When mapping out this trip months ago, I’d chosen a number of pillars around which to plan my travels. The first on the list (in thanks to both Buzzfeed Travel and my Instragram addiction), was visiting the Geirangerfjord in Norway. A fjord is a deep, narrow and elongated sea with steep land on three sides, formed by glacial erosion; if the geological formation is wider than it is long, it isn’t a fjord. While the U.S. does have a number of fjords in Alaska, the most famous in the world are in Norway and New Zealand.

In Norway, like in most of the countries I’ve visited, the extremely rugged and beautiful landscapes, including these fjords, are found on the west coast of the country, far from the milder weather conditions and urban populations located on the east coast. Due to this lack of accessibility I decided to buy a tour with the Norway in a Nutshell company. There are a few different options available, and I chose the round-trip Oslo-Geirangerfjord trip. (You can also book this tour independently, as it really only consists of nine or so legs of public transportation, but many of the local train and buses can’t be pre-booked online and will sell out before day-of travel.)

After traveling from Stockholm via train (again, such an awesome way to travel, I wish American trains were even a fraction as convenient and comfortable as European trains…) I spent a few days in Oslo, the capital of Norway (pictured above).

While still a lovely place to visit, I thought the city lacked the over-the-top old world charm of Stockholm. There was less whimsy and special detailing incorporated into its architecture and, as a result, the overall impression of the city was a bit more plain. (Obvious disclaimer that this is only my opinion, and I’m clearly not an expert in European design…)

What Oslo did have however, was the most amazing peninsula just inside the city limits with a huge open park area and a number of sites and museums. The Bygdøy peninsula is accessible by either a ferry from downtown, or by walking about an hour along the waterfront from the city center.

Throughout all of Scandinavia there are a ton of sites and museums featuring information and historic relics from the Viking era, but the Viking Boat Museum in Oslo is generally considered the best. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve always identified with my Scandinavian roots (since I apparently look the part!) so was especially excited to visit and learn so much about the people who may have been my ancestors… In case you weren’t aware, the Vikings were total bosses. They were excellent seamen building strong, fast ships made for long-sea voyages, smart traders and businessmen, traveling as far as North America (discovering it long before ol’ Christopher Columbus) and even throughout the Mediterranean and into Russia. Unfortunately, due to a small subset of their population that invaded the British Isles and were especially cruel, the Viking people have earned a bad reputation.

The Viking Ship Museum boasts four Viking burial ships excavated between 1854 and 1904. The oldest of the ships dates back to 820 AD; all of the ships were at sea for several years before they were pulled ashore and used for burial. The dead were placed in burial chambers aboard the ship and buried alongside large quantities of food, drink, and animals, meant to accompany them on their voyage into the afterlife.

Right down the street from the museum was my favorite part of Oslo, the Bygdø Royal Manor. Along with the grounds of the Royal Palace in downtown Oslo, the grounds surrounding the summer residence of the Norwegian nobility are open and free to the public.

The park is over 50 acres and was simply stunning. There were several paths throughout and it was neat to see runners, families and, of course, tourists all taking advantage of the beautiful landscape and weather.

It’s then an easy hour-long walk back to the city center alongside the waterfront.

The next day, after three days in Oslo, I set out on the first part of my Norway in a Nutshell tour.

The tour combines both regional and local trains, buses and ferries and travels through some of the most scenic landscapes and cities in the country.

The final destination for my first day of the tour was the small city of Ålesund, located on the northwest coast of Norway. Famous for its Art Nouveau architecture, Ålesund fell victim to a huge fire in 1904, when most of the town completely burnt up. After only three years the town was rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style featuring pastel-painted buildings, turrets and spires, a stark contrast to the typical wooden Norwegian architecture style.

The city felt strangely like a ghost town. There were only tourists about and, even then, not that many. The buildings and water themselves were gorgeous but I will always remember the scenery alongside mental images of zombie-like tourists wandering the streets looking for any open shop, like in an incredibly charming post-apocalyptic Norwegian world.

But I digress.

Speaking of disasters, evidently Norwegians have taken a cue from the success of Hollywood’s natural disaster thrillers and are creating their own. Bølgen is about the mayhem that ensues after a shelf of the Geirangerfjord falls into the sea, creating an enormous tidal wave! (Out August 28 for those interested.)

Between wandering around like a zombie, snapping pictures and having existential think-time overlooking the water, I was able to visit Ålesund’s Sunnmøre Museum. At the site of the town’s historic trading center, active from the 11th to 16th centuries, over 50 traditional buildings have been relocated alongside a sweet collection of historic boats including Viking-era replica ships from 1000 AD.

(I heart boats.)

Besides the collection of historic buildings and boats, Sunnmøre offers a beautiful little nature area, perfect for some traipsing through the mud.

(The above was taken shortly after I discovered my iPhone’s self-timer function… selfie sticks are for the uninspired ;))

And thus ended the beginning of my Norwegian adventure. Stay tuned for my next post detailing the awe-inspiring Geirangerfjord and the lovely city of Bergen.

Thanks for reading!

xo Carrie