Viking Hunters

We journeyed far and wide, across many an ocean to Iceland in search of their infamous Vikings.

There’s something about the urban myth of tall, manly, blonde, bearded men that makes a girl swoon.

Viking explorers were said to have settled in Iceland in the late 9th Century. But were they still lingering about?

And thus, two Kiwis quest to find Vikings begins – of course at a bar in Reykjavik. We eye the swarms of modern day bearded men with curiosity.

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“Are you a Viking?” my friend Michaela asks the older bearded man seated beside us.

“Yes, of course” he slurs in a thick Icelandic accent emphasised by his drunkenness. So far, living up to the reputation.

He insists on buying us multiple shots of Icelandic Schnapps the true Viking liquor.

Michaela notices that our beautiful bearded barman is in fact pouring shots of Jim Bean and Vodka. Viking credibility is deteriorating rapidly.

We get one over him by convincing him I am in fact Keisha Castle Hughes New Zealand’s infamous Whale Rider. They eat whale in Iceland, so he has no issues with animal riding ethics.

We stealthily slip away to the other side of the bar to research the younger Norsemen.

They’re not overly tall, slim bordering on skinny, and don tight jeans, beards and lush long locks that give me hair envy.

These urban Vikings are surprisingly Hipster, straight out of a cool cafe that serves on point espresso.

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Michaela interviewing a Cafe Viking

We befriend a Norwegian Viking, he’s a brunette not a blonde but has the beard and hair down pact. We even convince him to get into costume for the cause.

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A modern day Norwegian Viking

He displays a natural talent for finding hot springs which seems like a useful Viking skill. We document our findings happily over champagne, but are determined there must be Icelandic Vikings lurking in the wilderness.

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We enlist the help of another huntress, Nicki from Seattle who embarks with us on the Viking road trip quest.

We circumnavigate Iceland over five days. We drive the Southern coast, the Eastern Fjords, through the Snowy mountains and the Northern highlands. We leave no waterfall, beach, glacier or hot pool unturned.

We even scour an old Viking village.

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And yet, there seems to be a severe shortage of not only Vikings but people in general. We are shocked to learn there are only 3.2 people per square kilometre. That’s even less than our beloved New Zealand deemed the Iceland of the South by locals.

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Maybe we’d be better off searching for Huldufolk – the hidden people. Better known as Elves, it’s claimed 80% of the population believe in them.

The Huldufolk are known for their environmental lobbyist stance, they whisper in the ears of influential individuals and have been said to help drastically reduce construction in Iceland.

I’m not sure Elves are quite a sexy as Vikings. Although no doubt we could be swayed. Time to head to the local cafe in search of urban Hipster Elves.

Ororlando

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Bear necessities

If you’re hiking in the Romanian woods and run into a bear, apparently you should play dead.

I’m not sure I’d trust my acting skills in such a dire situation. Then again, lying in foetal position in a frozen state of panic probably wouldn’t involve that much acting.

If the bear proceeds to try and eat you, apparently it’s then time to talk in a firm voice. I can’t help but wonder if he’d understand the Kiwi accent?

Bear etiquette 101. This was quickly googled after many a traveller returned from Transylvanian hikes proclaiming they’d smelt bears.

Yes, no joke. Apparently you can litterally smell them.

“What sort of smell is it?” I enquired, ever so casually.

“You just know. Go the other way if you smell them.”

Great. Very reassuring. Honey face masks probably not be happening this week.

But bears are not all grrrrrrrr. Sometimes they get depressed. I learnt all about it at the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Brasov, Romania.

A lot of bears became depressed at the hands of cruel owners who used them to attract tourists. The bears would refuse to eat, or worse, self mutiliate – eating their own paws.

There were many other horrific stories as well. Bears with arthritis from being made to sit still for too long. Bears who had never been to the forest. Bears scared of other bears. Bears blinded from the flashes of tourist’s cameras.

