Monday, July 11, 2011

Copenhagen, Denmark

It's Saturday, July 9 at 10:30 AM, Denmark time. I'm in the Copenhagen airport. The first of my two-leg flight home doesn't leave till 2 PM, so I got nothing but time. I took the train here to the airport instead of a taxi because the train station was only a 10-minute walk from my hotel. On Wednesday, the taxi ride took about a half-hour. The train ride was only two stops: half that time. Weird.

Anyway, let's hop into the WABAC machine and go to Wednesday.

The two flights from Nuuk, Greenland to Copenhagen, Denmark were uneventful. The first part was on a small plane, while the second part was on a 747 -- both Greenland Air.

I got to the hotel in Copenhagen around 9 PM. I wanted to get a bite to eat before everything closed, and the area I was staying in didn't seem to have a lot going for it. All I could see were expressways, train tracks, office buildings and chain hotels (Radisson Blu skyscraper, for example).

Reception said around the corner was a partner hotel with a restaurant. They only had about four things on their menu, since it was way past normal dinner time. The one thing looked interesting, but it was like a five-course meal and seemed to heavy, so I opted for a bacon cheeseburger and fries. It was really good. Had some orange sauce on there and radishes (and obviously lettuce; also, a cherry tomato on top speared with a toothpick). With it I drank a bottle of Carlsburg beer. Very tasty: not too much of a lager, and not too watered down.

I went to bed around midnight, even though my body was in Greenland time (8 PM). Surprisingly, I fell asleep without too much problem.

On Thursday, I purchased a breakfast ticket from reception for 60 kroner, then headed to the restaurant on the second floor. They only had bread, lunchmeat and cereal. I opted for some grainy cereal with nuts and dried bananas. I washed it down with orange juice.

After freshening up, I walked about less than a kilometer to the main tourist office, Wonderful Copenhagen.

My original impression on Wednesday was wrong (aren't first impressions almost always erroneous?). I wasn't in a desolate area. It was pretty close to the city centre. Everything seems so spread out because bicycle strips and pedestrian paths get generous swaths of concrete, not as wide as the street but big enough. They actually need the plentiful bike paths. I would say there's almost as many bikes on the road as cars. And like in Stockholm, pedestrians need to watch where they're walking, or speeding bicyclists will clip them.

Wonderful Copenhagen was ultra-modern, with lighted floors and walls, glass panels with information every few feet, and more than enough booklets of stuff to do. And they were adequately staffed; like Nuuk, you had to take a number.

With a city map in hand, I went to the adjoining store, a bakery, and got a dessert I forget the name of. It had whipped cream and cherries (with stem) on top; on the bottom was a crumb-like concoction. Yummy. I followed it up with a bottle of Coke I got from a nearby hotdog stand.

Because it was supposed to rain Friday, I decided to do as much today, Thursday, outside. First stop was across the street from Wonderful Copenhagen: Tivoli.

It's an amusement park first erected around 1860. Lots of rides in there and cool crazy architecture, like a clown's head on a pillar, busts of Roman emperors, a Ming Dynasty temple, and an 18th-century ship in a lake with oversized electronic mosquitoes, a real live white duck, and koi fish.

After spending about two hours in there, I walked up Hans Christian Anderson Boulevard, named after the Danish author of such stories as "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Little Mermaid". At one intersection, I stumbled across a sandwich shop that named their treats after American celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe, Hillary Clinton, Oprah, and Katherine Hepburn. You don't need too many brain cells to guess which one I got. That's right, Jane Fonda! Seriously though, I mainly got it 'cause it didn't have any meat; I was in the mood for something vegetarian. The sandwich had lettuce, tomato, and the white stuff vegetarians eat -- I think it's some type of cheese. And with my cold pretty much kicked, I had a Carlsburg orange juice with green tea. I ate while walking to my next destination. When I went to open my drink, I saw that you needed a bottle opener. Crap. Fortunately, I called up my college partying past and used the top edge of an electric box to open it. Got it on the second try!

Next up was a Botanical Garden. About the same type of stuff I had seen last year in Glasgow, though they did have they supersized lily pads -- at least three feet across, and in one of the greenhouses they had two white-painted, metal, spiral staircases so you could get a bird's-eye view. Oh, it was hot up there. Had to be in the nineties, compared to outside where it was no more than 69 degrees.

Around the block and across the street was Rosenborg Castle. My-oh-my, what a sight. It used to a vacation home for some king and storing place for their prized possessions. The place was huge and ornate. I couldn't believe the opulence in there. Fresco ceilings, ginormous oil paintings, royal crowns. And on the third floor were the king and queen's thrones. Really impressive with the three life-sized lions in front of the thrones; not sure what the lions were made out of, but they were shiny (sliver, maybe?).

In back of the castle was the King's Garden, which is now a public park. It's basically nine blocks of flat grass that stretch about 100 yards. Very tranquil. Unfortunately, that's when my camera's battery died. Bummer.

