Gosh it all seems like so long ago, but it was only a couple of days.
The hotel in Brussels was decent enough. Cool enough room temperature (although still not cool enough to use the doona, so it went), hard bed and really good block out curtains meant a fairly good sleep. Breakfast was relatively small for such a big hotel.
Security outside the terminal was a bit silly. The directed some people through the bag checks but not others. ??? Weird. So got inside and confirmed that Brussels airport is very un user friendly. Because we were a bit early, there was no sign saying where Etihad checkins were, so we went to their little booth up the back to find out. They were on the end, but turns out it was the first day they'd used that section since the attacks a while back, so they were having *issues* - with the printing of boarding passes. So checkin took three quarters of an hour :( Then another half an hour to get through security and passport control.
We had an A330 for the first flight, but had been separated by the travel agent. So we asked at checkin if mum could get a window seat, which she could, which was good. Turns out we both had empty seats next to us. Go figure.
I watched Ratatouille first up which I hadn't seen in ages. Then I watched Rocky, which I'd never actually seen before. There were a few things that annoyed me about it, like how Adrian was clearly uncomfortable being in his house but he pushed on anyway. If it'd had been me I would have been out of there. Same with the fight with his manager. "Oh I hate you, no I really I don't can you be my manager". Whatevs. Didn't have time for a third movie, so watched the first half of Frozen.
At Abu Dhabi we parked way away from the terminal so needed a bus to the terminal. Which went around and around and took ages. By the time we got through security it was basically time to board our next flight. Luckily the gate was near the security end, didn't have to walk alllll the way down the terminal. But. We did need to go to the toilet, so had to walk alllll the way down the terminal. Ok not quite, but it was a long way and we were getting a bit stressed. Not that we should have been stressed, we sat on the plane for like an hour before we started moving.
So our second plane was an A380. And of course our seats were booked by a travel agent. So they were pretty bad - over the wing :( At least it wasn't too bad a flight to be stuck over the wing. Take off to the west at Abu Dhabi, but at night. Then over the Indian Ocean for the night. For the day we were flying over Australia, but there's really not a huge amount to see. Night time by the time we got to Sydney. That's the only time a better seat would have mattered, as we came in from the north and had Sydney on our left so that was nice. Could see it a bit over the top of the engines. The GPS had issues keeping on track. But the A380s are definitely a lot quieter than A330s. Or maybe that's just because we were in front of the engines instead of behind them.
The screens are also huge and bright on the A380s. Which makes them great for watching movies. The problem is you can see everyone else's as well. Which isn't really a problem unless you're trying to sleep and the lights flash in your face (Stu knows how much *that* annoys me). I had restless legs for the whole first half of the flight. Blerf. Watched The Martian first up. I'd been putting off watching this since I'd been hoping to see it on a bigger screen (Stu and EffanC watched it without me on their big screen and I'd been grumpy about it ever since). On the A380 screen it was perfectly adequate. Pretty decent movie too. Next I watched Eddie the Eagle which was just a lovely movie. Then I watched That Sugar Film - a documentary by an Australian guy looking into what effects processed sugar has on people's bodies. Quite interesting. Started to watch Rio 2, but was getting quite tired (it was about 3am Europe time). Finally my legs relaxed and I dozed for an hour or so. But then mum started fussing around and my gps lost its way and mum put on a movie which started flashing in my eyes (even with the eye patches on) so gave up on any more sleep. Finished watching Rio 2. Pretty silly movie.
If I don't get sick from that flight it'll be a miracle. The plane was full of sick people, including one behind and one beside us. Blerf.
Disembarked, picked up all my whiskey, breezed through immigration, and quickly through customs as well. Then trained it back to mum's, got to her place a bit after 8pm Sydney time, midday Europe time. I decided I wanted to go home and see the sweetie. The 7-Eleven at Sutherland was closed, as was a chunk of the M1 so had to use the Old Princes Highway. Got petrol at Sutton Forest, and got some food at The Scottish Restaurant there too, which helped keep me awake. Got home around midnight.
