The last time I wrote about my family’s experience on Semester at Sea, it was mid-July and we were in Ireland — a joyous, laughter- and adventure-filled time in Ireland. Then my job on the ship got really busy, and the countries kept coming: Norway, Russia, Sweden…. and I just couldn’t keep up with regular dispatches, especially with intermittent shipboard Internet (oh, let’s be honest, the connection was horrible).
When I returned home at the end of August, it was all about getting back into the routine of work and school. And then in September I traveled to Boston, and earlier this month, to Arizona. But that isn’t the only reason I haven’t gone back to share here the highlights of those countries I visited after Ireland. It just became too difficult. Not logistically difficult, emotionally hard.
The summer I spent in Europe with my family — exploring new countries, living in the small confines of the MV Explorer, spending a ridiculous amount of time together — was a life highlight. I’m not sure if there will ever be another two-month long experience to top it.
Now, it’s back to the status quo: husband at work, kids at school and super busy with sports and homework and extra-curricular activities. I don’t see them nearly as much as I did on the ship; even when I was working much of the day and into the night, they were only ever two minutes and a couple of decks away. Then, were together 24-7 when the ship docked, a far cry from busy life at home, when it’s rare all four of us sit down together for dinner. And it bums me out. I miss our summer of us.
But I figured it was time for me to push through the melancholy and celebrate the memories of life with my family at sea. So, without further ado, highlights of our stay in Norway.
This country on our summer itinerary was a little different. The ship first docked in Bergen, on the west coast, and then made its way south to the other side of the country, where it docked in Oslo for two days. Passengers had the option to stay with the ship as it sailed, or make their way overland from Bergen to Oslo, having to only be back by “on-ship time,” just before it would set sail to Russia.
My family opted to stay on the ship, namely because the logistics of getting to Oslo, as well as exorbitant prices (Norway is crazy expensive, people!), were too much for me to figure out. I was bummed I didn’t try a little harder, when I heard everyone making plans to do some really cool camping and hiking trips on their own, but in the end it worked out just fine.
We spent our first evening checking out Bergen’s historic wharf area and its fish market, where freshly caught seafood, cooked right in front of us, cost us $120 for a family of four. Simple seafood kabobs or grilled shrimp with macaroni salad were about $30 each — served on paper plates and eaten on rough-hewn wooden tables under a tent. That was our indoctrination into Norway’s steep prices.
The next morning, we took the funicular to the top of Mt. Floyen, for some fabulous views of the surrounding area. Alas, the weather was really starting to turn, but we’d pre-paid for a mountain-biking excursion around the mountain. Sure enough, just about 10 minutes into our three-hour ride, the skies opened up. Our group pushed through cold rain, lots of mud, and unexpected steep inclines, that weren’t a lot of fun.
The bike ride was actually a low point of our trip — the worst activity we did on the entire trip, namely because we mis-read the description, and I thought we were riding down the mountain, not just on the paths around it. Also, the rainy weather didn’t help one bit. However, the silver lining was that my children were rock stars. Not one complaint about the cold, muddy ride. They powered through and were great (and the tour ended early, no one was having a ton of fun).
Despite the overcast weather, we’d also signed up for a three-hour ferry ride through some nearby fjords. I’m so glad we got a taste of Norway’s unique waterways, and some pretty waterfalls, even in a bit of rain.
Then it was back on the ship for an overnight and a full day at sea for the transfer to Oslo. We loved being on the ship with about half of the regular passengers. Not that we didn’t miss our friends, but we enjoyed the relaxed pace (no classes, no work due) and extra elbow room. Plus, the dining staff treated us to a fancy sit-down meal! This is a Big Deal on the ship, when dinner is typically buffet style.
Even better, when we docked in Oslo we found sunny skies — beautiful weather to explore some of the city’s best-known sights.
But the true highlight of our stay in Norway was an adventure that will go down in the annals of family lore. The plan: To hike specific trails in the Oslomarka, wilderness just outside of the city, which we’d researched online and gotten a recommendation from folks at a downtown trekking center. What really happened: We couldn’t figure out how to pay for tickets for the train out of the city (the automated ticket dispenser wouldn’t take our credit card or our cash), so we were riding the rails like hobos, hoping not to get caught without having paid any fares.
Then, once we reached the end of the line, a deserted area near a restaurant that wasn’t open for business yet, we had a hard time simply finding the beginning of the trail. The story ends well: We had an amazing walk in the wilderness, and got back to the ship with time to spare before its departure. But I will say that following maps and trail signs solely in Norwegian is not easy. Still, it was a wonderfully fun adventure; I was reminded of how go-with-the-flow my kids were on this entire trip; and we got some great exercise in the outdoors under sunny skies. A fabulous day.
Previous posts on Semester at Sea, chronological order: