Outside Sharjah International Airport at 1:30 am, ready to begin my trip to the Arctic circle.
It was my first time flying out from Sharjah and it was definitely alot smaller than nearby Dubai International Airport where I usually start my trips.
My flights for the trip were on four different airlines on four separate tickets:
Day 0: Flying Pegasus Airlines (PC) from Sharjah to Istanbul (SHJ-SAW).
Day 1: Flying Pegasus Airlines (PC) from Istanbul to Oslo (SAW-OSL).
Day 2: Flying SAS (SK) from Oslo to Tromsø (OSL-TOS).
Day 8: Flying Widerøe (WF) from Tromsø to Bergen (TOS-BEG).
Day 10: Flying Aeroflot (SU) from Oslo to Dubai via Moscow (OSL-SVO-DXB).
It was possible to fly direct to Oslo from Dubai on Emirates but it was twice the price.
After check in I went through immigration and security. Unlike DXB you needed to pre-register to use the Smart gates so I had to line up and get stamped out the old-fashioned way.
Sharjah Airport Dutyfree included the usual full range of wine, beer and liquor which was quite surprising as the emirate is dry with all alcohol banned.
Waiting at the gate with my boarding pass.
Although Pegasus Airlines also flies from Dubai Airport, they had a special deal from Sharjah when I went to book that was $120 cheaper. I had always wanted to fly out from Sharjah despite being a slightly longer taxi ride so figured it was a good opportunity. Even with additional extras for checked luggage, extra cabin baggage, priority boarding and a hot meal onboard, the flight to Oslo via Istanbul ended up being only $240 total.
About to board the Pegasus 737 at a remote stand.
And at my pre-selected bulkhead seat. After take-off I put on eye shades and put in my ear plugs for some early morning shut-eye.
The sun just below the horizon after a fitful couple of hours rest.
The Asian side of the city below as we descend into Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport.
Being the main hub for the low-cost airline Pegasus I was expecting the airport to be quite basic but I was quite surprised and it even seemed to be more modern than the old Atatürk Airport.
Grabbing an overpriced sandwich and a double-espresso for breakfast at an airport café during my 2 hour transit.
About to board the Airbus A320 at 10am for the onward flight to Oslo.
I had visited Copenhagen and Stockholm before but really wanted to see the white winter Scandanavian landscape in the far-north.
Dog-sledding had been on bucket list for a while and although it was possible to do it as a half-day excursion in many places I wanted to try something a bit more substantive.
After a bit of research I booked a five day husky expedition above the Arctic Circle in Tromsø, Norway.
My pre-ordered hot chicken meal that was served somewhere high above Bulgaria.
Pockets of snow below as we make our descent over Southern Norway.
Disembarking at Oslo Airport after arriving ontime at 12:30pm.
It was one day before the original date (March 29th, 2019) for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Although there had been a 2 week extension a few days prior, I wasn't exactly sure what the process was for UK visitors to the Schengen Area and Norway so just opted to use my NZ passport to avoid any awkward questions and queued up at the non-EU line instead.
And stamped into my 130th country visited!
After collecting my luggage I bought a return ticket for 392 NOK ($45) on the Flytoget Airport Express Train for the ride into the city.
Sharing a cabin with some skiers from Spain.
The scenery whipping past at a super quick 200+ kph.
Arriving at Oslo Central Station after the 19 minute / 48 kilometer trip from the airport.
I then walked through the city streets to my hotel for my one night stay in the city.
It was great to see the locals had a sense of humour.
Outside Citybox Oslo. Check in wasn't until 3pm so I stored my bag and headed out to explore the city.
Bankplassen (The Bank Square) in the neighborhood Kvadraturen. I was expecting the weather to be alot cooler but the temperature was comfortably in the double figures (celsius).
Stopping for some cheesecake and a hot chocolate at Kafé Det Grønne Kjøkken.
Looking across to Oslo Opera House in Bjørvika.
Completed in 2007, the building has been described as resembling an 'iceberg'.
The interesting architecture includes a roof that angles to ground level, leading to a large plaza that allows pedestrians to walk up and enjoy the panoramic views of the city.
I then went for a wander south to the neighbourhood of Sørenga.
