Travel: How to get the best VALUE

My company is Pilkington Travels, LLC, and I would be honored to help you plan any trip, large or small, so that you get the best value and have the best experience. Feel free to contact me using form below, visit my website, find me on Facebook, and follow me on Instagram.

We all want a great deal, and I understand that! I am very thrifty in many aspects of my life so that I can afford to travel. I don’t really like the expression, “you get what you pay for.” Sometimes you pay for a little and get a lot, or sometimes you pay for a lot and get little. It isn’t necessarily black & white, especially with travel.

Here are a few ways I think you can guarantee the best value for your time and budget!

  1. Use a travel advisor! Travel is PERSONAL, and our job is to help you get the best value and be sure you have an itinerary that is customized just for you. A good travel advisor has partnerships around the world to ensure that you are getting what you want. We also have access to special pricing and special amenities that add extra value to your vacation. As a Virtuoso advisor, I have access to highly vetted partners to ensure that you get exactly what you pay for. You also have an advocate from start to finish to help things go smoothly, make wise choices, and help if anything doesn’t go smoothly. If you haven’t used a travel advisor, or if you are afraid of paying more for your travels, I really suggest you give it a try!
  2. Try an ocean cruise! Before I went on my first cruise, I was very skeptical and had no idea whether I would love or hate the 7 days on board. By day 7, I wanted to LIVE on a ship. It was the most carefree, fun vacation I had ever had. Since meals, accommodations, and transportation are part of the trip, there are no worries. You wake up when you like, eat when you like, etc, and you get to explore several interesting, new ports. Cruises have a bit of a reputation for nickel & diming you, but with the assistance of a travel advisor who knows how that works, you will be sure to enjoy the value of a cruise! By the way, most of my experience is with Norwegian Cruise Lines, and I love them. I can help you find the best fit for you!
  3. Try a river cruise! Enough with the cruise talk! No, never! I have to separate the ocean cruising from river cruising because they are a totally different ballgame. River cruises are a bit more expensive, but probably not as much as you might think. Of course, you still have the meals, accommodations, and transportation that are part of the cruise, but other things are included as well. River cruises usually include 1 free shore excursion per port, and they include wine & beer at meals. Although you have to fly to Europe, they also often offer free or discounted flights. They are also a smaller and more intimate experience. I am particularly a fan of AmaWaterways, but Viking, Uniworld, and Avalon Waterways, among others, are wonderful. Booking through a Virtuoso agent gets you even greater value!
  4. Try a tour. I’m sure this makes some people cringe and gives you visions of being on a charter bus with 60 people. Ick! This isn’t necessarily true. There are a number of providers that offer small group tours and groups various sizes, even private tours. Your travel advisor knows the reputable companies! If you are traveling solo (solo but not alone), or if you like to meet people when you travel, this can be a great way to go. Also, the added value of a tour is that you probably have a guide, all of the planning is built in, and the cost is probably reasonable since it has been negotiated by the tour operator.
  5. Choose your destination wisely. This may seem obvious, but some places are more expensive than others. Norway is amazingly beautiful, but it is quite expensive. Locations even vary in price. For example, the Dominican Republic is a great value right now because of the bad press. If you’re afraid of dying, you really should fearing that. This article, along with others, discusses how the deaths were unrelated, as well as how the media created too much hype about them. Also, Mexico is a relatively inexpensive place to visit, but it’s no less wonderful! Again, your travel advisor can help you find the location that gives you the best value!

P.S. I forgot to mention all-inclusive resorts, but they can also be a great value. In this post, I compare all-inclusive with cruises.

I would love to hear from you!

Last day of this trip & Closing thoughts

 Considering that I only had about 1/2 a day to complete my time in Oslo, I was pretty productive. It certainly helped that it was another beautiful day! After breakfast, finishing up yesterday’s blog, and actually falling asleep again (because I woke up around 5:30), I went out to explore the Akershus Fortress at the recommendation of my host. On the way there, I stopped by Joe and the Juice, a juice and coffee bar that I’ve seen since I was in Reykjavik. I got a juice that I believe was called Joe’s Green Kiss. I had freshly squeezed spinach, apple, and ginger. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to try it before leaving Scandinavia. Yum!

Akershus was a short walk from there, and it is an old fortress area between Aker Brygge and the Opera House. There are many buildings to see and a nice view of the port, although the place wasn’t actually open when I was there. It was a nice place to walk around and take some photos, anyway. I thought I might go into the Visitor’s Center, which had some sort of exhibit, at 10:00, but when it wasn’t open at 10:03, I left.

      

I decided to just wander around the main shopping area, which is basically like wandering around 34th street in NYC. I went into Steen & Strøm, Oslo’s equivalent to Macy’s or one of the major stores in London. It is a very nice store, and of course, I was interested in their food court on the bottom level. They have several very nice establishments down there, including a sushi place called Jonathan! It must be good! They also had a Marks & Spencer (or M&S), a store I always enjoy in London. The Scandinavian people seem to have an obsession with stuff in tubes. When I was at Anne-Helene’s in Bergen, she served me caviar in a tube, but they have several varieties of tubular goo. Here they had BaconOst, SkinkeOst (ham), and BBQ Chicken Ost. The caviar at breakfast was supposed to be eaten with the soft boiled egg. Not sure of the use of all of this stuff, but I can imagine that it would go on toast. Using Google Translate, I found out that “ost” is cheese, so Bacon Cheese, Ham Cheese, BBQ Chicken Cheese…hmmm….

