Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Oh the Swedes and the end of the tour

Onto the land of the Svens and Bjorns.

We had a really great time in Sweden. The drive to Stockholm from Oslo was similar to the approach to Halifax through the lake region. We also got our fair share of ABBA music on the way, so I felt right at home. When we arrived on Thursday we got dropped off for a wander about downtown. We spent the evening people watching (even better than Oslo) and wandering around checking out clubs. We also had some amazing Swedish Thai food - who would have thunk it.

Next morning we went to a really cool museum, Frau I think, which houses the ship that was the pride of Stockholm but sunk in the harbour on its maiden voyage. Too many cannons. It was a pretty cool museum though and even had the skeletons of the people who sunk with it in the 17th century. Definitely worth checking out! Friday was another wandering about day where we checked out a really cute heritage park in the older part of town, and wandered the narrow streets of old town. The park was very quaint with people walking around dressed in "authentic" clothes. There was even real "wildlife" so we got to see some wolverines pups wrestling about. The two highlights of the park were the amazing Swedish meatballs, and Toto was playing a concert that night so we got to hear their sound check. Unfortunately, they did not play Africa - sad day. The best part of the old town was the hilarious tourist stores, it would have been a crazy cat-lady heaven (Errol take note). The beer was also nice. I forgot to mention that Friday was Canada day so we had a rousing rendition of Oh Canada on the coach and later subjected the rest of the tour to the musical genius of B4-4. Apparently no one outside of Canada knows "get down", weird, I know. We capped off the night at a fantastic Swedish club where we were all underdressed and not blonde enough to fit in. Regardless, we shuffled. We had an incredibly exciting cab ride home full of unregistered cabs, highways, running out of gas, flagging more cabs and finally paying a killer rate to get back to the hotel. It was definitely a night to remember.

Saturday morning was not a happy one. We all made the mistake of signing up for the Stockholm City Hall Tour adventure and all almost puked in the lovely Blue hall where they receive the Nobel laureates each year. The Blue hall isn't blue. That fact, and the shiny room made of gold and glass are the only things I remember from the entire tour - money well spent. We killed the rest of the morning walking, moping and napping. Mid afternoon we caught the coach and boarded the ferry that would take us to Finland. This ship was absolutely hilarious. They treated it like a 12 hour cruise ship complete with hired photographers, mascots, theme music, shops, a fancy buffet, a casino and a couple of night clubs. It was a hilarious and very fun experience. We also really enjoyed it's nickname "the love boat" as it apparently used to get pretty wild in the 60's. The crew leaving in Helsinki treated this as our last night so we went all out. Needless to say, another highlight night.

Sunday morning we took a driving tour of Helsinki so saw most of the big sights. We then wandered about for the rest of the day, did a bit of shopping, and relaxed down by the harbour. I spent the day with my California Girls friends so had a riot people watching. Unlike gorgeous Stockholm, Helsinki was divided between sickly skinny sad looking people who gaulked at our bright clothes, or Ed Hardy clad meatheads. So as I said, great people watching. That night was kind of depressing knowing that half the group would be continuing on to Russia and the rest of us dispersing. But, alas all good Contiki tours must come to an end.

It was a fantastic trip and I would recommend the company to anyone who enjoys fun. I saw some amazing sights and made some great friends.

And so with the end of Contiki comes the end of the post.

Until next time.

Picture: the model of the ship in the Frau. The museum was extra cold and dark to preserve the 400 year old ship so the picture of the real thing didn't turn out that well.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Norway- the land of Vikings, rivers and reindeer

So where did I leave off... Just got into Norway and had some serious whiplash from bobsledding.

