Norway in a Nutshell

Norway in a Nutshell is a website where you can purchase tickets to see the majestic and spectacular Fjords of Norway.  It was one of the highlights of my month-long trip in Europe and I was joined by the three Tour participants I was leading through Scandinavia.  We began the day early, leaving our hotel in Oslo, Norway at 5:30am to walk to the train station for the start of our adventure.  I briefed everyone the day before as to the timeline of events and what to expect.  It would be a long day…15 hours, beginning with a five-hour train ride to the town of Flam where we would board a one hour scenic train ride through the beautiful mountains, passing breathtaking waterfalls, rocky cliffs, and lush green meadows.  It was voted by Lonely Planet in 2014 as the best train journey in the world.  We would then board a boat for two hours of incredible beauty traveling through the Gudvangen Fjord, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Next a bus would pick us up for a one hour ride to the last leg of our adventure, a 1 1-2 hr. train ride into Bergen, Norway.

I spent the entire two-hour Fjord boat journey taking photographs and enjoying nature’s glorious beauty!  The boat would slow down and drift into coves where quaint fishing villages were nestled in the pristine valleys…

DSC_9914

Dramatic waterfalls plunged hundreds of feet to meet the glistening sea…

DSC_9895

Surrounded by towering mountains and blessed with a perfectly sunny spring day, it was easy to feel connected to everything!

DSC_9935

Although it was early June, snow was still melting on some of the higher mountain peaks… Continue reading

Budapest’s Castle District and filling my tummy at Vapiano’s

A visit to Budapest isn’t complete unless you explore the Castle District, so that’s what we did on our final day.  The following day ten of the twelve travelers would be taking flights back home to Cincinnati, Ohio and my friend Richard and I would be taking a train to Munich to continue our European trip.  The Castle District is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and consists of two parts: the Royal Palace itself and the Castle District. Most of this area is a reconstructed medieval city, but the original castle was destroyed in World War II and replaced with the current Royal Palace.

You can see the beautiful Parliament Building from the Castle District…

DSC_8511

DSC_8512Here’s another view of it…but I thought Black and White would look nice…

DSC_8536

Continue reading

Walking Tour along Andrassy Blvd. to Varosliget Park in Budapest

It was Saturday, May 24, 2014 and my group of 11 travelers and I had arrived at the train station in Budapest, after a three hour trip from Bratislava, Slovakia.  With almost three full days to explore, our first stop was the ATM for some local currency.  I also bought a 72 hr. transport card for each of us to use for the metro, trams, and buses.

DSC_8316

I found the Metro line that would take us within walking distance of our hotel, the Eurostars Budapest Center, and after checking into our hotel, we walked the 2 1/2 mile walking route I had developed with Google maps.  During the month I was in Europe, I easily walked 150 miles!  Our walking tour began with a stop at the New York Palace Hotel.  The lobby was quite lavish!  Two of my fellow travelers came back one evening and had dinner at their restaurant and said it was delicious!

DSC_8339

This building is located along Andrassy Blvd. (a UNESCO desginated area) where we were walking.  The cut-outs are quite unique!

DSC_8350

Continue reading

Hapana Sante–Stone Town, Zanzibar

If you read my last post (see here), you know that my G Adventures 35 day Overland Truck tour had a 13 hour day yesterday, driving through Tanzania, to Dar Es Salaam, where we spent the night camping.  The next morning we were packed up and left by 7:30am via Tuk Tuks, with Stone Town, Zanzibar as our destination!  Stone Town (a World Heritage site) is 95% Islam with an average life expectancy of 48 years and the main sources of income are tourism and the sale of spices.

Our Tuk Tuk drivers transported us onto a ferry for a short ride to the main ferry that goes to the island of Zanzibar, located approximately 20 miles off-shore and takes about two hours to reach.  We arrived at 11am and this was my first view of the island…

We made our way to Mazson’s Hotel, where we would stay for one evening, before heading North to a beach resort in Nungwi, which is located about an hour away.  This was my room and my roommate’s name was Suzanne.  She is from Belgium!

