A Tasty Tour of the United Kingdom!

What are we eating in… the United Kingdom!

So this is quite a long time coming, but I’ve finally gotten around to making a sequel to a fun post I made on Scandinavian food. Not many people back home were very interested in what the food was like while we were in the United Kingdom, because in North America it all seems so familiar. But Nathanael and I really enjoyed the food the UK had to offer! So without further ado, check out a bit of what we were eating in… the United Kingdom!

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Welcome to a Finnish Tea Party

Fancy a cup of tea with herbs freshly picked from the garden? How about a snack made with wild nettles and oregano? Back in the land of saunas and Moomin, we found Finland beautifully in bloom! The people of Solbacka strive to live in tune with their surroundings, so they love the chance to use what nature has provided. I was so excited to start learning about all the herbs and food that the Finnish wild has to offer.

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Five Highlights of a Whirlwind Baltics Tour

My Top Five of the Baltics

Thinking of heading to the Baltics? This is a little different from my other Top Fives because I’m combining Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia into a Baltics adventure addition. Please don’t hate me! We spent such a short time in the Baltics, but they’re so interesting that I wanted to write something. Each Baltic country was great, and I wish we had more time to do them each justice. So without further ado, my favourite spots we visited in the Baltics!

Jūrmala, Latvia

Jurmala, Latvia

Who doesn’t love a beach side vacation? Jūrmala is famous for miles of beautiful, white-sand beaches and we loved taking walks between our community, Sloka, and the touristy district of Majori (whose beach has “Blue Flag” designation). We came kind of at the wrong time of year to do much swimming (as you can see by how covered-up I am above), but we did have a nice day where we managed to go in and the water was great! No seaweed in sight! The neighbourhoods of Jūrmala have different things to offer, my favourites were Kemeri, for the hot springs and parks, and Majori, for the wooden houses and restaurants (read more here). An affordable place to have a wonderful vacation while in Latvia, you should definitely check it out! Continue reading

Latvian Opera and Holiday Beaches

Time for a little break from real-life and a sweet, relaxing vacay in Latvia! Wait a minute, haven’t we been on a break from real-life for a while now? Oh well, we went ahead and booked an apartment near the beach anyway. Woohoo!

Jurmala, Latvia

We had a slightly terrifying introduction to our vacay home. Our squat, little two-story building sat in the middle of a run-down apartment complex. Fences falling down, graffiti, stray dogs laying around, garbage… You get the picture. Walking down the hallway of the building made us even more nervous. The floor boards were uneven and coming up, the door across from ours looked like someone had stuffed a couch in the doorway, and the overall feel was a bit like a drug den. We anxiously watched our host open the door to our apartment to see what we had gotten ourselves into… And it was so cute! It was small, but had been completely renovated and looked great. What a relief!

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Vilnius, a Dog has the Right to be a Dog

Vilnius

         Early in the morning we bid a sad farewell to Ola and John, our most gracious Workaway hosts in northern Poland, and prepared ourselves for the two week tour ahead that would swiftly sweep us into the unknown. The Baltic Nations, three post-USSR countries sandwiched between Russia and the Baltic Sea, were completely unfamiliar to us and we relished the chance to discover its mysteries first-hand. First on the list: Vilnius.

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A Crash Course in Castles PART II

Flint Castle, Wales, Britain

Map of our UK castle tour

Map of our UK castle tour

           Due to the large number of castles Ashleigh and I visited on our tour of the United Kingdom (16 in total!), and the vast amount of information attached to each, I have been forced to split my article into two parts. Welcome to PART 2! If you haven’t seen PART 1, please read it here.

The last outpost of Scotland awaited us next in the Shetland Isles! We visited a few English castles in Tamworth and Newcastle, the Scottish castle of Edinburgh, and others in the Midlothian region. Muness Castle on Unst Island, the most northern tip of land in Scotland, was to be our next stop, followed by Urquhart Castle on the waters of Loch Ness, Cuchulainn’s Castle in Ireland, and Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy, Rhuddlan, and, finally, Flint Castle in Wales. Each one of these imposing strongholds had their own stories to tell, through their importance in history, the way they were designed, and the legends surrounding them.

