Wild Junket » Norway http://www.wildjunket.com An adventure travel blog that brings you on a rollercoaster ride around the world Wed, 29 Oct 2014 14:30:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The World’s Happiest Countries – Do You Agree? http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/03/26/the-worlds-happiest-countries-do-you-agree/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/03/26/the-worlds-happiest-countries-do-you-agree/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 12:52:02 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16439 Copenhagen, DenmarkSince we’re on the subject of happiness, I’d like to share this interesting list of the happiest countries around the world compiled by the World Happiness Report. Every year, United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network conducts a 156-nation survey and rank the happiest countries around the globe based on aspects such as healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life [...]

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Since we’re on the subject of happiness, I’d like to share this interesting list of the happiest countries around the world compiled by the World Happiness Report.

Every year, United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network conducts a 156-nation survey and rank the happiest countries around the globe based on aspects such as healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices and social support. Basically, interviewers sit with people and ask them about their level of happiness, with an emphasis on life satisfaction rather than transient emotional changes.

The results of the 2013 World Happiness Report are quite surprising - with northern European countries like Denmark, Norway and Switzerland leading the pack. Among North American countries, Canada took sixth place, while Mexico came in at 16th slightly outranking the U.S. (17th). Scroll down for the full list.

Rich vs Poor

The report clearly shows that the rich, stable northern countries tend to be happier than those in the relatively poor regions of the world. In an article on the Vancouver Sun, one of the authors of the World Happiness Report explains, “the UN’s Happiness Report doesn’t necessarily indicate that Danes, Swiss or Canadians are the richest or poorest – or that they are cheerful people who put on smiley faces. Instead, the UN rankings confirm the three countries offer decent if unspectacular incomes, a viable social safety net and reasonable community trust.”

True, these people may have decent incomes, freedom from corrupt officials and health resources — but do those things equate to happiness?

We’ve been to all ten of the countries that rank highest in the report, and truth be told, we’d love to live in these countries – with the excellent social welfare, health benefits and work/life balance - and yet, we know so many Scandinavians who just aren’t happy with  life back at home and wish they could live somewhere warmer.

We’ve also met those on the other end of the spectrum: people who live in extreme poverty but seem to not have a care in the world. In the most remote corners of Burma, Bhutan and Madagascar, we found the happiest and friendliest people we’ve ever met. Living in poverty doesn’t necessarily mean a low level of happiness, while being blessed with social stability isn’t equivalent to a high level of happiness.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s impossible to measure happiness. Rather than let a scientific report tell us who’s happy and who’s not, why don’t we go seek true happiness ourselves?

Rather than let a scientific report tell us who’s happy and who’s not, why don’t we go seek true happiness ourselves?

 

United Nations Top 10 Happiest Countries

1. Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

2. Norway

The Narvik Fjord

3. Switzerland

Zermatt, Switzerland

4. Netherlands

Windmill - KinderdijkFlickr image by coanri

5. Sweden

Small fishing town Lysekil in West Sweden

6. Canada

Banff, CanadaFlickr image by Patrick

7. Finland

Luosto, Finland

8. Austria

Salzburg, Austria

9. Iceland

The Golden Falls, Iceland

10. Australia

Uluru, Australia

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Highlights of the Ice Run: From the Northern Lights to the Ice Hotel http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/03/29/highlights-of-the-ice-run/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/03/29/highlights-of-the-ice-run/#comments Fri, 29 Mar 2013 21:42:41 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=14201 View of fjord from Arctic Circle ExpressOver the winter, we took off on an epic train journey around the coldest reaches of Europe armed with our Eurail global passes and plenty of winter gear. This journey – which we aptly named the Ice Run – was all about the ice, the powdery snow, the raw wilderness and the chilly cold. To mush in the sugar-coated winter land, we tried our hands [...]

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Over the winter, we took off on an epic train journey around the coldest reaches of Europe armed with our Eurail global passes and plenty of winter gear. This journey – which we aptly named the Ice Run – was all about the ice, the powdery snow, the raw wilderness and the chilly cold. To mush in the sugar-coated winter land, we tried our hands at all sort of outdoor activities from racing on snowmobiles and sledding with husky dogs, to sleeping in an igloo and catching the Northern Lights. The train journeys were even more unforgettable – we feasted on the spectacular views while swooshing past fjords, through mountains and past frozen rivers.

Over the month, we clocked over 3,076 miles (4.950 km), crossing 6 countries and stopping at 25 different locations.

 To round up the highlights of our journey, here’s a list of our favorite experiences: 

 Riding the Arctic Circle Express

Armed with some ultra-thick winter gear, we hopped on board the Arctic Circle train and weaved our way through the sugar-coated wonderland of Lapland. Over two weeks, we experienced three different parts of Lapland (from Finland to Sweden then Norway) and drank in the spectacular landscapes and pristine nature of the northernmost corner of Europe. As our train worked its way around the edges of the mountains, we admired narrow fjords, steep mountain slopes, and random clusters of Nordic villages. The Arctic Circle journey was easily the most beautiful scenic route on the Ice Run.

