Tag Archives: Norway

Day 10: Changing Countries

We woke up in Lillehammer and are now in Reykjavik. This is how it happened.

We got up early and made the 2 hour drive from Lillehammer to the Oslo Airport. We were on E6 the whole way, my new favorite Norwegian road! In places the speed limit was 100 kph, and it was mostly nicely paved. There were places, however, where there was construction, with a speed limit of 30. Can’t imagine one road in the US where you’d go from going 62 mph to 18 mph. That would be crazy!

We got to the airport, and even found the rental car return area with no problems. But there was no greeter with a printer around his belt. In fact there was nobody there. What do you do? At first, I walked around assuming there had to be a Hertz booth somewhere. Nothing. I finally saw a call box and asked what to do. The answer was to take the key to the Hertz counter inside the airport. So we did.

I made perhaps a mistake though in deciding to return the car by 10am to avoid paying for another day. The Icelandair counter was still closed when we got there just before 10. Which meant we couldn’t ditch our luggage, go through security and lounge in the club. So instead we found a place to get breakfast, translated enough of a sign that with food purchase, you could get free Internet and filled out the tax refund forms.

We thought the Icelandair counter opened at 12, so we went up at 11:30 to avoid a repeat of our Air France disaster. We passed the time chatting with a couple next to us in line, who happened go be from Potomac, with the woman working as a doctor at Suburban Hospital. They had spend 2 weeks in Scandinavia, and had visited Iceland on the way there.

All is well that ends well. The counter opened at 12:30, we checked in and checked our bags. Security was easy, we got our VAT refund and hung in the lounge until it was time to board.

The flight is only 2.5 hours from Oslo to Reykjavik. Passed quickly, and we were able to buy our tickets for the bus to the hotel on the plane. While Ellen waited for the luggage, I hit the ATM, taking out only 15,000 kronur since we are only here for 2 days.

The bus ride was about 40 minutes, with a transfer from a big bus to a small bus to get to our hotel, the Radison Blu 1919. Another good selection by Ellen, a great location and pretty room.

We dropped our stuff and started exploring. For dinner, we went to Icelandic Fish & Chips, and had a tasty meal of fish & chips. We wandered some more, and are ready for a full day of sightseeing tomorrow.

P.S. The picture of the church was a cool looking church in Reykjavik. Don’t know much more than that!

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Day 9: Doing Lillehammer to the Limit

There are only 2 things recommended to do in Lillehammer. How tiring a day could that be?

I started the day with a run; it was cool and started raining lightly during the 3.33 mile run, but it felt good to get a few more miles in. I have my first half-marathon ever to run in just about 2 months in Hershey, and I didn’t want to lose all my conditioning while on vacation, even though we have been walking a lot.

And today was no different. After breakfast, we set out on foot to Maihaugen, a folk museum about a 30 minute walk from the hotel, mostly uphill. We left the hotel armed for a cool day with rain, but the sky’s cleared up quickly and we spent most of the day hot. The museum was similar to the one in Oslo, an open air museum showing life in the area near Lillehammer over the centuries. A stave church, farm houses, and houses from the 20th century. We walked into a house from the 80’s, with a Madonna cassette playing.

We then walked about 15 minutes to the Norwegian Olympics Museum, at the site of the ’94 games. The museum is housed in the skating rink arena, and features displays of all the modern Olympics, including medals won by Norwegian athletes and uniforms worn while competing. Inside the arena, we saw the egg that was used in the ’94 opening games (was Lady Gaga even born then?!?!). We stopped at a grocery store to pick up lunch, as has been our custom.

We then walked another half-hour, uphill and in the sun to the ski jump site from the Olympics. It was well worth it, as the view close up is mind boggling that athletes come flying down it. First, I did a simulator ride of downhill skiing and bobsledding. Then, we took a chair lift to the top of the ski jump. It featured a fantastic view of Lillehammer and a spine tingling view down the jump.

We walked back to the hotel, getting back around 6. We FaceTime chatted with Ben, rested a little, then went out to dinner. We did a pizza/pasta share thing again, nothing special, but we ate outside on a very comfortable night, enjoying our last evening in Norway.

Oh, the answer to yesterday’s poll question! While Starbucks has taken over the US, we have not seen a single location here. They have coffee shops, but not many of them and they seem to be local joints. We saw a few Subway’s in Oslo, but not many. There are a lot of TGIFridays here, more popular than at home. McDonalds is by far the most prevalent fast food chain. But the brand you see the most here is 7-Eleven. In Oslo and Bergen, there was one on every block, and sometimes two. We haven’t gone into one so don’t know if Slurpees are here, but you will see a ton of 7-Elevens if you come to Norway.

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Day 8: A Long Drive

A day of seeing Norway from west to east by car. We checked out of the Radisson Blu in Bergen this morning. The most difficult part was getting out of the garage. I’ve had to do this before, back up through a garage in extremely tight quarters, trying not to hit anything with the car, including with the side-view mirrors. Mission accomplished.

We used our trusty Garmin to get out of Bergen and onto E16. We got to Flam in a little more than an hour. A 45 minute stroll through town proved that not staying there for a full day was the right decision. We walked down to the water which had a nice view and gazed at the church in the center of town. That was enough.

Back on E16, I quickly learned that we hadn’t made a mistake not driving all the way from Oslo to Flam on this road. It did have an amazing tunnel, 25km long! That’s about 15 miles, one lane in each direction, for a long, long time. Later on though, the road wasn’t even a passable country road. Construction in sections had reduced the road to gravel, with jarring ruts. Speed limit in these sections was 50km/h, but even in the best parts of the road, nothing more that 80.

We filled up for gas for the first time, spending almost $100 for 36 liters of diesel. Getting great mileage, but a little jarring. We passed very little in the way of civilization during the drive. Not a fast food restaurant to be seen. Speaking of which, take my poll on what American brand we’ve seen most.

We arrived in Lillehammer around 5:30. We checked into the Molla Hotell, which has 58 rooms and was a dorm for Olympic athletes in 1994.

We picked a restaurant Ellen had seen in the guide, blamann, that was Greek-Mexican. I had chicken and pasta, Ellen had a meat dish. The menus were only in Norwegian and the waitress spoke little English, but we did just fine.

Tomorrow, we’ll do the Olympic museum and park, and a folk museum. Should be a more relaxed final full day in Norway.

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Day 7: Finishing Bergen

We had a jam-packed day (again) as we tried to get as much sightseeing in as we possibly could. I started the day with a 4 mile run. I didn’t find Bergen the best city for running, there are bills, construction and cobblestones. The stones especially didn’t mix well with the Vibram Fivefingers I was wearing.

First destination this morning was a ride up the Flobanen Funicular. The funicular takes you straight up the side of a hill that offers a spectacular view of the city. We took a walk up at the top, finding a peaceful lake that featured the blondest little boy (maybe 2 years old?) playing with his mom, as she taught him how to throw stones. Kept us entertained watching him and hearing him giggle.

After we came down, we got on a light rail train to go a about 7 kilometers south of town. At first we got off and walked to the Fantoft Stave Church. It had been built in the 12th century, but was burned down in 1992 by a heavy metal Satanist. It’s been rebuilt, but it isn’t the same.

Back on the light rail for 2 more stops, the next destination was the composer Edvard Grieg’s home. It was a 25 minute walk from the train. Hard to see Americans visiting somewhere that required that kind of walk. The museum was interesting, Grieg was important in the time Norway was becoming independent and looking for things uniquely Norwegian.

Upon returning to Bergen, we went to the Bergen Museum to see Viking artifacts and original carvings from stave churches.

We dined casually tonight, sharing pizza and pasta at Pasta Sentral near our hotel. We then took one last walk past the fish market and by the shops of Bryggen. Some soft serve ice cream and we were ready to call it a day.

We made a slight change of plans with the itinerary. Originally we were looking to break up the drive from Bergen to Lillehammer by staying a night in Voss. But Voss is just one hour from Bergen, so it wouldn’t help much. So we’ll stop in Voss for a short visit (Ellen for some reason is excited that Voss is the birthplace of Knute Rockne), and drive to Lillehammer tomorrow. That will give us a full day Saturday to see the Olympic site and other destinations.

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Day 6: Boppin’ through Bergen

Today was for getting to know Bergen. We started with a walking tour of the city. That took most of the morning. We walked down to the old part of the city, Bryggen. This is a World Heritage site for the centuries-old wooden seaport buildings. We then went to the Rosenkrantz castle, which afforded beautiful views from the top of the harbor and city.

Lunch was at the fish market, which has fresh fish, including whale, prepared any number of ways. The afternoon was dedicated to my wife’s favorite activity: laundry (also a favorite of Joan Brady if I recall corectly). In a bold experiment, we both brought only weekend-sized suitcases, so we knew we’d have to do laundry about half way in. We had found a flyer for a laundry mat at the Information center, so we hauled our laundry there. The proprietor was very nice, helping us figure out the machines. Now we can wear clean clothes for the whole trip! Somehow the laundry mat wasn’t listed in Foursquare. You better believe I fixed that.

When walking back to the hotel with our laundry, we saw activity at the 22 July memorial. City personnel were gathering up flowers, cards and candles in boxes. They put a sign up to explain what they were doing, and acted in a careful and respectful manner. The sign indicated they would be saved for some sort of permanent remembrance. We later saw that they did this to reduce the size of the memorial.

