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26 July 2015

Another Step Done!

All the planned sights and activities from the Globus brochure have been cross-referenced in my Lonely Planet guide!

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25 July 2015

It’s Official!

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My vacation preparation has begun! I am checking for updates on my laptop!!

 

I only use it for blogging on vacation so since it’s last been on, I have 37 important updates.

 

Not bad… when I last did this in preparation for going to France this spring I had over 60!

19 July 2015

Money and The Optional Excursion Debate

I’m trying to figure out how much spending money we’ll need for Norway. Not so easy!

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Since it’s a guided tour just about everything is included which helps, but we still need to cover 5 lunches and 2 dinners, the tips for the Guide and Driver, spending money for a souvenir or two and the ubiquitous Optional Excursions.

The Visit Norway Website gives me an idea of what to expect for food:

  • Main course in a budget restaurant (Chinese or pizza restaurant): NOK 100-150
  • Main course in a more upmarket restaurant: NOK 220-350
  • A bottle of beer in a bar: NOK 70-120
  • A glass of beer (varies between 0.4 and 0.5 litre) in a pub/bar: NOK 60-80
  • A bottle of wine in restaurant: From NOK 350

Next logical question: How much is a NOK?  It’s not one of those currencies that is easy to convert so I might have to make up a chart like when I went to Prague and Budapest with some key price points. The exchange is roughly: 10 CAD = 63 NOK = 7 EUR

For tips:

I don’t think I need to calculate the day we arrive and the day we leave, which means 7 full tipable days. They say 5€ per day for the Guide, and 3€ for the Driver so that will be 56€ or 495 NOK (presuming they deserve the full tip! ha!)

For food:

According to the hints above, I estimate 2000 – 2500 NOK for our 5 lunches and 2 suppers, (that’s about 300 – 400 CAD) if we do a mix of “fast” and “nice”.


The biggest expense will be the Optional Excursions.

There are 5 in total, and I am not really keen on all of them:

1- Edvard Grieg's House Nobody has described fjord scenery more beautifully than composer Edward Grieg did through his music. Visit his unique home, Troldhaugen (Troll's Hill), and experience a remarkable journey through his life and music.

This one does not tempt me AT ALL! I rather spend my time exploring the town of Bergen – it’s easily skippable!

 

2- Old Bergen and Lunch Discover Old Bergen and Bryggen with the Hansa Quarters as you criss-cross the charming narrow streets and the beautiful leaning wooden houses. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for the small shops, local artists' studios, and Julehuset (Christmas House), Norway`s famous Christmas and handicraft center. Enjoy a delightful traditional Bergen meal before your free time for shopping.

This sounds like a trap! Are they insinuating that if I don’t take this one I won’t see the site?? Plus, I really don’t need time for shopping!!!! If I bother with a souvenir, it will be a Christmas ornament and a fridge magnet – I can get those at the airport. 

I rather wander the town on our own, then find a nice place that tempts us for lunch.

 

3- Flam Railway An opportunity that should not be missed! See Norway's wildest and most magnificent mountain scenery. Ride rivers cutting through deep ravines, waterfalls, mountain farms on sheer slopes and other UNESCO World Heritage landscapes on the Flam Railway.

I am really on the fence about this one! Based on the HUGE FAIL that was the Glacier Express in Switzerland, I am extremely leery.  However, will this be the only way to see the scenery? What about the scenery we will be surrounded by by default… won’t that be nice enough? What’s the alternative? and what if it rains?

I think to be on the safe side I will have to count this one as a yes.  640 NOK.

 

4- Panoramic Oslo and Dinner Take the serpentine road through Oslo`s most fashionable residential area up to mount Holmenkollen. Enjoy the breathtaking view of Oslo and the Oslofjord before you savor a delicious dinner in a fine restaurant.

I’m in for this one. It ticks all the right boxes for me: Panoramic views + nice meal. Easy. 815 NOK.

 

5 -Treasures of Norway Admire relics from Norway's great seafaring past: 1,000-year-old ornamented Viking ships; the Fram, a 100-year-old primitive ship used for Arctic expeditions; and Thor Heyerdahl's fantastic Ra and Kon-Tiki vessels.

I’m on the fence about this one too. At first when I read it it sounded boring, but then I remembered how much we LOVED the Vasa Museum in Stockholm…. however this one seems particular expensive!!!

I’ll include it to be on the safe side, but if we don’t do it I doubt I will disappointed.  490 NOK.

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So, the grand total according too my guesstimates here is just under 5000 NOK / 800 CAD. Lord only knows if I guessed right!

The Creepy Internet is at it again!

After checking flight info and train distances, I moved on from my France-Fantasy.

