Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Oslo, Norway

After a quiet Christmas in Bergen it was time to head across Norway to Oslo via the Bergensbanen.  It's a 7 hour train trip along the highest mainline rail in Europe.  It was built in the late 1800's and is reputed to be one of the world's most scenic train journeys.  It was a relaxing and very comfortable journey, but there was so much snow we didn't quite experience the epic views we were expecting.  It's impossible to take photos from a train, but here are a few.  It was all shades of gray but still beautiful. 

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

We just spent a few nights in Oslo and things were still very quiet because of Christmas. Most of the restaurants were closed and we ended up having a meal at TGIF's one night and a small pub the next.  Not the best gastric experience, but I'm sure Oslo normally offers some great dining. 

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

I wasn't really sure what to expect, but was really impressed.  It's a gorgeous city with a lot of great areas to explore.  The waterfront area was particularly beautiful. 

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

Oslo is the capital of Norway and spans 40 small islands within the city limits.  It was absolutely freezing but the few hours we spent walking and exploring was wonderful.  There are interesting statues everywhere you look, mostly naked women, not sure what that's about.  There was plenty of great shopping but it's the most expensive city we've every visited, so we skipped that part. 

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

Oh, and watch out for the polar bears. 

Oslo, Norway


Olso is home to the Royal Palace of the Norwegian Monarchy.  We didn't go for a tour but walked around the surrounding park area a bit.  There were many families and tourists out enjoying the blue skies in spite of the frigid temps.  

Oslo, Norway


Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

I feel like we barely scratched the surface of Oslo or Bergen.  But it was a great way to spend the holidays.  Crunching around the snow covered city, taking lots of photos, stopping for a coffee or a cocktail, it was the perfect ending to our Norwegian Christmas.

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

I'm sorry I don't have more to tell you about this great city, other than add it to your list.  


Have you spent more time exploring Oslo?  What were the highlights?




Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bergen, Norway

Christmas this past year was pretty quiet for us.  For a few reasons really.  We had already decided to spend Christmas away with some friends.  I was struggling with my third Christmas away from my family in Texas and hoped that if we were traveling it might distract me a bit.  After a short hospital stay followed by the flu I had absolutely no energy and a fuzzy brain, so it turned out to be a great choice.

Bergen, Norway

It was really a nice and relaxing trip, which was what I needed.  We spent the first few days at an AirBnB in Bergen.  The apartment was the perfect size for the four of us and our host was terrific. 



Bergen was pretty much shut down for Christmas so most of our time was spent snuggled up playing games, cooking and just relaxing.  Because of the high prices in Norway, we ended up bringing enough booze for a frat party (all within customs guidelines, of course).  We stocked up on groceries before everything closed and had some terrific home cooked meals.  There was lots of bacon involved. 

Bergen, Norway

The apartment was right on the Fjord of Byfjorden with ridiculous views.  I spent many hours just looking out the window and watching the scenery change as the light changed.  There were times when the water was a still as glass and the reflections on the water were pristine. 

Bergen, Norway
 
Bergen, Norway

We ventured out a few times for walks and provisions.  We purchased some fresh caught salmon at the fish market right across from the apartment.  We cooked it up for Christmas dinner and it was the best salmon I've ever experienced. 

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

Bergen was once the Capital of Norway and is known as "the meadow among the mountains."  We were near the old city centre across the bay of Vagen from the crooked Hanseatic Buildings of Bryggen which date back to the 1700's. 

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

Being there for a few days at Christmas when most everything is closed is probably not the ideal way to experience the city, but it worked for this trip.  And it just gives us a reason to return.  I'd love to see it from the sea nestled in among the seven mountains that surround Bergen.

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

The top attraction for Bergen on TripAdvisor is the Furnicular up to Mount Floyen for the views.  It was open on Christmas Day and there was a lot of talk about making the trip up, but the apartment was just too comfortable and it was just too cold to make the short journey.  Definitely next time. 

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

We were hoping for a white Christmas but no snow in sight until our very last morning the day after Christmas.  We woke up early to catch our train and were treated to this lovely white covering over this gorgeous city. 

Bergen, Norway

I feel a little bad that we didn't really experience all that Bergen has to offer, but it's absolutely one of the most picturesque cities I've every seen.  Each time I looked out the window my breath was taken away and it was a beautiful place to spend a quiet Christmas. 

Have you ever taken a trip for Christmas instead of going home?



Saturday, March 21, 2015

Instagram Egypt

I've started editing the photos, but it will still be a few weeks before I start posting about our week in Egypt.  I couldn't let another day pass without something on the blog.  

I'm addicted to travel and every trip is a treasured experience.  But there are a few trips that have affected me on a deeper level.  Egypt was absolutely one of those life-changing experiences.  I don't really know how to explain it.  It went by so fast but I can remember almost every single moment.  

The place, the people, the history, the dessert, the red sea, the tombs, the pyramids... all of it combined into the most epic week.  I love the way it challenged me, both physically and mentally.  It caused a big shift in my worldview of the both the ancient and the modern.  That's where travel holds the most magic.  Where it changes you.  Egypt changed me.

It's also been a difficult trip to return from.  I commute to work and sit at my desk longing to be traveling again and experiencing other parts of the world.  Egypt has taken my wanderlust to all new levels.  

