We did it: NORWAY

April 7, 2017 by NJPainter

**Hold tight while the photos from this post are re-loaded! **

I’ve been away!
From the blog, from the country. Etc, etc.

We spent 10 days in Norway in March and I’ve found it to be a very hard trip to summarize since we returned. We covered a lot of ground.

In short — It was very cold… but the scenery was stunning. We spent too much time on a boat… but we ate copious amounts of fresh and smoked fish (and even a little reindeer!) The weather was not always on our side… but we DID see the northern lights! There was nothing relaxing about this trip… but it was a great adventure.

I hope you like photos of snowy mountains and large bodies of water!

Day 1: Oslo
I am positive that Oslo is a wonderful city (even if most restaurants serve whale). But we had one day there and we were dealing with a mixed cocktail of jet lag, wind and incessant rain.  We found a few really neat pockets of the town, had a great dinner, slept in a quintessential Scandinavian airbnb and got ourselves out of town the next day.

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so. much. wind.

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so. much. jet lag.

Day 2: Oslo > Myrdal >Flåm > Gudvangen > Voss > Bergen
We took the Norway in a Nutshell tour; a touristy but worthwhile trip from Oslo to Bergen that requires three trains (one of them straight out of a Wes Anderson film), two buses and a boat ride.  It’s a full day but it presents the best of what Norway has to offer (mountains! fjords! waterfalls! misty sea-side towns!) in one easily navigable package.

This is the part of our trip where we learned that the weather changes very quickly in Norway:
Oslo = gloomy
20 minutes outside of Oslo = blue skies, green trees!
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40 minutes outside of Oslo = a barren landscape adrift in endless blizzard.

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what have we done?

The trains would stop every now and then for a good photo op – like a frozen water fall or a tiny town nestled in the mountains.

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Doing this trek in winter certainly has it’s perks; the mountains are snow-capped, the trains, buses and boats are relatively quiet with tourists, it’s cheap. But snow brings clouds and clouds tend to cover up all the good stuff. At one point, we were admiring the mountainside from a windy ferry deck and the mist parted for a few seconds to reveal that there were eight more mountains behind the first one.
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We both agreed that we’d like to relive this day in the middle of the summer.

This day was looonnnggg (especially when the last leg train ride was canceled and we had to wait an hour for a bus to show up). But, the view was pretty spectacular:
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We made it to Bergen late into the night, settled into our airbnb and found an open pub before collapsing from the day.

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Day 3: Bergen
We could’ve spent more time in Bergen. I really enjoyed our short time in its crooked, cobblestone streets, old churches, forts and cozy restaurants. The funicular ride up to the top of Mount Floyen and the infamous fish market on the water are both worth your time.

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Bergen was also where we picked up the Hurtigruten ship that would take us alllllll the way up into the arctic circle. While this wasn’t a “cruise ship” (it’s actually more of a cargo ship), our room had a bold theme:
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Day 4: [Hurtigruten Route] – Norweigan Sea / town of Alesund
We awoke in the morning to this. I’m not sure why we’re not wearing jackets because trust me… it was cold. But, mountains!
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Our first stop off the boat was in Alesund – a town that suffered a devastating fire in 1904 (Norweigans really loved their wooden structures). But silver lining: the fire had great timing because they got to copy the french and rebuild the whole place like it had always been a quaint art nouveau village.

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And oh yes, it was still raining.

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Day 5: [Hurtigruten Route] – Norwegian Sea / town of Trondheim
Here’s where the coast started to get realllyyyy good…

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Trondheim is where the architecture starts to get extra Norwegian. Every single building is painted maroon, mustard yellow or navy blue. The bridges are still wooden and everything has the aesthetic of being hand carved. It was (still!) raining so I bought this hat and didn’t feel out of place for a second. Sure, Norway is European, but they’re a breed that lives by function over form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 6: [Hurtigruten Route] – Noregian Sea / town of Bodo
We crossed into the arctic circle on day six and while the first part of the day was sunny and clear (finally!!), the second half of the day was… sort of exactly what you think weather in the arctic circle might be like. Frigid. And snowing… at sea.

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We skipped the actual town of Bodo and joined a group hike along the coast… These are some of the photos that I feel so the landscape the least amount of justice. The mountain range in the back of these photos was MASSIVE.

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Our non-cruise cruise ship woke us up on this particular night because we were going through an especially narrow fjord and they wondered if we’d all like to come out of our cabins and see it. So accommodating, those Norwegians. These photos are sort of terrible, but gliding through the water on a silent, dark night while this huge ship spot lighted the surrounding speed bumps pretty surreal.

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Day 7: Tromso
Going up the coast and in and out of its waterways and fjords was a pretty spectacular way to experience Norway’s scenery… but being on a boat for four days is a lot of time on a boat. Also Barry had fully absorbed the look of a Scandinavian sailor. We were pleased to bid it adieu.

