Oslo Adventures – Round 1 and 2

In Spring of 2016, Annika and I travelled to the Norwegian Arctic in search of every Arctic geographers dream – snow and ice. We were taking a masters course in remote sensing at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) – the worlds northernmost university centre located at 78°N.

On our way, we made a few stopovers in London, Copenhagen, and Oslo. While in Oslo, we met up with another Canadian friend and all three of us were hosted by a couchsurfer. Oslo is an expensive city for students so couchsurfing was a great alternative to paying the big bucks for a hotel/hostel. We played tourists for a couple days and explored a few museums and neighbourhoods. Here were some of the highlights:

  • The Viking Ship Museum: By far the coolest museum displaying old Viking ships and treasures. This museum was only a short bus ride from Oslo Central Station and the entrance fee was discounted to 50 NOK for students. There were a few other museums in the same area that are also worth checking out, including the Fram Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum.
  • The Vigeland Park: This is a beautiful park to cruise around and features the must-see naked sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. They’re super weird – but extremely intricate and interesting.

Annika and I loved Norway so much that we are now back for round two and just in time for the dark season. Our second stopover in Oslo was brief but we were able to explore the Oslo Opera House. Also for round two, we decided to stay in an Airbnb and found a great place close to Oslo Central Station for the equivalent of $100 CAD/night. It was worth it for the jetlagged nap.

Viking Ship Museum

img_0493-1

img_0495-1

img_0500-1

img_0505-1

img_2646-1

img_2647-1

img_2644-1

img_2654-1

Vigeland Park

img_0522-1

img_0523-1

img_0526-1

img_0529-1

img_0532-1

img_0534-1

img_0538-1

img_0542-1

 

The European Experience: Copenhagen

The second destination of our European experience was Copenhagen. Landing in Copenhagen was a pleasant breeze. Annika and I were greeted at the airport by the world’s friendliest passport security guard who was delighted that we were from Canada and chatted with us about the places we had to visit during our stay. The airport was beautiful. Everyone was friendly. The airport staff gladly helped us in choosing our metro passes. Machines for metro tickets are everywhere in the airport and so is currency exchange.

After we had our metro tickets and some Danish Krones, we caught the metro to Nørreport Station. Copenhagen has the easiest transportation system ever! For the metro, there is the M1 or the M2 and if you get on the wrong one its very simple to just hop off and get on the right metro (this only happened once). Also, there are signed all over the metro of stops, which is great because Danish was almost impossible for us to understand. The airport is only a 20 minute metro ride to Nørreport and you are in the heart of Copenhagen. We walked 5 minutes to our Airbnb and were overwhelmed by the number of pastry shops we saw.

We were staying in a fantastic Airbnb, which our host told us was an old embassy. It was huge! The most interesting part was the bathroom, which was also the shower. When you wanted to shower you would pull the shower curtain across the door and pull the handle on the sink tap to turn on the shower handle. Don’t forget to remove the toilet paper ;).

After a much needed nap to conquer our jet lag, we left our cozy bedroom to explore the town. We were aiming to find a pub to eat and drink at but quickly discovered that Europe is not like Canada. The streets were lined with pubs that only served alcohol. You need to go to an actual restaurant if you want food! We ended up finding an amazing Gastropub called Hot Buns.

Eating out in Copenhagen is not cheap…especially with our Canadian dollar and student salaries. We each ordered a burger, beer, shared a side of fries, and rejected the offer for side sauces. The food was great though! The menu said something along the lines of “we cook our burgers medium rare. You must leave after 2 hours.” Basically, F you, we have good burgers and we know it. It was awesome.

We wondered into a familiar setting at the Dubliner and had a beer. We quickly made some fantastic Danish friends who taught us a dice game called Mya. One of our new friends explained to us the mystery of the Danish language – you say the world as it is spelt but as if you have a piece of bread in your mouth. It’s so true!

