Scandinavia Trip

Tuesday May 10th

Left for DC and checked into the Crown Plaza in Herndon where we will keep our car for the duration of our trip. It's a great hotel and we got a room on a Club Level floor...no idea why!

It had a TEVE Electric Mirror in the bathroom that has built-in Bluetooth and speakers. So, you can listen to whatever your phone will stream. I told Jenny she needs one in her new bathroom at the lake!


Travel day and night - We leave Dulles at 2:10 p.m. and arrive in Helsinki tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. There is a 7 hour difference between DC and Helsinki.


Arrived at Helsinki airport at 7:00 a.m. following very smooth flights, then took the train downtown arriving at the GLO Art Hotel by 9:00 a.m. To our surprise, they had a room ready. We could check in and take a nap!

Around 1:00 p.m., we headed out to orient ourselves to the city using the Rick Steves (RS) Helsinki Walk. We walked to the harbor and had lunch in the Old Market Hall.

The Walk starts at the Market Square where the City Hall and the Swedish Embassy are located. Havis Amanda, the fountain in the Square with its nude woman was too racy for the Victorian town leaders and they threatened to not pay the sculptor. But he got the last laugh by orienting the piece so they would always have to look at her bare arse!

Next stop was Senate Square where the main focus is the Lutheran Cathedral flanked by the Senate Building on the right and main University of Helsinki building on the left.

Strolling along the Esplanade, we realized we had not had our daily coffee so we ducked into a cafe to remedy that shortfall. Next stop was Stockman's Department Store (think Finland's Macy's) which is very impressive; definitely worth strolling through even if you buy nothing.

Three Smiths Statue represents the solid
character of the Finnish people.

Our last stop was the Chapel of Silence. Opened in 2012, the wooden Chapel provides a moment of respite from the commotion of the center city. We sat in silence and sent a prayer aloft for Peg who was in failing health. Little did we know she had died during the night. I will always remember Peg for her positive outlook and the fact she always found something positive to say about the people she knew! May God bless and keep her.

We were very tired so we decided to eat at the hotel restaurant, even though no one else was there when we arrived. The food and service were wonderful and we were only a hundred yards from our room!


Suomelinna (Fortress of Finland) is a group of fortified islands protecting the Helsinki Harbor since 1748. Sweden and Russia held the Fortress until after WW I when Finland finally took possession. Today, it houses the Finnish Naval Academy and is a beautiful park 10 minutes by ferry from the harbor. Great place to stroll around on a warm, sunny spring day.

Suomelinna Luthern Church
It was built as a Russian Orthodox Church
 with onion domes which were removed by the Swedes.

Helsinki Harbor

Next we took the Tram Tour (RS) after some difficulty finding the right tram. First stop was at the unique Temppeliaukio "Rock" Church where we were delighted to find an orchestra practicing for a concert.

One stop later, we hopped off to see if we could find the Sibelius Monument honoring the famous Finnish composer and violinist Jean Sibelius. We found it by following several tour buses filled with Japanese tour groups!

How many pipes?  600!

Following the tram tour, we had dinner at Emo and headed back to the hotel...exhausted!


The forecast was for 100% rain all day but it was just light drizzle on and off. We checked out the train station in preparation for our departure tomorrow. Then we strolled through the Design District with its numerous shops featuring the wares of Finnish designers. A late lunch in the Artist Cafe at the Swedish Theater followed by shopping for dinner and a tour of the Hietalahti Market ended our tour for the day.

Impressions of Helsinki

It is very clean, safe and the people are nice.

Not a particularly beautiful city.
Block after block of 6-8 story rectangular shaped buildings.
However,  there are many small parks everywhere.

The food scene is eclectic.
Every place we ate (none were expensive)
served wonderful, uniquely seasoned food.


Easy connections and flight to Oslo got us to our hotel (Thon Cecil) by 2:00 p.m. We went immediately to the National Gallery because we thought it was free on Sunday. It isn't. They switched to free on Thursday last fall! But the cashier, noting our gray hair and aging bodies asked us if we were of pension age? So, we got in for half price.

The Museum has a collection of Edvard Munch paintings we wanted to seen including The Scream and Madonna....very cool. Sohlberg's oil painting Winter Night in the Mountains is outstanding.

Since many Nordic painters went to Paris in the late 1800s to study under the French masters, the Museum does a neat thing. In a room several Matisse paintings are hung with those of painters who studied with him. The next room Cëzanne, the next Monet and so forth.

Also, we saw a first in our museum visits. There was a room with a sculpture surrounded by chairs. Sketching supplies were available and guests were invited to sketch the piece and hang their drawings.

