Tag Archives: waterfall

Those Poor Americans

Let’s face it. On a world level, Americans are rich. Not all of them, but most of them. Sure we complain about the high cost of living, excessive taxes and the general lack of economic opportunity based on our perceived lack of material goods. But we are still rich. It’s not only the Americans though. It’s the Australians, English, Germans, Swiss and many more. We know who we are.

 

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Along the Akerselva River- Oslo

 

As we have travelled around the world through the last several years, it is these people we have seen enjoying themselves in the museums, art galleries and expensive cafes of the world. As for us, we have voluntarily sentenced ourselves to a minuscule budget that forces us to count all our pennies and doesn’t always allow us to do everything we might like to. But we still enjoy a standard of living that is at least middle class in almost every country we have travelled to. In fact, in many of these countries, despite our frugal budget, we would still be considered well-to-do.

 

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Bar Code District- Oslo

Very seldom have we been shocked by the cost of living in many of the places we have visited. As long as we have kept ourselves to small apartments and eaten a majority of meals at home we do OK. I can’t say we have ever been hungry or uncomfortable. With the exception of a few cities (Paris, Dublin, Edinburgh, Tokyo) we really didn’t have to worry too much about how much we were spending. As long as we stayed realistic and lived more for experiences than souvenirs we have done just fine. But we may have finally met our match. We now know what it is like to be a poor person. For the last 30 days, we have found ourselves looking at the world from the other side of the fence. The tables have been turned. Norway is not a budget country. We are no longer rich.

 

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Royal Palace- Oslo

For a long time, we have wanted to visit any of the Scandinavian countries. It was our last undiscovered area of Europe. We could never really find an apartment within our budget. Copenhagen was always out of reach and Stockholm was nearly as expensive. We finally found one in Oslo that was new on the Airbnb list and seemingly priced low to generate business. It was perfectly located near downtown and priced within our range. We took a shot and luckily enough, we had found our home for the next month.

 

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Oslo Opera House

After the blistering heat of Athens, the chill in Oslo’s morning air as we hurried to catch our airport bus shocked us. We paused briefly to dig into our suitcases for sweaters we were glad we had. The air felt wonderful and noticeably smelled clean. Not flowery sweet or sea breeze fresh. Just really clean.

 

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Oslo Maritime Museum

We had a choice between well-organized bus, train or taxi transfers into town. For convenience, we might have chosen a taxi since it is usually easier to find our Airbnb that way. Not a good choice in Oslo. The 40-minute ride would have cost more than 100 dollars. Far too rich for us, so we opted for the bus. At 20 dollars US each, it was still too much for us but we had no choice. We hadn’t even left the airport and we already had our first taste of being poor.

 

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Oslo Architecture

We checked in to our tiny apartment. What it lacked in size, it totally made up for with lots of charm. Located in the middle of town near the university, it was convenient to grocery stores and had 3 tram lines just outside the door. After checking in we made our way to the market where we got our second sticker shock of the day. Food is nearly 1/3 more expensive as other cities we have visited. Some items were doubled. We would definitely have to check prices before purchasing. Perhaps this is why all the people we had seen looked so trim and fit.

 

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Oslo Subway

We would need to make our way around the city if we were going to enjoy it fully. We found that 30-day transportation passes were available for around 90 dollars US. 180 dollars was a shock to our budget but the benefit of having “all you can eat” transport for our whole visit seemed like a luxury worth the price. Oslo has excellent public transport. Trams, buses and a wonderful subway are frequent, clean, on-time and go everywhere you would want to go. In addition, ferries are operated on the Oslofjord and they are included in the monthly pass.

 

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Aker Brygge- Oslo Harbor

The weather was cool but clear when we arrived. The citizens seemed to be enjoying the last of the sunny and warm days and the streets were always full of people. Walking in the beautiful downtown area we found throngs of people filling Karl Johan Gate, the pedestrian-friendly main boulevard of town that runs from the train station to the National Theatre. All the designer brands are located here along with classic cafes and ornate hotels. Norway’s fort-like Parliament building dominates one flower-filled square. The Grand Hotel, famous for traditionally housing all the Nobel Peace Prize winners, adds class nearby. The road continues onward up the hill until it reaches the Royal Palace and gardens.

 

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Oslo Waterfall

The Aker Brygge area is popular with visitors and locals every day. This is the harbor area around which the city grew. On one side of the harbor, the Akershus Fortress towers above the various high masted sailboats moored to the piers. On the other side, we found the hypermodern design of apartments and businesses that surround the almost completed National Museum. In the middle, the Brutalist architecture of the City Hall completes the unique mixture of buildings that represent the past, present and future of Oslo.

 

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Oslo Islands

We were disappointed that we would not be able to afford a visit to the National Gallery which features Edvard Munch’s famous “The Scream”. Once free to visit, the prices are now high and no free days are available. However, public art can still be found everywhere. Vigeland Park is a huge park on the west side of town that features the life work of sculpturist Gustav Vigeland. More than 200 figures are on display amidst lakes, fountains and immense green areas.

