Archive for the ‘9.9 Norway’ Category

Qatar Airways and Doha Airport

My friend is going to get married in France and she will be off tomorrow for 3 weeks! I just discovered that she is going to go via Qatar Airways so I decided to do this post for her. I’ve only flown Qatar Airways once for my Norway trip, or should I count it as 4 times, as it was a total of 4 different planes for the entire trip.

I like flying with Qatar Airways. I almost always fly with Singapore Airlines. I am afraid of flying and I feel safe with SIA. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever flown on any budget airlines before, even though I would love to pay much less. Qatar Airways gives me the same safe feeling. According to Wikipedia, Qatar Airways boasts of a very young fleet, with an average age of only 4.9 years as of April 2012. It was also voted Airline of the Year in 2011 by the prestigious Skytrax, which is an airline and airport review site.

I have to admit, it never crossed my mind to fly with Qatar Airways regardless….until I saw the fares to Norway. $450 nett return!!! I’m like WTF?!?!?! I hadn’t even planned on going to Norway, I was actually planning to go to Germany instead! But it was just so good a deal that I took it up. You can’t get fares to Norway for $450 now. The fares were cheap to celebrate the inaugural flights from Qatar to Norway. I did have to endure an 8 hour stopover each trip, but because the Doha Airport has a sleeping lounge (which I did not know about before I left), it was not as tiring as I’d imagined.

Here’s a quick summary of my experience with Qatar Airways

Airplane : New, clean, no foul smells, no weird noises.

Seating : I took Economy and I found the seats to be similar to SIA, perhaps a little bit more cushiony and hence more comfortable.

Food : Good. No complaints for the main meals. Filling, hot, tasty and neatly packaged. 2nd meal (the pre-landing meal) is a wrap, which was tasty but not filling. I guess it wasn’t meant to be a main meal again, given the 8 hr flight, but I was hungry. Qatar Airways does serve wine, in case you were wondering.

Service : Service with a smile. No complaints. I didn’t have unusual requests though.

In-flight Entertainment : Very good. On some flights I got the touch screen TV thingy so it must have been a very new plane. Lots of movies to choose from. And games. And am I the only one who goes to the language games to learn new words and to read about the host country?

Doha Airport  : Quite basic. This is the worst part of the whole flying experience. Because of speed of growth in Qatar Airways, the Doha Airport has not managed to catch up in capacity, despite being upgraded 4 times. A new International airport is currently being built, and scheduled to open in Dec 2012 or next year.

Doha Airport – Getting to the terminal! : For me, I kena the old airport. There is no aerobridge to greet you when your plane lands. You have climb down the movable stairs onto the tarmac where buses will ferry you to the terminal. If you’re carrying bulky items, good luck to you. I don’t know how the wheelchair bound people disembarked. The buses are also no frills as compared to the more luxurious interior of the plane. Most people have to stand as seats are limited. The journey to the airport can be quite long, depending on how far your plane has parked. I believe the longest distance I travelled was at least 10 or 15 minutes, and that was to catch the plain for the Doha to Oslo leg. The Singapore to Doha leg, the shuttle bus only travelled for 3 minutes before arriving at the terminal, so I was quite scared when the 2nd shuttle travelled so far. I arrived in the dead of the night and left in the morning, so the temperature was rather similar to that of Singapore. I imagine it would be way hotter at noon.

Doha Airport Amenities (Only applies if you are flying with Qatar Airways. Other airlines use Terminal B) : The airport itself is also extremely no frills. It feels super crowded, even at 12 midnight. There is nothing to see except for the duty free shop, which everybody no doubt would be heading for. I think they even sell laundry powder there, and cornflakes, which is amusing to me. There are one or 2 cafes and a fast food place, from what I recall. Prices aren’t exorbitant, pretty much Changi Airport type prices. Credit cards are accepted, and US dollars as well.

Oh, there is WIFI, but because there are so many people, it’s really hard to get a connection. I only managed to get a connection at 5am.

There are 2 executive lounges, quite affordable I feel (I think it was $50?), but once again, rather crowded and doesn’t give an atas feeling.

