Wednesday, March 30, 2016

#26: see the northern lights

I mean, how many people fantasize about seeing this natural phenomenon?

At least millions.

Sure, I'll put it on my list. Sure, I'll travel to Norway and go forth towards the North Pole. Sure, I'll cross my fingers and hope that I am lucky enough to experience some sort of magic in the sky.

But I never thought I actually would. 

In fact, I was prepared to come up with an alternate list item to swap it with; just in case.

But still. Still though, there was that tiny seed of hope. Maybe if I placed myself in the right place, at sort of the right time... perhaps.

That place, was the Lofoten Islands. The time, was the very beginning of "northern lights season" aka the first week of September. Chances were slim, but, well, I've worked with those kind of chances before, so I'd take it.

Back to the list though. Of course this is on my list. And on most other people’s list in the world. As well it should be.

View an amazing light show phenomenon in the sky? In an epic location like Norway? YUP.

Norway was an obvious choice to have a go at catching the Northern Lights. Besides the fact that it’s proximity to Santa's dwelling and the Arctic Circle is ideal, I had longed to explore Norway and it’s over the top beauty for a while now. So it was settled then. Norway it was, and the lights I would see. I hoped, anyways.

Due to the itinerary for the rest of our travels, we would be heading to the Lofoten Islands, (which I had researched as one of the prime spots for everything Norway- including the Northern Lights), at the extreme beginning of Aurora Borealis season. The very first week, to be exact. So my chances of actually viewing them were low. Real low. But I’d take them anyways.

Getting to the Lofoten Islands is an adventure in and of itself. Or, actually, being in Norway is an adventure in and of itself. But here I was, and I was stoked. KJ and I road tripped it from Geiranger up to Trondheim, taking the long route, and experiencing one of the most epic roads in the word: The Atlantic Ocean Road. And epic it was.

The drive in total took about 9 hours, in part because it was far, and in part because I was compelled to stop every 5 seconds to take photos. BUT IT WAS SO AMAZING.

So, you can imagine, how exhausted we were when we arrived just outside Trondheim, late at night, before our early AM flight to Bodo the following day. With no place to stay. Oops.

Luckily, in a small town, we rolled up to an establishment called the “Vikhammer Motel.” Not surprisingly, a heavily tattooed man sporting a ponytail that rivaled mine in length, named Vikram of course, was the Master of reception. He agreed to put us up in his last room while I lost count of his tattoos.

Alas, we flew from Trondheim to Bodo and then made our way to the ferry terminal. We had a few hours wait that we filled with meat in the form of burgers and a quick stop in my new favorite clothing store, Bikbok. Fun to say, and to shop.

It was finally time for the ferry ride which was projected to be a little over four hours. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’ll tell you what I should’ve expected.

-Four hours of watching/listening to an Asian girl practice for her DJ career on her iPad. TAP TAP TAPPING, and with the sound ALL THE WAY UP.

-Four hours of smelling stale hot dogs.

-Four hours of nausea. It was wavy AF.

-Four hours of trying to not toss my cookies. Literally. I had mistakenly devoured a few or ten cookies, a tad earlier in the day.

Approaching the Lofoten Islands made it all worth it, though. It was getting dark, and sunlight only shone above the islands that I had heard were dubbed as "the magic islands." If this was some sort of marketing trick, well, I wasn't even mad, just impressed. It was, quite literally, the light at the end of a dark tunnel of nausea.

We arrived at the ferry dock in Moskenes and I all but kissed the ground. KJ and I surveyed the area. There was pretty much nothing as far as transportation. We clearly should’ve somehow arranged a cab earlier and now here we were with no way to get to Reine, where our classic fishing cabin awaited us.

“There’s a taxi.” I pointed at the lone taxi where two men were loading their large bags in the trunk. 


“Excuse me.” I said to them in hopes they spoke English. (They did.) “Where are you guys going?”

“To Reine,(insert some random guesthouse name).” They answered with Australian accents.

Reine was all I needed to hear. “Oh! We’re going to Reine too, do you mind if we join you? Is there room?”

They looked a bit taken aback. “Um..sure?”

“Great!” and we squeezed our bags and our bodies inside their taxi.

“Sorry for backpacking on your ride — literally” I apologized, as I held my sizable backpack on my lap.

“It’s no problem, really.” I was glad they felt that way. We swapped Norway travel stories and became quick friends with the dad and son duo. They even paid for the taxi, refusing our money.

“You’ll need it for Norway. It’s expensive.”