I walked back to my hotel. I took a different route to experience something new, but I did a bit of a roundabout because the train tracks (two dozen tracks, perhaps) were in the way, so I had to walk a kilometer around until the next bridge appeared. Needless to say, I was glad to put my feet up in my hotel room. I must've walked at least five miles total.

For dinner, I walked to a restaurant about six blocks past Wonderful Copenhagen. My travel book recommended it, though they failed to mention that it was in the red-light district. I'm assuming that, but it did have all the tell-tale signs: a couple hourly hotels per block; vagrants lounging on stoops, spitting on the sidewalk; and a tattoo parlor every block. Anyway, the restaurant had some weird deal where you had to reserve and pay online; sounded like they were only interested in large parties not loner tourists like myself. It worked out 'cause an Italian place was on the next block. They had a special for a four-course meal. When I entered, I was the only one there besides two women finishing up in the corner.

The meal was superb. For a starter, the owner (I'm guessing) brought over micro shrimp in a bowl with red sauce and some other stuff in there. Next up were six cheese ravioli in a white thick sauce. The main course was veal. Dessert was something called Symphony Dessert. Loved all of it!

Amusement ride at Tivoli that you could see for miles. (Copehangen, Denmark; July 7, 2001)

Friday I had breakfast at the hotel again. Sixty kroner equals about $12 US. May sound like a lot for cereal and OJ, but I didn't mind paying for the convenience.

Once I finally left my hotel, it was raining. I contemplated calling for a taxi but decided to hoof it. I went next store to Wonderful Copenhagen to a souvenir shop so I could buy postcards for my family. Next store to that was a football shop. I bought a Denmark soccer jersey for 499 kroner. I'd only used my credit card twice in Denmark: for the cab and dinner Wednesday night. I had a lot of kroners left over from Greenland.

I then purchased a ticket for the Hop On Hop Off bus tour. It lasted an hour and a half, drove by the main tourist sites. I took some pics, but the rain hurt the quality.

For lunch I ducked into a meat place on the corner next to Nationalmuseet (National Museum). On the tour they mentioned a Danish specialty is
smørrebrød aka an open-faced sandwich, so I got that: pork. It's basically a meal with two slices of bread. I really enjoyed it, since I rarely eat pork at home. I liked how they had fried onions and mushrooms on top of the meat. And the salad included nuts and cold (cream-tasting) corn. For a beverage I had a Carlsburg lager. Not as good as the regular Carlsburg I had Wednesday night.

By now it was 2:30 PM. Not a lot of time with most touristy places closing at 4 or 5 PM. I had wanted to go to
Nationalmuseet, the Christianborg Palace, and Amalienborg Palace, the winter residence of Denmark's royal family. But I only had time for one site, so I went to Christianborg Palace, where the queen entertains guests, which was two blocks away from the restaurant.

I got there in just enough time for the three o'clock tour. They wouldn't let you take your umbrella on the tour, but they did offer free lockers, which I thought was nice.

The tour was fascinating. Sadly I couldn't take pictures, but its opulence nearly matched the Rosenborg Castle. All the rooms and history there. Fascinating!

Afterwards, I took a different way back to the hotel (without getting lost). I did stop in to see if any museums low on my to-do list were open till 6 PM, since it was now 4:30, but they all closed at 5. Damn, wish I had an extra day here.

I chilled at the hotel for a bit. The sky cleared up, and around 7 PM I headed back out towards an area called Tallink that I had seen on the bus tour. Lovely area -- has a canal running through it.

I had dinner at some fancy corner cafe/restaurant called Europa. I ate something I don't think I've ever had: monkfish. Tasted like your typical fillet, though it was two inches high on the ends. It also had asparagus wrapped in bacon. Awesome. For dessert I ate a chocolate souffle with vanilla ice cream. Ah!

I ambled through a shopping district, Stroget, to get back to the hotel. It was cobblestoned and had several street performers, such as mimes and musicians. Very nice.

Back at the hotel, I packed up for the flight home. Lovely vacation. Glad I came. It was an eye-opening experience. I used to put Scandinavia on a pedestal because of their strong safety net but besides that they're very similar to America.

For future vacations, I don't think I'm going to do a bunch of cities in a couple weeks. I'll just go to a city for five days or a week. Maybe Paris next summer. . . .

Little Mermaid statue. Pretty interesting: the head is a popular ballerina from around 1911, and the body is the sculptor's wife. The entire thing was supposed to be the ballerina, but once she found out about the nudity she almost backed out. (Copenhagen, Denmark; July 8, 2011)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nuuk, Greenland

It's now Wednesday, July 6, 5:45 AM, Greenland time. I'm in the Nuuk airport. My flight leaves at 7:35 for the hour travel time to Kangerlussuaq. Then the plane for Copenhagen leaves at 11:40 AM. I'm supposed to arrive in Denmark at 8 PM. The day's not as long as it sounds because Copenhagen is four hours ahead, so I'll be in Denmark at 4 PM Greenland time.

Anyway, back on Monday, in Reykjavík, I got up at 7 AM for my noon flight to Nuuk, Greenland. On Sunday afternoon, the owner of the inn called the shuttle, which was supposed to come at 8 AM, so I stood on the corner where the Flybus dropped me off on Friday (a half block from the inn). About 8:10 one of those Iceland Expedition vans pulled up in front of a hotel two houses from the Alfhouse Guesthouse. I asked the driver if he was going to the BSI Bus Terminal. He said no. So I returned to standing on the corner in front of the Icelandic Salvation Army.

Around 8:30, still no Flybus. I went back to the guesthouse and saw that the shuttle was actually Iceland Expedition not Flybus, and it didn't go to the bus terminal but the airport. Damn, I should've read the fine print!

I headed into town, a two-minute walk. A short row of taxis usually were parked in front of the main tourist center. I had the cabbie drive me to the bus terminal. I could've walked the kilometer to it -- God knows I had enough time -- but walking in light rain with luggage in tow isn't my idea of a good time.

At the bus terminal, I bought a ticket for the first Flybus shuttle to the airport: 9:30 AM.

The shuttle made it to the airport in better time than the one on Friday. Maybe it helped that this driver wasn't squinting into the horizon like Friday's driver (put those bifocals on mate!). Got to the airport around 10:10 AM.

In the terminal, I didn't see my flight on any of the boards. A woman at the one of check-in desks informed me that my flight is at the other airport. WHAT!?! A small city like Reykjavík has two airports? By now it was 10:30. The airport employee suggested I take a shuttle. I opted for a cab, which cost me almost a $100 US. That's what I get for not reading the fine print twice (once on the shuttle service and once on the airport code on my plane ticket).

The correct airport was coincidentally across the road from the bus terminal. Real small. They had one gates and one runway, and I couldn't check in until a half-hour before takeoff.

The plane was only half-full. Not a lot of people going to Greenland, I guess. Kinda nice to have a window view with the seat next to me empty so I could throw my jacket.

The Air Iceland plane landed in Nuuk around 1:15 PM; it was a three hour-plus flight (Greenland is two hours behind Iceland).

The Nuuk airport is about as small as the one in Reykjavík. The baggage claim has a conveyor belt that's only about four feet inside the building; you could see outside through the vertical plastic flaps as they loaded the luggage from the truck, with the plane only 10 feet away.

Outside it was 45 degrees with 15-to-25-mile winds. I grabbed a taxi that drove me five kilometers to my hotel apartment. When I went to pay the cabbie, neither of my credit cards would take because apparently in Greenland you need to type in PIN codes. Reluctantly, I paid with my debit card, which has a PIN.

Checking in turned out to be another nightmare. Neither of my credit cards would work without a PIN (I don't know it) and they could run my debit card through but because it's a MasterCard they would charge me 4% extra.

I headed into town, which is only about two blocks away and went to the bank. I could only withdraw $2,000 Danish kroner (about $400 US), so I went back to my room and grabbed a bunch of Euros I had left over from Finland. I traded these in at the bank for kroner along with about $240 US; that gave me an extra 2,000 kroner. Oh, and I tried to call my VISA credit card company, but I had trouble getting through from the room in my hotel, and the kid at reception wasn't too helpful, mainly due to language barriers (more on that later).

With enough kroner to get me by, I wandered around. I was a little under-dressed with those wicked winds. My pants, short-sleeve T-shirt, mock turtleneck and Australia cotton/polyester barely kept me warm, but I could've used another layer. I took as many pictures as possible because the next day the BBC weather website said to expect heavy rain.

Across the street from the bank was the big hotel in Nuuk, sandwiched between a convenience store and a sports store, with construction going on out front. I headed up to the fifth floor to their restaurant.

Great dinner! Service was top-notch. With my cold still going, I got hot tea. For a starter, I had scallops. Main course was rack of lamb. All outstanding. And I went a little crazy with the bread, so no room for dessert.

Afterwards, I headed back to the hotel apartment and lied low. There were tons of public housing around me. I wasn't sure what to expect, especially since the inside of my door jamb was carved up, as if somebody had tried to break in with a crowbar.

A few blocks from my hotel. (Nuuk, Greenland; July 4, 2011)

On Tuesday, I woke up before my alarm went off at 7 AM. It hadn't started raining yet. I headed two blocks to the downtown area where there's a supermarket, which I had visited a few times on Monday. Attached to it is a bakery that opened at 6:30. I got a square-shaped pastry about an inch thick and sugary in some parts. Yum.

Back in my room, I planned the day's itinerary. I wanted to start things right then and there at 8 AM, but most of Nuuk's few tourist spots don't open till 10.

Since I had time to kill, I headed to reception, which was only open from 8 AM to 4 PM, to pay my bill. It came out to 1,600 krona (about $300 US), which I paid in cash.

Real quick: it doesn't seem a lot of people here speak English. Presented a problem in some instances. And when they did speak, there was trouble communicating. For example, on Monday, the kid at reception said in order to pay my bill in cash I needed to go to the bank and make a "deposit". I thought I had to deposit the money in the hotel's account, but I found out on Tuesday he meant "withdraw". From what I read, Greenlandic is the primary language, followed by Danish (since Greenland is a republic of Denmark), then English.