The new Oslo Opera House is outstanding; it rises from the water and visitors can walk from there up to the top on the roof! It is a happening place.

We raised a glass of Frydenlund Pale Ale to toast Gretchen's mom and looked out at the sculpture in the fjord with boats cruising by...delightful!

She Lies is meant to be a monument about change, longing and hope. 

It represents an iceberg deposited in the fjord due to global warming. 

It's always changing due to the reflective surfaces and it rotates with the tides!

Walking back to the hotel, we discovered the spot where the first settlement of Oslo occurred. It was called Little Christiania, a name that endured until 1925 when the city took back its old Norse name...Oslo.

A nice cafe next to the "Thumb" lured us in for supper. Cafe Skansen did not disappoint serving a huge bowl of excellent mussels and a fine halibut entree. Wow, food in Oslo is expensive!

After dinner we strolled up Karl Johans Gate to the Palace and looked down the Gate toward the Parliament building before returning to our hotel.

The designs on the Parliament are real flowers!


The Akers River provided the water power for the mills during Oslo's Industrial Age; late 1800s.

Now, some of the factories remain, converted to condos in this trendy district called Grünerløkka. We walked up the river gorge (RS walk) and felt like natives since nary a tourist was in sight along the busy path.

Fabrikkjentene Sculpture - four women who toiled in the factories with 700 others!

Back in the center, we checked out the Oslo Cathedral (Lutheran) with its ornate box for the Royal family. There has been a church on this spot for 1000 years!

The rest of the afternoon we walked past the City Hall, Akershus Fortress (the historic military base) and the Nobel Peace Center, which celebrates the lives of prize winners, on our way to Aker Brygge.

City Hall

Nobel Peace Center

Oslo Harbor with Akershus Fortress in background

Aker Brygge is the upscale redeveloped restaurant, shopping and residential district along the harbor. It was abuzz with Norwegians today since tomorrow is their Independence Day!

We ate dinner in an outdoor cafe (RS suggestion) along a quieter section of the harbor quay. We ordered gazpacho which we knew would be served cold and shrimp, which surprisingly, was also served cold...with eyes...but numerous, sweet and tasty!

Impressions of Oslo

Walkable, safe center city with neat neighborhoods along the Akers River.

Beautiful redeveloped water front areas.

A lot of construction is underway.

Tons of people smoke!


Caught the train to the airport passing streams of Norwegians dressed in traditional garb arriving for the celebration! Too bad we didn't know about it, we would have liked to have seen the activities.

Arrived in Stockholm at our hotel by 2:00 p.m and headed out for new and old town orientation walks (RC).

Sergels Torg

Stockholm was much as we remembered it but the old town wasn't as quaint as in our mind's eyes. There are pretty views along the water.

 We ate dinner at the Cafe Panorama in the Culture Center. Decent food at a good price.


Skansen is the best folk museum in Europe (RS). It is located in Djurgarden, a beautiful park island in the harbor which was once the king's hunting grounds. All of the buildings are original, transported from all over Sweden and reconstructed on the site.

Today, at the time of our visit, the baker was putting finishing touches on his goodies and school was in session!

Skansen is huge; you wander through barn yards, past wind mills and manor houses and the town center. Plus it has a zoo and a mountain top concert stage. We really enjoyed it a lot! We finished the day walking along Lake Mälaren, past City Hall to Mälarpaviljongen, a waterside restaurant. The Arctic char was excellent!

Gretchen informs me we walked 30,000 steps today. I truly believe by the end of this trip I will reach my yearly step goal and will not have to go for a walk again for the rest of 2016!


First thing today, we climbed the City Hall Tower for a view of Stockholm. The cool thing about the climb was the last third was mostly through ascending brick hallways around the four walls of the tower! Unique tower with great views from the top and a huge statue of Saint Eric!

Next stop was the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace. Since it was a week day there was no band but still, a neat event to attend.

We had hoped to explore the Stockholm archipelago by taking a 2 hour cruise to Grinda today. But...we discovered that nothing was open on the island until June 1st. So we went on a 20 minute cruise to Fjäderholmen.

Fish stew is not soup! I learned this today when I ordered it thinking I would eat a light lunch. I got a big bowl with 1/4" of a dark, savory broth topped with a layer of mussels, calamari and sautéed fennel with another layer of Arctic char and halibut, plus boiled potatoes and garlic butter. Neither soup nor light but a superb lunch for sure.

