Skål Scandinavia!

Skål Scandinavia!

Hold up.  What are all these å’s, ä’s, ö’s, and ø’s?  I had just touched down in Kobenhavn.  What is that?  Is that Copenhagen?  First mistake of the trip for me.  I did not come prepared for the language differences and did not realize that a lot of Scandinavian words have been converted to an English version.  The word we Minnesota Vikings fans like to use, skol, is actually skål in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.  Then there is Sweden who virtually don’t use the ‘w’ and pair ‘s’ and ‘v’ together in words, like Sveden.  Oh boy, I’m in for some learning.

Here is mistake number 2 and I haven’t even left the airport.  Well, actually I didn’t commit the mistake because luckily I have an awesome friend who had some prior knowledge in a similar situation.  I checked a bag in Sioux Falls but as I waited until the baggage belt stopped that bag never came around.  Here I was in Copenhagen with my small backpack with just electronics.  What do I do?  This is where Camila came in with good advice on dealing with the situation and inflicting some relentlessness to resolve it.  Her persistence helped push me because I can be a little too laid back sometimes.  It would only get harder as I moved about.

So here I was bag less and having some issues interpreting words to figure out where I needed to go.  However, I made that out to seem much more difficult than it was.  I’ve become more adapt at reading train and bus schedules as I’ve traveled.  I may not know many of the words I’ve seen but a little intuition and resourcefulness goes a long way in a new place.  Then there is also the key piece I’d quickly realize, everyone speaks English too!  My ignorance had been saved.

There is the quick starter to my journey to Scandinavia.  From there it is filled with education, connection, and discovery.  This part of my Nordic adventure is also filled with ties to another part of my life and who I am, just as many of you have probably learned in my prior piece, “Spyhopping Passion Through Fear.”

Now, here is my backstory.  For several years now at the start of each new year I have chosen a new word to focus on for the year.  It’s a very simple way to set a goal and get better at something.  I’ve chosen words like balance and patience.  This year I changed it a little and chose the word soul.  The word hit me just hours before the new year started.  I chose it because I wanted to let whatever sets my soul on fire be my guide to 2018.  That could be a lot of things but whatever I found passion in would set me up for a good year and beyond.

So, what does Scandinavia have to do with it?  Great question.  If you would have asked me a year ago what my top destinations to see next were I wouldn’t have had any of these countries on that list.  It’s not that I didn’t want to see them.  It was just that I had some other ambitions first.  Things unfolded, and I knew that it was meant to be.  I was supposed to come.  The more I dove into it I got excited about it.

On my mom’s side of the family I have ancestors who came from Sweden.  I always knew this but didn’t know much about it.  Coming to the land where some of my family came from became very important to me, even if I didn’t study it enough to trace anything back.  I was excited to get to the country and get to know the people who share something that makes up part of who I am.  I’ll get to that more later.

This part maybe some of my Pipestone classmates can recall.  In 8th grade geography class we studied places all over the world.  I loved it!  We’d have map tests all the time and I made sure to ace them all.  I was so curious about the world and often went overboard when it came to the big projects.  One of the projects everyone in the class was assigned a country in Europe.  I was given the country of Norway.  We were each supposed to give a presentation on things like what people did for entertainment, what they ate, and the culture of each country.  I was very nervous about presenting in front of my peers, but I had a breakthrough on this project because I wanted to do well, and I really enjoyed learning about this new country.  I rolled into the class that day bundled in my winter gear and slippers on my feet with cardboard taped to the bottom to resemble makeshift skis.  How embarrassing!  I received a very good grade and at the expense of my teacher making me go show a different classroom of peers.  I laugh at it now, but it resembled a big point for me going outside my comfort zone.  Now, here I was about to visit that country.

Finally, the other tie I wanted to learn more about was not only about the land home to the Vikings but for years I’ve been very curious about the idea of happiness.  What makes one happy?  Recently National Geographic wrote an article about the happiest places in the world.  Denmark received a top three score for being one of the happiest countries and the rest of Scandinavia was not far behind.  What makes them different than the United States and many other countries?  That is question I was eager to find out from the local people of those countries.

Back to it.  It’s official.  I’m in Scandinavia!

The Wanderer

I arrived in Copenhagen with the bag issue and a little confusion on where to go but on the bright side I was free to move about without my giant backpack.  I also quickly realized that access to Wi-Fi is free and very common, like mostly any where in Europe.  It’s kind of crazy to think how even 15 years ago the navigation would have required pulling out a map and trying to pinpoint your location.  Today, you can simply hit the little arrow pointing up and right and boom, you know right where you’re at.  I get connected and find out where my hotel located, just a few blocks from Copenhagen Central Station.  As I mentioned earlier, my biggest confusion was understanding what the translation was for Copenhagen Central, but I managed and arrived at the right place.

My first night in Copenhagen was unplanned.  My biggest thing when I travel is to not create too much of a plan.  Prior to the trip I booked a few of my stays based on days I knew I had to be in a certain place but the others I like to keep open because I like the flexibility.  It’s nice to be able to choose where I want to go on the fly sometimes.  That way if I like a place I can stay longer or if I decide I don’t want to go somewhere anymore I can simply change it.  Too much planning creates stress and I think takes away from the moment of the experience.

This is exactly how my first night would go.  It was the evening by the time I got settled in Copenhagen, so I knew many of the attractions would be closed and my best activity was simply to wander.  My Scandinavian adventure as a wanderer had officially begun.  I decided I was going to hop around to pubs and bars around Copenhagen and try some of the local brews.  For me, this is one of my favorite things to do.  I love to try different beers and hopefully learn a little about where they come from.

I started my evening’s journey by trying to find a brewpub that Camila had suggested to me.  The nice thing is it was about a 10-15-minute walk from where I was staying.  I almost missed it because it was half a floor down some stairs and was a small little place.  I decided to pass on it, for now, but really, I was just nervous.  I was in a new place and going to place with a lot of people was a little uneasy for me.  I think a lot of people find me to be outgoing but really, I’m quite introverted a lot of the time.  I have a hard time initiating conversation with strangers but once I do then I can get rolling.  I can easily mind my own business.  That’s probably why it seems I am an extrovert.  I wasn’t ready for that setting.  I needed to warm up.

I kept wandering until I found a place that seemed very casual.  It reminded me of this backpacker hostel I stayed in while in Peru.  There were people sitting in a relaxed common area and playing games.  The place was called Urban House.  It was just what I thought it was, a traveler’s spot.  It was a restaurant/bar/hotel.  It was just the right starting spot.  So, I stopped in and ordered a burger and a beer.  Little did I know the large one came in a glass that basically took a bear paw to hold.  I suppose if one is in the land of the Vikings they must have a large beverage.  What a way to break in the trip.  The bartender was very friendly and helpful.  She asked where I was from and gave me a little guidance for Copenhagen.  My uneasiness for the new place quickly wore off.  I was ready for the next spot.  I also knew that that the place would be great for my return to Copenhagen in a few days.  The reward of flexibility kicked in.

My next stop included a place called Spunk Bar.  It was cozy little pub.  The place had some video lottery and a couple groups playing dice games.  The bar was filled with currency from locations all around the world.  It was a fun stop.  The older woman bartending also had a fun bit of sarcasm as she joked with me.  It definitely helped to loosen things up.  However, the place had a lot of people smoking so I knew I couldn’t stay long with my limited clothing supply for two weeks.

I finally worked up the courage and said screw it.  I was going to try the brewpub.  Mikkeler Bar was very busy, but it was a cozy place with a great line-up of craft beers.  I quickly realized that microbrews were very common in Scandinavia.  I was expecting it to be more like Germany with a lot of common and popular beers (That’s how Germany was from what I remember.  Perhaps it’s different now).  Ales and Pilsners filled the menu board.  Of course, I had to get a taste of the local IPAs and pale ales, my favorites.

My final evening stop was very American.  I didn’t realize it until the bartenders told me it was named Boston Grill.  They were Livia from Slovakia and Ali from Turkey.  They were my first meaningful interactions on my journey.  I played the role of inquisitive tourist with them and picked their brain and channeled my inner journalist to learn more about the people of Denmark.  I dug into find out more about what makes the Danish people the happiest in the world.  They each gave me mixed responses, but it was a great start for my future piece to come about what makes one happy.

