Just a little bit further

winter fun

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Mid March now. The days are getting longer in the UK and another month of our epic holiday has been well spent (literally and financially as it happens). We pick up where the last post left off - on the 11th of February with us now mobile in our hire car.

Week 1 (11th Feb - 18th Feb)

Of course being mobile doesn’t mean that moving around is altogether easy. What with the time it takes to negotiate immensely complicated roundabouts, traffic volumes, and the regular reduction in speed as you wend your way through village after village on narrow roads. The week was busy shuffling around and fitting in a lot:

  • Avebury - where we snuck in some walking on the ridgeway and wandered around the pretty impressive stone circle.
  • Winchester - to do some wallking and to see the old market town centre and Winchester Round table of King Arthur fame.
  • Reading - The Wednesday night Nicola joined us to try Readings French style fine dining restaurant, Ortolan, and their vegetarian degustacion. A nice night out - with some stunning wines - and consequently a tidy bill at the end.
  • Marlow - to catchup with Denises older sister. I droped Denise off at Henley-on-Thames where she walked to meet me, whilst I had a leisurely breakfast, followed by a short run up the Thames to meet her. The winter wheather was stunning - bright sunshine.
  • Rhayder in Wales via Wolverhampton - as further described below

I had joined an informal group on a weekend in south Wales to do a recce run of the Dragons Back race day 4 that I’m doing in May but split over the Saturday and Sunday. On the Friday I drove Denise up to Wolverhampton to stay with an old friend of hers - then headed west out to Rhyader and the bunkhouse a group of us were basing ourselves in. The day was glorious - so nice in fact that on the way up after a brief walk along the Thames path we sat outside in a t-shirt for a pub lunch at the nice and old Trout inn.

It was a long day driving - but after a good meal and pint in the local pub I found my accomodation and a growing number of friendly runners who arrived from their journeys. Mark who had organised the group had his two dogs that ran with us both days and another runner had his little dog, scout, which added to the fun. I had come down with a cold earlier in the week and felt wretched on the Saturday with a clogged head, a bad nights sleep and issues regulating my temperature. Regardless we did our car shuttle and set off up the hills checking maps and alternate route options. The running was good and at an easy pace - and it was good to meet folk doing the event and some who had tried previously but failed. Some good tips and recommendations.

The hills were great, we managed about 30k on the first day in some strong winds and only a few light showers. A few sketchy barbed wire fence hops, and some alternate route options that have now been ruled out due to an updated mandatory route on the course. On day 2 we did an out and back to avoid a horrendous car shuttle, had some lashing wind and rain but managed to all keep together and in good spirits. A tops couple of days out with a fun crew from all over the UK and Ireland.

Week 2 (18th - 24th Feb)

On the Tuesday I drove Denise family down to Portsmouth to visit her uncle Brian. He was a lot better than last year so we had a nice pub lunch out in the sun at a pub on the hill overlooking the harbour and the sea.

The next day we navigated our way to Heathrow and the flight across to Oslo to start the fortnight we had in Norway and Sweden. An album of photos from the trip is found here

Oslo had a biting cold and snow peperring the city. It wasn’t unusual to see people carrying skis around. We had booked in for two nights at a cheap and cheerful Scandic hotel. The prices of everthing in Norway are pretty eye-watering - but once your used to the fact that a standard good evening meal out is about $30AUD and a pint out is over $15AUD - then we could relax and enjoy our time here. The morning after our arrival I stretched the legs with a snow trail run following a river up out of Oslo to an ice covered lake. It was pretty beautiful, and whilst my feet were numbed with the slushy icy water, only occassionally did I flail aroun on the ice while running.

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Later that morning we caught a bus out to the Viking museum where well presereved original viking ships were on display alongside artifacts they would use. This was a pretty impressive museum that focussed on one thing and was very interesting to us. Next stop was the equally impressive Vigeland park where a single artists life work and amazing sculptures are arranged. The cold was biting though so we kept moving back into Oslo central to another museum where we were mostly interested in the exhibition on Sami culture.

Norway 2019 - 1 of 29

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For dinner we headed for a vegan restaurant - with some hearty food. Not as cheap as our takeaway felaffel on the first night - but definately worth it. We had booked a combination of Norway in a Nutshell and direct Norwegian rail tickets to travel around. Our plans had us on a public train to Myrdal Station, followed by the tourist train down that negotiates impressive mountains into the valley and into Flåm. After a night in Flåm, we were on the Fjords to Gudvagen, then by bus to xx, then by connecting train into Bergen. We had an airBNB for two nights in Bergen, followed by a train back into Oslo for a one night stopover. We then took the train straight up to Trondheim, where we stayed for a night, before an afternoon flight up into the arctic circle at Tromso where we stayed for four nights. From Tromso our plans had us flying via Oslo to visit our friends in Stockholm.

The train through the winter landscapes and high country of Norway to Myrdal station was stunning. The train ducked in and out of tunnels and skirted frozen lakes and steep mountain ridges. Train travel is always so relaxing - and we and other tourists alighted at the basic and empty stop at Myrdal where we crossed over to the Flåm railway which affords amazing views as it wends its way through difficult terrain and into the very pretty town.

