Sunday, July 17, 2011

An Unforgettable Summer Journey

Sometimes, one who has been to cloud nine may find himself still floating there even weeks or months thereafter. The memories that sent him up to that level of elation retain their bright sparks that inspire him to go about his work, no matter how hard it may be. He keeps moving on and working hard, but with joy, as he reminisces on those memories.

That's how it is with me and my recent adventures. It's been weeks since I was in such bliss, and until now, that feeling of walking on air lingers as those memorable scenics parade in my mind. While others  feel exhausted after their vacation and become too lazy to go back to work, but instead long to go on another holiday again, I get spurred on to work again and light-heartedly go about my daily routine. For me, such holiday is a "spice" that gives good flavor to my life.

Here, I'm going to recount and relive those beautiful moments in the form of a journal which is expressed mostly in pictures  that I have taken.

The main purpose of our travel was to attend a three-day English convention in Oslo, Norway, to strengthen our spiritual well-being. Since we had the chance to travel that far, we decided to maximize that opportunity by extending our vacation leave from work in order to see some of the most popular travel destinations in Norway, and some parts of Sweden.

Here's the map of the places we've been to. The blue line indicates the route that we followed. Our starting point is in the upper right corner, Umeå, then down, then left, then up and then right, and back to Umeå.

June 21, 22

We started from Umeå, followed the coastal highway down to Hudiksvall, where we turned inland to get to Dalarna. We stayed there for two nights. Our activities in this place can be read here .

June 23

We dismantled our tent and moved on to Oslo. Our arrival in the city reminded me of Manila because of the traffic jam that stranded us for quite a  time. We stayed for three nights in this cabin.

June 24-26

We attended the District Convention with the theme, Let God's Kingdom Come!, a three-day spiritual gathering with Bible-based discourses, modern and ancient dramas, experiences and songs of praise. Those who attended came from 85 different nationalities. We  met some of our friends and got to know many new ones. This convention, like all the others that we have had, brought us spiritual rejuvenation, which is essential for living a meaningful and satisfying life. Here are some pictures of the assembly hall in Oslo, where we gathered.

We also got the chance to look around a little in the city center. The weather was not good, so we just drove around the city and took some walks along the harbor by the fjord, where throngs of people filled those restaurants lining the alley along the harbor. 

Here are some drive-by pictures of the city. 

June 26 (after the convention)

On the road again. Northward.

We reached Lillehammer in the night (a bright night around midsummer), where we camped for just one night in this beautiful camping site before proceeding to our journey. We hired the cabin here with a veranda overlooking the river. Like the other camping sites, this is also full of trailers that  looked like real homes because of the fences and flowers that the vacationers set up there. They stay there for a long summer holiday.

June 27

The thrilling part of the journey began as we reached Romsdalen. The highway along this dale runs parallel with walls of cyclopean mountains on both sides and a river. The grandeur of the mountains is simply staggering! As we drove along, all I did was turn my head from right to left, spell-bound by such awesome sceneries that kept on changing their beauty as we shifted perspectives. They evoked that kind of awe that made me either say "Wow!" most of the time or just gaze up open-mouthed.

Large waterfalls and powerful rapids with clear green waters also abound along the highway. 

The majestic winding road finally led us to Åndalsnes, a Norwegian town where we had planned to camp for two nights. That would serve as our base while exploring some of the popular tourist destinations in the country, which lie around this area. This town is not so big, and the center not so attractive, but the surrounding sceneries - the green fields, rivers and lakes, towering snow-capped mountains, make it a charming and pleasurable place to stay.

Once again, we set up our tent in this cozy and adorable camping site, Mjelva Camping, just beside a rocky mountain. Included in this photomosaic are the views surrounding this camping area.

In this composite picture are some of the sceneries in Åndalsnes.

After fixing our tent, we went to buy something to eat and found this fresh pink salmon, which we fried for our lunch before we set out  to Trollstigen and Geiranger. 

The weather was not favorable but it didn't spoil the splendor of the landscapes. We could still feast our eyes on them with much enjoyment. 

We passed through several tunnels, which fascinated me. I was told that Norway is one country that specializes in making tunnels. The longest that I have traversed so far is 6.7 km. long. Here's one of them that appealed to me.

At last, we have made it to the top of Trollstigen after driving through those sharp turns of the narrow zigzag road that almost seemed scary. The view from the top is magnificent! I could see with bird's eye-view where I had been, the vale so green and the meandering road. 

Massive waterfalls stream from the top all the way down the valley below. As we stopped by to photograph the falls' entirety, another busload of American tourists came out to admire and to take pictures of that spectacular sight. There were also several tourists with their private cars who came to see this renowned place.