Did some laundry, prepared supper for tonight and my lunches for the week, then back on the computer to read an article about Jill Duggar’s mission trip.

Look what’s at the bottom of the screen:

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Vacation Planning… So Addictive!

I’m at that stage again when the current year’s vacations are underway and next year’s vacations are in the fantasy planning stage.

It’s a dangerous place to be in because it’s so easy to get swept up in a good idea – but you don’t have any confirmed dates and haven’t even worked out a budget! Who knows if I’ll even have a job next year!

(I say the same thing every year, and every year it works out fine)

Last spring, I plotted 2 fantasies for Brussels with day trips and Florence with day trips, and over the past few days thanks to the latest book I am reading I’ve come up with a plan that covers previously unvisited areas of France.

It’s pretty simple… and I’m already smitten!

France

We’d arrive in Tours, after a few days change home bases to Bordeaux (3 hours by train) from there a day trip to Limoges. Again after a few days another home base change to Toulouse (2 hours by train) and make a day trip to Carcassonne.

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We’ll see if we can turn fantasy into reality!  Fingers Crossed!

16 July 2015

Got The Kit!

At first I was a little put-off by the ratty tatty packaging, but in a way I have admit I am glad.

All my other fancy cloth and zippered kits that I feel obligated to keep are languishing in a box somewhere serving no purpose at all whatsoever…. plus, this is more Enviro-Friendly!!

(Hope the name tags are recyclable, I am planning to forget to bring them)

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17 May 2015

I couldn’t help it… I peaked.

This year, our vacation schedule is unfolding a little differently.

I get 4 weeks a year, and so we usually do two one-weekers in the spring, and one two-weeker in the fall.

This year, the two-weeker in the fall is not happening.  The dates for the Norway bus tour did not extend into the fall as much as I wanted so we’re doing it in late summer, plus my husband’s niece is getting married in the fall and at the time I had to pick my vacation dates, she did not have her date yet and I did not want to book anything and miss the wedding.

All this too say I now have a vacation week planned in the fall with nothing booked.  ITS DRIVING ME CRAZY!

I want to go to Europe, and I already have two plans – either Florence with day trips or Brussels with day trips.  My husband wants to go to Vancouver or Washington / NYC / Chicago.

I like all his ideas! In fact, they are all on “the list” and I DO want to go to all those places…  I just want to go to Europe MORE!

Sooooooo….  what did I sneak a peak at? Airfare prices. I wish I hadn't; the prices are great!!! All under 1000$ which is the good price marker for trips to Europe in general.

Brussels was 800$… and there is a direct flight!

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Essentially, I have just tortured myself.

1 May 2015

London Field Report 7 – Day 6

Well, that’s it!  Another vacation done.

It was GREAT, as we knew it would be…  who can go wrong with London??  It’s a given we’ll be back one day, you can bet on it!

This morning our friends went off to do the Tower of London and since my husband and I didn’t want to revisit it, we embarked another one of our long aimless walks through different parts of the city.

We started in Little Venice, then made our way down to Kensington Park and Gardens; also saw the Palace but no need to revisit it.

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We saw the Albert Memorial, then walked down Sloan street to Belgravia finally ending up at Victoria Station.

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We stopped into a pub for a drink, then hopped on the tube to go meet up with our friends for lunch followed by a visit to the London Museum. My husband and I were up for a revisit so we were a foursome for that activity.

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We stayed until closing, then walked around the neighbourhood so we could show them the Machine, the Cheesegrater and the Gherkin, but I think they are not as keen on aimless wanders as we are.  We therefore decided to stop for a drink but had a hard time finding a pub with room to sit! People were spilling out of every single place we found!!  We realized later that it was because it’s was a Friday and a long weekend.

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Eventually we found a place near Leadenhall Market and decided to eat there (as opposed to just having a drink) because it was getting close to 7 and we were not going to have any better luck elsewhere.  It was a nice stop, but SO LOUD!!!!  we were shouting at each other the whole time.

Have a look at my nachos, aren’t they pretty??  Toppings included sweet potato and pomegranate seeds.

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After this, we went back to their hotel for a nightcap and say our final farewells. I hope it won’t be 2 years before we see each other again!

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We left around 9:30, a final walk across Westminster Bridge to wave good bye to Big Ben and the Eye.

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I can’t wait to come back to London…  I’ve already started working on my list of things to do whenever that will be!

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London Field Report 6 – Read the Fine Print!

If you are planning a trip to London, I have some good advice for you: read the fine print on admission prices! I have noticed something all over the city: Voluntary Donations.

