Norwegian Fjords – Day 6 and 7

Day 6: Glaciers and Geiranger

One long day. From Balestrand, we took a ferry from Hella (not too far north from Balestrand) to Dragsvik. We then continued on the road to Sogndal and eventually to Fjaerland passing by the Jostedal glacier; the largest glacier in Europe. Before reaching Skei, there is a glacier viewpoint called Boyabreen.


Continuing on, passing Utvik and before Loen, you can take a detour into a valley which leads to the Briksdal glacier. There is a good viewpoint within this valley and you’ll knowit when you see it when you spot all the parked cars and buses.

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One cool observation is the color of the river is almost turquoise. As you approach the glacier, there are signs that show you where the glacier used to be in the past. Let’s just say it’s almost gone. This is perhaps the clearest evidence of global warming I’ve seen. Just google “Briksdal glacier 2005 to see the big difference within 10 years”. If it was 2005, these photos would be epic but instead, all that is left is a piece of glacier sticking out from the top when it used to be a huge ice wall. Either way, it’s a touristy photo stop worth going to (before it disappears completely).

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Continuing on, passing Loen and Stryn to Hellesylt. It is here where you can board a ferry and cruise along the Geiranger fjord, possibly the most impressive of the fjords. There are waterfalls such as the Seven Sisters and the Bridal Veil. Although there’s not much water falling during the end of August.


After an hour cruising, the final stop is Geiranger. High mountains surround the town which means there are a whole lot of trails. And the views from the hotel aren’t bad either… from the jacuzzi pool.



Day 7: From Geiranger to Oslo

I could’ve stayed here for 2 days. There are trails and viewpoints all over Geiranger. The trailheads for several paths begin right at the Union Hotel. I trekked a bit in the early morning and encountered sheep and llamas. The llamas weren’t letting me pass at all and look quite creepy at dawn.


There is a good viewpoint about 15 minutes up the Geiranger mountain road.


Continuing to ascend via the Serpentine road and into the clouds, there are some seriously amazing views. My photos don’t capture the epicness of the scenery so you’ll just have to believe me.


It’s about 2 or so hours to Lillehammer. We stopped here for lunch and to check out the National team doing the ski jumping.


Another 2 hours to Oslo and this completes the circuit.

Norwegian Fjords – Day 5

Day 5: To the top of the fjords

I learned about a hike up a 3,000 ft mountain behind the hotel at Balestrand. The trailhead was pretty much at sea level so I had to ascend the full 3000ft. The mountain is called Raudmelen (the peak on the left).


My mission was to go to the top, take photos, and descend all the way down. From hotel to hotel roundtrip. The challenge was to return before breakfast was over; 10 am. However, I couldn’t start until there was sufficient sunlight in order to see where I was stepping in the forest below. So 4 hours tops. I spoke to a man who completed the hike 2 days ago and he told me it takes 6 hours. Ugh, I hope he was wrong.


Off I went into the unknown, solo, with a backpack full of extra (unused) layers, and one bottle of water (should’ve brought 2). It took about 45-60 minutes to get above the tree line and another 45-60 minutes to ascend to the top. Well, I underestimated this beast. It starts out steep, and then it’s not, and then 2/3 to the top, its steep again. Although my pace was moderate, I still had to take breaks every few minutes toward the top. A little over 2 hours.


Taking photos of yourself is quite tiring with a 10 second timer, running back and forth and such. It took about 20 tries and finding the right rock to place your camera, frustrating. But as always, the view is worth the work. To be standing on top of the world’s largest fjord with nobody in sight, ahhh, nothing else matters. The moment is yours!




Getting back down is rough on the knees. And once you get back below the tree line, stay on the trail or else you’ll end up in someone’s back yard instead of the trailhead. So I made it back to the hotel 10 minutes before breakfast ended, yay. I thought it was a good idea to cool off by swimming in the fjord. That was the coldest water I’ve been in, and didn’t even last 3 minutes.

There’s not much else to do in Balestrand. The rest of the day was a recovery day.

Norwegian Fjords – Day 4

Day 4: Bergen to the Sognefjord

From Bergen, we passed through Voss. Although we stopped at Voss for a few minutes to catch a Bergen railway train, I would’ve liked to stay here for at least a day or two. Voss is the place for the extreme sports like base jumping (I would never) and other stuff like that.


We transferred at Myrdal to get on the Flam railway. Every Norway first timer must to this one. It’s a slow descent from the mountain tops to the village of Flam. Usually there are clouds in the beginning but they clear soon enough as you descend. There is even a short stop where everyone gets off for 5 minutes to see the Kjosfossen waterfall. For some reason, there was loud music and a woman dancing in the distance. Must be part of the train ride service.


