Friendly Volda

After our trip to the fjords, we travelled to Volda on the west coast of Norway. Mountains, seas and pretty villas form a dramatic backdrop to this little town. Volda University College (VUC) here is popular for higher education.

I was going there the second time. Here’s an extract from my travelogue in 2009: They say parting is a sweet sorrow, and now I get the meaning of it completely. Everyday at Volda was a wonderful experience worth remembering a lifetime. I will miss people here for their kindness, friendship and hospitality. I hope to return to this beautiful place and country sometime in the future! 

How's the landscape?

How’s the landscape?

Yay! And, my dream did come true. (Yeah, do believe in the beauty of your dreams.) It was more of a social visit this time in Volda. My first visit rewarded me with genial friends, who also made it to my wedding in India. The same friends invited us couple over to their place for a stay. Hmm…it’s hard to describe in words the fondness I have for this place and people. Anyway, let me try. Volda is like a fairyland – it’s so far away, yet so close to my heart that it can light up my spirits anytime! Its kindhearted and friendly people and scenic beauty conjure up images of a divine land.

Our friend T picked us from the bus station and drove us to his home in Volda. Well, it was a great feeling to be going there the second time and that too with P! T’s chirpy wife A greeted us with so much warmth. She had taken a couple of days off from her work. It was a lovely big home and the surroundings were awe-inspiring. We were escorted to a neatly made room, which was going to be ours the next three days. Here’s a recollection of our memorable stay there.

Our breakfast

Our breakfast

Pongal and raitha

Pongal and raitha

Day 1 –  A filling continental breakfast was waiting for us after we refreshed ourselves. We had a long chat with A & T and then we headed to VUC where we got to meet another friend J Y who had also made it to our wedding with his three children. Later that evening, we offered to cook some rice and sambar for dinner.

Yummy cheesecake

Yummy cheesecake

A, T & their son Ø enjoyed it, although it was a bit spicy for them. Any guesses as to where we had our dessert? At  their summer house (hytte in Norwegian), which was at a distance from their regular home! They had built it themselves and we were in awe of their hard work. Yummy eggless cheesecake made by A specially for us adorned the table along with some redcurrants fresh from their garden, soya milk and orange juice. We simply binged on all of it. Later, P & I got an opportunity to meet their first daughter S. Mia, their cat, did say a meow to us. It was tough catching hold of her though.

Mia

Mia

Day 2 –  After a sumptuous breakfast, we had been to a late friend E’s place where we met his wife and son. E had shown me around in Volda, Ørsta and Ålesund the last time. He’d taken me to his home too where both he and his wife let me pick up apples from their orchard. (I’d felt like a child.) Namaste was his way of greeting me.  E was extremely passionate about India. He’d lived in India for many years and it was like his second home country. He knew about the country much more than native Indians themselves do! So many artefacts from India beautified their home. As fate willed it, my dear senior friend died of an ailment a year before our visit. I’d mourned for him and I’d realized how friendship transcends age and nationality.  We then went to A’s mother’s home (a beautiful one again!) where we picnicked before heading to a historical Ålesund, about which I shall write later.

Great entertainers!

Great entertainers!

Day 3 – J & S who were the owner-couple of my abode during my last visit came visiting us at our hosts’ home. They were a family of four then, now five. It was such a joy to see the children (all of whom were under five years of age) rambling and prancing. Ah, children make great entertainers especially when they’re in high spirits! We also went walking down the town with them and we happened to visit their home (a new one) later. Btw, in the morning, P and I were invited to VUC to interact with a group of students who were going to India a couple of months later on a study trip. The students had few questions regarding travel within India as also regarding Indian culture. We went around the campus visiting the library, media labs and the international office, and pleasant memories flashed to me from the last visit. C from the international office welcomed us in her usual sprightly ways. We met a couple of faculty members over coffee and a couple of others in their offices. We also managed to say a hello to SL, Dean of the department.

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Redcurrants

Back home that night, we cooked pongal and raitha for all of us. (We’d purchased the requisite ingredients from an Asian shop the previous day.) There was some yummy dessert waiting for us: fresh strawberries and redcurrant juice. J Y too joined us. After a lively get-together over dinner, it was time for us to leave. They dropped us to the bus station. J Y’s son too arrived at the bus station to greet us. Wow, what great hospitality was shown towards us both by all our friends there and we were touched to the core. The bonding and bonhomie among us were exceptional. My trip to the fairyland came to an end with a lot of sweet memories to cherish. We’re now waiting to meet our Norwegian friends again and host them in our country.

PS: This post is dedicated to my friends in Volda and I decided to publish it today as it happens to be International Friendship Day! 🙂

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Exotic fjords

Hey, have you heard of fjords? Fjords are long strips of sea seen between steep hills, and they are a specialty of Norway, one of the Scandinavian countries. For travel buffs, a visit to the fjords should be on their bucket list!

Our journey through the fjords begins...

Our journey through the fjords begins…

Heaven...

