Friday, 28 September 2012

Reflections and Oslo antics

I am refusing to become one of those people (and I have met a few) who return from an awesome day in an incredible city and then proceed to spend the next 3 hours, not continuing to explore, but writing in their diary or updating their blog. Hence...  another blog delay. But, conversely, an increase in facebook statuses. That's just to keep the jealousy at a reasonable level... ;) (joking! Ish...) But in all seriousness- I think Facebook statuses only convey the really amazing parts of a trip, and they give the impression that everything is awesome and easy and fun alllll the time. I want this blog to convey the shittier more realistic parts of solo travel as well. Admittedly this is hard as we naturally only really remember or want to talk about the good things that have happened, but I will try to document the bad times as well.
This reminds of something I learnt in Stockholm about Swedish culture. The swedes (typically) are quite modest and humble- not into boasting facebook statuses for example. Instead, a more typical status might be LOOK GUYS, I MADE THIS HUGE STUPID MISTAKE, I'M AN IDIOT, DON'T DO THE SAME!! This is, of course, a massive stereotype but I think there's some truth in it. Not least because the biggest most important museum in Stockholm (and maybe Sweden) is the Vasamuseet, a huge museum dedicated to exhibiting and telling the history of a warship that sailed from Stockholm in 1628. The ship sunk after about 8 minutes at the first tiny bit of wind. It was salvaged in 1962, restored and now the Swede's most important museum is something like LOOK EVERYONE WE MADE THIS BIG MISTAKE WITH OUR SHIP DON'T DO THE SAME YAH?

Anyway, enough interlude. I left you in Malmö, about to board the bus to Oslo.  This trip was originally viewed with trepidation- 8 hour bus journeys are surely not anybody's favourite thing. However, plug sockets and free wifi made Clare a much happier girl! I wasn't feeling the most optimistic at this stage. Malmö had been great, but my hosts had had lectures for alot of the time, and whilst I did have a lovely day exploring by myself I couldn't help but think it would be so much nicer if I was travelling and couchsurfing with someone, and sharing the experience. I felt really kinda lonely. I spent alot of the journey futilely attempting to take pictures of pretty lakes that we kept passing, and trying to convince people to come out and visit me in Bergen (or Oslo, Stockholm, anywhere!) I really really wanted some company. A girl in a hostel in Copenhagen summed up the travelling solo feeling quite well. She said how in so many ways it was great- you could do whatever you wanted to do, go wherever you wanted to go, act and be whoever you wanted to be. To one set of people you could be happy party Clare. To another you could be boring, moody. Nobody was going to judge you. You probably weren't going to see them again. You could be whoever you wanted to be at that particular moment and there was nobody to say "you're being different, you're acting weird, why aren't you being more happy/ organised/ positive?" She saw this as quite a good thing, but I think I disagree. I think it's nice to be with someone who knows the real you, who knows that when you're being moody or boring that's just a mood at that particular time and not a character trait, that actually you're usually another way. I was longing for some company.

Planning, sleeping and listening to music eventually I arrived in Oslo for another couchsurfing experience. This time I was staying with a 28 year old Norwegian man called Arne. I was frickin terrified. Couchsurfing works by that you search through the cities and find hosts, and then send a personal message to the ones you like the look of, explaining who you are and why you want to meet them. (I always offer to cook dinner as well). However there is now the option so that you can make a request public- so that hosts in the city you're travelling to can contact YOU and offer you a place to stay. So, within a few hours of making a request to some people in Oslo I had five or six 40 year old men sending me a message with things along the lines of "hey, you look really cute in your picture, you're welcome to stay in my apartment for a few days...." Erm, so yeah. Those are the ones you ignore. Back to the point. Arne was a guy I had actually sent a request to as he seemed really cool from his profile. But I was feeling a little worried staying by myself with a man- what with the many creepy guys who had been contacting me. But Oslo hostels are very very expensive (and quite bad) and the hosts few and far between (and so constantly inundated with requests). I was very very lucky that Arne had said yes to me. And he did have many positive references and several vouches and so, armed with the addresses of several nearby hostels, I thought I'd give it a go.

He was amazing. He picked me up from the bus station and carried my bags to his apartment which was right in the centre. I had my own room, with a mattress (which is such a luxury when travelling). He was really knackered after a weekend in Dublin but showed me round the city at night so I could get orientated, and then we came back and ate some Norwedgian cheese (which is really good- try the brown one, it tastes like caramel!) He was a really cool guy, and we spend ages exchanging youtube videos and zombie film recommendations.
He initated me to:
 which is by a famous Norwedgian TV host...  In return, I showed him a couple of Norwedgian music videos that I think represent the soundtrack to revision and post- exams in Durham...