The archipelago is hyped as an escape from big city life to nature and in a way, Fjäderholmen is a good example. It is a summer escape with restaurants and craft shops in a completely natural setting...with high rise apartment buildings half mile across the water.

On the way back to the hotel we strolled through NK (Nordiska Kompaniet), a huge department store in Sweden that locals suggest means No Kronors left!

Impressions of Stockholm

Big bustling city environment but the center is still safe and walkable.

Djurgarden, Lake Mälaren and the archipelago
 provide easy access to the natural environment.

Tons of people smoke!

Lots of bikers and as a pedestrian,
you need to worry about them more than cars!


Rolling on the rails to Copenhagen this morning, it is the first long ride we've taken with our Eurail pass. The country side is rural with farms, small towns, lakes and boreal forests.


Jens Olsen Clock in City Hall

Olsen was a clock maker who was mathematically inclined. He worked out the equations for this precision time piece that keeps track of world time, planet positions and many other measurements in his twenties. Then he spent 30 years raising the funds to have it built. He died a few years before the clock was started in 1955. One of the gears makes one revolution in 25,753 years! What will the earth be like when it completes its first turn?

Copenhagen has free, three hour walking tours every day starting at city hall. The walks are highly rated and justifiably so. Dan O, our Aussie guide, was very entertaining and we saw most of the central sites and learned a lot about Denmark. I even got to be his helper!

Parliament is housed in Christiansborg Palace, a former royal residence.

Hans Christian Anderson lived in a light yellow house on Nyhavn, the new harbor, just to the right of the photo below. The famous writer of fairy tales, failed in his ambition to become a dancer and actor. But he was a great story teller and his friends encouraged him to write his stories down. Thus began his writing career. The Little Mermaid is immortalized with a sculpture on the harbor donated by Carl Jacobsen, the Carlsberg Brewing Magnate, whose philanthropy via his foundation has really changed the Copenhagen landscape.

Amalienborg Palace is the home of the Queen and Crown Prince located on the main harbor. There is even a place nearby where she can board the Royal Yacht. It has two pavilions, one for the royal family and one for their guests to wait for the yacht! The Marble Church in the background has the largest dome in Scandinavia. It is an Evangelical Lutheran church that opened in 1894.

Following the tour, we doubled back to Nyhavn and went on a canal boat ride. It was nice to sit for an hour and to see Copenhagen from the water. I loved scouting out the boats moored along the canals.

Heading back to our hotel, we found TorvehallerneKBH, a market complex with a lot of food vendors as well. We got fruit and picnic supplies for supper. At the hotel Cozy Hour (think free glass of wine or beer), we met an Australian couple born in Beijing and a couple from Minneapolis. Turns out they are both going on the same Baltic Cruise leaving from here Monday.


Outside our hotel this morning, the streets were roped off with official looking folks at each corner. We found out it was the day of the Copenhagen Marathon with 30,000 runners.

First stop today was the University of Copenhagen's Botanical Garden. It is a beautiful place, so nice to stroll around on a beautiful spring morning.

But we were disappointed, they no longer have the temperature controlled pavilion for Arctic plants...poor plants!😕

Next stop was the Rosenberg Castle, another royal residence. We walked through the gardens but decided not to go in. It was so nice outside and we have seen a bunch of European castles!

On our way to the harbor, we caught the changing of the guard at Amalienborg Palace and then walked along the harbor to see The Little Mermaid and the Gefion Fountain.

The fountain represents a Danish myth; the goddess Gefion was given the challenge of cutting a chunk out of Sweden for Denmark in one night, so she turned her four sons into oxen to quickly complete the task.

We followed the marathoners to the bridge to Christian Havn were we got a bite to eat then we toured Christiana.

Christiana is a free state within Copenhagen. In the 70s, hippies squatted in an abandoned military base and by the time the city wanted to reclaim the land, the hippies had squatters rights; so they remain to this day. On the main drag, aptly named Pushers Street, you can buy marijuana. But since it is illegal, there are no photo signs and the sellers are in kiosks that hide their faces. Our conclusion....we're glad we didn't choose the hippie option in the seventies!

Cozy hour with the cruising couples and dinner at a TorvehallerneKBH restaurant with the locals completed the day.

In the morning we leave the hotel at 6:30 a.m. to catch the train to Olso. Yes, the Morgan's can rise, if not shine, to make travel connections.

Impressions of Copenhagen

Viking bikers..Copenhagen has more bike riders than any other 
city in Europe and they are very, very dangerous!

It has a laid back, yet vibrant atmosphere.

It is dirty.

Houses along the canals are colorful and neat.

