Champagne Bucket trips, Finland, Latvia

Twenty-two things I learned on our epic Scandinavia/Baltic/cruise trip…

Hi ho, folks. I usually do a “ten things I learned” post after our trips. Since this was a comparatively massive trip that was divided into a few segments, I’ve decided to compose slightly more than double the usual list. I’ve found that the “things I learned” posts tend to get read more than the “blow by blow” posts. So, in the interest of engaging people, here’s my latest list of things I learned while traveling. Some of these things I mention will seem silly or irrelevant. Nevertheless, they are still things I learned on our trip. I hope some of you enjoy it!

Here goes…

22. In Northern Europe, you are encouraged or even obliged to forgo housekeeping for charitable purposes.

We stayed in four hotels. In three of them, there were signs encouraging or even requiring guests to skip having their rooms cleaned. In Oslo, it was a choice, which we did opt for, since we only stayed two nights. In Bergen, it was automatically skipped unless we requested it by 10 PM the night before. And in Copenhagen, it was encouraged. All three hotels claimed that they donated money saved by not cleaning rooms to environmental or women’s causes. I was actually surprised by how environmentally aware the hotels were. In Copenhagen, they even had a daily 6 AM jog sponsored by the hotel where people could jog together and pick up trash.

21. When you check into a hotel in Northern Europe, don’t be shocked if you’re asked to pay when you get your key, if you haven’t already prepaid.

We had to pay upfront for both Norway hotels and our hotel in Denmark. It didn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things, but it was kind of surprising at the time.

20. At the moment,it’s hard to plan a land based trip up north. But that’s changing.

I had originally wanted this to be a land based trip because I like to stay at least a night or two in places I visit, especially when they are in countries I’ve never visited in the past. We ended up cruising on this trip, because it was simply more practical. I have a feeling that even though we were on a luxury cruise, it might have also been somewhat cheaper. The Rail Baltica project is making a land based trip to Baltic countries more feasible. I hope we’re still living here when it’s completed, or will be able to visit.

19. Sometimes, Norwegians are indistinguishable from Americans.

Or maybe we were just in places where Norwegians don’t have thick accents. I was often shocked by how much Norwegians reminded me of my countrymen! The one difference was that they tended to be taller, blonder, and a lot more beautiful. Especially the women.

18. Helsinki, Finland has an Armenian restaurant!

I noticed it on the bus ride from the port to the city center. No, we didn’t have a chance to visit it, but I did look it up. Apparently, it’s currently temporarily closed, as they are moving from their old location to a new one. I took a look at the menu and it appeared to be a great place to dine Armenian style. Maybe, if we go back to Helsinki, we can give it a try. As some of you know, Armenia is important to me, because I lived there for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

17. Most Finnish people have saunas, second homes, and boats… some women even give birth in saunas!

The ladies who did our harbor cruise tour told us that many Finnish people have their very own private saunas at home. They are considered very clean, so some women even have babies in their home saunas. That doesn’t seem appealing to me, but what do I know? The ladies also said that many people have their own boats and second homes, and that it doesn’t require a lot of money to have either. That’s just part of their culture. I clearly need to explore Finland more!

16. Estonia had a comparatively easy time during the pandemic, because people there naturally “social distance”.

Our tour guide, the hilarious Raul (Robin Williams come to visit in another life form), told us that most Estonians don’t have big families (same as in Finland). And when COVID-19 was especially terrible, it wasn’t so hard for the Estonians, because people up there are kind of solitary. He said the government would like to see more babies being made and is trying to encourage it, but Estonians aren’t so into the idea.

15. There’s an old AIDA cruise ship stuck at Tallinn’s harbor…

As we were entering and leaving Tallinn, Estonia, I couldn’t help but notice the loudly painted AIDAvita, docked at the pier. It looked a little rusty, but I paid it no mind until I got back on our ship and did some Googling. The AIDAvita was sold and is now known as Avitak. But it still looks like an AIDA ship, even though it flies the Liberian flag and has been stuck in Tallinn since November 2021.

