Tuesday, 6 December 2016

If you didn't go dog sledding in the Norwegian mountains, did you really study abroad??

Ah yes, Norway.  It took me a whole 2.5 day weekend to absolutely fall in love with you, and here's why.

This past weekend was a big step for me, the first time I've traveled alone; no travel buddy, and no one waiting for me on the other side of the airport gate when I landed.  Except, I was never really ever alone. You see, solo traveling allows you to meet ten times more people than you would if you were traveling in a group or with a partner, it forces you to speak up, ask for help and go out of your way to make connections.

I met some pretty awesome individuals over the weekend, from Alicja and Piotr, my air bnb hosts, to Dom and Mike, the Welsh couple who became my trusted team while dog sledding, and everyone in between (my fellow north Americans and exchange students studying in Barcelona, and another etranger living abroad in Paris).

My first stop after settling into my air bnb was the Vigelandsparken. A large outdoor park covered in interesting, and somewhat mildly disturbing sculptures, but nonetheless, some stunning artwork.  The nice thing about traveling in December is the lack of tourists, allowing you to really take in the sights and gather (almost) tourist-free photos. I can't stress enough, don't be afraid to travel out of tourist season! Yes, it's cold, but bundle up and I promise it will be so worth it.

Quick selfie for your viewing pleasure

I wish I had of been able to take more pictures, however I could barely feel my fingers when they were out of my mitts so this stopped me from really being able to capture everything (sorry in advance..you'll just have to go see it for yourself).

From Vigelandsparken I decided it would be a great idea to walk back to the city instead of taking the tram....Update: it wasn't. Little did I know it becomes dark before 4 pm in Norway, which made it much harder to navigate the ever so trusty google maps in the dark.

In some time I stumbled upon a Christmas market in the downtown, but before exploring the market I was on a mission to find somewhere to charge my phone up, because let's face it, there was no way I was getting back to the apartment without google maps. So I found the nearest 7-eleven,charged up my phone and was ready to hit the town (again), but not before having a lovely solo dinner, of course.

"Eating a croissant for dinner in 7-eleven is an all new low"
I later found yet another Christmas market while wandering around (aka trying to play it cool while being extremely lost for over an hour), and discovered there is actually 3 different ones in the city...absolute heaven!

 Before leaving the market I stopped at a small stand and bough myself a pair of alpaca wool socks (random, I know) because I wanted to insure my feet would be nice and toasty while out adventuring the next day! I stayed for awhile and talked the father-daughter duo running the booth who were asking me about what I was doing all the way out in Norway by myself (common theme lol).

Day 1's adventures came to an end and I was ready to head back to the apartment to get a good sleep before the busy day I had ahead of me on Saturday.


Day 2 brought more adventure than I thought possible. I hopped on a bus in central Oslo that took me 3 and a half hours north to the small town of Beitostolen, where the owners of the dog sledding tour met myself, and the rest of the group, at the bus station to drive us to their place. The bus ride alone was filled with some pretty amazing views, and I happened to stay awake the entire time (impressive, I know) and managed to snap a few pics.

Winter wonderland- reminds me of home!

And upon arriving at the dog sledding lodge, the view only got better (and much easier to take pictures of as I was no longer on a moving bus).

Next, we suited up in some lovely one piece snow suits and were ready to head out to learn the art of mushing.  Our guide first showed us about the sled works, from steering, to breaking, and even bailing (sorry what?). The sleds have 3 spots- one person sitting in the front, one person controlling the steering in the middle, and one person at the back who was the main controller of the breaks (although this was a two person job most of the time) and was responsible for jumping off the sled and pushing from behind while the dogs were pulling up hill (this happened to be my position for 3/4 of the time!).

We split up into 3 teams of 3, each with 6 dogs, and we then learned how to harness the dogs; which includes straddling them and squeezing lightly at their hips to keep them in one position. From there the dogs could almost show us what to do as they were so used to being harnessed up! It was quite an experience to be able to harness our own team and get a feel for them before heading out.

The squad- Dom, Mike and Myself

Handing out head lamps at 4:30...yup welcome to Norway

Much better!

Dom and Mike were sweet enough to send me the pics that Dom had taken from the front spot, because being on the back or middle spot does not allow you to lift a single hand from the sled!

I was extremely surprised about how physically demanding dog sledding was (for the humans and the dogs!).  When you think of the idea of dog sledding, or at least how I thought of it, was that I would be pulled for a leisurely ride by my dogs while taking in the incredible view...nope, not at all!

It requires that all three members to be focused at all times during the ride. The dogs know the trail and (for the most part) will stay on track, but it is easy for the sled to go off the tracks which as you can imagine, may not end in our favour.  Apart from steering, the two people standing almost always have their foot on the break. These dogs are trained to go full speed, and even if someone falls off, they aren't stopping (as we learned first hand).

So needless to say I got my cardio in this weekend and was absolutely exhausted upon pulling back into our starting spot, and was delighted to find that they had prepared a lovely soup dinner for us, over a campfire in the woods, complete with tea, and Norwegian juice and flat bread.

While my dog sled experience came to a close, I felt very fulfilled. It was such a unique experience, with some great people, and I wouldn't change it for the world (..except prolonging my stay, of course).

The bus ride back to Oslo left me time for a much needed nap, and upon returning to the apartment I was quick to pass right out (so unlike me, I know).


Day 3 left me limited time but I was still able to hit a number of landmarks I had been wanting to. After suggestion from Alicja, I headed to Aker Brygge, and area by the water, a very wealthy area might I add. It was a beautiful spot to start the morning with a leisurely stroll.

Its pretty amazing to be able to catch the sunrise over the water...at 9:30 am!

Next, I was off to the Royal Palace, which was once the residence of the King of Norway during the 19th century and is now the official residence of the current Norwegian monarch.  During the summer hours, the palace is open for guided tours and you can also see the official changing of the guards every day at 1:30 pm. I stopped by for a quick visit just to check the grounds out.

My final destination for the day was the opera house, which has a unique feature, allowing tourists to climb up onto the roof for a spectacular view over the city (careful, it's quite slippery!).

So after taking in the beautiful from atop the Opera House, I thought it would be a great idea to end my visit by slipping on the last step and fall smack dab on the middle of my bum (once again, not the best idea I've ever had). Things are also slightly more embarrassing when you're by yourself, so let's just let that image of me falling at one of the biggest tourist attractions sink in....yeah.

From the city center of Oslo to the snowy mountains of Beitostolen, Norway is such a diverse and truly beautiful country, and has so much to offer, especially for the outdoorsy and adventurous kind. It's safe to say that Norway has stolen my heart this weekend, and I hope it won't be long 'till my next return.

~I forgot to buy a postcard so naturally I have to go back, right?~