Monday, April 29, 2013

Norway: The End

Our trip home was long but relatively easy. 

We had realized that we only had an hour to connect in Frankfurt.  While that is a legal connection time, we had proved on the outbound that it was near-impossible enough to be undesirable.  We pitched this story to United, and they agreed to change the ticket to go via Dulles on United instead of via Toronto on Air Canada.  In addition to saving us the hassle of possible misconnect, this got us Economy Plus seating (woohoo!), mile bonuses, and lifetime flight mile credit for flying United metal.  All around a real win.

We had to leave our hotel to get the 4:30am shuttle bus to the airport, and the kids handled that relatively well under the circumstances (i.e. still operating mostly on Denver time).  At the airport, there was some confusion about checking us in due to the last minute itinerary changes, but the SAS staff who contract to Lufthansa were friendly and got it worked out after a bit. 

Flights and transit in Frankfurt went smoothly, with time enough to hang out in the Senator Lounge, planespot, and have breakfast.  D was obsessed with his birthday toys - Dump Truck, Cement Mixer, and Elephant - and insisted on feeding his elephant.  Whenever he wanted something else he would ask on behalf of Elephant: "Elephant egg?  Elephant water?  Elephant bread?"  We almost lost Mixer and Elephant when he left them on a magazine rack, but a lounge staff member came to the rescue. 

Our FRA-IAD flight was nearly empty in E+ (though full in the back!), and we were able to secure two rows of three seats next to the windows for our family... and there were enough empty seats that there was yet another row to fully lay down on during the flight!  So our family of 4 had 9 seats.  Not bad.  Everyone slept.

Unfortunately, we had again set up a tight connection in IAD.  We took a 30 minute delay out of Frankfurt due to air traffic control in Europe (it was funny that the pilot felt compelled to specify that this did not have anything to do with FAA furloughs, but that in fact France was having technical problems with their ATC systems).  And then once we arrived in Dulles there was a string of unfortunate luck combined with some general incompetence that resulted in us missing our planned IAD-DEN flight and, sadly, losing our upgrades - parked at the gate furthest from immigration, took ramp crew over 15 minutes to bring up strollers, SAS forgot to priority tag our bags in all the confusion so we had to wait for them, IAD security from customs to domestic transfers has no premier line.   (But Global Entry did get us around the long customs line.)  Despite our best efforts, we ended up at the gate a few minutes after the door had closed.

Happily though, United actually did something useful for once and had protected us on the following flight, which left only 30 minutes later.  Because we were protected, D's upgrade even cleared!  So I took the first class seat with C on my lap, and T and D shared a row of three seats in the back - not too shabby.

Sunset at DIA
 We arrived home, with luggage, at 9pm - about 24 hours after we left our hotel in Bergen, and everyone slept like logs (C only woke up ONCE in the night!).

Very successful.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Norway: A Relaxed Birthday

If yesterday's weather was a gift, today's weather wreaked its vengeance upon us.  We woke up to cold, driving rain against our window.  We had sort of planned on maybe going out for another drive today, or perhaps walking around the ruins of the old fortress that used to sit watch over this harbor and the entrance to the fjords.  But we just couldn't summon the gumption, especially with same pretty important items on the to do list.

Number one on the list was to celebrate little D's second birthday!  We had brought along a few small toys and a bit of wrapping paper for him to open.

After he did that, and C wanted to go down for a nap, D and I bundled up and ventured out on a walk on a mission to 7-11 for ice cream to have with our afternoon/lunchtime pannekaken.  The ice cream turned out to be the single most expensive item we've bought on this trip - 69 NOK ($12) for a pint of Haagen Dazs.  No, the Ben & Jerry's wasn't any cheaper.  In fact, the sum total of all the little toys we brought was about $5 (from the Walmart bargain bin, plus a free flashlight from Harbor Freight), and the ice cream more than doubled that.

 In order to let C sleep longer, we tacked on a brave turn through the fortress grounds.  We returned soaked and cold, but very happy.

We headed out for pancakes with our Haagen Dazs, which was pretty much awesome.  The ice cream made D so hyper that he had to walk up and down the stairs (7 floors) before he would settle down.  The whole way he was saying, "Adventure, Mama.  Adventure, Mama."  That's my boy!