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A Crash Course in Castles PART I

Edinburgh castle, Scotland

Map of our UK castle tour

         Before coming to Britain, even before embarking on our European journey, I would often sit and dream of treading through stone passageways, patrolling the length of rocky defences, and keeping watch from the tallest turrets on a windy night. Castles were raised by the ruling powers through the blood and sweat of their toiling subjects; impenetrable fortresses of carved stone blocks atop rocky crags, castles are truly an awesome sight to behold. They were, at many times, scenes of bloodshed: from sword clashing medieval battles to the assassination of nobles. They were once the seat of lords and kings, protecting, as well as dominating, the countryside. They have stood for hundreds of years and will hopefully continue to stand for centuries more (partially thanks to the National Trust).

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My Favourite Spots in England!

My Top Five of England

I knew that we would be spending more time in England with my brother so I decided to postpone judging my favourite spots in England, and I’m glad I did. The three of us saw some spectacular places on our whirlwind tour of southern England, so I hope you all enjoy!

Bath

Roman Baths, Bath, England

Bath is such a pretty city, full of beautiful Georgian-style buildings and wide promenades. The Romans built the original bath house and temple complex around the natural hot springs, though they were likely enjoyed in its natural state long before they came. The Roman Baths have been modified several times over the centuries, but you can still find some remnants of the Roman structure within the foundations. If the admission fee to the Roman Baths is a bit steep for you, The Mayor of Bath Honorary Guides offers a great free walking tour which (at least on our tour) takes you to see the Sacred Spring from above. It’s also worthwhile just wandering around and admiring all the beautiful buildings, including the Royal Crescent and The Circus.

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King Arthur and the Standing Stones

Beaumaris Castle, Wales

      Staggering off the ferry, we took our first steps back into Great Britain. Bleary-eyed from grabbing a handful of hours sleep on the ferry we set off from Holyhead to meet up with my brother, Braeden, in Beaumaris! We had meticulously (or so we thought) planned the next week and a half that the three of us would be touring to maximize our sightseeing.

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Top Picks of Wales

My Top Five of the Wales

So I might be stretching the list a little bit here, but since we only spent a few days in Wales we didn’t get the chance to see too much (though not from lack of effort!). The Welsh are so lucky; Wales is GORGEOUS! We would love to go back and spend more time travelling around, ogling everything in sight. Without further ado, here are my top picks for Wales! Also, check out Scotland and Ireland while you’re at it!

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle

 

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The Path of Cúchulainn

     

        A long time ago, sometime between about 600 and 150 BC, the Celtic people travelled across the sea from western Europe and invaded Ireland. The land was lush, green and beautiful, a much desired location for a new home, but another people had already settled in Ireland, and had been there for thousands of years. The Tuatha Dé Danann were recorded in Irish mythology as being a race with supernatural powers and god-like abilities. Whoever these people were they left their mark on the landscape, building enormous burial chambers and temples, erecting massive standing boulders, and leaving behind exquisite, scrolling carvings in stone, a style that is still duplicated today in Celtic art.

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Top Picks of Ireland

Ahhh, the Emerald Isles! Ireland is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, and I felt like we had barely enough time to scratch the surface. Still, enjoy checking out some of my favourite things we saw/did in our short stay!

Glendalough Valley

Glendalough Valley, Ireland

Glendalough Valley is a glacial valley nestled in the Wicklow mountains south of Dublin. Filled with spectacular hikes and scenery, it’s also home to the Monastic City. The Monastic City is the remains of an early Christian settlement established in the valley n the 6th century. In addition to it being free to enter the Monastic City (always a plus), you can also use the ruin as a starting point for a walk along the lake or into the nearby mountains to get an even better view of the Round Tower. To top it all off, the nearby fields were filled with adorable new lambs when we went! So cute!

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The Dark Waters of Loch Ness

I briefly mentioned our trips to Loch Ness and Hermaness in, “Top Picks of Scotland” but that was only a glimpse at our adventure looking for Nessie. Without further ado, here are the highlights of our last couple of weeks in Scotland!