  

I went in several other stores, which I always enjoy since it just gives a good feel for the culture of the area. I noticed a lot of book stores everywhere I was on this trip, so I went in two today. I was most excited by, and tempted to buy, a 48 CD collection of Ella Fitzgerald because it was pretty inexpensive. It must be all of her recordings! I resisted, hoping that I could either find it at home or find the recordings that I want on vinyl.

Eventually, I made it to where i was planning to have lunch, which was Fiskeriet Youngstorget, a fish market and restaurant. When I got there, I noticed an outdoor area with some vendors setting up in the plaza nearby, including some food vendors, as well as a random assortment of vendors selling things like records and DVDs. I flipped through the records a bit but didn’t feel terribly inspired to buy anything. I went ahead and went to get my lunch. Considering the ridiculous eating I’ve done lately, I wanted something on the lighter side. What I had been considering all along was fish soup, which is apparently something very common in Norway. Bacalao is another thing they have often, and I was truly torn about what to order. Even worse, once I went ahead and ordered the fish soup, I noticed that they had salads ready to go, which is  less expensive than eating in. Oh well, I had chosen the fish soup, and I was happy with my decision. It was delicious and a good last meal in Oslo.

    

I walked through the rest of the building where Fiskeriet was, which houses a theatre, in addition to several other restaurants. I came across one of the oddest statues I’ve seen anywhere. Maybe it was in front of a dance center of some sort? I also thought I should point out the use of of firs on chairs in all of Norway. I’m not sure of the point, but many restaurants have firs draped over the backs of chairs. They also often have blankets available at places with outdoor seating. They sell these things at Ikea, so it might be an interesting thing to do in the USA.

  

I got back to the apartment and gathered my belongings. I weighed them on the scale in the bathroom first to be sure that I wasn’t over Norwegian Airline’s limit. I was just under. I was carrying more in the suitcase this time and less in the backpack. I took the airport shuttle train from the central station, which really is the most convenient airport shuttle ever. It costs around $23, I think and takes about 20 minutes from the center of the city directly to the airport terminal.

I had plenty of time to spare in the airport, especially since check-in and security were both extremely easy, so I wandered around some of the shops and bought a piece of chocolate and a refrigerator magnet with my remaining Norwegian Kroner. For certain flights, including flights to the US, as well as one on Qatar Airlines (probably all non-EU flights), there was another checkpoint to go through to stamp passports. Woo hoo, another country stamped in the passport!

  Rolls Royce engine. Not too shabby!  

Boarding the flight was easy, and I once again had seat with good legroom in the front of the plane. This time, it would be particularly important since this is about a 9 hour flight to Fort Lauderdale! Watching people as they board a plane is always an interesting event, and I got to see many of them, including the lady who sat in then window seat on my row. She was wearing a Versace fur stoll. I couldn’t tell if she was American and from the Palm Beach area or if she was European. Later on, after we took off just a few minutes late, she didn’t have any headphones for the entertainment system on the flight. They cost $3 to purchase, and she had some cash in her hand. She eventually got a flight attendant’s attention and told her that she had lost her purse in a taxi earlier that day so all she had was cash. Fortunately the flight attendant was able to give her a headset to use, although the only form of payment they accept is credit cards. 

Meals had to be pre-ordered on this flight, so I hope this lady didn’t need anything to eat for a while. They announced that after the main meal service, there would be a snack served to everyone before landing. I had ordered a gluten-free meal, not that the meals are usually a problem on flights, but I kind of wanted to see what was served. I got some sort of chicken with broccoli & rice, along with a salad and 2 small cinnamon roll things. I think that instead of being specifically gluten free, the meal was completely free of anything that would cause anyone an adverser reaction, such as salt, dairy, etc. It was not very good, but a bit of salt helped.

I began eating my salad and took one bite along with a spicy olive that was in it. Then I noticed what I first thought was a piece of dill. It moved. Out crawled what was attached to the antenna—a very live bug. I put the lid on the salad and rang for a flight attendant. They were busy serving everyone else, so they didn’t get to me until they were finished. Oddly, the flight attendant wasn’t horrified. She just kind of laughed and said she would see if she could find me something else. She came back with two options. The one I chose was some raw carrots and cauliflower with a curry dip. It was probably better than the salad anyway. The cinnamon roll things were OK, but I was jealous when I saw someone behind me eating ice cream. You live & learn.

Two men sitting next to me were laughing and enjoying themselves—laughing and talking—and they ordered some wine (3 small bottles each). They tried to order more wine, and the flight attendants cut them off. I don’t believe that the wine was causing them to be loud—they were just having fun. A bit later, one of the men asked a flight attendant why they couldn’t get the other wine they ordered, and they were told that in another hour they could get more. The man said that he hadn’t seen the other man for 25 years and that was why they were a bit rowdy. That conversation continued for a while off & on, and I got pretty annoyed with it, especially since the flight attendants started giving them a lot of water, meanwhile it was like the Sahara for everyone else!

