Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Incredible Iceland

My last trip of last semester was to Iceland, and I have to say that it was my favourite place so far. We were there for four nights, and stayed in a perfect Airbnb apartment right on the Reykjavik highstreet. The city was tiny (think big town) and lovely, totally full of charm! I also loved exploring the nature outside of Reykjavik; it felt absolutely magical! 

We arrived at Keflavik Airport on Sunday 14th December after an early start and headed to Reykjavik on the 'flybus' organised by Reykjavik Excursions. The drive takes you through the lava fields; Iceland is of course famous for the volcano Eyjafjallajökull (say that three times fast) that erupted in 2010 and caused disruption to air travel in Europe due to the resulting ash cloud! We spent the rest of the day exploring Reykjavik and seeing lovely views like the one below, just by the opera house. By the way - if you click on a picture, it will make it bigger! 

On Monday, I headed off on the Golden Circle tour - also organised by Reykjavik Excursions - all by my lonesome (and then proceeded to snapchat the whole thing. Are you really alone when social media is just a tap away?). I had wanted to do the tour when the weather was good, and I definitely made the right choice - it was freezing cold but absolutely beautiful; the sun was at sunset/rise level all day and the blue skies made the landscape look all that more magnificent.

I took a ridiculous amount of pictures that day, although the cold cold weather (-12°C) made my thumb feel as it is was seriously going to freeze off when using my phone. The first stop was at the Friðheimar greenhouse, where they use Iceland's abundant geothermal heat to grow tomatoes and cumbers. I ate some tomato soup that they had made fresh that morning and it was delicious.

The next stop was the Geysir Geothermal Fields in Haukadelur. It was the site of the first geyser documented in Europe, which was actually called Geysir. It was a really beautiful area with the little mountain, plus the contrast of the ice/snow and the steaming hot springs (which are 80-100°C) was awesome! The actual geyser in that middle photo is not Geysir though; it's Strokkur. I'll stop saying geyser now! 

The next stop was Gullfoss waterfall. It's absolutely huge and definitely makes the little trickly 'waterfalls' that I've seen before pale in comparison! I took a video to remind myself of how incredible loud it was too.

I <3 Iceland
The final stop was at Þhingvellir National Park, where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates pull apart a few centimetres every year to make an actual visible rift! In the olden days, the park was particularly important for its political use as a meeting place for the Icelandic parliament. Also, a part of Game of Thrones was filmed there, which makes me happier than it probably should. Like everywhere else on this tour, the park was just totally beautiful, and the day left me so appreciative of how beautiful and incredibly diverse Iceland is!

Snow storm! 
Tuesday was a more relaxed day, mostly out of necessity due to the terrible weather. We decided to head to a big mall outside of Reykjavik - although we missed the stop on the bus (it wasn't as obvious as we had expected it to be!) so ended up sitting on there for a while until it turned back around. The mall was a bit of a bust and we didn't buy anything, but we did make the most of the food hall there - I had a burrito and a hot chocolate. It was great.

Reykjavik Cathedral
On Wednesday, the girls I was there with did the Golden Circle tour, so I took the time to buy some Christmas presents and just wonder around Reykjavik. I found some lovely earrings featuring lava stone for my mum and I would've loved to buy more if my student budget was a little less restrictive! I also had an awesome lunch at Svarta Kaffi; a huge bowl of traditional Icelandic meat soup, served in a huge bread bun. It was delicious and inexpensive and I highly recommend it if you're ever there.

All in all, I had a fantastic time in Iceland - and I definitely want to go back, hopefully in the summer so that I can get to see the puffins next time!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Northern Lights in Tromsø

Awesome view from the plane
Alright, I'm gradually catching up on my exploits from the final part of last semester! After our trip to Gaustatoppen in October, I had a very long and very boring month of exams in November. I'm happy to say I passed all of my classes with good grades, especially considering I was learning at a Master's level with a lot less support/lecture time than is provided at my uni (and spent more time travelling than studying!). Thankfully on the 27th November I finished my last exam, and regained my freedom - along with the arrival of a good friend from university, B! B is also studying abroad this year, in Belgium.

