These past two weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions, from Australian friend catch-ups to goodbyes with the exchange family. Exchange has been a much needed adventure for me and even though I miss the sunshine and my family, getting to see these places continues to blow me away.
The Great Norwegian Road trip:
Day 1: 1.30pm caught the bus from Karlstad to Oslo. There is snow 20 minutes out of Kalrstad all the way to Norway. I did sleep quite a lot of the way, it takes about 4 hours and before I knew it, I was saying hello to Haider in Oslo. It was a bit of funny story trying to find him, as my phone had no reception. I was standing next to the busses to use the on-board free Wi-Fi, probably looked really weird. He was trying to describe his car to me via text, “Oh Abbey come outside I’m in the VW Passat” and I’m thinking to myself, Haider… that really doesn’t help, I do not know my cars that well. Finally found him and he took me for a quick drive, starting off the catch up with a snowball to the face, thanks man! This was whilst looking at the Opera house, which is designed for people to literally ski down it in the winter. We then had a lovely Lebanese meal at a restaurant, I got to meet his sister and we all had a well-needed talk. Afterwards it was off to his family home where I would be staying for two nights. Haider has four siblings and it was so nice to be back in a family environment. His family was overwhelmingly helpful and beautiful. Even though we had just had dinner a full spread had been laid out upon our arrival. We continued talking until late and then I slept right through to midday.
Day 2: I met Haider at his work where he had a Norwegian Christmas meal waiting for me. A lot of meat is essentially how you describe it, very hearty. Afterwards we spent the evening exploring the sights of Oslo. We wandered through a park in the snow, went to the Christmas markets, visited the winter Olympic stadium, and then got warm in a restaurant eating pizza! It was really nice to catch up with a friendly face from Australia and even though we weren’t in our usual indoor soccer environment, we still had a heap of fun.
Day 3: I said my goodbye’s Haider’s lovely family and they even gave me a Christmas present. It was such a beautiful visit and I was very glad I jumped on a bus to Oslo to see him. Haider dropped me off in the city to Odd’s car. It was time for the great Norwegian road-trip from east to west coast in a day. I slept in so we started off pretty late meaning the sun had already started to set. We left finally at about 1.30pm and began the 9-hour journey. From what little sunlight we had, I still got to see a heck of a lot of forests, rivers and snow. The snow was getting to depths of 2m at some stages, which is more than I had ever seen. Odd updated me on all of the Wollongong news and we luckily share the same music taste, so it was a good trip! About halfway we were stopped at the top of the mountain in a tunnel and we had to wait for a snow clearing truck to lead the way, as vision was nearly impossible in the storm. I would not at all have been confident to drive in these types of conditions, but luckily I had a born and bred Norwegian to safely drive me to Stord, Norway. Its worth pointing our just the vast amount of tunnels we crossed to get to the West coast. It was amazing how long some of them actually go for as well. When we made it at around midnight, Odd’s mum had prepared some food for us.
Day 4: We slept in until around 2pm, this by no means was a strenuous traveling experience; it was more of a chill out holiday with friends. We had some breakfast that was very Norwegian; I even tried some brown cheese with jam. We spent the afternoon watching a TV serious we both got hooked on called Marco Polo. Afterwards we went out to dinner with Odds parents, which was very relaxed again. Odd then had to get the car cleaned to get all of the salt off and then we went driving straight away in the snow and slush, having an evening tour of his hometown. Day 5: Odd and I again woke up pretty late in the afternoon but today we drove to Bergen. We had to get on a ferry to cross the island. The sun was out today and so I go to see all of the pretty mountains crossing over the horizon. Odd literally has been growing up with fjords all around him, which is so incredible. We made it to Bergen and wandered around the town doing a quick stop off at a huge gingerbread land. Businesses, families and Schools have delivered pieces of gingerbread work and they have recreated a huge city, it was extremely impressive. After our walk-about I checked in to my hostel and said my goodbyes to Odd, even though I would be seeing him in Wollongong in a few short months. I was disappointed I didn’t get to see the city in daylight as it is known as “the city between seven mountains”. That just means I’ll have to go back one day. Huge thank you to Odd’s Parents and Haider’s family for hosting me, hopefully I can return the favour when they visit.
