After our stay in Gothenburg, we rented a car and drove up to Läckö Slott. It is a medieval castle in Sweden, located on Kållandsö island on Lake Vänern, 25 kilometers north of Lidköping in Västergötland, Sweden.
It took us about two hours to drive there from Gothenburg.
Läckö castle has a long, sorted past with over 20 owners since 1298. It had really served as more of a trophy than a real battle castle. Kings would award the property to their most noble knights or generals. Each owner added a little more to the castle. Now it is owned by the Swedish government and is preserved and displayed for the public.
It is well presented and worthy of your time. They have restored some of the rooms with more recent 18th century furniture and art.
We stayed at the Naturum, which is conveniently located right on the castle grounds. It was a pretty good place. But book far in advance as there are only about 20 or so rooms. After our stay there, we headed towards Kebalvägen and the Strömstad Spa & Resort. But we made a couple of stops along the way.
Uddevalla Strandpromenaden (the Uddevalla beach walk)
Along the way, we decided to make a stop here to see for ourselves how spectacular this walk was. This is said to be one of the best walks in Sweden. It took us about an hour and a half to get there in the car. It is worth a little detour if you’re in the area. But keep in mind, this is just a very small segment of a much larger trail.
The beach promenade is a total of 9.3 km long and can be divided into three parts: the forest part, the city part and the beach part. It starts at the more than 10,000-year-old seashell banks in Kuröd and then extends via central Uddevalla all the way to the bathing place at Lindesnäs. Along the way there are many interesting places and beautiful views to see.
Above, you can see, this part of the path is suspended above the water and held by anchors in the side of the cliff. Masterful engineering and construction. The other picture is the same part of the walkway from afar.
The path leads to the cute little town of Uddevalla. We had a nice, cozy lunch sitting outside at the Cafe Snäckan. It was very relaxing to just sit and watch the ocean while eating. Once we finished there, we retraced our steps back to the car.
After the trail, we stopped at Litselby. Here you can see some authentic rock carvings, some dating back to 3000 BC. The carvings were added to throughout time, with the newer ones being from the viking era, 0-900 AD. The red ink was added so that you could see the carvings better.
You can toodle around in that area and see a few other displays of the caveman’s Facebook.
Now this is the place you want to go towards the end of your vacation. You can rest and unwind in style and luxury. The bar and restaurant are top notch, and the service is probably the best in Sweden. It actually rained the day we were here, so we took advantage of the spa services and it was fantastic! Of course, all this glitz and and glamor is going to set you back a bit more than the other places, but it was within reason for what you get and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
And that was the end of this segment. After our stay at the Strömstad (two nights), we drove back to Gothenburg, then stayed one more night there before taking the train back to Stockholm.
If you missed out Gothenburg tour, you can see it by clicking here.
Thanks for tagging along. Be safe and, see you out there.…
When I first started writing articles about Sweden over four years ago, I always felt obligated to include the Swedish notation on important words in the article. Gothenburg, for example, which is Göteborg in Swedish. And for some reason, this always felt a little pretentious.
But now we have been living in beautiful Sweden for over four years and we even own our flat and have learned a lot of the language. Now it feels wrong to use the English version of these words! Hell, I am even typing this on a Swedish keyboard! Anyway, I just thought I would share that tidbit of insightful trivia.
A word about the pandemic: There is no requirement to wear masks in Sweden (and generally, people don’t), but most of our activities were outside. Buildings like museums and aquariums were strictly controlled in terms of social distancing and how many people were allowed in the building at any given time. If there was a place inside of a building that required people to stand close together, that attraction was closed. Restaurants and bars adhered to the 3m distance guideline. This was not just in the Gothenburg area, but throughout Sweden. Everyone was offered free masks on the three hour train ride ( we had our own). The place where you are at the most risk is on the buses and trams, where social distancing isn’t feasible and there is no mask requirement. But taxis, Ubers, scooters, and bikes are always viable options.
I have one more thing to let you in on before we go. I have employed my programming prowess to make things a little simpler for you. This article is a little on the long side, so I have created some hyperlinks below that will instantly teleport you to that part of the article. So if you’re a traveler scanning through blogs for pertinent information about the area, click on the links below. The rest of you, however, are required to read the article in full…..
The City Sites – Canal tours, Botanical Gardens, the Palm House, Universeum
The Food – notable restaurants we enjoyed while in Gothenburg
Vinga Island – I threw this in as a bonus trip, check it out!
THE RETURN OF The Travelin’ Man!!
Wow, it has been a quite a while since we did any significant travel. Since the pandemic, we have canceled our trip to Denmark and our trip to the US. We also had three of our friends scheduled to come see us, who also had to cancel.
But sitting around and comparing which sanitizer is best and trying to stockpile paper towels and toilet paper just isn’t in our DNA (although I do prefer the flat one, leak-proof, fits in any pocket – ugh). So while international travel is gridlocked with the virus, we decided to broaden our travel experience within Sweden. This time, we are making the jump out to the west coast.
We have done quite a bit of travel within Sweden, most of which is documented on my blog (see the links below). There was a trip to Skåne, in which the Travelin’ Man did not participate. We also did a small, three day weekend a few weeks ago in the archipelago, also not documented. I regret not telling you about those trips, they were both awesome!
