A Father and Son take on Viking Country

Trip Start Mar 31, 2013
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Trip End Oct 14, 2013


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Flag of Denmark  , Capital Region of Denmark,
Monday, June 17, 2013

17th June:

Woke up exceptionally early this morning, as I had a 9am flight and didn't want a repeat performance of Munich. As a result, I made sure I go to the airport a good half and a hour before my flight.

The flight itself was really good. It was with Norwegian Airways, and I didn't really know what to expect, but when you have all three seats to yourself, you're going to have a good flight!

The flight lasted just under two hours.

By the time I had gone through customs, collected my bag and the rest, Marty was expected to be in within half an hour, so I decided to surprise him and wait at the airport (we had originally planned to meet at the hotel).

When he finally walked out, he looked exhausted but I you couldn't wipe the smile of my face, being over the moon to see him!

We then found our connection bus and headed to our hotel. As soon as we arrived, my jaw dropped because the hotel (being 5-star) is soooooo much better then the places I've been staying (aka hostels).

As we had a couple of hours before we had a meet and greet with our tour group, Dad and I decided to wander into town and have a look at what Copenhagen had to offer.

We walked passed the town hall right into the heart of the city (nearly being hit by bicycles a couple of times each), before deciding to grab a local Carlsberg, in their town square.

Following this, we headed back to meet the people on our tour group and enjoy our three course dinner.

The first thing I noticed was there was a lot of older people on the tour (something dad had previously warned me about), but there was still a couple of people in their late 20's and early 30's. Therefore, I was by far the youngest, but that didn't bother me as we got to know everyone.

Following a very nice dinner, Marty and I retuned to our room (as he was jet lagged and I was just generally tired), and hit the hay early.

Things of Note:

- I'm so happy to see Marty! Especially when you consider the first time I felt homesick on the trip was my day in Glasgow, just a couple of days ago (probably because of the weather, me being by myself and the fact I'd been away from home for two and a half months already).

- Both Marty and I were surprised that I actually ate salmon for dinner. It was much better then any salmon I had tried before, largely due to the dill sauce.

- I can definitely see myself getting used to this five star hotel treatment!

18th June:

Yet another early start, having to be up at 630am, for our buffet breakfast at 7am (this single handedly is the reason I need a nap every afternoon). The buffet breakfast was excellent though.

We got onto the coach at 8am for our tour around Copenhagen. The first stop was the Christiansborg Palace, which is the Danish Royal Palace. As Australians, Marty and I set out to find "our girl" Princess Mary. But before we could enter, we had to put blue plastic slippers over our shoes, to keep the palace in pristine condition.

This palace was huge, such as rooms like the Giants Hall, Dancing Room, Dining Room. My favourite part was the coloured tapestries inside the palace, which demonstrated major events or people in history.

Next stop was the famous Little Mermaid statue (via the Ameliborn Palace). We all took some photos there (lucky before the Asian tour bus arrived and took over it), and then headed back into town.

While there for an hour, Marty and I went into the Round Tower Cathedral, climbed to the top of the Round Tower and then enjoyed a Danish style hotdog, called a Ristet.

We then drove up North towards Kronborg for the afternoon, passing copious mansions and smelly seaweed. On the way, we passed through Helsingborg and other small towns (as the drive was about 80 minutes long).

Once we arrived at Kronborg Castle, we discovered this was where Shakespeare's Hamlet was set. The castle itself was built by king Christian the 4th and was magnificent (as you can see in the photos). Most significantly, it contains the biggest dance room of any castle in Europe.

On the way back to Copenhagen, we stopped at the Queen of Denmarks summer house and saw some marching guards.

When we got back, we had less then an hour, so Marty and I got changed and then went up to the bar on the 25th floor for a beer for his 50th birthday (absolutely amazing view from up there!)

We then got back on the bus and went out for a full-on Danish Christmas meal (sitting with Hal, Elanor, Bev and Pat). It contained salmon (twice in two days, I know), pork, potatoes, veggies and then rice pudding for dessert. It was a great meal but all of us where fuller than a can of sardines after it.

To make things worse, or better (depending on which way you look at it), we then headed over to Tivoli Gardens (one of the four biggest theme parks in Europe).

The park reminded Marty and I of an American carnival with the way it was set up and decorations, not to mention he amount of cafes around and the general size of the rides.

After walking around for a while, and letting out food settle, we thought it would be rude not to go on a ride. So we decided their biggest roller coaster (called the demon) would be appropriate.

After that, we headed back in to the square for another quiet beer, before heading home to bed.

Things of Note:

- Some of the history I've learnt today has been very interesting, such as:
* Thursday is named after the God Thor, who created/decided when the day would turn from day to night and vise versa, using his hammer.
* Denmark has the worst taxes in the world, paying 75%2525 of whatever the earn to taxes. The government justifies it by giving everyone free schooling and looks after all their pensioners (supposedly).

- Bikes are probably bigger here then in Amsterdam. Definitely in the middle of Copenhagen, nearly every local is on a bike or has a bike nearby. This is proved by the statistic of 5.5 million people in Denmark and 11 million bikes in the country.

