Sweden…and back again

Back in April, when Diana went to Iceland for the weekend with her friend Mimi, I decided to be adventurous and take Maddie and Ada on a weekend trip to Stockholm.

We left right after school for a six hour train ride to Stockholm. Here are Ada and Maddie about 4 hours into the train ride, somewhere around their usual bedtime.

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And here they are around 11 at night on a Friday when we finally arrived at our AirBnB

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We stayed in an apartment in a beautiful 400 year old building right in the middle of Gamla Stan, the historic heart of Stockholm.

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Of course, the first thing we did was go and see the Nobel Prize Museum.
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We spent most of our time searching for artifacts from Marie Curie, but the girls did complete a cute “Road to My Own Nobel Prize” activity…
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Which did lead to a (chocolate) Nobel Prize

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For lunch, we had the traditional Swedish meatballs,

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followed by ice cream (blueberry lavender flavor).

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We took a ferry over to Junibacken, a great kids play area themed around Swedish children’s stories, and the girls played on a sledding simulator that let you pretend you were going down a long and winding sled run.

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Shortly after our adventure at Junibaken, Ada started to complain that her tummy hurt, and Maddie was weary from all of the walking. We made it back to our AirBnB, and I thought we’d try for dinner nearby after a short rest. Unfortunately, just as we got to the restaurant around the corner, with me carrying Ada, she began to tap on my shoulder as I inquired about a table. When I looked at Ada, I saw her hand was over her mouth, and so we quickly ran from the restaurant, getting out the front door just in time for her to throw up over me and her just outside the front steps of the restaurant.

And so we trudged back to our AirBnB to got cleaned up, ordered some Chinese food on delivery, and capped the evening with some videos.

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On Sunday, we went to the National Museum of Science and Technology in Stockholm, before catching a 3 hour train followed by a 3 hour bus ride back.

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All in all it was a great trip, and reminded me that Maddie and Ada are becoming very good traveling companions, and that I should stay open to last minute adventures.

For much of this spring, we’ve been thinking about what to do for a final trip after the girls completed school. At first, we wanted to visit Lofoten, a beautiful part of northern Norway, but all our research seemed to indicate that it would be pretty hard to see all that we wanted to see without a car. And, in order to drive in Norway, we would need to complete the very expensive and difficult driving test, which didn’t seem worth it.

So, we decided to make a return to Sweden, this time to revisit Stockholm with Diana, but also to see Midsomer, the Swedish celebration of the summer solstice.

After Maddie and Ada finished school on June 20, we took a bus to Karlstad, Sweden, and rented a car—a tiny Volkswagen Golf with a manual transmission. Even though I’ve loved not driving for the past year, it was nice to get behind the wheel of a car again. It was way less nice when filling up a little more than half a tank of gas. Roughly 25 liters of gas (about 6 gallons) cost us nearly 50 dollars! It made me very glad we had abandoned our original idea of renting a campervan and driving around Sweden.

Our first destination was just outside the town of Leksand, in the Dalarna region, which is home to “real Sweden” everyone told us, and the place everyone goes to celebrate Midsomer. And they were right—Dalarna is beautiful. Everywhere along the roads you see beautiful pink, and purple wildflowers, and this was the view outside our hotel window.

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The big celebration of Midsomer takes place in the afternoon on the Solstice, and centers around decorating a maypole, and then heaving it up into standing position in an intricate process using several pairs of long wooden sticks and lots of people.

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Once the pole is lifted, everyone dances around it to Swedish folk music.

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This process takes a while, and it involves a lot of instructions in Swedish, so Maddie and Ada weren’t so thrilled that we saw 3 maypoles being hoisted on Midsomer weekend, including one children sized one that Ada helped to decorate.

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Adults and children (boys and girls) also wear crowns out of wildflowers, and here is Ada, somewhat reluctantly modeling the crown Diana made for her.

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At our last May pole hoisting, Maddie and Ada really just wanted to run around and play.

