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Ange and Jeff's Gap Year.

Our Gap Year has finally arrived. Having been dealt more than our fair share of unfortunate events in 2012, we were wondering whether this day would actually become a reality.
Stage One- Asia, Russia, we come!!
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Diary Entries

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Location: Oslo, Norway

-10 Today with some wind chill factor thrown in, feels quite a bit colder.
We left the Comfort express hotel, automated check out also, and made our way to our new hotel for the next couple of nights, the Thon Opera hotel, which is situated right next door to the Central station, and a stones throw away from the new Opera house which is located on the waterfront, where an old container terminal used to be. The city has a long range plan, 20 years, to redevelop the whole waterfront.
The new hotel was a couple of notches up from our previous nights hotel, and came as part of a 6 day package tour, Norway in a Nutshell, that we had customized a little to suit our plans.
The package covered our accommodation for the next 6 nights, as well as travel, which will unfold over the next 6 days.
Today was at our discretion so we had a look around at a bit of downtown Oslo, some lunch and then caught the Tunnelbane out to Majorstuen to find Frogner park.
We found the Frogner park without any difficulty, the park also houses 212 bronze and granite sculptures by the renowned Norwegian, Vigeland.
The sculpture are all of naked men, women and children/ babies, stacks of babies. All very impressive, and interesting but, a little unsettling at the same time.
As I said the day was very cold so we didn't spend a huge amount of time in the open.
In Majorstuen I bought a new beanie, Ange was sick of the sight of my black Cradle mountain one, I got a grey one this time, very " out there", no?
After some coffee and cake we headed back into central Oslo and went to check out the Opera house, very new, modern glass building essentially, with a textured timber finish inside, very cool. Normally you can walk up onto the roof, the roof connects to the ground, but today it was too icy and slippery. Back to the hotel.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Location: Stockholm- Oslo, Sweden

After several days of lovely blue sky & slightly warmer temperatures, this morning was -6 with heavy snowfall. We packed up, checked out and filled in a couple of hours in the comfy hotel lounge before making our way to Central Station to catch the 1530 train to Oslo Norway.
It took 4 hours to reach the border and then another 2 until we arrived at 2120 in Oslo.
Made our way to The Comfort Express Hotel, which was a very modern hotel with automated check in procedures. Everything was done on a touch screen and we didn't speak to a single employee! The room however was extremely small.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm 13th through to 18th March.

Significant dates- St. Paddy's day 17th & Mickey's 20th Birthday-18th March !

Happy birthday Mickey- love you son xxx M&D.

Our days in Stockholm were nice and cruisey. The cafe scene here is fantastic, with the best selection of cakes I have ever seen (even gluten free).The hotel breakfast was so good, we would fill up each morning, have a coffee & cake early afternoon and then have dinner.

We caught the Tunnelbana (Metro) and walked all around the city. Gamla Stan, the Old Town is gorgeous with it's very narrow cobblestoned streets. Checked out the Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum. We spent hours in the museum, really interesting and very well set out. We explored the island of Djurgarden on foot, that was a huge day!
Visited the Stockholm Harley shop and went to the local cinema one day to watch 'Lincoln'.

Hotel Helleston provided free Jazz in the bar on Thursday nights, unfortunately the band we saw was quite atrocious!! I had read in the Lonely Planet about a bar nearby called 'Glenn Millers'. It was the tiniest of bars with tables for diners and the band squeezed into a very tight corner. The bar is also famous for it's mussels and they were delicious. The band played some interesting jazz numbers and it was an enjoyable evening.
I was determined to find some Irish music on St Patricks Day and after a fair bit of searching we gained access to a very crowded pub 'The Dubliner'. A Swedish
band playing pretty good Irish music kept the crowd happy. Wouldn't matter
where you were in the world, 'Lord of the Dance' gets everyone singing &
Being big fans of Stieg Larssons 'Millenium' trilogy, we took the opportunity to explore a part of Stockholm called Sodermalm, where many parts of the books are based.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Location: Helsinki-Stockholm-London, Finland

