Sunday, July 27, 2014

Meet-Me-Halfway Honeymoon: Part 5 - Flam, Norway

Now that we've survived the first half of our trip traveling on various modes of public transportation, we were excited to finally get our rented car and begin our self-drive road trip! Even though this was a budget trip and renting a car is probably not the cheapest option, we concluded that this part of Norway is best traveled by car coz driving through one of Norway's 18 National Tourist Routes is the best way to experience some of the wildest and most beautiful fjord, mountain and coastal scenery that Norway has to offer. Norway's government has indeed successfully defined the quote 'it's not the destination, but the journey that matters most'...literally! =)

May 19 (Mon): Self-drive to Vang Camping at Naeroyfjord

Picked up our Volvo V40 Cross Country from Hertz in Bergen without any hassle. We were supposed to get a VW Golf but I guess they were all taken. I don't know much about cars so I'm not sure if the Volvo was a better car or worse, I think it looks nicer though...haha! Anyway, the Volvo is manual and runs on diesel so I guess it's fuel efficient. Hubby managed to get a 20% discount from his insurance company so our 7-days car rental costed NOK2246 (RM1230). We also saved on insurance coz it's already covered under hubby's car insurance. 

Norway has right hand driving so hubby had to be the driver for this entire trip...haha!! =P While I didn't need to drive, my job as a passenger wasn't easy coz I had to be the navigator, photographer, and videographer without falling!! We didn't rent a GPS but bought a broadband card that lasted for a week for RM55. So I only used google map (plus all the homework that I've done before the trip) to navigate our entire journey.

One of our first impressions of driving in many tunnels!!

Blue skies, snow-capped mountains, serene lakes, empty's impossible to fall asleep with all these breathtaking scenery along the way!! 

Entering Naeroyfjord and getting near to our destination...surrounded by steep mountains, thundering waterfalls and picturesque villages along the fjord.

Finally arrived at our destination - Vang Camping after 3 hours. Such a pretty place!!

This is the 'real' Norway that I'm talking about! Nothing can beat nature's beauty!! Most tourists (especially cruise ships) will make a stop in Flam but since we were driving, we had the flexibility to stay slightly further away from the harbor and railway station at this tranquil and beautiful campsite surrounded by waterfalls.

The owner wasn't around when we arrived but we saw this cute little post-it at the reception window saying that cabin no. 12 was reserved for us...haha! Best of all, all the cabins had keys on the door so anyone could check-in anytime. Such a safe place and laid back lifestyle! We booked the small cabin for NOK300/night (RM165) which was a lot cheaper than hotels and it's definitely value for money coz our small lil' cabin was equipped with a small kitchen, refrigerator, king bed and most importantly, a priceless scenery. =) Even though the bathroom facility was shared, we pretty much had the whole place for ourselves as we were the only ones there. One thing we learned about staying in cabins was to bring our own bed linens (i.e. pillow case, bed sheet, & duvet cover). We didn't have a duvet cover but hubby's blanket and my sleeping bag worked fine.

Went to the Joker grocery store nearby to buy some food and saw this view right by it.

Had pasta, salad and grapes for dinner. Simple dinner surrounded by waterfalls. We just chilled and relax for the rest of the day before another long day ahead.

We made most of our own meals during this trip especially after getting a car coz it was very expensive to eat out. To give you an idea of how expensive is expensive, RM32 for a hot dog+Coke, RM13 for an ice-cream, RM12 for 1kg of banana, RM19 for a can of Heineken. You basically need to forget about math when shopping for groceries in Norway. =P

May 20 (Tues): Flam - Stegastein Viewing Platform at Aurlandsfjord

Started our day early at 6.15am and continued our northbound journey. Our first stop for the day was at Flam, a touristy small town 30 minutes away from Vang Camping. Saw a some passengers chilling on the balcony of the huge Royal Caribbean cruise ship docked at the harbor. 2 contrasting ways of exploring Norway, budget road trip vs luxurious cruise trip. =P 

After a quick pit stop at Flam, we continued our journey towards Stegastein viewing platform along Aurlandsfjellet National Tourist Route. I was so busy taking pictures along the way that I didn't even realize the sign saying that the road from Aurland to Laerdal is closed. The road was winding, narrow and uphill all the way. Our timing was good coz it was still quite early (7am) so there weren't other cars around. I couldn't imagine how is it possible to drive through this road in the summer with all the tour buses crowding this small little town.

Stegastein viewing platform, where nature and architecture combine to offer a dizzying view over the fjord landscape. We had the platform all for ourselves...awesome!! =)

The view from the platform was absolutely stunning!! This beautiful country was constantly surprising us with all these breathtaking scenery along the way. =)

Panoramic view from the transparent edge of the platform. Anyone fancy a slide into the fjord?

