We landed early in the morning and made our way to the hotel. Breakfast was going on, so we decided to eat as well. We asked the hotel staff how much it would cost and they said 200 Kroner which amounts to about $30. We assumed that meant $30 for the 3 of us. As we were checking out a few days later, we realized that they meant 200 Kroner per person, bringing the total to $90. Thankfully, due to our misunderstanding, they graciously waved the extra $60, but that just shows how incredibly expensive Scandinavia is as well as how kind they are.
Once breakfast was over, we just walked the streets of Copenhagen and explored the town until we hopped on a boat for a canal tour of the city. It was pretty hard to hear with all the wind, but the guide pointed out a bunch of cool and unique things about Copenhagen like how they have a new clean energy facility that also functions as a ski slope on the roof, which combines both environmentally friendly infrastructure and a new entertainment facility.
After the tour, we kept walking around and went shopping. Just like Amsterdam, Denmark has a huge biking culture. Still, I was shocked to see a wide bike path on every road, one almost wider than the space given to cars. It was nice to see that when the infrastructure is there, people really do choose to bike rather than drive, especially in the spring and summer. We ended our first night with some delicious Danish McDonalds which ACTUALLY had multiple vegetarian options! The burger surpassed my expectations and was so flavorful and delicious. Our meal for the 3 of us did end up being almost $30 which was a shocker but also prepared us for future sit down meals that would be even more expensive.
We decided last minute to do a day trip to Sweden and I’m so glad we did! With a tour bus, we were able to explore multiple Danish and Swedish towns. We visited Kronborg castle, Lundagard church, walked multiple picturesque towns, and had delicious food. The castle was initially utilized for collecting taxes from passing ships, as well as housing the king, queen, and all their servants. It also displayed the most popular gowns during each ruler’s reign, many of which reminded me of Indian outfits with how intricate and luxurious they were. We then walked through the streets of Lund, a beautiful Swedish town, and had delicious falafel wraps for lunch. There seems to be a lot of middle eastern food in Denmark and Sweden, which surprised me, but maybe Middle Eastern influences have increased due to a recent wave of immigration.
After Lund, we headed to Malmo the closest big city. It was a similar picturesque town where we went shopping and just exploded the town. Malmö has long been renowned for spearheading an eco-friendly way of life. The city's eco-drive has transformed a polluted, defunct shipyard in the city into a green, sustainable living district. Recently though, the creativity of the city planners received some publicity globally.
We ended the night with Thai food for dinner, where the food was very flavorful, but they charged us for tap water which was a huge shocker. In most places in Europe, there isn’t really the concept of tipping like there is in the US, but that can be seen with a difference in service sometimes. I noticed that servers in the US tend to be a bit more friendly than some of the servers we met in Scandinavia, but that would of course vary based on the restaurant.
Our last day in Denmark and we still hadn’t hit the famous Tivoli Gardens! I love amusement parks, so I made sure that we were to spend enough time at Tivoli. It was so picturesque and absolutely adorable. The rides were more cute rather than actually big/intense, so it really did feel more like a garden/scenic area than an amusement park. Still, I got the ride pass and rode many of them, including one that told the story of multiple fairytales.
They also had a few unique rides, whose concept I had never thought of, like one where you had to pull yourself up to the top using the attached ropes in order to fall back down, an arm workout for sure lol. After a couple of hours, we got hungry and saw a ramen place that looked delicious. I had never had ramen before then so I was super excited to try it and WOW it was so good. I had a tofu and vegetable udon noodle bowl.
We had to have dessert too of course so we grabbed some ice cream and that was very delicious as well. They had a bunch of unique flavors like raspberry and passion fruit and the flavor of the ice cream was different too. I got fudge caramel and it was delicious. Soon after we were done eating, it started to rain and not just drizzle but full-on pour. We were stuck near a ride for what felt like forever but finally just decided to make a run for it. We ran through the rain towards the exit and made it back to our hotel before we headed off to the airport to catch our flight to Bergen, Norway. At the airport, we grabbed dinner which consisted of pizza and more ramen. The pizza was definitely Italian style as it was the thinnest crust I’ve ever seen, to the point where it fell apart as soon as you picked it up. Unpopular opinion, but I think the best pizzas are 70-80% sauce and maybe 20-30% cheese and that’s exactly what this pizza was.
