Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I spent the day with my new Danish roommate; she is fantastic.  We planned on going to the large park/recreation area in town but we got a bit lost and ended up walking a half hour down the wrong street; but no sweat because saw some beautiful houses and the entire time we could see mountains and ocean. On this walk we accidentally found the “cheaper” grocery store.  We have decided to share veggies and some other grocery items which will be great because it is much easier to shop for 2 then just 1.  We found some “fiskakaka’s” (fish cakes) for a good deal and bought 2 boxes.  This is a fast and easy meal that is eaten in most parts of Scandinavia; it is essentially mashed up fish and flour squished into balls…. quite tasty.  We made it for dinner; with veggies and a nice Danish sauce she made and invited 9 people over to help us eat it.  Today we also bought some decorations, candles and a plant for our dorm to make it feel a little bit more like home; it looks quite nice now when it’s clean!  Now its time to work on my online UArctic class that just started and then off to bed!


Friday evening I was invited by a Norwegian and a Bulgarian to enjoy a hand made sushi dinner.  They worked hard and it paid off, it was delicious!  I love sushi and there is no place to get it in Harstad so I’m so glad they thought to make some.
I woke up at 6:30am Saturday to catch the ferry to Tromso, a 3 hour ride north to Northern Norway’s largest city.  It was dark the whole ride so I wasn’t able to see what I assume were beautiful fjords and mountains so I tried to nap instead; it reminded me of sleeping on the greyhound form PG to Edmonton, scrunched into a little ball on 2 seats.
We arrived and the first thing I noticed was how windy it was.  I had checked the weather before hand and it was supposed to be warm but I didn’t account for the chilly wind.  First stop was the Polar Museum which I found fascinating.  Norway is a nation that is very proud of their polar explorers who have become some of the best known in the world.  The museum recounted many of their stories as well as showed exhibits on whaling, sealing, polar bear hunting (there was even a petrified polar bear heard!) and had old equipment from actual expeditions.
The best part, for me, was the exhibit on Roald Amundsen.  He accomplished many feats that were sought out and attempted by many explorers from several nations.  He was the first person to reach the South pole, the first to lead a boat across the highly acclaimed Northwest passage and was the first person to (undisputedly) reach the North pole.  There were old skis and artifacts from some of his expeditions that were almost surreal to see.
Next we headed over to the Polarium, which is a very interesting, and new, polar aquarium.  There was a movie shown simultaneously on five screens of Arctic scenery and wildlife.  Next, we checked out some seals playing in the water and eating; they were so cute!  There was lots of information on Arctic ecosystems and animals as well as a large display of Arctic fish.
The ride back on the ferry was long and I was exhausted.  I was planning on having an early night despite it being Saturday, but I got coaxed into going out and didn’t actually get to sleep until past 5am.  Sunday morning I had a Bavarian breakfast made for me by the German.  I had a lazy day and in the evening I had a meal of pancakes and played some cards games with some girls from Ghana and Germany.
I am having a fantastic time!

Friday, January 27, 2012


I spent a day geocaching my way through Harstad with 2 friends. We got taken around the town and saw a soccer stadium, a church, the hospital and other crucial Harstad spots; it was chilly but we found 7 in total!  Then we spent the afternoon playing card games that we all learned from each other’s countries.  That evening, we went for a walk again near the ocean toward the old church to try to catch another glimps of the Northern Lights.  We walked for two hours and then gave up and went home.  A half hour later, the northern lights were spotted outside, but I wasn’t about to go on another two-hour walk so I just watched them from the driveway.... absolutely gorgeous!
Ive had my three classes so far; Norwegian language and culture, Tourism and Culture as well as an E-commerce class.  The Norwegian language and culture class ends sometime in February so I really only have the two other classes as well as an online course I am doing through UNBC/UArctic.  I have signed up to work at the student pub, but the shifts are only once every three weeks so Ill be looking for another job.  I am working on my resume then ill likely hand them out at grocery stores and hotels; the problem is, many of the other international students are looking for jobs too.

