Tag Archives: hiking

Live polka music made for a wonderful dinner experience in Poland! Photo by Madelyn Given.

Scandinavian Travels 2016: Poland, Part 2

The Third Republic of Poland is a vibrant country, part of the European Union, with working citizens living a purposeful life and proud of their heritage. In 1775, Poland became the second nation in the world with a democratic Constitution.

In Warsaw, there are statues everywhere of heroes and of characters in famous legends: Wars and Sana, from a story about a famous Prince and two poor fisherman; and Basilisk, a monster guarding treasures; in addition to a young cobbler, a golden duck, and mermaids. As you walk past these bronze statues in the parks and city squares, it is a reminder for today’s citizens to keep their values intact.

The parks are well maintained and nicely landscaped. There are many new skyscrapers and buildings. The rail road system is modern, with new central stations and efficient service throughout Poland and Europe. Universities are thriving and schools provide a good education. There is a new Olympic Center and a National Stadium.

Fryderyk Chopin, the great composer, was from Poland and spent his early years performing in Warsaw. He went to Paris to live and traveled throughout Europe performing concerts. I went to a drawing room in the Chopin Museum for a private concert with Adam Mikolaj Gozdiewski, age 15, a world-class performer. Then there were the evening meals with a Polish band playing lively polkas. The music in Poland is diverse and meaningful.

There is a famous zoo in Warsaw, well-recognized before World War II for saving certain species of animals. During the war, the zoo director and his wife, Jan Zabinski, gave shelter to many Jewish orphans, hiding them inside the animal houses and cages. The book, The Zoo Keeper’s Wife, describes what happened to this family in Warsaw, Poland during World War II.

The restaurants and cafes offer a variety of cuisine and it is fun to try the traditional Polish dinners with pierogi, meat-stuffed dumplings, bigos, stewed cabbage and beef, golabki, meat-stuffed cabbage leaves, red beet soup, and a platter of variety of sausages. Musicians play around the table with lively Polish polkas.

The last evening in Warsaw, I met my guide and a small group of travelers, each from a different country. It was a welcome change to be traveling with a diverse group. On the road together, time passed quickly with such interesting personalities. Our little group came from Cape Town, South Africa; Perth, Australia; Ireland, Argentina, India, Malaysia, Canada, and the USA. From the city, we drove through the countryside, heading north to Lithuania. The weather was dry and sunny. The land was quite flat, with a mixture of farm fields and small wooded areas. The highways are modern with rest stops and places to eat, and diesel is cheaper than gas.

I enjoyed Poland. There is a lot to see and do there. The people are friendly and helpful, and the country is safe. There are places to hike, mountains to climb, biking in cities, and camping by the lakes and forests.

(posted December 13, 2016)

Chilly waters on Kvalvika Beach, Norway. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Scandinavian Travels 2016: Lofoten, Norway, Part 2

The weather was warm and sunny while I was above the Arctic Circle this summer, due to 23 hours of daylight. The Lofoten Islands are known for a distinctive landscape of jagged peaks, windswept grasslands, open sea, sheltered bays, and white sand beaches. I was excited to hike here where the mountains are exposed, with rock bordering the ocean, and visibility is fantastic. I was staying in a quaint fishing village bordered by a high wall of mountains behind it, with a protected harbor from the sea. It was a peaceful, back-to-nature place that still exists, whereas some of the old fishing villages are now abandoned.

Hiking up Vestvagoya in Noway. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Hiking up Vestvagoya in Noway.

Led by our guides Anna and Annasteina, one day our small group hiked on Vestvagoya, a steep, exposed trail, with the ocean touching the base of the mountain, far below where we hiked. It was a day-long hike and ended with a walk on the white sand beach. I threw off my hiking boots, looked around to see if anyone was going to join me, and then waded alone into the cold Arctic water. It felt great after hiking, but that pleasant sensation lasted only a very few minutes before the blast of cold began penetrating my toes. There were several surfers in full diving suits in the water or on their boards.

