Day 0, Wednesday, August 14 Oops
Almost everything is done - just the laundry to do tomorrow morning for the last things to pack. I eat a late lunch/early supper and go to bed early since 'tomorrow' will be a very long 'day' as I never can sleep on an airplane. Then day "Zero" is right - it gets things off with omens of things to come. About 2:30 PM I lose a filling from a tooth right in front. Panic time. No way I can go with this. My regular dentist is on vacation; my previous dentist is overbooked; but I finally get a reference to another dentist who agrees to stay late and do a replacement filling for me (not covered by my insurance) which also means no supper tonight - I'm too "afraid" to eat in case THIS filling comes off. (And this isn't the first result of my latest visit to the hygienist which was just last week - while there she managed to yank off a crown. Conclusion: going to the dentist is extremely dangerous to my travel plans.)
Day 1, Thursday, August 15 In Flight
More "zeroes": the day starts with heavy rain starting about 6 AM - over three inches by 9 AM and I'm worried if the airport will be shut down or that the taxi can even get to the house. It also makes it hard to do the laundry. At least it finally slacks off, so I take a taxi to a local hotel for the shuttle to find fire equipment parked in front of the hotel. Problems??? No, someone (guest) did something wrong and set off all the fire alarms. OK, so waiting for the shuttle ... and waiting ... and waiting .... No shuttle bus, so three of us take a limousine to the airport. At least by splitting the cost, it comes out about the same, and a Lincoln "Town Car" is MUCH more comfortable than the 'rattle-trap' vans the shuttle service uses. Board the overnight transatlantic flight via Latehansa (Lufthansa) (unfortunately). After a late push-back from the gate and an endless period of taxiing and waiting (55 minutes from scheduled pushback to actual takeoff) the first flight is 10 hours of creaking, groaning, and rattling through bouncy air in a hot plane (more omens of things to come). The meals are quite decent, but small as expected.
No detailed flight information retained.
Day 2, Friday, August 16 Copenhagn
Change planes in Frankfurt (fairly long layover) then finally arrival in Copenhagen, Denmark. I had to show my passport when checking in my luggage in Houston, but nobody asked for it since. No Customs/Passport Control, etc. The second flight was much better (SAS) than the first. Time to rest or to start exploring Denmark's fun-loving capital - the hotel is conveniently located to find supper. At 6 p.m. meet our traveling companions for a welcome drink (Coke Light) hosted by our tour director (Finn-Petter Thorp, Norway). (No meals furnished) Hotel: Radisson SAS Scandinavia. Rating: 5.25 (best of the tour)
Day 3, Saturday, August 17 Copenhagen
The staff is late serving breakfast, but fortunately there is time to wait and the breakfast is very good. Guided morning sightseeing in Scandinavia's largest and liveliest metropolis. See the Church of Our Savior and the Stock Exchange on the way to Christiansborg Palace where we visit the elegant ROYAL RECEPTION ROOMS. Drive past the National Museum and the Royal Theater, and snap our pictures of Amalienborg Palace and the wistful Little Mermaid watching the harbor (the bus driver has a real hassle maneuvering the bus around in this area). Since this is a repeat, I skip the afternoon optional trip, and stay in the really neat 'old town' until late afternoon. In the evening we enjoy the bright lights and animation of TIVOLI GARDENS (and have 'dinner' here). There are a few really good stage shows here to enjoy. (BB) (All this is a repeat)
Day 4, Sunday, August 18 Copenhagen - Huskvarna, Sweden
Into the picture-book landscape of North Zealand. At Hillerod visit the truly magnificent Renaissance FREDRIKSBORG CASTLE (very nice even though it's a repeat), once a royal residence and now a national museum. On the way to the coast, picture stops in the lovely park of Fredensborg Palace and in front of Hamlet's brooding Kronborg Castle at Elsinore. Now by ferry (short ride) across the Sound to Hälsingborg in Sweden, a country so civilized that even barnyard animals are protected by stringent laws. Travel through its southern plains and savor vistas of vast expanses of fertile farmland, stands of timber, and tidy rural villages. Overnight in Huskvarna, noted for its sewing machines and bicycles. (BB,BD) Hotel "nowhere": Hotel Winn (on the shore of a lake miles from anywhere - though a bunch of us sit around on the patio (??) and talk for a while). Rating: 4.33. At least it's air conditioned. (more later) (still repeat of the end of the Russia trip)
Day 5, Monday, August 19 Huskvarna-Stockholm
Off early - long way to go. At least it's cool in the mornings. North along the shore of Lake Vättern to historic Vadstena (with beaches and sunbathers, some of whom take advantage of the fact that it's legal to be 'topless' on Scandinavian beaches but as the bus goes by at 50 mph,) with a venerable 14th-century Roman Catholic church dedicated to St. Brigitta. Via the old garrison town of Örebro we continue to Lake Mälar. Here the highlight visit of the day: King Gustav Vasa's GRIPSHOLM CASTLE (best castle of the trip), which now houses a precious art collection. (Still repeats) Late afternoon arrival in Stockholm. I take the optional dinner this evening because there is a stop before dinner to see a wonderful 'folk dance' performance (highlight #1). (BB,OD) Hotel: Scandic Anglais. Rating: 3.25 (2nd lowest of the trip; small room, no a/c, no ventilation, VERY hot, no sleep and we have to stay here for two nights!!).
