Nothing speaks vacation more than having empty pockets, no keys, no cell phone, no TV, and no driving.
After departing the barren landscapes of Iceland and the Faroe Islands, we arrived in the lush landscape of Norway. Scandinavia (of which Iceland and Faroe Islands are part) always fascinates as they are countries comprised largely of homogenous populations except for the recent influx of foreigners, mainly Muslims, brought to Europe by the diktat of Germany’s Angela Merkel.
Arriving in Norway was a lesson in not believing what one reads on the internet. Two things I read were that you should not look Norwegians in the eye and that they really do not like tourists with Americans at the top of the list. That would make sense since we are quite a noisy crowd who like to look people in the eye and fist-pump new acquaintances. Both points were disproved completely. We found Norwegians to be friendly and helpful and not just at hotels and restaurants. Most spoke English and well. They should since there are more people of Norwegian heritage in the U.S. than in Norway.
As much as we plan a trip, we often change our itinerary. Though Oslo is quite a beautiful city devoid of graffiti, litter, homeless, and plenty of colorful flowers sprucing up the walks through the shopping/restaurant districts, we decided we wanted to see some of the rest of Norway and their famous fjords. We let the hotel know we were jumping off for a day and going to Bergen (Norway’s second largest city).
Train rides are a wonderful way to see large swaths of a country. It is extremely hard to do so in the U.S. because our beautiful country is so massive. For us, driving our fabulous highway system developed in the 1950’s is the way to go.
We certainly were graced with plenty of trees, unlike our previous destinations. Trees, trees everywhere. And, my God, Norway has a lot of lakes. It seemed like we were looking at one long Lake Tahoe with the water and trees. Anytime a lake ended on the left side of the train, one started on the right side.
Then the train began to get colder. And we hit an endless blanket of white even though it was late April. Many of the people on the train had skis with them and dressed accordingly. There is a reason that Norway wins the most medals by far at the Winter Olympics. It made me think of Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of 10,000 hours. These people have so much more time to practice their winter sports because they can ski and do other winter sports nearly all year round.
The fjords were the icing on the cake for the wonderful trip across Norway ending up in Bergen.
At times one must be a resolute traveler. We took a taxi to the train station, the train, a bus, the boat ride through the fjords, a bus back to the train station where the train was kaput, and the train people hired a taxi for the one-and-a-half-hour drive to Bergen. Then we got up and went to the airport where our plane was delayed three hours. I literally educated the Norwegian staff on the boat about the Bacharach-David song performed by Dionne Warwick, Trains, Boats, and Planes.
We were surprised to see many taxis in Oslo are Teslas. We talked to a driver (one of several from Pakistan) who said the cars are imported tax free and there are charging stations everywhere that take 15 minutes for a fill-up. They can go up to 500 kilometers which is about 311 miles. It is nice to know that the Pakistanis have relocated to Norway to be taxi drivers like in America. Makes you wonder if they have taxi driver training schools in Islamabad.
We took another train to Stockholm for another stay. After walking around, I asked the Beautiful Wife whether she had every read about the city being as magnificent as we found it to be. As a travel consultant, she reads all those travel magazines and blogs. The answer is no. We agreed the city is stunning and a hidden gem that few talk about. We went to a restaurant that happened to be run by a Greek who had been in Stockholm for a long time. He sat and joined us. We asked him why this city is not more renowned. He searched for the proper English words and said he thought it is because the Swedes are “humble people.” Well, the secret is out now.
Governments see something that work elsewhere and then think it will work in their municipality, county, or state. In Stockholm there is a huge population of bike, scooter (the little skinny ones like from Bird) and other kinds of devices to get around. Stockholm is a compact city. Their mass transit makes great sense. In Los Angeles bike paths are a disastrous waste. LA is so spread out the system will never work. The scooters are annoyances as they are left randomly in front of people’s homes or businesses. In the meantime, the residents of LA spent a fortune to lay out the barely used bike paths. Another idealistic failure of our local government not thought through. But they will remain until granny is riding her bike to the store.
Scandinavia once again was a fabulous experience.