A Travellerspoint blog

July 2008

Epilogue - Scott's Field Tested Travel Tips From the Road


I thought a list of some of the travel tips and tricks that I have picked up through the years might help out some of you. Please let me know if these help you and if you have any more tips you think I should add!

  • Take a washcloth with you. In all of the hostels and hotels I have stayed in overseas, I have rarely seen a single washcloth. Carry 1-2 of your own washcloths in ziploc bags, along with 2 standard sized bars of soap and travel shampoo.

  • When you get to your hotel or hostel, get a card listing its address. If you get lost, you can give the card to a taxi driver who might not speak English. In the absence of a card, a postcard of the hotel will usually do nicely.

  • Make sure you take the proper power adapter and transformer with you. A transformer is important to regulate fluctuating power supplies.

  • Take an extra memory card for your digital camera. You will inevitably take more pictures than you think you will, and finding the proper memory card overseas can take valuable time. The card you do find will almost always be more expensive than one you find back home.

  • Consider taking a laptop computer with a headset and/or webcam. You can download your digital pictures onto the computer for a backup and to email to friends and relatives. If you take a headset or webcam with microphone you can call home using an internet telephone service like Skype.com for pennies a minute. The webcam is great for teleconferencing the same way very cheaply, and seeing someone's face from home while on a long trip sometimes makes all the difference in morale. Most areas I have visited have internet access. Also, when Skype is installed on your computer, it automatically formats telephone numbers found on websites so that you can call country to country very easily when making upcoming travel arrangements on the road. This is how I made my hotel reservations in Stockholm and Oslo.

  • Set up your cell phone in advance so that it can be used in the countries you will be visiting. Make sure ahead of time that your cell phone has a sim card that can be removed and replaced. Sometimes you can buy a cheap sim card in the contry once you arrive and install it in your phone for less expensive calls. Remember to keep your original sim card to return to your phone when you get home!

  • Tell your credit/ATM card company in advance which countries you will be travelling to and when so they won't flag your account or cut it off due to "suspicious charges." You don't want your bank card to cut you off with no money in the middle of a new country!

  • ATMs can be found pretty much everywhere in Europe, and usually give the best exchange rates.

  • Keep a copy of your passport and credit cards separately from your wallet, and leave identical copies at home with someone you trust so you can inform authorities quickly of they are stolen.

  • Most people in Scandinavia speak better English than we do, but still learn some words in the native language out of respect. Start with the words "please" and "thank you."

  • Take at least two good guidebooks on your trip with you. I highly recommend Lonely Planet and Rick Steves' Scandinavia. What one misses, usually the other one picks up on.

  • Guide books can be wrong. I found several mistakes in my guidebooks as I went along. Always ask at local tourist information offices, and always get a local map when you arrive, marking your hotel on the map before you set out exploring.

  • Talk to people. People in Europe are usually very open to talking to you, especially if you are polite. Americans seem to have a mindset of "If someone is being nice to me and they are talking to me, they must want something." Get over this and open up.

  • Always be polite to everyone, especially under adverse circumstances, and especially to hotel and restaurant personnel. I got spots in otherwise fully-booked restaurants and hotels by being polite (and flexible).

  • Always be flexible. No matter what happens, roll with the punches. Despite making reservations ahead of time, I still had to play musical chairs with my rooms several places in Europe, but I always ended up with a decent place to stay. Most hotels say they would like for you to check in by 6pm, and they mean it. They will give away your room if you arrive after 6, if you don't inform them of a late arrival. On the other hand, if you arrive at a hotel or hostel at 6pm or later without a reservation, you will stand a good chance of getting one of these rooms. If a place doesn't have a room, ask them for comparable places in the area that you might try. In Stockholm I couldn't find one place for the full length of my stay, but I found one hotel for part of the stay, and another around the block for the remainder.

