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Scandinavia trip report

My husband and I and 8 of our friends just returned from a 12-night trip to Scandinavia,- July 11 -24. This was the second time we five couples (all in our late 50's, early 60's) have traveled together as a group. Our first trip was to Tuscany in 2017. That one was so much fun! Within 10 months of our return home we were already talking about where we should go next. A lot of planning went into the Scandinavia trip, and it all went very well, so I thought I'd write my first-ever trip review on this forum.

I was the main planner for this vacation and got started about a year in advance. I love travel planning! Doing the research, reading reviews, searching for hidden gems, chatting on this travel forum, connecting with locals in the foreign country, scoring super deals from booking so early . . . . it all adds to the fun for me. The excited anticipation of all that's to come is a way to get a year's worth of pleasure out of a two week trip!

The last time my husband and I traveled to Europe, we followed his preference: a home base for a week, with day trips. That trip was Provence, and the area lent itself well to that style of travel. This time, my husband knew that things would be much more fast paced, which is my preferred style of travel. Everyone in our group was of the mind that this would likely be the one and only time they'd visit Scandinavia. No one is retired yet so 12 nights (13 with the flight) is all we could manage. We wanted to experience as much of Scandinavia as possible! Instead of deeply delving into one country, we decided to do this as more of a "Scandinavia 101" survey course!

How to get started??? I looked at the itinerary of the Rick Steves Scandinavia in 14 days tour and saw that the tour has no overnight stays exceeding 2 nights. It has overnight destinations in 2 cities in Sweden, 2 cities in Denmark, and 3 cities in Norway. I read rave reviews about that tour. None of the reviewers complained that it was too much time spent in transit and not enough time spent enjoying the destinations. I contacted friends from our Rick Steves Village Italy tour, knowing that they'd taken the Scandinavia in 14 Days tour. They shared information about the places they stayed and the activities they enjoyed and wholly endorsed our idea of trying to replicate that trip on our own, so we decided to do that! However, I eliminated the single night stay in Kalmar, Sweden and the single night stay in the Jotunheimen Mountains, in Norway, and I reduced the two night stay in Oslo to a one night stay. I added a two night stay in Balestrand, Norway, so as to slow things down after our "Norway in a Nutshell" day, experiencing the tranquility and beauty of the fjords in between our stays in Oslo and Bergen.

I know that with fully guided group travel, the transit from place to place is effortless: just board the bus at the appointed time and you're off to a new place. Doing this as independent travel would be a little more stressful, but with careful planning, i knew we could do it.

We had a fabulous time! We saw and did so many awesome things!

Airfare: The first order of business was to book our airline tickets and after monitoring prices for a while, we saw a good deal and jumped on it. The booking was in August of 2018. Our flights from Chicago to Stockholm, with a plane change in Amsterdam, were $896 per person. We got to Chicago from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area by a private limo service, only about $600 round trip, or $60 per person, less than we'd have paid to take a bus down and back.

Because of the cut off on number of characters, I'm going to have to review this trip in a series of posts. Next up, our stay in Stockholm!

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Day 1 Stockholm: We arrived at 11 a.m. Two cab drivers were waiting for us, holding signs with our names on them, after we exited baggage claim. That's a very welcoming sight after an overnight flight. The cab booking had been offered by our hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel Wellington. I had contacted the hotel to ask about check in time, because we had booked a walking tour of Stockholm for our arrival day and wanted to make sure we'd be able to get rid of our luggage before the tour. The hotel had an early check-in fee so we were just going to have them hold our bags for us. We accepted their offer to book cabs for us. When we got to the hotel, they waived the early check in fee and gave us our rooms right away. We loved this hotel! It was very reasonable, we thought, especially with the discount we got on our rooms because we all signed up for free Nordic Choice membership. When we were doing the booking, we requested rooms in the separate guest house rather than the main hotel. We loved the sound of it. The Wellington Guest House is down the block and around the corner from the main hotel and is also known as the Parlan Hotel. This is a gracious old building with tons of charm and character and we loved our stay there! We were given both an electronic key card and a 4 digit code. We could use either to unlock the door down on the street, then we had to ascend two flights of curved stairs (or use the elevator) to get to the Guesthouse. The same key card and electronic code unlocked that door. Inside, we had a huge amount of common space that we could enjoy as a group. There was a large living room with lots of beautiful and comfortable furniture, a very well-equipped kitchen, a dining room with multiple tables, and a small balcony with a couple of tea tables and chairs and a view of the interior courtyard down below.

The rooms varied in size although all were the same price. Some in our group had huge rooms, others had quite small ones. However, all were impeccably clean, had great bathrooms with good showers, comfortable beds, etc. The kitchen had a sign on the refrigerator advising that the food in there was not for guests to help themselves, as a staff member would use that food to prepare our breakfast buffet. However, in other areas of the kitchen, we could help ourselves, all day, to coffee, tea, fruit, cookies, and other snacks.

We walked about 5 minutes to meet up with the guide for our private walking tour. The tour company was Nova Fairy Tales. Our guide's name was Birum, and he was great! We saw and learned so much from him! We booked this tour with Nova Fairy Tales ahead of the trip after seeing that this company offers tours in Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo. We got a nice discount by booking 3 tours, one in each city. In each of those cities, they offer a 3 hr. small group public walking tour and a 3 hr. small group public biking tour. Group size for the public tours is limited to 10 participants. Or, we could book a 3 hr. private tour (walk or bike). In Stockholm, the public walking tour would be $45 USD per person and the private would be $300 for the group. With 10 people in our group, the private tour was a no brainer.