I went shopping for some essentials that I wasn’t able to bring with me from home; this included another pair of pants.  I ended up getting some nice black skinny jeans AND a black spring coat for 200NOK which is roughly $30!  I was feeling pretty good and thinking that maybe not everything is as expensive as people say in Norway. Then I went to find some hair product to keep my hair wavy.  I found and bought a bottle, which came to 235NOK, over $40 for a little bottle of hair product!  There isn’t much selection so it was my only choice, I will use it sparingly.  I have accumulated so much change because I just play it safe and pay with paper cash instead of sorting through the foreign change.  That just gives me an excuse to buy more coffee :)

I am waiting for it to snow so I can start skiing and snowboarding!  On Saturday I am take the ferry 2.5 hours north to the city of Tromso.  There is a Finnish voting poll there that my Finnish friend, Soile, has to go to.  I am going with her and 2 other Germans to check out the city as well as the Polar museum.  As for now, I will try to find where to buy the textbooks I need for my classes and get organized.  Tomorrow my new Danish roommate is moving in, it’ll be great to have another girl around!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Horses, Snow and the Aurora Borealis

Saturday all the international students (about 18 people) spent the day at Gamnes Farm just outside of town.  The family that owns the place set us up with a wonderful day! First, we went horse sledging around some stunning Arctic Norwegian landscapes; we even saw some wild reindeer!  There were two sledges which managed to pull all of us around but at some points it was to slippery for the poor horses who couldn’t grip the ground; they would go downward while trying to get up an icy hill.  We got driven to a big white tipi near a large hill.  In the tipi, there was a fire to keep warm and a BBQ.  We spent the afternoon there cooking hotdogs and drinking hot chocolate.  When we were warmed up we grabbed some garbage bags and a few other snow toys to use to play on the hill!  We discovered that the best way to make it down a hill using a garbage bag is to slide down on it on your stomach, or to sit inside with your feet poking out.  This was a great day and was a wonderful way to meet the rest of the international students.
 Going out in Norway is different then back home because it is expensive to drink at a bar so it is necessary to spend the majority of the evening pre drinking at someone’s house then heading to the bar later, at around midnight.  I haven’t had a night that ended before 4am yet.  There are a few pubs in town as well as some dance clubs.  I will volunteer at the student pub, Ludo; it will be a great way to meet people and there are discounts on drinks.  I am also thinking about getting a job but it will be hard to find something that doesn’t require me to speak Norwegian.
I am having some problems figuring out what to eat.  The grocery store has a small but good selection of fruit and veggies but they are quite expensive.  All the other food is brands that I don’t recognize or cant read the packages.  Making food will take some getting used to but for now I will settle on the food that everyone here seems to make… frozen pizzas.
Last night as I was getting ready for bed there was an excited knock at my door and it was people who had come to get me to see some beautiful northern lights!  We walked out of town on a trail along side the ocean to a little seaside cabin to see the wonderful view.  It as beautiful and according to some scientists out there, they were the most active northern lights in 7 years!  We then walked to a lake and sat up on a giant boulder to get a good view and cracked open some tea and chocolates.  I got a bit cold but it was so worth it!  Tomorrow I am taking a group of people geocaching, hopefully we can find some despite the cold and snow and see some new sights!
I didn’t have my camera to take pictures of the northern lights so photo credit for this go to Jan Philip.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

In other news...

Second time in the local news since Ive been here, check out the link.  It is in Norwegian but it basically reviews our day horse sledging.  I will post more about that later.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Lost in Translation