That weekend, we headed to Tromsø. Tromsø is in the North of Norway, within the Arctic Circle (70 degrees North). I highly recommend looking at its position on a world map - it's even further North than Iceland is. The plane journey there from Oslo takes around 2 hours, which is longer than it takes to fly from London to Oslo! We had assumed that we would arrive to be knee deep in snow given the whole 'Arctic Circle' thing, but there was almost none there at all - my snow boots turned out to be incredibly unnecessary...

Tromsø's Arctic Cathedral -
the most Northern Cathedral
in the world! 
One of the strangest things about Tromsø is that during the winter, there is two months when the sun doesn't rise above the horizon (and in the summer, there are two months of sunlight 24 hours/day!). I found it quite unsettling, and I don't think I could live there for any long period of time; there were a couple of hours of daylight/dusk when we were there, but once it got dark at 2pm I would start to feel like I should be heading to bed! On the plus side, those two hours of light were super beautiful - like a constant sunrise or sunset. 

On our first day, we checked out the town. It's a small place to be dubbed a city, but full of the traditional wooden houses you find in Norway. Being there before Christmas was cute too - lots of decorations were up, and they also had a Christmas tree lighting festival. We also realised that Tromsø (like all of Norway, really) is a rather expensive place to be a tourist - hence why I haven't done much of the touristy stuff in Oslo yet! In the night we tried to take a walk to a nearby lake to see if we could glimpse the Northern Lights by ourselves, but it was too foggy (and walking around a lake in the dark seemed like a creepy idea). 

Tired & happy after the hike! 
On Sunday we wanted to go up the nearby Mount Storsteinen on Fløya, to get a view over the city. You can get a cable car to the top, which B did, but given the good weather and my new Norwegian lifestyle (ha!) I decided to hike up! It was 423m upwards and I think about 3 miles or so, and took me just under an hour with multiple stops to admire the magnificent views of the nearby mountains.  I have to admit that it probably wasn't the safest idea; although there wasn't much snow, there was quite a lot of ice and at one point I slid about 5m back down a rather vertical bit of the hill. Oops. Nonetheless, the sense of achievement that I gained from doing that was awesome, and it made the view from the top look even more amazing! This was actually my favourite thing from visiting Tromsø.

Originally, we had hoped to do dog sledding whilst we were up there but the lack of snow meant that this wasn't possible, so we decided to book a tour to see the Northern Lights instead. We did the tour on the Sunday evening, and went with Arctic Guide Service who promised to take pictures of us (yay!), were really helpful when explaining about the best night to go and see the lights, and even gave us a much appreciated student discount! 

The evening was a long one as we headed off at 6pm and then returned at about 2am, but very worthwhile! We were taken to three different areas around Tromsø, far away from the city lights so that the Northern Lights wouldn't be dulled. We were very lucky as the first location (the picture on the left below) had an incredible display after around an hour of waiting; the lights were extremely strong and dancing right above us, it was awesome. My favourite location was actually the second one we went to, though - we sat on a frozen lake surrounded by mountains, gazing up at the stars and the (less vibrant) lights above us, and it was beautiful.

The third location we visited on the tour was Ersfjordbotn. We didn't see any lights there, but we decided to head back there and visit during the day because it just looked like an incredible location. We tried to do it on the Monday but somewhat unhelpful bus drivers meant that we ended up missing the very infrequent bus there, and therefore missed the daylight, so we did it on Tuesday instead - but unfortunately, the weather wasn't quite working with us and it was super cloudy. Nonetheless it was a fun excursion out of the city, and also the first time that there was a bit of snow.

As well as all of these things, we also enjoyed a nice (free) lunchtime concert at the Tromsø Domkirke and watched the seals being trained at Polaria. It was a really enjoyable few days, and I will never forget these special moments! 

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Stroll Up Gaustatoppen

At the end of October, I headed to Gaustatoppen with the intention of hiking it with a large group of friends - the original seven minus Angus, plus 8 others! Gaustatoppen is only a few hours away from Oslo, so the drive wasn't too bad on the Friday evening. It's actually the highest mountain in the county of Telemark here, and on a good day you're supposed to be able to see a sixth of Norway's land when you're standing at the top! 

