Thor Heyerdahl, 100 Goats and a Viking Wedding: Why I Didn’t Visit Oslo

It’s long been an ambition of mine to see Kon Tiki, the balsa raft that carried Thor Heyerdahl across the Pacific from Peru to Polynesia, and captured my imagination as a child reading his account of the adventure. The original raft was wrecked on a reef in the remote Tuamotu archipelago, ending the 101-day voyage, but a replica is the centrepiece of a museum in Oslo dedicated to Heyerdahl and his expeditions. Nearby are other boats that I want to see, the Oseberg and Gokstad ships, in the Norwegian Viking Ship Museum, and Fram, the expedition ship that took Fritjof Nansen north, and Roald Amundsen south, on their quests for the poles. (I like boats, ok?)

Oslo Waterfront from the Opera House. Photo Credit: ïCliff on creative commons

My plan was pretty straightforward. Sign off from Draken Harald Hårfagre at the end of the summer’s expedition, and catch the coastal ferry from Draken’s home port of Haugesund to Bergen. Train to Oslo, a seven and a half-hour journey considered to be the most scenic route in the world. Arrive in the evening, check into the hostel, stretch my legs walking in Viglandsparken Sculpture Park. Spend the following day at the museums, explore more of the city, then fly home the next morning. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I love it when a plan comes together.

And yet I was here. Midnight was long gone, and my sandals were attempting to follow. Cold mud oozed up between my toes as I stood in a dark field. Below on the hillside I could pick out the outline of a barn, lit by candle lanterns and flaming torches.
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The Vagabond Gift Guide for Travellers

Dark winter evenings have been drawing in, the afternoons getting colder, and mornings feeling crisper. Oh my gosh! There’s only one month left until Christmas. How did that happen? I suppose its time to start thinking about presents, so I’ve compiled a selection of useful, offbeat and inventive ideas for the travel-lovers in your life.Lights 1

The part-time traveller:  Spending the everyday 9-5 working for a living can leave these travellers dreaming of exotic locations, daring adventures, and exciting activities. Feed their wanderlust with the following suggestions.

Subscription to a magazine like Wanderlust, Lonely Planet or National Geographic Traveller. With gorgeous photos and informative articles, they’ll be able to dip in and out of destinations and plan future travels, as well as getting a little escape from reality each month.  A digital subscription lets them take it on the road, and works for long-term travellers too.

Corkboard Map by Luckies of London. A series of pinboards in the shape of the world’s continents, perfect for displaying favourite photographs, postcards and mementos from recent trips.

Luggage tag. A quirky bag tag can make luggage easier to find and travel less stressful, especially important if your time is tight.  I love this Lego Brick Bag Tag, whilst this Vintage Letter Tag is a bit more sophisticated.

The nomad:  Gifts for a long-term traveller must be able to cram into a stuffed suitcase or be completely intangible. Either way, the following gifts are useful enough to earn their place in these travellers’ affections.

An e-Book reader like the Kindle Paperwhite or the Fire HD 7. A library that fits into a handbag, without exceeding any baggage weight allowance. Already have one? An Amazon Gift Card lets them choose new titles, whether it’s the guide book for their next destination, a poolside read or something taxing to tackle on a long journey.

A Universal Travel Adaptor like this one from Flight 001. Most of the rest of the world doesn’t use the standard UK 3-pin plug. Strange. Hopping back and forward between Europe, Asia and the Americas is made simple with one of these devices, and everyone needs to charge gadgets.

A reminder of home. A jar of Marmite, a box of tea bags, biscuits that you just can’t get abroad.

The first-time tripper:  Facing your first trip alone can be a daunting prospect, so gifts that offer a little reassurance and support can go a long way to make an experience unforgettable.

Rosetta Stone language course. Available as a CD-rom, download or online course, for both regular or business use, it comes in 24 languages as diverse as Irish, Hindi and Vietnamese, as well as French, Spanish and English. Learning the local language could inspire your traveller to explore further, take a travel job or even find romance.

Skype credit. Nervous travellers will appreciate the opportunity to keep in touch with loved ones back home, with calls to landlines and mobiles, and the ability to send text messages worldwide.

Moleskine Journal. Keep track of your important information and make notes of memorable events on your trip. Other journals are available, but Moleskine are the classic travellers brand, available in a range of sizes, with either lined, plain or squared paper, for writers, sketchers or doodlers.