  • Don't be afraid of staying in hostels. Many older people especially shy away from hostels, thinking that they are college flophouses. This is not true. In my experience hostels generally are very nice and clean, and the restrooms and showers down the hall are well kept. I also met many more interesting fellow travellers in hostels than in hotels. Hostel guests are generally very nice, open, and willing to chat about their travel experiences.

  • It is very easy to eat cheaply on the road. For some reason, hot dogs and hot dog stands are almost universal in Northern Europe, as well as pizza and hamburgers. I usually bought sandwiches and fruit at convenience stores to eat, and these items are even cheaper at real grocery stores. This kind of diet will save you money, but every 2-3 days it is a good idea to treat yourself to a decent meal at a restaurant. You won't feel as run down over time, and your body will thank you. It is also a good way to get a taste of the local cuisine.

  • Do not expect American breakfasts. On my entire trip, I encountered eggs for breakfast only twice - once in Sweden where I found one soft boiled egg on the breakfast table, and once on the Viking Line Ferry, where the scrambled eggs tasted like modeling clay. Everywhere else had slices of luncheon meat, cheese and bread. I found that it is a good idea to take a gallon Ziploc bag full of power bars or breakfast bars with you for those mornings when you just can't face the lunchmeat and herring one more time.

  • Don't be intimidated by big cities. Wherever you go, remember that people just like you live there. There will be neighborhoods with stores, restaurants, groceries, transportation, and things to see and do.

  • Build in rest days. On an extended trip overseas you tend to tire over time as your brain gets information overload. Building in rest days here and there are highly beneficial. You can sleep in and just become "part of the neighborhood."

  • Take a journal and plenty of good pens. Every night write down what you did that day, or you will forget important details in the flurry of activity.

  • Don't be afraid to travel alone. When people found out that I was planning on travelling alone to Europe, many thought I was crazy. Most are conditioned to travelling in groups, getting on and off tour busses on a set schedule. Resist this impulse! Travelling alone you really see much more of a place, and it forces you to talk to people who live there, and not just those in your familiar group. You can change plans on a dime, and go anywhere you want, often following up on tips on interesting travel stops from fellow travellers. On the downside, you do spend a lot of time by yourself and it can tend to get a bit lonely. Some nights in my room I would tun on the TV and turn it to an English language program just to hear someone else speak English! Sometimes there were no English programs on TV (Estonia), and I just had to deal with it. In these situations, I would spend my time in the evenings working on the blog!

  • Pack light. I cannot overemphasize this enough. I knew this rule going into my trip, and still ended up mailing home two boxes of crap I didn't need, totalling 16 pounds! Wash things in the sink with shampoo and hang them up to dry. Laundry machines can be few and far between, so when you find them, take advantage. I packed Tide detergent in single-load sized packets, along with several dryer sheets. Both came in very handy.

  • Public toilets and lockers in museums usually require a coin. In each country the coin is different, so find out what it is and always carry 2-3 with you. Everywhere I went in Northern Europe the public toilets were clean, much better than in the U.S.

  • The trains, busses, and trams in Eurpoe are great, and usually run on time. In the U.S. we are not used to good public transit and do not trust it. In Europe public transit is alive and well, and you do not need a car. You meet many more people on public transit anyway, both locals and fellow travellers, just like you.

  • Get out of the big cities and spend some time in the small towns. The difference in the people can be remarkable. You get much more of a feel for how "real people" live in small towns. Small towns usually don't get as many tourists, so they are more willing to talk to you and help you.

  • Remember to smile. A smile will get you a long way when travelling. Try not to get stressed out - remember that you are in a new country having an adventure!

  • Take a day pack, and carry hand sanitizer. You will use your day pack every day while exploring. Remember to carry plenty of bottled water with you each day and stay hydrated. Hand sanitizer is useful for washing hands whenever you cannot find a toilet. Also, it might be helpful if you pack deodorant, a toothbrush, and toothpaste in a Ziploc in the bottom of your pack in the event that you ever get stranded.