Around 9:30 it started to rain. Lovely.

Around 10:30 or so, I called a cab to take me to the Nuuk Tourism office. It was only a 10-to-15-minute walk but I didn't feel like getting soaked, even though the wind wasn't as fierce as on Monday.

Nuuk Tourism didn't have any stamps for the postcards I had picked up the day before in what I believe is the city's only bookstore. Though I wished I had waited to buy the postcards at Nuuk Tourism because they had a better selection. Oh, well.

What was cool about Nuuk Tourism was in the back they had a little Santa workshop. Cute.

Then it was off in another taxi for downtown.

I withdrew another 2,000 kroner from the bank. Glad it took. I had feared it wouldn't let me do so because less than 24 hours had elapsed. Now I had plenty of money. No need to worry about using my credit cards. And my next (and last) stop will be Copenhagen, which uses kroner too.

I also hit the post office to get postage for the postcards. What's interesting about retail outlets is they make you take a number and you wait to be called. It happened here at the post office, the supermarket, the bank and the bakery. Oh, and what also caught my attention at the post office was all the electronics they sold. iPads, iPods, cameras, headphones, etc.

I then visited that sports store next to the hotel where I had dinner Monday night. Unfortunately, they didn't have any football jerseys.

By now it was 11:30 AM. I crossed the street to hit a cafe that recommended. It was over top a bar. Though the cafe was more like a restaurant. I ordered penne with chopped-up chicken in an Alfredo-like sauce. The hot green tea kept my cold in check, which is lingering.

I then realized I wanted to visit the Greenland National Museum; it's 50 yards from Nuuk Tourism. I'm so stupid! Should've went there before. Grrrr. . . .

The museum consisted of about five different buildings. Some interesting stuff in there, like a family of mummies from 500 to 1,000 years ago, and an exhibit on Norse farms, the latter which settled around 1,300 AD but eventually left because (it's assumed) either because of the weather or their goods weren't valued anymore by Europe. Fascinating stuff.

I then tried to walk back to the hotel. On the way, I took pictures of Nuuk's main church and some statues. But I got a little lost -- couldn't find the artery that led to my lodgings, so I hailed a cab.

When I got back to my room, I realized my camera was AWOL. Beautiful. I called the taxi company. About two hours later the driver returned with it. I couldn't believe I'd lost it because when I got out of the cab I remember making sure it was in my jacket pocket. Must've slipped out at the last second, and my last glance in the backseat didn't see it because the upholstery was black like my camera.

With that little piece of stupidity and drama behind me, I walked to Nuuk Art Museum, next store to my hotel. It didn't look like much from the outside but they have numerous rooms to display mostly modern artwork. Some of it blew me away. I especially liked these little white figures (should've asked what they're made out of). Some were quite horrific. They merged faces you might find on totem poles with bodies of seals or sharks.

I was really lucky to visit that museum. Apparently they're only open on Saturday and Sundays, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer.

Back at my hotel, I figured out how to download pictures from my camera to my computer. It's been so long since I've done so that it took awhile to figure it out. I had pictures on there going all the way back to August 2010. Downside of having a mega memory card -- I get lazy.

For dinner, I wanted to go to a restaurant down by Nuuk Tourism, but the Lonely Planet website said reservations were a must and I called several times. No dice. The phone rang and rang; one time it was busy. Around 6:30 I gave up. If it hadn't been raining I would've hiked a kilometer down the road to a cafe I saw on Monday, so instead I went to a pizzeria around the corner. Once again, language barriers prevented me from understanding the menu. Would've liked to gotten something different but the cashiers and I had a "failure to communicate", so I just pointed at the first thing on the menu, which turned out to be a plain pizza. Surprisingly, it was good, thanks to a soft crust and copious oregano cooked in the cheese.

I turned in around 9:30 PM, since I had to get up at 5 AM on Wednesday for my flight.

Before I go, one thing I noticed in Nuuk is the major Inuit population. That may not even be the proper term, since they've been Westernized. From what I read, about 10% of the population is Danish. I guess most of the Danes are here for work, since there's construction everywhere. Crazy.

Around the corner from my hotel apartment, a little after 7 AM. (Nuuk, Greenland; July 5, 2011)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Scandivavian vacay update

I just went back and added a photo for each day. Enjoy!

Reykjavík, Iceland

It's currently 12:30 PM, Iceland time, on Monday, July 4th. I'm on an Air Iceland plane bound for Nuuk, Greenland, the next-to-last stop on my Scandinavian summer vacation (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, Greenland isn't technically part of Scandinavia, but it's close enough).

Back on Friday, I arrived in Iceland's capital, Reykjavík, to rainy weather. I hopped in a Flybus for about $20 US to take me into town -- a 45-minute/hour ride. The bus pulled into BSI Terminal. From there, I hopped on a smaller bus for a 5-to-10-minute ride to my lodgings. The bus dropped me off at the corner. I walked a half a block to Alf Guesthouse, whose theme is elves.

