LET THE FUN BEGIN!!
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.
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.
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.
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.