Since we started traveling after retiring in 2000, we agreed that we would spend summers at our home in Colorado. It is very comfortable and in the evenings the cool air is so refreshing we really enjoy the pleasures of this beautiful Rocky Mountain state.
This year we chose to take a trip in mid-July to Norway. As we are not very fond of cruises - too many tourists, too much down time, same ports of call as other cruise lines, and too many shore excursions as an extra expense, we chose to take a land excursion.
We contacted several companies and after seeing the passenger numbers we signed up with Gate 1 out of suburban Philadelphia, PA. Their itinerary was decent if somewhat limited - but that was OK - we would get a brief look at this northern European country.
We signed up to travel with them through Affordable Tours in Houston, Texas. Kat, our agent, did a very nice job of organizing and taking care of the paper work. She made suggestions as to the flight arrangements and layover cities. All of our questions were promptly answered and the proper documents were quickly sent to us. We were booked Business Class on SAS Airlines and this was one of the areas that come under criticism.
Our outbound flights went from Denver to Newark (never again) and then Newark to Oslo, Norway. The aircraft was old and the Business seats were quite poor. One of our seats would not even recline much less go into sleep position. The flight attendants had to come and get under the seat so it would fully recline.
In the morning they had to be called to have the seat be returned to the sitting position. Our other seat was as poor but would go down to mid recline. Same procedure for full recline. The meal was very mediocre.
Our return flight - Copenhagen to Chicago and then Denver - was somewhat better and the flight attendants were a bit more responsive. The one big surprise was the aircraft change that placed our seat just behind the bathroom and the door that did not stay closed and would fly open when people were walking by.
Once we arrived in Oslo we took the bus from the airport to the Radisson Scandinavia - so easy and pleasant. We checked in at 9:30 AM and the front desk people were so nice to get us a room right away. As we were to find out, A/C in all the rooms were poor or did not work at all. They moved us to another room and it was a little better and the Internet was good.
In our two visits to the Radisson Scandinavia, the reception people were great, but the rooms were quite poor. For all the hotels on this trip we would recommend checking with TripAdvisor prior to booking.
Before we go any further we must reflect on Norway and its people. From our first walk, to the Palace Park, we met and spoke to people young, old, native to Oslo and from all other areas of this country. They spoke English so well (some grammatically better than we do) and were so willing to speak about their country and what to see. They would suggest restaurants, sights to visit, and where to travel. What great people.
As we traveled around Oslo, then to Lillehammer, Sogndal, Bergen and then back to Oslo, we saw the beautiful sights of the country. Norway is covered in pine trees and colorful vegetation. The mountains are still covered in snow in the high altitudes.
In other areas we saw the rock strewn Artic tundra landscape. Everywhere one sees lakes, glacial and otherwise with clear blue waters. Then we could see the fjords, majestic and immense, traversed only by some type of watercraft. We were so glad we chose to take a land tour instead of a cruise.
On the evening of our first day in Norway we had our Welcome Meeting at the hotel and we met the other 25+ members of our group and our Tour Director (TD) Birgitte. She went over the rules and guidelines and they appeared to be very straightforward and what we have come to expect on tours. The next morning we got on our bus - one of 9 tour buses waiting out front - and looked for our seats. All the seats were assigned at the front of the 54-passenger bus.
When we (and several others) went to sit at the back we were very sternly told to sit in our assigned seats by our TD. We quickly found out that if we did not make waves she was pleasant.
Unfortunately, several members chose to challenge her on seating and when people were one or 5 minutes late, she let everyone know that was not acceptable in a very abrasive voice. Unfortunately, this happened several times. On the positive, she was very good at providing information as we traveled. The fact that people on the bus talked over her made it difficult to understand all that was presented.
The city tour of Oslo was enlightening and we saw several of the major points. With our TD she gave us the opportunity to get out of the bus and photograph. In this respect she was much better than many of our other 70+ tours. We then went to Lillehammer, Sogndal, Bergen, and returned to Oslo. A city tour of Bergen should have been included and not just part of an optional excursion. It should be mentioned that all local guides were very good and did an excellent job of educating us on their communities even though we only got our electronic "Whisperers" on the last day.
As we moved through Norway we faced the exceedingly high temperatures. The hotels did not have A/C or screens on the windows. This led to very warm evenings with windows open and little bugs flying in. We acquired a fan in Lillehammer and this served us well for the trip.
The bus was new and comfortable. The A/C worked well and the driver was very in-tune to the passengers. If the windows had been cleaned periodically our sightseeing would have been better. We stopped often enough for restroom breaks and nourishment and to take "Kodak Moments".
Overall, we really enjoyed Norway - the country and its people. The tour was somewhat of a low budget - hotels, meals, and local tours. We did spend several days "in the bus"; long hours with brief stops. The best example of this was the drive from Bergen back to Oslo. This portion should have been split in half as we drove by many classic villages and sights that looked inviting.