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International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

NORWAY! – SPRING TRIP PART 3

Oslo 13

Did you know it’s barely more than an hour flight to get from The Faroes to Norway’s capital city of Oslo?  Well, I didn’t either.  After a couple of days in the scenic Faroes (see last post HERE), we did just that.  It’s important to give a shout out to Atlantic Airways, a very efficient service in this part of the world.

Below, Karl Johans Gate — sort of a main boulevard — leading up to the Royal Palace

No plans were on tap unlike the prior detailed itineraries (especially Iceland — read about it HERE).  Seeing the iconic fjords was preeminent.  My thinking is always that a good concierge is best employed in these matters.

Thus, with guidance we made a quick decision to experience “Norway in a Nutshell.”

The tour embarks in Oslo and ends up in Bergen (Norway’s second largest city), with our choice for a short flight back to Oslo. Other options are either train or car, but a flight seemed like the obvious choice.

Definition of Norway in a Nutshell — the fjords

So out of our four days in Norway, a day and a half would be spent on every type of transportation possible.  That means trains (2), a boat (cruising the fjords), a bus (a relatively short ride), another train to Bergen, and the next day’s flight.  We left most everything in our room at the Oslo hotel (the excellent Hotel Continental).    Our room and belongings were just as we left them upon our return.

Near the town of Voss

The plan went exceedingly well, until .. a train delay from Voss to Bergen. And then a flight delay back to Oslo.  A 45-minute flight took off three hours later.  But we did get food vouchers at the airport, so there’s that.  And then I left my jacket in the Oslo train station.   H&M in Oslo to the rescue!

And why share all of this?  Because this is the stuff of travel, no matter how well one plans.  To me it is building a portfolio of memories and experiences, which is a privilege.  The best is getting to interact with people from everywhere.

Below, only one of these two men has been to a Dodger game.  (The other just liked the cap)

As for Oslo, it’s very modern, very easy to navigate and very friendly.  Spring flowers were just becoming visible. Food offerings (not only Norwegian salmon) are plentiful and delicious. As for the salmon, it’s basically the first thing you see for sale at the airport — it’s EVERYWHERE.  As an aside, how “smart” are the airport designers who have travelers exit security directly into a Duty Free store!  Below, my one salmon meal — at a Turkish restaurant.

Above and below, glimpses of Norway’s very modern capital city.

Below, the clear winner for “Best Meal in Norway (Oslo)” goes to Lofoten.  

Hamachi with soy jelly; excellent wine (credit the hubby); bouillabaisse and outstanding halibut.

Below, from our visit to the Nobel Peace Center where the Peace Prize is awarded annually. 

All of the other Nobel prizes originate in Stockholm.  Alfred Nobel’s story is told along with a history of the recipients.

Above, the original medal first given in 1921 (prior winners did not receive this).  Below, recipient Elie Weisel; no words necessary.

As we head to our next stop completing our Scandinavian visit, enjoy a few more photos of the fjords.  On to Stockholm!

U.S. TravelWining/Dining

Thanksgiving Southern Style

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Our family tradition of Thanksgiving week travel has become something we look forward to with much anticipation.  While everyone gets a vote for the destination, I handle most of the arrangements.  That means accommodations, flights and mostly importantly restaurants!

This year’s journey took us cross country to two of the most coveted travel destinations in the US — Charleston and Savannah.  This is the second visit to Charleston for me and the hubby, after loving our first trip last year.  My post from that trip is accessed here.

First, the travel/flights.  Are we not just bombarded with travel horror stories of late, with many involving cancelled flights?  My happy report is we had absolutely NONE of that (all on American Airlines). It would have gone off without a hitch had my wallet actually contained my driver’s license.  I’ll write about that experience later.  We flew from LA – Dallas for a plane change and enough time to grab dinner, then on to Charleston.  We arrived late, grabbed a readily available cab(!) and off to our waterfront accommodations at the lovely Harborview Inn.  I highly recommend this place for the great location, hospitality, generously size rooms and other amenities along with very good rates.