Oh, and I watched “The Imitation Game,” which I had been wanting to see. Great movie! Later on I watched “Darjeeling Limited” and most of “Horrible Bosses,” in addition to a great episode of “Mr. Selfridge.” It was a long flight!

Overall it was a pretty good flight, and there was a beautiful sunset as we arrived in Fort Lauderdale. My legs were getting a bit restless by the end. When they served the snack, I was ready for it. It was a small sandwich with yogurt and apple juice. It was actually just what I needed to make it through the rest of the flight and customs & immigration. At some point, the fancy lady next to me was talking with a flight attendant and told her that she was on her way to Naples, FL to see her boyfriend/fiancee. She seemed to have a French accent. The 2 rowdy men nearby settled down for a while, and I think the flight attendants gave them free wine, which I found pretty annoying!

Arrival in Fort Lauderdale could use some improvement. First of all, you have to load a bus that takes you to the gate. Then, there were only two baggage carousels for all of the international flights arriving. To make this “work,” they clear the carousel and put the baggage from the previous flight in the middle of the floor so that the bags from the latest flight can load. It was a mad house, and apparently two or three huge flights had just arrived as well. They only had three people for the final customs check for all of these people, so after waiting about 30 minutes for my bag, it took at least 30 minutes to get through the final line.

I requested an Uber to pick me up, and my driver was great. It took him a while to get there because of the traffic from the other five million people who were waiting for rides. The place I was staying, another Airbnb place, was just a few miles from the airport, and it was easy to get to. The host had left a key under the door mat for me. As I entered, I realized this was the least nice place I’ve stayed from Airbnb. I know this area is really expensive to live, so having a nice place isn’t easy. I couldn’t figure out how to turn on a light to begin, and once I did, I saw that things were just a bit messy. It wasn’t necessarily dirty—just messy. The room I would be staying in was nice and neat, so I put my things down, got some water, and went to the Publix to find something for breakfast.

I got a cobb salad. Yes, a cobb salad for breakfast, but it has bacon, eggs, and avocado, and it’s low carb. It’s my best attempt at getting back to my normal eating ASAP. As you might imagine, I was exhausted, so about as soon as I got back and got slightly settled (around 10:30), I was ready for bed. I slept pretty well considering everything. I woke at 3:30, 4:30, and 5:30, then finally got up a little after 6:00. I think this is a good start to recovery from jet lag and the trip.

Now I’m just waiting for the final leg of this amazing trip, which will be a flight from FLL-ATL at 11:45!

  Great day to go to the beach!!

A few thoughts to sum up the trip:

-Scandinavian people are very nice. I think that being rude is something that they just don’t do. If you’ve experienced Americans of Scandinavian descent are from Minnesota or Wisconsin, you probably understand this.

-They’re happy to speak English and have to learn it in school. Someone actually told me that they don’t have any delusions that everyone should speak their language (like in certain countries). I usually catch on to some amount of a language when I visit a country, but it was really hard for me to grasp. If I had a diction book, it would help my brain to process the written and spoken language. If it doesn’t exist, well, maybe I’ll have to write it!

-Scandinavians love licorice. The candy aisles consist mainly of different varieties of licorice, covered in chocolate, candy coated, different fruit flavors, etc. I don’t get it.

-The water is really good in these countries. In Iceland, there’s a slight sulphur smell sometimes, but the water in Norway is great!

-If you love seafood, as I do, any of these countries are great to visit!

-It’s bloody expensive in Norway, especially. I way overspent on food, and now I’ve got to let my bank account recover!

-Unlike in other European countries, you don’t necessarily come across Norwegian, Danish, or Icelandic restaurants on every corner. They all have their traditional foods, obviously, but it seems that the natives enjoy eating other food just as much. You might find a traditional dish on a menu with other things, like Norwegian fish soup at a place that serves sushi, but you have to seek out a restaurant that serves purely local, traditional foods.

I definitely want to go back–especially to Iceland. I just don’t feel like I allowed enough time there. I need about 2 or 3 days to see more of the nature outside of Reykjavik. It’s so cheap to fly there, it could happen!

For the beauty of the Earth

 

  

 We’re now in Gudvangen following an amazing 2 hour Fjord cruise. Once again, I awoke much earlier than I had hoped since the sun rose at 5 AM. I got coffee and juice from the hotel restaurant and waited for breakfast, which began at 7 AM. The television in my room only had a few channels, and all that was playing this morning was some low-budget German show.

Breakfast was quite a large assortment of food, including eggs, fruit, potatoes, fish, and breads. It was quite good, and I ate too much. Not sure of what the lunch situation would be today, I went ahead and filled up. As much as I try to be open to different cultures, certain groups of tourists who travel in herds have horrible (according to my standards) table manners. It takes a lot of concentration and happy thoughts not to glare at them. 