Birum's tour was great. We spent a lot of time in Gamla Stan, the old town area of Stockholm. We walked through beautiful public parks and traversed many of the cities bridges. Taking this tour on our arrival day was a good way to stay active and outdoors and try to keep jet lag at bay. It provided us with a good orientation to Stockholm, which we knew would be beneficial on our full free day the next day.

Back at the hotel, in the main building, we enjoyed the included dinner buffet. It's billed as a "simple supper," but there was a large variety of food and it was all very tasty. The hotel had a great bartender! We went back to the Guesthouse and enjoyed some time conversing with each other in our comfortable living room before calling it a day.

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My husband and I are leaving for our first trip to Scandinavia in 3 weeks! 4 nights in Stockholm is first, then 3 nights in Oslo followed by 4 nights in Copenhagen, then we're off to Germany for 2 weeks. We've been planning this adventure since October 2018. I'm looking forward to rest of your story!!!!!

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Stockholm, Day 2: A hotel employee arrived at about 7:30 a.m. to prepare our breakfast buffet. It was a bountiful, wonderful array of food! The highlight for me were the loaves of freshly-baked, still warm, crusty bread. Other than during breakfast preparation, we never saw any staff members while in the Guest House. It felt more like an Air BnB stay than a hotel stay. Very private.

Today we visited the History Museum, watched the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace and visited the Royal Chapel there, spent more time in Gamla Stan and in the Stortoget Square area, took a free ferry to Djurgarden, where we visited the Vasa Museum (which we loved!), did lots of walking all over the city, and a enjoyed a relaxing cocktail hour in the outdoor area of a harborside bar. My fitbit said we walked 9 miles today. After the included dinner buffet at the hotel, some of us enjoyed using the sauna there. Very relaxing and nice!

Day 3: Departing Stockholm. We had tickets today to take the train from Stockholm to Copenhagen, departing Stockholm at 12:19 and arriving in Copenhagen at 5:30. These were booked online way in advance as non-refundable tickets and cost only about $26 USD per person. Normally one would board the train at the main station in Stockholm's center, but because of construction work on the lines, we had to book our journey as a departure from Stockholm's Sodra (south) station. It would have been a long walk so we took cabs. We went to that area early because we heard that the Sodra neighborhood is kind of a youthful, vibrant area with lots of great restaurants and cafes. The men sat and relaxed in a park and watched our bags while the women took a walk around the area, then we switched places. The train ride was nice. At the end, we crossed over an awesome bridge from Malmo, Sweden into Denmark.

Copenhagen: Our hotel in Denmark was the Ibsens Hotel. It was lovely. We could have gotten there on the metro from the train station, in just a few minutes, but it was a nice evening and we'd been sitting on a train all afternoon so we decided to walk. The walk was about 20 minutes and included a stroll through a gorgeous and huge public park. We loved the Ibsen Hotel. It was beautiful and our rooms there were very lovely and spacious. The hotel was located in a convenient area of the city, close to shops, cafes, restaurants, bakeries, a laundromat, a food hall, a grocery (convenience) store, bike rental shops, pizza parlors, etc.

After checking into the hotel, we walked all the way back to the train station area to spend the evening in Tivoli Gardens, which is right across the street from the main entrance to the train station. We had dinner there at a restaurant called Groften and enjoyed the meal very much. It was lovely to be in Tivoli Gardens in the evening, seeing it all lit up. At closing, there is a light and water show set to music, in Tivoli Lake.

Day 4: Copenhagen: My husband and I opted to go to a bakery near the hotel to pick up some breakfast items, rather than eating in the hotel, as it was a very bountiful buffet and rather pricey and we didn't want that much food. At 10 a.m., our group had a three hour bike tour of Copenhagen by Nova Fairy Tales. Our guide was Krystal. She was so much fun and this was such a great way to see Copenhagen! We covered so much more ground than we could have covered on a walking tour. The bikes were comfortable and easy to ride. Riding was very flat. We never felt that the car traffic was a problem for us. We'd bike for a while, then hop off to have Krystal tell us something about the area or buildings we were seeing. Her presentation was not just a series of dry facts but was very entertaining with lots of stories. We loved this tour! Near the end we passed a small restaurant called Det Lille Apotek, and Krystal recommended we go back and have lunch there after the tour.

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(Continued with Day 4): Det Lillle Apotek was once an apothecary. It is the oldest restaurant in the city, in operation since 1705. Here we had the traditional open faced sandwiches that are so popular in Copenhagen. There were variety platters on the menu that allowed us to choose several of them. This restaurant had a cozy, quaint atmosphere and was a great spot for our lunch! After lunch we spent some time in the Nyhaven area. There was a festive street atmosphere in this area, with live music. Then we walked to Christiania. It was interesting to stroll through. We were careful to keep our cameras put away, as the residents don't like to have pictures taken in there. Our plan for the evening was to take a harbor and canal cruise. We knew of two companies offering the cruise and had asked Krystal, earlier in the day, if she could recommend one over the other. She had a different suggestion. She said those would be large boats holding perhaps 30 people, with the tour offered in three different languages. Instead, she recommended that we book a harbor and canal cruise with a company called Hey Captain. Their boats are small, holding a maximum of 12 people. It might be that no one else would sign up for the time we reserved and we'd have a private tour, but if others joined us, it would be no more than 2 people.She said that the narration would be live, by the boat captain, and this company would fill a cooler with wine and beer for us to enjoy on the tour at no extra charge. The small boat would be able to get into places that the larger boats couldn't go. We took Krystal's advice and booked a Hey Captain tour. We did the booking online and were pleased to see it go through. So at 6 p.m. it was time to go find our captain. He was a young man named Lasse, 23 years old, and his tour was fabulous! He grabbed some warm wool blankets as we headed out to the boat, as it was a chilly evening and he wanted people to have a way to cover their laps or shoulders if they got cold. The group was the 10 of us and a couple from Germany who were very nice to get to know. Lasse sat cross legged in the bow of his boat, facing us, for much of the tour, and his stories were so much fun! He spent some time getting to know us, too. It was a very scenic and social tour and one of the highlights of our time in Copenhagen. We highly recommend Hey Captain for it's harbor and canal cruise, especially if you can get Lasse as your captain! He gave us a few restaurant recommendations, for dinner following the cruise, but all of us were tired and we just wanted to head back to the area in which our hotel was located and find a simple meal nearby. There were two pizza places near our hotel and most of us ate in those places.

