Taste of UK & Scandinavia – A Visual & Sensory Smorgasbord (Part II)

Disclaimer: This post has the potential to incite wanderlust, spontaneity, or worse, vertiginous heights of jealousy. Should you have a strong aversion to bedazzling European scenery, culture or people, this post will likely deepen it and you are similarly excused. Otherwise proceed with caution.

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Highlights of Scandinavia

Travelled with: Trafalgar CostSaver Highlights of Scandinavia

For fear of sounding like a broken record, I will only state this upfront: Scandinavians are decidedly blessed to call that part of the world home! With a combined population just shy of 21 million across Denmark, Norway and Sweden (the 3 countries that constitute Scandinavia), the region definitely punches above its weight in areas of design (birth place of design powerhouses taking the world by storm such as Lego, Georg Jensen, Pandora, ECCO, IKEA and H&M), music (Scandinavian countries have won Eurovision an envious 12 times out of 61 contests), food and natural beauty.

Of all Europe, I have (on a personal level) considered Scandinavia to represent the epitome of classic minimalism which aligns very much with my inner core belief systems and values. Waxing lyrical about the region therefore comes naturally, and I could hardly suppress my childlike excitement as I finally undertook to experience the understated richness for myself. It would turn out to be the best travelling decision that I have ever made.

Denmark

As the gateway to Scandinavia, Denmark (the fairytale country) is home to the world’s Happiest People and one need not search far to understand why. With Legoland at their fingertips (in Billund, ~30 minutes by air from Copenhagen) and Hans Christian Andersen fairytales as the local folklore, the Danes’ positive outlook on life has been shaped as much by cultural influences as by economic and social equality. The crowning of an Australian commoner as Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark further exemplifies the fairytale romanticism that pervades the land.

With Legoland safely under my belt, my tour of Denmark proceeded to Copenhagen, the Danish capital renowned for its network of waterways and cycleways. It wasn’t long before I fell under its charismatic spell, as all around there permeates an air of serenity characteristic of this picturesque European city. The canal tour from trendy Nyhavn is not to be missed in any Copenhagen itinerary (DKK80 pp), which showcased the city’s landmarks to perfection. Trying to snare some quality one-on-one time with the city’s most eligible bachelorette (aka Miss Little Mermaid) turned out to be a lesson in futility, as hoards of eager tourists jostled and jammed against my diminutive frame and pretty much took me for invisible. How I finally managed to take the snap below must be anyone’s guess.

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Clockwise from top: The Little Mermaid (fixture of Copenhagen & the most over-rated tourist attraction???); random eye-catching architecture; Amalienborg Palace; Copenhagen Opera House

As an avid connoisseur of Danish design, the relatively discreet Design Museum Danmark (a stone’s throw from the royal residence and popular tourist spot the Amalienborg Palace) was an eye-opening gem and highly recommended (DKK100 pp). The museum exhibits a wide selection of contemporary Danish design covering the entire spectrum: furniture, product design, graphic design, fashion, crafts and design in the public space. Despite its small population, there is no doubt that the Danes are at the cutting edge of contemporary design, combining versatile functionality with timeless craftsmanship to create statement pieces of understated luxuriance. The Danes’ obsession with chairs is on full display (cue: godfather of chairs Arne Jacobsen), with a free guided tour every Sunday largely dedicated to chronicling the history of Danish chair-making.

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Clockwise from top left: Design Museum Danmark; picturesque Nvhayn on a lazy afternoon; my paraphernalia cabinet back home (and yes, that’s my very own Arne Jacobsen miniature Swan chair!); Danish royalty Arne Jacobsen’s chair trifecta – the Drop, the Swivel & the Swan

Norway

Upon leaving Denmark from the port of Fredrikshaven, we boarded the Stena Line ferry to the Swedish port of Gothenburg and from there, we proceeded to Oslo (the capital of Norway) on coach. This turned out to be an eventful day in the Trafalgar CostSaver itinerary where we can boast of having had breakfast in Denmark (Fredrikshaven), lunch in Sweden (Gothenburg) and dinner in Norway (Oslo). 3 meals in 3 countries in a single day must be a feat by anyone’s standards.

The Frogner Park, containing the internationally acclaimed Vigeland installation, was a clear highlight of Oslo (even for the artistically challenged amongst us). The textbook tourist destination features 212 sculptures by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, making it the world’s largest sculpture park containing the works of a single artist. Whilst the Monolith and the Fountain are centrepieces, the installation also includes a myriad of sculptures ranging from the fantastic to the farcical and is a sublime study of human interactions. The public park (i.e. free entry!) is frequented by over 1 million visitors a year and stands as a testament to Vigeland’s philosophy that the magic of art should be shared with all. Time permitting, a 2-3 hour wandering through the park is required to fully absorb and appreciate its splendour.

