Dog Sledding: Tromso Villmarkssenter

Back in January 2018, my friends and I travelled the length of Norway where we ended our trip visiting Villmarkssenter in Tromso. Here we experienced one of our best travel moments since starting travelling. As a big dog lover, getting the chance to dog sled in the Arctic circle and spend hours with the dogs was amazing!

However, since writing about my experiences in my Norway Part 2 post, I have had some comments and emails from readers who were worried that dog sledding is cruel to the dogs. Some other readers also commented that it was no different than elephant riding. This was when I decided to look more into Villmarkssenter to show people there was a huge difference between dog sledding and elephant riding.

Firstly, my friends and I have all volunteered to work with elephants that are now in sanctuaries, where we cleaned and fed them. Having the chance to spend our money helping elephants, instead of spending it riding and abusing elephants meant a great deal to us.

Secondly, we try as much as we can to always research into the companies we use so we don’t contribute to animal abuse.

Therefore, I decided to contact Tromso Villmarkssenter for an interview on how they treat their dogs and how their centre puts the dog’s welfare at the forefront at anything they do.

Interview:

  1. If it wasn’t for Tromso Villmarkssenter then what would happen to these dogs? And Could you explain where the dogs come from and why they come to Tromso Villmarkssenter?

Our kennel is not really meant to house rescue dogs. We are partly a racing kennel, around 40 of our dogs are in the “A-team”, the racing team – the rest is mainly running in the guest tours. We are therefore actively breeding dogs for racing, most of them live from the start until the end of their lives at our center! Since Tove bought her first Huskies in 1984, we have slowly built up our kennel by breeding and buying from other mushers.

But of course, we have also taken in dogs from people who couldn’t take care of them anymore, mostly from Norway and Finland.

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  1. Does dog sleding involve any violence to the animals?

We are mushers and dog sled racers, our Alaskan Huskies are at the same time our closest coworkers, our most important resource and biggest capital investment. Our whole company depends on their health, happiness and willingness to work with us. Our whole life revolves around them!

Any kind of abuse against dogs before or during a race means immediate disqualification and suspension from any race in the world. But it goes deeper than that because every musher depends on the willingness of their dogs to run long distances and pull our sled through harsh weather and icy temperatures. And my dogs only give everything to me, because they know I will give everything for them. We have to be like family, to support each other in good times and bad times.

  1. What kind of care does the Tromso Villmarkssenter provide for the dogs?

That our lives revolve around the dogs is not a joke. Every day of the year we keep track of their condition, from appetite to digestion, feed them (during winter 2 meals a day + 2-3 high-energy snacks like fat or salmon, depending on how they run), clean the yard, train them and administer medical care.

Our kennel is divided into 5 pools, each housing between 40-50 dogs, overseen by 6-10 mushers and a pool leader. Mushers know “their” dogs really well, strengths as well as weaknesses and how they get along with their neighbours. They know who is not friendly towards other males/females and who must be housed apart from whom to avoid fights. Alaskan huskies are very intelligent dogs with strong personalities – and sometimes they clash. In this case, every musher insight will drop what they are doing and rush in to break up the fight. Then all dogs are checked thoroughly and if they are hurt, receive all necessary medical care. Our staff can clean and dress wounds and our veterinarian is on call at all hours of the night!

Twice a day before feeding, we check the weight of each dog to ensure they get an appropriate amount of food. And during feeding, we make sure each only eats their own portion! The mushers also know the age of all Huskies and make sure young and elderly dogs only run as much as is good for them. The responsibilities of a pool leader include filing a weekly HMS report to Mattilsynet (health and animal welfare agency of the Norwegian state) to document how much each dog is working.

And whenever we interact with the dogs, we watch the way they move, so we no not miss any early signs of injuries to muscles or joints. Our huskies are by all standards top athletes and, just as humans, can get hurt if they push themselves too much. Since our dogs stay with us into old age and often all their life, we have many dogs with different health issues. Some need daily eye or heart medication, skin or paw treatment and our mushers provide this care as well.

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As part of the care for the adult dogs, another daily task is the education of the puppies born in our kennel. The first weeks they stay separated with their mothers and later with their siblings in the puppy enclosure. Aside from giving them all necessary medical care (vaccinating, de-worming etc), we also spend a lot of time socializing them. Regular interactions with our mushers as well as guests give them tons of positive experience with humans. They love visitors because when humans visit there is either food, cuddles or play time. And for the rest of their lives, these dogs will be comfortable with being surrounded by strangers and children, an absolute necessity for a kennel accessible to the public!

It is also important to stimulate their brain from an early age on through playful training and interactions with both humans and huskies. Intelligence, responsiveness and the will to work as part of a team are basic requirements for becoming a good sled dog!

All of this is only a small part of our tasks, not even including the work that goes into the actual sledding. I hope I have given you a quick insight into the in-depth care our dogs receive in every aspect of their lives.

  1. Can people volunteer at the Villmarkssenter?

To provide all the care for the dogs as well as take good care of all our guests, our staff needs to be very well trained.  All of them go through a 2-week training program before they start working independently. This is why we generally stopped having volunteers, but we often open internships for local schools and work with students.

