Monday, October 28, 2013

Beautiful (rainy) Bergen

I'm back- after a short hiatus. I wanted to share some beautiful photos and experiences from Bergen, which is the second largest city in Norway. I arrived ready to give a presentation and form collaborations with Norwegian scientists; I even stayed at the house of one of the library researchers. The weather was awful nearly the entire time I was there, so I wasn't able to do too many touristy things. But - I was able to take some pictures when the rain let up.

My overall impressions of the city were pretty positive: it was cheaper than Trondheim (I got a beer for $5 instead of the typical $13 price in Trondheim), there was a great student presence (the University isn't very old but it teaches a lot of students), and there is great beauty. I was told that the city is very enjoyable during the summer months. I can imagine.

Library where my host works
I did get to hike through a really neat forest. The sights were surreal with waterfalls, lakes, old trees, and pretty colors all around. I am posting some of the photos below. I also saw some of the nightlife and ate some local Norwegian food (I had a lamb burger, which was a first for me).

I can't wait to go back some day!

View of Trondheim from the radio tower (see next photo)

Radio tower that overlooks the city of Trondheim

View of Bergen from a Cathedral

Neat street with shops in Bergen

Observation point to see the entire city of Bergen - a little foggy this day

Awesome forest that I was able to hike through

Foggy lake on the hike

View of the lake in downtown Bergen

Cannon protecting the old fortress in Bergen

Friday, October 18, 2013

Preikestolen (Pulpits Rock) - Norway's #1 Tourist attraction

My friend Chris and I took a bus to an airplane to a bus to another bus to a ferry to a bus to a taxi to a rigorous two hour hike each way to see this gorgeous view:

Monday, October 14, 2013

"Arbeit Macht Frei"

The abbey from The Sound of Music 
I write to you from Trondheim, where I safely made it back from my week-long vacation to Germany. I had to split my Germany experience into two posts because my Aunt and I were quite productive. After my last post, we explored Rothenburg a bit more until we took a long train to Munich. When we arrived in Munich, it was snowing (!) - which was pretty odd since the weather had been sunny for most of the days leading up to our arrival. And - it hasn't even begun to snow in Norway yet, so we didn't expect it to be even colder so far South.

Because of the snow, we stayed in the hotel and had a spaghetti buffet. Don't worry - we actually tried German food in several cities: potato bags, Spätzle, and more. The next day in Munich we had planned to take the train to Füssen to see Schloss Neuschwanstein (Sleeping Beauty's castle is modeled after this famous German castle), but we missed the last train by 40 seconds. My aunt even broke into a rare run along the platform to attempt to catch it. She wasn't happy about the result.

But, it worked out because we hopped on a train to Salzburg instead. Once there, we toured the Sound of Music spots, like the vonTrapp mansion, the famous gazebo where "I am 16, going on 17" took place, the abbey featured in the movie, and more. We got lost in the city and found ourselves in bazaars and shopping streets tucked away alongside the huge hill upon which stood the castle. The town was very beautiful - I had to keep turning around and spinning in 360s to enjoy the beauty.

The next day we visited the famous Dachau concentration camp, where the main gates read: "Arbeit Macht Frei." This was unbelievable - to learn about the Nazi rule and interment camps was one thing - but to actually see how these poor prisoners lived was mind blowing. I truly cannot grasp how an event like this occurred in our world - just decades ago. We rushed to make the train to Füssen (going from somber and sad to happy and castle land) - and we just made it by a couple minutes. Neuschwanstein was marvelous - the city was one of the most beautiful parts of Germany. We walked miles and spent 11 hours in total to visit this castle, but it was definitely worth it.

In all, the visit was extraordinary. My Aunt left this morning and a good friend arrives tonight, we then go to Stavanger tomorrow to hike the most famous landmark in Norway. Wish me luck!
A view of the Trondheim autumn

Featured in the film "Sound of Music"

Me and the Gazebo from the Sound of Music

Me in Füssen sitting on the steps to one of the castles

View of the snowy peaks in Füssen

Memorial at the Dachau Concentration camp

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Frankfurt, Köln, Heidelberg, and Rothenburg

View from a hike I did with my Aunt
Greetings from rainy Rothenburg, Germany. I write from the medieval hotel lobby where I am escaping the rain; pity because this is truly a gorgeous town. But, I have wonderful photos and stories to share from the first part of my German tour.

