I love the Danes!

After two packed days of touring, shopping and eating my way through Copenhagen, I am back on SAS for my direct flight back to Newark.  I absolutely love Copenhagen airport and SAS’s economy extra’s seats and airport procedures.   As an economy extra passenger, not only do you have the benefit of more legroom and wider seats, but a big bonus in the ability to check in with the business class and avoid the long lines.  There is also a fast track through security, which means I had extra time for last minute shopping at Copenhagen airport!  They have a huge selection of stores in addition to your souvenir shops.   They know how to do it right, also providing free carts throughout the airport so you can wheel you way to your gate and don’t have the standard back pain from lugging your suitcases! If you ever have the option to fly or stopover in Copenhagen airport, try to check out the airport!  The train into the city center and metro are also conveniently located, making it unnecessary to get a cab.

I fell in love with Copenhagen, its way of life and people.  It’s a beautiful city with many museums, romantic castles, canals, delicious restaurants, and an active nightlife.  From what I saw, people looked happy, and a big reason for this is probably because they are always getting fresh air and exercise, as they ride their bikes everywhere.  They commute to work by bike, go to dinner by bike, and even park them outside the nightclubs.  The city has really done a great job in carving out bike lanes, but be careful not to walk in them..it could be dangerous for you! 

One of the traditional foods in Copenhagen is the Smørrebrød, an open-faced sandwich with either meat or fish served on one piece of bread. For lunch the first day, we ate at Cap Horn along the canal in Nyhavn.  I ordered their their sampler which included mini sandwiches of  herring, salmon, and corned beef.  We had some phenominal dinners at some pretty hip restaurants including Kødbyens Fiskebar and Madklubben Bistro de-luxe.  Unlike in restaurants in NYC, one never feels rushed and you can spend hours enjoying your meal and company.  Delicious bread is also in ample supply.  Fiskebar prepares all of it’s meals from local fisherman and gardens and the freshness and quality of each dish is remarkable.  Located in the meatpacking district, this is a great hotspot for an evening out or for dinner and drinks before heading out to the bars.  They have an extensive wine and cocktail list and their raw bar is  incredible.  I tried the Danish oysters which were unike anything I’ve ever tasted!  They were huge!  At Madklubben, they make the menu very simple.  Appetizers are 50 DKK each, entrees 100 DKK, sides 25 DKK and dessert, 50 DKK.  On some dishes like the steak and fish, there is an extra charge, but it’s still really reasonable.  Again the food was full of flavor and really fresh.  I told them I was lactose intollerant and they made sure everything was made without cream/milk/butter.

I would recommend taking a canal tour on your first day in Copenhagen as a great way to acclimate yourself with the city and see all of the highlights from the water.  There are different neighborhoods, all with different character.  From the main shopping area, Strøget, with the high end shops to Nørrebro, which has more a middle eastern/west village feel to  the offbeat community of Christiana. In 1971, many young and homeless people moved in, without the city’s permission, proclaiming Christiania a “free city,” which means they are free from the rules and regulations of the rest of Copenhagen.  Unless you like to hang out with the druggies and homeless, you probably don’t want to spend a lot of time here.  And definitely don’t try to take any pictures!

There are a number of museums and castles to see.  Since I only had two days there, I went to the Museum of Danish Resistance and the Rosenborg Castle, which were both great experiences.  If you have the opportunity to visit Copenhagen in the spring or summer, definitely pay a visit to Tivoli Gardens.  There are so many places to visit in this world, but I would definitely go back to Denmark when the weather is really nice.  I hear it’s also really a great place to visit during Christmas time as there are many Christmas markets.  No matter when you go, the people, restaurants and neighborhoods will be the same, and that will be a great time!  Pictures coming soon!

Ice Hotel is so Cool!!!

We arrived in Kiruna and took a quick 15 minute bus ride to Jukkasjarvi, home of the famous Ice Hotel in Sweden, the original and largest in the world.   When we arrived, they showed us our warm locker space to keep our luggage during our stay in the cold accommodations.   We are booked for one night in the  cold rooms made entirely of ice and one night in the warm rooms.   There is an area called the dressing room where you get changed for the night and can shower and warm up in the sauna and then when you are ready to go to bed, they give you warm sleeping bags which you lay on the reindeer skin on your bed.  There are briefings throughout the day and they explain how to sleep safely and warmly in the freezing rooms.  Ninety percent of the ice hotel is built from the water from the Torne River out back.  There are tours that explain the history and making of the ice hotel which is quite interesting.

