Travelogue Scandinavia 2002
8/7/02 – 8/28/02: Denmark, Norway, Sweden
I hate to start a travelogue with a stupid story… but here’s a stupid story. I wanted to fly to Copenhagen in business class, but while economy tickets were pretty reasonable, business class was ridiculous (about US$6000.) So, I decided I would buy an economy ticket and upgrade using mileage points. Since United leaves these flights to Lufthansa, this would mean trying to upgrade a Lufthansa flight with United miles – something which the Star Alliance should allow. I called United to ask what I had to do. They told me that I had to buy the ticket directly from Lufthansa, and then call United Mileage Plus for the upgrade. They further told me that if I bought the Lufthansa ticket from them (or anyone else) I couldn’t upgrade with miles. Weird. So weird in fact that I then called Lufthansa to see if this was really true. Yup, says Lufthansa, its true. Still incredulous I called United back again to make sure there weren’t any further mysteries. No, they told me, my understanding was correct and there was nothing further I needed to know. So, I called Lufthansa back again, explained what I was doing, and determined from them that the flights I wanted had room, and had upgradeable seats available.
Great. I went ahead and booked and paid for the flights. This was Tuesday, booking for a flight 8 days later. I get done with the transaction and they tell me that the ticket will be issued at 5:00pm the next day, and I have to call back after 5:00pm to get the ticket number to give to United for the upgrade. No, the ticket cannot be issued right away, all tickets are issued the next day at 5:00pm. What, I wonder, happens if someone wants to fly the same day? Oh well. I wait till the next day, hoping that the upgradeable seats don’t disappear in the interim.
At about 6:00pm the next day I call Lufthansa again to get my magic ticket number. Guess what, they haven’t issued the ticket yet, I should call back tomorrow. What??? “Or, we can try to issue it now if you’d like.” Yes, of course I’d like. Geesh. OK, they issue the ticket and give me the number. I call United. “I’m sorry sir, we cant issue an upgrade, it’s less than 10 days before the flight and Lufthansa wont allow us to issue an upgrade with less than 10 days.” “What!!!” After all that, calling and confirming and calling and confirming, no one ever mentioned anything about a 10 day minimum, and the Lufthansa agent that sold me the ticket knew I was doing this kind of upgrade. Well, I hit the roof, demanded to speak to a supervisor, etc. After about an hour and a half on the phone they came up with the following. They would charge me US$25 to FedEx (second day air – overnight is not available) me upgrade certificates (“But the $25 is non-refundable, whether you’re able to use the certificates or not.” – like I care.) Simultaneously they will email the request to Lufthansa with a note that I am getting the certificates separately, so certificates don’t need to be issued. OK, its worth a try.
The next morning I call United again, since I often find that what is true when dealing with the night crew is often not true during the day. Sure enough, they confirm that an upgrade is impossible in less than 10 days (initially they tell me 14 days!) Without telling them about my upgrade certificates, I get them to agree to put through a request for upgrade anyway. I agree repeatedly that I understand that it might not go through. What the hell? Cant hurt. Later that day I get a call from United. “We have a request for an upgrade, but we cant put it through because it is less than 10 days.” They tell me. “I know,” I tell them, “please just send it off to Lufthansa anyway.”
The next morning at 10:00am my upgrade certificates arrive FedEx. That afternoon at 1:00pm I get a call from United informing me that my upgrade has gone through. Thus, my upgrade has occurred in roughly 37 hours. Of course, they need 10 days to do an upgrade – or maybe they need 37 hours. Hmmm.
In the end it was a very nice Lufthansa business class flight; quiet, uneventful, little turbulence. I got to sleep at 8pm, and slept the whole night ‘till about 10am Frankfurt time. Roughly 7 hours.
August 8, 2002
There was an unbelievable line at the SAS checking for the Frankfurt-Copenhagen leg. The folks at the Lufthansa transfer desk couldn’t check me in, nor could the Lufthansa lounge. They both insisted that I go to the gate. I waited over ½ hour to check in for the flight. I asked the agent if there were any good seats left. He unapologetically told me that there were very few seats at all and left it at that. It turns out he gave me an exit row window, one of the best seats on the plane. I don’t understand why he didn’t take the opportunity to make me feel good about SAS by telling me he was giving me a great seat. Instead I was just grumpy until I boarded the plane.
Rick Steve’s book implied that the tourist office at the Copenhagen airport could arrange major and boutique hotels, home stays, and hostels. But when I got there they said they only did major hotels. I went to a payphone and called the various home-stay places listed in Steve’s book. They were all full. I then called a couple hotels recommended by Fodor’s, but they were also full. Finally I called the Ambassador, a place recommended by my neighbor, who says he never stays anywhere else in Copenhagen. They had a room but only for two nights. I booked it and headed over. When I was checking in, the receptionist told me that there is a huge fashion convention in town, and that they only had a room due to a cancellation. Yikes. Now I have to decide if I want to find some other place to stay Saturday night, or head to Oslo on the overnight ferry, or go somewhere else in Denmark on Saturday. I’m tempted to head to Oslo, and see more of Copenhagen at the end of my trip before flying out.
The Admiral hotel is just adequate. It was recommended that I get a room facing the water, but I’m not sure why this would be desirable. The wharf really isn’t attractive; from 9am to 5pm you are looking at the side of a cruise ship, the rest of the time you’re looking over the water at warehouses. Not even antique warehouses. While the cruise ship is there, its big diesel engines rumble with a vaguely disquieting low frequency hum that just ambiently gets on my nerves. Though it’s humid and stuffy in the room, I don’t want to open the window because of the ship. The room itself is pleasant enough – neither large nor small, with an adequate bed and adequate bathroom. The building is quite interesting – a 1700’s warehouse made of huge beams and massive walls of brick. The walls are two to three feet thick, and there are these great huge exposed beams in the room. Quite interesting really, but not worth staying here just for that. The hotel’s location is good, but not great. There are always taxis waiting in front, and the bus line runs nearby, but it’s about a 15 minute walk to the more happening city-hall, Tivoli gardens, museum area. [Later that night I discovered something that drives me nuts – as with many hotels, at nightfall huge lights point up at the building, turning it into an advertisement for itself. The side effect is that the room is lit up unless you pull the curtains. In my room the curtains aren’t sufficient to fully block out the light. Since I am trying to overcome jetlag, even this light is sufficient to keep me partially awake. The lights finally go out at 2am. Ugh.] Bottom line, not a bad place to stay, but for the price I would go for a hotel that was either better located, or quieter, or both. Rick Steve’s recommends staying at private homes in Christianshaven. Christianshaven is only slightly further out than this hotel, so given the opportunity I think I’d follow his advice.