Flam village is the at the base of the Aurlandfjord; one of the many branches of the Sognefjord.


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Sognefjord is the longest and deepest fjord in Norway. When cruising the fjords, you are in between sheer mountain cliffs, snow peaks, and cascading water falls/streams. Originally, the plan was to cruise from Flam to Gudvangen via the Aurlandsfjord and Naeroyfjord but the engine failed on the ship we were on. Nothing works out 100% in life. I wish I could describe the Naeroyfjord and the drive through the Naeroy valley, Stalheim Canyon, and Vika mountains to Vangsnes. But I can’t since we ended up switching to a ferry which sailed from Flam all the way to Balestrand. Either way, we ended up sailing through the main artery of the Sognefjord, which is cool too I suppose.

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We stayed at the Kviknes hotel, which had some of the best buffets period. Also, the views weren’t too bad either.


It was a clear night and we saw the sunrise around 9 :30 pm. Actually, it was a moonrise.

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Norwegian Fjords – Day 3

Day 3: From Eidfjord to Bergen

A short post. Driving at the base of the Hardanger fjord is scenic whenever you’re not in a tunnel (there are 100+ of tunnels). With hardly any ripples in the water, you can see the reflection of the mountains and sky in the water. And about halfway to Bergen, you can walk behind a waterfall called Steindalsfossen.

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Bergen is the second largest city in Norway. It’s surrounded by mountains and gets a lot of rain. Luckily, it was a clear day. However, there were 4 cruise ships docked that day as well. One of the main areas is Bryggen Harbor which has a line of gabled packhouses. The houses make up a world heritage site due to their age and historical significance (more info on wikipedia).


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In Bergen you can walk around, eat at one of the many restaurants, and even take the funicular to Mt. Floien for the googlemaps view of the city.

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Norwegian Fjords – Day 1 and 2

Day 1: Oslo

Velkommen. The land of the Vikings. I’ve always seen the photos of the fjord lands of Norway. Perhaps you have seen/heard of Troll’s tongue or Pulpits Rock. Norway is considered to be one of the most beautiful and richest countries in the world. A huge country in size but not densely populated so there’s a lot of land to explore. I had to see it for myself. The hardest part is saving enough money (everything is expensive in Norway), and figuring out how to explore the country. Although the transportation system is great, I thought it was a bit overwhelming to figure out train routes/times and book hotels. My options were a Norwegian cruise or a land tour by bus. I figured a land tour would be a better choice to really experience the interior as well as the fjords. This is how the 7 day sample of Norway played out.

Oslo is a nice looking city. Blonde hair is the norm and most locals look healthy and well off. Norwegian krone is the currency and people speak good English here so no there is no need to learn Norwegian. The city is quite clean and the prices are high. If you like seafood then you’ve come to the right country.

I didn’t know what else to do in Oslo except to simply walk around and explore the city. The main artery of Oslo is Karl Johans gate which stretches from Oslo Central Station to the Royal Palace. You can also walk by the harbor for some good views and restaurants. The seafood platter at the Louise restaurant was a great way to start. Egon is another restaurant that you can find the best burger ever. And if you can get a chance to try kvaefjord cake, you will be convinced that it’s the best cake you’ve ever had.

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The national gallery is worth an hour of your time. It is here where you can find “the scream” painting. I learned that is was stolen and retrieved twice.


The Viking museum is also worth an hour of your time. Who doesn’t like vikings.


We stayed at one of the Radisson Blu hotels in Oslo which happen to be the tallest buildings around. The top floor restaurant/bar has the views of the city.


Day 2: From Oslo to the Fjords
On the road to the fjords alongside rivers, valleys, and 100s of tunnels through the mountains. The travel is about 4 hours but you eventually arrive at the fjords. But before that, there are several spots on the way. On the road to Eidfjord, we passed through the Hardanger Mountain Plateau which is part of the Hardanger National park. There are hardly any houses or trees at this elevation. It feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere. It would be a bad situation to get lost here without a vehicle. Either way, it’s a cool spot to pass through. Also, if anyone remembers planet Hoth from Star Wars – Empire Strikes Back, it was filmed somewhere around this plateau, I think.

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The Trolltunga (Troll’s Tongue) hike is between the Hardanger National Park and Folgefonna National park; something to conquer on another trip. I’d also like to kayak alongside the ice chunks by Folgefonna. Next time.

Right before arriving in Eidfjord and the first sight of one of the branches of the Hardanger fjord, there is a waterfall called Voringfoss. Its more than a 500 ft vertical. There were people trekking through the valley below (as I watched them with envy). The view down there looking up at the waterfall must’ve been epic.


There is something about trolls and Norway. They are the ugliest and pop up everywhere. Why?


