Thursday, 30 August 2018

Memories of splendour, real and otherwise

Sometimes things just happen. The truth of the saying man proposes but God disposes becomes evident more clearly that one might want. In this case, for reasons that shall remain unspecified (if merely to avoid recalling frustrations and a sense of futility), our trip to Bangladesh lasted all of seven hours at Dhaka airport, at which point we flew back home again.

Not often have I felt such relief at landing at Oslo airport :). Nice sunny afternoon with blue skies and sunshine. Makes you feel like everything's alright with the world again. In the week since though, a feeling has been slowing growing on me. Summer is over. It's been raining off an on and the temperatures rarely venture north of the teens.

But what a summer it has been! So as promised, some memories from the France trip then :). No account of a trip to France (aka Cisternes, a very pretty bit of France, tucked away between rivers, hills and correspondingly winding, rolling roads) can be contemplated without an account of the car! So typically we fly in and out of Paris and drive the 500 odd kilometres from there. 

The last time we did this trip, we had a Panda. Not the most fun to drive, entertaining for all the wrong reasons. So this time we thought, if they're going to give us a car with a tiny engine, might as well get the tiniest possible car to go over it, at least the power-to-weight ratio will be better! And so it proved to be!! Our minuscule little Fiat 500 was totally up for the job that the Panda had totally failed at: managing to stay close to the motorway speed limits :D.

Unlike last time though, this time we'd decided to stop overnight about halfway and spend a bit of time exploring. Google seemed to think Chateau de Chambord was a pretty good spot, so we ended up staying overnight at a fascinating BnB at Mer and spend most of the next morning exploring the chateau and its grounds. Grand would be a word that comes to mind :).

While we were there the weather calmed down a bit with the occasional shower. It had been almost into the 40s the week before we got there! But the weather was still perfect for going swimming at the lakes!

One of the things definitely worth mentioning would be the trip to Bort les Orgues! Situated at the base of a set of cliffs vaguely reminiscent of church organs, it was quite a nice little town! But I think if one is visiting the area, a trip to the top of 'les Orgues' is absolutely a must. We also went and visited the Chateau de Val on the edge of a lake below which lurks a village flooded by the damming of the Dordogne.

I was particularly fascinated by stories of a previous visit when the lake had been drained for some reason, and the village seemed pretty much preserved, houses, streets and everything! I kept looking into the water to see if I could make out any shadows...

Another awesome experience was a fireworks display held in a nearby town. There was a proper carnival going on! Although I can't now recall the exact occasion :P.

In between little trips and swimming and visiting farmers' markets and such, there was quite a bit of time to just relax and enjoy a somewhat slower pace of life. One might say that being jobless and repeatedly going on holiday would seem to be a relaxed enough pace of life, but I've somehow managed to fill up the days with this or that or the other it would seem, so it was good to get away and not have any plans whatsoever!

I did manage to get properly into the first proper high fantasy book I've read in a long time during that trip too! I've had copies of the Malazan Book of the Fallen on my Kindle for nearly a decade I think, without ever having made a start. As we were packing for the France trip though, I felt a bit at a loss as to what book I wanted to take with me. So I figured, let's just grab the Kindle, hedge my bets :). But Gardens of the Moon went by in a flash!

I particularly love the way the complex story lines manage not to get all the characters killed halfway through the book. (I'm looking at you GRRM! :D) With the individual books taking slightly different arcs of the story line though, I think it would be fun to alternate the Malazan books with something else. We shall see.

So the season of much travels has come to a close. I guess I'm intrigued by what the next couple of months might bring :). In the mean time, there's more sunshine to enjoy, books to read...

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Old haunts and new roads (Vestlandet - II)

It is always interesting to see how someone shows you around the place where they grew up :). Given that I've met a large number of my friends and/or acquaintances when travelling far away from home, mine and their's, this is not something I've experienced a lot. Regardless, it was great to spend a few days in Hildre, being shown around by one of our friends from Asker who grew up there!