After settling in, I walked around town for about 3 hours. Once upon a time, one day I woke up and my brain told me go to traveling. So I did. But lately I’m pretty sure my body is telling me to stop. I got a huge blister on my toe my first day in Melbourne last November, then I was sick for a couple weeks in Bangkok in December. Now I’m walking around town and out of the blue my right foot starts hurting. Bad. I’ve no idea what’s up but my arch is killing me. I took off my shoe and found a red, painful lump on my foot. I wasn’t sure if it was a bulging muscle or a bone spur or what. Whatever it was, it was telling me to go back to the hotel and take it easy. Sigh.
Copenhagen reminds me a bit of Paris or Amsterdam, and even more of Prague. None of which is surprising. It is a very nice city with some beautiful buildings. Still, I get the feeling that I am becoming less and less of a city person.
I had dinner at a nice restaurant called Peder Oxe. Initially I sat at a table outside, but it got quite cold and I asked to be moved inside. It had a pleasant, homey feel to the place. Unmatched chairs, worn floors, it was full and noisy and bustling. My main was a very nice Dover Sole, lightly breaded and fried in butter. After dinner I got a huge pot of tea with floral cozy. The pot was so stained from tea that it looked like it had been in continuous use for hundreds of years. Maybe it was. For desert I ordered “three types of strawberries”, which turned out to be a strawberry and coconut tart, strawberry mousse, and strawberry sorbet.
Side note: Danes seem to like maximally annoying cell phone ringing tones.
August 9, 2002
I slept straight through this morning ‘till 10am. So much for the 10:30am walking tour I wanted to do; probably just as well with my foot still hurting. I made it out of the room about 11am and headed over to a bakery for coffee and a croissant, then came back and made reservations for dinner tonight and the cruise to Oslo in a couple days.
By the time the reservations were in place, it was lunch time. I recalled seeing a Smorrebrod place next to the National Museum. I wanted to stay off my foot, so I took a very expensive taxi over there, bought 3 different smorrebrod’s, and sat on a bench opposite the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. One was good, one was OK, one was pretty nasty. Don’t ask me what any of them were. (Smorrebrod, which literally means buttered bread, is really “things smeared on bread” – effectively open-faced sandwiches of stuff.)
After my picnic I went to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, which was OK, but much of what I wanted to see (Danish paining and sculpture) was not on show due to various construction projects and a special exhibition. Hi ho.
>> Free bike to the palace
>> Thornesmumbler’s museum
>> Bike still there. Rode to Christenshaven and Christiania. Someone bought my bike from me for 20kr. Cool. Beer at Café Nemoland.
Dinner at Kong Hans Kaelder, Vingaardsstraede 6, 33-11-68-68. Fodor’s calls this one of the best restaurants in Scandinavia. Beautiful room with low arched ceilings, candles, magnificent table settings. Had the prix fixe “innovations” menu. Excellent 8 course dinner, plus a few extra pre-pre appetizers and post desert courses. Dinner was expensive, and after the surprise 25% service fee was tacked on, it was really expensive.
The meal was outstanding, particularly the pre-appetizer of hard-boiled quail eggs, the delicious if odd course of fois gras and lentil soufflé (which was more like soup than soufflé) and the lobster mosaic. However, one warning if planning to eat there. They really take their time between courses. Dining alone, the meal took over three hours. That’s a long time to be eating alone, even with a book. Frankly, after two hours I get antsy eating with friends. So, unless you’re prepared for a real knock-down drag-out meal, either don’t go to Kong Hans Kaelder, or don’t get the innovations menu.
August 10, 2002
I got up at 10am again this morning, roughly 8 hours after I actually got to sleep at 2am (when the lights on the outside of the building shut off.) The cruise ship’s rumbling engines put me immediately on edge. I got dressed, got some of my stuff packed up, then went down to the lobby bar for a light breakfast of coffee and pastries. I had woken up feeling like hell this morning, and wondered how much was jet lag, how much was humidity, and how much was caffeine addiction. I suspect a great deal was the latter. After breakfasting and packing, I checked out and left my bags with the doorman. Based on the pile, this was clearly a common thing to do. My foot still hurt like hell, so I sure wasn’t doing any more walking today.
Just as I was leaving the hotel the “Open Top” tour bus pulled up, so I got on and paid 125Kr (about US$16.60) for an all-routes tour bus pass. Each seat has a pair of headphones and a controller box to allow you to select one of several languages. Once in a while a tape recorded voice comes on and tells you about the sights in your language of choice. When I first got on it was silent, so I thought my headset was broken, but it turned out that the narration was simply infrequent. This was supposed to be one of those hop-on hop-off tour buses, though in this case there were three routes and the busses weren’t particularly frequent. I was on the blue line where the buses pass every half hour. Thankfully, when they get to the famous Little Mermaid they stop for 5 minutes so you can get out and snap your souvenir photo without then having to cool your jets for 30 minutes. This was doubly delightful since by the time we got there it had started to rain. I would not have gotten off if it had meant a wait in the rain.
The little Mermaid is a nice statue. Nice. Don’t bother to fly around the world to see it. Unlike the David in Florence, seeing the “real thing” was not a profound experience.
I had imagined that these buses just went round and round, but when we got to the Palace Hotel (near whatsis-platzen), the bus pulled over and everyone got off. The driver told me that she didn’t leave again for another half hour, but the bus parked in front of her was leaving in a minute or two. I got off and started for the new bus, but decided I should get something to eat anyway. At this point “fuel” was the only criteria, so I went into Burger King where I purchased and ate ½ a Big Mac and a Coke. By the time I was done my original bus was ready to leave so I re-boarded.
If you are in Copenhagen and are unable (or unwilling) to do a walking tour, these tour busses aren’t bad. I saw a lot of what I had seen on foot, though the narration helped. It would be much cheaper to do it on city buses, but this was certainly easy. When I got back to Nyhaven, near my starting point, I decided to get off. Before disembarking I asked the driver when the “red” route bus would be pulling up. She told me she didn’t know, but that from Nyhaven the “red” bus does almost exactly the route that we had just covered in the “blue” bus till it gets to the Palace Hotel, where it would then wait before departing for places I hadn’t seen. She told me I should have gotten on a “red” bus there, instead of reboarding the “blue”. Sigh. These hop-on, hop-off tour buses are not nearly as useful or simple as their advertising would have you believe.
Anyway, I got out, wandered down Nyhaven, and sat at a café called Carls Corner. I got the plate of three types of herring and a thimble full of tea for only US$20. The tea was good, one of the three herring types was nice, the bread was excellent. The people watching was fine, the weather passable. All day (and night) people sit on the edge of the canal here and drink. I watched them from my café table and wondered why people hang out here? Why this street? Why on the street and not in the cafes? Why is getting drunk such a sport?