View of fjord from Arctic Circle Express
Arctic Circle train

Watching the Northern Lights in the Swedish Lapland

Swathes of green lights danced and shimmered across the sky, almost like electronic curtains flapping before us. Like a luminescent green flame, the lights moved and swayed in slow motion. In Abisko we finally caught a glimpse of the Northern Lights during our stay there with  The Aurora ZonePoised along Lake Torneträsk and entrenched within the U-shaped Lapporten Valley, Abisko is one of the best spots in the world to see the Northern Lights. With its location 200km north of the Arctic Circle, this wilderness area lies close to the Aurora Oval, the hub for the formation of the Aurora Borealis. 

Northern Lights

Dog-sledding in Abisko, Sweden

In Abisko National Park, we swooshed through the thick snow into the pine tree forests on sleighs led by our trusty canine hosts.  On this dog-sledding trip in the Swedish Lapland,  we zipped through snow-covered bridges, over frozen water channels and slippery ice chunks, experiencing Lapland’s backcountry at its best. But it wasn’t just about the views – we also got to know the huskies and learn about their lives.

Husky sledding

Riding A Reindeer Caravan in Rovaniemi, Finland

I’d always imagined reindeers to have the power to whisk me into the sky, just like Santa Claus’ reindeer sleigh. But on our reindeer caravan, we swayed in a slow, hypnotic rhythm through the beautiful woods of Luosto. After a short ride around the forest on board a reindeer caravan, we met reindeer Herder Anssi Kiiskinen, one of the many reindeer herders in the Finnish Lapland. Here in Lapland, most people still make a living from reindeer herding. It’s no surprise since there are more reindeers than people in Lapland (over 200,000 reindeers and 180,000 people). 

Riding a reindeer caravan

Visiting the Original Ice Hotel

Amidst the gorgeous Narnia landscape of the Swedish Lapland stands ICEHOTEL, the world’s first hotel built entirely of ice and snow. While we didn’t get a chance to stay here, we did a short tour of the hotel and hung out at the ice bar. Everything is made of ice: The ice chambers have rock solid ice beds and frosty ice chairs, and ice chandeliers hang from the ice ceiling. Even the glasses in the ICEBAR are made of ice. Thankfully, despite the all-ice philosophy, guests are snug under reindeer skins and thick sleeping bags. 

the Ice Bar
Inside the ice hotel suite

Experiencing Norway in a Nutshell

The ‘Norway in a Nutshell‘ trip gives a glimpse into the best that Norway can offer in just one day – perfect for those with short on time. Lauded as one of the best day-trips in Norway, the journey brought us through the most picturesque part of Norway traveling on train, bus, and even a fjord cruise. By the end of the day, we felt that we’d seen Norway from several perspectives. We started the journey from the capital city of Oslo, where we hopped onto the famous Bergen Railway. Instead of taking the railway all the way to Bergen, we did a detour at Myrdal, hopping onto the Flåm Railway on board an old-style vintage train before taking a fjord cruise to Gudvanger and eventually a train to Bergen.

On the Flam Railway
fjord cruise

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Stockholm

As the clock struck midnight in downtown Stockholm, we saw the entire sky light up with fireworks and cheers echoing from different corners of the city. We huddled close to one another at the Fjällgatan viewpoint, a historical location set on the edge of a cliff with a fantastic view of the city and the river before us. As we rang in the new year, we popped open a bottle of champagne and headed downtown to party the night away. Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Stockholm was indeed quite an experience and we’d love to do it again!

Fireworks in Stockholm

Riding the Glacier Express in Switzerland

Of all the train journeys we took, the Glacier Express in Switzerland was one of the best. The extraordinary rail experience brought us from the eastern corner to the western half of the Swiss Alps, through landscapes of epic proportions. Starting our train journey in St Moritz, we wound past flowing rapids, ice-covered lakes, acres of prairies covered in sparkling white snow, ski slopes peppered with snowboarders, and countless alpine towns before reaching our final destination of Zermatt. Through the open-roof windows of the panoramic trains, we drank in the views of the Swiss backcountry and snapped away with our cameras.

Inside the Glacier Express

The Glacier Express

Sleeping in the Igloo Village

To end our trip in Northern Europe with a blast, we arranged a stay at the Igloo Village near Zermatt and had a fantastic time sleeping in snow. The trip up there was an adventure on its own as we drank in stunning views of the Matterhorn on board the Gornergrat Train. Built from fresh snow each year, the Igloo Village is a hotel made of a mixture of snow and ice, with igloo-shaped rooms and white icy bars and lounge areas. In the day, it acts as an aprés-ski bar and by night, it’s converted into a frosty ice hotel. For dinner, we were served warm and rich cheese fondue and mint tea, as well as a glass of champagne for welcome drinks. To warm ourselves up, we hda a comfortable dip in the jacuzzi before heading out on a short snowshoeing excursion before getting tucked in our warm and cosy sleeping bags for the night.

