Four Days in Norway

Before we moved to Gothenburg, we had made a list of places we wanted to visit while in Sweden. Norway-specifically the fjords- was on top of that list. We made plans to visit while school had not started for Noor. I made all the bookings from the US before we left for the year. It felt quite disorienting to plan our vacations even before we had left. The trip to Norway was the second trip we took after we got to Gothenburg ( the first was to Copenhagen the weekend before). We took a train from Gothenburg to Oslo. There was free seating on the train so we grabbed a 4-seater section with a table- and not a moment too soon- because the train was packed- so much so that there were people standing in the aisles in the latter part of the journey. As the train started, I had Noor work on Math while I took pictures out the window. There was a Norwegian family with grown kids sitting across from us. They looked at me with amusement as I kept on clicking pictures. They were even more amused that Noor was doing homework!  I must say that I have noticed that the Scandinavians are very spare in how they occupy space. In contrast, we had stuff spilling everywhere.

I had packed sandwiches and we ate those, along with coffee from the dispenser in the train, which while expensive was excellent. As mentioned earlier, as we progressed the train became even more packed with entire families standing in aisles. I felt like I was on a farm train. I half expected to see a goat saunter down the aisle.  After a while, it got so bad that I pulled Noor into my lap and offered the seat to an "older gentleman" who as it turns out was likely younger than me. 

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We pulled into Oslo in the evening. It was raining cats and dogs. We took a taxi to our hotel which was the Thon  Rosenplatz. Our room was quite large with really nice views of the city. They also had a complimentary light evening meal which we devoured. Noor wanted to feed her new found desire for a pair of "prescription" glasses- and so wanted to go out and find a glasses shop. I think Nayyar took her out for a bit , but it was raining so hard that they came back. I remember feeling a bit out of sorts in the hotel that night- what with the recent move, travel, and the knowledge that I did not know a single soul in the city. 

The view from our hotel window

The view from our hotel window

The same view at blue hour

The same view at blue hour

The next morning, after an excellent breakfast at the hotel, we walked to the dock and took a ferry to the Fram museum. The day was lovely , sunny and sparkly. I had no real impression of Oslo except that it was a city by the water. The ferry took us straight to the museum which was on a small island. The museum was fascinating. It was about the ship's, Fram, expeditions to the South pole  and the Arctic at the turn of the last century. I found the museum really interesting and informative. They had an interactive room where they had simulated subzero temperatures and wax figures apparently dying of frostbite. Noor was quite scared and talked about the frostbite figures endlessly afterwards.

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After spending a couple of hours at the museum, we hopped back onto the ferry and went back to the hotel. We checked out and left for the train station with plenty of time to spare for our afternoon train to Bergen. We had lunch at the station, and then waited and waited and waited some more for the train. The train was delayed.

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They kept on announcing the delays in 15 minute increments till it was delayed by 1.5 hours. The only announcement they made was "the train is being prepared".  Finally, the train pulled in and we settled in for a 7-hour journey to Bergen. We had packed food for an army I think. The beginning part of the journey was quite boring, but as it got closer to Bergen i.e within 3-4 hours, the view became stunning. We had left Oslo in bright sunshine but now we were looking at snow and glaciers. At Finse, the highest station on the line we were at 1222m altitude, and I saw people wearing parkas and hats! Nayyar went into immediate depression upon seeing the snow.

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The temp at Finse. This is the middle of summer!

The temp at Finse. This is the middle of summer!

We then descended into Bergen. The sun set late around 10pm. However, because of the delay in Oslo, we got into Bergen close to midnight in utter darkness. In retrospect, I would have skipped the long train journey and flown to Bergen. The 7-hours on the train seemed a real waste, and the views which become stunning in the last 3 or so hours were lost in the darkness.  At the station, there was a mad dash for taxis- which were scarce because of the late hour. We finally managed to get one and arrived at  the hotel. We had booked the hotel late, so ended up getting one of the few remaining available rooms at the Bergen Bors hotel. The location of the hotel was excellent, but the room was so dark that I had to write a review on Tripadvisor. 

