"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Norway? No Way!! Yes, Way!! And Denmark and a Little Bit of Finland Too!!

Sept. 4-15, 2015  - We took another jaunt to Europe recently and got three more countries checked off the list including Norway (which we've wanted to see for a long time), Copenhagen, Denmark, and even a little bit of northern Finland.  This was easily one of our best trips and one that will be hard to forget.


Friday, Sept. 4 - We took an early flight down to Ft. Lauderdale on Southwest and had most of the day to hang out in in South Florida before our overnight flight to Oslo, Norway.

The weather was perfect in South Florida and  after lunch at one our favorite area delis, Too Jays, we hung out at the beach for a while and soaked up some of the last truly warm weather we would feel for several days.
We cruised up the coast and took a gander at the beautiful Hillsboro Lighthouse.
After the air wasn't working properly in our otherwise sweet VW Beetle convertible, we traded it back in for this beautiful Volvo XC-60, a smaller version of an SUV we have been looking at buying.  This made for a great test-drive.  We missed the convertible right up until a huge thunderstorm hit in the late afternoon and we made  mad dash for an early dinner at a local Beni Hana which was delicious.
Our overnight direct flight to Europe was on the new Norwegian Shuttle (for only $500 per person RT!). The plane was a sweet new Dreamliner and we had emergency row seats for more leg-room and a pretty good sleep going over.


Saturday, Sept. 5 - Our first glimpse of Norway was out of the over-sized Dreamliner plane windows.  Weather was just about perfect during our whole trip.  We feel very fortunate for that.
Since we were pretty rested from the flight, we immediately headed out from our nice hotel in downtown Oslo and took a short walk to the beautiful Norwegian Royal Palace and grounds.  Afterwards we found a microbrewery nearby called Amundsen Bryggeri and Spiseri.  The beer was pretty good as was the food. 
We ended our first day in Norway with a walk around the beautiful Oslo Harbor and 13th-century-built Akershus Fortress

We retired back to the very nice Hotel Bristol and got ready for our "Norway in a Nutshell" tour beginning tomorrow. It's a 4-night self-guided train, boat and bus jaunt from Oslo to the southwestern coast of Norway.  The tour company arranged all the tickets and accommodations (including tonight's hotel room) for a reasonable price and all we had to do was be on time for departures.    Before turning in we had a couple of fun Norwegian-inspired cocktails at the lovely hotel bar served in a very cool silver and a wooden cups.

 It took some getting used to the crazy Norwegian  kroner conversion rate (184 of anything seems like a lot for a cheeseburger!!), but once you got used to it we figured out we were getting a pretty good exchange rate.  Historically, the U.S. dollar hasn't been strong here and Norway could be a pricey travel destination for Americans.


Sunday, September 6 - It was Train-to-Flam Day for us and we got lucky that the train station is right next door to the beautiful, modern Oslo Opera House and we had a few minutes to look around it before our train departed.
The train ride was outstanding.  Huge comfortable seats with large windows for viewing.  This was a standard running train that was never very full and we had the option to move around for views from each side. There was free wi-fi aboard and a nice diner car with snacks and good beer and wine choices.  The scenery, of course, was outstanding!  We definitely want and need to add more train travel to our future European trips.
As we climbed in elevation, the landscape changed dramatically as we got above the tree-line and into tundra with a good amount of snow still hanging around.
With about an hour left in our journey we switched trains in Myrdal and boarded the world-famous Flam Line Railway.  This steep little jaunt drops over 2,800 feet through an amazingly beautiful valley to the tiny fjord town of Flam.  This was maybe one of the most impressive rides in our lives.  Below is a video of  the one and only stop on the way down at the awe-inspiring Kjosfossen Waterfall (738 ft.). Note the singing amid the roar of the falls and the Huldra dancing there.

Flam is a beautiful little town and we wished we had more than one night here.  Our hotel room at the Flam Resort was very nice and we had a great view of the harbor and surrounding fjord.   We found yet another great microbrewery a short walk from our hotel and had some really good beer there.  Dinner was included in the hotel package and we dined with another amazing view in front of us.  

Monday, September 7 - After a bit of a scare of a cancelled morning boat (they rounded us up another one), we left Flam on schedule and cruised through the incredibly beautiful Aurlandfjord.   Little villages like Undredal (above) dotted the massive fjord with quaint homes that seemed out of a fairy tale.

 There were so many waterfalls in the fjord that they almost become routine...almost.
Even the bus ride after the amazing train and boat excursions was great with a run up this crazy road called Stalheimskleiva (photo right, obviously not mine) with 13 hairpins curves and flanked by two giant waterfalls! Yep, we went down it in a large touring bus.  Helluva driver!  We got to Bergen in the early afternoon and the Scandic Neptun Hotel was nice albeit a little weird (photo left: this odd scene of a man protecting children from pissing angels with an umbrella was on our shower door?), but it was in a great location close to the busy and beautiful harbor.