   

As I took one last stroll around Flåm, the water on (in?) the fjord was completely still, casting a reflection of the mountains and houses. A few people were gathered at the rear of the boat, “Fjord1,” and no one was really sure whether or not we were in the right place. A few minutes before 9:00, the gate was opened, and we were able to board. That same herd of tourists was also on my boat to Voss. They’re sort of loud and seem to take over the space, kind of like a group of Americans, but they’re not. The boat had a cafe with lots of seating by the windows, and there was an upper deck that was open, so that is where I decided to begin. Once we figured out which direction the boat was going to be traveling, several of us readjusted our positions so that we were facing forward.

The journey was about 2 hours and made sort of a horseshoe shape that traveled the distance of 2 fjords from Flåm to Gudvangen. The entire trip was jaw-droppingly beautiful. The first half was particularly spectacular, and a highlight for me was the town of Undredal, where the elusive goat cheese is made. At this point, pictures are much better than words.            

       

My deep thought for the day is that there is plenty of beauty in the world already. It is just our job to recognize it, realize it, and make others aware of it, whether that is through music, visual art, theatre. I’m sure even accountants can account beautifully!

Once we arrived in Undredal, we had about 45 minutes until the bus would take us to Voss. There was a gift shop there and a cafe. I got a yogurt to keep me happy until I could find better food. The bus ride was also beautiful. The ability to take a quick nap served me well here. I fell asleep at the very beginning of the ride and woke up for the best parts. After a while, we cane to a place where we were descending a mountain, and the road consisted of very sharp switchbacks at an 18 degree decline. The driver was very impressive. He even stopped for a minute at two different spots to allow us a minute to photograph a waterfall. There was also a fantastic view of the valley below. 

            This is a bus stop…  

Voss was a nice sized town. Since we had about 45 minutes to kill there before the train left for Bergen, I walked down the street in search of food. I made note of the Esso (Exxon) in case nothing else appealed to me. I passed a kebab shop that looked promising but walked down to get a better view of the church, where some people were dressed in traditional clothing. I don’t know if there was an occasion that called for that, but it is Sunday. I saw another real restaurant that would probably require too much time and money, so I went back to the kebab place, where I ordered chicken with salad and fries (my best option). I took it back to the station and ate all of the salad and only half of the chicken & fries. It was only 89 NOK, and I have enough left for dinner. I’ll just have to find a vegetable to go with it! It’s good to save a little money for once! 

      

I actually slept quite a bit on the train ride from Voss to Bergen. I guess I needed it. The things we were passing were wonderfully beautiful but didn’t compare to what we had seen before. Sleep was good. Arriving in Bergen, I could see that it was going to be a very hilly town. The train station has a nice sign welcoming us, and they had wifi so that I could get directions to Anne-Helene’s B&B. It was about a 1.5 Km walk straight through town. I immediately passed a beautiful park with a lake and fountain. People were definitely out enjoying a Sunday in Spring. This was not a very easy walk because of the cobblestone streets and the hills, but the beautiful day and scenery made it fine. As I got closer to Anne-Helene’s, I could see that houses were built on small, narrow, twisting cobblestone streets. It’s the epitome of charming. 

      

Anne-Helene saw me coming, so she met me at the door and introduced herself as “Anne.” She showed me around to my entrance at the back of the house. I suppose this is like a basement apartment. It’s perfect and so quirky, like her! I settled in, rested for a few minutes, and went out to explore Bergen. I knew that I wanted to see Bryggen, and row of old, historic buildings, so I went in that direction first. This is obviously a very busy port city. As I made my way around the peninsula over to the other one, I saw the fish market, which I remembered was one of the places I wanted to visit. 

        

I immediately walked over to a counter where I saw sushi and different cheeses. The person working there asked if she could help me, and I asked if the cheese was made in Undredal. She wasn’t sure, but she told me that one was from cow’s milk and the other was from goat’s milk. She had little cubes of everything ready for tasting, so I tasted both. The cheese is brown because it is somehow caramelized a bit. She said there’s some sugar in it. Anyway, it is delicious! The goat cheese just tastes a bit more like goat cheese, but they’re very similar. Unfortunately, they only had a large block of the goat cheese for purchase, so I didn’t buy any. However, they did have elk and reindeer salami, which I tasted. It tastes similar to any other salami. Since it doesn’t have to be refrigerated all the time, I bought some of the reindeer sausage to take home! I continued to talk to Olge (Olga?). She asked what I was going to do the rest of the day, where I had been, how long my trip is, etc. She was so kind and gave me recommendations of what to do and where to eat. The one thing she said I must do on a nice day is ride the funicular. I’m hesitant about incline railroads, but she was convincing.

After roaming around a bit, I found the entrance for the funicular. It said it leaves every 10 minutes, which was good since that meant I didn’t have to commit hours to this adventure. It came pretty soon after I bought my ticket. It moves pretty fast, and it appears to be something that is used as public transportation for the people who live on this mountain (Bergen has 7 mountains), because it makes stops along the way. We made it to the top. The ride was only very mildly horrifying. There is a restaurant and tacky gift shop at the top of the mountain, along with a nice area to stand or sit and observe the everything below. One of the railings was made of musical notes, which appeared to be a real song, but I don’t recognize the tune. Maybe it’s something by Grieg. It was really beautiful up there, but I didn’t spend too much time. Although the ride down was pretty fast, it really was not scary. 

