From quirky Christmas festivities to its rich Viking heritage, Norway is a country packed with culture. Of course, every nation has its own personal traditions. However, the lifestyle and customs within Norwegian society differ from the rest of the world through its unique approach to celebrating its deep-rooted and brilliant history. This is especially reflected every year on the country’s “birthday”, May 17th.
Brazilians have their carnival, the Irish Saint Patrick’s Day. Norway’s answer? On 17 May, they celebrate the signing of the constitution in 1814. In Norway, Constitution Day is HUGE. Indeed, since I arrived in Bergen in August, I have been told about this day so many times by excited and proud Norwegians, and have been looking forward to May 17th throughout the year.
By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands
Here is a list of some of the best things, both touristy and Dutchie, to do in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. I hope it has something that will appeal to everyone: from club recommendations to must try cookies…
by Amber Musgrove-Benford (University of Helsinki, Finland)
With only just over a fortnight left before I move back to the UK after nine or so months in Finland, I thought I would look back at the top things I have done whilst living in Helsinki – and hopefully give you some ideas of what can be done while studying at UoH.
When I came to study in Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VUA) I was shocked with how different the block system vs the Manchester semester system was. Here are some of the key differences I experienced and what I learnt through these different contexts.
Spring has by far been my favourite season in the Netherlands, with the rise in temperatures I have been able to take advantage of all the green spaces available in this beautiful European country! Here are a few springtime activities, on a budget, I have enjoyed thus far!
By this point you surely realize how incredibly fun it can be to study abroad. But let’s be real, it might not always be. All the same, know that if you ever find yourself in a less welcoming, stressful, or (God forbid) emergency medical situation, there are places you can go and seek help from. Here are some insights for what to do if you find yourself in need in Toulouse.
Physical and mental health support and advice
The best place to look for support and advice related to anything to do with health is the University Medical Centre. All you need to do is call the office number, and you can be professionally assessed by a nurse directly on the phone. She usually asks you about the issue and offers advice right away, but if you deem it necessary, she can also set up an appointment with a specialist depending on your needs. This is usually quick, even the same day. The centre provides generalist medical services, but also has nutritionist, gynecology, or mental health specialists. You might think it quite daunting to pick up the phone or even talk to someone in a foreign situation, but there is no need to worry, even when it comes to the language barrier. If you don’t speak French, it’s no big deal – most specialists also speak English and/or Spanish.
For most purposes, the University Medical Centre should be your go-to, however there might also be times when you find yourself in a situation requiring urgent medical care and cannot wait for an appointment, or when the issue cannot be resolved over the phone. In that case, I recommend going straight to the nearest walk-in emergency clinic (Urgences in French). These can be isolated clinics or part of larger hospitals. For such a visit, you will need to bring your identity card (usually a passport) and medical insurance card. In these situations it’s much easier if you can speak French so that the doctor can ask questions and examine you without any barriers, however, most places in big cities like Toulouse will also have professionals who speak English.
If you find that you cannot get to an emergency clinic on your own, here are the necessary emergency numbers you can call (not just medical):
112 (European number for all emergencies)
15 (Medical emergencies)
18 (Fire brigade)
114 (Number for people with impaired hearing)
A note on insurance
In terms of the documents you will need in these places, thankfully, the University Medical Centre doesn’t require anything besides your student card. For walk-in emergency clinics or hospitals, you will need an identification card of some sort, whether it is a country-issued ID card (EU) or a passport. In addition, you will need an insurance card. Note that although UoM insurance covers you for some incidents, it might not cover you for everything in France. Likewise with an EU-issued insurance card from another country. To avoid paying for the clinics services, I suggest you get a carte vitale (French medical card) as soon as you arrive in France. This can be obtained on request at the local mairie if you already have an EU insurance card. Alternatively you will need to apply for it ahead of time, the same way you would for visa and social security in France, and pick it up when you arrive.
My alarm goes off at 8:30am. Today is the day we go to Trolltunga! My flatmate, Charlotte, and I have some porridge together and finish making our food for the weekend. At 9am, armed with big rucksacks and excitement, we take a local bus to Bergen Bus Station. Here, we meet the rest of our group. It’s a very random assortment of people, including Myfi, a fellow Geographer at UOM, and her friends from Fantoft student housing. Together, we have people from the UK, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and France.