We arrived in Helsinki at 8 am after the 6 am stop at Tampere to change trains. Sleep was very interrupted but was still much more comfortable than trying to do it sitting up all night. The Finnish train system and their rolling stock has to be one of the best we have travelled on, anywhere.
We again stored our luggage in the lockers at the railway station, it wasn't far at all from the bus stop from where we were going to catch the bus to the airport.
We had some breakfast in a coffee shop and dagged around for awhile checking out shops etc.
We headed to the airport and were able to use our 'Priority Pass' membership card that we had joined, for instances like this, for the second time. It allows you to use certain airport lounges at a huge number of airports around the world, didn't cost a lot either.
We got into the Aspire lounge, very funky, everything you needed, food, even gluten free, drinks, power points, wifi etc.
We farewelled Mark the Bat at 1:30 for his flight back to London town, it was great catching up with him over here, we did some cool things together and had some fun.
Ange and I boarded our Norwegian air flight to Stockholm at 3:30. At Stockholm we breezed through the airport without showing our passports, sorted out a taxi and headed into the Hellsten Hotel, a small boutique hotel in downtown
Stockholm. They put us into room 1302 a Superior Double, it was pretty good, a little cramped but with lots of character. We had settled in and after a dinner of Reindeer stew for Ange, and Salmon with root vegetables for me, Ange had a bath and the plumbing packed it in, the bathroom flooded. The receptionist had a go at unblocking the drain with no luck, so they moved us into a mini suite, bigger room, bigger bed, and a window with a view, thank you very much! Silver linings and all that.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Location: Posio-Rovaneimi-Lapland, Finland

Today we left Himmerki/Posio and caught the bus back to Rovaneimi, this bus was a little bigger, thankfully, seats for all!
In Rovaneimi we stored our bags at the train station and headed into town centre as we had about 6 hours to kill before the train left at 9pm.
We spent our time in a cafe, coffee and cake, a pub called 'Ernest Hemingways Bar' which was very cosy, for drinks, then on to Comico restaurant for a great dinner.
We had sleeper berths on the train, the cabins were for two people, very clean and modern. Ange and I shared one while Mark ended up with one to himself a couple of carriages away.
The train departed at 9:19 pm, we had to get off in Tampere to change to a normal commuter train at around 6am for the last short leg into Helsinki.
They probably do this to wake everybody up before the train hits the last stop.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Location: Posio-Lapland, Finland

