Not so long ago I was galavanting around Stockholm. Something about that trip woke up something inside me - a longing for all things Nordic!
I've always been drawn to Nordic things: wooly jumpers, pine forests, icy mountains, solid blue rivers, gigantic fjords, fresh air. Everything about it is enchanting and inspires my soul. It makes me happy, even looking at a picture. My laptop wallpaper is ALWAYS a Nordic theme - winter or summer.
Although I've already visited Norway as a child, I know I have to go back an enjoy it as an adult. I'm so drawn to that place it that I'm sure I can justify arranging a second trip.
So I have. I am making my second trip to Norway - and a grand trip it will be.
Previously when I visited Norway, I was confined to the South - Kristiansand namely - where my family live. Although Kristiansand offers pine forests and fjords, I'm old enough now to chase whole shebang. Unforgivably.
I leave in two weeks, and I will be spending 18 days travelling between Western Norway and the Far North, Svalbard.
I start in Bergen, the gateway to the grand fjords. After spending a few days exploring the cute, winding sidestreets, and reconciling with Scandinavian baking, I make my inland via the fjords.
I will be sailing inland to Flåm, a magical fjord town deep in the mountains. It will be a day's journey, so I will get to taste the spectacle of the fjords in a nutshell.
From Flåm, I take the train back to the city, chugging along icy mountainsides and snowy forests. It's one of the most beautiful rail routes in the world, so my eyeballs will be braced for some unadulterated nature porn.
From Bergen, I make the big leap North, across the Arctic Ocean, to Svalbard.
Svalbard is a Norwegian island in the Arctic Ocean, on the skirt of the North Pole ice sheet. It's capital, Longyearbyen, is the northernmost settlement in the world! Nobody lives further north, apart from a few scientists and fur trappers, for some of the year.
Svalbard is extreme, but I want extreme. I want to feel cold like no cold I've ever felt before. It might not sound like the kind of ordeal you want out of a 'holiday', but I guess it's not a holiday I'm after, it's the experience.
Svalbard is a still-intact tomb to Soviet industry and fur-trapping. There is a lot of history here. There are Soviet-era murals and buildings that are still standing, as erosion here is so slow. In fact, erosion is so slow on Svalbard, there are rumours that it is illegal to die here because the graveyard is so full!
I will be based in Svalbard for one week - in the hub of Longyearbyen. I haven't made many concrete plans for what to do while I'm in Svalbard. I'm eager to see what opportunities come up when I arrive.
To highlight, here are 8 things I hope to experience out of this trip:
1. Grand FjordsThe one word that is universally synonymous with Norway - fjord. A giant chasm between two mountains, through it running the deepest, darkest, coldest waters - almost what I'd imagine Viking blood to be like! Fjords offer some of the most amazing natural scenes ever seen across the world - there aren't many places like it.
Although there are hundreds of 'capillaries' across Norway, I hope to capture the main highlights of 'Fjordland'.
2. SnowHardly an amazing feature, I know. But in England we barely get any substantial snow. In Winter, I want the full-throttle blizzards and hiding indoors with pecan pie and wooly socks. It's never quite like that, though I pretend!
Norway in February means very high chances of snow, and plenty of it. I dream of a Winter Wonderland, and I hope I get to see and savour one.
3. Norwegian BakeryI've been so intrigued by Scandinavian baking since I was little. I tried a biscuit in Norway when I was little called 'Pepperkake' - like a gingerbread but made with pepper. It tasted so strange but it worked.
This curiosity for Scandi baking unfolded when I took a trip to Sweden at Christmas. Everywhere I looked I saw sweet treats made with exotic, worldly spices like cardamom and saffron. It was sensational, and it had left a heady taste in my mouth. Now I want to see what Norway does differently to Sweden in its baking traditions. A true bakeoff between countries!
4. Polar ExpressSo maybe not the actual Polar Express, but I really want to take a train ride through Norway's splendid winter scenery. Hopefully they'll be views that I'll never forget. I mean, LOOK.
5. Pine ForestsA bit of a random thing to put on my wish list. It's hard to describe why I love pine/fur trees so much. They just make me so happy and fill me with joy. Maybe it's because they are green all year around. Maybe it is because they are so fluffy, pointy and cute. Or maybe it's because they are so ruggid and deeply green...
I have no idea!
The idea of walking through a pine forest is my utter fantasy of peace and relaxation. When I lived in Wales I lived close to a gigantic (though man-made) pine forest. Walking through it felt like I was in purgatory. Was it the smell? Was it the height? I don't think I know. I'm struggling to justify my obsession to you, and you probably think I'm weird for it. I don't care. I won't stop loving them!
6. Life in the ArcticLongyearbyen is the further civilisation north - and people don't seem to be leaving anytime soon.
There are plenty of jobs in tourism, mining, fishing and other natural resource industries. People can live a comfortable life here - there's the world's northernmost supermarket, the world's northernmost restaurant and even the world's northernmost burger van! Humans, though not built for it, manage to survive here. I hope to get a flavour of life as an Arctic dweller, whether I get cold feet or not.
7. Polar ActionIf the internet is to be believed (and it usually can tbh), there is a lot of adventure to be had on Svalbard. You're spoilt for choice: dog-sledding, snowmobile trips, glacier-walking, ice-breaker sailing. Some trips even claim to stalk the polar bear - there are more polar bears than people on Svalbard - but chance is a fine thing.
8. Northern LightsThe ultimate wish!
The timing to visit Svalbard is perfect - February. The sun has only just risen from a 6-month period of permanent darkness, yet there is still very little light pollution. Being this far north, it is an ideal place to keep an eye out for the elusive and fabulous Northern Lights - though it's wise not to get your hopes up on any hunt for the Northern Lights!
So there we have it. A list of aspirations. As with any trip: things change, drama happens, planes/traines/ferries get missed. Plans can take a nose-dive - and I think that's how it should be.
Who knows where it will take me - though being an amazing country I don't think it could get anything close to worse!
I hope to share the fun with you over the next few weeks!
Thanks for reading!