Dec 21, 2016

Hiking the Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) at Stavanger, Norway

The famous Pulpit Rock, inspiration for the Frozen movie

One of my dreams of going to Norway to hike some of the famous landmarks but I realised most of them are quite difficult to reach either with public transport or it's still snowing when I was there in May, one of them being the famous Troll's Tongue. So imagine my surprised when I googled for Pultpit Rock and it's a doable day trip from Stavanger, and Stavanger was not part of my initial itinerary. I decided to cut short my days in Bergen and did a trip to Stavanger, just to hike the famous Pulpit Rock. I read that Frozen's backdrop is inspired by Pulpit Rock and when I was at the top, I know why!

So it began my research on how to get there the most cost efficient way. I read that most people will take about 3-4 hours ascending and descending from the Rock and I budgeted that I would take around 5 hours. 

There is no direct train services from Bergen to Stavanger, so the most reliable option is to get onto a bus, which takes around 4-5 hours. It costs about NOK 400. It's advisable to book the tickets online from the website before reaching there as the bus was quite full when I boarded. 

I booked myself a nice studio apartment at City Housing- Kirkebakken 8 for my two night stay in Stavanger which cost around NOK 1200. I was ready to conquer the Rock! 
Ferry schedule from Stavanger to Tau
The package combination by Tide bus
 To get to Stavanger, you need to first take a ferry from the harbour in Stavanger to Tau,  then transferred to a bus which will take you to the starting point of the hike. There's a package combining both the ferry and the bus but I decided to take it separately as the cost was cheaper that way. The package cost NOK 300 for return but if not mistaken, buying the ferry tickets only cost NOK 110 for return and bus NOK150 return. Be mindful that there are two bus companies to Pulpit Rock and I took the green one (Boreal) instead of the Tide bus (which is package together with the ferry).
The start of the hike

The dramatic drop of the Rock

Enjoying the view

The fjord, alternatively you can take a cruise to view the Rock from the fjord 

Me and the Rock

I started the hike around 9am. The hike is fairly easy at the beginning but turn rocky from the middle towards the end. It took me about 2 hours to reach the Rock and I was rewarded with the most beautiful scenery ever. Feels like singing 'Let me go' on top of the Rock, hehe. To get the view of the Rock against the fjord, I climbed up to another level and just sat there to enjoy the view and had my salmon sandwich, lol.

After that, it was descending time and me being the very clumsy type, managed to slip and fall a few times and got a few scratches from the trip. Painful but very rewarding hike.

Dec 14, 2016

Norway in a Nutshell On Your Own

Little coloured houses at Myrdal station

Wow, time flies! And it's already end of the year. Personally many things had happened this year and I had gone through major changes within a year. Not going to dwell much on my personal front in a public space but let's just say I grew up a lot from the experience and learn to love myself more and hence more shopping and travelling guilt.

Been meant to share about my experience of doing the Norway in the Nutshell on my own but after my laptop crashed, the idea had been shelved for months. Well, better late than never. Basically, Norway in a Nutshell is a combination of bus, train and ferry from Oslo to Bergen or vice versa which is something like this:

Oslo → Myrdal → Flam→Gundvagen→Voss→Bergen

You can actually booked Norway in a Nutshell via a tour but basically the tour requires you to take the train, bus and ferry as well.  So I guess I tried to save some money and did the whole thing on my own using the Norwegian train timetable and this website as a guide. The tour can be done in a day but I decided to break the journey into two days and spend a night in Flam.
Check out all the snow

Never been so excited to see snow in May

The red lady which I thought is a ghost

My plan was to start from Oslo and took the train to Flam but along the way, we need to change train at Myrdal to a smaller train, Flamsbana. What I did not expect was in May, I can still see snow along the way. In fact, it was still snow in Myrdal which makes the weather pretty cold and pretty, haha. The Flamsbana will stop along some pretty stops for tourists to take photos. Do spot the lady in red singing at the waterfall. For a second I thought I heard and saw a ghost!! The whole journey through the Flamsbana is very interesting and very very scenic. And once it gets into Flam, the town is very pretty although it was raining by the time I reached there and there went all my plans to do some hiking around the town. I ended up just walking around the town to get some food and went to bed early. I stayed in Flam hostel which was not too far away from the train station and the ferry port. Basically the port and the train station is just next to each other. I had booked for the earliest ferry to Gundvagen at 8am. Glad that I took such an early ferry as I managed to snap some really good photos although the sky seemed quite cloudy along the whole cruise. There were only me and this other Korean family in the ferry.
As the Flamsbana going into Flam town