We went to 2 art museums, more Munch, with a Picasso and others thrown in.

We chose a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner, it was away from the beaten path, less touristy and with delicious food. On the way to dinner, we saw a gathering in a nearby park. It was a car show, of ’60s era US cars. A funny site for us to come across in Norway.

We found some ice cream and sat out by the water for a little while. It doesn’t get dark here until almost 11.

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Day 5: Have you taken a fjord ride lately?

We slept well and set out for a 9am fjord boat ride. The day was cool and a little overcast, but the combination of the water and the mountains was awesome (literally). It was 2 hours from Flam to Gudvangen, navigating the Aurlandsfjorden and the Naeroyfjorden ( there will not be a quiz on any Norweigan). We got off the boat to get a drink, then back on for the same trip but in reverse.

After a quick stop at the market in Flam for a few things for lunch, we then started the 3 hour ride from Flam to Bergen. We stayed on E16 the whole way, but speed limits are slow, varying only from 60 kph to 80kph. And there were a lot of mountains to drive through, son again we spent a lot of time in tunnels.

After checking in at the Radisson Blu Norge, we set out to get our bearings in Bergen. Almost immediately in front of our hotel was what seems to be the single 22 July memorial. Similar to Oslo, there were flowers, candles and notes. Here we are 11 days after the attacks, and the sense of stunned grief is still strong.

We found the tourist office, and bought Bergen 48 hour passes to cover the museums and public transportation.

We found a great restaurant, Naboen, just a couple blocks from the hotel. We both had salmon in a mustard and dill sauce, it was delicious. Tomorrow we’ll start doing the sites in Bergen. We can already tell it has a different (younger, open later) vibe than Oslo.

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Day 4: The Drive to Flam

Today was a driving day, not expected to be that interesting. But it turned out to have it’s moments.

We took the subway to Oslo’s central rail station to pick our rental car. it is a 5-speed VW Golf diesel. First time I’ve driven a diesel, didn’t notice much difference in how it drives, just the chatter of the engine.

We let the GPS guide us, which worked well. It decided that instead of taking E16 the whole way, to turn off and take E7 and Rv50. What we got was an incredible drive, including lakes, mountains still snow covered, sheep crossing the road, hairpin turns and tunnels like I’ve never seen before. These tunnels were carved straight through rock in the mountains. They were barely wide enough for a car in each direction. And they were sometimes dimly lit with a row of single bulbs down the middle , but sometimes not lit at all. Sometimes the tunnels were paved, other times it felt like you were driving on bedrock. And in one case, several sheep had wondered into one side of the tunnel and were just chilling out.

It was a 5 hour drive, and was a little taxing from needing to concentrate through these conditions. But it was fun.

We arrived in Flam around 5. The town is very small, just a couple of hotels and restaurants and a grocery store. The train comes here, and there are many options for fjord excursions.

We had a buffet dinner at the restaurant belonging to our hotel. We had a good meal, then enjoyed the much cooler evening air.

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Day 3: Finishing our Oslo Visit

To finish seeing everything we wanted to see in Oslo meant today would be a busy day.

We breakfasted in the hotel, then took the subway to the Munch museum. We got there at 9:30. We thought it opened at 10. We were wrong, it didn’t open until 11. Waiting made no sense, so we got back on the subway to return to center city. This time we got on a ferry near City Hall to visit the Viking Ship Museum and the Norway Folk Museum. The Viking ships were first; one well preserved ship and 2 in not as good shape. The ships were used for burial after their useful life, and found over the years in Norway.

We then walked to the folk museum, which captures how Norwegians have lived over the years. The highlight was a stave church, built in the 1200’s and moved to the museum. Beautiful on the outside, with carved wood paintings on the inside. Next we took a bus back to city center.

We hopped back on the subway to return to the Munch museum. At least we knew the way! The security was tighter here than anyplace we have been, but that is owing to the art theft that took place here several years back, when a copy of Scream and Madonna were taken. Munch’s paintings were organized in chronological order, which was helpful since he painted what was going on in his life at the time.

We came back to the hotel briefly, then went to dinner near the water at an Italian restaurant called Olivias. We shared a pizza, walked along the water, then got some tasty soft serve ice cream.

We pack up tonight, rent a car in the morning, then make our way west toward the fjords. The big city portion of our Norway vacation is over.

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Day 2: Busy Tourist Day

We got a decent night’s sleep for a first night after traveling. The hotel features a fabulous breakfast, including breads, smoked salmon, meats, cheese, eggs, fruit, etc. A great way to start the day.