Looking south-east towards Yilport Oslo, Norway's Largest Container Terminal, and the waters of Oslofjord.
I then wandered back into the city back to the hotel.
Citybox is a no-frills hotel in the city centre with bargain (for Norway) prices. Check-in was entirely automated via a kiosk where you scanned your passport and swiped your credit card before a keycard popped out.
And my room for 769 NOK ($88) for the night. Simple, clean and perfect for my short stay in Oslo. The jetlag was catching up with me so I crashed out for an afternoon nap.
In the evening I went out for a walk through the city again. Youngstorget Young Square at the junction of Storgata and Møllergata streets.
A bus stop on Møllerveien as I headed north.
And outside Mathallen.
Mathallen is an indoor food market in Oslo with more than 30 specialty shops, cafés and eateries.
And some pulled chicken with coleslaw and potato salad for dinner for 95 NOK ($11).
Walking back to the city centre along the colourful Brenneriveien Street.
The sun begining to set over the Oslofjord after walking down to Akershusstranda.
The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Strandpromenaden.
The MS Fjordkongen on its way to Nesoddtangen.
The ferry MS Stena Saga coming into port.
Cruising past the island of Hovedøya in the Oslofjord.
Owned by the Swedish shipping company Stena Line, the MS Stena Saga operates on the route between Frederikshavn in Denmark and Oslo.
And about to dock at the Stena Line ferry terminal at Akershusstranda.
Looking down at the four Rådhusbryggene (city hall docks) with Rådhuset (Oslo City Hall) top-centre.
And the 13th century Akershus Fortress below before heading back to the hotel at the end of day 1.
Outside Oslo Central Station again just after 7am to catch the Flytoget Express back to Oslo Airport.
The GMB Class 71 train ready to whisk us away to the airport.
And at departures ready to check in for my SAS flight to Tromsø.
After passing through security I grabbed some breakfast before heading to the gate.
The SAS 737 which arrived about 30 minutes late, delaying our departure to Tromsø slightly.
The safety demonstration underway as we prepare to depart.
And finally on our way to the Arctic Circle.
The snow covered winter Norwegian landscape below as we ascend to cruising altitude.
Complimentary coffee with a muffin bought from the service cart.
Ice crystals forming on the window as we descend into Tromsø Airport.
And being greeted by Sigrid from the Tromsø Villmarkssenter (Wilderness Center).
We then made the 30 minute drive over the bridge from Tromsøya Island (where the airport and city of Tromsø was located) to the larger Kvaløya Island.
Sigrid was from Sweden and it was her first winter working at the Villmarkssenter. She would also be joining the five day dog sled expedition.
After arriving at the Villmarkssenter I was warmly welcomed by the owner Tove Sørensen, who would also be on the trip. Tove setup the Villmarkssenter in 1988 initially as a home for dogs and has since competed 19 times in Europe’s longest dog sledding race, the 1,100 kilometre Finnmarksløpet.
I then met her son Torkil (or just Tor) and the leader of our trip, as well as the other three guests; Nigel from the UK, who was semi-retired from the RAF but still worked for them as a civilian instructor, Kelly, a singer from New York, and Sarah, a nurse from Missouri.
We then had a lunch with some Lapskaus, a thick Norwegian stew of meat and potatoes.
One of the resident dogs chilling just behind us.
We then gathered around for our trip briefing. There would be a total of ten people on the five day trip. As well as Torkil and Tove there would be four staff; Sigrid from Sweden, Ted and Lina from Lithuania and Isabella from Argentina.
Tor then gave us a tour of the Villmarkssenter with first a look at a sled that was similar to what we would be using. We would each have to carry in the sled our tent, food, dog food, camping mattress, shovel as well as clothing and other personal gear etc.
One of the dogs wearing a cone while recovering in the indoor kennel.
And the outdoor kennels with the rest of the dogs.
I was expecting the working dogs to be a little more aggressive and not so friendly but they were very pleasant and Tor said that he had never been bitten in his 20+ years.
A couple of very cute puppies snuggled up.
Kelly being tempted to take one home!
