Norway is a beautiful country. From what I’ve seen of it, it’s enough for me to want to go back and explore more of this beautiful country in Scandinavia.
Hugh and I ventured to Oslo for the day from London because of a really good deal we found with the budget airline, Ryanair. When we arrived at Moss Lufthavn Rygge- one of Oslo’s many airports- we were surprised at how small it was. The airport was literally in the middle of nowhere, but fortunately for us we were able to take the train into the city from Rygge. One thing I will point out to those wishing to do a day trip is that you will look a bit suspicious if you’re not carrying any luggage and especially if you’re non-EU. Hugh and I were pulled aside for questioning, though because we had return tickets, we were free to go.
The train ride into Oslo was beautiful. I enjoyed looking at the architecture of the homes and the scenic views outside my window. What I loved about the homes I saw were the colours and how the roofs were made of slate tiles. Unlike Britain, these homes were made of wood and just overall incredibly charming. Personally, I’d love to have a like the ones I saw during my brief visit to Norway. Not only were these homes beautiful, but they had views of the Oslofjord. From what I saw of the Oslofjord, I was reminded of my trip to Oregon earlier this year because of the landscape, though Norway appeared to be more flat. Both Oregon and Norway are very beautiful.
Once at the main railway station in Oslo, Hugh and I popped into a souvenir shop to get some postcards. Both of us had heard rumours that Norway is a very expensive country and unfortunately, that is true. Postcards were a little bit more than USD $1, though to post to the US, it would have been NOK 15, which is nearly USD $2.60. That is just insane. I’ve posted postcards from places further from the US and they were no where near that much (Singapore was SGD .5, which nearly 40 cents and Ghana was just under USD $1). Having that said, I waited to post my postcards from the UK where it is much cheaper.
After purchasing our postcards Hugh and I went to lunch. Unfortunately, this was yet another expensive adventure. The two of us each had a glass of Norwegian apple juice and a medium-sized pizza (we saved half of it for dinner). According to Hugh’s bank statement, we spent £48 between the two of us on pizza. ON PIZZA. And what makes us cringe even more is that this pizza was not laced with gold, but that this was a cheaper option for us. So here is a lesson learnt: bring your own food to Norway.
Like my other trips to Scandinavia, I consulted Rick Steves for what to do in Oslo. Hugh and I followed Rick Steves’ walking tour of the city and stumbled up on the Akerhus Fortress (Akerhus Festning, in Norwegian). It’s free to just wander around and worth doing so. It was built in the 1290s as a fort to protect Oslo and is presently used by the military. As we walked around the grounds we saw military personnel patrolling the area as well as zipping around in jeeps. The Fortress has some great views of the city as well as the Oslofjord. Near the entrance (more towards the harbour) is a statue of FDR. Being American, I found it to be quite an interesting find, just like the statue of Lincoln in London and the American flags in various Luxembourgish towns.
After venturing around Akerhus Fortress, Hugh and I decided to get some photos of the Norwegian Parliament as well as check out the Royal Palace. There, we saw some pigeons fighting over some food as well as many teenage girls displaying their Norwegian pride. As this was only a brief trip to Oslo, our day was cut short. We headed back on the train to the airport where we were off to London.
The best advice I can give (if coming from the UK) is to just suck it up and pay more to fly out of Gatwick or Heathrow. Stansted is terrible airport and feels like a Hell rather than an airport. Rygge, however, is very nice and flying in and out of there is very nice. So, go to Norway! Explore the fjords and have a great time!
For me, it was the fairytale-like lure Luxembourg with which it presented itself. Everything about Luxembourg looked and seemed like a fairytale and so I figured I’d go there.
Hugh of course tagged along with me. As our plane descended into Luxembourg’s only international airport, we saw the beauty of the older part of Luxembourg’s capital. It looked like something you’d see in a fairytale, though more accurately, The Princess Diaries 2. All of the buildings and houses looked like miniatures, the city wall made it even more like something you’d see in a Disney film.