            

After the funicular ride, I just walked around a bit more and headed back to Anne’s to get my lunch leftovers, which were in her refrigerator. She said that she would be leaving at around 7:00, so I didn’t want to miss her. I got my food and at it, along with some carrots and a plum that I bought at Bunnpris, a small grocery store in town (the same one that was by Ole’s house). That was a nice chance to regroup before going out one more time. I saw on the map that there was some sort of church near Anna’s place, so I decided I would walk there on the way to Bryggen. 

 

Fortunately, it was mostly downhill from Anne’s house. The church was very pretty but was not open to go inside & see. I made it to Bryggen, but nothing was open since it’s Sunday. That’s OK. I don’t think the things in the shops were anything I’d want to buy anyway. It gave me a chance to see a lot of the town, and along the way, I was checking out menus for a dessert to have later. The most promising thing I saw was a lemon sorbet with limoncello. I actually just wandered around for quite a while and saw many interesting restaurants and pubs. As far as dessert goes, I didn’t see anything more promising than the lemon sorbet, so I decided to save my money and go to 7-Eleven. 

    

I think Bergen has 10 7-Elevens within a few blocks! I was going to get soft serve ice cream from the 7-Eleven, but that wasn’t exactly successful. I got a cup and put a bit of pistachio and strawberry ice creams in it and tried to put some chocolate syrup on top, but the thing was completely empty. The only syrup they had was strawberry, so I just left the cup on the counter and left. When I cam upon another 7-Eleven, I tried again. They had a little bit of chocolate syrup left, so I got a bit of ice cream (they only had strawberry) and had to use a spoon to attempt to scoop out some of the syrup. It was messy and frustrating, so I just left this one on the counter as well. I gave it a taste jus to be sure of my decision, and the artificial strawberry would not have been worth it. It was another ice cream bar for dessert. Tonight it was salted caramel with a chocolate shell. Pretty good. 

        

On the way back to Anne-Helene’s, the sun had set mostly (a bit after 10:00), so it was nice to see and photograph Bergen lit for the night. When I arrived home, I checked out the television stations and found that much of what they have is American television, such as Discovery Channel, which was playing “Swamp People.” We are so well represented around the world! I was ready to go to sleep around 11:00 hoping that I could sleep pretty late (for me) since Anne didn’t want to serve breakfast until 8:00. And the evening and the morning were the 7th day. 

      

Oslo-Myrdal-Flåm

 I’m now on the train en route to Flåm. We’re approaching Ustaoset, and this place is a winter wonderland! The ground is covered with snow, and the water is frozen. I wasn’t expecting this, but it’s completely beautiful. The rest of the train ride has been great too, and it has only gotten better as it it’s gone along. It’s like judging a singing competition. You don’t know how to judge the beginning until you get farther into it. As we left Oslo and saw the first sights of fjords, everyone, including me, started snapping pictures like crazy. Then, as we got farther along, I started looking back at pictures and deleting ones that I knew would not make the cut later. Here are a few pictures from the ride:

            

Well, the morning began with me waking at 5:30 (like I often do at home), although I had hoped to sleep until 6:15. Why is it that no matter what time zone I am in, no matter how many miles I have walked, and no matter how late I go to bed, my body wants to wake up at 5:30?!?!?! I made breakfast, packed, and headed out the door to the bus stop to get to the train station by 8:25. I arrived early, which gave me time to get a salad and a Norwegian Yogurt (“Go Morgen,” a play on their term for “good morning,” which is “god morgon”) for the train ride. The train headed to Bergen was on track 3, so I made my way down there. It showed up a few minutes later, and I easily found my way to my assigned seat, which fortunately was a window seat with an empty aisle seat. Perfect for taking photos and going to the bathroom!

   (This is where we were when it was so snowy.)

Just like when it snows in Georgia, everyone on the train seems to be excited to see the snow here in Norway. The “road noise” from the train is even quieter. There are houses scattered all over the snowy landscape. Many of them are red, some are yellow, and some even have grass roofs! We arrive in Myrdal in about 30 minutes, where I have a “layover” of about 30 minutes to take the Flåm Railway.

    

We’re now in Flåm, and I survived the journey. It was not the least bit scary. In fact, it was wonderful! The ride on the train was smooth and easy. It was a pretty old train car that we were in. It sort of felt like the Dinky train in Princeton! At the station in Myrdal, there were maps of the journey we would be taking, which included some helpful information about the different places we would pass along the way. We made a 5 minute stop at one of the waterfalls, where they built an observation deck. Other waterfalls and villages were passed along the way. the journey from Myrdal to Flåm took about 1 hour.

The waterfall is more difficult to see because of the snow. It was beautiful!    

Arriving in Flåm was exciting. I made it off the train quickly, and I think I was the first person to make it to the front desk to check in at the Fretheim Hotel. The front desk staff were super friendly. I believe that’s the difference in big city versus middle-of-nowhere. I asked about going to Undredal to see where this amazing goat cheese is made, and I was told that I could take a Fjord Safari that included a goat cheese tasting. Although it cost around $100, I was almost ready to do it. However, I found out that that tour doesn’t start until late May. She also said that I could probably take a bus. Unfortunately, the bus that goes to Undredal only stops there once a day, which had already passed. Oh well, no goat cheese this trip. I’ll have to see if I can find it in Bergen or Olso or at somewhere in the USA!