“Don’t we know it!” I heartily agreed, thinking of my newly employed ramen noodle diet.

We checked into Reine Rorbuer via the restaurant/bar area with a lovely lady, who upgraded us to a waterfront 2 bedroom cabin. UM. YES PLEASE.

“Oh, and make sure you step outside around 11pm, for the spectacular light show!”


I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, but every fiber of my being was jolted with pure excitement at the prospect. In a matter of 30 minutes, we had gone from me almost throwing up on the rocky ass ferry ride and no transportation to speak of, to getting a free taxi ride with two Australian gentlemen, a complimentary upgrade in our cabin, and the potential for viewing the Northern Lights our first night there. 

The Lofoten Islands really were “the magic islands.”

I actually skipped. Which was an impressive feat seeing as I was wearing my big backpack, and had Lil Bea in tow. We found our traditional fisherman’s cabin, which for me was a must to experience while staying in the Lofoten Islands. And it was worth every penny.

Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway... Postcard worthy

The view from our porch was incredible. Mountains towered up, skirting the water, and the "rorbuer" (fishing cabins) scattered the landscape around the harbor. The cabin itself was roomy yet cozy, and had a plaid couch. So, I was hooked. The deck would provide the perfect viewing spot if, in fact, the Northern Lights did decide to show up.

I was flitting about on the deck, camera in hand, when our neighbors showed up. They were Brad and Jo from Canada and we decided in that instant to be the best of friends. We made plans for a Northern Lights viewing party on our shared deck, just a few hours from then, and agreed there would be wine. That is, if it didn’t get cloudy, or fog didn’t roll in, or that basically millions of things would align perfectly for the lights to actually occur within view. It really was a long shot. There were magnetic fields and temperatures that all had to match up in perfect harmony to create optimum conditions that I won’t pretend to know anything about.

To pass the next couple of hours KJ and I meandered over to the bar after making dinner. By dinner I mean grilled cheese sandwiches.

We tried the local beer and watched the clock. It was nearing 10:30 and hope bubbled in my heart. We decided to head back to the cabin to bundle up for our viewing party on the off chance it was really going to happen. Which I was hoping so very hard that it would.

We walked outside chatting and were interrupted by two bar patrons just outside the door. 

"Hey, have you guys seen these?" one of them asked, pointing upwards.

KJ and I immediately jerked our heads northward, and gazed at the sky. We simultaneously gasped with sheer surprise and delight and looked at each other with wide eyes. In that moment we were twins: mirror images of one another in a monumental reaction of emotion.

Side note: I had never gasped with such fervor in my life. It was almost a cartoon status gasp. 

The thing is, in a moment like that, senses are heightened and I was acutely aware that I had just gasped like I never had before. A real, awe-inspired gasp? That just doesn't happen every day. 

"NO!" we exclaimed, suddenly children about to experience the effects of excitement-induced-pants-peeing. (Kidding. Sort of.)

I was glad actually, to not have my camera in hand and just allow myself to experience that initial moment fully. But then I wanted my camera. I needed proof!

We all but pranced back to our cabin, knocking heartily on Brad and Jo's door. 

"It's happening!" I bellowed.

We tore open the wine in celebration and I bundled up with all the plaid blankets I could find, prepping my camera for whatever magic the rest of the night held. 

By this time, with all the knocking and plaid gathering that had ensued, the lights had come and gone. I knew this would happen of course, but I could only have faith that they would return. Immediately. So, we waited.

and drank wine. and waited.

and then

They made their encore in spectacular fashion. We all watched in awe as the lights danced above us in a clear night sky and the impossibility of it all coming true right before us. Me, KJ, Brad & Jo would forever be bonded at sharing this moment together. 

The lights really did dance in waves, mimicking the emotions of the day, (which is super cliché, but hey, it works.) They changed color, morphing from green to blue to even violet and white. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

"This is one of those moments. Those moments of travel that make it all worth it." I said to KJ. I was actually kind of choked up. All that hoping and wishing, and the culmination of it coming true really released some emotion there.

That's it, I was addicted. I stayed up until 2am watching the lights, waiting for more, in straight up high anticipation of what the Norwegian night show would reveal next.

I did the same the following nights as well. Three out of the four nights on the Lofoten Islands produced magic in the skies. THREE OUT OF THE FOUR. I couldn't believe it. And every time I saw a glimpse of them, I wanted more, of course. On the night they didn't show, I reluctantly went to bed, but set my alarm just to check around 2am. 

