Sognefjord: The King of the Fjords

So normally when I write blog posts about where I’ve been, I typically just write about cities. But, on my trip to Norway I spent some time outside of the cities exploring the fjords, and I really wanted to write a separate post just about them.

The entire concept of a fjord is so cool and I’ve always wanted to go check them out.

I mean, it’s a narrow strip of water surrounded by tall mountains that go on for kilometers at a time. As a dude that comes from a city with no mountains or seas, everything about a fjord just seems so amazing.

An overcast day at the fjord.

So, when I was planning my trip to Norway, I made sure I spent some time actually in the fjords. I found the Norway in a Nutshell tour which seemed like a great fit since it meant I could check out the UNESCO section of Sognefjord on the way to Oslo from Bergen.

That was all I really needed to hear. I ended up booking my itinerary myself through the transit sites instead though since it was cheaper to do so. The end result was essentially the same but I just saved a couple hundred crowns.

The fjord experience started off at Gudvangen, which is at the base of Nærøyfjord, the UNESCO section of Sognefjord. The moment I got off the bus I was instantly in awe at how beautiful the place was and it was only just the beginning.

The view at Gudvangen.

The weather was a bit overcast so it was super dramatic and there was no wind so the water was so calm. It was beautifully epic. The water perfectly reflected the mountains and the clouds and it looked like a giant mirror.

It was so amazing to just stand there and look out over the water.

Then, I got onto the ferry which traversed Nærøyfjord and made its way to Aurlandsfjord, another branch of Sognefjord. The ferry itself was also quite cool. Very modern boat and it was purely electric so it was both quiet and environmentally friendly.

The Power of the Fjords.

The view was unbelievable. I did a fjord tour when I was in Bergen but this one had taller mountains and calmer waters and so the atmosphere was just so amazing. I pretty much just stood on deck in the wind for the entire two hours of the tour and just took it all in.

Every time I think about Norse mythology or the vikings or whatever, I think of people in small wooden boats just traversing the fjords. In my head, I’ve always kinda imagined it to be so serene and so epic. And honestly, despite being on a tourist tour on an incredibly modern boat, it still felt so awesome.

By the time the tour was almost over and I could see Flåm, the village where we’d be docking at, I was actually kinda sad. It was such an enjoyable experience that I wanted to just stay on the boat. But alas, I had to depart.

It’s impossible to appreciate the scale of things from a photo.

Typically, Norway in a Nutshell tours would continue on from there and go to Oslo, but I decided I wanted to stay the night in Flåm to spend more time in the area. I booked a snowshoe hike ahead of time and despite it being a bit warm and not snowy, we drove up to the mountains where there was snow and managed to do a bit of a hike.

The endpoint of the hike was this awesome section in the mountains that give this incredible view of the fjord below. After spending two hours on a boat looking at the fjord, it was breathtaking to see the fjord from above.

A view of Aurlandsfjord from the mountains.

Finally, I concluded my amazing fjord day with a “viking dinner” at the Ægir Bryggeri, a microbrewery in Flåm. That was by far the nicest dinner I had during my trip to Norway (and most expensive) and the beer was also fantastic.

Overall, that was honestly such an amazing day and probably the best day of my time in Norway. I had really high expectations of the fjords before I went to Norway and I’m glad to say that it really met my expectations. Seeing the fjords in person really cemented the idea that Norway has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

I really can’t wait to go check out other fjords now. Not just in Norway but in other countries too. I’ve heard that Iceland is also incredibly beautiful and certain parts of Canada also have them too. I can’t really articulate how cool they were, you just have to see them in person.

Bergen: The Gateway to the Fjords

As part of my two week vacation in February, I had a chance to visit Norway for the first time. I’ve always wanted to see the Norwegian fjords and the release of God of War last year reignited my interest in Norse mythology. So, when I was deciding on where to go after London, I figured Norway would be a good option.

My Norwegian adventure started in Bergen, on the western side of the country. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway and is known for being situated right in the mountains near the fjords. Since my entire reason for going to Norway was to check out the fjords, it makes sense for me to start there.

Downtown Bergen on a rainy day.

