Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Category: Norway

My Top 10 from 2015

2015 was a pretty epic year of traveling for me. I’ve just switched over to my new 2016 calendar and I counted all the days I was out of Saudi traveling last year. It was 109. 109!!!! How is that even possible? Since the last time I checked I work a full-time gig as a VIP nurse in Saudi Arabia. But apparently I was on the go a lot. I visited 16 countries over the last year, 11 of them new for me, and I thought I would share my top 10 favourite memories from the last year. Enjoy!!

1. Cyprus

Way back in February I took a trip to Cyprus and my kiwi sidekick and I rented a car and drove around the quaint island. I have 2 favourite memories from this trip. The first was the a day we spend driving in the hills between Limassol and Paphos. The  day was cold and dreary and we visited a local winery and then made our way to a small village that was devastated and deserted by an earthquake in 1969. As we arrived in the village a torrential downpour started which only added to the creepiness of our visit, and we got soaked walking around taking photos. The village is on the way to a town called Lemona. The other great memory I have from that trip was the time a stranger gave us his BMW to drive for an afternoon. You can read about that travel tale here.

Creepy right?!

2. Norway

Two words. Lofoten Islands. Quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. They are picturesque and have this kinda of awestruck beauty that isolated and desolate places have. Every which way you turn your head was a postcard perfect view. The gagged snow covered peaks drop dramatically into the arctic sea and I would go back in a second. I think an Atheist would have a hard time believing there isn’t a higher power of some sort after visiting this island chain. See for yourself…..

3. Sweden

The whole of Scandinavia is awesome, and travel there is pretty easy. It would be a real shame if you went to Sweden and didn’t visit the Ice Hotel, even if only for the day! The Ice Hotel is an artistic marvel in that every year the design and decor is completely different. Different artists take part every year so the theme rooms change, which you have to admit is pretty cool. It is pricey, but well worth the stay. You can sleep in one of the actual ice rooms, or stay in a heated cabin like we did. Oh, and if you go make sure to do the tasting menu at the restaurant there- it is phenomenal. Maybe you’ll luck out and the Northern Lights will come out like they did for us!!

4. Finland

Dog sledding in Lapland has got to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was bloody cold, but so worth it.

5. Maldives

This view……I dream about it often. This is one of the most relaxed vacations I have ever had. Ever. It was hard to decide between spa, pool, eat, nap, read, repeat. This is also the place where I attempted to overcome my fear of the water and tried scuba diving.

6. Bahrain

So VIP culture is huge in the Middles East. You rarely see anything VIP in North America unless it’s in a mocking nature, but over in these parts everything is VIP. VIP movie theaters, hospitals, parking spots, entrances. It’s all a little over the top. That is until you catch a ride over the causeway to Bahrain in a vehicle with diplomatic plates and get to cross via the VIP lanes. Yep. And funfact….they have tea boys who come right up to you car to serve you tea, while you wait in line to cross the border.

7. Morocco

I blogged at great length about how difficult it was traveling in Morocco, but one the best things we did while there was take a cooking class thru Souk Cuisine. This class included a shopping trip to buy the needed ingredients in the Medina and was a great way to learn about local ingredients whilst mixing with the locals. Even though Morocco was sometimes very challenging the food was ALWAYS delicious. I would pretty much recommend doing a cooking class or food tour whenever you travel. I’m doing one later this month in Spain and can’t wait!!

8. Bali Indonesia

At the end of August I took part in a retreat on the northern part of the Indonesian island of Bali with 17 other ladies from all over the world. My time there was so needed and really came at a time when I needed to slow down and work through some things on my own. The location was beautiful, as were the many lovely ladies I met. This was a time of much needed R&R and reflection, and I’m so thankful for the wonderful friendships that were formed from my time in Bali.

9. Oktoberfest Germany

Even though I ended up with a GI bug from hell, Oktoberfest was a seriously fun time (while it lasted.) I mean what’s not to love about a group of traditionally costumed and hugely intoxicated people smashing beer steins together while singing traditional German songs at the top of ones lungs. It was a good time, and YOLO you really only do live once so you should go.