This is because a lot of people ride on bike from home to train station, leave that bike there, catch the train and pick up their other bike from there and ride to work (as driving and parking is so expensive here).

- Our day guide, a Danish Lady named Ida, was very informative about her native country, and loved bagging out their rival country Sweden. This was proved by this joke:

"How many sweeds does it take to milk a cow?"
"Five, one to hold the utter and four to move the cow up and down"

- The name "Hans Christian Andersen" (the famous writer of Fairy Tales such as 'The Ugly Duckling') is associated with everything. And this is why so many people are names Christian here (Frederick and Christian are most popular names, shown by previous kings of country).

- Quote of the day goes to me on our rollercoaster ride. After the first few seconds, I proclaim "Oh, this ride is tame", nek minit, we are being thrown around like a washing machine! I definitely ate my words there.

- Thank Christ for the Israel mother and daughter pairing, Thelma and Effy, because if it wasn't for them, we would constantly be last on the bus. For good measure, we all clap them on the bus, if they forgot that they are in fact the last on the bus.

20th June:

Left Copenhagen this morning, headed towards Odense. To get there we had to cross the "Great Belt (Bridge)" from Shjaelland island to Funen island, which stretched 20km long.

Once in Odense, we visited the museum of Hans Christian Andersen, which explained his rough upbringing, his original desire to be an actor which turned into a love of writing and how he ended up writing children's tales, like "The Ugly Duckling" (which, like all his stories, he derived from his own personal experiences and pain). After this, we had enough time to walk through the cheese and sausage stalls and grab a coffee and milkshake , before getting back on the bus.

We then continued along the "Little Belt" to the mainland part of Denmark, to the coastal town of Arhus.

Before we got there though, we stopped at this place called "Oldtown", which gave us an idea of how the Scandinavian's lived back then. It was quite integrating until it started pissing down and Marty and I got drenched (somehow being the only people to not receive these "free" ponchos).

Following this, we continued on to our hotel. Once there, Marty and I had more then two hours to kill before dinner, so we went for a walk looking for the supposed nice area around the canals.

Marty being Marty thought a map wasn't needed, and sure enough we got lost, ending up near the industrial area of the wharf (in the rain still mind you). After about 45 minutes walking, we finally found a canal and decided to enjoy a beer (the local Tuborg) undercover and watch the fine specimens Denmark had to offer, walk passed.

We then headed home, got changed and headed to yet again our buffet dinner (something that I was getting very used to!) tonight we sat with Peggy and Ed, who we sat and chatted with for a couple of hours, before heading to slumbertown.

Things of Note:

- Our Tour-Guide Barry had been on fire with interesting facts, 13 people a year die on bikes a year in Copenhagen and Denmark is one of the biggest exporters of Christmas trees in the world.

- Watching Marty get flustered in the rain at "Oldtown" was classic, as he was wearing thongs (meaning he couldn't run) and his glasses kept fogging up.

- Where we got lost down near the harbour in Arhus, I would not want to walk there alone at night. We saw a lot of shady characters down there, and it reminded us of Eastern Europe.

21st June:

Had a sleep in and late start today (because we had to wait for the ferry to Sweden). So we took our time getting up and after breakfast, Marty and I headed out for about an hour, and walked around the markets near the canal (which we found with easy today).

We left Arhus at 11am, heading towards Frederikshavn, which was the port we were going to catch our ferry from.

We got there just before we departed at 2pm and all manned the top deck to watch the ship depart. Everyone then retreated from the wind inside for some lunch, before returning to decks, to watch us pull into Gothenburg (the whole boat trip lasting about 3.5 hours).

Once we got back on the bus, our driver, Kuba, took us on a quick site seeing tour around Gothenburg. He showed us the Neptune statue (Greek God of the Sea), the Scandinavium (their entertainment centre), their sports stadium (which resembles a pirate ship) and down their main street, which is also called Champs de Elysees.

We then checked into the hotel, just before we were expected downstairs for dinner.

Following tea, we stayed down stairs talking with Delos, Mary, Pat, Bev, Tash and Linda for a while, before heading to bed (especially as I had to be up at 4am to watch the NBA Final game of the season!)

Things of Note:

- Barry kept up with the goods today, explaining that most of the UK's heritage can be tracked back to Ibrian decent (otherwise known as Viking heritage). This include 60%2525 of the English, 70%2525 of the Welsh and a staggering 90%2525 of the Irish descending from the Ibrians.

- Denmark supposedly has the second highest rate of divorce in Europe, and Sweden coming in third (probably because there are so many attractive women about). Coming in first in this list is Scotland, which I assume is because of their bloody kilts.

- As we had to get money out (changing over to Swedish Kroner now), we had to go into next doors shopping centre (which was pretty much attached to our hotel). The place was dead-set huge and had people going in everywhere direction (causing chaos for us non-locals).

22nd June:

This morning I got up really early (4am) to watch Game 7 of the NBA Finals and thankfully the Miami Heat won. LeBron deserves all the accolades he gets, as he is by far the best player in the world at the moment.

