Scotland – Ireland, From the Mind to Screen Via the Wild Atlantic Way

It had just started to snow and the weather update on the radio mentioned of a possible road closure by late evening. Google maps had already mentioned the arrival at my destination much before that. So, with a momentary sigh of relief, and not being worried about driving in snow, I continued towards, Aberlour. The road  was already very scenic and a town by the River Spey in the highlands of Scotland was a good setting for a hotel. The idea was to check into The Highlanders Inn, which came heavily recommended for its Japanese owner and his knowledge of the whiskeys of Scotland and in general from the world.

Road to Aberlour

The sun had long gone outside the window, but at the bar in Highlander’s Inn, the ambiance was bright. Those who gathered spoke fondly of their favorite spirit, The Single Malt Whiskey. Perhaps it was the alcohol or it was just the drive that day, or maybe a heady mix of the two that prompted me to think, Scotland as a tour is a good thing. People, especially lovers of good Whiskey (and there are many in India) would love to go on a single malt trail. A trail that would introduce them to the home of their favorite single malt. By the end of my drive in Scotland, I had come to an understanding that I do not need to even go to its neighboring country, Ireland, even though it would be a good sales idea to combine the two countries.

Back home in India, the idea of going to Ireland was not even an idea for an entire year. Travel to Ireland was so foreign that even going to Irish Bars did not excite me. At the same time though, I started thinking, just a ‘single malt trail’ tour was a little too much. Maybe this is why Ireland started to slowly make a headway, through the back door. I think it was not until I realized that like me the Irish were not very big fans of the Queen, that the second door opened in my mind. I guess I also started hearing or maybe started paying more attention to what people spoke about the Republic, around the world. Especially, the people who had driven in Ireland. So somewhere in early March this year just on an impulse, I booked a ticket to Dublin. It was a one-way ticket!

“Let me just go to Ireland for a couple of days and if I do not like the way it feels, I will fly back”, is what I thought the night before the flight to Dublin. Well, that was the last time I thought about Ireland that way. 25 km out of Dublin as I accidentally took the wrong exit out of the motorway, my mind took the right turn I think. As the road got narrower, the idea got broader, and by the end of the day, I was convinced, Ireland needs at least 3 – 4 days in an itinerary with Scotland.

In the next one week of driving in Ireland on the Wild Atlantic Way, two things happened. One, the equation reversed from 4 nights in Ireland and 8 in Scotland to only 4 in Scotland.  Second, I had to (without wanting it) book a ticket out of Ireland!

Fanad Lighthouse

As I sit to write an itinerary for Ireland and Scotland for next summer, the scenes keep flashing in front of me, much like the waters of the Atlantic, that splash on the rugged coastline of Ireland. They make a sound but from way up there you can only see them and the sound is that of only the wind. Both the wind and the water are wild, and that’s where Ireland scores I think. It feels a bit like the wilderness in Patagonia. Today, it is as much of a pleasure to put words on the screen, as it was to put the first gear and start driving every day in Ireland.


Being in Scandinavia..

A few years ago, in a Sami (North Norwegian) camp of reindeers, a tourist asked the herder, “How many reindeers do you have?”. “Fifty Thousand” came the reply and then he added with a smile, “We do not count, we just be with them”. In all these years of coming here to Scandinavia, I have a similar reply, when somebody asks, “how many tours till date?”. This year however I could not help but say, “It has been 10 years”, not knowing still, how many tours it has been.

Travel has been constant and a lot has happened after the first summer in Scandinavia back in 2009. Tours got added over the years. Those that became closer to me than this one. Places where it felt more lively, where the food, the culture, and people painted a lot of colors and made the space vibrant. Scandinavia chose to be white and still stays like that. There is not much of life in white perhaps, but white feels stable. Sometimes with all the fun and party, there needs to be a place to just be, knowing that when you come back nothing would’ve changed! This Scandinavia tour feels that way in our array of tours.

I often tell people in the bus when I speak about Scandinavia, ‘Norway is like my father’, it teaches and then it teaches again. It loves in ways which do not show. When I go back to it after a while it shows no other emotion but a subtle smile.  When it has to call, it calls, does not scream! It feels like there can be a system and yet not feel mechanized when I travel to Norway every year.

I haven’t encountered so many Scandinavians in the 10 years as I have perhaps Croatians or Peruvians  in a run of two years or Iranians in a month. Scandinavia is about the collective, and not so much about personal. The way of life becomes the person itself, and knowing how the people live here, is knowing them. True, that given an option I would not choose to stay here and choose a warmer place, both in terms of weather and people. But then I would keep coming back, just as Scandinavia  would like me to.

Today would be my last day here in Norway for this summer. The sky has been uncharacteristically clear over the past few days. When I talk to the locals they say that an entire week of summer in an entire country is rare. In Scandinavia, where midsummer is a bigger holiday than Christmas, clear skies are a reason to celebrate. For me, just being in Scandinavia does it!

Alesund to Andalsnes | Part II

The Fjordland of Norway hits you straight away. It does, however, take time to sink in. The pleasant shock of nature after the initial ‘wows’ and ‘amazing’ settles in your mind. Once in there it only makes you want to stare, and absorb what you see, take it all in.
On the road from the Briksdal Glacier through the Olden Valley, there are many times that our coach stops, and every time it does, people start taking pictures. The road that runs parallel to the river is narrow and vehicles on both the sides stop wherever there is a place and whenever they see an oncoming vehicle.

The Loen Fjord hotel has its pluses and its negatives. From outside it looks like a building just from a postcard, with the Loelva river flowing into the fjord and rooms overlooking the confluence. There are benches to sit by the flowing water and the grass makes you want to take off your shoes. On the evening we came in, a cloud was hanging low just behind the hotel and I thought to myself, ‘only if it feels as exclusive as this from within’. The people love it though and they do not so much seem to mind the other six bus groups or so in the same property. I don’t mind it too, though I would like to stay somewhere where we stay the next night.

Hotel Loen Fjord Exterior

The next morning, I often hear people saying, “why do we have to leave today, can’t we stay for a night more?” or “I do not want to do anything but just be in this” and every year I tell them the same thing, “wait till you see what’s next”. The funny thing, however, is that even I do not feel like leaving.

As we reach the ferry port for the Geiranger Fjord, the gushing Hellesyltfossen, which has the same name as the village of Hellesylt makes for a lovely pre-boat time. Norwegian woolen and winterwear brands are known the world over and the Devold factory shop in Hellesylt is a good bargain store for some high-end Norwegian winter wear.

Geiranger Waterfall

I like to look at Geiranger Fjord from a distance rather than sailing through its waters. With every step as you descend the path from NorskeFjord Centre overlooking the most beautiful fjord in Norway, Geiranger, with its water and the arbitrary cruise ship looks different. The Storfossen accompanies you on your descent to the fjord. The walk next to a waterfall as it meets the fjord simply feels like, how many pictures can one take?


The real picture postcard view is the one that you get from driving up the Mollsbygda (this I don’t know how to translate). The panorama mode of your cell phone does its trick and I do not feel I have taken enough no matter how much I do. I tell myself, to look and not just click. But, I do not listen. When I tell people, “its time to leave”, someone always says jovially, “you don’t know what is next?!”.

View Curve

True, what comes next is a masterpiece in Norwegian road making. It is one of the most striking views that Norway as a country has, not just Fjordland. On every bend of the Trollstigen or the Trollspath, the name of the team leader is marked. When you look at the Trollstigen from the top, and onto Andalsnes in the distance, it really does feel like, ‘there is nothing like Norway’.

Trolls path

That night when people sit for dinner in the beautiful Aak hotel, the past 48 hours are discussed. Everyone points out his / her favorite. For me, there is nowhere better than the Aak Hotel to finish this journey. A journey that sleeps for two nights but dreams for 20 days.

Aak Hotel

Helsinki, ten years…!

I came here 10 years ago. In the ‘not so spring’ day of early May, I followed the instructions given by the hostel website to arrive here at the Euro Hostel, Helsinki, from the Vantaa Airport. I don’t think there were any google maps back then coz I remember me walking these very streets, with a fold-out map. I was new to Helsinki, not only that I was new to travel.

If I say a lot has changed ever since it will be a cliche, but it really has and it hasn’t. Scandinavia still makes me feel the way it did back then. There is still so much to learn from the way people work here, way the things function. Last evening when I arrived in Helsinki, I realized that I am staying close to the Hostel I stayed back in 2009. Back then I had a fold-out, now I just blend in.

Helsinki Evening
Helsinki Evening

Helsinki will always be special because of how cold and grey it felt back then and how warm it feels now, and the weather has nothing to do with it. The radio next to me plays commercials in Finnish, as I wait for my laundry cycle to finish. Finnish is different, in ways where it doesn’t really belong to any family. I think I like that about Finnish, just as I do with Hungarian and Turkish. They all belong to one family; every language is unique.

Euro Hostel
Euro Hostel

I think, what can I write about Helsinki? Favorite things to do here? Maybe I don’t like doing anything in particular here. I just like to walk, and if you are coming here for the first time, I would only advise you to take a Tram, buy a day ticket and move. Move with the crowd, which mostly would be tourists. I remember how I stared outside the window on that cold rainy evening, amazed at how clean and empty everything was. Well, it was not only my first time in Helsinki but also in Europe. I did not have anything in particular that I wanted to see back then, and it was only later that I realized that through the walk and the tram ride I had almost passed or entered (more of the former) 70% of the sites, mentioned in Helsinki’s recommended list of things to do.

