For the month of September, I had planned 3 distinct trips in Europe with a friend and group of friends. The first part was spent in Norway, on an itinerary set up by Nordic Visitor. What follows is my report on that portion.
Thursday – Aug 29
Edmonton to Oslo 1
Picked Up Lucille at 2pm and got to the airport 40 minutes later after missing the turnoff to Calgary Trail! So much for being wide awake and alert in mid-afternoon ☹ Had checked in online the day before and there were no other passengers at the KLM counter so dropping off our bags was fast and easy. My bag was 15 kg and Lucille’s much smaller one was 12 kg. How can I be packing more stuff than a woman!!
KLM had us on an A-330. Nice plane, comfortable seats with seat-back entertainment system and a USB port. We sat in 2nd to last row in back (2-3-2 configuration last 4 rows – rest of plane was 2-4-2). Attendants were friendly and efficient- a very comfortable flight. Arrived in AMS early but had to wait for another plane to leave our gate. Then a pushback truck broke down while pushing, blocking the whole taxiway so had to wait another 20 minutes for it to be moved. Sitting so far back in plane, it took about 15 more minutes to deplane. So got to the gate about the time we should have! All in all, a nice flight though.
Friday – Aug 30
Edmonton to Oslo 2
Fast walk between D gates and B gates at Schiphol and got to our gate 10 minutes before loading the flight to Oslo. KLM E-190 (2-2 configuration) tight but enough leg room for us. 1 hour 30 minute flight to Oslo. Once there, Lucille bought express train tickets to the city, which departs every 10 minutes, and we caught it immediately. Arrived at Oslo Central Station in 20 minutes. Good, efficient service! We were booked at the Comfort Hotel, which was right in the station, so very handy. They gave us the wrong room by mistake, but after changing to the type we booked we went out for a walk.
Got a map from the tourist info in the station and headed up to the Vigeland sculpture park, about a 4 km walk away. Karl Johan’s Gate is a pedestrian street leading from the train station up to the royal palace. Lots of high-end shops and pubs and crowded, mainly due to a climate change demonstration. Very orderly though – no professional demonstrators or hooligans causing trouble. Passed the National Theatre, went through the grounds of the Royal Palace, and found the sculpture park after a lot of map checking and passerby assistance. Don’t know how we couldn’t find it – it is huge! The sculptures are all nudes – women, men and children in playful poses, as well as fanciful and artistic ones. Nice grounds and we enjoyed walking around.
Started to tire on the return walk, mostly from lack of sleep. Had a laugh while passing through the Royal Palace grounds again. Norway is very “tap” friendly – almost all transactions are done with credit or debit cards, even for small purchases. Most locals don’t seem to use cash. We passed a public washroom where 2 women were having trouble getting the “tap” to work with their card. We tried to help, making light of the situation, but one of the women, with legs crossed, said good naturedly “please don’t make me laugh”. We left before they were successful (or not) getting in, wishing them good luck.
Had a pizza back at the hotel, then to the room. I showered, sorted stuff for tomorrow, did French lessons (lots of sleep-deprived mistakes!) and crashed at 9:30. Lucille asleep before me.
Saturday – Aug 31
Oslo to Trondheim
Woke at 1:30 for an hour (damn jet lag), then, luckily, at 6:30. Lucille had set her alarm for 6 but it didn’t go off because she had mistakenly set it for pm! Hurried packing and down to breakfast by 7:05. Quick bite and coffee then to track 19 to catch the 7:30 bus for Ringebo. Glad the bus was leaving from the train station.
Sat up top in a double decker bus so had a great view of the countryside. Low clouds, some rain and fresh out. Views are similar to home – forests of spruce, poplar, and birch, and lots of small farms. Except for the road signs in a strange language and the number of roundabouts, very reminiscent of the topography of the Maritimes!
We transferred onto a train in Ringebo for the rest of the journey to Trondheim. Comfortable but no plug-ins to charge up our devices, not that we needed to. The train had a snack car though where we settled in to play some Farkel. And free wifi!
Once we arrived in Trondheim, it was about a 20-minute walk to the Thon Hotel. Google Maps came through again to lead us to the hotel. The hotel, or Nordic Visitor (the tour coordinator), had booked us into a room with only a double bed instead of the twin room we ordered. No other rooms were available. The desk clerk called all the not-yet-checked-in customers to see if they would change to a double and was successful after a few hours What great service! We walked around town and checked out the dock where we had to board tomorrow morning, about a half-hour walk away. Not really a lot of time to get a good feeling for the town or what it had to offer.