The evening ended with some fun acquaintances from England.  It was a group of four ladies who were part of a biking group taking a girls’ weekend trip together.  It was pleasant to hear their stories a bit and get more info about their tourist adventures around Copenhagen.  They set me up for my return trip later in the week.  From there I ventured home and officially logged my first day traveling solo.

Neighbors in Sweden

The next morning, I was off to Malmö.  Malmö had a couple very cool synchronicities for me.  One it was also the name of the boat that I would be boarding in a week for my orca expedition.  It seemed I was meant to visit the city.  The other was that my friend Camila lived in Malmö.  When I decided to book my trip to Scandinavia I knew I wanted to go a week before the expedition and see more of the area.  Choosing Copenhagen seemed like a good choice as part of my three ways stop because it was very close to Sweden.  I could see a couple countries by a short train ride.

Also, here is a travel hack for all of you.  If you ever want to hit up a couple places when flying, like a three-way stop, it is very cheap to throw in the extra stop.  For this trip, I used miles to book and by throwing in Copenhagen instead of just from home to Oslo, I paid about $20 to go from Sioux Falls to Copenhagen to Oslo to Sioux Falls.  I’ve also done this before without using miles and it is a great way to see more.

I took the short train across the Oresund via a five-mile bridge to Malmö.  What makes the timing and choice of destination is that Camila now lived there.  Originally when I planned the trip I didn’t intend to visit her.  I knew she was moving to Sweden, but I didn’t know where.  I did know I would be able to pick her brain about fun places to see but wasn’t betting on the timing or location to get to visit her.  When I found out she lived in Malmö and that was the first city across the bridge in Sweden I got excited because it lined up perfectly.

Camila and I used to be next door neighbors in Colorado Springs and moved separate ways sometime around 2013.  She moved to Los Angeles and I moved to Chicago.  We stayed in touch but hadn’t seen each other since our days of being neighbors.  Here I was visiting her in Sweden.  I don’t think you can draw that up.

Upon my arrival at the train station in Malmö I was greeted by Camila and her boyfriend Per.  It was very exciting to see her again and meet Per.  Per is from Sweden so Camila moved to Malmö to be closer to him about two months ago after getting a job there.  I was Camila’s first visitor to Sweden since she moved, and Per was my first Swedish encounter.

We started off to have lunch and catch up a bit.  Camila shared more about her process of moving and Per told of his story a bit.  They each educated me a bit about Sweden.  My favorite part was getting a better understanding of the language and how to pronounce the Swedish letters.  Per was a great to get to know as my first Swede because he gave a great impression from the start.  He helped me quickly learn how nice Swedish people are and made me realize how much it was like back home.  I knew the day was going to be great and I was going to quickly fall in love with Sweden.

After lunch Camila suggested a short walk down to the beach.  She immediately came up with the idea to take me there because she has seen firsthand my sand collection and knew I needed some sand from Malmö.  Ever since my first trip to New Zealand and Australia in high school I have been collecting sand from different beaches I have went to in the States and around the world.  Some friends have even brought me sand from their travels, Camila included.  She grew up in Brazil so during one of her trips she brought me some from there when we were neighbors.  After she suggested the beach I quickly agreed because it seemed fitting to have some from Malmö and with how Malmö was the name of the boat.

We were blessed with some pretty good weather for our stroll to the beach and around the city.  Our next stop was to get a traditional Swedish fika, which is a pastry and coffee.  I had the princess cake which was delicious.  These two were turning out to be excellent guides and not only that, excellent troubleshooters and problem solvers.  Per offered me his satellite TV account so I could watch the Minnesota Vikings playoff game late that night.  Camila was in full force demonstrating her resourcefulness.  She helped me learn how to make Google Hangout calls, so I could solve my baggage issue and taught me an excellent travel trick to download offline Google Maps.  This was a gamechanger because I never use cell service when I travel abroad.  I always rely on wi-fi but maps are inaccessible without a connection.  Problem solved.  I could now go anywhere and know where I’m going.  She also basically did a lot of research for me on places to go and what to do.  If I could give these two a review it would be five stars!  They are the guide pair everyone needs.  I must give them a shout-out and thanks.  Tack Camila and Per! (Tack is thanks in Swedish)

From there we walked around a bit more before the next suggestion of getting a falafel, another typical food to get in Sweden.  Once again, a superb idea.  Our last stop of the day was to go to Sky Bar for a drink and get a view of Malmö at night.  It was located 25+ floors up, however the clouds moved low and blocked any view.  Nonetheless, it was another great idea because the drinks were prime.

