A visit to Birka, an ancient Viking Trading Center!

The city of Stockholm is the capital of Sweden. What most people don’t realizie is that Stockholm, while it is one city, is located across 14 islands dotted across the fresh water Lake Mälaren. Each island has its own character and ambiance. So far, we haven’t had much time to explore Stockholm and today that exploration will have to wait for we’re catching the ferry to Birka.
Lake Mälaren is huge, but surprisingly it’s Sweden’s third-largest lake and home to over a thousand different islands. The island of Birka was once the largest Viking trading center of the North.

According to Wiki, during the Viking Age, Birka in present day Sweden, was an important trading center which handled goods from Scandinavia as well as Central and Eastern Europe and the Orient. Birka is located in Lake Mälaren, 30 kilometers west of contemporary Stockholm, in the municipality of Ekerö. Generally regarded as Sweden’s oldest town, Birka has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993.

Today’s the first rainy day we’ve had on the trip, but as we sailed across Lake Mälaren the sun decided to claim the day. By the time we arrived at Birka, the clouds had vanished and the skies were blue. Here are some pictures of the Viking settlement rebuilt as it would’ve been in the tenth century.


I am in Valhalla, too immersed in Vikings to even contemplate our century.

Oslo to Stockholm Day 6!

For some ridiculous reason, we opted to take the first train from Oslo to Stockholm today. If we’d understood the ramifications of twilight and maybe two hours of darkness every day, maybe we’d have opted for a later departure time than 7:30 a.m. At any rate, we boarded, and since my Viking had insisted we would be fed during the journey had nothing on us in terms of food. Four hours later, absolutely starving, we purchased truly expensive peanuts and gobbled them up.

SW STOCKHOLM3  SW STOCKHOLM2  SW STOCKHOLM1The The passing scenery is much flatter than our Norway in a Nutshell vistas, but as always, lush, green, and panoramic. Farms dot the landscape. It seems as if every scrap of land is devoted to growing food or raising sheep and cattle. We arrive in Stockholm around three in the afternoon and are pleased and relieved to find that our Radisson Blu hotel is located not a couple of minutes from the train station. Our Floridian Norwegian friend, Bjorn, has once again used his infulence (he managed a few Radisson’s) and we’re upgraded to suite once again. Not only that, but a welcome fruit basket and a half-bottle of wine awaits us.

WhatsApp has turned out to be a traveler’s best friend. We text my friend, Tamarind, who’s 60th birthday and her desire for a Baltic cruise prompted this whole trip. Not a few hours later, we’re dining at Luzette, a restaurant located in Stockholm’s Central Station. What an incredible day! A new country, old friends, an incredible dinner, and copious red wine. What more can a gal ask for???

My Viking Sojourn Day 5—Oslo & The Pig Knuckle!

OSLOFJORDToday we explored Norway’s capital, Oslo, and took a tour of the Oslo fjord or as it’s known, the Oslofjord.

I begin to understand the origin of the ferocious seafaring Vikings. Travel by sea in this country is so much easier than travel by car or horse because of the steep rise of the rugged Scandinavian mountains.

According to Wiki, the Oslofjord (Norwegian: Oslofjorden) is an inlet in the south-east of Norway, stretching from an imaginary line between the Torbjørnskjær and Færder lighthouses and down to Langesund in the south to Oslo in the north. It is part of the Skagerrak strait, connecting the North Sea and the Kattegat sea area, which leads to the Baltic Sea. The Oslofjord is not a fjord in the geological sense – in Norwegian the term “fjord” can refer to a wide range of waterways. The bay is divided into the inner (indre) and outer (ytre) Oslofjord at the point of the 17 km long and 1 km wide Drøbak Sound.

The sun’s once again shining brightly and the sky’s blue and clear. We’ve been so lucky with the weather so far this trip (fingers and toes crossed).




Here are a few of the sights:

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The last couple of pics are of Norway’s famous opera house. We met a charming Brazilian couple on the tour and a group of women from Germany celebrating a friend’s eightieth birthday. We ate lunch in a quaint restaurant in downtown Oslo and dined on mussels and pommes frites. Delish.sights:

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The last couple of pics are of Norway’s famous opera house. We met a charming Brazilian couple on the tour and a group of women from Germany celebrating a friend’s eightieth birthday. We ate lunch in a quaint restaurant in downtown Oslo and dined on mussels and pommes frites. Delish.

Now, since we arrived in Norway, I’ve been trying to find Den Glade Gris, a restaurant that’s supposedly near the hotel, and one where everyone raves about the ‘pig knuckle’. We’ve set out to find Den Glade Gris three times and ran into a great tapas eatery and a wonderful Italian place instead. Today, we finally locate the establishment. OMG, what a meal. The pig knuckle is exactly that, a huge slab of pork with crackling that’s slow roasted for over 48 hours. We choose a Voss beer to complete the meal and leave Den Glade Gris two hours later mildly inebriated and piggy content. Here’s a shot of the pig:

This photo of Den Glade Gris is courtesy of TripAdvisor

What a marvelous way to end our Norwegian Viking Sojourn. Tomorrow, we head to Sweden and Stockholm!