14. Everybody up north celebrates Midsommar… It’s a big deal!

I didn’t know about this holiday, which is celebrated in Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, and other northerly countries. This year, it took place on Saturday, June 24th, and I noticed lots of women wearing flower crowns on their heads. Raul, our guide in Estonia, said that starting on Midsommar Eve (this year, the 23rd of June– the shortest night of the year) people party all night and spend the next day recovering. When we visited Tallinn, it was Sunday, June 25th, and Raul said we probably wouldn’t see too many locals, since people still needed to recuperate from the festivities. Summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st… but, of course, they’re going by the Summer Solstice. Midsommar represents the time between planting crops and harvesting them.

13. People in Estonia and Latvia are GLAD to be running their own countries now.

I’m not totally surprised about this one, of course. It makes perfect sense that people would take pride in their cultures and want to run their countries the way they see fit. Still, as an American who grew up in the 1980s, it was very interesting to hear about the Soviet times from the locals and how, on the whole, they were very happy not to be part of the Soviet Union anymore. When I lived in Armenia, I think the sentiment was probably similar, although I was there in the mid 90s, when times were more difficult. I did hear some people say they missed the Soviet Union, but probably only because they were tearing pages from books to wipe their asses when they went to the toilet. I’m sure they no longer long for those days.

12. Riga, Latvia has many beautiful art deco buildings!

I hadn’t known much about Latvia before this trip, other than what Bill told me about visiting there. I didn’t know there were so many beautiful buildings in Riga that managed to survive the Soviet era. I do remember some nice buildings in Armenia, too, no doubt built before the Soviet Union existed and imported a lot of industrial tackiness and weird architecture. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to see that there are still many gorgeous old buildings there.

11. Visby, Sweden is a beautiful place, but I think I’d hate to own a home in the old town!

As we walked through Visby’s historic old town within its medieval walls, I couldn’t help but think I’d probably dislike living there. The local government is very strict about how locals can decorate or improve their properties, and as I saw and experienced firsthand, there are MANY tour groups coming through there. But I’m still really glad we visited. And luckily, we probably could never afford to live there, anyway. πŸ˜‰

10. Liepaja and Karosta, Latvia, are still big military areas. But Liepaja has potential!

I had heard of Karosta before our visit there, to see the big naval military prison. I had not heard of Liepaja, which is one of Latvia’s biggest cities. I was surprised by how nice the town is. There are many trees there; music is a focus of the city; and the beach is surprisingly inviting. I hope we can visit again sometime.

9. I learned the tragic story of the Rose of Turaida…

And you can learn it too, by clicking here and reading up about it.

8. Religious people in northern Europe are typically Lutherans…

In 2023, I don’t expect *that* many people in Europe to be especially religious. Those who do practice religion tend to be Lutherans, although there are also Catholics. We visited several Russian Orthodox churches, too. There are still some Russians living in the Baltic areas.

7. Latvians love their “biggest” cave, which isn’t very big at all, and is more like a grotto.

Our guide explained that Latvians love the largest cave in Latvia, which is not a big cave at all. Gutmana Cave is not very deep and lacks the typical exciting formations one tends to see in caves. What it does have is very pure water, which locals claim bestow eternal youth and good health. Also, on the sandstone walls, there are many carvings and inscriptions dating back hundreds of years.

6. Norway has many, many electric vehicles…

I was very surprised by the sheer volume of electric vehicles in Norway. The cabs we rode in were all electric. We actually rode in our very first Tesla there. The train from Oslo to Bergen is electric. The gas stations have places for people to recharge their vehicles. Gas is expensive, and Norway has many rules regarding emissions and pollution. I read that as of 2026, a lot of cruise ships won’t be able to explore the fjords anymore.