View on the cruise 

Love the reflection. Early morning before the ferry ride to Gundvagen

It's gloomy yet it's so mysterious

When I reached Gundvagen, I got a bit confused as I was not aware of the bus schedule to Voss and waited almost an hour for the bus. Take bus number 950 from the bus stop just right in front of the souvenir shop.  The bus timetable is slightly different during summer and winter. I read that there's actually an express bus to Bergen from Gundvagen but one of the perks of getting the bus to Voss and then train to Bergen was the view. As the bus to Voss will take you up to the Stalheim hotel which will goes through Stalheimskleiva hairpin road which cost around NOK 110. That was one of the highlight of the trip! Once in Voss, it's just a direct affair to Bergen using the train.

Total rough estimate for my diy Norway in a Nutshell trip (as prices may change depending when you reserved for the train from Oslo to Flam)

Train from Oslo to Flam     NOK 800
Ferry to Gundvagen            NOK  260
Bus to Voss                         NOK 110
Train to Bergen                   NOK 94
Accommodation in Flam    NOK 300
Total                                    NOK  1564
which is still cheaper than the tour quoted at NOK 1770

Jul 5, 2016

Conquering Mount Rinjani

People who know me well, knows that I hate camping, hate the feeling of stickiness and not be able to shower even for a day. But somehow, I end up signing up for a 3 days 2 nights including CAMPING to Rinjani!

It all started when I got  message from a friend asking me whether I am interested for a hike to Rinjani. I was like Rinjani what?!! Then I ask her day trip ah? She said no and there is camping involved. I told her no way I am going as I hate camping. But I asked another two friends and they said yes and somehow due to my yolo spirit and kiasuness of not wanting to ffk these two friends whom I persuaded to join the trip, I end up buying the flight ticket and paying for the 'camping' trip. I did not do much research nor train much other than hiking up Gunung Nuang two weeks prior and a two hour hike up to Pulpit Rock when I was in Norway. 

The day came when we boarded the flight to Lombok and then another two hours on the road to the foot of the mountain. Our group consist of total of 16 people with 8 were from the same group/clique. I prepared myself for the worst as we ate dinner and take a long shower before hitting the bed. We had three guides, Sarwan, Anan and Erun with another 16 porters bringing our big rucksacks, food, gas, tent, chairs and etc...yes...they brought even chairs up to the mountain, something we very much appreciated later on. We were briefed on the route and the hours for each route the night before. Physically I was prepared, mentally I was not sure..more like mentally not going to shower for 3 days. The plan is to use Sembalun trail for ascent and then Senaru for descent and spend 1 night each at the crater rim and hot spring. 
Carb loading before the hike

Our hotel at the foot of the hill

First stop. Let's take a photo
Our group of 16
(photo credit to tour leader)
The real deal is on the right hand side of the photo
(photo credit to tour leader)

We started the day around 9 am after having a heavy breakfast. The day was hot and humid and not long after 10 mins, I have started to sweat and asking myself why would I signed up for this. After about 1 hour, we took a small break eating bananas and filling up our tummies. This was before we reached Post 1 and it's already crazily hot and felt like in a savannah. After about two hours we reached the spot for our lunch, which is Post 2. We saw some half naked Dannish man running up along the trail and stopped at the same spot as us. My tour leader in his finest sense of humour decided he needed to take the moment of half naked men in full glory and captured us in his photos. Well, as least there were something for us girls to look back in the future:) After seemed like a more than hour of lunch and three bowl of rice for myself (I have never taken more than half a bowl of rice at home), we continue the journey, this time through the hot savannah field with not a single tree for shade.
Lunch for the day
(photo credit to tour leader)
cooking in the progress. the porter even brought a gas stove along!

check out all the stuff the porter has the carry
Oh and not forgetting that every few minutes, I felt like I was being 'chased' by one of the lady in our group. Apparently, after I told this to my other friends, they said the same thing of her trying to catch up with me and another girl.'s not a race my dear! I conserved my energy and used most of the yoga breathing and small steps to hike up the Bukit Penyesalan, where there are seven small hills to be hiked. After seemed like eternity, we reached the camping site but to my horrow, it's surrounded by mist and I can barely see anything, let alone the lake or the peak of Rinjani. Apparently, our tent were set up at the most strategic spot overlooking the lake, but all I can see is layers and layers of mist. We settled down for the night and imagine my big surprise and happiness when we were provided with mattress and pillows. Ok, don't expect like the soft mattress and pillows in hotel but they were good enough for me, someone who hates camping! We washed up or more like using sheets and sheets of wet tissue for 'shower' and then I went out to 'survey' on the makeshift toilet prepared for us. Surprisingly again, it was far exceeded my expectation or maybe my expectation has been lowered down after witnessing how bad the toilet situation back in Everest Base camp. Soon after, we had our dinner and once again, it's a fight to get the chicken, lol.