The old Flåm Church      

I made a dinner reservation at the restaurant here at the Fretheim Hotel. It’s 399 NOK for a 3 course dinner. I checked around at the other 3 or so restaurants in Flåm to see what my options were. This seemed like the best option, for sure. A close runner-up was a meal of local things, such as reindeer. It was more expensive, and I like my hotel, so I’ll just go with what they have to offer.

Dinner was very good and consisted of a baked salmon appetizer, filet of ling (like cod), and chocolate mousse with fruit. Since they listed allergens on the menu, I asked about gluten. The server was more than happy to give me gluten free bread and give me fruit along with the chocolate mousse instead of cake. It really was great service. The food was very well prepared and tasted good. It was by no means overwhelmingly good, though. Overall, I was very happy with the experience, though, and it reminded me of my days waiting tables at Glen-Ella Springs. Since there is not much to do in Flåm, I decided to just spend the rest of the evening in my room, especially since I have a great view of the fjord. We’re off at 9:00 tomorrow morning for Bergen, where I will stay one night before returning to Oslo.

      

Light Roast Coffee, St. Olav, and La Traviata

The sun rises at just before 5:00 AM, so I was happy to have slept until 6:30 yesterday. I got up and fixed my spinach and eggs, and ate my plums that I had purchased the day before. I think the spinach must not come pre-washed here–there were some gritty bits in there. I’ll know better tomorrow! I also made coffee in Ole’s  fancy Mocca Master coffee maker. I read that everyone in these very northern countries love their coffee and they they drink light roast. That’s what Ole had. I understand that light roast is supposed to be the best, but I prefer the taste of dark roast. I also prefer dark chocolate, and it seems to be pretty rare in this country! The milk chocolate is yummy, though!

My first stop of the day was to be the National Museum. Now that I’ve figured out the public transportation, which is great, my phone guides me to the bus or tram station. On the nice, sunny walk there, I passed 2 very fat cats. Everyone has pots of flowers outside their buildings, like this one. 

 I made it to the museum before opening time. It was around 9:30 when I arrived, and they didn’t open until 10:00. I saw a shiny object in the distance, so I walked to see what it was. I still don’t know, but there it is. I saw a coffee shop nearby that looked interesting, so I thought I would give it a try. Yet again, it was light roast, so I didn’t really like it. I wandered around a bit and visited St. Olaf’s Cathedral. It also was not open, but I got a nice picture of St. Olav and his peace sign. I noticed a sign for the St. Olav bookstore, but of course it was also not open until 10! 

      I spent the rest of the time near the entrance of the museum because I realized I could use the wifi. Also, a group of fashionable Italian senior citizens was there, and one of them kept bumping into me as she needed to walk by me several times. Finally, the door was unlocked at 10:00, and I bought my ticket and got started. The layout of this museum is great, because it goes in chronological order by period. The rooms corresponding to each stylistic period are painted the same color, so you know if you’ve gotten off course.

Somewhere in the Baroque is where the art started appealing to me most, like in music. Then in the Romantic period, it really got good. Of course, the highlights of this museum are the Norwegian landscapes and Munch’s Expressionist paintings. The landscapes are beautiful and made me excited for the train journey I’ll be taking tomorrow! Seeing several of Munch’s paintings along with “The Scream” made me realize that all of his paintings are not about nightmare scenes. They’re all kind of dreamy but not scary. 

        After the museum, I realized that I was by the Royal Palace, so I walked over there to check it out. There is a beautiful park with many flowers blooming (it’s early Spring here), including some strange lily I’ve never seen before. Maybe someone can identify it. The shoes I wore today are not at all comfortable for walking, I’ve realized, so I didn’t make my way all the way up to the palace. Seeing it from a distance was fine. 

      Turning around, I noticed that I was on one of the major streets, Karl Johans Gate, which is like their Champs-Elysées. “Gate” is the Norwegian word for “street,” by the way. There were many shops and tulips and pansies. At the other end of the street would be the Oslo Domkirke (Cathedral). I found it and realized that on Fridays, they are only open from 4:00-Midnight. I thought I might return later in the day–after the opera. There are some interesting cafes and art shops surrounding the Cathedral as well. 

      Next stop: Aker Brygge, which is the pier where you can buy peel & eat shrimp right off a boat. As it was time for lunch, that is exactly what I did. They were 100 NOK for a liter. Fortunately, I was able to buy 1/2 liter for 50 NOK ($6), which was plenty. Being me, I needed a vegetable, so I went in search of a simple salad to go with it. Finally, I found a nice place where you can have them create a salad for you. Actually it was too nice since it cost 99 NOK ($13), and I had to get 4 vegetables and 1 protein. I chose goat cheese for the protein since I had 1/2 liter of shrimp to eat. I made my way back to the pier and sat and ate the shrimp. They were the most delicious, sweet shrimp I have ever eaten. It was quite a job to eat them since not only were they cooked with the shells on, but also the head were still on. I’m sparing everyone a photo of the remains. 