It turned out to be a wonderful day seeing and experiencing Malmö with some great people.  It was a very good start to my trip.  We parted ways in the evening as I went to my hostel and they went home.  My hostel arrival featured another new challenge for me.  After being presented to where I was staying I was forced to test my comfort zone.  The room I reserved was a shared room and I had reserved a bed, not a room.  I was going to get my first real hostel experience and stay on a bunk bed in a room amongst 10-15 other beds of people.  My mistake surprised me, but I quickly overcome the nervousness and embraced this new experience of growth.

The rest of the evening was spent trying to figure out the next day and line up my schedule to Stockholm while sitting in a lounge with an Englishman and a Swedish man.  They were quite fun to chat with.  It was nice to end the day with some friendly people in a new environment.

Swedish Hospitality

Goal number one for the day, get reunited with my lost baggage.  Losing baggage is probably one of any traveler’s biggest fear.  It just so happens that this trip I checked a bag.  Usually I bring my backpack on as a carry-on and save the cost and time.  However, this trip I decided not to and since I had a lot more packed to withstand the cold temperatures up north, I wanted to save the hassle of lugging the bag around the airports.  Of course, I change routine and a wrench gets thrown in.

The second goal of the day was to get to Stockholm once my bag was retrieved.  The great thing is I was blessed with some nice Swedish hospitality.  The manager at the hostel I was staying at, Maja, was very gracious and said she would accept my bag when it was delivered even though I had to check out by 11:00 AM.  I knew I had to get some extra clothes and a new bag to carry some things in, so I ventured out around Malmö to do some shopping.  The perk of booking with a travel card is reimbursement for essentials.  This was exciting because that meant I could go get some new Swedish stuff.

I did a little shopping and came back with some new goods.  The downside was now I would have another bag when I did receive my backpack.  Not exactly my efficiency model of travel but I knew I could manage.

Upon returning to the hostel it took some calls to figure out if my bag did indeed get delivered.  Maja once again came through and let me use her phone and then eventually spoke to the company for me since I was having a difficult time understanding.  What a great host!  Finally, the bag was located, and we were reunited.  Next stop, Stockholm.

I hopped on a late afternoon train to Stockholm.  It was about a four to five hour ride.  After hearing Per talk about it I knew I had to add the stop into the trip.  Remember that flexibility I mentioned that I like.  It came in perfectly here.  I lined up my stay for the next two nights and was ready for my solo Swedish adventure.

I arrived in Stockholm and headed to where my hostel was located.  This time, however, I secured a solo room.  Hostels can vary between what options are available.  I wanted the single room so I could secure my belongings in the room while I explored the city.  My hostel was called Archipelago Hostel and was in Gamla Stan or “Old Town” Stockholm.  The architecture was centuries old but loaded with pastel colors and cobblestone streets.  While some streets had a lot of things set up for tourists, it was still a very charming location that I knew was a great choice.

I rested a bit once I arrived, but I have a hard time not maximizing my time when I go on adventures like this.  I knew I had to take advantage of the great choice and see what was around.  I roamed the streets of Old Town while seeing a handful of people.  The city area essentially shuts down at ten.  I knew there had to be more to it.  There must be other spots.

You betcha there was!  I located a little establishment on the outskirts of the area.  I was hoping to meet some locals.  As I mentioned before, I felt very comfortable in Sweden.  I blended in and never felt threatened.  I really enjoyed how nice everyone seemed.  I went in and ordered up a drink.  Still a bit shy, I went and sat by myself.

Quickly, that Swedish hospitality came in again and the bartender quickly motioned me to get involved with some conversation.  So, I made my way closer to the conversations.  The place was not too busy.  I chatted with her a bit to get comfortable and then started striking up some conversation with a local Swede named Wilhelm.  He told me of his story and how he was familiar with the Midwest and sporadically had more conversation as the night went on.

