On Day 163 of the Nowhere To Be Project we arrived in Bergen, Norway. Norway is known for cold air and abundant rain and today was no different. Travel tip: pack a hooded raincoat when visiting Norway. I did not and was soaked to the bone by what the locals call “Norwegian Sunshine” (rain…over 80 inches each year)! Umbrellas are pretty useless here as the wind can get fierce.
Bergen itself is a busy port city filled with seafood, boats and tourists. The colorful wooden row houses are the signature of this former capital city. Travel tip two: bring a very fat wallet for a visit to Norway because prices are at least double what one might pay in the U.S. for the same item. A pint is $15 and an average glass of wine around $25. The ever-popular Norwegian sweaters range from $200 to $600. A casual dinner for two can easily cost several hundred dollars. We kept (most of) our money and enjoyed the free scenery instead, haha. It is very easy to whittle away the hours just watching the boats come and go and we did that very thing with great pleasure.
Day 161 of the Nowhere To Be Project places us eleven days into our two week British Isles Explorer voyage aboard the Viking Sky. We docked in Invergorden and joined an optional tour to visit the battlefield of Culloden. The drive through the lush heather-covered rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands was so peaceful that the horror of what happened at Culloden on 16 April 1746 nearly escaped us. That is, until we stepped foot on it. Tombstones etched with clan names dot the grounds to mark the mass burial sites. We were told that after the battle, wives and mothers came to identify and bury their kinfolk only to be raped by the loyalists who had defeated the Jacobites so fiercely. Sadly, the humiliation didn’t end there. Following the battle, clans were no longer allowed to dress in their tartans and were not permitted to speak in their native tongue, Scots Gaelic. So many men died which wiped out many Highlanders clans. The Fraser clan was so depleted that men from outside the clan were offered twenty pounds to change their names to Fraser! Today’s visit was so moving, rivaling the time I spent on Omaha Beach in Normandy. Both are tricks of the mind…so much natural beauty, yet so incredibly tainted by the ignorance of war.
Day 153 of the Nowhere To Be Project marked my 47th year of life and the fourth day of our British Isles Explorer voyage onboard the Viking Sky. The morning was spent at the spa as we cruised the English Channel. A deep-tissue massage followed by a few minutes in the hydrotherapy pool gave me a lot of time for reflection. I am so grateful for the life I’ve had, especially for the many low points. It is easy to wish away bad days, but without those I probably wouldn’t be as profoundly appreciative of the good ones. Speaking of good days, my husband and I raised a glass to at least 47 more years as we floated in the infinity pool and watched the world go by. Can life possibly get any better?
We spent day 152 of the Nowhere To Be Project in the charming seaside town of Dover, England. Our first stop upon arrival was to Dover Castle which was rebuilt by my 20th Great Grandfather, King Henry II, during his reign. Henry is widely regarded as one of the most successful rulers in England’s history and the sprawling castle is surely evidence of this. Walking in the actual footsteps of my ancestors is one of the reasons why travel is so important to me. The view I enjoyed from a window in the tower of the castle today probably wasn’t all that different from the one my grandparents, Henry and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, had in the 12th century (well, except for the fact that mine included my current home away from home, the Viking Sky). It just proves that we all leave a legacy for those who follow us whether we intend to or not. I’d like mine to include the importance of wanderlust.
Day 151 of the Nowhere To Be Project marked our second day onboard the Viking Sky. Having visited London several times before, we tried to make it a day of seeing things we’ve never seen before. In short, we did what we do best…wander! It was fantastic! There were two extra special highlights: 1- seeing the ruins of a Roman gravel road from the first century (amazing to see such history) at Southwark Cathedral, AND 2- the fact that London is a trailblazer in terms of vegan offerings (choices at every literally every restaurant and pub we walked by)!
We thought we’d beat the heat in the ship’s infinity pool after eight hours of walking the city. Unfortunately, the water was as hot as the asphalt we’d been traversing all day (hot tub hot)! Looking forward to cooler days ahead as we sail for Dover this evening. Anchors away!
Day 149 of the Nowhere To Be Project was a “getting there” day. Living in the mountains is great except when it’s time to get to the airport. We rely on a shuttle service, Colorado Mountain Express, to transport us on the two-plus hour trek to the airport. Today’s shuttle was jam-packed and smelled of wet dog due to the fact that everyone (and their luggage) had gotten soaked on the first rainy day we’ve had in Vail this summer. The good news is we’re heading to London. The bad news is the rain is following us from Vail to Denver so we may end up with delays. Oh well, just an opportunity for an extended pre-flight happy hour, I guess!