  • Learn the name for "bathroom" in your host country's language! This sounds simple, but there is nothing worse when you really have to go than being met with blank stares when you ask for a bathroom in English. In Northern Europe it is "toilet." In England it is "WC." In Mexico and Latin America it is "Bano."

  • Always pack Immodium. Nothing is more miserable than diarrhea when travelling.

  • Watch closely how the locals eat. In Denmark, if you use your hands to eat (even a hamburger or french fries), your fellow diners will look at you with complete disgust and most likely will not eat with you again. In Australia people use a knife in their right hand and a fork in their left, never putting either down to eat. We ate the traditional American way, switching knife and fork for use with the right hand, and the other diners in the restaurants stared at us unabashedly as if we were complete barbarians!

  • Take a jacket, preferably two, for layering in cold weather. Northern Europe can be chilly, even in Summer.

  • Think about packing replacement insoles for your shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking, and your shoes are very important. My insoles began curling up and giving me blisters in the first week of my trip. They then tore, and I panicked, not knowing where I could possibly get a replacement for my size 14EEEE shoes in Europe! I finally fashioned a field repair out of sheets of moleskin, using it as tape to fasten the torn insoles back together. It worked great, saved the trip, and lasted until I got home.

  • Always pack 2-3 packs of moleskin and scissors. Trim the moleskin to a round shape and place on hot spots on your feet to avoid blisters. You will be doing a lot of walking, and blisters will kill you!

  • Pack duct tape. Get the flat rolls if you can find it. Duct tape can repair anything, and, on an extended trip, you can count on at least one thing breaking. During my trip the handle on my rolling duffle broke, and it was duct tape to the rescue.

  • Take only what you can carry. This is a tip that Sofie from Landskrona gave me, and she was right. Always be able to carry all of your luggage yourself. If you can't, get rid of some of the stuff until you can carry it. And, sooner or later, you will have to carry it all, possibly up multiple flights of steps. My main two pieces of luggage were a Rick Steves backpack and a rolling duffle with sectioned compartments. Both worked great. The link to the backpack is here (I get nothing for the endorsement, by the way!)

  • Always take your camera with you everywhere you go, no matter what. Some of my best shots came when I was least expecting them.

  • Beware of pickpockets. Take and use a money belt or a neck pouch everywhere you go. Most rooms in Europe do not have safes, so take your passport and extra cash with you every day. I always carried my wallet in my front pocket, and wore my neck pouch. Here is a link to the neck pouch I wore on the trip - it did a great job.

  • When lost or in trouble, ASK! Most people are very willing to help you if you are polite and ask nicely. Remember to smile!

  • Cellphones - just say no! Why is your cellphone the only one to be heard ringing in a public place in Europe? Why are you the only person to be seen speaking on a cellphone in public? Why is everyone glaring at you while you chatter away loudly on your cellphone in Europe? BECAUSE YOU ARE AN AMERICAN!! Americans on cellphones in Europe invariably stand out as being loud, rude, and obnoxious. What is even worse is that most Americans are so used to this practice that they don't even notice or realize what they are doing! Most Europeans are very discreet with their cell phones, setting them to vibrate and removing themselves from a public place to return the call. Remember, to fit in, do as the locals do!

Posted by sfoshee 13:42 Archived in USA Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (1)

Norway - To the Ends of the Earth

In the footsteps of Nansen, Amundsen, and Thor Heyerdahl

58 °F
View Scott's Iceland and Scandinavia 2008 on sfoshee's travel map.

I boarded the morning ferry for the 2 1/2 hour trip back to Helsinki, where I would catch a flight to Oslo, Norway for the last leg of my trip. I left my bags in the ship's luggage room, where I met Monica. Monica is a student in Estonia, on her way to Finland for the summer to pick strawberries. We chatted over a ship's breakfast of herring and powdered eggs, which tasted suspiciously like modeling clay! Monica told me that Finland is known for its summer strawberry crop, and every year young people from all over Europe head to Finland to make extra money helping to bring in the harvest. It is not an easy job, she informed me. There is a lot of stooping involved, and you have to examine every berry by hand to determine if it is ready to be picked or not! I wished Monica the best of luck with the strawberries and her studies!

