Published: November 13th 2006August 1st 2006
Four countries in seven days, that is less than two days per country, but we had “somewhat” of a plan set out to try and conquer Scandinavia in this short time. This was going to be a real challenge for us though because it’s very expensive in this region of Europe and we, of course, are attempting to be serious budget travelers. Well, after 12 train rides, one bus, four ferry rides (two of which were very frustrating), and zero nights in a hotel/hostel, we conquered Scandinavia and had a great time, so without further ado, the story goes a little something like this…hit it!
We were last in the lovely land of Lübeck, Germany which is very close to Denmark so that was convenient for us! We were a bit confused though because we were told our trip to Copenhagen would require a ferry ride, but we didn’t have to worry about it because the train goes on the ferry. We had never heard of this before, but decided ok and we went with the flow. Two hours later I realized the train had come to a stop inside a dark vessel and we were on
a boat! We were able to get out of the train, do a little duty free shopping (we passed on the purchasing part, but enjoyed some free cologne and perfume samples—smelling good does wonders for the traveler’s soul), and we sat on the deck and enjoy the views. After 40 minutes or so we loaded onto the train below and were back to dry land.
We were couch-surfing in Copenhagen and our host was very gracious enough to meet us at the station and take us to her place. After brief introductions we said we would be back later that night, because we only had the rest of the day and half of the next to explore the town of Copenhagen, and we wanted to see all that we could see. She was unable to join us do to prior obligations, so we jumped back on the bus and were back to the downtown area in no time to start our day of sight seeing…and to deal with the heat.
This time of year (mid-summer) is usually a nice time to visit Scandinavia because while it’s a bit too hot in the southern countries of Europe, up north
The Little Mermaid
The statue is perched up on some rocks that are surrounded by water, but that didn't stop some tourists from trying to climb on the little gal
it’s cool—but this wasn’t the case. There was a heat wave moving across Europe and it was having some negative effects since that area of the world isn’t accustom to such high temperatures. The two bad side effects we noticed most from the heat was it caused the city to have a bad smell and, now that my hair is barely still on top of my head, it was very prone to sun burn—thank goodness we had a hat!
We weren’t going to let the sun slow us down though and we were able to check off most of the “free-to-view” sights off our list. (The tourist office of Copenhagen was a great resource—very helpful and lots of free information.) Being on the water there were some impressive sail boats we were able to gander at and while on the water we paid homage to Han Christian Anderson (famous fable writer from Denmark) at a small statue from his tale The Little Mermaid. We also took time to visit an area called Christiania. It used to be like a mini-Amsterdam (soft drugs and what-have-you for sale), but the police decided to put a stop to it a few years
The entrance to Christiania...not much more attractive on the inside
This was the only picture we took, our guide book said not to take any photos once inside the "free-town".
ago and made some arrests. The once “free-town” of Christiania was run-down and dumpy and there were people lingering around trying to relive its glory days. We walked around but weren’t inclined to stay for long.
We have to say that there are a million other things we could have done in Denmark, especially in the country side, (sorry we didn’t do your homeland justice, Casper), but so much to see and so little time. The next day we were off to Oslo, Norway and it was supposed to be a train with one connection, but we were thrown a curve ball in the middle of it all. We arrived in Göteborg, Sweden where we were to make our connection to Oslo, but once off the train we couldn’t find our connection. We ran to the ticket counter to find too many people to wait through, so I ran down a train conductor who didn’t speak English, but I said Oslo fifty-times in a row and he pointed out of the station to a bus.
Well, what happened was they decided that in the middle of the high tourist season that it was a good time to shut
Bergen Fish Market
It was here we tried our first piece of whale! No, it did not taste like chicken. Believe it or not, it kind of tasted like beef steak!
down the line to Oslo (the capital city) to do some repairs, so you have to jump a bus to a train station after the construction area. After a couple hours on the bus we made it to a station and were told Track 2 was our train. Once on we asked a gentleman if the train was going to Oslo and he said, nope, it was going far north so we jumped off and finally learned our train was on Track 1 and would be arriving in an hour…really need to work on my Norwegian I guess!
We weren’t planning for this and we were a little under prepared with only one bottle of water (empty by this time) and dying of thirst. I ran all around the train station to find water, no luck, I ran into the little neighborhood to maybe find a water spout on a house, no luck, and the bad part was we had no Norwegian Krone. I asked an info lady in front of the train if she could help me out and she said on the train they would exchange my Euros for some Norwegian Krone, but once the train was
moving I asked for a water and the attendant said she couldn’t exchange the money so we had to survive waterless for a few more hours.
We arrived in Oslo later than expected, ran to buy some over priced water (Oslo is now ranked the most expensive city in the world), and had to figure out what to do from there. We thought we had a place to stay through couch-surfing, but in the end it didn’t work out. It was too late to book something online and too expensive to walk and find a place so we decided to go with Plan C. There was a night train heading to the western coast of Norway to the town of Bergen and if the reservation fee was reasonable we would take the train. Being so expensive here we were scared to hear the cost, but to our surprise first-class rail-pass holders don’t have to pay for a reservation and so we booked two seats and had a place to sleep!
The train was great! Not only did we get a place to sleep (granted, it was in a chair rather than a bed), but they provided you with
a nice thick blanket, pillow, eye mask, ear-plugs, and you got to keep it all for free after the ride! We slept like royalty and awoke in Bergen in the early hours of the morning. Bergen was very reminiscent of Seattle, on a smaller scale with older buildings, and we learned the two are actually sister cities. Heather researched the local sights and also learned about a train we could take to view the famous fjords of Norway. After sampling some local flavors (the whale was quite tasty), we were back on the train towards a small town called Flåm.