Bergen is a pretty quaint little city situated by the water and surrounded by mountains. It was really neat because the mountains are pretty close to the city and they have a bunch of houses and other buildings on them. The day I arrived was somewhat rainy and foggy as well so it just made the city feel really dramatic.

The downtown core of the city is really walkable so I spent a lot of time just walking around the main harbour area. They have a UNESCO Heritage Site called Bryggen which is pretty neat. They’re a bunch of old wooden buildings that look pretty cute from afar but when you get closer you start to wonder when they’re gonna collapse since they’re all at like random angles and slanted.

Bryggen, a collection of old wooden buildings.

That’s probably the most unique non-natural sight in Bergen. Despite being the second largest city in Norway, it’s still honestly a tiny city since Norway’s population is so tiny. I mean, Canada has one of the lowest population densities in the world but the GTA has a larger population than all of Norway.

But, being a small city is actually super ok. The reason is because the natural sights of Bergen are awesome and to be completely honest, it would just be tainted if there were more people living nearby.

Bergen has a bunch of parks within the city that are nice to walk around. Even small and random parks are so scenic and relaxing to walk through. I spent like a solid day just walking around the city and checking out the random ponds, parks, and green areas.

A pond in Nygårdsparken.

They also have this funicular called Fløibanen which brings you to the top of one of the mountains overlooking the city. I went up there around sunset and it was beautiful. The city was bathed in this golden light and the sky was this awesome combination of pastel colours and it was such a treat to see.

I ended up walking around the mountain a tiny bit to kill time while the sun actually set and the night view of the city was just as beautiful. One thing I love about European cities is that they still use a lot of incandescent lights so it just gives off a warmer and more comfy feeling.

It was super windy that day and I got pretty cold while waiting for the sun to set but it was totally worth it.

Bergen after the sun sets.

Another thing that was totally worth it is are the fjord tours outside of the city. There’s a lot of parks, fjords, and mountains nearby Bergen so you can definitely spend a lot of time exploring them. I didn’t have that much time though so I ended up only doing one small excursion out, a fjord tour through Osterfjord.

That was my first fjord tour of the trip and I essentially just got on this boat and it brought us through one of the fjords there. It was again, a super windy day, especially when you’re on a boat in the water, but it was an awesome experience.

A boat in the Osterfjorden.

It’s pretty much everything I expected the fjords to be like, some tall mountains flanking a thin body of water. And it was so epic. At the end of the tour we saw this giant waterfall next to this small village and it was also so cool.

The plan is to write another more detailed post about the fjords next time, so stay tuned!

A giant waterfall.

Back in the city, they have a fish market nearby Bryggen. Apparently in the summer the market is larger and open-air but since I went in February it was indoors and a bit more limited. I was just walking around the fish market when I looked at the menus and realized they served whale.

Now, I love whales. I think they’re awesome animals and I generally don’t really approve of the way they get hunted.

However, I’m also a very curious person and wanted to try it. So I did. I felt kinda bad but at the same time I can now say that I’ve tried whale and my curiosity is sated.

A burger with a minke whale patty.

It’s an interesting piece of meat. A lot of similarities with beef but texture-wise it’s a bit softer and flavour-wise it has a much more metallic taste to it. It could be a higher iron count in the blood or maybe it’s the mercury poisoning. Who knows?

Nearby the fish market was this hot dog stand that served reindeer hot dogs too, so I also tried that. In a span of like two days I managed to check off two more animals on my list of animals to eat, which was kinda cool. Reindeer doesn’t really taste like anything special though, just tastes like meat.

Overall, Bergen was awesome. I went to Oslo later on in my trip but I would definitely recommend Bergen over Oslo. It’s just so much nicer of a city and there’s so much cool nature surrounding it. I would love to go back sometime in the summer and check out some of the other places I didn’t have the chance to check out this trip.

London: The Seat of the British Empire

For the last couple of years I’ve been trying to do some sort of trip in February. It’s not really high season for a lot of places and it just kinda seems like a good time to go travel. This year, I decided to take a trip out to Europe.

It was a bit of a spontaneous trip so I figured that going to somewhere in the UK would be easy since it’s an English speaking country. And then considering how London is the largest city in the UK, a major transit hub, and how I have a friend living there, it just made sense to go visit.

The London Eye at night.