We stayed in a really lovely cabin right next to the mountain which had an incredible view over the nearby valley, plus its own little sauna and a jacuzzi bath. Dinner on the first night was spaghetti (because really, what else are you meant to eat on a cabin trip in Norway?) and on the Saturday we made pizza, which was incredibly easy to do and also super delicious.

So anyway, on Saturday we first had a little drive around the area. Like most of Norway, it's lovely - lakes and trees and mountains and waterfalls around every corner! And plenty of opportunities for nice photos. :)

Then, we headed for the hike. I'm sad to say that this is not nearly as interesting a story as Kjerag turned out to be. I didn't find it too difficult at all - it's a relatively gentle incline up the mountain, so it seemed extremely easy compared to the last mountain I climbed! My legs are not so long or experienced that I can go as fast as some of the others in our group did, but I was enjoying trudging onwards for a while at my own lolloping pace.

However, the difficulty came when the snow started to pile up. You can see from the photos that the weather was pretty nice up to a point, and then the snow and the wind came, and the trail just became more snow than rocks (and little bits of ice flying in to your face). I didn't have any trouble with this in my hiking boots, but one of the girls only had trainers and was struggling to not slip around in those (she had a nasty fall), so we got about half way up the mountain and then the two of us turned around and headed back down. We ended up walking for something like 1.5-2 hours in total and still had a lovely time! Then once we were back at the bottom, I had to hijack a stranger's phone to get a lift back to the cabin from a couple of our group who had decided not to do the hike. So, we headed back (and straight for the sauna) and then took on the duty of getting the pizzas ready. Most of the others made it to the top of Gaustatoppen (1883m up!), but due to the weather, they actually didn't see any kind of view at all - just clouds, and a whole lot of snow! 

Saturday evening was a lot of fun. The pizzas were awesome and we basically had enough to feed a small army, the wine was flowing enough to make Jesus proud - and fun games such as 'reverse limbo' and 'The Werewolf' were played. It was undoubtedly one of my favourite evenings during my time so far in Oslo, and further confirmation that it is really the people you meet rather than where you are that makes something special. This was the last time that I got to see so many of my favourite people in one place, and it was lovely! I will forever feel blessed to have had the opportunity to meet them all. 

A Weekend in Sweden

So in early October (forever ago!) I headed to Sweden. The main purpose was to visit an old friend, M, that lives in Lund, and on the way I stopped over in Göteborg (AKA Gothenburg) for a night, and was lucky to have a guided tour of Malmö courtesy of another friend on the way back. The awesome thing about visiting Lund/Malmö is that you can easily get back to Oslo by flying from Copenhagen - super quick and easy! 


I absolutely loved Göteborg. It was beautiful weather for the time I was there, and it was such a fun little city. I stayed in a teeny tiny box room in STF Göteborg city which was not cheap, but it was perfect because it was right in the centre of the city which meant everything was within walking distance and I didn't have to muck around with public transport (plus there was a decent breakfast included). 

Whilst I was in Göteborg, I visited: the Horticultural Gardens (lovely even in Autumn!); Skansen Kronan (an awesome old fortress, seen above to the right, and which gives the incredible view of the city that you see below); Rohsska Museum of Design and Applied Art (not really my thing, as it showcases furniture of Swedish design and whatnot - but it was free!); Museum of Fine Art (also free, and pretty cool as I quite like old art. They had an exhibition of Van Gogh at the time, too); City Museum (AKA Göteborgs Stadsmuseum, this was also really great and contained stuff about the city's history, the vikings, & more cool stuff); and I also walked around Haga and the surrounding area, which is a lovely old neighbourhood. I think I was only there for about 30 hours total so I managed to squeeze in a fair bit, and just walked around looking at a ton of stuff too.

I would love to go back in the summer to visit the archipelago and some of the islands out there, too. After all, it's only a bus ride away from Oslo! 


I headed to Lund via train on the Friday evening. I have to say, trains in Scandinavia are much nicer than in the UK - super clean and no graffiti in sight. Unfortunately, my timing was off a bit and my friend was really ill with one of those nasty 24 hour bugs when I first got to Lund - not much fun for her at all! But I know her family really well so her mum and brother picked me up and I went to stay in their house for the night. It was really lovely to catch up with them, I have such fond memories of them all from my childhood and now even more to think back on!