        I was very tempted to buy ice cream from one of the many vendors by the pier, but I resisted. Also, I didn’t have 35 NOK in change to buy the one scoop I wanted. The Nobel Peace Center is right at the pier, so I went in to see what it was about. I read a review that it might be a waste of time, so I didn’t pay the admission. The gift shop had some interesting things for sale, though, including a t-shirt that said “Imagine Whirled Peas.” 

 I realized that the train just in front of the Nobel Peace Center goes to Frogner Park, which is known for all of its 212 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Some are in granite, and some are in bronze. I overheard a tour guide telling a group of children that at the age of 70, Vigeland began making one sculpture per month so that he would finish the project before he died.  The centerpiece of the park is the obelisk with hundreds of bodies spiraling up it. Surrounding the obelisk are rows of statues that show people in different stages of life. It was pretty amazing, and I’m glad I went! I believe this was all done during the 1930s, and I love the art deco gate at the entrance! 

            On my way back to the apartment for a nap before the opera, I stopped by the Oslo Central Station to pick up my train tickets for my Norway in a Nutshell tour that will happen Saturday-Monday. I’ll be spending the night in Flåm and Bergen, and we makes stops and transfers at a few places in between. Apparently I’ll be seeing amazing fjords and waterfalls. What freaks me out a bit is the Flåm railway, which has one of the steepest inclines of any train in the world. I suppose the brakes work! 

    Picking up the tickets was a breeze, so I took the bus the rest of the way to the apartment. Ole was there, and I asked him for a dinner recommendation near the opera. He said there was a tapas place just over a short bridge from the opera house. Sounds perfect! I had a brief nap and headed out! I walked part of the way and took the bus the rest of the way. I saw the restaurant that Ole had described right away. It was in a new area that is being built right on the water. This all kind of reminded me of Battery Park City in NYC. The bridge from the opera house was some sort of temporary floating bridge. I love that they have ramps on nearly all stairways here to help people take their bikes up the stairs! 

          The restaurant, named Promenaden something or other, was not very busy when I arrived, but the outside seating area was pretty bustling. I suppose it was early for dinner, but it was necessary to eat before the 7:00 opera! This was clearly a place for locals so far, because the menu was only in Spanish (because it’s tapas) and Norwegian. Fortunately, I eat tapas as often as possible, so I basically knew what I was ordering. I got a fig salad, salmon ceviche, and bacalao. It was delicious and not terribly expensive. However, I do prefer Eclipse di Luna in Atlanta!

I was finished around 6:15, so I walked around a bit, took some pictures of the opera house, and visited the gift shop. The urinals in the bathroom were the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, by the way. I didn’t take a picture, but it was kind of like a waterfall with very nice tiles. It appears that people eat & drink in the lobby until the last minute, because most seats were empty when I got to my seat. It’s a very nice opera house with beautiful woodwork and nice orange seats. My seat, which only cost about $12, had a good view, but it was a padded stool without a back. I was fine with that. 

        A man sat next to me who I found out was French but lives in Norway. He said that Norwegians don’t have any culture (like the French do, I assume), and that only the old people (like him) have culture in Norway. He also said that the opera house is now always full for every performance because it is a beautiful new building. According to him, at the previous opera house, you would always buy tickets at the door instead of purchasing in advance. At least people are going to the opera! Another thing he said was that they do very modern staging here, which he doesn’t like so much.

As the opera began, it was clear that this was, indeed, a modern staging. The set consisted of what seemed to be a ballroom floor built on a raised platform about 3 feet off the ground. Some of the staging was PG-13 at best, in a very suggestive way, especially in the “Brindisi.” Violetta sang the beginning of “Estrano…” in the fetal position, which was quite impressive. Some of this staging didn’t work for me, but overall it seemed pretty effective and sort of helped bring out some of the drama. I think the director was using a lot of it to symbolize background information on the characters. For example, in Germont’s big aria, there was scene with the family, including Alfredo, sitting down for dinner back in Provence–sort of like a flashback. Oh, and Germont shot Alfredo. I don’t think Verdi wrote that. My French/Norwegian neighbor said, “It is a new opera!” Alfredo came back later. He looked pretty dead earlier, but he had more to sing. Maybe he was supposed to be in Violetta’s imagination?

About the voices, I thought Violetta was quite amazing. She sang beautiful, floaty high notes and rich, full tones when needed. She did the acting very well too and was absolutely crazed by the end. I did not really enjoy Alfredo’s voice. Unfortunately, he was an American tenor. It lacked the ease, beauty, and resonance, that I would like to hear. Germont was pretty great and had better high notes than the tenor, although, as the Frenchman said, it should have been a more bass type of voice.

When the opera got out at 9:45, the sun was setting, which made for much better photographs of the opera house. I was really hungry about 1/2 way through the opera, so I got a chocolate covered pistachio ice cream bar from the 7-Eleven (yes, 7-Eleven). I got home, talked to Ole about my departure the next morning, and wound down from a long day. 

      

There are gypsies in Oslo!