5. If you visit Sigulda in Latvia, you might want to buy a walking stick… or jewelry.

I was surprised by the excellent handcrafts in Sigulda, especially given how reasonably priced they were. One of the items people typically buy there are ornate and colorfully painted walking sticks. We bought a small one for Bill’s granddaughter. I got myself some beautiful silver earrings. That reminds me… I need to look up the boutique online and see if I can order more. πŸ˜€

4. There is no more fishing in Bornholm, Denmark…

Bornholm is an island south of the Swedish coast. It belongs to Denmark. You’d think there would be many fish there, but the area has been overfished by humans, and lots of seals call the island home. So now, although there once were fish factories in Bornholm, they are now closed. The locals get their fish from other places. This trip really made me more aware of the environment and how our choices affect everything.

3. Only one restaurant on Bornholm still smokes fish the old fashioned way.

We visited Hasle Smokehouse, a “museum restaurant” in Bornholm, where the proprietor still smokes fish over an outdoor open fire. His establishment is the only one that still operates that way. It’s allowed because the place is also considered a museum, but he told us that the government sends him warning letters every year about public health/foodborne illness dangers. I can attest that the smoked herring is delicious, health risks notwithstanding!

2. Copenhagen, Denmark is fabulous…

I already had an idea that it was fabulous, as this was our third time in the city. But, we clearly need to go there and spend a few days. A couple of nights at the end of a long trip, a night on the way to Rostock, and a few hours as part of a cruise is not sufficient to really appreciate how cool that city is. We need to do a long weekend there. We also need more time in Stockholm and Helsinki… Hell, all of the places we went to were great! I wouldn’t change any aspect of our trip.

And finally, 1. It wasn’t a bad idea in 2023 to go to Northern Europe instead of Italy, France, England, or any of the biggest European hot spots.

Granted, it seemed like everyone was on vacation when we were, but I don’t think as many people came to Northern Europe as some of the most touristy European cities. I’ve been reading a lot about how many people have descended upon Europe this summer. It didn’t seem so bad where we were, with the exception of Bergen. But even Bergen wasn’t that bad… A bonus was that the weather, by and large, wasn’t that hot. However, we did encounter hot weather and a couple of chilly days. I read that the weather last week wasn’t so great, either. So, you take a risk… Still, we were very lucky on our trip, and got to see most everything we planned to see. I still want to see more of the fjords. Hopefully, we’ll get the chance.

Anyway… I could probably add even more to this list. You learn a lot when you go on two week trips to half a dozen countries! But I’ve got some other stuff to do. Noyzi needs a walk; I need to practice guitar; and I have at least one more blog post to write. So I’ll wrap up this post now… I’m glad our big trip worked out the way it did, hectic as it was. We had a good time.

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We’re home now, and it’s time to write about our Scandinavian saga…

As much as I looked forward to being on our cruise, I’m genuinely happy to be home again. I think two week vacations are a bit much for me. On the other hand, I can’t think of a single segment of our trip that I’d want to omit. We had a good time in Oslo and Bergen before we got on our cruise. I’m actually kind of glad we were in Norway first, as judging by the sounds of some of our fellow passengers, I would have gotten a cold on the ship. It was better to endure the first part of that ordeal on dry land, even if I was sick on my birthday!

Bill has gone to fetch Noyzi, and I’m sitting here wondering how to start this series. I read through my older posts and it looks like I did a pretty good job covering most of the Norway portion of our trip. So maybe instead of doing what I usually do and writing a blow by blow for each day, I’ll just be more concise. It’s not like I get tons of readers, anyway.

Crocodile…

So, to sum up our trip–

*It started on June 16th with two nights in Oslo, a rather gritty city that was surprisingly hot during our visit. I saw many electric cars in Norway, but especially in Oslo! I think they are definitely the wave of the future. We stayed in the Saga Hotel in Oslo, which was a Best Western affiliated hotel in a residential area of town. There was no air conditioning, which made things kind of unpleasant, as it was hot in the room, and noisy outside.

*On June 18th, we took the Bergensbanen, an electric train, on a 6.5 hour trip from Oslo to Bergen. It’s said to be the most scenic train journey in Europe. We were in a private compartment, because by the time I booked in late April, the individual seats were all taken. We liked the compartment, except for the jerk who parked himself in front of our window during the most beautiful parts of the trip. I still managed to get some lovely photos. Pro-tip– if you ever take this trip yourself, make sure you have some local currency or bring along some food. The credit card machine went down during our journey, so we couldn’t buy lunch. I was CRANKY when we arrived in Bergen.

At the Bergen Aquarium.

*We arrived in Bergen during the afternoon of the 18th. I booked us at the Clarion Hotel Havnekontoret. It’s in a historic building, and offers some unusual perks. They have a snack during the afternoon and a no frills evening dinner. Both, along with breakfast, are included in the room rate. Once again, the room lacked air conditioning, which I would have expected in Norway, of course. But since it was warm there, it was not very comfortable, and it was even louder there than it was in Oslo. If you ever stay at this hotel, be sure to go to the rooftop and see the views of the harbor area. Next door is an excellent museum that is worth a visit. There’s also a beautiful Lutheran church right there, also worth a visit. Bergen offers a lot of things to do, and we would have done a lot more, if I hadn’t gotten sick. But beware of the throngs of cruise passengers! πŸ˜‰

*On June 22, we flew on a very uncomfortable, tiny plane from Bergen to Stockholm to stay for our free night at the Nobis Hotel. I say it was “free”, but actually we paid for it by booking concierge class on Regent Seven Seas Splendor. I was a little worried about the process of checking in because we were there due to the cruise. There was no problem, though. We just mentioned Regent; they found our names; and it was all set. Our night at the hotel was fine. They gave us vouchers that helped offset the cost of a late lunch. I really enjoyed the bar, as the bartender made some wonderful, unique cocktails. My favorite was the Strawberry Basil Smash, but I also loved the Stockholm cocktail. Both were very refreshing designer cocktails. I wish we’d spent at least one more night in Stockholm. I didn’t get to see much of it.

*On June 23, we were transported by bus to Regent Seven Seas Splendor at Stockholm’s port. It was at this point that I really started getting a strong hit of our fellow Americans. I don’t spend a lot of time with Americans in my everyday life, so it was a bit of a shock. Mainly, I was just surprised by just how LOUD Americans are. Everywhere we sat, we heard other people’s conversations, complaints about jobs, family members, and business deals. The funny thing is we managed to fool quite a few Europeans by acting like Germans. I also noticed that on this cruise, we didn’t really make any new friends. The couples we talked to were all from Europe, too! But I was grateful that there wasn’t any obvious political chatter. I also noticed that Regent seems to be extremely LGBTQ friendly. There were a lot of same sex couples aboard, having a good time!

Now that I’ve gotten to the cruise portion of the trip, I’m going to start my series with that, since I have many pictures to share. Then, I will be discussing our hotels and restaurants in more detail, in case anyone’s interested in booking any of them. I may also offer some commentary on attractions we visited. Writing about this trip may keep me busy for the rest of July! πŸ˜€

Below are some more photos that I didn’t share in earlier posts. The first batch includes Oslo and Bergen pics…

Phew… got a lot more to write. See you tomorrow!

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We arrived in Stockholm, slightly delayed…

Bill decided that we should get to the Bergen airport with plenty of time to spare, so our day got started pretty early this morning. We were up at 6 AM, packed our bags, had breakfast and checked out of the hotel by 7:30. Our cabbie was a little early, too, so we got to Bergen’s small, but modern airport well ahead of our scheduled 10:45 AM flight.

Bergen used to have a lounge, but it looks like maybe they closed it. It was no problem, though, because there was plenty of seating and lots of outlets for phones and such. Our Scandinavian Airlines flight was delayed, because the small aircraft wasn’t released at the optimal time. We were about 30 minutes late getting into the air. The plane was very cramped and crowded, and so many people had checked bags, or had their bags gate checked, there was some time spent rearranging things so everyone’s luggage would fit.

