Lately I have been very interested in following all the trips and events as well as people who live in Scandinavia. But I am always thrilled to find someone from my own country who has decided to trade in our lovely beaches for a slightly colder climate, an active holiday that includes walking, hiking and incredible nature so much farther north from us. Because, in all honesty, that would have been my first choice too.
I have been following Simona Marić on Instagram for some time now. Her travels, the way she expresses herself through photography, her - I dare say - playful smile in the pictures and her easy going spirit immediately spoke to me and kept me drawn to her profile. Social networks are constantly trying to sell us something, which is getting quite tiresome, but Simona seems to be having great fun in this world where reality meets virtuality and that really comes across
It was in the middle of July that the first photos from Norway appeared on her profile. In those pictures the Sun was peeking in, like it usually does in Scandinavia, but the first thing that caught my eye were a drizzle and fog from the first daytrip and Simona trekking with her boyfriend on some place in Norway that I didn't recognize. I even felt the cold seeping through the cell phone screen while she was smiling and describing how she has just embarked on her journey of a lifetime. It took only two or three pictures for me to realize that I wanted Simona to be a guest on my blog.
I wanted her to inspire us with her story, to take us all away from our homes for a moment and show us a Norway less travelled.
Why did you decide to spend your summer precisely in Norway?
I started planning a trip to Norway about four or five years ago (at that time with my two best travel buddies), but since it was a plan to go there in the summer (due to mild weather and the possibility to hike) and every year we either felt bad to miss the classic Croatian summer on the coast or we spontaneously travelled somewhere else, this year I really felt like going there (especially to avoid the heatwave in the Mediterranean :) I told my boyfriend it was now or never (while he maybe had something else in mind for the summer) so he really didn't have a choice. In the end, while we were coming down from Kjerag, he told me that while only I could be that crazy and plan three hikes in Norway during summer holidays, it was the best trip he ever had.
How did you choose those particular spots you visited?
As always, I found my inspiration on the internet, and while Norway is a really big and wild country, I narrowed my exploring only on the fjord region. We wanted to go more north as well to see midnight sun and Lofoten islands but didn't want to be there just a few days and then feel bad for not having more time to explore the region, so we left it out and promised ourselves to come again for a couple of weeks more. While I usually tend to have everything planned and booked before going to a new country, this was the first time we planned our stay, hotels and routes as days passed by.
To what extent did Norwegian weather affect your hiking tours?
Weather in Norway is unpredictable and while I always use their weather forecast, there was the first time it wasn't that accurate (only in the morning you could tell what is the day going to be like). Our first hike was Preikestolen and it was the least demanding of all three hikes, but for us it was a bit challenging. When we got to the start of the hike there was a "heavy rain" warning but we still decided to go, hoping the rain and the fog would let us see the mountain. When we got the the top we were already soaking wet and couldn't see a thing as the mountain was wrapped in fog.
How physically fit do you have to be to go on hiking tours to Trolltunga or Kjeragbolten, like you did?
All three hikes were different and therefore required different effort to do them. Preikestolen is not that challenging (but for us rain and wind made it a bit harder), Trolltunga was a 25 km long hike (my favourite!) and it took us less to get there than we expected (7 hours to get there and back). Both of us work out at least five times a week so we knew we could do it but still, our legs were shivering and we were exhausted after Kjeragbolten, as it was most demanding for us.
Kjeragbolten was tough since it is very steep at some parts and could be slippery (I can't imagine doing it in rainy conditions) and we did it in 7 hours total on a very hot windy day.
What is the best way to gear up for those tours?
I would say that all hikes we did require hiking boots, light pants, waterproof jacket and a backpack to pack some food (mainly nuts for us), water (while the water in the mountains is mainly drinkable and you can refill anytime) and some dry clothes for later.
Wherever I read about hiking in Norway, I was advised not to wear jeans, sneakers (and while I would say this is a form of common sense, we were still very surprised how many people hiked in light summer sneakers and even sandals (!)
Another thing, if it's only a bit sunny, wear sunscreen! Norwegian sun is tricky, especially in the mountains; you are not aware of it but you see it later on your skin. During Kjerag hike it was sunny but at the same time really windy so we thought we didn't need any sunscreen but ended up badly sunburnt. So we are currently taking our T-shirt and shorts on our bodies with us everywhere :)
What did you think about while you were walking along those routes?
While hiking all three routes (as well as while driving) we were "wow"-ing every 5 minutes; nature there feels like you're on another planet, especially when it's foggy (why we were eventually glad we did Preikestolen in foggy and rainy weather) so it becomes more mystical and dreamy.
We had all those hours to get to the top and yet it never felt dull and boring, so we were very glad to have that time just for ourselves just to walk, share some thoughts and be surrounded by all that beautiful scenery. That's why I love hiking (even though I can't say I'm an experienced hiker), it connects you and your hiking partner on some other level (you're a team) and gives you a great feeling of freedom but still makes you feel so tiny and respectful of the nature.
How important is it to have a guide?