I was  o b s e s s e d. 

In between northern lights hunting, we thoroughly enjoyed a mini dinner party compliments of our new best friends, Brad & Jo, went kayaking with them, shared stories over drinks with them, and eventually they signed the adoption papers. Just kidding. 

But, we did become super tight with them and knew this friendship was probably somehow tied into the whole "magic" of the islands bit that I was possibly starting to buy into. They drove us to part two of our stay on the islands a few towns over, Hamnoy; even stopping at the only grocery store along the way so we wouldn't starve. Since we were on foot, Lil Bea was a brat, and we hadn't exactly thought through the details on our move, it had been clutch. They came to our rescue, and we were grateful. 

The lights returned for a farewell, not just for our last sleepover on the islands, but also on the nighttime ferry ride back to the mainland. 

What a legendary sendoff. 

See the northern lights? Check. See them 3 times? Check, check!

*Reine Rorbuer:
*Eliassen Rorbuer:

Saturday, March 5, 2016

# 32: do something I loved as a kid

I'll admit it, I wasn't sure what this would be at first. I dug deep to think of what my inner eight year old would want. Because it was her that really wanted this, wasn't it?

I wanted to do something that reminded me of being a kid. Of being carefree. Of my heart feeling light. And happy. Nothing too complicated. Just simple.

And then I found it.

I saw a picture on Instagram of IT. 

The swing picture

I wanted to swing. I needed to swing. It was a favorite past time of mine and so incredibly 

o b v i o u s

And it had to be on this. exact. swing. 

Which happened to be in Norway.

I'd swing on this glorious handmade swing my hair flowing in the Norwegian breeze and the arctic sun slightly warming my cheeks as a smile spread wide across my elated face. All the weight of the world would suddenly lift off my--

I was clearly getting ahead of myself.

First things first. I didn't even know where this swing was. The caption on Instagram provided almost no information except that it was in a fjord that started with an "H" that I would never pretend to know how to pronounce; and that fjord was in Norway.

Fjords are pretty big. The ones in Norway are, anyways. This is what I learned as I turned over every internet stone there was in an attempt to find out where this swing that looked cool AF resided.

After much intense research I realized a few things:

-I wasn't the only one looking for this swing.
-I was one of few who was obsessed enough to search relentlessly.
-It was in a town called Trandal, at a pub, no less.


So, naturally, I planned KJ and I's entire jaunt in Norway around getting to this swing. So it HAD to happen, you see.

We flew into Alesund and rented a car, which, in and of itself was an epic adventure. Driving in Norway was exactly as you'd expect. Twists, turns, cliffs, sheep, and MIND BLOWING SCENERY.

At some point on the car ferry as we approached the Hjorundfjord (which I will lovingly refer to as the "H-fjord" from here on out), I realized I was, in fact, in Norway. A bit of a delayed reaction. 

We passed soaring mountains, endless waterfalls, quaint towns, and my personal favorite, houses with sod roofs. Some of them were downright unruly and I couldn't help but wonder, do people here have careers as a roof trimmer? 
Because I think I've found my calling.

N o t e s   o f   i m p o r t a n c e : 

-We were driving Norway in a fancy station wagon that I had dubbed "Sir Woodsbie" upon first sight.

-Every time we saw a waterfall I was somehow more impressed than the previous 839475983 before it. 

-I fantasized about myself on the swing about every 17 seconds or so; give or take.


I drove a few more hours to our landing spot, Saebo. A small minuscule town in the H-fjord directly on the water, and a stop on the ferry boat that should, according to the schedule, take us to Trandal. But first, primitive camping. 

Don't be fooled, there wasn't anyone actually in there, running this place.
Just kidding. It was fine. We were in a cabin on the trailer park-ish camping grounds and ate ramen noodles two nights in a row from the only store in town that also served as campground headquarters, information center, and gas station. Oh, and it was called 'Joker.' But, they pronounced it 'Yoker'. WHICH I FOUND HILARIOUS, and used in any sentence I could thus forth. 

Anyways we purchased our cabin rental, linens (because why would it come with linens) and year's supply of ramen at Yoker.

We only had two days. Barely. The next day was our only actual full day because of travel time, so it was our one shot. We would hike in the morning and then take the afternoon ferry over to Trandal.

The following day, our bellies full of ramen, we arrived early in Sir Woodsbie, positioning ourself on the ferry dock perpendicular to a bus that had been there since early morning. Interesting. 

I was more than ready. We waited. and waited. 

