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Trip Report Breaking out of the Nutshell: Oslo, Bergen, the Sognefjord and Copenhagen

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We returned yesterday from a quick, but enjoyable nine-day vacation to Norway and Denmark and will try to finish up our trip report promptly, before work gets the better of us. Perhaps this report will turn out to be in the style of Vladimir Nabokov, or perhaps it will read more like Stephen King…or even Edgar Allen Poe. You can judge that for yourself—if you really care.
http://www.fodors.com/community/fodorite-lounge/i-write-like-whom-find-out-whom-you-write-like.cfm

Earlier in the year, we determined that we’d have just over a week for a trip at the end of July, squeezed in between DD’s various summer activities. Our key criterion was a location that wouldn’t be too warm—in hindsight, a very good idea, as Chicago has had a pretty hot summer, and we were sick of the heat. Scandinavia (and particularly, the fjords of Norway) has always been near the top of our vacation wish list, so that of course came up for discussion. While it might have been easier and cheaper to stay closer to home, we did have at our disposal some United system-wide upgrades that had to be used this year—and we found upgrades available for our exact travel dates. We booked a trip into Oslo and out of Copenhagen and then got to work reading and planning.

Ultimately, we settled on this itinerary:
1 night in Oslo
2 nights in Bergen
3 nights on and around the Sognefjord (two on the Lusterfjord and one in Stalheim)
3 nights in Copenhagen

A couple of notes about this itinerary…

Certainly, given our short time frame and fast pace, once could accurately label this trip “Norway in a nutshell,” although we opted not to do the official, organized Norway in a Nutshell program (or any of its variants). We’d like to offer a particular thank you to those here who encourage driving. We did. It is easy, relatively speaking, and it really made a difference, even in the short time we spent in the country.

Secondly, we moved around more than we typically do on trips these days (and more than we typically like to do). We also made a few rather unconventional decisions, such as opting for plane versus train to get from Oslo to Bergen. All of this was done to maximize our time at our destinations, even if it meant spending a bit more money in what was (for us) already an expensive destination.

Finally, while there are all sorts of things to do in the cities we visited, including a variety of interesting museums, we kind of decided up front that this would be an “outdoor” vacation to the extent the weather permitted (some context for why we did or didn’t do specific things).

Ultimately, the trip produced some very memorable moments, including one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences and undoubtedly the best view to which we’ve ever awakened in a hotel room. Details—and photos—to come.

For those who don’t know us here, we are in our mid-to-late 40s and travel with our teenage daughter. We are neither high-end nor budget travelers, and while we generally put some work into dining choices, we don’t plan our trips around food. Given the exchange rate and other factors (most notably, DD’s dislike of just about any type of food that comes from the sea…or river or lake), meals definitely took a back seat to other considerations on this trip. We also spent more on accommodations and some other things than we typically do, and at times this gave us pause—but, we figure it all averages out in the end (our next trip is to Vietnam, where hotel and other costs will be considerably less).

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    Oslo: More than a jumping-off point

    Like some others, we debated whether to spend time here or head immediately to the west. In the end, we had just about 24 hours in the city, and we’re very glad we did.

    Hotel

    Proximity to Oslo Central Station was our primary consideration—okay, that, and something that would accommodate three people at about $300 or less per night. The Clarion Hotel Bastion met both criteria, with the added benefit that the rate includes not only a generous breakfast but also waffles in the afternoon and an evening buffet that is substantial enough to call dinner (maybe not sufficient for foodies, but it was fine for us at the end of a long travel day).

    Our room was not large; in fact, it had the first of a number of very small bathrooms that we encountered on this trip. But, it was comfortable, relatively quiet (except for the drunk woman who emerged, shouting, from a bar down the street at 3 am), and offered free wifi. And the staff was exceptionally friendly and helpful.

    The hotel isn’t on the most picturesque street in Oslo, but it is less than 10 minutes by foot to the train station and within easy walking distance of many of the city’s primary sights.

    Triple room (double plus sofabed) @ NOK 1,980, booked through the Choice Hotels website
    http://www.hotelbastion.no

    Sights

    Our first afternoon/evening included a self-guided stroll around the city center that began with walking on (yes, on) the opera house roof for views of the city and the harbor. From there, we walked up Karl Johan’s Gate from the station to the Slottet (Royal Palace), stopping occasionally for DD to window shop and ponder why there are so many H&M stores in such a small area (I think we saw at least three or four).

    Late in the afternoon, we made our way to the Aker Brygge, the old harbor-front that has been transformed into a shopping and entertainment area, for refreshments, and then on to the Akerhus Slott, a fortress that dates to around 1300. The interior of the fortress was closed by that time, but we were still able to explore the grounds (in fact, they were setting up for a concert later that night) and climb the walls for nice views of the harbor.

    After our hotel dinner, we went back to the opera house at about 10 pm. By now, the clouds had passed, revealing a beautiful golden-hour glow around the city. Even the shipyard in the harbor looked particularly nice in the sunset!

    One of our last decisions in planning this trip was to fly between Oslo and Bergen and to do so later in the day—condensing our door-to-door time to about four hours and giving us until about 1 pm on our second day for additional sightseeing in Oslo. In contrast, the train takes seven to eight hours (not including getting to and from the stations). We were very happy with this decision, as it enabled us to take a trip out to Vigeland Sculpture Park on a gorgeous, sunny Saturday morning. Vigeland Park has some 200+ sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, representing humanity in various forms. Even with tour group after tour group parading through the park, it was very enjoyable—and only a 15-minute tram ride from Central Station.

    We also had time to visit the Rådhuset and its ceremonial hall, in which the Nobel Peace Prize is presented each year, and Christiania Torv, the city’s first market square.

    Food

    As noted earlier, we did most of our eating at the hotel, with one exception—late afternoon refreshments at Jacob Aall at the Aker Brygge, including a pretty good “tapas” plate with meatballs, grilled squid, and some other interesting items. Our outdoor table was an excellent spot for watching boats of all sorts (including a cruise ship) on the harbor.