Back in Helsinki, the famous statue of the Three Blacksmiths. Legend holds that if a virgin walks by, they will strike the anvil.

I was continually amazed by the train system in Eurpoe. Although the Oslo airport is something like 30 miles outside of the city, you can take an express Flytoget train from there directly to the city center every 20 minutes. It was incredibly easy. I ended up at the Oslo central train station, within close walking distance of P Hotel, where I stayed.

According to Lonely Planet, oil discovered in the North Sea in the 1960's transformed Norway from one of Europe's poorest countries into one of its wealthiest. The Norwegian government has used the money to foster one of the most extensive social welfare systems in history, with government-sponsored health care, schools, and even university education. Needy immigrants even get pocket money in jail! The result, however, has not been entirely positive. Oslo felt a bit gritty around the central train station, and it was the first place on my trip that I really worried about being pickpocketed. The permissive attitude of the government has attracted many addicts and others down on their luck from the countryside, and a good number of beggars could be seen in the tourist areas. Despite these initial drawbacks, however, I never had any problems with crime, and Oslo really grew on me during my stay.

I began by exploring the city on foot, always the best way to get a feel for a new place. I visited Oslo City, a modern shopping center near the train station.

Karl Johans Gate is the main pedestrian walking street downtown, running in a straight line from the train station to the royal palace.

The Norwegian parliament building.

The Grand Hotel, where Nobel Peace Prize winners stay.

The Grand Cafe at the Grand Hotel, frequented by Oslo's creative and intellectual elite. The playwright Henrik Ibsen came in every day at 1:00pm. The artist Edvard Munch ("The Scream") also spent a lot of time here.

See the play Singin' in the Rain - presented in Norwegian!

The Oslo Hard Rock. No, I didn't buy a shirt!

This is the University of Oslo.

Walking from the university to the royal palace I met Ashish. Ashish is a student from India, currently studying molecular biology in Stockholm. He was in Oslo to do some work at the university before returning to Stockholm.

Ashish took this picture of me in front of the royal palace. The royal family stands on the second floor balcony every May 17th to watch the marching bands and costumed flag wavers parade the length of Karl Johans Gate celebrating Norway's Independence Day.

We walked around the grounds of the palace waiting for the tour to start.

Here I am with one of the royal palace guards.

Ashish said that he would like to travel to New York one day to see the city. He also told me that he loves the Spiderman movies! He had to leave before the palace tour started, so we said goodbye. Great meeting you Ashish, and good luck!

The royal palace underwent a very costly renovation a few years ago. To quell public criticism for the amount of money spent, the royal family opened the palace up to public tours. The interior of the palace is beautiful, although no pictures are allowed. An interesting highlight of the tour were the guest quarters. I was very surprised to learn that the week before they had hosted the president of Vietnam!

This is Oslo's City Hall.

Inside City Hall, the Nobel Peace Prize is presented in this room every December 10th.

Akershus Castle, overlooking Oslo harbor, dates from the year 1300.

Inside Akershus is the Norwegian Resistance Museum, featuring displays of artifacts from when Norway was occupied by the Nazis during WWII.

A display of captured Nazi guns. It is really intimidating!

During the occupation, the resistance hid radio sets in all manner of objects. Here is a radio receiver hidden inside a hollowed-out telephone book.

An authentic Nazi torture device! Ouch!

This is a set of dentures that a Norwegian prisoner could remove and wire up to receive radio broadcasts from the BBC!