Day 6: I hopped on a train at 7.30am from Bergen to Oslo. This was the most amazing travel trips to date. The sun was out all day, no wind and no snow. It was absolutely incredible to see the mountains, the frozen rivers, the red houses, all of it exactly what I was wanting this trip to be, but not expecting it. This was to be the last time I was travelling “home” to Karlstad. When I got back to my apartment I had received a note from my neighbor Dan, from the US, it was such a lovely goodbye note.
Goodbye’s and Hello’s:
It was sad to be saying bye to everyone but at the same time I have enjoyed every minute of the exchange adventure. When people ask me, “how was exchange?” there is simply no way to sum it up. They have to just book it and do it themselves to have the slightest understanding of what it feels like. From being scared shitless and crying when I arrived to crying goodbyes with my new international family upon leaving. It was one heck of a rollercoaster, from going to one of the biggest European music festivals, to getting bed bugs, to Oktoberfest. The highs and lows are endless and the trip for me does not end here. Whilst I am saying goodbye to some much loved people, I also get to say hello. When back in Karlstad, Jonathan was to arrive all the way from Australia after a 35-hour journey. Before this, I said bye to my Swedish host family. They were helpful in all aspects and I truly got lucky in meeting them. I was able to make the most of my Swedish adventure and got to experience family life and culture just that much more. They didn’t even mind the taste of Vegemite.
A few days later it was Christmas eve and Taylor and I were attempting to cook up a storm in the kitchen and make an amazing Christmas feast for ourselves. It was definitely interesting. We made a salad that then met the floor before our mouths and we had to settle for light cider as the alcohol store was closed. Nonetheless we had such a cute little evening, watching movies, eating chocolate and talking the night away. It was very bizarre talking to family over Facetime as they are all in t-shirts getting sunburnt, and I’m inside drinking tea to stay warm. Christmas does make a lot more sense in the cold weather I have to admit. Christmas day I was waiting at the train station with Taylor as she waited for her departure from Sweden. It was just a tad emotional. Before I even had a chance to get lonely, Jono had arrived. We spent 2 days touring around Karlstad, and then I packed up my room into a pack and a suitcase, sent the suitcase on a ship and left Karlstad with a bag on my back, a best friend at my side and amazing memories of my exchange experience. Also with a frozen face as it was minus 14 degrees.
Jon and I headed to Stockholm to meet up with 1 Swede, 3 Aussies and 1 American friend. We were joining up for New Years. We were staying in this cute hostel on the island of Södermalm. It was great to see people from home plus friends made on contiki. Everyone clicked really well, and we had a great evening eating tortillas and drinking. After dinner we headed out to a karaoke bar. I don’t really like getting up on stage, but around your friends and after a few drinks, none of that really mattered anymore. The night kind of just dribbled on from bar to bar before we all decided it was time for a kebab and sleep.
In the morning we were all ready for a day of wandering about Stockholm. It truly is a dreamy city in the winter with the Christmas lights and the snow and the colourful buildings lined with cobblestone streets. Later that evening we all headed out to the suburbs of Stockholm to meet up with a friend of a friend, Josefin who was so amazing and cooked a full on Swedish meal. We ate, drank and chatted whilst watching the distant fireworks from her gorgeous apartment. After playing a couple of games, we headed back in to the city to count in the New Year on a hillside in the city. So Stockholm doesn’t really have any organised fireworks. Basically it is legal to purchase and use fireworks on New Years Eve and so people are just lighting up fireworks left right and center. It is pretty manic. Clubs were around $50-90 entrance fee so we decided to just head back to the hostel. Even though we hadn’t planned the evening the way it turned out, it was an incredible way to bring in the New Years.
First day of the year we spent wandering again. We then had a huge Asian food Buffet, voted the best in Sweden. Then we decided to have a very Swedish afternoon in a Sauna. Later that evening we ate more food and then said our goodbyes and went our separate ways for now. Day 2: Jon and I flew out to Amsterdam and then made our way by train to Maastricht in the south of the Netherlands. This is where he is studying for 3 weeks, and I am basically mooching the accommodation. From here we have purchased EU Rail passes and we will begin by traveling about Amsterdam and then off to Berlin. From then on in we aren’t really sure. I’ll be back in Australia by March and I’m sure by keeping busy I’ll be back before I can even blink. Hopefully Australia may even have some sunshine waiting for me.