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Dalarna is also famous for the Dela Horse, a red wooden horse hand painted in folk designs that has become a national symbol of Sweden. We spent an afternoon visiting a factory for these horses and painting our own versions.

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We also visited Sommarland, a small amusement park near Lekesand. Like the amusement park in Lillihammer we visited, Sommarland was more low key, and seems to operate under the principle of providing fairly unstructured opportunities for kids to have fun. In this case, there was a small 1.5 foot deep lake in the middle of the park, and boats of all types—canoes, kayaks, paddleboat for kids to just take out. There was also a BMX bike course set up, and kids (or adults) could just borrow a bike and take it out on the course. There are also plenty of water slides. The 60°F temperatures didn’t seem to bother most kids, but after about 20 minutes of splashing around in the kiddie pool, Maddie and Ada decided they were cold, and so we spend most of the rest of our day doing activities on land, like jumping on a giant inflatable air bag.

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And driving small electric vehicles around a kid-sized city. The awesome thing here was that kids were basically free to use these vehicles for as long as they liked, taking turns when another child comes around wanting to drive—no queues or timers necessary.

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And here’s Ada on the bungee trampoline, which she loved

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Followed by a dive into a big air bag

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Following these adventures in the heart of Sweden, we drove to Stockholm, and one of the first things I noticed was how compact the city is. When we were half an hour from our hotel in the center of Stockholm, we were still on a four lane highway, passing farms on both sides of the road. I’ve noticed the same thing in Oslo, too, and am told that the forest line is almost sacred in Oslo, and there are many regulations to combat city sprawl.

One of our first stops was a playground in a local park in central Stockholm. They had these amazing tricycles that kids could add trailers to in all sorts of configurations. They also had people working at the playground who were constantly organizing toys and games for the kids.

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We also visited Skansen, an incredible open air cultural museum, zoo and amusement park, all in one. You can tour complete historic Swedish farmhouses and villages from different time periods. When we arrived, a flock of sheep were being herded down one of the roads, and Ada followed them all the way back to her pen.

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Here is Ada in the zoo part, looking through a plastic bubble at a rabbit exhibit.

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We also visited the Royal Armory, which presented a good history of the Swedish monarchy, and some very beautiful carriages.

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On the way to the Armory, we also made a visit back to where Ada threw up on our last trip to Stockholm.

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Stockholm has a small butterfly museum/shark exhibit that we visited one morning. Here are Maddie and Ada admiring the emerging butterflies.

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On our last day in Stockholm, we boarded a ferry with the intent to spend the day visiting the island of Grinda, but the the Ferry announcements were so hard to understand and the port stops were so brief, that we missed the stop for Grinda, and decided to get off at the next stop, Karklö, which turned out to be a nearly unpopulated island that only got ferry service twice a day.

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Karklö was beautiful, and made for a great day hike.

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We also found a bunch of fresh blueberries along the trail.

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And a very pretty coastline.

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Luckily, we made the last ferry back to Stockholm which was good because were scheduled to head back to Oslo for our final few days in Norway the following morning.

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Italy–Part 3 Florence and Siena

After five days in Rome, we took another wonderful Italian train up to Florence, and proceeded to trek from the train station to our AirBnB in the old part of town dragging a backpack and two wheeled suitcases along very narrow sidewalks, as Ada found great entertainment in trying to jump aboard the suitcases and riding them.

Once we dropped our things in our AirBnB, which was a wonderful top floor apartment in an old building with exposed beams, we made our way down to the oldest part of Florence and the Galileo Museum.

Here’s Ada playing with a brachistrochone track in a small kids area in the museum.

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The upper floors of the museum were a wonderful collection of all sorts of historic scientific instruments, and made for one of those moments when I wish I had more time to explore the museum without Ada and Maddie telling me how boring everything was and wondering when we would leave. But we did see Galileo’s finger on display, just as I remember hearing about in some old science video I’ve showed my classes.

