Rainy Days in Bergen

It was hot, dry and summery in the rest of Norway, and apparently also in Bergen until I arrived, but the rains came in with a cooling relief.

coffee at the harbour

Walking around in rain boots and an umberlla were welcomed changes, especially since I had both in my backpack, and I couchsurfed with some friendly students at the University of Bergen dorm.

cobblestone skipping

I spent the majority of my two days there jumping in puddles and finding cafe´s to write at, and I accidentally ended up at a couple of concerts. I saw an organ concert at St. Mary´s church, Mariakirken, and a brass quintet at Statsraaden Bar. I wanted to see a Grieg concert as well, but my vacation got cut short for a family emergency.

Mine and Steph´s reflection in the mirror ball

The photographer from Liv & Benni´s wedding was also in Bergen, so we took the opportunity of traveling together to try and get some more photoshoots done.

an American diner´s outside seating in Bergen

The original plan was to find a fake fiancé and do an engagement shoot, since she specialises in engagements and weddings, but tinder didn´t work well enough for that.

wishing that was my vespa

Instead we ended up roaming around Bryggen and old town Bergen in the first break in the clouds, and even managed to see the sun shine on us in rainy Bergen.

a Banksy-esque moment

Check out Zakas Photography for more photos, and if you know anyone getting engaged or hosting a destination wedding that needs a photographer, Steph is your lady.

Liv & Benni get hitched on the Aurdal farm

Liv and I studied geeky old Norse things together in a master’s program back in 2012. She’s from Norway, but had a special place for Iceland in her heart and never really left. Except for that one semester she ‘studied abroad’ in Oslo. A couple of years later, a fateful Tinder swipe right (that her gay best friend’s finger decided for her) led her to Benni, her Icelandic better half. Their ‘legal’ wedding took place in Keflavik a few weeks ago, but the ceremony and celebrations went down during a long weekend getaway to the Aurdal farm.

Liv & Benni say I do

Somewhere between Oslo and Honefoss is a little place called Aurdalsveien. The 100+ year old log farm house has been in her family for four generations, and her brother is the resident farmer, and her parents still live there. There are cabins all around, hidden among the forest and hills, and the nearby lake at Jevnaker makes a perfect beach. It was hot, I mean like tropical hot. Temperatures above 30°c, and one of the worst droughts in a hundred years.

Liv’s stagette party

The bride-to-be had a surprise bachelorette party two nights before the wedding in the nearby town, Honefoss, Her childhood friends from the region and college friends from Oslo joined the Iceland-era friends and a group of girls, plus one male guest of honor (he likes men too so he fit right in). We didn’t find any mens feathers to rustle, but we decorated Liv in some balloons, dined in Liv’s favourite, historic Brasserie, and had sunset cocktails with a view over the river.

dining at the far during prep days

I stayed in a guest house cabin across the field from the farm with the bestman and a few other overnight guests. We drank sparkling water with various fruity flavours, and filled the rest of us with joy, booze and grubs. The first few days were spent preparing for the wedding – name tags, decorations, slideshows and speeches, and the last couple of days were lost in recovering from the wedding. Lazing in the sun or a hammock, filling our bellies with more Norwegian home cooked meals, was the only way to survive the wedding aftermath.

bathing with the groom and honorary guest in the creek

The heat was wonderful, except for the fact that it dried up all the wells on the farm and surrounding cabins. Bathing in a shallow creek in the forest beside the farm was the most sustainable way to bathe, though I was never sure if I was cleaner or dirtier after stirring up all the leaves and mud on the creek bottom while washing my hair.

the barn interior before the wedding

My contributions to the wedding included a bit of artistic creativity – decorating the cold drinks fridge and writing name tags for the seating arrangement that didn’t include any real names. People had to identify with their personality type at each table, choosing from options like
‘the intellectual’ or ‘the lustful.’ I made potato salad for 100 people in a small kitchen that had more flies in it than potatoes, so the most difficult choice of the day was whether or not to keep the windows closed after killing them all and having fresh air or preparing the salad in a small sauna (we decided on the latter, for hygienic reasons).

wedding guests cure their hangover at Jevnaker

A large lake nearby in Jevnaker was a refreshing dip with a bit more success, which we finally got to on the day after the wedding. The bustling little farm started to empty, the first overnight guests leaving in their RV at 8 am. We started shuttling guests to the airport and I left a day later, and made my way to Bergen where my Norwegian journey could carry on in the cool rain.

2014 Travel Resolutions and Status update (and a rant on Russia)

My New years resolution is the same every year: travel more. And perhaps I like having the same one because I always manage to do so, or maybe I´m just too lazy to come up with a new idea. Although I also decided to be able to walk on my hands and do the splits in both directions as two other resolutions, but thats totally unrelated to everything.