Another day we spent hiking more gentle trails through grasslands, hills, and harbors. After hiking all day, our small group would enjoy a great meal by native chefs. The fish is caught daily and served the same evening. The meal was well prepared and we dined in a casual, friendly atmosphere. The islands have become a great place to hike in the summer, ski in the winter, and view the Northern Lights.

Soon it was time to leave Lofoten and Norway, but I would take with me many happy memories of hiking in different regions, the friendly people with a healthy lifestyle, and the beautiful country. Because we were so far north, it was a long day of travel.

Again in the wee hours of morning, but at least not in darkness, we departed the red painted rorbus, a cabin on stilts where I slept with the water under the floor boards. Then we drove an hour and a half to Svolvaer Airport on Lofoten, took a puddle jumper plane to Buda. There our group divided and we said our farewells. I took the first flight to Oslo, picked up some checked baggage and took an international flight to Denmark.

Of course there were flight delays to make my day longer and more tiresome. This is part of the “downs” of the “ups and downs of life.” The “ups” are all of the great adventures of travel: what you learn, who you meet, and what you do and experience. The “ups” far outweigh the “downs.”

I was very happy with my adventures in Norway. It is a beautiful country that is clean, friendly, safe, and a great place for many outdoor activities. I would be delighted to return to Norway someday.

(posted October 18, 2016)

View inland from lodging at Lofoten, Norway. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Scandinavian Travels 2016: Lofoten, Norway, Part 1

Hiking in Norway is a great adventure, and I hiked in different regions, each time going further north to my final destination above the Arctic Circle. Our two guides and small group of hikers left Oppdal at 3:45 am to drive 1 ½ hours to Trondheim Airport.  That morning, I saw deer on our north woods scenic journey. Our flight took us north to Bodo, then a transfer to a ferry for a 3 ½ hour crossing to Lofoten, a group of islands above the Arctic Circle.

On the ferry crossing, I saw a long row of islands in the distance: the last barrier west towards Iceland and Greenland. The Gulf Stream keeps this area warmer than I imagined possible above the Arctic Circle. On some of the uninhabited islands are large colonies of seabirds including puffin and cormorants.

Between Vaeroy and Lofoten is one of the world’s biggest tidal currents.  As we approached Lofoten Island, it was an awesome setting of steep mountains touching the sea, with a few protected harbors of fishing villages. The mountains are awe-inspiring, with patches of snow hidden where 23 hours of sun a day still cannot melt it.

We were headed to Henningsvaer, a small fishing village with a population of 500. Here cod is dried on large racks—the same method used by the Vikings 1,000 years ago. I stayed in a red painted rorbus, a cabin on stilts. There were several of these refurbished fishing shacks right on the village wharf. The sun set for less than one hour during this time of year, but I had no trouble sleeping until I was awakened by the loud shrill of sea gulls. I soon opened the outside door and walked on the wharf. The sun was warm and welcoming.

After a hectic schedule of travel and hiking, we spent the morning at an authentic Viking site, now the Lofotr Viking Museum. The “find” is on top of a hill, and it features an excavated chieftain’s house, boat house, and smithy from the Iron Age. The house is 83 meters long, 8.5 meters wide, and two stories high. One hundred people could live in this dwelling which is full of artifacts, benches, and fire pits. As I viewed the harbor below, it was amazing to think that 1,000 years ago, the Vikings sailed from this site to Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland, Canada.

The best way to get about this area is in small boats that the fishermen use to ferry people from place to place. Other than the people who live here, tourists come to hike in the summer and ski in the winter. It is a beautiful place with extreme and varying weather conditions.

Lofoten is a far away destination to gain strength for the body and soul. I enjoyed the strong natural character of the area, the gracious people, the comfort of good food, and a warm haven to rest. Next, I looked forward to hiking here.

(posted October 11, 2016)