Igloo Village with Matterhorn in backdrop
An igloo in the village
Inside the igloo village

 


Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Eurail.com and several other sponsors, but all opinions expressed are our own.

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Fjords, Valleys and Waterfalls: Norway In A Nutshell http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/03/26/fjords-valleys-and-waterfalls-norway-in-a-nutshell/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/03/26/fjords-valleys-and-waterfalls-norway-in-a-nutshell/#comments Tue, 26 Mar 2013 21:47:38 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=14168 At Myrdal stationFrozen lakes, dark green pines, and white-and-red Scandinavian farmhouses flank both sides of the railway as we swoosh through the white snow on our modern-day polar express. We’re climbing higher and higher into the mountains and the slopes are plunging into the endless depth. As I peer down and look beneath the tracks, my head spins slightly. It’s easy to get [...]

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Frozen lakes, dark green pines, and white-and-red Scandinavian farmhouses flank both sides of the railway as we swoosh through the white snow on our modern-day polar express. We’re climbing higher and higher into the mountains and the slopes are plunging into the endless depth. As I peer down and look beneath the tracks, my head spins slightly. It’s easy to get vertigo at this lofty height aboard one of the world’s steepest railway lines.

On our recent trip through the coldest parts of Europe (which we aptly named the Ice Run), we made it a point to experience the ‘Norway in A Nutshell’ trip. As its name implies, the trip gives a glimpse into the best that Norway can offer in just one day – perfect for those with short on time. Lauded as one of the best day-trips in Norway, the journey brought us through the most picturesque part of Norway traveling on train, bus, and even a fjord cruise. By the end of the day, we felt that we’d seen Norway from several perspectives.

Bergen Railway: from Oslo to Myrdal

We started the Norway in the Nutshell journey from the capital city of Oslo, where we hopped onto the famous Bergen Railway. Instead of taking the railway all the way to Bergen, we would be doing a detour at Myrdal. The 500 km railway line was voted one of the 20 best railway experiences in the world in 1999. Trains in Norway are excellent – they’re comfortable, punctual and even offer WiFi on board. No other train ride between two cities in Europe goes at higher altitude than the Bergen Railway. One of the most spectacular stretch was when it crossed over the Hardangervidda, Europe’s highest mountainous plateau.

At Myrdal station
Views from the train
Frozen lake and morning sun

Flåm Railway: Myrdal to Flåm

The next part of the journey was our favorite, as the Flåm Railway brought us through steep gorges and waterfalls to the village of Flåm. Aboard an old-style vintage train, we snaked through deep ravines and frozen waterfalls, clinging tightly to the steep mountain sides. It offered an experience like no other, whisking us through time, back to the days when engineers worked day and night to become pioneers in the industry. Indeed, this railway line is a masterpiece of Norwegian engineering and a must for any rail enthusiast.

The Flam Railway
Stopping at a waterfall
View of valley

 

Fjord cruise: Flåm to Gudvangen

At Flåm station, we then hopped onto the fjord cruise to explore the Aurlandsfjord, a 17-kilometer arm of the world’s second longest fjord, the Sognefjord. This is known as one of the most picturesque fjords in the world and is part of the World Heritage area. As we sailed off into the fjord, we could see the towering mountains closing in, leaving a narrow gap for us to sail through. These mountains reach heights of over 1,400 meters, flanking both sides of the fjord all the way to our destination Gudvangen. Along the way, the boat made a few stops at the tiny villages of Aurland and Undredal where Nordic huts are stacked atop cobblestoned streets. We visited during winter so it was dark by the time we arrived at Gudvangen, thankfully we managed to take in the views before the sun set.

Leaving Flam on the fjord cruise
Fjord cruise in Aurlandsfjord

Scenic Bus: Gudvangen to Voss

Continuing on our journey to Voss, we boarded the bus from Fjord Tours that took us through the Stalheimskleiva. This 1-5 kilometer-long winding road weaves its way up the slopes of the mountains hrough 13 sharp hairpin bends from the end of the Nærøydalen valley to the top at Stalheim. The steepest gradient is almost 1 to 5 (20%) and we even though we couldn’t see where we were going, we felt the bends and curves. It was such a pity that daylight had already eluded us and we were missing the views that this road was famous for. (Photo below is from Visit Norway)

Stalheimskleiva road

Back on Bergen Railway: Voss to Bergen

For the last part of the trip, we hopped back onto the Bergen Railway for a short and simple train ride to the city of Bergen. By the time, we pulled in to Bergen, it was 9pm and it felt like we had crossed continents. It was definitely an unforgettable journey, a journey that definitely ranks high as one of our favorite in the world.

Arriving in Bergen

Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Eurail.com, Fjord Tours, and Visit Norway,but all opinions expressed are our own.

