Norway


Hiking in the Lofoten Islands

“Julie, do you remember Beverly Barlow?” My Mom asked when she called to wish me Bon Voyage on my upcoming trip to Norway. It was more of a statement than a question. “Mary George’s niece, from Louisville. Remember her?”

The name was familiar, and I vaguely recollected a freckle-faced red head kid from many years ago.

“Yeah, I remember. She was my age and we used to play at the country club swimming pool when she came to visit.”

“That’s her. Well, guess what?  She lives in Norway!  You should visit her!”

Just that simple. I was leaving on my trip in three days. Not being a traveler herself, Mom obviously didn’t realize how meticulously I had worked on the perfect itinerary.  I discounted the idea initially. Upon continued reflection, though, I admit I was a tad intrigued.

Jeff and I had been planning a 2-week vacation in Norway for several months, and I had perfected our itinerary down to the latest bus schedules. Our plan was to have the “greenest” possible trip, using only public transportation, hostels and small, local lodgings when possible.

Since turning fifty last year, I‘ve had a self-revelation of sorts. There’s something about hitting the half-century mark that has encouraged me to reflect on life and the paths I chose to take. More than ever, I have been thinking about my past and long-lost relationships. My introduction to facebook has offered possibilities to rekindle old friendships as well as make some new ones.

Since Mom knew nothing more than Beverly’s married name and the city she lived in, I “faced” her, just out of curiosity.  Despite the decades, I immediately recognized the bronze-headed beauty that popped onto the screen.  Hmmmm….

Why not? I sent her a message. “Hey, Bev, you probably don’t remember me but…” yadda yadda yadda…

Within minutes, she “friended” me and sent me her response.  “I may not remember to put on matching earrings, or what I ate for breakfast, but I remembered you as soon as I saw your name in my in-box.”

After a few more messages, we figured out that she lived a good six hours from my northern-most stop in the Lofoten Islands, a good bit north of the Arctic Circle. Since my schedule was already set, circumscribed by non-refundable tickets and reservations, (Norway is billed as the most expensive travel destination in the world), we agreed that while it would be fun to hook-up, it may not be feasible logistically. We agreed to confer via email once I arrived in Norway though, and see if either of us could figure something out.

After examining our self-prescribed itinerary, Jeff and I agreed to combine two days of hiking and sightseeing into one, freeing up our last day in the Lofoten Islands.  After several back and forth emails and ample opportunities to opt-out, we agreed to meet up at the halfway point. Jeff and I rented a car and drove three hours north to Harstad, Norway. Bev took a ferry south.

Hiking above Geirangerfjord, Norway

“So, how long has it been since you’ve seen each other,” Jeff asked on the drive.

“Well, I think it’s been about forty years. We were around ten years old is my best guess.”

“Were you good friends?”

“More like ‘amicable acquaintances’, I’d say”

“What are you going to talk about?” Jeff, like a lot of guys, doesn’t see the point in meeting up with someone without an agenda.

“I really don’t know. Whatever comes up, I guess.” Now he’s making me question my motives. Am I crazy? Is this going to be awkward? I sit in silence much of the ride, second-guessing my motives.

As she stepped off the ferry, I immediately spotted her long auburn locks and easy smile. That’s her, no doubt about it. Running up to her, we hugged, then sat at a nearby café table with Jeff and chatted a bit before deciding where to have lunch. She already had a restaurant suggestion that she had researched. Ah! My kind of girl–a pre-planner.

Lingering over lunch at a lovely café just steps away from the water, time flew by. Fluent in Norwegian, she ordered us a beer and helped decipher the menu. We talked nonstop, not about our past (since there aren’t many memories), but of where our lives have taken us.

“I’ve lived in Norway for eight years,” Beverly explained. “My soon-to-be ex husband’s parents were Norwegian, so there are family ties. Even after separating, I’ve decided to stay. I can’t imagine leaving this place.” (I don’t blame her, Norway is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen.)

All of the taboo subjects were on-limits, including politics, religion, and the shared teenage/young adult experiences that go along with coming of age. Our experiences are remarkably similar, our philosophies and beliefs on par with one another’s. We laughed in near amazement, but not surprise, that we have many of the same general mantras and aspirations of writing books. We both agreed that after turning fifty last year, we are becoming more comfortable in our own skin.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the ferry. I regretted having to leave so soon, there was so much more I wanted to learn and share with Bev.