During the day, the ice hotel is open to the public to come tour and take pictures of the various suites and rooms until 6pm and then it is exclusively for the hotel guests to enjoy.  You can go for dinner at one of their two restaurants, have a drink in the ice bar in an ice glass or partake in one of the many activities like snowmobiling or dog sledding to see the northern lights.  Tomorrow we’ll go meet some reindeer and go for a reindeer ride and have an opportunity to feed  them. One can spend all days just looking at the different art sculptures that make up the ice hotel.  Each suite and room is carved and decorated by an individual or group of artists.  Many couples get married in  the Ice Church right inside the hotel.  I met one couple from the states who was getting married today and while the bride was probably very cold taking pictures in her wedding dress, I’m sure it was well worth the beautiful shots they’ll get!

It’s almost time for bed, but first I’m going to head out and see if there is a sighting of the Northern Lights tonight.  Then it’s time to strip down to my sexy thermals and slip into the sleeping bag.  They say you can get one of your best night’s sleep here, so I’m looking forward to a peaceful slumber and a wakeup call with warm lingonberry juice.  As of tonight, the connection is a little tough so I’m having trouble uploading more fascinating pictures, but will do so soon!

Stockholm: A City for Everyone

We just spent three days in Stockholm and back at Arlanda airport, we are waiting for our SAS flight up to Kiruna to visit the Ice Hotel. Our three day stay in Stockholm was filled with a great mix of culture, nightlife, shopping and a relaxation. In the vibrant city of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, there is plenty to do for people of various tastes and interests. With over 70 museums, you can easily spend your days learning about Swedish history and culture. One of the most popular museums is the Vasa, home of the world famous warship lost in 1628 and salvaged in 1961 and on display with tours offered throughout the day. It’s just a short ferry ride form the island of Skeppsholmen or a tram ride from the center of town. The National and Modern museum near and in Skeppsholmen are fun to check out as is the small, but interesting Nobel Museum in Old Town. Also, in Old Town, be sure to check out the Royal Palace and the unique boutiques as you stroll along the cobblestone streets.  Enjoy lunch at a quaint café and dinner by candlelight. We had lunch at the cozy Café Kaffekoppen and had a delicious coffee and hot chocolate, a perfect respite from the cold day and I had a salmon and spinach quiche. Dinner was at a Gyldene Freden in Old Town where the food and ambiance were perfect.

There are many sides of Stockholm, from the posh shopping district of Biblioteksgatan, the nightlife of Stureplan to the artsy section known as SoFo on the south island of Sodermalm. If you like independent boutiques and vintage, Swedish design, this is the place to check out and definitely a nice contrast from the other shopping district.  There are also plenty of supermarkets and health food stores. If you are in Sweden on a Saturday night, Sturecompagniet is a legendary and popular nightclub playing great dance music with multiple levels of dance floors and bars. There are many nightclubs and bars in the area, so you can hop from one to another, but lines can get long at some of the more popular clubs. Also in this area is the Spa at Sturebadet. If you’re looking for a little R and R or a good workout, you can get a day pass and enjoy the wonderful spa’s pool, gym, sauna, steam room, aroma therapy room and exercise classes. You can also relax with one of the many spa treatments offered and rent out the Turkish bath. For a nice view of the entire city, and a short subway ride from Sturelpan, head over to the Globe and take a ride up the largest spherical building in the world with Skyview. 

We did not have one bad meal while in Stockholm and one place definitely worth checking out for lunch is Lisa Elmquist in Ostermalms Saluhall. Saluhall is a bustling market consisting on many fish, meat and pasty stalls and the food at Lisa Elmquist was amazing!  It was a great introduction to Sweden’s traditional food including salmon, bleak roe, shrimp and crayfish. Their display of fresh fish was very enticing and if we were still hungry after their generous starter plate, we would have ordered more! A great place for dinner which offers a nice chef’s tasting menu of local Scandinavian food is Restaurang 1900, a modern Swedish restaurant owned by Niklas Ekstedt, a famous TV chef in Sweden. We had local  dishes of cod and oxcheek (which tasted sought of like steak!) and a starter consisting of an egg cooked at 63 degrees Celsius, which he says is the perfect temperature at which to cook at egg. I couldn’t argue with that after trying it!