And what awaited us there at the top? (Well, not really top yet because there were still endless mountains higher than what I thought was the peak.) Here, where one can hike around like he is on top of the world looking down with amazement at the sceneries below. It's just so staggering!

After getting ourselves intoxicated with all the beauty and wonder that surrounded us, we moved on to our next destination: the Geiranger, a small village located at the end of the fjord. This fjord is one of Norway's most visited tourist sites and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To get there, we had to get our car into a ferry to cross a section of a fjord.

Finally, the Geiranger fjord! I just let my pictures speak about the glory of this place. The weather was not good, but the views were still great anyway. Just imagine how it would be when the sun was out and the sky blue. Could be magical!

It started to rain hard as we drove up the winding road back to the ferry. But when we got to Trollstigen again, there was no rain, and I took these photos while driving by.

Back to our tent that night, we found some more tourists who checked in for camping, some of whom had set up their tents beside ours. There was a Scottish man who came all the way with his dog through his bike. There were also Germans, French, etc. One German said that he liked the mountains of Norway better than the Swiss Alps, because Norway's mountainscapes or the Norwegian Alps were more dramatic.

This day gave me more than my fill. Memories of this marvelous facet of creation are etched indelibly in my heart. And I had a sweet, restful sleep.

June 28

It was raining when we woke up. Some call it the Norwegian weather, that is, when the weather is bad even in summer. We had planned to visit Ålesund, but we hesitated on account of the weather. But then, we finally opted to go and see this city which has been dubbed as the most beautiful city in Norway. Its location is great, being at the edge of western Norway and jutting out into the North Atlantic Ocean. One could ride a train to go around the city and up to a hill where one could see the aerial view of the whole place. But we didn't take that ride thinking that the foggy/cloudy atmosphere might obscure the view.  Well, the ground views were good enough to see.

On our way back to our tent, we went up to a mountain to see about a well-publicized gigantic waterfalls only to find that the falls had been diverted into a dam. We were disappointed about this especially after the long, perilous drive that we had taken. Anyway, we were compensated by the views up there. We hit an altitude parallel to the tops of those snowy mountains in the distance. As we descended from the mountaintop, thick fogs had already filled in the valleys below, revealing only the mountain peaks.

June 29

Time to dismantle our tent again. On the spur of the moment, we decided to take a short look at another popular city, Trondheim, in the northeast of Ålesund. We hadn't seen all of it since this was only a brief visit.

After spending a few minutes there, we were on the move again. It was time to say goodbye to Norway and go back to Sweden. The weather finally turned better as we started to leave Norway and about to reach the boundary between these two countries.

We entered Jämtland, a western province of Sweden. We passed by the little town of Åre, a popular place for downhill skiing in winter.

After driving around a little, we proceeded to Östersund, where we would camp again for one more night before heading back home. We crossed a bridge over the lake to get to the island within that lake where the camping site was located. The view over the lake from this island was so stunning. We set up our tent late at night, cooked our late dinner with our portable kitchen and took a walk down  the field of weeds and meadows that would lead to the shoreline which we never got to reach.

We had another good night's sleep. Yes, I find it so relaxing to sleep in a tent, and so pleasant  to wake up in the morning. 

June 30

After breakfast, we packed our things up and explored the city first before going on the road again.

We took the road to Sollefteå, the same city we visited last spring. Now in summertime, the whole place is so lush with  summer vegetation. 

In another locality, we had a stop-over in this resting place beside the lake and took our lunch.

We also found this noteworthy scenery called "reclining elephant" nearby.

Then we dropped by a beach in Örnskoldsvik and found it huddled with people during this hot summer day. We didn't stay there long, and I only took a few snapshots of the scenes.

Our final stop-over before driving straight home was this attractive small fishing village in the same district.

And the journey ended here. We were back to our humble city (but also rich with rustic natural beauties) that afternoon. Back home, which is still the best place to stay. "East or west, home is the best!"

Well, actually, the journey goes on. Within the confines of my mind. I'm still traveling here, still being awed by all the grandeur and beauty of our planet, still soaring in bliss, still echoing the words of a psalmist,

"Praise Jehovah from the earth,
YOU...watery deeps....
YOU snow and thick smoke,
YOU mountains and all YOU hills,
YOU fruit trees and all YOU cedars,
YOU wild animals and all YOU domestic animals,
YOU creeping things and winged birds."
-Psalms 148:7-10

I, too, will keep praising our Creator and telling about his marvelous works, his greatness and his love all the days of my life.