10. Sparkling Hills Spa in British Columbia Canada

Last month I took my mom to this spa about an hour from where she lives. This is a place people have been raving about since it opened a few years back and I was keen to see what all the hype was about! The hotel is pretty much the luxury accommodations in the Okanagan region of British Columbia and known for its spa, saunas and heated outdoor infinity pools. The views from the rooms are amazing, as are the 7 saunas and the indoor floating pool with classical music playing under the water. Well worth the visit, and it was a great mother-daughter retreat.

So really that wraps up 2015. It was a pretty great year. I’m really excited to see what is in store for 2016. I’m excited for the new faces I will meet, the new sights I will see, and the changes that will take place inside of me.  I found this quote that sums up my thoughts about the upcoming year perfectly, and my hopes for both you and I…..

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.

You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, for all of us, and my wish for myself.

Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.

Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t prefect, whatever it is; art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing. Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

Neil Gaiman

The Right Place at the Right Time

While staying in Narvik Norway, my kiwi mate and I decided to walk to the ski hill the overlooks the city to ride the cable car to the top of the hill to take in the supposed amazing views of the city and surrounding area. Apparently on a clear day you can see the Lofoten Islands from the top. We asked directions from the front desk of the hotel we stayed at and were told that it was about a 20 min walk to the base of the ski hill. The receptionist did not mention that it was straight up hill and unless you had boots that had amazing grip to climb a steep hill of ice it would be far smarter to take a taxi. This would’ve been helpful to know.

So we set off. My kiwi friend is sensible and wearing snow boots. I, however; was not as bright and had on a pair of hiking shoes. Shoes meant for hiking, not ice climbing. So we start up this hill, and its slick, but not yet that steep and people are coming down the same path and they seem to be having no problem so I figure it’s ok going up. Later we would realize that all the locals had these traction devices that fit over their shoes making it easy and safe to walk on ice. So the road is getting steeper and I’m slipping every couple steps and starting to really get freaked out. Because if it is this hard going up, how the eff am I going to get down? Back in 2008 I had a bad bike accident that left me broken and bruised and had it not been for wearing a helmet I would seriously have sustained a brain injury. Ever since I’m very nervous about any chance of hitting my head on a hard surface. Climbing this hill of ice completely un-nerved me. But, we were literally trapped. I didn’t want to go on, but was too scared to turn around so we attempted to unsuccessfully call a taxi. No luck. So the next safest option was to walk in the street because at least the street was bare in most parts.

So we’re coming around a corner and a Somali woman is coming down with a toddler and a baby in a stroller. She’s coming down the hill that’s a complete ice rink. And the toddler slips, and pulls the lady down with him. As she falls her hands lose grip on the stroller and the stroller starts sliding down the ice into the road. To the exact spot I was walking up. It literally rolled into my out stretched hands. The woman is looking panicked, the toddler is crying and he’s bitten his lip so he’s bleeding. And it’s so icy that they can hardly get up. And we can’t get to them to help as it’s so damn icy. So, eventually she is able to get up and helps the toddler up, and we help them across the street all the while I’m pushing the stroller and this super cute chubby baby is staring at me like “who are you lady, and what’s happening?”

We get them to a safe area, and then we say our goodbyes. And I’m immediately thankful we didn’t turn around. Because if I hadn’t continued on and been walking in the street at that exact moment who knows what would’ve happened to that baby. The stroller would’ve for sure ran into the street, and quite likely into oncoming traffic, if it didn’t tip over when it went off the sidewalk. So sometimes, you end up being in the exact right place at the right time, even though seconds before that was literally the last place I wanted to be. I’m not overly religious, but I think it’s a hell of a coincidence that we found ourselves in that exact spot.

So we eventually made it to the base of the ski hill. Only to find out that the last trip up the cable car was 5 min before we got there. And that the ski hill was closed the following day.  So we had an employee call us a taxi because there was absolutely no way I was walking back down that hill of ice. And we never did get to find out it the view was as amazing as we had read. The End.