While there are land tours offered throughout Stockholm, you should also take one by boat to see the archipelagos. The tour we took was the ‘Winter Tour of Stockholm” which gave us a good view of Stockholm from the water. However, if you visit over the summer, the tour is longer and you can really enjoy the archipelagos of Stockholm. Some people will even stay on one for a few days to totally disconnect and relax.

Stockholm’s character reminded me a lot of New York City with lots of public transportation, making it easy to explore different parts of the city with the subway, bus or train. Cabs are also always available but can be pricey, so be prepared to do a lot of walking as well. It’s a good way to burn off all the great bread you will eat before and during your meals!  Check out this video with Gabriela, certified tour guide for Stockholm.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoC0bYTOZGw

Hotel Skeppsholmen: Contemporary and Comfortable!

We landed in Stockholm at 7:30am Saturday morning, took the Arlanda Express train (around $20) and then transferred to the number 65 bus ($5) en route to Hotel Skeppsholmen, a Swedish design hotel on the island of Skeppsholmen, one of the 14 islands that make up the city of Stockholm.  This would be our home for the next few days.  You never know what your hotel may look like in European or Scandinavian countries.  Some can be small and intimate, so I went in with very low expectations and was very pleasantly surprised!  The building is from 1699 but the interior is completely modern and decorated by Stockholm based architects Claesson Koivisto Rune with free wireless internet throughout.  The hotel has an upscale look and feel, but also one of comfort, easy to make home for as long as you are in Stockholm. It is not in the main square, but only about a 15 minute walk from some of the main attractions and very well worth it.   It is surrounded by the Museum of Modern Art and the Swedish Museum of Architecture.  They serve a delicious breakfast buffet each morning of various breads with fruits and seeds, lox, yogurts, your traditional eggs, bacon and a cinnamon french toast cut up in little pieces plus a variety of granola and  cereals.  With a variety of juices, teas and coffee, it’s the perfect way to start off your day.

I particularly love the beds and bathroom in our spacious contemporary room.  The beds are very soft and easy to fall and stay asleep in and the bathroom, very clean and modern.  The sink is one I’ve never seen before with a rock over the drain.  The water falls onto the rock and drains off the sides.  Very sheek!  The rooms are lit with a variety of colored lamps of various shapes and sets the tone for a relaxing and pleasant stay after a long day of sightseeing.

Hotel Skeppsholmen is a luxury urban oasis and I would highly recommend it for it’s contemporary look, feel, and design, very friendly and helpful staff, it’s clean rooms and terrific breakfasts and dinners.   For dinner last night, we had the amazing Swedish meatballs (how can you come to Sweden and not have them?! ) and a fish casserole filled with salmon, cod and root vegetables.  It definitely gets an A+ all around.

Scandinavian Airlines: Comfort and Relaxation

We left from Newark Friday evening on a 7pm flight and landed in Stockholm 7.5 hours later after a very smooth flight on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS).   I knew it was going to be important to sleep on the flight since we were going to hit the ground running with a tour as soon as we landed in Stockholm, which was five hours ahead (6 hours ahead on Saturday with turning the clocks ahead), so I came all prepared with my fleece blanket and travel pillow, but I didn’t need to use either, as they supplied the pillows and blankets, which you may think is normal, but for many airlines, you now have to pay extra (what’s next?!)  I sat in economy extra, which was two steps down from first class (first class and business) but one step above economy, and it truly made a difference.  The seats were wider, reclined back with a footrest and had more legroom.  However, economy still looked comfortable as well with a selection of movies and entertainment.  We had movies on demand, so if you need to get up for a bit, you can pause and go back to it. The entertainment system also included many channels of music and games. I watched a great movie, ate dinner and then dozed off for a few hours before it was time for breakfast.  Dinner was a choice of tilapia and mashed potatoes or chicken and potatoes.  I chose the fish which was moist and delicious came with a yummy risotto and a lemon desert, wine and spirits.  Airline food can be hit or miss, but SAS gets a thumbs up for their food.  Breakfast was yogurt, some meats and OJ.

While some may think 7.5 hours is a long flight, it really flew by and was very comfortable.  The staff was very friendly and helpful and made sure one had everything they needed for a relaxing journey to Stockholm.  We will be using them for all the flights while here in Scandinavia.  On Tuesday, we fly from Stockholm, the capital of Sweden to Kiruna, north of Stockholm and home to the Ice Hotel.  Then it’s off to Copenhagen, Denmark for a few days.  I flew SAS to Norway last year and it’s always been a great experience.  They are known for their on time service and so far they haven’t let me down!