And finally, the mountains open up to reveal the sea, it’s a Norwegian fjord!

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Emerald Isle – Day 9

Day 9: The North

From Dublin, it’s about 2 or so hours to Belfast. I’m terrible at explaining the history but all I can say is, prepare to make purchases in Pounds instead of Euro. It’s as if you’ve crossed a border into Britain, but you don’t need a passport or anything. I didn’t stay in Belfast much longer than an hour so I’ll just discuss the real reason I decided to travel this far.


Perhaps another 30 minutes north of Belfast, you can see get to a road with beech trees known as the dark hedges. These trees became famous from a scene in season 2 of Game of Thrones. It was raining when we were there and maybe it was a good thing as it added darkness to the dark hedges.


Further north toward the coastline of Ireland, you will start to notice the similarities between the scenery of the Cliffs of Moher. There is a scenic trail with a bridge called Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The bridge leads you to a very small island with great views. It’s quite a touristy spot so expect to wait around 30 minutes during the summer months just to cross the bridge. But the views are worth it.


And not too far away from the bridge, we finally arrive at the infamous Giants Causeway. This is a large area which takes 15-20 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the causeway. 10,000s of stone columns stacked like legos everywhere. There is nothing much here except for the fact that it’s a unique place and a bucket list item for many people.

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Emerald Isle – Day 7 and 8

Day 7: Beara Peninsula

Each of Ireland’s west coast peninsulas have something unique to offer. The Beara peninsula has a wild ruggedness unlike the other 2, but still quite scenic like Dingle and Iveragh.


You can transport yourself back to the stone age at the Uragh stone circle which is toward the beginning of the Beara peninsula drive. It’s a miniature Stonehenge, but it’s the location that makes it special.


The roads through the mountains were perhaps one of my favorite drives. They roads can take you as high as the clouds and then snake back down through valleys through the mountains. Photos could not capture the epic scenery here.

Toward the end of the Beara peninsula, you can hike the Bullig Bay coastal trail past the Dunboy castle.


Moving on in a figure 8 fashion through the Beara peninsula, you’ll come across the old copper mines over the mountains.

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Although it’s not on the Beara peninsula, the Gougane Barra hotel is a good hotel to stay in a scenic location.


Day 8: Castles and back to Dublin

An extension of the Beara Way trailhead was 5 minutes from the hotel which leads to the mountain tops. I could not resist. Another early morning hike before breakfast. Just me (and the goats) on the mountain tops as the sun rises and the wind blows. I could’ve walked the Beara Way trail forever. I don’t know why I enjoy these random hikes so much. Maybe because it feels awesome to be on top of the world.


Well, I wasn’t alone as the king of the mountains. Sheep and goats were everywhere, even on the path and blocking my way forward. I’m not familiar with their temperament so I asked them nicely to move. When that didn’t work, I just took small steps without making eye contact. On the way down, I learned it was just best to be stern and order them to step aside. Yes, I’m the shepherd master now!


After the early morning hike, it was time to start heading back to Dublin. But there are a few touristy spots to check out on the way back, such as the Blarney castle. If you decide to go on a weekend in the summer, prepare for the crowds. Cruise ships tend to dump their people here for the day. The castle and grounds are still worth a visit though. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time to wait on the long line to the top of the castle to see the Blarney stone (which many people kiss for some reason).


An hour closer to Dublin, you can visit the Rock of Cashel. It’s a very old building but still 90% intact; just missing the roof. There’s a tour guide who will explain the interesting history of the building in about 20 minutes.The Cork accent is quite unique.

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And the loop is complete. Back in Dublin.

Emerald Isle – Day 6

Day 6: The Force Awakens at the Skelligs

If anyone has seen the new Star Wars movie, then they know the last scene where Luke Skywalker is standing on an island. Well, he was actually standing on Skellig Michael, Ireland. That’s what today’s mission is. Firstly, it’s not easy to book this tour since only a few hundred people are permitted on the island each day and there are a limited number of boats. I was lucky enough to go and tell the tale.

It is a weather dependent (and seasonal) boat ride from the coast which takes about an hour. And even on a good day (which it turned out to be luckily), it is the roughest, chopiest, roller coaster of a boat ride you’ll ever have most likely. The waters here have some serious waves that even Dramamine can’t prevent some from vomiting. But don’t worry, that’s what the buckets are for. On the bright side, the boat captains are quite skillful in sailing the waves and keeping the boat as stable as possible.

So the island before Skellig Michael is Little Skellig, but it’s the home to 10,000s of birds. The peaks are not ice capped, it’s because of bird stuff.

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Once you survive the boat ride from hell, you get an hour and half to ascend 600 or so steps to the top where the Skellig Monastery and monk beehive huts are.