That being said, during summer everybody is welcome to swing by and cuddle the dogs. Every day, from June until autumn, the kennel and the Husky Café is open to the public, no entrance fee or need to book a tour.

  1. What kind of interaction can people have with the dogs if they choose to book through Tromso Villmarkssenter?

Guest can have as much contact with dogs as they want! If you’d like to sit down and have your face licked, you are welcome to do that. Many huskies are jumpy and energetic, but our calmer dogs really appreciate a good long belly rub. You can also visit our hospitalized dogs and give them an extra portion of love – all of them are friendly and really looking forward to meeting you.

  1. Through the money people spend on dog sledding, how does this go to help the dogs?

A lot of our income goes to dog food (salmon, cow, pork, lamb and chicken – only the best for our top athletes!) and a working equipment for dogs. We are also constantly maintaining and improving the facilities for the dogs. Last year we spend around 1.5 million NOK on renovations in the dog yard alone, in addition to maintaining and renewing the hospital, indoor and outdoor cages and the puppy yard. And of course, we use the income to pay for their medical care, examinations, operations and medications.

I hope after this interview this has given you a deeper insight into the level of care the dogs all get, as well as the preparation and thought that goes into that care.

If you have any more questions for me, feel free to email me from my contact page or comment down below!

If you would like to contact Villmarkssenter for any more questions or want to book any tours with them their website is below:

https://villmarkssenter.no/about-us/

My Best Travel Moments (2015-18)

This post was inspired by one of my latest blog posts, (Top 5 Countries That I have Travelled 15-18). As this post did so well and had so much positive feedback, I decided to write a blog post on my best moments whilst travelling. However, just like the last article, being able to narrow my list of awesome travel moments down was extremely difficult. Nevertheless, after much thought here are my top 5!

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Climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan is number 5 on my best travel moments! Climbing Mt. Fuji was part of my Asia trip with Max and Haydn, so being able to experience the climb with them only made the experience better! We also met someone called Andrew at our hostel who we also did the climb with.

Although the last couple of hours back to the hostel were extremely painful as I had injured my knee running a half-marathon a couple of months before. The whole experience was incredible and looking back something I am so glad I did. One of the best decisions was definitely not taking the bus to 5th station and actually walking the entire way from the hostel. However, what this meant was an 11km walk to station 0!

 

Nevertheless, station 0-5 was a pretty easy climb and I got to see some spectacular views along the way. Being above the clouds really made for an impressive view! Another benefit of walking meant that by the time I reached 5th station, the sun was setting and the sunset was just surreal. However, at station 6, I started wrapping up and putting on as many layers that I had. Being above 2,500m and with the sun setting, it got really cold, fast.

 

 This was the part of the climb that seemed to go on for a long time as the stations started going up in halves now instead of 5-6, 6-7. The cold also started to become a big factor. I remember stopping at the side of the walkaway and laying down for a while and just shivering so much as my body temperature plummeted. The other issues were that the climb started to get a lot steeper and this meant that any slow people ahead of you made you slow down which meant that you were getting cold again!

In spite of the cold, walking in pitch black and the steep climb to the summit, I finally got to the top at around 2 am which meant that I had been walking for a total of 14 hours so far. However, the issue I had now was that the temperature was well below 0c and I had to just find a place to keep warm until the sunrise. Initially, Max and I found a bench that we laid down and drifted off to sleep. But, within minutes our bodies woke us up shivering! That’s when I saw that they let people into a restaurant type area where they charged a ridiculous amount for food and drink just because they knew people were desperate to be allowed inside.

 

After finally getting in and warming up, the sun started to rise! Rushing outside to get some pictures of the sunset as well as our climbing group, it made the whole experience more than worthwhile. The sunrise was just incredible. The different colours that bounced off the skyline and the surrounding mountains were just out of this world! I really cannot describe what a unique experience it was being able to see a sunset this good.

 

After the sun had rose it was then time for the descent back to the hostel. The climb down didn’t take as long but by the time I made it to the hostel I had been climbing for over 24 hours! However, this didn’t take away from what an incredible experience it was and actually made the whole trip more rewarding.

 

Even though I only spent around 4 days in Fuji, it quickly became one of my favourite places. It has great lakes, great mountains, gives you the chance to climb a 3,800m mountain and offers great Japanese food!

4.

Sunset Point in Uluwatu is a moment that I cannot stop thinking about. Every time I look back at my pictures from my trip to Bali, this is always one that stands out the most. Every trip always has a couple of moments that become your highlight, and this sunset is definitely that!

Sunset Point is located on the coast which has a small bar where hundreds of travellers come to watch the sunset. They bar has a swimming pool, a rooftop seating area, as well as bean bags placed everywhere. Luckily, Sita and I managed to get right to the front where we just chilled with a beer, listening to music and watching the sunset.

 

As you can see by the pictures below, the tranquillity of the place is unreal! Why this makes my top 5 best travel moments, is just because when I was there watching the waves come in and the sun setting, I just thought how amazing my life was and how lucky I am to experience these kind of moments

 

For anyone who is visiting Bali, then make sure you visit Uluwatu and in particularly Sunset Point. Personally, what I enjoyed about the area so much was that it was just full of travellers who all came to relax, have a drink and just watch the sunset. This gave the place a great atmosphere and a really nice place to chill. The sunsets that I saw in Bali, but in particular the sunset I saw in Uluwatu, was probably the best sunset I have ever seen!

