Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Scandinavia & Chile

My last email came from the cold of Scandinavia in winter, currently I have shorts/T-shirt and my freckles exposed to the sun are getting darker each day...from one extreme to the other and I love both!

Here is what i have seen in the last 3 months of my 'el mundo' (world) trip


My entry into Scandinavia couldn't have been better timed as it was the first really cold weather of winter hence Stockholm had 5 inches of fresh snow. It is amazing what a layer of fluffy whiteness does to make a place more beautiful. My sister and I spent our first night in Sweden ice skating until ice skates to use with the hostel we choose and x2 skating rinks free in the cities parks. Anneliese didn't have time to be jet Tim took her on a mammoth walk around the city and would have gone on but for concern for his sister (or was it really concern for his own finger tips as you can only walk for so long in minus 5 deg.). To get to Helsinki to meet Mum & Dad (M&D) we went via Tallinn (in Estonia). The boat journey over was an interesting night...due to the high price of booze in the Scandinavia countries the local as soon as they get into duty free zones (including boat trips) buy up big. We partied with about 50 blokes from the Swedish army having just finished their year conscription with the army, we (or perhaps just Anneliese being female) were the life of the party held in the tiny bunk rooms in the bowels of the ship. Tallinn was a BEAUTIFUL I have been to as again it was covered in a fluffy white layer and towns turrets and walls give the old town a really warm feel despite the cold.

Helsinki we caught up with M&D, had a look around the city and jumped on a overnight train to Santa Claus's village. This town sits on the Arctic circle line (snow/ice and cold) and the family had our photos taken with Santa Claus. We watched them prepare for the winter festival (using a normal iron to melt and stick together ice sculptures). The next day and a half was spent train hopping taking in sights from northern Baltic sea (lots of snow), Lulea a town where we spent the time wandering the streets and in the Christmas markets at minus 13C Deg. The highlight of the train journeys in Scandinavia was the Flam railway, this railway drops from the Norway alpine down to the fjords (sea level) over a short distance making the train journey interesting but more so because of the stunning scenery (see picture). A boat ride and bus trip sounded great on paper but we forgot about the day light issues and only the first 30min was visible...should have we seen them the fjords were a lot like Milford Sound NZ but narrower and sprinkled in snow.
Bergen was the departure point for the ship which would take us to Kirkenes, almost on the Russian border and the northern most town of Norway. Bergen was a great city but known for its summer!, we did our fare share of walking though and most interesting was the fish markets containing live salmon, crabs, cod (in its many ways and forms) and best of all whale. I don't hold anything against an animal that has reached pre-commercial whaling populations, after all its a grandiose type of fish and tasted fantastic. (please argue the rights of Minke whales with me at some stage or maybe send me animal rights info...slogans are thought provoking...i.e. Swiss slogan I read ´Eating meat causes climate change´...please explain?)
Anyhow the boat trip...this cruise stemmed from the days when the isolated coastal communities along Norway's coast got their post via ship, its still the same service just the ship now brings tourists, cars and no doubt $$$ to these towns. We called into many towns, the architecture of the houses was most memorable as they were in stark contrast to the snow, red/blue/yellow and with white window frames. Sunlight was more a dull glow illuminating the sky yet the gulf stream water current kept the temperatures on the coast quite balmy...minus 10 the lowest and it was often in the positives, in fact to warm to see the northern lights convincingly. The most impressing feature of the journey was the food served....I'm drooling writing this! The seafood buffet, never ending piles of smoked salmon/trout, spider crabs and then of course a hot buffet. I also had the privileged of trying the rotten fish (loosely translated) a Scandinavian delicacy...yuk!
After the trip we went to Oslo and Stockholm, we managed to enjoy several other boats, these being the Fram (first ever boat to be able survive crushing ice packs in both poles), Viking ships and the Swedish galleon recovered from sea in almost sail-able condition (sank in first 10min of maiden voyage so wouldn't be hard beat that record even 300 years later). The other highlight gastronomy wise were herring fillets...except those preserved in ´sugar, cinnamon and cloves´, cod (persevered in bi-carb soda, dried, fresh), reindeer, a beer (just the one! expensive to drink in Scandi).

