Day 1 – Oslo
It’s September 1st and that means summer is unofficially over. As my summer is drawing to a close I am visiting Oslo and Bergen, two beautiful Northern European cities and my last stops in Europe this year. For a Russian, I am terrible with cold weather, and so when the weather changes so do my travel habits as I am called to warmer climates.
Oslo is a beautiful northern city which means in late August the weather is no longer hot but a comfortable mid-sixties to mid-seventies, the days are still long and the people are lovely year round. On my first day I arrived in the afternoon, and after dropping off my bag at the hotel, I walked to the water. One of the most famous buildings in Norway, no doubt, is the Oslo opera house, a beautiful modern structure of white that hosts some great performances and is in my ways the cultural center of the city.
From here I made way to Akershus Fortress, a medieval castle build to protect Oslo. The huge grounds of the castle are open to exploring at no charge, and they are especially pretty in the green of summer. The fortress was used as a prison and a royal cemetery, there is a lot of history to explore here. Guided tours are available, they usually start in the morning, you can meet the group at the Fortress Visitors Centre. From the fortress I made my way to the water and watched the sun slowly set over the water in the west.
Day 2 – Oslo
I really love to learn about history and I am always fascinated to learn about big and important events – of which I should have been aware but am not. During World War II, Norway tried to stay neutral. Germany, however had other plans. The attack came in 1939, on one of the islands next to Oslo – Hovedoya and the Norwegian army bravely thwarted the attack. However, shortly after the attack the King and Queen of Norway left, the king for Britain and the queen for United States. There have been history books written on this topic and I do not purport to understand their reasons. But the result was, that Oslo fell overnight without the Germans having stepped a foot in. The head of the fascist party in Norway, Quesling declared himself prime minister and Germans took Norway – without firing a shot. All the Jews from Oslo were deported into camps and virtually none ever came back. A few had escaped by hiding out in the forest and those are the only survivors of the holocaust from Norway. The relationship between the people of Norway and the royal family had deteriorated to the point of almost no return during WWII, but eventually the royal family won the respect of their people back. Although I don’t full understand the history behind these events, the image of the king and queen running away and the city being taken over by marching German forces without a fight is one that will surely stick with me.
When I arrive into a city I try to take a free walking tour, available almost anywhere. The tours here meet in front of the tiger’s statue (at the visitors center) at 10 am and 4:30 pm daily. These tours are always a great way to hit the major local landmarks, learn a bit about history and to meet fellow travelers. The one in Norway did not disappoint. In case you want to do the tour on your own (without a guide) here is the itinerary we followed and some fascinating highlights from the tour: We met in the city center by the Tiger Statue. This is a historical city center. A great big fire ripped through Oslo in 1624 and all the old buildings were destroyed. Shortly thereafter, the Danish king Christian IV invaded Norway and took over Oslo (and promptly renamed the city to Christiania). He then declared an entirely different city center – one we will visit later.
The tiger in the city symbolizes the old “rough” reputation of Oslo, back when it was a crime ridden and dangerous town, where you were far more likely to get robbed than visit a museum. Although now Oslo is very safe the residents loved the reputation so much they erected a tiger as a symbol (to scare the tourists I suppose).
From the tiger statue walk to the Opera House, a legendary architectural feat designed to look like an iceberg. You can visit the roof top here free, although I suggest doing it at sunset or sunrise for the most spectacular views. From here, walk to Christiana Tourv, the place that served as a city center for several hundred years. Legend goes that when the Danish king took over Oslo he dropped his glove here and said, here I declare city center. And so this became the new city center (there is now a fountain of a glove to commemorate this occasion). A short walk away is the 13th century fortress I mentioned yesterday (The Arkeshus Fortress) and then you come out to the City Hall. Here you can go inside and view the room where they award the Nobel Prize – a stunning sunlit room with murals and grand staircases, it’s definitely worth a visit. Outside, close by you can see the national theater. All the performances here are in Norwegian with no translation (unlike the opera house which gives you 8 languages of translation to pick from).
The most famous building in Norway is probably the Oslo Opera house. Constructed in 2007 the structure was designed to look like an iceberg, although on this picture I think it also resembles a ship. Here you can walk over to the rooftop and see the sunset from one of the best spots in Oslo. Walk inside of the opera house art and see exhibitions, visit shops and a restaurant. And if you’d like to catch a show the acoustics are one of the best in the world, and eight language translation is available.