3.

For those of you who read the article that inspired this one (Top 5 Countries That I Have Travelled 2015-18) then you’ll know how much I love Guatemala. As I said in that post, Guatemala was a place where we were given many warnings prior to arriving. But, as this all turned out to be hearsay and incorrect, it made the whole trip so much better.

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Climbing and camping on an active Volcano – Acatenango, is as you can imagine, a fantastic experience. One of the major reasons why I enjoyed this so much was because we met such an awesome group of people that were all liked minded. As we got to know each other, we all shared stories of our past or current trips which were really interesting to listen to, as it made you want to go to the places that they have visited.

 

One of my favourite memories of climbing Acatenango was just being around the campfire with our group just drinking some beers and watching Fuego, another of Guatemala’s volcanoes blowing smoke. (Fuego had erupted about three weeks before we had arrived). The rest of the day was spent eating, drinking and sharing more travel stories, before watching the sunset.

Again like our climb on Mt. Fuji, as darkness fell, so did the temperature. Although this time, we had a tent and sleeping bags which were actually warm. The only issue was that if you wanted to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, which I did, it was absolutely freezing! We woke up around 3.30 am to set about climbing the final 1000m so that we could see the sunrise. The climb up the final 1000m was harder than the climb up Fuji, but nevertheless we made it to the summit in time.

 

When we were at the summit our tour guide gave us some volcanic rock to hold which warmed up our hands no problem. It was just a reminder that, wow, we are actually standing on an active volcano. As the sun started to rise the whole skyline kept changing colours and you could see an entire mountain range silhouetting in the distance. I personally found the sunrise at Acatenango better than the one at Fuji just because of the whole experience of being able to camp on an active volcano.

2.

At number 2 of my best travel moments has to be dog sledging whilst in Tromso, Norway. Up until this point, my time in Norway  had just been immense. So good in fact, I rated it as my number one country to visit!

 

One of the reasons why I rated Norway my best trip to date, was definitely because we got the chance to dog sledge. What made the experience so good was that we got to spend around 3 hours with the dogs, where we got educated on where the dogs had come from and how they are looked after. Also the sled drivers were from all over the world. The driver of my sled was from Northern Italy and he shared his stories of why he came to Norway and where else he had been.

 

The main highlight of course was actually sledging! The sledging lasted about 45 minutes, however it felt a lot shorter than that. With Tromso being in the Arctic circle and us being there in late January, we were lucky enough to have apparently, the first sunrise of the year whilst sledging! Our Italian driver said it was the first time they had any sun for the last 3 months. The sunrise was simply mesmerising as the sunlight bounced of the snow and surrounding mountains.  

 

The whole day’s experience with the dogs was just so enjoyable and they give you plenty of time to interact and play with the dogs. As well as letting you see some new puppies! We also enjoyed Reindeer stew for our lunch after sledging which to my surprise was really nice. One of the reasons why dog sledging ranks number 2 for me is because I haven’t done anything like this before. It made for such a unique and cool experience that I don’t think I’ll ever forget!

1.

Without any doubt, seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is by far the best travel moment that I have experienced. Just being able to see the Aurora is unique in itself and took a lot of patience and driving around to see it. However, the moment when I saw the Northern Lights, it was such relief and I felt so much excitement that it definitely has to rank number 1. 

 

We spent several days driving around Iceland to find the best place. We usually went near Pingvellir National Park which is about 40 minutes away from our hostel. As it turns out, hundreds of people go to the lighthouse just outside of Reykjavik to see them. So if you’re in Reykjavik and want a place where someone has spotted them, then try the lighthouse!

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Another special thing about being able to see the Northern Lights is that when they dance around it is such a spectacle to watch. I remember us just laying down on a freezing concrete path, just watching them swirl around in the sky and thinking how amazing nature and the world is.

 

What made my sighting of the Northern Lights so special to me, is that this was the third night of waiting hours in the freezing cold just hoping that I would finally see the Aurora. The night that I did see them, was my last night in Iceland, so being able to see them was just such a relief. What makes this experience even more important, is that when I was in Tromso, I didn’t end up seeing the Lights. So luckily, I got to see them whilst I was in Iceland!

 

Top 5 Countries That I Have Travelled (2015-18)

Over the last 3 years, I have visited 31 different countries, which makes writing this article a difficult task. Nevertheless after much deliberation, I have come up with the top 5 countries that I have visited!

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5.

At number 5 on the list is Vietnam. In the summer of 2017, I spent 17 days in Vietnam and started my travels in Hanoi. Before setting off to Asia, I pre-booked through Vietnam Backpackers Hostel trips to Halong Bay and Sapa. I also booked a weeks long adventure down the coast of Vietnam called the Buffalo Run.

Being able to spend a couple of days on your own private island at Castaway was such an unreal experience. Arriving on the island with a hundred different people, you get to do pretty much whatever you want. Drinking all day, booze cruise, kayaking, wake boarding, rock climbing and much more! Knowing you’re doing all of this in one of the world’s natural wonders definitely makes you savour every moment more.