As promised, day 143 of the Nowhere To Be Project is focused on revisiting my Danube Waltz journey with Viking River Cruises. As I explained yesterday, I will spend the next four days reviewing my previous Viking River Cruises in anticipation of my first Viking Ocean Cruise next week. For the first review, we’ll travel back to 2014. To begin with, the cruise almost didn’t happen as our initial booking was canceled by Viking. I received an email explaining that the voyage was canceled and that all monies would be refunded. We were really bummed to hear this as it was to be our first river cruise and one where our grown children would be joining us. I called Viking to find out what was happening and they offered to put us on another ship around the same dates. Initially, we had reserved two standard cabins (category F). These were no longer available on the replacement ship, but Viking agreed to upgrade us to french balcony rooms at no charge. These rooms are a bit smaller than the standard cabins, but have sliding glass doors to allow for fresh air and a larger viewing area. We were pleased with this change and the way the mishap was handled.
We flew from Orlando to Munich on Lufthansa airlines (booked through Viking’s choice air program to ensure that we were all placed together). We were greeted at the airport by Viking staff and were transported to Passau on a comfortable tour bus. We were greeted with champagne immediately upon boarding the Viking Lif on the afternoon of Saturday, December 20 and that was the kick off of what was to be an amazing holiday.
After a nice dinner in the main restaurant on board, we wandered through the lovely town. With this being our first river cruise, we marveled at how simple it was to walk on and off the ship in a centrally located area of town. On that first night were exhausted, so we just sipped gluhwein and enjoyed the simple beauty of Passau.
Day two of the cruise was also spent in Passau. We joined the included walking tour which focused on history and architecture. The tour concluded with an outstanding organ concert at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Once again, we enjoyed dinner consisting of regional foods in the restaurant as a family (table for four). After dinner cocktails were a pleasure in the lounge with the addition of live music.
We awoke in Linz, Austria and enjoyed a buffet breakfast before departing on a full day tour to Salzburg. The countryside was lovely and put everyone in the Christmas mood. Of course, there was a lot of focus on the von Trapp family and the film, The Sound of Music. Dinner was no exception and was followed up by live music in the lounge with a von Trapp flair. We were also able to spend a very short time before dinner exploring the quaint town of Linz.
On day four of the Danube Waltz voyage, we reached Melk, Austria where we toured the beautiful Melk Abbey, a 900 year old monastery. The serenity of the abbey was topped only by the sheer loveliness of it. There wasn’t much to explore in and around the ship after our tour, but we did sail in the afternoon to a pleasant little Austrian town called Dürnstein. We liked the area so much that we decided to skip dinner on board the Lif to enjoy a small, but picturesque Christmas market and more gluhwein.
Day five of our cruise marked Christmas Eve and everyone on the ship, passengers and staff, were abuzz with the festivities and decor as we awoke in Vienna. We joined the city tour of Vienna where all of the key spots in town were highlighted. The kids were getting sick of the slow pace of the tours at this point though so we ventured off on our own for lunch at Aida Cafe Vienna tea room in the heart of the city. From there, we made made our way to the office of Dr. Sigmund Freud (had to be done as professor of psychology:-) and then on to one of the largest of the Christmas Markets in the region for some shopping, and you guessed it, more gluhwein! We made it back to the ship with a few minutes to spare before our 1:30AM sailaway.
Christmas Day brought the Viking Lif to Bratislava, Slovakia. The kids slept in while we embarked on a guided walking tour of the surrounding town. While the tour did a great job of explaining the fascinating history and architecture, the entire city was closed for business in celebration of the Christmas holiday. We joined the kids for a special Christmas tea on board where the pastry chef taught passengers how to make the regional favorite, kiffles cookies. Christmas dinner on board was a wonderful celebration, but again focused mostly on regional foods rather than traditional favorites. In the late evening, everyone on board made their way to the sun deck for our arrival in Budapest where the cruise director highlighted key facts about the landscape as we sailed. Entering the vibrantly illuminated city at night was breathtaking. By the time we docked (about 10pm) we were ready to explore Budapest and did so into the wee hours.
Our final day was spent on an included walking tour of Budapest where we visited the National Opera House and Matthias Church. We made some time for shopping and dining in town before boarding the Lif for the final time. Our transport to the airport left the ship the next morning at 4:30am and seamlessly delivered us to the airport for our flight home.