    Transportation

    We used the “fast” airport train, Flytoget, to get from the airport to the city center and back. It is the fastest option, but also the most expensive at NOK 170 per person (again, we were all about maximizing our time at this point). It is well signed at both the airport and train station, and very easy to use, with trains running three times per hour. There are a couple other train options that take a bit more time (and cost less), as well as a bus.

    We also used the No. 12 tram line to get to and from Vigeland Park—also very easy to use (buy tickets at 7-11s or other outlets and stamp them on the tram). Otherwise, we walked everywhere, and enjoyed doing so.

    Impressions

    Overall, we enjoyed Oslo more than we expected to. It is a very pleasant smaller city with attractive architecture and public spaces, friendly people and a nice, low-key sort of vibe—certainly worthy of more time than we were able to give it on this trip.

    Some photos:
    http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p622547067

    Next up: Bergen

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    Thanks, HappyTrvlr.

    Bergen

    Bergen was our second stop, and our time here was devoted primarily to exploring the city center and historic areas.

    Accommodations

    We really hadn’t spent much time researching Bergen (and, thus, weren’t too familiar with specific areas) when we booked the Skuteviken Guesthouse. We were attracted by the favorable reviews (mostly Tripadvisor) and by the fact that it is a self-catering accommodation, which we have come to prefer at times.

    The guesthouse is located in a quiet, old residential section of Bergen that is over the hill from the main wharf area and back behind the large park and fortification at the mouth of the harbor. The area is every bit as attractive and historic as Bryggen, but without the crowds—just a few cruise passengers now and then who get off the ship and turn the “wrong” way. In fact, we saw relatively few restaurants and places to stay there—just a few small guesthouses right in the area. Yet, by cutting through the Bergenhus fortification (a park-like-area), you can get to all the action in less than 10 minutes.

    There are five apartments, each decorated in an attractive and different way. Our unit was not spacious, and the bedroom was tiny; the head, foot and one side of the bed touch three walls of the bedroom, so the person on the “inside” has to crawl over the other to get out of bed. The living room couch doubles as a daybed for a third person. The bathroom, by comparison, was fairly good sized and the largest we encountered on our trip.

    There is a small kitchen unit with a couple of burners, a refrigerator, a sink and various pots, pans, utensils, glasses, plates, etc. We were easily able to fix a couple of simple meals here.

    There is no air conditioning. The weather was very nice while we were there, so we didn’t really miss it. I don’t know what it would be like, though, in very hot weather (if Bergen actually does get hot). Since we were staying in such a quiet area, we were able to leave the windows open at night.

    The guesthouse has free wifi, which worked well on the computer, but DD had to go to the downstairs lobby to get reception on her iPhone.

    All in all, we loved the location. The apartment would have been a bit small for three people for a longer stay, but it suited us just fine for a couple of days.

    NOK 1,100 per night for three persons
    http://www.skutevikenguesthouse.com/englishindex.htm

    Sights

    I will preface this by saying that we had fabulous weather in Bergen. With temps in the upper 60s (F) and few clouds, we spent most of our time outdoors. Of course we explored Bryggen, the area of colorful wooden buildings along the waterfront for which Bergen is best known (most are reproductions due to past fires). Make sure to go beyond the facades and check out the narrow alley ways—mostly now galleries, offices and shops (although generally better than some of the tacky souvenir shops that line the waterfront).

    The fish market is small but interesting, and it has a tempting array of prepared items. The shrimp salads or open-face shrimp sandwiches available here or at one of the restaurants around the city make a great lunch or snack. For the more adventurous, some of the vendors offer whale steak.

    We also spent some time in the Bergenhus fortress, which houses the Håkonshallen and Rosenkrantztårnet. The latter includes elements that date to the 1200s and today is home to a museum and an observation area with some terrific views over the city. Closer to Skutevikens, there is a path that provides access to the fortification’s upper walls and even better views.

    One of the city’s most popular attractions is the observation deck at the top of Fløyen mountain, accessible via the Fløibanen funicular. We chose to go up for the sunset on our first night (fyi, sunset was at about 10:30 pm). While it wasn’t an especially colorful sunset, it was a great time to go up nonetheless. We managed to get the front seats of the funicular and were treated to quite a view on the way up. Apparently, you can walk down from the top, and had we gone up during the day, we most likely would have done just that. But, we also may have waited quite awhile to get to the top. We happened to walk by the lower funicular station about 2 pm the following day, and the line was down the street.

    We tried to visit two of Bergen’s more notable churches, but we missed the opening hours of the Bergen Domkirke by about 30 minutes (it was Sunday afternoon) and the Mariakirken was closed for restoration.

    Other than that, we did a lot of wandering and enjoying Bergen’s public spaces, including resting our feet and soaking up some sun by the Lille Lungegårdsvann, a lake with fountain surrounded by a park just a few blocks from the waterfront.

    We debated about taking one of the day cruises (either the hour-long harbor cruise or the four-hour fjord cruise) but convinced ourselves that those would probably pale in comparison to the scenery to come in the next few days. In hindsight, a good decision.

    Food

    We visited the Safari grocery store near our apartment to stock up on breakfast foods, snacks and supplies for one home-cooked pasta dinner. The one notable thing we couldn’t get at the grocery was a bottle of wine. Of course, we knew wine was expensive in Norway, but we didn’t know it can only be purchased at government-approved locations, and only during certain hours (and certainly not on a weekend, which is when we were there). In fact, mr_go inquired about how he could purchase a bottle of wine, and the response was that it would be “easier to fly home to your own country.”

    Our one notable meal out was at the recommendation of our proprietor, at a restaurant called Zupperia—a few blocks off the harbor on a smaller side street. It has an attractive, modern space and an eclectic menu. We enjoyed local fish soup, mussels in spicy garlic-chili sauce and red curry chicken.
    http://www.zupperia.no/

    Transportation

    We chose to take a taxi from the airport, primarily because we were unsure about the walk from the airport bus terminus (Radisson Blu)—and particularly whether we’d be dragging our bags across cobblestone streets and up steep hills, and whether we’d even be able to find the guesthouse amid the maze of tiny streets in Skutevikens, most of which have the word “Skuteviken” as part of the street name. At about NOK 420, not exactly inexpensive, but we did get almost right to the guesthouse door.

    Going back to the airport two days later, we opted for the Flybussen, which leaves from the Radisson on the Bryggen every half hour. At NOK 90 per person, it was a bit cheaper than the taxi ride in. We were able to cut through the Bergenhus on a path that requires almost no significant up- or downhill movement. The bus makes a few stops; total time to the airport is about 40 minutes.

    Central Bergen is quite small, so we did everything else on foot (except for the Fløibanen funicular, as described above).

    Impressions

    Overall, we enjoyed Bergen, with its attractive setting and rich history. But we also found the crowds milling about a small area (and all of the businesses catering to them) to be bit tiring after awhile. When three cruise ships in port at once, there just isn’t a lot of room for all of their passengers to spread out. After a day and a half, we were ready to move on.

    Next up, three-plus days on and around the Sognefjord—the best part of our trip.

    Also, I will try to post some Bergen photos later today.

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    For future visits, there is a wine shop, gov't controlled, next to the Hotel Neptun where we stayed in Bergen. It was high priced but convenient as we stayed at the Neptun.Grewst report ms.go!

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    Dayenu, we'll do our best.

    Here are some photos from Bergen.

    http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p61862415

    HappyTrvlr, we were directed to one wine shop but told it would be closed that day (it was Sunday). That may have been the one. I understand the hours can be restricted, too. We ran into one family a few times up in the fjords, and they were timing their visit to Sogndal in order to hit the wine store, which was only open two or three days per week.

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    Welcome home! Enjoying this report. After our HOT trip to Italy I'm thinking we have to explore things further north to avoid the heat if we have to go later in the summer.

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    Bergen is beautiful, thank you for sharing! Good shot of the 2 backpackers looking down :) Red caviar only ~$12, probably not bad, can't see how much in each jar.

    I need to run out to buy another memory card :(

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    Thanks, everyone.

    jgg, it was definitely refreshing to be in "cooler" weather. I'd say it was in the upper 60s to low 70s most of the time, and dry (except for some of our time in Copenhagen).

    Dayenu, yes definitely take plenty of memory. We took 10+ GBs of photos (although our cameras are 10 and 12 megapixel). I hope you have good weather like we did.

    The Fjords

    This was the real heart of our trip—the reason we were there. But with such a vast area and only three to four days to play with, this part of the trip was challenging to plan. Do we book Norway in a Nutshell (or Geiranger in a Nutshell, or Sognefjord in a Nutshell…) or make the arrangements ourselves? Do we drive or take trains and ferries (or both)? Which parts of the fjords should we visit? What will we do if the weather’s bad?

    Initially, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. Of course we’d have to include the Naeroyfjord and the Geirangerfjord—and various others. And Ålesund and Trondheim looked pretty cool. And those glaciers. And, and, and…. The only thing I ruled out early on was a trip south to Pulpit Rock (Google it!). There’s a full-page photo of it in our guidebook, and it makes me sick to my stomach every time I look at it. There was no way I was going near that with the other two along (the ones who went bungy jumping in Australia; they’d love Pulpit Rock). Thankfully, we all agreed that was too far away.

    After a lot of reading, we decided to rent a car and set out on our own for a few days. We probably researched every possible destination between Ålesund and Bergen, but eventually we reeled in our expectations. We decided to spend two nights somewhere near the furthest inward point of the Sognefjord and a third night between there and the Bergen airport, from which we’d be departing.

    Bergen to Nes (Lusterfjord)

    Although we could have picked up a car in the center of Bergen, for some reason I had reserved one from the airport (cost, availability of automatic…don’t remember). At any rate, we easily found the Avis counter in the arrivals area and were quickly on our way out to the parking lot where our Hyundai I30 (diesel, as we later discovered) awaited us. It didn’t have the most powerful engine around, but it was a nimble little car with just enough space in the covered hatch for our three rollaboards and three backpacks. It also had a USB input jack, which enabled mr_go to hook up his iPod—something that made him very happy. I’ll add that he did all the driving on this trip. I moved the car once in a parking lot; otherwise, I was the navigator.

    Anticipating our trip out from Bergen, I had printed eight pages of Via Michelin detail to go along with our detailed Norway road maps (Freytag & Berndt Southern Norway and Central Norway). Due to some road construction near the airport and a closed tunnel, I lost my place in the instructions almost immediately. That resulted in one wrong turn, but we realized it fairly quickly and were soon on our way towards picking up the E16, the road that winds through the fjords and all the way to Oslo.

    It takes about 90 minutes to reach Voss, with the scenery getting progressively better along the way—although there are more tunnels than we’d expected along this stretch. The weather wasn’t quite as good as the previous days; it was cloudy but remained dry all day.

    We thought it might be nice to stop at Stalheim for lunch. We saw the signs and the big red hotel up on the side of the mountain…but we somehow we missed the turnoff and had to settle for pedestrian, overpriced sandwiches at the café at the Gudvangen ferry port. The view from the outdoor patio was pretty nice, though, with waterfalls flowing down the cliffs and clouds swirling over the western end of the Naeroyfjord. The next part of the drive included a 12 km tunnel between Gudvangen and Flåm (we decided that’s a bit long to be in a tunnel) and then more nice views as we approached Aurland.

    Highlight 1: When we reached Aurland, we had a big decision to make. We could take the expeditious route to Laerdal through the “new” 25km tunnel, or we could go overland on the “old” road. With plenty of time and decent if not sunny weather, we opted for the latter, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

    The first part of the road is a steep climb up the side of the mountain, through a series of switchbacks and on a road that is generally only wide enough for one car. It’s here that we got used to using the periodic passing points (kind of like we encountered around rural Scotland). It was great when we had a largish vehicle in front of us to do the hard work, but that wasn’t always the case. The climb put a strain on our little car’s engine, but we made it and were rewarded with terrific views over the Aurlandsfjord along the way and from the look-out point at the top—a walkway that extends over the edge of the cliff with plexiglass sides for better viewing. DD used the public restroom here and reported that the ladies’ stall has a large picture window with an unobstructed view of the fjord and mountains. Where can I get one of those??

    Eventually, we passed the tree line and the terrain changed dramatically. Really hard to describe, but if you shot it through a red filter, it might look like a Voyager photo of the surface of Mars (sort of)…lots of hills and rocks. At the highest point, there were patches of snow and a few small lakes. Fascinating! Then, we were back down into the forest and ultimately the valley near Laerdal.