The next day (we're now looking at  Thursday) was one of the most beautiful drives. We stopped in a quaint little town called Lom, where stands the oldest stave church in Europe. It was a wicked old wooden building shaped like an overturned Viking ship. The town was situated in picturesque rolling hills and had a beautiful waterfall right "downtown". After Lom we drove on through the centre of Norway (similar to the drive up to Banff) and then the fjords were upon us! Picture the canoe scene from lord of the rings but instead of one Orlando Bloom, the whole population was beautiful blonde Vikings. So anyways, I have seen some beautiful lakes in my life, but never anything like this. Green water with hundreds of meters of straight up and down cliffs and waterfalls. The fjord we sailed down was Geiranger, the longest in Norway. In Aussie speak rang-er means ginger and this was pronounced gay-rang-er so you can only imagine the immaturity and hilarity that resulted from the day. After our sail we settled in the town of Hellsynt for our first experience of the nearly 24 daylight. The picture of the fjord below was taken at 11pm without a flash.

The next morning was another gorgeous drive through to the town of Voss - one of the extreme sport capitals of the world. Voss was amazing - one of my highlights for sure! When we arrived we participated in the Scandinavian tradition of a polar dip. This means sauna first then 7 degree water then sauna again. If that doesn't get your heart going, I don't know what does! Our first night out in Voss was hilarious. In case anyone was thinking about it, do not try to get drunk on a German apéritif. There was a lot of mingling with the locals many of whom looked a bit like drunken trolls and acted like them too (like Simon in the plaid pants). Our group was pretty much the entire bar. Needless to say, the early morning wake up for extreme sports the next day came a little early and painfully.

Despite being ridiculously hungover, the Saturday was probably my favorite day on the tour. This was the white water rafting day, a sport that is extreme enough without the glacial waters. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun!  Everything from the freezing swim test to the free float "local" style to the wetsuit shuffle (see party rock anthem for reference, except mum and dad, please don't), it was an amazing time! The rest of the night was spent relaxing, chatting and napping. 

Sunday was the long haul back to Oslo. The highlight of the trip was a stop in the troll graveyard. This is what the Norse call a beach full of inukshuks as told by their folklore. In Oslo we hiked up a ski jump and got to spend some time down by the harbour people watching. In case you didn't know, Oslo has been voted the most beautiful city (people wise) in the world. We were also there during the gay pride parade so the quality of style and good looking people was even better than usual. 

The next morning was an early start as we had to catch our flight up north to Alta. This airport was actually smaller than the Saskatoon airport. After the flight we caught another coach up to the town of Honingsvarg and on the way, stopped at a diner that served Rudolph pizza. I'll let you take a wild guess what kind of meat that was. The town of Honninsvarg is definitely in the boons. It also smells like fish - dried fish being a local specialty, they leave it outside for a year to dry, and even the birds don't want it. The first day in Honingsvarg we wandered around, had amazing reindeer stew, went to the local ice bar, then headed up to Nordkapp, the most northern point in Europe. Nordkapp consists of a cliff, two statues and an information centre with a huge gift shop. Unfortunately it was a cloudy evening (and freezing) so when midnight rolled around, even though it was super bright out, we didn't get to see the sun bounce off the horizon. My favourite part of the evening was the drive back to the hostel because the clouds broke and we got a full-on sunrise at 12:15am, it was unreal. By the time we got back to the hostel, it was just as bright as high noon. 

Tuesday was another favourite day. This was Nordic adventure day. We started with the usual (huge) Scandinavian breakfast consisting of breads, cheeses, eggs, pastes, fish, cereal, yogurt and so much more. After breakfast we rolled ourselves down into town where we donned really good looking orange parka onezees and jumped onto a pontoon boat into the Arctic ocean. This wasn't just a rinky-dink raft, it could haul! So we sped off out through the bay into the ocean and had a forty minute speed-tour about. The thing about pontoon boats is that the sides are bouncy, which makes holding on quite difficult. I ended up holding a deep-lunge for a solid three quarters of an hour, ie could not walk for 3 days. Another fun thing about the boat was the fact that during the holding-on for dear life, the driver had failed to mention that our wonderful orange parka-suits were not just stylish, but floatation devises. Good to know once you're safe on land. Anyways, the whole point of the boat tour was to fish for King Crab. We got some, and by some I mean enough to feed 50 people breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have never seen crabs this huge (hardy har). The feast was amazing and we all came out sufficiently stuffed that we had to waddle in our parka-suits. To get back to base, we drove ATVs. This was rather exciting as we were going 60km/hr on the highway and through a 4km long tunnel. On the way out of the tunnel we all got pulled over by the police, which was an ordeal, but smart little Gen had brought her license with her. The guy had more fun just looking at it and admiring the pretty pictures of a bc license, that he forgot to ask what class 5 meant. After the cop incident and some bad registration delays, we went up to a lookout point where the cheeky Norwegians used to spy on the Russians. The guides got a kick out of me as I was being extra intense and using my whole body to turn the quad. Truth is my arms were to short to use them alone. That night was a chill out and grumble about the aches and pains type, followed by another 4am wakeup to catch one of the three flights that leaves from Alta per week. 