Got up and had breakfast then waited, impatiently, for Laurri from Kota-Huskys to collect us from Himmerki for our days dogsledding adventure. He duly arrived a bit before 10 o'clock and we headed out to his farm after making a couple of stops in Posio.
Laurri is a big young bloke, lucky to be thirty years old, has a big red beard and wears his long hair in a ponytail, not sure if the Vikings had a big influence in Lapland but he could definitely be descended from Viking stock! A nice bloke who speaks good English, although the 'rolled' 'R's that are a feature of the Finnish language come through very strong at times.
On arrival at the Husky farm we met his partner/wife Marika, she didn't speak a lot of English, but could understand a lot of what was said in English.
We were invited into the house, there were house dogs and a husky or two in there, she obviously loves her dogs and Laurri told us that she was already breeding huskies before he met her, he also said she was Top Dog and you could see that was accurate with the way the huskies reacted to and around her.
After kitting out in all the heavy weather gear again we were taken out to have a look at the set up for the dogs. They live in a big barn with individual pens between the barn and a fenced yard outside, looked very comfortable for the dogs.
Laurri then told us that they were having some health issues with the dogs, they
had a dog come back into the farm that a friend had borrowed for a competition
and it had bought Kennel cough into the pack, not good but, he said that they
were resting up a lot of the dogs, they have about 60 dogs in total, and had
cancelled a tour booking for a bigger group for a few days time but had enough
fit dogs for our tour, as it was only Ange, Mark and myself that were doing the
trip today, we were all happy about that!
Laurri had put together 3 teams, 2 teams of 8 dogs, for him and Ange and I, and
a team of 4 on a smaller sled for Mark.
We set off straight from the farm and headed through some flat country towards
the Riisitunturi national park where we were going to travel through some hilly
heavily forested country. It was a bit stop start to begin with as Laurri tried to
get the teams right, some dogs are leaders and some are pullers only, the kennel
cough had reduced his options.
After a couple of changes it all settled down and we settled into the trip.
Ange started off in the sled at the start but had to get out a few times to help
me and the dogs get up some pretty steep inclines covered in heavy snow.
Once we were in the national park and getting higher in altitude the scenery
became more dramatic with pine/fir trees blanketed in thick snow, it was
stunning! It was magical just riding behind the dogs taking in the scenery with
intermittent snowfalls but not much wind, thankfully.
After awhile Ange and I swapped and she drove the team with me in the sled
until we stopped for lunch at a log shelter, a good little stop over with a long drop toilet too!
We had some of the ubiquitous hot berry juice, very good, whilst Laurri heated
up the Elk stew Marika had made for lunch, over the fire he had made. After
the Elk stew we had Goldberry custard with chunks of Lapland squeaky cheese,
sounds odd but was excellent. We finished off with a cup of brewed coffee,
After lunch the dogs were keen to get going and let us know by barking and jumping up and down in the harness, their strength is amazing, you have to keep your full weight on the brake to prevent the sled from taking off before you are ready!
The return journey took us through similarly beautiful, amazing countryside with some fairly radical downhill sections that got the blood pumping, just after one of these downhills there was a section of tight turns which got the better of Mark and he fell off the sled leaving Ange, we had swapped sleds for awhile, in the sled which had tipped on it's side, ploughing up the snow until the sled came to a sudden halt when it dug into the bank of the track!
Mark was up quickly and got to the sled, after checking on his mother, he was a little concerned but she was fine, they righted the sled, we all had a laugh and headed off again.
We got back to the farm about 5 pm, spent some time watching the dogs rejoining the pack and Marika talking to each one of them in turn, she was definitely the Top Dog!
Laurri dropped us off at Himmerki on his way to "Bandy" practice, ice hockey played with a ball instead of a puck- nice bloke I would like to catch up with him again someday.

Saturday, 09 March 2013

Location: Posio-Lapland, Finland

Had a good nights sleep, Ange and I went down for brekky, the standard fare for over here, Cereal, porridge, yoghurt, breads, salamis, boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumber, pickles, mustard herring, pickled herring, cheese, jam, coffee, tea, juice.
Really just hung out today, catching up on our correspondence, ipadding etc.
Ange and I went for a walk at about 4 out onto the lake, the snow was quite deep but we found a good spot, away from the trees, to look for the lights if we felt up to it later.
We had dinner at around 7, and were not disappointed!
Smoked Reindeer soup was first, followed by Salmon cutlets with carrots and potatoes, they have the best potatoes over here, and this was all finished off with wild berry mousse, all delicious! Mark and I had a beer to wash it down while Ange had a vino.
Later we were all about to hit the sack when I braved the cold and poked my head outside and saw what looked like the Northern lights flickering through the trees, I quickly roused Ange (who put on 6 layers of clothing in record time-it was close to minus 20) and Mark and we hurried down to the spot on the frozen lake that we had found earlier.
When we got to our spot the lights were barely visible except there was a pale green glow across a vast area of the northern night sky, our patience paid off and over the next half hour we witnessed dancing, flickering veils of almost white to pale green lights in the Northern sky, it was awesome! (We are hoping for more, and hopefully even more impressive in Northern Norway when we get there) We went to bed happy!