My reservation for the cruise to Oslo is for a 4 person room. On the phone I was told that I could come to the office at 3:30 to get on the waiting list for a private cabin, though the chances were poor. At 2:30 I was tired of the café, and since I was nearby with nothing to do, I stopped in at the DFDS Seaways office. Sure enough I was able to get on the waiting list then, and was first on the list. I often find that if I call a place at night, then go in person during the day, I get very different answers to the same question. Unfortunately, though in this case I got myself first on the list, I still didn’t get a single cabin – the boat was all booked up. I resolved myself to make the most of whatever happened. Maybe I’m in a 4 person room alone, or maybe I’ll be in a room with three interesting guys that will be fun to travel with, or maybe I’ll be in a room with three Norwegians that can give me travel advice, or just plain have a conversation.
Immediately after boarding I stopped at the information desk onboard and put my computer, camera and passport into a safe box. Who knows what the situation in the room will be. While I was there I got myself on the list for any private rooms that might be available after we make our intermediate stop in Sweden. They warn me that the chances are minute.
Sadly, none of my imagined scenarios turns up. I’m sharing the room with two Norwegian guys, neither of which speaks English (nor French, nor apparently German.) When I get to the cabin at 4pm they have already finished their first bottle of whisky and have the stereo on. Uh oh. I wonder how late they’ll be up.
I check the locks on my bags, leave them in the room and go exploring. Out at the back deck bar I have a Tuborg while watching the boat depart. It is cloudy and grey. Even if I had my camera with me, there really wasn’t a good photo to take. Had it been clear and sunny, some of the photos looking back at the city might be OK; as it was, I really felt there would be nothing worth shooting. The boat has a ton of duty free shopping, several restaurants, a dual-cinema movie theatre, tiny pool, and a few bars. Some people seem happy (especially the kids), most people have that glazed, worn, airport look.
I made a reservation at the buffet restaurant. All the “second seatings” (after 8pm) were taken, which was fine with me. I got a reservation for 6:15 which allowed me to eat any time after 6:15 but before 8pm. At 8pm I have to be outta there to allow the second seating. Dining alone at a buffet would rarely take me more that ½ hour, so this was no problem. Only a few of the things I tried were truly dreadful, though nothing was worth having seconds. My first dish was definitely the worst – crayfish. I was very surprised and pleased to see a huge pile of crayfish, so I grabbed a bunch straight away and headed to my table. Oooohhh wheee I do love my crays. Except for these. It appears that they were pickled in brine or something. Or perhaps they were shipped over from New Orleans without refrigeration. I’m not sure which. In any case, they tasted like something you might find washed up on the beach. I actually ate two, because I assumed that the first one had simply gone bad, but no, the second was quite as awful as the first. Sigh. Otherwise there were bland noodles in a cream sauce, a couple kinds of not-very-good smoked and marinated salmon, some ugly looking casseroles that I didn’t try, pork boiled in fat, Swedish meatballs with a very weird texture, salty ham, really good breads, tolerable cheeses, several mystery dishes, and lots of gloppy deserts.
After dinner I went by the information booth. After reiterating how insanely lucky I was, they informed me that I had a private cabin if I wanted it for the extra fare (about US$51). My Visa card was out before you could say “you betcha”. Hmmm, a private room to myself where I can read, write, and sleep as I choose, or share with two drunken mono-lingual Norsemen. Tough choice. To their credit my ex-roomates did offer me a drink as I was dragging my suitcases out of the cabin.
Sitting in my private cabin I feel happy to be going somewhere smaller, some place more famous for its natural beauty. And I feel especially happy to be getting over my hellacious jet lag.
August 11, 2002
Boat arrives 9am. Light rain. Taxi to hotel (really expensive - $15 for a 10 minute ride). Driving through the streets at 9am on Sunday no one is around. Is everyone asleep? In church? Dead? Room isn’t ready yet. Leave bags with bellman. A sign in the lobby notes that the Oslo Jazzfest is occurring and ends today. My guidebook says its in July. <thoughts about fears of accidentally arriving in New Orleans during Mardi Gras or Rio during Carnival or Kentucky on Derby Day.>
It was early, it was raining, I needed a shower and didn’t have a room. I asked the bellman if there was some kind of a tour I could take in the interim. He said that the HMK Oslo tour bus was coming by in 5 minutes. I ran into the café for a cup of coffee and slammed it down just in time to jump onto the tour bus. I didn’t know anything about the tour, but I figured “what the heck”, and my foot could use another day off anyway. Lucky again?
I’m glad I managed to get that quick cup of coffee. There is something about the feeling of coffee… it’s a warmth that moves from my mouth, throat and stomach, then, even before it is really in my stomach it is in my arms, my shoulders, my scalp. Is it just addiction?
Its raining in Oslo, light on again, off again rain like London or Seattle. It’s a summer rain, 15 degrees C and humid. Oslo smells wet.
Unlike the recorded open-top bus in Copenhagen, this Oslo tour has live narration, and it is almost continuous. We drove through various parts of the city as the guide described the city. Everything in Oslo is unguarded and open except the US embassy which is surrounded by barricades, fences and guards. You can drive right up to the front door of the parliament building, but you cant get near the US embassy.
If Copenhagen reminds me of Paris, Amsterdam and Prague, Oslo reminds me of Vancouver and Boston – full of trees, going at a slower pace, more manageable. I feel much more at home here.
Our first stop was at Vigeland’s Park. Thankfully the rain stopped just before we arrived. Nice. As we were driving up the guide told us about Gustav Vigeland, an artist that I had never heard of. Apparently he made a deal with the city that if they built him a studio, gave him the finest materials and places to show his work, he would give his entire output – past and future – to the city. Furthermore, he refused to tour his work, saying that if people wanted to see a Vigeland sculpture, they would have to come to Vigeland. Hmmm. I thought he sounded like an arrogant ass. But then we got to the park. Wow. Unbelievable. Truly one of the great sculptors of all time. Michaelangelo, Viegland, Canova – in that order. The tour took us through the park, but much to quickly. I knew I had to come back for more.
Back on the bus we continued on to the <?viking boat museum.> It was smaller than I expected, and the 20 minutes we were allowed there were almost enough to see the whole place. Boats don’t particularly interest me, so I was happy to have this quick-in, quick-out look, and didn’t take the side trip to see the Kon Tiki museum. Though the bus had picked me up at my hotel, the tour finished up near <?wharf> - you have to get back to your hotel on your own.
Since I was right near <wharf?>, I headed over there. There was a big hydrofoil boat race scheduled for today, soothe wharf was particularly hopping. There’s a zillion cafés on the waterfront, but I didn’t feel like dealing with the crowds, so I just got a hot dog at a stand and ate it while watching the people go by.
Afterwards I walked back to the hotel. The Grand Hotel Oslo is grand, but the rooms are not. The first room they put me in was a quiet, interior room, but it felt like a cave. There was no light from the small courtyard window, and the room felt dank. I asked to be moved. They put me in an exterior room on a higher floor. The new room was a bit smaller, but had a lighter feel. The Grand Hotel has an ideal location, and is a beautiful building, but the rooms are typical of old hotels that haven’t been updated. Old furnishings that aren’t antiques, just old, creaky bathroom fixtures, chipped tile, it just feels tired, not classical. Oh well.