I saw no reception desk or anything, but a lodger told me on the second floor, room 5 had a Post It with "John". I threw my luggage in there and grabbed the skeleton key that was on the inside keyhole.

By this point, it was late afternoon. I wandered into town. As I had expected, Reykjavík is a sleepy city. It's about what you'd imagine a city with 120,000 residents; 200,000 if you include the surrounding six suburbs. The city centre has enough going on, but it definitely doesn't have the hustle and bustle of big Scandinavian cities I had already visited.

Since Reykjavík is a small city, the streets are easier to navigate. I found the main tourist office with little problem. I got a printout (the size of a receipt) of currency exchanges. One US dollar equals 114 Iceland Krona. And I asked an unsmiling girl behind the tourism desk where I could pick up some cold medicine, because on the flight I sensed a cold forming in my throat. She directed me to a pharmacy, but it was closing in 10 minutes at 6 PM.

I tried running to the pharmacy but I couldn't find out. I headed back towards the tourism office and cruised down one of Reykjavík's main commercial strips, Austurstraeti. I stopped at an ATM and got out 40,000 krona (about $350 US). I then got a little snack at a 24-hour convenience store.

Back at the guesthouse, or inn, I ran into the owner, Kristjan. I think he was expecting me to ring him when I arrived but I told I saw no reception desk or anything. On my last night there, I did see a black bell before the staircase. If that was how to contact him, it's interesting he didn't say anything.

Anyway, with my Lonely Planet travel book in hand, around 7 o'clock, I trekked in search of a recommended restaurant. I kinda took the long way. When I did find it, it was close to 8 PM, and there was at least a half-hour wait -- real small place.

I walked towards Austurstraeti and wound up on a touristy street called Skolavordustigur. Since I was staying in a city by the sea, I slid into a place that served seafood. As soon my feet crossed the threshold, I knew I was in the right place. ABBA played from the speakers.

I got a seat by the window and overheard that this restaurant just opened in April or May.

For an appetizer, the waitress brought over what looked like a two-ounce flower pot. Inside was some stuff that looked like soil (colored clay like the pot) with a small leafy thing jutting out. The waitress said to sink the spoon to the bottom. I did and there was some white, creamy stuff down there. It was good. Tasted like a dessert, but not too sweet.

For the main course, I got pasta and seafood. From the description on the menu, I thought it was going to be like linguine on a plate with some seafood. It turned out to be a salad served in a big brown bowl, which reminded me of something from Gilligan's Island. The salad didn't fill the whole bowl, just the bottom. The seafood was shrimp and, I think, lobster meat, covered by penne and lettuce. All of that sat in a sauce that looked like diluted Alfredo. Good stuff. And because the exchange rate is in America's favor, it only cost about $23 US or so.

Street I stayed on in Reykjavík. (Reykjavík, Iceland; July 1, 2011)

Saturday morning, I got up at 8 AM and headed down to the kitchen for the free breakfast, which lasted until 10 AM. I had cornflakes and a glass of orange juice. Afterwards, I paid my bill. The night before, Kristjan told me he preferred cash, so I gave him 33,00 krona (about $300 US for three nights) from my ATM withdrawal the night previous. I would have liked to charge it, but since I kinda got off on the wrong foot by not ringing him when I arrived, I figured I'd do cash. That left me with almost 700, so I'd have to count my kronas.

After breakfast, I finished doing my blog detailing my Oslo visit. And the inn had free wireless, which was nice.

Then, like on Friday night, I visited some souvenir shops. This time I did it on a new street, Laugavegur. My window-shopping had another purpose: I was killing time until the pharmacy opened at 11 AM.

After picking up some stuff at the pharmacy, I eventually found a store for the postcards to send home. Then it was off to another store where I got a football jersey and gift for my (now) six-year-old nephew. His birthday was on June 29. I got him a piece of cloth that you can use as a headband, scarf, cap, and a few other uses. Hopefully, he'll like it. The brand is Buff, which is his nickname.

Real quick: one thing I found interesting was how some of Reykjavík's one-way streets have no curbs. The sidewalks pretty much merge into the streets; you can see where they shift by the coloring and direction of the grey bricks, but it's easy to miss if you're not paying attention. Weird.

Anyway, for lunch, I picked up a sandwich and OJ at the 24-hour convenience store. I then bought a ticket from the tourism office for a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus ride.

Around 2:30, I stood under the blood-red Hop-On-Hop-Off bus shelter because it was drizzling. The tour, which goes in an 60-minute loop and departs at the top of the hour, passed me by at 3 PM because the stop was across the street. I thought the bus was going to U-turn and pick me wrong. My mistake. Kinda weird how they have a bus shelter but no buses stop at it. Guess it's just an advertisement.

So I took the 4 PM tour, last one for the day. It was nice. Took some pictures. Since Reykjavík isn't all that big, there were only about six stops or so.

For dinner, I stopped in the Laundromat Cafe on Austurstraeti. They have a sign out front that says something like: "Feel free to breastfeed here. We like boobs and babies!"