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Video: The Ice Run Recap http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/31/video-the-ice-run-recap/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/31/video-the-ice-run-recap/#comments Thu, 31 Jan 2013 14:28:41 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=13790 At the start of December, we set off on an epic train journey around the coldest reaches of Europe with Eurail.Com. This journey – which we aptly named the Ice Run – was all about the ice, the powdery snow, the raw wilderness and the chilly cold. To mush in the sugar-coated winter land, we tried our hands at all sort of [...]

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At the start of December, we set off on an epic train journey around the coldest reaches of Europe with Eurail.Com. This journey – which we aptly named the Ice Run – was all about the ice, the powdery snow, the raw wilderness and the chilly cold. To mush in the sugar-coated winter land, we tried our hands at all sort of outdoor activities from racing on snowmobiles and sledding with husky dogs, to sleeping in an igloo and catching the Northern Lights. The train journeys were even more unforgettable – we feasted on the spectacular views while swooshing past fjords, through mountains and past frozen rivers.

Over the month, we clocked over 3,076 miles (4.950 km), crossing 6 countries and stopping at 25 different locations.

We’ve put together a cool video packing one month of train travel into four minutes. To read more about the journey, check out these blog posts or find our live updates on Twitter with the hashtag #WJicerun.

These are some of the scenes you’ll see in the video:

 
Here’s a map outlining the route of the Ice Run. While on the road, we also added photos and checked in on foursquare. Click to see the real-time updates!

 

 

 


Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Eurail.Com and several other sponsors mentioned above, but all opinions expressed are our own. 

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Lapland By Train: Riding the Arctic Circle Express http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/29/lapland-by-train-arctic-circle-express/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/29/lapland-by-train-arctic-circle-express/#comments Tue, 29 Jan 2013 22:07:38 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=13771 Extending for hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle, Lapland is one of the last remaining wildernesses in Europe. For many, this northern extreme is a mystery – where the midnight sun shines endlessly in summer and the stunning Aurora Borealis dances in the sky during the long, polar winter nights. Stretching across four countries and bounded by three different [...]

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Extending for hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle, Lapland is one of the last remaining wildernesses in Europe. For many, this northern extreme is a mystery – where the midnight sun shines endlessly in summer and the stunning Aurora Borealis dances in the sky during the long, polar winter nights. Stretching across four countries and bounded by three different seas, the Lapland region is vast and rugged.

We’ve always been intrigued by this part of the world, considering our knack for all things wild. When the idea for our Ice Run project with Eurail.com was first hatched, we didn’t think twice about making Lapland our first stop. With our Eurail global passes, train travel would be the best way to explore the region especially since towns in Lapland are few and far between, and Scandinavia can be rather pricy.

Armed with some ultra-thick winter gear, we hopped on board the Arctic Circle train and weaved our way through the sugar-coated wonderland. Over two weeks, we experienced three different parts of Lapland and drank in the spectacular landscapes and pristine nature. As our train worked its way around the edges of the mountains, we admired narrow fjords, steep mountain slopes, and random clusters of Nordic villages. The Arctic Circle journey was easily the most beautiful scenic route on the Ice Run.

Rovaniemi, Finland

Our voyage started in Rovaniemi, the capital of the Finnish Lapland, and a major gateway to the northern extreme. It was an excellent launching pad to explore the surrounding wilderness. There were so many ways to get out and about – we sledded with husky-dogs, rode on snowmobiles and even glided through the Luosto forest on a reindeer caravan. Ice-fishing on a frozen lake was exceptionally fun as was snow-shoeing in the darkness.

That said, Rovaniemi itself is quite a cute, charming city. Besides the array of good hotels, restaurants and bars, there’s also the Artikum Museum which tells stories about Lapland, its history, culture and nature. In Rovaniemi, we also had the opportunity to cross the Arctic Circle, which lies 8km north of town. This area is also the official residence of Santa Claus, and his post office. For more Christmas goodness, we also recommend the theme restaurant Santamus for a taste of good Lappish food and dance.

Abisko, Sweden

Then we hopped back onto the train and crossed borders into Sweden, where our next stop was Abisko. With our base at Abisko Mountain Lodge, the 75-sq-km Abisko National Park was just steps away and the stunning Lake Torneträsk in the near distance. We packed our schedule with fun activities with Aurora Zone, such as snowmobiling through the national park (where we almost fell into the frozen lake), a safari on dog sleighs, and a chairlift ride up to the Aurora Sky Station. We also made a daytrip to the original ICEHOTEL where we wandered through its gorgeous art suites and sipped cocktails from ice glasses.

One of the main aims of our trip was to see the Aurora Borealis. We’d heard that Abisko is the driest place in Sweden and is sheltered by the surrounding mountains from winds, which makes it one of the best places in the world to see Northern Lights. We were lucky enough to watch the sky dance and dazzle, and the aurora lighting it up with beams of light yellow and green.

While Abisko is a tiny town with a population of just over 85, its tranquility and quiet location also meant that we were truly in the heart of Lapland. As compared to the other two parts of Lapland, this was our favorite spot.