So all in all a pretty good trip. Saw lots of great scenery and had good weather for most of it. The biggest stresses were all the people. Not that I didn't get along with anyone, there were just so many (on the last tour at least) which just makes everything a bit stressful. Looking forward to a bit less stress at home, not really looking forward to going back to the dramas going on at work :)
Sleep and breakfast, rinse and repeat.
After breakfast, around 9am, we headed out. We wandered down to the fortress, expecting to have to pay to go in and possibly you do to go in the buildings, but you can walk all around the grounds for free which was pretty cool. We wandered around for three quarters of an hour and there's some great views of the city.
Then we headed up to the Historical Museum, because our tickets for the viking ship museum covered it. Didn't really spend all that much time there.
Then back to the hotel to sort out our bags and get ourselves ready. We'd done 10000 steps before lunch time!
The hotel was in a super convenient location - right on top of the station. So getting to the trains was super easy. We went and got some tickets for the regular train, not the airport express, because it's like half the price to do it that way. The train got up to 200 km/h for most of the trip and took about the same amount of time as the airport express anyway. And it had free wifi :)
Got to the airport and checked in. Check in and bag drop was all electronic and super easy, didn't have to interact with any humans at all. Oslo airport is generally quite user friendly. There's plenty of shops in the terminal too to look at while waiting. I finished up yesterday's photo sorting then grabbed a slice of pizza for lunch. Then mum and I went through all of her photos that I'd scanned recently and labelled what we could.
Our plane was about half an hour late leaving, I forget the reason why. Technical difficulties I think. Took off to the south and saw Oslo as we flew over it. Then over the Netherlands - pretty sure I saw Schipol and Rotterdam but really need to see the gps track to be sure. Rain as we arrived in Brussels.
Brussels airport is *not* very user friendly. We wanted to see about our flights tomorrow, but we first had to try and figure out which terminal it would likely go from. After wandering around trying to find anything useful, but failing, we thought we'd just go check in to the hotel and dump our bags then come back and try again. Even trying to get out of the airport to get to the hotel (which is conveniently just across the road from the terminal we came out of) was a drama. I couldn't even see emergency exit signs anywhere. We ended up asking someone how to get out of the damned terminal! Fail fail fail.
So checked into the hotel (it was about 19:40 by this point and we were tired and hungry). Had a look at the restaurant downstairs, but it looked expensive and uninspiring, so we went back to the airport. Because of the bombings a while back, security is pretty intense. There's no car pickups/dropoffs outside the terminal anymore - people have to use the parking garages for that. Not even any taxis. They must go somewhere, but don't know where. So the road between the terminal and the hotel is pedestrian only, with a security tent setup for access to the terminal, and a *lot* of heavily armed soldiers and police. Apparently from tomorrow the split terminal checkins are merging back into the one. Or something. Also apparently only passengers are allowed into the terminals at the moment - no visitors or people saying goodbye. Not that they actually checked that when we went back in so whatevs.
Anyway, found something to eat (just some pasta), then back to the hotel.
Slept mostly ok - the cooler temperature certainly helps.
Breakfast options were pretty limited, but the bacon was nice.
After breakfast we headed out for a tour of Oslo. We stopped opposite the Opera house for a photo stop. Drove around town for a bit. Went to the Vigeland sculpture garden which I quite enjoyed - the sculptures were quite interesting.
Then to the viking ship museum to see a couple of very well preserved viking ships which was pretty cool.
Then to the Fram museum to have a look at and on the Fram, a ship that explored both the north and south poles around the turn of the century.
Then got dropped back at the hotel.
We dumped some of our stuff then headed out for a good long wander around Oslo - alll the way from our hotel at the east central station up to the palace, then down to the water front, had an ice cream (Oslo was *hot* yesterday - 27C!!) then back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
Had the "farewell" dinner which was nice enough, although I struggled to get through my food. Chatted to some people for a while longer and suddenly it was 10:30pm ?? So pretty much just collapsed into bed without doing any photo or gps stuff.
HOT!! HOT HOT HOT!!!! Horrible hotel room. And bright too. We turned the light off and it's like "did we turn the light off?" Of course at 4am it's like "is it morning?". Le sigh.