We had a pretty chill afternoon, getting packed up and watching a movie.  Daddy and D headed out again in the rain to let C have a little more sleep, before we headed down to dinner.  We had one last trip up to the hotel's tower to seek out a rainbow when the sun peeked out (found!), and D told us all about the clock mechanism ("Tick tock tick tock, clock says.")

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Norway: An Epic Drive

On a visit to the gateway to the fjords, we thought it would be nice to get out and see some actual fjords.  Typically one would do this on some sort of cruise, but considering the fact that (a) we are still in the pre-season ("come back in May next week.") so cruise options are somewhat limited and (b) a cruise confines us with our little sweet morsels to a small enclosed space for a while, we opted to take a scenic drive instead.

When we woke up on Saturday morning and it was absolutely gorgeous, no rain clouds in sight, it was just confirmed to us that we had to get out and see the countryside.  Interestingly, this had been marked as the "best day of the week" since the weather predictions became available a few weeks ago.  The forecast for the other days of our trip had since deteriorated, but Saturday still had a little sunshine next to it.  And so it was!

T and C walked over to the Avis city rental location after breakfast to rent the car.  We had a voucher for a free rental day, and as rentals here go for around $200 US per DAY, this was pretty much our highest value redemption ever.  We headed east on E16, then off onto County Road 7, which is not only the more scenic drive up Hardangerfjord, but it was the only option because E16 was closed due to a rockslide.

It's hard to describe the scenery that greeted us.  It was epic, grandiose, dramatic.  Sheer rock faces, hanging waterfalls, tunnels and bridges, chasms, crystal clear green water, and smooth, icy glaciers.

Trusty car

Thatched roof bus stop

Nursing break!

Lumber mill

The kids took a long nap in the car which gave Mom and Dad some peace and quiet to enjoy the scenery and some adult conversation - amazing!  We briefly considered deviating from our planned route to take a car ferry over to Kinsarvik, but opted not to wake them up, and continued our planned route out to Ulvik.

 Once there, my map showed a road spur that went up to a little collection of houses called Oso up in a basin, and then ended.  Since T loves to find The End of The Road, we followed it!  Well, at the end of the road, a sign indicated a scenic viewpoint if you went up to the left, so we did.... and climbed higher and higher, past the National Park boundary and the new power lines that were going in, up past where a single plow-width had been made in the snow, until there was enough ice on the road that we didn't feel comfortable continuing in our little compact hatchback.  It wasn't *quite* the end of the road, but it was close enough to the end of the plowed road (and the sheer rock faces that surrounded the box canyon) that we're going to count it.  It felt very similar to our jaunt up into the Chilean Andes a few years ago.


Funny travel-with-kids story: D is daytime potty trained.  Once we passed a certain point on the road, there were no more rest areas with potties appearing.  No problem, I figure - he's a boy, he can pee standing up.  Well, apparently peeing standing up is an acquired skill instead of a natural ability.  We gave him three or four opportunities, met with much resistance, before he finally gave up and just went in his pants, pretty traumatized by the fact that when he told us he had to go, we had not provided a potty.  Poor guy.  We'll have to work on that one.

We got back into Bergen and back to the hotel just in time for evening "appetizers," which we call dinner.  There was chicken/curry fried rice and some BBQ chicken.  There was also about 100 middle school boys and their chaperones, apparently over from Oslo for a basketball tournament this weekend.  The kitchen almost couldn't keep up with bringing meat out to feed them.  The upside of this situation was that the kitchen had left the pannekaken batter out and the griddle on for them (otherwise we would have missed  the pancake window!).  The downside was that the little hoodlums were swarming the griddle, and it was impossible to get in to it!  Finally T stood in the queue they had going, which was actually very orderly under the circumstances.  He chatted to them about basketball, and they seemed very polite and not like hoodlums at all.  And the only one of them who had a favorite NBA player chose Kobe and not LeBron.  So I take it back about calling them hoodlums.

After dinner, we all returned the car to Avis and had a cold but pleasant walk back to the hotel, and as it was pretty late, got to see a slice of Bergen nightlife.