Our last days in Unst were busy at the hotel. During the day we helped with renovating The Hilltop bar on Yell or cleaning in the hotel, with the occasional evening of a casual drink (or two, three, four…) in Springers bar. One of my favourite things we saw with the last of our time on Unst will delight the nature lovers out there, the Hermaness Nature Reserve!

Hermaness Nature Reserve

The hike is a bit tough and swampy at times, but it’s so worth it. You can walk along feet-tingling cliffs overlooking the North Sea and even see the lighthouse on Muckle Flugga (where you can actually stay the night if you want!). The real highlight though are the incredible bird colonies that nest along the cliff faces. At this time of year only the gannets have begun to arrive, but later this spring and summer the reserve will see thousands of fulmars, gulls, shags, puffins and kittiwakes. It’s an absolutely awe-inspiring sight, and this early in the season the smell hasn’t had a chance to get too bad either.

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Top Picks of Scotland

My Top Five of Scotland

It has been a little while since my last top picks entry (Finland), so here is an overdue entry of my top five picks of Scotland! Honestly, we spent so much time in Scotland and saw so many amazing things that it was really difficult to narrow it down. So these here are just scraping the surface of all the cool things you can do/see/visit in Scotland!

Loch Ness

Loch ness, scotland

We had an amazing adventure on the shores of Loch Ness. I mean, who hasn’t heard of the legendary monster of the deep? The cute little village of Drumnadrochit was a short bus ride from Inverness and is home to both Nessieland and the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition. We didn’t go into either of them, but we got some great pictures with the Nessie statues outside Nessieland. A short, scenic walk later, you can glimpse the ruins of Urquhart castle sitting on the edge of the lake. The lake is always a bit misty, no matter the weather or time of day, giving Loch Ness a mysterious air.

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Where the Shetland Ponies Play

Beach on Unst, Shetland

We rolled and rocked over the North Sea; we were bound for Lerwick, capital of the Shetland islands. Some days the sea is too rough and the ferries won’t run, stranding people at the docks. Luckily for us, we had a relatively calm ride. We set up shop in one of the lounges at the far end of the ship, watching a few movies before curling up to sleep on the benches. When we initially planned to sleep in the lounge, we felt a little shy about it, but looking around we could see that we were amateurs. More seasoned ferry riders were pulling out sleeping bags, pillows, and eye masks; everything they needed for a good night sleep curled up on a bench.

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‘Neath Ancient Rosslyn Waits…

‘Neath ancient Rosslyn waits secrets so secret nobody really knows what the secret is anymore. Some say the Knights of the Templar stored vast riches in the tombs of Rosslyn chapel and are perhaps even buried there themselves, dressed in full-plate armour. Some say the mummified head of Jesus Christ and perhaps even the sacred cup of Christ, the Holy Grail, is waiting in some secret chamber. Some say Rosslyn Chapel is the site of an alien landing pad, and perhaps the secret resting place of… Elvis?

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Roman Walls and Ruined Castles

We arrived by bus into the lovely city of Stoke-on-Trent in late January, eager to move on from the bustling streets of London. Phil and Carole welcomed us into their home with open arms, and eager to show us their beautiful garden that was in need of some cleaning up. The Sensory Garden, as they’ve named it, has been designed to be a fully wheelchair accessible oasis of peace and tranquillity, filled with fragrant flowers, fruit, healing herbs, and plenty of places to sit and enjoy your surroundings.

They had been off living the dream for the past two years, travelling in a caravan, so the garden was in need of a bit of cleaning up. Chopping wood, power-washing the pathways, getting pots ready for planting, and tidying up the greenhouse for the most part. Phil was also involved with a local community project, Friends of Hartshill Park. Hartshill Park is a large nature reserve just down the street from their home which has been undergoing a transformation over the last few years thanks to the help of volunteers and local grants. My favourite spot was a nice little lake at the foot of what was once the gardens of a Catholic covenant, carefully tended by the nuns living there.

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The London Tube

Big Ben

It was midnight on January 20th when we landed in London Gatwick airport. We were tired from our lengthy, cramped flight, sandwiched between airplane seats, and wanted more than anything to get through customs and be fast asleep in our London hostel.