Having a nights recovery, we set off on a 6 hour sleeper coach to Sapa. Spending a night out a luxury hotel we rented bikes and rode around the Sapa mountains. Bar a scary moment when I fell off my bike, I think I enjoyed Sapa more than Ha Long Bay. Being able to see some incredible views with the mountain ranges silhouetting in the background was awesome. The highlight of Sapa without doubt was the 2 day trek through the mountains, which included a home stay.

After returning back to Hanoi, we set off on our week-long adventure down to the south of Vietnam. Meeting people from all over the world unquestionably made the whole experience better. Probably the most enjoyable part of the Buffalo Run was driving the Hai Van Pass in ex-Vietnam War army jeeps. Being able to do this is something that I will never forget and would recommend anyone who visits Vietnam to do!

4.

Number 4 on my list is Thailand. My first experience to Thailand was after I visited Vietnam. Originally starting in the Thai Islands + Krabi, I can only describe these places as absolutely mad. If partying and drinking are your things then look no further than Koh Phi Phi. Although personally, Koh Tao is my favourite Island out of the four we visited, all the islands offer their own unique experience. Unfortunately, we messed up and missed the full moon party at Koh Phangan which definitely left a sour taste.

Why Koh Tao was my favourite island is because I loved diving so much. We originally just did a fun dive and then left Koh Tao, however, as Haydn and I enjoyed the fun dive so much we came back to the island after one day to get our open water licenses. I also liked how chill the island seemed – probably because everyone just wanted to dive or chill with a beer.

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We then moved onto Krabi and continued partying before moving onto Bangkok and then the north of Thailand. The north of Thailand is epic and I really do want to explore this region more. So far, I have only visited Chiang Mai and Pai but both places are just incredible! I have since been back to Thailand another 5 times and spent around 8 months of my life there. I recently visited Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand as well as Phuket and both places are just so different from each other but also sums up Thailand so well. I like that Thailand offers the traditional Thai style in some places, but then in other places, you’re having mad parties with everyone from around the world.

3.

This one may surprise a lot of people, but Guatemala is definitely in the top 3 places that I have visited. Spending only around a week here we had to rush many things, but I could have easily spent months travelling this country. This country is just epic and has SO much to offer!

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Prior to travelling to Guatemala, we read and were told all the scare stories about muggings, shootings and killings. However, after enduring a difficult trip in India we did feel ready for what we expected to see. Nevertheless, these scare stories could not have been further from the truth! What I will say is that Guatemala does have a high crime rate so do be careful but go open-minded!

After landing in Guat City we took a uber to Antigua which is an old colonial town. What I loved about Antigua was just the chillness of the place. We visited the markets, chilled by our hostels pool and ate a lot of traditional Guatemalan food! One awesome thing you can do from Antigua is climb Acatenango (Volcano) where you get to camp overnight on an active volcano! This was definitely one of many highlights from Guatemala. 

From Antigua we took a 12 hour overnight coach ride to Tikal, where we went and saw the ancient Mayan ruins. Tikal again has a very travellers feel to it and if that’s what you like then Tikal is perfect. What also made my experience of Tikal so good was that we met some people that we spent a couple of days with that we really got on with! It is also a good gateway to go and visit Semuc Champey (although 7 hours away) it’s worth the long uncomfortable minibus drive.

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Semuc Champey is just one of the must see places of Guatemala in my opinion. It’s just an incredible place! Although there are only two hostels in Semuc Champey, we opted for the one that was in the middle of the jungle and we definitely made the right choice! Sleeping in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle was an interesting experience, as well as an enjoyable one. During our time in Semuc Champey, we visited the national park, jumped off a 20m Waterfall and went caving. Like Antigua, I really wish we had more time to just relax in Semuc Champey because it was just one of those places where you sat back and just thought about how awesome life is.

Unfortunately, as we only had a week by being on such a tight schedule, we couldn’t do everything that we would have wanted to do in Guatemala. Lake Atitlan is one such place that I really did want to visit, however it does give me a great excuse to plan another trip back!

2.

Iceland is number 2 on my list. Iceland was probably my first out-and-out nature trip and its got me hooked to do more of this kind of travelling. Anyone who has been to Iceland can vouch for the spectacular geography on show. As we didn’t have much time in Iceland due to university and money, we really tried to cram everything in a small time frame. This meant sometimes going to sleep at 1/2am and waking up at 6/7am.

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Reykjavik

One of the highlights of the Iceland trip was visiting Pingvellir National Park. Here we decided to go snorkelling through the North Atlantic Ridge (which is the separation between the North American plate and the Eurasian plate). You also have the chance to scuba dive here if you wish but unfortunately we could not do that as we didn’t have our license. Oh and also make sure your dry suit is zipped up properly (Unlike Max), or you’ll feel 2 c water rushing in!

Gullfoss is another cool area that we visited. One of the best natural things that I have experienced is definitely seeing a Geyser erupt! Although having to wait every 10 minutes to see it explode in the freezing cold isn’t that nice, the eruption is worth the wait. Gullfoss also has a series of some pretty awesome waterfalls that you can check out after the Geysers.