The next day, we had booked the Norway in a Nutshell tour. We had booked an atypical version where we did a round trip from Bergen. We had the morning to ourselves, and we walked around the waterfront. It was rainy, very pretty, and so so touristy. The town is quite small and the waterfront is quaint so it was jarring to see all those tour buses roll in. Anyway we walked around Bryggen, admired the old wooden houses/shops, and then took off for the train station again for the first leg of our tour.

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Now the tour is not a guided tour but just a bunch of tickets that one can buy in a bundle. There are various legs to the journey and instead of buying individual tickets for each leg-which one can-the nutshell sells them in a bundle. We boarded the train in Bergen for Voss, which was about a 2-hour journey. The views were stunning. We had missed these the night before. There were lakes, mountains, glaciers.....the whole deal. Noor was not impressed though as evidenced below.

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We pulled into Voss and made a mad dash for the bus which would take us to Gudvangen. There was confusion about where the bus was. We finally found it and boarded. There was a last minute issue as there were more passengers than seats on the bus. An Italian group refused to get off till everyone had been accommodated. I thought people were going to start sitting in each other's laps. Finally a second bus pulled up, the passengers redistributed, and we took off. The bus took hair bending turns down the valley- and boy was the scenery spectacular! 

The moment when you know you are sitting on the wrong side of the bus

The moment when you know you are sitting on the wrong side of the bus

We went down to the valley and boarded our cruise ship. The cruise ship was modern and well outfitted- with dirty and stinky bathrooms. There were multiple decks and walkways where one could hang out. Everyone jostled for the best views inside the lounge till realization hit that there were better views outside. The trip started and basically our jaws dropped. Even the most jaded jaws! The cruise was down the magnificent Aurlandsfjord and on the narrow Nærøyfjord. Words -at least mine-cannot do justice to the scenery.

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 We floated down on our way to Flam, which is a transportation hub- albeit in a very picturesque location. There were little hamlets along the way - the prototypical red huts that one sees in images of Scandinavia. It was quite windy for part of the trip-so much so that someone's little backpack flew off board. Noor again remained unimpressed. In Flam, there was a playground in the most amazing setting- tall mountains, water, moody clouds. Noor played there for a bit while we ate pizza. She latched onto these cute kids from the UAE, and kept on telling them that she spoke Arabic. Then we headed for the famed Flam railway. We asked the ticket checker which was the better side to sit on- we were told theright side- and I think we were amongst the last to get right sided seats. Everyone else seemed to be in on the secret beforehand. However, there were no bad views. The Flam railway is one of the steepest standard-gauge railways in the world—almost 80% of the journey has a gradient of over 5%—with  views over the Sognefjord. The train ride was approximately an hour long and was supposed to drop us off in Myrdal, from where we would catch the connection back to Bergen. I must say that after the fjords, though very pretty, the views were not as spectacular in comparison. The train stopped for a bit at the thundering Kjosfossen waterfall. Everyone got off to take photos. Then a woman in red -dressed as a fairy-appeared at the top of the waterfall and pranced around for a bit with loud background music. I found it quite hokey- but tried to get Noor all excited about it- but to no avail. I think she was on to it that this was just a show. 

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By the time we pulled into Myrdal, it was twilight. Our train which was coming from Oslo was late-again! We all piled into the waiting room, where there was no water, functioning vending machines, or coffee. At least the bathrooms were functioning. The biggest urgency amongst the passengers was finding charging stations. There were none except a couple high up on the walls- 9 feet above ground level. People took turns standing on each others shoulders to charge their phones. There was a kind Bangladeshi family who lent us their mobile charger so I was able to get some power on my phone. In the meanwhile, the station masters were running around in a panic wondering what to do with all the passengers. There was a train standing at the station, and they finally asked us to pile into it so we could go to Voss and wait there, since there were more facilities in Voss. The rest of the journey was kind of a blur. We were pretty much trained-out by then. We got onto the Bergen bound train- promptly cursed the non-functioning on-board charging station, and arrived in Bergen late at night  and promptly went to bed.