Friday, 08 March 2013

Location: Rovaneimi/Posio Lapland, Finland

Woke up feeling a bit weary still after our long day yesterday, had brekky and packed up, checked out of the Borealis guesthouse.
We walked to the Bus station about a k away to wait for the 11:30 bus to Posio. The bus turned up and was only a wee one, seating about 20 people, on seats that is! By the time we had traveled 50 k's we had almost 30 on board, people sitting in the aisle on the floor, people standing behind the driver, skis squeezed in, and one dog on board also! I guess you would have to be a bit hardnosed to drive past someone at the bus stop when it is minus 20!
We arrived in Posio at 1:30, bang on time, grabbed a taxi, and headed out to the Himmerki Holiday village where we had booked a cabin for the next few nights. The Himmerki is about 6 k out of Posio, and is a picture perfect winter wonderland, log cabins and villas covered in snow, with the adjacent frozen lake with treed islands out in the middle, very picturesque!
A young lady named Kiirsi booked us in and showed us to our cottage, the Sauna cottage, number 18. The cottage is a single bedroom with two big couches that convert to beds, Mark slept on one of these.
We chilled for the rest of the day, Ange did some washing and drying.
For dinner we headed to the resorts restaurant where we were the only people, we had to order off the all day menu which consisted of 4 options. Mark had the kebab (Reindeer!), which over here doesn't come wrapped in a Pita but on a plate, with fries, he liked it. Ange and I had the 'Whitefish' with mushroom sauce and veg, very nice.
We were told that tomorrow night a group of Italians would be staying and so there would be a buffet, look forwrad to that.
Spent the evening watching a movie and reading.

Thursday, 07 March 2013

Location: Rovaneimi-Lapland, Finland

We had eaten breakfast and were ready when our transport to the Husky Point farm picked us all up at just after 8:40 am. We had booked a 2 hour Dog sledding adventure to get a bit more experience in before our upcoming full day experience with Kota-Husky in Posio, and also because Ange and I had really enjoyed the experience in Russia, and we wanted Mark to get a taste alsö.
we travelled about half an hour out of Rovaneimi to the Husky farm where we met Johann, the owners son, he was running the show whilst his 50 year old father was away in Norway competing in a 1000k husky race! The young bloke was only 18 years old but full of confidence and was friendly and easy to talk to.
They got us all rigged up in similar clothing as yesterday, overalls, socks, boots.
There was 5 sleds, Ange and I in one, Mark had a woman and her daughter in his sled, as she did not want to drive, and 3 other sleds. Johann and/or his helper lead off in a snowmobile, while the other followed up or hung out wide on another snowmobile.
At the halfway point we stopped and had hot berry juice, very popular in these areas, very high in vitamin C apparently, taste good too. After warming up by a fire and downing a couple of hot juices we headed back following a different track back, with Ange
driving the sled. At one point we got a little bogged in some soft snow but managed to sort ourselves out very quickly, not like another crew who tipped the lot out, easily fixed though.
Back at the farm it was another hot juice or coffee and a cake, they are big on cake over here also, and then the trip back into Rovaneimi. The day was great, not quite as exhilirating as the Russian experience, those blokes are "loose", but a chance to get more skilled before Posio!
Back in Rovaneimi we dropped Mark at the guesthouse while we went back into town to book bus tickets to Posio for tomorrow, and train tickets for a few days time back to Helsinki. We also booked tickets to an Aurora Borealis lights trip which takes you out of town about an hour away to a rural area where the night sky is not affected by any ambient lighting, streetlights etc.
We did a little shopping and Ange cooked Burritos/Fajitas for dinner at the guesthouse.
At a quarter to 9 the crew from the lights tour collected us and took us to there shop in Town where we once again togged up in all the extreme weather clobber. After this it was about an hours drive out to the site where we walked up a steep hill covered in snow, a bit of an effort. At the top of the hill there was a small single room chalet/cabin in which the guide had a fire going where you could have a coffee and/or snag if the cold got to you, or you just needed a break.
The night had started off nice and clear but soon the cloud started rolling in and it became a lost cause, soon all were inside drinking coffee and chatting.
We gave up about 12:30 and were back home at the guesthouse at about 2 am.