At breakfast I really didn't feel like eating - just didn't want to be hungry. And need to eat enough to only need a light lunch as everything is stoopidly expensive here.
After breakfast walked down to see the 3800-person carrying Costa ship in the fjord. We were pretty lucky that there weren't any cruise ships in port yesterday to clog up the trolls road. Today tour bus after tour bus was heading into town to take people places.
Had a morning pitstop in Lom.
Made an unscheduled stop at a small cemetery where another Insight guide was buried - she'd actually died on tour which was all very sad.
Stopped in Lillehammer for lunch. Had issues finding public toilets. In the end snuck into a Scandia hotel and went there (we figured we've given Scandia plenty of money over the past couple of weeks). Then had a cheese roll for lunch. Went up to see the ski jump, which was in use! Even with no snow - they just slide down slippery plastic.
Then carried on to Oslo. The traffic here (that we've seen of it) is pretty awful.
Got to our hotel and checked in. The hotel is literally on top of the station concourse. The room is a comfortable temperature, but the decor is a little disturbing - a dude beating up a lion (well a human body with a lion head - weird weird weird).
Then headed out again. Firstly we went to the station to check out the process for getting to the airport on Wednesday. Then we went down to the Opera house (pretty, but not as pretty as ours), checked out Noah's Ark (a theatre on a barge) and then went to look for some dinner. Ended up at the cathedral cafe with some others. Had a reindeer pizza, although there wasn't much meat on it.
Then back for the nightly ritual.
OMFG this hotel room is fricken HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT. Just miserable. Thermostat is as low as it will go. The heater is not on. Not even the fridge is on (I needed the power point for the laptop). I can't see any vents. So have no idea where the heat is coming from but it's unbearable. Woke up this morning HOT.
So I got up and ran a load of washing.
As you do.
Cost me 40 NOK and I didn't bother drying it, just let it all dry in the room (which it did no problems in this heat).
Breakfast had a lot of variety, and luckily the restaurant wasn't as crowded this morning as it was last night.
Our trip for today was the Trollstigen - the trolls road - a very spectacular road a bit north of Geiranger. But the whole day of driving was spectacular.
First up was going up the eagle's lookout just out of Geiranger which was amazing.
Then a ferry across a fjord which was very pretty.
Then a pitstop for petrol (they couldn't get any in Lom yesterday because of the car show).
Another pitstop at Gudbrandsjuvet for morning tea by a powerful little waterfall.
Near the top of the Trollstigen, right at the top of the pass, we stopped to build trolls (just piles of rocks). So I built a snowman.
As you do.
At the top of the Trollstigen we just kept on going - past the visitors centre and parking. It felt a lot like the Man from Snowy River - where everyone stops at the top but Jim Craig leaps over the edge. It was exactly like that. The road is a lot like the one we came into Geiranger on yesterday, and the eagle's view road this morning - very steep with many hairpin bends zigzagging down the mountain. And the views are *spectacular*. And we had awesome weather. Just an amazing day.
At the bottom they cracked out the Henkell and we toasted the drive. Then we headed back up, this time stopping in at the visitor's centre for lunch (I had an ice cream) and a walk out to the viewing platform.
Then headed back the way we came. Most people snoozed but I had to look at all the amazing scenery.
Back in Geiranger we went for a little walk to the end of the fjord, then got dropped back to the hotel.
Dinner was much the same as last night, although we got in a little earlier so it wasn't *quite* as chaotic.
Then back to the hot house to do the nightly ritiual. I really need to wash my hair but I'm just too tired. Maybe tomorrow since we don't have a planned dinner so should be able to get back to the room earlier.
It's even later now because a bunch of the photos I'd downloaded yesterday had gotten corrupted somehow so Faststone was crashing trying to rotate them. In then end I figured out which ones were having problems and redownloaded them from the SD card and they're fine now. But that took forever to work through and now it's even later :(
Slept mostly ok I think. Woke up a bit before 6am. Average breakfast. Clear blue skies when we left at 8am. But it started to cloud over.
Had a morning pitstop at Kongsvold, a little guesthouse in the middle of nowhere. Then into the Dovrefjell National Park, but we didn't see any of the Greenland native oxen.
