English: There, here and over there. Basically, in a sense, to mean restless. A collection of thoughts, musings and ramblings...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

MAS Traveller - My Visit to the Land of Snow and Ice - Norway

My submission is up! Please 'Like' my blogpost at MAS Traveller - My Visit to the Land of Snow and Ice - Norway, because I just can't wait to travel again! :)


Friday, March 11, 2011

My Visit to the Land of Snow and Ice – Norway.

Scenery during a hiking trip

‘Norway??’ I can almost see the large question mark hovering over their heads. This was the typical response I got from most people when they saw my travel photos on Facebook. I guess it wouldn’t be such a shocker if I chose to visit any other time than right smack in the middle of winter. And a total of 18 hours flight time each way, to spend a mere 1 week at a country that was on the other side of the globe from where I live - about 9,800 km away.

Why Norway? I had the great opportunity of visiting Norway at the end of January 2011, when I was invited by the 2011 JCI Norway president (whom I befriended on Facebook) to attend a JCI international event there. And I thought, why not? It’s a good chance to visit a country that I have never been to, plus they do have some interesting activities planned. JCI Ørsta-Volda was hosting their first ever ‘Troll Weekend’, a weekend of training, teambuilding and networking with JCI members from other European countries.

JCI members enjoying their dinner
To be honest, I love travelling, and have absolutely no qualms about boarding a long-haul flight all by myself. My last visit to Europe was in 2007, where I went to Hamburg (Germany) via Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, to Stuttgart (Germany), to Sønderborg (Denmark) and Aarhus (Denmark). All alone, except when I arrived at my destinations and stayed with friends. One of the best things about travelling to a new destination is immersing myself completely in a new culture, sights and scenery. I want to go to a place and have a feel of how life would be like living there.

I don’t live in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, so flying to Europe required me to take an additional 2 and half hours flight from my hometown. As I was already travelling with MAS, I didn’t have to worry about transferring to different airports. The exhilarating feeling of travelling started the moment I stepped foot on KLIA. Yeah, Norway, here I come!!!

In preparation of the cold weather ahead of me, I packed an overnight bag to be taken into the cabin with me, which included thermal underwear, sweater, extra socks, my glasses (absolutely essential!) and other toiletries within the airport regulations limit. Check-in and moving through immigration was fuss free, and I was off!
Inside a KLM aircraft

At Amsterdam Schiphol airport
The flight to Amsterdam Schiphol airport took approximately 13 hours of flight. KLM is one of the airlines offering the cheapest flights to where I wanted to go. Plus I have flown with them before, and I have no complaints. 13 hours at first seemed like a very very long time, but the time flew by quickly enough. I couldn’t sleep well due to the turbulence and noises from the aircraft. Pretty jealous of the guy sleeping soundly on the next seat! It started getting quite cold during the flight, so I was very happy that I brought my sweater and extra socks with me.

Arriving at Schiphol reminded me of my first trip to Europe 2 years ago. Actually, nothing much has changed. There wasn’t much time before my connecting flight to Oslo, so I didn’t really have time for much else. There was a museum and library at the airport, which I only had time to pass by.

Arrived in Norway at last!

Flight to Oslo took around 2 hours. Even though we departed Amsterdam at 7.05 am, it was still dark outside. After being served tea and some sandwiches, I fell asleep. When I woke up, we were cruising in the sunrise, and….. what was that??? ICE???? I stared outside the window, my mouth agape at the view before me. Miles and miles of snow and ice lay before me. And… hmmm… what is that? Only then I realized I was looking at snow covered houses and buildings. It was just like being a kid all over again. Getting off the plane meant that I get to have to have my first experience of the cold air while walking on the tarmac towards the airport building. Whoopeeee!! :-p
Check in at Gardemoen airport, Oslo
To the Airport Express train
I had one more flight left to my destination, and that was in 5 hours time. So meanwhile, I walked to and fro the whole stretch of the airport, feeling the blast of cold wind coming in from the entrance now and then. Stared at more snow…. Trying not to oogle and everything too much and be the complete tourist :-p It was interesting enough to note that so many things were in Norwegian language. Unlike Malaysia, where even though we consider English as a second language, almost everything is in English. And OMG… prices of food (as I discovered when I was hungry) were phenomenal. RM15 for a bottle of Pepsi Max and around RM30 for a chicken sandwich. That is not yet inclusive of service / govt tax, so do the math :-)

Small propeller plane for the last leg of the trip
The final flight was by a small propeller plane, operated by Widerøe airline. I’ve been on smaller planes, so this one is great. The flight took another 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to Ørsta-Volda. As we approached the landing strip, I immediately regretted putting my camera in the overhead compartment. Because in front of me, was some of the most breathtaking views of mountain and fjords ever!

