Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Last year, Chuck and I decided to take a Rick Steves' tour of Scandinavia. I just couldn't face the planning involved for another trip somewhere and Scandinavia was a place we were sorry we missed when we were traveling through Europe in 2009-10. We had decided then that it was too big, too far and too expensive. It was a great decision.

This was our itinerary:

Day 1: Welcome to Sweden We'll meet at our Stockholm hotel at around 4 p.m. for a Välkomna till Skandinavia get-together, followed by dinner and an orientation walk around our neighborhood. Sleep in Stockholm (2 nights). No bus. Walking: light.

Day 2: Stockholm's Old City and the Vasa

This morning we'll enjoy a walking tour through the cobbled alleyways of Stockholm's Gamla Stan (Old City), learning about its historic Stortorget Square, Cathedral and Royal Palace. After free time for lunch, we'll board a boat and cross the harbor to visit the Vasa Museum, where we'll marvel at the remains of the 200-foot warship Vasa, which sank here on her maiden voyage nearly 400 years ago. Your late afternoon is free to explore more of this cosmopolitan city. No bus. Walking: strenuous.

Day 3: Modern Stockholm and Cozy Kalmar

This morning we'll tour Stockholm's City Hall, home of the Nobel Prize banquet and striking mosaic murals celebrating humanism and the ideal of people working together in community. Then, after stopping along the Göta Canal for a lunch break, we'll drive through beautiful birch forests on our way to the seafaring, bridge-and-water-laced town of Kalmar, where we'll sleep (1 night). Bus: 6 hrs. Walking: light.

Day 4: Kalmar Castle and Copenhagen

Today we'll explore what may be Sweden's most striking, historically-significant building: bay-and-moat-ringed Kalmar Castle. As we tour the castle's interior and beautiful grounds, we'll learn about Sweden's 16th-century struggle for independence from the Danes. Then, to reach Copenhagen, we'll drive across the awe-inspiring five-mile Öresund bridge and tunnel connecting Sweden and Denmark. We'll get to know our neighborhood by strolling up to the lively Strøget pedestrian center, followed by dinner together at one of Denmark's oldest restaurants. Sleep in Copenhagen (2 nights). Bus: 5 hrs. Walking: moderate.

Day 5: Playful and Progressive Copenhagen

This morning we'll dive into the sights and sounds of Copenhagen's historical center on a walking tour with a local guide. Our walking tour will culminate with a visit of Christiania, Copenhagen's "Free City." The rest of your day is free to enjoy Europe's best people-watching on the Strøget, visit the Renaissance Rosenborg Castle, or wander through the fanciful Tivoli Gardens. Boat: ½ hr. No bus. Walking: strenuous.

Day 6: Viking Ships and Ærø Island Charms

After breakfast we'll drive to Roskilde to prowl through the evocative Viking Ship Museum, where we'll learn about the rough-and-tumble, yet surprisingly sophisticated, Viking culture of a thousand years ago. We'll also tour Denmark's venerable Roskilde Cathedral, the resting place of 38 kings and queens of Denmark, and the first Gothic church ever built of brick. Then a scenic ferry ride will take us to the nostalgic little island of Ærø and the old windjammer port of Ærøskøbing. Tonight we'll enjoy a traditional Danish feast together. Sleep on Ærø (2 nights, groups may be split between two B&Bs). Boat: 1½ hrs. Bus: 5 hrs. Walking: light.

Day 7: All Day to Explore Ærø Island

You'll have the morning free to relax and savor this epitome of small-town Denmark, or get Ærø-dynamic and pedal a rented bike past thatched cottages, tidy farms and windswept bluffs. We'll regroup just before noon for a bus tour of the island, stopping en route to enjoy a tasty smørrebrød lunch together. We'll return to Ærøskøbing to learn about island life from a local resident, then be free for dinner and the rest of the evening. The pub by the harbor is a fun place to meet the locals. Bus: 3 hrs. Walking: light to strenuous (your choice).

Day 8: Overnight Ferry to Oslo

Today we'll drive back to Copenhagen. After some free time for lunch, we'll hop aboard an overnight ferry for Oslo. It's a big boat: choose to dine at a buffet fit for a Viking or grab something smaller at the ship's café. After dinner, you can dance the night away in the nightclub, linger in the tax-free shop or enjoy the scenery as we cruise to Norway in style. Sleep on ferry (1 night). Boat: 18 hrs. Bus: 3 hrs. Walking: light.

