Don't Plan Your Trip
My name in the book at the summit of Tromsdalstinden
I’m not a planner. To be precise, I have a high threshold for plan-worthy-ness of activities. Well below this threshold is traveling. Traveling through Europe with no plan or itinerary is more expensive and stressful than the alternative, as transportation and accommodation is generally booked at the last minute. That said, my style of traveling allows a level of freedom, that I feel justifies said expense. This is the story of my time in Norway.
The story begins in Amsterdam. Robocup was finished, and I was spending a few days in Amsterdam as it’s close to Eindhoven (where Robocup was held) and I sure didn’t have anything else planned. While I was in Amsterdam, I figured out where I would go next. I decided on Oslo, for no particular reason. Norway seemed like an interesting place to visit. I booked my flight (but just the flight from Amsterdam to Oslo) and a few nights in a hostel (it had good reviews).
A canal in Amsterdam
I was waiting in the check-in line at the airport in Amsterdam. It was a long line and I was bored. Three girls lined up behind me. Let’s have a conversation. What do I say? I think they’re Norwegian - I mean they have blonde hair. Ok let’s go with that. “Er…Hi are you going back to Norway?”. Smooth.
Meeting these people turned out to be very fortunate. They gave me lots of advice about being a tourist in Norway. Most immediately useful was the fact that alcohol (and to a lesser degree, everything else) is very expensive in Norway, so stock up in duty free at the airport.
A small house I found in the river running through Oslo
When I got to Oslo I realized I had overlooked a rather important detail. The airport is a reasonable distance from the city, it was already after midnight, and I didn’t really have a plan to get to my hostel. My new friends offered me a lift - their roommate was picking them up, and had a free spot in his car. As we drove to my hostel, one of the girls told me that she would be away from her apartment for the weekend, and I was welcome to stay there until she got back. I was also told that my hostel, despite the good reviews, was in a poor location - far away from anything interesting.
I stayed a night in my hostel, before taking up the offer of using my new friend’s apartment for the weekend. I spent the weekend getting to know the social circle of the girls I met at the airport, being shown a small but beautiful city, and finding out about life in Norway. With all this new information, I was able to properly plan my itinerary, at least for the coming week.
I took a train from Oslo to Bergen. This was about an 8 hour ride over frost-covered mountains, even in summer. It was scenic. Here’s a photo:
I made the mistake of assuming there would be reliable internet on the train, which I could use to book a hostel and flight out of Bergen. I planned to go to Tromsø the following day. So naturally, the first thing I did when I got to Bergen was find a place with wifi and figure out where I would sleep that night. Luckily I found a place with a vacancy not far from the train station (Bergen is a pretty small place). That evening I went for a walk around the city.
Pronounce the “ø” like “ur” (but not like “urrr” or you sound like a noob). People familiar with the stories from when I went to Alaska will be noticing some similarities at this point (if not much, much earlier). So, at some point in my trip I had to make it my objective to go as far north as possible. My new high score for degrees of latitude is Tromsø a city in northern Norway located on a small island.
The evening I got there, I went for a walk around the island. I remember it being late when I first arrived, found an internet cafe, found a hotel and checked in. By evening, it was probably more like 9pm. I don’t remember, and it didn’t matter, as the sun was still up. When I was in Alaska the sun didn’t set until midnight, but here it didn’t set at all. But back to my walk.
I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have a map, or a phone. No matter - the island is tiny, so I just walked, aimlessly. I ended up getting lost but someone pointed me vaguely in the right direction and that was enough to get me home. A large amount of the island, is forest, so I had lots to explore. I emerged from the forest to be met by a harrowing view. The land ended and then there was a giant stretch of water, and in the distance there were frost-capped mountains disappearing into the water. I struggle to articulate exactly why I’m scared of fjords. Something about scale. It’s the same feeling as when you imagine really deep water.
I don’t have photos (no phone, remember) but here’s one I took later of the island and the mountains in the background. At the time I was on the far side of the island.
On my last day in Tromsø I climbed a mountain named Tromsdalstinden. The windchill at the top was so bad that my mouth went numb and I was unable to speak clearly. There was a large stone structure at the top, that served as a windbreak. I met some people up there as well who fortunately could understand me despite my accent and impaired speech caused by the cold (they’re the ones who took my photo). There was also a book which I signed. I left a 10nkr piece hidden somewhere in the pile of rocks.
Before leaving Norway I went to Oslo for one more night to attend the birthday party of one of the girls from the airport. Norway was the highlight of my trip to Europe. I always felt welcome and at home during my week there, and I owe that to the amazing people I had the pleasure of meeting.