Misadventures of the Lost Traveler
A travelogue – Denmark – Sweden – Norway – Finland
Hi Readers – I’ve been looking forward to this for a loooong time. Today I get to share one of my favourite people and best friends with you — Brenda Metcalfe. She’s an avid traveler and seriously funny person. Brenda chronicles her adventures in missives sent to family and friends best described as Travel Comedies. It’s her own genre and shares a quirky, fun loving view of the world with a passion for photography and travel. Her wildlife photography will blow you away – you’ll see examples of it in upcoming posts.
But for now meet Brenda and enjoy her adventures through Scandinavia….
Hi Red SHOE Readers – let me introduce myself. I live in Vancouver, Canada with my husband Vince. We’ve been married for over 35 years and have 3 grown kids – which puts me slightly beyond 60. Yikes. I still work (retiring sooner than later, I hope), my travelling is done in short stints that fit into my prescribed vacation time and I’m always looking for the least expensive way to get there and then see everything I can – with the biggest bang for my buck. This was a special trip – one that allowed me to connect with my oldest daughter Quinn in Sweden and travel with her through the south of Norway exploring my Mom’s family roots. I love to travel and have been on the move for the last 10 years. Over the last few years I’ve become fairly savvy and adept at traveling, both solo and with various family members. Well, savvy except for one little thing…every trip something gets lost. That unfortunately includes me…
VANCOUVER to COPENHAGEN
Well I confess I was a little unsettled when I banged my toe at the airport and chipped my previously perfect pedicure. I thought it might be some kind of sign, but I sucked it up and proceeded to my departure gate. Fast forward through Hunger Games and some other movie that I fell asleep through and I’m in London’s Heathrow; fast forward some more and I arrive in Copenhagen. With the clothes on my back and the flip flops on my feet. and that’s pretty much it. No suitcase. No clothes for my 3 week adventure. No runners, no PJ’s, no toiletries AND NO UNDERWEAR!!! The missing luggage lineup was too busy for my liking but hey, I had nothing else to do for the rest of the day except find my hotel and sightseeing so I chose the lineup.
The folks at the “where’s my luggage?” counter helpfully suggested I hang around until the next flight from Heathrow which was due in about half an hour. They gave me a lovely consolation prize which consisted of the world’s tiniest tube of toothpaste and a slightly larger toothbrush, a dollar store razor with shaving cream, a tiny bottle of shampoo/shower gel, a large white T-shirt AND NO UNDERWEAR!
The next flight came and went (along with 2 hours of my Copenhagen time) and it appeared that the consolation prize is all I’m walking away with. So it’s onto the Metro which deposits me right outside a Magasin department store.
Aha! says I, 20 minutes until closing – just enough time to find some UNDERWEAR!
Got the cheapest package I could find, asked for directions to my hotel, went the wrong way, of course, but eventually figured it out and made it just before my shoulders were about to give out from my backpack/purse and carry-on bag (not the one with wheels, mind you, that one was lost along with my sneakers, my toiletries, and, oh yes, MY UNDERWEAR!)
The hotel was lovely and clean and steps from the water and, as I figured out the next day, very central to the main sights of Copenhagen. I staggered up to my room, which was the tiniest hotel room I’ve ever seen (but much larger than the tiny tube of toothpaste… it’s all relative) but it had everything I needed, including shampoo and soap to add to my consolation prize, and my very own toilet and hallelujah, a shower!
I explored a little that evening, wanted to find the train station so I’d know where to go the next night, and headed back to my hotel – a long enough walk that my feet had nasty things to say to me by the time I called it a day. Or a night. Or both depending on whether my body clock was on Copenhagen time or Vancouver time.
After a very good breakfast (included in hotel rate) of eggs, bacon, yoghurt, bread, cheese, meat and, of course, Danish pastries (when in Rome…) I headed to Nyhavn (the red light district until the 80’s) which is packed with cafes and chi-chi apartments now that it’s been gentrified, and the canal cruise starting point.
I got the first cruise of the morning which was perfect as there weren’t many tourists out and about yet. It was a great way to see the city, the weather was great and the guide was a charming young Italian lad, speaking German, English, and I suspect Italian from his accent, and just handsome enough to distract my camera every now and again.
Back on dry land, me and my flip flops (shoes were in the lost luggage) wandered the city for many hours (had to find the little mermaid which was possibly the farthest attraction from the city center) and an H & M store in hopes of cheap clothes, what with my suitcase still AWOL and all. My assumption that it would show up at my hotel before I left for Sweden was rapidly seeming less likely. Wasted at least an hour looking at ridiculous clothes for teenagers and came away with a couple of shirts to add to my new underwear collection. Did I mention they turned out to be granny panties?
