Preikestolen

I’m not a hiker!

I do yoga, well.. some yoga… and can jog for a half hour on level ground, but that’s about it as far as exercise is concerned. But when I saw pictures of Preikestolen (also known as Pulpit Rock), I knew I had to go there, no matter what! Of course, the forums tell you it is a beginner level hike, so I was kinda under the impression it would be like a long stroll in the park, maybe just a little bit more difficult. Boy was I mistaken!

climbing

It all started out badly. We were staying in Stavanger and had decided to rent a car to drive to Forsand, Preikestolen. Too late in the night on Saturday, we realized that the rental agencies would be closed on Sunday (unlike Dubai, where everything is open on the weekends as well). We checked out of our hotel in the morning and headed to the airport to try our luck there. Unfortunately, the car rentals there too would only open at noon.

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So we waited. When they finally opened, only one of them had an automatic car available for rent. Apparently, the only automatic available was a merc, which obviously cost a lot more than we’d anticipated. Also, they didn’t give GPS units for cars being returned in a different city, which is a ridiculous rule, but we had to live with it. So when we finally headed out, we were grumpy and frustrated. In spite of the lack of GPS, we somehow managed to reach the the base around 2:30 pm and started our hike.

About two minutes in, I almost gave up!

Yeah. :/

It started at a fucking incline. Was I supposed to walk on a 60 deg incline with a backpack on my shoulders for 2 hours?! Who the hell called this a beginner level hike??!! My thighs were in agony, I was out of breath and I felt frustrated with myself, with that horrible voice in the back of my head suggesting that I quit already instead of attempting this foolish exercise.

Ignoring the voice, I muttered curses under my breath and renewed my efforts. The ground leveled a bit after a point, only a bit… but that helped. Once I got into the flow of things, it got easier. It still wasn’t easy mind you! I mean… sure, there were people with 3 yr olds & grandmothers and pet dogs  in tow ( I’m not even joking! Norwegians are super outdoorsy, clearly!), but it is not a walk in the park.

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You have to scramble over rocks and roots of trees, the path is mostly uphill ( it’s a 308m climb), and if you don’t follow the trail, you can get lost. But the blazing red T marks are easy to follow and a friendly reminder that you’re on the right path and that people before you have done this, so maybe you can too.

There are about what feels like a gazillion ‘steps’, roughly hewn into the mountain, to help you climb up the steeper paths. We didn’t talk too much, just kept walking ahead and muttering curses under our breath. Ashi was especially pissed off, cos after all, this was my idea, not hers, she hadn’t asked to risk her life on these treacherous rocks!

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Once we got to the top though, it was all worth it! The feeling of accomplishment, the magnificent views, the adrenalin rush of sitting at the edge of the cliff with my legs dangling, and knowing  that not too many people do this regularly kinda gives you bragging rights for life! *grin*

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We took a lot of pictures, ate a couple of bananas and a bar of snickers, all the while marveling at the view and talking excitedly about the climb. But there were storm clouds brewing and it would get dark soon, so finally, we set off again, back the way we came. The climb down was a lot easier, though it was not all downhill and there were a lot of tricky places where you could slip and twist your ankles or go tumbling down the rocks. But I got into this zone where you’re in a a kind of rhythm and just keep jumping from one rock to the next, like a dance. Hikers, I’m sure, would be aware of this phenomenon.

If you’re attempting this climb and you’re a hiker, it’s one of the best things you’ll do in Norway. If you’re not a hiker… go for it anyway.

It’s worth it!

View from the top

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The Machines Fight Back, and I Lose!

My story begins in Oslo, which is a weird place. Beautiful, but definitely weird!

This happened on my first day there, just a little over a month ago (man! Where has the time gone?!) when my friend Ashi and I went to check out the famous Vigeland Park. I’m probably going to sound like a plebian to some people here, but I gotta say, I don’t get that park! The sculptures are just weird and it looked like the artist had a massive issue with babies, not to mention other things!

I mean… what the hell is this?!

The guy sure doesn't like babies!

Man kicking off attacking babies… erm…?!

And how scary does that baby look huh!?

Evil baby!

Evil baby!