    Through the tunnel, we probably could have reached Laerdal in 20 minutes (ish). This route took about an hour and 20 minutes but was well worth it. Definitely recommended if the weather is good and you are (or have in your party) a confident and experienced driver.

    At Laerdal, we decided to detour once again to see the stave church at Borgund, originally built around 1200 and the best preserved of Norway’s existing stave churches. We almost didn’t make it; traffic was stopped for several miles to move some construction equipment, but eventually we were moving and able to find the exit for the “historic road” and the church. Admission includes a small but interesting museum. Again, well worth the effort to get there.

    By now, we knew we’d miss the 7 pm dinner served at our B&B. We still had to catch the Fodnes-Manheller ferry (a quick 15-minute crossing with minimal wait; drive up, pay the fee, drive on) and then head towards Sogndal and up to the Lusterfjord. It would have been nice to be able to use the iPhones to look up a place for dinner, but our international data roaming was turned off (for good reason!).

    Sogndal was the biggest town through which we’d pass, so we decided to look there. The town was a little quiet when we pulled in and ultimately we went for convenience—a kebab/pizza café called Abbas Pizza—and ordered one of the specialties, a kebab pizza (pizza with spicy kebab meat and onions). It was better than it sounds. We found a grocery nearby and picked up some snacks and beer (by now, we’d learned our lesson about wine), and then headed about 30 minutes north to our home for the next two nights.

    As we finished dinner, the sun began to come out, casting a really nice late evening glow over the fjords and the hills. It was a really pretty ending to a spectacular drive…but the best was yet to come.

    We pulled into the Nes Gard around 8 pm. After hours of searching countless sites, I found this small B&B, located on a farm on the banks of the Lusterfjord, through visitsognefjord.no. The Nes Gard offers both regular rooms and several self-catering apartments, and we had chosen one of the latter. Our apartment was in the main building and had a nice living room with sofabed, a small bedroom with two twin beds, a small but efficient bathroom, and a full kitchen with oven, stove, and refrigerator—everything necessary for an extended stay, which unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to do. The apartment’s most defining feature, though, was its front porch, with a view over the small white church below, the fjord and the Feigefossen, Norway’s fifth largest waterfall, cascading tdown the cliff across the valley.
    http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p231284037/hf5af7da#hf5af7da

    When it’s really quiet, you can hear the waterfall from a few kilometers across the water. Watching the evening light change and then fade on the mountains and water—just amazing! What else could we do? We broke open our six-pack of beer and admired the view.
    http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p231284037/h7e2b183#h7e2b183

    Nes Gard, NOK 1,250 per night, including breakfast
    http://www.nesgard.no/english.aspx

    I'm running a little behind with the photos and must actually do some work today. I'll try to post some this evening.

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    This has bought back a lot of memories for me. We also drove the 'snow road' from Aurland to Laerdal. And at Laerdal, we swam in the fjord - accompanied by baby otters!

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    Thanks bob, RM67 and Dayenu.

    Swimming with otters. What fun! We didn't test the water, but I was imagining it would be pretty cold??

    This is a quick effort, but here are some photos from the drive described above. I have some more photos to go through and will add to it when I have a chance.

    http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p231284037

    Next up, close encounters with a glacier.

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    The Glacier

    We had a full day to explore the area around the Nes Gard, and it is an area rich with activities and natural splendor. We could hike any number of trails and paths; for example, up to the foot of the Feigefossen. We could take one of the B&B’s boats out on the fjord. We could visit historical sites, such as the Urnes Stavekirke (a UNESCO World Heritage site). We could kayak or go on a horseback ride. Or we could get up close and personal with a glacier.

    Our hosts, of course, are very well versed in the area’s possibilities and work with their guests to plan excursions. I think the husband even organizes and escorts hiking trips. We did some research in advance and had an inclination to check out the glacier. Once we knew what the weather would be like (excellent!), we sought some assistance in finalizing our plans.

    The valley just to the west of the Lusterfjord offers various opportunities to see and even hike on parts of the Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in continental Europe (Iceland has larger glaciers). We’d read up on these through several sites (links below) and were a bit torn between just hiking out to see the Nigardsbreen (the most accessible arm), something that we could do on our own with just a small admission fee, or actually hiking on the glacier, which required an organized tour at a higher cost. Although we saw people doing the former, and it looked like it would have been fun (particularly with a picnic lunch), we ultimately chose to do the glacier hike and were very glad we did. The treks do fill up, but our proprietor was able to book our spots for the same day by calling right at 9 am when the national park center opened.

    Here are some links with information about the area and the various activities:
    http://www.jostedal.com/index.htm
    http://www.bfl.no/index.php?/en/20091012251/Startsida/velkommen-gb.html

    The drive to the national park visitor center takes about 30-40 minutes, so our proprietor suggested several other stops that could fill the rest of our day in the valley.

    Highlight 2: We started by driving all the way to the top end of the valley, another 30 minutes or so past the national park visitor center, to the dam that creates the big glacial lake, Styggevatnet. The drive is beautiful, on a road that gets narrower as it goes and for the most part winds along next to a milky turquoise glacial stream/small river. From the parking lot, the dam looks like just a large rock wall that stretches more than a kilometer across. But, the 10-minute hike to the top rewards you with a stunning view across a wide glacial lake to the mountains and ice pack beyond. I think it's safe to say that few visitors to the area make it here. There were few people here, and the only sign of them were a handful of cars in the parking lot. Standing alone in front of this lake—just spectacular!

    We didn’t get to stay long, though. We were due to check-in for our glacier walk at the visitor center at noon.

    Highlight 3: We chose to do the Short Blue Ice Walk, a four-hour time commitment in total with about two hours of time on the ice (NOK 430 per person, plus a NOK 30 fee to access the road). Our proprietor suggested avoiding the one-hour “family” walk, given the larger number of participants and greater range of ages and capabilities. Indeed, we saw one of these groups on the ice, and there were close to 40 people harnessed together and walking across a relatively flat section of ice.

