ALL THE THINGS
HIRSH AND SARAH'S ADVENTURES THROUGH "GREATER EUROPE"
WHERE WE HOPE TO EAT, SEE, AND DO
ALL THE THINGS THIS BEAUTIFUL LIFE HAS TO OFFER
Fjord day! You may have heard of this as the "Norway in a Nutshell" package tour, which it was in content, except (hot tip!) we booked the separate transportation pieces ourselves through Norway's exceedingly efficient and pleasant public transportation sector websites and saved a bunch of money (Hirsh's specialty) (expect such schemes to be a recurring concept).
We woke up early to catch the 6:20 AM westbound train from Oslo to Myrdal. Really beautiful views from our traincar, but in all honesty we were just exhausted from our early wakeup so we slept the majority of the ride.
From Myrdal, we hopped onto the Flam Railway. This is one of the steepest railways in the world, with five separate braking systems. We sat beside a nice family from Nashville, TN. As for the view out the windows, the pictures really don't do it justice. It's absolutely spectacular. One of the highlights was the thundering waterfall Kjosfossen, with a very special surprise appearance (to avoid spoilers, you'll have to visit Norway yourself to figure it out).
We got to the Flam port for our Flam-to-Gudvangen ferry and made a mad dash to the front of the ship for the best views of Sognefjord, the largest fjord in Norway. We had to aggressively - and I mean aggressively - defend our position in the front of the boat by building a wall with our backpacks. We had support from some other American comrades who pitched in with their packs, too. It was five young American backpackers against 500 Chinese and Russian tour bus tourists, some of whom tried to physically move our packs, but most of whom threw shade in their native tongue. It was a valiant battle, which I'm proud to say we won. 'Murica!
And as you can see from the pictures below, was it ever worth it! Until it got grim and rainy during the second half, but it was still so totally worth it!
After a two hour fjord cruise, we caught a local bus to Bergen and made our way to our next Airbnb. We were welcomed by our gracious host Inge, who gave us his scoop on Norway, and then recommended a local college hangout, Kafe Spesial, where we treated ourselves to a delicious meal of hot pizza and cold beer, much needed after a day on the fjords. 😀
Today was our museum day in Oslo. We visited 5(!) museums, which Hirsh admitted was even a bit much for him. Shockingly, the museum day was Sarah's suggestion, and it's the sole reason we spent an extra day in Oslo. Below are some highlights from the museums, all on Oslo's museum island of Bygdoy, a quick ferry ride from the main port (and all included in our highly valuable purchase of a 24-hour Oslo Pass).
The Viking Ship Museum: contained two fully restored and one damaged Viking ship. Incredible to see how huge and well constructed these ships were.
The Folk Museum: huge and impressive collection of restored homes and artifacts from around the country. One of the highlights was a folk dance and song performance by these two artists, who were just adorable with each other. We also got to see an impressive typical Norwegian stave church, made of wooden beams, and coated with tar for increased flammability (I mean, that's not why they're coated in tar, but that's certainly why, according to our guide, the number of stave churches in Norway is down from 4,000 to 29. Oops.)
The Kon-Tiki Museum: commemorating Thor Heyerdahl's incredible journey across the South Pacific. That's the actual ship! If you haven't seen the amazing recent feature film of the same name, it was on Netflix at last check; Heyerdahl's 1957 documentary of his voyage also won an Oscar.
The Fram Polar Ship Museum: contained two huge polar expedition ships used by many brave Norwegian explorers including Roald Amundsen. This was really an incredibly well-done museum exhibit, and we only wished it weren't towards the end of our day, because boy were we tired.
We ended the day with a delicious homemade meal of fresh shrimp prepared in the traditional Norwegian style by our wonderful Airbnb hostess, Gaby. Here's a view from her dining table. You can even see the Olympic ski jump off in the distance. Not too shabby!
Our plane touched down in Oslo around 10am Norway time. After dropping off our bags at the Airbnb, we headed straight over to City Hall for a tour with our delightfully nerdy tour guide. It's a beautiful old building where, along with other official State business, the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is held. Do you see that long bench along the wall on the ground floor? We fell asleep smack in the middle of that bench for an hour and awoke to literally no one else on the bench and a large tour group standing directly in front of us. So that happened.
We then hopped on the tram to get to The Vigeland Park which is the world's largest sculpture park. It's stunningly beautiful. So very green, with flowers everywhere and some very impressive fountains. The sculpture artist, Gustav Vigeland, was obviously very talented but perhaps a bit disturbed. Exhibit A (and my favorite)...
I mean, it takes some strong feelings to want to punt a baby...and then to memorialize those feelings for all eternity, yikes. Here are some other pictures of the park.
Notwithstanding the above sculpture, one very obvious characteristic of this society is the focus on family. Mothers get a full year of maternity leave with 80% of their original pay, and fathers are expected to take two months paternity leave. Within the first few minutes of walking around the city, we saw several individual fathers pushing strollers around with no women in sight. How refreshing! We even saw a group of fathers and their baby strollers. We also noticed many families with four or five little kids. It's basically free to have and raise children here, so why not? Overall, the people seem quite happy and balanced. Everything is so incredibly clean, efficient, and friendly that we would consider moving if not for the harsh winters. Well, it's midnight here and still light outside, but we're going to try to get some sleep.
We flew out of Raleigh at 10:30am. Coincidence of all coincidences, I sat beside one of my old colleagues from High Point at the gate. He was heading to Boston for a conference, and we were heading to Boston for a 9 hour layover. Woohoo! Anyway, here's a pic of us with our massive backpacks.
Because we're procrastinators, we spent a good two hours in the Boston airport ripping off the free WiFi and attending to some last minute business. One agenda item was to call the City of Durham to have our water turned off for three months. The city worker I spoke to either didn't hear me or wasn't paying attention and I got a call two hours later from the maintenance worker to confirm that I wanted water disconnected from Voyager Academy in Durham. No. No, that is not what I wanted. If the poor kids at that school didn't have water today, my sincere apologies. 😉 Off to a strong start.
We then headed into the city to pass the time by walking around Boston's "Little Italy." Hirsh saw one of his old business school classmates, too! What a small world!!
Welcome, friends and family, to our travel website! We're glad you're sharing this incredible experience of a lifetime with us.
We'll be spending a full three months exploring Europe, as well as (hopefully) Turkey and Morocco. We'll be starting the journey in Norway and likely ending in Scotland, with a very loose itinerary and lots of anticipation in between.
We hope to update this site every couple of days with new pictures and stories, so check back often. We'll also have access to email, so please drop us a line and let us know about what's going on back home. Updates on the current political climate will be less welcomed, as we are assuming the identities of Canadians while abroad. ;) OK, we're sort of kidding about that. Seriously though, we will surely get sick of each other and need to interact with other people, so help us out, eh?
So...armed with our phone cameras and a selfie stick, we're off!