Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Norway: Svalbard Part 1


Honestly, I really miss those days when Malaysian travelers used to blog about their traveling experience. There are still some around but not as much as in the past. Since traveling have become something trendy and affordable for Malaysians for the past few years, people tend to love sharing itineraries, pictures and budget rather than stories. But.. Yeah.. We travel for different reasons and mine is always to satiate my curiosity. If the place is common for others and I haven't been there, it's not because it's cliche, but because there is nothing I'm looking for there.

So I was in Norway for the polar bear because I still can't afford to join the 2 weeks Arctic Expedition. I really really want to experience the roof of the world so I searched from where does the north pole expedition usually starts because I thought that must be among the northernmost point that I can go to other than the actual north pole. There are 2 starting points; one is Svalbard, Norway and the other is Murmansk in Russia. I decided on Svalbard for the ease of travel since no visa is needed.

I tried making our route for this trip with the lowest cost possible and all of us were monitoring for ticket prices for many months. So it was,

Oslo - Tromso - Svalbard - Tromso - Bodo - Oslo

Tromso to Bodo was by bus while the others were by air with SAS and Norwegian air. I missed the cheap ticket for Oslo to Svalbard so my ticket was somewhere near 200 euros while MR's was about 100 Euros. The ticket never dropped to lesser than 100 Euros to Longyearbyen.

While on transit in tromso

For SAS flight, it stopped for about an hour in Tromso. We got off the plane and there was security and immigration check before we board the flight again. We were greeted by a tremendous view when we arrived because the weather was very good that day that there was not a single cloud in the sky.

Everything is so organized in Norway, as expected of Scandinavia. When we arrived at the airport, we don't have to worry about the transport to our guesthouse. There were three tourist buses waiting outside with each of them had their bag compartments opened and there were papers with the names of the guesthouses that they are stopping at hanging at the door of the compartments. So we just placed our luggage in the compartment with our guesthouse name and board the bus. You can either pay by cash or debit card and you will get discount if you buy the return ticket.

The view from inside our bus

The view on the way to town was splendid that I didn't regret spending so much money flying to that part of the world. Our guesthouse is located at the end of town since it is one of the very few cheap options (which is not cheap at all). It cost us  ~ RM 400+ per night for a small room but it was very comfortable and I don't have anything to complain about for as long as the heater is working well. What I like about our rooms in Norway, even though most of them were with shared bathroom but all of them have a sink and a mirror inside so it was really convenient for ablution and the water is drinkable so we don't have to go to the kitchen to get water.

On the day of our arrival we were supposed to do ice caving but there was a miscommunication between the receptionist and our guide, so our guide went off without us because he thought we were not there (^^") So we took the opportunity to walk around town that evening.

It took us more than 30 minutes walking to the center although we were told it should be around 20 minutes walk. I think it was because we were not used to walking on icy roads and we just walked slowly to avoid from falling. I did fell on my butt once because it was so slippery. We took pictures around town but sadly, besides our GoPro, all of our devices shut down because the battery can't withstand the low temperature.

I told MR, I think they are no Muslims in Svalbard. But then, as we were walking towards a convenient store, two teenagers greeted us with Salam. They were smiling broadly at us. I think it must be quite rare to see people with hijab in Svalbard or they are just happy to see another Muslim.

We went to search for some souvenirs at the store and I got myself a puzzle because I already have too many fridge magnets and mugs and I don't want to have anything that will collect dust. Surprisingly, things are cheaper on that island due to the tax free status. I was surprised to see the Coke was 3x cheaper than in Oslo. I refrained myself  from drinking Coke in Oslo because it was 25 kr (~RM 12 ++) per can there! It was 7 kr (~RM 3.60) in Svalbard. When I first saw that I literally said to MR,

"Dorang pakai currency lain ke kat sini???" And leaned closer to the price tag to look at the currency

As we walk back to our guesthouse that evening, MR and I saw 3 huge animals with white fur from afar walking towards our direction. We can't really tell what they were at first and thought they were some wandering wild huskies but then we thought, "Ade ke wild huskies? Takkan lah tuan die lepaskan macam ni?" But then as the three got closer and closer (because MR and I stopped walking because we were afraid if they are some dangerous creature), they were actually 3 reindeer! And.. both of us got excited.

I have problem transferring the pics from my GoPro so it's going to be a while for the next post, I guess...

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

99 Cahaya di Langit Eropah


I haven't been writing about the books that I read for nearly 5 years! I used to love doing book reviews in the past and occasionally I did get email of appreciation from the authors too! Nowadays, I only updated my Good Reads bookshelf once in a while but I never leave reviews. Just to keep track whether I have reach my number of books read per year target or not. My target is very low, just 12 books per year; that's one book per month.

This one is my latest favourite, written by an Indonesian lady. It's not that hard to understand since there are not many Indonesian words that are unfamiliar to me. It's basically a travelogue while her husband and her lived in Austria for a few years. It was about how they had to adapt from living in an Islamic country to being a minority in Europe. And how they discovered the history of Islam all over Europe and come to love Islam more and more thereafter.

The first part of this book tells about how the expansion of the Ottoman empire was halted in Austria. Then they went to Paris and was accompanied by a historian who brought them into the Lourve where she showed them the exhibits that proves how Islamic culture was highly regarded for centuries in the past. Then they went to Spain to learn more about the Al-Andalus.

I'm quite familiar with the Islamic history and I remember them quite well from watching many documentaries but this book tells me a lot of things that I've never  heard of like how Croissant is related to the defeat of the Ottoman. I also love how the couple responded when their devotion were questioned by those who didn't believe in God and how the other characters that they met worked hard to portray that Islam is a religion of peace.

I love how she can incorporate the Quranic verses and Hadith in the paragraphs. This reminds me of "Ayat-ayat Cinta" the first book that made me fall in love with Indonesian books; they are just full of reminders that make me stop and ponder for a while or if it's something unheard of, I will search for itand get to learn something new.

What made it so exciting while I was reading this, I was in Europe! And I was in Spain when I finally get the time to read it since there were a lot of moving about while we were in Norway. The film is good, I was told but I decided to read the book first before watching it. I highly recommend this for leisure read (^^)

This book really made me think of how Islam reached its peak in the past. It was how the people of that time really understand and follow what was taught in the Al Quran and Hadith; they put knowledge on top of everything and observed good akhlaq. As oppose to people nowadays, there are even group of 'intellects' who are trying to challenge the interpretation of the Al Quran and Hadith to suit their lifestyle. Unbelievable~