The dull European winter sky opened up today. Nice.

To beat darkness I quickly laced up and took off back up the valley to the old town and then followed a zig-zagging road up one of the enclosing mountains. The road turned to gravel, then slushy snow, then snow. Eventually I reached the end of the graded road and decided not to slug it out any further as the sun set over mountains.

For dinner we went to the only restaurant in town - the viking themed rustic brewpub that had the Flåm brewery beers. The food was excellent, and suprisingly for being in a small and remote town - food and drink cost the same as in Oslo.

We had lined up a rib boat tour of the fjords, before departing by boat up the fjords in the afternoon. Unfortunately due to thick fog it was both pointless and unsafe to head out. This left us with a few hours to kill in a sleepy town. In the early afternoon we boarded the amazing new all electric fjord explorer boat. This was a big passenger ferry that was well designed for accessability and amazingly quiet for the trip up the fjords. Fortunately whilst some fog lingered - it waxed and waned and towards the end afforded us the most amazing views.

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From boat, to bus, to train, we connected seamlessly and arrived in the evening into Bergen. I had booked an airBNB which was a short walk out of town. The apartment was a large, sparse Ikea strewn place that we could stretch out in. The idea was that we may need a kitchen to both save money and ensure we could cook good healthy veggie food. In the end we didn’t need to use it - but having a place bigger than your standard hotel room was a nice change.

The next day I took off early for a mountain run up above Bergen. I did my normal thing of finding an appropriately long route someone else has run, and hoping it’s both sensible and practical to follow. I climbed up out of Bergen up single track trails, the cold morning mist and clouds were out such that the summit view when I made it was non-existant. I then followed my watch along a snowy and icy alpine trail. The trail would occassionall dissapear or fork off - but after a while I was following regular mountain cairns in blustery wild conditions. So nice. There were a few other walkers and one or two runners up on the high country, and the landscape was wild and beautiful. I finished up at the visitors center where the funicular runs up from the center of Bergen to meet Denise for a walk. It seemed half of Bergen was out to do the same as the area was very busy with people out for a walk or exercise.

Following cairns on a lovely technical alpine run

Bergen from above (although here was busy as the popular funicular ran to here)

Afterwards we strolled back down through the UNESCO listed old town and later that evening chanced on a terrific Ethiopian place for dinner.

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Old town Bergen

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Week 3 (25th - 4th March)

Our plans then had us returning to Oslo by train, spending a night in Oslo, before jumping another train up to Trondheim. On the train up to Trondheim I attempted to use the train wifi to take part in an EC meeting for our body corporate. It mostly retained a connection but the audio and video was patchy at best.

We only had one evening booked in Trondheim. Our arrival was in the mid afternoon - so after a couple of days on trains I quickly turned around to head up Trondheims nearest mountain. The run up here was fun - although pretty treacherous in very icy conditions underfoot. I had intended to do a loop - but as the conditions were slow going, it was cold, and the day was fast dissapearing I opted to turn around and retrace my steps.

Trondheim itself seemed very relaxed. It’s Norways third largest city - and had some lovely colourful houses and buidings that faced directly onto the river. That evening Denise and I visited the Habitat bar. Here they served the local Monkey brews beer, and had a great range of beers. I had two beers in particular that are worthy of note - the Steinbier and particularly the local style, a superb peaty Stolt Røyklagt.

We were pleased to be changing to air travel to head much further north into the arctic circle and the town of Tromsø. We arrived into Tromso after dark where it was immediately noticeably much colder. Once we arrived into the town centre we had a 15 minute walk up the hill to our airBNB. Easier said than done - the streets were like a skating rink. There had been an unseasonably warm “heat wave” the previous week that had raised temperatures above freezing, only to drop again leaving a nice ice layer below snow and on the pavements. Despite being very careful Denise unfortunately found some black ice and went down badly onto both her knees. After an uncertain triage we decided avoid a trip to A&E that night and instead eat dinner and assess the damage in the morning. Denise was particularly concerned that something was broken and this would ruin our planned hiking in Peru.

The next morning Denise could barely walk on the one particularly bad knee - so we arranged a taxi to the A&E at their university hospital. Here they very effeciently took Denise in and amongst all the other slips and trips they were handling. I then left to take part in our planned snow-shoeing trip whilst Denise got x-rayed and eventually the all clear. The snow shoe trip was excellent, travelling with a small group and Karolinas our guide we drove out of Tromso and slowly walked our way up a mountainside. The day was calm and sunny and we were afforded the most stunning views.

Norway 2019 - 9 of 29

We had booked 3 tours with a small company called Wandering Owl: Walk on the wild-side (snow shoe walk), arctic landscapes (tour for views and photographs) and an aurora hunt. We had also booked with a separate company a dog sledding experience. In less sunny conditions the next day Denise hobbled down to join me for the arctic landscapes trip. This was a relaxed opportunity to be driven around some locations and hear a bit more about local habits and culture. The day before we had seen a reindeer (all reindeers belong to the local Sami people who move them around during the year) and during this drive we saw a massive moose.