The next movie I watch as well must definitely be this:
Arne enjoying 'Slappin' my penis'

In return I showed him clips from Shaun of the Dead. He loved my videos and couldn't stop laughing- and they went into his youtube favourites list. I felt so so cool.

Anyway, the next day I got up early, Arne went off to work, and I had a free day. Loneliness returned. I posted on the Oslo couchsurfing group saying I was around for the next few days and did anyone want to meet up for sightseeing or drinks. And then I went exploring solo. It was a beautiful day, and I decided to get the Oslo card which got me free public transport and entrance into
Enjoying Oslo bars with CS friends
museums. First I climbed up the opera house which affords stunning views over the city, and then I got the train up to the Holmenkollen which is a huge ski jump on the mountains surrounding the city. Then a ferry to Bygdøy which is a museum island, and gave a really pretty view of the Oslo fjord. So I went to the Open air folk museum (a look at Norwegian culture and ways of living through the ages) the Viking museum and the Kon- Tiki museum (a Norwegian explorer sailed across the Pacific in 1947 in a boat made of reeds- proving that cross- cultural interactions were possible even in very early ages). And then back across on the ferry to the Nobel Peace centre (which was actually pretty cool). A good day, very museum-y though. And then it started raining, ALOT. Anyway I got back and cooked some pasta for me an Arne and then went out to meet some other coushsurfers who had responded to my post on the Oslo group. Cue an amazing night in Oslo bars meeting some awesome people. Beer at £8 a pint not so great, but luckily I'm a girl and I was with rich Norwegians. Woop. :) We ended up about 8 or so CSers and their hosts and had an awesome night in which one guy actually ended up couchsurfing with me at Arne's.

'The Scream'

Anyway this meant I had friends to hang out with the next day as well, and also some more people arriving who wanted to go sightseeing! I headed to the Munch museum first thing to get the rest of use out of my Oslo card (he's the guy who painted The Scream, and it's an awesome awesome art gallery and you should go if you can, and I don't even like art galleries...) So we all met to go to Vigelandsparken, which is a huge park full of naked sculptures by the artist Gustav Vigeland. Pictures speak louder than words here.

Anyway, fun day sightseeing with an amazing German guy called Ingmar, an English girl called Nadiah and a local called Marie. :) 

Last day surfing with Arne as he had some more guests coming that evening but I was so lucky as rather than have to move into a hostel that evening my friend Idunn who is originally from Stravanger was in Oslo that weekend, and said I could stay at her friend's house with her :D That evening was also really good, met her and her lovely friend, we all had a huge catch up, Idunn was ashamed I hadn't heard of the Stonehenge video before (but pleased I was spreading the amazingness of the other videos). We had dinner, went to a bar and randomly bumped into Ingmar who ended up staying with us all at Idunn's friend's house. All very much perfect except for a 5am train to Bergen the next day...

There is so much to say and blogging takes so much time! I'm currently in Rovaniemi (the Arctic Circle!) in a museum that has free internet and computers. So long for now everybody, I need to get back as my host is taking me clubbing tonight....! Lots of love xxx

Monday, 17 September 2012

Copenhagen, Crime dramas and Couchsurfing

So, it turns out that updating a blog is kind of hard when you're moving from place to place and couch to couch almost everyday. And when you're meeting new people and being invited to do fun things in incredible places, finding somewhere with internet access doesn't seem so important. Who knew..?! But apologies for the delay.... right now it is a rainy night in Bergen, I have a flight to Stockholm early tomorrow, am curled up in a beautiful apartment overlooking a fjord and I have access to a laptop so I can update.... :) I'm going to continue where I left off and try to catch myself up, slowly!

So I did get an early night in my third night in Copenhagen, however the Australian in the bed below me did not. She stumbles into the room at 2am and launches herself onto her bed fully clothed. Ok, fine. But then she proceeds to make retching sounds, like she is or is about to be sick. Slightly more worrying. The door slams, she runs for the corridor. That's better. She stumbles back, but then begins to make more noises, before falling absolutely dead silent. Not so great. I lie for a bit, wondering if she's choked on her own vomit and what the procedure is if someone you don't know ends up dying on the bed below you. I end up sticking my head down from the upper bunk and shining a torch to see if she was breathing. Luckily, she was. Average night in a hostel. At least this Australian wasn't taking any pictures of me though.....