Having filled out our landing cards we waited nervously in line toward the customs gate, preparing ourselves to face the intimidating officers. We were a bit anxious, not that we had anything to hide, but the mere presence of a customs agent tends to make one feel as if one does. We were both called up to one of the kiosks and were greeted by a wary face with eyes that peered deep into ours in an attempt to read our very souls. The Agent found us, a young Canadian couple, to be extremely suspicious and possibly a risk to the security of the country. He threatened to tear our bags apart in search of CV’s or other papers that would give evidence that we were seeking to work in the UK and trying to immigrate illegally. For at least 15 minutes we tried to soothe his suspicions and convince him that Canada is just fine for us and we have no desire to move to the UK. I brought up the fact that I have relatives in England (though I’m still not sure just how distant they are) and that I was interested in seeking them out, which for some reason seemed to calm the wrath of the customs agent. Perhaps he couldn’t think of any reason why someone would simply want to tour England.

“I’m going out on a limb trusting you blokes here….” said he, and after stamping our passports, we were at last allowed entry into his realm. What a relief!

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Top Picks of Finland

My Top Five of Finland

Nathanael and I spent about a month in southern Finland and absolutely loved it! Find below a few of the highlights (check out the rest of Scandinavia too with Norway, Sweden, and Denmark):

Suomenlinna, Helsinki

Suomenlinna, or Sveaborg, is the sea fortress on a series of islands near Helsinki. Work on the fortress began in the 18th century, and today is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. People actually still live there! The district of Suomenlinna has a population of 800 permanent residents. Nathanael and I had a blast trying to find all of Suomenlinna’s secrets. A fair number of the doors and tunnels have been left open, so the public can wander freely through the rooms and passages. There are also a couple of cute cafes and museums on the island to round out the whole experience. This is one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist sites, and it’s definitely worth a visit!

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Tallinn, a City of Medieval Enchantment

What could be more enchanting than a skyline of medieval buildings, cathedrals, stone walls, and spiralling towers? Tallinn is an amazing blend of medieval history and young, party vibe. Nathanael and I can’t wait to grab a few friends and come back in the summer!

Our first night in Tallinn couldn’t have been better. We arrived in Tallinn on the ferry from Helsinki around supper time and set off for our hostel in the heart of the Old Town. The harbour was only a 15 minute walk from the hostel, but we took a bit longer. The streets wound and intersected haphazardly, coupled with the fact that everything around us looked so achingly beautiful in the falling snow.

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Green Building in Solbacka Village

     

      Deep within the Finnish wilderness, there is a secret valley. The valley is surrounded by a thriving, untouched wilderness and a magnificent forest of tall, dark trees. There is something special about this forest, something ancient that lives, and breathes, and watches. The people of the small, nearby village of Fagervik do not know about this secret valley nor do they dare go into the woods, for it is said that only those of pure heart are allowed entry.

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Winter fun in Helsinki

A little tired, but enthused from our mini-cruise, we arrived bright and early in Helsinki harbour on December 20th. The ferry pulled in, and after snapping a few nice shots from the ship, we got our packs on and off we went.

We were meeting our Finnish host about an hour west of Helsinki a little later that day, so we didn’t take much time to look around this time. That ended up being fine though, because it was raining anyway. The route to the central train station went by a lot of nice buildings too, so we could do a little bit of sight-seeing as we walked.

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Scandinavian Food, a Smörgåsbord!

A few people have been asking me about what kinds of Scandinavian food we’ve been having so far, so I wanted to take a second to tell you all a bit about what we’ve been eating!

Norway

First up, Norwegian fish cakes or fiskeboller. Mostly made from spices, flour, and fish puréed in a blender, they look like pancakes but with a dense consistency, and are very tasty! Siv (Nathanael’s cousin) made them for us one night and they were delicious. We had them with Norwegian potato dumplings served with a sweet sauce.

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Top Picks of Sweden

My Top Five of Sweden

In the continuing series (check out the rest of Scandinavia too with NorwayFinland, and Denmark), my top picks of Sweden!