Norway flaunts its eco-friendly policy initiatives and it's easy to see why with the abundance of electric car charging stations. Plus, most of Norway’s electricity comes from hydroelectric power, despite their oil wealth. In that sense, they’re able to financially capitalize on their oil resources but are more environmentally conscious of their own emissions, making Norway look especially good compared to other countries. However, it also makes them look a bit hypocritical as they are encouraging other countries to buy oil from them and pollute the planet while looking down upon other countries for not being as environmentally conscious. Not to mention, gas prices are insanely high, more than twice as high as the prices in the US, but almost everyone seems to own an RV and uses it frequently. People also don't seem to mind the high gas prices and don't complain about them the way we do in the US, which is surprising.
We landed in Bergen late at night and planned to take the train to our hotel in the city center. As we attempted to buy tickets, we found that the ticket machine wasn’t working. While we were trying to figure out what to do, we met a middle-aged man who I eventually realized only knew Spanish and was trying to ask us if we were able to get tickets. I recognized that he was speaking Spanish and tried to translate. His face lit up when he realized I knew (some) Spanish and so we continued talking. He told me that the machine stops working all the time and to just get on the train without paying. We decided to follow his advice, after, of course, talking to the help desk and confirming that it was okay. I thought the conversation would end there, or possibly in the next 5 minutes. Nope. The man kept talking to me for, I kid you not, at least the next 30 minutes. And, soon enough, this wasn’t really a conversation, it was more him constantly speaking and me nodding along and answering his questions here and there. A very nice man, but a very long 50-minute train ride.
The next morning, we went down for breakfast in the Thon Hotel Bristol Bergen and I was blown away by how wide the selection was. I had the best chia seed pudding and I’m pretty sure their secret ingredient was adding Greek yogurt to make it extra creamy. Whatever it was, clearly, it worked.
We then headed out for a city-wide walking tour and learned about everything from the history of Bergen to its role in the world economy today and what daily life looks like for its citizens. We got to walk in between some of the old houses and visit some of the wealthiest neighborhoods. I can’t even imagine how expensive those beautiful white Houses complete with a stunning views could cost, but they are very pricey for sure. Our guide told us that having a white house signified wealth, whereas poor commoners would have a red house because red paint was the easiest to acquire (presumably created using animal blood). That explained why the city was dotted with mostly red and white Houses. She also mentioned the importance of unions and how, in its history, Norway was always in a union with either Denmark or Sweden as the inferior partner, but about 100 years ago the country became independent. This has apparently influenced their population in rejecting referendums regarding joining the EU. After the discovery of oil, though, Norway was on its way to becoming one of the richest countries in the world, as it is now.
We spent quite a bit of time in Bryggen, which is Bergen's oldest district and is famous for crooked houses. At over 1,000 years old, it was originally founded as a trade center for stockfish, a type of dried fish, that was transported south for sale from northern Norway towards the rest of Europe. For almost 400 years, Bryggen was a German/Hanseatic league trade office. The Hanseatic takeover was a result of the Black Death which attacked Bergen in 1347 and took the lives of three-quarters of Norway's population within a year, resulting in the collapse of the Norwegian state. As a result, Denmark managed the state, while the Hanseatic League took control over trade. The crookedness of houses is attributed to bad engineering as they were built on top of a landfill, but now have become a tourist attraction and are a world heritage site. So, even though they have to keep rebuilding every couple of years, at least it brings more tourists and boosts the economy?
After the tour, we just wandered around and eventually ended up at the Swedish clothing store Gina Tricot. I ended up spending more money than I intended, but they had cute, European-style clothes, so it was very much worth it. We ended the night by eating at an Indian restaurant for dinner, which was much needed after a week of non-Indian food.
Waterfalls and Fjords!
We woke up bright and early to eat a quick breakfast before heading out on a driving tour of the waterfalls and fjords. We hiked up behind the beautiful Steindalsfossen waterfall and took photos of the breathtaking view. The waterfall almost looked manmade with how perfectly it was positioned for a staircase to be constructed underneath. I also noticed that they had placed these circular objects on the rocks, which I came to find out were meant to keep the rocks from breaking.