Day 5: Our journey from Copenhagen to Aeroskobing on Aero Island. We had another half day in Copenhagen. We spent it sticking close to the hotel. Some of our group went up in the "round tower" for great views of the rooftops of the city. Others did a little shopping. In the late morning, we checked out of the hotel and walked to the train station. We had tickets to go from Copenhagen to Svendborg, Denmark, with a train change in Odense. It was a pleasant train journey. In Odense, we had only 5 minutes to change trains but the station is small and that was plenty of time. All our trains in Scandinavia were always on time! In Svendborg, we had only 10 minutes to walk to the ferry port to catch a ferry to Aeroskobing. We timed our train arrival in Svendborg so that if we missed that ferry, we'd only have to wait an hour for the next one (as opposed to two hours). The ten minutes was twice the time we needed to get to the ferry. The train tickets today were purchased in advance (more on that later). They cost 93 dkk per person plus a 30 dkk seat reservation fee, all of which added up to about $17 per person. Ferry tickets are just bought onboard and were $37, which included the return trip to Svendborg.

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That's all I'll write today. Tomorrow or the next day I'll write about our time in Aeroskobing, our overnight cruise from Copenhagen to Oslo (so much fun!), our day in Oslo, our rainy-but-still-fun Norway in a Nutshell day, the delightful two days we spent in Balestrand, and our final two days in Bergen.

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More about the ferry from Svendborg to Aeroskobing: You can see the schedule online. Pay no attention to the information about reservations if you have no car. Only cars need a reservation. The ferry is huge and can accommodate all passengers without cars, no problem. It departs Svendborg at 5 minutes after the hour, but not each hour of the day. There are departures at 12:05, 1:05, 3:05, 4:05, 6:05 and 7:05. (There are some earlier and later too.) So we knew not to time our arrival by train for the 1:05 ferry because if we missed that one, we'd have to wait two hours for the next one. We timed our arrival for the 3:05 ferry, and did make it. If we'd missed it, Svendborg would have been a nice place to sit in a cafe for an hour waiting for the 4:05 ferry. It seems like a cute little town.

I worried about the fact that we'd have only 10 minutes to walk to the ferry port. Our Rick Steves guidebook had directions on how to find it so we'd memorized those, but that wouldn't have been necessary. Almost everyone who gets off the train is going to the harbor to catch the ferry, so just follow that crowd! When we got there, we could see a long line of cars waiting to board. We had plenty of time to spare.

The ferry ride is 75 minutes. The boat was huge and beautiful. Shortly after departure they came around and collected a fee from each passenger. Half our group was up on the open area on top of the boat while others were inside, and we asked if we needed to gather everyone together so they could see who we were paying for. That wasn't necessary. It's all handled pretty casually. We paid by American credit card. There might have been a small service charge to pay that way rather than with cash, but it wasn't a big fee. It was comfortable to ride indoors, either in a comfy upholstered seat or at one of the many tables with chairs. But it was more fun to be out on the top deck on this beautiful sunny day. We could buy snacks, beer, etc. The water was very smooth on this beautiful day, no risk of anyone getting seasick.

When we arrived in Aeroskobing, we walked less than five minutes up the main street that lead into town and found ourselves at the B&B we'd booked for this two night stay, Pension Vestergard 44. I'd been corresponding by email with the owner of this B&B, Susanna Grieve, for several months, and had spoken on the phone with her one time. She felt like an old friend before we even arrived. She greeted us at the door and warmly welcomed us into her home. Her inn is a former seacaptain's home built in 1784. It is furnished with antiques and is very beautiful! The first floor has a sitting room, dining room and library. There are six bedrooms on the second floor and three bathrooms to share on that floor. (Susanna calls that the first floor.) And there are two bedrooms in the garden house behind the main house, with a shared bathroom. Susanna allowed us to pick the rooms we wanted. We took the two in the garden house and three of the rooms on the second floor. Susanna assigned two of the bathrooms on that floor to us. The remaining one would be used by the other guests she was expecting that night. She had only accepted one other advance reservation for our time with her so that the shared bathroom situation would work out well, but then she did get a walk in while we were there and gave that couple a room. It was not a problem at all. There was plenty of room at the B&B for all the guests.

Susanna (who is from England) had us join her at the table and chairs in her backyard garden after we'd dropped bags in our rooms. That table was all set with pretty blue and white china cups and plates. She offered coffee or tea and brought out a plate of sweet treats, two kinds of bars. She spent this time talking with us a little bit about the island and the things we might like to do during our stay. She was delightful! We liked her sweet dog, Tillie, too!

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On our first evening in Aeroskobing, we just spent time strolling up and down the small cobbled streets in town, admiring the buildings and views. And the flowers everywhere. When someone in our group complimented a local resident on his beautiful gardens, he invited them inside the gate to have a chat. The people in Aeroskobing were very friendly! We enjoyed a round of beers in the outdoor seating area outside of a pub near the harbor. This town was an important seaport in the 17th Century and has been carefully restored to preserve the culture of of that era. It's really an idyllic Danish village! We had dinner at the Italian restaurant located in a hotel called Badhotel Harmonien. Susanna had recommended this restaurant and made the reservations for us. The food was good but not the service. The food was delivered in batches. When the first plates were delivered, those people were going to wait for everyone to be served before they began eating, but soon the food was getting cold and they were encouraged to begin. Some people at our table didn't get served until others were done eating. We don't recommend this restaurant.

Day 6: Our full day in Aeroskobing began with a beautiful breakfast. Susanna educated us about the free hop-on, hop-off bus that travels around the island and we decided to catch the bus and explore other areas of the island besides Aeroskobing. There are two other towns: Soby and Marstal. The island is bigger than you might think, and to take the bus all the way around, without getting off, would take about an hour. Some of us got off in Soby but there wasn't much to see there. Marstal had a maritime museum to visit, and a pretty church, and a few shops and restaurants. Hopping on and off the bus occupied us for the morning. In the afternoon, half of our group rented bikes and the other half went to the beach. The owner of the bike shop was very helpful in directing us to the trails and letting us know which ones would be flat and easy and which ones would involve more uphill climbs. We chose flat and easy, a trail that lead from Aeroskobing to Marstal, following the seashore almost the whole way. The biking was wonderful! We enjoyed beautiful views of the sea, fields of wheat, grazing sheep, wildflowers, and even some thatched roof homes. Some of the residents along this very rural trail had set out small snacks or bottled water for bikers, with payment on the honor system. This mimicked what we'd seen in town, in Aeroskobing. One local resident had delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies on her doorstep, with an unlocked box to use for the very modest fee she was charging. Another had homemade caramels. There were some simple craft items that could be purchased this way.

Our dinner this night was at Mumm's and it was a great meal. Most of us had seafood, locally caught of course. It was delicious. This restaurant has a beautiful courtyard for outdoor dining and we'd have loved to be in that area, but with the size of our group, they put us inside. That was fine, but if you don't have a huge group and make a reservation, request an outdoor table!

After dinner, we got gelato at a shop in town that sold hand blown glassware and gelato--funny combination! Then we met up in the main town square to take the Nightwatchman tour. It's given in English on Wednesdays, and this happened to be a Wednesday. What a fun tour! The Nightwatchman lead us through town and taught us so much about the history of the town and culture of life there today. He told some great stores. He had a fun sense of humor. Highly recommended. At the end of the tour, he collected a small fee from each guest. It could be paid in USD ($5) or in DKK.

We really loved our day and a half in Aeroskobing! Life there is slow and pleasurable. It was a great respite after four days in two Scandinavian capitals. It wasn't easy to get to, but the effort was very worth it!

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Day 7: Susanna served our breakfast early, as we needed to leave on the 8:35 a.m. ferry. We needed to get back to Copenhagen today for our reservations on the overnight ferry to Oslo. Our first train ticket for the day was for the 11:02 a.m. train departing Svendborg for Odense, so after the ferry got to Svendborg, we were going to have about an hour to wait for the train. Then we'd have six minutes to make a train change in Odense. We'd bought these tickets in advance at the most deeply discounted rate ("orange tickets") and they were said to be useable only for our exact departure times. Susanna assured us that this really only applied to the Odense-to-Copenhagen high-speed train portion. She said no one would even be on the first train to check tickets, so if we wanted to try to catch the 10:02 train in Svendborg, to have a less stressful transfer in Odense, we should do that. She said that if tickets were checked, the person wouldn't care. It's just a regional train and every departure costs the same. We did catch the 10:02 train, no one ever checked tickets, and this gave us an hour of wait time in Odense instead of having to rush to catch a train in six minutes.

This evening we would be on the DFDS overnight ferry to Oslo. DFDS has a shuttle bus that picks passengers up in city center to get them to the ferry port, but the pick up spot would have been a half hour walk for us from the train station. Instead, we boarded a subway at the train station, and when we got off at our stop, we were right at the port. It was an inexpensive (about $3.50) and easy way to get to the port. Boarding is supposed to begin at 3:45. We got there an hour early and assumed we'd just have to hang around and wait, but we did go into the terminal to ask about early boarding and this was no problem. We were the first passengers to board.

We booked the DFDS ferry online many months in advance, and when we did that, we were puzzled to see that "Commodore Deluxe" cabins, generous-sized rooms with king sized beds and balconies, were priced the same as regular (non-deluxe) cabins with balconies or portholes, and were actually less money than the small inside cabins that held 4 passengers each. You pay per cabin and not per passenger. The Commodore Deluxe cabins would include 24 hour access to the Commodore Deluxe lounge, where free snacks and drinks would be available (including wine, beer, and a few spirits), and the Commodore class passengers would also have an included breakfast in a dining room separate from where other passengers could purchase breakfast. We didn't get it, how they could make this deal available for no more money than anyone else was paying. We grabbed five of those cabins.

Wow, this was a fun part of our trip! The Commodore Deluxe cabins were stretched along the bow of the top deck of the ship. To get into our cabin area required a special pass card. Our rooms were beautiful, very spacious, with luxuriously comfortable beds. The balconies were huge. The rooms refrigerators contained two small complimentary bottles of champagne, and chocolates were on the night stands. Our pass card also was how we got into the Commodore Deluxe Lounge. It was huge and beautiful and lead to a private glass-walled outdoor area which is where we spent this whole afternoon and evening. The ship has a pool deck, but the pool was tiny. We were quite happy with the Commodore lounge! It had a generous array of prepared food set out for us, a refrigerator stocked with soda and water and juice along with the beer and wine. There was an espresso machine to make coffee drinks. A steward appeared every so often to see if anyone needed anything. We felt like royalty and it was all so affordable. Our cruise, including the dinner buffet we'd purchased in advance, was only $215 per couple. Super cheap, considering it was our hotel room, our transportation to a new city, an all you can eat dinner, and the fun of being on the sea!