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Tromso was hipper than I anticipated. There’s a university there that gives what is otherwise a small seaside fishing and tourist base, a very youthful vibe.

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But of course, we weren’t in Tromso for the fish (which was excellent). Or the youthful vibe. We were there to see the northern lights. And (thank god), we got what we came for – even though we had to drive all the way to Finland to actually see them.
(Photos from our guide. Because his camera was way better than ours.)

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If our faces don’t say “WE ARE THRILLED TO BE STANDING IN FRONT OF THE NORTHERN LIGHTS!,” it’s because it was -20 Celsius and one o’clock in the morning. But trust me: we were!

Day 8: Camp Tamok
Just in case we didn’t see the lights on our first night in Tromso, we planned to get even further out into the wilderness of Norway at Camp Tamok. Most people visiting the camp did a day trip back and forth from Tromso, but we were in it for the whole night. After an hour and a half’s drive outisde of the city we were dropped off, handed snowsuits that, once zipped, revealed only our eyeballs and introduced to our dog sleds. What followed was without a doubt the highlight of the entire trip… and I have almost no photos of it because Barry was driving the dogsled, dogsleds move very fast and the trail had disappeared under a fresh coating of snow that reached up to our knees.

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But if you can close your eyes and imagine what it’s like to have six dogs pull you through the Lyngen Alps with the clear night sky and a green halo of northern light over the mountain tops… you start to grasp how spending your vacation days in the arctic circle while everyone else is in Jamaica starts to make sense. It was, and I don’t use this word lightly, epic.

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We were served reindeer stew for dinner (not bad!) and spent the rest of the night drinking our duty free scotch, playing cards and sleeping in a Sami tent while the wind rattled the canvas top, the dogs howled at the moon (really) and someone came in to stoke our fire every few hours so we didn’t freeze to death in our sleep.

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Day 9: Camp Tamok / Tromso
The next day we took a much more leisurely reindeer sleigh ride through the same mountains with this last-of-the-mohicans type man. This guy lives, full time, in a tent with his wife and three kids. He herds reindeer for a living, makes his own hunting knives and believes the mountains are full of spirits.

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We headed back to Tromso for our last night, grabbed some drinks and dinner at a lovely bistro and called it a night at this cute b&b (which turned out to be more of an upscale hostel) that had a particularly adorable selection of wallpapers.
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Day 10: Head home ( Tromso > London > JFK > Jersey City)
True to form, the morning of our departure was crystal clear.
I’m sure the lights were bright that night!
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RECOMMENDATIONS & TIPS

A few notes on this trip:

Weather —
We chose Norway because we wanted to see the Northern Lights. And to do that, you have to commit to going in the winter. But seeing the southern half of Norway in the winter was sort of like missing the point. If I had to do it again, I would have just gone straight to the northern half of the country for the lights and done the southern half in the summer. Also: the weather is no. joke. Buy all the layers.

How to pack —
We’re not really backpackers…  but this trip really required it. There were several times that we were glad to not be dragging a rolling suitcase up a cobble-stoned street on a hill. Norway doesn’t have Uber. Taxis are outrageously expensive and their public transportation is super easy and cheap. Pack light and carry it on your back.

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Initially nervous that this bag would eat me alive… but was totally worth it in the end.

What it costs —
It’s true what you’ve heard about the food. It’s very expensive. A simple dinner with no alcohol will easily cost you about $100. But! Traveling within the country (flights, trains, etc) were all very affordable as well as our airbnbs. Don’t let it deter you, it all evens out.

NORWAY IN A NUTSHELL 
I’d recommend staying overnight in one of the smaller towns if you find yourself doing this tour in the summer time. Everything is closed in the winter so these towns weren’t worth spending any time in for us.

HURTIGRUTEN
These ships actually were cargo ships at one point – in fact they still pull into ports 4-5 times a day and unload/pick-up cargo containers. But a few ships were recently overhauled and now look and act a little more like cruise ships. The rooms were nice and there were a few places to get food/drinks on the ship – but that was it. No casinos, no cabaret performances, no captains dinner. The only activity on the boat is watching the coast go by. We are not cruise people, so for us, this was great. But like I said, four days made us stir crazy. I think if we did it again, we’d just have rented a car and made our way up some of the coast ourselves.

OSLO
Airbnb in Grünerløkka
The Nighthawk Diner

BERGEN
Airbnb in Bergen
Pingvinen (Penguin) (solid bar and bar food)
The Tasting Room (a whiskey bar with great selection & Backgammon boards)
The Hanseatic Museum
Floibanen (funicular to the top of Mount Floyen)

ALESUND
Jugendstil Center (Art Nouveau museum full of intricate wallpapers, vintage posters, colorful stained glass and unique furniture).

TROMSO
Camp Tamok
Bed & Books 
Guide Gunnar
Bardus Bistro