What to do in the Island of Fire and Ice

Iceland is known as the island of fire and ice for it’s many volcanoes and glaciers.  In addition to the sheer beauty of its landscape, there are plenty of activities that one can enjoy such as glacier walking, ice climbing, snowmobiling, and dog sledding. While in the countryside, we climbed up a glacier with our tour guide, Erling from Iceland Encounters, and explored the south coast with it’s spectacular mountains, waterfalls, and black sand beaches.  We also paid a visit to the renowned folk museum at Skogar, which provides an intriguing glance into Iceland’s fishing and farming past.

We went horseback riding in the countryside.  It was two of us with a guide in the font and one in the back.  The Icelandic horses are so beautiful and smaller than our horses in the United States, so for those who have never been horseback riding before, like myself, it made for a nice first ride.

There are a few staple tourist attractions that everyone sees, but while they may be touristy, they are that way for a reason and I would not skip them.   They include the Golden Circle Tour, which includes a visit to the Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir Hot Springs and Pingvellir National Park.  The park is located on the Mid-Atlantic ridge where the continents of Europe and America drift apart, causing earthquakes and volcanic activity.  The Blue Lagoon is also a must stop, which I’ll tell you about later.

What if I told you I went scuba diving in Iceland? Would you believe me?  An interesting place to dive is Silfra in the Pingvellir National Park where you can literally touch both continents.  It’s the area between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates.  We went with the company Dive.Is.  They will pick you up at your hotel in Reykjavik and offer a few different diving and snorkeling tours, the Sifra being the most popular.  We went for two dives with an hour break in between for cookies and hot chocolate.  They do provide you with dry suits and all the gear you’ll need to keep warm.  All you have to bring is your long underwear and thick socks.  I decided to wear two layers of long underwear and socks just to be sure!  Also be sure to check your dry suit and have them inspect the seals before jumping in the water.  Also make sure there are no rips in the suits because it can make for a very unpleasant dive.  The water was about 35 degrees and while your body stays warm, you will feel it in your hands through the gloves and on your face.  It takes a little getting used to, but if you can put mind over matter, you’ll enjoy a beautifully clear dive with visibility of 150 meters.   You won’t see any fish in this lake, but it is neat to say that you went scuba diving or snorkeling in between the continents in Iceland!

While in Reykjavik, you’ll want to experience one of their geothermal spas they are known for.  It only costs around $3 and you can swim in an Olympic size warm water outdoor pool with no chlorine!  Because the water is constantly being renewed, there is no common bacteria and no need for chemicals.  They also have several hot tubs or hot pots as they call them, at different temperatures.  There’s nothing more refreshing than sitting in a hot pot with the crisp air around you.

Whale watching is also very popular in Iceland, with a few operations down at the harbor.  We went with Erding and saw some really cute white striped dolphins and a few whales and porpoises in the distance.  The woman on our boat was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic when searching for the whales and dolphins!

For our last night in Iceland, we stayed at the Clinic Hotel, part of the Blue Lagoon.  Most people stop at the Blue Lagoon on their way to Reykjavik since it’s fairly close to the airport or on the last day as they head to the airport.  We decided to stay over so we would be there in the morning and get in a few hours before leaving.  I had a wonderful morning after a great night’s rest.  I walked the five minute path to the Blue Lagoon.  The Blue Lagoon is made up of 6 million liters of geothermal seawater that is cycled through every 40 hours and is heated over 6500 feet below the ground.  The silica and salts in the water having healing properties and silica mud is provided free of charge to put on your face and body while relaxing in the lagoon.  There is a bar and a waterfall, which feels great on your back!  You’ll just have to be prepared for the sulfur smell and your hair will get very dry, so either wear a hair cap or put a lot of conditioner in before and after.

While the lagoon is really beautiful and fun to do on its own, I would highly recommend adding one of their beauty or massage treatments to your stay.  They offer massages in the lagoon and facials and beauty treatments in their indoor facility.  I went for the facial and hand and arm treatment which were both amazing.  They use only Blue Lagoon scrubs, mud, cleaners and creams which left my skin really soft and moisturized and the massages that went along with the treatments was so relaxing.   While their locker rooms can accommodate up to 700 people at a time, they offer an exclusive section you can rent for a few hours.  This includes your own private shower, towels, flip flops, robes and Blue Lagoon shower gels and lotions.  They also have an indoor lagoon in which you can start after your water, coffee or chocolates.  It definitely enhances your whole spa experience.