I´ve taken more flights in the last couple weeks than there have been days in this year, so Im on some sort of right track… or I’m just unrighteously depleting my carbon footprint quota for this year. My 27th birthday is in a month and a half, and I’ll be just shy of 120 countries by then, so only 80 to finish in the next 3 years… that’s do-able, right? I’m kind of nervous since I tried to save some of the easiest and most accessible for last (ie. all of Eastern Europe) but also have about 10 completely unreachable countries (ie. Nauru, Tuvalu, North Korea), but then again there are more than 200 countries by some lists, so that leaves room for omissions.

My biggest failure to date is still not making it to Russia. I got close in 2009, when me and my friend Mike Reiter were in Helsinki and tried to figure out a way accross to St. Petersburg. It wasn’t possible then, but since then they’ve introduced have this 24 hr tourist visa thing that you can get in Helsinki to take the train over. Sigh.

behind that man (aka Mike Reiter) rubbing snow in his chest, is the river separating Norway from Russia, which we could never really see that well in the 24 hour arctic nights

behind that man (aka Mike Reiter) rubbing snow on his chest, is the river separating Norway from Russia, which we could never really see that well in the 24 hour arctic nights

The last week in Norway was also a big tease, since me and Mike Reiter met in Kirkenes to go dogsledding on the Russian border. We could see the lights of Nikel but couldn’t get over the river, a.) because it wasn’t frozen and b.) because we didnt have visas. We couldnt get visas, since you’re only allowed to get a Russian visa in your resident country, and Iceland’s Russian embassy was closed Jan 1 – Jan 8, the exact (and only) dates I’ve been home in the last 3 months. I was booking my travel to Asia over a month ago, and decided to fly through Moscow with a 16 hour layover, since I (though I) knew I’d be able to figure out a visa in the meantime, somewhere between Africa, Northern Norway, and my travel to Korea.

I flew to Norway Jan 7, and couldn’t do anything about it in Oslo. But, randomly, I met the ex-Norwegian ambassador in Russia in a bar in Tromso. He was old, very drunk, and had some secret man crush on Mike Reiter (he likes Ukrainian Jews), but refused to discuss any way that he could help me, except admitting that he definitely could and knew the “very friendly” current ambassador, but he didnt want to because he hated Russia and thought Moscow was the most dangerous city in the world.

So, long story short, I never figured out a legitimate (or illegitimate) way into Russia, so I boarded my 8 our plane from Oslo to Moscow knowing this was the closest I’d get to experiencing Russia for the next 24 hours. I’m not sure if it was psychological or not, but I was convinced the plane smelled like vodka. I spent the flight learning the phonetics of the Russian alphabet by using a map of the world with city names I could sound out.  Then I sat in the Moscow international airport for 16 hours, and although I couldn’t find any way out of it (atleast not with a way back in), somehow a bird had found its way into the completely sealed, glass-walled airport. The airport didn’t let on many Russian stereotypes, since the most notable things there were Costa Coffee, TGI Fridays, and hundreds of Asian commuters on their way back from Europe to China, Korea and Japan. Only the unfriendly faces of staff I met on the plane and at the airport supported the stereotype of that Russian coldness people always talk about.The weather was foggy, grey and cold to match, making an escape seem less appealing anyway.

I basically ended up going to Moscow to write blogs and eat lunch at TGI Fridays, which are very normal (non-Russian) things I would have rather done somewhere else in the world… But, now I can read Russian, I still have no idea what the words I’m saying outloud mean, but that will hopefully change by the time I actually make it into this god-forsaken tourist country… if I ever do!


Huskies and Snowhotels in Northern Norway

the Snowhotel´s restaurant, in an adjacent cabin

the Snowhotel´s restaurant, in an adjacent cabin

The Arctic is kind of this imaginary place, one that most people have fantasized about with some romantic ideas of a far-away, white, northerly place. Unlike Antarctica, its not really one place, but pieces of Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland. Instead of being a place in itself, you tend to dream of some icy, person-less, non-place with a few snow-covered pine trees or glacier-topped mountains. Or maybe its a sea filled with icebergs and polar bears. But you always imagine it to look like the middle of nowhere, yet somewhere bright and white that you can still visualize. However, at 70°N in Norway, there´s actually a lot of people and Norwegian places, but ones that you cant really see in January since its perpetually dark. The sun wasnt going to rise until January 15, but its a misconception that its always night, since the skies do lighten up just barely enough for you to make out the treetops and snowcovered hills around you.