Because it’s voluntary you can opt out, but what a cash-grab to include it in by default!! It feels so sneaky and dishonest that I’d almost call it a scam. People never read the fine print, they just see a price and pay! I don’t disagree with the idea of asking for a donation, but slipping it in to the price does not sit well with me.

So be warned: The big bold advertized price on the information board is not the real price, you have to scour the small print for that.

Here’s the latest example I saw today at the Cutty Sark, but I also noticed it at the Tower of London and at the Churchill Museum / Cabinet War Rooms:

It’s normal to conclude the price for this site is 18.50!!

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… but zoom in on the fine print:

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Admittedly, the amount is small and a donating is a nice thing to do…  but I don’t like the bait and switch aspect of the way they are going about it!

London Field Report 5 – Day 5

It feels so redundant to say “Yet another great day” but it’s true! It was!

We started the day by visiting the Cutty Sark – one of the fastest Tea Clippers in the world. (I don’t have internet access right now, so you will have to Google it for more details). We first saw it in 2005, but did not visit the inside… if my memory is correct it’s because it was in such bad shape that we couldn’t, and that makes sense when you consider that it was being renovated from 2006 to 2012.

Now it’s practically as good as new and you can even tour the underside! They have sort of encapsulated it in a glass enclosure that is supposed to recreate the water line.  It’s really neat, but in my opinion it’s still nothing compared to the Vasa in Stockholm. (I can’t add a hyperlink right now, so search my blog for more details).

Still, very impressive!

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After this, we had lunch and spend the rest of the afternoon at Greenwich. Have a look at my lunch; possibly the ugliest Fish & Chips ever!

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I was up for doing the Royal Observatory in Greenwich again because like the Cutty Sark it’s been recently renovated and therefore worth another visit – also the picture I have from 2005 while standing at the Zero Meridian line is awful! I look bloated and my eyes are closed so my mission was to get a better picture.

This one is an improvement. I don’t love it, but it’s hard to do better with an Iphone 4 and crowd of people waiting for you to finish so they can have their turn.

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And of course…  the obligatory foot shot. Everyone was doing this!

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This took up most of the day so we didn’t have time for a museum excursion and in all honesty that was fine by me since the weather was still nice.

Instead we did the London Eye; third time for me and although it is on the pricy side I still think it was worthwhile.  London’s skyline is always evolving so there is always something new to see from up there.

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After this it was Italian for supper near our friend’s hotel – and we parted ways around 9PM.  It feels like an early night compared to the last few days…  actually getting ‘home’ before 10!!

Here’s a last look at the Eye as we were leaving.

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London Field Report 4 – Day 4

It was supposed to rain today, and it did – but thankfully only for a few hours in the morning so it didn’t ruin the day.

We started off by meeting our friends at the Prince of Wales Theatre Box Office to buy tickets for Book of Mormon for tonight.  I’ve been wanting to see it for years, but my husband was never keen on the idea.  When Mr Chicago mentioned he wanted to see it (unprompted by me) my husband reconsidered.

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It was fun, good for a few laughs…  some people might find it a little shocking but overall I found it cheeky and it was an enjoyable evening out.

Once we bought the tickets, we parted ways for the day; they went off to the British Museum, and we went to the Hunterian Museum.  Unfortunately, no pictures allowed in there which is too bad because I found it fascinating. It’s really 2 museums in one: the history of surgery and a cabinet of curiosities.  Among other oddities, we saw the skeleton of a man who was 7’7” tall, a goat with an extra leg, what eggs look like inside a snake before it lays them, the skull of twins conjoined at the head…

After that it was off to Hyde Park for a walk. The rain had picked up again but not that bad, it was more drizzle than rain so it was still nice to be outside – we finally saw the Peter Pan statue that we didn’t get around to seeing in 2013 and we also passed by the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, although we didn’t linger…  been there, done that.

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After the park, we wandered around Knightsbridge and went over to the Ecuadorian Embassy to see if Julian was around (Wikileaks)…  no sightings. 

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We had lunch at one of the many restaurants in Harrod’s: Galvin Demoiselle overlooking the Food Halls – it was great!

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The rain stopped after lunch and we continued on our aimless wander. We wanted to go to the Ritz for a drink but we were turned away because we were not wearing formal shoes! ha! I think my jeans and his army pants that he wears in wet weather because they keep the rain out were part of the reason, yet the doorman was trying to be diplomatic.  We looked just as ‘sloppy’ in Paris and didn’t have any issues.

We swung by St James Palace to take a picture…  my husband was more impressed with the Rolls being delivered!

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After that we wandered around town some more, meandered down Piccadilly and Regent Streets, basically just soaking London in as much as we could before reuniting with our friends around 5 to get a bite to eat before the show.

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Another wonderfully full day!