Norway!

The New Architecture of Oslo. They look a bit like Lego
 houses from a distance. This view is from the Opera
House, but there is also a great view arriving
from the airport!
So I can’t think of a catchy title of this so let’s just get straight to the point and say I went to Oslo, Norway! Wow, I never thought I would actually go to Norway because, well, who goes to Norway? It was actually a rather spontaneous decision when a friend (another gapper) messaged me asking if I was interested, and I, being the slightly travel obsessed person that I have become, said ‘hell yes!’ While not the most popular tourist destination, we chose to visit Oslo (the capital) because well that’s where the cheap flights would take us, and quite frankly we knew nothing about it. We stayed at an awesome little hostel ‘Anker Hostel’ which was pretty central, clean, modern, good Wi-Fi (somewhat sketchy in the rooms but hey you are in a hostel it’s not going to kill you to head to the common room!), super friendly staff, and a good atmosphere. We played quite possibly the weirdest game of UNO with the staff on our first night!
Being cool at the Royal Palace!

It’s important to note that Norway is the world’s most expensive place, even more so if you are a volunteer/student traveller who has been living in Poland for three months, but luckily there was heaps of free things to see/do, as well as the handy Oslo Pass, to keep us occupied for two days. I would definitely suggest getting an ISIC card (if you are eligible) before going as it enabled me to get discounts on pretty much everything (especially relevant if you are flying budget on Ryanair and get to Rygge airport as you will need to catch public transport to Oslo and the ISIC card gets you a good discount on the Rygge Ekspressen bus!). It also got me a notable 20% discount for the Oslo Pass (this discount is only available from the Information Centre).
OPERA HOUSE! While I don’t look particularly
impressed, I absolutely loved this place. When this
picture was taken I was soaking wet from the rain!
We decided to do one day walking around Oslo and another touring some of the museums that we got free entrance to with the Oslo Pass. We hit up the Oslo Cathedral on our first day, and being so centrally located it would be a mistake to miss it! While not nearly as impressive as places I visited in Paris, it certainly had a unique charm and some beautiful paintings that covered the roof. The great thing about Oslo is that everything is well and truly within walking distance, so day one involved a bit of walking. We accidently found ourselves at the Opera House, a result of my horrible map reading skills, which was quite possibly my favourite sight. Very reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House, the building was white and very architecturally interesting, it was also much more ‘user-friendly’ meaning that you could pretty much walk all over it! The first time we were there it was raining but I thought that the grey clouds added a dramatic flair but it was also very impressive against blue skies.
Because we had too…
We did a free tour of the Norwegian Parliament building, which was absolutely incredible. The guide was very engaging and knowledgeable, I not only learnt a lot about the Parliament but also about Norwegian history and people! It was here that we were also finally given the answers about these awesome pants, dubbed ‘the Norway pants’ by us, worn by all these young Norwegians. Apparently they are part of the Norwegian schoolies traditions, where they wear these pants and part for a month before their final exams. Not a bad system! We also checked out the Royal Palace where we watched the changing of the guard and had some fun with the Royal guards who I swear were younger then we were. Made one smile when we waved goodbye to him! We then hit up the Arkershus Fortress and Castle, and visited the Resistance Museum located within the fortress. I, for one, really enjoyed strolling around this area as it was very different to anything I had seen in Australia! That night we were lucky enough to meet some Norwegians who were staying at the hostel and showed us a karaoke bar/club that turned out to be very popular.
Vigeland/ Frogner Park
The next day, after certain people who had stayed up to watch the sun rise (not me) dragged them out of bed (which I was quite impressed by), we headed over to the museum area of Oslo which was on a peninsula type thing. We had activated our passes the previous day and caught but 30 from our hostel which took us straight to the front of the Kontiki Museum, a museum documenting the life of an explorer. We also checked out the Fram museum (basically the museum is a ship), the Maritime museum, Viking ship museum, and lastly the Norwegian Folk museum (a huge open air museum that documented changes in houses over the centuries). All of which were included in our Oslo Pass! We then went to Frogner, also called Vigeland, Park which is famous for being the world’s largest sculpture park made by one person. There certainly were heaps of sculptures, many of which were quite disturbing but very interesting all the same. Definitely check it out, preferably when you aren’t hungover and lacking in sleep, as it is huge!
Our flight home was eventful, first being delayed 20 minutes and then having to circle for another 20 minutes before landing due to heavy fog. We did eventually make it back to Warsaw where we stayed at the Warsaw Central Hostel, as it was 1:30am and trains back home stopped at 0020. The hostel was nice enough for the night, and it was close to my school which was a bonus! It’s safe to say teaching the next day was a bit difficult, and a few students inquired to why I looked a bit rough! All in all it was a pretty good weekend. Oh I forgot to mention, they gave out free Oreos on the street in Oslo!
Missing you all back home 🙂
Advertisements

I’m in love with Paris

 

French Salad- yummmm
Yep, I know its cliché but I am honestly in love with Paris. A week ago I was lucky enough to be able to visit Paris, not only this but also visit my dad in Paris which also meant I didn’t have to stay in a room with 12 other people but rather got my own room and sofa bed in his apartment! I had heard mixed opinions of Paris, some people such as my mum and dad, love Paris, where as others thought it over priced and dirty. I am definitely one of those who love it. I was lucky enough to spend 3 days in central Paris, and together with my dad I saw many of the sights of Paris both tourist and makeshift-Parisian (my dad has been to Paris every year for about 25 years and hence knows his way around pretty well!). I arrived on Thursday afternoon not sure what to expect and feeling a bit unlucky after having some problems with check in and flights, but after about 5 minutes of walking through the streets I felt relaxed and at home! I was also lucky enough to have lovely weather (~20 degrees) all weekend, which undoubtedly made both the city more beautiful and myself able to appreciate it more.

 

Stainglass windows at Sainte- Chapelle
It’s safe to say that I made to most of the opportunity we left the house by 9am and returned after 10pm every day. We walked so much that my feet hurt for the week afterwards, and we saw so many different sights that neither of us can remember everything we did. We visited the Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie (which my ISIC card got me into for free). The stainglass windows in the Sainte-Chapelle were incredible, I did not expect them to be of such as scale and beauty nor have I ever seen anything quite like it before. The Conciergerie, an old prison where Marie Antoinette was held for two months before her execution, was also very interesting from a historical point of view.
Dad and I at the top of the Eiffel Tower!
We visited the Notre Dame and I found it was quite amazing how quiet it was, even with about 200 tourists wondering around. The Arch De Triumphe was incredible, and I was able to observe one of the scariest roundabouts in Paris (there are no lines and you give way to people coming onto it….). The Catacombs, not entirely sure how to describe them aside from completely unexpected and completely worth it.  Musee d’Orsay and L’Orangerie, the former was worth it just to see inside the building, a converted train station, and the latter houses Monet’s Waterlillies which are just stunning! I could have spent all day staring at them if it weren’t for all the annoying tourists! Of course we also did the Eiffel Tower, one of the highlights of the trip was climbing all 669 steps to the second floor before taking the lift to the top! The view was incredible, and my dad was able to point out places all over the city. We saw the Madeline, Opera, and walked down Champs Elysees (and shopped…), ate at cute French cafés and simply wandered through the streets and parks of Paris.

 

Notre Dame from a bridge
The highlight of the entire trip has got to be my last night in Paris when dad took me to some restaurant that overlooked the Eiffel tower. We ate dinner and drank French wine while watching how the Eiffel tower changed at sunset before heading over to join the tourists at 10pm for the hourly light show! I had such a wonderful time, and it was definitely the best weekend I have had so far!  It is safe to say that I will be back, and hopefully before the end of this trip.

 

Just some pictures of me with Squirrels…

 A week ago I ventured out to Lazienki Park for the first time. The park is known for the ‘Palace on the water’ which is essentially a beautiful palace which looks like it is floating on water. Anyway the high light of the day for me was seeing squirrels for the first time! So cute, and so brave these little rodents were everywhere and keen to interact if you pretended to have food! Warsaw is beautiful in spring!