You may recall these previous trips we did in Sweden that I did do articles for you (hyperlinks below):
We love the SJ train systems in Sweden, but this time we took a different line. We took the MTRX train from Stockholm to Gothenburg. It was around three hours, departing Stockholm at 11:47am and arriving in Gothenburg at 3:15pm. There were three stops along the way, and the scenery was, of course, beautiful. But otherwise an uneventful leg of the journey. The MTRX line was a tad cushier than the SJ line, but otherwise, they seemed the same to me. The tickets were 700 SEK each, round trip, which is around 80 USD. There isn’t much of a price difference between the two lines.
No matter where you stay in Gothenburg, it’s not likely that you will be able to get everywhere you want to go by shoe. Requiring the bus and/or tram is inevitable. You should download the app “västtrafik to go”. If you are reading this on an Apple device, try clicking here to download the app. This will allow you to get an immediate ticket, or an extended one for a day or more. It will create a QR/barcode on your screen that their scanners can read.
Refer to the map, above. You can see the rough approximation of the train trip in red. I also circled Oslo, Norway and Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmo, Sweden for your reference. Note that Oslo and Copenhagen are hyperlinked so you can go check out those articles in a separate page. Those blue markers you see on the map were all places that We went on this trip.
The City Sights
Gothenburg is the second largest city in Sweden, the first being Stockholm. But the two could not be further apart in culture and feel. Stockholm has a stately feel. Traditional, refined, and very cultural from a Swedish standpoint. Gothenburg, on the other hand, feels very European, but honestly, I didn’t even feel like I was in Sweden. It has more of a devil-may-care, laid-back, and independent aura about it. Even the architecture of the buildings and the city layout is different from Stockholm. So if you live in Stockholm and are looking for a “getaway “, this fits the bill quite nicely.
Gothenburg caters to shopping and eating, and both activities are well represented here. Nice restaurants with outdoor seating and cool taverns line both sides of the streets in the main area of town. It feels young, vibrant, and very friendly.
We came during the summer, at the end of July. The temperatures in Gothenburg was a warm 65-70 F (18-21 C). There was an occasional light, cooling wind. I wore a short sleeve shirt with an over shirt that I could take on and off to regulate and it worked out well. And of course, I never leave home without my trusty hat.
For each location that we visit, I will include a small header that has the street address, telephone number, and a google reference. When you click on the google reference, it will open the location in your google map and bring up a nice description of the location.
This is a must see attraction for Gothenburg. From their website:“Explore Universeum. Animals, nature, chemistry, technology and fun experiments under one roof in the heart of Gothenburg.”
But sadly, we weren’t able to get in. Due to the pandemic, you have to book in advance on their website. But they only allow so many bookings per day and their quota was full the day we had planned to go. But on the bright site, this will give us a major attraction to see when we come back!
When we weren’t able to get in the Universeum, we rode the tram back to the botanical gardens. The entry was free, and they have public restrooms. We spent around an hour and a half walking around here, and we still didn’t see quite everything.
This place is an example of the tenacious outdoor beauty that is Sweden in the summer. For a place with such long, cold and dark winters, you would never expect such thriving, vibrant flowers and shrubbery.
They had a separate area dedicated to food farming. You know, corn, lettuce, watermelon, etc. It was very well done and they had some amazing things growing in there. It was just interesting in an almost-apocalyptic/survival sort of way.
Sure, it’s an extremely touristy thing to do, but what can I say, we love a good boat ride! This one lasts about an hour. As you would expect, it comes with a tour guide that tells you what you’re looking at with historical perspective. The cost was 390 SEK ($44) for both of us.
It takes you entire length of the canal, crosses the harbor and back around the other side. You’ll get to see some of the city’s best sites, including the Opera house (above), the old shipyard, and the fish church (also pictured above).
This place is spectacular. The grounds are absolutely immaculate, and the flowers were glaring with color. The greenhouse, er uh, palm house, doesn’t open until 2p, and frankly, it was kinda ho-hum. But it’s right off the main road, so just step in and check it out if you’re in the area.
The very first night, we went to a place called Made in China. Kind of like a Chinese tapas place. This turned out to be an outstanding choice. Very upbeat venue right on the Main Street. I strongly recommend it. The duck confit bun (pictured above) and the carmel pork were out of this world! But nothing in this place is going to disappoint including the wine and the cost. Many Chinese places fall short on wine selection, but this place had a wide assortment of really good ones. We liked it so much that we went there again on our last night. It is very close to the hotel Flora and has nice indoor and outdoor seating. It is extremely popular, so be sure to make a booking.
This was located on the 23rd floor of the Gothia Tower, which is located right next to Universeum. Just go into the main building there and find the dedicated elevator for Heaven 23.
