Scattered About in Scandinavia
In June and July 2007, Kathy and I toured Denmark, Norway and Sweden. We took an escorted Trafalgar trip that lasted 16 days, which was not nearly enough time to see all there was to see. Like all such trips, you get to scratch only the surface. But what we did see was truly remarkable. We saw lots of water, ice, snow, waterfalls, tunnels, ferries, mountains, sophisticated cities, little villages, and wonderful people. In short, it was everything I had hoped for and more.
Day 1 - June 29, 2007 - El Dorado Hills to San Francisco
I was up early because Kathy was coming by to pick me up to drive to San Francisco. I was zipping up the suitcase for what I hoped was the last time when the phone rang and Kathy said she was coming a bit early; did I have a problem with that? Of course not, I was ready to go, just fretting about what I might have forgotten; better to leave and really forget it than to have it looping around in my mind. So Kathy arrived about a half hour later and off we went. The drive over was easy since we left after rush hour. We found our hotel in Millbrae with no problem. After all, we had been there just one year before when we went to London. Our rooms weren't ready so we went looking for some lunch. We went to a small shopping mall and found a cafe that specialized in grilling. When we returned to the hotel, we found our rooms were ready, so we stashed our stuff, cleaned up a bit and went to the California Palace of Fine Arts. We wandered around Golden Gate Park for awhile until we realized the Palace wasn't at the park, but near the Presidio. (Oops, got it mixed up with the deYoung.)
Once we got there, we spent three delightful hours looking at wonderful works of art of all different kinds. We saw a special exhibit of all kinds of subjects and media on paper, some Rembrandt and Pissaro, and as many of the galleries as we could fit in. We were really impressed with the sculptures. They are in separate rooms lit from above. We also saw a room that was set up like a French drawing room with sofa, chairs, writing desk, etc., all very ornate. Of course, there are also many impressive paintings in the other galleries ranging from Monet to Picasso. It is amazing that the colors can stay so vibrant after all these years.
After the guards asked us to kindly leave because it was closing time, we made our way to the far end of Golden Gate Park to the Beach Chalet for dinner. The Chalet is a nice place with good food. The dining room is on the second floor so you are able to look out over the ocean. We couldn't see a whole lot that day because the fog was rolling about on the waves, but we did see a couple of people actually go in and swim in that cold, cold water -- certainly not my idea of fun! For dinner I had lasagne and Kathy had ravioli with goat cheese. Of course, they gave us the mandatory French bread as well. We both enjoyed our meals immensely.
After eating, we headed back to the Palace of Fine Arts for a wonderful night of opera. We saw Madame Butterfly performed by the Pocket Opera group. The man who started Pocket Opera wanted to present opera in a format more people could appreciate, so he translates the opera to English and narrates the performance. The principal singers had very good voices. It was thoroughly enjoyable even though the story is actually quite sad. The theater is in the lower level of the museum and holds about 200 people. We sat in the fourth row, so had an up close and personal view. The seats were not at all comfortable but, like everyone else, we got up and walked around during the intermission.
We headed back to the hotel and got there after only one or two wrong turns. It's a good thing I can read a map. Even so, we got to see some parts of Golden Gate Park that we had never seen before.
Day 2 - June 30, 2007 - San Francisco to London
Neither one of us slept well last night, partly because of all we had done and seen yesterday, partly because of the noisy people getting up very early to catch their planes, and partly from the excitement of what was to come. Also, we were near a train track and there were many trains going by blasting their horns. My room was on the corner close to the laundry facility and ice machine and I could hear people coming and going all night. I never look forward to long flights, but I was hoping maybe this time I could sleep since I was very tired to start out.
We started out the day with continental breakfast at the hotel. As we were eating, we noticed breaking news on the TV. Glasgow airport was shut down due to possible terrorist activity. Flights were being diverted all over Europe. We looked at each other and wondered how London, our first stop, was going to be. By the time we finished eating, there was more news and it turned out not to be Al-Qaeda related, but local activity. We were greatly relieved to hear that, and felt better about flying today.
We were shuttled to San Francisco International with no problem. We started to get in a line for United, which was very long, when an attendant asked us which airline and where we were going, then directed us to another much shorter line. We looked confused because the line he directed us to was heading to Asia, according to the sign, so he said "don't ask questions, just do what I say," so we did, and it worked out great. We were checked in and ready to find our gate in no time.
Once we boarded and found our seats it turned out that Kathy was one row ahead of me and we both had window seats. It was a spectacular day in San Francisco and I took some pictures from my window.
As it turned out, I didn't sleep much on the plane. After some time I tried to close my eyes and doze, but that wasn't going to happen. There was a kid one row ahead of Kathy who was a real brat. The kid wanted to sit with Mom, Dad said no, the kid screamed and kept screaming. He finally screamed himself to sleep, and the rest of us got to relax. Unfortunately, he didn't stay asleep for long and the scenario kept repeating itself for what seemed like eternity, but it was really just ten hours or so.
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Day 3 - July 1, 2007 - London to Copenhagen
We landed at London and it was now Sunday, July 1. We found our transfer spot to get to Copenhagen, but not without difficulty. The monitors weren't displaying any gate numbers and all we saw was "please wait." We weren't sure where to wait, but we wandered around and finally found an area that looked like a lounge with seats where we could monitor the monitor. About an hour before our flight it finally flashed "go to gate" and we were allowed to move on down the hallway. This was some tight security!
Standing in line to get to our terminal, we were told only one carry-on item was allowed. We had to stuff our purses, passport holders, wallets, everything, into the carry-on. I'm not sure what that was all about because everything was X-rayed before we moved out of the line. However, we did what we were told and moved right along. If this had been our last day instead of our first, I doubt I would have been able to comply. When I return from a trip my carry-on luggage is stuffed to the limit with souvenirs. I guess I will need to figure out another way to transport all my souvenirs, especially if we come through Heathrow airport again.
We did finally make it to Copenhagen and were met by our Trafalgar representative, Jeffrey, at the airport. He told us we would have to wait about an hour and a half for the bus to come and get us. We were so worn out and so ready for a shower we didn't want to wait that long to get to our hotel. We inquired about other options and discovered we could take the train or a taxi and it would be about 200 kroner (about $40.00) for either one. Since we were not yet used to the high prices in Scandinavia, we were aghast at the thought of paying that much for a ride to town, so we waited the hour and a half and tried to amuse ourselves by people watching. Little did we know how reasonable that would seem to us at the end of the trip.
Once we arrived at the hotel, we were met with our second hurdle of the trip. Kathy and I requested, and thought we had paid for, single rooms. We were booked as a double. Jeffrey got it straightened out for the night, but we had to contact our travel agent by email to confirm our booking. Unfortunately it was the weekend and Marty was not at her computer. It turned out that she was vacationing also and we did not hear back from her until the last day of our trip. It also turned out we did not pay for single rooms and in the end we had to cover the supplement. Oh well, not the worst that could happen.
My room was on the third floor of a new and very modern hotel -- lots of glass and chrome and lights that turn on at the floor whenever you move around, which also meant whenever you toss and turn in bed. The shower was heavenly and the soaps were equally divine. There were floor to ceiling windows looking out over the river, and one of the windows turned out to be a door. When open, all that was between you and the river is a bar of chrome and a sheet of knee-high plexiglas. Interesting to say the least!
