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Feldman’s Hop Across Europe


How should we celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and what special present should we give to each other? Carole had always wanted to go to Norway (Marvin had been there in the early 70’s), so we decided to look for a military flight to bring us there (or as close as possible).

This time, luck was with us—we made a five-hour drive (through heavy Southern thunderstorms) to Charleston AFB, SC, from Jacksonville, FL, enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep on base, then next afternoon boarded a C-17 for the eight-hour flight—to Spain. Our fellow passengers were opening their Air Force box lunches of ham and cheese sandwiches but, not us—Carole had prepared gourmet smoked salmon bagels! Our “fellow passengers” included four brand new Toyota Tacoma trucks, chained to the floor as cargo.

We had done quite a bit of Internet research prior to this trip, so our plan now included a flight from Spain to Norway by commercial airline. Our first week in Europe would be in Andalucia, our favorite part of Spain. This would also give us time to recover from jet lag and avoid the heavy high season (and super expensive) tourist period of Scandinavia. We would see as this Great Adventure continued.

Carole poses by a sign at Rota Beach, Spain. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Carole poses by a sign at Rota Beach, Spain. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Andalucia A week in sunny Andalucia (southern Spain) after our long flight from the USA gave us time to relax, get over the “jet lag haze” and organize our trip to Norway. Although we have been in Spain many times, we enjoyed our comfortable accommodation at Naval Station Rota.

Marv is not known for sitting still and relaxing so before we knew it, we found ourselves drinking Spanish wine in local bodegas and dining at 2300 like the locals! A one-hour ferry trip from Rota across Cadiz Bay on a gorgeous sunny day (we had done this before and loved it) and a stroll along the beach promenade in Rota, joining the beach throngs, were delightful before we headed to vibrant Malaga, (Spain’s third largest city) on the Mediterranean coast.

Our travels by bus from Rota to Seville and train from there to Malaga were very enjoyable indeed. (For those over the age of 60, ask for the Tarjeta Dorada, “golden age” pass which cuts the cost of a train by nearly half!) Weather continued scorching (100+ degrees F) but cooling drinks at a waterside bar with panoramic views and the sea breeze on a short cruise around the port of Malaga after our arrival were a great finale to our first day in this attractive palm tree lined, flower-filled city.

Now fully recovered from our jetlag, we hit the tourist sights/sites of Malaga with exuberance.

Our favorite was massive Malaga Cathedral, built in the 16th Century on the site of a former Moorish mosque. Having seen dozens of cathedrals all over the world, we found this to be the one we liked most because of its unusual architecture and interior design, interesting use of wood and gold, and many splendid chapels.

Malaga’s Alcazaba (Muslim palace fortress), with its Moorish arches and ceilings, and cool honeysuckle and orange tree filled patios, did not quite measure up to Granada’s impressive Alhambra, but gave us spectacular views over the city below.

No visit to Malaga would be complete without seeing the Museum dedicated to her native son, Pablo Picasso. This multi-million dollar edifice displays his paintings and sculptures, many never before seen in public, but we really did not care for much of it.

We were, on the other hand, very impressed with Malaga, a sparkling city. Now on to the main event—Norway!!

Marv takes in the sights outside the Oslo Opera House in Norway. Photo by Carole Feldman.

Marv takes in the sights outside the Oslo Opera House in Norway. Photo by Carole Feldman.

Oslo Before sunrise, we were winging our way on a comfortable four-hour and very inexpensive Ryanair flight from Malaga, on Spain’s Costa del Sol, to Norway’s capital of Oslo (which until 1925 was named Christiania). The weather forecast for our arrival was dismal but it was wrong. We descended in sparkling skies over bright countryside, tiny islands and lovely Oslofjord, landing at a small airport south of the city.

We knew that Norway would be super expensive but the “sticker shock” of actually seeing the high prices was something else. Nevertheless, we accepted this and knew we could work to mitigate some of cost. The Norwegian Government is kind to seniors and gave us a 50 percent reduction on transportation and entrance to attractions. Our first experience with this was on the one-hour, high speed, smooth train from the airport to Oslo Central Station, passing right next to the waters of Oslofjord, the first of other fjords we hoped to see in Norway.

Oslo’s transportation system is excellent, extensive and very efficient. So, armed with our seniors Oslopass, allowing us unlimited travel on user-friendly buses, trains, ferries and subway/metro, we could go anywhere we wanted. We checked into a very nice hotel in a quiet, parkland setting about 30 minutes from the city center—but right on a bus line—and headed to Frogner Park with its famous monolith of entwined human figures and numerous surrounding statues by Norway’s best-loved sculptor, Vigeland.

Norway is a seafaring nation, beginning with the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago, so it was appropriate for us to begin our first full day here with visits to three museums devoted to her extraordinary maritime history:

1) Viking Museum with well-preserved ships which crossed vast oceans in the 9th Century, 2) Kon Tiki Museum with Thor Heyerdahl’s original 1947 reed boat which travelled over 4,000 miles from Peru to Tahiti, and 3) Fram Museum, the polar ship which took Norwegian Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen, the first man to the South Pole, in 1911.