As you would expect, the views are fantastic. We were able to get a spot right by the window. But remember that’s why you’re going there, for the view. The food was a definite “OK”, but that’s all. I had the Wallenbergare, which was the lunch special for the day. But instead of veal, it was a mish-mash of salmon, crab, and cod. And for a fish lover, it was probably pretty good. I mean, I am not what you would call a fish lover and I ate it. But they could have at least told me when I ordered it how it was different from the traditional Wallenbergare. Jana got the vegetarian dish, and she agreed that it, too, was “OK”. The wine was a little on the high side, especially for Gothenburg, where it is normally a bit cheaper than in Stockholm.
So go spend an hour or so gazing out over the city. It is a lovely restaurant, cozy and quiet, and I don’t regret that we went there. It was fun.
This is a Greek/Mediterranean venue. It was a five minute walk from the Flora Hotel. Cozy, warm and friendly, good food and great service. It has very nice indoor and outdoor seating. A good wine selection with good prices (we love that the wine in Gothenburg is generally cheaper than Stockholm). What else could you ask for?
I had the beef souvlaki with tzatziki, which was juicy and tasty. Jana had the lamb biftekia, also with the tzatziki sauce. The lamb was an interesting variation from the hamburger that we hadn’t seen before. And it was actually very good. I highly recommend this place.
We stayed in Gothenburg for the first three nights. Then we went off and did some other adventuring and came back to Gothenburg, which we then spent another night.
We stayed at the Hotel Flora for three nights (that last picture in the above collage I shot from the canal boat tour – pretty cool, eh?). It was 1000 SEK ($112) per night, which is really quite reasonable for this part of the world. Breakfast was included and was the usual hotel breakfast bar accommodation. There was a community coffee maker, where you took the coffee pods they gave you in your room down the hall to a community coffee maker. The bar was ok, if a bit cramped for pandemic social distancing. The room and the bathroom were spacious, especially by European standards. We were located very close to the tram, which we did use a couple of times, and overall the location was convenient for seeing the sights of the city including shopping at Haga and restaurants and pubs. All of these things considered, on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give it a 8.
The Clarion is one of those places that just gets everything right. The price was 1341 SEK ($152) per night. A little high, but if you want the larger room and all the goodies, it’s worth it. The usual breakfast bar was included.
We stayed here for one night after we came back from our road trip (click here to see that article). Perhaps the nicest thing about this one was that it is literally across the street from Central Station, so it only took us ten minutes to get to our train the next morning.
Firstly, note that the map link I gave you above is for the dock area where you board the boat, not the island itself. The Island is a one and a half hour boat ride within the archipelago, located here:
The boat services were handled by Stromma, which is the same company that does most of the boats around Stockholm. We did the lunch cruise, which I recommend over the regular because, well, you get lunch, but also you get a much better seat and reserved seating. And as you can see, above, they were observing proper social distancing.
Lunch was a preassigned meal. We had the open-faced shrimp sandwich, which is a delicious shrimp salad served on dark bread (hidden underneath all the toppings) with sliced hard boiled eggs and loads of fresh greens and cucumbers. As with most Stromma cruises, they have wine, sodas, and coffee. They also had a decent selection of desserts. We opted for diet cokes (they were bottled and ice cold) on the way out. Coming back we had a nice glass of wine and some desserts. You keep your reserved seat for the return trip.
The open water was quite choppy both ways. It is a rather large boat, so we weren’t really tossed around much. If you are prone to getting seasick, you would probably be okay here.
The scenery during the boat ride was very different from the archipelago on the Stockholm side. It was rather barren and wind blown, reminding me more of Iceland than Sweden.
Aside from the barren landscape, the first thing you notice is the wind. And it has two speeds: really strong and gale force! I am not kidding on this, so be prepared. I would suggest, well, a good wind breaker for a jacket. Even though it was the middle of the summer, the wind and damp air made it a bit chilly.
I know I have used the word barren a couple of times, but don’t mistake that for uninteresting or unattractive. It is actually quite beautiful, especially once you have boots on the ground and are seeing it up close.
This island is located in one of the most dangerous areas of the archipelago in terms of ship passage. Back in the day, several families were permanently located here. Back then, there even enough children living here to warrant a small schoolhouse. The lighthouse required constant monitoring and maintenance, and the seas required constant scanning for ships, especially at night and during storms.
Even today, the lighthouse is still fully functional and there are several radar stations that use triangulation for redundancy and to pinpoint the exact course of any nearby ships. There are people still living here, but I don’t think they’re permanent, and even if they are, travel to and from the island is way more convenient than it was back then.
You would normally be able to climb to the top of the lighthouse and to explore some of the buildings, but they were all closed due to the pandemic. But that’s okay, there was a good bit of hiking, albeit treacherous at times, and other views to see on the island.
We stayed on the island for a couple of hours before returning back to the port in Gothenburg. It was an enjoyable escape and I would recommend it if you are looking to get out of the city for a bit.
And that concluded our events for the first three days. From here, we will be renting a car and driving through Kvantum and staying at the castle Läcko. It is located on Lake Vänern, which is the largest lake not only in Sweden, but in the entire European Union. So stay tuned to this channel for more about traveling in south western Sweden!
We took a quick hop down to Greece. We were there for four days. We stayed in a hotel in downtown Thessaloniki. We chose this area because we wanted to avoid the huge crowds of the more popular places such as the Greek archipelago and Athens. Thessaloniki did not disappoint. Great restaurants, pubs, and shopping. There was a lot to see and do in the town itself and, as we had hoped, it wasn’t too crowed.