Heaven…

We had hired a SUV at Trondheim for our exciting journey to the fjords. We had friends from Poland, Russia, Iran and India who were accompanying us on this memorable journey.  In fact, our Indian friend A had arranged the entire trip. Our Polish friend M was the driver. He was chirpy all the way, driving for almost eight hours around the fjords. The roads seemed treacherous at times and there were quite a few hairpin bends too. Here is the route we traversed: http://goo.gl/9nxwB. We drove for around 800 km in less than two days, stopping every now and then to enjoy the scenery around us. We went berry-picking for a short while. In another mountainous belt, we found snow. We played in that snow-clad mountain going up and down; we made a snowman too and rejoiced. Oh, the child in each one of us was predominantly seen!

Our snowman :)

Our snowman

Atlantic Ocean Road

Atlantic Ocean Road

The Atlantic Ocean Road that we drove along offered some panoramic views – seemed like we were headed straight to Paradise. The entire atmosphere was rhapsodic! We travelled through the Atlantic Ocean Tunnel. This 5,769-metre long tunnel is an underwater road tunnel and connects Kristiansund to Averoy – two terrific locations. We travelled with a lot of excitement on the 1,257-metre long Gjemnessund suspension bridge. We stopped there for a brief time to enjoy some special views and for some photo sessions too. Well, life in Norway isn’t very simple – you need to avail of the services of ferries and/or tunnels to reach the mainland faster. And, you will have to pay for these services each time.

Geirangerfjord

Geirangerfjord

Can you locate some neat abodes?

Can you locate some neat abodes?

We halted overnight at a neat place in Hellesylt, which was overlooking the awe-inspiring Geirangerfjord. Along with Nærøyfjord, the Geirangerfjord is listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site. We took a guided cruise across the Geirangerfjord. There was water gushing down the steep hills in the form of different strands and this was called the Seven Sisters. The climate was really cold and it was time for some cappuccino on the cruise. We could see people kayaking on the sea. The snow-capped mountain peaks with their varied hues took us to a different world altogether. Geirangerfjord is a 15-km long fjord. We were closest to nature’s bounty and we went into raptures at the visual treat. And this was my second trip across the scenic fjord in less than three years! Could I have been luckier than this?! 🙂

Visual treat, right?

Visual treat, right?

After a climb to the peak, we entered in and rested for a short while...

A wooden enclosure to rest after a climb to the peak

Of course, this time it was a new experience travelling with my sweetheart and a new set of wonderful friends. We enjoyed one another’s company as we sang and exchanged some banter while on the road. Our two-day trip to the fjords ended with a steep climb to Snøhetta, apparently the 24th highest peak in Norway. Oh, there’s so much to write about this trip to the fjords, but I think I need to end now. Btw, for any specific information on the voyages I write about, feel free to get in touch with me via this site.

PS: The posts sometimes may be delayed due to time constraints, but rest assured that the experiences are ever fresh. 🙂

Tranquil Trondheim

We travelled to Trondheim from Oslo by an express train. Well, Trondheim is in the central part and it is the third largest city in Norway. It used to be the capital city once upon a time. Thanks to its geographical position, Norway is also known as the land of midnight sun, as the sun is visible even at midnight during the summer months. The Northern Lights or the aurora borealis can be seen distinctly from this region and upwards during the long nights of the Arctic winter months, from October to March. The northern lights are an atmospheric phenomenon where colours of white and green dance in the night sky. It somewhat resembles a laser show. We were unable to see these lights as we were there during summer. Gosh! Every part of Norway is like a natural canvas and attracts a painter’s eye. It is a traveller’s and poet’s paradise as well.

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

Our friend A escorted us to his home from the station at Trondheim. It was around 7 am and the weather conditions didn’t seem to be tip-top. Ah, these weather Gods play a significant role in deciding the day’s activities especially while on vacation. Thus checking the temperature outside before we step out has become second nature to us and we equip ourselves accordingly. We rested, refreshed and gorged on some healthy home food. The trio then set out. We also had to finalize a SUV rental deal for our journey to the fjords the next day.

Nidaros Cathedral

Nidaros Cathedral

Breathing pollution-free fresh air, we kept wandering Trondheim’s medieval pathways.  We crossed a bridge and there was visual treat below on either side. Streams, hillocks, villas and bushes made up the landscape. We strolled around the popular Nidaros Cathedral and the Arch Bishop’s palace. We then walked ahead and had cappuccino at a local mall, and headed to an Asian shop where we shopped for fruits and other edible items for our upcoming journey. This city is home to a large student population. We had an opportunity to visit our host-friend A’s workplace: Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He showed us around. Later, while A & P ended up being glued to the computer for a while, yours truly merrily went around getting views of the city from the university’s terrace. We were then taken to the cafeteria where a piano was neatly sitting. And lo, our friend played some lilting tunes for us on that classy piano!

Scenic, isn't it?

Scenic, isn’t it?

