Dig It – Andrew the Dancing Queen
As you may know, each year my besties and I head off for an adventure abroad and this was our 12th journey together. From Israel to Spain (three times) to Australia to Sicily, we have certainly seen the world. And the memories are simply amazing.
About two years ago – my friend John, who usually goes along with whatever we want to do (“we” being his wife, Sharee, my gal pal and travel wife, Linda, and me) declared that he would like to go to Scandinavia. He was going to be turning 60 in 2017 (PS –He looks fabulous. He’s a complete metrosexual and he says he owes it all to the show Queer Eye For The Straight Guy) and he really had a dream to see Sweden and Norway. We normally like warm weather spots – a few days of touring and then some beach time but we agreed that, for John, we would celebrate in Swedish style.
On to the research phase: John got to reading books and I was lucky enough to find a wonderful travel advisor, Sim Uzkuraitis from Firebird Tours. This guy is awesome – use him. We had a long conversation about what he thought we should see and do and then the gang chimed in and we settled on a great trip. Once we got there, we realized we had completely overscheduled ourselves and canceled a few of the Viking outings (trust me, if you’ve seen one Viking ship, you’ve seen them all). So our trip was planned and we got ready to go.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck when my best pal Stuart was diagnosed with throat cancer so we put the trip on hold for a year to focus on him. While his battle was rough, I am happy to report he is healthy and happy.
Again, I can’t thank Firebird Tours enough for their flexibility with our plans. They were great and we were able to reschedule the new dates and they honored as much as they could. So off we went in August! And despite some initial skepticism, some rain, some cold temps, some very quiet nights and way too much fish – this was truly a terrific trip. We were in the land of the happy people; it was clean, it was crisp and I am telling you, the people were really welcoming and proud.
Here’s a quick overview of our stops and our highlights.
We flew SAS Airlines (very efficient) into Oslo. We arrived to some light rain in the afternoon and got right out there. We explored the city and were charmed right off the bat. We stayed at the conveniently located Hotel Folketeateret, which was perfect, although slightly too modern for us. That night we checked out the Opera House and heard music playing on the pier across the way. We ended up crashing a local professionals party and did some dancing! The next day we met our wonderful tour guide and off we went to see the city. The highlight of the day was Frogner Park and it’s magnificent sculpture garden. We also stopped at the royal grounds, City Hall and the Folk and Viking Ship museums. Dinner that night was at Lofoten on the water for some wonderful seafood.
The next day, our real adventure began with our destination being Balestrand — a charming village located near Norway’s largest Fjord. The trip involved two trains and a boat ride with the highlight being the train ride to the mountain town of Flam. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. Let’s talk about Balestrand. It was small and quaint and being an active group, we quickly knew that for the 2 ½ days we were going to be there, boredom would set in fast. (It’s my fault – I told Sim we wanted to disconnect and he took it literally.) The historic hotel, Kviknes, was indeed pretty magnificent and our rooms had wonderful views. Since there was only one restaurant in town, we opted to enjoy the hotel, take long walks and runs in the rain – and get to know each other better. We did get the fun opportunity to go to the movies with a bunch of the local folks at the schoolhouse. We saw Dunkirk – which was a very intense vacation movie.
Onward! Back on the water and through the Fjords to Bergen – trust me this fishing city (the second largest in Norway) is exquisite. Our hotel, the Clarion Admiral, was our favorite of the trip – stylish and a perfect location. Our first dinner was at Marcus Samuelson’s restaurant in the hotel. It was really tasty. The next day we had a fabulous tour of the city including a ride up to the highest mountain on a funicular. The views were spectacular (though we were a bit chilly). Then we got to see the old fish market and wooden villages; the city is a mix of old and new and we loved it. We ended our visit with a trip to the Bergen Ice Bar –which was a hoot. We donned parkas and drank vodka out of glasses made of ice. We had dinner at the fish market that night –which I highly recommend. It was a short but lovely stay.
Next stop –Stockholm. Okay everyone, you heard it here first. YOU MUST VISIT STOCKHOLM AT LEAST ONCE IN YOUR LIFE. It is a stunning, cosmopolitan city and we loved it. We stayed in old town at the Victory Hotel. It was perfectly located though, I will admit, the owner collects maritime antiques and puppets which adorned the hotel and they creeped us out a little bit; we thought they might come to life late at night. For meals, my good pal and client, Chef Staffan Terje of Perbacco/barbacco, made some recommendations—all of which were great. We ate well – three nights and three delicious restaurants: Grodan, Bistro Sud, and my favorite was Sture Hof. We had a really fun city tour which included an elaborate changing of the guards ceremony at the Royal Palace and then we got to see some of the wonderful neighborhoods. We also checked out the Vasa and Skansen museums — historical insights to Swedish and Viking life.
BUT THE HIGHLIGHT OF HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS STOP CAN BE SUMMED UP IN ONE WORD –ABBA!!! We spent our first afternoon (about 4 hours) at the ABBA museum which was awesome. Then the next night, we went to ABBA THE PARTY and it was the best experience of the trip. It’s an interactive dinner and show all set to ABBA hits. Once the show is over, the floor is cleared and a dance party starts. We were there for five hours and literally danced for three of them. I can’t recommend this enough. Mamma Mia, did we have a ball!
On our last night, Stockholm was having its annual KulturFest and the city was full of energy with performances by the symphony, the opera and world-renowned DJs and bands. It was like Outside Lands but it was all of the city and get this – free!!! We had a ball and it was a great way to say farewell to Sweden. We walked back to our hotel a bit blue about the journey coming to an end and left early the next morning to head home.
Along the way we met wonderful, welcoming people and it will be a trip that we will remember forever.