The next day was lovely; shiny and sparkly with a few sprinkles scattered through the day. After breakfast, we strolled around Bryggen, popped into Ting where Noor bought the cutest tape measure. Afterwards, we ate at Bryggeloftet & Stuene along the waterfront. This was recommended by the hotel and had pretty decent food. Afterwards, we took the Fløibanen Funicular up Fløyen Mountain for panoramic views and hiking trails. The top of the mountain gives one an appreciation of the size of Bergen, which is the second largest city in Norway. There is a playground at the top, where Noor spent an inordinate amount of time playing with other kids. We hiked down the trails, and it really was magical, with sun dappled trees, streams, moss covered rocks...the works. The walk was just perfect.

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Once down in the city, we made our way to a cafe-recommended by our hotel- for dinner. I cannot remember the name. The place was packed , but the food was mediocre at best. We ate quickly and left to take another stroll around town. 

The next morning we flew to Stockholm and then home to Gothenburg. In retrospect, I  am glad that we made the trip when we did, even though I had pushed back a bit when Nayyar had recommended that we visit the Fjords straight off the bat. Norway was spectacular, and this trip was just a teaser. We hope to be back before the year is out. 

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Stockholm in a Blink

So we decided to take a weekend trip to Stockholm. We bought tickets at the last minute and ended up with fewer train options than we had anticipated. We ended up on a 5:10 on a Friday afternoon/evening. The train was sloooow or at least it felt like it. The train was also not too comfortable. We had 4 seats facing each other. We were expecting a table but no such thing. Somehow I expect things to be super design-y and sleek in Scandinavia.  Both Nayyar and Noor had a viral infection, so I had both of them sit next to each other- so as to limit the germs. Abbu and Noor kept each other entertained throughout the journey.

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We reached Stockholm past 9 o'clock, grabbed a cab, and checked into the Miss Clara Hotel. I had booked the hotel based on reviews and the austere design of the hotel. We had two superior corner rooms. The rooms were austere, yet luxurious, and extremely functional. The hotel was a girls school at the turn of the century, and was later converted into offices and then this hotel, and somehow it reminded me so much of the convent in Karachi where I went to school. 

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The room was bright with lovely light. I must have taken a hundred pictures of the window and the bed. 

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The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel. It was the usual mix of breads, yogurt, museli etc. There were some delicious fresh fruit juices including blueberry. The first breakfast of any vacation is always my favorite part. The trip is still full of possibilities, and any disappointment has not yet set in. There is also the prospect of exploring a new city which is always thrilling. 

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The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel. It was the usual mix of breads, yogurt, museli etc. The stand out feature was a variety of  fresh fruit juices including blueberry.

After breakfast we headed out to Gamla Stan. The hotel was quite lovely, but the only downside was the location which was a bit away from the main sights. It was a 20 minute walk to get to Gamla Stan. On the way, we appreciated the church located opposite our hotel. The interior was ornate yet simple. Olaf Palme is buried in its graveyard . It was interesting that his tombstone had only his signature engraved in it. Noor clambered all over the graves. Also, of note, we visited the church on Sunday as well, and it was empty save a choir of 15 people. In contrast a church in the USA would likely have had at least some congregents.

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Gamla Stan was as lovely as I expected it to be. There were  quite a few tourist buses parked outside the royal palace so I had my trepidations about the presence of wall-to-wall tourists. However, it turned out to be not too too bad. Everywhere one turned, there was gorgeous ochre color and yet another stunning alley. The central square called Stortorget is absolutely lovely. The entrance to the Nobel Museum is in the same square. There are cafes on two sides of the square and a central fountain. There were a couple of street performers ( of all things-a Mariachi band!) but other than that, just tourists milling about. We had lunch at one of the cafes - the type which appeared to be a tourist trap - and turned out to be one. 