We hugged each other goodbye, but in reality, this was a hello hug. A welcome to my life, friend, hug.

Bev and me with Willy and the Boyz

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Airport security in Oslo, Norway has pulled my backpack off the belt and re-scanned it three times now.

Security Woman:  “Ecksluter skala ut?” (Or something along those lines)

Me:  “Huh?”

Security screener makes direct eye contact with me.

Security: “Luftputebåten min er full av ål?”

Oh, they must want to know whose bag this is.

Me:  “Oh, That’s mine.”

A (cute) security man takes me and my bag over to a 2-walled cubicle.  Ohhhhh–maybe he’s gonna frisk me!

Cute Security Man:  “Ett språk er aldri nok.”

Me:  “Scuzi?”  (this is my attempt to impress him with my linguistic skills.)

CSM:  “Metal? Anything metal?”

Me:  “Maybe my hiking boots.”  I have no idea why I blurt this out. I guess I figure the shape of a boot is similar to a large handgun.

He puts on his gloves and looks at me for permission to search my bag.  (Shouldn’t he have to search me, first? Damn!)

As Cute Security Man pulls out my boots and inspects them, I can’t help but notice they still reek of all the sheep-shit we’ve trampled through. Reaching further into the depths of my backpack, his face contorts into a look of “ah-ha”.  Slowly, deliberately, he pulls out—— Willy and the Boys— dressed to the nines in my beige silk panties I had wrapped around him to protect from scratches.  I had totally forgotten about the possibility that Willy, made of metal, could throw a red flag at security.

Intrigued (or embarrassed), he delicately removes my undergarment from Willy’s head and places them back in the pack.

Me: “Willy! Sorry! I forgot!”

CSM laughs. (with me or at me?)  He takes Willy over to the security woman and “dances” Willy in the air in front of her. They both say something unintelligible and have a chuckle. As CSM hands Willy back to me I realize that, once again, my “ambassador of goodwill” has given me another story for my travels.

Willy & the Boyz busted at the airport!

ready to go!

As promised in my last blog, here are some of my tips and tricks of packing for that upcoming trip, whether it is a long weekend away or a multi-week international adventure. Many of these tips you may already know. Some may sound silly, but this is what I have learned works for me.  I am going to use my upcoming trip to Norway as an example, since I’ll need to bring a variety of clothing for questionable weather conditions. (And because Norway is notoriously expensive, and I DO NOT want to have to purchase anything that I already own).

First and foremost, get everything into a carry-on sized piece of luggage or backpack.  With all of the airlines charging new fees for checking bags (and some even charging for carry-ons), you’ll be doing yourself a big favor to keep your belongings with you.

I use a medium-sized compression sack for my bulky items. For this trip, I have my Gortex rain parka, breathable lightweight sporting jacket (for cooler temps), and wool socks compressed into a neat 7″ x 3″ package.  Since I won’t be wearing those items immediately, they are crammed into the bottom of my daypack.

My 3 pairs of pants are tightly rolled. I have one pair of zip-offs, 1 pair of long hiking pants and 1 pair of comfy lightweight cargos. 2  wick-dri shirts and a cute lightweight button-down, plus a silk turtleneck are the tops I’ve rolled up, and in the empty spaces I have crammed my undies and a pair of LL Bean Mary Janes that are great light-hikers/street shoes.  I will wear my bulkier hiking boots on the plane, then change out of them and put them in overhead once we’re in the air.

compression sack, booze, shoes, Willy. Unfortunately, the dog can't go

I bought a tiny travel umbrellla at Target (my favorite store) on sale for $3.00 in prep for the rain I expect. I also have a waterproof sun hat, along with a cute little cap for bad-hair days. A large scarf that can double as a blanket on the plane will protect me from the cooties on the plane-issued blankets,  plus the fact that some airlines are now charging for them. An inflatable neck pillow will come in handy on the plane as well as long bus trips. An now that TSA only allows a quart-sized baggie to hold all your liquids (in no larger than 3-oz bottles), I went to the package store and purchased 2 little bottles of vodka, thus saving another $7.00 a pop. I’ll put those in w/ my little shampoo and Castile soap, which doubles as body wash and laundry soap.