This was the view across from the Hotel…

Because this was an ending and/or beginning point for G Adventure trips, new people joined our group.  I met Samantha and Kathleen, Scientists from America, and they said they had gone out walking around Stone Town and didn’t like the assertive touts trying to sell things to them.  We had learned how to say “No Thank You” in Swahili, “Hapana Sante”, so the three of us set off to get lost in the winding, narrow streets of Stone Town.  It was an odd feeling to not consult a map…to just walk and not care if you didn’t know where you were.

This is Samantha…

And here’s Kathleen…

I had a good time saying “Hapana Sante” with a smile on my face and the touts seemed to like it!  It became a game!  It reminded me a bit of Egypt, but they weren’t as aggressive… or I was just more prepared.

The architecture, people and culture of Stone Town, Zanzibar were very intriguing to me!

Cinque Terre…The Five Lands and “Guido”

Although all of the destinations on my 12-night Mediterranean cruise (taken in 2010) were amazing, I was looking forward to Cinque Terre most of all, and it didn’t let me down!  In 2006, I had spent hours upon hours researching and booked a solo, three week backpacking trip to Europe, to include Cinque Terre, and because of life, had to cancel it, so I was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to visit.  Especially due to the recent disaster there!

After docking in Livorno, we boarded our pre-paid/reserved train…a little over one hour trip…to La Spezia and then hopped on a short regional train ride that delivered us to the last of the five villages, Monterosso al Mare.  I thoroughly researched this excursion, because when you’re on a cruise ship, timing is very important!  If you miss your ship, you’re “ship” out of luck!

I took this photograph of Monterosso al Mare while hiking.  Everyone that I spoke to on the ship was going to Florence and/or the leaning Tower of Pisa.  They didn’t know what they were missing!

PICT0868

This is the beginning of the 1 1/2 hour trail that we hiked from the fifth village to the fourth village, Vernazza.  Although I purchased some great Merrill sandals, especially for this trip, I was beginning to get a callous on the edge of my heel.   But nothing could dampen the dazzling vistas!

 The entire region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

PICT0870

  The natural beauty was almost overwhelming!

PICT0887

  The trail varied in it’s difficulty and scenery…

PICT0875

PICT0880

You can see the village of Vernazza in the distance.

  It’s like a jewel jutting from the cliff…

PICT0893

PICT0898

After having some lunch in town…due to time constraints, we took the train to the first village,  Riomaggiore, where we briefly looked around and headed back to the train station in La Spezia.

We had over an hour to kill at the train station, so we went for a walk and my traveling companion overheard a woman talking to a taxi driver about taking her to her ship, which happened to be Royal Caribbean.  We spoke to her and within seconds we’re sharing the taxi with her to go back to the ship.  Obviously, we weren’t thinking…we were over an hour away from the ship…and the woman said the taxi was only 10 euros…which is about $12 to split.

Within a couple of minutes we realized that she was heading to a different Royal Caribbean ship and I’m asking “Guido” the taxi driver if he is going to charge us anything for taking us back to where we came from.  He said he wouldn’t and started making a wierd gesture with his arms and saying in his half Italian and broken English that we were tight!

Then…the lady wanted a receipt for her taxi ride and he wouldn’t give her one…gesturing and almost shouting…so she exited the taxi and on the 5-10 min. ride back to the train station, he is saying “Cacare”, over and over.  Upon inquiring as to its meaning, he informed us it meant “F____ you”.  He was upset with the lady wanting a receipt…so to break the tension…I requested him to teach us how to say it…so we’re all three in unison saying…”Cacare, Cacare”!

If you’re ever in La Spezia and want an unforgettable taxi ride, try to find “Guido”!

p.s.  Later…I discovered from a fellow blogger that “Guido” is actually a slang term to denote someone that is lower or working class of American/Italian descent.