Continued our journey along Aurlandsfjellet...the route runs from fjord to fjord across high mountains where snow remains most of the summer. I was so excited to see snow on both sides of the road at this time of the year...pls bear with me coz we don't see all these in M'sia. =P

As I said earlier, we didn't know that the road was still closed (coz they haven't cleared the snow) until we saw this road! We can't continue our journey over the mountain so we had to turn back, go downhill and use the Lærdal Tunnel (under this mountain) instead...what a bummer! Luckily we started our journey early so we still had time to make it in time for our next adventure...glacier hike!! =) 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Meet-Me-Halfway Honeymoon: Part 4 - Bergen, Norway

Before we embarked on this trip, I was quite stressed and worried about the first half of our trip where we had to rely on public transportation to move around and I 'brilliantly' planned our budget itinerary which involved overnight traveling for every alternate nights. After making it through the first 5 days of our physically exhausting journey and completing the Pulpit Rock hike, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief coz we were almost done with our public transportation adventure with only one last leg to go before getting our rented car for the 2nd half of the trip. =)

May 18 (Sun): 18 hours in Bergen 

Our daily routine...packing, unpacking, repacking. =P Checked out at 12pm, well-rested and ready to go!

The public bus to the airport doesn't operate on Sundays so the only option we had was to take the Flybussen to Stavanger airport. The 30min journey costs NOK110/pax (RM60) expensive!

I found out later on that we could have taken a bus from Stavanger to Bergen at a cheaper price. Even though the flight was only slightly more expensive than the bus (RM197), the costs of getting to and fro the airports made our option so much more expensive. Oh well, at least we got to fly on Norwegian!! It's the 3rd largest low-cost carrier in Europe but there were only about 10 passengers on our flight. =P

These aerial views from the flight explain why it's difficult and expensive to travel around Norway. There's no way building a highway across all these archipelagos. =P  

The flight was so short (only 30min) that I didn't even have time to connect to the wifi on the plane. First time seeing doggy on plane. Cute doggy+cute combo! =)

Another expensive Flybussen bus ride from Bergen airport to the city. This 20min journey costs another NOK90/pax (RM50). =.=

Our 12-bed budget dormitory at Bergen YMCA. This was the only shared dorm that we stayed during this trip and it's still not cheap. Bergen is a touristy city so everything was expensive. This was the best option for us considering its strategic location right by the fish market and we were only gonna be sleeping there for a night. In fact, the hostel was really clean and our roommates were very considerate (apart from an uncle who snores). 

Best thing about traveling at this time of the year...longer days for sightseeing. =) It was already 7pm by the time we finished dinner, but our day in Bergen was just about to start. =P First stop...the harbour was right across our hostel with a good view of the famous wooden buildings of Bryggen...a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Panoramic view of Bergen harbour.

The famous fish market (Fisketorget) in Bergen that is totally overrated. =P According to Wikitravel..."Prices here are very high, and a lunch can easily cost you 80 euros per person."

One of the most popular tourist attraction in Bergen is Fløibanen, a funicular which goes up Mt Fløyen...kinda like the Penang Hill and Victoria Peak tram. Since it was such a beautiful day and we still had plenty of time before sunset, we decided to tone our thigh and butt muscles by hiking up the mountain. =P From the city center, the beginning of the hike brought us through some quiet neighborhoods and nice lookouts. 

The majority of the hike brought us through well-marked zig zag trails. The hike wasn't very tough but it involved a constant uphill climb for about an hour (including some photo stops). This trail reminds me of our hiking competition. 

When in Norway, hike as the Norwegians hike. =) We bumped into so many fit and healthy people along the hike, some of them were even running up the hill...totally impressed!! All of them were appropriately dressed in 2XU compression pants while I was wearing jeans and hoodie (that I had to take off coz I was sweating like a piggy) holding a map and if it wasn't obvious enough that we are!! 

Finally made it to the viewpoint after an hour...surprisingly there weren't many people around.

Fantastic view of Bergen!!

We had nothing else better to do than taking plenty of selfies, wefies, and youfies. =P And the best camera award goes to Gopro! Well I'm not a professional but at least we could see the 'eggyolk'. =)

Apart from taking plenty of photos, we spent the rest of the 2 hours people watching while waiting for the sun to set at 10.30pm. The bottom right pic is a perfect depiction of the difference between Asians (geared up with 2 cameras trying to capture the 'best' sunset pic) and Europeans (just sit back, relax and enjoy the sunset)! 

Romantic sunset. =)

Lucky us to see this beautiful sunset. =) Yes I admit, I'm an!!

Thanks to a Floibanen staff for taking and sharing this photo of us on their fb page. =) Translation of the caption..."The view we are never tired of sharing!"

By the time we hiked down, it was already 11pm and the streets were all deserted. Great way to end our super short sightseeing in Bergen thanks to the beautiful weather. 