Gamla Uppsala, Uppsala

In the valley of the kings!

Gamla Uppsala is the original site of the city of Uppsala. The present day location of the city was originally called, “Östra Aros,” and overtook Gamla Uppsala in importance in the 1200’s. Prior to that, Gamla Uppsala had been an important religious, economic, and political centre since as early as the 3rd century AD. Today, around 250 barrows (including the Royal Mounds) and the old church finished in the 12th century remain, along with a newer museum.  It would have been even better in the summer, when the property would have been filled with staff in costumes and the restaurant would have been open to the public, but we still had a great time. There were a lot of signs telling us about the area, the Royal Mounds, etc. and we had the place mostly to ourselves! We could walk around the grounds for free, and paid to go into the museum as well. The museum was small, but had some neat photos of the area back when it was a public place to downhill ski (!).

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Stockholm, Venice of the North

We arrived in Stockholm bright and early, eager to get the most out of our stay. We had planned on a two-night-extravaganza-adventure in Stockholm before taking a ferry to Helsinki. We lucked out and found a great deal on a hostel right in Gamla Stan, the historic old town!

We couldn’t believe how affordable it was considering how ideal the location was. Everywhere we could possibly want to go was within walking distance or a short train ride. Added bonus? We had booked two beds in a four bed mixed dorm, rather than a private room, to save a bit of money, and no one ended up booking the other beds so we had a room to ourselves anyway! Perfect!

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I’m on the Road to Uppsala

        Long ago, as early as the 3rd century AD, a great temple was built in the name of the ancient Norse gods on the site of what we now call Gamla Uppsala in Sweden. This temple was said to be adorned with gold, and inside the people worshipped the statues of three gods. On the left was Odin the All-father, decked in armour and with his spear Gungnir. In the centre was Thor the thunder-god, the mightiest of the three, clutching his great hammer Mjolnir. On the right side of Thor was Frey, god of fertility,  depicted with his immense, erect Penisnir.

Odin, Thor, and Frey

Every nine years during the month of Goi (Feb. 15th-March 15th) a general festival for the provinces of Sweden would be held, and all the people would come to this centre of worship to sacrifice to the gods. Nine male animals of each species would be slaughtered and give blood to appease the gods. The feasts and sacrifices continued for a total of nine days, and during the course of each day a man was sacrificed along with two animals. In the nine days, a total of twenty-seven sacrifices would occur. Their bodies were hung in a grove which was adjacent to the temple. This grove was so sacred to the people that the individual trees in it were believed to be holy because of the death or putrefaction of the sacrificial victims.  In this grove, even dogs and horses would hang beside human beings.

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Some of my top picks in Denmark!

My Top Five of Denmark

I thought I would continue what I had started with the  “My five favourite things in Norway!” article with Denmark, so here we go! (Check out Sweden and Finland too!)

Frederiksborg Castle

It even has a moat.

Frederiksborg Slot was built by King Christian IV in the early part of the 17th century. It was a bit of a train ride north of Copenhagen, but situated in a lovely little city of Hillerød it was well worth the trip! We loved the lived-in (and spooky) feeling of the rooms. It was easy to imagine the royal family gazing out the windows at the lake or beautiful gardens. There were walking paths out behind the castle leading to the well-manicured palace gardens (we had a lovely lunch) as well as rougher trails leading into the spooky forest (with a witch’s house! Or at least, we imagined it was 🙂 check it out). We could have spent all day wandering the palace and the grounds, well-worth the admission!

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Makvärket, a Cultural and Environmental Collective

Mosaic, Denmark

Artwork by Kat Catowski.

              It was a beautiful afternoon when we stepped off the train from Copenhagen, arriving in the tiny village of Knabstrup. We asked several of the villagers for directions to the place we were looking to stay: ‘Makvärket‘, the mysterious, abandoned factory known to house an ardent group of artists, philosophers, and travellers. The Knabstrup villagers kept pointing us further up a winding road. “It’s not too far,” they said, “the factory is at the end of the road.” At last we could see the cylindrical, brick chimney rising up above the trees and towering over everything. A mysterious factory on top of a hill, overlooking the village below… Sounds like a Frankenstein movie.