After freshening up, it was dinnertime and time to meet our fellow travelers. I went to the dining room and found Kathy sitting with a couple who were from British Columbia. There was friendly banter going on. The man said British Columbia was God's country and Kathy said no, that's the other god, we're from California. He laughed and went on to extol the virtues of B.C. and that we should visit it sometime. The rest of the group turned out to be quite a mixture of folks from Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, Canada, North Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, Minnesota, Washington, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, and California. Jeffrey, our guide, was from Denmark and Fons, our driver, was from Belgium. It was a great group of people and we all got along very well together.
Food in a foreign country is always an adventure and sometimes a challenge. My first Scandinavian dinner was quite different. It started with an appetizer of ham and baked beets on greens with creme freche. Next came what the chef called small chicken breast with mushrooms and a sauce made with chives, and roasted new potatoes. Dessert was two sorbets -- one cranberry and the other almond with chocolate bits in it -- served with strong coffee. After dinner Kathy and I strolled down the river walk from our hotel for about 30 minutes. Finally it was time for bed. I slept hard for an hour or two then tossed and turned the rest of the night, hence the comment above about the light coming on from tossing and turning in bed.
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Day 4 - July 2, 2007 - Copenhagen Sightseeing
Up and ready by 7:00. Breakfast here was quite a spread -- lots of different kinds of rolls and breads, Danish pastries of course, cereals, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, juices, and a variety of fruit. All that I tasted was very good.
At 8:00 we boarded the bus and commenced our city tour. Jeffrey, our tour leader, couldn't get into town because the trains were having a problem, so the city tour guide took us on her own. She was very knowledgeable and quite entertaining. She told lots of interesting stories about the buildings and areas of town as we passed by. One of our first stops was to see the Little Mermaid. We didn't stay very long, just long enough to get photos of her. We were driven around to a part of town where we could walk and see some of the charm of Copenhagen. We walked for about 20 minutes to a place called Greyfriars Square. Some monks used to live and study there, hence the name. We drove by Parliament House which has three faces on the front. One face looks like it has a pain in the head, one a pain in the stomach, and one a pain in the chest. The guide said that is because Parliament is such a pain to the people. They were thinking about adding another face, and guess which part of the anatomy they will represent this time?
She also told us a delightful little story about the two porcelain dogs seen in windows of many homes. Many years ago (certainly not something done nowadays) the sailors would go to see the "naughty" girls. The villagers would get upset about these goings-on so the madams started selling porcelain dogs in the front part of the house while the entertainment was going on in the back. The sailors would buy the porcelain dogs on their way back through the house, then bring them home to their wives. Eventually, because each of the wives seemed to have the same two dogs, they found out the real story. To get even, the wives started using the dogs to let their own visitors know when their husbands were away. If the dogs were facing each other, the sailor/husband was home. If the dogs were facing away from each other he was away and the coast was clear for a rendezvous. We all just died laughing at that one.
We finished the city tour and headed out to Fredensberg and the Palace of Peace. This is a charming little town and the palace is right there next to it. We actually went there to see the changing of the guard, but got held up at a cafe while trying to get some lunch. We didn't know that we needed to go to the counter to order; we sat at the table waiting for the guy to come to us. Once we figured out what we were supposed to do, we did get the food ordered. The problem after that was that it took forever to get our food. We didn't finish eating until 12:30 or so and needed to get back to the bus on the other end of town by 12:45. So, no changing of the guards for us, but a good lunch and delightful company. Pam from Australia joined us and she turned out to be quite the Aussie.
From Fredensberg we drove to another castle that was built by Frederick III as a hunting lodge. He liked the area, built the castle, then bought the lake and all the land around it. He stocked the lake with fish so he could catch them from his balcony. He also brought in deer and other animals to hunt.
One very impressive spot in the castle was the church. It is very ornate, rather Lutheran in style, unusual to say the least. The ceiling looked like something the Italianate would have done. There is a wall in the church with shields for the Order of the Elephant award. The awards are given only to royalty for some service to the country. There is also a huge organ with wooden pipes. It takes two men to work the bellows in the back and they have to be good at it, otherwise the sound comes out jerky. Services are still held there and the organ is played every so often for 30 minutes at a time. Another huge room is the music room, also very ornate. There are huge brass chandeliers that are still lit with candles and a fireplace at one end. There was a fire at the castle years ago and everything in this room was destroyed. The Carlsberg beer company put up the money for the restoration and replacement of the items lost. So the castle is not state owned any more, but privately owned by this corporation. They have done a good job cleaning it up and keeping it cleaned up.
Dinner this evening was at a little place called De Lille Apotek. We went down a few steps and entered a very old building that used to be a pharmacy in its first life many, many years ago. The room was very dark and was decorated like a hunting lodge, with animal pictures strewn about, and open wood beams at the ceiling. We were directed to long wooden tables that looked to be original to the building. We were served a traditional meal that is usually served at Christmas: a pate to start with, then roast pork, red cabbage, and two kinds of potatoes, then rice pudding to finish. An almond was hidden in the rice pudding and the person who found it got a prize. The roast pork had a very light flavor as did the gravy that went with it. One kind of potato had been fried in sugar until it looked the color of yams. Very tasty. We sat with some folks from Florida and Trish and Wendy from Australia. Needless to say, we laughed a lot that evening.
After dinner we headed for Tivoli Gardens. This place is so charming and pretty. I had no idea what to expect and I was very pleasantly surprised. There are gardens, of course -- the roses and hydrangeas were just outstanding -- and there were restaurants, food halls, concert halls, bandstands placed here and there, amusement park rides, penney (kroner) arcades, candy stores, souvenir stores. There is, quite simply, entertainment for people of all ages.
It was nighttime when we went to Tivoli and even though it wasn't very dark, the lights came on anyway. Most of the buildings are outlined in lights and there are little surprises of lights all around, like the lights at the bottom of a fountain under the water, and the concert hall where the interior lights changed color from red to blue to violet to white, and the little arcs of colored lights along the garden paths.
There is a ride with a tower about 150 feet high. The riders sit in seats suspended from cables off a wheel. The whole wheel is raised to the top and spun around, much to the delight of those riding in it I'm sure. The tour guide this morning cautioned us to ride that one after dinner. There was also a roller coaster that looked like great fun, as well as several other rides for the less adventurous. This was a great place to walk around and to hear the music being played from different corners. I slept like a babe this night, dreaming of castles, gardens, and Danish pastries.
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Day 5 - July 3, 2007 - Copenhagen to Odense to Aalborg
I woke up this morning with a sore throat. Not exactly what I was looking forward to on this trip, but there it was. I tried to keep going, but as the day wore on, I wore down and the cold came on. Fortunately we didn't have to be on the bus until 9:15 so I could sleep in a bit.
We were on the bus much of the day. The guides are very good about stopping for breaks, partly because they have to take care of the drivers and partly because they don't want a bunch of unruly passengers. So about two hours down the road from Copenhagen we stopped at a roadside rest area. This stop was just after we had crossed the bridge with the longest suspension span in the world -- just over a mile. The Scandinavians are rightly proud of this engineering feat. The bridge replaced the ferries. For moving things and people around, the bridge is much better and faster.
We went through a lot of farmland today. What they raise the most here is wheat, oats, and barley. And we did see some fields of sugar beets and corn. Jeffrey explained that although Denmark produces lots of pork products, we won't see any pigs because they are all raised inside for better quality control. He was right, we did not see a pig anywhere, but we did see some beef and dairy cows and lots and lots of beautiful scenery. The fields are as green as can be.