The flight itself was pleasant enough, though, once we got going. Because we were flying SAS Plus, we got a “meal”, which was basically a veggie wrap with cheese. I am very picky about cheese, so I didn’t eat mine. I ate cashews and drank water instead.

Upon arrival at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, we went to get our bags. I stopped in the ladies room and somehow cut my finger when I was trying to flush the commode. I was dripping blood when I came out of the stall, but of course, they use air dryers instead of paper towels at the airport. So I grabbed some toilet paper and applied direct pressure while we waited for our bags to appear.

A very friendly Kurdish cabbie noticed me and asked if we needed a cab. I gratefully nodded yes, and soon we were on our way to the city center, where Nobis Hotel is. That’s where Regent has put us up for the night. Check in was quick, friendly, and efficient, our bags were brought up for us, and they even gave us vouchers to help offset the cost of lunch.

Bill and I enjoyed a nice meal and beer, and now I think I’m going to take a nap. I did get some photos of our journey from Bergen to Stockholm. Tomorrow at this time, we’ll be on the ship, and my updates will probably be less frequent.

These are arranged from the most recent photos first…

We will be off to the ship tomorrow at about 11:00 AM. I expect to be in pure chill mode in 24 hours.

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My energy surge helped me finish off Bergen in style…

Today was a MUCH better day for me. Yes, I’m still a little sick, but the cold sort of moved south. I feel a lot better today and had much more energy, so after we went to the top of the hotel tower, we decided to visit the Brygges Museum next door to the hotel. It was really interesting, with an exhibit about how Bergen came to exist from hundreds of years ago, and a temporary exhibit about photography in the American West and Norway from the 19th century.

I was very interested in the photo exhibit, as it turns out there was a lot of LDS history in it. I am not now, nor will I ever be LDS, but Bill’s younger daughter is a Mormon, as is her husband and their children. So it was interesting to see that. We also found a gift for her oldest child. I found him a toy ax. It turns out the axes were hand carved by one of the archaeologists who works at the museum. He’d made one for his child, and the manager got him to make more for their gift shop. We also got him some magnetic warrior dress up “dolls”. Now, to find something for the youngest kid.

After the museum, we went next door to the basilica, which is the oldest building in Bergen and the oldest church, obviously. We had to pay to go in, but it was worth it.

Then we had Thai food for lunch– again, very economical and tasty. I had chicken satay, and Bill had chicken pad paneng. We happened to be very close to the funicular, so we went up to see the best view of the city. Just wish it had been sunny. I enjoyed meeting the very chilled out goats up there.

After we went up the funicular, we came back down and had some beer at a club that had a decent beer selection and played dance music that was too young for me. And then we had a wonderful sushi dinner at Nama, which I will write about properly when I’m writing this story for real. Suffice to say, it was so much better than last night’s dinner. I praised the owner effusively as well as the adorable grill man, who let me know when he was cooking my Wagyu beef miniburger (it was an open kitchen).

It’s now about 8:30 PM, and we have an early date with a taxi to get us to the airport. I’ve already checked us in for our flight to Sweden.

Below are some of today’s photos… there are more I will share when I get home.

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Tomorrow, we’re off to Stockholm, Sweden…

I am feeling markedly better today than I was yesterday. My nose quit running and my sinuses aren’t so pressurized. I am still a bit fatigued, and my voice has deepened. I do have a slight chest cough. But, other than that, I’m much improved. I am a bit disappointed that I’m not going to get to do everything I wanted to do in Bergen, but things could be a lot worse! At least I don’t have to go to work sick, right?

It’s rainy today, so I thought maybe it would be a good idea to continue to take things easy. We went down to breakfast and a German couple sat next to us. They were a lot quieter than most of the people we’ve been around this week, so it took a few minutes before I heard them say something in German. As we were getting up to leave, I shocked the wife by saying “Entschuldigung” (excuse me), as I moved to scrambled off of the soft couch we were both sitting on. Then, I flashed her a smile and said, “Auf Wiedersehen.” She rewarded me by beaming. I don’t think she was expecting that at all.

Later, we went to the top of the hotel tower, where I got some photos. I wish it were a prettier day. As I type this, it’s raining. Bergen is a very rainy place under normal circumstances, but this week, there has been a lot of sun. I did get some nice pictures of boats in the wharf, some of which were leaving.

As we were leaving the tower, we ran into the same German couple who asked us in German if that was the way to go. We said, β€œJa!”, then moved on before it became obvious how bad our language skills are… or, at least mine are.

It occurred to me yesterday, that we’ll probably be fighting crowds of tourists for the rest of our trip. I guess we can’t complain too much, since we’re tourists, too. It just goes to show you, though, that things are back in full swing after the pandemic. Europe is full of Americans! I think I may have to find a less popular destination for our next trip.

I think we may try to visit the museum next door to our hotel, just to say we did something today. I would like to go on the funicular, but only if we have better weather and I don’t feel too fatigued. I’m going to need my strength as we move on tomorrow. Our flight leaves at 10:45 AM, and arrives at about noon. I look forward to the change of scenery, as lovely as Bergen is…

I’d come back, but maybe just to catch a cruise to the fjords, which I definitely want to see more of. Maybe not in June, though… πŸ˜‰

Just a few photos from the top of the hotel, which was once a historic building. I’d say the tower might be this hotel’s best selling point.

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Turning 51 in Bergen, Norway…

Well… if I’m honest, I have had better birthdays. Unfortunately, I seem to have picked up a cold, and I spent a good portion of today in bed, sleeping. It was quite disappointing, too, because I had some plans for our time here, and they’re being thwarted by the huge crowds of people and the tiny cold virus that is currently making me feel yucky.

The good news is, I’m not super sick, at least not yet. I have a runny nose and I’m sneezing a bit. I feel tired, and kind of hot. It’s kind of warm here, though, and a bit humid. I also still have my sense of taste, which is a big relief. Hopefully, I’ll feel somewhat better tomorrow. We have one more full day in Bergen. I may spend it resting, or I might try to do some stuff I had planned. I think the odds are, I’ll try to rest. I want to recover as much as possible before Friday, when we are supposed to embark on our cruise.

We did venture out at lunchtime. Because of the crowds and my not wanting to infect others, or be around loud, obnoxious people, we ate at another Chinese place. It appeared to be owned by the same people who owned the restaurant where we had lunch yesterday. I really enjoyed our meal, which was served in peace and quiet and consisted of won ton soup for me, seafood soup for Bill, and deep fried sweet and sour prawns.

Bill made 7 PM dinner reservations at a restaurant called Allmuen for my birthday, so we went back to the hotel, stopping at a souvenir place to get some t-shirts, since it’s so warm. Bill also went to a Norwegian pharmacy and got me some nose spray and lozenges.

We did have dinner at the restaurant tonight, but we didn’t stay as long as we planned. For one thing, it was very loud and a bit crowded. For another, I just wasn’t enjoying it. I did have a wonderful graduate level Belgian beer to go with yet another steak (the menu was a bit limited). The entrecote came out cut in slices, with lots of vegetables, and an interesting spicy seasoning that I might have enjoyed much more yesterday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very hot when I got it, nor was it cooked medium. I sent it back for some more heat.

Service was also kind and friendly, but very slow. There were only two servers taking care of everyone. I totally empathize with them, and I suspect it has a lot to do with the exodus of people in the service industry post COVID. But the end result was that we were sitting at a table, forced to listen to the very LOUD parties near us, in a dining room with no sound dampening whatsoever. And I just wasn’t feeling up to it tonight. So we paid the check and came back to the hotel. Bill got a bottle of wine, and now I’m writing a bit and thinking about going to sleep… that is, if it gets quiet enough. Bill was brilliant enough to figure out how to let some air into our room… See the photos for that.

Well, that about does it for today’s post. I need an Advil. Perhaps there will be more tomorrow.

