Visiting the World’s Happiest Country

Leeann Andrea D Souza
Sunday, December 10, 2017

Norway was a dream to me growing up. Leeviana, Amy and I got an amazing opportunity to visit “The World’s Happiest Country” earlier this year. We knew Lia and Maria, who were living in Norway, and who welcomed us into their country with open arms and glistening eyes. Planning the trip was not as stressful as we thought it would be. They described their country to us in a beautiful manner that gave us a life-like experience of how Norwegians live.

We were able to make this dream our reality in March 2017.

We landed in the capital city – Oslo – via Istanbul and took the airport subway to the Central Marketplace where we met Lia and Amy. We had made prior bookings for our stay in Oslo through Airbnb – an amazing service, can I just say. Our apartment was only a few blocks away from the Central Marketplace so we decided to walk it up with our suitcases. It was not as tiring as it seemed. The city is very pedestrian friendly with beautiful, wide footpaths. We walked past the Opera House – the home of The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and the National opera theatre in Norway. The view was soothing to our weary eyes after our long transit flight from Kuwait to Oslo. On reaching our apartment, we quickly freshened up and walked over to the nearest burger joint to grab some dinner and spent the rest of the night catching up with each other.


The streets of Oslo

Lia had planned our first day at Oslo for us, starting with the Vigeland Sculpture Park. Walking into the Sculpture Park, we found large, woven sculptures by the British artist Tom Hare and a large frozen lake under the bridge, which was mesmerizing. From the park, we walked the streets of Oslo. Lia mentioned that Norwegians love spending their Sundays taking long walks along the streets with their loved ones. The serene aura of the city soothes ones soul after a stressful week of work. Rarely did I ever find a Norwegian glued to their smartphone on a Sunday.
Lia drove us up a hill near Oslo city where we ate some deer meat with a breath-taking view. After which, she decided to take us to Holmenkollbakken which is a large ski jumping hill at Holmenkollen in Oslo. The people of Norway celebrate the Holmenkollen Ski Festival – a traditional annual Nordic skiing event that takes place in March since 1892.

Lia also took us to her grandparents place behind which was a large frozen lake.


Leeviana and I standing on the frozen lake behind Lia’s grandparents home.

The next day, after we had said our goodbyes to Lia; Amy, Leeviana and I had to catch our next early morning flight to Tromso – located in the north of Norway. This was the city where we planned three adventures for ourselves and we were so excited to get there. The duration of our flight lasted only an hour or so. Though taking flights can sometimes be stressful, this one was not. Looking out the window, we saw beautiful mountains covered in snow. Everything was white with a hint of dark brown and the waters beneath us a beautiful blue. If the flight lasted longer, I am sure I would’ve gotten a catch on my neck from gluing my head to the window to see the gorgeous hues of the mountains and the sea.

On arriving Tromso, we took the bus to our next Airbnb home, left our luggage and decided to walk around the city using Google Maps – another amazing service. We met Maria later in the afternoon and continued touring the streets of Tromso making sure we stocked up on groceries as we walked along. Day 1 at Tromso went by rather quickly. Taking photos of the scenery never seemed so easy. Nature began posing for us and every shot we took was absolutely glorious no matter where we pointed our cameras.


Our apartment villa from Airbnb


Our neighborhood

Our adventures were only scheduled the next day so we were certain that we wanted to get back home and rest as much as we could. Our feet were tired from walking an approximate of 30,000 steps in just a few hours. Walking in snow that ran a few feet deep is not that easy with shoes catered to the Kuwaiti market. My feet were cold, numb and wet but that did not stop me from just continuing. Somehow, I built resistance.


Long walks around the city of Tromso

Our first adventure trip was to see the great Northern Lights. Northern Lights are bright dancing lights of the aurora that are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. I was not expecting too much as our guide, Ben, mentioned in his little speech that witnessing these natural dancing lights were not that easy. A clear (not cloudy) sky and less light pollution are two of the main factors of being able to see activity in the sky. We drove for an hour or so away from Tromso towards Finland to Svalbard where Northern lights are known to be the most prominent. We set up camp by a lake where our tour guides build a mini campfire and prepared some yummy reindeer soup for us to keep warm. Yes, I have eaten a bit of Dashers meat!

We parked ourselves at a cozy spot by some trees and looked up at the clear, starry skies. We saw faint green lights moving slowly across the sky. It was a night of the full moon and every curve of the mountains surrounding us were so apparent. Our guide began distracting us by asking us if we wanted to take some profile shots with the lights.




from left to right: Maria, Myself, Leeviana and Amy against the Northern Lights

As time passed, the lights began growing stronger. With the wind blowing harder, the lights in the sky began dancing and we just couldn’t believe our eyes. There, we were staring into the starry night sky, looking at green lights painted across the skies. ‘God, you’re so creative’, I thought.