We left Gothenburg for Stockholm at 8am, in what was going to be our longest day trip on the tour (about 450km).

Our first stop was at Jonkoping, at a small cafe named "Wardhuse". It had a nice view over the water, and gave us all a chance to stretch our legs.

We then continued on towards Stockholm.

Our lunch break was at Nykobingsbrom, which was like the Auto-Grills we stopped at on Contiki.

On our arrival in Stockholm, we were shown quickly around the main spots in the town, before checking into our hotel. Straight away, Marty and I headed down the pedestrian street, looked at palace island and around Old Town. We couldn't stay out for too long though, as our bus was leaving just before five.

We had an early dinner organized in Old Town, which was a Swedish Banquet. It was delicious, with the special Swedish meatballs being my favourite.

After this we headed up to Skansen, to experience the Swedish summer festival, as it was the summer solstice up here. As a result, a lot of people were dressed up, highlighted by cultural Swedish dancing. We watched this for a while, before deciding to walk around the park.

This paid dividends for Marty and I, as we found the park had a "Scandinavian Animals" part of the park. It was really interesting to look at all the animals from this region. These included the seal, moose, reindeer, red fox, brown and grizzly bear, mountain goat, grey and eagle owl, mountain goat, shetland pony, boat, wolf, wolverine and otter, as well as some other animals like the meerkat, lemur and baboon.

We then headed back to the hotel, but before we headed to bed (as it was the northern hemisphere's longest day), Marty and I headed back to the pedestrian walkway to continue looking around the city.

Things of Note:

- Skansen supposedly originated as a market place for local produce, but as now turned into a place where the city is preserving both local flora and fauna, as well as showing the history of Sweden.

- The whole persona of all Swedish women being blonde is completely incorrect. Most women I've seen here have been brunette. While on the topic, Danish women overall have been better looking then their Swedish counterparts.

23rd June:

This morning we had an organized tour around Stockholm, with the first stop being the City Hall, a building characterized by three gold crowns. This hall is relatively new (in comparison to a lot of the other buildings in this city), but was made to look as old as the others.

Inside, it has the Christian Hall (where the Noble Prize Dinner is held each December) and the Golden Hall (which is comprised of 80 million pieces of tile and took 4.5 years to decorate).

We then continued our guided tour in Old Town, passing the Royal Castle (and the small statue of a little boy watching the moon outside it) and the Noble Prize Museum.

The next port of call was visiting the Vasa Museum. This is the Swedish ship, built for the king, which lasted just 20 minutes on the open water before sinking, due to construction faults (too top heavy).

Due to this, the ship was submerged in fresh water for hundreds of years and wasn't destroyed, from the salt and salt worms eating away at it. And nowadays that wreckage is inside this museum.

By now, everyone was exhausted and needed to rest on arrival back at the hotel.

But Marty and I didn't rest for long, making our down towards Old Town, to examine the palace, markets and shops. My favourite thing we saw around there was the street called 'Mårten Trotzigs Gränd', which is the narrowest street in Sweden (with me easily being able to touch both sides, as the photos show).

After spending several hours in Old Town, we headed back towards our hotel, but stopped at the Original Ice Bar. It was one of those things we both thought we had to do and are glad we did. The bar is completely comprised of ice blocks from Sweden, causing the room to be only -7 degrees. Lucky we were provided with jackets to keep us warm. We were also given a free drink (served in a glass made completely out of glass too). The photos will give you a true representation.

That was a great way to end our last day in Stockholm, a city Marty and I have both loved.

Things of Note:

- Barry and our Stockholm tour guide fed us bulk facts on this morning, and here are the ones I found interesting:
* Stockholm is 14 islands (which seems miniature compared to the 96000 lakes in all of Sweden).
* Sweden is the second biggest drinker of coffee (per capita) in the world, only behind their Scandinavian counterparts Finland.
* The saying "a banana a day, keeps the doctor away", has led Sweden being the highest banana consumer in the world (per capita).

- Our tour guide referred to Tiger Woods and Cheetah Woods, which I thought was hilarious.

- Due to the summer solstice, hardly anyone was at work when we were in Stockholm. People generally take the whole week of leading up to the solstice, making the town a ghost town.

- There are very little sky-scrapers in Stockholm, because the locals are so sun obsessed, they don't want to cause any shadows.

- Everywhere in Sweden sells these little Dala Horses (which are generally red), as they are supposed to bring good luck to someone.

- Our tour guide explain that the colour of the buildings in the city, can explain when the were built. Such as all buildings from the the 1600's are red, 1700's are yellow and 1800's are green.

24th June:

Left the beautiful Stockholm (still a ghost town), heading west towards the small village of Mariefred. Here we did a guided tour of the royal castle of Gripsholm.

Don't get me wrong, it was yet another beautiful castle, with great artwork and heritage, but all these castles are starting to blend into one.

Following the tour, we had time to look around the castle at own leisure and walk around the picturesque waterside Mariefred.