Helsinki in a day?

  • Take a walk to the center from the Train Station.
  • Have the sights of the Central and Uspensky (Russian) Cathedral done.
  • If your legs hurt, then take the tram number 7 and just take a ride @ 3.2 Euros.
  • Lunch out in the market square in front of the harbor. Try Fish and veggies. Later get the strawberries and eat them with ice cream (both separate)
  • The rock church in the evening is good to just sit and be in peace.
  • Watch the evening come in on the Gulf of Bothnia.

But really, what I like might be so different than what anyone else likes. They might have a list of their own that needs to be ticked off. Travel maybe is not about what needs to be done. Perhaps, it is just about what you feel like doing at that time exactly. Imagine you are walking on the street and you find a really cozy café that looks really inviting, even if you are not up for a drink. Yes, you can pass it and think to yourself, I have so much to do. Or you can enter, answer the call of the moment and who knows what happens next. For many travelers, this moment with that place is just for that moment. They might never come back. Even for me, who knows will keep coming back, the moment is still just a moment. If I feel like living it, I should. Who knows when it will come back again, maybe it never will or if you are lucky like me, it will after ten years!

Alesund to Andalsnes 2 nights & 20 days | Part I

This journey was an outcome. From 2009 to 2014, when Norway was the only thing that people remembered out of our Scandinavia tour, there was already a route taking shape in my mind. A few names up here in Norway were been spoken. Places like Geiranger and Trondheim were known, but a few more started to make rounds of café conversations with the drivers I sat with.

It then took some online research and help from the local agency to come out with the Norway Fjords and Arctics itinerary. The Arctics I was aware would impress. The fjords were the big surprise of the tour.

There are only two countries on the planet with such a staggering coastline. Norway in the North and Chile in the Southern hemisphere. The midnight sun in Norway and the comparatively easy access gives an edge to the North, otherwise, there is very little to differentiate one from the other.

Lofoten in the Arctics
Lofoten in the Arctics

Chilean Patagonia
Chilean Patagonia

Some journeys take very little time but the number of experiences that one feels are so overwhelming that it feels a lot more time has passed. The travel from Alesund and Andalsnes in the Central West of Norway is one of those journeys. Alesund a Unesco World heritage city is I think what Bergen used to be before tourism showed its full and devastating effect. When I looked at the image of Alesund during my research for the trip, it looked so similar to what I had seen of Bergen on Google. The feel of Alesund is anything but a city and like most of the cities in Norway which are less of a city and more of a big village, Alesund too gives a similar feeling. After the fire of 1904, the whole city was reconstructed and walking through the cobblestone streets in its center, as we stand facing the harbor, it still feels like 1910 maybe.

Alesund Image street
Alesund street

Having walked the streets of Alesund every summer, I wanted to know how they look from the top of the Stoya Hill. I would see the hill and the lookout point every time and simply told myself, maybe I will make the hike next year. This time I went up. Alesund in perspective is beautiful. The peninsula protrudes towards you and after the initial, ‘let me take the pictures’ mind has settled, it is all about sitting 450 steps above the ‘big village’ of Alesund and just looking below till your gaze goes. Right from the heritage structures to the horizon over the Norwegian Sea.

Top View Alesund

Water plays such an important role in any road travel in Norway. You are never really far away from a water body, be it the open sea, a fjord or a river. Where there is water, there are bridges, tunnels, and ferries to take care of travel over it. Starting from Alesund driving parallel to the Fjord (don’t remember the name, there are so many), you would immediately find yourself crossing it either through an undersea tunnel or a ferry. We choose a combination of both to reach our first stop. There are many views that demand a stop but the narrow roads and limited parking possibilities for a big bus do not allow this. I often think of driving this route as I did in Ireland. So that I can stop where I want and simply try and soak in what lies in front. I say try because there is so much that happens in front and there is so much more there that not all can be soaked in. Being in Norway at times is like watching a drama, and in places like the Fjordland, you often would find yourself in the front seat of the action.

Driving In Norway

The roads are narrow and if you are not used to driving on the right-hand side of the road then it might be challenging. The lack of public transport makes this either rent a car or join an Anubhav Tour kind of an alternative.

The highlight of the first part of this journey has to be the Briksdalen Glacier. It is not big but just the approach to it makes it extra special. The journey to the approach is by regular transport, and then you can choose to hike up or take a buggy ride. We take the ride up and then walk the last 400 meters to reach the glacier lake. Again, all through this, the water is right there flowing next to you. There is the Perito Moreno Glacier, which far too big, but this one in Norway is calming. Even with the two busloads of people that are usually spending time around the lake, the place still feels to yourself.

Briksdal Glacier approach
Briksdal Glacier Lake

When we walk back to the bus there is a sense of content in everyone. I look at the faces of my people and I know that the day has been good. The trip has only started I wish to tell them!