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Paul Klein

Land of the Midnight Sun, by Nicole Krenzien Ellison

Beautiful Norway

 

Traveling on SAS Plus, which is Scandinavian Airlines’ economy plus, I had access to the SAS lounge.   The lounge was not very large and very crowded, not an empty seat in the house.  I could easily see it being a comfortable and enjoyable space, should it have been less crowded.  Their computer system was also down in the lounge, so they also needed to manually match names on boarding passes to a printed manifest.  This, not only, made the wait to get in quite long but may have also been the case of the overcrowding, as they eventually gave up matching the names and just manually wrote in people’s names.  The food and beverage offering were quite good though.  They had multiple salads, form chickpea, orzo, tabbouleh, and greens.  They also had a large selection of fresh meats, cheeses, and spreads.  Plus, all the usual offerings; veggies, dips, pretzels, chips, and cookies.  Wide selection of wines, fresh juices, beers, sodas, and both regular and sparkling water on tap.

Besides a delay on the tarmac waiting for other planes to depart ahead of us, the flight from Chicago to Stockholm was quite smooth.  SAS Plus is a separate cabin from economy and the seating was a 2x3x2 configuration with ample space.  The seats were quite wide and comfortable and had a great pitch to them, approximately 77°.  In SAS Plus we were also given small amenity kits that consisted of; a shoe bag, dental kit, eye covers, and headphones.  As I was on the overnight flight, we were served 2 meals, dinner and breakfast.  The food was quite good, all alcohol was also included in SAS Plus.  Note, however, they request that you place your entire beverage order prior to being served your meal, as they do not come through again for beverage service. Unless they came by while I was sleeping.

Day 1

A 7:00 am departure time sure came quick!  After a fast shower, a handful of granola and carrots we started our adventure.  We traveled to Geirangerfjord, it was a little over an hour’s drive, plus a ferry.  The morning was cold, misty, and foggy. Once we arrived to Geirangerfjord the weather started to clear a bit, but it was still quite chilly most of the day.  We then quickly partnered off to start our 17km kayak tour down the fjord.

Halfway through our journey, we stopped to give our arms a rest and have lunch.  We enjoyed our meals in front of an old farmhouse and took in the incredible views with a faint hint of our camp in the distance.  After we finished our kayaking for the day, we were so tired and ready to relax at camp.  However, we weren’t done yet, as we had to hike up to camp.  Luckily there was a plethora of food, drinks, and a warm fire awaiting us.  We were lucky enough to have an amazing Chef cook for us on this journey.

Chef Magnus of Skotholmen Restaurant cooked us amazing meals, even the vegan dishes he prepared for me were incredible and could have been served at the finest restaurants.  After we gorged on delicious food and drink we slept the night away under the stars in tents.  We rested on an animal pelt and a sleeping bag.  The evening was cold and windy, but I was finally able to fall asleep after layering up.

 

 

 

Day 2

Another morning came way quicker than expected, yet this morning was all sunshine and clear skies.  After a wonderful breakfast prepared (again over campfire) by Chef Magnus, we started our day.  We proceeded to hike, yet again, up from camp to see what this day would bring us.  We were all given a helmet, a bike, and a notice of a 30km ride we had ahead of us.

The ride seemed almost easy compared to the first day of kayaking.  The scenery throughout our ride was surreal, we cycled through Norangsdalen, known as the Queen’s Valley.  On our ride, we saw everything from 100+ year old homes, still working farms, back country skiers, large jutting mountains, clear running streams, and even a few avalanches.  One of the avalanches happened just beside us when we stopped for a break, it was nature in full force.  After our bike ride, we came to our stopping point for the day in the village of Oye (Norangsfjorden).  Again, we dined on a traditional lunch of lamb stew (I of course indulged in an amazing homemade tomato soup) in an incredible 150+ year old boat shed lit by a roaring fire and candles.  We sat on animal pelts, stuffed our faces and took in the gorgeous views of the Sunnmore Alps and the Norangsfjord.

 

We were in for a treat this evening, as we got to sleep in a real bed, in the hotel.  This also meant we all got to shower as well, which we all needed!  We stayed at Hotel Union Oye, which is a great boutique hotel with 27 rooms uniquely decorated, each with their own style.

The Hotel Union Oye has a wonderful history.  It opened in 1891, most of the staff (if not all) have worked there their entire lives, most since they were children.  Many different royalties from around the world have stayed at this hotel. Even the rooms have been decorated and named after these guests.  There is story telling by the staff each evening in the library.  The history they share of the property, staff, and guests is delightful.

As tired as we all were, many of us mustarded through in the hopes the rumors of a Northern Lights sighting would be visible.  Although, it wasn’t the biggest and best showing of Northern Lights, it was still a stunning sight to see.