Sleeping Lounge : Ah, here was where I spent the bulk of my 8 hr transit. At first, we didn’t know about this place, and found a quiet area with many chairs to attempt to nap. It was hard to nap because the seats were hard and had hand rests. So I got up and from my seat I spotted what looked like an Internet Cafe. When I got nearer, what I thought were the backs of computers were actually the backs of inclined chairs! Free entry to those whose tickets show a 3 hour stop over for more! You really got to scroll down to the pictures to see this sleeping lounge. It is no frills once again, and sited next to a cafe (noisy!) but even Changi Airport doesn’t provide this! A god send! Thank you Doha Airport!

Okay enough talk, just scroll down and enjoy the pictures. Feel free to drop me an email if you have any questions! I love to talk about my travels!

Doha Airport Sleeping Lounge Blankies are provided. So sweet… The attendant comes around to shush people up if they’re talking too loudly. Very good of him to do so.

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Flåmsbana (Flåm Railway)

I was glad I took the Flåm Railway in the end. The truth be told, I was kind of worried about taking this train ride. I have a thing about trains travelling along mountain cliffs. The sight of the sheer drop makes me scared! The last train ride I took was for the journey from Sydney City to the Blue Mountains. Everyone was obviously oblivious to the DANGERS of which were supposedly so apparent to me.

The Flam Railway train ride is touted to be one of the most scenic train rides in the world and is the 3rd most visited tourist attraction in Norway. However, it is also the steepest standard gauge railway in Europe and travels up 863 metres in the 20km journey. In order for the train to scale this height in such a short distance, there is even this 180degree turn within a mountain, I’m like WHAT THE HELL IS THAT??? But in order for me to visit Flåm, I would have to take this train ride to get back out!

Turns out, I was not scared in the end! I’m quite surprised and the Partner was quite surprised too! So much for making a mountain out of a molehill. I guess I was just too busy snapping picture after picture that I had no time to be scared. Also, it helped that the train was travelling at a pretty slow speed, slow enough to make my brain think that it was safe. The gradient wasn’t apparent to me at all, and even the 180 degree turn would not have been noticed had I not read about it earlier. And also, at the steepest of parts, there were railings for protection. On second thoughts, these railings appear to be made of wood…

So the moral of the story is, in order to enjoy the dramatic scenery, one has to first scale the steep mountain.

Flam Railway scenery (3)

The Flåm station at the start of our journey

Flam Railway scenery (2)

Only 8 passengers in the entire train. The perks of travelling off peak! I had the whole carriage to myself and in fact I was basically moving left or right depending on where the scenery was.

Flam Railway scenery (7)

Can’t remember what the name of this road is. It’s a popular cycling route during the summer. The Norwegians love to tell you how many hair-pin turns there are. “Hair-pin” is like their favourite word, and the more there are, the better!

I have to remind you that despite the safety record, a bus once toppled over while travelling on a road with these hair-pin turns enroute to Milford Sound in NZ. I took that bus ride a number of years back (b4 the accident) and it was pretty terrifying for me. See, I’m not making a mountain out of a molehill!

Flam Railway scenery (4) Flam Railway scenery (5)

One has to get used to the sounds of the gushing water when living so nearby.

Flam Railway scenery (10)

Flam Railway scenery (8)

The Flåmsbana actually makes a 5 minute photo stop at the Kjosfossen waterfall! In the summertime, 2 maidens magically appear to serenade the tourists. These photos just don’t do justice to how wonderful the feeling was to be able to view the waterfall up close and to enjoy its misty spray.

Flam Railway scenery (9)

The train and other tourists waiting patiently. The other tourists on the ride weren’t particularly enthusiastic about the waterfall. After a couple of photo shots, they retreated to the warmth of the train carriage. Can you spot the rainbow? Bet they missed it.

Flam Railway scenery (13)  Flam Railway scenery (11) Flam Railway scenery (12)

And finally, after 50 minutes, we arrive at the Myrdal Station, 866.8 m above sea level!