We stopped in Odense for a lunch break. This is the town Hans Christian Andersen was living in when he wrote his famous stories. Jeffrey told us he was a young man who just didn't fit in. While trying to find himself, he tried singing and ballet among other things. He finally started submitting stories about his life to one of the local newspapers. People appreciated and recognized what he was saying, and that is how he got his start. Now in Odense there is a museum in his honor where his stories are told to upcoming generations. We didn't get to the museum because we started looking for something to eat and nothing looked like what we wanted. We finally settled on ready-made sandwiches from a little shop that specialized in pizza. Pizza must be the new favorite thing here. Lots of cafes and shops are advertising it, full ones and by the slice. Anyway, the sandwiches were good and filled up our empty spots. After eating, we walked through some of the shops and saw some very nice things.
Kathy's camera stopped working today, so in Odense we tried to find a throw-away camera. We found a shop that had them, but the place was busy and the cash register wouldn't read the price. We had to give up on that because our time was too short and we had to make our way back to the bus.
We made it to Aalborg about 4:30, found our rooms, and then went out to see what we could see. There is a bridge about two blocks from the hotel and Kathy and I walked down to it, crossed underneath, and walked back. It was about an hour's walk altogether. We got rained on, but it soon stopped so we didn't get too wet.
We saw a truck load of high school graduates. You can tell who they are because when they pass the test of whatever subject they have been studying, they are given a white hat. During the week-long celebration, a group of grads will rent a car, bus, truck or whatever will hold them all. They then drive from one person's house to another with food and drink at each place. They all wear the white hats and when you see them you are supposed to wave and say congratulations. A very interesting custom!
We stopped in a market and a mini mart (a 7-11, actually) looking for a camera. Couldn't find one at either place. In a third shop Kathy asked the clerk if there were any disposable cameras and he had some under the counter. Voila, maybe that's where they are kept? Kathy bought one and was very glad to be back in the picture-taking business. It's a good thing the cameras are simple to use because the directions were in Danish. It was interesting that the clerk at the store recognized immediately that we are Americans because of our accent. Never occurred to me before that I had an accent!
Dinner this evening was chicken with mushroom sauce, green salad, and something like twice-baked potatoes. Dessert was a tiramisu-style pudding. It's a good thing they serve strong coffee, as another walk was on the agenda for after dinner. We walked the other direction away from the hotel this time. Aalborg is a delightful little town with many historical buildings dating from 1624 to 1908. At least that was what was etched in the stone above the doors of one building we saw. Most of the shops were closed, but we walked up to what used to be the train station (now a store on the first floor with offices above) which was near the end of town. We turned around and started to make our way back going down some side streets including one that was nothing but restaurants. Here's where all the people were, eating and drinking the night away. We came to a candy shop and went in because it looked so interesting. We got to hear the church clock sound off a couple of times before we made it back to our hotel.
The room at the Radisson in Aalborg was nice -- not as modernistic as the one in Copenhagen. I had a view of the Limfjord and the bridge across the fjord that we walked across before dinner. Interestingly enough, the lights worked like the ones in Germany. You have to put the room key in the slot before you can turn on any of the lights.
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Day 6 - July 4, 2007 - Aalborg to Stavanger
Woke up weary this morning. The cold was getting worse and I anticipated a nose-blowing adventure. Unfortunately, I wasn't disappointed. Thankfully, we weren't scheduled to go anywhere until 10:00, allowing me some much-needed rest time.
At 10:15 we boarded the bus and drove to the Port of Aalborg to catch the ferry to Kristiansand. The boat ride was fairly uneventful. Some people were concerned that because it was raining there would be choppy seas, but that didn't happen. We walked around for awhile checking out what was there, had a sandwich, walked around some more, went to the duty free shop where I spent most of my remaining Danish money, walked around some more, then finally found our seats. This is a huge boat. It can hold 3,000 passengers plus cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles. Jeffrey said that because prices are less in Denmark the folks from Norway like to pop over for a weekend or holiday to buy important things like liquor. Big savings for just a two and a half hour ride.
We disembarked the boat and boarded the bus for a drive along the highway to Stavanger. There was an immediate difference in scenery -- more hills, fewer farms. We saw lots of really nice-looking houses along the lakesides. Wouldn't mind living here except maybe during the winter. We saw some wildlife -- a deer was feeding in one of the fields. Other than that it was the same old cows, sheep and horses. The mountains are mostly granite with valleys of green here and there where picturesque villages of white houses with red roofs are situated. Very beautiful!
We finally arrived at the Hotel Clarion in Stavanger. Once again Kathy and I were booked into the same room. We asked Jeffrey for a change and that was accomplished by the time he handed out the rest of the keys. Kathy was berthed on the 9th floor and the rest of us were on the 4th floor.
Dinner was buffet style at the hotel. It's a good thing we didn't have to go anywhere else because I was quite tired after my long day of nose-blowing. Somehow, though, the dinner and that wonderful Scandinavian coffee revived me so Kathy and I wandered around some of the streets of Stavanger. There were lots of little shops, although none of them were open at this time of day/night. We also found the restaurant row where quite a few of the locals were hanging out and enjoying themselves. The streets tended to meander, but they all seemed to end up by the harbor where a beautiful plaza was constructed. We came across an interesting statue at the plaza. It was a goat. The inscription on the statue was in English and we discovered the statue was erected to commemorate the Norwegian people who emigrated to America. Beyond the plaza was a park with a very nice lake with a fountain in the center and some resident swans who were fun to watch. We walked around the lake, stopping to look at a church that has been there since the 1800s. The building is Gothic in style and I am sure the stained glass windows are beautiful from the inside. We couldn't find an open door so couldn't go in to verify. We were standing at the edge of the park trying to decide which was the best way back to the hotel when we saw three ladies from our group doing the same thing. We joined up and walked back with them.
Since this was July 4th, I wore my patriotic shirt and several people commented that, oh yes, it was Independence Day. Pam from Australia wished us Happy Independence Day. I thought that was nice of her.
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Day 7 - July 5, 2007 - Stavanger Sightseeing
I was up for breakfast at 7:00. Kathy and I had agreed to meet, eat a quick breakfast, and take a stroll around other parts of Stavanger. This morning we walked around the business area and then into the area where the people live. We saw some old mansions that had been turned into bed and breakfasts and apartments, and old warehouses that had been made into offices and restaurants. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a bakery and got sandwiches to eat later on the ferry. This little sojourn wore me out so I went back to my room to rest and Kathy continued on without me.
At 11:15 we gathered in the hotel lobby and walked en mass to the harbor for a ferry boat ride around the fjord. It was starting to rain so I went inside and chose seats at the front of the boat. My cold was not getting any better and I decided warm and dry was better than wet and cold. Unfortunately, the pictures didn't turn out as good as they could have if there wouldn't have been a window between me and the view. We saw such beautiful scenery, it is impossible to describe other than there was lots of rocky hills with green valleys and waterfalls and little villages here and there. We went up the fjord to Pulpit Rock, which is about as amazing as Half Dome at Yosemite. It is a sheer granite cliff overlooking the fjord. The picture to the right doesn't even begin to capture the massive size of the cliff. Pulpit Rock signaled the end of our ride and we turned around and went back part way. We docked and the Trafalgar group disembarked and the ferry continued on. Our bus was waiting to take us to a candle making place and to see a boulder field.