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Final weekend in Copenhagen

We spent one last weekend in Copenhagen to see a few things that we didn’t get a chance to see the first week we were there. It had gotten colder since the week prior, so we decided it would be nice to sleep somewhere indoors this time. Looking around at the hostels downtown, we knew this wasn’t going to be cheap. The hostels right in the downtown seem to flip between being expensive but nice, and cheaper but with awful reviews. After an evening of scouring the internet I managed to find us a room for a fairly reasonable rate, but it seemed a bit ambiguous on whether this was a hostel or what. Crossing our fingers, we left Makvaerket that afternoon on a train. It was a decent walk from Copenhagen central train station to where we were staying, but it was kind of nice to have a chance to see the city at night. After hesitantly knocking on the door of a house that matched the address we had written down, a woman answered the and told us we were in luck. Apparently, we had caught her on the way out for the evening since we hadn’t made a reservation and she wasn’t expecting anyone. Lucky us! To top off our good fortune, the room was awesome! It was nice, warm, and very comfortable, the perfect way to start off the weekend.

Now for the highlights: firstly, the one I was most excited about, the Tivoli gardens!

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My five favourite things in Norway!

My Top Five of Norway

I wanted to do a quick entry about five of my favourite things we saw/did that I would recommend to anyone visiting Norway! Check out the rest of Scandinavia too at Sweden, Finland, and Denmark!

Hiking in Frognerseteren, Oslo

Is that an owl back there?

The paths were a little rough in some areas, but the hike was beautiful. Cute little signs were posted at every intersection to let you know where the various cross-country skiing and hiking paths led. I could see these trails being fantastic on skis in the wintertime. Partway through our hike we were bombarded with golfball-sized snowflakes, making it seem even more like a mysterious winter wonderland!

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The Land of the Danes

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We crossed the bridge from Sweden to Copenhagen. In the water towered several wind turbines, blades spinning silently in the distance. The bridge snaked to the other side of the border and we saw Denmark stretching out, a flat plate of land the Danes call home. We were dropped off near the central station, and swinging are packs onto our backs we set out to figure out where we were going to go next.

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A Swedish Interlude

Gothenburg, Sweden.

Sweden, Sweden, Sweden! We had a brief stop in Gothenburg on our way to Copenhagen, so here are some pictures! We decided on staying just two nights since we weren’t thrilled with our hostel and we were eager to see Copenhagen. Besides taking a moment to make the obligatory Batman jokes, we also found time to take in a rather interesting art exhibit (you’ll see what I mean).

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Far over the misty mountains… Oslo

Our next stop was Oslo. After having a chance to explore the smaller city of Bergen and the even smaller communities in Nordfjord, we were eager to see what the Norwegian capital was like. The morning we left Isane was hectic; we were worried about whether our 8:30 bus would wait for the 8:15 ferry we were taking. Fortunately, the bus was waiting for us (as Anne Britt and Roar assured us it would) and off we went. The bus ride was long (about 10 hours) but beautiful, with snowy hillsides and pretty houses.  At the lunch stop we even got to run down the street and snap a couple pictures of the local stave church and surrounding area.

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In the beginning… there was Bergen!

Hiking in Bergen

Hiking in Bergen

At long last the countdown is done and the time has finally come to disembark. Our plane left from Vancouver at 1:30 in the afternoon on October 23rd, through Seattle and then Iceland, arriving at last in Bergen, Norway around noon on the 24th. The night was short as we sped forward through time zones across North America and the Atlantic Ocean. Getting any sleep was difficult, even after popping Gravol pills that were supposed to make us drowsy; no matter what sleeping position I took I couldn’t get an hours rest in that cramped little seat.

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HelpX Opens the Way…

We’ve signed away to the Help Exchange website, opening the way to a colourful list of organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats looking for volunteer helpers to stay with them in exchange for room and board. In my mind it’s a pretty good deal, a damn good deal… yes I am a thrifty man, and the idea of not having to spend money on food and accommodation appeals to me, but of course there’s a whole lot more to this work exchange thing that I am looking forward too. You’ve got to take a look at some of these places! Here are a couple examples of HelpX spots we’re looking to volunteer on in Norway:

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Tickets are Booked!