Ironically, as we were taking photos, we met a couple who’s also from Virginia and whose daughter actually went to VA Tech. Small world for sure lol. On our way down, we noticed a souvenir shop. I try to get a t shirt from every country I visit, so Norway wasn’t going to be any different. We bought a t shirt and a magnet and headed off to our next stop, another waterfall.
One of the highlights was the use of a car ferry to cross over from Torvikbygd to Jondal. It was strange to drive into another vehicle, but the views were gorgeous and it was an easy way for us to cross the fjord with our car. In the next few days, it became a normal way to travel, as routine as crossing a bridge. We crisscrossed the Hardanger region the whole day.
We thought that it would be an easy drive to our airBnB located in the Sognefjord area, the longest and deepest fjord in Norway, but oh were we wrong. We ended up having to drive on a single-lane narrow road up and down a mountain surrounded by clouds to the point where visibility was so low that you could barely see an outline of the road in front of you. Although very scary, it was a cool experience getting to drive through the clouds in the middle of snow-covered mountains and we did eventually make it to clearer visibility. We ended the night by checking into our airBnB, doing some grocery shopping, and getting some pizza for dinner. A hotel nearby was nice enough to make us 2 pizzas even after the restaurant inside had already closed. Probably because we looked like desperate tourists and we were, in fact, desperate, starving tourists.
We slept in, mostly because I kept sleeping, and eventually headed out by 11. As soon as I stepped out the door, I was shocked to feel the sun shining down on my face and actual warmth?! It had been cloudy, cold, and rainy the past week, so the sun was a welcome surprise. On our way out, we saw a festival going on with street vendors and lots of people walking around which was fun to see. We then headed off to our first stop. Just wow. The photos certainly don’t do Norway justice. Crystal clear water, snow-capped mountains, and lush green valleys dotted with little red and white Houses, it was absolutely stunning. We took lots of photos and just enjoyed the nice weather and admired the beautiful view. Most of the day was again spent driving around, stopping at certain destinations on the way and taking photos of the beautiful landscape.
Hikes and Views
We started off on another scenic drive and stopped at a few viewpoints to take photos. From there, we eventually made it to the Loen Skylift where we went up to the top of a mountain. I was shocked at how expensive the ticket was, but kids aged 6-15 were half price, so I was 15 for the day and half price. The lift gave us a 360 degree panorama of the beautiful snow capped mountains, lake, and greenery, so definitely worth the price. Once there, they had different activities that could be done on the mountain, from paragliding to all types of hikes. Attempting to follow some sort of path, I hiked through the snow with my dad. There were no signs that showed where the hiking paths were so we just started walking and ended up on a snow covered mountain. Even though we definitely went the wrong way and for sure not on an actual path, it was a beautiful hike and felt crazy that we were submerged in a foot deep snow in June. We went down the sky lift and drove until we reached our dinner spot. I had high hopes for dinner since I was craving pasta and I figured European pasta would be better than American pasta. Mmm I was wrong, at least for that restaurant. It was Norwegian style, which I came to find out meant flavorless and tasteless.
We then headed straight for the air BnB where I was beyond excited when we turned into the driveway of the house with a trampoline. As soon as we brought the luggage into the house, I ran toward the trampoline and spent the next hour attempting tricks I hadn’t tried in over 2 years. It was such a surreal experience jumping among the mountains.
We ended the night by going on an evening walk among the mountains and waterfalls.
Ferries, waterfalls, and an accident
We began driving towards our next destination, but stopped at multiple picturesque spots on our way. We eventually got onto the Hellesylt-Geiranger car ferry, which both allowed us to cross the fjord to get to our next destination and also provided an hour and a half cruise type experience, as we were able to drive onto the ship, park the car, and walk up to the top deck. It was really nice weather out and the perfect day to just be outside. There, I tried a Norwegian dish called Svella, which is like a pancake topped with a sweet frosting.
While we were on the boat, a nice Norwegian lady came up to me and we began talking. As a local, she told us about her favorite spots, from which we got some ideas on what to look for when sightseeing. We also saw the famous 7 sisters waterfall, which was made up of 7 mini waterfalls side by side flowing from one of the mountains. Once we got off the boat, we drove through mountains covered in snow and even saw some people skiing. It looked like so much fun, but considering that I skied for the first time in over 9 years in December, I didn’t think I was anywhere close to a Scandinavian’s skill level.
