Europe

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A thousand candles bright

In another life, I’d vote for wanting to be Swedish and all the perks that come with it – shopping at Granit (and sometimes Ikea), Gina Tricot and H+M, camping in a summer house in the countryside in an eco-friendly car, taking fika(s) daily and eating all the seafood, meatballs and the cloudberries that my stomach can possibly take. After all, the first thing I asked about as I checked into the hotel was the name of the Christmas album that they were playing. Obviously that’s not going to happen, but a girl can always hope. I wasn’t too hard up on seeing the big tourist sites this time around;...

Workmen x Snow x Airport

I ended up getting sent to the Tromsø airport by a workman. My short journey to the bus stop was timed so all I had to do was to wait for bus no. 42 to come. A slew of heavy vehicles salting the road and clearing the snow however, meant that a diversion was put up just at the junction I was waiting just about a minute later. To my horror, the bus I was supposed to be taking went merrily on its way in another direction as the workmen waved the vehicles to the left instead of straight. Panicking, I considered walking back to the hotel – any hotel!...

Storm in a snow cup

I find myself missing Svalbard already, a day after leaving it. In contrast to Svalbard’s winter silence, Tromsø is vibrant, noisy and teeming with life – even at the odd hours of the night as students and yuppies roam the streets after partying and hard drinking. Still, this place lies almost 400km north of the Arctic Circle (70 degrees North), but the climate is more humid, mitigated by Gulf stream that trickles to a halt here. The Polar Night here is a pale imitation of the one on Longyearbyen: a greyish-blue tinge of light blankets the city at around 10am till about 2 or 3pm, giving it a surrealistic, winter-wonderland...

Sled run on a ‘fine’ day

“Dogs have an instinct to follow,” the guide (originally from the Czech Republic) at Svalbard Vilmarkssenter said emphatically as he wheezed out commands in Norwegian which all the huskies obey. “They’re noisy now, but they’ll calm down and get up to a good speed when they set off.” As continually amazed as I am that many people here don’t actually speak Norwegian as their native tongue, all thoughts of population diversity flew out of my mind the moment we took off across the frozen river towards Adventdalen with the dogs that strained to simply run. There were reindeer grazing along the banks of the frozen river and as the dogs...

78 Degrees North

A few months ago, I decided on a whim that I had to visit the Arctic during winter and thought Svalbard came the closest to it without getting close to the North Pole. Little did I realise that I was going to travel during a Polar Night weekend where hoards of merry-making Norwegians piled onto the plane from Oslo/Tromsø and onto the island, making the small airport like a bus stop gathering of neighbours. Everyone seemed to know everyone and bus after bus stopped at the front door of the Radisson Polar Blu hotel until there was a queue that stretched outside for check-in in minus 16-degree weather. The result...

Aimless wandering

It has been strangely hard to get over jetlag. It’s barely 8pm before I can hardly keep my eyes open and I have a feeling this is going to be messed up even further the moment I get into the Polar night in Svalbard. On the positive side, that means I’m up with lots of time to spare – I can eat breakfast, go out and still be in time to enjoy the slow sunrise at Holmenkollen (what looks to be a very affluent residential area as well as a ski recreation area) on Line 1 of the T-bane. There were already those who were training for competitions at that...

Paupering in Oslo

Seven years ago, I visited Oslo and stayed in someone’s apartment, essentially getting the entire place to myself when the owner coincidentally went on vacation during those exact dates I was here. As I got to Tøyen where he stayed, I wondered if I was actually observing the underbelly of Oslo’s poorer population. Things change dramatically a few train stops away, and all these years later, I’m not too sure if what I’m seeing of Oslo is too different – at least superficially. Now that I’m at a budget place near the National Theatret, I get to see what the tourists see and do what they do, and unwittingly find...

Into a reversal of seasons

When Schilthorn remained closed for yet another day, I was rather foolish to hope that the continuous snowfall would when we stepped out of the Berner Oberland into Vaud and Fribourg. Our route was fairly complicated, long but very scenic (I spent lots of time convincing myself during lull periods that it really was the journey and not the destination that mattered) and with the number of train/bus combination and changes to make any programmer blush, it finally looked like this: Murren cable car – Stechelberg via Gimmelwald, Stechelberg – Lauterbrunnen – Interlaken Ost – Zweisimmen – Gstaad – Montreux – Lausanne. I’m fairly embarrassed to say that I hardly...

Snowed into the Berner Oberland

We stepped out of the miserable rain on a Monday morning in Luzern into a heavily snowing Berner Oberland via the Golden Pass route (Luzern – Brünigpass – Interlaken – Zweisimmen – Montreux) – it would have been all that was promised, except for the perpetual low cloud cover and the grey, washed-out landscape. Mürren, our final destination, was quite mercifully, the pretty and silent ghost town before it throws open its doors to the skiers and the ski season starting this saturday – our crippling disadvantage however, lies in the sheer lack of options in eating and outdoor activities. On our last evening, we stayed close and dined downstairs, and...

Yodelling through

Finally visiting Switzerland after decades of near-libidinous desire of wanting to is turning out to be a long-realised dream – and a nightmare where the budgeting suddenly became the last straw that broke the strings of our purses. I was introduced to the incredible prices when we took a short stop in Basel to get our Swiss half-card, but ended up spending nearly 40 minutes at the SBB Travel Centre with an enthusiastic salesperson (who was possibly showing exemplary behaviour as Teamcoach) who issued us all of our tickets that we were ever going to need in for the rest of our time in Switzerland. If transport – mostly train...