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For anyone who thinks this review is getting ridiculously long, please know that I'm only about half way through our trip.

Day 8: The sea had been as smooth as glass for our overnight cruise and we'd enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the ship as well as a beautiful sunrise. People say to be sure to be outside as the ship sails into Oslo, as the trip through those fjords is very beautiful. Unfortunately, the sky clouded over before we got to Oslo and then it started to rain, so we didn't see it at its best.

Disembarking from the ship took a lot longer than we anticipated. We had booked a room for this night at the Comfort Hotel Grand Central, located in the same complex as the train station. This hotel was selected because we had tickets for a 6:28 a.m. train the next day, leg #1 of Norway in a Nutshell. We had a 15 minute walk to get to the hotel, and then another 15 minute walk to get to the spot where we were supposed to meet our Nova Fairy Tales private guide at 11 a.m. We were going to be at least a half hour late to the tour. We called the company and they let our guide know that we were on our way but would be late. At the hotel, the rooms weren't yet available but they have luggage storage. A suite was actually available and we upgraded one of the rooms to that suite to have a more secure place to put all our luggage.

Our Nova Fairy Tales guide for Oslo was a young woman named Lorena. This tour was negatively impacted by the weather so we didn't see as much of Oslo as we'd have liked to see. At first it was just a light rain, but then it started to pour, and that turned into thunder and lightning. Fortunately, during the thunderstorm we were at Asherkus fortress, where there were courtyards to take shelter. Lorena found plenty to share about Oslo as we waited for the weather to clear. We started walking again once the lightning stopped. Lorena was softspoken and it was a bit hard to hear her over the sound of rain beating on our umbrellas, but she did her best and we liked her a lot. She felt bad that our tour wasn't a better experience, and when our time was up, she didn't rush off. She then took the time to talk to us about the things we might like to do for the rest of our day in Oslo. When the men decided to visit the Viking Museum, and the women decided to go to Frogner Park, Lorena actually walked us to a TI to help us buy the right tickets to get to those places, which was a bus for the men and a tram for the women. They she walked each group to the place needed to catch that transport, and spent time telling us how to get back to the hotel after our visits. She went above and beyond and we were very grateful for her kindness and consideration.

The Viking Museum was fun for the men, and we women loved Frogner park, with its 600 granite and marble Vigeland statues, beautiful flower gardens, and water fountains.

Everyone got dinner on their own this evening. My husband and I spent some time at Oslo's beautiful opera house in the evening. It was fun to watch local residents jumping into the sea from the rooftops of some small shacks situated in the water, which we'd been told were actually saunas.

The Comfort Hotel Grand Suites was a great place to stay. There are no room refrigerators, which was a problem because we wanted to buy sandwiches this evening to take with us on our Norway in a Nutshell journey the next day. We'd be leaving before any stores in the train station would be open. The hotel kindly offered us space in their refrigerator for the food we said we would like to buy. Then they also offered to provide us with breakfast bags in the morning, as we'd be checking out before the included breakfast buffet would bre set up. The staff at this hotel went above and beyond and the rooms were very nice. Quirky, modern and fun.

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Sport your time in Oslo was negatively impacted by the weather. The Viking Museum had such beautiful ships and we enjoyed the other nearby
museums. I agree that Frogner/ Vineland Park was a highlight too.
I wonder why you only gave Oslo one night?

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Day 9 - Norway's tourism has a thing called Norway in A Nutshell. It's a way to go from Oslo to Bergen, or vice versa, the scenic way, through the fjords. We did Norway in a Nutshell this day. It's really just a series of public transportation links. From Oslo, it starts with a 5 hour train ride that ends in Myrdal. Your choices are to depart from Oslo at 6:28 a.m. or at around 8:25 a.m. We did the former. In Myrdal, there's a short wait and then you get on the scenic Flamsbana railway for another train ride that lasts about an hour. It ends in Flam. There you have another short wait and then get on a scenic cruise for a 90 to 120 minute ride through the one of the narrowest and most beautiful of Norway's fjords. The cruise ends in Gudvangen, where you get on a bus. You have about an hour long bus ride to get to Voss. In Voss, you get on a train to complete the journey to Bergen. It's a 12 hour day. You can buy the tickets as a package from a tour operator, but it's not a tour. It's just a series of public transportation links. To save money, you can buy the tickets individually, on your own. That's what we did. And we customized the itinerary. We didn't complete the journey with the train from Voss to Bergen but instead rented cars in Voss and drove up to Balestrand for a two night stay before then driving on to Bergen.

We booked the scenic cruise part of the day in October, 9 months before our trip. They were purchased online through Visit Flam, a tourism office. Our choices were the classic boat or the premium boat. We chose the premium boat because it was described as a quiet glide through the water. That sounded nice. It's faster by a half hour than the classic boat, which is why some might like the classic. We got the train tickets for the Oslo-Myrdal leg by booking online through the Norway national rail website, as soon as they became available, 3 months prior to our date of travel. Early booking allowed us to get some super good prices. On the same day, we bought the Flamsbana tickets through Visit Flam. There are no reserved seats on the Flamsbana UNLESS you are a group of ten or more. Since we were, we were able to get reserved seats.

I had worried that staying in the train station area of Oslo might be a little seedy, but it made sense, with that very early departure, and it turned out to be quite a nice area. The complex that houses the train station and our hotel also includes a TI office and some nice, rather upscale, places to eat, along with some nice grocery stores. In the morning, we checked out of the hotel and we didn't even have to go outdoors to get to the train. It was a two minute walk down the center of the complex, then up two flights of escalators, then a walk down another hallway, and there we were at the train platform. The train left promptly at 6:28 a.m.