From here we went to a place that we hadn’t heard much about, Hraunfossar. We did take a bit of risk driving here because it was about 2-3 hours away from Reykjavik which is where we were basing ourselves. However, I am so glad that we took the risk because the waterfalls were just stunning and arguably still the best waterfalls that I have seen. What also made the whole region so good was the huge Volcano in the background, as well as the breathtaking scenery we saw on the drive.

Iceland also gave me the chance to tick 2 items off my bucket list: The Blue Lagoon, and the Northern Lights. As you can imagine being able to do both of these things was just immense! The Blue Lagoon, although expensive, was just such a cool experience and is 100% better than what you see on Facebook. Probably THE highlight of the trip though was being able to see the Northern Lights. Not only did we get to see them but we were able to get some amazing pictures of them dancing around!

We also had the opportunity to explore the southern coast of Iceland which is part of the Iceland ring road. Black Sand Beach and Fjaoragljufu are probably my favourites things that we saw on the south coast.

Although I had an amazing time in Iceland, and managed to tick 2 items off my bucket list, I simply didn’t spend enough time here and also had a really disappointing day whilst whale watching, that for now, Iceland cannot be the best place that I have visited.

1.

So the big finale.. What’s my number one place I have visited? Have you guessed yet? Well… It’s Norway! The plan was to travel from the south to the north and back down to Oslo again in just 8 days by car. A total of 5,500km! Although extremely ambitious the fact we got to do everything that we planned I think only made the trip even better. Even the immigration officer told us “Good luck!” Despite Oslo being underwhelming, the rest of the trip was just phenomenal and one that I would unquestionably do all over again.

For me the trip really started when we got to Stavanger, where we took a ferry over to Tou. Here, we completed the Pedersgata Hike which was a magical experience. We were walking through the middle of the forest in the mountains, when it started to snow! Although it’s hard to convey how cool this was, it’s absolutely one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. On our second day in Stavanger (also our last) we drove to Frafjord, which is a huge fjord which is unbelievably picturesque. This is one of the reasons which makes Norway just such a good place to see, because you constantly stop and get out of the car to take a photo as the scenery is just spectacular.  

From here we visited a waterfall called Manafossen, which was a massive waterfall where you just stood and marvelled at the beauty around you. Manafossen is undoubtedly one of the best waterfalls that I have seen! We then visited a place called Gloppedalsura which has stunning rock formations surrounded by stunning mountains and lakes on either side. Honestly, Stavanger and the surrounding areas are just simply beautiful and if you can only spare a couple of days then Stavanger isn’t a bad option! Weirdly enough, we only came to Stavanger because Haydn had to get a later flight than us.. Luckily!

After picking up Haydn, we drove to Bergen where again, we only spent a day exploring the area. Although this doesn’t seem much time I do think that this is enough time in Bergen because in spite of Bergen being aesthetically pleasing, there wasn’t that much to do here. We did climb up a mountain called Ulriken and got to Montana point which did give some awesome views of the city. Personally, I do think this is the best thing you can do in Bergen as the “World’s famous fish market” didn’t really seem like a market.

The second part of our trip is where I think it got even better but also more challenging! We began by leaving Bergen and driving for 7-hours to Geirangerfjord. After a bit of faffing about, we took a ferry through the middle of the fjord which offered some breathtaking scenery. The fjord is simply a must see place if you’re travelling Norway. It’s one of the places where you constantly are stopping the car at every single view-point to take a picture.

The next part was where it got really tough. We had a 21-hour journey up to Lofoten Island which in hindsight was probably a little stupid. However, completely worth it! Despite the fact that we didn’t really get to see much of Lofoten Island and probably could have spent 3 or 4 days here, I’m still so glad that we at least got the chance to see it! As we didn’t have much time, and we still had to get to Tromso and then all the way back down to Oslo in the next 2 days, we decided to go and see one of its best fjords (Trollfjord). As we were now in the Arctic circle, there were only 4 or 5 hours of daylight here so the skyline was permanently amazing! The colours that bounced of the lakes, mountains and snow just made the place unbelievably stunning.

Unfortunately, we had to leave and plough on for another 6 hours to Tromso, which is weirdly one of my favourite cities. Although we only spent about 15 hours here, I just really liked the chill, beautiful look the city gave you. We originally hoped we would be lucky enough to see the northern lights again. However, we were not so lucky and that did put us down a little. Nevertheless, we decided that on our last proper day travelling we should do something awesome to top the trip off. We contemplated whale watching but after a disappointing time in doing this in Iceland, there were no guarantees that we would see one here. Therefore, we decided to pay £180, yes… £180.. To husky sledge!! (Probably one of the best activities I have ever done even for the price). As someone who owns a dog, being able to spend 3 hours with the dogs and also be able to go sledging with the sun setting was just a unique experience. This absolutely ended the trip on a huge high and is why Norway is my favourite place that I have visited. Although some of you maybe gawking at the price, honestly, it’s just such an incredible activity, and you’re getting to do it with amazing scenery in the Arctic circle. For me you couldn’t really ask for anything more!

The final thing for me which really made this trip my best, is probably the fact that we had complete freedom to go to any place and to leave any place any time that we wanted. Although we had our outbound flight booked already due to university commitments, we only had a rough itinerary of places that we researched were good to see. This kind of freedom allowed us to really get to see the very best of Norway in the little time that we had, and I’m so glad that we went!