The candle making place was very interesting. It has been there for four generations. There was lots of very nice stuff in addition to the candles that came in just about every color and size and shape you could imagine. One room upstairs had all kinds of Christmas goodies in it including a full-size taxidermied reindeer. (Hopefully not one of S. Claus's team!!) As it turned out, I happened to part with some of my Norwegian money at the candle making shop.
The boulder field was just about unbelievable. All these huge rocks at some point in time broke off from the surrounding cliffs and crashed down. A lake was formed when the boulders fell in the end of the fjord and through time the salt water was replaced with fresh water. This was another very beautiful spot.
From here we went back to the hotel and were on our own for dinner. I was feeling punky so I went straight to bed. Kathy joined up with Trish and some others from our group and enjoyed a lively evening at one of the pub-type restaurants on the wharf.
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Day 8 - July 6, 2007 - Stavanger to Bergen
We had an early start today; we had to have our bags out by 6:30 and on the bus by 7:40. Jeffrey wanted an earlier start so we would have more time in Bergen. After my long night of sleep and a huge breakfast I was more than ready to get going.
This was a day of bus and ferry rides. We rode on the highway until it ended. Then we rode on the ferry until it ended. Repeat. Repeat. All this island-hopping is quite an interesting way to travel. I was amazed at the great ferry system that is in place here. Of course, the Trafalgar folks have figured out the timetables perfectly, and we never had to wait more than five or six minutes before a ferry arrived. We saw lots of wonderful scenery: the mountains, the waterfalls, the green, green valleys, the little villages with red and white houses and red roofs. It reminded me of the paintings you see that just don't look real because everything is so perfect.
We also passed by some salmon farms. They look like huge hula hoops floating on top of the water with nets placed over them. There is a "mother ship" hovering around with a feeding tube going down into the water. The fingerlings are fed the best nutritious food and are kept free from bacteria, and when they mature they are released to complete their life cycle. The Norwegians claim they are the best tasting salmon in the world. I cannot attest to that, I can just pass along the information as I hear it.
Just as we were coming into the Bergen harbor, we came upon some houses that Kathy and I both coveted. They were on their own little islands and looked so charming. We each had our favorites. Mine is shown here.
Bergen. Wow! I was immediately entranced, enchanted and enveloped by her charms. The town was so very interesting to walk around and explore. The first thing we did was head for the funicular railway, one of the things Jeffrey said was a must-do. We walked straight out of our hotel through the plaza to the ticket stand, bought a ticket at the counter, and got on the tram. The car was crowded. A young woman insisted that Kathy take her seat. Another young lady offered her seat to me, but it would have been too awkward to move around and get there, so I politely refused. Besides I really wanted to stand so I could see better as the views came into sight. The tram went through a couple of short tunnels and in ten minutes we were on the top of the hill overlooking Bergen. Let me say that the views from that spot were absolutely breathtaking. We sat on some stone steps and just tried to take it all in. The town of Bergen spreads out from the harbor and goes up and over a hill. The contrast of the blue water, green hills, and red and white houses was nothing short of breathtaking. Once we could breathe again, we walked around a bit, then found a bench to sit on to take in a totally different view of the town. It was getting hot, and we needed some refreshment, so we found a cafe and got a cold drink and a snack. Someone said it was 75 degrees, but it felt hotter than that, I suppose because of the humidity. After we were refreshed, we walked around a bit more, Kathy bought a couple of postcards, then we took the tram back down to town.
Kathy had been to Bergen before and she steered me toward the fish market, a place I would normally have given a wide berth to, since I am not a fan of fish. It turned out to be much more than a fish market, however. There were many different kinds of food stands, beverage stands, souvenir stands, you name it. There were crafts, t-shirts, jewelry, fruit and veggies, in addition to all the many kinds of fish that come from the Norwegian sea. Needless to say, it piqued my interest! On the way back from the tram we stopped to take a close look. At one of the souvenir stands, Kathy found the most beautiful hummingbird and pointed it out to me. It now hangs on my living room wall with the rest of my hummingbird collection.
Dinner was served at the hotel this evening. It started with some kind of fish soup which I politely refused, then came steak, mixed veggies, and boiled potatoes. The little potatoes had some kind of peppery flavor on them - very nice. Dessert was a mocha mousse with mixed berries. Very tasty!
After dinner Kathy and I walked down to the oldest part of town. Kathy wanted to show me the back parts of the buildings where the old beams show. It was most interesting. One building we saw had the date 1480 carved on it. It is hard to believe it has stood there all this time. Some of the old buildings leaned a bit and the floors had vertical curves in them, but they were in remarkable shape considering their age. We wandered through some of the little shops and Kathy found a couple of nice t-shirts to buy. We then headed back to the hotel. I was worn out and went to my room to relax while, once again, Kathy continued on without me. By day's end, I was feeling miserable from the cold and the cough that was now brewing. I was beginning to think I was never going to get well again.
The hotel in Bergen is worthy of mention. It was a nice sized room with a nice comfy bed, but the decor was a bit unusual. When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was a large (about a foot long) plastic chili pepper hanging on the wall. On another wall there was a picture of a Caribbean woman wearing a showgirl headdress. The window curtains and an armless chair were bright orange. There were red, yellow and green strings of beads hanging down along the edges of the windows. The cabinets had wood swirls on them that looked like tiger stripes, and above the cabinet was a large mirror with a plastic frame that looked like ice crystals. On top of the headboard at both ends were small green plastic pylons. The lamps were white, but looked like elongated barrel cactus. We compared notes on the rooms, and apparently all the rooms were decorated the same way. Believe me, whoever decorated the rooms had a wild imagination!
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Day 9 - July 7, 2007 - Bergen to Flam Railway to Sognefjord (Leikanger)
There was no need to be up super early today since we didn't leave until 9:30. I woke up about 4:30 the first time, but rolled over and went back to sleep with no problem. Had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel buffet, then boarded the bus for our next adventure, which was a trip to Sognefjord.
We took a short drive to our first ferry of the day. After the boat trip, there was another short drive to the town of Voss. Voss is famous for a cathedral that was built when the Vikings were first being converted to Christianity, and also as the birth place of that famous American footballer Knute Rockne. We stopped there for a short break and photo opportunity. There was a christening going on at the church, so we got to see some folks in local dress.
From Voss we took a train to Myrdahl, oohing and aahing all the way. Using Doug's scale of superlatives, I would label this scenery as heart stopping. There were lots of waterfalls, snow pack on the very tops of the mountains, little villages down in the valleys. Unfortunately, there were also lots and lots of tunnels. I would just get ready to snap a picture and there would be darkness as the view vanished and we entered a tunnel. I don't know how many shots I missed because of those dratted tunnels.
At Myrdahl, we changed trains to go to Flam. This train looked like it was straight out of a Cold War era film. The exterior was bright green, the wooden seats were not at all comfortable with their straight backs, the windows wouldn't open without force, and the only breathable air came in through the windows, if you could get them open. But we did see some amazing scenery! On the way to Flam, the train stopped at a huge waterfall at Flekkefjord and we all hopped out to take pictures. There was music playing and sirens dancing at the bottom of the falls. That was totally unexpected! We ran out of English superlatives to describe what we were seeing, so I asked Jeffrey how to say "fantastic" in Norwegian. He said "vakker" was the closest term. So forevermore I will always think of "vakker" whenever I see a beautiful waterfall. When we arrived at Flam, we had about an hour to walk around, look at shops, and marvel at the scenery.