We had beautiful scenery on the train ride from Oslo to Myrdal. Sit on the left side of the train, if possible, for the best views.

It wasn't a problem that we had to tote our bags with us during our Norway in a Nutshell day. They were stowed away on luggage racks in the trains and on the cruise and then put into the luggage areas under the bus in Gudvangen.

Myrdal is a tiny little place, just a train platform, basically. It was chilly there! I opened my bag and put on more layers. An employee with a clipboard was looking for group travelers to give them their reserved car numbers. When the train pulled in, we boarded our reserved car. Our names were on a sign on the door. It wasn't filled to capacity. People walked around for different views outside of different windows. This was all very casual. The views were stunning. The train stopped early on the ride to let us out for about ten minutes so we could take photos of a massive, beautiful waterfall.

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Norway in a Nutshell - continued. We had about a 40 minute wait in Flam for our cruise. I'd been looking forward to seeing Flam but it was a disappointment. It's just full of tourist shops. A huge cruise ship was in port there and it loomed over the tiny town, spoiling the ambiance.

We did love the premium boat that took us on our cruise. It was super sleek and comfortable. The boat was far from full. We could have accommodated many, many more passengers. Therefore it was easy to have great views. Unfortunately, the weather was only good for the first half hour. Then it started to rain and most people who'd been on the outside decks did come indoors to stay dry. While the wet weather was a disappointment, and I would have preferred to see the fjords under sunny blue skies, at least it wasn't a day when the tops of the mountains were obscured by fog. The cloudy mist had it's own beautiful mystique as we sailed through the fjords.

Gudvangen was confusing. We had been lead to believe that each time a cruise boat comes in, it's met by a bus that will take those passengers to Voss, and though we might have to wait a few minutes, it wouldn't be a long wait. We'd just have to hop on and pay the driver, no reservations needed or even possible. When we got off the boat, in the pouring rain, we saw a whole parking lot full of buses, but those were obviously tour buses. Then we saw a bus we thought was the correct one. The lighted sign across the front said "Norway in a Nutshell" and "Voss." But no driver was on board, and it was parked next to a schedule that indicated it wouldn't be departing for two hours. There was almost no place to stand to get out of the rain. Someone in our group went inside a small building and found the bus driver and he did confirm that it would be a two hour wait for his bus to depart. However, he said we could walk out to the highway, a 5 to 10 minute walk, and go to the bus stop out there, and a city bus would come along in 15 or so minutes and take us to Voss. So that's what we did and I think that's the bus we were supposed to be looking for in the first place. But this bus didn't take us up to the Stalheim Hotel for scenic views, which is what I'd read the bus would do. It headed straight to Voss. Maybe it sometimes does that but skipped the scenic part because of the poor weather.

We actually had the driver let us out at the bus stop in Skulestandmo, a little before Voss, and he had no problem with that. It's where the Hertz rental facility is located, the one known as "Hertz Voss." I had communicated by phone with this Hertz office prior to our trip, not comfortable booking rental cars without having an actual conversation with the rental facility and verifying that they'd be open (it was going to be close to 5 p.m. on a Saturday when we got there) and would have cars sufficient in size for our large group. The man in charge was very nice to deal with on the phone. He promised he'd be there personally to rent the cars to us. One day in advance of our car rentals, he emailed me to say he couldn't be there after all, but he'd leave our keys and rental contracts in the gas station in Skulestandmo, and after we picked them up, we'd only have a 30 m walk to Hertz to get the cars. I was nervous about this but it all worked out. By 5:30 p.m. we were on our way to Balestrand in two comfortable cars.

We chose two nights in Balestrand because we'd all been looking forward to seeing the fjords and worried that if the Flamsbana ride and scenic cruise had foggy weather, we'd miss out altogether. Balestrand sounded like a delightful little village in which to spend some time relaxing at this point in our vacation. It wasn't easy to figure out how to get there. There's an express boat from Flam to Balestrand but it runs only 2x per day and we couldn't do both the cruise from Flam to Gudvangen and then get back to Flam in time to take the express boat. Rental cars was the answer.

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The drive up to Balestrand was easier than we'd thought it might be. We had to do one car ferry crossing. That's where we experienced delay. We just missed one ferry and had to wait quite awhile for another. When we'd mapped out the itinerary for this trip, we estimated that we'd get to Balestrand by 7:30 p.m., or maybe 8:00, but it was actually 8:30 when we got there. This was a potential problem because we were hungry, having not had a full meal all day but just snacks, and I'd determined, in advance of the trip, that although Balestrand has a number of restaurants, all of them are closed by 9:00. I'd tried to get a reservation for dinner for 10 in advance of the trip but that proved hard to do and I'd given up on it and just assumed that something would work out when we got there. If no restaurants were open, maybe a grocery store would be.

As soon as we pulled into town, one rental car drove to our hotel, the Balestrand Hotel, to let them know we'd arrived and to pick up room keys, while the other rental car set out to find a restaurant that could seat all ten of us. It appeared that the two grocery stores in town were both closed. We were willing to sit at separate tables for dining, of course, or even separate restaurants. The restaurant-search group suffered the outrage of a crabby proprietor at the first restaurant they tried, a place called Ippi. She ranted about how unreasonable it was for a group of 10 to expect to be seated so close to her closing time. They apologized and left, then had great luck at the next restaurant they tried, a place called Vikingertreff. The owner of that restaurant, too, was planning to close at 9:00 but could see that our group was tired and hungry and she happily agreed to stay open for another hour to feed us. This was counter service. We ordered and paid at her counter and she made the food and brought it to us in batches as it was done. Everything was delicious and the owner was so pleasant about it all. A great dining experience!