Before I start in on Germany, I should mention that my aunt flew to Trondheim last Thursday night and stayed with me until we flew to Germany on Monday afternoon. We had a great time together: my host scientist had us over for dinner and served reindeer, we tried whale at a local restaurant, we saw multiple landmarks (the fortress, cathedral), and had lots of great food. I introduced my aunt to some of my friends as well. The weather cooperated for the most part; as a matter of fact, I've been very lucky avoiding rain- I typically leave town when it starts to rain and travel to cities that are having exceptionally good weather. Though, maybe my luck has run out.
Dinnertime: Whale

We left for Frankfurt on Sunday afternoon and arrived to the hotel about 7pm. We planned only to stay the night and head off to the next city right away. This was a good idea...the city smelled pretty horrible, was sketchy, and was selling services we didn't want (we accidentally walked through the red light district on the way to dinner). The next morning we got on the train at 8:40am and headed off to Cologne (Köln), the city where cologne was first made and with a famous cathedral where the 3 wise men are (supposedly) buried. This cathedral was absolutely breathtaking, I cannot believe people could figure out how to build something so exquisite in the Middle Ages. Sadly, my grandfather passed away this day, but at around the same time he passed I lit a candle and sent a blessing for him at this famous and enchanting cathedral; I know he would have loved this and he is now in a better place. We managed to take an hour-long river cruise along the Rhine to see famous landmarks (e.g., Chocolate factory) in Cologne.

Cologne train bridge with love locks
We left around 3pm and took a long train to Heidelberg. On this train ride, we passed dozens of castles positioned amongst the rolling green hills, well mostly green- yellow, orange, and red trees were scattered around displaying the beauty of the German autumn. This is so foreign to me since the trees stay one color all year in Southern California. We got there late afternoon so we were able to check in to our castle-like hotel (we ate breakfast in the old dungeon, so cool) and walk around the city. Just up two streets from the river was a huge walking street with more shops than I ever imagined. Hundreds of people gathered around the shop windows, walking with pretzels in one hand and famous German chocolate in the other. In the morning, we visited the Heidelberg castle, famous for the 300 steps it took us to climb to the top, and for it's gorgeous views of the town. I picked up some famous chocolate that Michelle Obama has commended (along with other famous diplomats) and we shopped.

Street in Heidelberg
Later that afternoon we took the longest train ride yet to Rothenburg, an absolutely marvelous old town. The city is surrounded by towers and tall walls, which kept out the invaders since the 800s. The town was saved during WWII because an American general grew up with old paintings around his house when he was a kid - but had never been - and knew of it's historical presence and beauty. We went on a popular Nightwatch man's tour at 8pm, popular for tourists and locals alike. In the morning, we woke up to rain and walked around the walls to marvel the designs and ancient construction of the city.

Next up is Munich, with day trips to Salzburg, Neuschwanstein (sleeping beauty castle), and some other nearby German cities. Can't wait to update you on these adventures!
Falling leaves on a hike in Trondheim

First building (now administration) at NTNU, my University in Trondheim 

Cathedral in Köln

A liter of beer I ordered (and finished) - more than I thought it would be

View from the castle in Heidelberg

Oven in the castle

Old medieval street in Rothenburg
Inside the Cologne Cathedral 

Train station in Frankfurt

Front side of the Köln Cathedral 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"He's ugly in the head"

Hello again! I had quite an interesting cabin experience, so I wanted to share some photos and the priceless journey to live like a 18th century peasant in the middle of nowhere (maybe you can tell my take on camping already?) A friend has been asking me to take a trip to the cabins with him for weeks, and so I figured I should finally go (even though I hiked my butt off in Tromsø and stayed in a cabin up there). I left all the planning to him- and so of course we hit some detours (uh oh my type A, OCD personality is showing now). Anyway, it turned out to be a great experience, but we did hit a couple roadblocks. After going back and forth in the city center to find the bus that took us to the middle of nowhere, we found the stop (right outside of my apartment) and luckily it came just in time. We took it to the very last stop, where we had to catch another bus, the "skolbus." Yeah - it's what it sounds like, a school bus.

We asked several people how to get to the city we needed to go to, and whether it was really a school bus that would take us. No one knew. They suggested we should walk - which later we found out is 8 miles up hill. Yeah right. So we meandered around until we found the school - with tons of children running around. Usually it would be sort of odd for two guys to be aimlessly walking around a school, but the Norwegians didn't seem to care. We asked an older lady how we could get to the town we wanted to go, and she said well only the school bus goes, and those only take kids. We muttered, "Oh great"; then she said-- but if you beg.....

So, we begged. But it didn't seem like a problem after all. This was such a funny experience. All of the children were staring at us and whispering- because, you know how exciting it is when someone new who doesn't even know Norwegian is on your 30 minute bus ride home. To my surprise, most of the kids (aged 7-12) spoke pretty good English. We told them we were from the USA and Russia, and one kid yelled: "USA is coolest!" One other kid was clearly the bully and another kid described him as an "idiot" and "ugly in the head." The kids truly were cute and fun.

Once we got to the city the bus driver said he leaves every hour, so to come back tomorrow morning. Our cabin was another 45 minutes from this bus stop - so we walked deep into the woods. The views were wonderful - as you can see- and we had a great time. We woke up about 7:45 and cleaned up, but by the time we got to the bus, it was no longer running (we guess). We stood around for 45 minutes and decided we should probably hitch hike. I've never ridden in a strangers car, especially not someone who just speaks Norwegian, but this old couple was nice enough to give us a ride down the mountain. Not bad considering it was about a 4 hour walk and it was below 40 degrees.

Overall, it was a beautiful experience and totally worth it!