A half hour passed the scheduled time, the ferry still had not arrived. After double checking the schedule 65 times, the man in charge of the bus suddenly appeared. 

He went by the name of Julson... ("Yulson" obviously). Julson was a chatty fellow, and cheery to boot. 

"Oh, yeah that ferry's not coming." he plainly informed us. What he didn't know was that in that moment HE WAS CRUSHING MY DREAMS.

My face dropped to melancholy status immediately upon hearing this. 

"But I need to go on the swing!" I protested, as if this explained everything. 

Seemingly it did. There was only one place that had a swing.

"You want to go to the pub then!" Julson put the pieces together. "It's a very special place."

I KNEW IT. The fire that fueled my desire to check this off my list here, just burst into full on flame mode. I longed to swing in a special, special place!

He explained that although the schedule posted stated that the ferry would bring us over there this afternoon, it had juuuuuust switched to the "winter schedule." 

When apparently nothing happened.
No one went anywhere, especially on a swing. 

But I was confused. It was early September. Norway has pretty much two seasons: Winter and Midnight sun winter is what I've learned.

"I will call the ferry driver. He is my friend." Julson speed dialed the ferry man as if this was a daily occurrence. 

At this moment a few other Norwegian fellas came out of the fjord surroundings and joined us on the dock for our "figure out how to get my ass to the swing" party. They leaned against Sir Woodsbie like it was the most natural thing in the world. Like we'd known them for years. 

Thing is, if we didn't get to the swing today, it wasn't going to happen. We'd be leaving tomorrow for Geiranger. I was glad to have half the town of Saebo on my side; even if they were denting the rental car.

Julson's call to the ferry man confirmed his suspicion that the ferry would not, in fact, be coming to Saebo today until the end of the very last run of the night. 

"How long if we drive around the fjord to get there?" I asked with as much hope in my eyes as a sad puppy. 

"Nooo, you can't drive there. There are no roads to the pub!" the men replied, almost in unison.


To be frank, I hadn't really thought about the possibility of not being able to get to the swing. So this realization, when it dawned, hit me much like a ton of bricks. I had my heart set on that swing. 

I was prepared to swim across the GD fjord if I had to. 

Cept the matter of the choppy water. The frigidly ice cold choppy water. And the length. On second thought, it was a bit far. 

I looked at KJ. "I absolutely have to get to that swing. I'm not even yoking."

This was clearly no time for jokes (yokes) but it was irresistible. 

Our Norwegian posse wasn't about to give up though. Julson said he would make a few more calls, telling us to come back at 4:30. So we drove 100 feet to the Joker parking lot and sat there debating what we would do if the swing was a no go. 

We returned at 4:30 on the dot where our Norwegian men were awaiting us; all taking turns on their phones. I'm not sure who they were calling, but if one of the mysterious phone calls would result in getting us to the swing, I didn't care. 

It wasn't looking good. 


Julson motioned to the fjord. "My friend is a fisherman. He will be here in ten minutes and can take you to the Pub."


I summoned by inner Lil John. 

So we moved Sir Woodsbie to the fishing dock and I'll be, there was a boat coming across the fjord just for us. 

"The Pub might not be open today. There is no one answering the phone."

"So you're saying there's a chance." I hopped aboard.

This was the moment that we thought Julson would send us on our way with the fisherman. But, NOPE. He and another of the other Norwegian posse hopped aboard with us. They were going to see us all the way through, naturally.

So we did what any two girls and a fishing vessel full of Norwegian men would do. We took pictures.

Julson sandwich.
We crossed the fjord and pulled up to the dock at the Pub. I could barely contain my excitement. It was actually happening. Though it did look pretty quiet up there. We hopped out with Julson in tow, since he wanted to make sure it was open for us. 

It wasn't.

BUT I saw that swing and I wasn't leaving without swinging my ass off. 

Julson informed us that if we wanted to hang out we could, and then walk the mile to the ferry dock in a couple of hours, as there was one ferry around 8pm that would take a ridiculous 2 hours for us to go a distance that took 15 minutes just now. But I was in. We'd come this far, and it would undoubtedly be worth it.

We bid adieu to the fisherman, the bus driver Julson, and his Norwegian fella posse, thanking them profusely. 

It was just me, KJ, and the glorious swing.

It was time. 

I positioned myself on the swing carefully.

