In and Out of London

London’s the kind of city you can easily get to, and often get to if you’re a traveler. Its a major hub for flying around Europe or the world with its 5 international airports, but its funny how you forget to ever just go to London. Its a super touristy city, and I’ve done the London Eye and Big Ben and Buckingham stuff, but I never go to London to visit London – Im merely passing through with some time to fill between flights. Ive had proper 5 day layovers, but then I get stuck in the visiting friend mode, seeing Tom in Oxford or Kevin in the city or my cousins in the suburbs. And I’ve picked up a nice collection of London-dwelling friends over the years, some old class mates that now study there, Icelandic friends who work there, or random internationals who I’ve met on the road who also put their time in for grey days in London.

at the google office

at the google office

Ive been through London 5 or 6 times so far this year, most of them with overnight stopovers, and its always a struggle to decide what to do or where to go. The tube is huge, takes forever, and still costs alot with an oyster card, and London city never took my heart like Paris or New York have. But I really enjoyed my last 2 visits in March and April, since I managed to do and see some things I never had before.

Bjorn the scotsman

Bjorn the scotsman

I couchsurfed with my Kiwi friend Bjorn who I met in the Cook islands this Christmas, and he took me into the London google offices where he works. All meals, snacks, coffee, and even beer is free for him and his guests, and he gets to chose from a handful of Ikea inspired living rooms to work or relax in. I could read books and google my heart out a dozen floors above downtown London, with a view of the Gherkin outside the balcony. Then Bjorn introduced me to some Scottish countryside traditions – Ceilidh dancing. He had the kilt and all the trimmings, but I just wore a wig to be festive. I don’t think I’ve ever danced with so many people or in spun in so many circles in any other type of dance, but it was a sweaty, good ol’ time.

London's Natural History Museum

London’s Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum was exhibiting National Geographic’s wildlife photographer of the year, and me and two friends played a game where we had to guess which country each photo was taken. I can’t remember if I wont, but I definitely guessed all the Iceland ones right. Strangely enough there were lots of photos taken in the UK, and I’ve never really thought of London as a gateway to wildlife destinations, but I may have to change my mind. I hear they have one hell of a mounted fox hunt on boxing day in Essex, so I might need to find some shiny boots and chocolate port and plan my next visit to London.

 

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When stuck in Oslo, go to Malta

I love being close to the sea

I love being close to the sea

So after 6 months of island paradise in the Pacifc, i got my 5 days of winter in Svalbard. Im much more of a summer person, so 5 days of snowy, frigid winter was plenty enough for me. I flew back through Oslo and had to overnight for my next flight, and a snowstorm hit the next morning. Mike got out to Stockholm on his 7 am flight, but by 11 all air traffic had been stopped. The airport was still open, and airlines were still checking people in, so with no departing flights, the Oslo international airport slowly filled to the brim. You couldnt walk, eat, piss or sit without waiting in a line or getting through what felt like a pack of sardines. Eventually the flights just started to get cancelled, and then i waited in a 12 hour line to rebook myself out of Oslo.

vineyards and fortresses

vineyards and fortresses

That didn’t go so well, and I was grumpy and tired, but I got the last hotel room in all of Oslo I think, so that was an upper. The next day I got on the first plane to London (Norwegian air added an extra flight), got stuck there for a night, and then flew to Malta. I had arrived back in the sun, and also summer, and I could shed my snowboots for some flipflops. 

Azure window in Gozo

Azure window in Gozo

Malta is a fascinating, tiny island filled with a mix of Mediterranean and Arabic influences. Sometimes I felt as if I was in Rome, othertimes Morocco, and the people living there were even more mixed up. There are more people living on this tiny 300 sq. km island than in Iceland,  and the most memorable people I met there were unexpectedly a Russian travel agent and an Irish couple. All of the restaurants served cheap and delicious sea food caught by their colourful, traditional Maltese boats. There was wine, wine, so much wine, and the coast was never more than a few kilometres away. A ferry ride over to Gozo island completed my visit there, but I’ll have to return to visit Comino island to finish visitng all of Valetta. 

Sunny Svalbard

dogsledding

dogsleds lined up for lunch break

Its strange to visit a place at the end of March and being told its the coldest time of year. But in Svalbard, where 4 months of absolute darkness have just ended, the sunshine doesn’t make it any warmer. Me and my photographer friend Mike have made it an annual tradition to travel to the arctic, and after a couple years in mainland Norway, Svalbard was the one place further north we could steal easily travel to, play with huskies, and roll around in the snow. We were there for 5 days and every day grew longer by half an hour. From the 1st of March to the 31st of March, the number of daylight hours increases by 8 hours!

Me and Mike in our arctic get ups

Me and Mike in our arctic get ups

We stayed at the Coal Miner’s cabin, where our room was in a different building than the breakfast room, and just walking across 50m wide, totally iced parking lot chilled you to your bones. It was more than minus 20`C with the windchill, and walking the 1km into town and back was always a fight against the wind not blowing us over, trying not to slip on the ice, and making sure we could still feel all our fingers and toes. The condensation of our breath would freeze on our scarves and any extra humidity from our faces would form icicles on our eyelashes and nose hairs.

the ship in the ice

the ship in the ice

A German student had been living in my room in Iceland all winter, and then spontaneously moved to Svalbard to study arctic foxes, so it was nice to say I new someone in town. Otherwise it was a small, friendly little population, mixed with Norwegians, Russians, scientists, and tourists. We had just missed a total solar eclipse, but that made it easier to get accommodation and excursions.

husky puppies

husky puppies

We went snowmobiling to the Ship in the Ice, a dutch sail boat that gets frozen in the ice over winter and serves as a hotel and restaurant. After lunch there we got upclose to some glaciers, reindeer, and seals popping through their holes in the sea ice. Another day we went dogsledding with Green Dog to an ice cave, and if was a pleasant surprise to feel so warm inside the cave which was only minus 4`C.

the warm and cozy ice cave

the warm and cozy ice cave

The first sights we saw after landing in Svalbard and driving to town was a camp ground (with people tenting there!), and a lone reindeer grazing beside some fluffy Icelandic horses. The airport in Longyearbyen is special because even though you’ve flown in from mainland Norway, and you’re still technically in Norway, you’ve left the European Economic Area and the Schengen community. So you’ll need your passport to go there, and alot of norwegian kronur – it might be the only place in Norway more expensive than Oslo! But alcohol isnt taxed so that can save your budget.