Last but certainly not least, I have packed Willy and the Boyz, my trusted travel mascot that we purchased from an artisan shop in New Zealand about 15 years ago. Willy et.al. has traveled with us on every trip we have taken, and I consider him my ambassador of good will. (He is featured in an anthology that will be coming out later this year!)

Willy & the Boyz in the Alps

All of that , plus a few extra’s  (gum, coughdrops, book, trail mix…)  fits neatly in my daypack, adhering to the USAir size limitations of 14″ x 9″ x 22″. Pretty good, if I may say so myself!

So pack light, pack smart, and Happy Travels, everybody! I’ll report back on my Norway trip upon my return.

The Lofoten Islands

In a matter of days, HK and I will be on a flight headed to Norway. This is our first trip to Scandinavia, so we’re excited to see a different part of the world. We chose Norway as a result of my research for an article on my European Travel site at BellaOnline.  The Norway websites (Fjordnorway and visitnorway)  wowed us with stunning scenery of turquoise blue fjords surrounded by craggy cliffs and majestic mountains. As physically active travelers, we were impressed with the opportunities Norway offers-kayaking, glacier walks, white water rafting and hiking galore. Perfect! Add to that the fact that getting around is easy; the country’s bus, train, air and ferry systems can get you anywhere your heart desires.

HK also made it clear that he did not wish to travel to another 3rd world country this year. Last year’s 3-week trip to Bhutan was enough for a couple more years.

Knowing back in the spring that Norway was our destination, I scoured my favorite discounted airlines websites;  Kayak, Sidestep, Cheapoair and TripAdvisor.  I placed Atlanta-Norway on their watch lists, and within about a month, Cheapoair alerted me that there was a $535  fare. For Norway, that is a DEAL, so I grabbed it!  Now the fun part, deciding on our itinerary and booking rooms. ( I prefer to know where I’ll be staying beforehand, as history has shown us that just showing up, especially in rural areas where accommodations are limited, is risky business.)

Back in the day, I was a travel agent. I even co-owned a travel agency for awhile, but I made both a lousy boss and worse employee, so I quit. No, wait, maybe I fired myself. Whatever…After that gig, I went to work for an adventure travel company and was a trip consultant/tour escort.  Fun job, I got to travel all over Latin America, and HK got to go on several trips with me. Anyway, after learning how to put trips together, and realizing that I do not like group travel, HK and I began orchestrating our own trips, much more to our liking.

It was only after booking our airfare that I discovered that Norway is the most expensive country in the world. Hmmmm…I thought Japan had that title in the bag.  Yep, turns out even staying in a youth hostel can set you back a C-note.  (Compare that to our 50-cents a night tea houses in Nepal-YIKES!) Anyway, after comparing lots of suggested itineraries on travel-oriented websites such as Virtualtourist, Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree, I combined all the elements that I thought would suit HK and me best.  The forums on all of those sites are excellent places to gather information and ask questions.  Fellow travelers are typically willing and eager to help.

Even though I was trying to book reservations 3 months in advance, nearly all of the hostels were full, so we will be staying in some camping cabins; small, simple inns; a big hotel on the water that I scored a deal on through booking.com, and in the far north, above the Arctic Circle on the Lofoten Islands, we are booked into a fishermen’s cabin for 3 days.

My dilemma has been how to pack for this trip, since the weather will be questionable, at best. My main objective in packing is that we can both carry-on all of our baggage. I have dealt with lost luggage before, and we won’t be in any one place long enough to hassle with that. I also refuse to pay the new rip-off “checked baggage” fees. It’s simply a matter of principle.  If I am dishing out the moo-la to contort my body in an agonizing position for hours on end and eat the shit they serve on those flights, I refuse to give them even more money to lose my stuff!

So, how does one pack for a 2-week trip abroad where some bulky clothes and hiking boots are a necessity? Check back later this week, because I am going to share my “packing-diva’s do’s and don’ts” for overhead-compartment mastery!