It's not exactly a large place, Hildre. Had they not been in the car ahead of us, we might well have driven right past it without even realising! Partly this may be because we would have been staring wide-eyed at the amazing coastline unfolding only a few metres away from the road! While it is still on the mainland of Norway, this tiny village is on the outer reaches of one of the long fingers of rock that thrust out between deep fjords, surrounded by islands, big and small.

One of the first things we did upon arriving and having had a bit to eat, was to go fishing! For those who've grown up this close to the ocean I can imagine this is but natural. Not so for me :). But it was still great fun being out in a boat! Memories of small boat trips from my offshore days came flooding back! And while this wasn't completely open waters, there was enough space to get the sense of the enormity of the ocean, especially when you looked past the islands and out onto the Atlantic.

After another couple of days of boat trips, collecting berries up hillsides, trips to nearby islands and a birthday celebration only marginally marred by the World Cup final, we were on the road again! The plan was to skirt the western edge of the mainland and some islands to find our way eventually to Kristiansund, having experienced the famous Atlantic Road en route.

There were a couple of ferries and some island hopping to get up north, and along the way a most astonishing experience greeted us! We'd stopped at the edge of an island to admire the view inland across the fjord, take some photos, enjoy the sunshine, when suddenly I noticed a few distant splashes in the water. Looking closer, we realised that it was a dolphin! As I excitedly started clicking photos, there seemed to be many more! Over the next half hour or so we were treated to a great many pods of dolphins seemingly enjoying the warmer waters of the fjord :).

While the rest of the way wasn't nearly as exciting, there were several stretches of beautiful road, awesome weather and some very beautiful landscape. There were also many camper vans. Now, generally I don't mind them too much, but on a narrow winding road, which would ordinarily be a fantastic opportunity to drive, getting stuck behind something barely doing half the speed limit isn't exactly my idea of fun :|. So we did the next best thing, just pulled off the road and enjoyed the scenery :).

Eventually when we made our way to the succession of bridges between Hågå and Kårvåg that constitutes the most famous section of the Atlantic Road, I was somewhat taken aback by the sheer number of tourists! It was a good day to be out there though! Beautiful blue skies matching the blue ocean. But as far as tourist routes in Norway go, not the most spectacular :). So onward we went and finally arrived in Kristiansund. A town I had not been to in a decade.

So I have some history with Kristiansund :).

For those not interested in the linked posts above, (or, having read them, too confused by their abruptness :D) between 2005 and 2008 I visited Kristiansund a few times. Over the course of those visits, I learned how to drive a boat and got certified so people would let me go do it in the middle of the ocean. Several oceans and seas as a matter of fact :). Some of the best times I've had offshore was driving boats, so this visit was kinda nostalgia loaded.

We went for a couple of long walks around town. Visited bits that I remembered, including the bridge overlooking what used to be the training centre. Reminisced about awful restaurants and interesting boat manoeuvring training tactics :). Some things had changed, but not too much, I was happy to see. In some ways that part of the trip was more about the scenery providing a backdrop for memories rather than exploring. But as with most visits, each one always ends up creating new and interesting memories.

Then we were off again, away from the coast and inland to the mountains! This would probably be another natural pause in the narrative. Now ordinarily, this would be the time to write about France! But somehow the memories of Vestlandet are still echoing loud in my mind :). And tomorrow we are off again! This time to Bangladesh! So in a week or so I might be tempted to write about what's been happening this month, and then more about the road-trip! We shall see.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Off the beaten track in Vestlandet - I

A lot can happen in a year :). This realisation has struck me many times on different occasions, sometimes more strongly than others. I guess that's one of the really awesome things about life! No matter how well things are going to plan, you never quite know what's coming round the corner. Then again, there hasn't been that much of a plan to my life anyway :).