Our overall experience on Viking’s Danube Waltz was outstanding. This part of the world is simply magical at this time of year and it offered so many wonderful opportunities for celebration. The staff on board the Lif was exceptional in all regards and we felt totally pampered throughout the voyage. The ship was comfortable, sleek and modern, and never felt crowded. Our fellow passengers, while much older than us, were mostly pleasant and very well-traveled. The food was good and the included regional wines were even better. The excursions were as to be expected, but the tour guides were exceptional. This journey sparked our love affair with Viking and river cruising so much so that we purchased vouchers for another voyage while on board.
Day 132 of the Nowhere To Be Project brought me the sudden realization that I pretty much live out of a bag. I do have a home base that is filled with a lifetime of memories and possessions, but with a life of near constant travel, my suitcase definitely gets much more use than my closet. Even when I’m home (as I have been for the past couple weeks), I keep the bag packed.
You may be wondering what the heck is in this always-at-the-ready travel bag? Besides about ten monochromatic mix and match (always black except for summer when white is prominent) wardrobe staples, I have several must have items with me always.
1- Small Toiletry Kit stocked with essentials: medication, toothbrush, SPF moisturizer and lip gloss. I use a zippered clutch that doubles as a purse with a pop of color.
2- Eye-mask and Earplugs – I protect good sleep no matter where I might be in the world! These two are sleep’s best friends!
3- Inflatable Pillow and DreamSack – These small luxuries are the (slightly larger) natural extensions of the eye-mask and earplugs. They take just a few cubic inches of space yet create a clean sleeping space anywhere.
4- Smartphone with Charger – A globally-enabled smartphone is a no-brainer. It provides basic tools like a compass and flashlight along with the ability to communicate and stay entertained. Mine is loaded with favorite travel and entertainment apps.
5- Noise Canceling Headphones – The tiny pocket headphones that we all use everyday may seem more practical for some travelers, but I find that they are not as effective in noisy conditions…R.V., airplane, ship, etc. Noise canceling headphones make movies, music and audio books a possibility in any setting.
On Day 131 of the Nowhere To Be Project I took a mental vacation with the help of the souvenirs that grace my home. I’m not talking about the typical types of mementos collected by tourists. While I’m traveling, you won’t find me within a mile of a souvenir shop selling t-shirts and stuffed animals. I’m speaking of the meaningful trinkets that hold the power to magically transport me back in time to the joy of a specific locale.
One of my favorite practices while visiting a new place is connecting with the terrain. That might mean gathering sand and shells on a beach, mining small rocks from a mountain trail or retrieving a feather in the forest. These free and priceless items literally carry the DNA of a place. This makes them perfect souvenirs. As a bonus, they usually won’t take up much space in your suitcase!
When I’m not trekking through foreign landscapes on my travels, I’m looking for the local artisans. Street markets, fairs and thrift shops are usually the best places to find one-of-a-kind objects to reflect the uniqueness of a place. Over the years I’ve purchased watercolor paintings, handmade ceramic tiles, carvings, and needlework, among so many other things, to grace my home and warm my heart. What could be better than cozying up under a shawl that was painstakingly knitted by the hands of an elderly Russian grandmother? One perk of buying these types of homespun souvenirs is the direct support of the local economy.
In sum, I believe that souvenirs should reflect the people and experiences gathered through travel. How could a tacky t-shirt ever accomplish that?
What are your favorite types of souvenirs and where do you find them?
On Day 128 of the Nowhere To Be Project I found myself smack dab in the middle of a travelhole. Travelhole is the word I use to describe non-travel days. I also use it more broadly to verbalize the gap between trips. With three weeks since my last big trip and twenty days until my next, I’m in the throes of a travelhole. For travel addicts like me, a travelhole can be exacerbated when there are no planned travel days on the horizon. This conundrum could lead to the terminal travelcoma, an unconsciousness of sorts where travel is at a stand still. This must be avoided at all costs!
One benefit of my travel addiction is that I’ve learned a few tricks for keeping the desperation of a travelhole at bay. Here goes:
1️⃣ Visit a new-to-you place in your hometown. Seeing new things (even in familiar places) keeps the travel flame burning.
2️⃣ Replicate the best meal you’ve eaten while traveling. The scents and tastes of travel lay dormant during a travelhole and a luscious bite can help revive them.
3️⃣ Listen to the music of a favorite travel destination. Getting lost in a groove to the tune of a well-loved country can take you back in time to the moment where you first fell in love.
4️⃣ Create a vision board adorned with maps, photographs, quotes, fabric swatches, recipes and anything else that will inspire you to plan a new trip, or to refine already booked vacations. Seeing it helps to transform dreams into reality!
5️⃣ Follow and engage on social media with a few travel bloggers who share similar goals. Connecting with people who are passionate about travel will help keep your wanderlust intact and safe from a travelhole!