Horse riding through Dyrehaven just outide Copenhagen

In a Copenhagen bar.
You can't get a better mosutache than that, surely....
The rest of Copenhagen was cool, as I am lazy I am just going to use a few pictures to show what I did. Went on an organised pub crawl thing on the last night which was good fun- for about £12 we got a shot in each pub, entry to the club, and 45 minutes of free beer in the last pub. Yes, I did take that as a challenge. Not sure if I won or lost though. But, the people I was with were....  alittle weird. Lots of Australians, and a few english people. Overall, Copenhagen was I think just a strange experience. Our hostel was a little out of the centre, the people were odd, and I was kind of just getting used to the travelling alone thing. I'm not going to romanticise it. There were some times I felt fucking lonely (even in Malmo I think this was the case), and there were some times I was wondering what the hell I was doing here, by myself, and I actually considered a few times just getting a flight home (not too seriously, but still, I felt kinda homesick). (But it's okay, I am happy now!! :) ) But the sad thing was that I spent alot of money on a hostel, and came away not actually having met a single Danish person. Cue couchsurfing conversion.

But before that, Scandinavian crime dramas. Anybody else but me love them? The area I was staying in in Copenhagen was the setting for alot of the filming of the Danish tv series The Killing. Another favourite is the Swedish and Danish production 'The Bridge' which was on BBC 4 a few months ago.  It is set on the Øresund bridge which connects Denmark and Sweden. I would say that the reason I decided to visit Malmo wasn't just because I just wanted to go over that bridge.... but um I guess that would a lie. I love that bridge. (Wow, what a pathetic thing to say) but truthfully, I did get sort of excited! If anyone hasn't seen 'The Bridge' I highly recommend it.... if nothing else it has an amazing soundtrack:

Full song:

Needless to say, Choir of Young Believers provided my soundtrack as I crossed the bridge into Sweden..... :P Although I should warn any other groupies, the actual crossing proves extremely anticlimatic. However if you head to the Vastra Hamnen area of Malmo you get an awesome view ;)


Øresund Bridge from Malmo

Alex! And my lasagne :)
So, armed with my amazing travel app (GuidePal! Download it! It has offline maps, and because GPS works over phone signal not data or internet it shows you where you are on the map but is still free! And it has loads of information about places to see and do!) and also armed with a bagful of lasagne ingredients I made my way to the address in Malmo of my first couchsurfing host! AHHHHH! I was greeted with a hug and a huge smile by the wonderful Alexandra in a beautiful area of Malmo. She lives with two other girls in an amazing apartment near the Folkets Park (the 'People's Park', an awesome park that as well as the usual prettiness of most parks has several nightclubs in it...!) They all instantly made me feel at ease, and we exchanged stories and chatted while I cooked them all my (rather famous) vegetable lasagne. Anybody who knows me will be smiling now when they read this. My veggie lasagne is my failsafe dish, it is what I cook when I am making an effort, when I am trying to impress, and it has become a little bit of a legend among my housemates and philosophy friends. It did not disappoint! :D
We had an awesome evening, they were each such interesting people. Alex had been travelling by herself all over south america, and has been couchsurfing for years. The favourite story she told me was of an 80 year old woman she surfed with in Argentina- her son had signed her up to couchsurfing so that she'd always have some company and somebody to talk to and cook for...!!!!

I had a really comfy mattress in the living room, complete with fresh sheets and a duvet and pillows and had an amazing sleep. No drunken australians coming in in the night, no rustling or snoring.... and I woke up in the morning to find Alex had made her own sundried tomato bread and had set out breakfast along with fruit and yogurt. Amazing. She and her housemates had lectures all day but she
lent me her bike and off I went to explore Malmo. It was beautiful day and I spent alot of it on the beach (YES, Scandinavia has beaches!) but also exploring the different areas (including the new green 'neighbourhood of tomorrow' which is run entirely off renewable energy and produces zero waste) I kind of fell in love with Malmo. It was so pretty, parks, beaches, beautiful buildings. And with strawberries swinging from the handlebars of my bike, and chocolate in my backpack I cycled back to my hosts with that as desert.