 

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Oslofjord Sunset

Norwegians love their nature areas. Ekeberg Park is a hilly area on the east side of town. The heavily wooded area is intersected by well-maintained trails and provides grand sunset views over the fjord. Many sculptures and other artworks are uniquely displayed along the trails to add to the enjoyment of the area. The area is used by walkers and nature lovers at all times of the day and evening.

 

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Akerselva River- Oslo

The Akerselva River splits the city. Walking trails follow the river and many of the old warehouses and factories have been repurposed into office buildings, food halls and apartments. The days grew shorter during our visit as Autumn turned the thick foliage along the river to incredibly bright colors. Oranges, yellows and reds reflected in the ponds and waterfalls roared with life each time we visited.

 

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Fall Colors- Oslo

Oslo has some great neighborhoods to explore. We especially enjoyed the Grunerlokka district of town. This hipster area is filled with cafes and specialty shops. Flea markets fill the parks and art galleries and vintage stores line the street. Young families socialize in the coffee shops or over delicious brunches. Dog walkers and stroller-pushing moms and dads enjoy strolls under leafy tall trees. Picnic lunches on warm afternoons were delicious.

 

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Holmenkollen Ski Jump

The snow had not arrived during our visit, but we found that was no reason to not visit the Holmenkollen ski area in the hills just north of town. The entire area caters to anything winter sport oriented. The most noticeable and incredible part of the facility is the massive ski jump. Just picturing the excitement of racing down the ramp at over 60 miles per hour before hurling yourself into the stadium that holds 70,000 screaming revelers made our hearts beat faster. We got a small taste of the excitement by watching the zipliners that were soaring from the top of the jump, most riders nervously laughing and whooping as they sped through the sky. Cross-country skiing is a major sport in Norway and many were already practicing their strides on small skis with rollers on them.

 

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Oslo Fall Colors

Perhaps the most enjoyable adventure was riding the ferries through the islands of the Oslofjord. A cruise through the islands on a tour boat would not have been affordable for us. By using our monthly transit pass, we used the ferries to create our own tour. We visited all the islands in the nearby area. We hiked to abandoned forts and walked through the tiny clusters of colorful summer houses that dot the islands. Ascending the hills and watching the harbor activity on a warm afternoon was a memorable treat.

 

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Oslo Islands

Norway is a rich country. Wealth from oil has turned them from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest. Judging by the number of cranes in the skies, massive building projects are underway everywhere in Oslo. They seem to be spending their new found wealth well. Universities are free. Health care is free. Everyone enjoys a living wage. Children are obviously well taken care of. Families are valued and well supported. The water from the tap tastes bottled and the air smells clean. The politicians seem honest and are accessible to the people. They are one of the few countries that do not have a National Debt. They have set up a fund to invest their wealth to provide for future generations.

 

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Oslo Autumn

We never ate a meal in a restaurant. A McDonald’s combo meal can be nearly 20 dollars here and the prices for a decent meal are astronomical. We never had a beer. They are heavily taxed and a draft beer is at least 10 dollars in a bar. Drinks can be 20 dollars. We never had a cup of coffee in a cafe. While Norwegian coffee is a specialty, a cup can be 5 dollars or more. Our hair grew long. Haircuts are at least 30 dollars. Our only shopping was done through a window.

 

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Oslo Reflections

But strangely enough, we had a very nice time. The people are friendly, polite and low key. Literally, everyone speaks English, many with a bit of a California accent from watching American media. We enjoyed our excursions into nature. Walks in the woods or along the river as the leaves magically became neon explosions of color will be remembered fondly. Harbor cruises and tram rides through the lovely streets filled with interesting architecture will stay with us. Everyone seems happy and content. It was odd to be poor people and I don’t know if I would want to stay this way forever. But for our month-long visit to Norway, it really wasn’t all that bad.

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There is a place…

There is a place along the waterfront where people gather during the day. In the small park with the palm trees, near the fishing boats, the old men spend cool mornings to discuss politics, sports, share gossip or tell stories of the days gone by. They talk passionately, voices raising and lowering like the tide, using their hands to emphasize important points. Sometimes during the heat of the afternoon, when shade takes on a premium, the benches fill with small groups of men enjoying tall bottles of cool beer. If it is a weekend, someone may produce a guitar and impromptu singalongs occur. Everyone participates, their voices harmonizing perfectly as they resonate through the trees and out over the beautiful harbor.

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Split Sunset

 

In the evenings, when the sun is preparing to retire behind Marjan Hill, people, mostly young, begin to fill the nearby pier. They gather in pairs or small groups to watch the marble buildings of the historic old city turn orange as the sun retreats. They sit among the fisherman’s nets as the sky changes colors and the buildings begin to reflect in the calm water of the turquoise harbor. Lights come on along the promenade that hugs the harbor in front of the ancient Roman palace that makes up a large part of the old town area. The sound of laughing voices, clinking bottles and lapping waves mix with the bustle of nightlife coming from the promenade to create the perfect mood as day turns into night. There is a place along the waterfront in Split, and everyone should see it.

There is a place in a tiny square near a church that has been used for an untold eternity. The square is perfectly aligned to take maximum advantage of the shade of the stone buildings that surround the square and the gentle cooling breezes that make their way from the nearby sea. A quiet café with tiny tables occupies a prominent portion of the square. The chairs are arranged side by side on one side of the table, in the Parisian way, to give the best opportunity to watch the well-dressed passersby. Perfectly chilled mugs of frosty local lager are served. The smell of grilled seafood comes from nearby. A view of the towering fortress that dominates the center of the tiny town is perfectly framed above the square. The frosty lager helps build the courage to attempt, or celebrate the success of, a climb of the ancient ramparts.

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Omis, Croatia

 

The fortress, used by pirates in ancient times, presents a sweaty challenge for those who attempt the climb. The narrow trail twists steeply upwards from the tightly woven alleys of the red roofed town below. Signs warn of hazards the steep stairs may present to the old or out of shape. You pass through an arch and begin your ascent, tightly gripping the poorly spaced rails that must be used to pull yourself up the steep marble steps. A difficult ladder completes the challenge for those who desire to see the commanding view from the top of the narrow parapet. The effort is rewarded for those who accept the challenge. Breathtaking views over the town, sea and nearby beaches are unforgettable. The deeply blue River Cetina splits the town in two as it flows between the hard rock mountain canyons that lead from inland towards the immense sea. There is a place in the town of Omis, just south of Split and everyone should see it.

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Krka National Park

 

There is a place along the raised wooden walkway above the wetlands where nature’s beauty will overtake you. It will happen after the crowds of bus tourists thin and you find yourself alone, staring across the crystalline water, fish swimming in small groups below you. They fight for position in a calm area between the flowing grasses of the countless streams. The bubbling water flows from an unseen place between the trees that thickly surround the area. A tiny, multicolored finch chirps loudly and melodically from a branch above, attempting to be heard above the white noise gurgle of the flowing water. The sound of mighty flowing water comes from somewhere beyond the trees and drowns the outside world making you feel alone in this Eden like setting.

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Krka National Park

 

Further along the path you find tiny lookouts through the trees which give brief previews of the grander visions to come. Descending steep stairways, waterfalls surrounding on both sides, you pass the swimming area that attracts so many bathers on these hot early summer days. A wonderful waterfall provides a superb backdrop for the bronzed swimmers. It is the last of several successive falls that cascade down the mountainside. Leaving the swim area you begin your ascent up the steep mountains steps on the opposite bank. You will be rewarded with successively superb views as you take advantage of the convenient overlooks along the way. The most impressive stop of all was created for a long dead emperor, the cement extension giving perhaps the ultimate view of the falls. There is a place along the boardwalk in Krka National Park and everyone should see it.

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Split Streets

 

There is a place that takes ones breath away, not only from the effort necessary to reach it, but also from the astounding view which presents itself to those who make the effort. It is reached after an early morning ferry ride in the calm waters of the Dalmatian coastline. Split’s towering bell tower slowly drifts into the distance as the ferry threads its way through the islands to your destination. Perhaps you choose to enjoy the sunshine on outside decks or stay below to enjoy a cool drink. Docking in Stari Grad, you hurry to catch a waiting bus. Past the vineyards, olive trees and rows of fragrant lavender the winding road offers jaw dropping vistas along the stunning Adriatic coastline. The harbor appears like a postcard vision as you descend toward it. Stunning sailboats rock gently in the crystal harbor as sun kissed crew busily address morning chores.

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Hvar Town

 

Enjoy a refreshing drink along the promenade or perhaps a perfectly prepared seafood snack of only the freshest ingredients. Approach the stairs of the hill slowly, as there are many. Pass through the arched gates of the walled fortress and begin the ascent. More stairs await so keep your pace. Follow the switchback through the pine trees and herb garden enjoying increasingly incredible views. When you reach the fortress head straight for the flag that waves briskly at the top. Step to the edge and be amazed. The harbor spreads below, perfectly framed on three sides by gorgeous red tile roofs. In the distance a chain of islands leads outwards, each with sandy coves and dark green trees. Boats anchor in crystal waters or create V shaped wakes as they weave their way through the waters.  In the distance, the mountainous island of Vis sits in a cloud bank seemingly floating above the ocean below. There is place at the top of the fortress in Hvar and everyone should see it.

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Hvar Harbor

 

We have been travelling for in Europe, Asia and Africa for 18 straight months. 2 ½ months of that time has been spent in Croatia. When we share our stories with people we meet along the way, invariably one of the first questions we are asked is what our favorite place has been that we have visited. It is really not a question that is answerable, but we usually mention France or Italy or Thailand. I truly believe that after our excellent month in Split, we may have to begin our answer by saying, “There is a place called Croatia and everyone should see it.”