On the way from Flam to Sognefjord, we drove through the longest tunnel in Europe -- 24.5 kilometers. The driver stopped about half way to let us hop out and take some pictures. There wasn't anything really unusual about the tunnel except for its length.
Our hotel at Sognefjord was right on the water. I was on the second floor and I had a great view of the fjord, a little boat docking area, and the surrounding mountains. The rooms were quite minimal compared to our previous rooms, but still satisfactory. I was thankful for the heated floor in the bathroom, as it turned a bit chilly this evening. This area had a definite country feel to it and I liked it quite a bit.
Dinner this evening was buffet style again with lots of different choices. Besides the requisite fish and potatoes, there was pork, chicken, and a couple of veggie casseroles, along with potato salad and greens. The dessert table had more than I could sample. After stuffing our tummies, we went for a 40-minute walk up the road and back, passing over a river that flows into the fjord. It started to rain so we ducked inside for the night.
Here are some Norwegian words we have learned: skinke (ham), ost (cheese), skilling (chicken), hygge (cozy).
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Day 10 - July 8, 2007 - Sognefjord (Leikanger) Sightseeing
We boarded the bus at 8:30 and drove along the fjord to catch a ferry at Kaupagen to cross the fjord to Gudnaugen. From there we drove to the ice fields. The scenery along the fjord was spectacular of course: many more waterfalls, small farms, green mountains, just the usual extraordinary stuff our eyes have become accustomed to seeing. . .
We drove up a very steep and narrow (I mean VERY steep and VERY narrow) road with many tight switchbacks to the Stallheim Falls Hotel. Some of the folks on the bus, especially the woman sitting behind us, were about ready to faint. I must say that I helped to guide the bus myself. But what a view when the thrilling drive came to an end! Since this was a lunch stop, we had to go inside long enough to collect our food, which was chicken soup and sandwiches that were ready and waiting for us, then hurry outside to eat and enjoy the view. Some folks were concerned that we would have to go back down that narrow twisty road. Jeffrey said not to worry, we were continuing on in the same direction, which put a lot of people's minds at ease, including mine, I might add.
After we finished eating, we walked around outside for awhile taking in the gorgeous view, then wandered through the gift shop, where I happened to part with some more of my Norwegian money, then we went on our way.
The big attraction here besides the hotel and the amazing view is the Stallheim Falls. Huge amounts of water come tumbling down the mountainside. The valley below with the little houses is where goat cheese is made by hand for us to enjoy.
Jeffrey told us this mountain top was one of the last strongholds for the Norwegians during World War II. They used cannons left over from World War I, and were able to hold off the Germans because of the difficult terrain. There were some bunkers and ramparts still there that we had explored while walking around outside.
We got back on the bus and drove off to the ice fields. The ice stays on these fields pretty much year-round and many folks have built small cabins to come up for long weekends to ski cross country. We stopped to take some pictures and were met by a bunch of sheep who have learned that if they baaa long enough the tourists will give them something to eat. Some of our group who had food complied and the sheep finally moved away. We almost lost one of the men from our group at this spot. He started down an embankment to get that greatest of all shots, lost his footing, and stopped rolling just before the edge of the cliff. His poor wife was standing helpless at the top watching him roll. He said he didn't get the shot - just scraped knees and a bruised ego.
We returned to the hotel by way of bus, then ferry, then bus. At the hotel we had a few minutes to drop off whatever we didn't want to carry, then hopped back on the bus for a visit to a farm about three kilometers from town that has been in existence since Viking days. They know this because there are Viking burial mounds on the farm and the implements found buried with the people carbon date to Viking times. We trudged all around the hills and the mounds and greatly enjoyed viewing the fjord from this beautiful vantage point. This was once a huge farm, but has been split into six different properties. The farm we were on, Henjum, is the smallest of the properties and is less than three acres, not including pastureland which was further uphill. It is currently owned by a woman farmer and has been in her family for many generations. She told us that property is usually bequeathed to the eldest son but this farm was left to her by an uncle who had no children. She is able to make a living by catering to tourists, providing special parties like weddings with traditional foods, raising sheep for meat and wool, and growing apples, pears, berries and cherries. A member of our group asked her about the winters in Norway and she stated that the snow will come, then go away, then snow for a couple of days, then go away. Not sure what she meant by that exactly, but I think she was trying to say the winters really aren't as brutal as we imagine them to be. At the end of the tour of her farm, she brought us back to a shed-like building and served us home-made apple cider and lefsa. Quite a taste treat!
Dinner was at the hotel (a recurring theme on this trip -- I'm certainly not complaining, though). This time one of the main dishes was beef, another was meatballs made with chicken, and pasta in a tomato sauce. There were brussels sprouts, sliced carrots and cauliflower along with the potatoes and a couple of salads. Also, totally ignored by me, were several kinds of fish dishes. Several different delicacies covered the dessert table. Altogether a great dinner.
We needed a walk after all that food. This time we headed toward town, then turned to follow a road that runs along the river. The walk didn't last long for me as it started to rain and I headed for the hotel. Kathy continued on, though. She is a hardy soul!
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Day 11 - July 9, 2007 - Sognefjord (Leikanger) to Geiranger
We were up and out early this morning. The ferry boats wait for no sleeping woman.
Our first stop was at the Briksdal Glacier. I have to say I have seen bigger and prettier blocks of ice in Canada and Alaska. To the glacier's credit, though, the weather wasn't the greatest -- it was rainy, cloudy, foggy, and cold -- and we were at the foot of the glacier trying to look up to see it. Perhaps I was just too short to get a good look.
Our second stop of the day was at a place where there was a 13th century bridge crossing a river. There is a round stone with a hole in it on the far side of the bridge. Legend has it that if an unmarried girl is thought to be in the family way, by crawling through the hole, it could be proved otherwise. Pregnant or not, most of us couldn't get one leg through the hole. Trish gave it a good try, though. She didn't get stuck exactly, but she really just poked her head through the hole.
Our lunch stop was at Stryn, a thriving metropolis with a main street and everything. We ate at a cafeteria-style restaurant that offered prepared sandwiches or you could order a hot meal if you wished. We opted for the sandwiches because they were faster. We walked around the town, visited some shops, then it was back on the bus to catch the ferry to Geiranger. On the way we stopped at a Stave church. Stave churches are wooden churches that were built during the Viking times. They are covered with pitch which has allowed the wood to survive all these years. I believe they are the only churches that intermingle Christian and Viking symbols. The Viking symbols were evident on the outside by the dragons on the peaks of the roofs. This was a short stop as we needed to stay on schedule to catch the ferry to Geiranger so none of us were able to go inside the building, but just being able to walk around the church in this stunning setting was a privilege.
The ferry ride to Geiranger took about an hour and we saw some heart-stopping scenery along the way including many, many vakker waterfalls. The whole time we were onboard the ferry there was a running narration going on about what we were seeing. We learned that there are many farms along this fjord that have been abandoned. One farm was left in 1889 because it was thought the overhanging rock was going to fall and destroy the farmhouse. The rock is still standing 100+ years later. I can't remember the reason why, but many of the farms were abandoned in 1960-1961. One farm had to be reached by ladder for the last phase of the trip. That came in handy at tax time -- take up the ladder and the tax collector can't get to you. After hearing about the hardships like rowing across the fjord for fresh water every day and the inaccessibility of the farms, I can understand why some of the folks might have left. Plus, I can't even begin to imagine what a winter at one of these remote places would be like.