After a week of tiptoeing around on the extremely icy streets, I had my first fall.  It was no big deal, but I am no longer the graceful ice walker I thought.  Many students have bought non-slip covers for their shoes…. I might have to invest in a pair.
My next incident is that I went to the store to buy laundry detergent but instead, came home with fabric softener.  I had a suspicion that I had bought the wrong thing but it wasn’t until I got home to Google translate it, that I realized it was softener.
As if that wasn’t frustrating enough, when I finally did go back and buy the proper laundry detergent I had some issues making the laundry machine work.  I spent about 10 minutes trying to read the machines, gave up and came to get my English-Norwegian dictionary and spent a few more minutes trying to figure it out that way.  Then that wasn’t working so I got the first person I saw, the other Canadian who also doesn’t speak Norwegian, again, we couldn’t figure it out even with the help of the pictures on the machine.  Finally after about 20 minutes of trying to get the washing machine to work, we came and got our Norwegian roommate to translate and tell us how to get it to work.  It was really quite easy, but not being able to read was no fun.  I’ve made it through translating the front cover of my magazine so am making some Norwegian language progress.
For lunch, I spent $25 on a simple sandwich and coke at a café today; lets just say nothing comes cheap in this nation, which is known to be one of the most expensive countries in the world.  Then we went bowling, it was fun!
Today was my first day of classes.  I had an E-Commerce class this morning, it was great.  Seems like similar lecture styles as in Canada but the class was 3 hours long.  I still have to figure out how to buy the overpriced textbook.  Then was a Norwegian and Culture class, slowly but surely learning some language.  Tonight is a “Bad Taste” party where we dress up in poor taste and go to the bar.  I bought some ugly plain flood pants Ill wear with some mismatched top. I hope I get to meet some Norwegians as I’ve been spending most of my time with other International students.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Harstad (pronounced Harshta) is a community of about 23’000 but it seems much bigger then that, the town is very spread out.  Despite its small size and remote location, it is a modern town, has lots of shopping and 11 bars.  The walk to between school and where I live is about 10 minutes, uphill on the way back.  The temperature is above 0 and there was rain the other day.  At night, everything must freeze because there is sheer ice EVERYWHERE; it makes walking very difficult.  Many people wear cleat-type covers on their shoes to not slip and get hurt.
Yesterday morning we, the international students, went to Trondenes church which is Norway’s northernmost stone church and the world’s most northern mediaeval church.  It is beautiful and is surrounded by fascinating stories and mysteries.  Nearby, there is a museum that is full of information on the Trondenes region and Harstad. 
 After this, we went to a lovely Norwegian café in town for lunch.  I also finally got my cellphone figured out!  We ended up back at home in the early afternoon but since it felt like evening, we started drinking and had some people over.  Russians, Siberians, Norwegians, a girl from Poland etc… It is fascinating meeting people from all these places and learning about their culture as well as just hearing them speak in their language is interesting.
It was a late night but I got up early for a true Bavarian breakfast prepared by the German guy, Jan.  He had made Bavarian sausages that were lightly boiled.  They way to eat them is to suck the meat out from a hole at one end, out of the skin; it was surprisingly good.  It was served with some Bavarian mustard and a glass of what I thought was apple juice…but was some beer that tasted like vinegar.
On my way out for the morning, I saw a big “fisk” truck in the grocery store parking lot, selling fresh fish.  I think that is so European and there was a long line of people waiting to get their daily fish.  Maybe Ill buy some at some point and make a Norwegian meal.  I then went to the police station in town to register myself and get my residency visa put into my passport, paid for my residence then went to school for lunch and a Norwegian history/language class.  We learned the basics of the language but I am looking forward to learning more and to be able to use it!  I bought a Norwegian Cosmopolitan magazine and will read it using Google translate and a English-Norwegian dictionary.  Also, some channels on the TV and movie theatres are in English with Norwegian subtitles so that might help me learn the language as well.
I checked out the gym/swimming pool and am going to get a membership because I think Ill spend a lot of time there.  The facility is dug into a large rockface and makes for a very interesting pool.  Behind the glass in the picture, is the water play park area.  I didn't see it but Ive heard it is amazing with waterfalls etc...
Ive been here for a day and already Im famous, check it out... it is paraphrased a little bit but Im in a newspaper!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Orientation Day

This morning, I walked over to the school with my Russian and Canadian roommates (and I found out that the 4th roomie is actually Norwegian).  The walk is about 12 minutes downhill through slushy/icy roads but there is a view of the ocean the whole way (except its to dark to see much of it.)  We spent the day doing orientation type activities.  With the three of us, there is a German guy and Finnish girl, who make up this semester’s international students and there are still 20 international students who are still here from last semester we have yet to meet. 
The school is small but gorgeous; there are fewer than 1500 students.  It is located right on the harbor and has huge windows with a view of the ocean and mountains.  The town itself is great too, it is bigger then I imagined and although it is dark all day, from about 10am-2pm it is light enough that it feels like daytime.  Today is the official first day of sunlight in Harstad so there were celebrations and we got a baked good to celebrate, a sun doughnut.  It is rainy and cloudy though so we didn’t actually see the sun but apparently it is somewhere behind the clouds.  I heard that from today on, there will be an additional 20 minutes of sun each day.
After all the orientation was finished, the Canadian and German and I went to wander around downtown to find a store to buy pillows.  It is so difficult to shop without doing the math to convert the prices into what I can understand.  I ended up buying a pillow, bath mat and hand towel for $60.  The roads are very slushy because of the humidity and the rain.  There are some cute café/restaurants in the downtown area aswell as some small shopping centers.  There is a surprising amount of clothing stores here, and everything seems to be on sale (salg).  I am looking forward to go to the pool/gym… it is apparently dug 200m into a rock face!
After coming home, we went for a small grocery shop.  It is right across the street from the dorm, so I think Ill be doing several small groceries shops, European style, as opposed to one big one every week or so.  I just bought some basic food and toilet paper.  I brought a Norwegian-English dictionary with me to translate labels but ended up giving up and buying cheap things with cool packages instead.
Its only 4pm but it is so dark that I feel like it is 9pm and almost time for bed, I glad I am not getting over my jetlag here!  I’m going to have dinner then go explore this town some more!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hello Harstad