Unfortunately by this point it had gotten a bit late, and so I missed the brief opening hours of a museum recommended by my friend Ted. Apparently there is a museum devoted to the paintings of the brother of Gustav Vigeland. For some reason it is only open on Sundays from noon to 4pm. I realized that 3:30 that I only had a half an hour left, so I wasn’t going to make it. Bummer. Instead I relaxed in the room a bit, got my shower, and regrouped before heading out for a walk.
My foot was feeling a lot better, so I walked up to the palace, then sat in a nice park by a pond in the palace park.
Dinner at Lofoton on the wharf. Window seats are booked a week in advance. My table is nice. All down the pier, restaurants are filled with boisterous, happy patrons. This one is ¾ empty and quiet. One look at the prices on the menu tells you why. US$18 for soup and $10 for beer. The menu is quite short, and many items are for parties of two or more. The waiter is brusk and offputting. I look around and see that I am definitely not underdressed, so I’m not sure why he is so curt.
The food was OK, but really expensive. Had a beer called Borg which was really, really good.
After dinner I walked through an outdoor art display of huge photographs entitled “Earth from Above.” Very interesting and well done display. I sat on a bench in a park next to the Radhuset, listening to a performer playing Spanish guitar and enjoying the incredibly pleasant evening air.
August 12, 2002
Less jet lag
Big but mediocre included buffet breakfast. Scary steam table scrambled eggs, ugly cheeses and mystery foods.
Lunch: “fuel” at Burger King. I’ve finally learned that not every meal needs to be a gastronomic experience – sometimes I just need fuel.
Norse Folk Museum
Starts to rain
Lox wrap at the café before heading back. Very nice snack.
Raining heavily now. I go outside with perfect timing to catch the bus, but it doesn’t come. Two busses in a row don’t come. Stand in the rain for 45 minutes, all the time thinking that the bus has to be there any moment.
Dinner at Ett Glass. Tomato garlic soup and springrolls. Excellent Hausa Fatol beer. Rosenkrantz gate. Fun and funky, happening place, next door to the hotel. Sparse menu.
August 13, 2002
In life we are either moving towards something, or moving away. We are very rarely truly at rest. Even at rest we are usually just postponing movement. In my life I am usually happiest when I am moving towards, rather than away.
Jet lag finally all gone. Ate the few good things in the breakfast buffet
New innersouls for my sneakers – much better.
This was the day to go back and truly see Vigelandspark. I took the bus over there and walked in. It was much less crowded then when I had been there with the tour on Sunday. Having time to really consider the pieces, to study them and let them effect me, I found myself moved literally to tears. This park is one of the most significant things in all of Europe. Truly. The Louvre, Vatican City, Vigelands Park. After the park I went to Vigelands museum, housed across the street in his former studio building. More excellent work was showcased there, but none was as extraordinary as the pieces in the park.
Bus, not train, to lake. Beautiful.
Dinner at Restaurant Det Gamle Raadhus in the old city hall. Very expensive, seriously, insanely slow. I had the tradidtional “breast” of veal with summer vegetables. Not sure what a “breast” of veal is supposed to be. Turned out to be a sort of a stewed meat like a veal brisket. It was bland, boring and an atrocity at 200kr (US$26). With beer (a nice “Bayer” amber ale) the whole meal came to 295kr (US$38.) How many ways can I say that it wasn’t worth the time or the money?
Around the area that the restaurant is in is a wonderful square with a cool fountain, lovely buildings, a cobblestone road, and interesting looking cafes.
Since I didn’t want to give any more time or money to Gamle Raadhus, I opted for desert at a place called Onkel Donald on Universitetsgata. This is a super-cool see-and-be-seen hipster restaurant with interesting art and odd-sounding nouvel dishes. The desert was good, the scene was better.
August 14, 2002
Norway in a nutshell trip. Checked out and took an incredibly expensive taxi to the train station. The first part of the trip on a fast, modern, comfortable train to Myrdal, was pretty uneventful. The last hour of the trip was the most beautiful. The “famous” Myrdal-Flam train down an incredibly steep track was interesting. There was running commentary on the train in several languages. At one point the train stopped to let us out to take a photograph of a waterfall. After a minute some music started up from a hidden point on the mountain and the “woman of the waterfall” came out and danced on the hill. It was quite silly and contrived. I wondered what she gets paid. Overall the Flam trip was very reminiscent of scenery in New Zealand and of the train trip I did in Curitiba, Brazil.
Travelers Tip: The Flam train is an out-and-back train that runs on a single track. Thus, if you want to sit facing forwards for the trip to Flam, you will want to sit facing the opposite direction from the way the train came in.
The Norway in a Nutshell trip is actually quite easy to do, but there are very few signs along the way. It really is hard to screw it up, but I kept on having to wait in lines to ask people if I was in the right place. Just a few signs saying “yes, this is the boat/train/bus for Norway in a nutshell – don’t worry” would have gone a long way towards improving the experience for me.
Arrive in Bergen around 9:00pm. Over to Pension Villa Balconen. Confusion about rooms – they have given my private room to someone else named Andrew. Set me up in a back part of the dormitory area. I have a 4 bunk dormitory to myself. Is fine, because this is the quietest part of the place.
Hang out at the pension talking to a bunch of Norwegian girls and Italian guys plus Rolf and Erik.
Walk down into town around midnight with the kids. They want to go to the irish pub, which is crowded and smokey. I leave quickly and somehow manage to find my way back to the pension, even though I forgot my map and the piece of paper with the address. Got to bed way too late.
August 15, 2002
Breakfast at the pension (included). Very nice, great coffee.
Walk around beautiful Bergen. Fish market. They are selling whale meat! I feel like I’ve walked into a supermarket and found pieces of people next to the beef and lamb.
Walk more. Bryggen
Up the funicular
Beautiful lake, sit and read
Dinner of someones left-overs at the pension. Try to make travel arrangements.
August 16, 2002
No breakfast at the pension. Rolf and Erik were up half the night and over slept!
Walk down into town, lovely coffee and pastry at a beautiful café. Lengthy travel arrangements for tomorrow. Internet café in the Galleria mall.
Botanic gardens, lovely.
Walked down to the fish market, and waited for the boat that takes you to the acquarium. Its late. The sign says it goes every 15 minutes. When it finally arrives I board and the boat driver tells me we wont be leaving for another 15 minutes! He tells me that it actually only goes every ½ hour and he’s been trying to get them to change the sign. The boat is really unpleasant, smelling strongly of diesel and throbbing with the engines. Ultimaltely it doesn’t even take you all the way to the aquarium, dropping passengers off a 5 minute walk from the place! Geesh.
Aquarium. Fun seal and penguin feeding at 3pm. The rest of the aquarium was just OK. Definitely not worth the effort to get there. I decide to take the bus back, but I’ve just missed it and it only goes every ½ hour. Good grief. A mediocre aquarium in an inconvenient location. Well worth skipping unless you’re really bored.