The owner of the Balestrand Hotel, Unni-Marie, felt like a friend already when I met her in person because I'd communicated with her quite extensively by email in advance of the trip, and she'd given me many tips and helpful suggestions, and we'd spoken once by phone as well. We loved our stay in the Balestrand Hotel! There was a lot of common space for our group to use to spend time together as a group. We could congregate in the living room, or in the furnished corners of the large lobby, or on tables and chairs outside of the inn. From each of these areas, we had beautiful fjord views! Our rooms were very spacious with comfortable beds and generous-sized showers with great water pressure and hot water. Four of our rooms had balconies looking out over the fjord. (The fifth couple in our group opted to save some money and take a non-view room.) The hotel had a rustic, comfortable ambiance. It felt very home-like. It's family run by Unni-Marie (who is Norwegian) and her husband (who is American). Their daughter, a graduate student who studies in Spain, was home for the summer, helping them run the inn.

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Day 10 - Balestrand. One reason we liked the idea of using rental cars to get to Balestrand is that we'd have the use of those cars all day on our full free day in that area, and then when we left Balestrand the next day, bound for Bergen, we could do so on our own schedule, without having to worry about train schedules, and we could review the route options and choose the one that suited us best, and make stops along the way as desired.

My research, in advance of the trip, had disclosed that what you do, in the Balestrand area, is enjoy nature activities. This was going to be a way to enjoy another rural stay, like we'd had on Aero Island, a nice contrast to our big city stays. We had thought we'd spend our full day in Balestrand taking some great hikes, or a scenic bike ride. We might want to rent kayaks, or walk on a glacier, or visit a stave church, or find a scenic car route that would take us past stunning waterfalls. There were things to do right in Balestrand, but we'd have far more choices of activity if we had a car.

So it was disappointing that there was poor weather in Balestrand on our full day. It was chilly and it rained on and off. We didn't even take the cars out but left them parked all day. During a period of time when the forecast said we'd be dry for a couple hours, some of us did go find a a place to hike, on trails that lead up a mountain right on the edge of town. The trailhead was within walking distance of our hotel. The hike was very beautiful despite the grey weather. My husband and I headed back to the hotel when we'd felt we'd hiked long enough, but a group of six kept going. It started to rain then, but they were having a great time and were well dressed for rain and decided to keep going rather than turn around. Hiking in the rain only seemed to add to the sense of adventure and fun! When they finally decided to head down the mountain, they ran into a local hiker who told them, no! You must keep going! In three minutes you will see something really special! So they did. Up there, they found a newly constructed hiker's hut. It wasn't quite done. A week earlier, the materials and tools to build this hut had been airdropped in, by helicopter. It had a nice deck and sleeping platforms inside. This hut, when done, would be intended for first-come, first served use by hikers. Tools, including some power tools, were still on site. The hikers in our group hung out at the hut for a while to regroup before the hike back down the mountain. Some of them made themselves walking sticks from tree branches on the ground, as the ground was now slick and they'd be going downhill. They met up with quite a few sheep on their hike back down the mountain. When they got back to the hotel they were laughing about what a fabulous time they'd had. Their clothes were soaked! Fortunately, the hotel has a drying room where wet clothes can be hung. It includes shoe dryers. I don't know how they'd have gotten all that wet clothing dry without the heated blowers in that room.

We kind of took over the hotel's living room/library at this point. We saw no other guests on site so we brought down some snacks that we'd bought at the grocery store and set up an hors d'oeuvre buffet and poured cocktails and had an enjoyable couple of hours.

Dinner this night was at Gekkens restaurant. We'd made a reservation in the afternoon, and when we arrived at 7 p.m., the owner personally lead us to a large table they'd set up for us at the back. He warmly welcomed us, talked to us about some old family photos that were hanging on the wall above our table. Our server was his daughter. The cook was his wife. We all enjoyed our meal here and appreciated the very friendly, attentive service. We loved this family run restaurant.

The sun was out when we finished eating! We loved strolling around town seeing the beautiful views as the sun shone through the clouds for the first time all day.

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What a wonderful trip report! Love all the detail and useful information. We hope to get to Scandinavia and this is so helpful.

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Day 11: In Norway, this time of year, it never gets pitch black. It's still pretty light out at 11 p.m., and again before 4 a.m. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. today and peeked out the window to see if we were going to have clear skies. The sky was crystal clear, no clouds, and there was a nice warm glow on the horizon, the rising sun. I got out of bed, got dressed and spent an hour walking around this beautiful village on a beautiful fjord. I didn't see a soul the whole time. It was perfect peace and tranquility, a lovely sunrise, the whole town to myself.

Our group wandered down to the breakfast room by and by. The breakfast at the Balestrand Hotel is included in the room rate and it's a nice breakfast buffet. We were headed for Bergen today to wrap up our trip. The weather forecast there was all-day rain. On the other hand, it was clear and dry in Balestrand. We decided to hang around town for most of the morning to enjoy the town's pretty views that we hadn't yet gotten to fully appreciate.

When we checked out of the hotel, Unni-Marie suggested a route to Bergen that would take us north of Balestrand, through beautiful mountains. We'd be going right by the Gaularfjellet viewing platform and she knew we'd want to get out of the car and take in the vista views from that amazing platform.

We had a lovely drive to Bergen. Beautiful views. We had a fun lunch stop on the way, I'm not even sure what town we were in or near. We arrived in Bergen at about 5:00. Our final stay for this vacation was two nights at To Sostre Guesthouse, a B&B that's just a five minute walk from the Bryggen area on the harbor. (They call it a B&B but there is no provided breakfast.) The two drivers dropped off passengers and bags, at the B&B, and then drove to the Hertz rental facility in town to return the rental cars.