  Yesterday was pretty much taken over by travel. I had to be at Reykjavik City Hall at 9:00 to leave for the airport. I was picked up by a small bus that would wind its way through the narrow city streets picking up quite a few passengers to take us all to the bus station. At the bus station, we got on the larger bus that took us all to the airport. They were quite prompt and left at 9:31. We were told that the ride would take about 50 minutes, and we were pulling into the airport at 10:21.

 
 It’s a good thing we were on time, because the line to check bags with Norwegian Air was quite long. It moved pretty quickly, though, and probably took about 30 minutes. Somehow, the security line was extremely short and quick! I had planned to buy lunch on the plane, because it seemed that they had some decent options. However, an announcement was made that our flight had “low catering,” so we should buy food in the airport to eat. I found a chef salad and a bar made of dates, rice crispies, butter, and chocolate.

Once again, I was in the front of the plane (aisle seat on the 1st row), because I paid a little extra for extra leg room. A guy asked if I would trade seats with him (middle seat in the 3rd row) so that he could sit by his girlfriend. Obviously, I had to disappoint him. However, the window seat in our row was available, so the couple got to sit together after all.

  The flight was about 2.5 hours and completely uneventful. When we arrived at Oslo Airport, I was first off the plane, but when I got to the end of the ramp off the plane, the door was locked! I have no idea why it was locked, but it opened after a few minutes. This was a much busier airport than Reykjavik! On the way to baggage claim, just like in Reykjavik, you go through the duty free shop before you get your bag. Duty free is serious business in Skandinavia! From what I understand, it’s because taxes are so high on alcohol sales (and chocolate & perfume, I suppose).

My bag was ready for me soon after arriving at the carousel, and I found the express train to Oslo. In order to take the train, you simply swipe your credit card at the gate and press a button telling your destination. So simple! As I arrived at track 3, the train was leaving! However, the next one showed up in about 5 minutes. It was quite posh, and it had a charger for the phone! It was a nice 20 minute ride to Oslo with some beautiful views of the countryside.  

  My house in Oslo is described as “great room close to central station.” OK, sounds great! In the grand scheme of things, it is close–less than 2 K–but it’s mostly uphill. Also, it was drizzling occasionally. For a few minutes, I did not like Oslo! As I passed the Oslo Hospital, which Ole (my host) described as a church in his directions, a group of gypsy women were standing outside. One of them smiled at me, and I kept walking. This just brought back memories of when my computer was stolen in Prague–supposedly by gypsies. I’m sure they can’t get into Ole’s house as easily as they got into Hotel Kafka in Prague! I’m sure these are nice gypsies, anyway!

Once I found Ole’s apartment, I got my key from the lock box by the door, and helped myself to my room. It’s nice and simple with Ikea furniture, as one might expect. Basically, this apartment is two rooms separated by a kitchen and bathroom–a pretty nice layout, actually. Ole showed up a few minutes later and was very nice and happy to answer my questions. I told him the walk was farther than I expected but that the exercise was good, and I asked how to buy a bus ticket. He said I could do that at the grocery store.

After a bit of rest, I went down to the grocery store, where I bough eggs, plums, and spinach for breakfast, along with my bus ticket. I put the food away and went off to find the bus, which would take me to opera night at the Underwater Pub. Somehow I found out online that every Tuesday and Thursday, singers from the Oslo Opera and the opera school sing there. My walk to the bus stop was through a cemetery. The sun was coming out after a rainy day, so the light was great. I love how the good weather follows me! 

    I arrived at The Underwater Pub at around 8:15 and asked the bartender how it all works. He was very friendly and helpful and explained that they have menus from three takeout places, and at the upstairs bar, you can place an order for food from one of them. You pay them, they call, and the food is delivered to your table. That’s a great thing! I ordered Penang Curry, sat down at his bar, which had a great view of where the singers would be, and ordered a glass of wine, which was on tap there.

I thought the singing was supposed to begin around 8:15, but I must done my math wrong when translating from 24-hr time. That gave me time to eat my food, which was delicious! The guy had assured me that the chef at the Thai place was very serious about his food, and he was right. You could tell that the vegetables were beautifully julienned–and it tasted great! 

 Finally, at around 9:15 the singing started. A man, who I believe was the owner of the place, announced the singers and what they would be singing. All I understood was that I would be hearing ‘Questa o quella” by Verdi, as well as “Non so piu” and “In diesem heilgen Halle” by Mozart. Sounds good. The tenor started with “Questa o quella,” and he was fantastic. I really liked the way he sang–very simple and easy–which is saying a lot! I don’t usually enjoy tenors! The mezzo sang “Non so piu.” She was very good, although there was something odd about her voice, but she was a great actress. Then, the bass sang his aria, which was also very good.  That was the end of that set. The break between sets is quite long, and I decided that I would stay for just one more so that I would get home before midnight. The second set was also very good. It was the same singers singing different arias. The mezzo sang an aria from Carmen, and the tenor sang some great aria that I do not know. I recorded about 10 seconds of it hoping someone can help me figure it out! 

        I got directions back to the apartment before I left. This time I took tram #18, which took my through what seemed to be some of the main parts of town. I made note of a few places I would  like to visit. The tram dropped me off at Oslo Hospital. I walked by the gypsies again and made it safely home!