Day 9: Historic and Artistic Oslo

We'll greet the sun as we glide up the Oslofjord — one of the most scenic parts of our tour — and into Norway's capital. Once ashore, we'll take a walking tour around the harbor and through the heart of Oslo. We'll learn about Norway's history and politics, including an inspiring visit to the WWII Norwegian Resistance Museum. After lunch, we'll visit the popular Frogner Park, home to Gustav Vigeland's whimsical, lifelike sculptures, and then share dinner together. Sleep in Oslo (2 nights). Bus: 2 hrs. Walking: moderate.

Day 10: Norway's Seafaring Past

Today we'll cruise across the harbor to Bygdøy peninsula for a treasure trove of nautical history. We'll tour the Viking Ship Museum to learn about Scandinavia's best collection of Viking vessels and artifacts. Nearby, you'll also have time to see the impressive Maritime Museum — as well as special museums devoted to the innovative Fram polar explorer and the ocean-crossing rafts of adventurer Thor Heyerdahl (Kon-Tiki and Ra II). Inspired by Norway's seafaring history, you'll be free to sail back to Oslo's harbor. From there, armed with your Oslo Pass (giving you free admission to most museums and public transportation), you'll have the rest of your afternoon and evening free in this vibrant city. Boat: ½ hr. Bus: 1 hr. Walking: moderate.

Day 11: Lillehammer and Giant's Country

Driving northwest from Oslo, today we'll learn about daily Norwegian life and traditions. We'll tour Lillehammer's beautifully-situated Maihaugen Open-Air Folk Museum, including its array of sod-roofed houses and remarkable 12th-century stave church, constructed entirely from wood. After a scenic afternoon drive through farmland and forests, we'll settle into our rustic, creaky mountain hotel, located in the heart of Giant's Country. We'll share a traditional dinner together, and sleep in Elvesæter (1 night). Bus: 5 hrs. Walking: light.

Day 12: Fjord Country and Bergen

Make sure your camera is charged-up: today is scenery day! After breakfast our bus will climb the highest road in northern Europe (4,600 ft.) to the windswept Jotunheimen for a panorama of glittering snow and 8,100-foot peaks. We'll then take a dramatic corkscrew-drive down to sea level and hop aboard a ferry for a 2½-hour scenic Sognefjord cruise between cliffs and waterfalls (part of the "Norway in a Nutshell" route). Then we're back aboard our bus for one more scenic stretch of highway before you're free for dinner and the rest of the evening in ruddy-cheeked Bergen, where we'll sleep (2 nights). Boat: 2½ hrs. Bus: 6 hrs. Walking: light.

Day 13: All Day in Charming Bergen

A local guide will walk us through the salty history of this seafaring town, starting at the Bryggens Museum and through the enchanting old Hanseatic wharf area, where wooden warehouses lean together and recall their glory days as a center of North Atlantic trade. Your afternoon is free to explore more of Bergen, ride a funicular to the top of Mt. Fløyen for a thrilling view, or buy one of those hand-knit wool sweaters that caught your eye back at the wharf. This evening we'll gather for a hearty Norwegian feast to share travel memories and toast new friends. Skål! No bus. Walking: moderate.

Day 14: Tour Over After Breakfast

Stockholm, Sweden

We arrived in Stockholm three days before the tour began and hit the ground running. We went immediately to the Tourist Information Center and purchased our Stockholm Card, good for 48 hours of public transit and entrance to all sites of interest to us. We thought we were so cool to sort this out before leaving the airport. As we ran to catch our bus into the city, we realized we had left our luggage in the TI--and frantically ran back to reclaim our gear, completely mortified--sophisticated travelers, indeed! But, we loved this city and explored everywhere.

We found Tram #7 (the only tram) and hopped on for the island of Djurgardens.