Day 6, Tuesday, August 20 Stockholm
The Swedish capital's beauty is due to a unique setting on 14 islands between Lake Mälar and the Baltic, and to the care with which city authorities control urban development and preserve historical treasures. Sightseeing with a local guide features the Royal Palace, Riddarholm Church, and the festive blue and gold chambers in the TOWN HALL - very interesting architecture. Kungsgatan's smart shops and the skyscrapers and futuristic condominiums on the shores of Lake Mälar form a striking contrast to the Old Town sights. The morning tour is standard, but we have a wonderful guide (Katrin). (We ask Katrin about the topless sun-bathing and she tells us about one tour in which she had a problem with people stopping to take pix of the girls in the city park during the walking tour.) But it's very, very hot (90+). In the afternoon, there's an optional excursion to the fascinating Wasa Ship Museum. (Highlight #2 - Repeat for me, but well worth it) We're back to the hotel early (that hot hotel again) so I go out to try to find somewhere cool, but no luck. It's another miserable night - about 1 hour sleep. (BB) Two highlights in Stockholm, but two hot nights in the hotel - so it balances out.
Day 7, Wednesday, August 21 Stockholm - Mora
At least we are leaving that hotel. And now it will also be new sights to see. Morning visit to tiny Sigtuna, seat of Sweden's Viking kings for some time around the turn of the millennium. On to Uppsala, the country's oldest university town. Admire the glorious stained-glass windows in its huge GOTHIC CATHEDRAL. Then continue to Old Uppsala to see prehistoric burial mounds. Next a stop in Dalarna to see the making of the 'famous' Dalla Horses - a 'recommended' souvenir of Sweden. The attractive scenery of southern Dalarna forms the backdrop of our afternoon journey to elegant Mora on Lake Siljan, home of the painter Anders Zorn. Along the way we see two Russian tour busses - over the tour, we see one or more almost every day. Apparently someone has money in Russia. (FB,D) Hotel: First Resort Mora. Rating: 4.22 (after Petter gets the staff to move me to a different room; the first was 'impossibly' hot)
Day 8, Thursday, August 22 Mora - Lillehammer, Norway
Hopefully it will be cooler in Lillehammer - after all, it was the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics. A scenic day! Penetrate deeper into rustic Dalarna, then cross over into Norway's equally enchanting Hedmark. Visit strategic Elverum, rebuilt after total destruction during World War II. On via Lake Mjösa to Lillehammer, proud host of the 1994 Winter Olympics. Time here for a leisurely walk along Storgata and a visit to the MAIHAUGEN OPEN-AIR MUSEUM (Highlight #3 -- Great - super highlights of the trip, and a fabulous guide, Emma). An expert explains the rich collection of ancient Gudbrandsdal farms, sod-covered dwellings, workshops, tools, and weapons. The optional Lillehammer Olympics tour is a bit of a disappointment - the Olympics museum is almost exclusively Norwegian athletes. (BB,BD) Hotel: Rica Victoria (great location right off the pedestrian street that was the 'main drag' of the Olympics). Rating: 3.55 (another impossibly hot room, but the location and the dinner help the rating) We find out later that this is the hottest August 22nd on record in Lillehammer.
Day 9, Friday, August 23 Lillehammer - Olden
Drive through the wide Gudbrandsdal Valley, the lush dairy and timber land of Ibsen's drama Peer Gynt. Shoot our pictures of the lonely stave church (neat!) of Lom, then climb past the tree line to the 5000-foot Dalsnibba lookout for a sensational, panoramic view of Geirangerfjord. (*I* wouldn't want to drive our bus up and down those narrow switchbacks to the top of Dalsnibba!) Now we're to the fjord region of Norway - in itself, big highlight #4 of the trip. In the afternoon enjoy a one-hour cruise (make that a 'late afternoon' cruise - a bit too late for enough light to really enjoy the scenery - this due to a recent schedule change; our ferry is at 5:15 instead of 3:30) on this stunningly beautiful stretch of water, past the famous "Seven Sisters" cascade and several now-abandoned farms clinging very precariously to small patches of steep pasture land. We did see some seals swimming in the fjord. Dock at Hellesylt and head south via Lake Hornindal to peaceful Olden. (BB,BD) Hotel: Olden Fjord. Rating: 4.00 (although no a/c, we are late and it's cooling off "some"; finally by midnight the room is cool enough to sleep) At least it's a very nice view from the hotel room.