Norway

IMG_4894Those of you who know me well know that I am not a winter lover. In fact, for many years I dodged the dreaded Canadian winters by taking contracts in the southern parts of the US. A winter spent in Arizona and another one in Southern California were very good for my soul. I’m much happier wearing flip-flops than snow boots. And yet, in the middle of March I spent 2 weeks traveling thru Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark with my kiwi sidekick. For the last few years the Lofoten Islands have been a place I’ve been drawn to. A big part of the draw was how picturesque they are, but equally so is their isolation. Especially, in the winter.

The Lofoten Islands are a chain of islands off the northern Norwegian coast located in the Arctic Circle. To get there we flew from Riyadh to Munich, to Copenhagen, to Oslo, to Bodo where we spent a night. Bodo is the main transport hub for tourists heading to the Lofotens. The recommended route to get to the Lofoten Islands is to take an express ferry from Bodo which takes about 4hrs. The ferry, however; runs at odd times, and doesn’t get into Svolvear until after dark so we decided to take the bus. There are a couple different bus options. We switched buses in Sortland, and it took us most of the day to get to Svolvear. The buses in Norway are clean, and efficient. To get to Svolvear you end up taking a couple ferries while on the bus, and it’s a very beautiful journey. One of my favourite things about traveling is being in motion. I love to take the world in from a window of a bus or train as opposed to flying. This was a lovely bus trip. The scenery outside is a combination of utter beauty and the harshness of desolation. The grey winter sky contrasts against the snowy jagged cliffs as you pass lakes and the coastline of the Norwegian Sea.

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Svolvear is one of the main towns in the Lofoten Island archipelago. We decided to stay here 4 nights as the town looked very quaint. You can see most things within the town in a day. There are several cute shops, and a bunch of galleries with photography exhibits and more traditional style paintings. There are many food options. There is a large bridge with amazing views that crosses over to the small town of Svinoya. This is a great place to take photos of the massive fish drying racks which are a major contributor to the areas economy. We took a day trip to the opposite end  of the island to a place called Henningsvaer which you can easily walk around in a couple of hours. The buses don’t run often so you really have to plan your trips out well in advance. The best option (but also the most expensive) would be to have a rental car, but we were trying to stay within our budget, so the bus it was. Another easy day trip is to take the bus to the next island south to visit the Lofotr Viking Museum in Borg. The museum tells the Viking history of the area and is build on an archeological site. There is  a reconstructed Chieftain house where you can try on armoured clothing and see what it would have been like to live during Viking times. During the summer months you can go on board a Viking ship- this area was closed while we visited as the lake was frozen. There are many other activities to do while in the Lofotens. You can go on a whale expeditions, go deep sea fishing, or surf the Arctic Circle. There is limited day light hours thru the  winter months but in the summer you can take in the “midnight sun” with extended hours of daylight.

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From the Lofoten Islands we traveled to Narvik, again by bus which took about 4 1/2 hours. Narvik is a great transportation hub for those tourists traveling onwards to Sweden. There is a ski hill over looking the city, and many shops and restaurants to explore. We spent one night here before taking the train to Kiruna Sweden. Norway wasn’t the easiest place to travel in as several times we ate at restaurants that didn’t have English menus or staff that didn’t speak English. I often thought how difficult it would be if English wasn’t your first language seeing as we had a lot of communication difficulties. That being said, Norwegians themselves are very friendly. Especially the elderly ones. We often had elderly people come up to us and start chatting in Norwegian only to have us smile and shrug our shoulders to communicate that we didn’t understand. It’s also good to know that in a lot of pubs or simple restaurants you go up to the counter to order and pay prior to getting your food. Tipping is not expected at restaurants like this. The buses are easy, but can be a little frustrating as you don’t get tickets ahead of time, which means it takes several minutes at every stop for people to board and pay for however far they are going. The Lofoten Islands are as beautiful as I imagined. I would happily go back!

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