Our goal was the Drotningham Palace (Queens Palace).
It's called the Versailles of Sweden.
We wandered the grounds and found a road leading to this. Nature is a huge part of Stockholm.
This is Claire's lunch.
This is Chuck's lunch.
We saw a picture of this on a brochure about the Museum of Biology and had to go. It's just a trick of taxidermy though.
Another beautiful area of Stockholm, right on the water. There are 30,000 islands in this archipelago.
We went on a walking tour through the old town, Gamla Stan, with a local guide. This was a particularly pretty corner.
Wayne's Coffee is a popular chain.
Our Rick Steves' tour group was invited to go to an Ice Bar. I jumped at it but Chuck stayed behind. Here we are getting into our acrylic fur ponchos and gloves before our entry into the ice bar. It was touristy but fun.
Lining up at the bar for drinks.
I ordered a Wolf Paw: Vodka 100, lingonberry and lime juice. Delicious and the ice glass didn't stick to my lips.
We left just after 9 and it seemed like mid afternoon outside.
We left beautiful Sweden for Denmark, driving over the Oresund Bridge.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen was fun and lively with lots of people, beautiful buildings and live music going on.
We walked all over and went on a tour of a small, alternative lifestyle community called Christiania which was created in 1971. It's a cooperative village that has worked hard to be a thriving enclave. They have a blacksmith shop run by women as well as cafes, bakeries and many other small businesses. There are 600 adults and 200 children, along with numerous cats and dogs. We really enjoyed peeking into this different lifestyle. This is Julie, a long term resident, explaining things.
These are the laws they live by.
Here are some of the houses we saw.

Blacksmith shop.
We left Christiana and decided to climb to the top of this twisty church, Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Saviors Church). It was easier going up than we thought although very narrow at times. The views were spectacular.
This is City Hall, famous to us because of the Danish TV series Forbrydelsen. It was gorgeous inside and we were so glad we took the time to check it out.
We next went to the island of Aero on a small ferry. We have been so lucky on this trip with the weather. A few sprinkles here and there but the sun popped out almost immediately. We did have one downpour during an open top canal cruise back in Copenhagen, but it wasn't cold and our clothes (gear) dried within 5 minutes. This is our street on the island.
This is our cottage.
This is our neighbor's house.
Our plan was to rent bikes, which we did early the next morning. We toured one side of the island, bike route #91, enduring a 5 minute shower, then drying off again quickly. It was beautiful and reminiscent of Ireland. We went on a second bike ride that afternoon, bike route 90 along another coastline. We have no idea where we went but it's hard to get lost on a tiny island.
After a delightful 2 day sojourn on Aero, we took our bus back to Copenhagen, where we embarked via an overnight ferry boat (18 hours) to Oslo.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Oslo, Norway

As usual in a new city, we went on an orientation walk with a local guide. I can't say enough about this Rick Steves' tour. Everything has been so well planned and organized, but we are definitely on the move pretty constantly and seeing a lot. Today we went to the Norwegian Resistance Museum then caught a tram to the Gustav Vigeland Sculpture Park, a wonderful and beautiful 75 acre park. It has 227 bronze and granite sculptures.

These little boys were so cute and so typically Norwegian. I asked their mother if I could take their picture.

Next day we went to Bygdoy island to visit the Thor Heyerdahl Kon-Tiki museum, and the Fram museum showcasing the polar expeditions of Nansen and Amundsen.

Here's Chuck with his hero Roald Amundsen.

On our way back to the mainland, we stopped in at the Nobel Peace Prize Museum.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Mountains of Norway

Today was a bus day. We drove higher and higher to our wonderful mountain retreat. The views were stupendous.

The road was quite narrow but our bus driver was fantastic.
This is how it looked in May when our tour guide was driving through.
Our Tour Guide, Asa, pronounced Osa.
This is our lodging, Elvesaeter.
In the mountains.
1434 meters (4,705 feet)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fjord Fun

We were exceptionally lucky to have an almost perfect day cruising through the Sognefjord in Norway. This was something we were really looking forward to and it exceeded our expectations.

We saw a mist up ahead and figured it must be raining.

It was.

5 minutes later, the sun was out and we were dry.

This was a beautiful spot along the way to Bergen.

We had two days at our last stop of the trip in a mid-sized fishing village, Bergen. We took the funicular to the top with great views of the city. We hiked down.

It was a great trip; everyone in the group was great and we loved not having to plan it all out.