The University of Copenhagen Botanical Gardens are awesome.


Made all of the travel connections easily and arrived in Oslo. Checked into our hotel and went to eat at the Cathedral Restaurant. That was our day!


Caught the ferry across the Harbor to Bygdøy to go to the Viking Museum. The best preserved Viking ship resides there.

What impressed us was the wood carvings on the hulls, on all of the Viking utensils, furniture, wagons and weapons! They were master carvers as well as master seaman. I cannot imagine going to Greenland or the Mediterranean in one of their open boats!

It was still a cold dreary morning when we arrived at Vigeland Sculpture Park. What a magnificent place! In 1921, Gustav Vigeland made a deal with the city that he would beautify Oslo with this garden in exchange for a studio and support! There are 600 figures in the park, all nude which we found to be tender, loving and playful.

The subway climbs the mountain west of Oslo where residents can ride with their skis and slide down the free public slopes to their homes. It's a great train ride to the top with grand views of the city.

We walked down the slopes to the Frognerseteren Hovedrestsurant (great view and traditional ambience with mediocre food), and then on to the Holmenkollen Ski Jump that hosted the 2012 World Ski Jump Championships.

Back on the train to return to the city, an announcement was made to clear the train...because a truck accidentally ran into the fence at the next station. Our seat mate David, a sixty something businessman who was heading downtown for a dinner meeting, took us under his wing and led us several kilometers to another train stop; all the way with stimulating conversation. Thanks David! Great day in Oslo!


Rode the train from sea level to over 3500' and from spring back to winter; frozen lakes and snow capped mountains were common the last quarter of our ride. It's also a moonscape as Phyllis remembered it from her travels across Norway!

Then we took the Flåm Railway down the mountain where it was spring again and short sleeve weather under a very hot sun!

The Flåm Railroad is incredible. It is referred to as the 20 train; it has 20 tunnels (18 dug by hand at a rate of 3 feet a month) in its 20 km descent from Myrdal to Flåm and took 20 years to build. It is not a cog train so the track had to weave its way down nearly 2500' using a gradient normal locomotives could handle!

Cruise ships stop at Flåm and no doubt help the local economy. But to say the least, they certainly change the character of the place.

View from our hotel room balcony.

They also hurt the environment by running their engines while docked and spewing diesel exhaust into the air.

We would not stay in Flåm if we were planning another trip to the fjords.


A spectacular ferry ride through the Aurlandfjord with stops at Aurland and Unredal began our day.

Undredal has the smallest stave church in Norway. It seats 40 people.
Can you find it?

Then onto Gudvangen via the narrow Nærøyfjord. Three thousand foot mountains rising from mile deep waters literally hundreds of yards from each side of the ferry provide awesome vistas!

To have or to be? Erich Fromm

Photos cannot capture what you see in the fjords.  You have to just take in the moment. You just have to be!

Upon returning to Flåm, we took a walk through the park above the town and then up the valley to Lunden before enjoying a glass of wine waterside at the Marina Cafe.

View behind cruise ships!


Rode the Flåm Railway back up the mountain to Myrdal and then we caught the train to Oslo. I booked two nights in the Thon Airport Hotel because I thought it would be an easy connection to the airport for an early flight Sunday morning. NOT! It's an easier connection from Oslo! Plus they charge 70 kronor per person for the airport shuttle one way! May I just say...rip off! It is a nice hotel but not worth the hassle....skip it! Plus, there are no restaurants except the hotel's and McDonalds.


We caught the train this morning to Eidsvoll, a small town at the end of the commuter line to Oslo. We wanted to see what small town life was like. People were out and about the small central shopping district, picking up supplies and eating in cafes. It was definitely small town life with a lot more dependence on cars.

It was interesting to see that there is very little use of the riverfront. There was only one restaurant on the water and no place to walk along the water.

Being boaters, the other interesting thing we noted is the relatively few boating facilities on our travels. Even in the larger cities, there are no marinas that could rival those in Annapolis. Perhaps, boats are just too expensive.

Palace Guards

We made a final visit to Oslo, had lunch at a bakery so Gretchen could have a pastry, walked in the gardens around the palace and had tea at the Opera House before saying our good byes.

It has been a great trip. We found things we liked in all the places we visited: the Chapel of Silence and quaint environment in Helsinki; the diversity of things to do in Oslo; the folk museum and archipelago in Stockholm; the energy of Copenhagen; and the natural beauty in Flåm. And a real plus, it only rained briefly one morning during the entire trip!

We fly out of Oslo early tomorrow and it will be good to be going home!