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Clockwise from top left: Oslo city views; the Fountain by Vigeland; the Man with the Flying Babies by Vigeland; Norway’s iconic stave church; Frogner Park as viewed from the main bridge

If I thought leaving Denmark was a tear-jerking moment, then entering Norway induced a tear-jerking moment of a different kind. In sharp contrast to Denmark’s flat-as-a-pancake terrain, Norway deserves its moment in the spotlight by virtue of its sheer ruggedness canvassed against a picture-perfect backdrop of waterfalls, fjords and mountains. Cameras clicked into overdrive as we traversed the jaw-dropping Norwegian countryside, where iconic stave churches and houses with grass-covered roofs fashionably adorned the landscape. En route to Bergen, I was able to capture the inspiring morning scenery at the tiny lakeside village of Vradal. With a local population of just over 200 (yes, you have read correctly), it barely registers on the Norwegian map, however it was Vradal that set the scene for one of my personal favourite snaps on tour.

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Top: Lounging by the best views in the house; Bottom: Magical morning in the sleepy Norwegian hideaway

Our journey then took us to Bergen, Norway’s second largest city steeped in history and colourful streetscape. A ride on Floibanen (NOK90 pp), the funicular which runs from the city centre to Mt Floyen, presented a stunning vantage point over the city panorama. There are also guided hikes operating atop Mt Floyen during select times of the day (NOK350 pp), and weather permitting, they offer an off-the-beaten track experience that would be hard-pressed to rival.

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From top: Sitting pretty atop Mt Floyen; peaceful Bergen city views;  UNESCO World Heritage listed Bryggen Wharf

Diving headlong into Norway, we continued to be treated to a seemingly endless dose of the Scandinavian sun and blindingly aesthetic scenery. Inured as we were (by then) to such natural wonders, nothing could have prepared us for the dramatic climax that was the Sognefjord itself, fittingly known as the King of Fjords. Whilst the cruise along Sognefjord (Norway’s largest and the third largest fjord in the world) was an optional activity on tour (EUR50), one’s visit to Scandinavia would have been regrettably lacking without it and was worth every penny.

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Inset (top left): Special friends prepping for the kayak of their lives; Inset (top right): Real kayakers navigating the fjords; Main: the King of Fjords (words are superfluous)

And just when we thought things could not possibly get any better, Norway notched up its charms and left us breathless for more. The drive to Stegastein Lookout will always be remembered as a gutsy call by our guide, and even more guts was required for any sober coach driver to agree to undertake. With narrow, mountainous twists and turns that would unnerve any lesser skilled driver, I closed my eyes and prayed to the gods of serendipity.

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Left: Just happy to be alive; Top right: Views over the fjords from Stegastein Lookout; Bottom right: A mesmerising descent from Stegastein Lookout

Of course, Norway remains an iceberg of which we have only scratched the surface. It has fuelled my appetite for a trip to return, and an opportunity to explore further sites (Geiranger mountain range, midnight sun at Nordkapp) and hikes (Trolltunga, Preikestolen and Kjerag).

Sweden

Perhaps it was the ill-fated last leg of the tour, but somehow my spirit stayed behind in Denmark and Norway as my physical form sailed on to Sweden. Through no fault of its own, the Big Brother of Scandinavia (with the Swedes constituting almost a half of the Scandinavian population) has suddenly shrunk in my eyes… That is not to say I did not enjoy the last few days; on the contrary, I relished it all the more.

Stockholm (the capital of Sweden) is truly the Venice of the north, with its labyrinth of boats and ferries transporting passengers between 14 islands and beneath more than 50 bridges. Having Swedish meatballs firmly in our sights, however, we could not wait to hit the city pavements in forage of our own version of the rotund specialty. In upscale Prinsen, we finally feasted on Signature Meatballs and soaked up the classic, inviting ambience of one of Stockholm’s finest culinary institutions.

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Clockwise from top right: Stockholm’s enchanting Gamla Stan town square; Karlstad reflection by the fading light (10pm); The Rat Race sculpture in Karlstad’s Stadstradgarden; self-titled “Fly Away with Me” in Stockholm’s upmarket Nordiska Kompaniet

But all good things must come to an end sometime. And I suppose this is it. Being sentimental is out of the question here, so I will try my best to sound upbeat (I will dedicate a separate post on how to maintain positive momentum and beat the post-travel blues).

By the end of the first day, I was having difficulty keeping pace with the “wow” moments, so I let that statistic slide. There were also moments that melted my heart, when all was quiet and time stood still, and I wished to heavens that they would never end. I have always theorised that everything gains a certain lustre through mere foreignness and transience (that must be the Gemini in me!), that things don’t last forever and if they do, their lustre would quickly wane. I am yet to find disproof of this, and perhaps I will make it my life mission to refute my own theory one day.