Oslo used to be a poor country and Norway a poor city. So there is no great tradition of culture or education here. The first University of Oslo was build nearby but its only a few hundred years old. The national gallery is here too – also a rather small museum but worth a visit. Our last stop was the Grand Hotel Oslo, the hotel where most nobel laureates and visiting celebrities stay (including President Obama when he received the peace prize). If you have the time you can spend an entire day wondering this route, or you can do it fairly quickly within the one and a half hour walking tour. If you chose to do the tour just remember the guides are volunteers and work on tips.
After I had lunch, I made my way over to the public ferries. You can purchase an all day public transportation pass at the visitors center (for 95 Nuk) and use the ferries to take you over to the many island surrounding Oslo. The passes are also available in the electronic booths by the ferries but they will not take an American Credit card. At the cost of about $11 per pass this is a great bargain. If you are looking to save money be sure to bring your own food as some of the islands do host a restaurant but those are a bit on the expensive side. If you are looking for something else to do be sure to visit the visitors center as well – the workers here are very helpful and will give you a ton of suggestions, free maps and great advice.
Hovodoya is the biggest island, and the place of the infamous German attack in WWII. Here you can swim when the weather is nice or enjoy the old monestary ruins. Hovodoya has seen so much history, and I was fascinated to wander its old grounds. Many of the buildings here have stood since the middle ages, through restoration, both world wars and to the present day. Oh the stories they hold in their silent walls. I came across this building, its walkway long overgrown by grass. I wondered what its purpose was and how many centuries it has been since it was put to use.
The other island you can visit around Oslo include: Lindoya, Bleikoya, Gressholmen and Langoyene, the last island I visited. Langoyene has beautiful beaches and if you are looking for a swim this is the place to come with your bathing suit. All together there are 8 island and you could easily spend 2 days exploring them, or just ride the ferries back and forth enjoying the breeze and the sunshine.
Day 3 – Oslo to Bergen
The best way to get around Norway (and much of Europe) is by train. There are several ways to buy the tickets but the most inexpensive one is to go through Nsb.no, the national railroad network. Unlike in the states, there are lots of online resellers that will allow you to get tickets for the same train through their site– always at a premium. In fact if you google train in Norway many resellers will come up in the search results before NSB. Few people are aware that it’s all the same train and that you are paying a premium. Additionally, Nsb.no will not accept an American credit card online. There is an easy work around this. Have your time table and trip information prepared and call nsb.no (you’ll need an international dial plan as they are based in Norway), phone number is on their site and press the selection for English. You will be able to give all your credit card info over the phone and save yourself $50 or more for 10 to 15 extra minutes of work.
On my trips, I often meet people who inquire: “How can I do what you do? I’d love to travel for a living.” And the truth is it’s a great life (although I do other things as well). But it’s also an exhausting one, and if you are thinking of going into this line of work you need to be aware of the reality.
The past two days started around 7 am and ended around 10 pm. I got great pictures and stories, met some lovely people. But traveling for a blog (as much fun as it is) is not like a vacation. You are working hard and pushing yourself to go deeper. More stories, more pictures, go a little further, find out a little bit more. Your time is limited and your content must be outstanding. How much did I shoot? Did I write enough? Was it any good? These questions are never far from the top of my mind.
One of my best friends came with me on a blogging trip a year ago. After a full day together she said shewas exhausted. After 2 days her joints began to hurt (she is in great shape and never had any joint issues prior). After 3 she stopped eating. Fairly quickly I decided to start taking breaks and ease up on content for this trip, because I honestly wasn’t sure she wouldn’t fall ill at this pace. She is still talking about those few days in the beginning and how tired she felt. It took her weeks to recover and I felt terrible that I was the one to do it to her. I am so used to this pace that I no longer feel it, but it takes moments like that to remind me how much energy this truly takes. There is virtually no downtime on a trip. I fly in, and I am at work.
So if you want to be a travel blogger, here are my suggestions: work on your photography, work on your writing and make sure you have boundless energy and then some to spare. The most productive bloggers I know, the people I admire, are always working and pushing themselves further. It’s a great life – but a tiring one as well.