As a dude from Canada with roots in Hong Kong, London has played an interesting role in shaping my life. Obviously, Canada and Hong Kong would be the two places that have affected me the most and both of them were at one point part of the British Empire.

And considering how London was the capital of the British Empire, in a way it makes it the progenitor of the two countries that have affected me the most. It’s a weird relationship.

The Canadian embassy in London.

Anyways, one of the things I’ve always heard about London was that it’s always rainy and grey. When I first got there it definitely seemed like the case since it was very overcast and immediately started to rain and hail the moment I got on the bus.

But that only lasted for like thirty minutes and after that the skies cleared up and I never saw a single bit of precipitation again for the rest of my trip. It was actually pretty awesome since it meant that it was perfect sightseeing weather.

And there was a lot to sightsee! As a major global city with a lengthy history, I spent a couple days just checking out the classic sights.

My first stop was to Buckingham Palace where I fought my way through the horde of tourists to see the changing of the guards. The amount of tourists in London is kind of insane and it felt like literally everyone was at the palace watching the ceremony.

A bunch of tourists taking photos of the changing of the guards ceremony.

It was alright. It kinda felt like one of those things that isn’t super interesting but since it’s so famous it’s one of those things that you just kinda have to check out if you’re there. The coolest part was when the band started to play songs and people started to sing along. They even played the Game of Thrones theme song which was pretty cool.

Another popular attraction I checked out was the Tower Bridge, which is not the London Bridge. For some reason I always thought London Bridge was Tower Bridge but apparently they’re different bridges. They also look nothing alike either. Tower Bridge is a pretty unique looking bridge with some cool architectural elements and London Bridge is.. just a bridge.

Tower Bridge, which is not London Bridge.

Actually, this whole thing of me mistaking things was a pretty common theme throughout the trip. To be honest, it felt a bit weird to be in London.

You know that feeling when you walk into a room you’re super familiar with and it just feels different? Maybe someone repainted the walls to a slightly different colour or maybe they changed some of the lights so things are lit a bit differently. It’s an odd feeling where something feels so familiar but at the same time there are obvious foreign elements injected into it.

That’s how I felt about London. A major example of this is the language. Obviously everyone spoke English but it’s a different English to what I’m used to.

Shakespeare probably couldn’t write fire like this dude.

When I go to foreign countries that don’t speak English, I typically try my best to at least learn the basic pronunciation of things and places so that I don’t seem like one of those ignorant tourists. In London, I think I just assumed I’d be fine but man, I mispronounced so many things haha.

Like it blows my mind how many words there are there that are read so much differently than what I would expect. For example, I always thought the River Thames was pronounced with a proper “th” sound but apparently that’s not even close. Or how I keep adding an “i” to Westminster because my brain keeps reading it as Westminister.

Or even just stuff like talking to people and saying something like “it’s a couple blocks away” and they wouldn’t know what a block is. I honestly have never been more aware of my Canadian accent and mannerisms more than when I was in London.

St. Pancras is also spelled too similarly to St. Pancreas.

This whole “familiar unfamiliarity” business also extends to random other things in the city too. When I’m walking down the streets, so many things are similar to stuff in Canada or Hong Kong so it feels relatively comfortable but off at the same time. You can really see the influence they’ve had on everything from street names to public transit systems.

And I think to me, this was the most interesting thing about London. Of course, London is a great city regardless. It’s a large, modern city with a lot of multicultural elements. But, so is Toronto and so I kept making a lot of comparisons in my head. Yes, London has a lot more local culture and history than Toronto, but they both have a similar feel in some regard.

Like probably my favourite day of my time in London was the very last day when I hung out with some friends and had a day out in the city. We walked around a bit to check out some random stuff but for the most part we did less sightseeing and just went to areas where the locals hung out.

A random house on a bridge.

That was fun and really cemented the idea that London is a truly big city and has a lot to offer if you just kinda explored the side streets and districts. I think it’s a bit more authentic and interesting when you do that as well.

Overall, London was fun. Now that I’ve done most of the major sights, I’d totally go back just to explore the non-touristy stuff a bit more. It helps that London is one of the most accessible places in Europe for someone from Toronto too, so it makes it easy to go to other places in Europe from there.

Which is exactly what I did since I went to Norway afterwards! Blog entry to follow.