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Category Archives: Scandinavia

Scandinavia

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Bryksdalbreen, Norway

With the easiness of English language spoken by absolutely everybody, I think that they study it since kindergarten, and the pleasant atmosphere offered by the locals, Scandinavia makes a great destination. Any person that loves nature would find Norway magic. The combination of snow capped peaks on top of the mountains, crystal clear fjords surrounded by steep peaks inviting you for kayak expeditions, blue glaciers that plunge ice boulders to the bottom of white water lakes, thundering waterfalls with crystal clear water or pleasant paths into the woods make this country the number one destination in Europe for outdoor activities.

But it is way more than that what catches the interest. Old stave churches from the 11th century using old Scandinavian techniques using very tall trees stripped of the branches and the bark and left with the roots in the ground for years to dry straight. Fantastic museum that document the history of the Vikings and their discoveries. Everywhere you go people travel. By bike, hitch hiking, cars and mainly with campers they roam the country in a frugal way, the country being full of camping places that rent small huts people living a simple life closer to nature.

The country looks and for sure is clean enticing you drink the water from the mountains streams or the lakes. Sweden is a pleasant destination its cities being a treasure trove of location worth exploring. Stockholm location, on the bay makes it very attractive during a sunny day and the boat rides in the harbor are a pleasure. Goteborg, also a harbor has its own attractions.

A recent survey found out that people of Denmark are the happiest people in the world. If I would not have known this result I should have been completely puzzled because out of the woods of Scandinavia you see when you get to Copenhagen an entire city that smiles. People are nice and helpful and they always try to make your stay pleasant, even by encouraging you that they think that the rain will stop in the afternoon and the sun will shine again. The city is extremely pleasant full of large squares that look to be made for people and not for vehicle. Tables are everywhere, with small stalls serving mainly Danish beer enjoyed by hundreds, tourists and locals, in a sunny day. All the streets have bike lanes and you feel that the real movement inside the city happens on these bike lanes. Hordes of Danes ride the bikes dressed casually, in suits or very stylish going to a fancy dinner sometimes in high heels on bikes. The clubs are pumping live music and the restaurants are full in the late hours, people enjoying the long hours of sun and heat of the summer. All this and many other makes Copenhagen the most pleasant capital of Scandinavia. Everything looks green in this country, with the Environmental Agency Building in Copenhagen being covered with a metal grid on which are planted vertically flowers that cover the entire façade. Occasionally you see small electric cars plugged over night in street outlets that lit blue in the dark hours. Taking a trip during the long summer days is tough because you do not want to go to sleep. Every night we went to sleep around 12-1 am getting up with an alarm at 6-7 am. Why bother to sleep when you have such a great light….

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2010 in Blog, Scandinavia

 

Copenhagen to Frankfurt

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Wind Mills

The flight was departing to Frankfurt at 10 am, so we walked up at 6:30, packed and left to the train station, 10 minutes walk away from the hotel. We did not board the train before we stopped for a to-go breakfast at Andersen Bakery in Tivoli that had great cakes but average espresso, if you have to judge by Italian standards. The train got us in 15 minutes to the new and beautifully designed Copenhagen airport and reluctantly we left this great city.

We landed in Frankfurt where we had a 5 hour layover to New York so we got an RT ticket to go into the city. For E14.50 you get a RT ticket for a group of 5 people, (E9.50 one adult RT). Quite a deal! And the trains runs every 15 German minutes and it takes 15 minutes to reach Frankfurt Hauptbanhof, the main train station. From the front of the station it starts KaiserStrasse, the main pedestrian street that goes through the financial district with the glass skyscrapers of the German banks headquarters that got the nickname of Mainhattan. We continued to Kaiser Place and further down all the way to the Dom, the walk taking less than an hour. We visited the Dom and the Old Square with its old houses and we rushed back to the train station to get to the airport. S-Bahn 8 and 9 bring you to the Flughafen in 15 minutes with only three stops.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2010 in Blog, Denmark, Germany, Scandinavia

 

Copenhagen

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City Hall Square, Copenhagen, Denmark

In the morning the rain was not over and we started our last 100 km drive to Copenhagen on wet roads. Before we left we booked hotel on the Internet and when we drove into the city it happened that we drove right past the hotel near the train station. At $114/night CABINN City Hotel looked like a bargain but the rooms were so small that a cell in the jail would be more comfortable. At first I thought that I got a wrong room but it turned out that all were the same so we left the luggage and got out because you could not move inside. This is a hostel, good for sleep ONLY. But on Booking.com you could not figure out especially when you have to book quickly and move along. I left to the airport to drop the car that was rented till today, fill up and parked exactly in the spot from where I picked it up. The drop-off is as easy as the pick up, just park the car, go the desk and drop the key. No questions asked. From the airport there are trains into the city every 15 minutes and the ride takes 15 minutes for DK34.50. Kids under 12 ride free.

I returned at the hotel and started the tour into the city, stopping first at the CityHall and continuing under heavily cloudy skies to Christianborg Palace. There the rain started heavily and we got inside to visit the ruins of the two previous palaces destroyed in fires. The current palace is the third building and was built with the lessons from the previous two fires that engulfed and destroyed the structures. We returned to the City Hall for a view of the entire city from its tower, DK20, and when I got on top the weather started to improve and all afternoon was sunny. From the tower I walked to the new library, the Black Diamond building. Together with new theater building and the new opera house on the opposite shore represent remarkable works of modern architecture that give the city another touch of its magical youthful atmosphere.

Further we continued to Christiansen Harbor with the new houses on the canal and the exquisite steeple of the Christian Church and to the new harbor of Nyhaven, with its picture perfect houses that align the canal and the boats that carry everybody for DK 30-40 on various tours, same route, on Denmark’s capital canals. I hopped in a boat for an one hour tour that takes you to the most important sites by the canals with detailed explanations about the history of the city. Here I found out that because the water was bad in the city in the past centuries the royals advised people to drink beer and the Danes say that this is the reason they had such a great kingdom and they ended up with the smallest country….

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Nyhaven, Copenhagen

After the ride I returned to City Hall through various streets aligned with beautiful houses typical for the city. The city is way denser in old houses than any other Scandinavian city and it is CHARMING. It is by far the most alive and interesting city in Scandinavia, a young city where bikers abound, terraces are everywhere and people enjoy sitting in the sun having a beer. People are nice and always smiling and you are not surprised after this entire tour of Scandinavia to see that the rating of “the happiest people in the world” went to the people of Denmark. From the City Hall we walked on Storegat, the main pedestrian street full of artist and entertainers, back to Nyhaven that was basking in a great evening light and we had dinner on the canals and a well-deserved Tuborg beer.

After that we walked to the Little Mermaid….who has left to China and is replaced by a large screen that displays a direct web feed that shows how the Copenhagen’s emblem is doing in Shanghai World Exhibition. Walking back to the city we stopped again for ice cream and another beer in Nyhaven before reluctantly going to sleep in this very alive city.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2010 in Blog, Denmark, Scandinavia

 

Billund, Denmark

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Legoland, Billund, Denmark

After a good sleep and a delicious breakfast we pursued the drive that we stopped last night on good highways for less than 3 hours through Helsingborg and Helsinger and we crossed the causeway/bridge/tunnel to Denmark ($40-45). From there we started to drive another 3 hours to reach Billund, the home of Legoland, an American style amusement park. There are 158 km to Ostende on 4-lane highway and from there about another hour to Billund. Ostende is located in the second of the Denmark’s island connected by a causeway and bridge to the main island, where the toll is another $40 or equivalent.

We arrived after such a long drive with stops only for gas at Legoland where the entrance is around $45-50 for an adult with a very small discount for children under 12. Legoland is a typical amusement park, with rides located in themed areas, like Legorado, Pirate area, castles or Egyptian temples but what is the most fascinating part of the park, and unique is the Miniland, an area where parts of known world city destinations are created using millions of pieces of Lego. Copenhagen’s Nyhaven, Airport, etc., Bergen, Norway’s fjord and stave church, Amsterdam and Holland’s mills, Beverly Hills’ movie studios, Cape Canaveral, Tokyo district with a Buddha watching Mount Fuji, Acropolis, Wat Phrae Kau, Washington’s Capitol and many other. All these models have lots of trains, cars, buses, boats that move by computer control awing adults and kids alike. The rides are OK but they are more or less what you find in any other park. In spite of coming late it was enough time to do several rides and see the Miniland and at around 5:00pm, right when we were in line to get inside the “Temple” a storm that was looming for a while started viciously with heavy rain and strong winds and in no time everybody was running for cover. The rain was going on and stopped all the activities including the Miniland where all the computers failed with lots of errors and the techs were hovering around the sets to restart the systems. We did several other rides that were covered and after a visit to the fascinating Lego store and to some other souvenir stores we left around 8:45 pm back to Copenhagen. But the rain was not over and followed us the entire way, at times so heavy that you could not see anything in front and lightning can be seen towards the city. Because of the weather we tried to stop on the way in several hotels and at the third attempt we succeeded and booked a room (DK875) one hour away from the capital.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2010 in Blog, Denmark, Scandinavia

 

Stockholm

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Stockholm

Great day to walk in Stockholm. Sunny and a little too warm but it is in the North and is bearable. Walked from the hotel Alexandra to Gamla Stan in 15 minutes and right away bought some hop-on hop-off boat tickets to be used all day ($15) that shorten the distances. Stockholm’s center is not large but we did not have too much time so any help was great. The boats, all run the same route, go around the harbor and stop to the major attractions in the city. The tickets, like many other items, but not everything, can be paid in US$, this being valid all over Scandinavia. However almost everywhere credit cards are accepted.

The first stop was at the Royal Palace, that I gave a miss for an inside visit and I just took a quick peek at the portrait of the princess and her new gym trainer hubby. She is the oldest and will inherit the crown and their disco wedding happened just a month ago in the castle. The boat takes you to the National Theater and to the Royal Sightings before stopping at Vasa Museum, where is located the boat that sank just after she left the harbor in 1627. The king himself designed the boat and supervised the project. He decided to load the ship with large number of cannons a show off of his power. When the investigation was supposed to be started the king did not show up in court so nobody was found guilty for the failure of the project. The boat stayed underwater for 300 years and was taken out in 1961, being originally kept under water sprays till this new museum was opened. The museum is really impressive because the boat was rescued with all the objects that were just loaded on it for a sail that never happened. Just another hop away from the museum is Skeepholmen island where it used to be stationed the Swedish Navy. Now a quite place, the island has a small castle on it and the Museum of Contemporary Arts and Museum of Architecture. You can continue to the Open Air Folk Museum and the amusement park if you have time but I preferred the boat ride all the way to the Royal Sightings where the beautiful residential buildings from the 19th centuries command great views over the harbor with apartments that run way over 1 million US$.

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Stockholm

We returned to the Dramatic Theater and further towards the Royal Palace and in Gamla Stan for a last pictures of the narrow streets and we had to rush to the hotel to pick up the luggage and the car and start driving towards Copenhagen, a 6.5 hours on more than 600 km highway. We would have gotten very close to Denmark  but it was the night of the World Cup final so we stop on the way to a Rasta Restaurant a little out of Linkoping and watched the first triumph of Spain in the World Cup in a extra time in a match where they outplayed the very dangerous and powerful team of the Netherlands. The extra time delayed our schedule and we slept in a Scandic hotel in Jonkoping.

The hotels in Sweden, like over the entire Scandinavia are very neat. Clean, looking like new and designed very nicely are a pleasure to stay in them and enjoy the plentiful morning buffet breakfast. Except in Norway, the hotel prices are reasonable being relatively more expensive than their American versions but offering way more and of a considerable higher quality. In general everything what you buy/rent in Scandinavia and Northern Europe is of a remarkable quality and implicitly at a slightly higher price.  As far as I could see it does not exist the notion of a dingy place. The places are always good and the budget ones give you the option to strip items alike the sheets, linen, towels or breakfast for a lower price.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2010 in Blog, Scandinavia, Sweden

 

Lillehammer to Stockholm

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Lillehammer, Norway

Lillehammer was more or less developed around the 1994 Olympics. Its main street was empty at the early hours of the morning but anyway we could not spend too much time because we had such a long way to go so we left around 9:30 am for a 600 km/8 hours ride to Stockholm.