Wooo, finally here!  The plane landed and my pieces of luggage were the last ones out so I almost missed the bus into town but I made it.  It is raining here… which I didn’t expect considering this is the Arctic.  I was met at the bus by Kathrin and we went on a mini tour around the town and I saw the school.  It is very dark here despite it only being 5:30 but Ill just have to get used to that since there will be only apparently only 20 minutes of sunlight a day.  I didn’t see much of the town but from the lights I saw in the dark it seemed a lot bigger then I thought it would be.  I got a welcome package that included a frozen pizza that I just had for dinner as well as yoghurt and juice for breakfast so I don’t have to do groceries.
The dorm is fantastic compared to my last res at UNBC!  The living room is big, has 3 couches and a TV.  The kitchen is attached to the living room and has tons of room for storing stuff… it even has a dishwasher!  My bedroom is pretty big too and has a bed, desk, closet, bookcase, swivel chair, comfy chair and table… a definite step up from my tiny UNBC dorm.  I share a really nice bathroom with a Russian girl but she mentioned something about leaving on Friday, so who knows.  We share the living room and kitchen with 2 guys, one is Canadian (from Manitoba) and I have yet to meet the other one but I think he is from Germany.  The Canadian guy is great, I’m so glad to have another Canadian here!  We are going to explore and get groceries together tomorrow.
Orientation at the school starts at 9am.  I have a vague idea of how to get there, we were told to walk toward the ocean and there is where the school is, but it will be dark and slippery so my fingers are crossed for making it there.  There are activities planned for international students (I feel weird that Im now an international student) until 2 and then Ill go explore my new home!

On my way to Harstad

I have made it to the airport.  I ended up walking 20 minutes to the train station instead of paying for a $30 cab.  It was an interesting walk since I had to wheel around my luggage on cracked brick sidewalks, over tram rails and dodge traffic but I made it alive.  The train ride to the airport was fantastic, the train is so smooth and quite, if I didn’t look outside I could have thought we weren’t moving.  I whipped out my English-Norwegian dictionary and tried to translate my way through a Norwegian magazine but it still didn’t make much sense.  One phrase I got was, “Your Christmas is a cozy one.  Pain is innocence and childhood”.  I got sent an online Norwegian class that Ill check out to try to master this language while I am here.  I went to check in my luggage and it was 6kg overweight and they were going to charge me fat cash so I unpacked all my stuff in the middle of the airport and transferred some heavy stuff into another carry on bag.  It was only once I was finished packing that I realized that a pair of underwear had found its way out of my bag and was sitting on the floor for all to see.  I snatched it up quickly and shoved it in a random bag.
The airport is huge but the gate that I am waiting at for my plane is in a tiny terminal hidden at the back of the airport meant for short domestic flights.  I’m pretty sure ill be on a little Twin Otter type plane because there aren’t many people waiting here and its one of those gates where you have to walk outside to climb into the plane.  It is making me think that I really am going to be in the middle of nowhere but I guess Ill find that out soon!  When I get to the airport Harstad/Narvik I am meant to take some sort of shuttle bus into the town but I forgot to check while I had internet how much it is and which bus to take, so I’m hoping Ill have enough $$ to make it in since I also didn’t end up going to an ATM, whoops.  From there someone from the school should be picking me up.

