb up "Nubben." We climbed up about 500 feet to get views of the village, which were well worth the effort (see pic in other post).

Afterward, we stopped by the tourist office to chat with a local, who happened to love Chicago. Aside from that, there wasn't much going on, so we headed back to the beach to make dinner. Finally, the last bus out of Ramberg left at about 9:30 pm and we took that to Møskenes. Arriving at almost 11pm (still daylight, remember?), we set up camp and called it a night.