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Countries I have visited 2015-2018.

Belgium Cambodia Costa Rica Cuba
Czech Republic France Germany Guatemala
Hong Kong Hungary Iceland India
Indonesia Ireland Italy Japan
Latvia Malaysia Mexico Netherlands
Norway Oman Poland Portugal
Scotland Singapore Spain Thailand
Vietnam Wales

 

Norway: In a Week Part II

After leaving Bergen relatively early in the day, we began our 7-hour journey to Geirangerfjord. Again, 7 hours might seem a long time but with the Norwegian scenery, car journeys are hardly a chore. Usually, on our trips, we don’t like sticking to a set routine, but because we still wanted to see Lofoten Island and Tromso in the next four days we had to. Our warning for anyone who wants to do a similar journey is that the roads in the winter can be very dangerous. Although gritters and snow ploughs are constantly trying to clear the roads, it only takes one snowstorm and you’re back doing 40kmph for the next 4 hours again. If you are wanting to go in the winter so you have a chance of seeing the northern lights, make sure you give yourself plenty of time as the north is spectacular. We found that the north was much better than the south and we wish we had spent more time here. Stavanger was a bit of an exception, but Bergen and Oslo didn’t really offer much that interested us. Of course, this could be different for you so make sure you do your research before visiting.

By the time we got to the Geirangerfjord, it was late at night and as you can imagine we were more than ready for bed. Again, Airbnb found us a really nice place. If you’re considering using Airbnb, you can save £25 for just sending a signup email and getting them to sign up. Therefore, if you’re travelling in a group then this is a fantastic way to save money and believe us when we say you’ll need all the money saving tricks you can find in Norway! The next morning, we started the day at 7ish, as we knew we had to take a 1.5hour ferry that goes right through the fjord. Unfortunately, due to severe bad weather, the ferry crossing was closed for the winter which really scuppered our plans. So, if you’re wanting to do this ferry crossing then it’s only open in the summer months, so maybe that is something to think about before choosing what season you want to visit Norway in. This meant that we had to head back the way we just came from for about 45 minutes to take another ferry crossing. You might wonder why we didn’t just take the one next to us in the first place, but the crossing that went through the fjord looked amazing compared to the one we eventually took.

After taking the ferry crossing, we then drove to the Ornesvingen viewpoint. Another warning here and as you will see by the picture below, the roads are beyond awful to drive on. Several times we skidded at ridiculously slow speeds. If you do make it to the viewpoint, then the views are out of this world and worth the risk. Overlooking the fjord, it gives you an amazing view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The sun was just above the mountains which made the view all the better. From here, we visited another viewpoint, Flydalsjuvet which gives another spectacular view of the fjord. However, you are just viewing the same thing so if you are short of time then it may be worth just visiting the Ornesvingen viewpoint.

We decided that as we had around a 21-hour journey up to Lofoten Island that we should set off as soon as possible. This journey was brutal, as trying to sleep in a relatively small car was difficult. Our idea was one driver and one passenger stays awake for a shift and then when they got tired they swapped over with the people who had been sleeping. The only problem with this plan is sometimes the people in the back couldn’t sleep, which obviously makes it difficult and dangerous when the people in the front want to swap. Therefore, if you are deciding to do a similar trip give yourself more time than just 8 days. Obviously, we would have liked to have given ourselves more time, but we had to come back for the start of our university semester. Nevertheless, we powered on through and about 19 hours later we made it to our ferry crossing in the early hours of the morning. Unfortunately, we missed the ONLY ferry that day by 15 minutes! As you can imagine after driving for that long it was soul destroying as Lofoten Island was one of the places we really wanted to go and see.

After missing this ferry crossing it left us with two options, drive another 6 hours straight to Tromso or drive two more hours to another ferry crossing point to Lofoten Island. Even though by this point we were absolutely knackered, and would not have much time exploring the island, we decided to take another ferry crossing. The ferry took around 45 minutes and again as we mentioned in our previous Norway article, was incredibly expensive. However, when we got to the other side, we were so pleased that we had decided to go and check out Lofoten. Although there is so much to see in Lofoten and you could easily spend 3 or 4 days here and see puffins, whales, the northern lights etc, we decided that as we had limited time we would check out a place called Trollfjord. Trollfjord is a huge fjord with miles and miles of stunning lakes and mountain ranges. As it was winter time, there were only around 4 or 5 hours of daylight, so the skylight is amazing! The different colours bounce off the snowy mountains and lakes and it makes for an unreal experience. We spent around 3 hours just driving around the fjord as every time we wanted to leave, we would drive a little before stopping just to gawk at the view.