We passed a place where there were seven waterfalls in a row. They are called the seven sisters. Across the fjord is a single waterfall they call the suitor. All the sisters rejected the suitor and he drowns his troubles in a bottle shape in the falls.
As we approached Geiranger, we went up another zig zag road to a lookout spot where you can see the fjord and the town of Geiranger. The beauty of this spot is simply indescribable. You just have to see it for yourself to understand what I cannot say in words.
Once we were at Geiranger, Kathy and I did what we always do: we walked. When we came back from our walk before dinner, a young man handed us an announcement about a program of folk music at the cultural center that night. We talked to a couple of other people and they seemed interested, so Kathy asked Jeffrey how we could get there and he said the hotel receptionist would call a taxi for us. So at 8:30, Wendy, Kathy and I were taxied to the cultural center. About five or six others from our group walked up the hill. I might have been able to do it, but I would have needed to start yesterday. It was a very steep hill.
The program was very entertaining, but not nearly long enough. It lasted only about 40 minutes. We would have kept them going all night if we could. An older man played the Hardanger fiddle, which is an eight-string violin native to Norway, two different kinds of flutes, and a harmonica. One of the flutes had only one hole and he changed the notes with his breaths. Four teenagers in full Norwegian costume danced to his tunes. It was a very nice evening, a good way to cap off a great day. Afterward, we sat in the hotel lounge drinking tea and staring at the fjord and wishing we didn't have to leave in the morning.
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Day 12 - July 10, 2007 - Geiranger to Lom to Lillehammer
After breakfast, we boarded the bus at 8:00 and drove up, up, up 1,000 meters to Dalnibba Pass. Except for all the tight switchbacks to get there, it looked a lot like Donner Pass with granite rocks, a lake, and lots of snow. The point of going there was to see a magnificent view of Geiranger Fjord, but all we saw were clouds that day. Fortunately, the scenery on the way up was amazing, so it wasn't totally disappointing. At the top, Jeffrey served Aqua Vit, which is a very strong alcoholic drink, to those who wanted it in celebration of reaching the top. I decided to try a bit of it and it was so strong it literally took my breath away and I'm pretty sure the fumes singed my nose hairs as the liquid passed my lips. Definitely not something I would recommend, unless you happen to be Norwegian, of course.
After our "Skoal" event, we made it safely down the other side of the mountain to Lom. After reaching Lom we had lunch at a bakery, walked around a bit, then went all together to another Stave church. Tourists are invited into the church by appointment only and this time we did have plenty of time to enjoy the tour. A very cute young lady dressed in period clothing told us about the building of the church. This particular church was built in 1168. The Viking influence was evident in the dragons on the top of the roof. The building was put together with four large wooden pillars and cross beams notched so they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle - no nails. Since the Christians didn't want Viking symbols inside the church, our guide showed us where the builders had hidden a picture of a dragon in the rafters where the priest couldn't see it. She also showed us the places where people had carved their names in the old runic way of writing - nothing but straight lines. She told one story of a young lady who bought a pew on the men's side of the church. That way they could all see her. She also showed us some implements that were found when the church was renovated in the 1930s. One was something that looked like a wooden spoon and another was a water shovel that would have been used to scoop water from the river to the fields. Another find was part of a walking stick with a love note on it. Apparently the girl being pursued was not impressed because the walking stick had been broken in two. After the inside tour, we walked around the churchyard looking at the graves and old headstones. We didn't find any old relatives buried there.
Before we went into the church, Jeffrey told us there was a problem with the bus steering fluid. He didn't know if it could be fixed locally or if we would have to get another bus to take us to Lillehammer. He said since we were going into the church, perhaps thanks would be in order for making it down the mountain in one piece. We all agreed.
Since the bus was out of commission, we had some time to walk around the town of Lom. Kathy and I went to the Norsk Fjellmuseum (Norwegian Mountain Museum) which had very interesting interactive displays showing how the Norwegian people have used the resources found in the mountains from the earliest times up to the present day. We spent quite a bit of time wandering through the museum. Afterwards, we were ready for some refreshment, so we stopped in at the bakery again and had some nice hot coffee. Once refreshed, we walked down toward the river, then back to our meeting place to find the bus had been fixed and was ready to roll. Luckily there was a local garage that had just what was needed to get us back on the road.
We headed out to Lillehammer. Along the way we passed through what has to be some of the world's finest scenery. It was very pastoral once we came down from the mountains. There were lots of farms, wide open fields, and the river. As we passed through this lovely scenery Jeffrey played Peer Gynt and other music composed by Ibsen which further enhanced our senses. We saw a couple of reindeer in a field beside the road. Jeffrey said they are raised for the meat and their hides. Because we were behind schedule, we didn't take an afternoon break, and drove straight through to the Olympic ski jump at Lillehammer. It was a very impressive sight -- I knew they were big, of course, but this was more than I had ever imagined. The jumps are being beautifully maintained so they must still be in use for competitions.
Dinner at Lillehammer was another buffet at the hotel. There was the usual array of dishes plus a meat patty that someone said was elk. It had a distinctive gamey flavor, which was my first clue that it was something other than beef. There were so many mix-ups with our checking in that the hotel gave each of us a free drink with dinner. One couple walked into their room and walked right back out. It hadn't been made up and for all they knew someone was still using the room. One gal's name wasn't on the list, so she didn't have a room. Another couple requested a change and that hadn't happened by the time we had dinner. The lifts were right out of the 1950s. It took forever to get to the second floor and then forever and a half to get to the third floor where my room was located. One trip in the lift was all I needed. I took the stairs after that. All in all, though, this was a very charming old hotel with dark paneling and decorated in the lodge motif with real oil paintings hanging on the walls.
Kathy and Trish went off for a walk after dinner. For some reason, this night I was totally fagged out and after dinner went straight to bed. I was mostly over the cold by then, just some residual coughing was left, so not sure what that was all about, but sleep sure came easily.
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Day 13 - July 11, 2007 - Lillehammer to Hamar to Oslo
This morning we were up and on the bus by 8:00. We drove straight through from Lillehammer to Oslo, about a two and a half hour ride. The bus let us off at City Hall, which is right downtown by the port. In the early years, the area around the port was pretty shabby and it was full of crime of all sorts. In the 1930s, everything that was there was torn down and replaced with affordable apartments and the City Hall. The City Hall building was pretty amazing. Inside the building are huge murals and works of art depicting historical events and commemorating war heroes. The building is flanked by two towers. One tower has a clock that chimes every quarter hour and on the hour plays a Norwegian tune. It was like hearing a mini concert every hour.
Kathy and I were feeling drowsy after that long bus ride, so we walked to a bakery for coffee and a roll. After getting refreshed, we strolled to the palace and around the park, then back to the port area and into a large shopping mall. We looked around a bit, then went to a deli to buy a sandwich for lunch. We had to grab it and run because the bus was there and it looked like everybody was on it except us. It turned out we misunderstood the meeting time. We thought it was 1:30, but it was really 1:00. Lucky for us we were close by getting our sandwiches. One couple did not make it back in time. They said they hung around for awhile at the place we were supposed to meet then went to the information center to call the hotel to find out what was happening. After being told the bus was back at the hotel, they walked the few blocks there.
