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.

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