One that I did take from the hairpin road.  Yeah, a postcard around every turn.
Our "Norway in a Nutshell" tour officially ended in Bergen, but we added an extra day here because it looked like such a nice place.  We nailed it.  Easily one of our favorite cities in Norway so far.  Upon arrival, we headed immediately for the Bergen Funicular (incline railway) for an incredible 1,000' ride up Floyen Mountain for tremendous  views of the harbor and peninsula that make up a large part of the city.
After a great dinner at a little place called  Ruccola that we just stumbled upon, we took in the sunset in the harbor.  These historic wharf warehouses known as The Brygge are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tuesday, September 8 - We had all day in Bergen to explore and the best way we found to do that was with a Segway tour.  This was our first time doing such a tour and after a bit of practice on these delicate yet powerful machines, we got pretty good at it...that is until Ashlee (as our English guide put it) "took a tumble" when one of her wheels hooked on something and down she went...yes, it was in a crowded little park with lots of witnesses.  Ashlee popped up with only a couple of scrapes and bruises, but none more than her ego.    Despite the "tumble" we had a ball on our private (no one else but us booked that day) tour and it was the perfect way to explore the tiny streets and hilly surroundings of the city.


Wednesday, September 9 - A very early, but short, flight from Bergen to Copenhagen, Denmark, this morning revealed a great sunrise from the plane window.  When we landed we were able to mark yet another country off the "Need to Visit" list.

Our hotel in Copenhagen literally sat on The Grand Canal of the city.  This unique floating barge hotel allowed us a waterfront view from our room (middle one, bottom floor) and great city views from the open lounge on the roof.
A word of advice: Always at least glance through the airline magazine on your way to somewhere.  I mean, how else do you find out there are giant swan-shaped paddle-boats to rent in downtown Copenhagen??  Yep, this the first thing we did when we got to this beautiful city and it was a hoot (and a must after the summer of "Swan Life" we had enjoyed with the giant swan inflatable Ashlee bought).  More great weather made this little jaunt on Peblinge Lake a lot of fun.  More great advice:  Uber rules!  Uber rides were quick and inexpensive in this modern city and the best way to move around in our opinion.
We moved on to the historic Carlsberg Brewery next for a tour, some lunch and, of course, some beer.  It was an interesting tour and the Carlsberg story has plenty of drama.  The beer was outstanding as well.
We finished the day with an unplanned event that we stumbled upon near our floating hotel.  You can actually rent these little electric picnic boats for you and up to seven of your friends for like $20 an hour.   What a great idea!  We should so start this in the U.S.!!  Ashlee and I both took turns at the helm and it was a little daunting with all the traffic in The Grand Canal, but we did just fine, although we opted to eat the delicious sushi dinner we brought with us until after the boat ride and  on the much gentler rocking rooftop lounge of the hotel.
Thursday, Sept. 10 - We had a city tour scheduled for today, but it got cancelled with the tour company's driver never showed...ahh, Copenhagen!   We decided to our own city tour with the use of our feet and Uber.  The result was a pretty darn good day.

We Uber-ed over to Amalienborg, the Royal Palace and winter home of the Danish Royal Family, and arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard ceremony. in the huge courtyard surrounded by the four huge mansions.
A short walk got us in line for a canal boat ride.  This was great and filled with great scenery.  Plus, it was a bit more relaxing than yesterday when we had to do the driving.  You go under several very low bridges on the tour which kind of cool and scary at the same time.   
We went by the Royal Yacht on our canal boat ride which is a real beauty.
We went by the beautiful, vintage Art Deco building, The Standard, on our boat tour and decided to walk over to it afterwards for lunch.  It now consists of actually three different restaurants inside and we had a tasty meal of traditional Danish cuisine at Almanak.  After lunch we strolled back to the Nyhavn (Old Harbor) where we had started our boat tour and had churros and ice cream while sitting on the canal and it was incredible.