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On the next day, we explored the Uffizi gallery, which is one of the most impressive art museums I’ve ever visited. The building itself is most stunning—originally commissioned by Cosimo de’Medici to house the governmental offices of Florence, it’s a clear statement to the power and wealth of the Medici family. These days, as every tour book/video warns, it is packed with tourists, so we got out timed tickets in advanced and did our best to keep Maddie and Ada engaged with the amazing art they were seeing. Here’s Maddie posing in probably the most famous painting in the museum.

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The southern side of Florence, across the Arno, is stunning. Here’s a view overlooking the city.

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We walked downhill from that stunning view into the center of Florence, stopping for a picnic in a rose garden.

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And walking across the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio bridge, which was both stunning and very crowded.
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On the way back to our AirBnB, we learned that the inspiration for Pinocchio came from a small wooden toy store called Bartolucci, which made for a great stop in the old city.

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Here is a photo of the historic workshop.

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By far, the highlight of our time in Florence was a workshop in pizza and gelato making. Here’s Maddie forming her pizza dough, which is far simpler to make than I had imagined.

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Once the pizzas were being prepared in the oven, we took a break to make gelato, which Ada loved.

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Here’s Ada with her Pizza creation, which is “super yum.”

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Finally,  on the advice of a work colleague, we took a day trip to Siena, which was a great idea. After taking about a dozen escalators from the train station to the outskirts of the historic town, you walk into the center of Siena, which is totally car free.

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The city itself is beautiful, and the girls loved running around the Piazza del Campo in the middle of the town.

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Later in the day, we enjoyed touring the Duomo, and learning more about the various wars between Siena and Florence. Here’s a pic of Duomo from the outside:

And the ceiling inside:

A Week in Greece

During Maddie and Ada’s week-long February break from school, we chose to rebook our vacation to Greece. This past summer, we had intended to visit as a family so I could volunteer with refugees for this amazing Norwegian organization called “Drapen i Havet.” Instead, I spent those two weeks in the hospital with my mother in Atlanta who is, fortunately, doing much better. Because Maddie and Ada’s winter break was only one week long, I couldn’t volunteer in February (they require volunteers to work a minimum of 10 days) but we were able to tour the country as a family. It turns out that unlike July, the weather in Greece in February (50-60F and mostly sunny) was perfect. We were also lucky that Maddie had just finished a month-long unit in school on Greek Myths which we supplemented at home by reading D’Aulaire’s entire “Book of Greek Myths” which, by the way, is an amazing way to introduce children to ancient Greek mythology.

To get Maddie and Ada excited about our trip, we watched a few travel videos about Athens, Delphi, and Hydra, the three main places we would visit. Their favorite video by far though was this street food tour of Athens which showed up on the YouTube “next” feed. Maddie and Ada loved learning about Greek food beforehand and were even more excited about tasting it when we arrived.

We spent our first and second day in Greece enjoying the amazingly cheap Greek food (when compared to Norway!) and visiting the absolutely incredible Acropolis Museum and fascinating Archaeology Museum. The Acropolis museum which was located close to our Airbnb is seen here from one of the pedestrian only streets in Athens.

Maddie and Ada enjoyed the children’s activities provided by the Acropolis museum. Ada loved finding all the different kinds of animals in the museum and Maddie enjoyed finding all the Greek gods.

Maddie loved seeing sculptures depicting all of the Greek myths we had been reading about. On the left is Maddie with a smaller version of the East Pediment statues made for the Parthenon of all 12 Greek gods witnessing the birth of Athena. On the right, Maddie is below one of the original statues on the East Pediment of Hestia, Artemis (aka Diana, my namesake) and Aphrodite.