What I didn't realize, was that it was on quite a bit of a hill. With a wooden ramp underneath. On the edge of the fjord. One wrong move, and I'd be in the fjord. Maybe that's what those bushes were there for? To catch a flying swinger? That was besides the point. I was on THE SWING! I sat there for a minute just taking in the scenery. If you're going to swing, this was the place to do it. It felt surreal. Was I really here in this magically enchanted land, doing this? 

So I pushed myself to the tips of my toes, took a deep breath, and let myself go, swinging my feet out just like when I was a wee girl. And it was... scary. 

Initially, it was slighty intimidating flinging my body to the edge of a ginormous fjord on a small wooden board. It was short lived however, and once I allowed myself to relax, it was hysterically freeing.   

Did the sun spontaneously come out and pixie dust appear out of the sky? No. But, it was, in that moment, exactly what I had hoped for. 

My hair flung back in the wind and my breath caught in the excitement of being there, in that moment, on the swing of my dreams. Carefree status was attained as I swung back and forth.

In the midst of indulgent playtime, we heard something. Something that sounded like wheels on gravel. KJ and I looked at each other with piqued curiosity seeing as there weren't supposed to be any cars out here by the Pub.

As we rounded the corner of the building, an ATV simultaneously rounded the corner of the lot. A young woman jumped off and greeted us as if she'd been expecting us.

"Hi! Julson called and said you'd like a drink?" Truer words had never been spoken.

Of course. Julson. Our Norwegian Fairy Godfather.

"Yes! We thought you weren't open and were having a look around!"
Translation: We were all over that GD swing of yours.

"We open if there is a customer!"

"Just one?"

"Yes, of course!"

In Norway they open an entire pub for you.

We had a beer; okay two, with the lovely host; whose boyfriend's family owned the pub. She helped run the place while the BF was out to sea on a fishing boat for months at a time. She was super friendly, pleasant, and more than happy to hang out with us. We looked around the Pub which was, essentially like being in someone's home. Because it was. A home, I mean. The BF's fam had owned and lived in this homestead for generations before it was turned into the Pub + cabin style accommodations that dotted the property.

Stuffed wildlife of every kind adorned the walls and each room was cozier than the last. 

"They were all born in that room over there." She informed us.

Right, steer clear of that one then.

She started prepping dinner as we finished up our last sips of pub beer and the sun began to set. We needed to begin our trek down to the ferry, if it was even coming at all. There was no way to know for sure.

"What's for dinner?" I asked, starving.

"Deer stew. I've got a group coming off the ferry to stay in the cabins. You'll probably pass them on your way down."

That was a sterling sign for our chances of a ferry back.

We were off to finish our journey and I couldn't thank our new friend enough for opening the Pub and entertaining us with a warm welcome. I didn't want to say goodbye to her, or the swing.

We began walking and eventually arrived at a platform that looked like a ferry would approach. A few cars waited too, so it was looking good.

That ferry showed up like a beacon in the night. Literally. It was night and very dark. A few cars rolled off and then a pack of travelers on foot, just like us. They were the boarders heading up to the Pub for dinner and sleeps. 

We waved. "The Pub's up that way, we just came from there!"

We got a thumbs up and a nod.

"You're having deer stew for dinner."

They smiled.

We got on the ferry with a sigh of relief, and looked around for where we could pay for our tickets.

The official looking man that approached us did so in a manner that suggested he knew just who we were. But did he? He didn't look familiar.

"Julson called me before! You are the two girls who went to the Pub!" he bellowed. His smile reached all the way to his ears.

"That's us! How much do we owe you for the ferry ride?"

"Oh, the machine is broken" he waved us off, "just pay in hugs!"

So, we hugged the ferry man.

But that wasn't all. He had something to show us. He whipped out his phone and opened up Facebook, pointing to the gem of a photo that already had a multitude of likes and comments. And wouldn't you know, we were staring at a picture of us... with Julson. 

"I saw you on Facebook!" he said. 

We were famous in the fjord, for that day anyways. Facebook said so.

We had a grand chuckle at this, and suggested sending a selfie back to Julson with the ferry man. He gladly obliged, posing for his sandwich selfie squeezed between KJ and I. (And yes, I snagged one on my stranger selfie cam as well.)

Twas a long day, but a rewarding one. From swings to selfies, I felt fulfilled for this list item. The perfect ending? Tucking into hot ramen noodles back in our cabin and laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

Do something I loved as a kid? Check. Doing it as an adult and drinking a beer as well? Check, Check!

Oh, and the epic adventure getting there. That too.

If I can get myself back there, it'll be for their Summer Blues Festival...
Information on the Pub...maybe they'll open it for you too: