Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The 3 Best Things About My Trip

I have been very fortunate to have traveled extensively in my life.  But my recent trip to Switzerland and Norway will definitely stand out as very memorable.  Here are the three of the best things about that trip.

1. Visiting my Swiss cousins

Those of you who have followed my blog know that some years ago I began to research my family genealogy, and I was lucky enough to make contact with cousins from the Swiss side of my family.  Even though they are distant cousins related through my great grandmother, I have grown to hold them very dear to my heart. 

The hospitality, warmth and kindness shown to me by my cousin Brigitta in Switzerland and my cousin Hans Peter in Norway and their spouses were heartwarming.  I truly felt that I was at home when I was with them.

There were about a dozen cousins that I saw during my visit, and they all treated me like family.  I am so lucky that they are a part of my life.

2.  A Day of Traveling Across Switzerland by Train

Brigitta purchased all day rail passes for us to make a whirlwind excursion across the country.  The highlight of that day was a trip by steam locomotive up to the peak of the Rothorn.  The scenery was absolutely breathtaking!

3. The Beauty of the Norwegian Fjords

Norway is just as scenic as Switzerland.  The days that I spent exploring the fjords were wonderful.  Even though there was much in Norway that I didn't see, I felt that I experienced the fantastic beauty of that country.

I hope that I will be able to return soon to these countries, not just to do more sightseeing, but to also spend more time with my family. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Reflections on Norway

My recent trip was the first time that I had ever been to Norway.  Here are some observations about my journey there.

Norway is a wonderful country.  There were only two drawbacks to my visit there... the weather and the expense.

The weather really was actually a drawback in only one place, the city of Bergen.  Because it is located on the coast and is surrounded by mountains, the clouds and rain from the Atlantic stall over Bergen and are unable to move on.  Perhaps I was lucky, but everywhere else the weather was not a problem.  Heading inland up the fjords, foul weather from the Atlantic is not a constant condition.  Of the six days that I spent in the fjord country, I experienced no rain, and only had a day and a half of cloudy weather.  I had plenty of sunshine to experience the beautiful scenery.  During the two days that I spent in Oslo, the weather was variable with periods of clouds, brief showers and sun.  It seemed that the weather gods were smiling on me, because every time I was doing outdoor sightseeing, the sun would come out.  

There is no doubt that Norway is an expensive country... certainly a big change from Mexico where the current exchange rate makes travel extremely affordable.  Still, Norway was not quite as bad as I had feared. 

My most expensive hotel was in Bergen where a small room in a nice hotel cost $157 US per night.  However the price included a breakfast buffet.  I made sure that I had a hearty breakfast each morning, and generally did not need to eat again until the evening.

My hotel in Balastrand on the Sognefjord was a bargain.  A very clean, spacious room in a small, family-run hotel overlooking the fjord cost only $104 per night.  It too included a nice breakfast buffet.

My modern, well-located hotel in Oslo cost $112 per night.  Although it did not include breakfast, that was not a bad price for any European capital.

Food is also expensive.  A light meal of a sandwich, pastry and beverage would generally cost more than $20.  The "smorgasbord" at the ritzy hotel in Balestrand cost $70 with a glass of wine.  On my last night in Oslo I splurged and went to a nice restaurant where reindeer steak with potatoes and vegetables, dessert and iced tea cost $59.  However, at my favorite restaurant in Balastrand, a delicious meal was not exorbitant.

Public transportation is not cheap either.  A single ticket on a city tram or bus cost around $4.  The passenger boat from Bergen to Balestrand, a four hour trip, cost me $71.

Norway is a beautiful country with scenery that rivals Switzerland.  I did not see all the "must see" sights, but I am glad I planned the trip the way I did.  My three days in Balestrand, a village on the Sognefjord, gave me a chance to experience the beauty of the fjords in a relaxing manner and without being with huge crowds of tourists.

Oslo is a very pleasant city which is definitely worth a stay of at least two days.  Norway is a very prosperous and egalitarian society, so I was very surprised by the number of beggars in the capital.  Some of them are probably drug addicts or alcoholics, but the majority of the beggars were gypsy women.  I have read that they can be very aggressive, but they never bothered me.  In Oslo, as in the rest of the country, I felt perfectly safe at all times. 

The people of Norway are extremely friendly, and they are all fluent in English.  I had a number of conversations with Norwegians on the street, and they were very cheerful and helpful.

I do hope to be able to return to this marvelous country someday.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Day of Travel: Good and Bad

I am now back home in Ohio after a long day of traveling.