To take a break from the seafood scene, I got a veggie burger, which came with deep-fried steak fries. And since my cold was starting to kick in overdrive, I drank Camellia tea.

Afterwards, I hit a cafe about a half a kilometer away down by this lake. Oddly enough, there were a lot of Americans there. I didn't contribute much to the conversation because my cold deposited a deafening hum in my head. I hung out for about an hour, until 8 PM.

Back at the guesthouse, I heated up a small cup of water for the medicine I had picked up at the pharmacy. It was supposed to be good for the throat and was a sedative. I drank it and went to bed a little after 9 PM. I slept soundlessly for a solid five hours before it was time for a bladder break. The complete opposite of Friday night, when I tossed and turned. Maybe it was all the light spilling in the room thanks to the thin white curtains. The sun only sets from 11 PM to 3 AM in July, and from what I heard, it doesn't go completely dark during those four hours.

Me getting arty with a pic of the lake about a kilometer from my lodgings. (Reykjavík, Iceland; July 2, 2011)

On Sunday, after breakfast, I headed down to the dock where they have whale-watching tours. Unlike Saturday, when it was cloudy, Sunday it was raining. My umbrella wasn't much help, thanks to the 20-mph winds. Originally, I had wanted to do a volcano-viewing tour, but you need to take a bus that takes three hours to get there. Not my idea of fun, besides they left at 9 AM, and it was now 9:30.

Before I could go whale watching, I would at least need a wool hat (or as the McKenzie Brothers call it, a tuque). Had to buy one first, and maybe later it would warm a little.

Here's the thing about Reykjavík. It never gets warm. My whole time there, the temperature never went above 59 degrees. And it looks like in the winter it's usually no colder than 30 degrees. Not too bad, but it looks like it's frequently drizzling. The locals seem use to it, 'cause hardly any carry umbrellas. Rain slickers seem to be mandatory if you're gonna live there.

One more thing: for a city of 100,000, I didn't see a lot of locals on the streets. Tons of tourists, but not a lot of Reykjavík residents. I mean, there were some, but for their population size I thought there'd be more people out on the weekend. Maybe they spend a lot of time indoors. Then again, the city is pretty spread out.

Anyway, I had brought only about a week's worth of clothes, so it was time to do laundry. Reykjavík only has two laundromats. One is at the City Hostel, where it's drop-off service only. The other one is -- you saw it coming -- the Laundromat Cafe. I got there at 10 AM, when they supposedly opened, but the top floor, the cafe, was half-full. I headed downstairs to the laundromat, and that's when the fun began ;)

They only have three washers and three dyers. Only two washers and one dryer worked. Glad I got there early, because a good number of tourists had laundry to do. I had two loads to do, and didn't get out of there until 3 PM. On the plus side, I spoke with some cool blokes. One was an engineer, I think, who'd been in Reykjavík for eight weeks. He grew up in Rochester, New York, was now based in Atlanta, and his wife lived in the Middle East. He said he was applying for a permanent visa to live in Iceland. Once he hands in the paperwork, he has to leave the country, so he'll vacation with one of his two 20-something sons in France or Germany. He voiced his perplexity over having to leave while they review his application -- no other country he's lived in is like that. Later, I thought that it made sense. Having you leave is smart because if they reject your application, you can't go into hiding. Although, they'd probably find you in a country of 300,000, where about half lives in the capital region.

After dropping my laundry off in my room, I headed to Laugavegur, where I had seen a store on Saturday boasting that they were members of The Handknitting Association of Iceland. Funny stuff. What wasn't funny that now they were closed. Bummer. I wanted to buy a hat for a whale-watching tour.

By now, it was raining, so I wasn't in the mood to be on boat for three hours, so I chilled back at the guesthouse. Around seven I headed back to Laugavegur, where a restaurant had caught my eye, Hereford Steakhouse. They had two specials going on: one with whale, the other with puffin. Guess which one I went with? That's right, if you can't watch whales, you might as well eat 'em!

The place was really nice. Very spacious, dim lighting, plentiful servers, and it's on top of a boutique.

The starter was lobster soup with cognac. Main meal featured whale pepper steak -- colored violet on the inside, and very fatty in some parts, but good. Dessert was Icelandic Skyr Herefordstyle -- lots of creaming stuff with small strawberries and a blueberry, and a scoop of pink ice cream (sherbert?).

I spent the remainder of the evening back at the guesthouse, gearing up for my flight to Greenland on Monday. Oh, and Murphy's Law was in full effect for that trip. Details in the next blog post.

Trees need to keep warm too during those cool Iceland summers! (Reykjavík, Iceland; July 3, 2011)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Oslo, Norway

It's currently about 3:30 PM, Norwegian time. I'm on an Iceland Express airplane bound for Reykjavík, Iceland. Like with my Stockholm post, I'm writing this on a text file and will post online later.