One of Charleston’s charms is its walkability with streets easy to navigate.  We did rent a car but found that many times it was easier to walk — not to mention getting in those steps to mitigate the food intake.  We repeated a few favorites from last year — visiting Fort Sumter, dining at Leon’s Oyster Shop and worth-the-wait Lewis BBQ, plus seeing Angel Oak Tree.   All of these were enjoyed both for the first time (our kids) and second time (me and the hubby).   We also drove the area to see some of the beautiful and historic homes.

The main trunk at Angel Oak
View from Fort Sumter

Brisk and blistery weather at Ft. Sumter.

For the new experiences, we tried Anson’s and Maison.  Maison is literally next door to Leon’s but couldn’t be more different.  It’s small but with a very cultivated wine list, and the food is top notch French bistro with some twists. The food (top to bottom):  Classic Onion Soup but “en croute” — crack into that baby and out comes the rich soup; classic Steak Fritte; endive salad with apples and pecans; Escargot of course; and a perfect wine to accompany it all.  Mais oui!

Anson (unbeknownst to me when booking) is a sister restaurant to two we will visit in Savannah.  It is partnered with Garibaldi’s and the iconic/renowned Olde Pink House which is on everyone’s “do not miss” list.  As for Charleston, what better way to sum things up than with some visuals!  First up, southern classics at Anson — whole crispy flounder and shrimp & grits.

For this trip, we were able to go inside this amazing and historic synagogue in Charleston — Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim — est 1749.  A new hanukkiah for our Hanukkah candlelighting was purchased and happily used.

 

If you had to choose a “last dessert ever,” I could easily go with one of these treats seen below from Peace Pie.

Pampered much?  Or am I just jealous ..??

Across from our hotel is the entrance to Joe Riley Waterfront Park with this beautiful fountain seen below.  Charleston has many parks to visit, all part of their Conservancy program.

After a couple of jam-packed days, it was off to Savannah with an important stop along the way.   Stay tuned ..

International TravelThings I Love

A SEAMLESS START

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When the time to depart finally arrived, I was quite nervous.  After so many blips, changes and uncertainties (see previous post), we were finally airborne.  Changing our arrival in Africa from Nairobi to Dar Es Salaam meant an extra flight, but leaving from Burbank Airport (to Seattle) is so swift and hassle free that it was worth it.   Best news is no touching our bags until the “final destination” — which is such a creepy saying.  Need to think of an alternative.  Suggestions?

Stunning Mt. Ranier from the plane

The hubby and I like to think it was an auspicious start to the trip to have the Bruin track team on the flight.  I asked if we should start an “8 clap” and that got everyone’s attention.  We chatted about the epic Final Four and in particular our allegiance to the blue & gold.  My goodness, they were so young!

For the next leg, 14 hours from Seattle to Doha (via the north pole) is daunting, but this was a pleasure.  With a half-full cabin, the staff were even more attentive.  And how can one not love an airplane bathroom where you can actually turn around (and change clothes comfortably).  Highly recommend Qatar Airways, especially if you are part of the One World Alliance (American and British Air, etc.)

My roomy and comfy cabin aboard Qatar.

 

Breakfast is served

The eight-hour Doha layover was limited to the airport per covid restrictions.  But Hamad International rivals Singapore’s Changi in facilities, albeit on a smaller scale.   The endless stream of green-jacket-wearing assistants provided carts and guidance throughout the transfer process.  Maybe it is due to my Platinum status on American or they mistook us for foreign royals, but honestly we just went with the flow.  Except when they kept offering us wheelchairs for some reason.  I later found out American thought I had requested this, which I did not.  At least it wasn’t due to assumed gimpyness of us.

Qatar Lounge
Meal #??? en route at the airport lounge

We finally arrived in Dar es Salaam, but for just two hours.   A short flight to Kilaminjaro Airport in Arusha followed with zero view of the iconic mountain due to clouds.  The flight departed as soon as everyone was on board, a good 15 minutes early.  No “we are cleared for takeoff” or “we are fifth in line for departure.”  Rev up those propellers and take off, with the Arusha arrival 25 minutes early.