We continued our walk after lunch over to the beautiful Rosenborg Castle and Gardens.  Once the summer home of the royal family when built back in the early 1600's, it is now an excellent museum.  We've been to many of these type of structures, but I have to say this one had the most access I have seen with most every room open for viewing and many antiquities available for close inspection and even touching.  
One of the biggest attractions inside Rosenborg Castle are the actual  collection of Crown Jewels of the Royal Family.
Our next stop after another short walk was The Rundetarn (Round Tower), a 17th-century twelve-story observatory with a helical corridor that served originally as an equestrian staircase all the way to the top.  Very unique and a fun climb!
The 360-degree views  of Copenhagen at the top of The Rundetarn are outstanding.
We ended the day's tour with a stop at the flagship store for Lego, proudly made in Denmark since 1949.  The store was very cool with huge Lego creations throughout it like this dragon coming in and out of the walls.
We reserved our evening to do just one spectacular thing:  see the famous Tivoli Gardens at night. It's the second oldest amusement park in the world and sits right smack-dab in the middle of the city. Our favorite ride was the Rutschebanen which is one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the world (1914), but the hot-air balloon themed Ferris wheel was pretty great too.
Remember that great view we had from our hotel on the canal?  Yeah, well this was our view the last night of our stay in Copenhagen.  This drilling rig had been easing its way across the canal since we arrived and souring the view somewhat along with some major construction across the canal which was a bit disappointing, but this was absolutely insane!  We quickly and loudly complained to management who graciously gave us our room for free tonight even though this technically wasn't their fault and claimed they weren't even given notice of it going to happen from the city (evidently a standard practice here in the quickly growing city).  We made the best of it and enjoyed the roof-top views that night and rested assured that we knew we were leaving in the morning anyway.  And we didn't need to set an alarm since the drilling started precisely at 7 AM the next morning!  So long, Copenhagen, it's been...memorable.

Friday, September 11:  Now THIS is much better!  This was the lovely harbor view from our hotel room when we got back to Norway today in the city of Tromso.  That's the Arctic Cathedral there in the distance.  That's right, "arctic."  We are now above the Arctic Circle for the first time in our travels.  Pretty "cool", huh?  Not only did our very affordable  Clarion Hotel With have a great location on the harbor with lovely views, but it also provided us free breakfast, free dinner (really good dinners!) and...brace yourselves...an all you can eat waffle-bar at 3 pm every afternoon!!  What's not to love!!

Our first look at Tromso and the surrounding area was not what we were expecting given the fact that it lies above the Arctic Circle.  The lush green canopy and aqua-blue water looked more like a Caribbean island than a frozen wasteland.
Attention Audi Advertising Department:  Contact me if you want to use this picture in your next ad campaign.  Yep, our first rental car and first driving experience in Europe was a sweet Audi sedan and some fairly quiet roads around Tromso.  
We rented the car for one main purpose, to get out of town and hopefully see The Northern Lights.   We had success that first night and not too far out of Tromso. These pictures here are very, very weak representations of the experience which has to be seen in person to believe.  It is truly one of the most awe-inspiring experiences we have had in our travels and we feel very fortunate to have seen them in person since it was technically a little "early" in the year to see them and the weather cooperated beautifully for us.  We were fortunate to see more on our second and last night here, but not as many and for not as long.  Again, we are thankful for everything we were granted.
Saturday September 12:  Happy Birthday, Ashlee!!  We woke up to a thick fog in the Tromso Harbor but after it burned off we had a perfect day for a road trip even farther north.  The scenery was jaw-dropping the entire day.
No need to buy postcards here.  There is one around every turn in the road if you have a camera.
We just stumbled upon this magnificent waterfall up near the border with  Finland.  No sign, no name.  Just a great place to pull over and enjoy this beautiful area.
So, yes, we crossed into Finland with no real fanfare.  There isn't even a border stop.  Just a small sign that says you are in another country completely!  Kinda cool.  We saw a few reindeer from a distance as we drove along, but then this happened (video below).  


Now THAT was a welcome to Finland!

Sunday, September 13:  We had almost another full day in Tromso today before we flew back to Oslo late.  We toured around town with visit to the very neat aquarium building, Polaria, which resembles ice floes pushed up on land.   We did a little shopping, enjoyed a few local beers and bid farewell to this beautiful area.  We would love to come back someday.

Monday, Sept. 14 - We took an afternoon flight back to Ft. Lauderdale in the same seats we flew there in (albeit this time with seemed a dozen crying babies and their parents using the space in front of us a soothing station!).  We had a late arrival back into Ft. Lauderdale and had to spend the night since we couldn't get a flight back to Nashville today.
Tuesday, Sept. 15 - We had an early flight back to Nashville via Southwest again and we were back at work by noon.
The amazing ice caps of Greenland came into view on our flight back.  
Man, what a trip!  Almost perfect weather throughout despite it being the "rainy season"  - catching the Northern Lights on two different nights before they "officially begin" - an unexpected road trip to Finland and a more unexpected close encounter with a huge reindeer!  Again, we consider ourselves very fortunate indeed and can't wait for our next travel adventure!

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