Tried another Magasin store down the pedestrian shopping mall to get MORE UNDERWEAR as it was the only non-designer shop besides the H & M. No granny panties this time. Invested in a sports bra too as by now I was daintily dripping with the heat – it was ‘unusually warm for Copenhagen’ as luck would have it.
I had to see the Tivoli Gardens before I left town so I coaxed my flip flop feet a little farther and wandered through the park (mostly amusement, not so much park) and head back to my hotel to get my bags and check on my luggage situation which remained, ‘status unknown, check back later’.
It took a real stern chat to get the flip flop feet (now sporting several band-aids) to walk all the way back to the train station to catch my train to Lund where my daughter Quinn was awaiting my arrival. We shared a sticky hug and then off to the apartment where a delicious shower was waiting and a chance to wash my clothes and calm my blistered feet.
Saturday we packed our bags (didn’t take me long) and headed into the country where we spent the next 2 days staying at a friend’s farm and exploring small villages. We walked up one hillside to see a stone circle (called Ale Stones) that are believed to be about 400 + years old – like Stonehenge but with much smaller stones. Viking ship shaped stones, supposedly. Try saying that three times fast.
Finally, the call came. I was about to be reunited with my underwear and the rest of my clothes. Just when I was getting used to the idea of travelling with 1 pair of capris, 3 tops and Danish granny panties.
It was all just-in-time because Quinn and I were about to embark on the mother/daughter pilgrimage to Norway and the main purpose of my trip, to see my Mom’s ancestral home and the spectacular fjords.
Arrived to sunshine and caught the bus to town. It was gorgeous……briefly. No sooner did we find the tourist office in the Old Town when the skies opened, complete with thunder and lightning. After waiting for what seemed like an hour for it to clear we got out umbrellas and dragged our bags and ourselves to our hotel. It wasn’t far but we were absolutely soaked by the time we got there. Our hotel was right on the inner harbour of Old Town, we had to check in at the (much classier) hotel next door – but we got to have breakfast there too! Our hotel was, shall we say a ‘budget’ version – but clean and again we had our own bathroom…complete with a whining toilet… which also leaked as we found out that evening.
The rain finally stopped as we were exploring the town and we had a ridiculously expensive ‘cheap’ dinner before heading back to the hotel. Tuesday was the day to go on the Lysefjord cruise and Pulpit Rock hike so of course we woke up to more rain but decided to go for it and hope for the best. I bought ridiculously expensive rain ponchos so it would stop raining. It did! The fjord cruise was spectacular, complete with Norwegian seals and goats.
Then it was time to catch a bus to the start of the Pulpit Rock hike – 20 minutes on the bus and we were on our way up. Way up. Climbing on very large rocks (I would call them boulders but my daughter would say I was exaggerating). They were friggin’ boulders, I was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of dread and very shortly after, a considerable amount of shock and awe. What the hell had I gotten myself into now…..oh my friggin’ god!!! It only got worse….and steeper….and bigger boulders…and about an hour in and halfway to the top it started to rain again. And then it started to pour. And I was climbing boulders.
I must have said “oh my god” a thousand times. This was supposed to be a two hour trip up and a two hour trip down. HA! It took us slightly over two hours just to get to the top and finally see Pulpit Rock. Google it and see how gorgeous it is. When the sun is shining and it’s not completely enveloped in clouds. Like it was the day we were there. And now we had to go back down…
The entire way up I was terrified that I would humiliate myself and fall. So of course on the way down I did. And it really hurt. The rain was falling harder than ever so not only were we climbing down over friggin’ huge bloody boulders, we were climbing down over huge bloody friggin’ WET boulders! And of course what tiny little bit of confidence I had was now completely gone and I took even longer to slip and slide down the mountain. My daughter was having no such trouble and kept telling me we were almost there. I knew she was lying. But I showed her – she said it would be way faster going down.
As you’ve probably gathered, I lived to tell the tale and I had the wounds and the screaming knees to prove it. And I guess bragging rights. But not a single picture of the spectacular view. I do, however have a lovely postcard……and a limp.
Today we went to the ancestral home of my Mom’s great, great grandfather which was a short walk from Old Town. The home is now a museum and still used as a summer palace for the king. Or somebody. The young girls at the desk let us in for free because we were related. I was a V.I.P. for an hour! First time for everything. In the end I may have been lying because there was a big poster of the family tree we poured over for a long time without finding a single connection to my grandfather’s family’s Christian names!