It was here where I saw the most beautiful swede to date. She worked in one of the local coffee shops and her smile could of sold me anything on then menu.

We then continued on our way to Karlstad, where we were going to spend the night.

We had one more quick pit stop for people to grab a bite to eat (as well as look around the Swedish version of Walmart called Orebro) before we arrived.

We got to our hotel about 4pm that afternoon and this place was going to be out most unique stop of the trip. We were actually staying in a converted jail, which shut down only thirty short years ago. Marty being the history-nut he is, wanted to read every word in the adjoining museum.

Following check-in, we went for a beautiful walk in the sun, along Karlstad's river called Klarelva. During our walk, it was beautiful weather but by the end of our walk, it had started to rain (highlighting how quick the weather can change here).

Before returning for tea, we stopped at an Irish sports bar called O'Learys and it was great, with a lot of Boston based sports teams supporter gear there. The wheat beer, called Falcon, was also really good.

On our arrival back to the jail, was yet again another buffet dinner (which is single handedly be the reason of me putting weight on over this two week bus tour). But in a change of the norm, most of the group actually sat outside and enjoyed a couple of drinks, while chinwagging, for a couple of hours, before brain to bed.

Things of Note:

- Despite Sweden having so many water masses across its flat countryside, only 7%2525 of all inhabitants own boats.

- Our tour guide of Gripsholm was an absolute bitch. She rudely stated that no photos were allowed to be taken within the castles walls (which is fair enough), because of royalty. But the looked she gave Roy when he stated that his camera was "a royal camera", and as such, should be allowed to take photos, was one of pure disgust. It got worse when I touched one of the chandeliers, and she nearly blew her top off. Calm your farm love, I can bet I'm not the first and I definitely won't be the last to touch things inside those walls.

26th June:

Today was the day most people were looking forward to, as we finally heading into the beautiful countryside of Norway. It only took us little over an hour to get to the border (which we took photos over the country borderline). There is also a hugging statue here to represent peace between Sweden and Norway.

We then continued our trip towards Lillehammer, through the valley of valleys and the town of Hamma, which held the figure skating at the 1994 Winter Olympics. Only a quick stop at Myklegaard for lunch delayed our arrival.

As soon as we arrived in Lillehammer, we went straight to Maihaugen, which is a collection of old buildings from all over Scandinavia (by a rich dentist).

Our tour there walked us through buildings such as the school, church (which was over 800 years old), and the houses. Marty and I did some more walking around the historical site, taking in the great views, before heading inside to read up on Norway through the ages.

After spending about two hours there, we headed to our hotel, which was at the base of the mountain ranges. Due to this (and our organized tour of the 1994 Olympic site being cancelled) we walked up there ourselves.

It took about 30 minutes on an uphill dirt track, to get to the base of the Ski-Jumping course. But that wasn't enough for us, as we both needed to go to the top, and that's where the chairlift came in handy.

Once up there, we got a chance to take in the great views and appreciate just how steep the track they use is.

And then started to rain, so we headed back and after 30 minutes of getting absolutely drenched, we arrived back at the hotel, looking like a pair of drowned rats.

Another buffet awaited us on arrival (which is the best dinner we have had to date), and then bed followed not to long after (although we did stay up talking and eating till 930pm).

Things of Note:

- One thing of particular note is the grass growing on a lot of the older buildings here. This is because they originally put burch bark on their roofs to keep moisture away from the timber in the ceilings (also acted as insulation). On top of this, they also put a little bit of dirt (to keep it both dry and prevent fires), and this is where the grass comes in (sprouting from the dirt and bark).

- The houses in Maihaugen were defiantly made for midgets, as I nearly had to go on my knees just to get through the front door.

- As we had limited time for lunch, our tour guide said to only have the soup (asparagus, yuck) or one of the cold salad sandwiches, as we wouldn't have enough time to eat hot food, as it would take too long to cook. Challenge accepted and I finished my cheeseburger with less the five minutes to spare. He will now think twice about challenging me with my food.

- During the Dark Ages in Norway, the Black Plague whiped out half the countries population (1349-1350). This led to the country's economic and cultural demise, eventually leading to Denmark taking over rule in 1536.

- Tonight's accommodation was by far the worst we have had. Poorly structured bathroom, small beds and an old television equate to worse room on tour (an opinion everyone else shared).

June 25th

Today was expected to be one of the most picturesque days we had on the road, after leaving Lillehammer.

We first drove through the Valdres Valley, which ran parallel to the Etnedal River. This in itself was amazing, combining the free flowing water, endless green and sheer cliffs of the mountains.

We then stopped for lunch right next to the running water of a waterfall. Being the tourists we all are, we all got a couple of snaps and filled up our bottles with the cold, fresh Norwegian H2O.

We then continued our trip to Flam, stopping at Borgund Church. This church has been here since 1188, and has been covered in black tar, to preserve it over time.

We also passed through the longest road tunnel in the world on the way to Flam, spanning 24 km.