The next morning, we were woken up around 1.30 am to ascent the peak in time to catch the sunrise. Before the trip, I repeatedly told my friends that I am not gonna try ascending the peak and I just wanna chill at the camp while waiting for sunrise. But somehow, kiasuness kicks in again and off I went in the dark, dusty, full of rocks and sand trail. We started the journey quite late and I knew that I won't make it for the sunrise and hence took my own sweet time to hike up. The first 70% of the trail was ok, fairly doable but the last 30% where the loose sand, rocks, volcanic dust and not forgetting the chill wind which I swear was blowing at almost 80km/h. Every three steps up were followed by two steps down and it was so demotivating that after half an hour, I barely move 50m! I spotted our guide, Sar and Anan along the way and many thanks to them that I managed to reach the peak at 8am. I even asked Anan to shield the 80km/h wind for me, lol.
the toughest part of the journey
(photo credit to tour leader)

Only manage to catch the sunrise mid way

The lake is totally covered in clouds
tour leader making his signature coffee tarik

Made it to the top

What I did't expect was it was really cold up at the peak and I was practically shivering through my jacket and uniqlo extra warm heattech. And while waiting for my tour leader who tried so desperately to light up the fire to boil his coffee tarik, a signature drink that he must do everytime he went up any peak of mountain or hill. After the arrival of the last member of the group, we did some group shots and savoured our hot coffee tarik. Then it's time to head down and here comes the tough part. You see, I have no qualms of climbing up any mountain but I have trouble going down. With the loose rocks and sand, I fell down more than 10 times and I think after that, one of the guide took pity of me and kind of fed up that I was so slow that he proceed to help me 'figure skate' down the mountain! At one point, I fell and almost dragged him down with me, almost making him the first guide in history to 'tergolek' down, lol. With the skating down part, I had to stop every 30 minutes to get the sand and rocks out of my shoe before continuing the skating and after 3 hours I finally managed to reach the campsite in one piece but covered in volcanic dust from head to toe. As it was almost 1pm, we had to make a decision whether to proceed to the hot spring or stay another night at the campsite. As I was too 'pancit' to walk anymore, I voted for another night and the same with the others. Meanwhile 8 others will descent back to the foot of the mountain to catch the transport to the Gili Island. I think our decision to stay on made the guides and porters extremely happy as the dinner for the night, we get to eat two whole chicken between the 8 of us instead fighting over a small piece of chicken like the other night!
Dinner in progress
(photo credit to tour leader)

BBQ chicken, two whole chicken instead of bite size chicken
(photo credit to tour leader)

After conquering Rinjani
(photo credit to tour leader)

Camping in style

Segera Anak lake

We were so happy to finally see the lake 
The decision to stay another night at the campsite proved to be the best decision made as we managed to catch up on sleep, rest and finally able to see the lake in front of our tent during sunset. We also enjoyed gazing at the stars at night with the warmth from the campfire while trying to guess the title of the movies mentioned by our guides, haha. During the night, it rained but surprisingly it was quite warm in the camp. I was surprised that I was really enjoying my stay in the camp and quite chill about not showering for the 2 full days.

We enjoyed our hike down which turn took us about 8 hours plus lunch in between as we played, sang, jump and skipped along. I think our guide must be thinking these people were crazy and they might as well joined in the fun, lol
Plenty of Edelweiss

And my guide keep asking me to take a photo of him with the cow

Another jump in front of Rinjani

Crazy things that we do while descending
(photo credit to tour leader)

See what I mean, even our guide Sar and Anan joined in the fun

Didn't know that a can of coke can make us this happy
Rolling hills of Rinjani

And finally we made it back in one piece with 3 days of dirt and unforgetable memories
 Going on this trip made me cherished little things in life such as comfortable bed, meat, shower, being in good company and having good health. It is also my first ever camping trip that I really enjoyed and this time around, my leg was fully recovered from the ache by the second day, unlike the previous time in KK when it took me a week to fully recover. I guess being prepared and doing some yoga really helps a lot. To all the porters and the guide we had, trully appreaciate what they did, taking care of us for the past few days and not forgetting tour leader for organising this and lastly, my dear friend who first contacted and asked me,"Eh, wanna go hike Rinjani or not"? and to think that I almost ffk her :)