Coffee, cinnamon roll and relaxation at a bakery called Godt Broed at the intersection of Torggaten and Neumahns Gate.
Dinner at Spisekroken on markeveien street. Excellent.
More room change madness.
August 17, 2002
Up early, Erik is too hung over to take me to the bus station. Refuses to take payment for the room and gives me 200kr for the taxi and the airport bus! I should be paying him about 500kr, instead he’s giving me 200.
Fly SAS to Stockholm via Oslo
There is no hotel reservations desk at the airport. Easy train from airport to central station in Stockholm – 20 minutes, 160sek. Insanity at the hotel center at the train station. Incredibly long wait. Apparently there is a youth festival this weekend, and an internation design conference all week (plus some other conferences as well.) Takes over an hour. Ultimately I get a reservation at the Riesen hotel for the first two days for an incredible rate of <?> 750sek, then move to the Grand hotel for the princely sum of 2095sek (ouch) per day.
Incredibly late lunch at Café Nova on Gamle Stan, wander around, concert in the park
Dinner at Café Opera. Sat outside. Appetizer, a selection of herrings. Excellent. Huge variety, great flavors, served with fantastic havarti-like cheese and good breads. The olive spread for the bread was fantastic. For my main I had a fried perch on a bed of veggies and potatoes with mustard spume. It was, in a word, odd. Overall the price was fair.
Lots of well dressed people entering the place during my meal. Turns out to be a casino and popular disco in addition to being a restaurant.
Wander on Gamle Stan, try the Swedish drink “punch” at a bar. Meet Ulf and his wife. Invite me to go out on a boat tomorrow. Bartender gives me the “punch” on the house. Hmmm. I think I like this country!
August 18, 2002
Wonderful breakfast buffet in a nice, cozy, sunny room at the hotel. Slow morning, then went to meet Ulf at his boat. Taxi couldn’t find the place, but still charged me for all the time he spent lost. Sigh. Didn’t really bother me, but Ulf was indignant when I told him the story. Cruised over to meet Vincent at his boat. Spent the day talking, eating and drinking. Beautiful, sunny day on the lake.
Got back to the hotel late, tired. Went out on Gamle Stan, ultimately just ate a tunafish sandwich at Café Nova
August 19, 2002
Another nice breakfast (included) in the hotel breakfast room, pack up, move to the Grand Hotel. The taxi cost 68sek (US$7) to basically go a kilometer. Swedish taxi’s don’t have the hellacious flag drop that they do in Norway, but they still aint cheap.
Beautiful hotel, though a lot more expensive. This is the hotel where Nobel Prize recipients stay. Consider: books say Stockholm hotels are packed full and super expensive during weekdays in the winter, and have special cheap rates on weekends and during the summer. Locals say that Stockholm hotels are packed year round, and I had trouble getting reservations when I arrived. If they are full year round, why do they offer special low rates in the summer? One of these things is wrong.
My room is small but very beautifully appointed. I trust that the rooms for Nobel Lauriates are bigger.
Most museums are closed on Mondays.
Bus to Skansen. The price of the 72 hour bus pass has gone up – its now 150kr (US$16) Skansen is much more interesting than the Nordic Folk Museum in Oslo. Silly ancient rides for kids, a zoo, more interesting buildings, larger area, better live demonstrations.
Had a traditional meatball lunch with salad, bread and a coke for only 68sek. A filling, fairly price, but uninspired meal.
Walk around, beautiful Rosengs gardens. Can pick your own flowers, priced by the kilo. Café in a greenhouse. Read under and apple tree.
Back to hotel. Massage, really expensive, just barely “good” at the hotel health club. I figured a Swedish massage at the best hotel in Stockholm would be world class. Oh well.
Dinner at Wedholms Fisk, fish restaurant. Attractive, understated, bright room, but a bit noisy. Wonderful bread. Started with lobster bisque. Too salty, but grew on me. Main of a fricassee of sole, turbot, scallops and lobster in champagne sauce. Outstanding at 540kr a plate.
Akvavit “Skane” at T-Bar at the Diplomat hotel. Really good.
Swedish sounds to me like someone speaking incredibly bad French. Strange that in Norway I could read street signs, here I cant understand anything.
August 20, 2002
Quickie breakfast (free!) at the hotel. Tour bus around town (90 minute “panorama” version, 170kr US$18.) Bus is late, driver skips the stop at the viewpoint, gets back to the place where they let people off for the boat part of the tour – tour guide is missing – driver abandons us, I leave. Tour was pretty good, but not nearly as good as Oslo tour.
Smorgasbord lunch at the Grand Hotel. Wonderful. Great herring, lox, bread, deserts. Most things yummy.
Royal Palace, about 1 hour. Would be better with tour guide. Not as great as Versialles, Palacio Real in Madrid. The treasury took 10 minutes (going slowly!) Skipped the 3-penny museum and the museum of antiquities. Livrustkammaren (the royal armory) was excellent. A fabulous museum with much more than just armaments – beautiful armour, clothing, carriages, jewelry. Great audio guide. Took about ½ hour (no more than 1 hour.) Separate admission fee (65kr plus 20kr for audio guide) from the palace (which was 110kr for all museums – except the armoury!)
Dinner with Tessan at Temn Stopet near the Odenplan T stop, drinks at the Ice Bar at the Nordic Sea Hotel – tourists only.
August 21, 2002
Walk to central train station, some shopping, info on trains to Copenhagen.
Mediocre sushi at SushiHuset, Brahegatan 3. A local told me it was the best sushi in Stockholm. Hmmmm. Good salmon, otherwise mediocre at best.
Museum of Modern Art in its temporary new building – nothing there.
Music museum - excellent
National museum – yawn. One huge painting attributed to Rembrant. Hard to believe – worst Rembrandt ever! Beautiful building, otherwise nothing worth mentioning. Not worth the time or money.
Vasa museum – extremely well done, but I still don’t care about nautical history
Dinner at Gondolen, Stadsgarden 6, 08-641-70-90. – a fascinating restaurant with fantastic views stretched the length of the walkway 6 stories above the locks. However, it was very noisy. Chef Erik is brilliant; I started with a terrine of duck liver with a block of salted duck breast. The liver was magnificently fine, served on a bed of fresh greens with a berry sauce. Truly a tour-de-force appetizer. My main was lamb with truffles spaghetti with artichoke salsify and herbs. The lamb was perfectly done, fantastic, and the spaghetting in a truffle cream sauce was a masterpiece. The Nils Oscar Farm Ale was a good, medium beer, but didn’t go well with my dinner. Watching the red sunset from the cantelievered restaurant was great. For desert I had something called “peach bellini”, which was peach sorbet with fresh strawberries and champagne. I’d have to say it was simply odd.
