Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How expensive is Norway????

Bergen is so darn expensive that when you get your receipt from the ATM, they don't say, "Have a great day." They say....

They know you'll be back.

  • A 12-16oz bottle of Diet Coke costs anywhere from 25NOK ($4) to 39NOK ($6.50).

  • Dinner for two (nothing fancy and only one alcoholic drink) costs about 400-500NOK ($70-85).

  • A can of Hansa beer (local...not an import) is 84NOK ($12)

  • A beautiful Fosse sweater will set you back 1200NOK ($200).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Beautiful Bergen

After Chuck's week of working, we jetted off to Bergen, Norway for a little vacation. While living in Denmark, we often talked about going to Norway; however during our 3 week summer holidays, we headed south, thus avoiding Norway. So, this was it....4 days in Bergen.

I booked the Augustin hotel, which is just off the wharf; albeit on the "wrong" side of the wharf, but it was next to the Best Western and received great reviews on TripAdvisor. We had a bit of a check in issue; however it was really the result of a front desk clerk (Hanne), just being a jerk. The cliffnote version....we had booked a deluxe room, she gave us a standard room which looked into the living room of an adjacent flat, I asked if it was deluxe because it resembled the online photos of a standard room, she said yes it was deluxe, I asked to see another deluxe room, we moved to a REAL deluxe room. In the end, the Augustin was a great hotel and all the staff (with the exception of Hanne) were very friendly and helpful.

While in Bergen, we...

  • took the funicular up to Mt. Floyen
  • walked and shopped on the Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf
  • went to the fort
  • went on the Norway in a Nutshell tour
  • walked and smelled the fisherman's wharf
  • bought a Fosse Norwegian sweater

A few pictures...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Return trip to Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany is a tourist mecca. There is so much to see and do that you can return again and again and still discover new things about the city.

My favorite way to get re-acquainted with Berlin is to start with the City Circle Hop on Hop off sightseeing bus. Since 2008, they've expanded the route to include the East Side Gallery. While there are other Hop on Hop off (HOPO)options in Berlin, I think City Circle is the only one to head over to the East Side Gallery. The HOPO tours range in price from 15-20 Euro for a 1.5 - 2 hour route. City Circle is 20 Euro for 2 hours and is good for 24 hours. You can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time by using the HOPO, just hop off at your favorite site, explore, then hop back on. Another bus is just around the corner, as they are scheduled every 15 minutes!

Some of my favorite spots are:

Schloss Charlottenburg or Charlottenburg Palace - It was built from 1695-99 as a summer residence for Sophie Charlotte. The park grounds, designed in 1697 to resemble the elaborate gardens of Versailles in Paris, France, are simply enchanting. There is a mausoleum on the property which contains the sarcophagi of Queen Luise and Friedrich Wilhelm III.

Tiergarten - The tiergarten (animal garden) was built in the 1830s and served as a royal hunting ground. The tiergarten contains Victory Column (which is currently being renovated) and Schloss Bellevue, the home of the German President

East Side Gallery - The East Side Gallery is about a 1 mile (1.3 km) section of the Berlin Wall that contains about 100 paintings by artists worldwide. The project started in 1990 and has undergone some restoration due to the deterioration of the paintings from natural elements. In 2008, a full restoration was initiated.

Gendarmenmarkt - I had a spectacular view from my 6th floor room at the Hilton. This central square is one of my favorites in Europe. There are 2 beautiful churches, trees, and lots of open space. It's a great place to escape the tourism hub bub, grab some lunch or a snack and hang out on one of the many park benches.

A few pictures from my 2 day whirlwind tour of Berlin, Germany.

Schloss Charlottenburg entrance

Portion of the Wall (near the Topography of Terror)

Bridge near the East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

Gendarmenmarkt and the TV Tower

Jewish Memorial near the US Embassy and Brandenburg Gate

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Friday, September 10, 2010

Norway in a Nutshell

Our time in Norway was going to be short, essentially all day Saturday through early Tuesday morning. I had heard and read wonderful things about Bergen, Norway and the nearby fjords. After a bit of research, I decided on the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which has about 5 or 6 different options, but does provide for a good foundation.

The Norway in a Nutshell website is pretty complete. I would have preferred a 'build your own option,' but in the end, managed to deviate slightly from the preprinted schedule.

Norway in a Nutshell puts together some 'popular' itineraries and times for catching the train, boat or bus. Once you book your trip, for about $175 per person for 10-12 hours of entertainment, you will receive a summary pass and two train tickets; however your summary pass really serves as the 'ticket' as everyone looks at it. The summary pass is printed on a ticket similar to an airline ticket or boarding pass. It will say:
Train: Bergen - Myrdal
Train: Myrdal - Flam
Boat: Flam - Gudvangen
Bus: Gudvangen - Voss
Train: Voss - Bergen

You also get a little timetable to follow. There are several other options that aren't printed, so it is possible to deviate from the preprinted schedule a bit. Here's a sample.
Train from Bergen - 8:40
Arrive in Myrdal - 10:55
Train from Myrdal - 11:00
Arrive Flam -11:50
Boat from Flam - 3:10 ... there is also a 1:20 boat
Arrive Gudvangen -5:20
Bus from Gudvangen - 5:45 ... there is an earlier bus
Arrive Voss - 7:00
Train from Voss - 7:20 ... there is also a 5:53 train
Arrive in Bergen - 8:45

You could easily spend 2-3 hours in Flam walking around and shopping. The Voss train station is within walking distance to the city center and a beautiful lake, so you could also spend an hour or so there (just not on Sunday).