Day 10, Saturday, August 24 Olden - Stalheim
Follow the shoreline of Nordfjord to Utvik, then cross the mountains to the serene Vatedalen Valley and pristine Lake Jölster. The mountain scenery gets more rugged as we approach the tunnel underneath Jostedalsbreen, Europe's largest glacier. Some of the roads alongside the fjords are two-way, but are barely more than one lane wide. And I though some of the Colorado mountain pass roads were hard to drive!!! Stop at the Braevasshytta to view one of the mighty tongues which radiate from the main glacier into the surrounding valleys. Next visit Fjaerland's excellent NORWEGIAN GLACIER MUSEUM (good, interesting displays) to satisfy our curiosity about one of nature's most impressive features and watch a thrilling five-screen film show. In the afternoon we're in for a real treat. Cruise for two hours on spectacular Sognefjord (unfortunately its another late afternoon cruise). Land at Gudvangen and motor through a narrow canyon up to Stalheim. The hotel is at the top of a long, narrow, steep (20% grade - steepest in N Europe), a lofty vantage point high above the majestic Naerodal Valley (1250' from the hotel to the valley floor). (BB,D) Hotel: Stahlheim. Rating 4.25. Nothing to do here, but the view is nice and again we are late so cooler.
Day 11, Sunday, August 25 Stalheim - Bergen
On the way back down to sea level we see the splendid Tvindefoss waterfall and visit the popular lakeside resort of Voss. Late morning arrival in Bergen, certainly the most picturesque (????, but it IS interesting) of all Scandinavian towns. Meet our local expert at nearby TROLDHAUGEN, the enchanting home and fjordside garden where Edward Grieg, the "Voice of Norway," spent his summers and composed many of his haunting melodies. During our Bergen sightseeing hear about its 11th-century origins and its association with the Hanseatic League. (Real 'dud' of a local tour - would have been better to skip it and look around town.) Time later to stroll through the narrow lanes of ancient Bryggen (harbour) and to ride the funicular up to Mount Flöyen (did this late after dinner; very nice as the sun set). "McDonald's" here is NOT the usual architecture!! (BB,D) Hotel: Clarion Admiral. Good location. Rating: 4.25. (room is small and hot, but it cools off later) We hear on the news that Scandinavia is having the hottest year (Jan - Aug) on record, the hottest August on record, etc. So much for getting out of the Texas heat by going to Scandinavia. True, it's quite a bit cooler than Houston, but with no a/c in the hotel rooms and windows that open only a few inches, I would have been better ($$$$) off staying home and turning the a/c to much cooler! Bah, humbug!
Day 12, Monday, August 26 Bergen - Telemark
Cross Hardangerfjord by ferry from Kvanndal to Utne, and take very reluctant leave of the fjord area as we drive through the orchards along Southfjord, whose tranquil splendor inspired Grieg's "Morning Mood." More scenic delights are in store: thundering Latefoss waterfall; the wild Hardangervidda mountain plateau where Fridtjof Nansen prepared for his polar expeditions, and where wolves, bears, and reindeer roam (we didn't see any); finally watch out for traditional wooden dwellings and barns rising from blooming meadows beside the road along the northern shore of Lake Totak into rustic, unspoiled Telemark. (BB,BD) Another "hotel nowhere" - right on the 'highway' between somewhere and somewhere else. Telemark in this case means the district, not a town. Hotel: Rauland Hogejellshotell. Rating: 3.63. At least the buffet dinner is good. The reindeer stew is surprisingly good.
Day 13, Tuesday, August 27 Telemark - Oslo
Look forward to a riveting guided visit to VEMORK, scene of the daring sabotage action celebrated in The Heroes of Telemark. Learn all about the dramatic events of 1943, and also gain an insight into the technology of hydroelectric power generation, one of the pillars of Norway's economy. Leave the narrow Rjukan Valley via Lake Tinnsjön, where the saboteurs sank a ferry loaded with heavy water, thereby dashing Nazi hopes of winning the race for the atomic bomb. Before heading for Oslo in the afternoon admire HEDDAL STAVE CHURCH, the largest of the country's remaining medieval wooden churches. I think I really like Oslo, and not just because the hotel here has a/c. I skip the optional $$$ dinner. (BB) Hotel: Rica Victoria. Good location. Rating: 4.62. The only bad thing is that there is major construction going on across the street - very loud pile-driver working until 7:30 PM. But at least the hotel has good a/c so I can keep the window closed to keep out most of the noise and the pile-driver quits at 7:30.