August 22, 2002
10am boat to Vaxholm, Not the express – took 1hr 20mins, not the promised 1 hr. Hard to find tourist office. bike shop is closed till 2pm – why?
Fortress is closed – end of season.
Standard cute seaside island town ala Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, the San Juan Islands in Washington, etc.
Lunch at Magazinet, Fried herring with potatoes, salad and sour cream sauce. Great.
2:15boat back to Stockholm.
Walk to Centralbadet, massage, sauna – almost nothing in English. Lots of warnings and directions and signs, no idea what any of them says. The only important signs are ones saying “Damen” and “Heren”.
Dinner at Café By George – simple brie and salami sandwich.
August 23, 2002
Checked online for hotel information for my return trip to Copenhagen, then left and had a bad muffin and worse coffee at Michaels Coffee on Kungstragarden. Walked over to Central Station to try to book a hotel for Copenhagen (if possible) and then my train ticket. There was another 1 hour wait at the Central Hotel Booking center, and I doubted that they could make reservations for Copenhagen anyway. I used a payphone to call hotel’s but everything was insanely expensive. Finally I walked over to the Radisson SAS to find out what the Radisson in Copenhagen had available. Turns out they don’t have a central reservations computer, but they did call over to Copenhagen for me. The rate was pretty high, but not out of this world, so I booked it. However, earlier on Expedia I had found an amazing rate at the Sofitel. I was told that there was an internet café down the road, so off I went. This was really starting to take serious time. I got to the ICE internet café at a little past 11am to find out that their hours are 12 to midnight! Geesh. Walking blindly I stopped in at a computer store and was told that there was another internet café on the top floor of the PUB mall, so off I went. For 30kr ($3.20) I got online, found the same great rate at the Sofitel (roughly half of the best price they could give me over the phone, and far less than their own web site offered) and booked it. Expedia made this a pain in the ass, complaining that I was trying to log in from a foreign country and insisting that I either use a Microsoft Passport to log on or re-sign up. Anyway, after a lot of fiddling I made the reservation. I hope the hotel honors it.
Walking back to the train station I was really feeling like this was such a pain in the ass. I’m not sure I like this “traveling without a plan” idea any more. Its not like driving around Austrailia with a stack of B&B books, where I know what is going on, I speak the language, and I have a vehicle. Here in Scandinavia I have wasted a considerable amount of time making plans, no one can tell me anything about travel outside of their bailiwick, and everything is very expensive.
I went back to the Radisson and canceled my expensive reservation with them then went back to the train station to make my travel reservation, and took a number from the ubiquitous queuing system (every place in Scandinavia you have to take a number.) My number came up 825, and so I was shocked when I looked at the reader board and saw that they were currently serving number 740. Ouch. I went to the hot dog stand and had lunch while waiting. As I finished my horrible hot dog, my number came up. I was feeling rather despondent at this point, so I was rather taken aback when the process of buying a ticket for the train on Sunday was trivial. It took about two minutes, I was able to get a window seat facing forwards on the train I wanted at the time I wanted. Poof. Just like that!
I had decided to go to Drottningholm Palace today, so I went to the train information desk and took a number. To my surprise I only had to wait a minute, and the information person was super pleasant, friendly, and helpful. In no time I was on the green line train headed for Brommaplan. From Brommaplan you can take the #177 bus or any bus numbered in the 300’s to get to Drottningholm. The next bus left in a couple of minutes and I was on my way. Total travel time, 40 minutes. Along the way I marveled at how difficult everything had been all morning, then suddenly like someone had flicked a switch, everything was easy.
Drottningholm Palace is a 17th century royal country retreat outside of town. It is intended to look like Versailles, but on a budget. There is an astounding amount of Trompe L’oeiul – marble, wood, carvings, even trompe l’oeiul windows in some places. Some of it is very good, and some astoundingly bad. Overall the palace was OK, but not really worth the trip. I mean, once you’ve seen one trompe l’oeul Versailles, you’ve pretty much seen them all. And once you seen the real Versailles, Drottningholm Palace is a waste of time. The gardens were nice thought, and got a kick out of the list of restrictions which included the rather odd “golf practice is not permitted.” I wondered what prompted them to add that rule.
After a while in the gardens I decided to head back towards town and go to the beach on Langholmen. To do this I took the bus back Brommaplan, then green line back to Alvick, then the orange tram to liljeholmen then the red line to Hornstull. Whew. Anyway, it all worked but took about an hour. The beach at Langholmen was nice, and I got to have a chance to take a look at the old prison-turned-hostel on the island. Looked like it would be a good place to stay if it weren’t always booked up.
Wandered around some more and headed back towards the hotel. I couldn’t stand the idea of another big, fancy meal, so I stopped by a nice looking café on the Kungsgarten. Had a salad with lox and a light beer, followed by a terrible muffin and a tiny cup of tea. It was a fine solution, but brutally expensive given what it was (over US$20 for a rather modest meal.)
I went back to the hotel quite exhausted and just watched TV for a while. Eventually I realized that my early, modest dinner hadn’t been enough so I dressed up a bit and headed out to café-land. Friday night at 10pm downtown Stockholm is a madhouse. Zillions of people dressed to kill wandering in packs, filling bars, discos, restaurants and casinos (which in Stockholm are frequently the same places.) I ended up at a restaurant/disco named Koket where I had an excellent red pepper soup with pesto and proscuitto, followed by codfish cakes with plum sauce and papaya salad. Sadly, the codfish cakes were way too salty. The service was mind-bogglingly slow. There were three bouncers keeping out the under-21 crowd, but only two waiters serving the whole place.
Back at the hotel I stopped in at the piano bar where a blond pianist was singing horrendous show tunes, and had an Akvavit O. P. Anderson. It was good, but of the Akvavit’s I’ve had, I prefer Skane.
August 24, 2002
Walked to city hall. Only guided tours are allowed, and the next one in English wasn’t till noon. Decided I didn’t care enough to wait. Instead, went up the tower. I wasn’t feeling strong enough this morning to do the whole <?> storey climb, but then I saw there was an elevator so I bought a ticket. Turns out the elevator only goes up ½ way. Sigh. Cost: 15SEK (US$1.60).
There are Italians everywhere. I’ve no idea why there are so many Italians, but I have to say that Italian tourists rank right up with the worst in the world. They are always in huge groups with lots of ill-behaved and uncontrolled children, the women are trying to climb narrow staircases in stiletto heels while the men are standing in the middle of the famous view shouting into cell phones. Inevitably the group will stand in front of the only entrance/exit in order to have a loud and lengthy fight about something. All the while they appear to be completely oblivious to the site they are visiting, consumed instead with each other and their non-stop cell phone conversations. It always makes me wonder why they don’t just stay home. I have yet to see a group of Italian tourists who seemed to be enjoying themselves, and I have yet to see an Italian tourist who isn’t in a group.