I had recently finished a book called the “Parthenon Enigma” which explored the meaning behind this specific frieze which I was excited to see in person:

According to the book, the youngest person in the center image is the King Erechtheus’s youngest daughter getting ready to change into ceremonial robes so she can be sacrificed to save Athens from losing a major battle. The Greek gods are seen seated to the right and left of the family and are looking away because they do not enjoy watching mortals die. Before the ceremony, her sisters, standing on the left with the ceremonial robes balanced on their heads, had made a pact to die together. So after their sister is sacrificed, the two sisters jumped off the hill of the Acropolis together. They are glorified in the ancient play “The Erechtheion”  as the perfect Athenian women because they sacrificed themselves for their city. Their mother becomes the first priestess of the Acropolis near where her husband is buried (also called the Erechtheion) and her three daughters are buried in the Temple dedicated to Athena and named after the maidens (the Parthenon).

My favorite takeaway from the Acropolis Museum was the museum’s argument for the return of the missing Parthenon sculptures currently displayed in the British Museum. The British Museum bought them from Lord Elgin who stole them from Greece in the 1800s and has argued that they shouldn’t be returned to Greece for their safety. The Acropolis museum, a beautiful and incredibly safe museum is Greece’s reply.

The next day we visited the Archaeology museum and saw even more Greek Gods including a small replica of the statue of Athena that was originally in the Parthenon. (The original was 38 feet tall!)

Our third day in Greece, we wandered through the Monastiraki flea market,

ate lunch at a wonderful Souvlaki restaurant recommended by a friend,

and visited more Ancient Greek structures including the Acropolis. Below is the amazing Theater of Dionysus which seats 17,000 which you can view as you head up to the Parthenon. On our trip, we learned that the Greeks, which created the concept of drama and theater, also invented the amphitheater. Evidently ancient Greek amphitheaters like the one pictured had perfect acoustics which I think is incredible.

The Parthenon was of course spectacular. Below is a selfie of our family in front:

Maddie was so taken with the structure that she decided to sketch the Parthenon in her journal which she wrote in every day during our trip:

Ada has for a while now has refused to let us take her picture but after seeing the Parthenon decided that with the right pose, pictures were tolerable:

After visiting the main ancient sites and museums in Athens, we decided to take a day trip to Delphi. The Ancient Greeks believed Delphi, located a few hours north of Athens was the center of the world. There they built the Temple of Apollo where the Priestess’s of the Temple, also known as Pythia’s, gave prophecies to Greek leaders for over 500 years (evidently under the influence of methane which seeped into the Temple from a geological fault below). As you can see in the photos below, Delphi is a beautiful place to visit. Below is the Temple of Apollo and a few pictures near it:

After visiting the remains of the Temple, we saw many original sculptures in a nearby Museum. My favorite was the Sphinx which was placed to keep watch over the large treasure stored near the Temple.

Maddie and Ada’s favorite part of our trip was playing with a new Greek friend at one of the local restaurants in Delphi.

On the way back to Athens we stopped to get a picture of this mountain town where Athenians live when they go skiing at a nearby mountain in the winter. Stray cats, like the one posing below, were ubiquitous in Greece and were very much appreciated by our animal-loving daughters.

After Delphi, we left for Hydra, a beautiful Greek island a 2-hour boat ride from the city. Hydra, as I mentioned in this post, is car-free which was a welcome change from the busy car congested Athen streets. There the kids loved playing on the beach, eating ice cream, feeding the stray cats, and taking long walks through town and around the Island. Below is a picture of Ada with one of the many donkey’s on the island- the main form of transportation:

The harbor at Hydra:

Maddie and Ada playing on the beach on a day when the high was 55F. Coming from Norway, 55F felt very warm to us and so Maddie and Ada refused to wear coats and insisted on playing in the cold Mediterranean ocean. I think at least 3 Greek mothers asked me whether my children should wear more clothes during our vacation in Greece. A Greek man who went swimming in the ocean while Maddie and Ada were playing on the beach mentioned that Greek children wear a lot of layers in this kind of weather.

Here is a picture of Ada running down the car-free streets:

After two nights in Hydra, we reluctantly headed back to Athens for our long flight home. We decided to end our trip by eating dinner at a restaurant on top of Lycabettus Hill in Athens which gave us the opportunity to say goodbye to this incredible country.