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Recent Messages

From Uncle Edward
Received this message at 02:20 UTC 12/4/13. A Coronal Mass Ejection is expected to impact the Earth in 24 - 48 hours, possibly resulting in significant space weather activity and visible auroras during local nighttime hours at high latitude locations (e.g. Southern Tasmania). Aurora alerts will follow should favourable space weather activity eventuate.

Australian Space Forecast Centre
IPS Radio and Space Services
Bureau of Meteorology
Response: That sounds promising Ted, unfortunately we will not be able to see the results as we are now back home. I will finish off the blog from home soon. We did get lucky on the night of the 30th March on our final night aboard the Hurtigruten cruise near Batsfjord, Norway, magnificent!
From graham
Hi Jeff & Ang. Hope all is well with your holiday. Was good seeing you guys in Phnom Penh. It has really gotten hot since you guys left. Take care. Grum & Family
Response: Hi Grum, we have arrived back into Darwin on the 6th April, the trip was awesome. I will have to complete the blog from home. Hope all your family are well, say hi to your 3 girls for us both. Cheers, jeff and Ange.
From Uncle Edward
Check this out
Red down here green up there, positive and negative !!
From Uncle Edward
Aurora Borealis website
Response: Thanks Ted, that is an easier site to use than others we have seen. We have our fingers crossed for clear skies on the 29th and 30th when we will be on board the ship approaching Tromso and then Kirkenes in
Northern Norway.
From christine
Happy Birthday Jeffrey. Hope you had a great day. Sorry we are late.
Response: Thanks Christine, no need to be sorry, I would be happy if the birthdays came late, nowadays!!

From Debbie
I thought i had sent this earlier (Im sure I did!) Anyway....Happy birthday Jeff. Hope you have a great day. We will catch up and have a few cold ones in Darwin - to celebrate both your birthdays xxxooo
Response: Roger that!
Happy birthday Jeff aka Vlad. Hope you have a great day today. Be careful if you indulge in a couple tonight - or watch your step anyway. Will hopefully catch up with you in Darwin and we can have a few coldies to celebrate your birthdays. Love Debbie, Ray, Reece, Emily and Ashlee xxxxxxx
Response: Thank all for your birthday wishes. Please pass on our best wishes to the Rhino for his 21st birthday tomorrow, Happy birthday Reecey boy, xoxoxo Jeff, Ange and Mark in Lapland.
From Kim
Happy Birthday Jeff For Tuesday,
We are off on our Cruise!!!
Leave Darwin Monday Lunch Time spend a night in Bris then fly to get the ship Vanuatu,back on the 16th
Hi Blister, thanks for the birthday wishes, I nned them now! Hope you and Matt have a fantastic time on your cruise!
J xoxoxo
From Kim
Hi Happy Travellers, LOL Gee Jeff Opps Vlad watch your step.
xxx Take Care
Response: Da, da! Xoxoxo

