Tag Archive: scandinavia


When we spoke about Norway in the past, we really wanted to visit Stavanger, and visit the fjords. That being said, that deemed to be a little too much seeing Annemarie is carrying our little gal, and the fact that tickets to Stavanger are rarely considered “cheap.” So, we headed off to Oslo for the weekend, which was our final piece in the Nordics. We visited Helsinki, Denmark & Sweden back in 2009 on our RTW Trip, and hit up Iceland back in October for my 34th birthday. Tickets are always cheap to get to Oslo, so it was more about the right weekend and lucking out with the weather.

The famous ski jump of Oslo…yup, that’s about it.

Now, we always though the most expensive city we visited was Tokyo, until we visited Denmark, and now that award goes to Norway….but a kilometer! The cheapest beer I could find was equivalent to €10…yes, euros, not even dollars! Everything was over the moon, even public transportation. The train from the airport to downtown was 22 minutes….and costs the equivalent of €25 per person. Unreal if you ask me. The odd fact about Norway…the have more oil on reserve than anyone in Europe, and they don’t use any for personal consumption….just in case the world runs out of oil. The taxes are through the roof, it has more darkness than sunlight, and it’s pretty remote. Oslo is also the heroin capital of the world, and has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Unique city to say the least…but on to the good stuff.

The Oslo Opera

Oslo is uber expensive, uber clean, uber modern and….kind of boring. I was warned about this from none other than my father, who had visited years before. There’s the ski jump, wow! Yeah, not really. There’s the fortress, which I guess is cool, but no great battles happened there and it’s practically 100% intact. There’s the waterfront, but unless you want the priciest of pricy restaurants and drinks, no reason to really bet there. They have a pretty cool opera house, but just the building is unique, as I don’t care much for opera personally. The only thing I really wanted to see, and it lived up to expectation, was Kon-Tiki. The raft that made it from South America to the Polynesian Islands. Although anthropologists and scientists now think that what they proved by sailing actually proves nothing, it’s pretty amazing they made it 4,300 miles on a raft made out of balsa logs.  There was also a boat in Oslo, a Viking ship, which is about 900 years old, and very well preserved. It actually was brought back from the Northwest Passage where it was frozen in ice. Not bad if you ask me.

Kon-Tiki

One last highlight, or let’s say experience, was Frogner Park. I’ll just add some pictures of the sculptures, and this was one unique park, and probably R-Rated for most families in the USA 😉

The monolith in Frogner Park…400 naked people, circle of life!

Ya, ok….ride’em cowboy?

Will I be back in Oslo? Probably not, but I will get to Stavanger to check out those fjords one day. Next up, Andorra!

So after taking the summer off from travel, besides a couple business trips to the Ukraine (new country for me) and Germany, we decided to crank it up again. We ended up not going to South America for unrelated reasons to regular travel, but we’ll make it back down there next year. I found some great fares to Iceland for this past weekend, so decided to jump on them since it’s a country we’ve wanted to visit since 2008! We hit the road Thursday, hopped on our IcelandAir flight, and off to Keflavik Airport we went.

Starting the trip at the Blue Lagoon

We land and go grab the rental car, which was the smallest 4×4 I’ve ever seen, and if the wind had been stronger than the 30 MPH winds that we had while there, I think we would’ve been on our side. We held up, and the car was a trooper for the 3 days that we were there. Our first stop was the Blue Lagoon, which is an infamous geothermal pool, which is fed from the runoff of the plant next door. They actually pump fresh water in every 40 hours! This place is nothing short of incredible, and was perfect for a cold (40 degrees) and rainy day! We paid our fees, grabbed our towels, and headed out. WOW IT IS DAMN COLD…until you get in, then it’s perfect! I’m not exactly sure how big it is, but I’m sure it could fit a few thousand people if it was packed. We floated around for a while before grabbing a few drinks, which only seems normal. Hanging outside in 40 degree weather, in a geothermal pool, with silica all over your face, drinking a beer. Yep, seems pretty normal to me.

At Gulfoss….quite a sight in person

They also have a few steam showers, saunas & waterfalls that are pretty soothing. The majority of the people there we noticed were Norwegian, or Americans who were on layovers over to Europe. All in all, it was pretty amazing, and a great kickoff to the trip.

We moved on from there, to only be handed a bill for about a million Icelandic Kroner! Well, not that high exactly, but the conversion rate is about 160/1, so even a €100 bill seems like it’s ridiculous, but whatever. So we hit the road to downtown Reykjavik, and checked into Hotel Reykjavik Centrum. The pad was pretty centrally located, not that the downtown area is that big, but it was nice not to drive to anything. After checking in, got a reco for a restaurant that night, which was a local’s joint, and was exactly what I was expecting. A little whale, steak & sashimi style, and some puffin. Yes, some readers might be against dining like this, but let me tell you, OUTSTANDING! I’ll leave it at that.

Skogafoss…only people there and the sun brought a surprise

Our first full day we wanted to complete the Golden Circle, and it typical fashion, we finished it in about half the time or normal travelers. We drove through Þingvellir National Park, stood in front of Strokkur and Geysir, and heard the thunderous noise while getting soaked at Gulfoss. The landscape of this country is incredible, as are the weather patterns. I wouldn’t say it was the most perfect day weather wise, but I don’t think they really have them in Iceland, so that’s ok. We drove around for a bit as well, and actually stopped to check out Kerið, a volcanic crater. I guess Bjork actually performed on a raft in the middle of this crater at one time, and the fans sat on the hills that surrounded it.

