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Published: July 26th 2018
Even though the seeds of desire to travel had been planted in me at a very young age, I wasn't able to start exploring on my own until I was a teenager. This was in the 1960s, a tumultuous time that matched and reflected the internal torments and changes happening within. At the end of weeks of summer camp before heading home, telling my parents I was staying with new friends for awhile (somewhat true), I would go hitchhiking with another adventurous young person and over the years ultimately travelling to many parts of North America in this economic and exciting way. It was relatively safe to hitchhike back then. We Baby Boomers have always been catered to simply because of our numbers; we are an enormous percentage of the population, so it was fairly common to see penniless young people with their thumbs out, trying to catch rides to get from one place to another. It was a great way to travel and a wonderful time to be very young, experiencing new freedoms and secure in our thinking that ours was the generation that would change the world. As it did. At first I just wanted to reach the Atlantic Ocean; having grown up in inland Pittsburgh, PA, I didn't get to see an ocean until I was in my teens. Then I wanted to touch Canada, and Mexico. Always a desire for reaching further and further abroad, intimately learning what was shown on maps with my feet, my eyes, my mind, my heart.
Arriving in Oslo on a sunny, almost hot afternoon, Bill and I immediately walked down to the harbor to see what we could see. Such a gorgeous place Oslo is, at least on this beautiful, bright warm day. It might not appear so pleasant in winter, or when it is chilly, grey and raining, but on this day I felt as if we were in Eden. Vegan offerings for dinner were available; finally deciding on take-out so we wouldn't be enclosed anywhere, we sat on a bench overlooking the harbor, watching the boats, the (very few) swimmers, people passing by, and those just sitting and enjoying life as we were.
In Norway we also travelled to Odense, the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen. What a delightful little town! During our free time we meandered through the main pedestrian walkway, stopping to admire some wool hats that were knitted to look like Minions. The man who made these was eager to talk with us, to tell us about his life, his living in the US for some years and then choosing to return to Norway, partly for all the benefits Norwegian citizens receive. It sounded ideal: each parent is allowed months off work - with pay - when they have a baby; they also receive a certain amount each month until the child turns 18; then the child, if he or she goes to university, receives money each month to study. And universities are free. When people retire they receive a rather generous monthly amount, so no one has to worry about being homeless or indigent; Norway takes care of its own. Taxes are high, however; all this needs to be paid for, but according to this man it seems people feel lucky to have been born here. It would be wonderful to have that same kind of security offered in our own country. We must have spent half our time in Odense enjoyably talking with this man, but every time we thought we should move on knowing our time was limited, he would engage us further. It seemed he needed to talk and we were very interested in hearing his story and learning his viewpoints. But we finally left to continue our short perusal of Odense when other people stopped to look at his funny hats.
Then we were back onto the bus for many more hours of sitting, looking out the windows at the truly lovely scenery. But our days in the bus were very long; some days we rode for more than eight hours; this was not what I thought we had signed on for. I had expected that while driving our program director would offer commentary, information about each country, each city, each area we were passing through, some phrases in the languages, info concerning society, healthcare, education, money, etc.. I also expected that we would stop every two hours or so to stretch our legs, and/or have an orientation walk to learn about wherever we were, or at least have a bit of time to examine interesting churches or buildings or harbors, whatever made these towns or cities special. Except for coffee breaks none of this happened, and Bill and I grew more and more dissatisfied with the tour. We were learning almost nothing about the countries we were driving through! No handouts were offered either; small wonder most people sat on the bus playing with their cell phones. What kind of tour was this? As we quickly tired of sitting on a silent bus, and as our frustration with not learning anything (except what we learned ourselves) built, Bill and I discussed our just breaking away from this tour and exploring on our own. This, of course, had been an option from the start: my planning our travels through Scandinavia. The trouble with that was I would have had to do all the planning, booking places to stay, figuring out transportation, where to go, what we would see, and from doing all this for past travels I knew this planning would take days, and hours and hours and hours of work. So, after apparently not reading between the itinerary lines closely enough, we booked this tour.
Driving through Norway is magnificent, however. Mountain peaks spiking high up into the sky, snow on their tops, lakes, lakes, and more lakes, green everywhere we looked; this part of the world is stunningly gorgeous. I wanted to get off the bus and hike up a peak or two, or at least walk along a path through the trees, inspecting the eventual lake we'd find, and wade in. I wanted to breathe in the fresh air beside a waterfall, not just take a photo of it through our bus windows as we sped by. I wanted to jettison the bus and forget the hotels located far away from city centers and stay in places in or close enough to the middle of the towns where we stopped for a night; I wanted to learn about each country, each town; I wanted to feel what it was like to live there for awhile, to meet and talk with local people, to walk its streets, not just to stop at a less expensive generic hotel outside of town for an overnight's sleep, mixing only with our own tour group. The best thing about Cosmos is that people on our tour were from all over the world, from Singapore, Malaysia, Egypt, Australia, Canada, Taiwan, Oman; the worst thing is that apparently we paid only for long bus rides, hotels, and two ferries. Every other company I've travelled with has given their travellers tons of information, both before and during each tour, offering welcome information about where we were going, where we were. But not Cosmos. After this dud experience I will never book a tour with them again.
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