Real quick: I need to vent so it doesn't eat away at me. I'm sitting in the aisle seat, but I was supposed to be sitting by the window. However, when I boarded, a couple were in the window and middle seats. They asked if I would sit in the aisle seat because the woman has an infant in her lap. They just had to play the baby card. I let them sit there because if I had insisted on the assigned seating, they probably would've given me attitude when I had to get up and use the toilette, which for me is invariably. That's right, I'm the bad guy for wanting to sit there. Yeah, I know I sound like a cock, but I feel a little better having written it down. Like that old Howard Jones song title says, "Things Can Only Get Better".

OK, with that needless negativity out of the way, let's go back in time to Tuesday afternoon. The train rolled in around 2:15 or so. I then had to hop on a bus for the Oslo train station.

A worker in the Oslo train station informed me that my hotel was about a 15 -minute walk, so I hoofed it. The first part of my journey consisted of a shopping strip called Karl Johans gate. Wider than the place in Stockholm, it stretched almost a kilometer, was cobblestoned, and was jam-packed with people! Oh, and about the first 60% was pedestrians only, and the last 40% allowed cars.

Along the way I noticed these human-sized statues, one gold-painted, another silver-painted. They each stood on a platform that had jutting out the front what looked like an oil funnel; on it was penned, "THANK YOU!" I learned later that they're street performers from Romania. They move every once in awhile. On Wednesday, I saw a little girl touch the gold-coloured one's knee. I don't know how the street performer did it, but he squeaked a kid's toy, like a rubber ducky. Cute.

After Karl Johan's gate dead-ended into a park, I tried to find my hotel with the aid of my travel book's map, but it just wasn't happening. Plus, I started sneezing, an allergic reaction to Oslo's trees.

With the assistance of a passing pedestrian, I found my hotel and checked in. Pretty nice. Obviously, bigger than the Stockholm ship.

By now it was late afternoon. I headed back down the Karl Johans gate and bought postcards that had caught my eye on the trip to the hotel. The postcard was simple: Norway's flag.

Next up, with a tip from the cashier at the souvenir shop, I went to a shopping skyscraper, Oslo City, a few blocks away, not on Karl Johans gate. There was a store there called Football Shop. I was only going to window-shop for a Norway football jersey, but I bought it. I also got a Finland jersey. I don't regret the former but the latter I shouldn't have picked up because it's more of an advertisement for Adidas than Finland' team. Oh, well.

Confession time: the two jerseys cost me over $200 US. Not a good price. What was I thinking? Sadly, the currency exchange wasn't as nice as it was in Sweden.

I headed back to the hotel, hung out a bit, and decided to hit a restaurant called Mecca, a suggestion in my travel book.

I never found Mecca. Oslo is an easy city to get lost in. The roads twist and turn, there are circles everywhere, and it's not uncommon for streets to change names after only a block or two. For the last reason, my two maps (the one in my travel book and the one I picked up at the hotel) proved only half-useful. Neither of them could list all of the street names, especially since some of them have long names.

I wandered around for at least an hour. I kept my guard up because I was in a ghetto. Not as bad as Philly, but bad enough: graffiti on buildings, residents with angry eyes, and few taxi cabs. Luckily, I eventually spotted a taxi and flagged him down. I had him drop me off down on Karl Johans gate because I had noticed a bunch of restaurants down there.

I was really in the mood for an elk burger, something I saw in Stockholm but hadn't gotten my last night there because I had eaten enough red meat (last thing I want to get is gout). I snubbed the TGIF and Hard Rock, but my hunger for a burger eventually won out. I ate at some place called O'Leary's, fashioned after a Boston pub/restaurant. I got a BBQ bacon burger, fries and garlic bread. And it looks like I was wrong about Scandinavians not requiring tips. When charging credit cards, unlike in Finland and Sweden, Norwegians have me type in the final amount then press OK.

Afterwards, I was feeling bad about eating American food. I'm on vacation for Christ sake! So I stopped in a convenience store across the street from my hotel and got pistachio ice cream, which I don't eat at home. Good stuff.

Romanian street performer. (Oslo, Norway; June 28, 2011)

On Wednesday, I had breakfast in the hotel, which was free, like the Internet access.

About three blocks from the hotel was the Nasjonalgalleriet , where a bunch of Edvard Munch's work is displayed, including The Scream. Part of the reason I went was because my travel book said it was free, but when I got there, a security guard stopped my from ascending the steps. Apparently, they started charging admission in May.

I didn't take any pictures. A lot of museums forbid flash photography, and my camera works best with the flash -- I get sick of asking all the time.

It was a real kick to see The Scream! In front of it is a pane of glass, which I assumed was alarmed. Guess the museum doesn't want it getting stolen again. That would explain the 50-plus security guards roaming the corridors and showrooms.

For lunch I hailed a cab and had him take me to that Mecca restaurant. He didn't know where it was when I got in the cab, but he eventually found the street it was supposed to be on. I say supposed because it wasn't there. Bummer. On the plus side, he was quite chatty. He complained about taxes and how immigrants don't like to work. I don't about them not wanting to work, but there are a lot of immigrants in Oslo. I was reading that Norway eased up on its immigration laws because native Norwegians aren't procreating enough. On the downside, Oslo has a huge police presence, and at almost every other block in the city centre you'll see beggars -- mostly women who I assumed were Muslim because they had those scarves (burkas?) over their ears and hair. They weren't aggressive, just sat on the sidewalk with a paper cup in front of them.