The mountains and lake were so clear

This was one of our best experiences and we realized that even more after a couple in our Arctic Explorers tour mentioned how they had travelled to Iceland to see these lights, witnessed a difficult stormy night and returned disappointed without seeing it. We felt so fortunate, as though we were on top of the world. We returned back home with wide smiles on our lips and a satisfied heart. I slept like a baby that night.
Day 2 was when we scheduled our whale watching adventure. With the same tour group – Arctic Explorers – we once again drove away from Tromso for an hour or so to the Fjords. Geared up in our outfits and some instructions passed on to us by our guide Sandra, we boarded the sailing boat in anticipation of seeing these gigantic creatures – the whales of the Arctic Ocean. The waves of the ocean were enormous and scary. Our boat kept rocking left and right and we feared we would get tossed into the ocean. We felt like a bunch of veggies being sautéed on a pan. We sailed amidst the Fjords on blue-green waters. Mountains had never seemed so majestic. They stood there tall and proud, as if the ice cold wind never affected them. It began snowing somewhere in the middle of our sail and the weather started to get a little worse so we all gathered together into the shelter of the boat to have some more reindeer soup. As the weather started to clear, we stepped outside to take a few pictures. Unfortunately, we were unable to see the whales since they had already migrated from these Fjords so we returned back to the shore and headed back home.


The Fjords and the Arctic Ocean.

Our final adventure was Dog Sledding. Again, a few hours of drive away from Tromso, we arrived at the Reisa National Park, close to the Lyngen Alps. The valley is defined by mountains and a breathtaking scenery. Our dog sledding guide closely assisted us in learning bits of what it takes to be a musher. We were encouraged to help prepare these big Alaskan, blue-eyed Husky dogs and sleds at first and were taught how to control them both. Dog sledding is one of the national sports in Northern Norway and our guide did not hesitate in sharing his stories from the races with us.



This too was a scary adventure as a sled accommodates two people – one seated in the sled and the other riding it. We were asked to be mindful of the way we controlled the dogs as not being careful could lead to major injuries to us and the beautiful Huskies.


Amy with one of the huskies

Amy and I took one sled and Leeviana and Maria another. Special attention had to be paid to weight distribution, since we had six full grown huskies each going at 15 km/hr, and the technique to turning a wooden sled round the corner. We all drove in a line behind the guide (master of the huskies). It was a bumpy ride. At a point during the ride, Leeviana and Maria almost fell tragically if not for the soft landing on the snow and the obedience of the dogs to their masters command. Although it was a rough ride, we did not lose courage and continued on our journey by the Alps around the National Park. The scenic beauty was enthralling and the sun glistened on the snow as we drove through the valleys.


Leeviana and Maria’s dogs at rest nibbling on the snow to quench their thirst


Dufus, the husky and me

Upon returning to the shed, our guide offered us some warm hot chocolate and some more information about how he preps the huskies and himself to participate in a 5 day race covering a 1000 kilometers with just 14 huskies. Then he led us out into the yard to play with his very friendly huskies and introduced us to three new pups who were planned to be trained once they grew older.

Another scary adventure with beautiful memories!

We returned back home tired and content with our trip. We freshened up and sat around our dinning table to play some card games when I received a call from back home.
As I stepped outside our villa apartment onto the front porch and looked up at the sky, I saw a faint green line across it. I stared into the sky for a while and when I realized what was happening, I screamed for the girls to come running outside to see what I was looking at. There we saw the gorgeous Northern Lights again! We couldn’t believe our eyes. We ran back in to wear our boots and jackets and stepped onto the street and just stood there looking up and admiring the Northern Lights for the second time in three days. We felt so blessed to be able to witness it again and remembered the story narrated to us by the couple. Since I was on a video call, I tried to show the Northern Lights to those back home who could only see a faint green light but couldn’t make too much of it. We were so happy and our trip felt complete.

We returned back to Oslo the following day where we had to catch our flight back to Kuwait. And entire day of travel awaited us but that did not matter since we had the best vacation anyone could possibly hope for. We feel truly blessed to be able to visit such a beautiful country. Now we know why Norway is called the World’s Happiest Country!


Express your comment on this article

 
Mohammad shafi
Posted on Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hi I read yor travel xpriance nice yor jarny how I get the visa for norvay and how many owers from turky tu oslo?thanks regard mo.shafi

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