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.
We arrived in Belfast, Ireland on day 157 of the Nowhere To Be Project. Our ship, the Viking Sky, was docked about 15 minutes by shuttle bus from the center of town. We jumped out at the beautiful City Hall ready to roam. The city was just coming to life on this cloudy Saturday morning so we made good use of the quiet time to visit St. Anne’s Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Church, both of which offer stunning architecture and a glimpse into the history of Belfast.
Our time at the churches gave us a free pass for some pub time, right? We assumed so and headed to Crown Liquor Saloon, a well-preserved Victorian tavern. Refreshed and ready for action, we headed back out and right into a massive political march. The marchers are asking for freedom from British interment which means detention without trial. There were British loyalists present at the march as well and a nasty banter was rising between the two groups. The good news is that the police (in tactical gear) kept everything under control. Belfast is known as a city with strong political convictions and today gave us a small taste of that spirit.
A visit to St. George’s Market closed out our day in Belfast where I met two Dublin-based sisters who are the proprietors of the Melting Pot Fudge Company. Their vegan fudge is so tasty that I left with three flavors! Every day that ends in fudge is a good one in my book.
Day 156 of the Nowhere To Be Project began in Greenock, Scotland where the Viking Sky berthed for the day. Greenock is a sleepy town that once boasted a very prominent shipyard where 2/3 of the world’s ships originated. We meandered up from the water to the storied Greenock Cemetery and Crematorium because as any frequent traveler knows, headstones can usually spell out the history of a place. It is the most beautiful spot for eternal rest that I’ve ever seen and the maritime influence is evident on a large percentage of the ornamental moss-covered stones.
We headed to Glasgow, a 45 minute drive from Greenock, for the afternoon and set our sights on its medieval cathedral. Glasgow Cathedral is a breathtaking feat of early architecture. It was built by the Catholics, but now serves the largely Presbyterian population of Scotland. Like most old things, it has had several incarnations and the stained glass windows of the lower church quite literally tell the stories.
We managed to squeeze a lot into ten hours today, but these two stops spoke to us. Each shares the history of the people who gave a dot on the map meaning.
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.
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.
I threw on my favorite traveling uniform on Day 138 of the Nowhere To Be Project. This outfit is my first choice for the “getting there” and “getting home” parts of travel…long haul flights, road trips, cruises, or literally any other type of travel. As a young woman, fashion was always the primary focus of my travel wardrobe. Back then, I didn’t care about function or comfort, and was frequently hobbling around on heels no matter where I was heading. With age comes experience and eventually wisdom (if we’re lucky), right? While I’m still suffering from the fashionista bug, I now demand comfort and function from my travel clothing. The stiletto-induced throbbing feet and stomach aches from too tight pants are out and the track suits are in. Yes, you heard me correctly. My go to travel uniform is a track suit! They are designed for versatility, extreme conditions and physical challenges (sounds like a long-haul flight, lol) which, in my mind, makes them the ideal travel uniform.
Track suits have gone way beyond the Rocky-style sweatpants of the 1980s with stylish high quality fabrics and trendy designs. Track suits offer the trifecta for travel: highly fashionable, functional and built for endurance. I seek out those made with lightweight performance fabrics (dries quickly and makes on-the-go hand-washing and stain-removal a snap), an elastic or draw-string waist and zippered pockets. I avoid anything with buttons and belts like the plague because I do not wish to slow down the security line or fight with a buckle in a microscopic airplane restroom. I finish it off with a favorite mix and match t-shirt (long-sleeved in cold climates and a tank in hot climates).
I have two current favorite travel uniforms (the green in photo above and the white below), both made by American designer Tory Burch, and they are with me for the long-haul. What is your favorite travel uniform?
On day 135 of the Nowhere To Be Project, Vail, Colorado (my chosen hometown) was bestowed with the elusive title of “sustainable destination”. This is quite an honor considering that no other mountain resorts in the world have the right to carry the moniker. Exciting, I know, but what does it really mean?
We’ve all seen the signs in hotels asking us to reuse towels to save water, but true sustainability goes way beyond that. A sustainable destination is one that focuses on environmental, cultural and economic preservation. In other words, formal procedures must be in place to protect and preserve nature, wildlife, regional history and customs, and to contribute to and support the local economy.
In Vail, plastic bags were banned quite some time ago and every public waste receptacle provides an education on items that can be recycled versus those that will end up in a landfill. There is also a profound focus on the restoration and preservation of natural resources and wildlife. Citizens benefit not only from an outstanding quality of life here in the mountains, but from a fabulous public transportation system and a push toward environmentally responsible affordable housing. All of these things (and many more) helped contribute to the title of sustainable destination.
All of the hoopla made me wonder how many travelers really consider sustainability when choosing a destination. According to recent research, that number hovers at just over half! As a frequent camper, the practice of “leave no trace” is a personal mantra, but I had no idea that so many other travelers prioritized it as well. It demonstrates that a zero footprint approach to travel should not end when the tent is packed away and the fact that one of the most popular resort towns in the world sees this is very encouraging.
As a constant traveler, I understand the assumptions and misconceptions that people have about the jet-set lifestyle. This flawed thinking literally robs people of travel…”I can’t afford it”, “I’m too busy” and so on. Therefore, the focus of day 133 of the Nowhere To Be Project is the notion that travel is accessible to everyone, all the time.
People assume that travel is only for the wealthy. This couldn’t be further from the truth because travel comes in all shapes, sizes and price points. It is what you make it. I’ve splurged a few times on what might be considered luxury trips. More frequently though, I’ve camped for free with just a book and a backpack full of homemade treats. I’ve also hopped on last minute cruises where one all-inclusive week at sea can cost much less than one on land. Low cost travel is a real possibility for the diligent and prepared. For some things it pays to plan well in advance, while others require the ability to get up and go on a moment’s notice. Some think that frequent travel is limited to the very young and very old. TRAVEL IS NOT JUST FOR COLLEGE KIDS AND OLD CRONIES!!! While constant travel has become easier since my retirement, I never let life get in the way of my wanderlust. For example, my kids are very well-traveled because I never saw them as a barrier to travel. Some people think that it is too much of a pain to pack up the kids (and the diaper bag, playpen, toys, etc.), but I always viewed their presence as a bonus. I strived to use travel as a learning tool because I believe that it teaches us much more than any textbook ever could. The time crunch of working full time and accommodating busy schedules can certainly make long trips more fleeting, but day or weekend getaways are always a possibility. It could be as simple as a Saturday visit to a state park in an adjacent county, or a house swap weekend with a family in a bordering state. There are those who think that travel is self-indulgent and that any extra money should be squirreled away for a rainy day. I am all about living beneath my means. What I mean by this is that the spending choices we make each day can profoundly impact our financial bottom line. Over time, a frugal approach really adds up and opens the door to travel. For instance, I’d rather make my own coffee each morning (whether at home or on the road) and take trips. I refuse to spend $10 a day at Starbucks not only because I like my coffee better, but because over time it would rob me of travel opportunities. Case in point, I flew to Paris round trip last year for $300. I just can’t imagine who’d choose thirty days of prepared coffee over Paris!
What excuses do you use to rob yourself of travel?