This is a journal that a Norwegian kept while a prisoner of the Nazis. He used toilet paper and took a stick pin to poke holes in the paper in the shape of letters to record his time in captivity. Although the prisoner didn't make it through the war, his journal, so painstakingly kept, was discovered later hidden in an air vent. We are extremely lucky to have this brave inmate's words survive to this day.

A girl I saw on the city tram headed to Frogner Park.

The entrance to Frogner Park.

The Norwegian sculptor Gustov Vigeland made a deal with the city in 1921. In return for a studio and state sponsorship, he agreed to spend his life enriching Oslo with a beautiful sculpture garden. 212 Bronze and granite statues now grace the park, depicting almost 600 unique figures said to capture the joys of life. The park is absolutely gorgeous.

This statue is called the "Little Hot Head," and is one of the most famous in the park. The story goes that Vigeland gave a little boy a bar of chocolate and then took it away to get this reaction!

According to Rick Steves, six giants hold up this fountain, "symbolically toiling with the burden of life."

This is a maze built in to the walkway around the fountain. It reminds me of the popular new age labyrinths.

The centerpiece of the park, the monolith, surrounded by 36 granite groups, which continue the park's circle of life theme.

One of the interesting statues around the monolith.

The monolith contains 121 figures carved out of a single block of stone. Three stone carvers worked every day for 14 years to complete Vigeland's vision!

Some interesting characters I met hanging out at the base of the monolith.

Vigeland's Wheel of Life, with the monolith and a steeple in the background.

The kick is up...it's good!!

Leaving Frogner park it began to rain, and I stopped and asked these two nice people for directions to the train station. What fantastic people Oslo had!

A street performer I watched on Karl Johans Gate later that evening.

The next morning I picked up a ham sandwich at a convenience store near where I was staying, and met Chris. Chris was very nice and extremely helpful in helping me find the correct trams around the city for the day. When I told Chris where I was from, he said that he likes Atlanta for it's famous rap music scene. He particularly likes southern rapper Chamillionaire, who Chris says has a reputation for clean lyrics. Thanks a lot for the help, Chris!

I next went to the National Museum, and really enjoyed the Edvard Munch room, featuring his masterworks the Scream, the Sick Child, and Self-Portrait After the Spanish Influenza. Looking at the paintings you really get a sense of Norway's long, dark winters and social isolation. The Scream was stolen from the National Gallery in 1994, the day of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. It was recovered unharmed three months later. Another version of the Scream as well as Munch's Madonna were stolen from the Munch Museum, also in Oslo, in 2004. Both were recovered just over two years later, although slightly damaged. Security has since been beefed up considerably at both museums. There were no cameras allowed in the gallery, but here is a link to images of Munch's magnificent work. http://www.edvard-munch.com/index1.htm

I next walked down to the Nobel Peace Center.

Of all the places I visited on my trip, the Nobel Peace Center undoubtedly pissed me off the most. I left the building very angry. I found the exhibits to be extremely political, condescending and preachy. I did find one section particularly humorous, though. Here is a picture of Nobel Laureate Al Gore balancing a stick on his nose!

I must say that the electronic Ipod-like displays were pretty cool, though.

I took a ferry from the waterfront near the Peace Center across Oslo harbor to the Bygdoy neighborhood. Bygdoy has a much more rural character than the rest of Oslo, and many of the city's residents maintain beautiful summer homes here.

From the dock in Bydoy I hiked up the hill to the Viking Ship Museum, the best display of Viking ships anywhere. The ships were used as tombs for nobility, who were buried in them with various items believed to be needed in the afterlife, including carts, sleds, jewels, etc. The ships were built in the 9th century out of oak, and were buried in blue clay, which was responsible for preserving the ships so incredibly well. Here I am in front of the Oseberg, buried in 834.

The Oseberg from above.

The burial chamber found with the second ship on display, the Gokstad.

The Tune in the foreground with the Gokstad in the background.

An intricately carved Viking cart, said to be the only remaining one of its kind.

A beautiful Viking sled.