Here are a few of my instagram photos from that week to give you a taste.  I couldn't resist adding a little music, so click on the mute button bottom right if you're at work.


What place has caused a shift in your worldview?




Sunday, March 15, 2015

My tips for visiting the Tower of London

Like anyone who's lived in London for a few years I have my own list of things you Must Do if you're visiting.  You should do a walking tour, visit a museum and a park, take a boat trip down the Thames, check out the views from on high at the Shard or London Eye, enjoy afternoon tea, see a show in the West End, visit a market and walk the South Bank.  

Also on that list is the number 1 tourist attraction in London.  Many people will suggest that you avoid the tourist spots and focus on seeing the "real" London.  But, tourist spots are tourist spots for a reason and the Tower of London is the epicenter of London and British history, it is real London. 

Tower of London

It's not actually just a tower but a castle with a series of buildings surrounded by a wall and a moat.  The White Tower is the original castle and was built in 1078 by William the Conqueror.  Its thousand years of history includes names like Richard the Lionheart, Queen Elizabeth I, Richard II, Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, Guy Fawkes, Anne Boleyn, Walter Raleigh, Lady Jane Grey.  So much incredible history in this castle sitting majestically alongside the Thames next to Tower Bridge. 

Tower of London

Tip 1.  Because it's such an amazing place it's always full of visitors.  Make sure that you prepare for your time at the Tower.  Do some research so you'll know everything that is on offer and the timetables.  If there is something that you just can't miss, make that your priority and be prepared to miss some of the other attractions.  You can't see it all in one visit.


Tower of London

Tip 2.  A tour by one of the Yeoman Warders is a great place to start.  They've formed the Royal Bodyguard since the 1500's and know all there is to know about the Tower.  The tours start every 30 minutes and run for about an hour.  They can draw large crowds so if you miss one of the tours, you always have the Audio Guide option which is about 4 pounds and offers 5 different tours.

Tower of London

Tip 3.  Research the history of the Tower of London.  It's fascinating and vast.  You'll appreciate the place more if you know a bit going in.  My most recent visit was on Remembrance Day and the grounds were full of historical actors.  I followed them from scene to scene and was completely sucked into the drama and the stories of WWI in London.

Tower of London

Tower of London

Soldiers, politicians, reporters and suffragettes were all telling their stories.  It brought the history to life.  There are often special events at the Tower so check their events calendar. 

Tower of London

Tower of London

Tower of London

Tower of London

Tower of London

Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site and its primary role is now tourism, but it still remains a military installation and is home to a ceremonial regiment.  The Yeoman warders and their families live at the Tower of London in Tudor style homes. 

Tower of London

Tower of London

"If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it."  There are six ravens (plus 1 spare) on the grounds of the Tower.  Their wings are clipped but they live quite the pampered life. 

Tower of London

Tip 4.  Be prepared to wait in lines at the Tower especially for some of the more popular exhibits like the White Tower and the Crown Jewels.  

On a side note, for those of you with a bit of claustrophobia or anxiety.  The White Tower was unfortunately the scene of a minor meltdown during my first visit to London.  We started at ground level and went up from floor to floor, each floor more interesting than the last.  However, once we reached the top the only way was down... an enclosed stone spiral staircase.  With lots of people in front and behind with exits.  We spiraled down from the fourth floor into the basement gift shop.  By this time I needed to get out into the fresh air so ran for the exit.  There might have been some tears.   I'll blame it on jetlag but you know it's pretty bad when I skip the gift shop. 

Tower of London

Back to the lines.  I visited on one of the busiest days of the year so it's not usually this bad, but you might have to wait.  If your priority is seeing the Crown Jewels, hit that line first and then be flexible from there on what you see.  You could visit the Tower a dozen times and not see everything.

Tower of London

Tip 5.  Be sure that everyone in your group is well-rested and up for the challenge.  Consider comfort and hunger levels.  I tried to take my dad and brother when they were here but we were all tired and the crowds just getting to the ticket booth were overwhelming.  We decided to save it for another time.  

My first view of the Tower of London was from a boat on the Thames.  Along the water line you'll find the words Traitor's Gate which stirs up all kinds of stories, doesn't it?  I love this picture of the gate from inside the Tower with the red poppies in the water beyond.

Tower of London

I was lucky enough to see the Poppie Exhibition at the Tower.  The installation was called "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" and included 88,246 ceramic poppies filling the moat.  It took them months to install and each flower represented a British fatality during WWI. It was a sight to behold and another reason for the large crowds during my last visit.

Tower of London

Tower of London

Tower of London

Tower of London

I've visited the Tower of London three times now and I still feel like I need to go back and see more.  It's one of my favorite spots in London even with the crowds.  My last trip was courtesy of AttrractionTix and I will definitely use them to book any future visits. 

Tip 6.  Book through AttractionTix.  You not only save about 24% on the ticket price, but you get a flexible ticket that you can use when you want and also fast-track entry to help you avoid some of the waiting time to get in.   

What are your tips for visiting the Tower of London?



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  *I received a complimentary ticket to the Tower of London from AttractionTix for the purposes of review.
All photos, writing and opinions are my own.
As always, I promise to be open, honest and transparent with my readers.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.


You can find this review and many others in my
London Attraction Guide.