Today, however, is turning into one of those rare days of relaxation. My train ride from Oslo to Bergen is almost 7 hours and this means I have time to catch up on my notes, to edit some pictures and to watch the beautiful Norwegian countryside slip past my window. I look forward to train days almost more than I do to arriving at my destination. Being forced to do nothing at all is, when I am truly grateful for the life I get to live.
September 3, 2017, Somewhere between Oslo and Bergen.
Day 4 – Bergen
Bergen is a picturesque Norwegian town surrounded by 7 mountains. Most of the town sits close to a fjord or a bay (a fjord is a deep sea valley that sits between two cliffs, usually the result of a long ago melter glacier.) Bergen is the second largest Norwegian town (second to Oslo) and has a relatively mild but rainy climate – not unlike Seattle of the north.
According to locals it rains 276 days a year here – as you can see I got rather lucky here. The best way to get to Bergen is by taking the train from Oslo, it’s a 9 hour ride each way. For more on taking the train and a little know trick to save money on this ride be sure to subscribe to my blog, via link in bio. You’ll receive the entire itinerary and my tips by email in the next few weeks.
On my day in Bergen I took the famous Floibanen, the Bergen funicular up to the top of Mountain Floyen. From here you can see the whole city, there is also a unique children’s playground, a zip lining attraction and a restaurant.
The view from observation deck is stunning and I even encountered some very nice goats tanning themselves right next to the observation deck. Instead of
coming back down the same way I decided to try one out of two dozen hiking trails that start here. There is a hiking trail up here for any range of time and ability requirements but figure out which one you want to do before you get up – the people who sell tickets are very helpful with suggestions.
If you have the time to go for a hike here I highly recommend it. The tough beauty of the Norwegian country side, the challenging but well marked trails and the stunning look out points make this one of the best hikes I have ever taken. I suggest to go on a weekday as there is almost nobody out, but even on a weekend there are so many killometers of trails you’ll rail meet people on your way. Wait for the great weather if you can, the vistas are spectacular and deserve to be seen. I spend my evening at the fish market. Located right at the center of downtown, its the perfect place to have a fresh fish dinner – and watch the late sunset.
Day 5, Somewhere between Bergen and Oslo.
It’s the end of Labor Day weekend and that means my summer is unofficially over. Kids are going back to school, weather is getting cooler in the northern hemisphere and I am called to warmer climates. One of the biggest advantages to traveling as a photographer in the far north in the summer (and the far south in their summer) is the many hours of daylight you get. You don’t have to watch the sun and check your watch every few minutes, I get a solid 12 to 14 hours or more per day. This means the beautiful, severe climate of the extreme far north and south is easier to shoot, and if you are traveling just for fun you have that many more hours to enjoy your day.
And it has been an incredible summer. Starting in Scotland on Memorial Day, on to Switzerland and Norway – with a short stop in Cuba. The current visa situation is so uncertain that I wanted to take the advantage of the opportunity to go while I still could, so I went there during the hot (and sometimes rainy) Cuban summer. It has been an incredible summer of adventure, fun and unparalleled beauty – and I am lucky to have been in a positon to enjoy it, and to document it.
Now as for next few months – I intended to go to Puerto Rico in late September, but now I am watching anxiously (as so many others) as a horrible hurricane devastated this beautiful island. My prayers (and donations) are with the people of Puerto Rico and I hope they quickly recover from this awful act of nature. I will instead of visiting the beautiful city of Chicago shortly, so please watch my Instagram stories for this. I look forward to visiting a gorgeous town upstate New York for foliage later in October (a perfect stop for a long weekend). As the year grows long in the tooth, my plan is to visit several locations in Asia, including Singapore, Indonesia (with a stop in Bali of course) and possibly Malaysia. Over Christmas I will be in Ecuador with the boys (if you are interested in kid friendly travel you want to read this post for sure) and then off to Tanzania, on a safari. I am ridiculously excited about that one. Then – back to the Caribbean when the weather in NY is cold and the warm beaches are calling. And as it warms up I start heading further north, beginning with a stop in Greece in May and working my way up to Northern Europe and Canada. If you’d like to read more about these locations and please be sure to subscribe to blog and you’ll be one of the first people to get adventure notes and itinerary ideas.