    After check in, we drove about 10 minutes in to the parking lot near the lake at the base of the Nigardsbreen. If you are not participating in an organized ice walk, you can take a boat from the parking lot across to the base of the glacier (not sure of the fee for this; for us it was included in our trek), or you can hike about 30-40 minutes to the same area. Either way, you can get right up to the base of the glacier, but you can’t go on it.

    We met our guide and group of about 15 (we were the only Americans; others were from Germany, the UK and Italy). Given the diversity of participants, this and the other tours apparently are conducted primarily in English. Our guide, who spoke perfect English, told me she is always embarrassed when she has people from the US or UK on her tours. “Nonsense,” I told her. She said they take 10 years of English in school. We could tell.

    We were fitted with crampons, but were able to use our regular shoes. One of the longer tours that went out just before ours provided hiking boots to the participants. That might have been nice; after two hours on the ice, the crampons were kind of digging into our ankles. We also got gloves and ice axes (primarily for balance), and once were out at the base of the glacier, we put on harnesses and then were attached to each other with a long rope.

    We took the boat across the lake and then hiked about 15-20 minutes to the starting point. I am not the most sure-footed person, but I found ascending and walking on and then descending the ice to be remarkably easy, thanks to the crampons. I could have used something like this while hiking in the Dolomites last year. (We didn’t encounter ice there, but going down scree slopes gave me fits.)

    Our group went a lot higher up on the glacier than we’d imagined, and in the process of going up and down, we walked through some rather cozy channels and tunnels in the ice. It isn’t terribly cold; we were wearing long sleeves/hoodies and long pants, but not jackets. You do work up a bit of a sweat doing this, and you might get a little wet or dirty. I’d say a decent level of fitness and dexterity is required for this activity, both for the ice walk itself and for the hike from the boat to the glacier, but you certainly don’t need to be an experienced hiker. There is some tricky footing now and then. Since the group is tethered together, we frequently had to stop or slow down while each member of the group made it past a certain point. When describing this hike, our proprietor reassured us that “they don’t move very fast.” DD was relieved when she realized he was talking about the guides, not the glacier itself.

    So, our reaction? We loved this and are so glad we did it. Not only was it a terrific and very educational experience; it was a chance to do something that may not always be accessible. Like many others, this glacier is receding.

    After the hike, we made a brief stop at Bergset (5 minutes off the main road) for a different view of the glacier wall; however, this view would be better in the morning. At 4:30 pm, we were looking straight into the sun.

    Dinner that night was in the dining room of the Nes Gard. Breakfast was included in our rate, but dinner is optional and is served for all participating guests at 7 pm (the owner even rings a dinner bell). On this night, the inn was serving a three-course dinner that included prosciutto with mixed melon and crème fraiche, herb-roasted pork loin with potatoes and vegetables, and to-die-for strawberries with cream. It was all very good, and at about $40-45 per person (I can’t find the receipt right now, but that is my recollection), very reasonable for Norway or anywhere. We also satisfied our wine craving with a very nice bottle of Sicilian chardonnay. This was perhaps our best meal of the trip (lunch the next day was not bad, either), and based on this sample of one meal (plus breakfasts), we give the B&B’s kitchen a thumbs up.

    Very full and tired from our day of glacier walking, we retired to the porch for more gazing at the fjord and waterfall.

    I hope to post some photos this evening.

    Next up: a drive around the Lusterfjord, and one incredible ferry ride.

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    Dayenu, I never saw that thread, sorry. And, no, I never did get to try aebleskiver. Maybe I'll have to go one of those pans from Williams Sonoma and make it myself, because it sounds wonderful!

    I felt more like looking at photos than writing this morning (I have to write a lot for work), so I'm jumping the gun with an initial album from our next day. This involved driving around the Lusterfjord and then taking the Kaupanger-Gudvangen ferry to our next stop: Stalheim. I'll try to post the narrative this evening.

    http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p529110980

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    Thanks, Dayenu and Bob.

    No, I did not eat the raspberry. I think it might have been in someone's yard. But, as you'll read whenever I get around to posting, the cafe at the Urnes Stavekirke had raspberry juice that was out of this world! I need to find some of that here.

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    Luster to Stalheim

    Fortified by the very nice breakfast spread at Nes Gard, we bid our farewells (we would have liked to have stayed longer) and set out for our next destination. The weather was almost as nice as the day before—maybe a few more clouds here and there.

    Our plan for the day was to drive around the Lusterfjord, do a little hiking, visit the Urnes Stavekirke and then drive on to Kaupanger to catch the 4 pm ferry to Gudvangen.

    Once you’ve reached the top end of the Lusterfjord, the road changes. Driving down the eastern side requires quick reactions. For the most part, it is just wide enough for one car (there are passing points now and then), and there are a number of blind turns. We only had one near collision. Add into the mix a tractor here and there, and it can be interesting…or a lot of fun, depending on your perspective. One thing’s for sure: The views, for the passengers, are very nice.

    We stopped about half way down the eastern side to do some hiking around the Feigefossen (the waterfall we could see from Nes Gard). Turns out some of us weren’t up for a strenuous hike, but we did go about 20 minutes or so up the path, past some small waterfalls and wild raspberry bushes. It is very pretty offers some nice views of the fjord as you climb.

    Highlight 4: From there, we moved on to the end of the road—the Urnes Stavekirke, one of the oldest existing stave churches (dating from 1100) and a UNESCO World Heritage site. We’d read that the parking lot was along the main road and that you have to hike about a kilometer or so up the road to the church, so that is what we did. When we got to the top, we found there is a parking lot up at the church, itself. Oh well, what’s a little extra exercise?

    The Urnes Stavekirke is smaller than the one we saw at Borgund, but it is more elaborate on the inside and is considered the best preserved. We caught the tail end of the English tour and were fortunate to be able to go in. They were locking the door as we left. We also ran into the family from Bristol who had been on our glacier trek the day before and compared notes about plans for the rest of the day and beyond.

    DD was hungry, so we made a quick stop in the café at the church, and thank goodness we did. The area around the church is home to apple orchards and raspberry farms. We opted for some apple cake and cold raspberry juice, and the latter was just divine! We went back for seconds, and if I could find it at home, I’d have a refrigerator full of it.

    There is a small ferry that runs once an hour between Urnes, on the east side of the Lusterfjord, and Solvorn, on the west side. The ferry holds about eight cars (fewer if there are RVs or tractors involved, as there were that day). Even though we were done at the church about 40 minutes before the next ferry, we decided to go down to the dock to get in line, and that turned out to be a good idea. There were already three cars in line, and anyone who arrived less than 20 minute before was probably waiting an extra hour. For a car and three people, the ferry cost about NOK 170.
    http://www.urnesferry.com/ENGLISH.html

    Solvorn, at the other side of the ferry, is a cute little town. It looked like it might be a nice place for a rental cottage. By now, it was lunchtime, and we stopped at the first restaurant we could find (maybe the only one there??), the Linahagen Café. This would not be our least expensive lunch, but it was likely the best—particularly the smoked salmon and the shellfish sandwich. DD enjoyed her hamburger with “vitaminbombs,” whatever that means.
    http://www.linahagenkafe.com/

    From Solvorn, it is about 30 minutes back to Kaupanger, where we were to catch the 4 pm ferry to Gudvangen. We stopped briefly to see the Kaupanger Stavekirke, the longest continually operating among Norway’s stave churches, and then we queued up for the ferry. At the recommendation of one of our hotels, I had made a reservation for the ferry about three weeks ahead. The reservation is essentially a confirmation number; you still pay just before boarding the boat. On this particular day, the reservation was not necessary; there was plenty of room. But, I understand this ferry, which is basically a tourist ferry and only runs three times a day each way during the summer, can and does fill up on occasion. Fee for a car and three persons: NOK 960. Scenery along the way: Priceless.

    Information here about the route, with reservation contact:
    http://www.fjord1.no/en/default.asp?page=1570

    It is a good sized boat and, thus, felt pretty empty. There was plenty of space to spread out. With the sun to our west (front of the boat), we opted for a couple of deck chairs on the back of the boat for the first half of the two hour journey. It was very relaxing, and the scenery just gets better and better as you go along. Oh, and did I mention the sun was still out, providing us with nice blue skies?

    Highlight 5: About an hour in, the boat makes a turn into the Naeroyfjord, which is (along with the Geirangerfjord to the north) a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From this point, the passengers started milling about more—and for good reason. It is just spectacular cruising through this narrow fjord with towering cliffs on either side and remote little villages every once and awhile. There are a couple of villages that have no road access (so said the PA system, which provides commentary at a few points). The clouds were clearly building as we moved up the fjord, but it certainly didn’t detract from the experience. This is exactly what we were expecting from a trip to the Norwegian fjords!

    The ride ends at Gudvangen, where we’d had lunch a few days before. Without stopping, we hit the road for the Stalheim Hotel, and this time we didn’t miss the exit.

    Stalheim is a historic hotel that sits in a particularly striking spot on the side of the hill, looking down the valley toward Gudvangen and the Naeroyfjord. While the current hotel dates from the 50s or 60s, there has been a hotel on this spot since the mid 1800s—and before that, there was a postal inn.
    http://english.stalheim.dnn.gasta.no/

    We picked Stalheim because of its location, about halfway between Nes and the Bergen airport, where we were headed the next morning. More significantly, it was on the south side of the Sognefjord, meaning it was all highway from here to the airport and we wouldn’t have to work around ferry schedules.

    Clearly the hotel’s most redeeming quality is its view. It has been featured in Conde Nast’s list of “Rooms with a View.” To this point, we were thinking our room at Nes Gard had perhaps the best view we’d ever had in a hotel—and we’ve had some pretty darn good ones over the years. Our room at Stalheim completely blew that away. We threw open the curtains of the three large windows in our room and just stood there saying, “Wow!”--even though the clouds had now taken over the valley and the rain was soon to begin.
    http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p529110980/h54ce4c5#h54ce4c5

    (actually, that photo is from the next morning)

    Now, view aside…we reserved a family room, which was quite large and pretty comfortable. With a location at the far end of the hall, it was quiet and it had a better vantage point for admiring the view (IMHO) than rooms in the middle of the hotel. The bathroom was tiny, but it appeared to have been refurbished pretty recently. We had a light dinner in the hotel’s restaurant that evening and thought the food was pretty good. Staff service was friendly and efficient throughout.

    But, we do have some mixed feelings. Some parts of the hotel clearly look like they are from the 60s—most notably the hallways. This was the only hotel on our stay with no Internet in the rooms, and the wifi available in the lobby was barely working. For $300+ per night, I’d kind of like some way of getting on line. And, this hotel is pretty much tour group central. Judging from the number of cars in the parking lot, there were relatively few guests who arrived that day by means other than a bus. We noted at least three large groups, whose members pretty much took over the public spaces before and after dinner and pretty much all of the breakfast room (we had to ask to have a table cleared for us).

    You clearly feel the history here, and the view really made the stay. But, if we’d had a room on the “other” side of the hall, my assessment would not have been particularly positive.

    A little footnote:

    The next day we drove back to the Bergen airport to catch a 2 pm flight to Copenhagen. Originally, we’d planned to take a different route from Voss to Bergen—one that is a little longer than the E16 route and runs along the Hardangerfjord (also supposedly very pretty). At the last minute, we decided to go back the way we came, for several reasons. We weren’t sure how long the other route would take. It was cloudy. And by now, we realized that whatever scenery it offered, it wouldn’t compare to what we’d just seen. This also gave us just a bit more time to enjoy the view from Stalheim.

    We packed up and waited patiently for a tour bus to get out of the way so we could leave the parking lot. Two and a half hours later, we pulled into the rental car return at the Bergen airport.

    We stopped a few kilometers from the airport to fill up our tank. We drove just under 700 kilometers in the four days, not always in the easiest of conditions, and this was the first and only time we had to fill up—at a total of about $80. Not bad at all!

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    Would you believe that we were the only guests at the Stalheim when we stayed there one May? They had just reopened for the season. We asked for the best room in the house and got it. The entire hotel was ours.

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    Marija, that would have been interesting! Our room was pretty good, although I'm sure it wasn't the "best."

