Second Chances

I think it is possible to go to the wrong place at the wrong time, or for the stars not to align the way you want. That was what happened during Hank and my first trip to Oslo. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy being there, we were more than happy just to be abroad. But it was not one of our favorite places nor somewhere we expected to return. However, with the technique we use, we kind of just go where the plane takes us on the cheapest flight, and in the case of our next trip that place was Oslo.

Our first time to Oslo was the third leg of our journey, after Stockholm and Bergen. We took the train (which was a trip highlight) from Bergen to Oslo. Once in Oslo we made our way to a drab hotel and took off walking. Maybe it was because it was right after New Years, or maybe the cold drives out the people, regardless, even the main thoroughfare’s, rife with shops and restaurants, were inexplicably empty. Further (and not wholly unexpected), the food was expensive. Really expensive. In hindsight, we didn’t stray too far from the main tourist area, which could explain the prices, but we didn’t realize that at the time. We saw some cool sights, but nothing really drew us in to want more and we left Oslo for Amsterdam a few days later excited to move on to our next city.

Gol Stave Church at the open air museum – empty on this freezing day
The Royal Palace
empty and cold summarized our first trip to Oslo

Fate finds its way into everything, and our next trip to Europe was no exception. The cheapest flight options found us, once again, in Oslo. We figured at least we could fight off of jet lag and maybe see something we hadn’t seen before. A hotel makes a big impression, and the difference between this and the last was staggering. Off the heavily footed tourist trails and into a residential community we wandered, a choice we would not soon regret as we found ourselves gazing upon a beautiful sunset right over the water. Oslo being so far north causes a seemingly endless sunset. In and out of buildings we wove, always returning to this stunning sight. This new part of the city, combined with the setting sun, made it feel so much different than before. The next day we continued this trend, wandering through another new area and stumbling on a great, surprisingly affordable meal. It’s funny, sometimes, how traveling works, and on a previous journey we found a love for Edvard Munch. This revelation came after our last trip to Oslo, and, while going over city highlights; we quickly made the Munch Museum our focal point. The day was different and we followed it the same, popping into another museum, having a several cups of coffee, and enjoying the time we had.

the sunset that cast Oslo in a new light
in between buildings the view remained
a perfect meal in a new part of town
souvenirs from the Munch Museum

A city is so much more than just the two days you spend there. As a tourist it is easy to just hit the main points but when you do that you miss so much else. There is always more to see, wherever you go, often it is just a matter of giving it a second chance and finding the beauty you missed before.

My Third European Trip

Just this past winter I toured Europe for the third time. Once again, I travelled with my fiancée, Hank, for our longest trip, 21 days abroad. At this length one begins to bypass the feeling of a vacation and transverse into starting a new life somewhere. It’s so long that you have a moment of appreciation, knowing that a large amount of time has past, yet you have just as many days ahead. We each paid $515.21 round-trip on Norwegian Air. Like our first trip, we got the upgraded tickets to get the benefits of checked bags, seat choice, meals, and drinks. Our tickets were purchased on September 24th, 2016 for our trip spanning December 27th, 2016 to January 16th, 2017. Like it tends to happen, we needed an excuse to take another journey, and once again cheap flights proved to be the perfect reason.

A trend we follow is buying tickets with no particular destination in mind. They were cheap, the time worked out well, and we spent the previous year daydreaming of our last winter trip. This year I was slightly busier with school so we did not plan where we wanted to go until mid-November. Hank did most of the destination specific work. He mapped a few routes and, after some deliberation, we settled on the path that we took. Having such a long time in Europe meant we could extend our stays in certain destinations and visit more stops along the way. We really enjoy planning trips this way, knowing your beginning and your ending but having endless possibilities in the middle.

How we choose the “middle” of the trip is much simpler than it sounds. There are certain places we really want to go, we link them with trains or other routes of transportation, and add in stops that pique our interests. Prague and Bratislava have stood out in our hearts for some time, as they hold a familial history for both of us. We then connect the cities and add the logical stops along the way. This particular trip took us on plane, train, bus, metro, and only a taxi or two.

Here is the path that we took and one I would highly encourage for any travelers. We left Las Vegas on December 27th and after a long direct flight we landed in Oslo, Norway on the 28th. Just a few days later we left Oslo on the 30th and flew to Budapest, Hungary where we would celebrate the start of a new year. We left Budapest on the 2nd of January and took a train to Bratislava, Slovakia where we stayed only one day leaving on the 3rd. An hour-long bus ride brought us to Vienna, Austria and we were here until the 5th. A train brought us to Prague, Czech Republic on the 5th and we stayed here enjoying every second until the 8th. Then, another train ride took us to Dresden, Germany until the 10th when we left for Berlin, Germany. Berlin was a longer stop through the night of the 13th when we flew to Stockholm for our last part of the journey (and one of our favorite cities). We left Stockholm, Sweden on the 16th for a flight back to the US.

red = plane, purple = train, teal = bus

My Second European Trip

My second European trip started much like my first, on a whim. The idea of traveling abroad had been floating in our minds (mine and my fiancé, Hank’s) since my first trip. But what solidified things for us, and what I imagine prompts most travelers, was the discovery of cheap airfare. We each paid $545 for round-trip tickets on Norwegian Airlines. This was an upgraded fare that included meals, drinks, a checked bag, and the option to choose our seats. As we were going to Scandinavia in the dead of winter, we knew that our luggage would be no small matter. Plus, nine hours in the tight confines of an airplane is time best spent next to someone you enjoy. Our trip was set to be from December 26, 2015 to January 12, 2016; pretty long for two people with full-time jobs! Luckily, we had been saving our time off and, with a few federal holidays and weekends mixed in, it all worked out.

One of the great beauties of inner European travel is that, once you’re there, getting anywhere else is relatively easy. We kept this in mind when purchasing our international flights, not necessarily picking dream destinations, but places where ticket prices were cheapest. We knew we’d be going back to Europe at some point so we didn’t need to cram everything in all at once. Many hours were spent deciding on locations, looking at the best areas to stay, and checking trip advisor and Google flights. Our route was dictated by train paths, hidden gems, and recommended spots. Having the bookends planned was exciting because it meant the entire trip was to our discretion. This was Hank’s first time in Europe and our first time together, so we knew it would be special regardless.

We began with the basics, plotting points on a map, keeping our options entirely open. Once we hammered down the places we felt were musts, we looked into transportation. A good mix of airfare and train travel allowed for essential flexibility. The flights were set, but any destination that was travelled to by train was changeable. In fact, we enjoyed Bergen so much that we opted for another day there, and cut a day out of Oslo. This was also beneficial as we originally had Brussels on our tour. However, terrorist activity and heightened threat levels eventually pushed it from our itinerary (with heavy encouragement from our parents).

A visual of our path, red is plane, purple is train

Here is the trip breakdown (which I highly recommend for anyone interested in this area). We landed in Stockholm, Sweden on December 27th and then flew out on December 30th to Bergen, Norway. We stayed in Bergen until January 2nd where we took an incredible train ride to Oslo, Norway’s capital. After Oslo we flew to Amsterdam on January 4th. After three fantastic days we took a train to Hamburg on January 7th. This was a short visit and we left via train on January 9th to head to Copenhagen until January 12th. This was our first attempt at planning a long trip and overall I think we were very successful. Plus, it served as a great learning experience for future trips.