From there I walked across the peninsula in the rain, stopping in at a local convenience store for two soggy hot dogs. At the end of the road I found two of the highlights of my trip - the Fram Museum and the Kon Tiki Museum!
The exterior of the Fram Museum.

The Fram is 127.8 feet long and was powered by both sail and steam. The Fram was probably the strongest wooden ship ever built, and is said to be the wooden ship to have sailed farthest north and farthest south. It took Fridtjof Nansen's North Pole expedition to within a few degrees of the pole during his 1893-1896 adventure. It then took Otto Sverdrup around southern Greenland to Canada's Ellesmere Island between 1898 and 1902. In 1911, Roald Amundsen used it to land on the Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica, en route to his becoming the first man to reach the South Pole. The Fram was built with a double hull and is shaped like an egg, so that it popped up out of the ice instead of being crushed by it while trapped in the polar floes for almost three years!

A bust of Roald Amundsen himself.

Here I am at the helm of the Fram! I felt truly honored literally to be able to walk in the footsteps of true modern-day Vikings Amundsen and Nansen.

A shot of Nansen's cabin. It looks like he just left (well, except for the statue of himself)....

The Fram's main salon, where countless conversations and card games must have taken place. Notice the Victrola and piano, both of which must have gotten plenty of use. To generate electricity for electric lights used on the ship, the deck could be fitted with windmills, which generated clean renewable power!

After seeing the Fram, I walked across the street to Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki museum. The first of Heyerdahl's ships on display was the Ra II, built from reeds. In 1970 he sailed it 3,000 miles from Morocco to Barbados to prove that Africans could have populated America.

I have read Heyerdahl's book Kon Tiki several times, and was incredibly excited to see the actual craft he used to sail 4,300 miles from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. He made the voyage to prove that early South Americans could have settled Polynesia. The actual Kon Tiki is a balsa wood raft, and is surprisingly small! It was amazing that it could complete such an epic voyage of discovery.

I then took the bus back over to the Norwegian Folk Museum. Even though Stockholm's Skansen was the first such park open to the public, this one is actually older, begun in 1882 as the king's private collection. These were two of the costumed guides who explained the buildings on display, brought to the site from all over Norway.

This is a stave church, built from wood in the year 1200...yes, 1200!! The trees for such a church were specially grown over the course of 30 years or more. Certain branches were periodically trimmed in order for the sap to settle in the trunk to make the wood extremely weather resistant. The angles in the roof were fashioned from the curved knees of trees, said to be the strongest part of the tree. The open air alcove outside of the church door itself is where people would store their weapons before going inside. Because of this practice, the room outside of a church sanctuary in Norway is called the weapons room to this day!

This is a farm storage warehouse, where items were stored upstairs away from winter's drifting snows.

On the boat back over to downtown Oslo, I had a great time talking with Anna (from Oslo) and Mari and Adam, who live in London. Mari, who was from Ireland originally, told me stories about when she and Adam backpacked around the world for 18 months and also when they hiked the Inca Trail for four days to reach Machu Picchu in Peru! They were in Oslo for the weekend, and were absolutely fascinating to talk to. It was fantastic meeting you!

The next morning I boarded the train in Oslo for the Norway in a Nutshell route, which takes you to the fjords of western Norway and back. The early morning trip gave me some time to catch up on my journal. 7small64_Scott_train.jpg

The train journey between Oslo and Bergen has been called the most picturesque in Northern Europe, and I believe it. The views from the train windows were unbelievable.

We made a quick stop in Finse, the highest point on the line. That is where I took a picture of this breathtaking scene. Notice the lodge on the left hand side.

I changed trains in Myrdal to a private line that descends an 18% grade to Flam, on the Sognefjord. On the way we stopped to view the Kjosfossen waterfall, fed by glaciers.

According to local legend, a temptress lives behind the waterfall and tries to lure men into the falls with her song. I am not sure, but I think I actually got a shot of her.... ;)

A beautiful village on the way down to Flam.