Tromsø: Chasing the Northern Lights

Back in early January, we took a trip to Tromsø, Norway, which is at 69° N latitude, a full 10° above Oslo. Here is our view on the way in.

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Tromsø is a beautiful city, especially when it’s dark. And in Tromsø it is dark almost all the time in January. This is a photo just outside our hotel at 1:30 in the afternoon. In January, you get a couple of hours of daylight around noon.

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There are lots of fun things to do in Tromsø, but Maddie and Ada had the most fun climbing on and sliding down the huge snow piles around the city.

Tromsø also has some great museums. We were especially impressed by the science museum, and as you might imagine, winter and climate change were major themes.

Here’s a great exhibit exploring the symmetry of snowflakes.

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And here’s Maddie and Ada trying an exhibit that simulated pushing a sled on the snow.

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Notice the socks—everyone has to leave their dirty snow covered shoes at the door, a common practice in Norway.

The main reason we chose to visit Tromsø was to see the Northern Lights. Even though Tromsø was close enough to the arctic circle and we were there during the darkest time of year, light pollution and variable cloud cover meant we had to leave Trømso to actual see the lights. So, we booked an expedition to see the Northern Lights with “Chasing Lights.” We set out at 6pm on a fancy touring bus with 50 other tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of this wonder. This turned out to be quite an adventure—it was too cloudy just south of Trømso to see the Northern lights, so the bus began a long journey toward the Finnish border, stopping along the to see if the cloud cover had reduced inland. Fortunately Ada was able to sleep for 2 hours on the drive there and Maddie was able to enjoy gazing at the constellations on a perfectly dark cloudless nighttime sky (though with no “northern lights” activity) on our first stop before we reached Finland.

Below is the route we took—we got to the Finland border just around midnight and arrived back at Tromsø around 3am. But what is time when it’s completely dark outside 22 hours a day?

Of course, we all had visions of the spectacular photos you see when you picture the Northern Lights. Alas, that isn’t quite what we saw. When we got off the bus at the border, we could see low clouds, and above the clouds, a faint smudge of a light gray/ possibly green? light above the clouds—truly unimpressive, and worth making you wonder why you got off the warm bus when it was -15°C outside. But the CCD in the camera is much more sensitive than your eye, so when the guides took our photos, you do see a green halo on the horizon—success! Of course, Ada, as usual, wasn’t interested in getting her picture taken and Maddie, who was asleep on the bus when we reached the Finnish border, had to be practically dragged out of the bus to see the phenomenon. After cookies and hot chocolate and a brief attempt at building a fire by our guides, we all got back on the bus for the long 3 hour bus ride back to Tromsø.

I was glad we convinced Maddie to get out of the bus because after our trip, Maddie added the photos above to her school iPad and proudly showed her classmates the picture of us with the Northern Lights. Even though we were less than impressed, Maddie and Ada couldn’t stop talking about the Northern Lights and drew some pretty great pictures of themselves with the Northern Lights the next day as we took a break at the local library in Trømso.

Another highlight of our trip was a morning spent visiting reindeer and learning about Sami culture, the native people of Norway. We got to feed the reindeer—they would just walk right up to you and eat from the bucket of reindeer food.

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Then we got to ride around the property on a real reindeer sled “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

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After all of this, we gathered in a warm Sami tent for a traditional lunch of reindeer stew, and an explanation about Sami culture from one of the local Sami reindeer herders.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Tromsø is the weather. We went expecting it to be a record-setting cold that we’d remember for the rest of our lives, but in reality, temperatures were mostly right around freezing, and we spent a good deal of one day in our hotel room because of the heavy rain outside. Tromsø (and coastal Norway in general) are known to have a warmer climate that many other parts of the arctic due to the gulf stream, but watching heavy rain outside your window in early January above the arctic circle still feels a bit strange.

Speaking of hotel rooms, if you ever stay in a hotel in Norway, the “Scandic” hotel chain has an amazing breakfast buffet included in the price of your hotel room- lots of Norwegian knekke brød, fresh fish, Norwegian vaffles, pancakes, eggs of all sorts, an assortment of cheeses, fresh fruit, and even fresh orange juice.

