Norway had long been on my radar as a potential travel destination. I'd linger over pictures of sweeping fjords, colourful waterside houses and scenic drives. And then quickly divert my eyes once I'd reminded myself of the cost of taking a trip through this part of Scandinavia. But over time it seemed that more and more people I knew were taking a holiday there, each bringing back stories of the beauty and friendly nature of the country.
Once we'd finally taken the plunge (figuratively and literally, it would turn out, but more on that to come) and booked ourselves on an Arctic cruise, flying into Svalbard from Tromso, it was a smaller step to blowing the budget completely and adding on a couple of weeks of exploring Norway beforehand. Flights from the UK were incredibly cheap, and by hiring a car we could fit in a lot before our final flight into the frozen north.
Our first stop was Oslo, with a few days to discover the capital before collecting our car. A relaxed, vibrant city, there was plenty to fill our time with.
We started by heading down to the harbour and hopping on a ferry across to the Bygdoy Peninsula, home to both Oslo's wealthier residents during the summer months and a few excellent museums. We'd made the trip especially to see the Viking ship museum - a fantastically simple building boasting three oak vessels. One is particularly well preserved, with incredible serpent carvings dancing along the stern, and for an archaeology buff like myself, it's a must-see.
Tearing myself away from the huge longship, we moved towards our next destination - the Kon-Tiki museum. Whereas I was entranced by the elaborate beauty of the sleek lines and carvings of the Viking ships, F (as a big fan of the man) had long wished to visit the reed boat that supported Thor Heyerdahl on his journey across the Atlantic. The museum itself is superb - interactive and atmospheric, the raft is lit in an array of dim colours and an transparent glass 'ocean' supports it, with a huge model whale shark beneath and soft waves projected onto the walls.
After a very satisfying morning, we hopped back into the ferry and across to the city centre, where we wandered the streets and took a look at the cathedral, before seeking out some lunch. We quickly realised that it was going to be tougher than we'd thought to stick to our (we had thought) relatively generous budget. I knew Norway was expensive, but the food prices were simply staggering. We eventually followed advice to a chain pizza restaurant, where we could stuff ourselves full of all-you-can-eat slices, but even the price of this was hard to stomach.
We spent the following day exploring the city, stopping off for hours at Akershus castle, a huge fortress with lots of discover and some lovely views over the city. After hours of walking, it was nice to find a bench high up near the castle walls and watch boats come in and out of the harbour.
The following morning we picked up our little car and began one of many long drives to see some of the natural wonders Norway is so famous for.