Aboard Precision Air

Rivertrees Country Inn provided a perfect overnight to get our sea legs.  We loved a long chat with fellow guest Melvin from the UK.  When I asked about his itinerary, he said “I left for three weeks and that was five months ago.”  Can you imagine?  He had one small bag while buying and discarding clothes as needed per weather requirements.  Interesting way to travel, to say the least.  He traveled to Arusha from Dar es Salaam via train.  What took us just over an hour took him 22 hours with no stops in between.  We’ll stick with the planes, thank you very much.

Next stop:  safari in Central Serengeti.

Usa River
Rivertrees Country Inn

 

International TravelThings You Should Know

AND THE AWARD GOES TO …

FIRST PRIZE

For “Best understanding and navigating the complicated world of travel restrictions,” the award goes to :: Anyone who prevails, especially internationally.  I will gladly accept my blue ribbon (after untold hours spent).

Many of us might just cry “Uncle.”  Our family trip to Italy has been rescheduled twice since 2020 and is now calendared for November.  For me and the hubby, this year’s trip was always going to be Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), but what a ride it’s been.  And we haven’t even left yet.

Industrial-strength desire and patience is a must in the planning stages.  It might be tempting for some to think its just too much work to pull off a trip.  And is anyone truly patient?  I know I’m not.  Just when one is certain the itinerary is settled, a new wrinkle appears.  I could fill up a recycling bin with printed copies of reservations made and cancelled.

A LATE CHANGE

The biggest surprise, literally just contemplated and confirmed a few days ago, is Tanzania is out and Uganda is in.  That means in addition to the traditional “Big 5” — lions/leopards/elephants/rhinos/buffalo — we are including gorillas and chimps, oh my!  Until recently, I thought Rwanda was the only place to go for gorilla trekking.  In reality, there are some 400 of these amazing creatures in Uganda’s Bwindi Forest where we’re headed.

The staff at Africa Travel Resource have been extraordinary throughout the process.  Numerous itineraries were offered.  They weighed in with pros and cons.  They have continuously sent clients on safari in spite of the challenges from the pandemic and know the terrain extremely well.

THE JOURNEY THERE

The first hurdle?  Getting to the African continent with travel rules that change daily.  There are few routes (via American Airlines partners) where one is able to “transfer” through a destination.  That means arriving somewhere but not entering the country (i.e., outside immigration).  Instead, the onward travel to the next destination simply continues within the confines of the airport. This avoids any of the country’s quarantine requirements.  Even an overnight at an airport hotel might require quarantine; thus avoid!

A case in point of how airport transfers can become a nightmare:  We once had a plane change in Sri Lanka.  Since we weren’t technically entering the country, I didn’t apply for Visas.  Lo and behold, the Sri Lankans considered going to the baggage carousel to gather our bags for the next flight (on a different airline) to be “entering the country.”  Long lines, language barriers, and a ticking clock to the next departure equaled major stress.  Singapore Airlines more than earned their best airline status by helping us through the calamity.

By the way, if the Sri Lanka episode happens to you, be firm about not missing your next flight.  We were told that there was no way we would make it.  But because of polite persistence and some absolute insistence, we indeed made the flight.  (More about that subject is covered in a previous post linked HERE).

Thus I feel positively victorious to be flying from Los Angeles to Nairobi on just two flights in a mere 22 hours.  We have one plane change in Doha, Qatar, for two hours.  I used 75,000 AA miles per person for the flights on Qatar Airlines. Even with the first leg at 15-1/2 hours, I’m looking forward to experiencing their Q-Suites.

We’re scheduled for the required COVID test just prior to leaving Los Angeles.  Kenya requires proof of a negative test (not more than 96 hours old) for entry to the country.  From there, no quarantine is required so off we go.

The trip map

I will write more later about the rest of the journey.  I’m just happy to be able to finally focus on all that needs to be done before we leave in a few short weeks.  That is a great joy indeed.

Things You Should KnowU.S. Travel

NEVER WASTE AN OPPORTUNITY: A VISIT TO THE CAROLINA’S

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When a great fare was “scored” via American Airlines for an arguably optimistic June trip to Anguilla only to have the island remained closed, a quick decision was made to go anyway.  Obviously not to the island, but rather keeping the round trip flights to and from Charlotte.  I have found the upside to these travel disruptions is a seemingly greater flexibility and willingness on the part of the airlines (at least AA) to make changes.  The original fare included “free” system-wide upgrade awards (meaning flying up front without using miles); that somewhat played a role in the decision.

My curiosity about flying during COVID has been satisfied.  Here’s my report:   The TSA folks have managed to create a “no touch” procedure.  Rather than handing over your ID, they ask you hold it next to your face for comparison, and they remain behind plexiglass.  There are distancing signs as well as cleaning crews everywhere.  Masks, are of course, required in the terminal.  Few food stores were open, but it was a very early flight.

On board the flight, masks are required at all times except if a passenger is eating or drinking.  Even though this was a cross-country flight of more than four hours, there was no beverage service although we were able to request drinks after take-off.   Snack bags were provided at boarding:  a small water bottle, a bag of corn nuts and a wipe.  Upon landing, deplaning is like leaving a funeral — stay in your seat until the row in front of you has exited.  The directions were somewhat adhered to.  All in all, the whole experience was uneventful.

Worth the wait!

The year 2020 for us has been about visiting new states as opposed to new countries.  With this trip, my count is 46 out of 50 (still missing: Maine, Michigan, Mississippi and Alabama), of which I am very proud.  Neither the hubby nor I had been to the Carolina’s.  Again, it didn’t take long to map out the 11-night itinerary.  There’s so much to see, the trip could easily be longer.  It is a relief to have “short” drives to the various stops, as opposed to 400-500 miles on average covered daily in the recent road trip.

NASCAR HQ

As for Charlotte, it is immediately apparent why this has become one of America’s best cities in which to reside.  The hubby and I seriously considered leaving CA maybe 10 years ago.  We took a survey that asks what your priorities are for a city and then tells you what location best suits your criteria.  Charlotte was at the top of the list for both of us.  When our kids settled in LA for their careers after college, we decided to stay put.

Downtown Charlotte

The city is a sprawling metropolis but at the same time is easy to navigate with some beautiful residential areas. Gracious homes on generous lots is very different from what we So Cal dwellers are accustomed to — not to mention how much less the cost is for much more house.  Of course there were some delicious food finds; one is depicted in the photos below from Flour Shop.  Bank of America headquarters anchors downtown Charlotte along with their beloved Panthers’ stadium, Hornets’ arena and a beautiful new stadium for the AAA baseball affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.  My personal favorite — Lowe’s — is likewise based in Charlotte, together with more than a dozen Fortune 1000 companies.  Big city opportunities, southern charm and four distinct seasons.  All that’s needed is an MLB franchise.

Next stop:  Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill — aka The Triangle.

Jerry Richardson brought the Panthers to Charlotte.

 

Help!  Where can I see a game?
Snippets from the Road

ITALY, PARTY OF FOUR — UPDATED

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(This March 3 post is updated at the end … )

With the big post-tax season trip just six weeks away, I’ve been repeatedly asked these questions:  “Are you cancelling your trip?”  “Are you concerned?”  “What are your thoughts about …”

My answer has not changed.  No, we are not changing unless we are forced to.   In other words, if all flights to Italy are cancelled, then I guess we’ll change our itinerary — flying into Rome and departing from Milan, with additional stays in Florence and Venice.  American Airlines currently has a deadline for flight changes without penalty until March 16.  All of the hotels and cars may be cancelled without fees.  So not much at stake while we see what happens.

We’re a generally healthy family who in all probability would tolerate a flu without much fanfare. While I’m not looking for adverse conditions, the fact is we could stay home and get sick.  So what the heck .. onward.

My Snippet from the Road:  Carry on unless you’re forced not to.  Wash your hands.  And if change must happen — the South of France is just an hour flight from Rome.  A win/win.

UPDATE:  In case you’re interested in where we stand now (March 13), we are looking to postpone just a few weeks from our original 4/17 departure.  Typically we’re home around May 10 looking forward to attending Dodger games.  Since that is also postponed, our timing is flexible throughout May.   It would be a pleasure to be among the first to help resurrect Italy’s economy in some small way.

The plan is to see how things look at the end of March/beginning of April before changing flights and hotels.  Until then, we’ll talk to each other, catch up on reading and perhaps binge watch cooking shows on Netflix …