Hamar’s Glass Cathedral

Day two in Norway and the clouds cleared and gave way to blue sky and sunshine.  We headed north on the E18, catching glimpses of Oslo-fjord as our hire car picked up its heels, making the most of the 110km/hr speed limit that this stretch of road allowed.  We soon reached Oslo and we plunged underground as we navigated the tunnels beneath the city.   Emerging, dazzled, on the other side, the E6 took us further north still until we were driving alongside the Mjøsa lake at a steady 80km/hr – a speed we would become very familiar with on our trip!

We had stopped briefly for lunch at a picturesque roadside picnic area, overlooking a sheltered inlet that harboured dozens of tiny day boats, and eventually pulled off the road at Hamar, at the Glass Cathedral.

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Having only read a brief paragraph in our Lonely Planet guide on the glass cathedral we weren’t quite sure what to expect, and stood in surprise staring at this giant greenhouse-like structure.  The ‘greenhouse’ was built over the ruins of Hamar Cathedral, the construction of which was started by the first Bishop of Hamar, and completed between 1232-52.  The cathedral fell in to disrepair during the Reformation in Norway and in 1567 the Swedish Army attempted to demolish it.    The arches remain inside the glass cover, and today it appears to be a popular place to get married!

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Set on the side of a beautiful lake, we saw at least three couples in the cathedral and grounds.

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The cathedral sits on a small peninsular into the lake, alongside a collection of historic Norwegian houses.

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A large, traditional wooden house sat proudly on the edge of the lake, watching teenagers play in the water and boats sail past.

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The turf roofed cottages, with their heavy log walls and wild hair-dos were both quaint and amusing.  The jaunty angle of this one gives it so much character!

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Even on a sunny day, the park was quiet as we strolled around in the sunshine and had an icecream from the gift shop.

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A wonderful place, combining the old of the traditional farm buildings, and the sleek, ultra-modern design of the glass cathedral.  A place where lots comes together but oh, so peaceful.

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Tønsberg

Our first 24 hours in Norway, it rained (our first three days in Norway it rained).  A constant drizzle with intermittent torrential downpours that ensured that shoes were soaked through and hands became clammy and cold.

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We had arrived at Oslo Torp and made our way to Tønsberg, the oldest town in Norway, were we spent a day exploring in the rain and visited the tower on a hill in the middle of the town.  For the most part the camera stayed firmly in its bag, tucked up behind the waterproof cover.

We wandered down to the riverside which appeared to be where the most was going on, and stumbled across a viking shipyard.  The boats were under the cover of large canvas tents constructed with a simple timber frame, and the air smelled of wood and tar.

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Unusually (is there a usual way to build a viking ship?), this boat appeared to be being constructed by a pirate.

Tønsberg boasts 1200 years of maritime history, and at the quay is a replica exact replica of the Oseberg viking ship, and several smaller vessels are under construction.

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The Oseberg ship was built around 800AD and was excavated in 1904-5 from a burial mound along with the skeletons of two important female figures, and plenty of treasure in the form of ornately carved carts, sleighs, and ornaments.

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Maybe all that treasure is why the pirate is hanging around…?

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Ocean Hope

This month I’m trying out Plastic Free July – part of a wider campaign to reduce consumption of single-use plastic and as a result reduce the amount of plastic getting into our oceans.  Plastic in oceans is everyone’s problem and has huge impact’s on wildlife and ecosystems.  A million single use plastic bottles are bought every MINUTE worldwide,  and plastic is washed up on remote Arctic beaches that rarely see a human soul. 

I took these pictures last week outside the Maritime, Fram, and Kontiki museums in Oslo, Norway.  The Kontiki museum was particularly fascinating as it was Thor Heyerdahl – builder and Captain of the Kontiki – who started the ocean conservation movement after finding washed out oil in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a subsequent voyage on Ra II. 

I think the sculpture represents how much we lean on the ocean for so many reasons – fishing, shipping, recreation – but also put a lot of strain on it with pollution.  A lighthouse is designed to lead sailors safely into harbour and around dangerous rocks – perhaps this one will lead us around dangerous levels of pollution and lead us to change course to a healthier ocean. One can only hope. 

The Bow Valley Parkway

After a couple of nights in Calgary to get over the jetlag, we hired a car and headed west towards the Rocky Mountains.  The view once we left Calgary was spectacular – Calgary faded away behind us, but in front the mountains rose out of the prairies, cloud bubbling over them like rapids over rocks.