Once M&D and Anneliese had flown back to Australia I continued on my way by traveling to Scotland. Edinburgh´s highlights were the castle and finding myself in Glasgow the morning after I went out for just a single pint (hairdressing salon's Christmas party). Then I jumped onto a tour around Scotland with a tour guide that sorted through the huge amount of Scottish history to give us the interesting stories generally about religion* & wars*, drinking and stupidity. What did Scotland offer - x2 distillery tours, Isle of Skye turned on its best weather (horizontal rain), hairy cows, fresh scallops, swimming in Lock Ness, good beer, haggis, castles and lots of fun. I enjoyed the experience of traveling in group again rather than finding my own transport, accom., etc.


"I´ve been dreaming of a white Christmas..." so where do you go? Switzerland...what happens... it snows a week before and a week after! Christmas was great even without a white layer. Family connections and ongoing Christmas letters for the last 20 years I found a Swiss family who were happy to have me stay for Christmas (would they have me back is probably the better question). How do you make a young bloke not miss home for Christmas? Feed him...needless to say I had lots of cheese: Raclette & Fondue and for Christmas day had the Swiss traditional Fondue Chindoise (broth of soup simmering which you cook thin strips of meat in at the table). Apart from recounting past stories about them seeing me last in nappies the family also decided I needed little sunlight so we went to the tops of x2 peaks in the alps. Once above the cloud layer sky was clear and the vista of mountain peak sticking through cotton wool clouds will not be forgotten (see picture). Thanks for giving me such a great Christmas (Inauen family).


For New Years I decided that spending a mega amount of cash to get to and from Hogmanay in Scotland would be silly so chose a more exclusive location and New years party. I found myself catching a train to Speen (thinking it was in London) and got off in a station in the ´woods´ of England. about typical English, just what I needed to see the to contrast London...lane ways with hedgerows, green rolling fields, cottages and folk walking about in gumboots. The party itself was at the local pub of a buddy from the African truck. It was a great night to drink good British ale, good food and dancing to 70s,80s&90s music. New years resolution...not to get kiss another bloke again...happened that Greg didn't invite any British lasses from his univeristy and none were to be had in the village. Auld Lang Syne came on and larkinism was rife so the boys danced together with the older couples including a peek on the cheek. After several days of walking through think English frosts, university educated girls worried that the fish would not be able to breathe because their pond was frozen over. I decide to change my flight to South America sooner than later. I landed on the 3rd Jan to a sunny Chile, cheap beer and my poor Spanish speaking skills.


My first problem in Chile, was from the Brazilians not allowing me to get a visa easily, I should have read a bit more at home to realise I needed one in the first place! Once the visa application was in place I got onto a hop-on/hop-off bus to see the best Chile had to offer in 20 days. Highlights included:
- this poor little aussies first surfing lesson, standing up and realising why people enjoy it...I still hate sand!
- climbing a volcano, listening to it rumble, spew gas but by far the most memorable and most fun was the very quick trip down the ice of the glacier on our backsides...much then same as I imagine bob-sledding would be
- fresh salmon and seafood from the southern districts in Chile
- many types...those next to the sea on the coast and penguins walking between them was odd. The cactus fruit...sour goodness that know one told me was also a laxative...
- Atacama Desert...where this years Dakar motor race was held. Barren dry and reasonably hot (nothing compared to Alice Springs or recent weather at home from what it sounds) BUT the contrast of colours Blue skies, White from snow on the Andes and the salt pans, colours of the rock in the Andes (Green, Red, Purple, Yellow, Pink, Brown, Black...)
- the Salt pans...amazing (see picture)
- experiencing the surface of the moon in Moon close as it comes anyway and all made from salt
- visiting a rain forest hidden amongst the desert...literally seeing Mushroom/fungi/moss only 50m from were I had been looking at a cactus...crazy!
- Pisco Sour's. Pisco being the national drink (distilled wine) mixed with lemon juice, sugar and ice...yummy slurpy with a kick to it
- Train cemetery...bring out the kid in any boy playing with old steam trains

I now fly to Patagonia where I will undertake few weeks walking. Rumors from other travelers give it a great wrap and great scenery (between the clouds like in NZ). From Patagonia I will fly direct to Rio De Janeiro where it is Carnival time. After Carnival I will make my way across South America to Lima (Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, North-North Chile, Peru). My Spanish is terrible but my acting skills with a few words seem still to be working...I can eat anyway!

Best wishes to all and I hope you celebrated Australian day in 'true blue fair-dinkum' Aussie style...I had to settle for wearing a bluey, drinking beer and singing John Williamson songs to all that would listen!

Hooroo, Hasta Luego