Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Norway in a Nutshell

Your occasional correspondent returns after a long break. 

We had two days in Oslo (where we had great weather and were well cared for by Meryl's very nice Norwegian friends). We got up early on the Monday morning (this being an unusual occurrence) and began our Norway in a nutshell tour with a light drizzle (what could we expect after the luck we have had all over Europe).

The bus ride took us out of Oslo and into the typical Norwegian countryside, very green grass, pine trees and silver birch.

We were dropped about an hour out of Oslo at a train station where we boarded the train which gradually took us up the mountains from 188m to about 950 m. We went past lots of lovely lakes. Near the top and after passing through a 10km tunnel the scenery changed dramatically to snow and barren rock and lakes.

Off the big train and onto the old historical train and down the mountain to Flam past spectacular waterfalls and gorges.

Kjosfossen Waterfalls

Finally onto an express catamaran (60kms hr) for a boat trip through the Sognefjord and around to Bergen.

Certainly Norway in a Nutshell!

30 Years Later.

Thirty years ago I (Meryl) stayed in the Norwegian Y in London and met Ingvill. We have written to each other every Christmas since and last Friday met up again. It was very exciting. Ingvill and her husband Johnny looked after the 4 of us so well. We stayed at their house which is about 45 minutes out of Oslo. While reminiscing and finding out about life in Norway, Ingvill and Johnny showed us round Oslo. We couldn't believe the length of the days. It never really got dark. The weather was perfect, the company excellent and the food delicious. I was very sad to say goodbye to Ingvill after a delightful weekend.

Both days Ingvill made us a superb Norwegian
 breakfast on their lovely deck

Watching traditional dancing at the Folk Museum.
Oslo Opera House
Vigelands Sculpture Park.
Special Norwegian Apple Cake - delicious.

Farewell To Switzerland

Sorry Blog readers for our delay. It is all go on this holiday!
We need to write a goodbye blog to the wonderful Switzerland. Everything I had hoped for and more. Our last morning in Lauterbrunnen was spent in the Tumbleback Falls watching the water cascade down.

Hard to leave such a beautiful place but the time had come. Move on you all cry! We saw some more gorgeous lakes on our drive to Lucerne.

Lucerne, a city that nearly filled Keith's criteria of beauty- lake, mountains and snow. There wasn't much snow and we did strike some varied weather but we enjoyed walking across the famous bridge, around the lake path and looking at the sad grief stricken lion surrounded by the shape of pig (questions about why will have to be answered when we get back).

Finally to the airport we went and a sad farewell was made to the car, it did us proud. Keith and Glenn looked forward to sitting back and letting someone else get us around. Well done guys, a great job.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Norway and London Itinerary

Oslo            24th - 27th June
Bergin        27th - 28th June
Stavanger  28th - 30th June
Arendal      30th June - 3rd July 

London      3rd - 8th July

Home         9th July

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Schilthorn - A Chance to Bond!

Thanks to its panoramic cabins, the 32 minute aerial cableway journey itself promises a simply stunning experience.  The trip leads past cascading waterfalls and craggy rock faces.  A fantastic 360 degree panoramic spectacle of the entire alpine region greets you as you arrive on the Schiltorn! As you sit in comfort in the world's first revolving mountain restaurant, a breathtaking high alpine mountain panorama of 200 peaks glides silently and majestically past.

After I wrote these words I was shocked to find them repeated in a magazine on the Jungfrau region but I suppose when you have summed up the place so eloquently it is not surprising that others want to use your words (well actually it happened the other way round as we have stolen their words) but it is a special place.  I saw it with Kiri 7 years ago covered in snow.  Today it was not covered in snow but the sky was blue and the view dazzling.  The place was the scene of the start of a Bond movie (the one with the boy from Queanbeyan) and they make a lot of it - even though it was made in 1968.  Thus the reference to bonding in the title (you didn't think that after living together for 50 years and travelling together for 9 weeks we needed anymore bonding did you!!) 

We made a lot of the breakfast.  Glenn has a strong commitment to breakfast (and eating in general) so when presented with the possiblity of breakfast at the top of mountain he was keen.  The breakfast was lovely and the accompanying view really topped it off. 

The Schilthorn Revolving Restaurant.

Can you spot where we were the day before?
On Jungfraujoch.

After conquering the peaks we had one last Lauterbrunnen challenge to fulfill.  The boys were reluctantly dragged from a brief respite to satisfy Meryl's lasting memory - the walk from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen.  The memory was worth reliving as we wandered down the mountain gazing up the glorious valley before us.  "Lauterbrunnen - a very special experience" (Kathy Joyce 2011)

The view from our chalet.

Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next!

The Jungfraujoch, I had heard many people speak of the experience. Ian and Meryl had me believing it was heaven on earth. My anticipation was at fever pitch. Much planning had gone into what we would do each day and when to do the train trip to the Top of Europe (can you imagine the 4 of us in our planning sessions!). The morning dawned with clouds but an expectation of good weather. We boarded our train and began the 2 hour jouney to the height of 11,782 feet. Oh no it was foggy with very poor visibility when we arrived, had our planning been a disaster! We walked out to the snow path, Glenn sat in the Snow Bar as the 3 intrepid Joyces headed off into thick white snow. Meryl sank and Keith had a go, he liked being shorter for a change. We looked at each other in delight as the sun started to shine through and the view emerged. Joy shone in our faces (sorry, I am going overboard). What an incredible place, being in the sky amongst the snow! What a day! but the altitude certainly takes it out of you and we were very tired when we came down to earth.