Narvik, Norway

Our final stop was Narvik in Northern Norway, where the Arctic Circle train journey ends. This part of the journey (from Abisko to Narvik) offered the most impressive views: narrow fjords ran alongside us, mammoth mountains loomed in the far distance, and frozen lakes stretched for miles beneath our feet. If you can only choose one section of the train route to take, this should be it.

In contrast with the other towns in Lapland, Narvik almost feels like a cosmopolitan city despite its humble population of 18,500. Tall buildings rise from the city center, while the port extends all the way to the water’s edge and countless alpine houses stand on the hill slopes overlooking the city. Located at the edge of the Ofoton fjord, Narvik is enveloped within a beautiful bay, surrounded by the sea, mountain slopes and ski pistes.

While the characteristically Lappish huskies and sleighs are missing in Narvik, there’s still a slew of activities available to the dare devils. We ventured up to the slopes of Narvikfjollet and challenged ourselves to an obstacle course that got us swinging, jumping and hanging like monkeys. Right after conquering our fears, we headed up to the peak for a panoramic view of the surrounding fjords and it made the task well worth it. By night, we headed to Tinja Mountain Farm, where we met a native Sámi senior, listened to his childhood stories, dined on gourmet Nordic cuisine, and went hunting for the Northern Lights – it was a perfect way to end our Lapland journey.

Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Eurail.com, Visit Lapland,  Aurora Zone, and Visit Norway, but all opinions, expressed are our own.

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Photoblog: Nordic Charm in Trondheim http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/17/photoblog-trondheim/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/17/photoblog-trondheim/#comments Thu, 17 Jan 2013 15:50:48 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=13162 Of all the places we visited on the Ice Run, Trondheim has got to be the biggest surprise for us. Surrounded by fjords,  the city is a charming Nordic enclave rich in history and traditional flair. The town itself is tastefully built around a hill, studded with narrow cobble stoned alleys, classic Norwegian houses and [...]

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Of all the places we visited on the Ice Run, Trondheim has got to be the biggest surprise for us. Surrounded by fjords,  the city is a charming Nordic enclave rich in history and traditional flair. The town itself is tastefully built around a hill, studded with narrow cobble stoned alleys, classic Norwegian houses and walled fortresses. 

During our short stay, we wandered through the old docks, visited the magnificent Nidaros Cathedral, sampled the best seafood soup in town, interviewed the winner of the World Championship in Cocktail Mixing, and even had a cosy Christmas meal, Norwegian style. We were met with warm hospitality and couldn’t have welcomed it more during the festive season. This city escape was very different from our usual adventurous pursuits but it was refreshing to kick back in a city as charming as Trondheim.  

Wherever we went, the light quality in the city was just perfect. Anywhere else in the world, I would usually have to wake up at 4am to get an image of such quality — but in Trondheim, it was easy to capture such lighting.

What used to be an old dry dock is now converted into a series of hip boutiques and restaurants in the city’s Old Town.

The Old Town Bridge connects the south end of the main street Kjøpmannsgata to the neighborhood of Bakklandet.

The Nidelva River flows through Trondheim with old storehouses flanking both sides of this river. This is the picture-perfect representation of Trondheim in brochures and postcards.

We had the opportunity to try the best fish soup in Trondheim at Baklandet Skydsstation, housed in a cosy traditional building that dates back to the medieval times.

The locals say that if fish soup is a must-try in Trondheim.

Kristiansen Fortress is another must-visit location for Trondheim visitors.

The view of the city from within its walls is spectacular.

The impressive Nidaros Cathedral holds years of history inside its walls.

We stayed at the beautiful Britannia Hotel, a tasteful Victorian-style hotel and an iconic landmark in Trondheim. They kindly put us up in their penthouse suite, where the Japanese Emperor stayed during his visit in 2005.

Our plush four-poster bed

At the restaurant Two Rooms & A Kitchen (To Rom Og Kjøkken), we met Mr Roar Hildonen, world champion cocktail mixer who prepared few delicious cocktails for us, including his masterpiece Bar Room Rose.

It was an invite that was too hard to resist. Trondheim’s Director of Tourism, Line Vikrem-Rosmæl, warmly welcomed us to her house for a delicious Christmas dinner with her family.


Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Visit Norway and Eurail.com, but all opinions expressed are our own.

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High Above the Fjords of Narvik http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/16/high-above-the-fjords/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/16/high-above-the-fjords/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2013 14:30:59 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=13141 “Are we going on these cool trucks?” We were standing in front of three restored military tanks that looked like they were taken straight out of a James Bond movie. “Yes, we normally use these to bring guests up the ski slopes when it’s too windy to run the cable car”. Our guide Svein explained. [...]

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“Are we going on these cool trucks?” We were standing in front of three restored military tanks that looked like they were taken straight out of a James Bond movie. “Yes, we normally use these to bring guests up the ski slopes when it’s too windy to run the cable car”. Our guide Svein explained.

But we weren’t here at the alpine resort of Narvikfjellet for the truck ride. A surprise awaited in the forests above and we had an inkling that this was just the start of an adventure.