Sunday morning in Oslo

It is 11:30 Sunday morning and my flight leaves this afternoon at 3pm.  I spent about 25 minutes walking around downtown Oslo trying to find a place for a coffee and breakfast.  It seems that everything is closed and for the most part, I was the only person walking around.  I wonder if everyone is to hung over to go out or if Norwegians stay at home with their families on Sundays.  I thought I would have to go to a MacDonald’s, which was the only thing I saw open, but I found a little café.  I spent 149nk or about 24$ on a bagel w/ tomato, an orange juice and a coffee (which is cold)… and there is no internet.  It’s a cute place though, and even though it is only 2 degrees outside, there are people sitting on the patio.  The chairs of the patio at most place like this, have a shag carpet type cover, to keep butts warm.  The song “American girl” by Tom Petty is playing… I haven’t heard any Norwegian music since I have been here, mostly American.
This morning when I was checking out of my room, I was standing in line for the front desk and had my big suitcase with a smaller duffel bag on top, attached to the suitcase’s handle.  I wasn’t paying attention to my luggage so when I turned around, I saw that my bags had fallen onto this poor guy who was struggling to push it back over to stand up.  I had nearly crushed this poor guy and he was trying to right himself so no one would notice!  I laughed and apologized and he said something in a language I could not understand but he seemed more embarrassed then angry.
Now I have to figure out how to get to the Central Station so catch the train to the airport.  That is something I envy about Europe, their transportation systems.  It is nearly impossible to live in Canada without owning a car where as I think most people here walk and take public transport then drive their own cars.  Something else that is neat about Europe, and though I’ve only noticed this in Oslo so far but I know it to be true in other countries, is the fresh markets.  For the most part, people do their groceries at these markets every day or every few days instead of one big grocery trip every week or so like back home.  I walked by a market yesterday, and it was just above freezing out but there were fruits and vegetables laid out, outside including a huge bin of pomegranates.  I asked a girl from Oslo what the best part about Oslo was and she said the parks that are outside of Oslo are the best and then went on to tell me which busses to take to get there.  Maybe this explains why people are always walking around downtown holding their ski gear… they must bus to these parks to ski (as I typed that I just saw another guy with skiis walk by).
Now, it is time to find my way to the airport.  Ill head back to the hostel to get my luggage, and hopefully this time I won’t crush anyone, then try to find a taxi to take me to the train station.  Even if I wanted to take the bus, I wouldn’t easily fit with all my stuff.  Ill also have to find an ATM (called Minibanks here) to get some cash which is something I haven’t done yet, I hope it works!  I don’t even know where my money went.  I had $200 Canadian worth for 3 days in Iceland and the same amount for 2 days here and I had just enough in Iceland whereas I have just run out here.  I guess this proves that Oslo is definitely the most expensive city in the world.  I just complained about the cold coffee and got a free latte! Mmmm

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hello readers,

I have had a few messages from people asking how they can post comments on my blog.  I just changed the settings so it should work now.  I would love to hear your comments so I don't just feel like I am writing to myself.  I appreciate all of the positive feedback that I have been getting from many of you over Facebook, so keep on reading!
As for pictures... I will be posting the majority over Facebook because it is easier but I will put a few up on here as well.  So be sure to check out my albums on Facebook so see the pictures to go with these blog posts.

Thank you all so much for reading!


I hadn’t really felt jetlagged until yesterday.  I also hadn’t slept more then 3 hours each other 2 nights before (late nights, snoring room mate and waking up early to catch a flight) so I was exhausted.  I went to bed at 8pm and thought Id fall asleep right away but it wasn’t until 1am that I fell asleep and I woke up at 130pm.  I also haven’t been very hungry; I am still living off the small groceries I bought in Reykjavik (which is good because everything here is super expensive).  I’m not really sure why but I think Ill blame it on delayed jetlag.
The hostel is great, I share a room with a woman from Oslo (not sure why she is sleeping in a hostel) and another girl who came in late last night and left early this morning so I never met her.  It is very clean, has a mini fridge and kitchen.  It is in kind of a shady neighborhood but is very accessible to downtown and the best part… the floor in the bathroom is heated!  Although everyone here speaks English very well, I feel like I should be using some Norwegian so I’ve figured out how to order a coffee in Norwegian and the server knew what I said although she ask “cream or sugar?” in English so I clearly have to work on my accent.
I went to the Nobel Peace house where the Nobel Peace prize is awarded every year.  The exhibits were great.  According to my dad (who also had me fooled until I was 10 year old that he went to “Dad school” and that’s how he knew how to find missing socks and how to do all sorts of dad things), he is a shared recipient for a Nobel peace prize, for peacekeeping.  I wanted to make sure that he was telling the truth so I looked at each exhibit to see which one could be his.  I stumbled across the 1988 winner, “United Nations Peacekeeping Forces”, so turns out he was telling the truth all along!  My dad is a (shared) winner of the Nobel Peace prize!
I was going to meet up with a friend I had met in Australia who was living in Oslo, but she is back in Sweden now, which gives me a great reason to have to visit Sweden!  I woke up late today so I wasted a good part of the day and since it gets dark so early here and most tourist venues are closed at around 5, there is not much left to do.  I walked alot today and saw the National Gallery (where Munch's "Scream" painting is...but I didnt go in to see it), the National Theatre, Opera house (Europeans love their Opera, there is an Opera house in every city), some castle, lots of boats etc...  I think now I will scrounge up some dinner then head back to the hostel to see if I can meet someone to go out with otherwise Ill do some laundry, repack all my stuff and have another early night.  Tomorrow, I finally get to Harstad.  I am already looking forward to sleeping in a bed in a room by myself.  Hostels are great and I generally get a good enough sleep but its just not the same because there is always someone moving around or snoring in the middle of the night.
I just checked and Harstad, is at the same latitude (68degrees N) as Inuvik is.  So at that latitude, I will have experienced 24 hour sunlight as well as almost 24 hour darkness!  This is 2 degrees, approximately 250km above the Arctic circle. 
I have been only in the downtown sector of Oslo, there is nothing here but buildings and the harbor yet I see s many people walking around in full ski gear and their XC skiis.  I cant figure out what they can possibly be doing downtown with their gear unless the somehow take the city bus to some ski trails outside of the city and have to walk downtown to catch the bus.
I am at a teahouse in downtown Oslo and it is packed with people chatting and I don’t understand a single thing.  I travelled alone in Australia and that was fine, I had a blast!  Now, being alone in a country where I don’t understand what people are saying, nor can I read anything, is a bit lonelier.  I am looking forward to meeting  people and settling into school life in Harstad, tomorrow!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Welcome to Oslo