Flam has some really cute shops. There is an 'outlet' on the 2nd floor of one of the shops that has very nice and very reasonably priced Norwegian sweaters (about $125-150). I couldn't make up my mind and didn't buy one....and kept saying, I should have bought one in Flam. In the end, I bought a Fosse sweater in Bergen, for the low price of $200.

A few pictures from our tour on Norway in a Nutshell...

The pictures don't do the Norwegian landscape justice. The surroundings were absolutely breathtaking, serene, and tranquil.

ICE, ICE, baby

I was all prepared to rent a car in Hamburg and drive to Berlin, until my friend Tara suggested the ICE train, which she dubbed as super-easy. The ICE is the intercity express train and takes just over 1.5 hours, but a car ride can easily run 2 to 2.5 hours in good driving conditions and with little traffic.

So, I gave it a whirl. If I could only let go of my desire to be in control, I might be able to get into the train travel thing. Actually, it was quite nice, and I managed to read a few ebooks along the way (House Rules by Jodi Picoult, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, and Irresistible Forces by Brenda Jackson...a free ebook and total chic romance).

I didn't have an opportunity to take a picture of the ICE, so here is a stock photo from online. The Hamburg train station (Hauptbahnhof) and Berlin train station (Hauptbahnhof) are below.

Tip: Book directly with for the best rates and you can click on the USA flag to view it in English. If you book on other sites like expect to pay about 50% more for the ticket. It is a good idea to pay the extra 2.5Euro each way for an assigned seat especially if you are traveling during peak times or when the business men and women are commuting.

Updated - Places to See

The Places to See post (in the right hand column) has been updated to include our recent travels.


Oh, how I love an upgrade. Economy extra is great for the long haul rides, but Business/First is soooo much better. And it always helps when one of the (male) flight attendants is extra nice and tries to get you, Chuck was in Economy extra.....

The menu...

Snack - lomo, caperberry, sun-dried olive

Green leaf salad with balsamic vinegarette
First course - hot smoked salmon with lime cream
Main course options -
poached pike-perch, sauteed spinach, mushrooms, lobster sauce
yellow curry chicken, jasmine rice, sauteed vegetables
beef tournedos, broccoli and cauliflower gratin, mashed potato, thyme sauce
bulgur wheat, green beans, carrots, potatoes, spicy tomato sauce

Cheese - bornzola, yellow Kristian, fig compote

Dessert - forest berry tart, fruit salad

Buffet with coffee, espresso, cappuccino, tea, soft drinks, fresh fruit, sweets, snacks

Open sandwiches - Prawns with sauce verte & cured duck breast, balsamic cream, grilled artichoke heart

Dessert - Opera cake

On an 8.5 hour flight, with a considerable amount of turbulence, drinks of the alcoholic variety are always welcome. A little champagne, a Bloody Mary (or two) and some wine with dinner quickly put me at ease. Did you know that I'm a nervous flier?

Don't worry, Chuck was privy to some nice amenities in Economy extra, too.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What do you call someone from Hamburg?

A Hamburger, of course. Over the past two weeks, Chuck and I spent time in Denmark, Germany and Norway. Part of the trip was spent working and the rest of it was pleasure...visiting friends, catching up, shopping, and visiting a new country!

While in Germany, we visited some fellow expat friends that were originally in Arhus, Denmark, but recently moved to Hamburg, Germany. We had a great afternoon/evening and then Chuck was off to work, so I got to hang out with the Happy family.

We went downtown to the city center and visited the Rathus (city hall)...

We had spaghetti ice cream...

We toured an amazing little German city. I'm not sure if I should even post the name of the city as it seems Americans haven't found it yet, so it is still a fan.tas.tic and quaint village. Even little A was in a good mood for our adventure as we strolled down cobblestone streets, walked along the river, visited several shops, and took many, many, many photos. Here's a picture or two...but no name :-)

I shared my special peanut butter cookie recipe with the girls and taught them how to modify the recipe depending upon humidity and altitude. S is going to be a wonderful cook in the future. I might have to borrow her to help out with my dinner parties.

The visit to Hamburg to see my friends the Happy Hamburgers was great. I cannot wait to head back to Europe and visit again. Well, unless hubs decides we should do another stint abroad.

If someone from Hamburg is a Hamburger, what is someone from Dusseldorf? A Dusseldorfian, Dusseldorfite, Dusseldorfer, Dusseldorfan....hmmm.

Up next, a quick visit to Berlin, Germany and then a long weekend in Bergen, Norway.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The 2nd Annual Girls Long Weekend - California pictures

Last year, my mom, sister and I started to take a long weekend vacation without the boys (hubbies and Lincoln). Last year's trip (northern Wisconsin) was a little closer to home because nephew Lincoln wasn't even a year old; however this year we hopped on a plane to spend some time in California.

A few pictures from our trip (in July).....

Where has the time gone?

It is amazing how the doldrums of life get in the way of the adventures of travel. Living in Europe afforded us the opportunity to hop in the car and explore a new city on any given weekend. After moving back to the Midwest, most, if not all traveling involves an airplane...and the lovely Ryanair is nowhere to be found! Needless to say, our travels have slowed a bit, but I'm sure they will pick up again!

We've been on the road, in the air, on the rails, and on the water for the past two weeks, so I have some catching up to do.