Methinks they must have been the black sheep of the family or something….perhaps disowned…..will have to do some research.
It was a great afternoon and we’re now in beautiful Bergen after a 4 hour ferry ride from Stavanger. We’ll see the sights tomorrow. Hopefully it will stop raining. A woman on the ferry said this is the worst summer weather in 30 years. Of course it was.
Norway has been pretty great despite the ridiculous amount of rain, the pain in my arse (and legs, arms and feet) from the prehistoric boulder patch on the ice-age mountain that is Pulpit Rock, and the phenomenal cost of……everything. We made the mistake of buying tickets from the bus driver…a local clued us in – buy tickets from the 7-Eleven or Narvesen – they’re 20 kroner cheaper. Lesson learned.
Bergen is a very picturesque city, took the hop-on/off bus around the town, the Floyen funicular up 1000 feet over the city (the sun came out just in time for the view) and ate some kind of nasty fish casserole concoction (cheapest thing on the menu at about $30 each) for dinner. I confess I’m getting just a little tired of fish… so I’ve had green salad with chicken from McDonald’s the last 2 nights…still almost $10! Breakfast is always huge and takes care of lunch as well. We didn’t get into any trouble in Bergen, although there was no hot water in our hotel the night before we left or the next morning – I refused to take a cold shower, what with the chilly temperatures and rain and all, so we left for our 12 hour Norway in a Nutshell tour feeling less than fresh.
BERGEN to VOSS, NORWAY
The first leg of the trip from Bergen to Voss was, what else, rainy, so didn’t see much. It cleared after about half an hour and it is gorgeous scenery. Next was a bus to Gudvangen and the last part was downhill in a series of a dozen absolutely “hairpin” turns that eventually end up in a beautiful valley, past stunning waterfalls and amazing views – I’m pretty sure the whole bus was holding its collective breath and we broke into applause for the driver when we reached the bottom!
Then onto a boat for the trip through the Sognefjord, specifically the Naeroyfjord and Aurlandsfjord branches that would take us to Flam (pronounced Flomm for some reason). We passed many tiny villages and farms in the middle of absolutely nowhere along the way, while listening to recorded commentary in at least 7 or 8 languages, one after the other. I now know how to say “fjord” in at least 7 or 8 languages…. (it’s “fjord”). The Flam Railway took us up to Myrdal, from 2 meters to 865 meters over 20 km – most at a 55% gradient! Stunningly beautiful. Just before we get to Myrdal there’s a 5 minute stop at the incredible Kjosfossen waterfall and everyone jumps off the train to get sprayed and take photos.
Strange music is coming from the hillside beside the waterfall and while everyone’s staring in awe at the falls a blonde in a red dress appears and waltzes around the hillside (supposedly singing), disappearing behind a hill, then reappearing somewhere else in mere seconds – impossible, but it’s some crazy Norwegian folklore – a “temptress” beckons you to follow her into the forest. Well probably not me – a man might fall for it (devil in a red dress and all…). This being troll country he’d probably end up as a nice change from fish soup. Anyway it was kind of fun schtick but daughter and I are no dummies, we knew there were at least 2, if not 3 blondes in the same red dress dancing on that hillside.
We’re on the last leg of the tour to Oslo – 4 hours on the train, there’s patches of snow everywhere for the first hour or so. It’s August. Then it’s a bus into the center as the rail station is out of commission. It’s late, we’re tired and we crash before we burn.
Quinn departed early this morning to return to Lund and I find my way to the waterfront and wander for an hour looking at all the beautiful people with their babies (babies everywhere, on the buses, the trains, the planes, the boats), their dogs (dogs everywhere, on the buses, the trains, the planes, the boats…well maybe not the planes) and their ridiculous shoes and their tattoos. I believe that tattoos may be taking over the world.
The sun was shining and it was warm…so warm. I took another cruise (the Oslofjord) then wandered to the National Theatre, the Royal Palace – surrounded by beautiful park grounds that the King allows the commoners to enjoy, walked the shopping street from the palace to the train station, where I got kind of lost, about a hundred miles later I found my way to the bus and collapsed back at the hotel.