Sunday Sept 1
Trondheim to Bergen 1
Had a good breakfast at the hotel then walked down to the ship, the Nordlys. Moderate sized ship, with 7 decks, and our cabin was on #5. Small room but ok. Spent most of our time on deck 7, where the lounge was, playing cards, watching the shoreline, or walking around the deck. The ship was not only a means of transport from port to port but was also a cruise ship. Some passengers had been on board for over a week, having cruised above the arctic circle. To pass the time, and for interest’s sake, we attended a lecture on Norwegian history over the past 1000 years. Well presented, with humour along with the information. This was the last lecture of the trip – all of them set up for the people who had been on the full cruise. Relaxing time though. Hit some rough seas around supper time, making walking around somewhat of a comedy. The ship was not equipped with stabilizers so pitching and rolling in the waves wasn’t tempered at all. Videoed the swivel chairs in the bistro doing a dance.
The ship docked briefly in several ports during the voyage, usually for a half-hour or so, to on- and off-load passengers and supplies, and we took the opportunity to go for a short shore walk when we got to Molde. They told us to make sure that we were back in plenty of time because the ship wouldn’t wait so we walked quickly. We were able to leave the harbour area and see some of the town, but this was mostly to stretch our legs not sightsee. Felt much better than the strolls around the deck!
Monday Sept 2
Trondheim to Bergen 2
Hit more rough seas from 1-3 a.m. The motion made sleep a little difficult, though not in a sickly way, so I was tired by the morning. More time spent playing cards and farkel in the lounge until disembarking at 2:30 pm in Bergen. Looked up the Zander K hotel location on Google Maps and followed directions there, about a 20-minute walk. It is located beside the train station, so it will be handy for leaving on Wednesday. I’ve got to give Nordic Visitor credit – they booked us into nice and convenient hotels.
After checking in and stowing our bags, we walked to the funicular and took it up to the viewpoint on top of Mount Floyen to get the lay of the land. We had a full day tomorrow to spend here and wanted to see what the city looked like from that vantage point. It was also one of the recommended things to do while in Bergen. After a look at the vista, and Lucille buying a nice looking down jacket at the gift shop, we rode it back down again. While in the funicular, we talked to a couple of girls who had just completed the hike from Mt. Ulriken to Mt. Floyen, another of the recommended activities for active people. They said the hike was “rocky” and seemed pretty beat so we didn’t get into more detail. We walked through old Bryggen for a while – neat shops and arty places developed in the historic part of Bergen. We had been told to make sure that we visited the fish market, conveniently located right downtown and close to our hotel. It is kind of like a farmer’s market – kiosks selling everything from clothing to food, as well as a few restaurants set up in large tents. We settled on a place that had a good selection of fish dishes and a warm seating area. I had a tasty fish soup but the fish and chips were only so-so.
After trying samples of reindeer, moose and whale sausage at one of the kiosks, I bought a package of moose sausage to take back home for Brendan and Rhianne. The taste of the other 2 were a little too gamey for my taste buds. It should survive the upcoming month packed in a suitcase better than other things I could get for them.
Tuesday Sept 3
Had a big buffet breakfast at the hotel and then set out for a hike. It was obvious yesterday that the funicular was the quick but lazy way to get to the top of Mt. Floyen. So we walked the switchback route to the top, taking about 40 minutes. At the top, we stopped into the Information booth and inquired about the hike to Mt. Ulriken. The info guy walked around his counter, looked at our footwear (running shoes – we had not packed for any hikes on this trip) and said that it would be muddy, but we shouldn’t have too much trouble. He estimated that it would take us about 5 hours. Five hours! To hike only 15 km? We would show him! We got a map and set off.
The hike is classified as “medium/experienced” or “demanding”, depending on which website you look at, but we didn’t think it would be any problem. The reverse route is easier since it loses 300 metres elevation from Ulriken to Floyen but that didn’t deter us either. After all, we had both hiked Machu Pichu, did a lot of cycling over the summer and were in pretty good shape. Well, the demanding part was right! The first part of the trail was in good condition – wide, packed dirt and crushed stone, easy to follow – perfect for lulling us into a false sense of security. Then it deteriorated significantly after about 5 km. Rocks, mud, streams, constant short but steep elevation changes (i.e. cliffs), and the trail eventually devolving into, um, NO trail! Above treeline, just a series of rock cairns, then skinny steel posts, disappearing off into the distance to give us something to aim for (if we could see them). The route was whatever we figured was the driest and easiest way to the next cairn. Yup, took us almost 5 hours to do it. Lucille went for a headfirst tumble when clambering down one steep rock face and banged her head on a rock. It bled profusely but stopped quickly with a Kleenex and pressure. She was fortunate – that could have been so much worse! Glad to finally arrive at the gondola at Mt. Ulriken to take us back down. Although “demanding”, there were more than a few trail runners bolting past us in both directions, mud and water be damned. Norwegians take their trail running seriously! We got our shoes, socks and pants pretty muddy, as well as blood on Lucille’s shirt. After taking the gondola down from the top, we took a bus back downtown and walked to our hotel.
