The Surprise Trip

In March, D. and I were planning our weekend trips and I think as a joke, I said I would plan a surprise trip. I didn’t think we would actually make it three months without him wondering where we were going. I thought he would completely figure it out. And though on the train to the airport on Friday I asked him for three guesses and the first one was Norway (the second two were Finland and Portugal), neither he nor I knew exactly what awaited us.

We arrived at the airport pleasantly early, but when I read on the departures screen that our flight had a 30-minute delay, I started to panic a little. I had booked an overnight train that left 1 hour and 45 minutes after our planned landing and if our flight was delayed too much, we’d miss it. And after 3 “twenty minute delays” going to Croatia (read: a one hour delay), I was nervous! Would we have to rent a car and drive through the middle of the night? Thankfully, boarding started with precisely a thirty minute delay and we were taking off exactly 45 minutes late, so I thought we’d still make it. I knew we had to be on the airport train to Oslo S by 10:50 to catch our 11:25 train.

Then.

Then the pilot said: “One runway is closed in Oslo (by now, D. knew where we were going) so we may have to wait a bit to land.” YIKES. Then, like something out of movie, we land on time, but then it seems like we taxi to the farthest possible terminal. And then, “Since this is an international arrival, a bus will take you to the terminal.” For real? Buses mean slow in airports. We missed the first bus, since we were seated in the back of the plane…so then you have to wait for everyone else to get off. And the last person off (again, à la Hollywood) was a little old man. The second ticked in my head louder than a rock concert.

We proceeded to run through the airport…and I passed a clock that read 10:52! AHH. And then I saw the train leave right as we were coming down the stairs. I pouted my lips and looked up at D. and for a split second, I though we’d missed it…BUT! The actual time was 10:34 and we could catch the 10:40 train. Safe!

As a reward for all of the anxiety about getting to the train, we treated ourselves to a sleeper cabin. The conductor invited us to step into his office to confirm; his office, of course, was a booth in the café car. If you ever want to feel like a high roller, this is the way to travel (and it’s not much more than the price of a three-star double hotel room in a major Spanish city). There were chocolates on our pillows, water bottles, electric sockets…a sink!! We’d be arriving to Myrdal at 4:30 in the morning, so they even give you a personal wake up call.

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A few minutes before our arrival, D. opened the window. “Is it snowing where we’re going?” “No,” I responded. All of the photos of Flåm I’d looked at were green and lush in the summer months. Myrdal, an hour train away, couldn’t be much different. But, when I looked out the window (in full daylight since we were in Scandinavia where days are long this time of year), there was a ton of snow. Way too much to melt and turn green in the next ten minutes.

We got off the train and the “mountain town” where we disembarked was nothing more than 4 houses and an inn, surrounded by five feet of snow. There was no one else at the train station, but two other guys who’d gotten off our train with us and the railroad workers who were fixing rail lines on a very early morning shift. D. and I decided to kill some time by going out for a walk…but since we left our snowshoes at home, we didn’t make it very far. Once sufficiently chilled, we walked back to the station, found a bench and slept and read online news articles for the next three or four hours as we waited for our 9:40 train.

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Myrdal. Snowing. 4 am.

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For perspective…

As we went down the mountain later than morning, things got greener with every 100 meters of elevation. My fear of walking into a winter wonderland was quickly assuaged as we started to see plants, plants with buds, and finally plants with leaves. The cloudy skies obscured some of the marvelous scenery, but arriving into a very green Flåm was a major relief. (The brochures hadn’t lied after all!) At the suggestion of our boat guides, we found a delicious little café in a red cabin and ate the most expensive scrambled eggs ever. It wasn’t expensive like tourist-trap expensive. It was expensive because Norway is expensive; even a shawarma (Middle Eastern-turned-Euro pita sandwiches-street food in a word) costs 4 times as much. The ambience and good humor of the chef made up for it. He asked us what we wanted and whipped things up 15 minutes before the restaurant was even open.

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Seeing a little bit of green…

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See the red speck? That’s a “mysterious woman” who lures men into the mountains, according to legend. She enters the scene unexpectedly with blaring Norwegian music…and well, I couldn’t do anything but laugh!

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Our cozy brunch spot!

With our bellies pleasantly full of warm food and coffee, we headed for the fjordsafari. Rick Steves’ cites the “thrilling speeds” of this speed-dinghy tour of the fjords and he is right! Suited up with our loaner boat suits, hats, and gloves (which felt SO warm the first hour…and not warm enough the second), our delightful, relaxed guide showed us some beautiful spots and recounted a few interesting anecdotes. Even though the boat speeds were occasionally high (to our delight!), the tour never felt rushed.

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All suited up! (And still warm and dry).

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View from the boat.

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Waterfalls. Goats. What more could you ask for? (D. in the foreground).

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Cute little towns dot the waterfront. Some only have 14…or 2…people left in them!

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After all of that adventure, it was nap time. Our hostel was about a km from the main action, but it wasn’t a bad walk. Later in the evening, we asked for another meal suggestion from the guides and they pointed us to the Marina. Lasagna daily special right on the water? Yes, please. We sipped our tea as we watched the 3000 person Princess cruise ship head off into the fjord. Post dinner, we went for tea number two in the brewery, whose delightful fireplace should be enough to lure any visitor for a sit, a chat, and a bevvie.

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Cruise ship departing over my head!

The next morning, we did the whole trip in reverse, except this time we could see the scenery between Myrdal and Oslo. And, the sun came out! Though 5 hours on a train is a little long, it was mostly comfortable and easy enough. We had time for a quick walk around the Oslo opera house before heading back to Berlin (which, in comparison to Norway, felt positively balmy on arrival.)

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That is the roof of a house. BURIED IN SNOW! There were loads of these.

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Seeing sun for the first time on the train back…

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It was too bright to look at the snow without glasses…

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You can walk up and on the roof of the Opera house!

Despite the fact that we had just returned from a trip, Monday was a good day for both of us. D. got some good results at the lab and I slowly revisited my “Huevos” article. I started reading book 1 of my reading list…I only got through the introduction, but I’m hoping to return to the library tomorrow to finish the rest.

IMG_3932Light b’day celebrations for D. at a café yesterday afternoon. Happy Birthday!!

So, A., I’m grateful for a terrific weekend full of green scenery. I’m thankful for a travel partner who was willing to break the budget with me. Also, the b’day cake I made turned out great even though the oven is ornery. Also that I’ve been able to relax and regroup several times on this article…Rewrite. Rewrite. Maybe something will emerge eventually. And for great photos of T. & R. at a wedding this weekend.

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