We started off the next day with pastries and coffee. We met up with a couple of our good friends living in Sweden and played tourists. There is a lot to see in Copenhagen! Some of the highlights were:

Nyhavn:

Right by the canal, this area is lined by bright colourful buildings with restaurants. There were boats in the canal offering tours and lots of people walking and cycling around. The bikes outnumber the cars in Copenhagen for sure! It is such a walkable city with beautiful cobble stone roads.

The Little Mermaid statue:

There were some very beautiful statues in Copenhagen but the Little Mermaid was the most recommended by far. The Little Mermaid is seen as a Copenhagen icon.

Freetown Christiania:

This is a must see. Christiania is in Christianshavn and is easily accessible (like most places in Copenhagen) by Metro. It is a self-proclaimed neighbourhood that was originally a military camp now transformed by squatters and regulated by special laws. Freetown basically describes it the best. All the buildings/structures in Christiania are covered in amazing graffiti and the entire community has a calm and chilled out vibe. Probably because people freely sell and buy weed along the Green Light District, an area where you aren’t allowed to take any pictures.

Paludan Bog & Café:

A great place for food and drinks! This café really has a library feel with two stories of bookshelves. It was super cozy and had big portions for food.

 

IMG_0407 (1)

IMG_0411 (1)

IMG_0420 (1)

IMG_0425 (1)

NyhavnIMG_0440 (1)

IMG_0443 (1)

IMG_0450 (1)

IMG_0455 (1)

IMG_0459 (1)

IMG_0460 (1)

IMG_0469 (1)

IMG_0471 (1)

The Little Mermaid:IMG_0480 (1)

IMG_0484 (1)

IMG_2605 (1)IMG_2597 (1)

IMG_0434 (1)

Freetown Christiania:

IMG_2618 (1)

IMG_2622 (1)

IMG_2626 (1)

IMG_2633 (1)

The European Experience: London

As part of our Master’s, Annika and I had the opportunity to apply through the University of Ottawa for an exchange course in Norway. Now I should clarify when I say Norway. I mean Arctic Norway. Svalbard to be exact. The exchange is through the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), which is the world’s most northernly university centre located at 78°N in a town called Longyearbyen. We were absolutely ecstatic when we were both accepted to UNIS for a “Remote Sensing of the Cryosphere” course. This meant we could spend 6 weeks exploring the Norwegian Arctic. But first, we decided to take advantage of our trip to Europe and explore a few other European cities. Before arriving in Longyearbyen, we spent almost a week exploring London, Copenhagen, and Oslo. Here are the details on London:

We caught a rather cheap red eye flight from Ottawa to London via Air Canada to start off our journey on March 6. The flight was great despite the 3 hours of sleep I got but we were given free gin and tonics so I can’t complain. We arrived at the busy London Heathrow airport and were greeted by an hour long passport check line and an unfriendly security guard who quickly dismissed my Canadian hello and sent me to another desk.

After we were officially allowed into the country, we hauled all of our gear (3 large bags and two backpacks) to Annika’s friends flat. Luckily, my sister had given me a heads up on how the tube system works in London and had a left over Oyster card from her trip to London a few months earlier. The Oyster card is the best because you can preload cash onto it an use it to jump on any tube. It is a 5 pound deposit but you get this deposit back when you return your Oyster card.

Now, no one lives near the airports in London (there are 7) and so our tube ride accounted for another hour of sleeplessness. Annika’s friend was the best and gave us some tips about London, including the very important tip that you need to purchase an additional train ticket when travelling to the Luton Airport. What a lifesaver. After we booked our train tickets for the next day, a delusional version of myself had a much needed nap.

Once I was feeling somewhat human, we went on a 2 hour walk around London. My initial (and slightly bitter) reaction of London was that it was busy, filled with people smoking, and was honestly pretty grimy. Throughout our walk though my reaction changed. We walked along a beautiful canal filled with house boats and tons of people biking. We even stopped at a grocery store to pick up some beer for the remainder of the walk. Let me just repeat that…we picked up some beer for the walk. Amazing.