Our first view.

Meryl liked being as tall as Keith.

How does the snow stay on the mountain?

The Glacial Valley

The Jungfrau

Take 3 Steps, Take a Photo, Ooh Ah

Thirty years ago almost to the day I visited Lauterbrunnen and thought it was one of the most beautiful places on earth. When planning this trip I said we need to go to Lauterbrunnen and spend a few days there. It was every bit as lovely as I remembered and became a highlight for all of us.

The day we arrived was very wet so necessities like shopping and washing were attended to. The next day started a little cloudy but the forecast was fairly good so we decided to take the cable car to Grimmelwald and walk along the top of the cliff above Lauterbrunnen going through Murren, Winteregg (Glenn said the restaurant here has the best view in the world) and finishing at Grutschalp. The weather became magnificent and we briefly toyed with going up the Schilthorn but decided the walk would be wonderful with beautiful blue skies. Most of the time we had staggeringly beautiful views of the Jungfrau, Monck and Eiger Mountains. We ended a delightful day with the cable down to Lauterbrunnen and a walk through the valley back to our lovely swiss chalet.

The walk up to Murren.

The Eiger.
The Eiger, Monck and Jungfrau.
The Lauterbrunnen valley from the cable car
on the way down. 

Friday, 17 June 2011

From Pretty to Awesome

While travelling we have seen some sights as regular readers on the blog will attest.  You won't be surprised to know that we have said "isn't that pretty" (and variations such as beautiful, cute, gorgeous etc) 12152 times (est).  But today we went beyond that.  While we have been on top of the world before in Austria the experience of being at the Matterhorn in Switzerland has been, in Meryl's words, AWESOME.  The Matterhorn was first climbed in 1865.  Tragically four of the seven who climbed it died on the way down.  There was much controversy as some suggested that one of the surviving three had cut the rope which joined them sending the four to their deaths. (a story which I read as a young boy!) 

We visited the Museum of Zermatt, the little (and very expensive) village which exists for people visiting the Matterhorn, which has the actual rope.  Since the Matterhorn was first climbed many have climbed it including a guide who had been up 360 times the last at the age of 90 but 500 have died in the attempt.

We have again been blessed by the weather.  Yesterday we went up to Gornergrat on the cog railway.  It is at 10200ft/3089m. (Kosciuszko is 2228m) so the view is pretty good!!  We have not been able to see all of the Matterhorn at one time as there has been some cloud on it at all times but we have seen most of it including the peak as it peaked through the clouds on a few occasions.  The mountains at this height are covered in snow all year round and there is plenty there now.  It is vibrantly white and a wonder to look at.

Today we went up a lower railway and went for a lovely walk around the hills seeing several lakes with different hues of green and blue.  Almost the entire 4 hour walk was in sight of the Matterhorn.  We looked over frequently in the hope that the lingering cloud would move on.  Unfortunately it did not but that did not stop us taking 436 (est) photos in our attempt to capture the stunning sight.  When we were not distracted by the Matterhorn we were able to enjoy the other 28 peaks over 4000m which are in the area and many were completely free of cloud for much of the day. 

In my view it is very difficult to beat snow covered mountains surrounded by blue skies as a sightseeing treat and we saw plently of those today.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Lots of Lovely Lakes

Thanks to Kathy, Fran, James and Glenn we ended up with a lovely itinerary through the Italian and Swiss lakes area. Many months ago there was much discussion about what we would do in this area. Originally we planned to stay in one place and do day trips. But then Fran and James said you must go to Lake Orta and Kathy started reading all about the area and Glenn was researching the places to stay.

You've heard about the amazing hotel Glenn found for us in Varenna after Kathy decided this was the first place we should stay. Some people have asked what a funicular is (you'll remember we needed two of these to get to our rooms) so here is a photo.

Kathy and Keith going up in the funicular.
Meryl and Kathy blogging on the terrace.
An evening view from the terrace.
The next morning we caught the car ferry across Lake Como and then onto Lake Lugano.

Lovely flowers along the foreshore of Lake Lugano.
The next overnight stop Kathy decided should be Ascona in Switzerland, thinking this was a little village like Varenna. But no it was different, much bigger but still with it's own beauty and a lovely promenade to walk along.

Looking back to the promenade of Ascona. 

Ascona was quite arty.
We drove along the shores of Lake Maggiore to Stresa and took a ferry to the Borromean Islands including Isola Bella and Isola Madre. Have a look.

Gardens and statues on Isola Bella.

View of Isola Bella from the ferry.

We had lunch on Isola Pescatori.

And now to Lake Orta. A bit tricky to find our hotel and to drive the car down through streets barely wider than the car to drop off the luggage but it is gorgeous. We settled into our very satisfactory apartment on the square before heading to dinner. Kathy and Glenn had the veal with gorgonzola and nuts at the Olina Restaurant associated with our accommodation and although Keith and I loved our gnocchi and fish we have to go back tonight so Keith and I can have the divine veal. Their breakfast won our best breakfast in Europe award.

From the main square looking to the island.

The island from the ferry.

The square at night.
Tomorrow we leave Italy for the last time and go to Zermatt, Switzerland.

PS Did you see Keith and I in one of the photos?