So as you can see, there are many options for activities depending on the type of trip you’d like to have.  I’d mix it up with a bit of adventure, exploration, nightlife and relaxing…and of course trying the Icelandic food.  Let me know if you taste that fermented shark!

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Iceland: Where to Stay and What to Eat

When I told my family and friends, I was headed to Iceland, some responses I got were, “Why Iceland?” or “really…your flight is only four and a half hours? I thought you were going half way around the world!  I think many people have a huge misconception about Iceland and most had never even considered it before hearing about the volcanic eruption in April that blocked European travel.  However, I had heard Iceland was a great place to go to see incredible beauty and experience adventure so I decided to take the trip right after peak summer season but before the days started to get shorter.  During the summer, they experience the midnight sun, where there will still be sunlight at midnight and in the winter, they have a span of about 4 or 5 hours of daylight.  At the end of September, daylight averages that of the United States.   Keep in mind if you go after October, there is still plenty to see and do, but many tour operators do shut down.

I had heard you could do Iceland in four days or a few weeks and still have a lot to explore.   I decided on a week and it was a terrific trip, despite the unprecedented torrential downfall that they haven’t seen in years.  I did come prepared with my waterproof jacket and pants, hat, gloves, scarf, and a bunch of shirts and long underwear to layer.   It is very important to bring layers because the weather can change on a dime from perfectly sunny and beautiful to extreme wind and rain.   We flew into Keflavik airport aboard Iceland Air, which is a great economical way to fly direct from JFK to Iceland.  They also fly to many other places in Scandinavia and Europe, so it’s great for booking additional flights around your Icelandic adventure.  The flight is very comfortable with ample legroom in economy and the flight attendants are extremely friendly and helpful.  You may want to bring food on the flight or eat beforehand because the only food in economy is for purchase.  But since the flight was only four and half hours there and five and a half on the way back, I didn’t mind.   On the way back, I purchased a veggie wrap with hummus, vegetables, and feta. They also had a few hot options that sounded good as well.

After we landed from our quick overnight flight, we hopped in a cab to Reykjavik and spent the afternoon on a walking tour and exploring the shops of the city.   We worked with the tour company, Iceland Encounters, which specializes in personalized tours to travelers from the United States.  Erling and Kristina Asplund run the company and they are really wonderful.  I went back and forth with Erling many times with questions in planning the itinerary and he was always very helpful and knowledgeable before and during the trip.  He has his own 4×4, which is great when exploring the areas filled with lava rocks.  The rain had made for some tough driving conditions, but we were able to get through everything.

While many companies offer excursions from Reykjavik, we chose to split our trip between the city of Reykjavik and the countryside.  While in Reykjavik, we stayed at the Radisson 1919, which is a contemporary hotel right in the center of the city.  I would highly recommend staying there as the beds and rooms are comfortable, it’s close to the harbor and all of the bars and restaurants.  This will be convenient when you want to go out on Friday night.  Friday is definitely the night you’ll want to be in Reykjavik when everyone goes downtown from the different parts of Iceland and parties from about midnight until 4am.   We were out dancing at my one place and I was in my sweater, so it was nice to be able to walk a few feet back to the hotel, change and go back out.  The breakfast at the Radisson 1919 is delicious and a perfect way to start the day.  They have a selection of breads, lox, herring, deli meats and cheeses, cod liver oil, which is a staple in Icelandic breakfasts, yogurt, dried fruits and nuts, an assortment of cereals, eggs, sautéed mushrooms, beans, bacon and potatoes.   To drink, there’s  a variety of juices, coffee, tea and they will even make you a cappuccino.   For those of you who can’t drink milk, you’ll be thrilled to know, as I was, that they serve soymilk!   Everyone in the service department was very friendly and helpful in giving recommendations.  While I did not have time to use it, they also have a gym for those looking to burn off the hotdogs they may eat since what is known as the best hotdog or pulsyr stand is right outside the hotel.  The hotdogs in Iceland are made primarily of lamb, with some beef and pork and this place piles on the ketchup, mustard, mayo and fried onions.  I also liked staying at the Radisson 1919 because I know the Radisson Blu brand and no matter what country I am in, it is going to be a good place to stay.  They have properties throughout Europe and Scandinavia and are always expanding so you know no matter where your travels take you, you’ll have a reliable hotel.