On the Saturday, M felt slightly better and we headed off to the 'Punschfesten' in the evening - literally 'Punch Party'. It's a formal dinner organised by one of the many student nations (a little bit like sororities/fraternities) which featured entertainment before, during and after the dinner, and quite a few free drinks. Yes, that meant wearing a long dress and pretending to be a little bit fancy. Of course, everything was in Swedish, but I was sat with some friends of M who were nice enough to give me a general overview of what was going on. It was a lot of fun (I didn't get back until 4am), everyone was really nice, the food was pretty good, and I got a fun insight in to what it must be like to attend Lund University where they have multiple events like this!

On Sunday we explored Lund a little bit, starting at Kulturen. Kulturen is a funky little open air museum that features traditional buildings from Sweden's history. It was really cool, nice and educational (can you tell I like history museums?) and M and I went around reading every placard in full - my favourite way to explore museums! Afterwards we checked out Lund Cathedral which is home to an Astronomical Clock that dates back to 1425. I didn't actually get to see it play, but I think this youtube video does a pretty good job... In general, Lund seems like a really lovely University town. The buildings are old and often covered with vines, there are cobbled streets and plenty of green spaces - it's idyllic!

I left for Malmö which was en route to head home on Monday, after a really lovely weekend with M. Isn't it awesome how with certain people, even if you haven't seen them for years you just click right back together with them on the next meeting? Now she's headed off for her own study abroad adventure down in Oz - I can't wait to hear about it!


I really wasn't in Malmö for very long at all, but I lucky to get a whirlwind tour of it courtesy of my friend R, who I actually know from when I participated in the Study India program a couple of years ago! Overall, Malmö made a good impression on me (kind of just like a bigger Lund); the area of Lilla Torg was particular pretty and I liked the area photographed below a lot - you can see the bridge that connects Sweden to Denmark if you look close enough!

All in all, I had a really lovely weekend. Seeing new places is really awesome, but I think catching up with friends may be even better. I feel very lucky that being in Oslo this year has given me the opportunity to do just that! 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

10 Reasons I Chose to Study Abroad in Norway

...and specifically Oslo! 
  • Erasmus grant. This is literally free money (you don't have to repay it), provided by the British Council and organised by your university, and it is only available to you if you study in Europe. It makes a HUGE difference - I get around £3000 (plus my maintenance loan from Student Finance) and without it there would be no way that I would have been able to even consider studying abroad. It is a HUGE perk! 
  • Teaching in English. I did French A-level, but I wasn't confident that my ability in that language would be enough to see me through; after all, studying law can be difficult in English let alone a foreign language!! 
  • Modules that I found interesting. When I was choosing which university to go to, I made sure to check out what they actually taught - Oslo offers various international law, human rights and criminology focused modules which sounded really interesting and right up my alley (and they have been!). 
  • Excellent international reputation. I wanted to go somewhere that would look good on my CV, so I checked out all the unis I was considering on the QS world rankings, and the University of Oslo was in the top 100. 
  • Plenty of support for international students. Oslo (and ELSA Oslo) offer a really excellent buddy week at the start of term, which I thought was really important as a way to settle in and meet people - much like Freshers in first year! It was a really fun week, and I wrote about it here
  • It's somewhere I've never been. I had already visited some countries that I could've chosen to study abroad in, but I really wanted to explore somewhere new and have the excitement of getting totally out of my comfort zone. 
  • Norwegian culture. I did a ton of research about Norway, and the one thing that struck me was the 'outdoorsy' culture associated with this country. I have always wanted to become more of an outdoors person, and this seemed like a great opportunity to kickstart that! Norwegians love the saying "det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær" - literally: there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Rain and snow don't intimidate them - or me, now! 
  • Living in a capital city. Oslo is not huge (which is how I like it - I come from a small village in Devon!), but there is always something going on - food festivals, cultural festivals, music festivals, etc. There is no excuse to be bored here, and I love to be busy, so that's perfect for me! There is SO much here that I still haven't seen or done.
Visiting a friend in Sweden
  • Transport links. I knew that I would want to travel on my study abroad (again, that Erasmus grant is the best thing ever) and it is really easy and surprisingly cheap to fly around from here (plus good train/bus/ferry links with Sweden & Denmark). 
  • Norway itself! Norway is consistently ranked at the top of surveys that refer to quality of life, equality, and literally whatever else you can think of that you could possibly aim for in order to live a better life. Plus, the nature of this country is absolutely incredible - from the fjords and mountains to the Northern lights, there is a whole lot of beauty here! 

