|Best of Scandinavia in 14 Days - My 11th RS Tour
|--Is Travel a Political Act or a Spiritual Act?--
Since this was my 11th RS tour, I naturally wasn't expecting the kind of "Wow moments I found in Italy,
Switzerland, France, Greece, Turkey, Croatia or Spain. I always wanted to visit Norway to see Aurora
Borealis, but I knew the miraculous phenomena would not happen during this tour. However, I
experienced something on this trip I never expected to happen --travel as a spiritual act. A few years
ago I attended Rick's lecture on this exact subject at our local Lutheran church, but I wasn't exactly
sure what Rick meant by the spiritual act of traveling. Anyway, let me show you my interpretation.
The tour started in Stockholm, Sweden on July 7, 2013. I arrived a day early and took an Archipelago
Cruise before our tour started. I didn't realize that the country was made up of so many islands. Our
tour guide Ylva was native Swedish and an attractive, athletic mother of five children. Our local guide
was her life-time partner. We even visited their condo which was being remodeled. We visited the
Stortorget Square, Cathedral & Royal Palace in Gamla Stan, as well as the Vasa Museum.
Afterwards, I visited the Skansen Open-Air Museum with Barb & Gene, a friendly couple from our
group but most of the buildings were already closed for the day, but we saw interesting animals.
On the third day, we toured City Hall, home of the Nobel Prize banquet. Then our bus driver, Andrej took us to Kalmar, after
stopping at the Gota Canal for a lunch break. In Kalmar we took a brief walk with Ylva and saw a prison and an important
monument. Ylva told us that the prison was not needed that much because of the low crime rate, and of course, nobody carries a
gun here. As you know, some of crimes in the U.S. are not a criminal act here. We learned that the monument was installed to
remember the union of 1397 that brought Norway, Sweden and Denmark together under a single monarch until 1523.
On Day 4, after our Kalmar Castle tour, our bus driver Andrej drove us to Copenhagen across the five-mile bridge and tunnel.
Once in Copenhagen, we were greeted by our local guide no other than Hans Christian Andersen, and finished our evening with a
group dinner at one of Denmark's oldest restaurant.
Next morning we were divided into two groups for the walking tour of Copenhagen. Our local guide informed us with a more
realistic Danish view of taxation and immigration policy. On our free time some of us visited Christiania, which was no longer
included in this tour. It reminded me of the 70's in Berkeley, and I could see why it was optional. Then some of us rushed to the
renaissance Rosenborg Castle where our Hans Christian Andersen was waiting for us in a different costume. On the way back to
our hotel, we stopped by the Church of Our Lady to see the original statue of Christ with open hands. The evening was totally on
my own. I strolled around the lively Stroget pedestrian center, listening to the jazz music, and decided to try a sushi restaurant. I
was greeted by an Iranian, but no Japanese or Asian chef in sight. When I questioned the waiter about it, he told me that their
chef was trained by a Japanese at the headquarter and said, "Sushi came a long way." Whatever his comment meant, their sushi
tasted pretty authentic to me.
On Day 6, our bus took us to Roskilde, where we visited the Viking
Ship Museum and the Roskilde Cathedral, the resting place of 38
kings and queens of Denmark. Then we took a scenic ferry ride to
the small island of Aero, where we were divided into a hotel and
B&Bs. Here I had my own room in a cute B&B for two nights! I
guess this was our "vacation from vacation."
On Day 8, we took a ferry back to Copenhagen, then took an
overnight ferry later to Oslo. Before we regrouped to drive to the
harbor, I visited their National Museum. Oh yes, on the way to the
big ferry, we stopped at the Little Mermaid, most visited place in
Denmark. Once on board, I spent a couple of hours on the top
level, enjoying the scenery, then had a relaxed dinner with friends.
On the ferry I met two Japanese women of my age who were
traveling together on their own. Wow, how brave! I had thought
that Japanese always traveled with a tour group.
Next day we woke up to greet the scenic Oslofjord as we approached Oslo. Once ashore, we refreshed ourselves with a walking tour around the
harbor and the heart of the capital. I'm finally in Norway, and the statue of President Roosevelt is looking at the harbor! Another beautiful City Hall.
Norway is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edvard Munch this year. Yes, I was "screaming" (Do you get it?) to see the 220 paintings
of Munch at the National Museum during our free time before we visited the Frogner Park as a group. The park was eye-opening with Gustav
Vigeland's naked sculptures. So many sculptures depicting our life cycle. Ylva couldn't help telling us a background story of the sculptor. (What was
it? You have to take her tour.) For our group dinner, I selected the whale, because I don't remember it being tasty when I had it for our school lunch
back in Japan. Oh well, we all had to eat salted cod instead, because the chef had left and Ylva ha to choose another restaurant. I saw the whale
meat at the fish market later, but they looked unappetizing to me.
On Day 10, we took a ferry across the harbor to Bygdoy peninsula to tour the Viking Ship Museum as a group.