I just got to Oslo.  I’ve been trying to learn the basics of Norwegian before getting here and thought I was doing okay.  Now that I am here I realize that I cannot understand, speak or read anything in Norwegian so I’m still at square one but its okay, I have 5 months to practice  :)   As I was waiting for my luggage at the carousel at the airport I decided to have a snack since I had been awake since 4am and only had coffee.  I pulled a banana out of my bag and was about to open it when the man standing next to me collapsed and started seizing on the ground.  His wife starts yelling “sukkar” (my Norwegian is no good but it was obvious she was yelling “sugar”).  Id like to say that I was heroic and offered up my banana but it took me a little while to figure out what was going on.  By the time I got that he had gone into diabetic shock, his wife had yanked the banana out of my hand.  Anyways, I’m glad that I could help but that was the only food I had to eat  :(
I took the train to central Oslo and then a bus to my hostel.  I got there just before 1pm but couldn’t check in until 3pm so I left my luggage there and went for a wander around the area.  I was looking for a local café with free wifi but after 30 minutes of looking, I broke my rule of not going to American type fast foods while I’m in another country, and got a good ole’ sub to replace my banana.  English is the server’s 3rd language, so it took communicate what I wanted but it all worked out. 
I’ve been in Oslo for about 2 hours and so far I have seen three girls, all separately, walking about, downtown Oslo, with XC skiis slung over their shoulders. I feel like that is a very Norwegian thing to see, especially in the middle of a big city! Right now, the weather feels like a nice spring day.  I think it will be more difficult to get around here then in Reykjavik.  Although mostly everyone here speaks English, it is such a big city that not everyone is used to tourists where was downtown Reykjavik was very centered around tourism and conversations began in English because there was an understanding that everyone was a tourist.  I have my Norwegian phrasebook in my purse so I will be just fine.  Im going to go find some geocaches, check out the Nobel Peace center then check in to the hostel.
WOAH!! Just as I was about to sign out, I was looking out the window and saw a tram run right into a car!  It’d be really insensitive and touristy of me to take a picture but it looks brutal! Yowzers