Back inside again where we were fitted with our boots for the trip. They were definitely the largest I have ever worn and almost resembled moon boots. As well as wearing two pairs of socks they had an inner liner to keep the toes and feet nice and warm.
Trying on the Arctic grade jackets to survive the snow and cold for the next few days.
Getting a lesson on how to use the Primus burners to cook and melt snow with. The element had to be first pre-heated to properly vaporise the white gasoline fuel to get the strong blue flame.
Tor showing us how to put the tents up.
Although there was the option to have our own individual tents, myself and Nigel paired up to share a three man tent to save weight, time and hassle having to put up two separate tents each night and to make it easier to share cooking equipment.
The sun struggling to peak through the clouds.
Looking south as the sky begins to darken in the late afternoon.
Tor showing us how to put a harness on a dog. On the wall just behind were the different harness sizes marked with different colours.
Buckets of meat and gruel ready for the hungry dogs outside.
Tor giving us our first lesson on mushing (dog sledding).
We would stand on the back two foot boards and hold onto the handle bar just above. Snow and ice would accumulate on the foot boards so we had to periodically remove it with our boots.
Going forward was achieved by yelling out 'Up' to the dogs and 'Stoppe' to come to a halt.
There were two brakes at the rear of the sled; a drag mat which is used to control the speed of the team and a claw brake with two big spikes which dig into the snow to help bring the team to a stop.
The dogs on the lead sled driven by Tor are the most experienced and understand his commands. All the other dogs follow the front sled. Likewise the first dogs on any single sled know what to do and the rest of the dogs follow them. When you let the brake off the dogs will go for it and continue at full pace until either the sled is simply too heavy (i.e. on a hill) or you make it too hard by applying the brake. Then the dogs will look back at you accusingly and bark a lot, as if to say: why on earth have we stopped!?!
We then went out to put all the theory into practice with our first ride.
The dogs in their harnesses and hooked up to the main gangline ready to go.
Unlike the main expedition where we would each have our own sled and dog team, this afternoon we would go out in pairs; one person on the back of the sled driving it and the other sitting inside it and along for the ride.
Nigel had done a mushing day trip before so I let him drive first while I sat in the sled to enjoy the ride.
Halfway through our evening excursion we swapped over and I got to drive the team back to the Villmarkssenter. I was abit nervous at first but gradually got the hang of it. The dogs followed the sled in front so we didn't have to worry about steering so we just had to control the speed and make sure the dogs didn't run too fast or let the sled runaway on the downhill sections and run into the back of the dogs.
And having a good pant back at the Villmarkssenter!
I was a little apprehensive before the trip with having work with and to look after my own six dog team while traversing the Arctic tundra. I had had dogs as pets before but this would be quite another challenge. After our successful first mushing run I was a little more confident that I could survive the trip however and might even have some fun.
We then headed back inside as night began to fall.
Warming up with some Reinsdyrgryte (reindeer stew) for dinner.
And some tasty Norwegian Sjokoladekake chocolate cake for dessert.
Tor giving a briefing on the plan for the trip. The exact route was flexible and would depend on weather and other factors.
We then retired to a traditional gamme-hut to sleep on soft reindeer skins beside an open fire at the end of day 2.
After a good sleep I cracked open the door of the gamme-hut, pushed the snow that had piled up overnight and looked out to see even more snow falling to the ground.
I then retreated into the dining gamme-hut and poured some fresh Cowboy coffee from the pot warming by the open fire.
And some toast and cereal to fuel up for the day.
After breakfast we made one last check of everything we would need for the next few days. Living in Dubai I didn't own too much cold-weather gear but luckily all the main items we needed such as coat, pants, sleeping bag etc. were supplied for us.
The dogs waiting outside with a lucky few of them coming with us on the trip. The Villmarkssenter had about 300 dogs and 69 would coming with us today.
Lifting them up slightly onto their hindlegs made them a little easier to handle while they were loaded onto the transport trailer.
All 69 dogs and 10 sleds safely loaded up.
And ready for the drive to the starting point for the expedition.
The less furrier members of the trip (myself included) then climbed onboard the Mercedes Sprinter van for a slightly more comfortable ride.
Today we would head south back to the mainland via the Rya Tunnel and then drive onto Øvre Dividal National Park for the starting point.