On the above picture, I have circled where we live, in Stockholm, and also our destination in Thessaloniki, Greece. It was about a three and a half hour flight.
The picture above shows our primary areas of exploration. You can use this as reference as the article progresses. To give you an idea of distance, the drive from Thessaloniki to Nikiti was about a two hour drive with traffic. We chose not to rent a car this go around, using private tour companies to get us to and from our excursions outside Thessaloniki.
I will only use minimal pictures for the article, with a link to the photo gallery at the bottom that houses a lot more pictures. So if you’re the type that just likes to look at the pictures, don’t be embarrassed, just scroll down and click on the link. 🙂
This was our base of operations. Thessaloniki is a Greek port city on the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. It was founded around 315 BC, so definitely one of the older places we have visited. And for my gaming friends out there, Greece is the locale for the Assassin’s Creed Odyssey title. Having visited the area and spoken with many of its inhabitants, I can say the game did an excellent job recreating the beauty and history of the area.
Apparently, Hades was in town for a visit while we were there, making it extremely hot and humid (at least by Stockholm standards). It was around 34 to 36 Celsius (mid to upper 90’s F). The hotel was wonderfully air conditioned, but the rest of the places we went were hit or miss on the AC, mostly miss. But of course we did not let this hinder our adventure!
We travelled the city by shoe and we took the hop on hop off bus to a few locations that were further away.
It was very easy navigating and getting around in the city. Everyone we encountered was friendly, helpful, and spoke perfect English.
First of all, let me say right up front: the food in Greece is outstanding! They serve hamburger flat, with no bun, topped with caramelized onions. If you must have it as a sandwich, that is also available in some places. They also specialize in chicken, pork or lamb kabobs, which they call souvlakia. Very delicious, usually served with fries, veggies, and pita bread.
Pictured above, the pork neck with grilled pineapple and served atop pineapple salsa. Absolutely fantastic! I also tried some shrimp saganaki, which is pan fried in a thick, rich sauce. Gyros, kleftiko, feta cheese, Greek meatballs, the list just goes on and on. Seriously, the food alone is worth the trip.
The Archaeological Museum
I know what you’re thinking: museums, really, on a vacation? But seriously, when you think of how old this place is, I mean it may even be where ‘we’ began. They have some artifacts that are nearly 3,000 years old! So yes, you want to see some of these things while you are here.
The Archaeological Museum is right in the city. We were able to walk to it from our hotel. They had a lot of exhibits, and most of them were pretty interesting. We were there for about an hour.
Above, a gravestone from 300 BC.
And of course, Alexander the Great. This one was from around 200 AD. Cosmetic surgery was still in the experimental stages then, as you can see by the botched nose job. Or should I say :?/
Pella and Vergina
We ventured out to these areas to see, you guessed it, museums! On the map at the top, these are located to the west of Thessaloniki. The map label for Pella didn’t show up at that zoom level, so I placed a yellow dot.
I’m going to be honest here, the museum in Pella was not that great, to me. Firstly, the AC wasn’t working and even at ten in the morning, it was sweltering inside the building.
But what was worse was that many of their exhibits were replicas, including the mosaic in the above pic. But check out the photo above the mosaic. That’s the dig site, and it IS worth seeing.
The dig site is right around the corner from the museum. It’s an archaeological dig site of what was part of the ancient city of Pella, which is where Alexander the Great was born.
Now the museum in Vergina was an entirely different story. It is called the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Aigai. This is the location of several significant tombs, including Philip II (359-336BC), who was Alexander the Great’s father. It is one of the best presented and most memorable archaeological museums in Greece. You can walk right down to the entrance of each tomb, which is mostly still intact. It’s an eerie experience.
Unfortunately, they don’t allow pictures inside, this (above) was the only one I got. Definitely a must-see. It’s about an hour west of Thessaloniki. You can schedule tour services that will drive you out to it. Also, be sure to sign up for the tour. It was very informative.
We hired a local driver to take us out to the center peninsula. If you look on the map I made at the top, you can see I circled Nikiti.
We drove around there a bit, absolutely gorgeous. After that, we went further south (also circled on the map) where we had an exquisite lunch and went swimming right off the coast.
Afytos and Wineries
On our way out to Afytos, we stopped at a couple of wineries.
On the map at the top, I circled the area for the wineries just south of Thessaloniki. I have to say, we really never considered that Greek wine would be all that. What with it being so hot and all, we kind of thought it might be overly sweet, like some of the Carolina wines. Boy were we wrong!
This was some of the finest wine we have ever tasted. And, like the French, it is specifically designed to naturally pair with their unique cuisine.
And like most wine producing territories across the globe, the wineries were beautiful to see.
After visiting the wineries, our guide took us further south along the first peninsula.
We drove around in the Afytos area and stopped for lunch at a magnificent venue (above).
We had an awesome time in Greece, despite the sweltering temps. We would consider going back, but would probably opt for a wintertime trip. I guess living amongst the Vikings for a few years has made us more sensitive to the hotter climates.