Ørsta-Volda’s airport is very small, kind of like Lahad Datu’s :) I was greeted by Audun, JCI Norway National President. So happy to finally have arrived after a long long journey. Getting to the cabins involved a car ferry to cross the fjord to the other side. I am just drinking in the whole new sights with my eyes. However, I was very tired after the whole journey, so I had a little nap before I met the rest. Nothing was more welcoming than the sight of a nice soft bed to lie in after many long hours on the plane.

View of the fjord in the morning
Being with so many people from different countries was like the Australian university experience all over again. It was so fun to meet people, to talk and experience things together. I also got to experience the many different weather changes within the three days that I was there. First morning, snow had turned into ice, which was a problem for cars and lots of sliding around while trying to walk. My response: ‘I did not sign up for this!’ which some people found exceedingly funny. We had a very nice tour on a boat on the fjord and some snowboarding afterwards. However, being Malaysian, and not fully equipped, I tried only once for the snowboarding and had ice down my back. Oooooooh, it burns!!! :-p
Second day: It started snowing as we were sitting inside for a training session. Later that afternoon, we were sent off for a hiking trip in the snow, and an endless trail upwards. Definitely my work-out for the entire week! :-p In the evening was our ‘Troll Hunting’ session where we were divided into groups and sent into the woods to test our skills in accuracy, strength, smarts and bravery. It was actually very very funny and entertaining. Especially when some ‘troll’ started screaming and each group had to prepare a song to sing loudly to scare the troll away.

Torches after the troll hunt

Where I stayed the first couple of nights
There were many other interesting places to see around the area, and I was lucky to have someone who was kind enough to take me around on a drive. Especially interesting was the tunnel that went underneath the fjord that leads to the other side, and the towering bridges that span the distances over some areas.

View from the plane
Oslo is your typical big city, also known as the Tiger City (yeah… where are the tigers in Norway?). I always love big old buildings, and proper public transportation links. Gardemoen airport is linked to the city centre by the Airport Express Train, which costs about NOK160 or RM80 per way, and takes you only about 20 minutes to arrive. One of the easier (and less exhausting) way of seeing the city sights is via trams. If you are going to spend a lot of time using the public transportation (and most likely you are!) it may be more cost efficient to use a 24-hour day pass, which costs NOK70 or RM35 and is valid on all buses, trams and metro-lines. Visiting Karl Johans Gate (‘gate’ just means street in Norwegian) is a must for tourists as the important places such as the Royal Palace, National Theatre, Oslo Cathedral, Eidsvolls plass (a skating rink in winter), but I was already staying close by anyway.
Part of Karl Johans Gate
The Royal Palace

Oslo is also the home of the Nobel Peace Centre (didn’t manage a visit, maybe next time). During my trip, I visited the Viking museum and the Kon-Tiki museum, which is about a ship that was built to prove the theory of how people migrated to different countries long long ago. I wanted to see the explorer ship that went to the Artic, but it was closed for renovation. Shucks!! Also went to Akershus fortress, which gave some stunning views of the city from the top, but I guess it would be much better in the summer. Got to Holmenkollen ski jump too late to see anything worthwhile, but at least I was there
Me at Arkershus fortress
Norway and Malaysia couldn’t be any more different. Where Malaysia was sunny and hot with an average temperature of around 29 – 35 degrees Celsius, Norway was, at that time, around 0 to -2 degrees Celsius, and the sun rose at around 9 -10 in the morning, and set at 4-5pm. It was so unusual for me. While I managed to get over my jet lag pretty quickly, I found the timing of the sunrise and sunset a little confounding. Where I am from, the sun rises and sets pretty much around the same day, every single day. So I was pretty confused, often thinking it was much later than it actually was, especially in the evening. For example, when it was 6pm (and dark!) in my mind it was already 8pm.

I think I must have been bitten by the travel bug.... hard! I can't wait for another trip like this :)

Feeling absolutely chic! ;-)
To sum off my trip:-

What I loved: The sight of beautiful white (with a bluish tinge) snow and the breathtaking views that are unusual back home.

What I (hated is not quite the word) was hesitant about: The slippery ice had me worried on several occasions that I was going to slip and fall, and hurt my injured knee once again. BUT, it was also a good excuse for holding on tight to the arm of some good looking Norwegian man ;-)

What I thought was unusual: Norwegians don’t eat as much as we Malaysians do :-P They have a simple breakfast of bread rolls with cheese and some meat, and pretty much the same thing for packed lunch. And they have quite a light dinner. And what do Malaysians eat? Ummmm….. hahaha!

New discoveries: Brown cheese! Actually it is goat cheese :-) Brought some home with me too!

Yummy brown cheese

New experience: Snow-boarding, watching people ski, visiting the ski-jump in Oslo, and seeing up close a real Viking ship!

Most unforgettable experience: The ‘Troll hunting’ experience :-p
At the Viking Ship museum

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