When you see these fellas with their soulful eyes, playful paws and feigned cuddly ways you can’t help but feel incredibly sorry for them. But surely modern day tourists wouldn’t be so stupid.

At the sanctuary there were many huge signs, warning of the electric fences around the enclosures. Our guide kept reiterating not to get more than 1m close.

Next thing there’s a gasp, and everyone had gathered. As I got closer I realise someone had dropped their iPhone 6 in the enclosure.

“Who would be stupid enough to do that?” I muttered to myself.

“We did!” A couple next to me admitted sheepishly.

Opps. I feigned sympathy as they retold how he’d leaned too close with his phone, got electrocuted and phone went flying in.

Well at least now maybe the bear could take selfies? That seemed to help depressed people get a self-esteem boost.

I wonder what you should do if you come across a depressed bear in the wild? Give him a hug?

I’d like to hope they wouldn’t be depressed in nature. And luckily I follow the advice of google, not my desire to get the ultimate bear hug.

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Midnight in Shanghai

It’s midnight in Shanghai. My early night has failed miserably. The novelty of my own room has gone to my head as I luxuriate in a starfish across the bed.

And what’s this feeling – hunger? But I already ate. Jetlag. Time zones. Of course, right about now I’d be gluttening on dinner and half a litre of wine in Europe.

I set out from the hostel in search of a midnight feast. The first thing I pass is a man peeing in the alley. How delightful. But China has a safe feel, so I keep strolling.

The neighbourhood is very local and suprisingly quiet at this time. There’s only a few dubious food options still available. Everyone stares as I go past, the only Westerner and women roaming here at this hour.

I almost talk myself out of eating but I’m determined to finally get a good nights sleep. I order a noodle and vegetable soup. It comes with a free green tea in a plastic cup. Things are really looking up.

I sip my tea slowly enjoying the ambience of the concurrent coughing and soup slurping.

Tomorrow has great prospects – roaming the Bund, Nanjing Road and the French Concession but for now I’m happy in the backstreets of Shanghai.

My soup arrives. Compared to the rest of the food I’ve had it’s not the tastiest, but I feel quite chuffed with my late night solo venturing in a new country. There’s not many places in the world that’d be safe.

I head home stoked not to be in a dorm room for once. I settle in for a blissful undisturbed slumber.

The last thing I remembered is the feeling of my burnt tongue. 

Bulgaria

Roses, a UFO, Spartacus and Communists. What do all these things have in common?

A rather sizeable country in South Eastern Europe.

I never planned to go to Bulgaria, but I met a Canadian and a French guy in Lithuania and they just kept going on & on & on & on about it.

I guess it sparked a flame of interest.

I did a teeny bit of research, but pretty much just stole the Canadian’s itinerary.

I was pleasantly surprised it was my kinda place. And that’s not just because it’s old Thrace – the homeland of mega babe Spartacus.

The subdued romantic in me loves roses, and Bulgaria is the land of the rose. It’s one of the world’s biggest producers of rose oil, and they sell an abundance of rose trinkets, perfumes, jam, soap, liquor, water and skin products. Just seeing it all made my inner romantic bloom.

I’d never call myself a die hard sci-fi fan, but even I can appreciate an abandoned UFO. If I didn’t know it was a communist relic from the 80s, I would’ve been convinced the eerily derelict Buzludza was left by aliens. Trespassing through a tiny hole in the wall and climbing 31 narrow rungs of stairs in the pitch black was straight out of a movie.

And I hate to go on about food, again. But, it was pretty fantastic. Bulgaria shows neighbourly love from the Greek and Turkish – with Mediterranean veggies, cheese, cheese, fresh juices, grilled meats, cheese, yogurt and tasty stews. Cheese comes with most things.

They also have this great salty yoghurt drink which tastes about as good as it sounds. It’s like Kefir and said to be good for the heat, digestion and hangovers. I got to put it to the test of several occasions. It’s a really hot place after all. Scientists discovered Bulgarian yoghurt has its own unique bacteria that elongates life. I drunk it in bulk.

Along with wine. And since they’ve been making it since Thracian times it’s pretty great. Except the one homemade batch we had that tasted like detergent, unfortunately we’d ordered it by the litre.

And then there were the only in Bulgaria moments.

Getting to see the restoration of a 12th century monastery in process.

Exploring the same monastery, and stumbling upon a creepy room full of skulls, and bones in boxes.

The homeless looking local collecting signatures in his book, trying for the Guinness book of records.

The bus that was full but the driver let me on anyway because he felt sorry for me.

The many fun moments trying to understand the Cyrillic alphabet. Which for the record it turns out the Russians took from the Bulgarians.

All in all it ticked the main boxes for me. Cheap. Friendly locals. Not too many tourists. Sweet travellers on the journey. I unfortunately didn’t run into any Spartacus dopplegangas, but hey, you can’t have everything.

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Cupid’s humour

Cupid’s depicted in a lot of art across Europe, and he seems to be a funny guy. I think that’s why as soon as I was more content in singledom, and not looking for a holiday fling that unlikely suitors appeared.

Just like in all the fairy tales, 3 suitors came, each from further away, and each more intense than the previous.

Suitor 1 was Italian. Incredibly deep, heart felt and a very good listener. He was eager to hear all about my relationship history; the ups and the downs, and yet I wasn’t fooled by the friend card.

When an offer for a midnight moonlight scooter ride arose, I refrained from raising my eyebrow and politely declined ignoring various attempts of persuasion.

Suitor 2, the Spaniard, you may remember from a previous blog “Memoirs of a Keisha”

What originally was a light chat banter suddenly became more intense. 20 successive photos of himself in a row I put down to cultural differences, but then poetry and several messages a day kept coming even if I didn’t reply.

“Roses are red, violets are blue. All of my thoughts involve you!
¡Buenos días princesa!”

Not saying anything clearly wasn’t working so I decided it was time to rectify the situation.

I wrote something along the lines of… recently single, enjoying travelling, not really thinking about guys, hope you can understand.

He replied: “Ok I stop messaging you in a sweet way, and just message you as friends. Kisses”

I sighed.

Suitor 3 I’d met in a group context, so I was relaxed and friendly. When I started to pick up an interested vibe, and he wasn’t picking up on my blatantly just want to be friends vibe I tried the cold shoulder with little success.

He messaged “I’m going past your hostel, do you want to come see my place and have a fresh lemonade”

“No thanks, I’m just relaxing and doing my taxes”

“Do it after, come now just for 1/2 hour”

“Sorry I’m busy, maybe later”

“I’m at your hostel in the courtyard. Come out”

I buried myself further into my bed.
“I want to read for awhile”

“Come read at my place”

“Sorry I just need some Kesha time”

“Okay, come over later, take your time”

I don’t reply. 10 minutes later I receive a photo of his courtyard and a jug of lemonade which I also ignore.

Several hours later the group is dining together again, but I keep my distance especially enthralled in everything the new girl from Melbourne has to say.

I dodge him for most of the night, but wake up to a drunk declaration of feelings. Unfortunately his message didn’t evoke any swoonery, it just made me feel a little ill.

I don’t reply. Next thing there’s a photo of his breakfast.

I reply. Something along the lines of what suitor 2 got.

I come back to my hostel and he’s waiting there. Seriously?! He insists on walking me to my taxi (to the next town – thank god!) and I escape with a slightly too enthused kiss on the cheek as a mutual friend walked past at the opportune time.

It seems to me the age old condition of wanting what we can’t have.

Why else would all these strangely persistent suitors appear (and not disappear) when I had virtually no romantic interest in them?

If hypothetically there was such a princess, I think in the fairy tale version they’d all fuck off and she would get to choose someone herself if and when she felt like it.

But then maybe this alleged hypothetical princess needs to worry less about hurting people’s feelings and be more assertive. Damn Disney, teaching niceties and
sweetness!

It would appear that Disney princesses would be very ill equipt for Cupid’s cheeky ways.

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