Norway, Svalbard and Barcelona. The North Pole to the Med beaches.

The flight in from FLL was quite nice. After  only 8 hours, it allowed for a meal, movie and 6 hours of sleep. And of course on Norwegian air you have plenty of luxury in coach on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Now the Norwegian Kroner is worth more than the USD as well as the Euro. Tax is also very high so this is probably the most expensive EU country I have ever been to.

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After arriving through customs in Oslo, I was happy to see my great friend Eivand. He invited me to stay with him and his family which consisted of 2 young daughters and his girlfriend Hilde. They decided to cook dinner at home which sounded perfect to me. My curiosity on Norwegian cuisine was high. We stopped in his neighborhood market and bought food for dinner. Eivind quickly dashed through the store as if he had already planned out what he was going to get. When we arrived at his house in the suburbs, he introduced me to his 2 little daughters. I had met his girlfriend previous to this trip when they traveled to Florida a few years back.

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The house was modern and I expected that as Eivind like myself is into electronics and new gadgets. He has the entire living room and kitchen lights programmed to a wireless remote so that he can hit one button at night to turn all lights off. Most inventive. It felt really great to see Eivind and finally spend time with him in his hometown. He had always met me somewhere in the world for travels and now this was my turn. He is a true friend.

After I unpacked a little in my guestroom, we had a traditional and most delicious dinner. He cooked Elk steak, potatos, veggies and a mushroom saute dish which was very tasty. Eivind is a big fan of Italian wines and so Masi red wine was served which accompanied the meal quite well. After the kids went to bed, his girlfriend also turned in. Eivind and I sat up for a while and drank an exceptional rum which I had brought with me from the states. Papas’ Pilar, a 24 year rum aged in sherry wine casks. We chatted for a while and then called it a night. The next morning we were taking a road trip to Stavanger to hike up one of the famous fjords and also to visit a friend of his whom was having a dinner party.

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We took Eivind’s Tesla which was a car I have never ridden in. Wow! Talk about horse power and a cockpit from Star Trek. We drove for 2 hours before pulling over to a Tesla Supercharger location. Tesla provides free charging stations as part of the car purchase. Now I was really dumbfounded. Something the USA is years behind on. I hope the USA catches up to the rest of the modern world soon. Progress seems to be so slow due to the 90 year old adolescent government. If only the USA had a true democratic government and finally let the people decide. Oh well, I will watch the progress from abroad.

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The road trip was a great way to catch up and joke around a lot. He told me about Norway and how the laws and taxes are. Quite insane to the person who doesn’t pay so much in tax. Almost 27% sales tax! But most wages are higher. The hospitality industry is very well paid so tips are not expected. This makes so much sense. Tips do not. We all get paid to do a job whatever that is. No one should feel entitled to anything. Always be happy with what you have.

After we arrived in Stavanger after a very long and foggy 9 hour drive, we checked into out hotel and decided to walk the town in search of some good pubs. This was very easy. There was a common bar area in town which was very busy. Cafes lined the port and people were out in full force. We ducked into a couple for a bit before settling on one that Eivind had been to before. Old 90s hip hop jams like Kris Kross and SWV were playing in the background. It was Halloween weekend and many locals were in there costumes. Pretty original to boot. Not the prostitute get-ups I am used to seeing back in the states. Girls had imagination which was really refreshing. How awesome!

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The next day was the hike up the fjord. We drive to the greet location which took us and the car to the hiking start location. What a trek it was. In 2013 the Norwegians paid Sherpa’s from Nepal to come and make stone paths and steps up the canyon wall. The trail was well built and steep. Many lakes were along the way up. I have hiked many places and was raised in Oregon for which my family did a lot of camping growing up. I had never scene this kind of nature. The amount of lakes was astounding and they weren’t all large in size. Eivind told me they never dry up and always provide the most amazing drinking water for the country. He was right..the best tap water I have ever tasted.

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We past many polite people on the way up, took pics and just enjoyed awe of it all. It was Eivind’s first time as well. When we reached the summit it was breathtaking. Very windy and worth every large step of the way…

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We took many pics at the top as were many others that did the trek. It is hard to express the feeling. The wind was not forgiving at 600 meters and the thought of be blown off the edge was in both our minds. I guess when you have taken the hike all the way up the pain staking steps, it becomes a must to get those pics. So we did. I heard a story of a man throwing a rock off the ledge and someone’s dog jumping off trying to catch it..sad. Not a place for joking around or thinking you are above nature. We are mere specs on this planet. Nature runs it now and that will not change. The best part of this visit to Norway is that I have no idea what to expect. Weather can change but the temps are similar to that of Oregon. Norway has more sunny days and more Salmon than anywhere I know.

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On top of the world!

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We took pics and helped others take their pics before heading back down. I did have some delicious rum at the top to celebrate. Eivind did not as the laws for drinking and driving are very very harsh unlike the laws in the states where you can sometimes just get a fine. I wonder why the states has soooo many more drunk driving deaths? Another “makes sense” law in most all European cities. I have always wondered why the US is so lax on that law. I guess it keeps the government in business or at least helps. In Norway you can serve prison time for possession of a firearm or drunk driving. Done! Should be a global law.