To Sostre has 3 rooms in the main guesthouse, and in an adjacent house, there is a 2 bedroom apartment and a 3 bedroom apartment. We took all three rooms in the guesthouse and also had the two bedroom apartment. This was another great place to stay! We loved the location. It was right in the old town area of Bergen. The buildings in this area are all set on small cobbled lanes. They're quite steep. Really quaint. We had the exclusive use of the guesthouse because we were occupying all three bedrooms. The house had a comfortable sized living room and kitchen, and a dining room with a table that would seat all ten of us. The kitchen was well equipped. Prior guests had purposely left behind staples that we were welcome to use, things like coffee and jam and flour. To Sostre has a nice outdoor space for guests, a yard that is shared by all the homes that border it. It had picnic tables and a grill. We never used the outdoor space because our time in Bergen was so short, but had we been there longer, we'd have used it.

This evening the weather was blustery. It was chilly and very windy and raining. We went down to the Bryggen area to get dinner and had a nice meal in a restaurant in that area. We immediately discovered that there was a major festival in town, scheduled for the next two days. It was the 2019 Tall Ships Festival. Many beautiful ships were in the harbor. Tables were set up in the street for festival goers. On this blustery night, the tables were under tents, but they were pretty empty.

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Two days left and looking forward to hearing about it. You planned a great trip...Congrats

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Our last day: To Sostre Guesthouse is a one minute walk away from a grocery store. We started our final day with a delicious homemade breakfast that we prepared in our kitchen and ate in our dining room. Breakfast included fresh pastries from a wonderful bakery that was a ten minute stroll away.

Bergen is the rainiest city in Europe, and we certainly saw that on our arrival day, but after a light mist during a portion of the morning on our final day, the sun came out, the clouds went away, and the rest of the day was glorious--so warm and sunny! This morning my husband and I and one other couple in our group took a tram out to the edge of town to visit the Edvard Grieg house and museum. There's a fully guided bus tour out there, with an 11 a.m. departure from the TI down at the harbor, but it was sold out. However, it wasn't hard to figure out how to get out there on our own. The tram ride was 20 minutes and then we had a 20 to 30 minute walk to get to the Grieg estate. The house is beautiful, a Victorian home set high on a hill above the fjord. Edvard Grieg needed absolute solitude when he wrote music, and he built a composing shack down on the fjord for this purpose. We enjoyed the informative house tour very much. When it was over, we went into the new, gorgeous chamber music hall on the property to listen to a piano recital of Grieg music. The pianist was fabulous and the music hall was stunning. On stage, the wall behind the grand piano was a big window, and the view out of that window was the composing shack and the fjord. So beautiful, a brilliant design. To listen to the composer's music while gazing at the very place where he wrote it was very moving. Afterwards we went through the museum, which I thought was wonderful. We admired the gardens on the estate and took the shady, wooded path down to the composing shack, where we also saw the crypt in a rock where the ashes of Edvard and his wife are entombed. There's a beautiful cafe in the building that houses the museum and chamber music hall but we didn't go there.

Back in Bergen city center, we met up with the rest of our group and enjoyed lunch in the outdoor area of a harborside restaurant. The others had gone on an impromptu small-group city tour and had visited the Hanseatic Museum and had enjoyed a very pleasant morning.

After lunch, some of us took the funicular up to the spot high above town where there are fabulous views of the city. After that we shopped, some bought wool sweaters or mittens to take home as souvenirs. We strolled, wandered through the fish market, listened to the live music in the streets, and just generally enjoyed the crazy street life of Bergen on this festive day with the Tall Ships event in town.

At 11 p.m., there were fireworks over the harbor. We watched them through the masts of the tall ships. When the fireworks stopped, all the ships blew their horns for a few minutes, a cacophony of sound. Such a fun way to end our spectacular two weeks in Scandinavia!

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Wow, what an amazing trip you planned! Thanks for sharing so many details with us. I did some of these activities with my mom as a teenager, and you brought back lots of great memories for me, especially in the Norway part. We took that same train and I remember stopping at that massive waterfall! I loved the fjords, too.

Did your group see the Bergen Fish Market at all? That was memorable for me-I bought five of the largest shrimp I’d ever seen, and thoroughly enjoyed them right on the spot!

Thanks for taking the time to share your trip. What a great adventure to do with friends!

Laurie

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Great report! The best part about the Flamsbana train taking it from Flam (we stayed 2 nights in Flam last summer and loved it) is getting off at Myrdal train station, renting bikes, and then coasting downhill back to Flam with the most jaw dropping scenery you could imagine. A real highlight of our NIN trip last summer.

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Lovely report. We did the Rick Steve’s tour last year and loved it. We had great weather in Bergen but not in some areas. We added the Norway in a Nutshell from Bergen back to Oslo and had fabulous fjord weather. (On the tour earlier it was misty and cold). Leaving from Bergen it was dark for much of the last leg as it was late August.
Your report makes me want to return on my own—your report of transportation was especially helpful. 👍🏼

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Wow! What a wonderful trip with friends who get along together 😊. You can be my trip planner, for certain. Great report, thank you.

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Vickie,

What a wonderful trip report! I can picture you so easily in your jacket navigating these countries with ease. I am jealous of Commodore class on the Oslo ferry; the inside cabin is not quite the same.

Anne

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Anne, I'm glad you found and read my trip report! Yes it was a great trip. I'm glad your visit to all those same places was wonderful too. Thank you again for responding to my other travel forum post about leaving my jacket in the overhead bin of the flight from Bergen to Amsterdam, and thank you for retrieving it for me from the AMS lost and found and returning it. It was so very kind of you!