On the train to Flam I met David and Carol, from Maryland. David's said that his great grandfather was a Norwegian merchantman who owned his own ship and travelled all around the world trading various goods while taking his wife and children on board with him. David was also involved in founding the first private avaition club in the United States in the 1960's. The club had a DC7-B aircraft that flew its members all over the U.S., Caribbean, and even Europe! The FAA had to come up with new rules for the club because of its unique status. David was proud to point out that the club's safety record was better than the commercial airlines!

I also met Carl and Gloria from Monsey, New York. Gloria is a retired teacher and Carl is retired also, currently enjoying his business working on antique watches. It was great chatting with you!

In Flam I boarded a boat to Gudvangen, through the absolutely stunning Sognefjord, the longest fjord in the world. This is me on the boat, and no, I am not standing in front of a backdrop!

The boat first went up Aurlandsfjord and stopped in the town of Aurland.

The fjord is more than a mile deep, with 3,000 foot mountains on either side!

Rowers having a good time in the beautiful afternoon sunshine.

We passed the little village of Undreal, famous for its cheese and for its church, the smallest still in use in Norway. The church seats 40 and holds services every fourth Sunday.

Although there is no regular ferry service to Undreal, you can request a stop there. To get back on the ferry, just go out to the ferry dock and turn on the blinking light. The next ferry boat will stop to pick you up!

This house (top center) has no road access. You take a boat to its dock and hike all the way up. The house is old, and is currently owned by Canadians. It was constructed by carrying materials up the hill. I was told that if you hike all the way up the hill and knock on the door, the owners will not only offer you a free beer, but will also put you up for the night! How is that for hospitality?!

Some of the locals, soaking up the sun....

A stunning four-fall glacial waterfall.

This is Naeroyfjord, the "Narrow Fjord." Our ship went right through this tiny pass to Gudvangen.

An elderly couple has lived on this small farm their entire lives. Can you imagine waking up to your own waterfall and mountains like this?

I was told that many consider the fjord even more beautiful in the winter. When the sea ice here freezes up during cold weather, ice breakers come to open the shipping lanes.

I thought that this picture looks like one of those giant jigsaw puzzles you do with the family while on vacation.

While on the boat I met Jan (in hat) and Barry, from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and Barry's mother, from New Orleans. I quickly found out that they are huge LSU football fans, and to their great credit they were very hospitable even after learning that I am an Alabama fan living in Georgia Bulldog country! ;) Barry teaches physics at the University of Texas at Arlington, and is a very funny guy. He had terrific stories about going to high school in New Orleans, and we talked some about quantum physics and string theory, two of my interests. Barry's mother survived the flooding in New Orleans and is proudly watching her city get back on its feet. You guys were great - maybe we can get together for a ball game some time! By the way, look at Barry's shoes. He said that he has another pair just like them at home!

This is a beautiful farm I saw on the way to Voss.

There was only one problem with the bus. It arrived in Voss an hour AFTER the last train to Oslo had left! The train company had booked the whole thing, but had made a mistake, and this was the one day of the week that there was no night train! I sized up my options standing in the train station. I was stranded in Voss!! My first reaction was that I was going to be one of these people...
I could just see myself crashed out on a bench at the train station all night, playing blues on the harmonica for coins from passing tourists.... "Just had to come to Europe! (da DA da dum) Travel lust I could not quench! (da DA da dum) Now I'm stranded in Norway, and I'm sleeping on a bench! I've got the blues!! The Voss Train Station Blues!"

Ok Scott...don't panic...remain flexible...ohm...ohm...ohm....