Getting to Oslo airport yesterday morning was quick, easy and relatively inexpensive.  My flight from Oslo to Newark was not scheduled to leave until 11:25 A.M.   However I was up and ready to go, and out the door of the hotel shortly after seven.  Fortunately, my hotel was located about a block from the train station.  I wheeled my luggage over to the station, and there I bought a train ticket to go to the airport.  A train leaves every 10 minutes, and one was waiting when I got to the track.  The train is very comfortable, and has racks for suitcases.  It made the 30 mile journey to the airport in about 25 minutes.  The cost of a ticket was around $20 US, surely much cheaper (and quicker) than taking a taxi.

I had some breakfast at the airport, and by 8:30 the United Airlines desk was open.  I checked my suitcase (my one small piece of checked luggage was now bulging with souvenirs and gifts that I had purchased), and I proceded to security.  The line was fairly short, perhaps a five minute wait, and I continued on to the gate.  Unfortunately this is where my opinion of Oslo's airport went downhill.  The departure area for my flight was small and cramped, and uncomfortably hot.  The waiting areas for the gates are partitioned off, and do not open until a half hour before boarding time.  So I sat in the waiting area for another flight that happened to be open, until we were chased out of there.  I then sat at another gate where a plane to the Arctic island of Svalbard was about to leave.  Finally the waiting area for my flight was opened.  The flight was delayed by over a half hour.  I was not worried about making my connection since I had a long layover in Newark.  I just wanted to get out of that stifling terminal!

At last we boarded and took off. Due to strong northern tail winds we made up almost all of the lost time, and arrived in Newark just a couple minutes late.  Although the flight was crowded, it was fairly comfortable.  (I had previously upgraded to an "Economy Plus" seat with more legroom.)  I always find that the time seems to pass more quickly on the flights coming home from Europe than the overnight flights going over.  I watched a movie and a couple episodes of the BBC series of "War and Peace".  (I am currently watching that series at home on Netflix, and I refreshed my memory on what I had already viewed.)  By the time I was done, we were flying over eastern Canada, and the attendants were handing out U.S. customs forms.

I was dreading Newark airport.  The last time that I passed through there, the lines at U.S. Immigration and Customs were horrendously long and slow.  (That is why I had deliberately scheduled a long layover.)  However, they now seem to now have their act together, and the whole process was quick and painless. Going back through security was another story.  Even though I had "TSA Pre", the line was very long.  (I can only imagine what the regular line was like!) The employees were very courteous, but it was obvious that they were slammed.  One of my two carry-ons required hand inspection, and I had to wait a while for them to get to mine.  The problem turned out to be a rock which I had picked up while hiking in the Swiss Alps; I wanted to take home a small piece of my ancestral homeland.  Carrying the rock was permitted, but it had looked suspicious when passing through the scanner.

I still had plenty of time for my flight to Cleveland.  I wanted to use one of the passes I have for the United Club lounge.  However they were not accepting day passes there because of the number of people using the lounge.  That was the first time I ever had that happen.  I think that on future trips to Europe, I will try to avoid Newark.

By 9:00 P.M. (3:00 A.M. Norway time) I was home in Ohio, and today I am feeling rather jet-lagged. 


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Two Museums to End My Stay in Oslo

Today was the final day of my trip.  Yesterday I checked off two of the places I wanted to see in Oslo... the City Hall and the Vigeland Sculpture Park.  My goal today was to visit two of Oslo's most interesting museums.  To do that I needed to take a ferry boat across the harbor to the leafy suburb of Bygdoy where a number of the city's museums are located.

When I took the ferry at around 10 A.M. the weather was overcast.  Below is a view of Aker Brygge, the site of the old shipyard which has been developed into a neighborhood of upscale apartments, yacht clubs, and trendy restaurants.

The short ferry ride took me across the harbor, and from there it was a short walk to my first museum... the Viking Ship Museum.  Here are the remains of three Viking ships, two of them still in excellent condition.  The Vikings would bury their nobles in their ships, and in the case of these two, the vessels and their contents were preserved under the clay soil of the burial mound.

On the first ship, the "Oseberg", an important noblewomen was buried in the 9th century.  This boat was beautifully decorated with carved wood.  It was a pleasure craft and was not meant to be sailed on the open sea.

The second ship contained the remains of a chieftain who died in the 10th century.  This ship is larger and sturdier, and would be the kind of vessel in which the Vikings made their epic voyages of exploration.