7 Cakes later… a Polish Easter!

Mazurek

As pretty much everyone is aware, it was Easter three weekends ago. Many of the volunteers chose to take advantage of the 5 day weekend (that’s right we got Thursday off as well) and travel, I however decided to stay in Poland with my new host family and experience the traditional Polish Easter. I had been told that Easter was the most important celebration in Poland (more important the Christmas) which makes complete sense considering it is a primarily catholic country. Celebrations started on ‘Great Thursday’ where my host family attended a five hour church service (I was invited but politely declined), another service was held on Good Friday (only about three hours, I also did not attend). On Saturday the cooking began, my host sister Łucja and I were put in charge of decorating the mazurek, a type of Polish cake made with a base of short pastry and a variety of different fillings. We had seven different kinds, of which we decorated six together. Unfortunately for some of the cakes both Łucja and I are not the most artistic so while we had a couple of successes we also had some rather tragic failures. Not that we minded, as long as they tasted good who was going to care! We had a load of fun and decided that we should really get paid to do it professionally (if only cake decorating paid well and we were good at it!).

Another part of Saturday was Święconka meaning the blessing of the Easter baskets. This is a very important and enduring Polish tradition where a small amount of food, traditionally eggs, salt and pepper, bread, and sometimes meats as well as any foods (varying between families) are placed in a small basket and taken to church to be blessed by the priest. I was lucky enough to accompany my host sister Zosia to the local church in our village to experience this tradition. Sure enough there were people everywhere with baskets ready to be blessed. I was definitely surprised by the amount of people at the church (partly because I didn’t know that many people lived in the village). Basically we cued up and paid the fare (a small donation), then the priest said a prayer before dipping what looks like a broom into the holy water and throwing it over the baskets (and not-so-accidentally over the surrounding crowd also). It was a pretty good insight into how important tradition is in Polish society.
The basket ready to be blessed
That night I was invited to go to a special Easter eve church service with my host family, before I really understood what this commitment would mean I eagerly agreed, after all I thought it would be a great cultural experience (which in the end it was). I was shocked to later find out that this church service involved being at church from 10pm Saturday evening and the service ending at around 3am Sunday morning. Yep, that’s 5 hours of church guys, at one time. I did still agree to go, and I am glad I did. It’s difficult to describe the service and a I feel as though I would be doing a disservice if I tried, however I will mention my favourite part. At the beginning of the service all of the lights were turned out for about 5 minutes (I was told this was to represent the sin/ darkness within everyone) then the Priest walked into the room with a candle which was used to light some other candles which people were holding, the flame (or light) was then ‘passed’ to everyone in the room. It was really beautiful.
Breakfast time (at 1pm…)
In the end we left for home at about 4:30am, after dancing and eating food, and arrived home at 5:30am (we had to pick up my host sister from Old Town).  Easter Sunday was somewhat less eventful as we were all so exhausted from the day before. My host family were lovely enough to allow me to invite one of the other volunteers to Easter breakfast (which was at 1pm…) as she did not have a host family! The food was fantastic. Easter Monday, or as it is known in Poland as Śmigus-Dyngus, or Wet Monday, was somewhat more eventful. When I got up that morning my host mum was ready with a bowl of water to splash me with, and then later on that day the priest, who happens to be a family friend, took great joy in spraying my host sister and I with water from a spray bottle. Essentially it’s a day for water fights. I was pre-warned not to go out walking, especially in the city, as many youth find it amusing to through buckets of water over passers-by, not my idea of fun when in is 10 degrees! We had dinner with my host family’s extended family which was just a livelier version of Easter breakfast, but I also was able to meet some more people which is always lovely!  
Needless to say we were eating Easter leftovers for the next few days, the hardest decision of my day usually involved deciding which mazurek i wanted to eat! Sorry for the long post.