Adventure on the Slopes

“You might want to use those noise-canceling headpieces, it’s going to get noisy in here.” Svein said from behind the wheel. The tank roared as we rocked and rumbled up the steep slope. The truck was obviously designed for rough terrain – as much as we shook and bounced, it stayed stable and sturdy.

As a native from Oslo, Svein had moved here a few years back to look for some peace and quiet amidst the fjords and mountains of Narvik in Northern Norway. These days, he manages the alpine resort of Narvikfjellet and works out on the slopes most of the time. Narvikfjellet is best known for its urban location as it is just a short walk from the center of Narvik, and has gained a reputation for its spectacular setting above the fjords.

By the time we reached the forest that trickled above the slopes, we were beyond excited. High up above the pine trees was a series of ropes, wooden blocks, bridge, and ziplines. This was the Linken Climbing Center, and we were here to challenge ourselves to the obstacle course. “Now it’s time for the real fun, ” said Svein as he prepared to suit us up in our harnesses.

A Test of Our Guts

The obstacle course was made up of two circuits, one for beginners and another for advanced adventurers, each of them featuring eight passages of increasing difficulty. Designed by a Swedish company called Fairy Tale Adventures, the course was a result of creativity and ingenuity. Built within a span of three weeks, it is beautifully integrated into the natural surrounding.

A zip-line brought us to the start of the circuit. Although each platform was only three or four meters above the ground, the location of the course on the mountain’s slope made it seem much higher. But from this height, the view of the fjord in the distance was breathtaking.

Once at the start of the circuit, we knew there was no turning back. I whizzed past the zipline but Nellie and our friend Malin were slightly nervous about the challenge ahead.

Nicknamed Indiana Jones’ walk, the first challenge of the course was a path of broken wooden steps, suspended by two ropes. “Don’t worry about the broken steps, they have been put there on purpose!” he shouted to ease our companion’s fear of heights as she passed through the first obstacle.

Although we were not supposed to hold the wire attached to our harness, it was really challenging to keep the balance on the swinging steps and we all ended up grabbing it a couple of times for support. Malin was particularly nervous as she suffered a serious case of vertigo, but the brave girl made it through the obstacle one at a time with Svein’s help and our encouragement.

Along the way, Svein reminded us to look around and take in the views — the fjord and the city sprawled beneath our feet in the far distance and on the other side, we had the snow-covered peaks poking into the skies. At that point, all our nerves just disappeared.

After the first obstacle, a set of swinging ropes put our equilibrium to the test. I almost tipped at one point as I balanced my body weight on the line that extended across while hanging tight to the vertical ropes that hung from above. It was all but a mental challenge but we helped one another to get past it with words of encouragement.

The trees supporting the platforms (allegedly able to support a minimum of 600kg of weight) kept swinging along with the wind, which made it all the more difficult to keep our balance.

One passage after another, I quickly went through the obstacle course with my adrenaline getting more and more pumped as the track got more and more difficult. Hungry for more, I continued on to the advanced track as Nellie and Malin struggled with the last couple of obstacles for the beginners.

By the time they finished the final obstacle and ziplined their way back down to the start of the course, I had completed the advanced track, buzzing from the natural high. Both Nellie and Malin were proud and happy that they had conquered their fear and completed the course. Svein couldn’t be more proud of us.

Above the Fjord

After the challenge, we ditched the tank and sledded down the mountain slope before taking a cable car to the top of the mountain for our well-deserved lunch. A traditional Norwegian Christmas meal was awaiting us at the look-out point, situated 1608m above sea level. From this vantage point, we drank in the spectacular view of Narvik and the fjord that lay before us. With our bloods rushing from the adrenaline, Narvik couldn’t have have made us feel more alive.


Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Visit Norway and Eurail.com, but all opinions expressed are our own.

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Ice Run Updates http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/12/28/ice-run-updates/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/12/28/ice-run-updates/#comments Fri, 28 Dec 2012 18:35:13 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=13023 As the year comes to an end, we have reached the first half of our Ice Run journey through the coldest parts of Europe. Over the past few weeks, we have ridden a reindeer sleigh and met Santa Claus in Finland, caught the Northern Lights and visited Sweden’s original ICEHOTEL as well as tried our [...]

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As the year comes to an end, we have reached the first half of our Ice Run journey through the coldest parts of Europe. Over the past few weeks, we have ridden a reindeer sleigh and met Santa Claus in Finland, caught the Northern Lights and visited Sweden’s original ICEHOTEL as well as tried our luck at ice-fishing and snowmobiling. It’s been a fantastic journey so far as we challenged ourselves to the cold and go crazy on wacky winter activities. Over the festive season, we also celebrated Christmas in true Norwegian style, and got to know their traditions during this magical time of the year.

But our trip has only just begun. For the second part of the Ice Run we have teamed up with HostelBookers to try out some of the finest hostels in Sweden, Germany and Switzerland (such as the Skanstulls Vandrarhem hostel in Stockholm, the Die Wohngemeinschaft hostel in Cologne or the Hostellerie Geroldswil in Zurich).