    Somehow, we got into a discussion about the "Overlook Hotel" while we were there, so I probably would have found it a little creepy being the only guests ;)

    Dayenu, I'm afraid I'm not going to get to the Copenhagen part before you leave. In a nutshell, we really enjoyed it, although it was raining and cool about half the time. We did a lot of walking. The Metro was very convenient for getting to and from the airport, although I guess that depends on where you're staying. Happy to answer any questions if you have some (although we are far from experts on the city). Have a great trip!

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    Copenhagen, Rain or Shine

    We spent the last three nights (two full days, plus a late afternoon/evening) in Copenhagen.

    Hotel

    After considering various hotels in various locations, we chose the Hotel Kong Arthur, located about 10 minutes from Nørreport station and just off the lake that divides the city center from Nørrebro. We quite liked the hotel and the location. It was convenient for taking the metro to and from the airport, and it was easy walking distance to the city center and many sites, but just far enough away to be a bit quieter and less congested.

    Our room was very good sized, comfortable, attractively decorated and nicely appointed (okay, the bathroom was very small and the shower was a bit challenging). I booked a superior double with extra bed, but am not certain that’s what we had; it might have been a junior suite. Our room doesn’t look like any of the rooms on the hotel’s site or other available photos. There is no air conditioning. It wasn’t really necessary while we were there, but we did sleep with the windows open to keep it from getting stuffy. For the most part, it was pretty quiet, but there occasionally was some noise outside when someone rolled a hotel trolley across the cobblestone walkway.

    The included breakfast was great—all the usual things, but all of very good quality. There also is a nice bar and sitting area in the lobby (as well as an outdoor courtyard), where we spent too much money! And, the staff were all very friendly and helpful. Overall, just a really nice vibe here.

    DKK 1590 per night for a superior double room for three people, with breakfast included
    http://www.kongarthur.dk

    Sights

    We had mixed weather in Copenhagen—light rain for most of the first 24 hours were there, and then dry with mixed sun and clouds the rest of the time. A couple of times, we planned our stops in order to get out of the rain, but for the most part we just raised the umbrellas and kept walking. Over two-plus days, were able to squeeze in a lot:

    Nyhavn. We saved this for the sunniest part of our visit, of course.

    • A walk around Christianshavn (although we really didn’t get into Christiania).

    • The Rosenborg Slot (Castle), including the crown jewels in the basement, and the Kongens Have (Kings Gardens).

    • A walk on and around the walls of the Kastellet, one of the best preserved fortifications in Northern Europe and still a military facility today.

    Changing of the guard at the Amalienborg Slot (Palace), at noon…and in the rain.

    • The Botanisk Have (botanical gardens), and specifically the floating “bowls” on the lake.

    • The Trinitatis Kirke and the Rundetårn (Round Tower), one of the oldest astronomical observatories still in use today (observation platform at the top with nice views).

    • The Marmokirken and then a very quick peek into the Alexander Nevsky Kirke (Russian Orthodox church) nearby.

    • A walk around the Slotsholmen, an island in the city center where the original castle was located (1100s) and today is the site of the Christiansborg Slot/Danish Parliament, various other historical buildings and several museums.

    • A walk into the heart of the more diverse area of Nørrebro, across the lake from our hotel, where we saw a few Friday night gatherings still going on well into Saturday morning.

    Of course, given where we stayed, we were in the Latin Quarter quite a bit and up and down the Strøget (world’s longest pedestrian street) and the other pedestrian side streets around it—a few times. DD particularly enjoyed window shopping in Copenhagen (and a little real shopping). One unusual thing we happened upon was an outdoor performance of La Bohème at Nytorv, part of the Copenhagen Opera Festival. It was raining, however, and the crowd stretched pretty far back into the square and all of the adjacent cafes were full—so we had to move on after a bit.

    And then there’s Tivoli Gardens. We spent a lovely Friday evening (only a brief rain shower) at Tivoli, where we rode many of the adult or marginally adult rides—best, The Demon; weirdest, The Mine—saw a small bit of a free concert, and had dinner. Although the park was pretty crowded, and became more so later into the evening, the lines for rides were not that bad for the most part. The longest wait was about 20 minutes, and ironically they closed the ride (The Star Flyer) due to winds just as we reached it. Admission, DKK 95; multi-ride tickets, DKK 205.
    http://www.tivoli.dk

    We did not take any boat/canal rides or go to any museums other than the one at the Rosenborg Slot.

    Food

    I’m afraid we don’t have much to offer to those looking for Copenhagen’s best dining experiences. We were looking for low key and moderate (for us; say around $100 total) options.

    The included breakfasts at the Kong Arthur are very substantial, and since we tended to eat later in the morning (well, later than we usually eat breakfast—say 9-10 am), they pretty much held us through to dinner with just a small snack somewhere. We had to leave too early for breakfast on our last morning and settled, instead, for breakfast at the SAS Lounge at CPH.

    Dinners included:

    Thai at Eastern Corner, near the university and the Botanical Garden. This was a recommendation from someone at the hotel (to our request for Asian or Middle Eastern, but casual and not too far away). It was pretty good and a nice space, although quite a bit more expensive than we pay for Thai at home. Two appetizers, three entrees, and a few drinks: $128.

    Færgekroen Bryghus in Tivoli Gardens, one of the park’s oldest restaurants. It was atmospheric, but a little average on the food. The veal was okay, but DD didn’t much care for her chicken. Three entrees and drinks: $122.

    Kaffesalonnen, a bar/restaurant across the lake from our hotel with tables on a floating platform. The burgers and sandwiches were fine for this sort of thing. We really just wanted something outdoors, low key and away from the crowds, and this served the purpose. No English menu, but the staff will help translate. $80 with drinks.

    (BTW, I’ve downloaded the credit card statement now, so I’m able to quote prices a little better)

    Transportation

    We used the Metro to get from the airport to our hotel and then back at the end of the trip. At first, we had a bit of trouble with the ticket machine at CPH, even with the help of an attendant. It would not take our US credit cards, and otherwise required coins (which we didn’t have yet). We went back into the terminal to the ticket office and were able to purchase round-trip tickets (two “clips”) to cover both directions. The Metro runs every 10 minutes and it took just 15 minutes to reach our stop—a very easy and efficient way to get to the airport if your hotel is reasonably close to a station. Ours was about a seven-minute walk from Nørreport Station. Of note, the Nørreport station (and probably others) has an elevator if you’re traveling with bags.