We went to a bar in the “hipster” part of town and met up with another friend who we would be staying the night with. Bars in London are weird in that you have to order your beer and your food at the bar. The food was great and the cider was bountiful but the pound is almost double the Canadian dollar right now. Ouch. (Sorry for my lack of detail on names of where we actually were – I was only somewhat human, remember).

The next morning we caught an 11:00 am flight to Copenhagen. That meant we had to be at the Luton Airport at 9:00 am. That meant we had to catch the train at 7:00 am. That meant we got up at 6:00 am. My advice? Research how long it takes to travel to the airport in London before you book your flight. Also, this was prime rush hour time in London. We had to uber to the train station (LONDON HAS UBER!), and take 3 connecting trains to get to the airport. We only missed one of them! Not because we weren’t at the train station…but because we were unaggressive Canadians with massive backpacks trying to excuse our way onto a packed train. The English merely glanced our way and then blocked our entrance with their turned backs.

We were unaggressive but resourceful! We found a different train that could connect us to our next stop, caught a connecting train to the airport only 20 minutes later than we had hoped. At our last train stop we caught a shuttle bus to the airport (which you needed your train pass to get on for free) and made it to Luton.

Luton is a discount airport that services lines like Norwegian (what we were taking), easy jet, etc. Therefore, we had to print our boarding passes beforehand. A manageable but inconvenient thing to do while travelling. Also, Luton provides only 30 minutes of free wifi, taking the term discount to a new level. This is totally fine for some people but in our delusional state the day before, we hadn’t entirely figured out where we were staying in our next destination: Copenhagen. We were waiting on an Airbnb response that never came. As we were boarding the flight, Annika quickly messaged a different Airbnb host, who responded immediately. She snapped a picture of the address just as our last source of wifi ended. For those of you who don’t know, if you request more than 1 Airbnb and more than 1 accepts within 24 hours, you have to pay for both (or all).

This was the extent of our London experience. One of my favourite parts was when I asked the flight attendant on Norwegian for a free glass of water instead of a bottle I would have to pay for and he brought one to me when I was asleep. He left me a note saying he didn’t forget about the water but he didn’t want to wake me. It’s the little things. And that is my cheesy ending. Stay tuned for stories from Copenhagen, Oslo, and Svalbard.

Annika was the amazing photographer in London. Also, here is a picture of a Strongbow cider I’ve never heard of before! DSC_0506

DSC_0508

DSC_0510 (1)

DSC_0513

IMG_6401

IMG_2584.jpg

 

 

Columbia Icefield: Every Geographers Dream

One of the last Banff adventures that I went on was to the Columbia Icefield in between Banff and Jasper. The drive to the Icefield is magnificent with endless views of the beautiful Canadian Rockies. Aussie Aaron and I stopped on the way at Peyto Lake, which is a glacier fed lake that is in the shape of a wolf head. Not only was the lake extremely beautiful but it also blanketed me with a sense of tranquility. The quiet of being (almost) alone in nature was very calming.

 

We continued on to the Columbia Icefield. It was every geographers dream. There were five glacial tongues retreating through valleys and two ice caves in the distance. In the summer, Brewster Travel Canada (link below) does a bus tour where you can actually go up onto the glacier. As we were visiting in the winter, we instead hiked to the ice caves to snap some pics. I’ve included my amateur pictures below but also a couple of Aaron’s way more professional pictures. Check him out on instagram for awesome wildlife pictures (@aaronrphotography). This guy chases bears. Insane.

http://www.brewster.ca/activities-in-the-rockies/brewster-attractions/columbia-icefield-glacier-adventure/#/0

My pictures:

Peyto Lake

IMG_2349

IMG_2350

Columbia Icefield:IMG_2365

IMG_2391

IMG_2392

IMG_2407

IMG_2411

IMG_2437

IMG_2445

Aaron’s amazing pictures (@aza_adventures):