We were next taken by a city guide on a quick tour of Oslo. She pointed out some of the buildings and other points of interest like an old fortress, the palace and cathedral. We stopped at the "sculpture park" and started to walk through. We got up to the famous Vigeland statue in the middle of the park, and the guide explained that the statue is to commemorate the holocaust victims, then she told us to walk around and look at the detail. About that time the rain started. Up till then, we had had rain, lots of it in fact, but it could be classified as mostly just annoying. This time it was a real downpour. We quickly took shelter under some trees. When the rain let up a little, we made our way back to the bus looking like a pack of drowned rats. The rain curtailed any further exploration of the sculpture park and we never did get to inspect the details of the famous Vigeland statue.
We went back to the hotel to get our room assignments, then we were off to see the Viking museum, the Fram museum, and the Kon Tiki exhibit. All three of these museums were interesting in their own way. Unfortunately, it had been a long day and we were all getting a bit tired by the time we got to our third museum, so I'm not sure how many enjoyed the total experience. Even so, it was very impressive to see all the care that had been taken in the moving, preserving, and exhibiting of all those artifacts and to really get an idea of what life must have been like for them. All the thought and planning that went into the expeditions was also impressive. The Fram was one of the first ships to make it to the polar ice cap, and the Kon Tiki, of course, went the other way to Polynesia. Both faced extreme hardships. It is good to have places where the stories can be told to enlighten and inspire others. It was unfortunate that we had to see all three of them in close sequence and near the end of a rather long and tiring day.
We got back to the hotel with about a half hour to spare before we met Jeffrey for the trip to dinner. We went to Holmenkollen where the Olympic ski jump is. There was a restaurant there that served a really good buffet. There were the usuals for salads and starters, but tonight's entree was moose. It was actually quite tender and tasty. I tried a little of everything including two desserts: a custard, and something that looked like brownies not cooked through, and of course that wonderful strong Scandinavian coffee.
After eating dinner we went up to the ski jump. They call this one the granddaddy of them all because it was the first to be built as a ski jump. Up to the 1930s, only natural hills were used. It is quite an impressive sight and can be seen from many miles away. King Olav, who was a devoted cross country skier, liked it so much he had a statue of himself and his faithful dog erected near it.
We drove back through some of the older sections of town. I don't think I will ever get tired of looking at different types of architecture and ornamentation.
It was a long day and I don't even remember my head hitting the pillow. I was out for the count as soon as I got to my room and changed into my pajamas.
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Day 14 - July 12, 2007 - Oslo to Stockholm
Not such an early start today, and Jeffrey had prepped us last night for a long journey overland by bus. It seemed longer than it actually was. We left Oslo at 8:00 and arrived at Stockholm about 4:30. There wasn't much to look at along the way, mostly big farms and equipment interspersed among stands of trees and the occasional hawk looking for dinner. I found myself nodding off more than once. You could easily get road hypnotized on this stretch - it was very straight, no curves, no hills, no bumps. We stopped for a break about an hour and a half out of Oslo, then lunch, then an afternoon break around 2:30. I had coffee at each stop, but it didn't keep me awake. It was a very disappointing introduction to Sweden.
Once we arrived at Stockholm, we took a short ride around the city to get oriented before landing at the hotel.
Dinner tonight was one of the options on this trip. We could do this or have free time. Kathy and I had already signed up for all the optionals at the start of the trip so off we went. We first went to a huge communications tower which can be seen from all over town. Jeffrey said during the Cold War this tower was the only point where communication could be had between Russia and the United States. The structure is 30 stories high. Fortunately there are two elevators to take folks to the top. Up there is a 360-degree walk-around room with windows looking out over the city. There were photos with explanations of the building, but since we don't read Swedish that was a loss. Lucky for us, it was a clear day and the view was fantastic! After feasting our eyes and snapping thousands of pictures of Stockholm, we wandered around the gift shop where we bought a couple of souvenirs, then we went to dinner at a place called Solnadals Vardshus. This restaurant is situated between a hospital and a graveyard, and yes, there were lots of jokes about that! It looked like it used to be someone's home. Part of the dining room had been added on to accommodate all the big groups. Our group was the only one in there this evening so there was lots of lively chattering going on. Kathy and I sat with Vic and Ginny from the Chicago area. They are nice folks and we had a good time talking with them. Not all of our group came to this optional dinner, but those who did had a great time and a great dinner. It was a traditional meal consisting of baked salmon, potatoes and greens. For us non-fish eaters, there was a traditional meal of guess what? Swedish Meatballs.
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Day 15 - July 13, 2007 - Stockholm Sightseeing
We were on the bus by 8:00 to go on a city tour with our guide, Hilvie. She pointed out various buildings and then we came to the City Hall where the Nobel Peace Prizes are handed out. We got there before most of the other tour groups, so it wasn't extremely crowded. The Stockholm City Hall is one impressive building. It was built between 1911 and 1923 of all native materials. It was designed by a Swedish architect and the designs were all carried out by Swedish artists. All their effort was certainly worthwhile! We walked through the building oohing and aahing at all the wonderful rooms. It was truly breathtaking.
After City Hall we went to the Royal Palace. Sweden is still one place in the world where commoners can walk into the palace at any time to enjoy it. This palace seemed to have it all. The furnishings were fantastic, as one would expect. Of course there were the usual portraits with accompanying stories. There were also lots of designs to fool the eye --usually painted doors or windows to keep the rooms symmetrical in appearance. There were many tapestries painted on leather. Hilvie said when painted leather went out of fashion, the art was consigned to the guards' rooms. Speaking of, the Royal Guards were in attendance doing the walk up and down in front of the palace gates. And they were not just for show. I saw one stop an army officer and ask for ID before letting him proceed.
We walked to the palace's boat landing to take an hour's ride back to Stockholm city. That was interesting. There were lots of spiffy homes along the way and we got to see a different view of City Hall coming from that side of the city. Along the waterway are apartments and condos. Lucky people who get to live there! It was a beautiful weekend day and there were lots of local folks out sailing in the harbor, walking with their kids in the park, and picnicking. This is certainly a beautiful city for such outdoor activities.
After the boat docked, we got back on the bus for a short ride to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa ship was built in the 16th century. It was almost finished when the king decided another deck with more cannons needed to be added. The ship builders didn't want to argue with the king, and they did as he ordered. On its maiden voyage, the Vasa sailed for about 20 minutes, then capsized. It lay on the bottom of the sea until centuries later it was hauled up and placed in a museum for all to see. Amazingly it was completely intact and there was relatively little restoration needed. The parts that are not original are clearly marked, and there are very few of those. The ship is kept in a low-lighted room and no flash pictures were permitted. I tried to take several flashless shots of this amazing ship, but none of them turned out very well.
After the Vasa museum, we took another short drive to what was called an outdoor museum. It was very much like our historical parks, such as Marshall Park at Coloma. The buildings were set up like a small village with a church, a school, farmhouse, and manor house. It was all pretty crude but indicative of what was around in the 17th and 18th centuries. There were lots of docents dressed in period clothing playing the parts of the people who would have lived there. The outdoor museum was the result of one man's quest to preserve Swedish history. He started by collecting farm equipment and everyday utensils and eventually made a nice park for people to visit with their families.
