Scandinavian Christmas December 21-31 2015

Laurel and I stand atop the Opera House in Oslo, Norway

We decided to take on the cold, norther part of Europe this year in a whirlwind tour of the Nordic climes. And it began like our usual European adventures, at the mercy of a standby flight. On Friday the 18th we made our way to Atlanta and stood in line for a trip to Paris that did not matriculate. Brian, our gracious travel benefactor was on the line adjusting our destinations in accordance with available seats on the buddy passes he so generously afforded. We got skunked on two French connections and Brian conveyed that nothing was looking good for the entire weekend. It seems as if several others had similar holiday intentions.

As a result, we decided to head to the coast and visit Charleston for a couple of days in hopes that the flights would ease up at the first of the week. We spent time eating great seafood at a place called Hanks and visiting historical sites. Apparently there was a Civil War at some point in time there. We also attended Church at the First Scots Presbyterian for an excellent pre Christmas service. Charleston was a nice diversion but soon we headed back to Atlanta. Brian had relayed that flights to Amsterdam were looking pretty good for Monday. And on Monday afternoon, we waited in a line and it appeared as if we were going to get skunked again. But to our surprise, two stand byers no showed and we got the last two seats on a plane in business elite bound for Amsterdam. Things were looking pretty sweet.

Ten hours passes quickly in comfort and fully reclining seats. I watched about three movies and didn't sleep a wink. There was too much comfort and quality food to be enjoyed. Laurel slept peacefully in front of me. We hit the ground in Amsterdam and immediately booked quality lodging in the heart of the museum district called the Piet Hein Having not slept for a full day, I am usually in the habit of hitting the ground full bore and pushing sleep to adjust to the time. (This proved to be a mistake on the present sojourn as will be discussed in detail later.)



It was raining that day which added to our discomfort level but we barreled through and walked the city as if it were an Olympic sport. I have been to Amsterdam no less than seven times. The city has changed. Far from the seedy, pot smoking, prostitution center of the latter part of last century, Amsterdam embraces more cultural activities. I remember the days when the marijuana coffee shops and brothels dominated the tourist culture but it appears as if the Netherlands has tired of pot and sex tourism. Why? Because they were footing the bill for addicts who camped out in the coffee shops, many from the US. There are stories of US potheads overdosing on their first experiences with hashish and ending up in Netherlands hospitals with significant costs taxed to the locals as a result. Similarly, they have outlawed entirely the sale of hallucinogenic mushrooms for similar reasons. It seems as if the pot legalizing mentality of US culture should take note. Already Colorado has been lamenting the lack of projected tax revenue the pot boon was supposed to provide and rates of addiction have increased along with overdose and even death on cannabis. It is now cheaper to buy pot on the street than legally in many of the states that have decriminalized cannabis. Since I witness the progession of addiction through marijuana on a daily basis, I don't' need to be convinced of the correlations. Marijuana is a powerful, addictive drug that leads to other drug usage. How many pot smokers do you know that are able to quit for any appreciable amount of time?

Still, I reminisced about my own experiences in the city. My first trip was in 1988 and my memory was one of jogging through endless streets lined with canals listening to the Cure on a Sony Walkman. Since that time I have been there with Uncle Larry and Ethel, my brother Todd and I can't remember how many other times I have passed through the place en route to somewhere else. Amsterdam is a truly international town. An interesting tidbit about the city is that it is built entirely upon wooden pylons from the marshy sea. That is why many of the buildings list to one side or another.


We made it over to the Rijksmuseum. It houses many of the Dutch masters and this is it's most prominent exhibit. The Night Watch is enormous. Then Laurel decides to run through a few masters.

By now we had been awake for what seemed like days. Our habit is to purchase a ticket aboard the hop on and hop off tour buses for an overview of the varying cities. We have done this in several countries and European capitals. At one point we were both fully asleep aboard the coach and decided to head back for an early night. I also needed to book a ticket for our next destination the following day. Due to my delay in booking the $79 flight to Stockholm as planned, the seats vaporized and all with which we were left was Oslo, Norway. So I booked tickets for the following day for $129 one way. We were headed for colder North and a new country for me.