Anyway, I had the taxi driver drop me off on Johan's Gate.
My plan was to hit a French restaurant I saw before, but they didn't open till 4:30 PM, so I went to a place called Egron restaurant. Huge place. Lots of space with two floors and a basement for restrooms.

Even though I eat a lot of seafood at home, I ordered something I don't think I've ever eaten: bass. It also came with little potatoes that were heavily salted (salt in clumps), and mixed vegetables. It was awesome! And the view was great. I was on the second floor, overlooking Karl Johans Gate and the park across the street.

Next up I took a cab to Vikingshipshuset, about a half-hour drive to a nearby peninsula. That was the last cab I took in Oslo because I wanted to pay by credit card but he says he couldn't take it 'cause his machine only read the ones with chips. So I had to pay cash, which nearly wiped me out of my Krones, which I wanted to hold onto.

The Viking Ship Museum was awesome! They had two full-sized Viking ships and a partial one. The full-size ones were so huge, I couldn't get one in a single camera shot.

After that, I discovered the bus outside the museum went near my hotel, so I hopped on that. Pretty crazy: the bus ran every 10 minutes, was three cabooses (probably wrong word) long with that accordion rubber for turns, and it was standing room only.

I chill-axed at the hotel for a bit, then went to a Pakistani restaurant that I had picked up in the hotel lobby the day before. The restaurant, Mehfel, was fairly easy to find because I had that talkative taxi driver in the afternoon take me there, but they didn't open till 4 PM.

I went all out at this place. I got a starter, which I usually don't do: king prawns with sesame seeds. For the main course, I ordered a bunch of meat. Some of it was cubed. I remember there being a few little chicken wings, and there was one other type of of meat. I ate it all over rice. For a beverage, I drank hot Pakistani tea. And since I had room left over, I ordered dessert called Desi Halwa, which the menu described as: "Traditional Pakistani dessert with semolina, coconut, almonds and pistachio." I didn't know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. It came in a huge soup bowl and looked like apple sauce, but it was hot. Could definitely taste the almond. Afterwards, the waitress brought over a bowl of what looked like seeds and miniature M&Ms. She said it was supposed to help with digestion. I only took one spoonful (had to be at least 30 spoonfuls in there). It tasted a bit licoricey.

Did I mention I was the only one in the restaurant? That was freaky. Good service, though. On the walk back to the hotel, I think I figured out why I was the lone patron. First, they're not in the best neighborhood: office and government buildings, and not a lot of retail stores, just a few boutiques (ya can't the lunch crowd when you're closed then). And my bill came out to $100 US. I was a bit shocked by that. Whatever, I'm on vacay and the food was good.

One of ships at the Viking Ship Museum. This picture doesn't touch on its immense size. (Oslo, Norway; June 29, 2011)

On Thursday, I walked to the Nobel Peace Centre. Took over an hour to find it thanks to the maze of Oslo's streets. It was down by the harbour. Pretty cool. And after all these years I still can't help but cackle when seeing Obama winning the Peace Prize. Oh-ho-ho, that's rich with irony!

For lunch I picked up a sandwich at the convenience store across the street from my hotel. Then it was off on the bus to the Norsk Folkemuseum, which is next to the Viking Ship Museum. I didn't go to the Norsk Folkemuseum the day prior because it's an open-air museum; I was sneezing a little and I didn't want to be ah-chooing well into the evening.

The Norsk Folkemuseum was fascinating. They have all these buildings from centuries past. The highlight is a stave church from circa 1200. I was on the grounds for over two hours. And the best part is I hardly sneezed -- guess my body was sick of producing histamines.

For dinner, I walked to a restaurant suggested by my travel book, Shroder, a Norwegian restaurant. Had to have some authentic Nordic food my last night in Oslo.

Lonely Planet described Shroder as "haunted by locals, not tourists", which was true. Not a lot of patrons, though the rain may have had something to do with that. I got ox (tasted like regular steak), which had fried onions piled on top, crinkle-cut French fries, and mixed vegetables, which consisted of three heads each of broccoli and cauliflower. I washed everything down with some Nordic bottled beer, a lager; tasted like Fosters. For dessert, I had warm apple cake with whip cream and chocolate and strawberry ice cream.

Afterwards, I packed up at the hotel for the flight on Friday to Iceland. On Friday morning, I checked out and thank God the girl at the desk suggested I take the bus to the airport. It took over and hour but only cost $25 US; a cab would've been at least four times that.

Before I go, I need to say something about Oslo women. Good goddamn! I think that immigrant injection does some good. Gives them some colour. For the first time during my trip, I almost got whiplash from doing so many double-takes. Luckily I sleep on soft pillows, so there's no neck damage. . . .

Stave church at the Nordic Museum. (Oslo, Norway; June 30, 2011)