It was great because I faced my fear of starting interactions that had to be forced.  An interaction with the bartender is different because the service interaction is an easy starter.  Next, a group came in.  There was a couple from France and a Swedish couple and then a member from the Norway Parliament, Ulf.  They were great! They were all so welcoming and Ulf was excited to meet me because I told him I was from Minnesota.  He loved Minnesota and was really pumped to be visiting there in the summer during Norway’s Independence Day to celebrate.  I guess a lot of people who migrated from Norway to Minnesota many years ago celebrate the day in Minnesota.

The night ended with some more fun conversation.  It was another one of those moments that was cool for me because of the ties to my home I had experienced with local people from Scandinavia.

You’re Welcome, Stockholm

In the morning I was set to tackle Stockholm.  I laid out my agenda and prepared for a day around the city.  My first stops would include a viewpoint and an excellent Swedish meatballs restaurant I had read about on a Stockholm trip guide.

I started my walk to the Södermalm viewpoint after passing through Stockholm’s narrowest street, about 80 centimeters!  One of the great things I have found out about places in Scandinavia is that they are incredibly pedestrian friendly.  There are often crosswalks with no stop signs but if a vehicle approaches one and there is a pedestrian nearby they will stop.  So many people walked and biked so there was less traffic.  It really is great to see that kind of an active lifestyle for getting from place to place.

I reached the viewpoint and had to truly give myself moments to soak it in.  I always notice when I am in new places that it’s hard to really capture the moment.  I try and try but it still seems to be fleeting and then when I return home I’m like, was I really there?  It’s become more about making sure I can process how I am feeling in those moments.  I also try to take notes on my phone to come back to later, if I remember.

The viewpoint was stunning.  I looked over so much of Stockholm across the archipelago waterfront.  The day was chilly but not enough for me to try to enjoy the cool winter air along with the beauty in front of my eyes.  I also knew this was the spot for my planned pose for the city.  It was the “You’re Welcome, Stockholm” pose.  For those of you who don’t know what I mean probably haven’t seen “Blades of Glory.” In the movie, Will Ferrell is a professional ice skater and in his first routine he finishes with his hand pointed in the air and says, “You’re Welcome, Stockholm,” to the crowd.  Naturally, I had to do it!

My next stop was a Swedish Meatball place called Meatballs for the People.  The place was excellent!  It had a great ambience to it.  Almost like a coffeeshop with light music playing but also unique furniture design made from old cars and vehicles.  It also featured candles lit on every table, which is very common in Sweden.  I learned that candles are always on tables during meals.  The candles were just plain white candles, but I found it to be a charming touch to every meal.

After tasting my traditional Swedish meatballs, I made my way to the popular Vasa Museum.  I didn’t realize the massive museum in front of my eyes after getting off the bus was not the Vasa Museum but the Nordic Museum.  I went in and quickly realized I was in the wrong museum, but the nice thing is it was free for the day.  Its biggest feature was lifestyle over time in Sweden, so it covered clothing styles to what it was like in Swedish homes.

After a wrong turn that took me on a dead end into a cemetery I found the Vasa Museum.  The Vasa was a massive 1600s warship that sank on it’s maiden voyage minutes after departing Stockholm.  It rested on the sea floor for over 300 years before being recovered in the 1960s and restored to be in the present-day museum.  The crazy thing is it is featured as being 95% of the original.  It was incredible to see.  It reminded me of Captain Hooks ship or like one you would see in Pirates of the Caribbean.   To learn about what went into making it and its story was a very interesting part of my day.

The last thing I wanted to see was the Kings Garden.  Once I arrived I noticed an outdoor skating rink featured in the center.  Why not go for an impromptu ice skating session while in Stockholm, Sweden?  Of course, I rented some skates and went on the ice.  The rink was beautifully lit and not too busy.  After living in Chicago and ice skating downtown a few years ago, I have always been excited when there is an ice rink amongst the vast cityscape.  I also knew I needed another “You’re Welcome, Stockholm” picture so I asked a couple of girls if they would take the picture for me.  It was fun because they accepted and immediately became curious of where I was from.  Turns out they were from Russia and would join me skating and tell their story.  Skating with good conversation is always a great pastime.