My Viking Sojourn Day 4—Norway in a Nutshell!

Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, is a charming port town!

Our fourth morning in Norway dawns bright, sunny, and windy. Both the Viking and I are stunned by how much we’ve seen and how far we’ve traveled in less than a day! Three nights ago we’d just arrived in the country, and now we’re on the west coast after journeying through the Scandinavian mountains and through the fjords.

We spent the morning exploring the city and ended up taking the tram to the top of one of the mountains overlooking the city. What a view!


We had lunch at  the seafood market where you pick your fish and they cook it right then and there for you!!! Yummy.


Then it was time to check out and head to the train back to Oslo. In less than an hour, we’re back into the snow-capped frozen tundra. Now, all along this Norway in a Nutshell adventure we’ve been in the same train car with a family of visitors who were from Bangalore, India. None of them had ever seen snow before and the kids have been dying to touch the white fluff. Half-way back to Oslo, we find out that our train engine is needed to rescue another train stranded ahead of us. So, our train stops in the middle of nowhere and we’re informed the wait will be forty-five minutes. OMG, those kids were out of the train in a heartbeat.

Around midnight we make it back to Norway’s capital. This is what the sun looked like!


Incredible. This twilight stuff blows my puny brain.

My Viking Sojourn Day 3—Norway in a Nutshell!

If you’re like me your first reaction to the phrase Norway in a Nutshell is WTF?

Norway in a Nutshell is a cute slogan coined by a marketing genius. First of all Norway is one long-ass Northern country. It took me a while to figure out just how far north Norway extends. Here’s  a map of Scandinavia with Norway outlined:


We only have five days in Norway and we wanted to get a taste of the country’s most famous attraction—the fjords, so today early in the morning we headed to Oslo’s Central Station to catch the train to Myrdal. What amazes me the most about Norway is how rural the country is. Yes, Oslo’s a big city with a population of around 1.2 million people (suburbs included), but not thirty minutes into the train ride we were surrounded by lush hillside farms.

We began climbing into the mountains and lo and behold all of a sudden there’s snow everywhere. The Scandinavian mountain, separates Norway’s west and east coasts. This steep ridge runs almost the entire length of the country. There are rivers and lakes everywhere and a ton of waterfalls too. A full 32% of the country is above the tree line (where trees can’t grow)!! The passing scenery was incredible and these are a few of the most beautiful sights:



The little buildings dotted in the snow-capped mountains (and this is the end of June and it’s still frozen) are cottages. The insane Norwegians spend weekends here in the WINTER (yup, they’re nuts all right) cross-country skiing.

We finally reach Myrdal and have to exit to catch The Flam Railroad train. When we left Oslo not four hours earlier, the temperature was in the 70s. Here in the mountains, it’s freezing!!! The Flam Railway or Flamsbana travels one of the steepest railways in the world. Flamsbana offers a panoramic view of some of the wildest and most magnificent nature in the Norwegian fjord landscape. Almost 80% of the Flamsbana journey has a gradient of 5.5%. Here are some of the spectacular shots we managed to snatch!




That last pic is of the docks and the boat we’re taking for the next part of the journey! We have time to grab fried fish and fries and then we boarded the ship. What a perfect day for this journey! Blue skies, a  blazing sun, and a crisp breeze. I can’t even begin to describe the astounding beauty of the fjords. It’s like trying to capture the Grand Canyon with words or photos. You simply have to be there to absorb the eerie spirituality of the vistas. No matter though, here are s0me of the pictures we took.


The two hour boat ride through the fjords will never fade from my memory. But onwards and upwards we must go. By now, I’m thinking nothing, nothing at all, could top the awesome landscapes we’ve seen so far.

WRONG! The next part of the trip is a bus ride to Voss. Heaven help me! We drove up and up and up a mountain only to descend down a barely two-lane road of ninety-degree hair-raising BLIND turns. I white-knuckled gripped the seat and stepped on the brakes all the way down. Here’s  a tiny glimpse of that breath-taking ride:

Okay, guys and gals, it’s now near five in the afternoon and we catch the train to Bergen. Once again, the vistas are jaw-dropping fantastic. I had planned to finish Prymal Hunger on this trip during the train rides, but I’m too fascinated with the scenery to pop open my notebook. We arrive in the charming port town of Bergen around seven-thirty at night. Now, this far north in the summer , the sun never really sets. Around midnight the sky turns from blue to twilight and by four in the morning the sun’s blazing away. So weird and it wrecks your sleep patterns entirely!

We dump our bags in the Radisson Blu hotel that our Floridian Norwegian neighbor, Bjorn, once managed and set out to find some grub and explore the city. Seafood abounds in this city and we end up having a fabulous meal of lobster and fish served to us by a tall, beautiful Swedish young lady (everyone here seems to be tall, blonde, and blue-eyed) who tells us she makes more working nine months as a waitress than her sister who has a master’s degree and works for the government in Stockholm. Go figure!

Today, has been the biggest adventure of my short life. In one day, we’ve seen and encountered heat, ice, waterfalls, mountains, rivers, and so much more. What a day!