We did see another moose, a huge bird which I don't know if it was a large crane or a small ostrich, and another moose.
Stopped in Lom for a lunch stop. There was a vintage car parade going through town so the whole town was packed out and all these classic cars were coming and going so that was a lot of fun. Also had a look at one of the oldest stave churches in Norway.
The afternoon scenery was spectacular, especially the drive down into Geiranger. Absolutely wonderful.
In Geiranger we hopped on a cruise boat to see the fjord. Another fantastic experience.
All in all a great day.
Sadly our hotel room doesn't give us a view of the fjord, but I don't think anyone on the tour gets a fjord view, we all seem to be on the mountain side - probably you need to pay a lot more for a fjord view.
Dinner was in the hotel buffet. Pretty huge buffet. The drinks waiter was a bit hopeless though. Had to wait ages to get out of there and even then didn't sign for the drink I had. Oh well...
This room is *super* hot :( Can't open the windows more than a crack and the thermostats appear to not work at all. Sad times.
Woke up to a nice view this morning. Well really I woke up to all the light coming in the sides of the blinds. At 4am. Think I got a little more sleep after that. *Then* we opened the blinds and saw the view. I was too tired to really appreciate it though.
The hotel we had last night had completely retarded door locks, that sometimes you had to lock manually by swiping your card on the reader. Or worse, they simply didn't close properly at all, so you could just pull the door open. Dumb dumb dumb.
Pretty average breakfast (in the meh kind of way), and out the door at 8am.
Had a photo stop at Laksforsen to see a set of raging rapids, that also has a salmon ladder (which we couldn't actually see).
Then followed the river valley allll the way upstream, then allll the way downstream. The scenery was pretty enough, but mostly just forest, the river and some low mountains. Nothing super spectacular, although a few pretty parts in places.
Stopped for lunch in Steinkjer (Stinker!! ok not really). Shared some maccas fries with mum because we really didn't need much for lunch.
As we got further south there was a lot more gentle rolling hills and greenery and farmland.
Just before Trondheim we went to Hell! No really!
Then onto Trondheim. Checked in, then went out for a wander up and down the canal and looked for somewhere to have dinner. Bob and Joanne ran into us, so we had dinner with them and it was all very lovely. Finally got to check in a beer in Norway! Beer Traveller Level 5! W00t! The Norwegians, like the Germans, appear to revel in the sunny weather, and they were out in droves tonight.
Hoping the fantastic weather hangs around for another couple of days.
Last night mum stayed up late (11pm) reading and I had super restless itchy legs, so didn't get to sleep for ages :(:(:( Consequently woke up tired and grumpy. Then I was looking at the maps again and got depressed all over again at the really bad seat rotation scheme that doesn't alternate sides of the coach. Pissed off with the world and didn't want to be sociable at breakfast. In fact I was so upset I sat down looking at my food wondering if I'd even be able to stomach it.
Left a bit after 8am.
Once again, people with the awesome window seats on the right side of the coach slept most of the morning. Seriously why would you even bother coming on a trip like this if you're just going to sleep the whole way through it??? The only advantage of them sleeping was that they didn't take up half the window trying to take their own photos. There was one point where there was an awesome view to the left, and some other points later in the day I was able to lean across people to get some nice photos on the right.
We also took a ferry ride across one of the fjords because there's no road.
Lunch was at the lovely fjord-side town of Fauske. We had leftover chicken from last night's meal, and an icecream. The sun had also well and truly come out, so was feeling a lot better.
After lunch we left the fjords for a bit and headed into the hills, and I think most of the coach snoozed, including me.
On the way back south over the Arctic circle we stopped at the visitor's centre there for a break and we saw the little movie they had which was quite informative. Of course the Arctic circle isn't there anymore, it's wandered north (at 14 metres per year) so is now a ways north of the current visitor's centre. But it was still cool anyway.
Continued down and past more fjords and mountains, although not as spectacular. Watched a short film with Joanna Lumley about her trip to the Arctic to see the northern lights.