We took in the fascinating Norwegian Folk Museum, with its outdoor display of grass-roofed houses and centuries-old traditional churches, representative of the different regions of Norway. After such a full day or museum-hopping, it was relaxing to enjoy ferry trips to different parts of Oslofjord.

On our second and final full day here, our visits included the National Gallery to see Edvard Munch’s works (including his most famous painting, “The Scream”) and the Norwegian Resistance Museum, with telling displays of Norway’s struggle against the five-year occupation by the Nazis during World War II. Carole even walked up onto the roof of the ultramodern, stunning Oslo Opera House (designed to look like glacier).

This concluded our whirlwind but wonderful stay in this magnificent European capital. Now on to Norway’s west coast…

Norway in a Nutshell The Norwegian Tourism Office offers a popular tour called “Norway in a Nutshell”. We put together our own version, saving a substantial amount by using our “seniors” status rather than purchasing the package tour. We began with a wonderful train trip west from Oslo, through Norway’s magnificent, ever-changing countryside, and over snow-capped mountains to Myrdal. We changed to the famous Flam Railway, dropping us from dizzying heights, past waterfalls, to sea level at the tiny village of Flam, on the Sognefjord. Here, thousands of tourists greeted us (Flam welcomes half a million of them every year!), many having just disembarked from a huge cruise ship.

From there, we boarded a high-speed catamaran for the six hour, spectacular trip through Norway’s longest fjord, stopping at little villages en route, and finally wending our way through narrow, twisting coastal straits (this reminded us of our Southeast Alaska ferry journeys) to Norway’s second largest city of Bergen. What a tiring, but memorable experience!

Our “Nutshell” day had begun in brilliant sunshine which continued through most of our journey but as we turned onto the coast, from the Sognefjord, the weather deteriorated rapidly with rain, cold and wind. This set the tone for our Bergen stay, with some breaks for comfortable (although chilly) sight-seeing. Nowegians told us they had experienced a very bad summer however, this did not deter the many tourists (like us) from coming!

Marv meets a new troll friend in Bergen, Norway. Photo by Carole Feldman.

Marv meets a new troll friend in Bergen, Norway. Photo by Carole Feldman.

Bergen Arriving in Bergen by boat gave us a breathtaking and magnificent view of her harbor, filled with an old square rigged sailing ship, huge modern cargo vessels, luxury cruise ships and kiosks. What a beautiful blend of traditional seafaring Norway and modern 21st Century!

We trundelled up the hill through chilly evening drizzle (Norwegians tell us they have no bad weather—just some days people dress differently!) to our little guesthouse. Our hostess (prearranged by email) left us an envelope with a note and keys to our room, so we made ourselves at home, just blocks from the harbor.

Over the next few days we explored Bergen, looking just around the corner, and were delighted to find interesting bars, ethnic cafes (including lunch at an Ethiopian one), art studios, museums (one on leprosy/Hansen’s Disease), residences perched on the sides of steep cliffs, and the Fish Market near Bryggen, Bergen’s UNESCO World Heritage listed old warehouse area. While we enjoyed the Norwegian salmon, we declined offerings of whale meat!

We ascended 1,000 feet on the Floibanen funicular to the top of the mountain to enjoy both panoramic views of the city and harbor (the weather cooperated long enough for this) and to lunch on welcome, tasty hot soup—warming our Florida bodies in this 50 degree weather! While we still suffer from sticker shock ($25 for soup), they did allow “free” refills, so this turned into our “no dinner lunch.”

On to … Sweden! It is not unusual for our Great Adventures, with their random travels, to take unexpected twists and turns. This one was no exception!

Our focus on this trip was Norway, but with deteriorating and predicted worsening weather on Norway’s west coast, we decided to change our next destination from Stavanger, Norway, to Stockholm, Sweden. With surprisingly low cost, last minute, air tickets, we flew this 450-mile journey in comfort on Finnair (we had traveled with them previously), with its full-service and no extra charges for luggage or on-board refreshments; one hour, non-stop flight from Bergen to Sweden’s capital.

Like in Oslo, we headed to our hotel in Stockholm’s suburbs by efficient subway and settled in for the night. Our decision to come here was the right one as the next day, in glorious sunny and warm weather (for Stockholm), we hit the ground running. First impressions of this beautiful Scandinavian capital were positive and while small Oslo was sedate and slow-paced, much larger Stockholm had a “big city” vibe with everyone in a rush, yet taking time for relaxing coffees and pastries at cafes.

Carole on board a sight-seeing tour boat near Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Carole on board a sight-seeing tour boat near Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Stockholm In Oslo, we heard a lot of jokes about the “dumb Swedes” and in Stockholm we heard similar jokes about Norwegians! This humorous rivalry reminded us of the one between Australia and New Zealand! Our experience here made us realize the huge impact Scandinavians have on the world with its language full of English-sounding (but differently spelled) works like “kaffe” for coffee and “hej” for hello.