Anyway… that is not what this post is about. This post is about my search for a toilet in this crazy park! You’d think parks come with public toilets, but not this one! Though the park had a couple of signs pointing to what seemed like toilets, all of them led to dead-ends and private office-like structures that were locked from the inside and showed no sign of habitation. I’d drunk quite a bit of wine before setting off on our stroll around the park and really needed to pee, so I was getting quite desperate for a loo and Ashi, sympathetically ( or cos she was laughing at me and wanted to hide it) walked ahead to ask other people while I looked around close by. Finally, someone pointed out to a structure around the bend up ahead and said we’d find a loo there.

I walked up there and saw the sign on the door with relief and ignored all the other  signs on it (something I would regret doing very shortly!). I opened the door, walked in, and no sooner had I closed the door that the toilet started ATTACKING!

THE Toilet!

THE Toilet!

There were nozzles in the corners that started spraying cold water at me, starting at an angle so it could reach me just at the beginning of my calf length boots, and working its way down to my feet. Obviously, I screaaaaaaamed like a banshee! Ashi heard me and panicked, yelling from the outside asking if i was okay while I was scrambling around trying to avoid the jets of water and simultaneously trying to dry myself using toilet paper (the only paper available in there, they didn’t have napkins). Then the spraying stopped, but it still wasn’t over!

I felt like I was inside a hair dryer! Air was now being jetted out from the nozzles, pushing away the water from the floor (and towards me). I tried to dry myself as best as possible with the TP and then dump it into the loo, but the toilet itself was fighting back as well!! The loo was now spewing out air!

So the long rolls of toilet paper that I tried to throw into the loo were flying out like streamers, with just the wet ends stuck to the seat. Try as I might, I could not stop the air, or flush the paper down or do anything really!

There I was, standing in the middle of a wet-now-but-soon-drying loo, dripping with what smelled like mild disinfectant, and fighting with the toilet to throw TP into it! I knew I was fighting a losing battle and just ran the hell out of there!

Poor Ashi was standing outside anxiously, waiting for me. Of course, I’ve never seen a person laugh as long as she did when I explained to her what had happened.

Turns out it is a paid toilet, one that cleans itself after every use. The person who used it previously hadn’t closed the door properly, so the toilet, in its limited intelligence, did not realize that a human being had already left. When I walked and closed the door, it assumed that that was when the toilet was empty and started the self-cleaning process. I had unfortunately become a part of it.

As I was walking out of the park, still damp, freezing and probably in the beginning stages of mild PTSD, Ashi chuckled and said “Well, at least it makes for a good story!”.

*grin*

I suppose it does, doesn’t it?

Chasing the Lights

I’d been fascinated by the aurora borealis ever since I first heard of them, which was a long time ago as a child. A time before I knew travel would be such a big part of my life. A time when travel wasn’t even a dream, it was more like fantasy, in the same category as unicorns and fairies and pixie dust! When travel changed from being a fantasy to a dream, and then finally to reality, I wanted to go everywhere!  Every place held some intrigue. My first trip to a foreign country was to Turkey. I stayed at a hotel where my room looked out to the lovely Blue Mosque, all lit up in the shining in the dark night. I cannot describe to you the rush of emotions I felt as I opened the window to gaze out into that magical night! I imagine it’s probably how Harry Potter felt when he went through the barrier at King’s Cross and walked into platform 9 3/4 for the first time.

So while travel kept happening, my dream of seeing the northern lights remained forgotten, buried under a collection of similar wishes gathered from childhood. Last year though, it came to me again. And now that I was in a position to make it a reality, I started working on it. I started my research, worked out the best time to go there, applied for my vacation, tried to gather other people who’d be interested, started working on an itinerary, a budget… the works!

I swear, planning a trip is half the fun! The excitement mounts as you get closer to the date until it’s all you think about. Normal life passes by in a blur cos mentally, you’re already there! And then, if you’re anything like me, you want to try to contain the excitement, cos you’re worried you’ll end up being disappointed for whatever reason. I pray to the travel Gods for a smooth ride. I don’t even tell a lot of people where I’m actually going or what I’m going to do there until the very end, in case I jinx it somehow, cos I’m superstitious like that!