I started off towards town, and stopped in every hotel I passed. For some reason, in this small town in the middle of Norway, every single hotel room was booked! What was going on? I eventually found out that there was an extreme sports festival in town, where people were base jumping and hang gliding off of the sheer fjord walls. The crazy extreme athletes had the town cram packed! What was I going to do? Finally one receptionist said that she had just gotten off the phone with the Hotel Jarl on the other side of town and that they had one room left if I could make it over there in time. I ran through town and made it just in time to snag the room! Relief! It was very small, but it had a bed, and it was inexpensive. I have to thank Egil at the front desk of the Hotel Jarl for saving me! Thanks Egil!
Egil let me use the hotel's computer to send a message back home to let them know where I was, which was a life saver. It turned out that he formerly worked in Louisiana and Texas in the petroleum industry before deciding to return to his native Norway. Thanks again for your help, Egil!

Once I got the room, I realized that I literally only had what was on my back. No change of clothes, no nothing! So I ran down to the grocery store which was closing in 10 minutes and bought a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a pair of cotton socks to use as washcloths!

I spent a few hours walking around Voss, and discovered something amazing. Voss, Norway is the birthplace of legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne! Arrgh! Will the Fighting Irish ever leave this Crimson Tide fan alone?!? Several things in Voss carry the Rockne name.

One of the extreme athletes practicing down by the lake.

I liked this statue, near the church.

The sun came out just long enough for me to take this gorgeous picture of the lake at the other end.

The Voss welcoming committee!

The next morning I got up very early so as not to miss the train again. Breakfast at the hotel was complimentary. Sliced meat and cheese...


with pickles, beets, and three types of herring!!

I ate a (very) light breakfast and jogged to the station to make the morning train. Yay!!

The views on the way back were stunning.

A beautiful snowfield and sky.

This was a very cool snow fence - it would look great on a model train layout.

This lake was like a mirror. Unbelievable.

See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

Back at the P Hotel, Oslo, I met Luan, who's mother is Lena, who works the front desk at the hotel. Lena told me that Luan is Albanian for "lion." That afternoon this little lion was enjoying a bun and playing with the shoe polishing machine!

Lena was absolutely terrific, and really helped me out during my stay. One evening I came downstairs and found her surrounded by a group of Russian tourists. Lena, originally from Germany, speaks no Russian, and none of the Russians spoke any English, Norwegian, or German. So the Russians made a mistake that many American tourists make when faced with similar language barriers overseas. When the Russian tourists realized that Lena could not understand them, THEY...SPOKE...LOUDER...AND...MORE...SLOWLY......IN...RUSSIAN!!! It was hysterical! I looked at Lena's ever patient face and had to laugh. When you work the front desk of a hotel, you never know what will happen next! Thanks Lena, and good luck to you and Luan!

I made it to the plane the next morning for the flight to New York, and had the good fortune of sitting next to Kelly from Tallahassee, who owns a landscape design business. She was just returning from two weeks at a yoga retreat in Bali. I knew I had met a kindred spirit when she leaned over, offered me a bag of snacks, and said, "Do you want to try some weird Japanese french fries?" We spent the rest of the flight having a great time trading funny stories of our travels. At one point I looked out of the window and realized that we were flying directly over Greenland! My regular camera was packed in my luggage, so I took some quick photos out of the plane window with my camera phone.

Two remote glaciers, merging into one. Astounding.

A large bay with many icebergs scattered across the water. So incredibly beautiful.

I snapped the pictures and then looked around the plane, not believing that many of the passengers were actually sleeping through this! I guess that happens with many people, though. If you simply focus on your destination, you often sleep through the journey. It reminded me of a quote I heard in the Nick Nolte movie, Peaceful Warrior. "It is the journey, not the destination, that brings us happiness."

I sat back down in my seat and put the camera away for one last time. Kelly, who had by then finished her Japanese treats, turned and asked me, "So, where are you going on your next trip?"

"Now that you mention it, I do have a few ideas," I answered. I slowly turned to the window, smiled at the ice cap below, and watched it stretch towards earth's distant horizon.

Posted by sfoshee 11:51 Archived in Norway Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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