Here is a link to the photo library that has all the pictures from the trip. These are not hosted by my blog, but are stored externally in Google pictures. All you have to do is click on the link below. Just click on one picture to enlarge it, the you can scroll through them with your mouse or by using the right and left arrow keys. If a picture is a little blurry, just give it a second or two to finish loading from the cloud.
We visited quite a few places while we were in Norway, and we took a ton of out-of-this-world pictures. To keep it all organized and make it easier to reference, I created this summary/index to pull it all together. If you aren’t a member of jcmarxblog.com, then you may have missed some or all of these articles.
Once we left our great little cabins in Flåm (click here for that article), we took the high road out and, as you can see, the scenery was epic.
So epic, that we started to feel ourselves becoming a little desensitized to all the beauty. Can you imagine that? But I just couldn’t stop taking pictures, just like I can’t stop showing them to you!
How about a change of venue?
Can you believe I saw this (above) on one of the (many) ferry’s we rode to hop across rivers? Unbelievable! Near mint condition! Even has the raised outline Uniroyal tires! I can only imagine what parts must cost for that thing in Norway! I bet he wishes there was an AutoZone nearby!
And speaking of cars, check out the roads we had to brave as we zipped along the mountain tops. Yes, that is a two-way road. Encountering cars from the opposite direction was always nerve racking. One of you would have to find a way to move over to let the other one pass.
We stopped at this really cool overlook that extended out over the mountain.
A little scary, but well worth the view.
By late afternoon, we arrived at our lodging for the evening in the small town of Olden. This time we decided on a really snazzy airBNB rental.
I know this is going to be hard to believe, but the views from this place were, um, well, breathtaking? Check it out:
And here, below, is the unrestricted view (from the following morning). Some interesting observations about this picture. This is definitely one of those times that a picture doesn’t do the view justice.
You see the lowest level, where all the greenery is. The next level up looks like just fog. What the camera can’t see that the human eye could was that whole layer was completely frozen. The light layer of fog frosted everything beneath it, but it just comes out as fog through the camera. Then the layer at the top is, of course, is snow. Amazing.
We hit the trail the next morning destined for Geiranger, which has famous hotel perched high atop a mountain valley overlooking a beautiful fjord. So spectacular is this view that the name of the hotel (translated) is…. The View. Seriously.
The problem is that as we continued climbing higher and higher into the mountains, the weather began to deteriorate. Seeing snowflakes in late April was fun at first, but then it began to get more treacherous. Welcome to the Norwegian Highlands!
Our original plan was to drive from Olden straight to Geiranger (The View). But seeing as the snow was continuing to get worse, we found a ferry close by that would take us almost right to the hotel.
See the map, above. You can see Geiranger on the upper right. But instead of driving directly to it, follow the blue line to the red thumbtack, which is Hellesylt. We drove onto the ferry there. The ferry followed the red line to Geiranger and our hotel, The View.
This turned out to be a great decision since now we could just sit back and enjoy the ride, and, of course, take more picture! But it was also a good idea because some of the roads on the original route had not even reopened from winter, they were still buried in snow!
The landscape from the ferry was substantial enough to warrant its own online photo gallery, which I created here:
Once you’re in the gallery, just click on the first picture to enlarge it, then scroll to see the rest. If the picture seems a little blurry, that means it is still getting data from the server. Just wait a second or two and it will come into sharp focus.
Ok, so we finally made it to “The View”. Was it really all that? I’ll let you decide. But first, check out these two pics below. Both pictures are from the same spot in the lobby of the hotel. The first one is when we first arrived while it was still snowing. The second was during a lapse in the snow.
And without further ado, here is the gallery for the views from The View:
Once you’re in the gallery, just click on the first picture to enlarge it, then scroll to see the rest. If the picture seems a little blurry, that means it is still getting data from the server. Just wait a second or two and it will come into sharp focus.
And that’s pretty much it. From The View, our journey took us to the small town of Førde, where spent the night before returning to Bergen. I have to say, this definitely one of those trips that you just know you are never going to forget. I put it up there in my top five! And it’s not always the location or the destination, but the company that can really make the difference.
This was an incredible leg of our journey. After the seven hour (spectacular) train ride from Oslo to Bergen (click here for that article), we picked up our car and drove from Bergen to a place called Flåm. This was a fjord that we cruised on a boat.
So on the map, above, I have highlighted Oslo, on the right side, then the yellow line was the train ride, and the blue line was the road trip to Flåm. As you can see, it was pretty mountainous terrain, which means pretty awesome pictures!
We made a few stops along the way to stretch our legs and enjoy the beauty that was all around us.
And you may recall from the Oslo article that we were accompanied by our friends, Marie (left), from New York, and BiBi, who hails from Bulgaria but joined us from the UK.
To reduce my footprint on my content server, I have created an online gallery for your enjoyment. Please click the link below to open the gallery:
Once you open the link, click on a picture to enlarge it, then just scroll right and left to see more.
Once we arrived in Flåm, we were utterly shocked to see a full sized cruise liner docked at this tiny little town.
The direction he is facing is a dead end. We would have loved to see how he got out, but he was gone by the time we returned from our cruise.
The giant ship made our little cruise boat look small by comparison. We took this boat on a one and a half hour cruise through the magnificent Norwegian mountains and back again.
Refer to the map, above. See Flåm on the upper left side of the map. We took the boat from there, down and around the mountains, then up the other side to Gudvangen. Then we came back by the same route.
As with the other areas, I took so many unbelievable photographs. Once again, I have created an online gallery so that you can see all of the pictures instead of just a few. Please click the link below to view the gallery:
Once inside the gallery, click on a picture to enlarge it, then scroll left and right to see more.
So we had started the day with a long drive through the twisting, winding and beautiful mountain roads. We arrived at the small town of Flåm for a three hour cruise among the legendary Norwegian mountain range along the fjord. By the time we drove another thirty or so minutes to our cabin, it was getting a little late.
Are these not the cutest little cabins you ever saw?
And wow, I am glad I have the pictures to prove how incredibly picturesque our views were from the back balconies of our cabins!
What a nice way to end a major leg of our amazing Norwegian journey. The four of us (thanks for snapping the pic BiBi) sat and sipped wine while talking of our adventures and planning what lies ahead. Truly blessed.
We took the train from Oslo (capital of Norway) to Bergen (click here for the Oslo article). It’s a seven hour trip, and it is advertised as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. So I’m like, whatever, and I proceed to get out my iPad and start working. But within minutes, my attention was pulled to the window. It was truly spectacular. The next thing I knew, my camera was wearing down my battery and I had more pictures than I could possibly deal with!
As we ventured through the lowlands, we would see views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Then, after a few hours, you suddenly realize you are IN the snow-capped mountains and they are unbelievable.
Now I have to step back and tell you about blogging. It is always a struggle for me to decide which five or eight pictures to include in an article. This is because my content host only allows me so much global online space. But this train ride, and in fact nearly this whole trip, will NOT be inhibited to a handful of pictures.
So in the spirit of giving YOU, my readers, a more quality Norway experience, I figured out a way to host the pictures on Google and give you a link to them. In this way, I can share a lot more pictures with you. So please click on the link below and enjoy about twenty more fantastic pictures. But just keep in mind that every single one was snapped at 100mph zipping through the landscape on the train. A few of them may also have a little glare. But still worth it. Come see what I mean:
Once you are inside the gallery, simply click on the first picture to enlarge it, then scroll right and left through the gallery. If the image appears foggy or blurry, just wait a couple of seconds for the server to finish processing.
The train took us to Bergen, Norway. Bergen looks like a really cool city to explore in more detail. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay there very long.
We did walk around a bit, and we took the funicular up to the top of the mountain, and OMG, what a breathtaking view of the city!
We will have to come back here and give Bergen the proper exploration it deserves.
By the way, that pigeon charged me 100g of fresh bread to pose for the picture. Well worth it, I’d say!
So if we traveled seven hours by train to get here and were giving it such a quick stay, why did we come here, you might ask. We came to pick up our car for the GREAT NORWEGIAN ROAD TRIP! That’s. Right, we picked up a car here and continued the journey deep into the mountainous regions of Norway.
So keep following The Travelin’ Man for a fabulous Norwegian experience!
Not an advertisement for Volvo, an actual photograph taken by The Travelin’ Man!
On our last trip to Vilnius, Lithuania (click here for that trip), we finished out the Baltic countries. This trip to Norway was the last of the Scandinavian countries for us to visit. Oslo was a forty-five minute flight from Stockholm.
We met up with our friends Marie, from New York, and BiBi, from Bulgaria (currently living in the UK). You may remember Marie (pictured on right) from our visit to Portugal (click here for that article). That was a great trip!
We spent two days in Oslo, which was plenty of time to see the highlights and get a feel for the city. From the minute you step out of the airport, you will notice that Oslo is far different from most other European cities: it looks completely modern.
No medieval buildings, magnificent churches, or historic Old Townes. So my first reaction to this was a shrug of the shoulders and an audible “Hmph.”
Our hotel was situated right next to a food market called Mathallen Oslo. A great market with fresh meats and vegetables on display.
We found a nice Hungarian restaurant inside where I enjoyed a sandwich called “The Messy Pig”. It was a delicious pulled pork sandwich.
When we travel, we take public transportation as much as possible. We used the busses and trams during our visit. It was easy getting tickets and, using Google maps, easy to figure out where the bus stops were and which ones we needed.
We walked over to see the opera house. Very modern and beautifully architected.
We spent some time at a couple of pretty cool museums. The first was, what else but the Viking Museum!
They presented original viking ships that had been used as part of their conquests. After having been at sea for several years, the ships were pulled ashore and used as “burial ships”. The dead were placed in burial chambers built onboard the ships, then the entire thing was buried underground. The moist soil by the sea and clay helped in preserving the ships from around 400 A.D. There were also a number of artifacts that had been buried with them and those are all on display at the museum. It was a very good exhibit with lots of good information and was well presented.
From there it was a short walk over to the Fram Museum. The Fram is a ship that was specifically built by the Norwegians back in the late 1800s to allow deep and extended exploration missions of the Antarctic regions. The idea was to freezeFram into an Arctic ice sheet and float with it over the North Pole.