Followed a truck over a long detour which slowed us down quite a bit - didn't get to the hotel til nearly 7pm. The room is nice enough and has a lovely view of the mountain next door, but it's *hot* :( Thermostat is as low as it will go but the head from the minibar fridge is winning out. Not going to be using the doona again tonight :(
I was in a tshirt all day today. I did put my coat on for the ferry ride. But even in the snow at the arctic circle I was just in my tshirt. Silly really.
Dinner was in the hotel - buffet style. Pretty average meal really, but dessert was nice enough. A bunch of them were going to go for a walk after dinner, and I'd have loved to have gone, especially as we've done literally no exercise all day, but that would add another hour to going to bed time and I'm exhausted.
Slept reasonably well again last night. Taking the doona out of its cover certainly does seem to work. I just have this weird mental block against doing it, because that's not How Things Should Be Done.
Decent breakfast again. 7:30 out the door.
Long driving day today. Past lots of fjords.
The seat rotation has put us on the wrong side of the coach to see them. As we're driving south, all the fjords are on the right, and we're on the left of the coach pretty much until the end of the trip. So this sux epically.
But what's worse is that the lucky people on the right side of the coach are WASTING IT!!!! We're in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and many of the people with the right side window seats were sleeping or reading or playing on their tablets. Why even bother doing this tour people?? If these people don't care about looking at the scenery they should swap with people that do (read: me). As it was I was hanging over people trying to see out the windows for the morning and get photos where possible. It was the most frustrating and then depressing morning so far. I. Hate. People. A lot.
Had a photo stop in Gildetun up on the side of a moutnain, a morning pitstop in Storslett and a lunch pitstop in Nordkjosbotn.
After that the weather closed in and made visibility pretty poor, and we were going over the mountains not next to the fjords so I ended up having a bit of a snooze.
Had a toilet pitstop in Bjerkvik.
Late in the afternoon we ended up back on the border in Riksgransen in Sweden to take beautiful train trip down from the border along one of the fjords and into Narvik. Very pretty, although it was very grey and dreary. Can see how it would be even more spectacular on a good day. At least I got a good window seat for it.
In Narvik the coach disappeared to the service entrance to unload our bags, so we gave up on the idea of bringing our own bags up. Went up the 16th floor to get some photos, then went for a wander to find some dinner. Ended up at the Italian restaurant with another couple which was nice, but the serving sizes were *huge*! Oops. I just keep getting fatter and fatter....
After the last two nights I decided I really needed an easy day today, so skipped the morning optional activity.
Bit of hurty in the morning so awake earlier than I wanted. Had a fairly leisurely breakfast with some nice choices.
After breakfast I came up to do computer stuff. And given that it rained all morning I'm not regretting my choice.
I used the time to various *stuff*. I checked the downloads of my photos, and I'm super glad I did as there was a day on the Reformation tour where I'd downloaded my photos before dinner, but had taken a whole heap at dinner, but hadn't downloaded them. I was super lucky I checked and that I hadn't already cycled that memory card, otherwise I would have lost all the people photos I took on the last night of the reformation tour. Backed everything to memory stick and external hard drive. Also completely repacked my suitcase which made me feel a lot better. I paid my phone bill (excess usage from being overseas). Blogged some stuff on my main blog. And just looked through photos.
The afternoon optional activity was a wilderness river "cruise". It's really not very well described so I had no idea what to expect. What it actually was was these motorised canoes that held between four and seven people in single file, and we motored up the river and back (20 km/h upstream, 35 km/h downstream). Unfortunately didn't get to see any wildlife except for a few birds. But it was somewhat exhilirating in the cool arctic air (not cold mind you!).
After the ride we got out and had some waffles by the fire sitting on reindeer skins (which are surprisingly warm, who knew) and got to see the remains of the ice hotel they build every year but has since melted. We got to see a bit of a promo video of it too which was pretty cool. Would be an awesome experience to stay the night!
The evening's activity was to a husky breeder's house for a dinner of bbqed salmon and veggies. After dinner was some stories from the owner who breeds and races her Alaskan huskies. She was a great story teller, it was really intersting. Then we got to go and play with the dogs and even got to hold some four week old puppies. Sooo cute!
Then back to the hotel.