Since we had some daylight left, we headed back to town so we could walk around and get our bearings. We walked up the main drag to see the unique shops and cafes, only to end up at the top, where the infamous Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church sits, with a large statue of Leifur Eiríksson in front. Of course we were 5 minutes late to get inside and go to the top for the best view of the city, but we can’t do it all, even if we think we can. Ultimately, we headed back to hotel, had another great dinner, and crashed for the night.

Mýrdalsjökull Glacier…pretty sure we weren’t supposed to be here

Day 3, we wanted to see everything on the southern coast that we could. We saw a couple of waterfalls, Seljandfoss and Skogafoss, as well as driving by the volcano that interrupted travel for a week, Eyjafjallajokull. We drove all the way to a small town called Vik, which I think is the largest town in the southern part of the country. We hung out for a bit to see the view and the cliffs that reminded me of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. On our way back, we decided to go off road a bit, and check out the main glacier in the area, Mýrdalsjökull. Walking up to it really felt like being on the moon….If being on the moon is what I imagine it would be. Afterwards, we headed back to town again, and hit up the restaurant that was supposedly the new trendy spot to hit in the whole country, and it didn’t disappoint. A quick synopsis would be 10 courses, all different Icelandic food, with wasabi somehow incorporated. Yes, fantastic!

The volcano that caused havoc over Europe for 10 days

Iceland will definitely be a country that we’ll revisit and hopefully do the northern part of the country on our return and the more remote areas. It was great to finally get there and see all the sights that we’ve only salivated over for years through pictures. I’m not sure yet where our next destination will be, but 2012 I think will be our busiest year yet, with about 20 countries on the docket, if not more. My goal was to hit 50 countries before we slowed down a bit, and then I put it up at 75, but I really think by the end of 2013, and with our current home in Amsterdam, that we can see half the countries in the world, which right now would take us up towards 100 almost. So quite a bit of work in front of us seeing we aren’t even halfway there, but we’ll do it.

We left Copenhagen on a high…high speed train that is. We took the XJ2000 train up to Stockholm. It was about a 5 hour journey through the southern countryside of Sweden. Was there much to see? Uh, that would be a no. There is not much in southern Sweden at all, but it was nice not to have to sit at an airport for a few hours, then travel, go through immigration, etc. The train had food, free WiFi, big seats, and moved at 100 mph, so I was pretty impressed. We finally got to Stockholm around 9:30, and looked for our host Nick. Luckily, we spotted him walking around after about 10 minutes, as the train station in Stockholm is pretty big. We headed home, luckily again, since Nick had enjoyed a few libations before meeting us, and wasn’t 100% sure of what direction we were going. In the end, we found our way back to his pad and crashed out for the night.

US Embassy in Stockholm...not too shabby

US Embassy in Stockholm...not too shabby

We hit the city the next day and had the best weather day Stockholm has seen in about 6 months. Safe to say, every single person in the city was outside enjoying the weather, cafe’s were packed, bars were boisterous. It always makes a city more inviting when everyone is out enjoying it I think. Stockholm is on quite a few islands all connected together by bridges and subways, and the city is pretty easy to get around. When the weather is nice, there really isn’t any place in the city that isn’t within walking distance. Along with that, there is no “skyline” in this city, which again was nice, and made the city feel more like a village. We immediatley liked it, as it reminded us of Copenhagen and Amsterdam. We honestly liked all of the Nordic countries we visited.

Nick pointing to something...maybe where we were on the map?

Nick pointing to something...maybe where we were? No, that's the red dot

We had heard that Nick was throwing a little get together on Saturday night to force all the local friends he had to talk to us. Just kidding man. He had a bunch of his friends over, who were all from Sweden, and we chatted with them and then tried to interpret some things they were saying in Swedish…to no avail, it’s a unique language. Seems like all of them had spent some time in the States, and their English was incredible. The fact that Americans aren’t taught a foreign language from a very young age is too bad, yet everyone around the world feels like they should know our language. Anyway, it was interesting to learn a little more about their upbringing in Sweden, and one guy even talked cars with me, which was great, as I’m a car nut. He had almost the same car I do, so we were just comparing notes, almost felt like home…until he went off on a tangent in Swedish, and I was lost again.

We headed off to the bar, which actually was the second level of a local Scandic hotel, and was pretty nice. Taxes in Sweden are crazy, and when you order a mixed drink, there is a tax put on each individual liquor in the drink. So for example, a long island iced tea, which I never order, is about a $40 drink in Stockholm, since there is a 25% tax put on each of the 10 liquors in the drink, it’s pretty crazy. Safe to say, most drink beer, wine, or something on the rocks to save on the budget a bit. It’s also quite the fashion scene, and every girl in Stockholm seems to wear a skirt no matter what time of year it is. We closed down the bar, and of course wanted to get some late night food. We figured most would go for hot dogs, which are popular here just like in Copenhagen, but that’s not where we went. Pizza? no. Sandwiches? no. The most popular stop for late night food in Stockholm is………..McDonalds!! I almost fell over when I saw the lines inside the place, it was disgusting but at the same time hilarious. This place is one of the sole reasons McDonald’s is still in business in my belief, the traffic going through this place was unbelievable…and quite a way to end the night.

Stockholm day 3 up next!