Once at Flam, we jumped on the Flamdbana railway, which was taking us up all the way to Myrdal (a casual 866m above sea level. On this train-ride we nearly got wiped out by a Tokyo'n stampede and as such, they got to meet both my elbows (Marty even tripped a couple over!)

The best thing about the ride up was the waterfalls, highlighted by the Kjoseossen Waterfall (93m free fall). We were lucky enough to also see a local Norwegian girl dancing on the waterfalls edge (massive hottie).

Once we got back to Flam Harbour, we headed to dinner. My Nonni would be proud of me, I tried both whale (very salty) and reindeer (which wasn't too bad). And then for dessert I tried the Norwegian delicacy lefse (like a sweet tortilla).

Then a group of ten or so headed over to the local brewery called Aegir, to try their local produce. The wheat and German styled beers were excellent (probably the best brews I've had in Scandinavia).

Things of Note:

- Most of the land throughout Scandinavia is rising at a rate of 3 feet/century. This has caused their rivers to slowly diminish.

- Barry warned us that the Norwegian tongue between East and West Norway was quite different. Not that it would affect me and all the Norwegian I was going to be speaking.

26th June:

Before boarding the bus today, we had a two hour cruise through the Fjords (what Scandinavians call valleys). Not even the cold weather could dampen the amazing scenery that we experienced (think Lord of the Rings).

Once we arrived in Gudvangen after the cruise, we were only on the road for a short amount of time before stopping at the Stalheim lookout, which was a German secret hideout, including a lorelei (little hole in the wall used to spot intruders from a distance away). The best view was from this little white seat, at the top of the point.

The bus then continued through the southern Fjord, passing numerous bridges, tunnels and cliff-faces, on our way to Bergen.

Bergen used to be the capital of Norway, and is now known for their fish and rain (as their city logo is an umbrella).

As such, we took full advantage of the sun and headed up the Fliobanen (cable-car), up to the city lookout, which was amazing. We stayed up there for a while, before trying to negotiate our way down, through half of Toyko (the asian contingent).

Marty and I then walked around the town, through the Fishmarket, down to their city lake (which was the centre of their Edward Grieg festival currently going on), and then up to check out their university and churches.

By now, we were both hungry, so we grabbed a quick beer (Edinger of course) and then found a restaurant. We were later joined by other from our tour group, before heading home.

Things of Note:

- There is a running joke amongst Norwegians that all people in Bergen are born with wet feet, because it rains so much there.

- Norway is the only Scandinavian country to not be part of the European Union.

- In something that shocked us all, supposedly Vikings never had horns on their hats. It was one artist who decided to paint a picture with horns on their hats and since then, it has stuck.

- Years ago, reindeers were thought to contain radiation, causing a mass killing of them throughout Scandinavia, to prevent it spreading. It was later disproved and as a result, it took ages for the numbers of reindeer to recover.

- Finally, after weeks of trying, has my VISA interview been booked and confirmed. Lets just hope the appointment goes smoothly, without anymore hiccups.

June 27th

Today we left Bergen and sat out on a long day traveling towards Geilo.

The first stop we made was at Bridal Vale Falls, which gave us yet more amazing views (something we would see a lot of today), and a chance to get up close and personal with a raging waterfall. We climbed up to it, went underneath it and were close enough that we copped a lot of spray from the falls.

We then travelled passed both the Oak and Vine Valley ski fields (still with a bit of snow around, despite it being summer here), on our way to Steinstoe Apple Farm, who have been around since 1650. Here we tried their pasteurized apple juice, apple juice and apple cider.

They took us around their farm showing us their other fruits, such as blackcurrants, pears, strawberries, plums and cherries. This included 3500 total fruit trees, some that are up to 160 years old. We then tried some of their apple cakes, which was also amazing.

This would stave off our hunger for a while, as we caught another small ferry (for only 15 minutes) to Brimnes, across the fjords.

By mid afternoon, we were all peckish and we stopped at the Hardanger Nature Centre, which was situated right in the middle of the fjords. We also got up close and personal with some local mountain goats, and watched one of them practice his head butting.

We had one more photo stop before we would arrive in Geilo, at the top of the fjords, at Voringsfossen. I think I've started to take these breathtaking views for granted a little, as we have seen so many over the past couple of days. Despite that, it was still scary sitting on a wall, with a straight drop of a couple hundred meters below.

On the way into Geilo, we got as close to snow as we had on this trip, as Geilo is just a ski resort town, made just for the winter and skiing.

Unfortunately our run of good weather had came to end in Geilo, with the heavens opening up not long after our arrival to the hotel. But Marty being who is insisted we go and explore the town, so we went out in the rain and saw what little city the town had to offer.

Once we returned and dried off, we found out that our hotel had an inbuilt bowling alley, so of course us two (along with a girl named Tash on our trip), went down and played. Unfortunately I got my arse handed to me by both of them (probably because the alleys weren't regulation size, or something like that).

Drinks with the group, another buffet dinner and the confederations cup soccer followed, before he called it a night.

Things of Note:

- There is an incredible amount of tunnels in Norway, as there is so many fjords and mountains. This is highlighted by us going through 41 tunnels yesterday and 39 today, in only a couple of hours on the road.

