Monday, March 16, 2015

Sky Garden at the Walkie Talkie in London

Actual date of this event: 13 March

Yeah, yeah, I'm jumping way ahead here. I figure this is an easy one, so I might as well do it right now.

The Walkie Talkie is one of London's iconic skyscrapers. Located at 20 Fenchurch Street, it is nicknamed the Walkie Talkie because, well, it looks like a walkie talkie. It is a fairly new building in London's skyline as it was only completed in spring 2014. It has a famous history to it already though! In the summer of 2013, businesses and vehicles nearby discovered that the building's shape was like a mirror. And when the sun shined directly onto this mirror, it reflected light so great and heat so hot that carpets caught fire. And vehicles melted. Since then, the windows now have a tinted screen to prevent anymore damage. Unbelievable!
 {Neither of these pictures were taken on Friday - they are old. But the Walkie Talkie is the building on the far right in the above picture.}
Anyway, at the beginning of this year, the top level of the Walkie Talkie opened to the public. It includes a few restaurants, a cafe and bar, and a free garden area. Since Luke and I love views, free activities, and his office is just around the corner from the Walkie Talkie, I decided we should visit the Sky Garden. Although the Sky Garden is free, tickets are still required I guess for crown control. I booked us tickets over two months ago to go during his lunch hour on Friday. To get in to the elevator, we had to go through a security check which I already knew about from information on the ticket. We were then sent up to the 35th floor, which isn't all that high, but it is enough for London.

It wasn't the most beautiful of days (we actually had three days of straight sunshine before this), but it was clear enough. This was the third skyscraper I have been up in London (after The Shard and the Heron Tower), and I might like this view the best, but The Shard definitely puts up a serious fight. It was fun playing tourist with Luke though during the week. We should probably do things like this more often!

The Walkie Talkie is 525ft tall, almost half the size of The Shard and not even a fifth of the height of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building (in Dubai).

Friday, March 13, 2015

Stavanger, Norway

Actual date of this event: 5-7 September

Back in the day, when we lived in Aberdeen, we had a great group of friends. Many of them have moved to a new location, so we have friends in several different places in the world - this is one of the best perks to being an expat in my opinion. One set of friends took a quick hop over the North Sea to Stavanger, Norway, so Luke and I ventured to see our friends, Emily and Tyler, for the weekend. We arrived before lunch on Friday, and Tyler was kind enough to pick us up from the airport. To thank them for their hospitality over the weekend, we loaded up with booze at the duty-free shop before exiting the airport. When I say loaded up, I mean we purchased the max amount of alcohol the airport would let us buy - something along the lines of 1L of liquor + 3L of wine + 2L of beer... but double that because that is one person's allotment (read more here). Alcohol and tobacco are taxed out the wah-zoo in Norway, so duty-free alcohol shopping is a must and the way of Norwegian life. In fact everything in Norway is expensive - so expensive that residents vacation in Britain just to save money for a couple of days!

Anyway, Tyler dropped us at the house, gave us a map, explained a few hot spots, left us with a key then went back to work for a few hours. Luke and I headed to the harbor where we were greeted with a beautiful sunny day. We had lunch, walked around, and enjoyed the terrific weather.

Since Stavanger is a huge oil city, there is a Petroleum Museum. Outside of the museum is a collection of offshore drilling stuff. Luke was a happy little man when he saw it all. So I played along and asked him what everything was. It was really neat though because it has turned into a playground for the kiddos.

We eventually stopped to have a few drinks and laughed as four beers (not even the size of a pint each) cost us $50. Hah! But there was sun and beautiful weather, so we continued on.

We headed back to the house as Emily and Tyler were expected home from work at any moment. Emily and Tyler prepared a Greek dinner for us, and we ate it in a traditional Norwegian igloo-hut thing that sits next to their house. It is a neat little hut and it was so fun to hang out in there by the fire, have some drinks, and chat until late.
On Saturday, we had plans to go see the famous Fjords, but the weather took a terrible turn overnight. It wasn't storming, but it was raining pretty hard and extremely foggy. We set off toward Preikestolen with hopes the weather would clear, but after crossing the water on the ferry, it wasn't looking good so we had to make a decision on what to do. We drove to a beach spot that Emily and Tyler have visited a few times that looked out over the water at the fjord.

Still not sure what to do, we drove on and enjoyed the scenery. We pulled over a few times to snap some pictures and take in the views of the fjord. Luke, of course, had to get the best views by climbing up a big rocky area.

We decided to do a short hike anyway. Emily and Tyler took us to their secret camping spot which is across the fjord from Preikestolen. The hike was extremely wet, everyone except me had soaked feet even with waterproof shoes on, and everything else was drenched as well. We were thankful we did not continue on to Preiektstolen because that hike is much longer and we would not have been able to see anything from the top. We could barely see the jutted out rock from where we stood, so there was no way we would have had great views after all that climbing. There was wonderful scenery from what we could see, which is what is to be expected in Norway. It reminded us that we do love the countryside as much as the city. Everything was so calm and peaceful and looked as if it was a giant painting in front of us. I would love to see this with clear blue sky! The most interesting thing about it all was the land - it was filled with rocks, very prehistoric, and I felt as if there should have been dinosaurs walking around with us.

We made several attempts at a group shot and finally got one! It was difficult to balance the camera on those rocks.

We took the ferry back and drove a different route home. An interesting aspect to Stavanger (and possibly the rest of Norway, I'm not sure) is how many tunnels there are. With all of the big rocky hills and mountains, they have to carve driving tunnels into them to make roads. It is apparently cheaper than building a road up and over the hills (or maybe the Norwegians have so much money they are just looking to get rid of it). Everyone was pretty drenched, so we quickly changed into some dry clothes. And of course after a rough day in some rough weather, we parked it at home for the night. We ordered pizza, watched football, had some more drinks, and then the boys stayed up wayyyyy too late.

We planned to visit a nearby waterfall on Sunday, but since the boys slept in, we didn't have enough time to do our hike. But the bigger reason was the weather still hadn't cleared. Emily and I started the morning by picking up some Norwegian pastries in town. Super yummy! Around noon, we left the house to go to the Candle Factory, which has an amazing cafe and shop. Luke wanted to buy quite a few things in the store, but we restrained ourselves to a small "velkommen" sign, an antler bottle opener, and a few candles. We all had a yummy Norwegian meatball lunch before getting back into the car. Along the drive, we saw soooooo many waterfalls along the rocky mountains.

It was about the time for us to head to the airport, but on the drive, we made sure to stop and take some beautiful pictures along the way since the weather was slightly clearing.

It was a terrific weekend! I loved that we got to spend time with old friends, and I would love to visit again. Thanks for having for the weekend, Emily and Tyler (we still owe y'all Chipotle)!!!

One-third of Norway lies within the Arctic Circle.

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