A trip to Bergen

Back in the beginning of October, we took a long weekend and traveled to Bergen, Norway.

Bergen is known for being rainy, and it didn’t disappoint. It was our first real chance to put our rain gear to test.

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Maddie and Ada had a great time jumping in the biggest puddles they could find.

and with rain, you always get rainbows (even two at a time!)

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We took the Fløibanen funicular up to the top of Mount Fløyen, where it was rainy and a bit cold, but Maddie and Ada managed still had fun at the playgrounds we discovered at the top.
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Evidently parts of “Frozen” were inspired by the city of Bergen, Norway. The moss covered rocks and trolls at the top of the Mount Fløyen were reminiscent of the film.

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Here’s a picture of the Skomakerdiket, a beautiful lake that the top of Mt. Fløyen that made the perfect lunch spot, until it started to rain heavily again.
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The classic tourist photo of Bryggen, the historic shops and restaurants at the wharf.
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The Bergen Aquarium made for a great visit on a rainy morning. I find I really like museums that are small enough to fully explore in half a day.

We also had some great adventures at the science museum.

We spend an afternoon wandering around the Bergen Art Museum.

One really interesting exhibit we saw was this installation where kids could write their wishes on a star and place them on the wall. This one caught my eye. (“ikke” means not in Norwegian.)
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Norway in a Nutshell—amazing nature/amazing transportation

Perhaps the most touristy thing in Norway is Norway in a Nutshell, a train->train->ferry->bus->train tour that can be done in a single day and takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of Norway—gorgeous mountains, stunning fjords, and some amazing train rides.

The first thing that impressed me is how Fjord Tours and all of the various transportation/tour operators has managed to put together a simple website that lets you plan an customize your trip to your heart’s content. It’s easy to book in an extra day on your trip, see the options for different departures, all the time knowing that the site is keeping up with your schedule so you don’t have to worry about whether you have enough time to make a connection.

Once you’ve planned your trip, you can pick up your tickets at the NSB office at the Oslo Sentralstation, which is a beautiful train station that I didn’t get to explore as much as I wanted back on the day when Ada threw up in the bus. Following the guidance of Rick Steves, we opted for the early morning train ride toward Bergen that left at 8:30 in the morning.

The train ride from Oslo to Bergen is said to be one of the most beautiful in the world, and they are surely right, but I want to start by giving a shoutout about the wonders of Norwegian trains, and it all starts with the family car.

Most long distance NSB trains have a family car, a car with a built in padded playroom for kids complete with a TV playing Norwegian cartoons. Here are some photos of Maddie and Ada exploring it:

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The family car was the perfect antidote to kids getting bored with a 4.5-hour train ride, even as we passed some of the most incredible scenery in the world. To me, this is just one more of the many little things I see around Norway that tells me this is a place that cares about the well being of children and makes it so wonderful for families to live here.

The Olso to Bergen railway takes you up into the mountains of Norway, where beautiful rolling farmland gives way, gorgeous mountains, waterfalls, and just incredibly beautiful scenery—and tunnels. So many tunnels. Here are a few photos I shot from the window seat:

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The Norway in a Nutshell route we chose leaves this train in Myrdal, a tiny town high in elevation, that is most famous for being the terminus of the Flam Railway, one of the most famous railroads in the world, and the next step in our tour. It was cold and rainy up here, so Ada and Maddie weren’t exactly thrilled to be standing outside waiting on the train, but we tried to make the best of it.

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The Flam Railway, or Flamsbana is world famous because it is a 20 km railway line that descends 863 meters into the valley of Flam and along more stunning scenery—nearly endless waterfalls and beautiful valley views. As a kid who loved model trains, this hour-long train ride was something special.

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When we got to Flåm, we spent some time at the free railway museum, and were amazed at the engineering feats it took to build this railway in the early 1900s.