Once on the ground, Hugh and I headed into the city. Our drive in proved that Luxembourg has a mix of old and new. The buildings we saw were certainly modern, perhaps built within the last ten years. The streets were much wider and smoother than most European roads and the closer we got to the city, the older everything became. The older buildings had a more traditional Belgian look to them, and they were really quite charming.
After checking in to our hotel, Hugh and I went to explore. We wandered as we searched for the area which to me looked like something from a fairytale. This area is referred to the ‘old city.’ It’s my favourite part of Luxembourg’s capital because of its charm, though unfortunately, it is quite the hike back up to the newer part of the city. But, it’s all well-worth it.
On our second day in Luxembourg Hugh and I ventured all the way across the country (mind you, Luxembourg is slightly smaller than Rhode Island), to the medieval town of Clervaux. Getting around Luxembourg is very, very cheap. For a day pass on the train to anywhere in Luxembourg, it was €4. Clervaux was swamped by American tourists. I didn’t understand why there would be groups upon groups of American tourists in a small, Luxembourg town. What I discovered was America’s involvement in Clervaux during the Battle of the Bulge. That explained everything, especially the American flags flying in the town centre. In Clervaux, Hugh and I explored the Castle of Clervaux, the church and the abbey. It’s a lovely town and very easy to get to from Luxembourg City. One particular thing about Luxembourg’s trains are that the toilets are a bit mediaeval. And by ‘mediaeval’ I mean that once you flush, everything goes right beneath the train. Not into a tank, but onto the ground. I noticed this when I flushed on the train and I found myself looking at the track below. I told my Dad about this and he said that Luxembourg is probably a ‘Third World’ country, but then again, he thought Iceland was still inhabited by peasants who eat whale all day.
Our third day involved an afternoon in the German city of Trier, Germany’s oldest city. Vising Trier is an easy afternoon trip from Luxembourg, with a journey time of less than an hour by train. This short journey may feel longer if there are two children who happen to be fascinated by the train’s toilet. On our train, there were two little boys who must have been aged 3 at most. Grandpa didn’t seem to bothered by them and allowed them to play in the toilet all while the smell of the toilet filled the carriage of the train. They sat in there and played until two angry women waiting to use the toilet told them off. The two little boys came walking down the aisle of the carriage with what looked like to be toilet water splashed all over their face and clothes. It’s nice to see how attentive grandparents these days are to their grandchildren.
Once in Trier, Hugh and I ventured to the city centre where we entered through the Porta Nigra, a Roman city gate. On the other side of the Porta was a French market, and further down the street was the city centre where flocks of people were swarming the shops for what is known as ‘Shopping Sunday.’ After an afternoon in Germany Hugh and I headed back to Luxembourg. We arrived still during the daylight hours so that we could see what Luxembourg looked like with the sun shining. Unfortunately for us here in Europe, the sun makes a rare appearance for most of the year and spring seems to have been cancelled this year.
What I loved about Luxembourg was the simplicity of everything. You could spend all day on a park bench looking down at the old city and never grown tired of it. You could watch the trains go by and look down at all of the eighteenth-century homes and keep finding new things about them. The view of the city may look at first glance all the same, but when you sit there and appreciate the view in front of you, you see new things and it’s just overall a very relaxing and enjoyable experience.
As for the food in Luxembourg, it seemed mostly French to me. There were Anglophone expats all over with pubs and bars (a lot of Americans seem to live there), but the food was mostly French. Nothing really stuck out as ‘amazing’ to me, but all of what I ate was good. The annoyance of Luxembourg was my debit card not working at cash machines. For some reason, these cash machines would say they took Visa, but once you selected the amount you wish to withdraw, it would say that your card was ‘forbidden’ at that specific cash machine. I found only one bank who would allow me to withdraw my card, and it was located in the lower city near Scott’s Pub. Not a single cash machine would take my card, so if you’ve got an American account and Visa, ye be warned.
If you plan to buy your loved ones souvenirs from Luxembourg, I suggest doing it not on the weekend, as the entire country appears to be closed. Overall, Luxembourg is well-worth a visit. If you go, fly out of Gatwick as it will save you the burden of having to give Luxair, CityJet or BA your first-born if you choose to fly out of London City.
Slovenia is not what I expected it to be. It was more than what I had imagined. Being in Eastern Europe I expected it to be grey and its communist past to be more prevalent. I’m glad my expectations were wrong and thanks to my travel guide, I was able to see why Jess’ aunt was so excited we were going to visit a place that is an important chapter in her life.
Slovenia is a beautiful country, both inside and out. The people there, like Miha our tour guide, are excited to meet you and want to know how you heard of their tiny country. Slovenia is a little smaller than the state of New Jersey, but its packed with forests, caves, and lots to explore.
Our journey to Slovenia began with a delayed train from Zagreb, Croatia. The journey to Ljubljana took around two hours, but took roughly 20 minutes at most to reach the border town of Dobova where our passports were stamped (if travelling between Croatia and Slovenia you will need a passport).
Our train took us through the mountains and I felt like at times I was in Oregon because of the landscape. Once in Ljubljana Jess and I went to our hostel, Vila Veselova.
Vila Veselova is located in a safe, diplomatic neighbourhood, with the Austrian Embassy down the street and the German and American embassies around the corner. Out of all the hostels I have stayed at, this one has been by far the most welcoming and accommodating hostel. The staff were fantastic and welcoming. Once we arrived, Miha the tour guide greeted us and told us that if there was anything we’d like to see or know about that we could ask him. We were already off to a great start.
On our first evening in Slovenia Jess and I wandered around. Because our hostel had a kitchen and we’re living on a student-friendly budget, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up some groceries. Since I needed cash, I went out on a quest to find an ATM. Ljubljana is full of ATMs, but finding one which accepts Visa is another thing. If you’ve got a MasterCard, then you’re fine. As for those of us with a Visa debit card, well, it’s like trying to find Atlantis when it comes to ATMs which will accept Visa (If you do have Visa, look for the pink church by the three bridges and there’s a credit union which takes Visa).
The next day we went to Austria, which I will write about in another post.
On St. Patrick’s Day Jess and I went with Miha to see the Alpine region of Slovenia. He took us to see Lake Bled, the tallest natural ski slope, Triglav National Park, and a few other places. He was really easy-going and informative.
Triglav was covered in snow, and as we hiked a light snow fell. The water in Slovenia is so clear and clean that it’s drinkable straight from the source. Triglav is home to Slovenia’s largest waterfall and by far some of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen. Also on our tour we saw the source (Zelénci) of the River Sava, a tributary of the Danube. Like the water at Triglav, the Sava was just as clear. We were informed that swimming is forbidden as a means to preserve its health. The part of the tour I was most anxious for was Lake Bled. When the sun hits the water, the water turns green and in the centre of the lake is Slovenia’s only island. Unfortunately, the day we went the weather had gone from sunny to cloudy and so it wasn’t as beautiful as I had hoped. Fortunately, we were able to try the Bled Cream Cakes, a symbol of Bled and a rather tasty treat.
After our tour of Slovenia’s Alpine region, we headed back to the hostel. By then, Jess and I were ready for dinner. Her aunt had given us a few places to check out, and so we decided to try Pri Škofu, a restaurant known for not having a menu and what is available changes daily. Pri Škofu isn’t really on the main restaurant strip, but it’s well-worth going to. The restaurant is basically in the lower-level of someone’s house and has the atmosphere of being in someone’s home, complete with greeting cards in the window sill, floor lamps, and rooms which look like they were once used as a lounge or a bedroom. The portions are American-size and delicious. Jess had some sort of chicken dish with vegetables and as for me, I know there was turkey and rice. The sauce it was in was very good, and I could taste coconut, bananas and something else I didn’t recognise. The presentation of the dishes are professional as well.