(yes, yes!)
From Steve
Thats it!!!
Its bad enough having to read of your travel adventures then make the trek down the M4 to work, but to then get messages about dog sledding in Siberia...
Sounds like a fantastic experience.
Keep well
Response: Traveling on the train, your name often comes up. We think you should put in for some 'study leave' and check out the shenanigans that goes on!! also saw ice divers in Siberia yesterday...unbelieveable!!
From Heidi
Hello Ange. Got your postcard the other day. Thank you for that. Love your posts, pictures and all but I want to see a picture of the straight haired brunette!?!?! Your trip sounds amazing! Heidi
Response: Hi, used to the new do now!! will try and put photos on here soon. Lovely photo of you at Bronnys party, courtesy of Maryann. Xx
From Maryann
Hi Ange and Jeff
I can't even imagine _35 degrees, how can you breath?
How were the new year celebrations? You must have been right in the midst of them? Food sounds interesting! All good here - have the 50th on Saturday. Take care
Response: A couple of times it's been a bit scary with the fingers/toes...soohh cold! Just got your email with photos of Bronnys party, first time I've felt a tad homesick, but I'll get over it pretty quick!!! xx
From Ferris
This is great reading, keep it up !!!
Enjoy the train, I am looking forward to what you think, how's the health going Jeff ? Enjoy the cold and snow ! Will check in again soon mugh love to you both, off to Harry cricket now(19 not out) chance for a big score for the boy.
Response: Glad you are enjoying the blog Lloydie, we will hopefully post soon on the train so far. Cold? Minus 34 C overnight, mind boggling! We are both well, good luck to Hazzalad!
From Heidi
Dear Ange!
I hope you had a wonderful birthday. I am sure it is one you will remember for a very long time. Sounds like you are having a great holiday. All the best Steve and Heidi
Response: Thank you, having a great time.
Preparing for Trans sib tomorrow, can't wait! Hi to Steve & kids xx
From KIm
Happy Birthday Ange and welcome to the Nifty Fifty's
Hope you spend the day by a pool with lots of cocktails.
Response: Cheers Kim, no pool or cocktails.. Duty free Moët so cold here though I was considering heating it up! Haha xx
Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday lalalal - that singing Jeff! HAPPY 50TH birthday Ange, hope you have a great day. Hopefully we can catch up in Darwin in April and celebrate this milestone xxx
Response: Thank you, all well in freezing Beijing. Xx
From Maryann
Happy 50th Ange, wishing you a fab birthday - we'll open a bottle of Margaret River sav blanc and drink to your health. Miss you and look forward to the celebration in May when you're in Sydney. xxx
Response: Thanks should certainly be an interesting birthday in Beijing! Bought a bottle of Moet Duty Free.xx
From Graham Burbidge
Hi Jeff & Ange,
Sounds like you guys are having a good look around Vietnam. Hope you got yourself organised for the Thet Holiday. Good luck.

Response: All good Grum, we fly out to Beijing tomorrow, if the airport hasn't been snowed out! Very cold and snowing there at the moment! I think we may just miss the 'worst of it' fog TET. We saw the Kings funeral procession on the news last night, how are things in PP? Hello to your 3 girls, how is the diving progressing? Cheers.
From Debbie
Hi Jeff and Ange. Stop it Kim. I'm sure that little bloke has pushed 70kg before lol. Just getting my singing voice in preparation!! Keep enjoying yourselves and keep safe xxx
Response: Hey Deb, you should have seen the calf muscles on that dude!!
What for sing-ging?
Ciao xoxoxo
Hey to Ray and offspring!
From KIm
OMG LOL Jeff, Just saw the picture of you on the bike.
That poor little bloke!
Response: Don't worry he got well paid, the little swindler!!!
From Kim
Hi Happy Travellers,
Glad to see your having a great time.
All well here is beautiful Darwin,
Response: Cheers from Hanoi.xx
From Maryann
Not long til your milestone birthday. Where will you be? All the Feb birthdays are about to start, better get a supply of cards and stamps. Grace is 1 same day as Louise's birthday so a double celebration on Sat. Luke back on Friday with sooo many clothes, dvd's and of course a tailor-made suit. Sounds like flying is the preferred option to the local bus/train.
Fly to Beijing on Wednesday. Big 5-oh on Thursday. Glad to hear Luke home safe and sound.xx
From kelly
Hi guys. looks like your having a fun and interesting time..xx
Response: Yeah, so far it's been great. I see you are enjoying having Zac around!! Xx
From Audrey
Your photos are fabulous, so glad your both having a great time. Its mad here as you can imagine, wish I was Veitnam too. love ya
Response: Hello Audrey! Poor thing, you must be back at work today, hope you enjoyed your break with the kids. xx
From Bronwyn Galea
Oh what a wonderful adventure! Makes life here so boring, although when i read your blog i actually feel like im with u! Take care and keep safe xxxxx
Response: Hi, great to hear from you. Yes it certainly has been an adventure & we're only 3 weeks in!!Today definitely tested the patience! Enjoy your time with Fran & Cathy.xx