HostelBookers logo

We will be spending New Year’s eve in Stockholm where we expect to bring in 2013 with a bang. Shortly after that we will be heading south to Germany, where we plan to traverse the country on some of the best scenic train routes of the country. These routes include the Rhine Valley Line, which takes us through Koblenz and Mainz, passing alongside the river Rhine; as well as the Black Forest route from Offenburg to Konstanz. By the second week of January we will already be in Switzerland were we will catch the famous Glacier Express as well as the Golden Pass scenic train journeys while we drink in views of the backcountry.

Don’t forget to follow our journey through our Ice Run blog posts or on Twitter with the hashtag #WJIceRun! Meanwhile, happy holidays!

Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Eurail.com and Hostelbookers, but all opinions expressed are our own.

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The Ice Run: Traveling Europe’s Coldest Regions by Train http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/12/10/the-ice-run/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/12/10/the-ice-run/#comments Mon, 10 Dec 2012 14:30:56 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=12751 To end the year with a bang, we’re off again – this time heading into the coldest reaches of Europe on an epic train journey. Perhaps it’s because Antarctica got me hooked to the cold, or perhaps a white Christmas sounds all too tempting, the sub-zero temperatures are calling! We’ve teamed up with Eurail.Com to explore Northern Europe on [...]

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To end the year with a bang, we’re off again – this time heading into the coldest reaches of Europe on an epic train journey. Perhaps it’s because Antarctica got me hooked to the cold, or perhaps a white Christmas sounds all too tempting, the sub-zero temperatures are calling! We’ve teamed up with Eurail.Com to explore Northern Europe on train and we’ll be going crazy with winter activities like snow-shoeing, ice-climbing, catching the Northern Lights and dog sledding. This journey – which we’ve aptly named the Ice Run – is all about the ice, the powdery snow, and the chilly cold.

So why the Ice Run?

Inspired by the Adventurists’ 2500-km race across the Arctic Circle, this journey is aimed at challenging ourselves to the extreme cold and seeing remote parts of Europe. While we’re not going to be racing across Siberia on an old-school Ural motorbike like the hardcore Adventurist challengers, we are going to be zipping all over the region on train, swooshing through the icy countryside and snow-covered cities. Temperatures in the area drop to around –30 degrees Celsius (-22 deg Fahrenheit) this time of the year, but don’t fret, we’re fully prepared with topnotch winter gear and plenty of hot gluhwein.

Lapland

We will begin the Ice Run today in the Finnish Lapland, specifically Rovaniemi, the modern capital of the region. Located on the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is just a hop and skip away from Santa Claus’ hometown, reindeer farms and Northern Lights station. Visit Finland has lined up a bunch of activities for us from dogsledding to snowmobile safaris, but most of all, we’re really looking forward to the Northern Lights safari. I’ve only seen the Aurora Borealis briefly in Alaska and Alberto hasn’t seen it before, so we’re really psyched to see the sky light up in colors. This year is also said to be one of the best times in history to see the Aurora — fingers crossed.

Next, we’ll head to Abisko in the Swedish Lapland by train and explore the area with The Aurora Zone. This trip includes several Aurora workshops, a snowmobile safari, Aurora hunts as well as a stay in the original ICEHOTEL® (as seen in the latest WildJunket Magazine issue). It’s definitely going to be very special, as Abisko is one of the driest places in the world, and therefore the best place to see the Northern Lights.

To complete our Lapland journey, we will continue onto Narvik in Norway on the Arctic circle train, which is the northernmost train route in the world. From killer whale safaris to ice-climbing, plenty of outdoor activities await.

 Flickr Photo by Visit Finland

Sweden

Our train journey then brings us back to Sweden, down to Boden where we’ll be staying at one of the most unique hotels I’ve seen: Treehotel. The folks at Treehotel have kindly offered to put us up at their UFO room – which as the name implies, is a tree house built to resemble a space shuttle that seemingly hangs mid-air in the Harads forest. Alberto is jumping around in excitement and we can’t wait to experience it for ourselves. We’ll continue down south in the direction to Sundsvall, towards Östersund, and we hope to catch a glimpse of the Swedish backcountry on this route.

Photo by Treehotel

Norway

With our Eurail passes, we go westwards to Trondheim, Norway to explore the Kristiansen Fortress, get lost in the old town Bakklandet and even visit the home of Trondheim’s Director of Tourism for some traditional Norwegian fare. It’ll be Christmas eve by then, and we’re hoping to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. Our Christmas will be spent in Oslo, a city we’re very familiar with, having been there three times for Alberto’s previous business trips. It’s the most expensive place we’ve both ever been – so this might just be the most expensive Christmas ever for us!