 

 

At this point, we had been up for around 36 hours (with intermittent sleep) and still had another 4 before reaching our final destination, Tromso. Luckily, and quite surprisingly, the roads got a little better from Lofoten to Tromso, so this meant that we didn’t lose too much time having to slow down. We again used Airbnb and got a really luxurious place with a little hut that had a log fire where we ended up lighting and having a barbeque and some beers in the middle of winter! This was one of the reasons why we wanted to get this place as we wanted something unique and different to add to our experience. The place is called “By the sea” as it’s literally (you guessed it) by the sea and you can see the northern lights from here if the conditions are right. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the northern lights from our place, so we drove around 20 minutes to different points around the city to see if we could see them. However, as we had been awake over 48 hours, we called it a night just after 11pm because there were no signs of the northern lights and we were struggling to keep awake. Another tip for those who want to see the northern lights is to download apps called Aurora and Northern Lights Shutter as these apps allow you to track and take a picture from your phone! They worked so well for us while we were in Iceland, but unfortunately, we didn’t see the northern lights during our time in Norway. Tromso is apparently one of the best places to see them so one day we will go back and try and see them again!

 

 

When we were planning on where we should go for a little trip, and we found cheap flights to Norway, we didn’t really know that much about the place. Hearing reviews from friends and looking online there was quite a lot of reviews for Tromso, but mainly on the northern lights. However, we absolutely loved our stay in Tromso even though it wasn’t in the place 24hours. This might sound silly, but Tromso had a great atmosphere about it and it was really pretty.

Waking up ridiculously early again, we set off to what might be one of the best activities we have ever done; husky sledding! As we are all dog lovers, the prospect of meeting all the dogs and giving them some love was immensely exciting. When we got to the dog sledding place it was around -15°C and the breeze on your face is killer so wrap up warm! The sledding place gives you some wool-lined overalls and thick boots, but still wear lots of layers or you’re going to freeze.

After meeting all the dogs in our team, we set off and over the next 45 minutes had one of the best times of our lives. As we didn’t see any whales whilst whale watching in Iceland, we really wanted to whale watching again. However, the prospect of dog sledding was too good to turn down and it seriously lived up to all our expectations. The dogs are incredibly well looked after and have great nutrition, so there isn’t any worry of animal abuse! The place we booked with was the Tromso Villmarkssenter and it cost around £180 each – which we know is ridiculously expensive, but because the animals are so well looked after the cost is a lot. The guide there said the dogs go through 2 tons of food every week, so no wonder it costs that much! However, although very costly and with us being students we are on a tight budget, it was worth every penny! You get some lunch (reindeer stew for us, but there was a vegetarian option) at the end of your sledding trip as well as transport to and from Villmarkssenter. We ended our Norway tour by viewing the Arctic Cathedral, which is pretty cool but not something you should prioritise. Before we left Tromso, we just drove there from the city which is about 5 minutes away took some pictures and left.

The journey back from Tromso to Oslo was roughly around 24 hours. Our route back took us through Sweden and Finland and was not easy. Our total journey meant that we had been driving over 5,500km in just 8 days so you imagine just how tired we were by the end of it. However, we made it back to Oslo and had such an incredible time in Norway that we would recommend it to everyone!

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Nevertheless, there are some things that you need to consider that you may not have thought about. Check the driving laws before coming to Norway. Although we did, we saw so much misinformation that we had no idea what was happening. We had just about every colour in the rainbow flash at us from different speed cameras and couldn’t find any consistent information about what they meant.  It was really confusing and quite a stressful experience. Toll roads are something to think about. We spent around £140 between us on toll roads, which between 4 of us is under £40 each, if you’re going by yourself or with just another person then this can become expensive. Also, the alcohol limit for driving is an eighth of what it is in the UK, so don’t even consider having a drink with your meal if you’re driving afterwards. One final thing to bear in mind is that the ferries are just ridiculously expensive. Our route meant that we took over 15 ferries and on average of around £40 per ferry, regardless of their length. Some may be 10 minutes, and some could be 45 minutes, but the prices seemed quite random. Just make sure that you have enough money before setting off to Norway. It is such an expensive country, but if done right then the price is worth the incredible experience.

View the rest of our Norway pictures here.

 

 

 

 

Norway: In a Week Part I

Our plan to travel the whole of Norway, from the south to Tromso in just 8 days was ambitious and most people we met were all saying the same thing; ‘good luck’. However, we never like to give up and decided that there was no harm in trying. Starting our Norwegian adventure in Oslo, we decided that just like in Iceland, we would rent a car from the airport. People reading this might ask why we didn’t just fly, take a bus or get a train, well as we are four students, we were on a budget and heard that driving in Norway is part of the fun. That is something that we would like to point out. Although some of the journeys were so long in between places, the amount of times we stopped just to look at the scenery made all the driving worthwhile.

 

After researching online for what we can do in Oslo, we found very little that interested us. Therefore, we gave ourselves half a day to see what we wanted to see and then set off on the near 8 hour car journey to stavanger. We started our day bright and early, and drove to the Opera House which is on the coast of Oslo. Side note here, if you’re going to drive be prepared for out of this world parking fees. Obviously, we knew it was going to be expensive to park in a capital city, but we spent over £20 for an hour and three-quarters of parking. Nevertheless, the Opera House did you a good view of the coast as it allows you to walk on the roof! However, just be careful if you go in the winter time like we did, the thick snow and ice walking up a slope can be fairly hazardous as you’d expect. From here we walked down the pier where we came to a place called Vippa which is like a modern, hip food court. We ate a place called ‘Hot Hot Harmonica’ where we ate chili con carne, and it was really really good. Everything is homemade, including the sauces which really added to the taste. If you can find this place, as it took us a while to find it, then we definitely recommend eating here! However, like the rest of Norway it is expensive to eat here, around £14. From here we visited the Vigeland Sculpture Park, which may be the weirdest 40 minutes of my life. For anyone who is interested in statues of naked people, this is right up your alley. After walking around the park and looking at all the weird statues, we started a long drive south to Stavanger where we would later pick up Haydn.