We eventually made it to a beautiful lookout point that had no barriers, making it the perfect spot for picturesque photos.
We then drove to another waterfall, this one being right on the road. I looked at the weather and realized that it was only in the upper 60s to low 70s, yet it somehow felt so hot?
We had bought some ice cream from a grocery store on our way to the Airbnb, so once we reached the Airbnb, I went to the car to get it before it melted along with some other luggage. But, as I was walking down the stairs, I tripped and rolled my ankle, while the bag of ice cream and other luggage went flying. I somehow landed right below the bottom step, passed out, and woke up to water being splashed in my face. I’ll usually pass out if I’m not prepared to see blood, but why I passed out after rolling my ankle? I have no idea. Unfortunately, I know I’m never gonna live that down and my parents did make fun of me for the rest of the trip, rightfully so, I'd say.
A long drive
Since we had to get from a small fjord town to Oslo, which was supposedly a 7 hour drive without stops, it was mostly a day of driving. We stopped for lunch at a place off of the highway and had some delicious pizza and ice cream before heading to our only stop of the day- Lillehammer - the location of Norway’s winter sports area. It was pretty underwhelming to be honest, as we had expected there to be something explaining its significance, but there was no such thing as that.
We eventually got to Oslo by 6 pm and quickly got ready to go to a friend of a friend's house for dinner. He picked us up, in his very fancy Tesla that is, and it was nice getting to see some of the more residential parts of Oslo outside of the main downtown area. After a 40 minute drive, we made it to their house and talked for a while before having a delicious dinner and heading back to our hotel. I was surprised to hear that charging stations for electric vehicles are free of charge and that there’s no tax on electric vehicles compared to around a 25% tax on regular gas/diesel vehicles. Because of that, the majority of new cars sold are electric, somewhere upwards of 60-70%, compared to the mere 5% in the US. Later, we read an interesting anecdote about how a Pop music group was instrumental in determining Electric vehicle friendly policies in Norway. Maybe if Hollywood embraced such views in the US and the US implemented policies like Norway- more people would choose electric over gas-run cars here too?
We started off our only full day in Oslo by heading to see the Oslo Opera House. Its architecture was really unique because you could walk up to a deck where you could see a beautiful view of the city. Plus, the building itself was made out of a modern looking glass and added to the pretty skyline.
We then made our way to The Fram museum which explained the Norwegian exploration of the arctic and Antarctic as well as helped build the country’s credibility in the eyes of other nations. The museum had a fun activity where you could put a harness on and see if you could pull as much weight as the Vikings would’ve had to. I tried both the kids' weight and the adult weight and based on that, I would’ve only survived as a kid.
They also had a replica of an igloo and a ship that showcased what typical life was like at the time. The ship was especially cool because visitors could walk through it and read descriptions about the types of people who would've lived there. They also had animations that showed video recordings of typical life which really made the whole replica come to life.
We then went to The Folk Museum which explained general Norwegian history and displayed artifacts throughout the past few centuries, which was cool to see.
We ended the day by visiting the sculpture gardens called Vigeland Park, designed by Gustav Vigeland. Thanks to google maps, it felt like we were searching for the garden forever until we met some people who pointed us in the right direction. I’m glad we didn’t give up our search, though, because the sculptures were so beautiful and intricate. The main monolith, carved out of a single stone depicts 121 human figures clinging and floating together. There are women and men of different ages, and the top of the Monolith is crowned with children. The sculpture has been interpreted as a kind of vision of resurrection, and our longing and striving for spirituality. We even met a tour guide who helped us understand some of the potential interpretations of why the sculptures were constructed. The main theme in the park is the circle of life. This is also the reason why Vigeland displayed all the sculptures, except one of himself, without clothes. He wanted them to be timeless.
Scandinavia exceeded my expectations beyond belief and I’m so glad I got to visit. I would for sure recommend visiting these beautiful countries, being sure not to skip driving through the beautiful fjords, cascading waterfalls, and lush greenery.