If any of you have read my ‘about me‘ page, you would agree that I could be considered as one of the worst kind of travellers, and certainly not someone you want to get stuck travelling with.
But time and again, as I mentioned, people do get tricked into travelling with me. This time round, it was 3 of my now friends that I got to know here in Berkeley who had to feel the brunt of travelling to the Grand Canyon with me.
And unlike most other trips where my annoying sides are only showing once I’m already on the road, I was already being quite a pain right through the planning stage for this trip.
I basically went into a panic episode when I found out that I would be sleeping in a tent in the freezing cold. I contemplated (out loud to my travel mates whom I barely knew at that point) about pulling out from the trip because I didn’t want to die in the cold I didn’t have any experience in winter camping. And in the process, I might have made one of my travel mates freak out a little too.
But before you discount me completely, this is the part that I’m always proud of myself. My love for travelling is often great enough to conquer my fears. So before completely deciding to bail out from the trip, I decided to go on a research rampage, finding out as much as possible about winter camping and hiking at the Grand Canyon.
How cold does it get?
Will you die sleeping outside in subzero temperature?
Are there any animals?
Can I hike in Grand Canyon without hiking shoes?
How steep are the trails?
But the real question that I was trying to answer was: Would someone like me – a beginner (and somewhat unfit) outdoor traveller, who has no skills in camping, lighting up a portable stove let alone cooking on it, setting up a tent, blowing up sleeping pad,… the list goes on (I did not tell them these. They found out on their own pretty quickly the moment we arrived at the camp site.) – be able to survive a three-day two-night camping trip and hiking at the Grand Canyon?
As much as I think that the Northern Lights are one of the most incredible natural phenomena, I find it a pity that Tromsø is known for simply that – a gateway to see the Northern Lights. There seems to be very little else known about the city – most people out of the Nordic countries have never even heard of its name before, when in fact this place has so much to offer and is absolutely gorgeous.
I was guilty of exactly that – I came here aiming and caring for nothing but seeing the coveted aurora borealis. And knowing my tendency to not do any proper research before visiting a city (in a bid to be pleasantly surprised), I almost had no idea what was waiting for me at the largest town in Northern Norway.
Not only did Tromsø pleasantly surprise me, but it also took my breath away with its Arctic city charm. There is no earth-shatteringly famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome, or the Buckingham Palace in London. Instead, what Tromsø boasts is its own existence: a cold place in the Arctic with 24-hour darkness for a few weeks in the winter, the midnight sun in the summer, and of course the occasional visits of the Northern Lights. It is also nestled on a beautiful landscape with both mountains and the sea decorating its view – together with the city lights emanating from the houses, it makes for an absolutely breathtaking sight.
Despite not visiting any museums nor tourist attractions when I was there, I left the city being charmed endlessly. Tromsø showered us with many little things that made every moment so precious.
And it started the moment we landed at the Tromsø Airport.
Being greeted by Father Christmas.
My trip started rather horribly with me losing my luggage at the Oslo airport (due to my supreme idiocy). But it was instantly cured the moment I stepped into the airport building as we were welcome by the sight of this familiar guy waving at us.
It was a much needed warm welcome to our coldest destination; naturally, we couldn’t leave without taking a picture with him.
Parties and large gatherings generally confuse me. Anything that requires me to divide my attention between more than two people at the same time or where I’m required to make any kinds of small talks makes me nervous. This is why I normally retreat to the shadow of a bar the moment I get there, or speak to the same person whom I’m comfortable with for the next three hours and refuse to move my legs to speak to someone else across the room just in case I bump into a person that I have to make small talks with on the way there. It’s worked well for me so far and I think I have a mutual unspoken understanding with fellow party-goers whereby I normally ignore most people and they do me and that is the start of a beautiful friendship.
So it surprised me beyond words when, a week or so ago in the bar, people started approaching me to speak to me. I found out later that it was mainly driven by two things: my last blog post about the series of Murphy’s law happenings in December (thank you for all the messages, comments and concerns by the way. I did not expect it to cause quite a stir since I feel perfectly fine most of the time, but I am still very touched by it all); and the Northern Lights.
Until then, I thought that I was the only weirdo who wanted to see the Northern Lights so badly. I mean, someone even called me ‘crazy woman’ in my face for going even further north from Denmark to Norway during the winter when most others were travelling south in search for more warmth and the sun (I take being coined a crazy woman as a compliment by the way). But from my conversation with people and the reactions to my Northern Lights pictures, it turned out that a lot of people did want to see them, but I guess was the only weirdo who was crazy enough among my class mates to actually do it.
And since I seem to have reignited the sparks in some people to tick this off from their bucket list, I thought I would share some tips from my trip to Tromsø which I believe would be helpful in planning for Northern Lights trips (especially at the last minute).
Getting to Tromsø is not hard, considering it’s at the Arctic.
Tromsø is located in Norway (albeit a very northern part of it). This means that as long as you can get yourself to Oslo or other major cities in the Nordic countries, you will be able to find flight connections there, thanks to SAS and the more affordable Norwegian Airlines. I live in Aarhus, Denmark (a rather inaccessible city to say the least), and in order to get to Tromsø, I had to take a flight to Copenhagen, then to Oslo before finally landing at Tromsø. It was pretty straightforward, especially considering how far north Tromsø is and how Aarhus has the smallest international airport I have ever seen in my years of travelling.