 

 

 

 

Day 3

After enjoying a wonderful breakfast buffet at the hotel and getting in one last shower for the next few days (true rugged camping), we were fitted in our skis and ready for another day of adventure.

A local farmer piled us into his tractor for a ride up the Alps as far as he could.  Once we got to the stopping point, we all piled back out of the tractor and started our 10km ski trek up 1000m.  This trek took us 8 hours, and at the end, we were able to see camp ahead, we just needed to ski down and then we could relax.

Tents were lined up on the snow near Patchellytta Cabin. Patchellytta Cabin is one of more than 500 trekking cabins spread around Norway.  They are situated throughout the country most of the time in unforgiving terrain and in less accessible areas.  Norwegians can purchase an annual membership for access to these cabins whenever and wherever they are.  Most include fireplaces, wood, kitchens (or kitchenettes, including kitchenware) and beds.

 

Chef Magnus was already preparing us an incredible dinner when we arrived.  As we waited to dinner to be served, we all huddled around the fire, rubbed our sore feet, and relived the day on how magical it was.  En route to Patchellytta Cabin, we endured a long hard trek, but we kept encouraging each another.  We did stop halfway up our 1000m trek for lunch, where we all sat on the snow and ate.  We did run out of water, but luckily there was an abundance of it flowing beneath the snow pack we were trekking on.  Once we came to an opening in the stream, we quickly removed our skis and filled our bottles with the freshest water I have ever tasted.  That is something I don’t usually get to do on my travels.  After full bellies and pure exhaustion, we all crashed hard and wondered what tomorrow would bring.

Day 4

After breakfast, we learned we could either ski down or snowshoe down the rest of the way.  I opted to snowshoe and enjoyed a lovely hike down.  I know I mention that the views are stunning more than once, but that is because it truly was.  I never got sick of looking at Mountains, pure blue skies, and fjords.  Towards the end of the trek down, we came to a paved path, at which time, I decided to run the rest of the way.  I figured, why not?  I had been so active already, why not challenge myself some more.  After everyone made it down from the Alps, we headed over to a local’s home, where she served us lunch.  Her home is also a sweet Bed & Breakfast.

After lunch, we headed to the marina, where we were fitted into large insulated dry suits.  If that wasn’t enough, they added lifejackets and goggles (definitely not the most stylish look).  After we were all suited up, we piled into rib boats.

Rib boats are known more widely as zodiacs, yet these were some heavy duty/high-end “zodiacs.”  The rib boats were equipped with 700 horsepower, they had speed and we glided along the fjords with ease.  Since we were all quite adventurous, we went faster than usual and even caught some air when we rode the wakes of larger ships.  The rib boats are so advanced that they even have shocks in the seats, so it is a very smooth and comfortable ride.  During the journey, we stopped on the edge of the fjord to view a spectacular waterfall which was also producing multiple rainbows.  What a sight that was. It was as if it was meant for us.  Our voyage on the rib boat ended at the dock of Hotel Brosundet.

Arrival at Hotel Brosundet was wonderfully welcoming.  Our rooms were ready for immediate check-in, there was a roaring fire in the large lobby fireplace, and the bar was open!  I was given a wonderful Sea View Jr. Suite.  This property does not have a separate bath/ shower or double vanities in all rooms, these are some of the options you need to request when booking.  My room was very spacious, around 30 sqm and I had a great view of the fjord.  After finally getting our 2nd shower of the trip we all meet for a farewell dinner at the hotel’s restaurant Maki.  Maki is known for their seafood, which everyone said it was great.  I indulged in a wonderful cauliflower steak with a side of turnip puree and roasted mushrooms and Romanesco.  During dessert we rocked out to a playlist that we had been putting together throughout our trip.  We each chose one song that had the most meaning and memories in our lives. We all found that we had similar tastes in some of the songs we sang to around fires each night at camp.

This trip not only brought me closer to new friends than any other trip I’ve been a part of.  We were a combination of 18 travel professionals from all areas of the industry and from 14 different countries.  Although this trip pushed many of us to our limits, no matter how active we were.  However, we were all there to support one another, push each other, and lend a helping hand.  Although we were all from different backgrounds and different areas of the industry, we all came together as one to help understand each aspect of our network and to get a real understanding of what we each seek and need to further our education and expand our world, both in travel and each of our lives.  The theme of this trip is known as the land of the midnight sun.  We all took time away from our phones, laptops, social media, etc.  In doing so we connected personally and deeply, which is what made this trip more memorable than many others.  I am beyond happy and proud to have been on this trip and to be able to spend so much quality time with those that I now call friends and will for a lifetime.

Luckily, my trip home was much smoother than my initial trip in, I made all my connections, flights were smooth and, both myself and luggage all made it home to Chicago safe and sound.  I cannot wait to get back to Norway, the people, scenery, and food really make Norway extraordinary.

I encourage everyone to step outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself to try new things, you never know how amazed you will be.

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