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Trip Report Fjords, Ferries, and Family Fun: A trip to Norway and Sweden with kids

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Day 0: Cast: Me (a mom… obviously), Mr. Surf, Surfgirl #1 (11 years), Surfgirl #2 (9 years) and Surfboy (7 years)

I’m not sure why we picked Sweden, but I became obsessed with Stockholm and decided that was the next place to go. We wanted to do something else with Stockholm and ended up with Norway – a logical choice.

We flew SAS from Newark – Oslo – Bergen, so we had to first get to Newark for our flight. We live in suburban Philadelphia, so it was about 2 hours (a little less I think since we didn’t have traffic). Security line was long, so we were happy that we planned for extra time.

One funny thing – the Surf kids like bagels – just plain, grab and eat it, so we had decided that it would be a good thing to take with us on the flight – easy, doesn’t make a mess, everyone eats them. However, Mr. Surf got them from the “wrong” bagel shop (the horror!), so I got another dozen bagels. We ended up carrying them for about 5 days and it became a running joke of “carrying bagels around Norway”!

I had painfully selected our seats – not too close to the bathrooms, not too far back, etc. However, I apparently forgot to request AVOD and overhead lights that actually worked! The FA’s tried multiple times to reset the AVOD and lights, but no luck. Maybe a blessing in disguise – we encouraged the kids to just go to sleep instead.

Day 0 travel tips:
- don’t take 2 dozen bagels!
- Sweatpants for kids are great for traveling and become pj’s - a good way to travel light.

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    Day 1: arrival in Bergen, overnight Bergen. “Rain in Bergen? … nah. ”

    The flights were on time into Oslo – we had about a 2 hour layover before our flight to Bergen. Generally, I don’t like to book anything shorter in case of problems, but this time, it was probably too long. We ended up sitting at the gate for over an hour. Luckily, we had plenty of bagels to eat! The flight to Bergen was about 45 minutes delayed, but considering the fog and rain outside, we certainly understood.

    The Oslo airport is small, easy to navigate, and easy for connections. I would connect there again. The only hiccup was when we had to collect our bags from the international flight and re-check them on the flight to Bergen. We were carrying a booster seat since we would be renting a car and needed it for the 7yo – we had to take that to “oversized” luggage along with all the people checking their skis. It ended up being a non-event, but was confusing for a few minutes figuring out where to go.

    Once we arrived in Bergen, the rain was REALLY coming down. I sent Mr. Surf ahead to get the rental car and the kids and I waited for bags. Once he got the rental, he was able to walk out to the lot, get it and bring it to the employee parking lot right next to the airport. Given the rain, it was much easier to load it and kids rather than trekking out to the rental lot.

    We were able to check into our hotel in Bergen – they were one of the few that could accommodate five people in one room and we loved it! We were on a high floor with dormer windows and it felt like we were on top of the world. After a quick break, we wanted to go find something to eat.

    http://www.firsthotels.com/Our-hotels/Hotels-in-Norway/Bergen/First-Hotel-Marin/

    Sidebar: eating. Eating was a bit challenging with kids in Norway and Sweden. My kids aren’t adventurous eaters, but they are usually happy with chicken tenders, or a burger, or pasta. While many restaurants have the basics – everything was a little “off”. The burgers tasted different; the pancakes weren’t pancakes, but crepes; the whipped cream wasn’t sweetened. The end of our 10-day trip was at an apartment in Stockholm and meals became much easier. End sidebar.

    By this time, it was 1:30, so we knew we were approaching the end of the lunch hour. We stumbled upon a bar/restaurant that seemed to have some decent choices. Everyone found something that made them happy and we were ready to go explore!

    We walked over to the funicular and bought one way tickets (up only) and realized a train was pulling into the station. However, there was a family waiting for the front row and since they came every 15 minutes, we decided to wait until the next train came and we could sit in front. In the next 5 minutes, Surf #1 realized she left her glasses in the hotel room and was bummed. The rest of the Surfs were worried that I could make it, but I was able to run back to the hotel (about a block away) and get the glasses and make it back with time to spare. It was slightly complicated in that the conductor was going off duty and a new one was coming on, but the previous one had told the new one that I had given my ticket and would be right back. I was pleased that it didn’t become a big deal and they were very nice about it!

    At the top, we browsed and started walking down the hill. There were a few other brave souls in the mist, but not a ton of people. There were definitely times when the mom advice kicked in and I said, “remember, guys, this is a ROAD and there are CARS!” Overall, it felt great to be outside in the fresh air (cloud?) after our flights.

    Now the problem. It was about 5ish and kids were getting hungry. We had promised them ice cream, but apparently, it was easier said than done. We were hoping to find a bar that also would have a menu. No luck. We ended up back at the same place we had lunch – I think it was the Harbour Café. We had a combination of hot chocolate and tea followed by ice cream sundaes. (clearly rules get changed on vacation!)

    Since the weather was turning into real rain, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel and get organized. We found out where a grocery store was (about 3 blocks away) and the kids weren’t interested in going, so we left them behind in the room while we went. When we came back with drinks and fruit, we couldn’t find Surfboy. The girls explained that he had decided to hide on us and when he climbed under the bed to hide, he fell asleep. At this point, the awake Surfs decided we were hungry, so I went to Peppe’s Pizza and got takeout. On day 1, I find that eating is more about comfort food and convenience – so pizza fit that bill! On my return, Surfboy still hadn’t awoken and stayed that way until about 7am the next morning!