After a quick stop at the border that is represented by a road in the woods where the locals are walking their dogs where we got the shopping taxes refunded we crossed in Sweden where we found the roads being larger and in a way better than the small and narrow Norwegian roads. The road from the border to Karlstadt is more or a less a highway, with parts that are interrupted but even then the lane is very large with shoulder and good pavement. Around Karlstadt we stopped for lunch at a beach place. The sun starved Swedes were swarming to the beach that was on the shore of the sea, or a fjord going to it. Played with pigeons, took some pictures and left for Stockholm. The highway continued and you could drive with over 120 km/h an improvement after the 60km/h we had to drive in Norway. The pattern of the highway was new to me, 2 lanes on one way combined with one lane of the other that changed at every several km. It was actually a 3 lanes highway!!!! The drawback is that at one point it was an accident on the one lane section and police had to detour the traffic on the incoming lanes. But the best thing of the drive, otherwise a boring one through a not so great landscape, was admiring a parade of old cars drove with enjoyment by the Swedes. On the entire drive, hours after hours, you could see 2-3 old cars every 5 minutes. There were hundreds of Buick, Chrysler, Volvo, Opel and Oldsmobiles sometimes painted in pink, red, white or green caring behind them an antique camper. Most of them were convertible drove in a glorious sunny day. Sometimes the drivers, women or men, were dressed in matching dresses and suits including the hair do of the 1950, 60s and 70s. Without that parade the 8, that was actually 10, hour drive would have been boring.

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Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

We arrived in Stockholm around 7:30 pm and we started to look for the hotel address and after many investigations we were able to find Alexandra Hotel. A working GPS would have been great….. Unfortunately we found out that the Internet was down at the hotel but the good news was that we could park the car on the street over the weekend. Parking in Stockholm’s secondary areas is about SK15/hour, about $2. Not too bad like all the prices in Sweden that are way lower than in Norway. We took the car and parked close to Gamla Stan, the island that has on it the old town, and we walked and took pictures in the sunset light, watching occasionally glimpses of the small final game in the World Cup between Germany and Uruguay. After we got a pretty good idea of the city layout we were able to have dinner. We were billed SK30 for water, plain tap water with ice and asking about this the Polish waiter told us that nothing is free anymore in Sweden and started to complain about the very low level of life here with working people having to pay for African immigrants that bring their entire families and do not want to work and live on welfare… Food in school is mediocre; medicine is expensive; hospitals are not good, etc. Nobody is happy…..

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2010 in Blog, Norway, Scandinavia, Sweden

 

Briksdalbreen to Lillehammer

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Ornesvingen – Eagle’s bend

Glorious morning. We had a great breakfast served at the table and we left back towards Geiranger and further toward Sweden. We stopped several times on the way for pictures and we took this time the new road from Stryn to Geiranger through the tunnels, not so nice but extremely fast.

Around noon we were in Geiranger and after a short stop and a quick lunch admiring an oyster catcher sitting on eggs annoyed by the surrounding tourists, we left toward Ornesvingen, the Eagles’ bend, on a road that climbs from the side of the fjord. The view from Ornesvingen viewing platform is fantastic and we caught also Hurtigruten coming to drop her passengers in Geiranger. We continued to the top of the mountain and we stopped on great sites on the way on Trollstiegen plateau. Waterfalls and snow capped peaks surrounds you all over. The road is supposed to take 2.5 hours but with so many stops we were able to leave the last stop on the Trollstiegen pass around 5pm. Here the National Tourists Bureau built a spectacular platform over the steep valley and right near a thundering waterfall. It is a great view that should not be missed.

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Trollstiegen

From there the road is going down the spectacular plateau landscape being replaced by forest and you drive through villages at low speed. It is quite boring. We stopped in Otta where we had a large pizza for dinner in the only open place except a burger place and where three small dressings that were casually offered were charged Nk60. Normally in the US all these are free…..We arrived in Lillehammer around 11pm after another 2 hour drive on a road that is marked as a highway but is just a larger road and finally after several tries we got a room in Birkenbeineren Hotel right by the ski jump site of the 1994 Olympics.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2010 in Blog, Norway, Scandinavia