From there I finished with my walk back to my room.  I was very satisfied with how the day turned out and what I had accomplished but I also forgot to do something, eat again.  Once I got settled, I headed out to find food.  Once again almost everything was closed but I managed to find a restaurant for some late food.

This is the best part about how the night ended after.  I met a real Swedish Viking!  Yes, a Viking.  His name was Viking.  I’m still counting it as meeting a viking.  That basically made the trip fulfilled and everything else was a bonus.  He was fun to chat with.  I’d also meet Nicole and Felix who would turn out to be great conversation for my final night in Sweden.  Nicole was great to share her knowledge of the people in Sweden and give more insight on my inquiry of happiness in the area.

A Dip of Copenhagen

After a nice morning catching some rest it was time to head back to Copenhagen.  After another long train ride back to Malmö and brief stop to drop off some American chocolates to Camila, I jumped another train back across to Copenhagen.  This time I was staying at Urban House.  It was in a perfect location near the train station and after my initial experience seemed to be the right fit.

I was eager to see what Copenhagen looked like by night.  I headed out to once again wander the city.  I made a pitstop for some shawarma and then made my way to Nyhavn.  Nyhavn is a location on a canal in the city where many sailors used to spend time for many centuries.  Today it is still a big spot for sail boats but is built up a bit more to include restaurants and better appeal.  At night the area was quite stunning with the pastel colored buildings still able to be seen.

I made a couple stops in Nyhavn.  At one spot I finally faced my initiation fear and shortly asked to join a couple that was openly engaging with the staff.  They were from Poland.  Mark that up as a new country interaction.

From there I made my way back towards my place of stay before walking by a place that had live music.  After my experience in Thailand hearing live music from a Thai man who covered English songs, I was eager to hear more.  The artists covering music by Ed Sheeran and Celo Green was quite fun to hear with their Danish accents.  It was unique to finish the evening off with some more Danish culture that was right on par with back home.

Adventures in Christiania

It was time to take my final run at Copenhagen but this time I was in the city long enough to do it by daylight.  I still had a few places I wanted to check out.  When I was in Stockholm I had heard about a place called Christiania.  It was very intriguing because it was a community within Copenhagen that was considered to be an autonomous anarchist district home to about 900 people.  It is known as “Freetown Christiania.”

I was a little nervous to check out he place but from what I did understand, despite the place being know for some drunks and recent run-ins with the Danish law, was that the place was formed with the idea of peace.

When I got there, it was like entering a new and secluded world, one where the entrance was covered with art and graffiti.  The apprehension was replaced with curiosity and wonder.  Christiania featured many pieces of art on buildings and in the form of sculptures.  There was a skate park called Wonderland that was incredibly colorful.  There was a little area that featured a few open shops and streets with organic eateries.  There was also a little square called Nemoland that had a permanent music stage that was capable of hosting large bands.

Then there was an area littered with prayer flags hanging everywhere.  This was known as Pusher Street or the Green Light District.  This is where the people of Christiania have had some tussle with the Danish government because of the sale of cannabis which is illegal in Denmark.  Despite the restrictions there were still dozens of makeshift stands open those looking to make a purchase.

I wandered some more outside the main common center area to see where many of the people lived.  What I noticed most was how people were resourceful to make what they needed out of whatever they could find.  Many living establishments were makeshift but functional.

My final thing to see in Copenhagen was the Little Mermaid Statue based on the work by Hans Christian Anderson.  This is the story that has become famous worldwide by Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”  It took a while to walk to the statue and was the main reason I put in over twelve miles of walking on the day.  The statue was actually a bit underwhelming, as it was just a statue on top of the rock.  I was more amused at the swans in front of the statue seeking attention and the Asian man saying excuse me about twelve times in a row trying to get the perfect shot of the statue.  I didn’t know it took so much for a perfect picture of a statue.

After the statue sighting it was time to catch my flight to Oslo.  Denmark and Sweden were now checked off the list.  It was special to me to get in touch with the are of my ancestors and see our commonalities.  Now that my 11th and 12th country were complete it was time to reach the 13th and put that 8th grade knowledge gained to test.  The way it turned out was I was quite exhausted upon arriving in Oslo and took the evening to rest and prepare for the big days ahead.