- The mansion/maze (Dr Holmes Hotel) we stayed in tonight in Geilo used to be a infermatory hospital. As such, I got lost a couple of times, as every hallway looked identical.

On top of that (something we learnt after staying there), the place is supposedly haunted by an old lady who committed suicide in one of the rooms, after finding out her husband was having an affair.

June 28th:

Staying true to form, we were on the bus not long after 8am, heading to our final stop Oslo.

On our way there, we stopped at the Torpo Stave Church (which has been there since 1160) and stopped near Biorne for lunch (which was yet again soup, so I had to find an alternative).

We arrived in the capital of Norway in the afternoon, but had a couple of hours spare time before dinner. So we headed into look around town with Hal and Ellie. We walked all the way to the city fortress (which contained a lot of castles and older buildings), down the main strip (which was buzzing with people and street performers), before meeting up with Ed and Peggy for a beverage.

Dinner was at the mountain top restaurant, which gave us a view over the whole city. On the way up there, we stopped at their new ski-jump, and a famous statue, which has great views over the city.

The dinner was very formal and nice (except for the fish they continually offer every night).

Things of Note:

- At pretty much every lunch stop we have had, our tour guide has organized soup to be prepared for us. But when the soup flavours range from cauliflower to asparagus to even tomato and egg, you can understand why I never ate any of them.

- Despite being the capital of Norway and one the largest cities in the world (area wise), it only contains around 500,000 people, meaning the population is very spread out. It also used to be called Christiania, but got changed because the name had too much Danish influence.

- Where it seems that everyone owns a bike in Copenhagen, I reckon nearly every person in Oslo owns a bloody boat, as every harbour is chock-full of them.

June 29th:

Today was our last day on the tour, and it just so happened that it was our busiest.

We had a city tour organized pretty much all day, with the first stop being Vigeland Sculpture Park. This park was 43 acres and contained plenty of statues designed by Veiglen. This included the walk bridge which had 58 bronze statues on monks, sculptures of the tree of life around their water fountain and a centre piece made of tones of granite. This park was beautiful and we only had time to walk down the main strip of it.

Next stop was the City Hall, which was made purely out of Norwegian products, such as marble. Inside here was beautiful murals and paintings, which were iconic and showed the history of Norway.

On the way Fram museum, we made pit stops at the opera house, docks and the hotel.

The Fram (meaning forward in Norweigan) museum was about the boat that sailed from to the North Pole in 1893. The best part about the exhibit was their recreation of the northern lights that they would of seen on the seas, all those years ago.

We then walked across to the Kon-Tiki museum, which was all about the reed ships the Scandinavians used to sail from Peru to Polynesia, across the pacific. It was pretty impressive considering it was made of balder wood (the lightest wood), not to mention the spent over 100 days at sea, being at the mercy of the winds and tide.

The final stop of the day was the Viking Museum, which contained boats and artefacts found at Viking graves (meaning all of this stuff was buried under hills, once the clan had died).

The three boats there were the Oseberg (built in 815AD and being 22 meters long), Gokstad (890AD, 24 meters and being excavated in 1867) and the Tune (which is nearly completely destroyed, as the photos will show). Other things found at these sights include a sleigh, cooking apparatus, tools/weapons and a cart.

On the way back to the hotel, we passed the worlds largest open air museum, opened way back in 1894.

Between when we got back and dinner, Marty and I decided to go walk around Oslo some more. This led us to visiting the city cathedral and the palace, before getting absolutely drenched by the rain.

We then quickly got changed and headed downstairs for some farewell drinks with most of our group, before our final dinner. It was a good way to end the trip, after a fun two weeks. To be honest, when I first saw the group and saw that I was by far youngest person on the tour, I had my reservations but they were all gone after a couple of days.

As we had the 11am airport transfer tomorrow (thank Christ), tonight would be the last time we would see most of these guys (with there being 4am and 7am transfers).

Things of Note:

- According to our tour guide, Olso (on average) has more hours of sun then both Madrid and Lisbon (per day), something that I found extremely hard to believe, as it rained both days we were there.

- It is said that Norwegians are born with skis on, from there being 26 ski jumps, 16 ski fields and even more skating rinks, throughout the country.

- I find it hard to believe it, but these Vikings ships could reached up to 17 knots.

- Norway still has one of the largest merchant marines in the world despite not a huge population.

- I had a really good two weeks traveling around Scandinavia with this group but especially dad.

- One of the highlights of the daily bus rides was my trivia about each others countries. As most of our group was yanks, I held trivia about Australia, Singapore, Canada, Philippines, Israel and Ireland.

- No other non-English speaking region has had English on most of their television channels, with their local language as the subtitles.

- Most buildings in this region have flat corners, as to cut out blind corners, and avoid accidents (especially on bikes).

June 30th:

Marty and I got up early and said a final goodbye to the 7am transfer people. After this we packed up our bags, had a final brekky with who was left and then made our way to the airport.

WARNING: if you like airports, you probably won't after this.