I could totally continue with that list but those are the main things that I considered when deciding to study abroad.

I cannot emphasize this enough - studying in Norway has been THE best thing I have ever done in my entire life. It was somewhat of a quick/last minute decision - I actually applied after my university's deadline - but I am so so thankful that I have been granted this opportunity, and in particular that my parents have been so incredibly supportive of me doing it.

If anyone has any further questions about studying in Norway or Oslo, please don't hesitate to ask!! 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Turning 21 & A Trip to Bergen

This post is almost a month overdue but... it's official! As of September 22nd, I joined the ranks of the 'real adults' - I am now 21 years old. No more shirking my responsibilities (although I'll still try!).

I celebrated with my friends here and had possibly the best birthday night I have ever had. We played drinking games, ate brownies, laughed a ton, and then went out to a club (LaWo. I think). They even got me a couple of lovely presents which I was absolutely not expecting! I am seriously in love with everyone here and so grateful that I have met them - they are all wonderful and make every day better.

The Royal Palace, Oslo - & Mum!
Then, my parents arrived! They stayed in Oslo for four days (with really lovely weather), and then we headed to Bergen for a few days (with really rainy weather). It was lovely to show them around Oslo to my favourite places, and also to discover some new favourites with them (Louise restaurant & bar, I'm looking at you). I think it's fair to say that on a one day organised coach trip around Oslo (whilst I was in lectures), Mum & Dad probably saw more of Oslo than I have - they were able to give me some suggestions!

Oslo Rådhus
A random lake near Voss 

Anyway, on to Bergen! We opted for the seven hour train journey to get there, and I do think it was worth it (though I was glad to fly back to Oslo). I almost finished an exceedingly lengthy book (about Finland), and of course, there were some lovely sights (including snow-covered mountains!) - plus, apparently, we went through the longest train tunnel in Europe. Exciting?! Unfortunately when we got to Voss, we were told the railway was closed from there to Bergen and we had to get a bus instead. A definite bummer, as I'm pretty sure there would have been some very pretty views between Voss and Bergen - and I also get super carsick if I try to read on buses. Lame.

We stayed in an apartment found via Airbnb which was right in the centre of Bergen, next to the theatre and just up from the Lille fountain - a perfect place to be as it was only a couple of minutes stroll from the main attractions. The first thing we did in Bergen was head up Mount Fløyen on the Fløibanen. I would've liked to hike up, but my mum is on crutches after breaking both her ankles earlier this year, so that wasn't an option. It was a quick 5-minute journey up there and it offered some great views over Bergen - definitely worth it! I had no idea that Bergen was as big as it looked from up there ('second biggest city' doesn't mean much when you're in a country of around 5 million people... and the capital only has 600,000 of them). Although when you're in the centre of it, it really doesn't feel big at all (more like a large town).

Yeehaw cowboy
We also headed to Bryggen - the old wharf of Bergen which has a bunch of beautiful wooden buildings. It's also incredibly touristy and full of souvenir shops all selling the same thing, but that doesn't detract from the charm; it reminded me of towns that you see in Old Western movies, with a feeling that the buildings were all leaning together. Lovely! The fish market is also in that area, although I couldn't quite understand why it was such a huge attraction (unless you actually want to buy some fish). The big black lumps of whale meat were pretty grim to see!

The other main thing we did was take a 3.5 hour cruise to Mostraumen with Rødne Fjord Cruises. Again, the weather was a bit rubbish with a lot of rain and clouds, so the views perhaps weren't as idyllic as they could've/would've been on a sunny day - but it was time well spent nonetheless! The tour operators were very friendly too, and the captain even gave us the special treatment and took us up to the 'control room' (I'm pretty sure that is not the right term for that bit of the catamaran) - I think she appreciated that my Dad, as a former lifeboat helmsman, actually understood all the technical stuff! (I clearly did not.)