It was a special train that takes passengers to Flåm, but if anyone reading this ever goes to Norway it is a must! It costs a little money, but it truly is an incredible trip down into Norway’s largest and most famous Sognefjord Fjord. You get on a train, full of tourist, and start at an elevation of somewhere around 3,000 feet and descend to sea level while passing some amazing mountain views. The train has continual announcements about the scenery and some stories of lore and it actually stops at these big waterfalls for pictures where the sirens
sing to lure you into the water…quite funny! Once at the base of the fjord, whose waters were quite chilly, we were hot (heat wave was there too) and in much need of a shower so we ran to the water and jumped in to cool off! Afterwards, we walked around enjoying the amazing scenery and decided that night we would jump on the night train back to Olso for another nights rest.
From the Flåm junction, the train ride was only supposed to be five hours, not much sleep, but due to a lighting storm the train took nine hours. We didn’t even notice since we slept through the whole ordeal…love the eye masks! Once in Oslo we locked the bags up and did some local sight-seeing. The Vigelands Park was amazing because of all the statues and if the town was cheaper we would have spent more time there! We were off to Stockholm next, another night train, but on a Swedish train—it was not as nice as the Norwegian train.
We survived the ride (played a little Pass the Pig) and arrived in Stockholm for 12 hours of touring around because we planned to take
The streets of Stockholm
A bit narrow, but cars still passed each other!
a night ferry to Helsinki that night. First experience of Stockholm wasn’t that good, the train station was disorganized and I saw one guy get robbed (Barcelona flash back) and something sparked in me and I confronted the thief, who, after some confrontation, returned what he had taken…probably not a smart thing to do, but I came out unscathed. It rained most of the day, we walked around a lot, enjoyed the hour we were stuck under a bridge due to the wetness (forgot the umbrellas in the luggage locked up at the train station), but the highlight of our tour was the Museum of Modern Art which was great. It was there that Andy Warhol had his first solo exhibition and we also got to see into the demented world of Paul McCarthy (another artist). After all the excitement and lack of sleeping on a bed we headed to the ferry terminal to catch our over night ferry to Helsinki, bed included (or so we thought)!
Being very thorough planners I called the ferry company (Silja Lines) two weeks in advance at their Germany offices to set up a reservation. It was free for us to use the
A very unhappy Ben
If you look in the background, you will see the ferry boat that is heading to Helsinki...without us.
ferry with our rail pass; we would just have to sleep in separate rooms for the night since they didn’t have mixed dorms. The lady I spoke with said reservations were not needed for these, but once I insisted she said they don’t take reservations for these rooms and I had her email this information to me. Well, we found out otherwise at the ferry station and their only response to my dealings with the German office was “Never trust the Germans”. The boat was full to Helsinki and it looked like we would have to wait until the next day. After arguing and getting super frustrated with the people they said there was another ferry to a town in Finland called Turku two hours later and there we could grab a train to Helsinki. Well, not our original plan but we would be able to get there without compromising our tight schedule and also be able to view another city of Finland. Only problem was there were no beds, we would have to sleep in seats once again, at this point as long as we were on a boat we didn’t care.
Once aboard we found our chairs
were actually in a room with no windows, more like a conference room, and we had some other guests in the room with us, about 20 Asian tourists. After walking the boat (complete with duty free, buffets, casinos, dance clubs, and shopping stores) we called it a night and decided we would sleep best on the floor under some tables. Our fellow roommates liked our idea and were all over the floor in the morning and three of the brightest ones made their bed right in front of the only exit, which was very inconvenient when you have to use the bathroom in the early morning. I had the hardest time waking them up, actually one of their buddies sleeping in another aisle had to shake them for about two minutes, and before we knew it we were in Turku.
After walking around Turku we realized it had nothing much to offer and made our way to Helsinki. Once there we got in touch with our couch-surfing host Mintti she said there was a big Finnish music festival in the park for free later that afternoon so we decided to check it out and we were glad that we
The music festival in Helsinki
It may look like a low turn out, but there were actually about 5 stages set up with many great acts.
did. After the music we toured around a bit and fell in love with Helsinki. The people were all friendly, the city had a laid-back atmosphere, the architecture reminded me of Metropolis from the Superman comic books, we had no troubles walking around or figuring out public transport, they used the Euro that we were so used to, and the prices were similar to Germany. It also helped that our couch-surfing hosts were so sweet and we actually stayed up until the wee hours of the morning chatting away. There was another couple from Canada couch-surfing with us as well and so the travel stories were going all night long.
The next day we toured some more before jumping another night ferry back to Stockholm (almost didn’t get beds for this ferry, but we decided to treat ourselves after our whirlwind week and upgraded—nine euros for a bed). In Stockholm, we immediately caught a train to Copenhagen, a fancy train with wireless internet and a salmon breakfast, and from there back to Berlin. We saw so many things in seven days and we faced many difficult situations, but in the end we were able to laugh at them and
The Helsinki Train Station
It was this building that made us feel as though we were in a comic book.
enjoy our time. We don’t usually pick favorites, but if anyone is going to Scandinavia the fjords are a must as well as Helsinki! We were back in Berlin for only two nights before we were off for a fast tour of deep Eastern Europe, so look forward to our next blog where we tell you about our visit to Dracula’s castle, trying the local tastes of Hungary, and the train ride that took us to a country we did not intend to visit!
Love Ben and Heather
There are more photos below