 

Arriving in Stavanger just before 11pm, we stayed at an Air BnB called Hostel Gusto with a lovely host called Cristian. We must just point out that along the drive to Stavanger before it hit absolute darkness we did see some wonderful scenery and stopped off at a place called Langesund, originally for a toilet break until we turned around and saw an amazing view. As we arrived at the hostel, Cristian made us feel very welcome and we asked lots of questions about Norway and about what we could do in Stavanger. He was incredibly insightful and helpful and recommended us things that normal tourists would probably not do. However, Cristian does have some cats, so if you’re not a cat person then this place may not be for you.

 

The next day, following Cristian’s advice we took a ferry from Stavanger to Tou which took around 20-30 minutes. Big warning here, ferries in Norway cost A LOT and us stating this will be common throughout this blog as we had to take so many. Costing around £30 for a short journey, we arrived in Tou on our way to do the Pedersgata hike. If you do go, when you arrive at the barriers turn left before going through as there is free car parking if you do not go through the barrier. If you do, you will find out (like we did) that you just spend an extra £20 on parking for a few hours. Nevertheless, after buying and renting some equipment from the information centre, we headed up on the hike where it started to full on snow which only made the climb more magical. We really did want it to snow as we thought it would add to the effect of us being in Norway and climbing a mountain, and it certainly did! The views along the way became more spectacular the higher you got, the only problem was that sometimes the visibility got bad so you couldn’t always see the view that well. If you are thinking about visiting Stavanger and you only have a day or two, then definitely think about doing this climb because it was one of our favourite excursions down in the south of Norway.

 

After we had departed with another £20 for parking, we headed on home by taking a different ferry that was slightly cheaper, but further away from our hostel and then went to a bar where Cristian worked at. The bar was called Boker Og Borst, and was actually really nice, with live music, and an outside that had blankets and heaters to keep you warm in the winter. The place was hip and chill and Cristian gave us some free samples of Norwegian beer which we really appreciated. He also recommended we go and check out a place called Ost pub, where it was chill but fancier so the prices were expensive even with student discount!

 

Our final day in Stavanger was going to be a relative short one as we had to go and pick up Haydn at about 3pm from the airport. Again Cristian recommended us things to do so we wouldn’t be waiting around doing nothing in the morning. All we can do is thank Cristian for recommending the things he did because the views, mountains, and waterfalls etc were out of this world. At first when we arrived at the places he told us, we were quite confused as they were random coordinates he put in google maps. However, we kept driving and just saw stunning geography all around us. Starting at the Frafjord which is a huge fjord which leaves picturesque views on all sides. If you continue to drive through the fjord, a couple of kilometers further on you come to Manafossen, which is a stunning waterfall, probably the biggest we have seen up close. We must have spent about 30 minutes here just taking pictures and videos and just marvelling in its natural beauty. From there we carried up climbing up to “Man” which is a viewpoint overlooking the entire fjord which as you can imagine was phenomenal. We did have quite a comical experience climbing down as it was so icy and all downhill that we just kept falling over constantly, something we caught whilst on video. To round the sightseeing off, we drove back on ourselves and headed nearer to the city, on the way we stopped at a place called Gloppedalsura which are rock formations, surrounded by stunning mountain views and lakes. Some of this scenery was better than anything that we had ever seen by a country mile. The second day of our stay in Stavanger is best summed up by us constantly stopping getting out of the car and saying ‘Wow’.

 

Picking Haydn up from the airport and briefly stopping at the Sverd I Fjell, otherwise known as the 3 Swords, we headed onto Bergen which was going to take around 6 hours to get there. Here we used AirBnB again as we had such a good experience with Cristian – that was the first time that we had ever used it before as we usually just stay in hostels. Our stay in Bergen was short as we had such a long trip up to Tromso and many places to stop along the way. Whilst in Bergen we started our day visiting Bryggen which is a row of houses, shops and where the famous fish market is. However, only do this if you’re nearby because there’s not that much else to look at, and the famous fish market was a lot smaller than we were expecting. We then aimed to go up the cable car to Ulriken which is a mountain that overlooks the city and surrounding coastline.

 

However, sometimes things never work out the way you want them to and the cable car was shut due to high winds. At the time we were very confused as there was no wind at all where we were standing. The good news was that you can actually hike up the mountain if you choose to, which we did. However, in the winter the hike is incredibly slippy with ice and snow everywhere with steep rocks you have to climb. After climbing for about two hours we reached a point called Montana which is very close to the top, and that is where we found out why the cable car was closed. The wind was so strong here it’s probably the strongest wind we have ever been in! It was impossible to talk or even look into the wind, so we quickly but safely climbed back down to where the wind was not as strong. From here, we looked at the incredible view that was on offer before the arduous journey back down to the car. When we finally got back to the car we set off on our way to Geirangerfjord where we would begin making our way northwards.

View the rest of our Norway pictures here.