    Day 1 travel tips:
    - Don’t take 2 dozen bagels!
    - If you plan on falling asleep at 6pm, fall asleep ON the bed, instead of UNDER it!
    - Take out is a great option when it is raining (hard).
    - Don’t be afraid of a little mist – we still had a great afternoon even though it was misting and spitting rain.
    - Send one person ahead to get the rental car if bad weather.

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    @tentek, taylor, thanks for the encouragement! I'm trying to get this done before I leave in a week for a different trip... I better type fast!

    @indy_dad, this trip was April, so I'm behind. We were a little ahead of big tourist season and while there were some things closed, it was neat to see the fjords all covered in snow.

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    Day 2: Bergen – Helmsedal – The White Caves of Gudvangen really are Magical!

    Surfboy woke up about 7ish (clearly, he was tired), and everyone stirred shortly afterwards. Surfboy didn’t feel well and we assumed that he was just overhungry and needed food, so we headed down to breakfast. Unfortunately, food didn’t seem to solve the problem, but since we had plans, we packed up and continued on!

    From Bergen, we stopped at Voss for a break – the Surfgirls and Mr. Surf went for a walk to find a café. Surfboy fell asleep on my shoulder in the back of the car (I was hoping this would end the sickness?). When they came back, Surfboy was happily sleeping, so I waved them off when I saw them coming and sent them away for more time – all in all, we were in Voss for over an hour and Surfboy slept most of that. We were headed to Gudvangen – I had scheduled a tour of the “Magical” White Caves of Gudvangen and I was getting worried about our timing. We ended up about an hour later than I had hoped, but it wasn’t a problem and they were very accommodating. By this time, we were getting worried that we’d be dragging the Tupperware and paper towels into the cave for Surfboy. As we entered the cave, the tour guide went into the “you must remain quiet” part and Mr. Surf and I looked at each other hoping the only sounds we would hear wouldn’t be Surfboy getting sick. However, all our fears were for nothing and he rallied!

    At the end, they have trays of cakes and sweets along with tea/coffee/water and soda. At that point, Surfboy was sitting under something dripping and looked up and started giggling how every time he moved, a different part of him got dripped on. We could tell from his reaction that he felt better and I smiled and said, “yeah! Surfboy is back!”. The White Caves of Gudvangen really are Magical!

    One of the funny Surfboy moments was when he asked about termites. He kept talking about them and while I first ignored them as 7 yo ramblings, I finally said, “Surfboy, do you know what termites are?” He replied, “yes.” I responded “They are the little tiny insects that eat away at house foundations.” He looked confused and said, “No, I’m talking about the things that stick out from the ceiling in a cave and drip water.” I clarified, “Oh… you mean, stalagmites and stactites.” He replied enthusiastically, “YES!” We still laugh about “termites”.

    Another favorite memory of the trip was in the cave. We came to a little reflecting pond and we could all light a candle and make a wish. Afterwards, when we compared notes, we all wished for Surfboy to be better, but Surfgirl #2 also asked for a dog. She’s the unique one, but I love the fact that the girls cared about their brother. (Ok, there was probably some selfishness in there since they knew it would be more difficult if he continued to be sick, but I chose to ignore that part.)

    After we left the cave, we had talked about seeing the harbor of Gudvangen, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the train at Flam, so we decided to head there instead. At one time, we had talked about taking the ferry from Gudvangen to Flam, but I couldn’t figure out logistics with having a car (ferry schedules were somewhat limited since this was still April), so we just decided to drive through the tunnel from Gudvangen to Flam. We arrived in Flam with time to spare, so we ate at the little cafeteria in the harbor (nothing special, but this trip wasn’t about us an food) and caught the Flam railway to the top.

    We all enjoyed the train trip and when we arrived at the top (Myrdal), we basically got out for 15 minutes, walked around and got back on to go down (although we did find a vending machine and when you’re a kid, vending machines are THE coolest thing! In a foreign country? Double bonus!). Had there been less snow pack and it later in Spring/Summer, we would have walked down and we did see a few people walking along the way (but they had serious snow gear and ski poles). At the bottom, the kids found a play structure, so calories were burned before we got back in the car.

    Next, we were headed to Hemsedal. Along the way, we went through the world's longest tunnel. It is very interesting how there are pull-offs and it changes colors so you don't get bored. We stopped at the Borgund Stave Church – while it was closed, the kids enjoyed walking around it and reading the tombstones (yes, they are unique). We arrived at Hemsedal about dinner time.

    I had made reservations at Skarsnuten and the GPS had problems finding it. We followed its directions and pulled into a construction parking lot and got the “you have arrived”. Finally, I figured out that it must be at the top of the hill… beyond the place where there is a gate to pay to get in. I was able to call (thank you cell phone) and yes, we had to pay to get up the hill to it. This was an amazing hotel! Very new and modern – clean lines. The best part was the view over the valley below – wow! We watched the sun set from our room.
    http://www.dvgl.no/en/locations/skarsnuten-hotell/

    By this time, we were getting hungry again, but didn’t feel like venturing down the mountain, so we just went to the hotel restaurant. Nothing exciting to report about – although we did learn that what they translate as pancakes are really more like crepes than American pancakes and whipped cream in Norway is unsweetened and definitely not as good as the American version!

    One downside to this hotel was that we weren’t able to get connecting rooms. Instead, we had rooms next door to each other, so we had to divide and conquer with regard who slept in what room. After a long day and an amazing sunset, we were all ready to sleep.

    Tips:
    - If you have a sick kid, Tupperware, a bottle of water, and paper towels are invaluable.
    - Termites and slagmites/stalactites are different things
    - GPS can send you wrong places!
    - Don’t carry 2 doz. bagels around.

    tomorrow: Hemsedal – Oslo – Bears can climb trees FAST!

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