Jun 3, 2016

Wingardium Leviosa to Warner Bros Studio (The Making of Harry Potter), London

Blows off dust from my it's been ages since I have updated, the last entry was in early Jan 2016 and now it's half a year gone from 2016. Truth is I do not have that blogging mood anymore and plus I don't really like to post about personal stuff here anymore or anywhere else, so yea, only travelling and photography related will be able to make an appearance here.

I have been travelling to Europe or specifically Norway, Finland, Estonia and UK the last 3 weeks or so. It's a break I have been longing for a very long time and take some time off to not think about stuff. For me the highlight of the trip gotta be the visit to Warner Bros studio tour, the making of Harry Potter. I was a Harry Potter fan, having read all the books and watch all the movies, so this tour of the studio for the making of the movie really sets the expectation. I have been to the studio making of LOTR, so I half expected something like that and full of tourists.

We actually booked the tickets in advance but only managed to get the 1.30pm slot, probably due to bank holiday. We stopped at Watford Junction station via train and since we were 2 hours early, we decided to stop by for some early lunch/late breakfast at one of the pub. Bad decision as our food only came after almost 45 mins wait and we gobbled down the food in 5 minutes in order to catch the 12.20pm bus. The bus ride is about 15 mins and cost about 2.5 pound both ways. It was the fastest breakfast/brunch I ever had!

The bus itself was decorated with the Harry Potter related stuff on the outside and once we reached the entrance of the studio, we were blown away. It felt like we were brought into the movie itself. Giant posters of the actors and actresses decorate the main hallway upon entrance and the queue was long. We had to line up for half and hour before getting in. Once we were in the waiting room, the staff brief us on the movie production and we were shown some footage of the production. It really brought back good memories of why I love the books and the movies in the first place.
The shuttle bus from Watford station to the studio

Entrance to the studio, we were so excited!
Right before the entrance. Seeing the photos of the actors brought back a lot of memories

Once we enter the main hall, we were so excited with the props and keep reenacting the scene in the main hall with all the floating candles and the famous sorting hat in the middle of the hallway. The studio for the making of Harry Potter comprise of studio J and K with a backlot in the middle of the two studio. Studio J is more like props and location used for the filming while studio K is more the makeup, drawing board and conceptual art.
Sorting Hat at the Main Hall

Gryffindor common room
Scene from the headmaster room when Dolores Umbridge is the headmaster
After the main hall, we headed to the main studio J and this is where all the location such as the Weasley's home at the Burrows, Potion room, Gryffindor common room and the boy's dorm, the goblet of fire, the snake door from the Chamber of Secrets and not forgetting Dumbledore's headmaster room. The highlight will be the trying out the flying broom via green screen. It was fun looking as yourself at the tv and trying all funny sorts of expressions and motions. Although we did not purchase the video and photo, the experience itself was really fun. The next best part was trying to get the letters from Hogwarts which was spit out from a door every 10 minutes. And then off to the Platform 9 3/4 and the real Hogwarts train.

Hogwarts choo choo train
Going through Platform 9 3/4
We took a break at a cafe at the backlot and had some butterbeer drink, ice cream and cupcakes. Privet drive was opened for visit only for that week and we had a chance to peek inside of the living hall when letters from Hogwarts was flying in from the chimney. The letter are practically floating in the air!
Remember this scene from the first movie?

Butterbeer drink, ice cream and cupcakes (though it looks more muffin to me)

Another impressive stuff in studio K will be the Hogwarts model which is not miniature at all. It's so surreal to see the details and effort being put in to construct such props. And not forgetting the impression drawings and the makeup and hair!! saw Luna's hair/wig being display.

Check out the drawing board, literally every single prop up to Dumbledore's chair are drawn to detail!

At Diagon Alley

Model of Hogwarts

Another view of Hogwarts. The model really blew us away

We finished touring the place in 5 hours as we took our own sweet time reading and appreciating each of the details. This is definitely the best studio I ever had and highly recommended for Harry Potter's fan. Take your time to see each and every detail and try out all the simulation especially the green screen. It was really fun and interactive and able to take photos and videos made it well worth the 35 pound spend. If possible, go early in the morning as the crowd will be less compared to afternoon.