    We took one other one-zone, one-way ride on the Metro, from Nørreport to Christianshavn—this time, we came prepared with coins for the ticket machine.

    Impressions

    We really enjoyed our short time in Copenhagen, although we just scratched the surface. While it doesn’t have that one “big” attraction, there is something pretty interesting around just about every corner. We love just getting out and walking in the cities we visit, and this is a great city for that sort of thing. I wish the weather had been a bit sunnier, but better that we run into rain here than in the Norwegian fjords. It really didn’t detract from our experience here at all.

    I'll try to post our last set of photos today or tomorrow. Then, we'll be back later in the week with some final thoughts and information--after I get some work done and mr_go recovers from Lollapalooza.

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    A few notes on air travel while I think of it.

    We had six flights in ten days—two on United, one on Lufthansa, and three on SAS—and every single one of them departed and arrived on time. And our luggage arrived with us every time, as well. That’s more than we can say for our last trip, when two of our bags took an extended vacation in Istanbul and arrived home 24 days after we did.

    Our tickets from the US were open-jaw Chicago-Frankfurt-Oslo on United and Lufthansa, and Copenhagen-Frankfurt-Chicago on SAS and United. Frankfurt is generally an easy airport in which to make connections, but there’s ongoing construction, and it seems like the route through it changes every time I’m there. The only surprise this time: no security check (in FRA) at all on our return—not that I missed it. My last trip through Frankfurt in April included probably the most “intrusive” security pat-down I’ve ever received, anywhere.

    We purchased two sets of one-way tickets on SAS: Oslo-Bergen (about $100 each) and Bergen-Copenhagen (about $80 each). SAS charges for everything on the plane, but these (and our CPH-FRA) flights were short, so we really didn’t need beverages, etc. Service at all points—airports and onboard—was pleasant and efficient. Minimal mileage earned on heavily discounted fares, but that made virtually no difference in these cases.

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    How was your Lufthansa flight? We will be going Chicago-Frankfurt-Copenhagen. Have only flown Lufthansa on short flights in Europe.

    Just knew you would love Norway. We have been there 2 times and will be returning in Sept. Our relatives live there and we have been on our "family" farms. Norway is beautiful!

    Thanks for the trip report - always like to read about Norway and look at the photos.

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    Thanks, bratsandbeer. It is beautiful. How nice that you have family there to visit! Enjoy your trip.

    Our Lufthansa flight was Frankfurt-Oslo, so just a short one. Were were on United for the transatlantic flights, as we were using United upgrade certificates. It was about the same as all the other intra-European flights I've taken. I have flown Lufthansa across the Atlantic, but it's been a few years.

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    Wonderful report ms_go!! We love, love Norway and promised ourselves to return again someday and explore more areas, particularly the north.

    As a side note, we too stayed at Stalheim Hotel {with the to-die for views!!!}. Although we are not really hikers, we discovered a pathway right at the side of the hotel towards the Old-Farm Museum, pass those log houses, that is geared for hiking. We did about a 4-hr hike in the area and it was incredible....hidden waterfalls, fast-moving mountain streams flowing through beds of rocks and snow-capped, 360 degree mountain views as far as your eyes can see. Unbelievable!! One of our most unforgettable trips for sure.

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    Thanks, JoyC! Yes, the scenery is just amazing, and I'd definitely like to see more sometime. I knew there was some good hiking in the area of Stalheim. Unfortunately, by the time we were done taking in that view, the rain started to move in, and then we left fairly early the next day.

    I meant to mention this above...if anyone who reads this wonders why we didn't mention seeing The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, she's in Shanghai at the moment.

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    FYI... we just posted the trip report to our web site, in case you're interested in following along day-by-day with some nice photos thrown in for easy visualization.

    http://www.onelittleworld.com/norden_1

    (I say "we," but of course ms_go did all the hard parts!)

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    I can't thank you enough for this great report & pix. The loop from Bergen to the fjords and the glacier is exactly what I hope to do in August -- but it seemed completely overwhelming, and I was thinking I'd have to do some kind of organized tour.

    FYI, on a previous trip I did “Norway in a Nutshell” from Oslo to Bergen. I overnighted in Stalheim with those breathtaking views. I loved it, but it poured during my time on the boat in the fjord—and I would have liked to have time to explore the areas and do some long—but not overly strenuous—walks.

    You've given me hope ;-)

    Question: is there anything you'd suggest I do differently? Places to include--or avoid? I'll be leaving Oslo (to fly to Bergen) Monday morning, August 22 -- and have to be back in Bergen by late afternoon Friday. I don't need to include any time for Bergen itself because I've been there before--and will have some time off while I work in Bergen.

    Thanks so much for your report--and any advice.

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    I'll second the thanks for this great trip report.

    We are heading there in a few weeks and I'm soon to hit the panic of 'omg, what will the weather be like? Will it work? Will the kids kill me if we spend too much time in the car ? Where should we stay overnight ? Should I take my GPS with pre-loaded maps or rent one with the car ?'

    : )

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    Thanks for the kind comments. I'm glad the trip report is useful. Songdoc, we loved the whole experience and I'm not sure I'd change a thing, other than allot more time. But I'll think about that and get back to you later in the week (we're currently in Hanoi and will be away for a couple of days at Halong bay).

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    Just to add to ms_go's thoughts... it was our first and only trip there, and it was an all-too-brief stay. I can't say if there was something special that we missed, but who can say for sure?

    All I do know for certain is that we enjoyed the things we did a great deal. But not everyone enjoys driving as much as I do, and not everyone loves hiking as much as we do.

    But out of our many, varied travels, this one ranks in the top 3 for scenic splendor. And that's a bold statement.

    Just on thing to bear in mind: everything is expensive there. Everything. So be prepared!

    Enjoy.

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    Utterly fantastic. I am printing this for a leisurely read. I just bought tickets to Norway for this summer. I am contemplating a hiking tour with Backroads because the timing just happens to be perfect (I stumbled across the tour after I had already bought the tickets).

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