Friday, July 20, 2012

Norway Review Pt 2

Weather in Norway is deceiving.  I think the North Sea and the Arctic Ocean has a lot to do with it.  When I landed in Amsterdam (North Sea) having just been there less than a month before, I thought I was dressed appropriately.  When I got into the city (16 degrees Celsius), I froze my legs off (shouldn't have) and promptly started looking for a cafe for something warm to drink and a place to change. 

Not much was open at 8 am on a Monday so I headed to one place I knew was -- my favourite bakery (30 min walk) and felt better after eating a warm pain au chocolat and a phyllo apple pastry.  At one point I entertained the thought of just putting my pants on underneath my skirt right then and there in a public square because I was so cold.

It took a day at sea before we arrived in Stavanger and I did not see anyone out on deck because it was uncomfortably cool and windy.  I found it colder than Alaska in May.  Seventeen degrees Celsius didn't mean what it meant at home especially on a moving boat.  We all had pants and fleece on.  And in my case, ski socks so I could stay outside. 

And what happened in Stavanger?  It was 23 degrees Celcius and actually felt like 18 with strong strong sun.  So much so, I had to quickly buy this for my nose and cheeks despite having spf 55 on my face.  We only had strong sun there and in Olden and Oslo in the two weeks.  Even so, I managed to come home with a "Made in Norway" farmer's tan.  Super...

It may not have been apparent in the pictures, but it was pouring rain in Molde, Geiranger and Skjolden.  Anyone going into fjord country I would highly recommend proper rain gear.  The 80's KWAYs I saw people sport didn't cut it.  You need a waterproof and windproof jacket that preferably breathes.  It doesn't take long for the novelty of cold rain and soaking wet skin to wear off.  An attached hood with adjustable toggles is often superior to an umbrella which can be rendered useless from gusty winds.

Stores are open til about 2 pm on a Saturday and closed on Sunday.  It was tough to even find a restaurant or cafe that is open outside of those hours unless you go to a hotel.  I was in Alesund then.  Norwegians take their time off seriously.  I respect that.  And if you have to buy some impromptu gear in Norway, prepare to pay about 50% more than you would find in NA.  Helly Hansen is the brand there.

I took a public bus from Molde (which by the way is home to a renowned jazz festival) to almost Kristiansund, to be able to experience the Atlantic Ocean Road.  Most of the people on the ship opted for organized excursions but I preferred to just find my own way.  Often it was cheaper (not talking about the helicopter here...) and it provided more opportunity to talk to different people.  I had some memorable fish and chips (Arctic Char with paprika fries) just before catching my bus. 

It took 7 hours to navigate the ship through the Geiranger Fjord (arguably the most famous of Norway's fjords) to the town of Geiranger.  Before my trip started, I actually wondered if I would be all "fjorded out" after the first few stops.  I thought I might be seeing much of the same geography for the 2 weeks.  Glad I was wrong.  Each stop had its own appeal.  You cannot really compare them because they were different.  Just when I thought I might have seen it all or thought nothing could top it, I would be happily surprised once again. 

It was in Geiranger I found something D had been looking for for a while -- A vintage inspired ski sweater.  Dale of Norway is a well known name in knitwear.  You can find their sweaters at better ski shops.  They are often the official manufacturers of Olympic wear for our winter athletes.  If you've ever held one, you'll know very quickly you are dealing with something serious.  Those sweaters are heavy!  There is a significant amount of wool used to make them.  For the first time I had to go searching for a larger carry on bag for the flight home. 

If you are into hiking, all those small fjord towns will offer a lot.  If you are into shopping, the larger villages/cities will be more to your liking.  I was enjoying my stroll into the non existent "downtown" of Skjolden (inner most town of the Sognefjord -- 2nd longest fjord in the world) when I overheard a number of people complaining about how there is nothing here that remotely appealed to them.  Isn't it funny how different people view things?  I was just thinking about how great the air smelled and how the rain cast a mysterious hue.  I was happy for a "day off" from the busier towns and cities.

One other thing -- I found the rock in Norway to be really slippery when wet (increase density?).  At first I thought it was because I hadn't broken in my new hiking boots yet (bad timing).  But I saw a number of people on the ship after the first week with ankle supports/braces/casts so I no longer believed it to be just me.

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