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After lunch, Abbu and I went to the Nobel Museum. While fascinating, it was more of an interactive display rather than a traditional museum. To me, the most fascinating were the pictures of  all the laureates that were moving around on a carousel on the ceiling. The pace was slow, so if you missed your favorite, you would have to wait another 2 hours for them to come around again. We were particularly excited about looking up Malala and Prof. Abdus Salam. Malala's shawl that she wore when she spoke at the UN was part of the exhibit.

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We walked around Gamla Stan and ended up at cafe Osterlanggatan 17, which was highlyrecommended by our hotel. The setting was enchanting; a whisp of a sunlit cobblestone street looking out onto a fountain. We elected to sit outside. Noor played across the street at the fountain while we ate. She would join us intermittently, but was otherwise busy exploring the fountain. There was a Swedish family sitting next to us. The mother seemed to have stepped out of a J.Crew catalogue. She was also eating without appearing to chew her food. While they ate, their toddler played in the street with literally a piece of rope stuck to a pen. The street did have some traffic, so I was a little envious of how calm the mother was with the toddler running around there. I cannot imagine this scenario in the US without getting the stink eye from some other parent. 

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The food at the cafe was very good though a bit on the expensive side. We ended up having tacos and ice cream ( each  tiny taco was 85 SEK!) . The bread was brought to the table in a paper bag..... and it was heavenly- the bread I mean.  There was a youngish man sitting behind us. He was regaling his companion with nonstop conversation which included bits about " nuclear physics", "Phd thesis", and "Pakistan nuclear bomb". Most fascinating except the companion barely responded. We dawdled at the cafe because it was so so lovely. Finally we got up, explored a bit more, and then walked back to the hotel. Gamla Stan definitely  requires another visit-perhaps even in the early hours when it is likely quiet and atmospheric. 

After a much needed nap, we headed out for dinner. The hotel had recommended a fusion Asian place called Farang. We were told that it was casual and family friendly. However, when we walked in, it had a very adult vibe. The main dining room was cavernous and dark with what appeared to be dressed up people having dinner. This was around 6:30 ( the Swedes seem to eat early).  We were offered a spot at the bar which was in the front of the restaurant. This turned out to be perfect. We were the only occupants of a communal table. There was another family with a stroller adjacent to us, so we felt perfectly at home. The food was exceptionally good. We over ordered but managed to do justice to it. 

After dinner, we took a cab to Sodermalm to see the sunset, which turned out to be quite spectacular. We walked along the waterfront and then across the Slussen bridge to Gamla Stan, and finally home for an early-ish ( 10pm)  turn-in.

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The next morning, after breakfast we walked to the waterfront again and over to Skeppsholmen, which is a car-free island. It was a cloudy and grey day- quite chilly. We stopped for coffee at a waterfront cafe opposite Hotel Grand. Then we headed back to the hotel, packed up, and left for the train station. I was looking at all the destintations on the departure board and could only pronounce one name: Gothenburg. The train thankfully was a bit more updated than the one we had taken on the way over. In just over 4 hours, we were back home. 

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I must say that after we got back, Gothenburg seemed small and provincial. Stockholm, we will be back!

Copenhagen

So we have moved to Gothenburg. The big step was taken! I have taken a LOA from work, pulled Noor from her school, and boarded a flight to Gothenburg. My initial impressions of Gothenburg were mixed. Lovely greenery, some interesting architecture, a laid back vibe, and yet somehow not exactly what I expected. The first weekend, we took a  trip to Copenhagen to see how the other half lived. We boarded a bus to Varber ( no direct trains because of construction) and from there, a train to Copenhagen. The journey was fairly short and we reached Copenhagen in cloudy conditions with intermittent rain. We had rented from @airbnb and found ourselves in a rather quirky, but lovely apartment. It was clearly owned by creatives.