Thinking about that Vestlandet road trip I've promised to write more about :), one of the things that strikes me is that we didn't really have much of a detailed itinerary lined up. Most of the night stops were arranged, but that was pretty much it. If you give life a bit of wiggle room, I'm coming to realise that awesome things can happen!

The hope was, basically, to get some nice views, some nice roads, a couple of hikes and some decent enough places to sleep at night. On all those counts, I think we did rather better than alright :D. Day one was a relaxed enough drive up to the vicinity of Stryn, by way of Beitostølen, avoiding as much as possible any E roads.

We figured, time wasn't a problem, so why not take the scenic route! Thing is though, I've now driven the Valdresflye tourist route so many times now, it doesn't quite strike me with awe anymore. There is indeed such a thing as getting used to the spectacular. However, once we got to Grotli, a bit of a surprise awaited us: a tourist route I'd not heard mentioned by people much: Gamle Strynefjellsveg.

It's the old road that goes straight over the plateau where Route 15 goes down the valley and around. We figured at least we'd get out of the train of traffic we'd found ourselves in by this point :). Turned out to be one of the most spectacular stretches of road I've ever been on! Snow covered mountains glistening in the sunshine, vast turquoise and blue lakes fed by streams and roaring waterfalls, a completely new and mesmerising landscape waiting around each turn.

The fact that it was an un-metalled dusty surface with (many) passing places where you had to wait for oncoming traffic (of which there was some, but not much) made sure we took the time to enjoy the views rather than rush past. Something I am known to have done on occasion in the past :). And at the end we came to the summer skiing resort of Stryn! This summer has been way too hot for enough snow to stick around even this high up the mountains, but you could imagine this would be one spectacular place to slalom down the hillside :).

We spent the rest of the day lazily exploring the valley below, driving around Oppstrynsvatnet and wondering what the next morning would bring as we headed over the mountain pass down to Geiranger! Our meanderings brought the first view of Jostedalsbreen, one of the largest glaciers in northern Europe. But a closer look was planned for later, so it was a quiet dinner and back to the campsite.

The morning started somewhat overcast, with the tops of the surrounding hillsides disappearing up into a blanket of clouds. We wondered if the day would be a complete contrast from the day before as we wound our way up towards the pass through a succession of tunnels. But as we came through the last tunnel at the top, everything changed!

As happens frequently in fjord and fjell country, we'd come straight through the clouds and into bright sunshine! Not just that, there were some spectacular clear blue lakes! The best bit was when we noticed a thick, distant (in the beginning) bit of cloud nestling at the far edge of the lake. As we watched though it spread out and soon overtook us, and yup, back we were in the clouds :).

There was nothing to do but just head down the many many hairpins of the road down to Geiranger in the blindingly dense whiteness. We'd been to the town four years ago, so this time the plan was something a bit different. Above the picture perfect fjord with its many cruise liners, ferries and yachts there is a mighty waterfall, Storsæterfossen. The particularly special thing about this one is that you can walk quite easily behind the main curtain of water!

While the walk up was still shrouded in clouds, you could tell that the clouds were slowly rising up above us. Once we got past the bend that would theoretically brought the fall in sight, it got pretty loud! It was one of those waterfalls that sends its roar ricocheting off the walls around and you end up with a bit of localised perpetual thunder :). However, then we found the way down under the big drop! If you think it's loud from far away, it quickly gets to need-hearing-protection levels once you get up close!

But what a fascinating experience! Barring a bit of spray, you stay pretty dry, while barely a couple of feet away tons of water (probably quite literally) cascades down in a mesmerising display! There's only so long one can stand the roaring though! But yeah! What a rush!

And just about the time we got back to the cafe where we'd parked the car, the clouds finally started lifting properly and soon we were on our way again. Retracing part of the route we'd driven back in 2014 :). Only with a zillion more tourist busses this time :D.

A relatively uneventful few hours brought us to Hildre where we were to spend the next couple of days with some friends. This, I think, is a good point to stop for the day. And seeing how tomorrow we're off to France for ten days, it may be a while before the next instalment appears :).