Lillehammer Olympic Tribute

Some may know my love for the Olympics, so they would understand why I would take a two-hour train ride to Lillehammer, Norway for the day.  Lillehammer was the site of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games.  While my passion for the Olympics started in 1996, my passion for the winter Olympics didn’t formulate until the 2002 Winter Games.  I didn’t know much about the 1994 Games but was still excited to see what they were like and their influence on Norway.

I arrived in Lillehammer and headed to the Norwegian Olympic Museum.  The museum was very well put together and gave tribute to Norway for the success with the Games but also reflected on many other countries around the world at the same time.  It also showcased the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea in February.  For me, this was exciting because many of my friends have been preparing for the Games as staff or athletes and working tirelessly for years to make them a success.  Some are already in Korea and setting the stage to make great things happen.  In a way the visit was a tribute to them and their efforts and my way of wishing them the best from a unique Olympic location.

Lillehammer is a beautiful mountain city surrounded by a river on one side and the mountains on the other.  I walked around a bit and was able to check out the site of ski jumping and some other venues.  I had never seen a ski jump before so that was a fun spectacle.

After a day spent around Lillehammer I headed back to Oslo.  By seeing Lillehammer, I think I can claim I got in touch with the skiing part a little that I had demonstrated when I walked into that classroom with cardboard taped to my feet many years ago.  I’m definitely claiming it at least.

On my way back to Oslo I was able to sit on the side of the train with the river which turned out to be incredible timing.  The sun was flirting with the horizon line of the mountain tops and vibrantly reflecting on the river below.  I couldn’t have asked for a better countryside view by train.

I finished the night off by grabbing some food on my walk back to the hotel and spent the rest of the evening writing.  Time to catch up.

Paris of the North

It was time!  Time to head north to the Arctic.  Tromsø was only one more plane ride away.  Tromsø was the side of what would become possibly the greatest adventure experience of my life to date.  It was where I would board the Malmo and head out searching for whales and the northern lights.

First, I had to meet Sam and Kelsey for coffee at the airport.  This was my second time seeing Kelsey since she met me in coffeeshop in May to basically confirm to me how awesome the trip to northern Norway was going to be.  How fitting is it that the very next time we meet we start with coffee?  It was unintentional.  I was extremely excited to join her for the expedition because it was invigorating to hear her passion for something she loves, and I couldn’t wait to learn more from her.

A huge thanks to her for challenging me to join and do something like that, especially when she didn’t even really know me at that point.  It was a great pleasure to meet Sam as well and learn her how ties to Kelsey drove her to join as well.  When I mentioned doing things that set my soul on fire I knew instantly that this was going to do just that.  To be around others who shared that, why wouldn’t one be thrilled to go along and push their limits a bit.

After some catching up we boarded the flight to the Paris of the North.  I didn’t make up that name either.  Tromsø has been called that.

We made it!  It was my first time being above the Arctic Circle.  It turned out to be a bit colder than Oslo but not unbearable.  Besides, all those years growing up on the rural Minnesota prairie had trained me for the moments ahead.  I’ve been seasoned and ready to brave the northern breezes.  I thought so at least.  That was yet to be determined.

We spent a little bit of the afternoon strolling the streets, checking out shops, and finding some good grub.  The next thing we did was a bit embarrassing for being in this new wonderland.  We went and took naps.

The evening, however, was great because we had been invited to join some of the crew for dinner.  It was exciting because we were able to relax a bit with the crew and get to know them before thing would become a little more about business the following day.  We quickly got comfortable with each other and shared many laughs and good times throughout the night.  I knew Johannes the Captain, Andreas the First Chief, and Hokkan the mechanic was going to provide a wonderful experience for the week to come.

What’s next is to board the Malmö and set course for northern waters consisting of orcas and many other whales for an experience I would not forget and will not know how to capture in words or pictures or video.  While I will try to do those things, I also know that I must enjoy every moment and appreciate the opportunity just as I have tried this past week.

The many encounters and friends I spent time with, the places visited and exposed to with my own two eyes, the feelings within each part of the journey, and the connections to other experiences are all part of my story, the Scandinavian story.  That is why I must give a proper cheers, or as they say in Scandinavia, skål.  Skål Scandinavia!


Stay tuned for the Arctic Adventure!

One thought on “Skål Scandinavia!

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