Norway is a fascinating country with a lot to offer, so we planned quite a busy itinerary and ended up with just one day to actually chase the northern lights, which, if you ask someone in the know, is quite a gamble, cos people go there and chase the lights for weeks on end without luck sometimes. A clear sky is required to see the lights, plus the lights (which is dependent on the sun flares) actually had to be there for us to see.

We had perfect weather all throughout our vacation- Oslo, Stavanger and Bergen was great (ranging from 0-10 degC), with sunny days and cold nights. I obsessively kept checking the aurora forecasts and hourly forecasts of the weather in Tromso for the 2nd of Oct, when we would be chasing the lights. But every time I checked, the predictions got worse. First it was just cloudy, then it became random showers, and then it turned to rain all friggin day! When I landed in Tromso, I checked the aurora forecast again. There had been some special activity from the sun the previous day, and whenever those rays reached the earth, there would be quite a display of lights. Unfortunately, it was raining incessantly, and the cloud cover was just ridiculous!

cloud cover over Tromso

Our Arctic Explorers guide Thomas suggested we start our journey early that evening and head out to Finland, where the skies were hopefully clearer, and maybe we’d have a chance to catch the lights there. As we drove out of Tromso, he talked about how he had had to cancel the previous night’s trip cos the weather was just too nasty and there was no chance of seeing the lights, and how the chances were slim tonight as well, but he was willing to give it a shot. He said that it was funny how sometimes people come and search for weeks and don’t see anything, and sometimes, some people come and join the chase for just one day, and they get lucky. I didn’t even dare hope that we might be one of those people.

We got to Kilpisjärvi, got out and looked up at the skies, marveling at how beautiful the stars were, how close it seemed… when I saw a faint white line and asked Thomas what it was.

“Oh you see that!” he smiled. ” Do you know what it is?”

“Is it the Milky Way?” I queried. “Yup… that’s wha…”  But before he could finish, the line started growing thicker and then were joined by other lines and then started moving and spreading around us and he shouted ” those are the northern lights! It’s starting!!!”

The northern lights

The northern lights

We got the best display of lights that night! It danced all around us and we weren’t sure where to look even, cos it was everywhere!

Sometimes like waves…

… sometimes like rain

This is happening far away in space, but it seems so close that you feel like you’re engulfed in its magnificence, like you’re inside it somehow. It turned red and purple at points, but was mainly white and green. At times it danced around like rainfall, at times in lazy waves.

sometimes purple

sometimes purple

The magnificence of the Universe is humbling, and I felt privileged to be there in the face of such splendour. It quieted me and my restless soul. Usually at the end of a vacation, I’m busy thinking “where next?”.

This time though, I’m content to just be.

Be

* All photos of the northern lights taken by Thomas Hunger, our guide from The Arctic Explorers

And Off I Go Again!

I walk into the office today and the admin lady looks at me with a confused expression on her face.

“Aren’t you on leave from today?”

“I ammm??!”

Turns out I’d applied for my leave to start from Wednesday, a day earlier than when I’m supposed to travel. And then promptly forgot about it! Since I was already at the office anyway, I just decided to continue working and changed the vacation date to begin from the next day instead.

This kinda stuff happens to me cos, well… partly cos I’m a scatter-brain… but, also cos I plan my holidays well in advance and a lot of changes happen from the conception of a vacation to the date the vacation actually begins. Of course, while I’m ON vacation, I simply go with the flow (of wine! :P) and most everything is left to chance.

I started thinking about this particular holiday some time late last year. I’m going with one of my closest friends, one who moved to Canada a few years ago. It’s a bit difficult planning a holiday with someone who lives so far away. For one thing, the time difference is a bitch – her day begins when mine ends. The other thing is that our weekends are not the same. Her weekend is on Sat-Sun and mine is on Fri-Sat. So it took quite a bit of coordination, a lot of skyping into the wee hours of the night, and a lot of furious back-and-forth mailing before we planned out itinerary for Norway!

Our holiday starts in Oslo. If all goes as planned, by the time you read this, Ashi and I should be in the same time zone, sipping on Norwegian beer and chatting up hunky Scandinavian men! ;)

It’s my first foray into Scandinavia and hopefully, not my last. I’ll be back on the 6th of October. Hopefully with all my limbs intact (I don’t want to lose any fingers to frostbite!) and a lot of pictures and stories to share!

Skål!