Exciting news!

We have officially booked our tickets to Europe! Departing from Vancouver, Canada for Bergen, Norway! We’re very excited, and we even managed to save a bit of money off of the airline’s posted price after some scouring through travel sites. We will be flying with Icelandair from Vancouver through the United States and Iceland before arriving in Bergen. We have a layover at each stop (Seattle and Reykjavik) but both are reasonably short and will probably be very welcome breaks from sitting in a cramped seat for so long.

We have also thought out a very rough plan for what we would like to do in Norway. We are hoping to volunteer on two farms for about one to two weeks each, one near Bergen and the other near Oslo. Depending on snow and public transportation, we are hoping to do some hiking in the fjords since the pictures look unbelievably beautiful, but after a few emails back and forth between parks staff it looks like it may or may not be feasible. After we are finished exploring around Bergen, we are thinking about taking the Bergen to Oslo train since a number of websites and guide books have raved about it being one of the best train rides in the world. We would also like to possibly stop in a few towns a long the train route to see some of Norway’s interior. Finally, in Oslo we will hopefully explore the city and some of the coastal communities nearby before taking the ferry to Denmark.

We haven’t contacted the farms we are hoping to volunteer with, but we have more or less picked out which ones we are really interested in. Hopefully all goes well and they will be looking for some eager helping hands!

norway fjords

A glance at the scenery in the fjords.

Bergen Railway, Norway

Bergen to Oslo train.

Viking Heritage

“Then, when it was least expected, Gisli turned around and ran from the ridge up onto the crag known as Einhamar. There he faced them and defended himself. Everyone in Eyjolf’s party was badly wounded, and Gisli died with so many great wounds that it was an amazement to all. They say he never once backed off, and as far as anyone could see, his last blow was no weaker than the first.”

Gisli Sursson’s Saga

Me peeking out of an Icelandic Turf Hut

Our last thing to do has been done today. We visited “Viking World” near the Keflavik airport. Though the name sounds like some rip-off carnival, it was an absolutely fascinating museum in which I learned a lot about the epic history of the Vikings.

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The Wyrm of Blessi Pool

The Blessi Pool

            Here I recount the tale as I remember it of my encounter with the Wyrm of Blessi pool. I was wandering within the Hell-warmed area around the Great Geysir when I came upon a hole known as Blessi pool. The tunnel went down into the earth for an undeterminable depth, but just inches below the sulfuric water was a wealth of coins. The dragon who was said to live in the cave is very fond of coins, as all dragons are, and I thought that as long as I returned the pieces into the watery trove, the coins I took out would bring no ill will with them.

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Unexpected Companions

After our excursion down to the harbour, and after eating all the whale meat we could afford (Jonathan had the lobster soup), Ashleigh led the way into a jewellery shop in which I immediately became extremely bored. The store owner struck up a conversation with us right away in near perfect English, and we discovered she had connections in Winnipeg, Canada! (she’s related to the owner of the Round Table restaurant and knows some professors in the University of Winnipeg).

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Canada, You Prude

Some thoughts from the journal of Ashleigh of Westphalia:

“Apparently Icelanders think not having sex before marriage is an absurd idea. Got to love Europeans and their free spirited sexual openness. It seems very surprising that countries that have held Christian beliefs and practices much longer than North America tend to be much more open than us. North America is really quite prudish by comparison, though I guess we’re becoming less so. I wonder if that’s the cycle of religion, the longer its beliefs are held the more less appealing aspects of it are relaxed (i.e. the idea of no-sex-before-marriage). Something to ponder. Or maybe everyone is either bored or cold. Either way, still interesting.”

Bifröst and the Footsteps of the Gods

Bifröst, Iceland

Bifrost, the bridge to Asgard

These are the words from the journal of Nathanael Weirson:

“Bifröst seems to be everywhere. In every new place we visit in Iceland, Bifröst is already there, a glowing arch on the horizon. In the old legends it is said that Bifröst is composed of burning fire, the golden colour of the sun, growing grass, and running water. Scandinavians, once believers of the Norse religion, knew what we call a “rainbow” was really a bridge to the world of the gods.”