On our last day at Trondheim, we went walking on a countryside trail close to A’s home. Lovely lakes and dams greeted us. We travelled by the 8.8 km long tramway line, which happens to be the northernmost tram line in the world. It kept moving uphill, offering fantastic views of the city. We boarded the tram at the city centre and alighted at the last station close to Bymarka where the city’s recreation centre is located. We stayed there for a few minutes and then took the same tram to get back on time.

The TV and rotating restaurant at the top

The TV tower and rotating restaurant at the top

We met two other friends and the five of us visited a rotating restaurant atop the TV Tower in Trondheim. We feasted on some starters, veg pizzas and soft drinks. We engaged in some banter as usual and enjoyed the natural beauty around us, which we could see at a height through the windows of that tower restaurant. For a moment, the scenery appeared to rotate around us although it was the other way round! 🙂

Oh, Oslo

We were heading to one of the costliest cities in the world. It’s the capital city of one of the Scandinavian countries. Guess which city?

Yes, it’s Oslo in Norway. Norway is also amongst the top countries with a high human development index, which is calculated based on the life expectancy, education and income. We’d set foot in this expansive and expensive country on a ten-day sojourn. For me, it was a second visit in less than three years. Yes, I loved to go back for it’s a traveller’s paradise thanks to its blaze of exquisite natural beauty.

Ski Jump

Ski Jump

We were excited as the plane made its descent into Oslo that morning. After exiting from the airport, we headed straight to the tourist information centre where we picked up a local map that came along with an official guide to Oslo. There was a separate booklet for bus routes. Surprisingly, these were for free. We then travelled to the room we’d rented out. We dropped our luggage, freshened up and set out. On our Lonely Planet guide, we’d marked a few places we wanted to visit. We used a metro to reach the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, which was opened as recently as 2010 and it could be seen from many vantage points in Oslo.  We walked uphill and we were offered a panoramic view of the city. We then saw the gigantic ski jump structure that was made up of thick steel. Skiing competitions are held on this steep slope. From a distance, the shape of the ski jump area somewhat resembled a dinosaur to me.

Ski simulator

Ski simulator

Well, skiing as a sporting culture is believed to have started in Norway and Sweden thanks to the climatic conditions where winters are snowy and severe. Norwegians are known to be born with skis on their feet! Every household would have a wide collection of skis and boots for various types of skiing. To experience at least some virtual skiing, I hopped on to a ski simulator by paying 60 NOK. (The Norwegian currency is Krone.) I felt like a skier as I descended into a snowy, steep surface at 130 km/hr in a virtual skiing avatar. I quite enjoyed it. 🙂

We then went to the city centre taking a metro. Hungry that we were, we went looking for a restaurant for some good veg grub. It so happened that we chanced upon an Indian restaurant that was recommended by Trip Advisor. We  decided to have a full-course North Indian meals, vegetarian of course. It felt quite homely there. Surprisingly, we saw cycle rickshaws (three-wheeled cycles that enable ferrying passengers) near the city centre! We also got a view of the ancient Oslo Cathedral from a distance.

A section of the Nobel Peace Center

A section of the Nobel Peace Center

The next day we visited the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. Every year, Norway recognizes people who have promoted world peace in various ways and honours them with the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.  The “Nobel Field” section was visually appealling with a display of long strands of blue fibre optics and on top of which digital portraits and biography of the prize winners starting 1901 were planted.

The sheroes

The “sheroes”

A section on women activists called “sheroes” was quite nice with sketches about their achievements. The “sheroes” were none other than the Nobel Peace Prize winners for 2011, and here goes their names: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakel Karman.

Digital display of handprints

Digital display of handprints

We “gave peace a hand” as we left our handprints on a digital screen. Within the Peace Center, an exhibition with Afghan women in focus was also quite absorbing. Yours truly ended up buying a magnetic bookmark (with Mother Teresa’s photo on it) as a souvenir.

Parliament building, Oslo

Parliament building, Oslo

Oslo City Hall

Oslo City Hall

As we stepped out and started walking, we got to see some popular buildings like the City Hall, Parliament, National Theater, etc. We had planned to meet our friends R & S in Oslo. They lived in Jøvik, 120 km away from Oslo. We had some refreshments at a cafe and then the two couples (R & S, P & me) headed to the huge Vigeland Sculpture Park where we spent time walking around and chatting up.

The sculptures all along the park (left, right and in the centre of the park) were modelled single-handedly by artist Gustav Vigeland. There was one 14-metre high sculpture in the centre that was particularly eye-catching. It was called the Monolith and built using one single stone and it was supposed to consist of 121 human figures. During my earlier visit, my host-friend T had taken me to the Viking Ship Museum where huge ships from the viking times were on display.

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Vigeland Sculpture Park

We bid goodbye to our friends, picked up our luggage from our lodging, had wholesome veg dinner at another Indian restaurant and left for Trondheim (500 km north of Oslo) by a night train. Wow, the train was super cool, fast and clean! You know what place I shall cover in my next blog. 🙂