Notes for Devin, Bryce and Cam... and anyone else travelling to Iceland

-from the airport, take one of the shuttle busses (Airport Express or FlyBus), they are about $16CAD and will take you right to the door of your hostel.  DON’T take a taxi, it is unnecessary and will be very expensive since it’s close to a 45-minute drive.
-if you fly in early, you likely cant check into your hostel until 2 but you can leave your luggage there while you wander around before coming back to check in.
-I saw your hostel today and talked to an Aussie who was staying there.  It looks nice enough from the outside and is right near the ocean.  He said it was very clean and modern for a hostel.
-this is a very touristy place so there are tons of tourism companies but they all offer about the same sort of tours.  The easiest way to book tours or bus pick ups is right at the front desk of the hostel.  I did the 2 main ones (blue lagoon and the golden circle tour) and both were great.  The blue lagoon can be done in 2 hours, but I stayed for 3 because it was amazing (don’t take a taxi).  The golden circle tour can be either a full or half day option. I did the full day and it was definitely worth it.  I used the company TravelBus for both tours.  They are the cheapest of all the operators and the only problem I had was because of snow so you’ll be fine in April.  Other main tours are: ATV tours, whale watching, northern lights chasing, caving, snorkeling, south island tour, volcano movie theatres and museums etc. Oh and check out some puffins!  I think you can see them in the spring, Ill be so jealous if you see some!
-go to a place called “Icelandic Bar” (I know.. very original).  Its downtown near a square park area and a government house (Pósthússtræti 9 street). It’s a nice pub and you can try out some real Icelandic beer and Icelandic food (puffin, whale, lamb, goose etc…)
-just a heads up... you have to shower completely naked before being allowed into the Blue Lagoon
-go to a grocery store and by dried cod (Icelandic delicacy) and Kyr (Icelandic yoghurt/cheese).  If you are looking for a grocery store, ask around for a supermarket because nobody seems to know what a grocery store is.  There is a store called Bonus, the symbol is a pinky piggy, and this is a discount food/“dollar” store.
-the tap water is great for drinking.  It is pure mineral water and there isn’t any chlorine or any added chemicals to it.  The hot water smells like sulphur at first but it is nice and warm once it gets going.
-the airport actually doesn’t have free internet except for at a café at the exit to the arrivals area near the place to book shuttle busses on your way out.
-don’t expect stir sticks or spoons for your coffee
-get used to being called “Canada” or “Mr. Canadian” etc…
-be open to new experiences, take loads of pictures, blah blah blah

Bye Bye Iceland

Wow.  4am is early to wake up after a latish night and a snoring roommate.  I caught the airport shuttle at 430 (ORTMers: the driver looked almost identical to John Shultis) and now I’m sitting at the airport waiting for my flight.  Luckily, I had just enough Icelandic money left to buy one cup of coffee and now I have nothing to do but wait.
I learned that we are very lucky as Canadians in regards to having the Northern Lights.  Some people come all the way to Iceland, and other parts of northern Scandinavia, from more southern nations JUST to have a chance to see the Aurora Borealis.  I used to see them much more when I was younger but it was never really that big of a deal because Id see them often enough.  I met some people who were sooo excited after having waited 4 hours in a cold bus just to have seen a little bit of green in the sky at 1am.  They are beautiful and after realizing how rare they are in the world, I will no longer take seeing them at home, for granted.  I learned from a girl from Hong Kong that in China, it is believed that if you are lucky enough to see the Northern Lights, you will be pregnant within the year.  Uh oh.  I’ve also heard before that in Japan, it is considered very lucky to conceive a child under the Northern lights.  Anyways, that’s just a whole other type of tourism…
I just booked a hostel for the next 2 nights in Oslo.  To get from the airport to the hostel I have to take a bus downtown and then transfer onto another, smaller bus.  This will be interesting since I now find myself with a big heavy suitcase, small but heavy duffel bag, 33L backpack and a big purse bag.  Basically… I look like a pack mule when I carry it all.  I really have no plans or know what there is to do once I’m there so Ill just wing it.  I met a girl, Emelie, on Fraser Island in Australia who now lives in Oslo so I may meet up with her. Otherwise, Ill just wander around and explore the big city.  I’ve also heard that the main tourist attraction is in Frogner Park, which is a green space filled with statues.  It is the most expensive city in the world so I don’t think Ill be doing to much spending.  Then, Sunday afternoon I finally leave for Harstad, where Ill be spending the next 5 months.
I just realized how crazy I look sitting here in the airport.  Everyone here is so well dressed, despite it being so early.  I’m in lulu pants, baggy UNBC sweater, hair is a mess from sleeping on it wet and I have 2 bags to haul around.  Right now I’m “that” girl at the airport. 
I also just realized that most of my sentences and paragraphs on this blog start with “I”.  Owell.  I really hope people read this so I’m not just pointlessly writing this lame blog to myself.  I have been trying to write about what I have been doing as well as what I heave learned to share with all of you.  I have had a fantastic time here in Iceland.  I haven’t booked my flight home for June yet, but if it works out, Id love to come back here on my way home.  I never thought I would ever end up spending time in Iceland because, like most of you I think, I wrote it off as ICEland which really doesn’t sound all that appealing.  Little did I know that it is a land full of culture, history, fascinating geological features, and wonderful people.   