After our tour of the outdoor museum, we were shuttled back to the hotel for a couple of hours of rest and relaxation. Then it was out to dinner with Kathy and Trish. We took a taxi over to the Old City and walked around the streets until we found a likely-looking restaurant. We walked in and it took them so long to even acknowledge us that we decided to move on. We walked down a shopping street and then a side street, saw a sign with the Swedish flag on it and thought that might be good. That turned out to be a good decision. Since the rain had stopped falling, we were directed to a table on the sidewalk and it was a perfect evening for outdoor dining. Kathy and I had Swedish meatballs with lingonberries, which were wonderful with the meat and gravy. Trish had reindeer with mushrooms. She was an adventurous eater, and she said she would never get a chance to eat reindeer in Australia, so now was the time. As always, there was too much food on the plates, but we did our best to make dents in them.
After a long leisurely eaten dinner, we walked back up to the shopping street and forced ourselves to have an ice cream. Then we began walking back to the hotel. On the shopping street there were musicians playing here and there, so of course we had to stop and listen. A very good quartet was playing Vivaldi, a couple of guys were playing guitar, and another young lady was playing the violin. It reminded me a lot of Vienna where the students practice in the streets.
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Day 16 - July 14 - Stockholm to Copenhagen
This was another very long day on the bus from Stockholm to Copenhagen. Along the way we actually spotted two moose. The first one had his back to us. The second one was more cooperative -- he was loping in a field beside the highway. There was no time or place for a photo, though. There wasn't much else to see except more farms, trees, horses and cows, and an occasional lake. Jeffrey tried playing soothing music to keep the mutiny at bay. His choice of singers included Sarah Brightman and Sissel Kyrkebo, both of which were highly approved by the music lovers on board the bus.
Knowing the scenery was going to be much the same as the past couple of days, Trish and Wendy prepared a quiz for all of us to try to answer. Some of the questions were based on information Jeffrey had given us along the way. Others were how many ferry boats had we been on (8); how many people on the bus with the same first names (2 Lindas, 2 Roses, 2 Patricias); how many Aussies from the same small town on the bus (6 from Cambridge, and none of them knew the other before this trip). The prizes were pieces of chocolate. I won two pieces and I shared with Kathy. It was a fun way to spend a few minutes.
One of our rest stops was by a haunted castle, called Brahehus Castle. Apparently it had been a manor house in years gone by, but something happened to the family and they were all gone. Jeffrey said there was no story, just that some say it is haunted. It must have been something to see in its heyday. The walls were made of stone which were about one-third fallen down. There were about eight rooms on the main level that we could walk through. It was situated on a bluff overlooking Lake Vetta, which would be a very nice place to live. Today it is across the street from the rest stop. You walk through a tunnel under the highway to get to it. There were many people enjoying the view, having a picnic lunch, or just stretching their legs. It was a very pleasant place to spend a few minutes.
It was back on the bus and to our last ferry ride. This one lasted about 15 minutes. There was just enough time to walk around a bit and exchange Swedish money for Danish. From the boat landing it was another 45 minutes to the hotel, the same one we stayed in our first night. It was kind of neat driving into town and recognizing some things like Tivoli Gardens and a theater building we had seen before.
Jeffrey invited everyone to join him in the bar for a farewell drink. Kathy and I opted not to go. By the time we got to our rooms it was already 6:30 and dinner was calling. We went in search of some place to eat. We first tried the mall next door, but everything there was closed except the mini mart and movie theater. We came back to the hotel thinking we could eat in the restaurant there. They were very busy serving the folks in the bar and were not ready to serve meals yet so we walked down the river hoping to find another place that would feed us. We ended up at the Marriott Hotel, which had a very nice restaurant. A very nice young lady seated us even though we didn't have a reservation and weren't properly dressed, and we got a table with a river view that couldn't be beat. The food was very good, but the European way of serving drives us hurry-up-and-go Americans crazy. Both of us decided on the pan-fried chicken with stuffed tomato and greens. First, though, we had some really good herb bread and the salad bar; then we topped the whole thing off with dessert and coffee. Ahh! This is the life!
After dinner we strolled through the hotel lobby because we sort of got lost trying to find our way out of the building. We stopped at the gift shop because it looked so interesting with Danish dolls and other cute stuff displayed in the windows. Kathy and I spent our remaining Danish money there. We both bought t-shirts at this pricey place.
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Day 17 - July 15, 2007 - Copenhagen to San Francisco
Our last day in Scandinavia had arrived. We got on the bus with heavy hearts and heavy suitcases. We had an early flight to Washington D.C. so we were on the first bus heading to the airport. Our Australian friend, Trish, was up to see us off. She and Wendy were going on to Russia before returning home and they would stay in Copenhagen for a couple more days before going to St. Petersburg. In fact, all the Aussies and Kiwis in our group were not heading home, but continuing with their holidays. They sure know how to go on vacation!
The trip to Washington was pretty uneventful. Kathy and I were several rows apart this time, and we still got our window seats. As soon as I got on the plane, I began to get excited to be home and be with Doug. It had been ages since I had seen him. He had taken off on his Prudhoe Bay-or-bust journey a couple of weeks before I left for Scandinavia. We had been in touch by phone during that time, but it had been just about forever since I had seen him face to face. I was definitely getting excited.
When we landed at Washington D.C., we had to collect our bags and get them sent through X-ray machines while all the time staying in an enclosed area. What a hassle! That kind of jumping through hoops just doesn't make sense. After we made it through that security measure we were allowed to head to our gate and wait for our flight. We had about an hour and a half to wait, and just before we were about to board, the gate attendant announced there would be no meals on the flight, so if we wanted anything to eat, now was the time. Kathy and I hustled up and found some food, as we had pretty empty stomachs by that time. We gulped down our paninis and it was time to board.
The flight across the U.S. at night was truly spectacular. I watched the sun set and the lights on the ground come on. I tried to rest, but the excitement of the flight, remembering our vakker trip, and thinking about seeing Doug kept me awake. We arrived at San Francisco and went to collect our bags. Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be found. We stood and watched as everybody on our flight collected their belongings and left and another group arrived to get their luggage. We looked for customer service, a porter, anybody to help us, but it seemed there was no one around who had any authority. After much consternation and pure luck, we finally found our luggage. It had been taken off the conveyer and put in a protective area with other luggage that was unmatched with owner. Eureka! We collected our stuff and headed to customs. There was a long line, but it moved pretty fast, and we made it through with no problem. We then dashed out to the shuttle pickup area. Our shuttle came in due time, took us to our hotel, we got our rooms, and we crashed!
Day 18 - July 16, 2007 - San Francisco to El Dorado Hills
We got up early, ate breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and hopped into Kathy's car for the drive home. It was a routine drive considering we were still pretty excited and talked basically nonstop about our fabulous trip. As we approached Sacramento I called Doug and he starting driving to come and get me at Kathy's apartment. We arrived there ahead of him and it wasn't long before we heard a tap at the door. I opened it and saw Doug's smiling face and we hugged and kissed. On the drive home, we chattered like two chickens -- he talking about Alaska and me talking about Scandinavia. We had a lot of catching up to do.
Doug pretty well summed it up in his journal entry for July 16:
We shared a few of our trip highlights with each other, and went out to lunch where we chatted some more. When we got back home about 3:00 pm, Linda laid down for a nap and she is still sawing logs at 11:00 pm. I guess jet lag has finally caught up with her.
We will both soon be sorting out photos and writing up accounts of our trips. I would expect it will be several weeks before we have anything other than a few photos.
Linda reports that her trip was everything she hoped for and more.