Today was a tour of the city highlights. I wanted to explore an up and coming “artist” community (translation: the poor part of town) on the east side of Oslo before I had to be at City Hall. Why is the poor part of town always the east side? I knew I’d found the neighbourhood when the graffiti started looking like gang tags rather than graffiti “art” and the apartments looked more like tenement housing and there seemed to be shelters on several corners where the “parkering” was “forbudt” and where the dogs looked a little less than friendly. Here I found a strange little section of a street lined with stalls of even stranger and I guess, perhaps, artistic “shite”. I made a speedy exit as soon as I could figure out where it was and headed back to the rich part of town where, of course, I fit right in. Phew!
My highlights tour took me to the Norske Folkemuseum, the Viking Ships Museum, the Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Vigeland Sculpture Park – all really amazing and only a taste of the dozens of museums here in Oslo. I missed the changing of the guard at the palace, which is recommended as a must-see event – so I watched it on you-tube when I got back…
So to sum up, here’s what I know about Norway
The people are NOT all blonde – although their children seem to be; their language looks and sounds funny; their seagulls shit on the statues whether they are works of art or not, just like everywhere else; you can buy caviar in squeeze tubes, like giant toothpaste tubes; Vikings did not wear horns on their helmets; trolls and gypsies are everywhere, it’s expensive and costs an arm, a leg and everything in your wallet to eat, drink, sleep and be merry. Despite this, the people are friendly, helpful and seem happy (probably all those kroners in their pockets what with health care and education being taken care of by their government); 70% of the land is reserved for green space and there is a tiny 5% unemployment rate. I think I saw the 5% on the east side of town.
Oh – and forget being all Canadian polite when looking for the bathroom – you can ask where the “restroom” or the “washroom” or the “bathroom” is until you pee your pants….just ask for the damn “toilet”. Tomorrow to Helsinki.
Arrived in Helsinki with time to take a gander around town before turning in for the night. It helped that the airport express bus stopped right outside the hotel I’d stayed two years ago so I got all cocky about knowing exactly where I was. It never pays to be cocky. So after wandering around down all the wrong streets for what seemed like hours I finally made it to the esplanade by the waterfront. Now I just had to figure out how to get back to the hotel. Luckily I figured it out on my little map and after that, no problemo!
I can’t believe how many people over here smoke – seems at odds with the outdoorsy image I have of Scandinavians – saunas and snowbanks and skis – not to mention bicycles. And here’s another helpful hint: always walk on the side that has the picture of the big person holding the hand of the little person…not the side with the picture of the bicycle…’nuff said. And oh look – more Gypsies (they play a mean accordion) – but hang onto your wallet.
They say there are almost as many saunas in Finland as there are people. I saw a sign advertising a restaurant with a sauna in it. Seriously. Do you strip to your towel between the salad and the main course or do you wait ’til dessert?
Took a bus to Porvoo, about an hour out of Helsinki – 2nd oldest town in Finland – 1300’s – very cool and cobblestoney…..the round kind….not the greatest test for flip flop feet. (If you don’t believe me, walk a mile in my flip flops) Yes I have runners but they’re so smelly from squishing through the muck during my near death experience at Pulpit Rock that I can’t take them out of their bag and I’m too cheap to buy another pair.
Then on the agenda, a harbour cruise. Then the ferry to Tallinn, Estonia – a very cool medieval town. But the real show was the ferry – it was like a really tacky cruise ship, with a “dance pavilion”, karaoke, kids activities, slot machines everywhere, bars and restaurants, huge duty free store…and people with cases and cases of 24 packs of beer on the way back – they seem to go over just to get the beer – it’s a 2 1/2 hour trip each way – how cheap can it be???
Back to Sweden for my last few days – Stockholm, a gorgeous old/new city, was another Episode of “Brenda Gets Lost”. I walked a couple hundred kilometers looking for the damn Hop-On/Off bus…..I hopped off in an area I hadn’t explored and decided I could walk to the next neighbourhood and explore that. I just kept walking to the next stop, which I was very sure was just down the next street. By the time I figured out where it actually was, I’d been walking for over an hour and was desperate to hop back on the bus before it shut down for the day and I had to walk another hundred kilometers (or so…).
Eventually I found it, managed one last visit to Old Town on the way back to the “ship” and caught a military orchestra and a gospel choir from Zambia. Great way to end my visit here! Back to my mate’s quarters on my old ship-turned-floating hotel (possibly, no … probably even smaller than the smallest hotel room in Copenhagen….!).
Very cool though! Tomorrow I reunite with daughter Quinn for a couple more days before they put me on the train to the Copenhagen Airport and send me home. Another fantastic adventure!
Hejda..Natti Natti… Farval!
Translation – Bye bye…nighty night…farewell
Questions for Brenda? Leave in the comments below and I’ll make sure she gets them.