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After a brief respite, we set out to discover the city..and what a city! We walked to the waterfront via Nyhavn canal. The place was plastered with tourists. It is funny how we complain about tourists when we ourselves are one. But, we prefer to call ourselves travelers! Our host had been kind enough to leave us a list of adult food places that were kid friendly. So we found ourselves headed to Copenhagen Eats. It is a lovely location on the waterfront. Industrial space that has been converted to a food court of sorts. One finds food from all over the world there. I headed straight to the tacos while Nayyar had a shawarma! Noor had a Nutella crepe followed by a falafel sandwich. I have told Nayyar that he can have his own blog about all the places where he has found and eaten Shawarma. During lunch, there was a family  sitting across from us. They were visiting from South Africa and were being regaled by stories by a young friend who had moved to Copenhagen a few months ago. We listened in. It was quite entertaining.

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After lunch, we sauntered over to Stroget, which is a pedestrian only shopping street. It was packed with tourists. It rained intermittently, so we kept on ducking under awnings. We were umbrella-less as always. At least I had a rain jacket with a hood. We observed the locals sautering in the rain- unconcerned. We walked into Hays, which offers one of the classic views over Stroget with its central Stork fountain. We bought a ruler for Noor. I think I was more excited than she was. Everything was impeccably designed. I felt like buying up half the store. What is it with travel and shopping? 

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After puttering around some shops, we walked into a bakery, grabbed some bread for next day and had a coffee before heading home. We wanted to go to a Vietnamese place called Tonkin, which came highly recommended by our host , but it was closed. We ended up getting some really good Indian take-out from Cave. 

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The next morning, we had breakfast at home. The bread was the densest, nuttiest bread I had ever eaten. It was quite good. Now I know how they make the open-face sandwiches. The bread is so dense, it holds all that stuff with ease. The weather was lovely; bright and crisp. But as we left the house, it started to drizzle. Thankfully it was very short lived.

 

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We walked around and slowly made our way for lunch at Cafe Norden in Stroget. The cafe is in a lovely space and filled to capacity. It was recommended on a blog. We ordered a The smørrebrød which was quite good. We had ordered pasta for Noor, but she ended up getting a "kids lunch" which was quite bogus ( fruit, yogurt smoothies, and fries).

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After lunch, we headed to the Rundetaarn. It is a 17th century tower located inside central Copenhagen. The spiral walkway is quite interesting for walking up. The light from the windows was just lovely-a photographers dream. The views were not bad either. Once you make your way to the top, you have to walk up a narrow flight of stairs to the viewing balcony. It was worth the squeeze-past to see the views from the top. It also gives one an idea of how compact the city center is.  Noor, of course, climbed the boundary fence at the top. 

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Afterwards we stopped for ice cream and just mulled around listening to street musicians. We went back home for a short break before heading back out to Copenhagen Eats for dinner. Noor was starving and cranky and wanted plain spaghetti for dinner. Thank God, we found a place at Copenhagen Eats for Noor's pasta. Th woman who prepared the pasta measured it out with her bare hands. I wonder how that would fly in the US. Nayyar has a Thai something something which he said was just okay.  We walked back afterwards, admiring the late evening view over the water and the Nyvahn canal. I think the canal was not as charming as I had expected because of all the tourists and their associated kitschiness ( notwithstanding the fact that we are also tourists).

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The next day we had a train back to Gothenburg at 4 pm. We decided to make a day of it at Tivoli, which is right across the train station. We took a cab to the station, stored our bags- which process took 20 minutes to understand- and headed across the road to Tivoli. There is an entrance fee. You have to pay separately for the rides. Noor was all excited about her first ever roller coaster ride. We walked in and of course it started raining. We waited for the shower to pass and then headed to the roller coaster, which was of the vintage variety. It took us another 20 minutes to figure out how to pay for the rides (one has to buy tickets at kiosks that are scattered all over the garden). Noor and I got on. I think I had more fun than Noor , who was a little frightened to see her mother screaming SO loudly. We went a couple of other saner rides ( balloon ferris wheel which was meant for younger kids, and a kids version of the the Golden Tower, called Panda). Noor had a ball on the Panda and went twice. We had lunch at Tivoli ( the best shawarma in a while). We went back for seconds. Afterwards we lounged in  the sunchairs in a post-prandial stupor. Before we knew it, it was time for our train back to Gothenburg. Copenhagen, we will be back!

Mexico City

chaotic, vibrant, incredible!