Afterwards, Ylva walked us to the area of museums and left us on our own for the rest of the day. I visited the
Maritime Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum. Between these two museum visits I walked down to the harbor to
see the statues of men looking out to the sea. As I was walking toward them, I noticed familiar faces from back
home. I could not believe my eyes, and shouted "I can't believe it! I can't believe it!" Jim looked at me but
didn't register in his jet-lagged brain. I said "Jim!" He stopped and called out to his wife, "Carol, here is
Chizuko!" Wow, what a coincidence! They are members of the ski club I belong to in Sacramento, but we didn't
know that we were visiting Norway at the same time. They had just arrived that morning for a cruise tour of
Scandinavia. They wanted to go to the Frogner Park, and I could even tell them how to get there as if I was a
local! I've heard of such a coincidence, but it had never happened to me. In my first Rick Steves' tour, there
was a member who lived in the same town, but we didn't know each other. Wow, what a coincidence! After this,
I felt like I was open to any new experience. After the Kon-Tiki Museum, I wondered around on my own as Barb
& Gene went back to the hotel. I was compelled to visit the Holmenkollen Ski Museum and the ski jump tower. I
was tempted to try their zip line, but it didn't seem like a fun thing to do without company; besides, it was too
expensive. After enjoying the best view of Oslo from the tower, I took a train back to the center of town. I
wanted to visit the beautiful Opera House which resembled a giant iceberg, and was studying the metro map. I
didn't know there was a man sitting across from me when he said "Can I help you?" He told me that the train will
stop near the Opera House, and that's the station he was getting off to go home. We were too busy talking and
missed the stop and had to backtrack. Before he showed me how to get to the Opera House, he took me
through a department store for later shopping, but oh, I hate shopping! He had a day off the next day, but
unfortunately our bus was leaving the next morning to end our tour in Bergen in a few more days. He told me
that it was raining every time he visited his mother in Bergen. Yuk, I hate rain! The Opera House was
gorgeous. The walkway was intentionally built uneven and tricky. You probably would have a law suit if this was
in U.S. There was a smaller glass sculpture resembling an iceberg in the bay. As I was trying to take a picture
of the self-portrait reflecting on the side glass wall of the Opera House, I noticed a man gesturing to take a
photo for me. He turned out to be a Danish tourist and we had a brief but interesting conversation about
Scandinavian countries. On the way back to our hotel, I stopped at a stylish Chinese restaurant, where another
couple from our group was just finishing their dinner. The sushi plate I ordered was a work of art. By the time I
thought of taking a picture, I had eaten half of it... What a long, adventurous day I had! It was great that I could
travel, speaking English.
Next morning our bus took us to Lillehammer where we toured the Maihaugen Open-Air Folk Museum. Then we
took a short tour of the 12th-century Lom Stave Church before checking into the unique Old World style
Elvesaeter Hotel for one night. We were separated in different buildings; my roommate and I must have gotten a
children's room, or did it belong to trolls? We were told to charge up our cameras for the next day's scenic tour.
On Day 12, nine of us took a hike with Ylva to a falls near the hotel after breakfast. Then the bus took us on the
scenic drive on Sognefjell Road. The weather was disappointing, however, with drizzles and fogs. How gorgeous it
must be on a sunny day! After crossing the highest mountain pass in Northern Europe, we arrived at the village of
Skjolden, the innermost cruise port of Norway. During our short break, I walked over to a modern metal sculpture
-- my kind of art. After I came home, I found that the red sculpture was called "Jonsok" (Midsummer) and installed
on June 23, 2011. I found the artist Kati Casida's web site, and sent her some of photos I took of her sculpture. In
her response I could tell she was touched. Her grandparents immigrated from the village area, but Kati lives in
Berkeley, where I used to live before moving to Sacramento decades ago. Another coincidence. Well, after the
2.5-hour Songnefjord cruise between cliffs and waterfalls, we got on our bus again for one more scenic stretch of
highway. We stopped at Tvindefossen waterfall for our only group photo. Ylva told us to get some water from the
fall, because its water was known to make you young again. This was July 18, and I'll never forget this day. I'll tell
you why. While we were on the bus enjoying the scenery, listening to music by Secret Garden and Edvard Grieg, I
suddenly remembered that my iPad contained two of my sister's songs she sang at a recital when she was 18.
Honestly, I had not listened to them for years. As we were getting off the bus for a bathroom break, I played the
song for Ylva. She commented on my sister's beautiful voice and asked me what she was doing today. Well, she
is singing in heaven. Shortly before she was 21, leukemia took her away. She had been chosen to sing for the
Empress on her birthday, but her dream was never materialized. After I returned home and looked it up on my
computer, I discovered that July 18, 1977 was the day of my sister's funeral. My parents delayed her funeral to the
18th, waiting for my arrival from U.S. Wow, the soul never dies; she was traveling with me that day, or was it a sort
of Aurora Borealis created by a soul?
Finally, we arrived at Bergen, and guess what, the normally rainy town welcomed us with the beautiful
sunshine! We walked all over, hiked up to the top of the hill with Ylva instead of taking the funicular, and
visited the Bryggens Museum and the Hanseatic Museum. For the farewell dinner I feasted on the poor
Rudolph, but it actually tasted like a tender steak.
On Day 14, our last day, we were sitting at our breakfast table when Paul from Napa Valley asked me where I
skied. I ski all over, but when I mentioned Northstar, h said, "Oh, my aunt belongs to a ski club in Sacramento,
and she skis at Northstar. She is 80, but many are old in that club." That's us! As a web volunteer for the
club, I've created a photo directory of our members on the Internet, which came in handy to identify his aunt.
Everybody at our tables wanted to see the picture of the 80 year-old skier on my iPad and commented how
young she looked. (His aunt Claire is originally from Switzerland, and she still pays a tax to her mother
country.) Wow, again, what a small world! Why did we find this out on the last day? At least we found out.
So, our spiritual travel continues, and so will our friendship, I hope. My sister's soul was seeking for my love
and I found that out by traveling to Norway. I feel that she helped me create this slide-show.
|Thank you for letting me share my story and my sister's songs.