After another 4hour coach ride, we caught the flight down and had a free day in Oslo. We wandered about (staring) and had a really nice dinner. On the way back to the hostel, we stopped in Frogner park which is known for it's unusual statues. They were hilarious and naked - giggle. So again, only very mature pictures were taken. I would highly recommend google-ing the park then use your imagination for potential pictures. 

And with those images, so concludes my tour of Norway. Onto Sweden in the morning and onto writing another day.

Tak (this means thanks but is the only Norwegian word I know)

Picture: me looking particularly classy at the top of the world according to Europe

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The start of the Scandinavian Adventure

A long overdue hello.

Currently on a coach to Stockholm from Oslo. Since I last posted, I have left Sarah at Mannheim and met a Contiki tour in Copenhagen.

Mannheim was a nice relaxing stay where we caught up on sleep, laundry and German beer. There isn't a lot to do in Mannheim, but they have a gorgeous university which was once a castle, and a really cool water tower protected by all sorts of strange mystical creatures - half naked men wrestling eels, weird topless sphinxes, etc.

After sending Sarah off on her own to Berlin, I spent the day in the Frankfurt airport, which was less than fun. One perk - Lufthansa offers free coffee and cappuccinos in their wing, so it was an incredibly wired wait. I arrived in Copenhagen well after 11 (original flight was meant to land at 4:30) and proceeded to wander aimlessly around town for 40 minutes looking for my hostel. The night in the hostel was a little hairy as I was stuck in a room with 4 old guys who proceeded to play dueling banjos with their snoring. Needless to say, not a lot of sleep.

The next morning I stumbled around Copenhagen and saw most of the sights! It's a gorgeous city with a really nice harbour. This was also the home of Hans Christian Andersen so everything is very fairy tale-esque. I saw the very little little mermaid, wandered the really cool fortress park, and walked down a street covered In roses. That night, I met up with my Contiki group and did another walking tour. One of the people from the group dragged me to a museum that rivaled the British museum for raw ability to steal other countries' stuff. My favourite was a cabinet full of all the broken off noses and ears from the marble statues. The next day in Copenhagen I adventured out with a couple new people and explored the spiral tower and the hippy village of Christiana. The tower had an incredible view but due to building regulations (requiring that no building be in another's shadow, therefore disallowing skyscrapers) the scenery was pretty flat. Christiana was a whole different kettle of fish with a lot of graffiti, reggae and people selling drugs openly on the streets. Crazy gipsies! After the day out I went boutique shopping with Hayley from Aus/New York my favorite line of this excursion was "it's nice, but I want something I can't find in New York", - must be rough! We finished off the night at Trivoli, the amusement park right in the middle of town. let's just say that schooners of beer and roller coasters make going to the Carlsberg brewery tour at 9:00 the next morning a bit challenging.

