Midnight Sun Smorgasbord

We just returned from Scandinavia. Here are my musings:

Somebody once said that travel whirls you around and turns you upside down, often right at the gate. We arrive early at the airport, wheeling our smartly-packed carry-ons, only to hear “indefinite delay, storms in Minneapolis,” a reminder: we are not in control. We’re re-directed, re-routed, but eventually reach the Twin Cities. Before leaving the U.S. we must alert the airport transfer company in Russia of the glitch. The internet machine gulps our $10, but freezes at sending the email. Glitches require quick, creative thinking; we scour the airport for somebody surfing the net, smiling at the sound of “No problem,” as a young man comes to our aid. Weary, we arrive late night in Russia to an apartment not quite like the photos. The word “luxury” must have gotten lost in translation. Tired and cranky, we wonder what idiots would book a WALKING TOUR the first morning.
Like zombies we follow Nicolai through Peter the Great’s planned city. It dazzles the eye. I imagine Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky strolling along the canals for inspiration. Our first lunch: a yummy blini, a Russian pancake. Nicolai says we bunk in a building once owned by the general who pushed back Napoleon. Now trudging up three flights of dingy old stairs at the Kutuzova Embankment seems like a pilgrimage.
Major language barriers, like menus, the Metro, buying bus/train tickets for Catherine’s Palace at Pushkin) require calling forth your child side; pointing to pictures, talking with your hands. I call up my rusty Russian: plenty of peshalzta (thank yous) and dosveydanya (goodbyes). Most people visit St. Petersburg via a cruise, so the Crumps and Colemans puff up with pride that we conquered it on our own.
In Stockholm we sleep in trendy Sodermalm, an island south of city center where tourists are few. Our host welcomes us, takes our cash, hands over keys and instructions in perfect English. The apartment is clean, cozy, Swedishly efficient. Better yet, only 3900 Kroners a night, $83 each couple. The 8th floor deck lets us gaze on a busy plaza filled with café’s, overflowing with energetic youth. With our 3-day Tunnelbana pass, we explore the city by subway, most enchanted by the Vasa Ship Museum. The warship sank just minutes into her maiden voyage in 1628. (Oops, too top heavy) She lay in the harbor, forgotten until 1959. Her salvage story is worth the price of admission.

In Scandinavia, you pay a few kroners to use the “water closet.” At first it’s annoying to hand tokens to a toilet caretaker, until you realize this probably helps support her family. Paying for potty is part of the culture; you appreciate and adapt.

We try adapting, on the overnight train to Copenhagen, but a couchette for four proves a bit too cozy for comfort. Next time we’ll splurge on private compartments. We settle into our spacious flat near the Royal Castle, and do the smart thing; buy the hop-on-hop-off bus pass. Then track down a store that sells RELIEF, shoe inserts for the girls’ throbbing feet. The guys prefer to suffer in silence.

We train to Roskilde and feast on a generous lunch on a cobblestone street then hit The Viking Ship Museum. What? The Vikings weren’t just primitive plunderers, but seafaring explorers? So much for my Nordic education, gleaned from seeing half-brothers Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis feud to the death over Janet Leigh, in Technicolor.

After cruising to Norway, we take the scenic train ride from Oslo where every turn reveals a new feast for the eyes. The Flam railway, one of the steepest inclines in the world, keeps you wide-eyed and open-jawed at one dramatic waterfall after another. It’s raining the day we sail the fjords, but we shrug off disappointment. There’s beauty in a smoky mist dancing on the mountains.
A taste of Scandinavia nudges us to scale down and simplify. A smorgasbord trip, but none of it is a blur. No “must see” list, no expectations, except for glitches. They come with travel. Being whirled around and turned upside down makes me more flexible. When I’m over the jet leg, I’m game for another tumble.

Check out my monthly travel column at: senioronline.org
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