This was our first visit to Stockholm (often called “The Venice of the North”) which, with two million people, has twice the population of Oslo. Like Sydney, ferries connect her many islands and coastal communities, so we bought a “hop-on hop-off” ferry ticket to explore this beautiful city. We enjoyed this experience so much that we repeated it twice!

With many wonderful museums from which to choose (including the Spirit Museum about Sweden’s approach to drinking), we focused on just one. The Vasa Museum, a “must see”, was tops and did not disappoint. Inside is the massive, well-preserved, elaborately decorated, Swedish warship which sank minutes after it began its maiden voyage in 1628. The warship lay on the bottom of the bay for over 300 years until it was raised in 1961. It was also awesome to see shoes, cannons, skulls and personal artifacts taken from the ship. Today, with modern computer technology, faces were added to skulls to bring the crew’s remains to life.

Gamla Stan (or Old Town) provided a wonderful opportunity for us to explore narrow cobblestone streets with fascinating shops, including the oldest and most prestigious fishing tackle shop in Sweden (“By appointment to H.M. The King”). The Royal Palace, Parlia-ment House, and numerous churches were a great backdrop for us to enjoy a picnic lunch on a sunny day, as massive cruise ships glided in and out of port.

For something different, we visited the world’s largest IKEA, Sweden’s impressive global chain of contemporary stores, focusing on modern Scandinavian home accessories. And what more appropriate way could we conclude our holiday in gorgeous Stockholm (and in Scandinavia) than to enjoy a delicious farewell smorgasbord buffet lunch at a restaurant overlooking Stockholm’s premier Ostermalms Food Hall, with its dazzling and seemingly endless display of visual and edible gourmet taste sensations—yum!

Going Home Getting home by Space-A on these adventures is often an adventure in itself—and so was this one!

We left Stockholm before the sun rose and caught an early morning Ryanair flight to Stansted Airport, north of London, very conveniently located for our return to the US by military air. Surprisingly, we were greeted by glorious sunshine and hot weather, quite unusual for England, but most appreciated after our rather chilly and, at times, rainy Scandinavian experience. After just an hour on a most enjoyable bus ride through the pretty English countryside, we were at Royal Air Force (RAF) Station Mildenhall (near Cambridge) where we spent a comfortable evening. By the way, this short stopover in England gave Carole the chance to enjoy a traditional English roast dinner with Yorkshire Pudding (a throwback to her childhood memories in Australia) at a village cafe!

Carole all bundled up for their ride in a KC-135. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Carole all bundled up for their ride in a KC-135. Photo by Marv Feldman.

Luck was with us (again!) as early next morning we were on a non-stop KC-135 flight to Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, NC. Before the day was over, we were back in the USA! After a short stay on base to rest, then renting a car, we drove to Charleston (where we began three weeks ago) and picked up our own car for the drive to Jacksonville.

Concluding Thoughts This was a wonderful, fulfilling and happy trip to a part of Europe where we had not previously been.

Here are some of our impressions:

1. Homework and luck: We did lots of research before and during our trip, allowing us to adjust our plans and be flexible, seizing opportunities. We found discount fares on flights within Europe (thanks to the Internet) and had incredibly good luck catching US military flights to and from Europe.

2. Spain: We are glad we spent nearly a week in Spain, getting over jet lag so that we could hit the ground running as soon as we arrived in Norway.

3. History: The Vikings were common to both Norway and Sweden and so it is not surprising that both Oslo and Stockholm have fabulous museums devoted to their country’s maritime history.

4. People: Norwegians and Swedes have the reputation of being cool and reserved. We found the opposite—kind, helpful and very anxious to please. They are fashionably dressed, well-educated, cultured, and English is more widely spoken than in other countries we have visited. The Scandinavian stereotype of the tall, blue-eyed, blonde hair is fading into history. Scandinavia has become very multicultural with many Norwegians and Swedes from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

5. Prosperity: Locals appear prosperous with no evidence of the economic crisis that is hitting the rest of Europe. Perhaps this is because both countries decided to keep their own currencies and are happy they are not on the Euro. Norway’s North Sea oil success certainly is a factor!

6. Cost: Prices were hyperexpensive (we knew this before our trip) with Norway being slightly more costly than Sweden and both being nearly three times the cost of other European countries. We mitigated some of this by flying to and from Europe by “Traveling on less per day … the military way™,” and, in Scandinavia, self-catering and staying in the suburbs. Senior prices for transportation and entrance fees at attractions helped. Sweden and Norway are not “budget destinations!”

7. Quality and efficiency: everything works like a well-oiled machine with an efficient, comfortable and clean infrastructure. We appreciate Scandinavian quality. Food is delicious, of high standards and one can safely drink the water! Norway and Sweden are unique. Oslo is smaller and more relaxed while Stockholm is a fast-paced European capital.

8. Scenery: Nothing short of stunning everywhere! The fjords, the mountains, the cities …

If any R&R Travel News© readers wish to see the Shutterfly slide show of this trip, please email us and we will be happy to share this with you.

Happy traveling! Col. Marvin Feldman, USAF (Ret.) and Carole Feldman Jacksonville, FL

Reprint from Jan-Feb 2013 • Volume 43, No. 1


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