Here is a really old photograph I found on Wikipedia of the ship in action (above). The ship is displayed in all of its glory inside the museum and I must say, it is fantastic. You even get to go inside the ship and see how the crew lived. But the best part was that on the top deck, the walls and ceiling come alive with a multimedia presentation of a storm, and then later as the ship is drifting amongst the frozen glaciers.
Absolutely fascinating to see. If you go, make sure you stay on the top deck long enough to get the sea storm. And if the bench is available, sit on the bench and will rock from side to side in unison with the waves.
We wrapped up our first day enjoying some drinks right on the river:
I will say that by the end of the first day in Oslo, the city had worked its magic on us. We were starting to fall in love with its modern yet laid back way of life. And there is still enough old stuff and history around the town if you really want to see it.
On our second day, we ventured out to the Frogner Park.
The entire park is an exhibit of the sculptures of the famous Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). The featured photo at the top of this article is from there.
Over 200 sculptures of granite, bronze, and wrought iron. Gustav tried to capture the human experience, for better or for worse, the happy and the sad.
After that, we walked along the water and found a nice place to sit outside for a bite to eat. Then we took a three hour bicycle tour with “Viking Biking” tour guides.
This showed us a lot more of the city than we would have ordinarily been able to cover. We got to see the Nobel building, as well as many of the major tourist attractions of the area.
By the time the bike tour was finished, we were definitely liking the city. The people are warm and friendly, the food is delicious, and the restaurants and pubs are cozy as ever. We totally enjoyed our stay here and would come back again.
With all of that behind us, we went to central station and took a train to Bergen, Norway. This was a seven hour ride through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. I will be documenting that as part of my Bergen article, so don’t miss it!
Since we had previously visited Tallinn, Estonia and Riga, Latvia, we felt it was only right to finish off the Baltic countries. We are also interested in the history of the former Soviet states. This is an aspect of history that Americans do not normally encounter. I have attempted to simplify it in the Tortured Soul section below.
Unlike Tallinn and Riga, we did not take a cruise ship across the Baltic Sea, but chose instead to fly from our home port of Stockholm as part of our four-day Easter weekend.
Throughout this section, I will sprinkle in pictures of the city that we experienced during our stay. Most of them will not be in context of my narrative.
Vilnius has a deep and rich history that goes back to the 14th century. But even in more modern times, it has been the victim of several tug-of-wars by some very powerful countries. And this has left lasting damage on both the city and its citizens.
The city was occupied by the Germans during WWI. They were eventually driven out by Soviet forces. Vilnius became part of Lithuania. But as part of the Soviet-Polish war, the city quickly became occupied by Polish forces, only to fall yet again back to the Soviets. But as part of its retreat from the battle of Warsaw, the Red Army ceded the city back to Lithuania.
By the end of WWI, both Poland and Lithuania laid claim to Vilnius. But in a sneaky operation known as the Żeligowski’s Mutiny, Poland ultimately gained formal ownership of the city.
In 1939, Vilnius was again seized by the Soviet Union (who subsequently invaded Poland). The USSR and the Lithuanian governments entered into a treaty, unbeknownst to the Lithuanian citizens, that would allow the presence of Soviet military bases in various parts of the country. Thus, the Red Army withdrew from the city proper to its suburbs and Vilnius was given over to Lithuania. Lithuanian government saw this as a grant of independence and a victory for Lithuania.
The Soviets later demanded that more and more troops be permitted to enter the country. Lithuanian government pushed back, under the perception that they were independent.
This did not bode well with the Soviets. They set out to make sure Vilnius would feel their wrath this time around. They installed their own government and began deporting some of the city’s inhabitants to work camps in the harshest areas of the Soviet Union. Most were thought to have perished; none were ever seen again. The people targeted were primarily those with higher education or critical job positions. These were, for example, doctors, lawyers, politicians, scientists, and engineers. All told, between 20,000 and 30,000 citizens were deported. Basically trying to cut out the entire intellectual sector of their population. Next, they devastated the city’s industries and even relocated a highly successful radio factory to Belarus.
Vilnius KGB Detention Center
Much like the KGB headquarters in Riga, this one is located in the heart of the city. The horror of being taken to this place, from which you will never return. To be held and tortured, and in many cases executed, just feet from where your fellow citizens and your family are walking and working.
Anyone suspected of spying, which included discussions of any kind against the Soviet Union, were arrested by the KGB and tortured and in may cases executed at the KGB main facility right in their own downtown Vilnius.
Today, the building is a museum, and we did spend some time there. I highly recommend it. Like Paneriai it is highly emotional.
So as you can see, the Soviets had totally crippled and completely demoralized this city. This entire process is formally known as ‘sovietization’. How to beat down an entire city, or country until its citizens hang their heads low and swear allegiance to the Union.
At the beginning of WWII, Germany bombed the city repeatedly, destroying Soviet aircraft and killing thousands of soldiers and citizens. Following this, the German ground troops encountered little Soviet resistance and were assisted by the Lithuanians. Since the Lithuanians viewed the Soviets as their oppressors, they saw the Germans as their liberators and hoped they would grant them independence. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
The Nazi occupation compounded the cruelty and unspeakable suffering of Vilnius and Lithuania.