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At the top, someone who works there will briefly explain the history of the monks who lived here once upon a time. These are some of the views.



I’d estimate that it is around the 400th step where Luke Skywalker was standing and Rey handed off his lighsaber. Many Star Wars fans were here that day but little did they know that the sith lord from NYC was present that day. Perhaps the first sith lord to wear sunglasses.


After getting back down, there was only one thing left… the dreaded boat ride back. And the waves were even bigger than before. Trust me, if you suffer from motion sickness, you will throw up your breakfast. But if you think it’s worth it, then by all means, may the force be with you.

Before departing the area of Portmagee town, we stopped at the Skellig Chocolate factory. They give some generous tastings.


Retracing our tracks from the previous day via the Ring of Kerry, we made a stop to Cancun Mexico. Actually it is Derrynane beach in Ireland.

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We spent the night in Kenmare right off of the Ring of Kerry.


Emerald Isle – Day 5

Day 5: From Dingle to the Ring of Kerry

It’s not easy to leave Dingle behind, but it’s a little easier to do so when you’re headed to the Iveragh peninsula. But before driving that far, you should spend some time at the Killarney National park. There’s enough trails to ride bikes through the park for a few hours.

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You can take a stroll to visit the Torc waterfall.


Or you can visit the Muckross Abbey.

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Afterwards, we proceeded to drive via the south portion of the Ring of Kerry which is the main road that encircles the Iveragh peninsula. From what I recall, it is just as scenic, green, and sheepy as Dingle.


Kissane sheep farm is not too far from Killarney National park and worth the visit. There is a demonstration of how the sheep master and his sheep dogs control the sheep flocks. You’ll notice that some are labeled with colored paint, but I forget the logic behind the coloring system.


There is also a sheep shearing demonstration where a hairy sheep is selected as the victim and his wool is shaved off right there in front of everyone. Poor sheep.


Sneem town made a good stop for snack and gift shopping. It is here where you can meet Puck, the most popular goat in town.


Continuing on the Ring of Kerry, we arrived at our final stop of the day, Portmagee town. It is a coastal town which means it was time to order a seafood platter. I sense a disturbance in the force… tomorrow is the big day.


Emerald Isle – Day 3 and 4

Day 3: From the Cliffs to Dingle

Before visiting the infamous Cliffs of Moher, we decided to revisit the Burren to check out the Poulnabrone Dolmen (megalithic tomb) and learn a bit about the ancient people who I think wikipedia will do a much better job explaining than I can.


Ok, now we head to the Cliffs of Moher; 700 ft sea cliffs. There’s not much to do except wander around, be impressed with the views, and take all the photos. There is plenty of trail to take up a half a day if you have the time. It’s quite windy though so hold on to your hats.


To drive from the Cliffs to the Dingle peninsula would require driving around the River Shannon to Limerick city, or you can ferry across it and save hours. So we ended up taking the ferry across. We stopped for lunch at the South Pole Inn not too far from the ferry stop. The restaurant theme is based on Tom Crean who was a famous Antarctic explorer from Ireland.

It doesn’t take long to reach the Dingle peninsula where there are large green hills and mountains everywhere. The Skellig hotel is scenic spot to stay for a night or 2, and a 5-10 minute walk to the main strip of restaurants and pubs. Actually, all of Dingle town is quite scenic.


And if you can, make sure to watch the music show at the church in the evening. Actually, in almost every pub at night, there is live music playing. Guitarists, fiddlers, pipers, and accordion players of all ages. There was a bar where it felt like I was standing behind an orchestra. In Dingle, everyone has musical talent.

Day 4: Dingle

With all the hills surrounding the town, who could resist. I woke up at sunrise to explore the nearby mountains before breakfast.


Kayaking in Dingle bay was next on the itinerary. As a novice kayaker, it isn’t easy navigating across the bay via kayak due to wind, but it’s all worth it when you arrive at the caves. Also if you’re lucky, you can spot Fungie the dolphin who lives there. We were lucky, but weren’t quick enough to take his photo.


Shortly after, we drove through Slea Head which is a very popular and scenic drive around the tip of the peninsula. You immediately notice that Ireland has many beaches. Beaches that are comparable to Caribbean beaches, just not tropical.


There are plenty of parking stops on the Slea Head drive which serve as view points such as Dunquin Pier and Coumeenoule beach. We only had 2 hours but I could’ve easily took a day or more to explore it in full. The tallest mountain in Dingle is Mt Brandon; around 3K+ ft. If there was time, I would’ve surely attempted it. The trail head is 6 miles north from Dingle town.


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With some time before dinner, I decided to simply wander the shores toward an old tower near the Skellig hotel.


And of course, when in Dingle, eat good food and visit a pub for live music.