We spent some time in our room getting as much mud off our shoes and clothes as we could then took the clothes over to an adjoining hotel to do a proper laundry. Thank goodness our room had a hair dryer, which we used to try to dry out our shoes! Needless to say, the hike was memorable, and we are glad we did it.
Wednesday Sept 4
Bergen to Flåm
All the clothes that we had hung in the room overnight were dry by morning. Not surprising considering how dry our room is. Raining pretty good this morning but the train station is only across the street, so we didn’t get too wet. Caught the 8:39 train to Voss, a little over an hour away. Transferred to a bus that took us down a series of -18% switchbacks, past a number of high waterfalls, and into Gudvangen, another hour or so trip. Then another transfer to a fjord cruse boat for a 2-hour cruise into Flåm, rain continuing for the whole trip.
Got our room at the Fretheim Hotel and went to the tourist info centre nearby (everything is nearby in Flåm) to find out about the zip line and bike/hike possibilities for the rest of the afternoon. Best choice, considering the wet weather, is to take the train up the mountain (which we were scheduled to do tomorrow as well) to the last stop before Myrdal (Vatnahalsen) and get off. The zip line is about 200 metres to the right. We did as suggested and it was definitely a hoot. The bottom of the 1300-metre long zip line, advertised as the longest in Scandinavia, is at Kårdalen, on the road back down to Flåm. The employees at the top gave us helmets, got us to sign a release (always comforting), strapped us into the slings and set us off gliding through, and out of, the fog into the farmland below. Lucille’s zip line was about 10 metres away and I filmed her the whole way down. Although we couldn’t see bugger all for the first part of the ride, with the whole upper valley enveloped in a cloud, we could still feel the sensation of speed due to the wind whistling past our ears and clothes snapping. It was certainly like flying into the unknown. But, like an airplane coming in for a landing, we broke through the clouds and had a great view of the world beneath us. It took about 90 seconds to travel the 1300 metres, so we never got up to the advertised speed of 100 kph (more like 52 kph) but it was a thrill anyway. The video link of our ride is below. The zip line employee who unhooked us from the apparatus at the bottom also doubled as a goatherd for the Rallarrosa goat cheese farm at the base of the ride. We read later that it had a coffee shop and made wonderful goat cheese, but she never mentioned it so we continued our walk 3 km further down the road to the Blomheller station to wait for the next train back to Flåm. We would have liked to bike the rest of the way, about a 2-hour ride, but it was too wet out and we would have gotten soaked. With no laundry facility in the hotel (we found out the next morning that they DID have a laundry room), we didn’t want to take the chance on our clothes not drying in time for our trip tomorrow.
Thursday Sept 5
Flåm to Oslo
Our train was scheduled to leave at 12:20 so we just wandered around Flåm, taking a few of the hiking paths around town and looking through all the many clothing stores. We both found jackets that we liked – to be used for x-c skiing this winter – so have even more stuff to take home!
The train ride back to Oslo was 7 hours long and boring, except for the first hour or so when the scenery was beautiful. The rest of the trip just reminded me of home! Arrived into Oslo, had supper and bought tickets for the early express train to the airport tomorrow morning. Early night.
Friday Sept 6
Oslo to Bruges
Up early to catch the train to the airport. The flight to BRU on Brussels Airlines was comfortable enough. Got there in time to catch the direct train to Bruges, so we didn’t have to transfer. It was about a 20-minute walk to the hotel where all 24 of us on the barge trip were staying, along the trail to Minnewater Park and on to Katelijnestraat. Not having any schedule to meet, we stopped for a beer and lunch at a bar on the way. We met some of the group at the hotel, the Ibis on Katelijnestraat. Chris and Susan told us about a free harp recital later in the day near one of the churches and Lucille and I decided to go. Wow! What a good decision. The harpist, Luc Vanlaere, also made the instruments and was definitely a master at them. He played his own compositions on 3 or 4 of his own instruments, without any commentary to break the mood, then did a presentation and a q&a. Very well received by the small (his shop/studio was small) audience of about 25 people. His TripAdvisor reviews give him a rating of 5.0 and I have to agree with them. An unanticipated highlight of the trip so far.