Although it was only 130 kilometres, with the steady snow and icy road the drive took close to 3.5 hours.
In the town of Tømmerelva for a pitstop at an Esso service station.
And grabbing a bacon wrapped hotdog for lunch.
At about 2:30pm we arrived at Øvre Dividal National Park and unloaded the sleds and started putting the harnesses on the dogs and attaching them to the ganglines. I had of course forgotten how to do this despite our training the day before but with abit of help I quickly had it sussed.
Feeding the dogs before setting off.
And all ready to go. The snowfall was steadily getting heavier and I seriously began to question my sanity for choosing to head off into the Arctic Wilderness for five days without heat or electricity! I was definitely full of nervous excitement and energy for the experiences and challenges that lay ahead though.
Our first mushing run would be a relatively short ~10 kilometers to our first campsite on the edge of Lake Devddesjávri.
After making sure the dog harnesses were on properly and that they were attached to the sled gangline with no tangles, I balanced myself on the foot boards at the rear of the sled and braced myself for the power of six very enthusiastic and hyper dogs.
My team of six were all racing dogs that were part of Tor's team for the 1,100 kilometre Finnmarksløpet race. They were led by two small but super hyper and slightly crazy females, Lynet and Sei. Tor later explained that when the going got tough and the weather got really bad during a race a sane dog would want to stop and curl up for a sleep. Hyper and slightly crazy dogs however would keep plowing on even in an extreme blizzard where you couldn't see more than a few metres in front of you.
Just behind Lynet and Sei were Hvit & Rød with O2 & Baktus at the rear just in front of the sled.
Waiting for the others to catch up with Tove and her team just in front. We had a bit of an uphill to start and were warned that we would need to help push to sled. My team of six racing dogs were all so strong though that I barely managed to hold on while they powered forward without any help from me.
I was feeling ok and relatively confident with my mushing performance up until we had to take a sharp 90 degree corner. I foolishly let the dogs dictate the speed and didn't brake at all and paid for my overconfidence when the sled went flying over and I had my first spill! Luckily Tove managed to stop the dogs and sled and I climbed onto the foot boards and we were off again, albeit with my ego slightly bruised.
About ten minutes later however my sled strayed lightly off the trial. With the fresh and loosely packed snow the left runner of my sled quickly sunk in and I managed to topple the sled again! I managed to hold on this time though and the extra drag of my body in the deep snow luckily managed to slow the dogs to a halt.
I tried to right the sled but as I was up to my waist in snow couldn't quite manage to. Ted soon helped me though get back on and we were on our way again.
It was quite an rude introduction to mushing but I quickly learnt from my mistakes and managed to have only one more spill on the trip.
After a few more spills from the rest of the guys we pulled into our campsite amongst the trees beside Lake Devddesjávri. We then went about setting up for the night.
After taking the harnesses off the dogs we attached them to a steel cable line tied up to a nearby tree to secure them for the night. One of my male dogs started getting 'amorous' with one of the girls so I had to make sure the two sexes were adequately separated on the line to avoid any more doggy romance.
Nigel shovelling snow over the flaps around the perimeter of the tent.
It was my first time putting up a winter tent and it involved a few more steps than a summer tent. The snow first had to be compacted down using our boots. For tent pegs we had large wooden pegs to drive into the snow and lastly we had to shovel snow over the edge of the tent to prevent more snow drifting in during the night.
On the recommendation of Tor we also dug a 0.5 meter deep trench at the foot of the inner tent to make it easier to sit at the end and to climb inside after removing our big snow boots.
The dogs getting a large cup of kibbles each for dinner. The dry food was always fed in the evening since they needed alot of water / snow to digest it.
As darkness fell myself and Nigel managed to get the Primus assembled and cook a couple of our 'boil-in-a-bag' meals. Prepared and previously cooked back at the Villmarkssenter by Ted's wife, they tasted pretty good. The benefit of sub-zero temperatures on the trip also meant we could keep the precooked meals frozen and not have to rely on tinned or freeze-dried food.
After the hot and tasty dinner I crawled into my Arctic (-20°C) grade sleeping bag and quickly nodded off into a deep slumber.