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three

In Japan, 3 is a very auspicious number.

… and after looking auspicious up in the dictionary, I’m thinking it fits perfectly with this nostalgic post.

Auspicious: attended by good fortune, suggesting that future success is likely

I am blessed to have had the experiences to make this compilation of 3 x 3, and I’m hoping the winds of fate will bring more…

(please click the small horizontal pictures for the full effect, as these were the original design but the blog format makes them tiny)

Cat love: 
Sassy, Montreal
Rosa, Zurich
Fluffy, Calgary

Connecting over water: 
Zurich, Switzerland
Prague, Czech Republic
Takayama, Japan

(below: Prague, Zurich, Takayama)

Remembrance:
 Mont Royal, Montreal, Canada
Reipa, Norway 
Daioji Temple, Takayama, Japan

Top 5 from a top latitude

Before most* trips, especially on my own, I attempt to form some sort of plan- buy a map or two, get out last year’s edition of the guidebook from the library (cheap student trick), read up on how frequent the buses come, note if there is any particularly great cultural event during my time there, unpack and repack every various synthetic and natural clothing layer I have until I get fed up and hope that I don’t get hit by a random Calgary-esque Chinook warm wind that would make me strip off my 4 layers of merino wool, for example. All this and a strong dose of spontaneity and flexibility and so far, this tactic has worked well.

So here’s how it came together. I had time, a little bit of money, and a strong urge to go somewhere breathtaking. My blog sphere provided me with plenty of inspiration (be careful, it’s addictive) and I finally succumbed to my old western Canadian heart- Give me mountains! Give me sun! Oh, you can offer the sea as well?! Where do I sign up? And just like that, as those that were around in the moment can attest to, I was booked on my way above the Arctic Circle to Bodo, Norway, to take a ferry over to the Lofoten islands.

My friend Andy, living in England, joined me for some of the trip, and many emails flew back and forth with some semblance of planning before we left. But in the end, we did our ‘planned’ trip backwards (which sounds far sloppier than just saying in reverse) which turned out to be a very wise decision. And we encountered many more unexpected surprises building up to a very spectacular trip.

So I’d like to present the top 5 unplanned joys from my 10 days near the top of the world (in no particular order, and perhaps to be expanded upon when I have more time)

1) Exuberant museum tourism: In my opinion, the Lofotens are rather under-developed in terms of tourism, even if the brochures are still jammed with information. There are a few hotels, only 2 hostels, lots of fishing huts to rent and a handful of restaurants specializing, of course, in locally caught sea food. A couple of local companies will bring you out whale watching or kayaking as well. All in all, there are a few things to do on the great expanse of islands, but many of the other tourists we met were just driving through for the views from one end to the other. The simplicity of it all adds to the idyllic nature (literally and figuratively) of the area, and you quickly settle in to the quiet island life.

However, there is one exception to this basic amenities type infrastructure, and that is the privately developed museums throughout the islands. With a whole gamut of topics from whaling, to dolls, telecommunications and fish production, one can enjoy the history of the islands while diving into a bit of its local eccentricities. If you go, be sure to stop at a few of these museums, the guides are enthusiastic and the individualism of the concept is refreshing.

Museums along the Lofoten highway

2) Waffles and jam: Beyond the variations on fish (boiled, buried, dried or decomposed) there are few tasteful delicacies in Norway except for waffles. Thin, doughy and clover-shaped, my ferry trips were marked with a celebratory waffle slathered with bright red strawberry jam, foregoing the addition of what I deemed cream butter (like a thick yogurt tasting of butter, undoubtedly produced with large quantities of cream). You could get them in most cafes and convenience stores as well, lifting one-off a pre-made pile (they were never really served hot and fresh) lying next to the till, accoutrements also at hand.

Vafler + Jordbaer

2) Ferry travel: Or better known as the ‘high speed passenger catamaran’ for those sans voiture. Of all the ways I was travelling around, the ferry was my favourite. It was the best place to clean up and get water (crucial activities while on foot with a tent), as well as people watch or stare out at the passing islands. The coastline varies so greatly, showing off deep fjords, stark mountain cliffs, or even a glacier, that it is never a boring ride and certainly saved my stomach from having to drive down the winding coastline.

I learned a lot about Norwegian culture from the ferry rides. It all started at the port, often in the early morning. As I waited for the boat to arrive, the locals would also make their way down to the docks: preparing to greet family members (whom always returned to these small communities, for the love of their island or fjord runs deep), drop off packages to be sent away or wait to pick up a load of groceries arriving from the mainland, or just to catch up on the latest happenings in the area as the latest news travelled by word of mouth hopping from port to port.

On the ferry, people would settle in to the comfortable seats in the large seating area and promptly get themselves breakfast: coffee (black!), hotdog or waffle (see below), and ice cream. I met an older man on one ferry who was heading back home to his fishing village after visiting the dentist on the mainland. He was a sailor, now retired, and had visited over 90 countries in his life through the fishing and cruising industry. This was a story I heard many times from the people living up there- world travelled, returned home. His name was Fred, which means ‘Peace’ in Norwegian. How lovely.