We got to the airport just after 1130am, meaning we had over four hours till our flight at 4pm (which I was already not huge on). So we just sat there till they opened check-in.

While in line, we noticed the line was moving really slow, so I went and checked the flights information board. Low and behold, our flight had been cancelled and the attendants were actually transferring people to other flights an not checking them in.

By the time we for served, the last plane to Barcelona that day was already full, so we had to decide on another option. Either we wait for the replacement flight at 4pm tomorrow or buy a new flight. We chose the latter.

So with some help from three Norwegian ladies, we booked a 7am flight to Barcelona tomorrow (after somehow cancelling it the first time we did it).

Following this, we caught the shuttle to our free accommodation for the night, which included free buffets.

Things of Note:

- By the end of it all, we had spent nearly seven straight hours at Oslo airport. What a waste of a day.

- Marty's going to have a fun time chasing up all this travel instance stuff. Things like our nights accommodation in Barca, airport transfer and the flight itself.

July 1st:

The 4am wake-up call broke my balls this morning but it was something we had to do, as we needed to be at the airport by 530am.

We expected the airport to be relatively quiet, but how wrong we were. Combining the start of school holidays an the fact it was a Monday, meant pure chaos inside the airport.

Not until we got on the plane did we feel like we were actually going to get the Barca today.

The flight took about three hours (not including out pilot having to take two attempts at landing, which added on an extra half an hour).

It took us about 90 minutes to get through the airport, collect our bags, find our bus and find the hotel. But once we did, we were both relieved (especially Marty, who was sweating up a storm, something that would become a trend over the next couple of days).

Our hotel was excellent once we found it, being a stones throw away from La Rambla (the main drag in Barca).

After gathering ourselves, and Marty cooling down, we went out and explored, while taking advantage of the brilliant weather.

We ended up walking a marathon (for over four overs), passed the Sagrada Familia (aka Gaudi Church), La Pedera, the Cathedral, the Gothic Quarter, the shoreline, Mirador de Colom and finally back to La Rambla.

By now, we were both exhausted. So we grabbed some beers, showers and the headed out for dinner. We ended up trying both tapas and paella (both beautiful), before organizing our busy day tomorrow.

It's fair to say both of us slept like babies that night.

Things of Note:

- Two things that surprised as at Barcelona airport: zero border patrol (aka passport checks) and the amount of luggage on the floor near the carousels (would have easily been more the 100 bags just laying there).

- Loving the weather here. So much warmer then Scandinavia was (not that it was extremely cold there or anything).

- La Rambla is just like people had warmed me. Hundreds of people walking down there at a time and pure chaos. In saying that, when you're not carrying your bags (like we had to), it actually an enjoyable walk, if you take it all in.

July 2nd:

We had a full slate planned today, which started at 9am, with our half day tour around the city.

Our first stop was around the Gothic Quarter (oldest part of town). Our guide explained how the city expanded in 1950, but this district was here well before that, with some parts going as far back as 2000 years to roman origins.

We walked passes the Kingdom of Catalunya, Cathedral of Saint Cross (one of the saints that looks over the city), The Royal Palace and courtyard, Placa del Rei, Chiqui (the Jewish quarter), Carrer de Sant Felip Neri (from Spanish civil war, shown by bullet holes in wall), Cathedral Gardens (containing 15 alters, a church and twenty white geese) and Monumental del Temple (from BC, and only survived cause it's so hidden).

We the of back on the bus, heading towards Montjuic. Via that we drive passed the beach of la Barcelona and the Olympic Port. Our tour guide explained that if not for the Olympics in 1992, this area my still being used as a wharf for factory's.

Once at Montjuic, we caught the cable car up to Castell de Montjuic, which is a castle that looks over the whole city. It gave us great views of the city, which I didn't realize was as big as it was.

Then our tour continued on to Poble Espanyol, which is a little manufactured Spanish village, that shows the customs and traditions of all the areas around the country, all the way from Galicia to Andalucia to Catalunya. Even every building was based on their area (Andalucia had white buildings like Greeks). Highlights here included trying their local wine known as cava and watching some glass blowers in action.

This was the last stop on the tour, so it took as back after this.

Follows a quick bite to eat, Marty and I headed out for another busy afternoon, with the first port of call being Sagrada Familia. Unfortunately when we stopped here yesterday, the line to get inside was over an hour long, so we just bought online tickets and walked straight it.

As amazing as the "melting" outside is, representing both life and death, the inside trumps it tenfold. It's well known that I loved Notre Dame, but this church came mighty close to topping it. The way Gaudi was influenced by nature, made the place so unique, with the the pillars designed to look like trees stemming into a canopy. When all the scaffolding is done, the 'unfinished' masterpiece will be even more amazing.

We then continued our Gaudi theme, heading over to the Colonia Guell, another building inspired by his works. The way the roof was designed was unlike anything of ever seen, with the shard glass covered chimney topping it all off.