Hiking in Flåm

In the end, it was a good decision to stay 2 nights in Flåm. I was a little worried that there’d be nothing to do in Flåm. Flåm is so small that during the off peak season, which was the time we were there, there were only 2 restaurants open, with only 2 set dinners to choose from and no ala-carte.

A lot of people try to rush the whole journey by hopping on to the next train back to Oslo but what’s the point of coming then? I say there are no prizes in reaching the finishing line first. The whole journey goes like this:

Bergen –> by train to Voss (1hr) –> by bus to Gudvangen (1hr) –> by cruise to Flåm (2hr) –> by train to Oslo (5hr)

Thanks to our leisurely pace, we had the opportunity to go “hiking”in the mountains. Here’s pictures of city girl roughing it out in the woods.

Hiking in Flåm (2)

First, picture of the view from my hotel Flamsbrygga. Damn cool view, if I say so myself.

Hiking in Flåm (3)

Proof that I was here!

Hiking in Flåm (4)

Before we can even get out of the hotel area… Check out the dancing people

Hiking in Flåm (5)

Didn’t get a chance to see the Tanjong Pagar Railway lines before they were removed so I found a substitute instead

Hiking in Flåm (6)

Keep your farts down

Hiking in Flåm (7)

The goal of the hike was to hike up to the Brekkefossen waterfall, a hike that would take about 2hrs, return.

Hiking in Flåm (8)

It’s no walk in the park. That white patch there is the waterfall

Hiking in Flåm (9)

Stopping to enjoy the little stream, possibly fed by the Brekkefossen waterfall or the numerous other waterfalls around.

Hiking in Flåm (10)

The partner got tired of waiting and moved to higher ground

Hiking in Flåm (11)

View of the residential area from up above

Hiking in Flåm (12)

It’s tiring business so we stopped for a break

Hiking in Flåm (13)

In the end, I never did get higher than this spot. The Partner went up further but it was really muddy higher up so we gave up. Ok specifically I gave up so he had to give up. I have this huge fear of heights and falling. You can see from the photo that the incline is quite steep, and coupled with muddy tracts and no real proper path, I was just too scared to go further.

Hiking in Flåm (15)

Hiking in Flåm (16)

Went back down to admire the mini waterfall since I couldn’t get up close to the real thing.

Hiking in Flåm (17)

Me looking wistfully at the Brekkefossen waterfall. Notice the stick I had in my hands. That was really useful in aiding my descent. If only we had found it while going up, we might have made it to the top. For my next trip, I’m definitely going to buy a hiking pole. I just googled for hiking poles and I realise that lots of seasoned hikers use it and it’s not just something for losers.

Hiking in Flåm (18)

Me giving the finger to the waterfall for being so unfriendly

Hiking in Flåm (19)

This river must surely be fed by the Brekkefossen waterfall, the volume is substantial!

Hiking in Flåm (20)

The river in slow mo

Hiking in Flåm (21)

Interesting sights along the way back too. Baby cow here sticking its tongue out at me

Hiking in Flåm (22)

Those horns look fierce. This is not a bull I believe, as bulls are normally not kept together with the herd

Hiking in Flåm (23)

Farmer trying to attract the lambs with the food bucket

Hiking in Flåm (24)

I don’t know why these lambs were so hesitant to go towards the farmer. We stood still to watch for a while and when we finally started to move, the lambs all turned around and scooted back and the farmer had to start all over again!

Hiking in Flåm (1)

After a hard day’s worth of hiking (we took 3 hours to complete the journey, with all the stopping and photo taking), it was nice to have a drink on our balcony overlooking the fjord.

Journey from Bergen to Flåm

Hands down, this has got to be the highlight and the most scenic part of my holiday in Norway and Denmark. While Oslo and Copenhagen were great in their own ways, it is dramatic scenery of mountains, waterfalls and fjords that stay in the mind and make a greater impact. Here are some photos I took on the bus ride from Gudvangen to Voss, and on the cruise through the Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord to Flåm.