Early morning ferry to Bodo
Navigating the islands
Svartisen glacier on the mainland

4) ‘Seeing is believeing’ scales: We read about it in the guidebook but didn’t understand how it could be true. Fata Morgana is the effect of the ultra clear air in the North which throws off your eye as it allows you to see easily more than 75 km, when normally the range would be 20 km. The mainland islands were often within sight, and the distance across fjords seemed within an arm’s reach. We were often getting confused by just how clear the mountains appeared with no haze to filter the view or creating fuzz around the edges, only clear crisp silhouettes.

What a joy it was to take photos there, as they really turned out as stunning and intense as what we were seeing.

5) Wild blueberries and raspberries: A forager’s delight. Even though it was late summer, and much of the tourism had died down since the midnight sun was long over, the flora was still bursting, almost vibrating, with life as the 20 hours of sunlight still beat down above the Arctic Circle. The variety of colour on the ground we walked over reminded me of the streets of Zurich after Faschnacht (a religious holiday somehow mixing Easter and Halloween), seeing evidence of the festivities from the array of colourful confetti in every corner.

Blueberries and raspberries I confidently recognized and picked with vigour. The blueberries were small, similar to the mountain ones I know in Alberta. But the raspberries were sweeter and more intense than any I knew previously. I devoured them up, bending down and straining through the prickles with my huge backpack on, probably to the amusement of the locals on their regular dog route. Everyone has equal access to the land, and I wasn’t about to let it go to waste.

Breakfast blueberries
Andy in a sea of red confetti berries

So if you are ever up in that part of the world, the most important piece of advice I could give is to just take a deep breath of the clear air. From this you’ll begin to know the scent of the fishing history, of fresh sunlit ferns and junipers, and the pureness of an untouched mountain dreamland.

* some trips are more spontatneous, see: Barbados, Jura crest, Iceland…

Out and about, humming a few tunes

Been travelling a lot lately. More than my usual wanderings, and to some relatively far flung locations. Typically I travel without listening to much music, thanks to the first generation Ipod cum brick that I stole from my mom before she advanced on in the technology stream. Due to this, I like to wait and see what music pops into my head while on the road. What rhythm from the city or my footsteps triggers a remembered melody in my head, or whether words or an experience pull me towards a string of lyrics wherein I spend the rest of the day trying to bring together the rest of the song as well.

Hum of the trees in Switzerland
Spiraling ascent in Toronto

I’ve been listening to Ben Howard ever since I saw him open for Xavier Rudd in Zurich in 2010. A talented young singer and songwriter from the UK, I was instantly drawn into his songs. Now, at long last, he is releasing his debut album, though there are others floating out there, with the newly released track ‘Keep your head up’. After the first listen or two, I wasn’t hooked as the song gradually builds up, and I was thoroughly distracted by the build up, as well, of the storyline in the music video. However, in the last weeks this song has come into my head, accompanying me on my last trip and providing a joyful soundtrack for the day-to-day experience seeking.

The tropical beaches of Norway

People often tell me that I routinely start humming or quietly singing when I’m working or just off on my own. I rarely notice that it even happens, but I have just become aware of where it takes root.

Just a few days ago, I was walking happily in the afternoon sun in Toronto after being mentally stimulated with the incredible collections at the Art Gallery of Ontario. And with my wonderful mommy beside me as we made our way through the busy city centre, we both settled pleasantly into the moment and began to hum our respective soundtracks for the moment. Hers was something upbeat and complex, typical considering the range of music she collects for her yoga class. I lilted along the lines of ‘all I was searching for was me/ keep your head up, keep your heart strong/ … to feel the warmth of his smile/ saying I’m happy to have you home/ I’m happy to have you home/… I’ll always remember you the same/ eyes like wildflowers with your demons of change’.

A few days prior to that sunny afternoon, I celebrated my good friend Rebecca’s wedding in Hamilton, near Toronto. Even with all the clapping, dancing, singing and love in the air, there was a sense of transition. Knowing that while Rebecca had chosen an amazing partner to spend her  life with, us her close friends had a changing role in her life as well. I was honoured to be with her throughout the many days of her Jewish wedding (some may call it a marathon) and saw for myself how strong she has truly become (needless to say this wedding required courage, stamina, persistence, and a few painkillers!)

Strong hearts in Hamilton, Ontario

A few weeks earlier I was walking in a most magical and powerful landscape in Northern Norway. Steep cliffs dropped into the murky blue Norwegian Sea, but not before flattening out just enough to allow for a few small bright red fisherman’s cabins to make a stand against the water and wind. The people who called this place home are those of the water and the mountains. These folks I met while hitch-hiking or on ferries between islands, and their precise and respectful demeanour convinced me that this combination of solid and liquid was an addictive landscape that drew the residents back. I could feel why.

Another dose of spectacular around every corner in Lofoten, Norway

Somewhere along the long walks with Andy around the islands and mountains of Lofoten, another ‘northerner’ popped into my head. Paolo Nutini recalls his homeland of Northern Scotland as he struggles with finding place.  ‘I have returned to the Northern skies/… with great sense of passing through’, and a few words on bird songs and dark greens and blues. As the sun sank into the sea late every evening, we were treated to a sense of the darkness that settles throughout the winter up there.

Still evening in Traena, Norway

And finally, one to take home and dance to- ‘Home’ by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. It’s a new one to me, but apparently it is old news in North America, but I haven’t found anyone over on this side that has heard of them. Point for me for being oh so slightly ahead of the crowd (good thing everything from North Am comes about 6 months to a year later here, except for the fashion trends clearly)