I had a really lovely time with my parents, and of course I was sad to see them go as they flew out of Bergen and back to the UK some hours before I did. But I also got to spent that day with a good friend from University who is on exchange there, so that was nice. Even better was the brownie cake we baked - I still dream of it. Although purely based on the amount of rain that falls in each city, I'm glad I chose Oslo for my exchange!

All in all, another great week! I seem to be racking up quite a few memorable ones over here - and that won't be stopping any time soon!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Free Food, Cultural Evening & A Midnight Hike

I am very much 'in like' with Oslo. The big 'L' word is trembling on the edge of my lip... but I'll hold out on it for a few more days at least! I've been here for seven weeks now, and there has never been a boring day - the last few weeks are no exception!!

I only have classes on Tuesday and Wednesday here (I planned that), so my weekend starts at 7pm on Wednesday when my Norwegian class gets out. That evening, my favourite Finns (Käti and Pekka) invited me to a bonfire-BBQ-gathering-thing in Sognsvann, which is the big lake right near Kringsjå. I have to admit that I still haven't actually been up there during the day but I've at least seen it at night (there was an incredible full Moon)! I met American Andrew, we ate marshmallows roasted on the bonfire and I got to try German stickbread (you literally cook it on a stick over the bonfire) which was fab! I think that is the sort of thing I dreamed of doing as a child, and now it's becoming a reality for me - pretty great.

Super duper excited for free food
On Friday, I headed to the Matstreif food festival with the beautiful Finns, super-sporty German Julia, Australians Angus & Lipi, American Andrew, Mountain Goat Gavin and a couple of new faces too. It's no secret that Oslo is a fairly expensive place to live, so filling up on all the freebies at the food festival was excellent! There was a massive variety of meats (I have now tried elk and reindeer), tons of fish (they really like their raw salmon over here), a LOT of cheese (my favourite thing!) and potatoes, soup, yoghurt, carrots... everything, really.

Outside the Nobel Peace Centre
Friday evening was the annual Cultural Night in Oslo - basically, a ton of places open their doors to the public for a few hours, for free. We decided to go to the Freia chocolate factory to stock up on cheap(er) chocolate bars (I highly recommend 70% with mint... mmm!), stopped by the Town Hall to gaze at the pretty art (you could also wait to go up to the top of the buidling which is known to have a good view of Oslo, but that queue was about 1.5 hours so we decided against it) and finally took a whirlwind tour of the Nobel Peace Centre - I definitely want to go back there and explore it more fully as there were so many things to read.

As if that wasn't enough excitement for one day, we had heard that the Northern Lights were meant to be visible in Oslo so we decided to hike up Vettakollen at midnight! I use the word 'hike' loosely as I can now appreciate that that was an absolute walk in the park compared to Kjerag. It took us about an hour from the entrance of Sognsvann to the top of the hill and it was huge fun - the whole crew from earlier on was there, plus Imke (another beautiful German girl), Tajda (Slovenian super-fit chick who killed me in the gym that time) and Tajda's flatmate. Of course, when we got to the top it was cloudy and there were no Northern Lights to be seen (the whole day had been clear blue skies - typical) but the nighttime view of Oslo was amazing, the Moon looked super spooky, and the company was great, so I couldn't really have asked for more. We stayed until 3am and I was back in my flat at 4am. I would do it again in a heartbeat... and maybe take a sleeping bag next time!

Midnight snacks for the midnight hike 

Glorious weather at Aker Brygge (I was overdressed) 
Saturday was pretty relaxed by comparison - a bunch of us forayed into the chaotic food festival once more where I tried my favourite sample; a cracker, camembert cheese and sweet chilli sauce. Delicious! Then I purchased a really yummy (& expensive) combo of mango sorbet and raspberry ice cream, before we all collapsed on a grassy area in Aker Brygge, enjoyed the sunshine (perfectly clear skies again - typical) and dreamt up the lives of the rich people on their huge yachts.

All in all, a lovely weekend. There is always something to do and somewhere to go in Oslo, it amazes me - you'd never know it was such a tiny city!