Somehow I still dont feel like I really saw Tromso or Kirkenes, since it was never bright enough to take a decent photo outside or get a lasting impression of my surroundings. I never really figured out when it was brightest, because it was always pitch black again before I knew it, and I started to have sun-ray withdrawls in the -10°C winter wonderland. It was too cold to really stay out exploring for long, but I loved the feeling of walking on dry, crunchy snow… until you hit a patch covering black ice and nearly broke your tailbone. My nose was always the first to freeze, but I didn´t break my tailbone, so it was all good in the Norwegian arctic.

the guard dog of the husky compount

the guard dog of the husky compound

Me and Mike Reiter spent 3 days near the tri-border area of Norway, Finland and Russia, the only place in the world where 3 time zones meet. We went dog-sledding with some huskies along the Norwegian-Russian border, and that basically meant we were given a sled, some rope, and 6 dogs to just go at it. I felt like they didn´t prepare us well enough, or teach us how to do it, but you basically just had to hang on and stay on. The crazy thing about dog-sledding is that the dogs will always continue pulling you forward, even if they need to take a dump – they run with their front two legs and let the other dogs drag their squatted back feet while they let out some stinky little brown lumps that slide under your sled milliseconds later. Our sled followed the guide sled, so the only thing we had to learn how to do was stop the sled – there´s an anchor we could push down into the snow with one foot, causing enough resistance into the snow that the dogs couldnt keep pulling us forward. As soon as you lift your foot, you´re off again, at an alarmingly fast speed, propelled by the fast and sudden jerk of 6 dogs scrambling forward. They’ll howl if you hold them back too long, and jump up and down in their harnesses to display their impatience. We displayed our sheer happiness and overwhelming joy by singing Aladdin´s ‘A Whole New World´at the top of our lungs as the sled slid through the dark and snowy plains. Maybe Russia heard us.

cuddling a husky with two-coloured eyes

cuddling a husky with two-coloured eyes

The other dogs in the yard will also howl as we ride away, wishing they could come along for the ride. They love the work they do, and also the touchy attention they get from being chosen as a sled-dog. When we visited the others in their pens, they were so affectionate, and some would even beg for the attention by faking injuries. One dog pretended her front-right foot was sore, then we walked over to check on her, she switched the limp to her back-left foot, before giving up on her games and jumping around all happily at our arrival.

the ice bar

the ice bar

In Kirkenes, me and Mike stayed at the Snowhotel, which is made out of “snice,” a mixture of snow and ice. Its kept at a temperature of -4°C, and contains 20 private rooms, with 2-5 beds in each and a personal theme carved into the wall. The rooms are designated randomly, and we lucked out with the polar bear room. We spent most of the cold night frolicking under the polar bears, and around the ice-statues and the ice-bar, taking way too many photos and even catching a glimpse of the northern lights. By the time we checked out, we had already made plans for our next arctic-rendez-vous to be at the ice hotel in Sweden, and we´ll definitely be dog-sledding every time we find some huskies, rope and a sled.

Photo Credits (C) Mike Reiter

New Years in Oslo

Maya's Mike carves our Norwegian leg-of-lamb

Maya’s Mike carves our Norwegian leg-of-lamb

I needed to get home from West Africa through Europe, and Norway seemed like an excellent stopover place. God knows London and its airport are no place to change flights, and my photography friend Mike Reiter wanted to drag me to the end of the world in Svalbard. Instead he convinced two of our engaged friends to join us, Maya and Maya’s Mike, and they traveled around Norway before we all met up in Oslo for New years. I have a wonderful Norwegian friend, a specialist in all things viking and Old Norse, so we stayed with her for 3 days to celebrate the arrival of 2014.

frolicking down the empty streets of downtown Oslo

frolicking down the empty streets of downtown Oslo

I spent the first night with her trying to explain my new Californian friends that would be overtaking her apartment, and almost peed myself jumping up and down in excitement when I knew they’d arrived downstairs. We drank terrible Senegalese alcohol as I did my best to convince them that Africa was a wonderful place, despite my horrible tales, and ate like kings and queens with home-cooked meals while the rest of Oslo shut down for the holidays.

We took a midnight stroll on New Years eve, trying our best to avoid being hit by stray fireworks at midnight, and watched the city (literally) explode at 12 am. We were jealous of all the people around us lighting up sparklers, but still too preoccupied ducking from nearby firework launching, and popped a few bottles of carbonated something to ring in the new year. We walked home the long way, doing shimmy dances to warm up, and tried avoiding being criminalized for disorderly public behavior (we may or may not have urinated on public property a.k.a. the grave yard a a government building). Maya tried to scare Mike away from the grave yard with ghost warnings, but what can you do? You gotta go when you gotta go.

karaoke time

karaoke time

New Years day was also spent walking around, a little more sober, but just as mischievously. After we reached the Opera house, nightfall had already fallen, but it was charming to see the empty streets and Akershus fortress lit up by only street lights. We weren’t lucky enough to see any northern lights, but we were lucky enough to spend the first hours of 2014 singing karaoke in the kitchen of Liv’s Philipino neighbours.

walking ontop of the Oslo opera house

walking ontop of the Oslo opera house

Me and Mike didnt make it to Svalbard, but we did make it to the arctic circle and frolicked around Kirkenes and the Russian-Norwegian border with huskies and snow hotels. We’ll be going to Svalbard next February to stay at the Ship in the Ice hotel, but first we’ll meet in California for Maya and Maya’s Mike’s wedding. It’ll be just as merry there, but alot warmer and brighter!