We are also joined by Sarah (from Germany), who asked on a big Bergen WhatsApp group chat whether anyone would be going to Trolltunga this weekend and if she could join a group. Of course, we invited her on our trip. This is something I really love about Erasmus – everyone is open and inviting, there’s no cliques or exclusions happening here. After all, everyone is in the same boat – most people arriving only knowing a couple of people, and everyone is keen to make friends and explore Norway.
At the bus station, we board a coach which will take us to Odda, a town around 3 hours from Bergen. There are 3 coaches at the station and they are all FULL of Erasmus students. Usually, there is only 1 coach but extra are put on in the summer months due to the popularity of Trolltunga! And yet, 3 still isn’t enough and the bus drivers make frantic calls to arrange another coach. This is one of the last weekends possible to hike to Trolltunga without paying a guide, and the weather forecast is great, so everyone is making the most of it. Luckily, we get seats at the front of a coach.
The bus journey is STUNNING. We go through the mountains and along the fjords, and the coach even boards two ferries, which we were very excited about. You can disembark the coach during the ferry rides to enjoy the views of the fjords. It feels very Norwegian for the coaches to casually board ferries. They really are integrated into the transport system here. It doesn’t cost you any extra, you simply pay for the bus ticket and the ferries are included.
We arrive in the centre of Odda at midday, and there is a frantic rush for shuttle buses to the start of the hike. Companies put on these shuttles/taxis as they know there is high demand and there is a lot of money to be made for them! We bump into Spanish girls that Myfi and I recognise from one of our modules, and they tell us that there is a local bus service which goes to ‘Trolltunga Parking 1’ for a fraction of the price, so we wait for that bus and take it together.
15 minutes later we arrive at ‘Parking 1’. We need to reach ‘Parking 2’ where we then have the option to start the hike, or take a shuttle up a private road to ‘Parking 3’ and begin the hike there. We decide to conserve our energy and start the hike at P3, as most people seem to do. Between P2 and P3 it is an exhausting walk along a steep, bending road, shaped like a hair grip, which everyone has advised us not to do.
We are about 20 students in Parking 1 and a steward with a walkie talkie arranges for us to be picked up and driven to P3. There is nobody else here, as it is an overflow car park for the busiest weekends. He informs us that the shuttle will arrive in 10 minutes and that there will be space for all of us. 10 minutes go by, and then another 10 minutes. The steward assures us that the shuttle is on its way. Then, a quad bike type vehicle arrives! It looks very cool but we immediately notice that it will only fit 4 people! 4 lucky Spanish girls get onboard. Again, the steward assures us that the shuttle is on its way. Hmmm. It’s been around 30 minutes now. It’s sunny and we aren’t in a rush so the mood is good, but people start to get more and more frustrated. We begin to joke that maybe a Norwegian 10 minutes is more like 45 minutes in real time. It’s hard to be annoyed with the steward though – he’s a student from Odda and this is his summer job. He tells us that P1 is the most boring shift – barely anyone stops here. Private cars can drive straight up to P2, and most of the private shuttles go from Odda to P2/P3. He’s working at P2 tomorrow though and he’s excited. A group of exchange students from Bergen arriving at P1 is the most exciting thing to have happened to him here! We start to eat our lunches, frustrated and keen to get walking.
Eventually a minibus roars down the hill, and we excitedly grab our bags ready to board. But, it drives straight past P1 and in the direction of Odda! We immediately turn to the steward, outraged, and he explains it is going to refuel in Odda and then it will collect us. Hmmm, how do we know that he won’t collect passengers in Odda and go straight past us again?! 10 minutes, our steward tells us. That’s a lie, as we know for a fact that the journey is at least 15 minutes each way! Exasperated, some of our group prepare to start walking, but the steward persuades them to wait, 10 minutes he says, and then we will be collected. As we know it is daylight until late and the hike will only take 4-6 hours (we are camping at the top), we aren’t pressed for time so the situation is annoying, but it won’t impact our weekend or hiking plan.
Finally, the minibus arrives and we all board! We wave goodbye to the unreliable but friendly steward. Everyone is excited and the drive is adrenaline inducing. We roar up to P2 and then it’s a steep, mountainside road up to P3. We are immensely grateful to not be walking, as we whizz past those who have decided to hike from P2. The driver seems mad, revving up the steep road, with a huge cliff drop on one side. We are all looking at each other in complete shock, holding onto our seats for dear life! Luckily, we arrive in one piece.