Norway has the highest concentration of fjords in the world. Nærøyfjord is the narrowest fjord in the world, and is a 18 km long branch of the worlds second longest fjord Sognefjord (204 km). It is only 250 metres at the narrowest, and more than one kilometres at the widest. The depth varies between 10 and 500 metres. The surrounding mountains are up to more than 1400 metres high and it’s crazy to know that there once were numerous farms dotting these practically inaccessible areas!

This is actually my 2nd time cruising through a fjord. The 1st one was in Milford Sound in New Zealand a number of years ago and I have to admit, I kind of feel that the Nærøyfjord is more dramatic. The Partner firmly believes that the Milford Sound was much better. Well he would say that wouldn’t he? We shall see, when I get back to Singapore and revisit my photos. Then again, the Milford Sound has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1990 while Norway’s only got onto the list in 2005.

Okay enough talk and on to the photos, and you must at least scroll to photo 4!!

Nærøyfjord (7)

I love this photo so much! The fog makes the houses look like little toys

Nærøyfjord (9)

Nærøyfjord (8)

Nærøyfjord (3)

Can you spot the house at the top of that crazy cliff? Why would anyone want to stay there?That’s the Stigen farmstead, once accessible only by ladder, hence the name. It is said the ladders were pulled up when the tax collectors came, and that young children were kept on a leash to prevent them from falling to their deaths.

Nærøyfjord (6)

Nærøyfjord (1)

Nærøyfjord (2)

Nærøyfjord (10)

Nærøyfjord (5)

Our cruise ship emerging from the mist to pick us up

View from Flamsbrygga

It’s not tourist season so we hit the jackpot and got the best room in our hotel. This is the view I wake up to in the morning.

Aurlandsfjord

Bergen–Bryggeloftet Restaurant

Just in case you were expecting food reviews on this blog and there seems to be none in the last few posts, I am currently on holiday in Norway. I’ve done Oslo and I returned yesterday from Copenhagen Denmark. I’m moving on to the last leg of my trip, which is the scenic fjords and mountain bit.

Here’s some food pictures to keep us going meanwhile. Food prices in Norway are exorbitant by Singapore’s standards. There’s just no running away from this, believe me I’ve tried. Just to give some perspective, a McDonald’s meal would cost around S$15 if not more. Cafe Latte/Hot Chocolate is at least S$8 for the simplest of cafes. A main course at a restaurant of say chicken would cost S$40 or more. I bought a sandwich from the supermarket the other day and it cost S$20. It’s okay, after a few days, you will become numb to the $$$ and start living it up.

Anyway, when you got to eat, you got to eat. This is what I enjoyed yesterday upon arriving in Bergen, Norway. I’m just thankful that my air ticket cost only S$450, which is why I am holidaying in this cold country at this time of the year!

Bryggeloftet - Reindeer

That’s rudolph’s relative there on the plate (approx S$20)… My 1st time eating reindeer I believe. Deer meat is very common in Europe. Reindeer doesn’t seem to have a very strong taste. The texture is similar to beef, but perhaps a bit tougher. On the whole, pretty enjoyable.

Bryggeloftet - Bacalao

Bacalao (approx S$40) – Dried cod fish stew. Very nice. I love the tomato base and it had a touch of spice to it which was pleasing since I have not had something spicy in a while! This was the lunch portion. The ladies who ordered the dinner portion when we were about to leave had a plate double the size of this, and double the price! I have no idea how they could finish that as we had trouble polishing off everything ourselves!

Bryggeloftet - Norwegian Fish Soup (1)

Bryggeloftet - Norwegian Fish Soup (2)

Norwegian Fish Soup (approx S$40) – I loved this as well. Hearty and hot soup that really helped to chase the cold weather away. Lots of shrimps, a bit of fish and 4 mussels. They eat a lot of shrimps here. Don’t think I’ve seen large prawns yet. I broke pieces of the bread and dunked it into the soup. The soup was thick ÿet not too creamy. Fantastic.

Bryggeloftet - Bread basket

Bryggeloftet (1)

Bryggeloftet (2)

Bryggeloftet (8)

These Scandinavian restaurants and hotels tend to make use of wood a lot as it’s easily available here.

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