The bargain backpacker:  These travellers have to carry everything they need in their backpacks; through the streets, on and off public transport, up and down flights of stairs in hostels and bunkhouses. Multi-purpose goods and lightweight travel items are the real winners here.

Travel towel. The most important item a traveller can have, according to Douglas Adams. But, as a rule, travel towels are rubbish. Slightly less absorbent than aluminium foil. However, a colourful cotton sarong or kikoy does the job, dries far faster than a real towel, and doubles as a beach cover-up, or emergency clothing on wash day. Try Kisiki or The Pink Gecko for a selection.

USB Multi Charger. Just checked into the hostel, and need to charge all your gadgets urgently? Only power socket in the room being guarded jealously by another backpacker? This device is the answer to your prayers. Offer spare ports to others, and you’ll make new friends too.

Vapur Anti-Bottle. A folding re-usable water bottle. Saves space in your bags, saves money from buying bottled water, and saves plastic waste. These can be frozen to make an ice pack, or to melt slowly and give you chilled water all day. It can even take hot liquids, although it isn’t insulated and these will cool quickly.


I hope this gives you some good ideas for family members and friends with the travel bug, or even for yourself. Or you can check out my gift ideas for outdoor enthusiasts. Why not share this list on Facebook or Twitter and drop a hint?

Note:  This post contains affiliate links.  If you follow them through to buy a product I recommend, I receive a small payment (enough for a coffee, not for a yacht) from the company, at no charge to you whatsoever.  It helps keep my blog up and running.


Travel Theme: Sky

This week’s travel theme from “Where’s my backpack?” is sky.  So what better way to show off the sky than a sunset from the end of the world?  Or it might be the sunrise, as both happened within 10 minutes of each other.


Views from Gjesvær, Nordkapp

Just a few days later and neither would happen again for another 2 and a half months, as the midnight sun doesn’t drop below the horizon north of the Arctic Circle.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

The theme for this week’s Photo Challenge is layers, which made me think of the shore at Hellnar, near the tip of the Snaefellsnes peninsula in Iceland.  The black basalt rocks are washed by the surf rolling in from the North Atlantic, exposing the layers created by many subsequent flows of lava from the Snaefell volcano.  Constant pounding by the sea smooths the sharp edges, leaving ribbony waves of rock.

Layers of basalt on Valasnös natural arch, Hellnar

The cliffs and natural arch of Valasnös, at the eastern end of the bay, look particularly gnarled and twisted, with sharp shards and layers that catch the light and reflections from the water.  Higher up, mosses and sea pinks take hold in tiny nooks and kittiwakes nest on narrow ledges.  Out in the green water of the bay, sleek seals watch you watching them with their deep dark eyes.

The Weekly Photo Challenge can be found here.

Dem Dry Bones

Skeletons at Dia de Muertos by Guago on Flickr

Whilst writing yesterday’s post about my memories of Halloween as a child, I learned about another spooky date in the calender.  El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead in English, is a two day festival that takes place on 1st and 2nd November each year in countries around the world, especially throughout Latin America.  Whilst superficially the two festivals may appear similar, with the array of skulls and skeletons in their imagery, the Day of the Dead has a rich history of its own. Continue reading

You Shall Not Pass

I read recently in the Reykjavik Grapevine that a decision by the Icelandic Road Authority to erect some road signs in English might be breaking Icelandic law.  The authority replaced warnings with an English-language translation on a number of temporary signs advising of road closures in poor weather, after several incidents where foreign tourists became stranded, requiring costly rescue efforts.  In the land of ice and snow, weather-related road closures happen regularly, so it seems like a good investment to save money, and perhaps even lives, in the long term.

Warning! Road blocked by snow. Obvious, or is it? Photograph from the Reykjavik Grapevine.

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All Hands on Deck!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for the past seven days, and just never managed to get round to it until now.  There has just been so much to do recently that sitting down with my laptop to write has been at the bottom of my to-do list; so I’m taking the opportunity while I have a cup of tea before going to bed. Continue reading

A letter to the Norwegian Tourism Ministry (Draft)

Dear Minister for Tourism,

Hei! (See how I demonstrate my mastery of the Norwegian language, oh yes!) I’ve recently returned from a wonderful week in Finnmark region, exploring the rugged coastline and wild tundra, meeting the welcoming local people, and experiencing the otherworldliness of the midnight sun.


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