How we decided to visit Norway and found the deal of a lifetime
In August, my family experienced a great trip to Norway and, bonus, visited the country for about half of what we planned to spend visiting California!
As I researched tickets to California, I discovered that round-trip flights from Jacksonville to Sacramento were $1000 each. Instantly I knew I could plan an international vacation for less than that. Our eldest son, Will, is a big fan of a prominent Norwegian author. So on a whim, I looked at flights to Norway and found (cue angels singing) Norse Atlantic Airways. Norse recently launched direct flights from Orlando to Oslo, and on the very day that Will’s vacation week started, they were scheduled to commence flights from LAX to Oslo. It was meant to be!
Within minutes of finding the airline, I had our tickets booked. Our round-trip fares from Orlando to Oslo were UNDER $400, and Will’s ticket from LA was a little over $500!!! You’re reading that right; Norse Atlantic is the deal of 2022!
Norse charges for bags, meals, and seat selection depending on your cabin, but if you’re willing to forgo those, it’s currently by far the least expensive way to cross the pond. We upgraded but wished we hadn’t as the plane wasn’t full, and we each had our own row. All around, the fight was great. The staff and crew were friendly and helpful, and the check-in and boarding processes were easy.
Oslo: A Lazy Traveler’s Dream!
To be honest, we’d all had too busy of a summer to research Norway, and we landed in Oslo with very little local knowledge and almost no plans. Luckily, this wasn’t a problem as we found Oslo to be incredibly easy. It’s a well-laid out, pretty city of a million people.
Everyone we met was (completely!) fluent in English and the public transport system was easy to navigate. It was as you’d imagine a Norwegian city: calm, clean, and organized. We took the airport train to the city center, checked into our hotel, and struck out to explore the city. We enjoyed strolling through the charming downtown, which was full of vibrant flower gardens, and tantalizing bakeries and coffee shops. The sun was out, we were glad to be together, and the walk felt happy and pleasant.
We ended up at the Aker Brygge Wharf with its yachts, waterfront restaurants, quaint courtyards, and pretty shops. The wharf is flanked by the Nobel Peace Center, a simple, elegant building. It was quite warm, and we wanted a drink at a shaded table, out of the sun’s glare. This proved easy as the locals were vying for seats at unshaded, baking-hot tables. I suppose when you live so far north, you soak up the sun when you can!
From the wharf, we took an electric tram to the Vigeland Sculpture Park. This park has over 200 sculptures representing the full range of human life and emotion, all set in a spectacular green space with flowers, fountains, and bridges. A delightful little cafe with delicious baked goods was set at the far end of the park.
By the time we’d walked around the park, we were feeling jet lagged and weary. Apple cake and tea on the cafe patio at sunset felt like a perfect way to end the day.
Heading into Fjord Country: Getting there is half the fun
Like many first-time visitors, we opted to visit Oslo and Bergen. This is the preferred route for tourists unless you are intentionally traveling to see the Northern Lights. Both car and train take around seven hours from the capital to Bergen. The train is highly touted, but we decided to drive as we wanted to be able to stop for a few nights along the way.
As you know, we are big believers in visiting the smaller towns and villages when we visit a foreign country.
The drive is known to be one of the most magnificent in the world, and it did not disappoint. Each bend in the road brought a spectacular new view – charming red farmhouses, birch-covered mountains surrounding gleaming lakes, and of course, the world-famous Norwegian fjords.
We zipped past picturesque towns and stopped a few times – for lunch, at a bakery, and to recharge our car. Because of Norway’s geography, there are many tunnels, bridges, and ferries. The tunnels were quite an experience, one even had a massive roundabout in the middle. Our route also took us over the stunning Hardanger Bridge.
Towards the end of our drive, we stopped for groceries in the sweet little village of Grandin. We needed a restroom, and the shop owner pointed to the end of a narrow road next to the store, waving at the public restrooms at the end. We walked down there and rounded the bend onto one of the most jaw-dropping views I’ve ever seen. That has to be the loveliest public restroom view on the planet. We drove a little further and then took a ferry across the Hardangerfjord to the fairytale town of Utne.
Staying in the Norwegian Countryside
A Substitute For Therapy
When planning the second leg of our trip, we knew we wanted to stay on a fjord in the countryside, somewhere we could walk and hike. So we booked an Airbnb on a fruit farm just outside Utne. Our house was in the middle of several apple and cherry orchards that lined the edge of the fjord. It was peaceful and quiet. The only sounds were the stream that ran alongside an open porch and the numerous songbirds enjoying the sunshine. The views from each room were of the water with the cliff behind.
There were no restaurants close by, so we cooked at home, hiked, read, napped, and took walks down to the little coffee kiosk by the fjord. On our second day there, the guys took a ferry to another peninsula. They had a wonderful hike through an impressive forest dotted with a rainbow of brightly colored mushrooms. It was the most relaxing few days of our year, and we could have stayed for a month.
Our time there perfectly encapsulated the Norwegian concept of koselig, which is similar to the Danish hygge. There’s no exact translation, but it means something like a combination of nature, companionship, coziness, and feeling well and content. By the time we left Utne, we were feeling the koselig.
Visiting Bergen: She’s got a good personality (but she’s also beautiful!)
From Utne, it was an easy two-hour drive to Bergen. Bergen is a coastal town, set on a series of hills surrounding the old town (Bryggen), culminating at the impressive fish market on the water’s edge. Some of the city’s neighborhoods are on islands in the fjord.
It’s an ancient city that started as a trading port over one thousand years ago, and is the second largest city after Oslo. It’s also a college town, and the fun begins early and goes late! It wasn’t noisy, but it was definitely livelier and more bustling than Oslo.
Our Airbnb had a fabulous view over the old town down to the water. The only pre-trip research I did was on where to stay in Bergen. It seems like there are lots of opinions but having been for a short trip, I can’t imagine staying anywhere else. It was a five-minute walk down to the waterfront and fish market, and a one-minute walk up the hill to the lower edge of Mount Floyen, where we hiked.
Hiking Mt. Floyen in Bergen: A hiker’s dream
Have you had a travel experience that’s hard to capture in words? That’s how I feel about our days hiking Mount Floyen. For some reason, Nordic fairy tales figured prominently in my South African childhood. I had lots of books about magic forests, hidden cottages, and of course, trolls, giants, and fairies. We didn’t have TV yet in South Africa, and these stories took up a lot of room in my head.
Walking into the forest on Mount Floyen felt like stepping into these childhood books. Dramatic? Maybe. But nothing could prepare me for the magical, otherworldly, breathtaking beauty of this place.
The ground was covered in a thick blanket of bright green moss, and the trees were almost iridescent in color. It was slightly misty and rainy, hushed and serene, and so clean and pure. I felt like I gained a few years of life back during those hikes!
Norway: A place to discover rest, peace, and beauty
As you can see, it truly was a great trip to Norway. We saw a handful of amazing sites, experienced the local culture, rested, and were surrounded by nature.
When traveling to a new place, the drive to see and do EVERYTHING is real, but this trip was truly the perfect combination of activities and rest. This meant we came home from vacation actually rested and feeling a little more connected as a family. It’s important to remember, especially for us Americans who love to always be on the move, to plan a vacation that will leave you feeling revived. And Norway is great for that!
Quick reminder, if you’re planning a trip and would like a little one on one assistance with finding the best deals, crafting an itinerary, and more, I offer travel consulting and would love to help you. Seriously, it’s one of my favorite things in the world!