There are many great restaurants in Reykjavik ranging in price, serving up Icelandic delicacies.  Iceland is known for its lamb, whale meat, puffin, langoustines, salmon and cod and for the more courageous, ram testicles, horse, and fermented shark.   We had dinner at the Fish Market and Fish Company and lunch at Icelandic Fish and Chips.   Normally I do not eat fried food, but at least three people had told us that Icelandic Fish and Chips weas so good.  They were right.  The fish was fried in spelt and barley, so a little healthier than normal and the wolfish, which I had fried, was amazing…so juicy.  They are a very reasonably priced option.  The Fish Market and Fish Company are a bit more upscale and pricey, but if you want an incredible meal,  it’s well worth it.  The Fish Company is also quite romantic, set in the basement of the Zimsen building which dates back to 1884.  We got the Icelandic tasting menu, which consisted of skate and shrimps with cottage cheese smoked celery root, rhubarb and a homemade spicebread.  Each dish had so many flavors with wonderful ingredients in every bite and with each course, they explained in detail what we were eating.  I would love to tell you what went into every dish, but it’s very involved, so you can read their succulent menu on their website at www.fiskfelagid.is.  We also had arctic char, cod, lamb, puffin, whale, and a desert of rhubarb cake and custard with cinnamon spiced oatmeal, sheep sorrel syrup and sour milk foam.  The day before we had eaten there, I was told the chef just won the 2010 chef of the year award for Iceland.  I can definitely understand why.  The lamb dish alone was a masterpiece to look at and eat.  It was so tender and juicy and after eating that dinner, I agree that Iceland has terrific lamb, but you have to go the right place.

At the Fish Market, we also did the tasting menu, which was eight courses, and while each dish was better than the last, it was definitely a lot of food and I was stuffed by the fourth or fifth, but of course I kept eating because it was just all so delicious!  There we had king crab, pork ribs, a tomato and watermelon salad, sushi that was so fresh, cod, salmon and lamb.  The wild salmon is caught locally and is also wonderful.

After we spent a few days in Reykjavik, we rode out of the city about two hours and stayed at Hotel Ranga.  It seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere, but it’s the place to stay if you would like to spend time outside the city exploring the volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, waterfalls and national park.   The hotel has a cabin feel with private hot tubs for hotel guests.  If you get a room on the lakeside, the hot tub is right outside your back door leading onto your terrace.  We were told this is the best place to stay to see the Northern Lights, but unfortunately, it rained while we were there, so they were not visible.  The breakfast buffet was terrific with the traditional Scandinavian breakfast items and dinner was delicious.  The restaurant is romantic and the food excellent, but be prepared to spend a bit.  We had their fish soup for lunch, which had chunks of fish, shrimp, lobster and scallops.

For our last night in Iceland, we stayed at the Clinic Hotel, which is part of the Blue Lagoon.  It’s very relaxing a great place to stop to wind down your trip.  They also serve a good breakfast and their beds are made of memory foam with a comfy topper, which made for a terrific night’s sleep.  Your room’s back door leads into the dramatic lava rocks with the mountains as a backdrop.  The Clinic Hotel and the Blue Lagoon are known for treating patients with psoriasis, but it’s great for anyone looking for a little R & R and healing skin treatments.

I also discovered Skyr, a traditional Icelandic food that is very similar to yogurt, but very creamy, I was surprised when I saw how few calories there were for such great texture!  You can buy it in the grocery store and it’s also included in many desserts.

You can definitely eat well in Iceland and it’s important with all the activity you’ll be doing!  Pictures coming soon!

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Romance Under the Northern Lights

When we think about romantic getaways, many of us think of posh spas or quaint bed and breakfasts, but what about taking a cruise up the Norwegian coast to hunt for the Northern Lights with your loved one?  Probably not the first thing that comes to mind, but while sailing aboard the M.S. Trollfjord, one of the boats in the Hurtigruten fleet, all I could think about was how nice it would’ve been to share the breathtaking Norwegian snow-capped mountain scenery and the charm of the big cities and small towns and villages with someone close to me.   I had heard that the aurora borealis (the Northern Lights) were a spectacular site to see and even had a positive influence on your mood.  In some cultures, they believe it enhances fertility.  They are caused by solar wind, electrically charged particles the sun flings across the solar system that are drawn to the Earth’s magnetic fields around the poles.  That’s why they are only visible from extreme latitudes.  When I had the opportunity to see them while sailing through the fjords of Norway, it was a chance I could not pass up.