The next day was a driving day to Gothenburg, Sweden. Yes there is a bridge, it's actually the longest connection in the world - 17km long. The minute we crossed into Sweden the guide blared ABBA, Ace of Base, and Swedish House Mafia for the remainder of the drive, my kind of trip! We had a fun night in Gothenburg getting to know everyone then had a early morning for the leg to Lillehammer. We spanned two counties that day, and finished up with a bobsled ride down the Olympic track. This was hell. I was in the back with a safety belt to keep my spine intact, so just got trashed the whole way down. The bruises took a solid 10 days to go away. I slept well that night though! The next day was really the start of our Norwegian adventures so those will all be discussed in the next post.
To be continued...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Far less phlegmish in Flemish

For the first time, blogging from a stationary position!

I am currently in Mannheim, Germany accompanied by my lovely ginger friend Sarah! "Mannheim?" you might say, "why the heck are you in Mannheim?" well, to be honest, we chose this city for the most noble of reasons. 1. I looked up prize winning German Rieslings (sweet white wine for those of you less cultured like myself). 2. There were two from the town of Diedlehorf (or something to that affect). 3. The name Diedlehorf made me giggle. 4. Mannheim was the closest major city with cheap accommodation. So, we chose Mannheim, but I will not write about our German adventures until later.

Where I last left off was on the train to Bruges. Now the Belgians are a slightly more Androgynous looking people than the gorgeous Dutch, but are incredibly friendly and have a superb taste in food and drink - mussels, chocolate, waffles, fries, and beer! The first night in Bruges we endeavored into 3 of the 5, none of them being the more substantive mussels. This pretty much set the tone for the remainder of our visit. Sunday morning we toured the medieval city and rented bikes for the day. We had an absolutely beautiful ride along the canal to an adorable town called Sluis. We later found out that this 40km bike ride had actually taken us back into Holland. I was quite surprised about the lack of federalis on the border or guards interrogating me about my purchases in Seattle, and the fact that we rode rickety old bikes into a new country without our passports. Either way, it was an amazing day despite the severely bruised sit bones, and we all decided Bruges topped our lists for favourite cities.

Monday we travelled to Brussels where, unfortunately, we sent Kristin packing back to Paris to finally fly home to Canada. Brussels wasn't nearly as pretty as Bruges as we figured out quite quickly after becoming incredibly lost on the transit system. Once we finally found the place we had google mapped (about an hour of lugging around our backpacks in 25 degree weather and 80% humidity) we realized that we had in fact googled the wrong hotel. Just as a side note, always ensure to type the s into hostel otherwise you will be thoroughly disappointed when you show up at the really nice hotel that is not only way nicer than the place you are staying, but also NOT the place you are staying.

Anyways, after finally conceding to call a cab we ended up at the complete dive that was our hostel, but could only laugh into the smoke-smelling pillows in the room at our luck. After a quite night because everything was closed due to yet another national holiday, we started out early the next morning. We took in the sites - more like site - of Brussels and hopped a train to Luxembourg. This site that I speak of is a statue of a  little boy peeing with a fountain coming out of you-know-where. The Brussel-ite, -ians, - sprouts whatever you want to call them, are incredibly proud of this defiant little boy and have someone hired to go and put cute outfits on him a few times a month - very weird. Taking pictures felt almost pedophiliac, but I've attached one for everyone to enjoy.

So, off we went to Luxembourg feeling kind of wrong about the statue and Brussels in general. Luxembourg is very... Quaint. Not a whole lot to see or do, mind you we did end up stumbling through the red light district which was scenic to say the least. The city (Luxembourg city) has a giant valley surrounding it, filled with a gorgeous park. We went for a brisk early morning walk there and climbed the flights of stairs back up into the downtown. Highlights of Luxembourg: easy to walk places, cute, nice church, and good Chinese food. All in all, a nice country to spend a day in.

So now I've reached Mannheim, of which I have promised not to reveal the secrets of until a later date. So far, the trip has been amazing, the people friendly, the company energetic and the languages hilarious. On a simple giggle level, German takes the cake, but Dutch wins the prize for being the language that although impossible to speak, is a charming mixture of things close enough to English that I can get by, and Flemish was just impossible noises that make up a language and has by far the most descriptive name!

As the Von Trapps say... Auf Wiedersehen and Goodnight!

The pretty church in Luxembourg