Malmo beach and its iconic twisted skyscraper
Pretty sqaure in Malmo

Alex's friend (also a couchsurfer host) came round to cook us dinner in the evening. Everyone was vegeterian so was so incredibly easy. We had a lovely evening talking about anything from travelling to relationships to stereotypes to sex. Hilarious time, and I felt so happy and positive about the entire thing! Also, loving the fact that everybody here speaks PERFECT english. :)

That is without, also, romanticising couchsurfing. There's some fucking weird people on that site and you need to be picky about who you stay with. More on that in my next post, but I think I'll leave this one for now and do a separate one about Oslo. Maybe tonight. Maybe when I next get the time (and a laptop and internet). In any case, miss you all, keep in contact, come and visit, lots of love. :)

I leave you with a video that will forever now remind me of Bergen (this wonderful beautiful city that rains 280 days of the year.) Yes, this happened to me. Several times. I have no dry clothes.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Something rotten in the state of Denmark...

Hamlet's Elsinore Castle (Kronberg Point)
Well, not really. Denmark, and Copenhagen, is actually really clean and pretty. But I've just got back from seeing Hamlet's castle, which was really quite cool. Feeling rather smug as there's lots of expensive organised day trips to go there geared at Americans, but I negotiated the Danish rail network and made my own way there for a tenner....boom :) Situated right on the tip of the Sound there's a really pretty nearby town and you can see Sweden across the water. The castle itself costs a bomb to get in to but there was loads of information and stuff to see outside and I spent a nice few hours muttering 'to be or not to be' to myself. (Well, not the whole few hours. That's just be sad)

So here I am. I'm being routinely mistaken as Scandinavian, both by the tourists who keep asking me for directions, and locals who seem to want me to answer surveys about my shopping habits (karma, I guess, for my job of the last few months) but let's face it- there's definitely worse nationalities to be mistaken as (I've come to the definite conclusion I'm going to marry a Scandinavian, they're beautiful.).

Cycling (shorts weather!)
Copenhagen is the home of Carlsberg, Hans Christian Anderson and more cyclists than I've ever seen in my life. Apparently it is now overtaking Amsterdam in terms of being a bike friendly city- I hired a bike yesterday and apart from a couple of near death experiences (forgetting Europeans drive on the right, not discovering until I was nearly under a bus that you brake by pedalling backwards) it's a really nice way to get around the city. Gorgeous weather as well :)

For Mikey. (Copenhagen's gay park)

There were a couple of moments of loneliness yesterday and I started to feel a little bit homesick... but then I got back to the hostel and an Australian guy I'd met the previous night was handing me a beer and before I knew it I was in an artsy bar in the middle of the student district talking about tequila suicide with a couple of Finnish people. Several drinks later we stumbled into a kebab shop at 3am where they insisted we sit down on mini beanbags and eat our food there. I think English takeaways have a lot to learn!

The hostel is nice, although a little far out and the crowd seems quite quiet (two guys were in the lobby yday playing skyrim. Baxter you'd love it) but it's pretty cool on the whole. My room were ribbing me for being too stereotypically English when they saw the teabags stuffed in my ski jacket pocket...(what! they might not have had proper tea here... and they wouldn't fit in my suitcase!)

Tomorrow I'm off to go horse riding in a nearby Danish national park (7am wake up though, might try not to go out tonight) and then Sunday I'm off to Malmo for my first couchsurfing experience....shitttt! Wish me luck!

Miss you all! xxx

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

T minus.... 20 hours

So,this blog post doesn't really have any purpose other than as a form of packing procrastination, and to test out blogging on my mobile.

Anyway.... this is my bag:
Hand luggage size
Alot of junk
This is what needs to be fitted into my bag:

And this is my face:

Super attractive worried face

They're so tiny!

We'll see what happens! I did briefly resign myself to leaving certain luxuries such as straighteners behind, and then I came across babies....

Hopefully they'll make the packing cull.

Preparations have on the whole not gone too badly. Every free book Amazon has to offer is now downloaded onto my kindle. The entire big bang theory series is currently being converted onto my phone. And I celebrated getting paid for my summer of work today by toddling to the bank and getting my paycheck converted to many many £10 notes. My feeling of insane wealth however was unfortunately somewhat shortlived when I exchanged it for what looks like lots of different types of monopoly money, and half disappearing onto a currency card. I think I should have taken it home and rolled in it first.

Hyde Park
A few goodbyes- lots of people made the effort to come into London on Sunday which was amazing, although my parents are rebelling against the idea of my leaving them by booking some tickets to come out and see me in Inari in November..... Hmmm. I have resigned myself to this latest development by the consolation that I'll get lots of nice free meals out of it (and, of course- if Mum Dad and Nick are reading this, it will be lovely to see you!!!) My host Satu has offered them reduced rate rooms in her guesthouse, and everything else seems to be slowly falling into place! :D
Let the adventures begin....