Finally, around 2 hours after arriving in Odda, and after numerous, numerous ’10 minutes’, we have arrived at P3 and can begin the hike! We take a quick starting photo, and off we go. The first 30 minutes is fine. It’s mostly flat wooden walkways through a rather barren landscape. Light work! But then the ascent begins. We have about 1 hour of steep, steep ascent up what feels like a sheer cliff face. There’s no steps or explicit path, just a very smooth and steep rockface to climb up. With our heavy backpacks and the sun beating down, we walk slowly and take regular breaks. There’s differing levels of speed and fitness in the group, but luckily everyone is encouraging and waits for each other. We overtake some groups while other groups overtake us, but the atmosphere is friendly and everyone is excited. We see many familiar faces – students from Fantoft or who we recognise from our lectures and seminars. There’s hardly any older adults or families compared to the masses of students.
Once we have completed this ascent, which we are told is the worst part of the hike, we take a long break for some well earned lunch. It’s still sunny and t-shirt weather, hopefully we will tan this weekend! We take the opportunity to fill our water bottles up from a nearby stream. We then hike for another 3-4 hours, stopping frequently to take photos and enjoy the views. The scenery is amazing, with a huge fjord to our lefthand side. We can just about make out the rock itself, the Troll’s Tongue, when we are around 2 hours away, which fills us with excitement. Once we have finished all the ascent, there is around an hour of walking on flat ground.
Eventually, we reach the rock!! We enjoy some food while watching people pose on the rock. I had to close my eyes when some idiots decide to do handstands and yoga poses on the rock. An Erasmus student fell of the rock and died a few years ago, safety is no joke. The crowds soon disappear so we take it in turns to carefully take our photos on the rock. I stay well in the middle, no dangling my legs off the side for me!
Then, we find a place to set up camp. Despite the masses of crowds we saw while hiking up, there aren’t that many tents on the plateau and everyone seems nicely spread out. We find a spot with dry ground and beautiful views of the fjord, and install our tents. It’s getting cold at this point to we begin to wrap up warm. Dinner for me is a rice salad which I prepared in Bergen, while some of the boys in our group warm up baked beans on a gas stove to eat with hot dog sausages (grim, in my opinion!). We go for a walk around the plateau in the evening and then we sit around a candle (fires are not allowed) to tell stories and get to know each other better. After all, we have only been in Bergen for a matter of weeks!
As it gets darker and colder, we crawl into our tents for what I can only describe as the coldest night of my life. I am wearing every single item of clothing that I brought on the trip, including my hat, gloves, fleece, thermal base layers, down jacket and two pairs of leggings, and I am still FREEZING.
Sunday 5th September 2021
Breakfast is porridge, as we all complain about how badly we slept and compete with who was the coldest. But, we soon shut up when the sun makes an appearance and we see the magnificent views. We pack up our camp, making sure to leave nothing behind, and head back to the rock for some more photos.
Next, we split into two groups for the journey down – one with those who want to run (yes, run!), and a chill paced group. I take the latter. The walk back down is relatively easy and straightforward. We have more energy for chatting and getting to know each other too. We take a shuttle from P2 to Odda, where we all reconvene. There’s a couple of hours before the coach back to Bergen so we play cards, lay on the grass, and even have a quick swim in the fjord. There’s also time to send some jaw dropping photos to the family WhatsApp group! The coach journey back is almost silent, with most people asleep. We arrive in Bergen, exhausted but buzzing.
Overall, it was a fantastic weekend with wonderful company, incredible views and a great atmosphere. I would highly recommend this to anyone visiting Bergen or this part of Norway. And bring maximum warm layers for the night!
Recently, during our brief spring vacation, I had the opportunity to venture out of the comfort zone of the immediate Occitanie region and visit the very exotic north-west of France: Loire-Atlantique. This cozy département, sandwiched between the unique cultures of Vendée and Bretagne (which also just happen to be historical rivals), is home to a very different side of Frenchness, which is nevertheless as French as can be, perhaps even more French than our beloved Toulouse! And I’m not just talking about the cheese.
The best part of my Year Abroad experience in Bergen has undoubtedly been the opportunity to take weekend trips. They are the perfect chance to explore Norway, try something new, and make memories to last a lifetime (cringe, I know, but true). Here are 5 trips I have taken, of varying budgets, and different styles.