The trek back down was almost as difficult. Using the front muscles of your legs is rough. Once we got to the car, 3 guys approached us. They were travelers from Germany, Argentina and Spain trying to hitch a ride back to the ferry to Stavanger. They had came on a different ferry than us and theirs was faster. It turned out to be a good thing-picking up hitch hikers.

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Once we got back into town we changed in the hotel and went to his friends house which was very fun. There I met 14 new Norwegians. All of them very funny and smart. We ate pasta, drank and left to watch one of the guys DJ at a local nightclub. I have to say it was a sight to see so many Halloween costumes. Quite a night. The energy in Europe is so high. People love life so much. Romanticism is a part of life.

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After we left the last club for the night, we went to a local pizza joint. We ate and went back to the hotel and crashed out.

The next day we were lazy for a bit before leaving for the drive home. Another 8-9 hour drive with some foggy roads. We left during the day so not as much night driving. Some truly great scenery on the drive.

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The next day I was flying out to Svalbard-the most northern island of Norway. More of a coop international location. Many counties are signatories counties meaning the citizens from those countries can work and reside there. Also Norway does not impose their hefty VAT tax. Food is relatively cheap. There is only 4 hours of light out and the temp is between -19c and 0c. Both are damn cold.

After I finished my prepacking, I brushed the choppers and went to bed. Time for another adventure.

I took the bus from Eivind’s house to the train station in Oslo and then on to the airport for Svalbard. My purpose for this trip is the Aurora lights and just a completely different experience than anything I have ever been used to.

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Once we landed in Longyearbyen, I took the bus to the hotel. Only 2000 inhabitants on the island.

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I checked into my hotel and settled in my room. It was a balmy 0C our 32F outside.

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View from my room! The brightest it gets all day. Only 3-4 hours of light.

So with free breakfast and only 5 people in the hotel, it was very cosy. I met some guys from Belgium whom were on the same flight coming in. Super cool and funny guys. We walked into town and enjoyed some brews from the only local brewery in town. I was excited that there was even a local brewery here. The beer was delicious and we watched FCB play a game on the big screen. The walk to and from the hotel to the town was 25-30 min depending on how fast you walked. The temp really played a part in that. We ended up taking a cab back.

At breakfast the next day we talked about which Aurora and dog sledge trip we would take. The only clear day out was said to be Thursday according to the weather reports. That was the day before we were due to return back to Norway. Sounds awesome and it was booked. The next few days were a lot of relaxing and a quick tour of the Svalbard museum which was quite interesting as I learned about the abandoned Russian mining town. And there are many polar bears on the island as well.

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Reindeer above!

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Old electrical poles from the closed coal mine.

The dog sledding trip to see the Aurora was the whole deal and would make or break this epic adventure. Being the only clear day out, we were hopeful. The trip start time was 1500hr and it was dark at this time so everything looked to be perfect for us to see the lights. We were picked up at the hotel and we were finally off to see the huskies and get this trip under way. I was so pumped to see the Aurora lights. The guide told me that taking my nice Canon T3 rebel would be a mistake as there was no room on the sledge and it could be broken at some point.

The dogs were so fun to watch as they howled when a dog was picked for the trip. I guess they were yelling “pick me, pick me”.

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My Belgium buddies and I were ready for the expedition.

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The tour company provided big snow suits, mitts and boots for us all. Well planned outfit.

Away we went with my dogs. I rode with the guide in the first sledge. An experience I had never thought possible.

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It was quite funny actually. They put the male dogs in the rear of the pack and the females in front. As most of the females were in heat, the male dogs would chase them that much more. We had a few stops along the way as the dogs did not always want to stay on the snow trail. They wanted to do their own thing and so I would have to get off the sledge and pull the lead dogs back on the trial. Cold but fun. We saw the Aurora lights in the distance and then we had to stop for 2 dogs trying to make babies! And it was only -19C out. I was impressed.

As we were waiting for them to do the nasty, we all turned around and BOOM! The Aurora lights were directly above us and brighter than I had ever expected to see. I still can’t believe it.

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The black part at the bottom is the edge of the hill 20 meters away. I was so tempted to run over to the lights and stand in them. Maybe I would have been sent to another galaxy. Who knows. Technically we were never supposed to see this much nor see purple or reds. Scientists say that this is very special to see. I felt more than special – I was blessed.

We stopped for a some tea at the tour camp and then they dropped us back off at the hotel. The guys and I decided to celebrate a little and drink some beers and Vodka as we went through the pics of the tour. We talked for quite a while about our emotions and thoughts on what we saw. I can tell you how I felt and show you 1000 pics but you will never know the feeling until you go. The trip is not expensive and well worth it. The town has no taxation from Norway and very safe.

In the morning we headed to the airport to catch the flight. It was snowing pretty good and we were laughing as we were so lucky to have taken the tour on the only clear day.

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Airport.

We celebrated our tour with some Prosecco and OJ on the flight back.

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Back to Oslo where I met Eivind. We went to his place for some food and then out to see a band play. Tomorrow I was flying out to Barca.

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Such a great time I had in Norway. I will visit again. I had no expectations and so that made the trip even better.

Thank you Vikings! And I don’t mean that crappy team from Minnesota. Real Vikings would eat them for desert.

On to Barca….

 

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