Oslo was essentially shut down since we landed the day before Christmas Eve. When I say shut down, I mean closed. We arrived late at night, past midnight. The train from Oslo airport to the city center was about 20 minutes and we were deposited somewhere foreign with no street orientation. Our luggage was minimal so we rolled our little carry ons down dark streets and meandered lost in a new city that was freezing cold. It took us an hour of missed turns to find our lodging in the hotel in the city center.

The next morning there was nothing to do but walk the town and explore this Scandinavian Capital which houses the Nobel Prize Center. I couldn't help but think of all the important people of this world that have passed through those doors.

 Understand that at this latitude, the sun doesn't rise until 10.30 am and sets at 3 pm or so. We had to adjust our days to this change of available lighting. Laurel finds a patch of snow. Norway was experiencing a warm winter.

It was about this time that I was beginning to experience that familiar trickling at the back of the throat that indicates an upcoming illness. True to form and in keeping with our Christmas tradition, I awakened with a full blown throat infection that would dog me for the remainder of the trip. My coughing, hacking and wheezing is soon accompanied by a non stop running nose and eventual full blown sinus infection. Nevertheless, we pressed on for three nights in a beautiful but closed city. Oslo is truly a majestic and beautiful place, albeit very expensive. Meals there are double what you would find in the states. We found this to be true throughout Scandinavia. Fortunately, give the time of year, lodging was quite reasonable along with transportation. After three nights, we were bound for Gothenburg, Sweden aboard a Norwegian train that carried us through some picturesque countryside.

I must have inherited a love of train travel from my Dad. He and I took a train through Turkey one time and it was the first time I had slept on a berth in the gently rocking comfort of a rail conveyance. Trains are a good, cheap way to get around in Europe. I have rented cars and taken buses but to see the country, nothing beats a train. This ride was about four hours into Sweden past ski resorts devoid of snow. I was too sick to even want to ski had there been snow.

We were going to Gothenburg to meet Freddie Johannsen pictured above. Freddie and I are in league to attempt Cho Oyu this Spring and had been corresponding to make the necessary arrangements. Freddie is a friend of Andrea with whom I climbed Muztagh Ata in 2011. I was delighted to meet Freddie in his hometown, sort of. He lives on the outskirts on a farm. I was also glad to see that Freddie and I are the same age. We talked for an hour or so and he then walked us to our hotel in the city center of beautiful Gothenburg, Sweden. Laurel and I really appreciated his kindness and hospitality and I look forward to sharing an expedition with him soon. Our night in Gothenburg was brief, we had a train to catch the next morning quite early and snow had moved in.

It was a beautiful Christmas scene as we caught a taxi to the train station. Today's journey would take us along the coast and over the bridge at Malmo into Denmark. It is the longest road and rail bridge in Europe at 5 miles.

We stopped for a quick lunch and switched trains prior to the crossing. I was amused at this particular offering.

Another short walk from the train station and we were in the capital of Copenhagen, Denmark. This is the town hall. We meandered about in search of our hotel. A note is in order here about hotel procurement. We always book the day of and get special rates through hotwire or expedia. On this journey, our hotels were averaging about $90 per night. And these are at least 3 star places. All were comfortable and situated for maximum sightseeing advantage.

Meanwhile, my illness is hitting full swing. The virus has turned into a big time sinus infection and my energy level and mucousal production are inversely proportionate. It is cold in Scandinavia even during a warm spell. As we spend considerable time outdoors walking about and exploring the town, the wind is fierce and I go through about a box of tissues per day. It is, unfortunately, a familiar routine for those of us who have suffered from sinus issues. Every cold turns into a sinus infection. I had sinus surgery in the 90s and was told that I had the most horrible sinuses the physician had ever seen. At least he was able to convince me to go under the knife. It lasted for about 9 years until I was back to the familiar pattern of two to three infections per year. But pardon my digression. It is just extremely aggravating to get sick every time I travel.