Tromsø is an easy city to navigate and extremely beautiful.
Tromsø is a small city, and the airport is very accessible from the city centre. There is a direct public bus that takes you right to the city centre and to the biggest shopping mall in the city. The city centre is very easy to navigate (and this is coming from someone with a horrible sense of direction), and you can pretty much walk to all the main attractions.
Plus, the city is beautiful, both during the day (though the sun never rose during the three days we were there) and at night.
And if you are lucky, some random Tromsø guy would approach you and teach you how to fish while you were admiring the view.
Be prepared to spend a few nights there. We saw the Northern Lights after our second try and people have been calling us extremely lucky. Apparently some people waited for a whole week and still did not get to see anything.
The thing about the Northern Lights is that there can be no guarantee for you to see it. We have been preached by the tour companies and the tourism websites that there are 3 necessary conditions for you to see the Northern Lights: the sky must be clear, there must not be any light pollution, and the Northern Lights itself must be active. This means that you could end up with a really cloudy day, and you could spend the whole night chasing for a clear sky and when you found an opening among the clouds, you could see all the beautiful stars twinkling at you but no Northern Lights in sight because it was not active.
So you would have to come back the next day on a different tour and hope that all these things are aligned. I have got to be honest with you – the uncertainties can be nerve-wrecking so always be prepared for the worst!
I have so far lived my life believing that I was born to be a jack (or jill?) of all trades. I would be interested in something, learn about it, be somewhat decent at it and move on to new things.
Until I found myself in Copenhagen more than five years ago and fell completely in love with the city. Since then, I found that I can be especially good at something, i.e. travelling back to the same city over and over again just to do the same things that I love.
Till date, I have travelled to Copenhagen on five different occasions, and I have met the Crown Prince of Denmark (here we go again), which is why I think I am properly qualified to give my opinion on what the best things to do in this city are.
So here are my personal favourites, in random order.
Take a stroll at Nyhavn
My absolute favourite place, and this lovely harbour has been featured numerous times in this blog. Walking to Nyhavn from Kongens Nytorv Metro Station is like finding a colourful surprise after a somewhat gray (albeit beautiful) stroll at the heart of Copenhagen.
To me, one of the most important balances to have is being able to see all the important sights during travel while still having that element of surprise. It is the balance between the “Ohh, I’m glad to see this world-renowned structure” and “Wow, I did not know such beauty exist in this world!”.
If that makes sense.
There were a few times during my trip in Myanmar that I thought to myself “thank goodness my friend told me about this” or “I wish I had known this before”. In my sincere attempt to continue to be Myanmar tourism evangelist, I have compiled this list of good-to-know-before-you-go so you can maximise your trip without me spoiling much of the surprise the place beholds.
Flip flops are the way to go. Forget about your sneakers or flats. By the end of my trip, I visited more than 30 temples and none of them allowed you to wear any footwear inside. Unless you have extremely patient friends who don’t mind to wait while you tie and untie your shoelaces and unless you want dirt-stained footwear as keepsakes from Myanmar, stick to the flip flops. One tip: bring a plastic bag to carry your flip flops around the temple since most places will ask for donation if you put your footwear at a cabinet outside the temple.
“This is Burma. It is quite unlike any place you know about.”
If I were as eloquent as Rudyard Kipling, that would probably be my default reply whenever someone ask how my recent trip to Myanmar was. But I am not. Instead, I always come up with a lame three-word sentence that goes along the lines of:
“Myanmar was incredible.”
(Or replace the word “incredible” with “awesome”, “beautiful”, “lovely” and other praising adjectives that do not really say anything.)
In return, I normally get raised eyebrows and somewhat non-subtle skepticism from my listeners.
I don’t blame them. After all, the country is a hidden South East Asian gem, only opening up its economy to the world in the last two years. It is still shrouded in mystery (although I guess the biggest mystery to most of my fellow South East Asians is why we want to visit the place in the first place since there is an unspoken rule of the closer a place to our place of birth, the less interesting it is).
Anyway, since I feel the need to make up for my verbal incapability in travel story-telling, I have resolved to turn into Myanmar tourism evangelist through writing to do the country some justice it so deserves. However, I am not going to bore anyone to death by putting my travel itinerary here. Instead, I am going to list down my 10 personal favourite moments during my 9-day travel to Mandalay, Bagan and Yangon.
Contrary to popular belief, I have long established myself as an introvert. In travelling terms, this explains the reason why I find so much joy in taking long plane rides alone or even take off for a solo travel.
Don’t get me wrong, I love travelling with friends. Not only is it a lot of fun, but also having friends around has a lot of benefits, one of the obvious ones being that you have someone to help you snap the cool shots, especially if you are travelling with skillful photographer friends, you will not have to worry about not having that new profile picture on Facebook (and they won’t complain if you ask them to help you snap photos because hey, after all, you are helping them practise their photography skills).
But back to the point of travelling solo. I remember there was a point some time last year that I just ended up feeling so suffocated by following everyone else’s travel demands. In the end I booked a solo trip to Copenhagen and London on impulse at the expense of end-of-year travel to Vietnam with my friends.