My gosh! Time really is flying, but the last half of May has been nothing short of amazing! To start, I spent 6 days in Norway with an organization that plans student trips around Scandinavia.
My friend Alexa and I embarked on a Sunday and took the nine hour bus journey to Oslo, the capital of Norway. The weather was pretty rainy and cold but we still got out that night to explore the central part of the city.
After dinner, we headed out with all the students to a very trendy bar that sits ashore of one of the rivers that winds through the city. Unfortunately, the US Dollar doesn’t go very far in Norway and beers were about $10 apiece. So we only had one and called it an early night to prepare for the next day!
On Monday, we started bright and early with a guided tour of the city! We got to see the Parliament house, Royal Palace, Vigeland Park, as well as the largest ski-jump in the world. Vigeland Park was stunning as it is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist! The unique pieces represented the cycle and stages of life while adding so much beauty to the natural landscape within the park. Though it was rainy it was really cool to drive up to the ski-jump to see exactly what professionals go through in training and as they compete.
After the tour, we drove to Laerdal, a small town that sits right at the mouth of a massive fjord. There, we had a barbecue right by the water and took in the breathtaking scenery around us.
That Wednesday is definitely in the running for being the best day I’ve had all semester. From Laerdal we traveled two hours to Jostedalsbreen National Park to hike to and climb a glacier! Each of us received an ice pick and shoe crampons and we began the one hour trek through snow, ice and mountainous terrain towards the glacier. Once there, we had a quick lunch and put our crampons on before beginning the two hour glacier hike.
Since snow and ice provide uneven footing, we were all required to wear harnesses that connected groups of 15 together with rope. We were told this was helpful in case one person fell down, in that the other climbers could easily move away from them to help them stand up again.
It actually turned out to be super useful as I fell into giant holes twice and even sunk my foot into a pond of beautiful but freezing glacial water. Though it was cold at first, I soon warmed up as I kept moving and I’ve never been prouder of how hard we all trekked on despite the cold and the physical exhaustion.
After the hike we were all exhausted but thrilled. Having the experience of climbing on a real glacier in all of its massive, cerulean beauty is something I will never forget. I had to take a few minutes to stop and take in the overwhelming natural processes that were going on around us. To be in valleys and fjords carved over millions of years by the very thing we were hiking on was utterly fantastic. As my vocabulary is showing, there is just no way to describe exactly what I experienced! It was incredible.
On Thursday (the other top contender for favorite day abroad), Alexa and I woke early to rent bicycles. We biked about 10 miles along the fjord next to our camping grounds at Laerdal. The scenery was out of this world. I wish that moment could have lasted much longer.
Once we finished the bike ride, we joined the rest of our group for a two-hour cruise of Naerøfjord (the UNESCO World Heritage branch of Sognefjord) from the city of Gudvangen to Flåm. In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve seen more beautiful natural scenery in my life. I was trying to capture the moment with my camera as much as I was trying to enjoy it. The glacier water was crystal clear and the blue contrasted vibrantly against the lush green mountains and pure white snow caps. The weather was perfect—sunny, warm, and bright!
After the cruise tour, I was bummed to leave. It seemed there was simply not enough time to truly take in each place. However, there was more to do in Norway, so we loaded up our charter bus once again to head to Bergen on the West coast of Norway!
Though the road systems are convenient for navigating Norway’s mountainous terrain, they are, unfortunately, often blocked by avalanches and car accidents. On our journey, an avalanche blocked one of our paths and in the alternative route we took, we had to wait three hours for an accident to be cleared! Not the ideal end to our day, but although we were all tired, we made the most of the day by enjoying the small town we were stopped in, even seeing some lambs and horses!
On our last full day in Norway, we took a walking tour of the beautiful water-front town of Bergen as well as the UNESCO World Heritage site located in Old Bergen. We truly could not have asked for more beautiful weather. The town has a unique German influence which was apparent in the building as well as the Hanseatic history of the area. After the walking tour, Alexa and I stopped by the fish market to get some fresh Norwegian fish. It was some of the most delicious fish I have ever tasted and the atmosphere was so traditional and welcoming.
Next on our list of adventures was the cable car up Mount Fløyen, overlooking the city. The ride only took about five minutes and the view of Bergen was extraordinary. The city is known as the gateway to the fjords and it is not hard to see why. Five mountains as well as massive waterways surround the city. Once at the top, we treated ourselves to some Norweigan waffles as we enjoyed the view.
We didn’t have much time left before we had to meet up the group again, so we hiked down the mountain for about 40 minutes, enjoyed one last walk around town, and grabbed dinner. Since it was a long journey back to Stockholm, the bus drivers drove from 8 pm overnight to get us back to Stockholm by 10 the following morning.
While I know that I’ve seen some amazing things throughout my time abroad, Norway stood out significantly. I think the focus on Eco-tourism was key in forming my experience of this wonderful place. It might also be because it was my last big trip of the semester and saying goodbye to such an amazing few months is proving to be more difficult than I imagined.
The day I arrived home in Stockholm, I took a ferry with my larger group of study abroad friends to the island of Gotland which sits about three hours off the Swedish coast. During summer, a lot of Swedes go to this island for the beaches, for biking and swimming. We went there to relax and that’s exactly what we did!
On day one, we explored town a bit, sun-bathed, enjoyed a “family dinner” and went out for some drinks! The next day, we taught our friend Bryan how to ride a bike and rode all the way to the Gotland cliffs where we sat overlooking the beautiful water watching sailboats go by. It was an amazing weekend filled with great friends and even better memories.
This past week has been wonderful as well. I’ve been to the city almost every day trying to say my goodbyes to all of the favorite places I’ve come to know and love. I am still in disbelief that my time abroad is ending this coming week.
Today, I had another great adventure with my study abroad friends as we headed to Gröna Lund, the amusement park located in Stockholm! We were all so excited to go on the rides and play a few games. It ended up being so much more fun than any of us expected and was another perfect way to close out the semester. The rides were fun, the sun was shinning and the lines were short. Couldn’t have asked for much more! I even got some traditional Swedish sour rope candy that I had been dying to try all semester. Though I am sunburned a bit, it was a worthwhile day.
This week I focus mainly on packing and finishing my final essays. Tomorrow, we will have a goodbye dinner. We plan to sign each other’s Swedish flags that we bought as a sort of yearbook to commemorate our amazing time abroad. To finish off, we are all going to the Lion Bar, the first place we went out to when we arrived here in Stockholm!
My parents and sister arrive this Thursday as they are helping to pack me up. We are then going to travel to Arvika, Sweden to visit some distant family and see where our ancestors came from! I am really excited to take this small trip with them and to just see them as well.
From there, my sister Haley and I are planning on taking a twenty-day backpacking trip through Portugal, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, France and Amsterdam. I am really looking forward to see her since I haven’t seen her all semester and because we are really close. I know we are going to have an amazing time exploring these amazing places together. I hope to take in as much of Europe as I can before getting back to life in San Diego.
The next time you hear from me I will be back in California recapping my semester, all of the amazing adventures I had, as well as the lessons I’ve learned. With no other way to put it, I have to say it is crazy how time flies!