Anyway, we are now parked in Copenhagen. Here are some pics:

I learned some valuable lessons in Copenhagen.

I told Laurel that from this point on, she was paying half, or, in keeping with our theme, going “Dutch”.

Eerie their ability to read my mind?

The oldest part of Copenhagen is an area called Nyehaven. It is a canal that ships enter into and deposit herring, which is the national food. And we ate some of it at varying times. The nastiest native meal consumed was in Oslo whereupon my girlfriend, the food scientist, ate something called ruddefisk. It is a fermented cod that has been buried in the ground and resurrected. Nastiness. The herring was OK, just expensive. Understand that meals in Scandy are twice what they are here. A McDonalds will set you back at least 11 bucks for cheap stuff. And for those alcohol drinkers, forget it. Apparently, the Norwegians tax it to the tune of 80 percent and the Danes aren't much easier.

Food and drink is, in the great Northern latitudes of Europe, pricey. Who pays that for infected mushrooms? And Puke?


Apparently Laurel was trying to tell me something here. Do you notice?



The prices were enough to leave one, “aghast”.

Laurel spent a lot of time looking at rings. She dreamt of rings.

She is a food scientist, so this seemed appropriate.

Along with pics of herring. Laurel always finds great little out of the way dining. And we make a point to go native as much as possible. After all, the joy of traveling to different places is experiencing local culture.

Rest assured you can buy that expensive alcohol on the street, though. Currency throughout Scandinavia is some form of Krone, Kroner etc. They do not accept Euro or Dollars which made things rather difficult. Especially if your credit card is fickle and prone to cancel at the drop of a foreign charge as are mine. It doesn't matter that I contacted them prior to traveling, they still look for any reason to fraud alert and stop payment on something which leaves you in quite a lurch overseas. I had several issues with credit cards. We have learned that if your card doesn't have the new chip technology, you are in a world of hurt. So I busted out my new chip card only to have Slate visa contact me via email to try to question all these overseas expenditures. This after Citibusiness canceled my card while we were in Charleston. Apparently, after not getting a flight to Paris on that Friday, we checked in to the Wingate by Marriott near the Atl airport and purchased a thousand dollars in Paris. What I think happened was that the guy took my card, went behind the counter and swiped it then sent it to his buddies overseas who started ringing up charges. I called the Marriot and informed them of what could have happened. In essence, don't let people leave with your card, I suppose.

After four nights in Copenhagen visiting castles, churches, museums, canals and eating, it was time to start thinking about our return. We were scheduled to be back on the 3rd but given our troubles getting out we decided to start trying to get home on New years Eve. We knew that was a good time to go. Problem is, we had to get to Brussels to do so. That involved another flight at 6.30 am. It meant that we had to wake up at 3 am, get on the train in Central station Copenhagen, make our way to Kastrup airport and fly an hour and a half down to Belgium. The joys of international travel include going through two sets of security and almost missing our flight as a result. Why you need to do this twice is beyond me. But the US security is much tighter than EU security, I can promise.

As a result, we had a very long day and I went without sleep for 48 hours. We got on a flight to Atlanta and arrived without incident although there were fresh terror alerts in Brussels for the New Years festivities. I was in full blown sinus sickness by now and wishing to get to a clinic for some antibiotics. As we landed on New Years Eve, that was quite impossible. We were able to join Brian and Ashley who so graciously made this trip possible for us and have a sushi dinner before hitting the road for Tennessee.

We made it as far as Dalton, GA and rang in the new year staring at the back of eyelids. Dog tired we pulled off and grabbed a room for 10 hours of rest. Arriving in Knoxville after stopping at several walk in clinics, all closed due to the holiday, New Year's day found me at a minute clinic getting diagnosed and prescribed antibiotics. It was, outside of the illness, a great adventure and we can add three countries to our resume, four for Laurel to include the Netherlands. We were extremely blessed to experience all we crammed in two weeks.

Happy New Year to all.

I leave you with a panorama from the Oslo Opera House.