Fun fact: Iceland has more green the ice whereas Greenland has more ice then green.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Golden Circle

I woke up bright and early to catch my tour bus to do what is called the Golden Circle tour; it is one of the must-sees here.  The tour guide was a funny retired schoolteacher who was filled with fun facts and stories.  There were about 9 of us and I was again, the only North American.  We drove inland through lava fields, the driver kept pointing out areas where there had been volcanic activities but since it was 9am and still pitch dark it wasn’t possible to see anything.  I did learn that although Reykjavik has a population a quarter the size of Barcelona, the city takes up the same amount of space.  The reason for this is because there are building regulations that don’t allow for high apartments to be built because of the high likelihood of earthquakes.  So, Reykjavik is known as a very big, small city.
We went through a town that had been nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 2008.  That town (don’t remember the name and couldn’t pronounce it even if I did), has high levels of thermal activities and their entire town of about 9’000 people use geothermal power to heat their infrastructure.  This highly usable heat source is used to power several greenhouses which are used to grow veggies that get distributed through Iceland as well as flowers which are imported to other Nordic countries as well as Holland.
We then drove to take some pictures near one of three large craters.  By this time it was about 10am and it was starting to get lighter out.  Our driver made a stop (that he wasn’t supposed to have made) at some beautiful waterfalls on the way to the more famous, Gulfoss falls.  Both the falls were absolutely gorgeous and serene, even, among the fields of snow-covered rocks.  There were horses EVERYWHERE on the drive.  These horses are very tiny, almost pony sized, but are still considered horses.  They are special because, in addition to the 3 regular “speeds” most horses can go, these Icelandic horses have an additional 2 speeds.  They are used mostly as farm horses.
We then stopped for lunch at an area where we saw geysers and hot springs.  There were signs everywhere saying that these springs were between 80-100deg C!!  We got to see one very large geyser spray about 40ft into the air!  It was awesome, I took a few pictures that Ill upload later.  I had lamb stew and coffee for lunch and sat with two Aussies.  One of them was a geologist and was fascinated by the phenomenal geological features in Iceland.
Our bus driver explained to us that Iceland has 3 tectonic plates.  One is the American plate, the other, European and one tiny one separating the two in the middle.  The mid-Atlantic ridge extends from outside of Antarctica to just east of Greenland, going right through Iceland and serves as the separation between the Eurasian and the North American plates.  We drove across all of them and essentially went from the continent of Europe to the continent of North America.  There is a 7km gap between the two (I forget what it is called) and this is where our bus got stuck in the snow. We were quite literally stuck between two continents.  It took about 15 minutes and lots of pushing but we made it through.
The next stop was at the start of the North American plate where the Parliamentary plains (Althing) are found.  This is the place were Iceland parliament was first formed and where the Icelandic commonwealth was born.  On the walk over, we passed a small river where it is customary to throw in change (it accepts any currency) in order to get a question answered.  If you throw in your change and you can see it when it hits the bottom then the answer to your question is yes.  The river was filled with change and it looked really pretty…someone had even thrown their credit card in!  Apparently in Icelanders misbehaved in the days where these parliamentary plains were still used (1600-1700), the men would be hung or beheaded and the woman would be put in a bag and thrown in the river.  A problem Icelanders had in the days where it was common to burn a “witch” at the stake was that Iceland has very few trees and therefore didn’t have enough wood to burn their witches.  Our guide seemed very serious when he told us this and said that is why there must be so many witches in Iceland today.
We spent time driving through Þingvellir National Park and stopped at a lookout to check out the largest natural lake in Iceland.  We then learned all about the mysticism that exists in Iceland to this day and were told to look out for invisible people.   
The blue line on the map above is the Golden Circle route, starting from Reykjavik which is the most northern coastal point.

 Now I am back at the hostel where I meet a new room mate who is a German physicist who works on Long Island, NY.  I’m going to scrounge up some food, buy you all some postcards (send me your mailing address if you haven’t already), do some last minute sightseeing (ill either climb to the top of the tall church of go with the girl from Hong Kong to the rotating restaurant to see the entirety of Reykjavik from up high), then pack up all my stuff and go to bed because I have to wake up at 4am to catch the 430am shuttle to get to the airport for my flight to Oslo!