The Paneriai Memorial
About 100,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis, many of them in Paneriai, about 10 km (6.2 mi) west of the old town center. The murders took place between July 1941 and August 1944.
The victims were brought down into the pits wearing hoods, then lined up and shot. Their bodies fell atop the other corpses that had been shot before them. When the pit was full, they were all buried and a new pit was started. There were six pits in total at Paneriai. We did visit the Paneriai Memorial. It is well presented, albeit emotional.
Towards the end of the war, the Nazis realized they were losing. They became paranoid that their heinous crimes would be discovered. They selected additional Jews from the ghettos to form work groups. These groups were made to dig up the corpses and relocate them to a different pit where they were burned. In many cases, people of the work groups recognized the bodies of their own family and friends.
Following WWII, the Soviets reestablished their dominance over Vilnius, essentially picking up where they left off. This time, their occupation lasted from 1944 to 1990.
As you explore the city today, you notice lots of open squares. These were not part of the original design of the city. They are areas that had been bombed as part of WWII. Since the Soviets moved back in immediately following the war, it was their decision not to replace any of the damaged infrastructure or buildings. They serve as a constant, bitter reminder of the abuse this city has suffered.
The war and Soviet dominance prior to the war had gouged a deep scar upon Vilnius the likes of which would take decades to recover. Some aspects of Vilnius will never recover. WWII was a terrible time for all, but Vilnius continued to suffer long after the peace treaties had been signed and the tanks had gone home.
Even through 1987, the terrorization by the Soviets continued. Sovietization and the dominance and horrors of actions carried out by the KGB in the name of communism continued throughout all of the Baltic countries.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, all three Baltic states were finally able to achieve independence. This, in essence, is when Vilnius began its long journey back to the free world. Their infrastructure had been utterly destroyed. Living conditions were barely above third world. They had no experience in the commercial, industrial, or even the banking world. Anyone who possessed key knowledge in these crucial areas had been deported and killed. It was like throwing a baby bird out into a hurricane.
Indeed, one could write another entire volume on Vilnius’ recovery from freedom to stability. But it is human nature to survive, and the people of Vilnius never gave up. It wasn’t until 2015 that they got their first directly elected mayor.
Today, Vilnius is a major tourist destination for the region. It is part of the European Union, and with the help of the banks of Scandinavia, it continues to rebuild its infrastructure and its business community on the global scene. Although they have made great strides, the rebuilding of a civilization is a long and arduous road upon which their journey continues even today.
Like many European cities, it is chock full of cozy cafes, pubs, and restaurants. The food was absolutely exquisite.
Succulent venison, and several dishes unique to the area. Like delicious fried bread with cheese:
While we were there, we also visited the Trakai island castle. Beautifully restored castle from the 14th century. Very well presented and I strongly recommend you go here if you are in the area.
Most of the stone walls are original. Red brick was used in the original castle. They kept as much of that as they could.
I know it felt like a bit of a history lesson this time, but I just couldn’t explain how this city felt without the historical perspective. It is evident everywhere you go. You can see it in the infrastructure, and you can see it on the faces of the citizens and hear it in their voices. It is a city that has endured incredible hardships. And although it has a tortured soul, it also has a strong and determined heart that continues to speak to the world: “I will survive.”
We took the train from Ghent to Bruges (Ghent article here). It was a little over a half hour ride. The train going out on Saturday morning was exceedingly crowded, e.g. standing room only, literally. Coming back around 4pm same day, much more relaxed and plenty of seating.
This town had a different feel. It had the same medieval architecture, and it is absolutely beautiful, but it was more more crowded. It felt more commercialized than Ghent. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It had more bars, restaurants, and shops. This felt like most of the other popular European places we have visited.
We spent the day walking around and taking in the sights. Sort of a self guided tour, if you will:
A stunningly beautiful park. Their Spring was much further along than ours was in Stockholm:
The Church of Our Lady (13th century)
The Markt (Market Square) & Belfry Tower (Tower and most of market 13th century or older):
While in the square, we enjoyed some Belgium fries and some chocolate covered Belgium waffles on a stick!
Some live street music, which was pretty good, I must say. Check out that outrageous guitar thing! Imagine if Jimi Hendrix had played one of those! But seriously, it only has three strings and they’re so thick that she had to wear special pads on her fingers to press them. So sounds to me like some sort of bass instrument.
We visited Begijnhuisje (easy for you to say). This is a convent and it’s still active today but we didn’t see any nuns while we were there:
While we were in Bruges, we also had a boat ride around the canals:
And later, we stumbled into a parade:
If you’re debating whether you should go to Ghent vs. Bruges, my advice is to do as we did and go to both of them. Otherwise, choose which venue suits your travel style better. The time warp back in time to the laidback medieval Ghent, or the fast paced big city feel and shopping of Bruges.
We had a great time on our first adventure of the year, and I hope you enjoyed tagging along with us! Next stop will be Vilnius, Lithuania this Easter. This is the only Baltic country we have yet to visit.