We did not have a guide on any of our trips/hikes because we wanted to experience Norway our way, be spontaneous and have the possibility to change plans along the way and see how would the plan and all of the places that I've been ticking on my Norway map turn out and it turned out great! You're good doing all those hikes without a guide in the summer season, but advised (some even obliged) to do them with a guide when it's not summer since it gets dark earlier in the day. I must admit it would be pretty scary hiking Kjerag or Trolltunga in autumn or winter (though I've seen some snowy winter photos and it looked even more beautiful).
What made you decide to go to Trolltunga?
When I first saw Trolltunga (Troll's tongue), I was at work doing some boring paperwork, daydreaming and trying to find inspiring places to go to. I started googling fjord-Norway region and bumped into a photo so amazing that I immediately put it as my desktop background and said to my colleague: "This time next year, I will be here!", pointing at the top of Trolltunga. That was the time I started exploring hiking in Norway and planning the routes we should drive. Three years passed since and I was there and as I posted my photo of Trolltunga on Instagram my colleague said to me: "There, you did it! Now you have your own desktop background!" :D
Is there any way you and your boyfriend could have been even better prepared for all those places you visited in Norway?
I don't think we could have been more or better prepared for that trip because there are no ideal conditions, and I think the best travel memories always come from unexpected situations and travel is what we make of it.
And yes, if you were wondering, Norway really is an expensive country, we've spent a lot, ate frozen pizza in Airbnb plus (so you win some, you lose some :D), drank most expensive drinks ever, then ate sandwiches during our hikes (but never felt more gifted and amazed just being there), didn't go to restaurants and typical touristy places, and yet it was the best holiday ever!
What else would you recommend to people who intend to take this trip?
What I would definitely recommend is renting a car and just drive across the whole country. We drove a couple of scenic routes: Ryfylke from Oanes to Sauda, Jaeren from Ogna to Bore and Hardanger route partially. In just a day you can see fjords, mountains, beaches, sheep crossing the road, cows on the beach, waterfalls, greenest grass or drive through subsea tunnels.
Is it possible to get that wonderful summer feeling of the sea, beaches and sunsets in Norway too?
Of course! While driving somewhere along Jaeren, make sure to stop anywhere and just chill by the North sea (and take a dip, it's not that cold :)
We spent two days at their endless sandy beaches (one day we found a beach just for ourselves) and waited for the sunset at about 11:00 PM; they were one of the greatest sunsets I've ever seen (pinky orange tender pastel sunsets, so dreamy!).
What is a must for those who are planning where to stay in Norway?
In Stavanger we stayed at Old Stavanger in an old wooden white house that made us feel like Norwegians even for a short period so I would definitely recommend staying locally and not in hotels as every hotel feels the same. If I were to go there again, I would rent a cabin somewhere outside bigger cities where I could be by the sea, in the mountains or in the woods.
Can you imagine yourself living in Norway?
While we were there, my boyfriend and I often discussed whether we could live in Norway and stayed indecisive on that matter. What we loved was the way people seemed, they were laid-back, unintrusive, helpful and everyone seemed like they never experienced a stressful situation. You get that overall feeling that government, companies and people work together for future generations' well-being and that they raise responsible young people not dependant on their parents. As far as the weather goes, we experienced it in summer and it was sunny and warm, but I can imagine how harsh and cold could their winters be, especially if you lived somewhere in the north. And the other thing, it rains a lot (i think Bergen is called the rainiest city in the world), so that's definitely not something to look forward to when thinking of moving there. But their connection with the nature is something to look up to and it seems like they are raising happy kids by the motto: "Less is more".
It looks like this: why drive over the speed limit when you can slow down and enjoy beautiful scenery along the way (we haven't heard a honking horn in traffic, not once!), why build massive kids' playgrounds when you can incorporate them in nature for kids to express their imagination and build something on their own; why spend a lot of money painting the insides of tunnels when they can be simple and functional or build massive houses just to appear rich to your neighbours when everyone can be the same and still be content, or why should you drive any other car when you can drive Tesla and save the environment? We haven't seen any litter on the streets or beaches, not once. Everything seemed so simple in Norway, yet so far away from us. I think I would adapt very well but we still have to many cultural differences between our countries not to be missing our brisk, loud and temperament Croatians.
What picture comes up in your mind when you think of those incredible moments in Norway?
First photo that comes to my mind when thinking of Norway is me standing on Kjeragbolten (even though I loved Trolltunga the most) because I couldn't remember being more scared and amazed at the same time. Not usually afraid of heights, before I stood on the rock, I looked 1.100,00 metres down the Lysefjord and while it was really windy, couldn't help thinking that if I slipped, I could be dead in a minute. When I got down, I was immensely relieved and happy I'm alive. And that's why I love to travel and be in the nature, that adrenaline that gives us a greater feeling of freedom and accomplishment, from time to time it reminds us we're alive.
What are Norwegian mornings like? How about evenings?
Our Norwegian summer mornings were starting very early, they were beautiful, but if I had to choose, I would pick their nights and late sunsets. It gets dark(er) at about 22:30 (it never really gets dark so when you go to sleep at night it's almost like it's 5:00 in the morning). I loved that because we could be outside longer and seize the day.
What does Norway have that is still intact and you have put it down on your list?
I would definitely like to go to Norway again, since I have had plans to visit the Lofoten islands, Tromso and drive along Senja. Next to the fjord region on my Norway bucket list was seeing aurora borealis, so apparently we'll see each other soon, Norway!