Continued walking around. For a beautiful, cosmopolitan city, there is an amazing amount of trash in the streets and parks. I actually watched a teenage boy throw a pepsi can into a bush. Sigh. I walked to the T-Central trolley station where I took the red line to Universitat. From there I walked to the Botanic Gardens. There is a beautiful café in a greenhouse there where I had a snack with a cup of special rose tea. A Canadian man who was with a Swedish family came over and sat with me for a while. Apparently his wife and her family were all Swedes and he just wanted to hear English spoken for a while.
The pricing structure of the botanic gardens kinda bugged me. The gardens themselves are free, but then each greenhouse and conservatory within the gardens charges its own separate fee. The Edvard Anderson Conservatory was of particular note. In 1936 Edvard Anderson left his estate to fund the building of a greenhouse “for the enjoyment of the people.” It was opened in 1995, a scant 59 years later, and they charge 40SEK (US$4.30) to get in. It looked only slightly interesting, so I did not spend the cash. Overall the botanic gardens were pleasant but uninspiring. My favorite thing about them was the café.
Taking a different return route I rode the train to Tekniska Hogskolan, then took the red line to T-Centralen, followed by the green line to Radmansgatan to see the State Library. Fodor’s called the State Library “delightful” <?>. I’m not sure what aspect of it managed to delight them, perhaps it was the free internet terminals. Otherwise, the building has nothing to recommend it. I got back on the T to T-Centrallen, where I got on the #69 bus to Djurgarten. The city is jammed full of people on this lovely Saturday afternoon. Traffic in town was at a complete standstill, even in the bus-only lanes! Pedestrians wandering through crosswalks talking on cell phones managed to eliminate the brief moments that the traffic signals indicated we could go. The bus sat in mid-town traffic seemingly forever, and I considered making the driver let me off so I could just walk.
I finally got to Djurgarten where I walked along the canal to Rosends Tragarten. It was much busier than the last time I was there. I got a bowl of awesome gazpacho. Spicy and fresh with a pile of shrimp, chives and flowers on top and a hunk of excellent bread. I love this place. Unfortunately, it was so busy with families and shouting children that it was impossible to find a peaceful picnic table in the orchard to enjoy my meal. After I ate I searched for a tree to sit under and read, ending up moving every 15 minutes or so as boisterous youths evicted me from my various reveries. Finally I gave up and took the #47 bus back. Note that the #47 bus is 0.3 miles closer to Rosend Tragarten than the #69 bus (says my GPS.)
Dinner at Siam Thai restaurant on Gamle Stan. I’m still so tired of big, complex, expensive meals and of Swedish food. The food was good, but not great (not as good as I make.) One note, it was really expensive – about US$25 for one person for dinner without drinks! Granted, its on Gamle Stan where everything is expensive, but Thai food is supposed to be a cheap alternative. Afterwards I walked back to the bar (name) to get a final glass of punch. Again it was excellent, and again the bartender refused payment. I guess if you want free punch, this is the place to go.
August 25, 2002
Packed up and prepared to leave. One of the problems with big, expensive, fancy hotels is the breakfast thing. If breakfast is included in the rate (which it rarely is), then you tend to get faced with the problem I had – I just wanted to get a quick coffee and a pastry or toast or something, but all that was available was the US$20 breakfast buffet. I never want to pay US$20 for breakfast, but if I just want a coffee, I really don’t want to pay. So, after checking out I left my bags with the bellman and headed across the street to Kungsgarten to get a coffee and cinnamon roll at a café there (for only 30sek.) With tons of extra time I got a taxi to the train station (80sek), and hung out on the platform for 45 minutes waiting for the train to Copenhagen.
Stockholm is definitely a world-class city. Fantastic architecture, beautiful boulevards, and excellent public transportation system, great restaurants, etc. Paris is still a greater city though, with better food, vastly better museums, greater scope, variety, and elegance, but Stockholm is quite wonderful. Though the Grand was excellent and in an ideal location, If I were to come back for more than a day or two, I think I would arrange to get a B&B or pension a little further out and rent a bicycle for the length of my stay. I think it would be a lot of fun to bike around Stockholm and environs. I’d also like to kayak in the rivers and lakes here. Still, in this week I feel like I’ve done Stockholm quite thoroughly, so I’m not likely to be rushing back. Furthermore, they have had the best weather here in 100 years this summer, so I’m unlikely to come back when the weather is as cooperative.
I’d like to get back to my hotel rant for just a moment. I don’t understand why all the extras cost extra at a 5-star hotel. The Grand is very expensive (even if I did get a special low summer rate.) When I fly first class on an airplane, drinks are free, headsets for the movies are free, everything extra is free – effectively already included in the inflated ticket price. Why is it that at the Grand, phone calls were three times the price at the Riesen? On my bill were US$30 worth of phone calls. I’m sure they didn’t cost the hotel more than a dollar or two. Furthermore, at the Riesen breakfast was included. Here it would have cost me US$20 per day! I just find that very annoying. The hotel is great, the location ideal, but if they are going to charge a premium price, why cant the premiums be included?
Thoughts on Swedish language spellings – like Portuguese, they pronounce the letters wrong; e.g. “k” is pronounced like “s” or “ch”, e.g. the town of Norrkoping is pronounced like “norshopping”.
Anyway, the first class compartment on the X2000 train to Copenhagen is very nice, comfy, roomy and quiet. The countryside rolls effortlessly by. This is a fine way to travel – slow but fine. I just read on the news last night that Amtrak is canceling some large percentage of its trains from Boston to Washington D.C. Sigh.
One word of warning – bring warm clothes on the train. They keep it like a meat locker in here!
Got to Copenhagen after a pleasant and uneventful 5 hour ride. The extra US$35 for first class is definitely worth it for a trip of this length. I had no problem walking my bags to the Sofitel Plaza Copenhagen (Bernstorffsgade 4), conveniently located next to the train station. I have no idea why Expedia offered me this room at half the price that Sofitel wanted. It’s a very nice room, and much larger than my room at the Grand in Stockholm! The location is excellent, but with a caveat. I have an interior room which is quite quiet, however, many rooms face the noisy street or the train tracks. I’m sure I would be hating those rooms (I can almost hear the trains from my interior room.) Though this has worked out quite well, I suspect I wouldn’t stay here again given the risk of getting a super-noisy room. Also, the regular rate here sucks. It really is a pity as the building and the rooms are quite charming and I rather like the place.
Off to Tivoli, not interesting for me. I don’t understand why people like amusement parks. Had a hot dog and candy floss. Left very quickly. Went back to the hotel and took a nap – no idea why I’m so tired. Got up late, went out for a real dinner. Excellent vegetarian buffet at RizRaz (98dkk).
August 26, 2002
Breakfast at the train station (coffee and an excellent pastry). Bought a 24 hour all trains/busses pass for 85dkk (US$11.30), and head off on the train towards Helsigor, getting off at Humlebaek to see the Louisiana museum of modern art. The train is super nice and comfy. Pleasant farmland cruises by, and 41 minutes later we are there (note that Rick Steves says it is 30 minutes). The bus from the train station wont be there for another 25 minutes, so I do the 10 minute walk instead.