After returning I dissappeared for a run and stumbled across the local skiing and walking trails. These were much nicer than the icy pavement and ran across the spine of the island on which Tromsø is situated, they even had lighting so that as dusk gave way to night I was still safe to crunch away on the snow.

On our final day we got driven out to meet the dogs who would haul us along in a sled. Unlike many operators in the area, we opted for one where the professionals operate the sled and we come along for the ride. The dogs were lovely - super excited and boisterous. The owners advised that half of their pack were involved in a race next week across 560k of Norwegian trails. So they were taking it easy on the dogs. The site we arrived at was stunning - with luxury tents where folk stay overnight to view the aurora - along with a central cabin for cooking, eating and socialising. It was a fun day out - and I was completely thrown when a guy I was chatting to, turned out to be Norwegian. His accent was so perfectly ocker Australian I couldn’t believe he was a non-native speaker!

Got chauffeured by these dudes. Good fun; next week they are racing in a 560km race, so the driver took it easy with them

For our final adventure in Norway we met up for our Aurora hunt. The night before we had seen glimmers of the lights from our apartment balcony. The tour guys took us towards the Finish border and away from the coast where clouds were forming. There was a lot of activity throughout the night and we stopped a number of times to see some pretty spectacular displays. Eventually we reached out destination, away from light polution and the clouds on the coast. Here, in the -18 degree temperature we rugged up and stood with our cameras and tripods as the northern lights came and went through the evening. Just as we were leaving at midnight a final display occured so we all got one final staged photo.

Some final observations of Norway:

  • yes it’s expensive but not prohibitively so if you plan or save
  • Oslo is a relaxed capital but compared to other Scandinavian cities (Copenhagen, Stockholm) it’s not somewhere you should spend a long time
  • All Norwegian drivers appeared very considerate and polite

Week 3 (5th - 11 th March)

Leaving Tromsø we flew to Stockholm via Oslo. Here we were met by our friend Roger and his son Fergus - who drove us to their place where we would spend a few days with Erica and their daughter Freja. They had a lovely big house and it was nice to be out of the city and hotels. We wandered around in the snow enjoying Stockholm - funnily enough I even bumped into a friend from Hobart in Fotographiska museum. The highlight, museum wise, was probably the Vasa museum which was devoted to the amazing historic ship that was recovered after it sunk just hours after it’s launch. After a lovely couple of days we joined Erika on her commute to work to then catch the onward airport bus. We said our goodbyes until June when she is staging a fun 50th in Manchester with Norman Jay as DJ!

Back into Heathrow and we picked up a hire car for a few days so Denise could drive me up to Conwy for a weekend recce of the Dragonsback day 1 course. We visited Ludlow on the way up - then stayed in Llandudno at a grand seaside hotel for the night. On the Saturday I joined a crew of about 35 to be guided over the hills of Snowdonia with day 1 including Tryfan and day 2 a much shorter day but including Crib Goch. The weather was wild - with gale force wind and a wind chill bringing the temperature on the hills down below minus 10. After the first couple of hours the leaders hatched a plan for the faster group to push on at pace to try to make our accomodation at Pen-y-Pass. The remainder were to attempt to make it as far as the Ogwen valley. I was layered up more than I have ever been before as we moved up into the clouds and snow. At times we were slowed to a brisk walk by the fierce wind - but overall we had a good group that pushed on. Unfortunately we got to the Ogwen valley too late in the day to risk pushing past Tryfan and into Pen-y-Pass. After all dinner was being served at half six and nobody fancied missing out after a hard day on the hills.

Wild weather on the north Wales hills. Gale force winds, wind chill, snow and ice. Good fun day with a crew recce’ing day 1.

On the Sunday with additional snow falling overnight and gale force winds still in effect, we attempted to head up onto the ridge and down via the miners track to the Nantgwynant campsite where everyones cars were parked. The scrambling was fun in the tricky weather - and whilst occassionally wild up top - it was mostly just stunning views in the windswept snow. So whilst I didn’t get the experience of picking the lines up Crig Goch, I did meet another great crew who will join me in the Dragons Back race in May - and gained some confidence on the easy navigation for the first stretch of day 1.

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Day2 of day 1 dragons back recce. Tricky winter weather meant crib goch will have to wait until May

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We are now laying plans to fill in the final 5 weeks of our trip from late May until we depart at the end of June. This now includes a fun party in Manchester, visiting a friend in Belfast, another week in Amsterdam to see our friends there, and camping and walking the South West track in Devon. Busy times with little true rest - but a true privilege to be able to traipse around so freely for so long.

And with that - today (18th of March) we are off to Heathrow, for our early flight to Peru tomorrow. I may struggle to write a new post as I’m leaving my laptop behind. The next month will see us visiting Lima, Arequipa, Colca canyon and Cusco, along with some trekking in the Andes.