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Skaftafell

These are words from the journal of Ashleigh of Westphalia:

“Today I felt tested and rewarded, physically and spiritually. Nathanael and I hiked roughly 17 kilometres around the mountains of Skaftafell, bordered by the largest glaciers in Europe. It was a huge endeavour, but the views are so worth it. Svartifoss was truly a wonder.

Spiritually, I felt rewarded by the kindness of people. Even something as simple as helping someone cook their dinner can renew my faith in God and the people he has created.

Today was a wonderful day.”

Hidden People

Stone figures made to represent the hidden people.

These are the words from the journal of Nathanael Weirson:

“There is a story we learned about how the elves of Iceland came to be.

“When the human world was just beginning, Adam and Eve existed. They had many children together, so many that they were hard to count. God one day asked Eve if He could meet all of her children personally. Eve brought her children before Him, all, that is, but for a handful who hadn’t washed for a while and were very dirty. Eve was ashamed to show them to God at the time, and hid them while He met the others. God, knowing of her folly, proclaimed from that day forth these ‘dirty’ children shall forever be the ‘hidden people’ and be invisible to all eyes”

for-the-hidden-people-iceland

We were talking to an Icelandic woman named Saedi, however, and she was saying the hidden people and the elves are not the same. elves are tiny people, but the hidden people are of normal size and live on another plane of existence.

I find the Christian story mixed with Icelandic mythology very interesting. More and more I see evidence of how the ancient Norse people’s religion was influenced by Christianity, mixing mythologies.”

ngw

The Great Geysir

The Great Geysir, smouldering away…

These are the words from the journal of Nathanael Weirson,

“It was halfway through our trip when we arrived at the geyser. “Geysir” is the oldest, largest, and the mother of all geysers, from which all are named. The massive gusher is dead, or very nearly, and has been so for many decades. So it was to our surprise when she churned and boiled, as if upset, when we passed by. Some growling force bubbled beneath the earth; steam and hot water fled from dozens of vents spread out like worshippers around The Great Geysir.”

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Public Outhouses in Reykjavik

These are words from the journal of Ashleigh of Westphalia:

“Outdoor public washrooms placed strategically around Reykjavik and disguised to make me think they’re circular newstands seems to be a good idea in theory, not so much in practice. They are essentially automated outhouses. Very handy, but kind of gross overall. It’s pretty cool how you stick your hands under a tap and it washes then dries them for you. Other than that, kinda strange.

P.S. Swimming pools at campsites is an awesome idea, Canada should really get on that.”

Egill Skallagrímsson

“With bloody brand on-striding
My bird of bane hath followed;
My hurtling spear hath sounded
In the swift Vikings’ charge.
Raged wrathfully our battle,
Ran fire o’er foemen’s rooftrees;
Sound sleepeth many a warrior
Slain in the city gate.”

~Egill Skallagrimson

Old Icelandic parliament area, the Allthing

Egill Skallagrímsson was a peculiar character in the history of Iceland. Egill’s brash and daring personality is shown through the stories and accounts written about is adventures. At one time in his life, the warrior-poet was rewarded two chests of silver from the English King Æthelstan for his deeds in war. Egill had the odd idea of dumping the silver at Allthing, the Icelandic Parliament, and watching the chieftain’s battle each other for the money. Apparently he was dissuaded from the plan, but one must wonder about his reasoning… maybe he’s the kinda guy who just likes violence? His history was indeed full of violence, but since the age of six he was the author of many poems and stories, showing him to be a very dynamic character.

Egill Skallagrimson

“One with eight I battled
Eleven faced I twice,
Made for wolf a meal,
Myself the bane of all.
Shields shook by sword-strokes
Smitten fast and furious;
Angry fire forth-flashing
Flew my ashen spear.

~Egill Skallagrimson

Oh, and what happened to Egill’s chests of silver? Apparently he hid it near his farm, which is a site somewhere on the Mosfell-hill, only a 15 minute car ride from Reykjavik. Treasure hunters are still looking for it today.

ngw