The town of Flåm itself is tiny, and after trying on some viking hats and getting ingredients for dinner at the only grocery store, we headed to our AirBnB which was just outside of town on a working farm, with a trampoline (Maddie and Ada’s favorite).

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Here’s a photo from the porch of our AirBnB:

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Our house was next to a beautiful waterfall, and so we decided to do some exploring and started a climb up to an overlook. Here’s a view from halfway up:

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And then some tired children convinced us to stop and head back down.

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The next morning we boarded a nearly empty Fjord ship for a cruise through the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord. Ordinarily, the boat would have been full, but since we opted to stay the night in Flåm, we missed all the foot traffic. At this point, we’ve seen so many beautiful waterfalls that it’s a bit hard not to be blasé about it, but somehow, the Fjord still managed to impress.

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After a couple of hours, the boat docked in Gudvangen, and we boarded a bus took us on a 45-minute tour of the Fjordlands, including a drive down the Stalheimskleiva Road, the steepest road in Northern Europe, with an 18% grade and 13 hairpin turns. At this point, I was feeling slightly car sick (I didn’t throw up on the bus, thankfully) and didn’t manage to get any photos.

When we arrived in Voss, we caught the Bergen to Oslo train and got to see all the scenery we might have missed on our journey on the first train ride.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip that was super easy to navigate thanks to the wonderful coordination of the Norwegian transportation system, and a great last gasp of summer.

Back to Norway and good riddance to driving

After 3 weeks in Atlanta, Diana’s mom is doing much better thanks to lots of rest, the incredible care of her medical team, family and a couple of granddaughters that snuck in for a few visits to hospital. She’s got a long road ahead of her, but her progress has been amazing, and I’m hopeful we’ll see her in Norway this spring.

Yesterday, we started our long trek back to Oslo, which is an alternating series of trips on plans and buses, and got back this afternoon. This was the first time in 4 visits to the Oslo airport that we were able to leave with all our luggage—no lost suitcases or forgotten strollers. And we were able to bring a few more “necessities” back with us this time, like measuring cups and spoons, a vegetable peeler, and an Apple TV.

It again was such a treat to have the Flybussen bus roll up to the last bus stop and know we are just a few flights of stairs away from our apartment—this will never get old, and I’ve just got to find a way to make sure the next place I live (or retire) is right next to a public transportation nexus.

Now that it’s mid-August, our town feels way more alive than it did back in mid July when I would sometimes find myself alone in the grocery store on an afternoon around 4pm. I guess it must be true that Norwegians that the month of July off on vacation.

While I was in Atlanta, I managed to put close to 1000 miles on my sister in-law’s mini-van shuttling kids to a great lego and coding camp I found, and really found myself completely sucked back the horrors of living in a car-opolis. Whether it was having to check three different apps to figure out the fastest way to camp, being both thankful and sad that my kids could be so easily sucked into the backseat DVD player as we drove 30 minutes to camp, searching for parking every time I went somewhere, dealing with a rock that shattered the window and required a $500 repair, there’s just very little I find fun anymore about driving, even if my sister in law has the coolest minivan around (Thanks Julie!). I just find myself being stressed and noticing how the entire city and and beyond must designed around a vehicle first way of life in order to support a car-centric lifestyle.

My travel time in Norway is so different—it’s clear that our town and just about everywhere we go is designed around people. There’s a giant tunnel that routes traffic under our town, making the main street through our town quieter than some of the residential streets in my in-laws neighborhood back in Atlanta. I’ve never seen a traffic jam in Norway, and the automatically collected tolls nearly every highway around Oslo and pay parking must have a lot to do with that—let people who use cars pay for the externalities they cause, and make fast, efficient and affordable public transportation available. It’s hard to overstate how much of an effect this has on the feeling of a place.

The next week is a busy one for us, and really the last of the summer. Maddie and Ada have school orientation on Monday, and we have some great friends (yea Gilheanys!) visiting Oslo for a few days this week, and this weekend, we’ll do the Norway in a Nutshell tour that seems to be a must do on every visitor’s itinerary.