In short, I have truly had the time of my life. Travelling has given me what a defibrillator has given a semi-conscious heart, and with it, a whole new taste for life. And whilst I have no desire to go gallivanting solo around Caracas anytime soon, it has emboldened me to explore new frontiers in the selfish pursuit of happiness.

29 Comments Add yours

  1. agnesstramp says:

    Copenhagen is absolutely stunning and I can’t wait to make it there next summer <3!!

    1. Jolene says:

      It is!! I was mesmerised! I was in looove 😜⛱ Enjoy!

  2. Such an amazing post, will keep these 3 countries a must in my Euro Trip

    1. Jolene says:

      Thanks so much! That means a lot coming from someone who is very pro with their travel blogging 😜 I would have to say that Scandinavia has always been on my bucket list and when the opportunity came up for me to make my first trip to Europe I didn’t hesitate with Scandi at all! In fact I loved it so much I’ll be back to Denmark next year. Hope you’ll enjoy as much as I did 🤗

  3. Betty Zhang says:

    This is so informative and interesting, I love your travel posts and pics! I need to visit Scandinavia and see for myself ;D And yes, those post-travel blues are real ;( but surpassable 🙂 !

    1. Jolene says:

      Hey Betty, thanks for popping by! I loooved Scandi (as if people couldn’t tell😂) and the experience has been one of the defining moments of my life. People should not overlook Scandi when they are considering a trip to Europe!!

      1. Betty Zhang says:

        I want to visit all of Europe, and one day I will!!

      2. Jolene says:

        Where are you from? If you don’t mind me asking? I didn’t quite get the sense of where you are based when I read yours…

      3. Betty Zhang says:

        I was born in Beijing, I live in Sydney now.

      4. Jolene says:

        Lols. I was born in shanghai but also a proud sydneysider. Gotta stalk you for sure now! 😉

      5. Betty Zhang says:

        I’ve been to Shanghai once (or was it twice?), love the history, architecture, food and culture. 😊 I’m following you!

      6. Jolene says:

        I’ve only been Beijing once (to climb the wall). Cool experience. Thanks & look forward to seeing more of your creations

  4. Neil James. says:

    Hey, this is a great post! Really thorough review. I really want to explore Scandinavia, and by this post, I think Norway tops my list! Thank you 🙂

    1. Jolene says:

      Thank you – Norway definitely has something for everyone. My personal fave would be to live in Denmark and travel in Norway… 🤓

  5. Rachel McKee says:

    Great post! I love the disclaimer in the beginning. Your pictures are very complimentary to the text.

    1. Jolene says:

      Thank you Rachel! Can’t help a bit of sarcasm and dry humour in my writing… I loooved my pictures from this leg of the trip. Stare at them for hours on end at times…

      1. Rachel McKee says:

        I’m glad you captured the moment to cherish forever.

  6. Great travelogue. Thanks for sharing your photos and experiences. Norway looks beautiful but I wasn’t sure about the statue of the man and the babies!

    1. Jolene says:

      Norway is utterly magical. I would also have loved to do a cruise up the Arctic Circle to catch the midnight sun. The man and the flying babies? Well, I did caveat that the sculptures covered the full spectrum from fantastic to farcical…

  7. Sparkyjen says:

    I love me some happy people! I also love picturesque landscapes, and all the sunny, sometimes rainy days that come with authentic travel experiences. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed your Eat, Pray, Love, experience so much you chose to share them with your readers. Bravo and thanks!!!

    1. Jolene says:

      Thank you! It has made me realise there’s a completely different world out there beyond the confines of one’s small existence. Not sharing such treasured memories would have felt like a crime😄

      1. Sparkyjen says:

        Thank you very much for not locking up your experience!

  8. waynegads says:

    Thanks so much for sharing. I’m heading on this tour in less than 3 weeks time and you’ve given me a wonderful taste of what I can expect.

    1. Jolene says:

      No sweat! It helps me to retain treasured memories as well. You must be super excited! Hope the weather holds up for you guys, as it can make a world of difference. Bring plenty of spare phone batteries/chargers etc, it’s definitely going to be a photo-fest.

  9. This is a very nice post Jolene I love Scandinavia I always wanted to go in my travels, but I haven’t had chance, maybe one day! 😉 I am Italian native and now I live in USA from 15 years! I have travelled around Europe while I was growing up in Italy and I have great memories of all the beautiful places I have visited. So reading your post was lovely for me! I don’t know if you have read on my Blog that I am an artist designer so the Italian and European Art are part of my roots! Stay connected I Follow your Blog now I hope you will too and enjoy mine ❤ Best Wishes Carolina

    1. Jolene says:

      Hey Carolina, how fortuitous, I’m actually very keen to make Italy my next holiday destination! It’s all that history, culture, cuisines and just the general romanticism. Also would love to embrace further European arts and designs. So much to look forward to in life! ☺️

      1. That’s wonderful you will have a lots to see then! 😉 it sounds very good seems a great plan!

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