The next leg is one part I’m especially looking forward to since we didn’t get to do it on our previous trips to Norway. We’ll be doing the Norway in a Nutshell tour that brings us all the way from Oslo to Bergen via a fjord cruise, scenic bus rides and the famous Flam railway. We’re looking forward to getting some good images of this area, especially since it’ll be all white, covered in snow this time round. The kind folks at Visit Norway have given us plenty of tips and advice and we’re really thankful for their help in organizing this for us.

Flickr photo by Erik Østlie

Germany

From there, we’ll head back into Sweden – this time exploring the capital of Stockholm and visiting a few old friends there. Then it’s onwards to Germany, with stops in Hamburg and Cologne to see friends and unwind over beer and gluhwein. We’ve been in Germany over five times on short city breaks, but we’ve never taken the time to slowly explore the country. The two scenic train routes that have caught our eye are the Rhine Valley Line, which will take us through Koblenz and Mainz, passing alongside the river Rhine; as well as the Black Forest route from Offenburg to Konstanz which is one of the oldest mountain lines in the world, linking the upper Rhine valley with Lake Constance.

 Flickr photo by hrs51

Switzerland

The last leg of the trip brings us into Switzerland, a country that neither of us have been and we’ve only heard our parents rave about. Our first port of call is Zurich where we’ll take a break and relax for a few days in the city. One of the main goals of this trip is to catch the Glacier Express, dubbed one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, that goes from Davos to Zermatt, through untouched mountain landscapes, deep gorges, winding valleys, 91 tunnels and across 291 impressive bridges.

Heading north, we then hop back onto the train up to Brig and eventually Bern, known as the most attractive city in Switzerland. A few days should be enough for us to adapt to the altitude and get some work done before we continue down to Lausanne where our friends live. The final stop of our trip is Geneva, where we’ll pop some champagne to celebrate and fly back home to Spain.

Photo from Glacier Express

We are interested to hear your thoughts! What should we not miss? What can we expect? How cold will it get?

Follow our journey through these blog posts or on Twitter with the hashtag #WJicerun. Meanwhile, here’s a map of our journey. We’ll be adding photos and checking in along the way, click ‘follow’ and you’ll receive real-time updates from us!


Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Eurail.Com and several other sponsors mentioned above, but all opinions expressed are our own. 

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Video: An Intimate Polar Bear Encounter in the Arctic http://www.wildjunket.com/2011/08/19/video-an-intimate-polar-bear-encounter-in-the-arctic/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2011/08/19/video-an-intimate-polar-bear-encounter-in-the-arctic/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2011 11:08:45 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=6999 “There it is!” A fellow passenger pointed out to a vanilla-colored fur ball in the midst of the dazzling white ice field.  The Arctic can play tricks on your eyes – under the glaring midnight sun and the reflective ice, it was easy to let your imagination run wild. I grabbed my coat and binoculars [...]

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“There it is!” A fellow passenger pointed out to a vanilla-colored fur ball in the midst of the dazzling white ice field.  The Arctic can play tricks on your eyes – under the glaring midnight sun and the reflective ice, it was easy to let your imagination run wild. I grabbed my coat and binoculars and rushed to the bow of the ship. To my amazement, in the middle of the vast whiteness, there was indeed an animal rolling about on ice –  it was the King of the Arctic, the polar bear.

There are some experiences so extraordinary they make you cry at the wonder of it all – or at least bring a lump to your throat. The mesmerizing dazzle of the Northern Lights for example, or the first sight of a great whale. This – seeing one of the world’s largest land predators upclose and personal – was another such marvel.

An awed hush fell over the 70 odd people onboard the expedition cruise.  We watched through our binoculars as the bear playfully lay on its stomach, licking its paw and peeking at us through the ice floes. As we inched closer, the polar bear stood up and approached us, leaping from one ice sheet to another with surprising agility. I watched its every move: its paws leaving a trail of footprints on ice. The animal was as curious about us as we were of him. It raised its nose in the air, sniffing out for signs of food. Lingering close to the bow of the ship, it stood just a few feet from where I was.

I held my breathe. We locked eyes. I somehow expected it to growl and roar but all it did was look down, with a glimmer of disappointment in its eyes. Seconds later, it turned around and returned into the vastness of the ice.

The encounter with the polar bear was one of the most intimate and moving experiences I’ve had in my travels. No doubt I hope to experience it again, but I can’t help but wonder: will the polar bear and the ice cap survive the next century, or decade?

Here’s a video shot from the bow of our ship, as the polar bear slowly made its way back into the ice. This was an encounter in the ice fields of Brasvellbree, along the southern coast of Nordaustlandet in Svalbard, the Norwegian Arctic.

 

Standing up and sniffing for food.

The bear approaches, a few feet away from the bow of the ship.


Face to face with the animal, I see the disappointment in his eyes.


This experience was made possible by Gap Adventures as a part of their Wanderers In Residence program. I traveled with Gap Adventures on their Realm of the Polar Bear trip (Trip Code: XVRPNX). All opinions expressed here are entirely my own. Read more about my travels in the Arctic here or follow me on Twitter with the #gadvand #WIR hashtags.

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