Peyto Lake:

12737120_10153278321457115_228976178_o

12736637_10153278308947115_187780343_o

Columbia Icefield:12528598_10153278326632115_871406608_o

12695088_10153278325147115_2006443637_o

12696675_10153278307937115_187650597_o

12699171_10153278308687115_1700780883_o

12752069_10153278323822115_1134289899_o

 

From Camping to Comfort: Banff Rocky Mountain Resort

Annika and I went from sleeping outdoors in a two person tent to a two bedroom condo at the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort. We still don’t know how we lucked out seeing as other conference members we met described their rooms as having two beds basically on top of each other.

IMG_2284.jpg

For our first day at the resort, we met up with a couple friends and then Aaron (aka our personal Aussie tour guide) and his soccer mom van (Sheila) brought us to Johnston Canyon. This is a popular hike because of the spectacular waterfalls – and icefalls in the winter. We hiked to both the upper falls and the lower falls of Johnston Canyon. The trail was so icy and steep that we skated our way back.

Johnston Canyon:

IMG_2188 (1)IMG_2197 (1)IMG_2202 (1)IMG_2208 (1)

On a fairly random and negative note, one thing I noticed in Banff is there are only two radio stations and they both are pretty terrible unless you love top 40s or the worlds worst soft rock. As soon as you reach the outskirts of the town, both radio signals are lost resulting in a mix of Justin Bieber and static. This is what Aaron listens to in Sheila (the van). Bring an audio cable for your phone, people. Just bring the audio cable.

For dinner, we went to this fantastic Mexican restaurant called Magpie & Stump. It was dimly lit, completely constructed of wood, and you could throw your peanut shells on the floor (holy fire hazard)! The enchiladas were delish. Corona was $5. Apparenly, if you stand waiting for a table for too long the servers will lower a hanging sombrero and try to land it on your head. I was sold.

http://magpieandstump.ca/

We finished the night with a trip to the liquor store for cider and beer (ask for the local discount). Rock Creek is the go to cider of Alberta, for all my cider lovers out there. We played a drinking game where we watched the movie Happy Gilmour and had to drink every time a golf ball was hit or a punch was thrown. The next morning was rough and came too soon.

Luxury Winter Camping: Tunnel Mountain Village II

Annika and I started off our Banff trip with a 2-night camping trip at Tunnel Mountain. My aunt and uncle were the sweetest and dropped us off at Tunnel Mountain Village II – the section of the campground that remains open during the winter (see link below).

http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/banff/activ/camping/tunnel2.aspx

We started off as the only tenters and were called “brave” by the Parks Canada staff since it was suppose to be about -15degC that night. It wasn’t long before we sought out the heated bathroom (luxury 1). We set up Annika’s tent (MSR Hubba Hubba aka the cutest tent that ever lived) and shovelled the snow out of our fire pit. I went to put our food in the lockers provided and was greeted by Banff’s most friendly campground staff – a couple of deer.

In the evening, we went on a hike to the Hoodoo’s Viewpoint. This was an easy hike with stunning views of the Bow River and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel resting in the valley. It probably would have been a good idea to turn back before dark since we got somewhat lost on the way back and trudged through a forest while thinking about a recent cougar spotting on Tunnel Mountain.

When we got back to camp, it didn’t take long for us to open the Fireball – for warmth, obviously. Annika (aka Fire Queen) made a roaring fire and we cooked dinner Hell’s Kitchen style.

That night was cold! Not only did we not have a 4-season tent but neither of us had a very thick mattress. The best sleep was not had.

The next day we had a hardcore 3-course breakfast to make up for our not-so-hot sleep, including banana boats (bananas and chocolate), cinnamon buns, bacon, and porridge. Later, we hiked to the top of Tunnel Mountain and experienced the most beautiful views of the mountains and the town of Banff below. My aunt had given us a couple of oranges that froze overnight so we put them in our jackets to defrost as we hiked.