Marty and myself then somehow negotiated our way to the Palace, on board the Metro. Here we saw the old bull fighting area (Arena de Barcelona) and then walked up to the Royal Palace. Lucky for us, the Olympic site was also within the ground of Montjuic, so we also visited the Olympic Stadium, the hectic diving and water polo arena and swimming pool. Just walking around the whole area gives you goose bumps.

By now, it was well after 7pm and we were both dead, having been on the go all day, so we headed home.

We had a quick rest and then got changed to go out and meet my mates Josh and Matt for dinner. After finally finding them, we enjoyed a six course tapas meal, some beers and sangria. The boys stayed out (which josh probably regrets as he lost his phone), and we headed home, as we headed a train to Madrid to catch tomorrow.

Things of Note:

- Where Scandinavians all had bicycles, scooters dominate the streets here and it amazes me how they don't cause more accidents, the way they weave in and out of traffic.

- Thank god that there was escalators up to the royal palace, otherwise the stairs would have broken us. They were installed for the Olympics and remain today.

- All throughout Barca (except some parts in the centre of town, siesta between 2-5pm everyday), as shops don't open till 10am usually.

- Wherever you look here, you can see flags, be it the striped Catalunya flag or starred Spanish locals flag.

- While at Poble Espanyol, we learnt that there are four national languages (three based on Latin and a fourth from the far north west).

- The last two days had really taken it out of Marty and I. We have fair dinkum walked over 10km both days, in temperatures over 30 degrees.

July 3rd:

After breakfast, Marty and I headed into La Rambla's fresh produce markets. The amount of fruit, spices and meat on offer there was amazing, not to mention how busy it was. The most fascinating part for me was examine the differences in how we cut and present our meat compared to the Spanish.

We then quickly walked around more of the small alleyways, finding some more hidden treasures (aka castles), before heading back to our room, collection our bags and heading to the train station.

It was pretty easy to find the Renfe Train depot (their equivalent of country link), to catch our fast train to Madrid.

Once in Madrid, we found our hotel easy enough and took our time moving in. We then went out to explore the capital of Spain.

We just wandered, passing the Royal Palace, Puerta de Sol, Miercado Se Miguel and finally stopped at Plaza Mayor. Here we enjoyed a few beers and took in all that Madrid had to offer.

Before dinner, we headed back to quickly have a shower, before ending back in the Plaza for dinner. Here I enjoyed wonderful spiced potato and pigs ears tapas. The street performances, music and sunset were all ingredients that contributed to a great night.

Things of Note:

- The phrase "Fast Train" has a whole new meaning, with our train today getting up to 300km/h on the way to Madrid. The best part was, without a sign, you would guess that we were only moving at about 100km/h, as it was such a smooth ride.

- I couldn't believe that these three street musicians played my favourite Spanish song 'Ai Se Eu Te Pego', and when they did, customers and waiters a like started dancing! Only in Spain!

July 4th:

Today started with us doing another half day tour, but unfortunately we were some of very few English speaking people, meaning the tour guide spoke minimal English.

None the less, we had a good tour which showed us Royal Palace of Orient, Gate of Sam Botini, the Segovia Quarter, Gate of Toledo, Balicia, Gasgampa Park, City Hall, Columbus Square, the Santa Marca Quarter, the four tallest towers in Madrid (where Real Madrid stadium once was) and the Telefonica building (highest skyscraper in Europe, built in 1925).

Our three stops on the tour were the Hard Rock Cafe (only because it was the 4th of July), Plaza de Toros (bull-fighting arena and the Bernabeau (home ground of Real Madrid).

Once the tour finished at lunchtime, Marty and I headed back to Plaza de Toros, to do a our tour of the second biggest bull-fighting arena in the world. The audio guide gave us a true history and understanding of this prestigious sport, but the highlight was actually stepping out into the arena itself. So spine tingling!

Following this, we caught the metro to Parque Del Burn Retiro (second biggest park in Spain), and wandered around that, for over an hour. Sites included this trippy art modern art museum (containing a teepee made completely out of candles, bones and notes of money) and Palacio de Cristal.

By now, we were both exhausted, so we headed back and recharged for our last night together.

We first went for beers in the Royal Palace Plaza, then headed to near the Gran Via for dinner (four great tapas), stopped in at a Mado Madrid Orgullo (a street music festival) and had some final beers before heading home.

Things of Note:

- Supposedly Madrid is know as the 'Greenest' city in all of Spain, purely because of how many trees they have in their metropolis.

- Puerto de Sol (the main square) means "Gate of the Sand".

- Plaze de Toros Facts:
* most famous bull-fighting arena in Spain
* built in 1929 and can hold 23,000 screaming fans.
* you're only seen as a champion bull-fighter if you can cut both its' ears (15 minutes to do so).
* in May, they hold a three week bull-fighting festival (where it rains most days).
* Spaniards say "bull-fighting is the only artform that flirts with death".

- Madrid has a population over six million, and over a million of those are immigrants from either Romania or Ecuador.

- Our station, Santo Domingo, means "holy Sunday".

- While at the Bull-Fighting arena, there was reporters interviewing a famous fighter (we assume), and as a result, we were allowed into the arena itself (something not usually allowed).
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