There are twelve ships in the Hurtigruten fleet, the M.S. Trollfjord being one of the  two newest ships.  With boats sailing the same itinerary every day of the week, it’s easy to customize a trip to your schedule.  I could not begin the trip at the same time as everyone else, so while I missed seeing the city of Bergen, had I sailed on another ship, I could’ve had the same itinerary.  I’ve been on a few cruises lately and  I would have to say the food on this boat is terrific!  Breakfast and lunch were open seating buffets and for dinner, we had two time choices for eating.  With fish being so fresh and abundant in Norway, we always had lox, herring, cod, and caviar at every meal as well as traditional Norwegian meats of reindeer, meatballs, potatoes and pea soup.  Dessert were made of cloudberry, huge blocks of icecream, fruits and cakes.  The gym and sauna on  the ninth deck had the best views with huge ceiling to floor windows.   Watching the beautiful coastline made my time on the elliptical  peaceful and enjoyable.  Outside on the deck, there were two Jacuzzis which were also a magical way to watch for the northern lights and take in the surrounding beauty.  There’s nothing like sitting in a hot Jacuzzi while snow is falling around you.  When getting out, we made a beeline for the sauna, which felt great.

Throughout the seven day voyage aboard Hurtigruten, you’ll stop in several ports throughout the day and night.  Some allow you a few hours, others are a quick stop for the ship to deliver cargo and you may have the opportunity to run off for a half an hour to check out the port.  Our main stops were Bergen, a bustling capital of Norway’s fjord region, Alesund, a beautiful Art Noveau town, Trondheim, with its charming streets and Gothic cathedral of Nidaros, where the kings of ancient Norway once received their official blessings.  On Day four, we crossed the arctic circle and they did an official baptizing ceremony which I unfortunately slept through (or maybe fortunately since they poured ice down everyone’s back!) and then we stopped in Bodo where we enjoyed a Lofotr Viking feast.  In Tromso, known as Norways “Paris of the North,” we had a beer at Olhallen Bar, the northern most brewery in the world, visited the Arctic Cathedral, the Northern most Catholic Church, with its beautiful stainglass windows, and walked through Polaria, home of the bearded seals, and watched them being fed and trained.   On Day 6, we arrived in Honningsvag, where we were greeted by a huge snow storm, so unfortunately the road was closed up to the North Cape, but we explored the northern most town and had the opportunity to hold some huge king crabs (there are king crab safaris available) and learn about their mating rituals.  My favorite part of the trip began in Kjollefjord where we took a snowmobile trip in Lapland from the trading fishing village of Kjolleford over the mountains to Mehamn. This was a beautiful ride along the Finland coast under the starry winter sky.  On Day seven, we stayed overnight in Kirkenes at the Sollia Lodge, the perfect spot on the Russian border to see the northern lights.  In Kirkenes, we took a snowmobile safari and dog sledding trip under a crystal clear starry sky.  These two activities were so much fun and I would highly recommend doing both.   We couldn’t have had a better ending to our day.  Right after the dog sledding adventure, the beautiful green hues started appearing in the sky.  They transformed themselves into different shapes, came and went and then appeared again.  A few of us stayed up until 3am observing their movement and patterns.  It was a truly amazing experience.

After the cruise up the coast, you have the option to continue aboard for the southbound journey and experience additional activities and ports or you may want to fly to Oslo, as we did for the last two days of the trip.  It’s a great way to get a taste of the urban as well as the arctic life of Norway.   The city of Oslo is a beautiful one consisting of great museums, monuments, a beautifully constructed opera house, the world’s most modern ski jump, which will be used in the 2011 world championships, cross country skiing, and a great mix of restaurants and nightlife.  The Oslo Ice Bar is a must stop for a cloudberry mixed drink in a frozen ice glass.

Norway is a spectacular country with great people and beautiful landscape and there’s no better way of seeing the fjords than with Hurtigruten.  Be sure to ask for a mid-ship cabin for minimal vibration and one with an unobstructed view, as there’s no better feeling than waking up to a view of the sun glistening off of the coastal snow-clad mountains.  Go to Hurtigruten’s and Norway’s websites for all the information you’ll need to plan your magical voyage.  Thanks to Jeffrey Sobolow for his outstanding photography!