For our second night of winter camping, we weren’t going to make the same mistake as the night before. Plus, a couple of tenters arrived at the campsite and were mega showing us up with the amount of gear they unloaded from their truck. They even had a crazy gazebo tent for whatever reason. So we picked up our cutie of a tent and carried it into the 3-walled shelter provided at the campsite (mega luxury 2). The shelter had a wooden stove, picnic tables, and…electricity (amenities = luxury 3). We strung up our tarp to cover half of the open wall and block some of the wind.

That night, we cooked on top of the wood stove, drank the rest of our Fireball, and steamed our faces in our wood sauna (luxury 4)- we defrosted our firewood on top of the stove, which created the best face-steamer in Tunnel Mountain Village! We even arranged the defrosting firewood to form a boot-warmer.

After a much better sleep, we hiked to the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort. Despite our luxurious camping, a shower has never felt so good.

*Weirdest things that froze on our camping trip: oranges, toothbrush, and hand cream (so necessary, it was so dry).

IMG_2084IMG_2098 (1)IMG_2116IMG_2126 (1)IMG_2134IMG_2144 (1)IMG_2153 (1)IMG_2155IMG_2176

 

 

Packing for Banff (Our Uber driver is going to hate us)

Last week, Annika (a fellow sea ice lover and future blog contributor) and I packed our bags for a 9-day adventure in Banff, Canada. We were attending a 3-day conference hosted by our theses funders and decided to take advantage of being in the mountains and extended our trip. Our planned activities included winter camping, hiking, and snowboarding in the mountains. I find packing hard enough but coming from Ottawa, we needed to pack for 3 completely different activities. Here is why our uber driver most likely hated us:

Winter Camping:

Camping in the summer requires a decent amount of gear. Camping in the winter requires even more gear to ensure our little bodies don’t freeze overnight. We were camping for 2 nights at Tunnel Mountain Village 2 – the only campground that remained open throughout the winter in Banff National Park. My pack consisted of:

  1. a -10degC sleeping bag
  2. a +7degC sleeping bag (didn’t use it, a thermal insert would have been better)
  3. a sleeping mattress
  4. a basecamp pillow (luxury)
  5. tarp
  6. first aid kit
  7. a nice little pot and pan set (Primus Litech Trek Kettle Pot from MEC)
  8. a spork, hunting knife, water bottle, thermos, and can opener
  9. a handy dandy homemade pop-can stove
  10. a couple garbage bags, duct tape, paper towel
  11. lint (for fire starting), matches, lighter
  12. headlamp
  13. hatchet, blue-tooth speaker (again, luxury – courtesy of my fabulous Aunt and Uncle)
  14. kindling, news paper, travel blanket
  15. A lot of chilli, soup, hot dogs, cliff bars, and tea
  16. FIREBALL (most importantly)
  17. Clothing – lots and lots of layers

Annika brought a world of other things including the tent. The best/most useful things we brought: the hatchet and fireball.

Conference:

We went from wearing full outdoor hiking gear including snow pants and winter hiking boots to black pants and blazers. Our conference gear consisted of mainly nicer clothes that didn’t take up a ton of room but still added some weight to the pack. Not to mention my fairly old-school MacBook Pro was weighing down my Osprey daypack. A change of shoes was the best addition since my insulated winter hiking boots would have cause some majorly sweaty conference feet!

Snowboarding:

After the conference we stayed in a hostel in downtown Banff and went snowboarding at both Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. We decided to bring our boarding gear, which created bag number 3. My snowboard bag consisted of:

  1. My snowboard
  2. Snowboard boots
  3. Helmet
  4. Goggles
  5. Snow pants
  6. Gloves
  7. Anything else that wouldn’t fit in my pack

Needless to say, both Annika and I had 3 bags each for 3 different activities. Photos below for proof!