Once we got into the Rockies we took a slight diversion off Highway 1 – the TransCanada Highway – onto Highway 1A, also known as the Bow Valley Parkway.  The Bow Valley Parkway runs from just after Banff, alongside the Trans Canada as far as Lake Louise, taking a more scenic route with a higher chance of seeing wildlife than on the main highway.  There are also several places to stop along the route.

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A wildlife bridge on Highway 1

The first place we stopped at was Johnston Canyon.  There is a resort with cabins at the bottom of the canyon, and a restaurant, as well as a car park for visitors who are hiking the canyon.  The car park was full and so we did what many, many other people were doing and parked alongside the highway, and then walked back to the entrance.

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In Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon was formed by Johnston Creek, and within the canyon are lower and upper falls, with the upper falls being 1.7 miles away, and taking about 45 minutes to walk to.  From there you can continue almost 1.9 miles (3km) to the Inkpots – seven coldwater springs which rise beside a meadow.  We didn’t make it this far as we wanted to stop at other places on the way so we only went as far as the Upper Falls, however having seen a picture of the Inkpots when I got back to England I wish we had carried on!

The walk through the canyon is an easy one, along wide paths and metal catwalks.  There were a lot of people when we visited – it’s certainly a popular spot so aim for low season or either ends of the day.

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A catwalk in Johnston Canyon

In terms of wildlife, the most exciting thing we saw was a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, although there were signs warning of wolves in the area which had become bold around humans and were stealing from picnics!

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A Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

We ate at the restaurant at the bottom of the canyon before we left, which was very pleasant and surprisingly quiet given the popularity of the trail.  It was perhaps slightly expensive, but that was to be expected given its location and the lack of other eateries in the area.

Carrying on up the Bow Valley Parkway we stopped at Emerald Lake in the Yoho National Park.  When we arrived the weather had deteriorated somewhat and we looked around and took some photos in the mizzley rain.  We decided to hire a canoe anyway, and luckily the rain stopped and we even had a bit of sunshine!  We paddled to the other end of the lake, where it was very peaceful with a shallow creek running across a beach into the lake.

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Emerald Lake – the sky was a little murky but it was beautiful nonetheless! 

We left Highway 1A at Castle Junction and continued on the main Highway 1 to Canyon Hot Springs where we swam in the hot springs and stayed in a cabin overnight.  From there we went to Sicamous where we hired a houseboat and spent four days on the Shuswap Lake, which I will write about in my next blog.

Highway 1A was beautiful, but naturally much slower than the main highway.  To drive on Highway 1A, or to stop anywhere in the National Parks, you need to buy a parks pass from Parks Canada.  There is a kiosk for these at the entrance to Banff NP, or they are sold in lots of places within the parks.  At the entrance to the Bow Valley Parkway, Parks Canada were stopping every car to check for a pass.

The Land of Mountains and Lakes

As England awoke on 1 July, we boarded a plane destined for Calgary to begin two amazing weeks of adventures in Alberta and British Columbia. I flew out with my boyfriend (Stephen), parents and sister (Holly), and our first stop was to visit my aunt, uncle and two cousins who live in Calgary.

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We spent a couple of days in Calgary before all heading west, with a stop-over en-route, to Sicamous where we picked up a houseboat and spent four days relaxing on Shuswap Lake.  From there, Stephen and I split off from the rest of the group to explore the Rockies.  Our accommodation ranged from camping to hotels, and we even spent a night in a wilderness hostel which was a fantastic experience.

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The trip took us white water rafting on the Kicking Horse River, walking on the Athabasca Glacier, canoeing on Emerald Lake, Western riding around Lake Louise and swinging from the trees at SkyTrek near Revelstoke, before finally returning to Calgary for the Calgary Stampede, a night of two-stepping and line dancing in Ranchman’s and learning Canada’s history at Heritage Park.

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We saw some amazing wildlife – a black bear hanging out along the Icefields Parkway, bald eagles at Shuswap lake and tens of the most adorable squirrels that love to pose for the camera.

Of course, this is far too much for one blog.  Over the next few weeks I’m going to be writing blogs about some of the best bits of the trip, and of course I took hundreds of photographs of this beautiful country and what it has to offer. So stay tuned and hit the ‘follow’ button to find out more about what we’ve been up to!