The building at Louisiana is great, and the gardens are lovely, but the art does nothing for me. The gardens are full of the kind of big, abstract pieces that I have always found completely uninteresting. Neither of the two special exhibits are at all interesting, and the works in the permanent collection aren’t at all to my taste. The café was good. Hi ho.
I took bus 388 back to the train station, which took about 1 minute. Note that this bus runs only twice per hour, and the 1:11pm bus that I caught was one minute early, so, if your cutting your time tight, be warned. (Note: subsequently on my Copenhagen trip I observed several other busses running early – by their only clocks as well as by my watch.) From there I boarded the next train to Helsigor, which takes about 11 minutes.
From the Helsigor train station it is a 15 minute walk to the castle. It is an OK castle, but nothing exceptional. The best part were the “casements”, underground apartments where servants lived. My other favorite aspect was the English-language guide’s sardonic commentary on the decline and fall of the Danish empire. He remarked upon it as though it happened last week, and he personally was really put out.
After walking back to the train station I decided to take the train from there to Hillerod, rather than going straight back to Copenhagen. Unfortunately, this is a really slow train. One stop we made had a 10 minute pause, and it was hot as hell on the train. From the Hillerod train station I took the #701 bus to Friedricksbourg Castle. Sadly, it was closing just as I arrived. I must say that from the outside and the brochure this is really some castle. Helsigor has nothing on this place (except for a mythical reference in Hamlet.) In retrospect I would rather have seen Friedricksbourg than either Helsigor or Louisiana.
August 27, 2002
Breakfast at the train station, an even better kind of pastry.
Lunch at Café Norden. Tomato soup. I suspect it was good, but, unfortunately it is served at a temperature of 1,000,003 degrees celcius in a special Danish-made cauldron that does not have its molecules pulled apart by the extreme temperature. I burned my mouth beyond recognition on the first sip, so I’m not sure what the rest of it tasted like.
Dinner at the home of Albert’s friend Rikke.
August 28, 2002
I get up, pack up, check out and walk 1 minute across the street to the train station. It costs 21dkk for a 3 zone train ticket to the airport, which takes 15 minutes. It couldn’t be easier. I had a simple check-in in the Lufthansa Star Alliance Gold line, but as with my earlier SAS experiences, the regular economy check-in lines are among the longest I’ve seen anywhere in the world.
It was an uneventful flight until we get to Frankfurt. The pilot announces that due to earlier weather problems, all traffic in and out of Frankfurt is backed up, and we will have to circle for a while. Well, a while turned into half an hour. My easy 50 minute connection is now a tight 20 minute connection, but the pilot assured us that everything was backed up both coming and going, so not to worry about connections. I was in row 42, so it took forever to get off the plane. I didn’t know how far it was, so I took off running. Inevitably my new gate was over a kilometer a way. Then it turned out that I had to take a train, which takes 2 minutes to arrive, then I ran some more, then its through security and they were being as thorough as possible. They made me turn on my laptop, and they took my sneakers and re-x-rayed them. Ugh. Then through passport control, which took forever. Finally I was through and off at a run. There were no moving sidewalks, there seemed to be no airconditioning, I was dripping sweat. And… they moved my gate from A4 to A7! Again I’m running.
I got to my 1:05pm flight at exactly 1:08. The grim attendant says “The plane has already left, we couldn’t hold it any longer.” Any longer??? Any longer??? It’s a 10 hour flight, I was held up on an incoming genuine Lufthansa flight, and they couldn’t hold the outgoing flight three minutes? And not even “we’re sorry”, like maybe it’s my fault! “Any longer”, like what, they held it one minute, but they couldn’t keep it for three? “You’ll have to go back to the transfer desk, it’s just up the hall.” Again, no “sorry”. “Just up the hall” turns out to be back about a kilometer (I’m not exaggerating.) I try to run back but I’m exhausted. I get to the transfer gate, fight my way through a throng of people to get to the empty Star Alliance Gold counter. The guy fills out an epic three-part form and types on his computer for at least 10 minutes, before finally handing me boarding passes for a flight that will go via Chicago in 4 hours. Oh well, it’s better than nothing. I suggest that maybe they’d like to upgrade me to First class for my trouble. No, he can’t do that, I can ask at the gate. Sigh.
At the gate, because I am using miles to upgrade from economy to business they tell me they cant upgrade me to first for any reason, but they will give me back my 20,000 mile certificate. Oh well, that’s better than nothing. Still, since I am now getting back at a time that will feel like the wee hours of the morning instead of late evening, I would really have liked those nice first class flat bed seats. Hi ho.
Of course, next it turns out that the flight to Chicago is delayed 45 minutes because the airplane couldn’t get here on time due to weather. So my earlier flight to Denver is probably the only flight that left on time all day. Sigh. Hopefully I can still make my connection from Chicago to Denver.
So much for hoping… I got to Chicago with barely enough time to make the connection. I was first through immigration, then waited for my baggage. The first bag came after a really long time, the second bag never showed at all. Finally a Lufthansa rep told me to go ahead with just the one bag. I went through customs to the transfer desk – there was only 20 minutes left, but they told me I could make it. They didn’t tell me I was in terminal 5, and my gate was at the far end of terminal 1. 25 minutes later I arrived fuming and pissing at my gate with the flight long gone. The United rep left over at the gate told me I was rebooked on the 6am flight the next morning. “What about a hotel voucher?” I asked. “That’s Lufthansa’s problem”. “OK, where is there a Lufthansa representative?” “Well, there might be one left at the transfer desk at international, but it’s a long shot.” So I ran back to Terminal 5, which was completely abandoned. A security guard suggested that I go to Lufthansa in, get this, Terminal 1. So I make the 20 minute trek back to Terminal 1 again, where there was indeed a person at Lufthansa’s check-in counters. They gave me a coupon for a room at the Holiday Inn. After finding the hotel shuttle area, waiting for the shuttle, etc. I was finally in a room at the Holiday Inn a little before 11pm local time. My 6am flight the next morning requested arrival 1.5 hours in advance, which meant that I had about 4 hours to pretend to sleep at the Holiday Inn at precisely the time I would have been waking up in Copenhagen. Sigh. I ordered room service, checked my email, watched some TV, slept a bit (I had basically been awake for 24 hours at this point), showered, and headed back to the airport.
Oh, by the way… injury added to insult. I was supposed to be on a direct flight from Frankfurt to Denver in Business class, using my famous upgrade coupon. However, because Lufthansa screwed up my connection and rebooked me on Lufthansa to Chicago and then United to Denver, I am in economy from Chicago to Denver. Lufthansa says they cant upgrade me to business on United’s flight. Good grief.
So, my United flight took off on time without a hitch. I’m goin’ home. I wonder if they’ll find my luggage?