Monday, 30 July 2018

Hills and lakes, mountains and fjords

The last month has been, how can I put it, a succession of superlatives interspersed with the kind of peaceful gaps that somehow have left me feeling rested even after travelling for all but seven days out of thirty-two!

So first that England trip! (Yes, I have been travelling to England an awful lot lately... having in-laws in a country can do that!) It was some seriously warm weather that greeted us, and having visited with family for the weekend in the south of England we set off for the Lake District. For those not in the know, that means pretty much traversing the whole length of England. Luckily, it's a rather small island, so only took us a day :).

Having first been presented with the idea of spending a week in the Lake District, I had figured I wanted to do two things, go walking and see some castles! As it turned out, the trip was bookended by visits to Wray and Lowther Castles and packed with a lot of walking up and down hillsides in-between!

We'd found ourselves a bed-n-breakfast at a farm just south of Keswick, so that gave us the perfect starting point for walking to Cat Bells, Robinson, Hindscarth and Dale Head. (Those are all names of peaks :D. Awesome, aren't they?!!) With views of Derwent Water, Bassenthwait, Crummock Water, Loweswater and Buttermere. (Yup, now those are all lakes. What did I say about awesome names!?!) In some cases you could see all the way out to sea (which in this case I guess would be the bit of the Irish Sea stuck between England and Scotland?)!

Given that we had a car, we also made the most of it, driving around and exploring more valleys and passes in the area and climbing up yet more peaks for some truly spectacular views. Dodd, Red Pike, High Crag, High Stile and High Seat were all pretty proper hikes along a particularly high (hence the names I guess :)) and craggy ridge. But another day we also decided to take it easy and just walk up the much easier Rannerdale Knotts.

Now if you have never been to the Lake District and just read all that, you'd think we'd been walking non-stop or something! But that's the thing, a lot of the peaks were just along a ridge, so the hard work was getting up it, and then you just walking along, enjoying the ever changing view as new valleys and ridges came into view or disappeared! It actually got hot enough where we'd start off early and then find cover by early afternoon. Either by a cool river or freezing waterfall, or just back at the bnb or some cafe in a farm :).

For someone used to hiking in Norway there is much to be said about the experience you get in the Lake District! The views aren't nearly as awe-inspiring and rugged, but genuinely beautiful! And a lot more accessible :). You walk out in the morning and see a hilltop, or a few. At the end of the day you walk back down and looking back, point to several of said hilltops and say, yup, been there. Not quite what happens in Norway :).

And then there was the weather! Ten days, and it never rained on us once! Must be something of a record for me in England :). In the meantime Norway had been having record high temperatures! We were back home for a couple of days, and then off again! This time to the western part of Norway - Vestlandet! Primarily the areas of Møre og Romsdal and Sogn og Fjordane.

The trip had been somewhat hastily planned, and then even more hastily re-planned when we decided to visit some friends from Asker who were on holiday near Ålesund! Fortunately accommodation was available where we wanted and when we wanted it :). For a change we weren't trying to fit in a holiday into a set number of days whether for available holidays or booked flights! Once we'd put in all the bits we wanted to see, hike or drive, it came to a nice round two weeks.

If I were to give a full account of those spell-binding fourteen days, well... (Maybe I should actually, but then I'll have to split it up into a whole series of posts... But why not, not like I haven't done that in the past :). Hmmm.)

The vital statistics, however, stand thus: fourteen days, 2400 km, two proper hikes, eight different beds, ten ferries, many many waterfalls, lakes, mountains, fjords, tunnels and even a few dolphins and glaciers!! I would have added six of the eighteen Norwegian Scenic Routes, but we found several more bits of road that are at least as fabulous if not even better than those on the official list (and with significantly less tourist traffic!), so the number of particularly awesome stretches of road stands somwhat higher in my mind. More on that soon then. I hope.