After dinner Jess and I went out for drinks at Café Romeo. Here, I ordered a mango daiquiri and to be honest, it’s the best I have ever had. I have had some pretty bad daiquiris in my time and this one was exquisite. It came in a margarita glass, but that didn’t bother me because it was delicious. Jess’ aunt recommended us this cocktail bar and from now on, I am going with what her aunt says when it comes to food and drinks.
The next morning was our last day in Slovenia. We were sad to go and are excited to go back someday. Our hostel kindly arranged our airport transportation (the buses are rubbish- don’t bother with them) and once at the airport (Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport, or known as ‘Brnik’) we were off to London where the lack of border officers at Stansted made our day a miserable one.
This concludes my visit to Slovenia, but I’ll be back.
Croatia is an interesting place, and so is its capital, Zagreb, when it’s covered in snow. And snow. And even more snow. Selecting Croatia as a ‘spring break’ destination was a silly idea, but then again, snowing in March is even sillier.
My friend Jess and I planned our travels carefully for our ‘spring break’ in order to maximise our precious ‘break’. The thing is, we didn’t really have a spring break. Our university got rid of spring break this year and since only one of our professors actually gave us a day off, we thought, ‘Why not?’
We left sunny England for the white death that was plaguing Croatia. The ground was covered in a thick layer of snow and more was piling upon it. This was not my idea of a holiday, but I instead embraced it.
Once on the ground we were taken on a bus to the terminal. Snow was blowing everywhere and I felt like I had been dropped into a frozen lake and pulled out. Customs was good fun. I was asked I step aside as the officer examined my passport. I still don’t know why, nor was I told why (my uess is that it has to do with my excessive and bizarre travel movements and likelihood of habouring malaria within me).What was nice, however, was being expressed through the second half of customs just for being American! Hooray for not being seen as a threat to society!
After arriving in Zagreb via coach from the airport, Jess and I searched for our hostel (The House Hostel- I highly recommend it). After braving the weather we found it and because we’re absolutely mental, we decided to explore Zagreb. By the end of the day we looked like walking snowmen based on the amount of snow on our bodies.
Zagreb coved in snow is beautiful. As much as I hated trekking through the snow, I loved seeing the city in this weather. The older part of the city felt like one giant Christmas market and to be honest, the snow made it feel like Christmas was coming. The Christmas atmosphere made everything better. The massive quantities of graffit seemed hauntingly beautiful with the snow and the lack of people out and about made the city feel almost deserted, even with the Christmas-like atmosphere.
In the city, Jess and I ventured into a book shop (Jess collects Harry Potter books from everywhere she goes) that was part book shop, part Apple Store and part Croatian football pride merchandise. It was a lovely shop, just bizarre. After successfully acquiring ‘Harry Potter i Kamen Mudraca’ we explored the old part of the city and marvelled at the Cathedral of St Stephen, which just so happens to be Croatia’s tallest building. After admiring the Cathedral we explored and commented on the various standards of living in the city as well as the immense amounts of graffiti.
The following day we left for Ljubljana, but before we did that, we had to figure out how to get to me train station. We had gone the day before to get our ticket (which was handwritten, not done by a machine), but we took an alternative entrance by mistake. To be perfectly honest, it was dodgy and had this unpleasant look about it, but at the same time, it felt safe. So the day we actually left was a bit exhilarating. Once again, we entered through another entrance near the bus terminal. To get to our platform we had to cross the tracks, carefully checking for trains and live rails. In Britain, we probably would have had every police officer in the country trying to detain us and then throw us in prison for six months for trespassing. But one thing we noticed was that nobody cared and everyone was doing it, including professionally-dressed businessmen. Everyone was casually walking on the tracks to reach their platform. I was utterly baffled by this. It was so much fun and I’m a bit disappointed I can’t do it in Britain.
And so this basically concludes my short trip to Croatia. Next time, I’m heading for Dubrovnik or Split. Next on the itinerary: Slovenia.