Next, our road trip around Norway begins!! Stay tuned!!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Meet-Me-Halfway Honeymoon: Part 3 - Stavanger, Norway

Having spent the first 4 days of our trip in two capital cities, we were ready to move on and experience the 'real' Norway. Norway's natural beauty is difficult to overstate, the fjords, glaciers, mountainous terrain, and beautiful coastline will definitely take your breathe away. =P Hiking is the best way to experience the nature and you can't really say that you've been to Norway without hiking coz hiking for Norwegians is like shopping to Malaysians...haha!! Factoring in the weather condition and our fitness level, we chose to to hike only one of the many stunning cliffs in Norway - Preikestolen (aka Pulpit Rock) in Stavanger. In fact, my first choice was to hike Trolltunga (mainly for the amazingly scary photo opp) but the hiking route was still covered with snow at the end of May so we opted for the safer and less scary hike. =P

Some amazing stunt photos by Eskil just to give you an idea of how stunning Norway is. =P From left to right: Pulpit Rock, Trolltunge, Kjerag, Geirangerfjord.

May 17 (Sat): Hiking the Pulpit Rock

Arrived Stavanger train station at 7.30am after our 9-hours overnight train ride from Oslo. We were mentally prepared for the long and tiring day ahead but weren't sure if we were physically prepared coz we didn't really rest well in the train.   

The streets were deserted when we arrived coz everyone was probably at home dressing up for the constitution day celebration. The walk from the train station to Park Inn hotel was supposed to take only 15 minutes but it turned out to be a half an hour walk coz we were given wrong directions by some locals. Definitely not the best way to start our!! Fortunately, we were able to check into our room, take a quick shower and freshen up before we begin our adventurous hiking day. =) 

Getting to Pulpit Rock from Stavanger was a lil' troublesome but this website came in handy. Our initial plan was to take a bus from the hotel to Fiskepiren ferry terminal but we probably missed it or the bus just didn't arrive on schedule. We ended up running+speed walking 2km to the ferry terminal so that we wouldn't miss the ferry. Saw a lot of Norwegians dressed up in suits, traditional outfit and holding their flags all around the town waiting for the parade to begin. Norwegians are so patriotic!!  

Took the 10am ferry to Tau quay. The ferry ride took about 40 minutes and cost NOK94/pax (RM50) for round trip. 

After getting off the ferry, we had another half an hour bus ride that cost NOK150/pax (RM80) for a round trip ticket to get to Pulpit Rock.

It was already 11.30am when we finally arrived at the Preikestolen Fjellstue parking lot. At this point, we were already at an elevation of approximately 270 metres above sea level. 

The entire hiking route is about 3.8 kms and is expected to take approximately 2 hours each way. Honestly I'm not a fan of hiking but I wouldn't mind for the sake of the view. =P

The beginning of the hike.

Our elevation level after half an hour. 

Rocky paths...reminds me of hiking Mt Kinabalu. The path climbs and descends various ridges. At one point we started descending and I thought we were almost deceiving. =P

After hiking for 45 minutes, we were relieved to see this flat wooden path not knowing that we've still gotta go through that mountain ahead of us...oh my!!

Toughest part of the hike...long stretch of uphill climb on rocky boulders. Even that muscular guy in the bottom right pic was panting!! What a good thigh and butt workout...haha!! 

Some incredible views and small lake along the way.

Almost there!! See how close we were to the edge of the cliffs?? 

Finally made it to the top of the Pulpit Rock after 1 hour and 45 minutes, and the reward...breathtaking, mind-blowing, gorgeous, amazing view of Lysefjord despite the gloomy weather (at least it wasn't raining).

The weather was kinda sucky for photos but the fact that we were able to see this stunning view with our own eyes made this hike well worth the effort. =)

Anyone fancy a 600m dive from this awesome platform? =P

A lot of people were posing for photos right by the edge of the cliff. I wouldn't say that I have a fear of heights but I didn't even want to get near the edge and risk falling 600m off the steep cliff, especially after reading that a Spanish tourist fell to his death from the Pulpit Rock in October 2013. Under normal circumstances, my balancing skill is pretty good but I still don't think it's worth risking my life just to get a cool photo. =P

The top of the rock is actually quite big and flat (approximately 25 by 25 meters) and served as a perfect picnic + rest stop for us. While we were resting and eating our packed lunch, a bunch of Norwegians started singing their national anthem and waving their cool!!

We spent about an hour on the rock and took plenty of photographs, including some not-so-successful jumpshots and not-so-near-the-edge photos. =P

Mission accomplished!! Time to follow the marked "T" path again and begin our descend. 

Some random people that we met along the way and my conclusion is...Norwegians are so outdoorsy, active, and fit!!! Some brought their dogs, some 'backpacked' their babies, and even old grandma hiked faster than us!!

Daniel KO-ed on the way!! The hike was definitely well worth the effort though. Just remember to bring plenty of water, pack some lunch, wear comfortable footwear, and layer up your clothes as it can get windy up there.

Made it back to Stavanger at 5.30pm and rewarded ourselves with a good dinner at Peders. As we were standing by the street looking at our map trying to find the way back to the hotel after dinner, a kind gentleman who was pushing his kid in a stroller stopped and offered to help us out with the directions. Norwegians are such nice people! =)

We came all the way to Stavanger mainly just to hike the Pulpit Rock and we were glad that everything turned out well. Next post, we'll visit the 2nd largest city in Norway...Bergen!