The museum also displays many of the objects found on the ships.  Like the Egyptians, the Viking nobles were buried with goods to be used in the afterlife.  The burial mounds were plundered centuries ago, so no jewelry or precious metals were found.  However a wide variety of household goods were found.

A wood and brass bucket that probably came from a trading (or raiding) expedition to Ireland.

Several pairs of leather shoes remained remarkably intact.

By the time I left the ship museum, the sun was shining... a good thing since my next stop was an outdoor museum, the Norwegian Folk Museum.  Here around 150 buildings have been moved to give a glimpse of life in different parts of the country over the last 800 years.

The "Old Town" contains buildings from different neighborhoods of Oslo.

When I walked into an early 20th century grocery store, there was a "shopkeeper" as well as a couple of  "customers".

While central Oslo was build of bricks, the poor people lived in wooden houses in the outlying districts.  The tile roofs were designed so that snow would slide off and not collapse the houses under its weight.

A vintage gas station

A very interesting display is in this mid-nineteenth century apartment building.

Apartments have been furnished to reflect life in different eras from the 1860s to the 1970s.

There are many farm buildings from different regions of rural Norway.  Storage buildings were usually elevated off the ground to protect the harvest.

Prosperous farmers often had a guest house for visitors.  This farmer from the Telemark region must have been quite well-to-do since the entire interior of the guest house is painted with rustic designs.

The oldest structure on the museum grounds is a stave church that was built in 1212.  It was carefully disassembled and reconstructed here.

In the late afternoon I took the ferry back to the dock near the City Hall. 

My Norwegian adventure has come to an end.  It is now time for me to pack my bags in preparation for tomorrow's long journey home.

Farewell, Norway!

Can You Figure This Out?

Over the years I have seen many street performers in different cities in the world, but these two that I saw in Oslo yesterday completely mystify me!

The woman is holding a staff.  The man appears to be levitating above her with only his hand resting on the top of the staff.  I spent ten minutes studying them from different angles.  I could not see any other connection between them.  Does anyone know how they do this???

Monday, August 22, 2016

Exploring Oslo

Today I spent eight hours seeing some of the sights in Oslo.  Among the European capitals, Oslo certainly cannot compare to Paris or London, but I found it to be a very pleasant city.

The weather today was quite variable... quickly changing from clouds to sun and with brief spells of rain.  All in all, however, it was not a bad day for sightseeing.

My hotel is conveniently located a block away from the plaza facing the railway station.  

The plaza is the starting point for Oslo's main downtown avenue and shopping street, Karl Johans Gate.  Much of it is pedestrianized.

A short distance down the avenue is the Oslo's Lutheran Cathedral.  It was built in 1697 on the site of an earlier church.

I found the carving on the main altar to be interesting.  In this depiction the main course at the Last Supper was meat (roast lamb?)

Some of the 19th century architecture along Karl Johans Gate.

 As you continue along the avenue, you see that it ends at the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace, built in the 1830s is the  home of King Harald V and his wife Queen Sonja.

One of the palace guards...

From Karl Johans Gate I walked a short distance toward the waterfront to Oslo's City Hall, a brick building constructed in the 1930s.  

The building's main hall is where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each year.  The hall is decorated with murals by the nation's leading artists.

The murals extol the virtues of Norwegian traditions, and depict the people working for a better society.

One long mural deals with the Nazi invasion during World War II, the Norwegian resistance and the eventual liberation of the country.

I went back to the hotel for a short while when it began to rain.  I checked the forecast, and the sun was supposed to come out later that afternoon.  So after some lunch I took a tram to one of the city's most important attractions, Frogner Park, also known as the Vigeland Sculpture Park.  

The park contains over 200 statues by Norway's most famous sculptor, Gustav Vigeland.  He worked on this park between 1924 and his death in 1943.  The statues are all nude figures.  Vigeland did not give names to his sculptures and he never explained their meanings, but it is thought that they represent the cycle of life with all its joy and sorrow.

When you enter the park you first come to a 300 foot long bridge adorned with 58 bronze statues.

After passing through a rose garden you then come to a fountain supported by six male figures and surrounded by twenty tree of life sculptures which represent the seasons of life.

From there you climb several terraces to reach the Monolith, which is 46 feet high, carved from a single block of granite, and has 121 human figures.

Surrounding the monolith are 36 granite sculptures.

Vigeland Park is a unique and incredibly impressive sight that is not to be missed by anyone visiting Oslo!