Day 14, Wednesday, August 28 Oslo
Morning sightseeing in the capital features such landmarks as the National Theater, Parliament, and the Royal Palace. Visit the modern CITY HALL and the RESISTANCE MUSEUM in the grounds of Akershus Fortress. Afternoon an optional excursion to the relics of Norway's glorious seafaring past: elegant Viking ships museum (highlight #5), Nansen's and Amundsen's polar vessel Fram, and Thor Heyerdal's Kon-Tiki raft. We also have time to visit the NORWEGIAN FOLKLORE AND OPEN-AIR HISTORICAL MUSEUM. In my opinion, the latter isn't as nice as Maihaugen, and which is probably why we didn't spend too much time here. Time later for walking around - it's not TOO far to the interesting area. For the most part, for me, the interesting part of the tour ends here. (BB) Lot's more overnight noise - that pile-driver until 7:30, emergency vehicles at 2 AM, party-goers going home at 3 AM, garbage trucks at 4:30 AM, etc. Even with the windows shut (thanks for the a/c for that, at least)
Day 15, Thursday, August 29 Oslo - Gothenburg, Sweden
Time to leave Norway, unfortunately. Morning drive on the scenic island route along the Skagerrak back into Sweden. Then an afternoon in Gothenburg, the country's thriving second-largest city. We see its landmarks on an orientation drive. We get some rain today and this evening - no real chance to walk around in Gothenburg. (BB,D) Hotel: Scandic Crown. Rating: 4.77 - makes up a bit for the otherwise downer of a day.
Day 16, Friday, August 30 Gothenburg - Arhus, Denmark
Board our (large) ferry for the three-hour crossing of the Kattegat to Frederikshavn on the peninsula of Jutland, the only part of Denmark that is attached to the European continent. Arrive in Arhus in plenty of time to take in DEN GAMLE BY, a fascinating (yes, it actually is!) collection of completely furnished old Danish town houses. Other than this, just another driving day. (BB,D) Hotel: Radisson SAS Aarhus. Rating: 4.88 (nice room, a/c, good dinner, etc.) Unfortunately, more rain so little to do before or after dinner. I miss the extra time to do walks.
Day 17, Saturday, August 31 Arhus - Copenhagen
A fascinating (???) final touring day, mostly in the rain. First we see King Gorm's burial mound at Jelling (ok, the rune stones here are indeed interesting). Cross the Little Belt waterway to the fairy-tale island of Funen. Visit H.C. ANDERSEN'S HOME in Odense (repeat for me and it's often raining fairly heavily), then over the world's largest suspension bridge constructed off-shore and return to Copenhagen. Tonight another $$$ optional dinner which I skip; bought some pastries with my last Kroner earlier - that's what I have for 'dinner'. (BB) Hotel: Radisson SAS Globetrotter. Worst hotel of the trip. Rating: 2.42. Long way from anywhere except the airport, very hot - thought about sleeping in the hallway - it's a bit cooler, but there's no a/c anywhere in the hotel. Bad hotel; bad, bad hotel. No chance for sleep at all so today and tomorrow will turn into one very long hard miserable day.
Day 18, Sunday, September 1 Return Home
Up early (4:15) for a 5:30 trip to the airport - plane leaves at 7. More Lufthansa. Finally home about 3:30 (Houston time, 10:30 PM Denmark time) (FB - but not for me due to plane schedule) I'm the only one who has to leave this early - "private" shuttle (Globus bus) with driver and tour director to the airport (10 minutes away). This 'final day' (actually two days) started at 5:00 AM Saturday Denmark time and eventually ends with me going to bed at 4 AM Monday Denmark time; 10 PM Friday Houston time to 9 PM Sunday Houston time = 47 hours with no sleep)
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Some comments: I would have been far more impressed with the part from Copenhagen to Stockholm, and then back in Denmark if I hadn't seen almost all of it on my fairly recent trip to Russia which returned to London via Scandinavia. Food is extremely expensive; a 'McBarf Burger, medium fries and medium drink is about US$12; Burgers, except for the smallest, start at about $6 (yes, I ate there once). Gasoline is also very expensive; 8.23 DKr/L; 9.65 SKr/L. Either is over US$1.