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Later on our second night in Bergen…

I think there are a shitload of people here, about to embark on a cruise. I noticed that the Viking Mars cruise ship was parked at the port all day. I don’t know if the huge influx of people who showed up at our hotel today are from that cruise. I suspect they could be. Anyway, it’s kind of interesting to be here, because I noticed that even the Norwegians sound a lot like Americans, right down to the accent, and the lack of situational awareness in public spaces. People from the USA are LOUD!!! I think a lot of Norwegians are, too, so they kind of fit in.

I was a loud American too, before I moved to Germany. Bill and I have learned not to be so loud when we’re in public. It helps us blend in more and keep a low profile. Plus, Germans tend to hand out disapproving glares very freely if one behaves inappropriately. πŸ˜‰

Anyway, after this afternoon’s adventures, I was pretty tired. I came back to the room and took an almost two hour nap, complete with dreams. Bill took a much shorter nap. Then, afterward, we went out to dinner. Our hotel actually offers “free” dinner and an afternoon snack, but the huge influx of people made us think it might be too crowded. So we went to Big Horn Steakhouse, a chain restaurant in Norway. The food was okay and the service was basically friendly, but the waiter was, in some ways, kind of inattentive. We sat for a long time with dirty plates in front of us as we tried to enjoy our wine.

I thought I might like to have dessert, but I figure that I’ll be eating a lot of that very soon. Tomorrow is my birthday, so there will be sweets… then on the 23rd, we join the Regent Splendor, and there will be lots of sweets… So, it’s no biggie that we decided to skip it tonight. In fact, based on my current body line, I’d say I could skip desserts until I’m dead! But of course I won’t be doing that!

Here are some photos from our dinner. I opted for ribs because I figured I’d be eating steak and fish on the boat (and probably here, until we get to Stockholm). Bill had a steak. It wasn’t as good as the one I had in Oslo a couple of nights ago. You can also see a horrifying ad for a nearby restaurant. Horrifying for me, anyway, since I am a mycophobe… The last photo is of the hotel lobby. It’s nice, especially when you’re waiting for hordes of people to use the one elevator to get to their rooms…

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aquariums, art, booze tourism

Sea lions, snakes, and ice bars…

After our first night in Bergen, we decided to take a walk. We went to the other side of the harbor and found ourselves at Bergen’s small and very kid friendly aquarium. I like aquariums, so even though the one in Bergen got mixed reviews, we decided to spend some time there. I’m glad we did. It was a lot of fun, and it was educational. I especially enjoyed the sea lions and the penguins. It looked like they had sea otters at one point, too, but that exhibit was kind of abandoned looking.

There was a Burmese python snake, several crocodiles, lots of fish and lobsters, and an anaconda, among other things. Throughout the small park, there was the message of not polluting the Earth and embracing sustainability.

To be honest, I was a little ambivalent about the sea lion show, although the three California sea lions seemed happy and healthy performing for the small crowd, consisting mostly of children. I enjoyed learning more about them and watching them interact with the trainers.

After the aquarium, we headed back toward town and wound up stopping at the Magic Ice Bar, which is a bar that features really interesting ice sculptures. The bar is kept at -5 Celsius degrees. They also have a literal bar, where real cocktails are served. I was wondering if I should have worn shorts earlier, but after visiting that bar, I was glad I put on pants! Everything in there is covered in ice. The Magic Ice Bar is also kid friendly, to the extent that they are allowed.

I met another birthday girl in the ice bar, too. I overheard her saying that tomorrow is her birthday, so I said, “It’s mine, too!” I think she was from Scotland, or thereabouts, and we spent a moment thinking of famous people born on June 20th… Lionel Ritchie, John Taylor from Duran Duran, and of course, Dan Tyminski. πŸ˜‰ Geminis born on the cusp, unite!

After we visited the bar, we walked back into town, searching for lunch. All of the eateries in the harbor were teeming with people, so we went up a couple of streets and stumbled on a Chinese restaurant that had a very reasonably priced (for Norway) lunch menu. We were the only ones in the restaurant. It was great!

