Asking Directions Series
Asking Directions’ is a new series where I interview fellow travelers. It is an effort to build up the travel community through collaboration, just as when we are lost or stuck, we “ask directions.”
In this article, I chat with Will of Wilbur’s Travels. He has visited 70 countries so far, and lives by the George Bernard Shaw quote – “I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.” Check out his twitter and travel books on Amazon.
The Nordic region consists of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland and includes Greenland, the Faroe Islands and one of the northernmost regions of the world – Svalbard islands.
Bathing under the Northern Lights and other polar phenomena, this is the birthplace of Norse culture. The famous (or infamous) Vikings have inspired so much of our fantasy literature including Lord of the Rings. The Nordics has even more to offer – from the beautiful cultures of first peoples – Sami and Greenlandic communities to the volcanoes of fire and ice in Iceland. This is where the Eurasian and North American plates meet.
Will first visited Scandinavia in 1989 and fell in love with the sheer beauty of the landscapes. He says the term ‘Winter Wonderland’ describes them perfectly. Here are his responses to some of my questions regarding the Nordics.
You are standing on the prettiest or coziest street in a historic corner of a city. Where are you?
Will – I prefer the countryside in the Nordic countries to cities. That’s not to say that the likes of Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Bergen and Reykjavik are not lovely cities, just that the natural wonders trump them in my opinion.
My favorite city is Tromsø in the far north of Norway. It has lots of pretty streets, especially after dark when lights twinkle and you can sit in a café warmed by an open fire as you sip a hot drink and eat calorific gateau.
The view of the city from the top of the cable car is especially scenic.
You are standing at a place with extraordinary natural beauty. Where are you and what are you looking at?
Will – The whole region is stuffed full of such places and it is hard to pick a favorite. However, Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) is an incredibly beautiful national park in Iceland. We went in the January and it was completely covered with snow and there was hardly anybody about as it was so cold.
The park is actually a site that marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates for any geologists out there. Not that you would realize as your jaw drops at the sight of the stunning scenery in front of you.
It is only around 40 km from Reykjavik and easy to reach with any tour operator who will generally combine it with the amazing Gullfoss Waterfall and the volcanic hot springs of Geyser.
Read about my 2015 Iceland tip at https://wilburstravels.com/2015/01/18/get-yourself-to-iceland/
What’s your most memorable street-food or cafe-food experience?
Will – Perhaps the most memorable thing about the food is the price, as it can make your eyes water!
I am not really a foodie and my most memorable experience was a pizza restaurant in Copenhagen in 1992. We had been starving ourselves due to the prices, but happened on this restaurant that had a ‘happy hour’ of all you could eat for about $10.
I managed 15 slices, a feat I have never been able to manage again since!
I would never eat whale meat out of principle, but do admit to eating reindeer meat in Norway. No different to venison I hear you say, the only difference being that we had just been on a sleigh ride pulled by the magnificent creatures, so I did feel a tad guilty!
How could you possibly eat one of these?
Any unexpected, funny or misunderstanding-related incident during your travels?
Will – In 1989 we had tickets for the Sweden v England football match in Stockholm. We travelled there from Southern Sweden by train and on the journey it became clear that the batteries in my Sony Walkman needed changing.
I bought replacement batteries from the supermarket, even though they were astonishingly expensive at around $8 for four (probably would be nearer $20 in today’s money).
You can imagine my dismay when entering the stadium, as when a steward searched me he promptly took the batteries off me, as they were deemed as potential weapons.
I was livid at my own stupidity. You live and learn!
What’s a traditional food, drinks or cultural activity you experienced?
Will – My unfulfilled ambition is to go and see Peer Gynt composed by Edvard Grieg performed at the concert hall in Bergen. One day it will hopefully happen.
My choice is quite strange as I am not a museum person generally, but the three I went to in Oslo were brilliant. The out door folklore museum and the explorer ship museum were great, but the absolute highlight was the Viking Ship Museum where three genuine Viking ships are on display.
There is also an excellent light and sound show telling the spectacular history of the Vikings.
Name 3 underrated destinations or attractions you would recommend to visit?
Will – To my mind people should head to Norway and blow the expense! In fact with the advent of Norwegian Air and Air BNB the total cost need not break the bank.
My three (perhaps) underrated highlights would be:
1) Hell – a short train ride from Trondheim; Hell is a nondescript little town with not much there to keep you occupied. I have been there twice, purely so that I could say, “I have been to Hell and back” and “I have been on the journey from Hell.” Pretty silly you might say, but I found it fun!
2) The Iron Ore line from Narvik in Norway to Kiruna in Sweden. The line within the Arctic Circle is the most northerly in Europe and a staggering feat of engineering as the train follows a fjord, cuts through mountains and crosses precipitous bridge.
The scenery is stunning and if you are lucky you will witness one of the monolithic iron ore goods trains transporting hundreds of tonnes of ore from Kiruna to the ice-free port of Narvik for export by ship.
You can read about my third journey on the line by clicking this https://wilburstravels.com/2019/11/23/the-iron-ore-line-norway-to-sweden/
3) Trondheim – the former capital of Norway is often missed out by people who visit Oslo and Bergen in the south or Tromsø in the north instead. Trondheim is in central Norway, located on an impressive fjord, and has a wonderful laid back vibe. It is also home to an amazing cathedral, the site where Norway’s kings used to be coroneted.
How has travel changed you and what advice would you give to beginners who want to travel?
Will – I first travelled properly in the late eighties and have had major wanderlust ever since. Traveling is my biggest passion and has certainly widened my horizons and enabled me to understand the way of life for peoples throughout the world.
It has given me a great insight into geography, history, culture and politics in many regions around the world. I always read up on a destination before I go there so I understand what I am experiencing, and find that this really enhances my visit and broadens my knowledge too.
My advice would be to do as much as you can by train – you get to see the countryside and do your bit for the environment too. I have been using the trains overseas extensively for years and it is a great way to do an independent tour.
You simply fly into one city (or take the train if time allows) and home from another with the train taking the strain in between. I have undertaken amazing 2-3 week tours in France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, South America and Central Asia this way.
In Scandinavia, crossing through the countryside by train was one of my best ever travel experiences. The train journey between Trondheim & Fauske in Norway is particularly astonishing. You then travel further north by coach deep inside the Arctic Circle to Narvik, where the scenery is quite simply breathtaking.
You can read about the Trondheim to Fauske train journey at https://wilburstravels.com/2018/03/17/norwegian-tour-2018-trondheim-to-fauske/
A tip linked to that – always try and pre-book train tickets via the rail operator themselves rather than an agent like Trainline. You will get the best deals that way and most sites have English language versions of their websites to make booking easy.
If you are interested in Asking Directions series, please get in touch me with me. I would love to know where you’ve travelled what stood out personally to you.