It took us 4 busses and 3 trains to do it, but we have finally arrived in Narvik, Norway, from Helsinki, Finland - the starting point for exploring the Lofoten Islands and fjords via rental car over the next few days. Narvik is a cool little town that has the northernmost train station (and supposedly disco) in the world. It is a few hours north of the Arctic Circle by train.
This completes our overland trek from Beijing - from the Pacific to the Atlantic across Eurasia. Going from Asia to Norway seems like traversing planets instead of the same land mass. What a contrast.
On the way through we stopped at Rovaniemi, which is known for being so close to the Arctic Circle and having Santa's "official" residence. Surprise, surprise - it was a giant gift shop!
I wasn't really upset - i just love making stupid faces in these contraptions.
We did cross the Arctic Circle for the first time there though...
...so we can check that one off the list.
Since I've met Lee, he's had a dreamy look in his eyes when he describes cold places above the Arctic Circle. Our overnight train leaves for Rovaniemi, a town 6 miles from the Arctic Circle, in a few hours and we're both excited to head north. However, we're not sure what we will do after we cross it. Readily available summer transportation has slowed its frequency at this time of year, and some ferries and busses may not be running at all in the Northern wilderness of Finland and Norway.
We are just going to arrive, head to the tourist office and see what lodges or cottages we can get to and talk to local folks from there. We might be heading to the fjords and Lofoten Islands of Northern Norway, or we might be heading right back to Helsinki. Either way, we'll see some reindeer, the official Santa and soon-to-be-frozen lakes along the way.
Most of this trip has been over 88 degrees and we are both ready for the heat to be OVER. Lee has sworn off his sweat-soaked cotton T-shirts, and I’ve found it’s a much more pleasant experience if I don’t wear tank tops here (more stares), so we are both down to two shirts which are washed every second day. I can’t believe
The countdown is now on for cooler weather! After 6 days in
We were so excited we decided to each get a pair of jeans, which we haven’t had all year. But it’s more difficult than you might think when every store’s largest size is still not enough. Coming out of the fitting room asking for the third time “Even bigger?” and seeing the clerk shake her head is a pride-swallowing scene for any Westerner. They would just take one look at Lee and say “No…too big.” Today we finally found a pair at Basic Jeans for about $28, and it will be just right for
Until then, we look forward to the saxophonist each evening and finally being able to be outside without sweating profusely, even if it’s still too hot to wear our new jeans.
Typhoon Prapiroon is coming through these parts this afternoon which means ferries to Hong Kong have denied us passage. All boats were tied up to dock this morning after the typhoon signal was hoisted to "8". We are stuck in Macau for one more day and have time to find out what exactly a signal "8" means. Oh - we just lost the TV signal...here we go!
It's safe to say that we have a love/hate relationship with tuk-tuk drivers. They are the most annoying part of being in public in Asia, but they can sometimes offer a good time and a good laugh. When we arrived in Siem Reap Cambodia, we happened to meet a young guy named Wei that ended up being our tuk-tuk driver for three days- and boy did he end up earning his money.
On the third day, we wanted to get off the tourist trail a bit and asked about some ruins called Beng Mealea that are about 2 hours outside of Siem Reap. Wei told that he had never driven a tuk-tuk there, but he would do it for us. We left at 7:30am the next morning.
Wei is a handsome guy and every time we would leave him to do some sight seeing, we'd come back to see a pack of Cambodian girls around his tuk-tuk. He said "all they want is my money", with a coy smile. His English skills and good nature made us like him too and we felt a little bad to put him through so much.
The Beng Mealea ruins have only been open to tourists since about 2001 because of land mines. The attraction is that they are mostly untouched- viewed in the condition that nature left them for some 800 years. Like most things in Angkor- an incredible sight.
Within about one minute of arriving back at the entrance and waking up Wei, it began to rain. It rained very hard for a while and then let up, so we decided to make a move toward Siem Reap. At first, Wei refused a rain coat, perhaps wishfully thinking that it would not be needed. We choose to close ourselves into the tuk-tuk and stay dry. Along the way it rained a bit more, but there was an ominous could hanging on the horizon in the direction of home. It did not look good.
About an hour from Siem Reap, Wei decided to put on his poncho and braved some fierce winds and rain without a whimper. I stuck my head out a couple of times and told him it would be OK to take a break. He told me not to worry about it and continued to power on, holding one hand over his eyes to see. It just rained harder and harder and we could only wonder what it must be like on the front of the tuk-tuk. Wei was showing his determination in the face of adversity.
Just minutes from home, it seemed like a hurricane had come ashore in Siem Reap. I have never seen rain come down harder- it was as if the wind was blowing directly downward onto the ground, splattering the drops into mist upon impact. The Cambodians are used to monsoon rains, but the ones around us were visibly shaken by the force of this rain and wind.
Wei had had enough. He stopped and came around to the open back end of the tuk tuk with a smile- letting us know that he had given up for a while. We laughed until we felt the tuk-tuk convulse a couple of times. It was being shaken by Wei's shivering. The water had sucked every bit of warmth out of him and he was miserable. He finally climbed into the warm and dry cab of the tuk-tuk with us to recover before finally making it home.
We had to hand it to him- he tried his best to get through the worst that nature could offer and he did with a smile. We tipped him well and told him to spend it on a party with his friends, where he could tell stories about being his battles with the monsoon.
Our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook warns of "rain that comes and stays for days" in tropical Queensland. I think it came today. From what we understand, a stationary category 1 cyclone called "Kate" is lurking northeast of Australia. Kate is eerily close to Katrina eh? There is no current threat, but she is being blamed for a long day of heavy rain around Cairns. We spent the day inland in a place with lakes, rainforests and waterfalls called Atherton Tablelands. Wet and cloudy, but fun. We also toured a mostly-indoor partly-interesting dairy factory. They gave us a dish full of cheese and olives at the end of the tour, half of which we stuffed in our backpack for future snacking in case we end up holed up in some cyclone shelter. It's the backpacker way.
Really though, we say let the rain come... We're on our way now for one day in Brisbane before heading to Singapore and then to Sri Lanka... we decided today.
We got into North Carolina on Independence Air after having to be de-iced on the tarmac in Washington Dulles. Unfortunately, the de-icer got into the plane's exhaust and we had to go back to the gates for a while. We finally made it in about 7pm last night (2 hours late), during an ice storm that blanketed everything but the roads in about an 1/8th inch of ice. We've had enough ice for a while. But we did get these pics...
After writing about trying to leave work behind, something funny happened tonight. We're staying with my cousin Bruce on our way to the coast and after pizza and a movie we went to bed. What did we find in our guest room? A wireless router. So, here I am typing and Flickring away. Oh well.
This is the first ever TwinF post from another country- Canada, feel the love. Holy crap is it cold up here, but it is a dry cold. It's 15 degrees (f) and getting down to 8 tonight. Along with being some of the coldest weather we've seen, it's the farthest north we've both been.
Behold, the first international location pin on the global map.