Now, we’re enjoying a short rest. It’s nice to be at a leisurely pace, waiting until Friday, when we get on our cruise. I’d actually like to do a fjord cruise, but next week, we’ll be on a cruise ship. So maybe it’s better to focus on the land when we’re here…

Here are some photos from today.

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City number 2… Bergen, Norway…

Bill and I got to the train station bright and early this morning, ready to catch our 8:23 AM train to Bergen. The train, just like a lot of the cars, runs on electricity. It’s very quiet, and doesn’t run very fast, so the trip took until just after 3:00 PM. Our cab driver this morning had a Virginia ball cap on. He said he’d just been to Richmond to visit his son, who lives there. Crazy coincidence, since I’m from Virginia myself.

The train journey made me nervous, but I also eagerly anticipated it. I had read a lot about how beautiful the journey is. Now, I can say with certainty that it IS a beautiful, scenic ride. However, some people are incredibly focused on themselves. That truism was driven home as the Spanish guy in the next train compartment parked himself in front of our door and window for a long time, seemingly oblivious that he was blocking the view. That was very annoying, especially when people needed to pass him, and he’d lean on our door. I don’t know why he thought it would be okay to camp out there, especially since he had his own window. My guess is that he figured his wife would object.

I did manage to get a lot of stunning photos, though… and I also got a few videos. The scenery from the train does change with the seasons, so I might be persuaded to do it again in a different season. I’m also glad we had a compartment, as it mostly minimized irritation.

We arrived in Bergen cranky and hungry, because the credit card machine on board went down and Bill didn’t have any local currency. We did manage to get some snacks in the morning, but we missed lunch. I was in a foul mood when we disembarked, because I was a bit hangry.

But, after a slightly annoying check in at our hotel, we managed to find an Irish pub that was playing really nostalgic 90s era music. Bill loved it. I felt a little better after a blood sugar bump, then we went to the fish market and had some seafood for dinner. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was good enough.

It’s going on 8 PM now, and we’re both tired. I think we’ll turn in early. I hope there won’t be a lot of noise.

Here are some photos from today’s adventure…

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Busy day in Oslo…

It’s about 8:30 PM, and we’re back from our one full day in Oslo. There’s a lot we could have done, as Oslo has many museums and activities for the curious. But Bill and I are old, and we really enjoy people watching and doing our own thing. So that’s kind of what we did today. We walked down to the center of Oslo, right by Aker Brygge, and enjoyed the day.

After a leisurely breakfast, which starts at 8 AM at our hotel on weekends, we stopped at the Historical Museum, mainly because I needed to pee. But I reminded Bill that we stopped for the same reason in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the Museum of Modern Art. Many years later, he still talks about that visit in Puerto Rico. Today’s museum visit was very informative and interesting; we learned about Samurai Warriors, among many other things. But it was also a very handy stop for a whiz…

We had a healthy lunch at a fast food/smoothie/ bowl/wrap restaurant. Bill’s lunch was vegan, while mine had chicken in it. They were delicious bowls, which we washed down with water. Then, afterward, we took a two hour cruise around the Oslo Fjord, and met an American couple from Idaho, and a German couple. We don’t know where the German speaking couple was from, but the wife was a total hoot and very funny. I got some nice photos, although I think our Bergen pictures will be even more impressive.

After the cruise, we walked around for a bit, then stopped at a place called Beer Palace and enjoyed some beers. Then we went to an Italian restaurant called Papyon and had a less expensive and lower frills dinner than last night’s French extravaganza. Every bar seemed to be showing the Norway vs. Scotland football team. Lots of incredibly beautiful women are here, too.

We’ll be getting up early tomorrow, packing our bags, and heading to Bergen for the next four nights. I’m really looking forward to it. I have a feeling it will be amazing.

Below is a sampling of photos from today… When I do the blow by blow later, there will probably be more.