Monday, June 28, 2010

Favorite Moments: Scandinavia, Part 1

Have you gotten the feeling that we like to travel?

Well we do. We love it. It's a major priority for us, both time-wise and budget-wise. From viewing a bit of history to tasting different foods, we so enjoy exploring new and different places together.

Earlier this month we traveled to Scandinavia - Norway, Denmark, Estonia, and even a bit of Russia. Not surprisingly, we took zillions of pictures and look back fondly on countless memories. For the purposes of this here blog (which we write for you, Internet, as well as for ourselves, journal style!) Josh is going to tackle writing about it, and I'll handle putting together our favorite pictures.

Here are some of our top picks/best memories, starting with the lesser favorites. Without further ado, here's Josh:

The Night Train

The second day of our trip, we took a train-boat-bus trip across Norway to the port city of Bergen (more on this later). On our return trip to Oslo, we had the option of paying a premium for a sleeping car. As it was a night train and we knew we’d be tired after a full day of traveling, we did it gladly.

This was a new experience for both of us, and we didn’t have a good idea of exactly what to expect. We were greeted with a nice cozy room with two bunk beds, a small window, and a sink. There was a ladder that folded down from the wall opposite the bunks, and there really wasn’t a lot of space for much else. That said, it was a great way to travel. We boarded the train in Bergen, fell asleep almost immediately, and woke up refreshed 7 hours later in Oslo.

One strange (to us) Norwegian custom that we weren’t anticipating was the bedding. Unlike traditional blankets that cover the whole bed, Norwegian double beds had two blankets folded in half and sitting on top of the sheet like individual sleeping bags.

Night Train

Oslo, Norway

Due to the intricacies of our itinerary, we spent parts of three different days exploring and relaxing in the Norwegian capital, and to a certain extent it began to feel like a home base to us by the end of the trip.

While there weren’t a lot of can’t-miss sights in Oslo, we really loved the time that we spent there. We explored the newly-renovated harbor district and the old Akershus fortress that overlooks it. We hiked through the trendy Grünerløkka district to a charming waterfall on the Akers River. We went to see the beautiful murals painted on the walls of the Radhuset (town hall). We walked all over the new Opera House that rises out of the harbor. With all of this, however, perhaps our favorite excursion was going to see the impressive Frogner Park that includes hundreds (if not thousands) of statues by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland.

Oslo is built at the end of a fjord and is really a picturesque and beautiful city in its own way, but it lacks the overwhelming charm that you’ll see in some of our favorite destinations. It had a very efficient (and dare I say, American) feel to it, and everything from the transportation to the public buildings were first class.
We saw before we went that Oslo was currently the second most expensive city in the world for Americans and it certainly didn’t disappoint on this front. Prices in Norway for almost everything were simply outrageous. Gas was over $2.00 a liter, it was nearly impossible to find a hotel in the center of town for under $180, and we decided to bypass restaurants altogether and focus on one of our favorite Oslo pastimes: the picnic.


Vision of the Seas - Our Cruise

As neither of us had ever been on a cruise, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect out of our first cruise, but it was definitely a pleasant experience. The food was consistently good, there were plenty of things to do, and the staff was great, but the best thing about the cruise was our ability to get from place to place and relax along the way. With Jessica being pregnant, we were looking for a more low-key travel experience than our trip from last year, and that’s exactly what we got.

Our ship, the Vision of the Seas, was an older ship and didn’t have a ton of frills from what I understand, but it really suited us well. Whether it was swimming, reading (or in Jessica’s case playing SimCity on my iPhone) in a lounge, playing team trivia, or eating, we always had enough to do and it was a fun place to spend a week.

Aside from the ship itself, however, we really enjoyed getting a chance to meet some fun people along the way. We had assigned tables at dinner, and eating dinner with this group every night was one of the highlights of the trip. There was a Norwegian couple (via New York and Hong Kong), a doctor from London traveling on her own, a Scottish woman and her aunt, and a couple from just down the road in Cincinnati. It was fun to check in with them every day to see what they had experienced at the different stops, and we really connected over the course of the trip.

We went with an interior cabin for the trip, and we couldn’t have been happier with the decision. Not only did it give us a pitch dark place to sleep in the land of the midnight sun, but it was also the cheapest possible way we’ve found to spend a week in Europe. We almost spent more on our round-trip train ticket to Bergen than the entire cruise (7-nights with free food every day), and it was great value for the money.
While it perhaps isn’t the most authentic way to experience a new place with Cheerios for breakfast every morning and a reggae band playing at poolside, we would really recommend the cruise experience to anyone who is looking for a relaxing way to spend a week on a budget and still feel free to explore their destinations during the day.



Mike and Rebecca said...

Reading this post is making me itch to travel around Europe! Can't wait to read the rest.

Lynn said...

Great joint effort to document your trip. Looks amazing. We love to travel too.....vacationing is one of the things we do best together. ;o)

Erika said...

Looks like so much fun!!! I'm trying not to be envious :) Looking forward to part 2

Kristen said...

yeah... i love that you are doing this little series.

one of the places high on my visit list is norway since it is my heritage! i love the idea of the cruise.

can't wait to see/read more!

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