We have only two full days in Oslo, so we packed the day with as many sights as we could. And having purchased the Oslo Card, we didn’t feel bad if we didn’t spend too long in a place that required admission.

We started at City Hall. Twin brick towers built in the 30’s, it isn’t much to see from the outside. But the inside was fabulous. Most importantly, it is the location where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. We joined an English-language tour, that gave the stories behind wonderful murals and tapestries that tell the history of Norway. City Hall was the highlight of the day.

We then visited the Nobel Peace Center, a museum next to City Hall. It was a museum with an agenda, delivered not so subtlely. We didn’t love it.

We then walked east to the old city. We went into the museum of the Norwegian Resistance, telling the story of the Nazi occupation. Next we visited the Norwegian Castle, where we got to see a lot of rooms, tapestries, etc. Not as ornate as others we have seen, but worth the time.

We then took a tram to Vigeland Park, filled with over 200 bronze statues from the artist Gustav Vigeland. The statues feature all human states and emotions. It was a beautiful, sunny day, about 77 degrees, and the park was full of sunbathers.

We went back on the tram to our hotel. We got off the tram, and happened upon the National Art Museum. We spent a good 20 minutes inside (the museum was about to close), but we saw Munch paintings including scream and impressionist and Van Gogh works.

We rested briefly back at the hotel, then walked to visit the Royal Palace grounds on the way to dinner.

Dinner was at a restaurant called Dinner, an Asian place that was excellent. We had spring rolls, Chilean sea bass and pang pang beef. Delicious.

We stopped by the Parliament building on the way back to the hotel. Like almost everywhere in Oslo now, there were flowers and candles at the gate. Notes are also common. I happened to see one from the British Embassy, expressing official sympathy.

Tomorrow will also be busy, the Munch Museum, Folk Museum and Viking ships. Except for outrageously expensive food and drink here and a little too much sun for me today, the trip is going wonderfully so far.

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Day 1: Discovering Oslo

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We have gotten off to a good start for this vacation. Best decision we made was to fly Economy Comfort on Icelandair. That got us access to the clubs in Dulles and Reykjavik and the same seats as business class from Dulles to Iceland. We did our best to sleep on the two flights, and got to Oslo not total zombies.

We took an express bus from the Oslo Airport to the center city. Without a map or a GPS that could find a satellite, we decided to take a taxi to our hotel. It was a great decision. The taxi driver said we were just 1km away, but he saw our luggage and could sense our long journey, so he told us to get in. He recounted his experience from last Friday, being just a few blocks away, hearing the explosion that feeling the shock waves. He said the center city had been deserted the first 2 days after the attack, and he hoped that tourists would come again to experience Oslo, saying it is beautiful and safe. We told him that is why we came, because we had wanted to see Norway and now we could add our support.

Our check-in to the Hotel Bristol was funny. A very pretty, perky hotel clerk told us how much she likes the USA and is happy to have Americans visit. Ellen offered her to go stay with our kids while we were gone. The clerk immediately asked if we had a son, and when she was told he was 20, wanted to know if he was single and handsome. She then said she wanted to Facebook him. Ben, you are welcome!

Our room is perfect for our needs. On the small side, it has a queen bed, a nice bathroom and fast Internet. What more could you want? We rested for a short time and then headed out.

We hadn’t meant for the bombing to be the early focal point to the trip, but our location just steps from where it happened gave us no choice. The taxi driver had pointed the sites out to us, the flowers that marked where the dead were found, the buildings that had all their windows blown out, the Domkirke (church) that had become the central mourning site.

We watched as Norweigans came to these sites to bear witness. We saw workers still putting plywood up, the police tape still blocking roads, chain link fences that had become memorials. To us who lived through 9/11, it was all too familiar. We saw the media trucks with their satellite dishes, reporting the grim news. The block of nothing but flowers in front of the church, with Norwegian flags sticking up, showed the pain and the national pride all in one. Ellen and I bought a flower to add to the piles.

We went into the Domkirke, where an orchestra was practicing for a memorial concert and mourners were lighting candles and writing notes. Just very powerful and moving scenes.

The mood in Oslo was not all somber. Away from the sites, life seemed close to normal. We stopped for some cold drinks, and took advantage of our latest technological travel wonder. Ellen had bought several guidebooks via Kindle, and we had downloaded them to our iPod Touches. We plotted dinner, which was at Brasserie 45 near the National Theater. We hadn’t eaten much today, but wanted something light. I had chicken stir fry, Ellen had salmon.

We walked back to our hotel, seeing more flowers in a fountain and in front of the Parliament building.

At our hotel, we bought Oslo city passes, which include museum entry and free public transport. For the next 2 days, we’ll do regular tourist stuff. We feel we’re off to a good start.