Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Guides and airlines – some final thoughts on our trip to Norway

Before we went to Norway, it had no place on my list of new places to see; but I had the opportunity to travel to Europe for the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue meetings, and Nancy and I decided to find a place to visit for roughly a week afterward.   We settled on Norway because it was nearby, we had never traveled in northern Europe together, and, well, there was a supercheap Ryanair flight to Oslo from Brussels.

In retrospect, we were very pleased with the choice.  Oslo was a nice visit, we could have spent an extra day there, and we would have spent a few more days exploring the beautiful fjords.  I strongly recommend Norway as a tourist destination.

We owe a special debt of gratitude to two people for their extensive travel advice.  Colleague Craig Holman, who kvells to us all about Norway (his country of ancestral origin) a couple of times each year, gave lots of advice about about Bergen and the Norway in a Nutshell route.  And after I mentioned in passing to Thomas Bartholdsen of the Norwegian Consumer Counsel that we were headed to Oslo after the TACD meeting that brought me to Brussels, he sat down with me to outline a very ambitious day of touring.  In the family I am notorious for trying to cram too many sights into every vacation day, but Thomas’s proposed day was more ambitious than even I could manage.  Still, in the 36 hours we were in town we got to see most of his proposed highlights, and every one of them was an excellent choice. 

Unni-Marie of the Balestrand Hotell also offered very extensive advice about how to make independent reservations for our trips around the fjords, even before I had committed to a reservation there.  In the end, I took the easy way out and booked the Sognefjord in a Nutshell route,  but even after I found the neighboring Midtnes Hotell on the Fjord Pass site, and noted that it was a somewhat less expensive alternative, I decided we ought to return the favor by following through with the Balestrand Hotell booking. 

Over the past couple of decades, I have come to rely on the Lonely Planet and Rough Guides for planning my foreign travel, supplemented by copies of the relevant pages from Frommers and Fodors for day-to-day choices, but for the Norway trip I was especially impressed by the Rick Steves’ book on Norway.  It had good walking and restaurant advice and was particularly helpful as I was thinking through how I should plan our two days traveling in the fjords.  Had we been able to spend even more time in the fjords we could have made even more use of it. When I misplaced the book in Bergen the night before we left for Balestrand, we knew right away how much we missed it.

When I couldn't get the especially recommended budget lodgings recommended in the Lonely Planet, I found the Fjord Pass web site and used the Fjord Pass to locate some better priced lodgings, as well as to book our fjord tour transportation choices.  It saved us some money and each of the lodgings we found on their site was fine.

Finally, our flights.  Ryanair was the same as I remember from our flights to and from Morocco – it books flights from less-convenient airports that are harder and more expensive to reach; the seats are remarkable uncomfortable; and they nickle-and-dime you even more than the worst US airline.  The only reason to book Ryanair is the price, and it is always important to figure how much extra time and money the further airports and nickle-and-diming will cost.  We also had one short leg on Norwegian Airlines, a domestic budget choice by comparison with SAS.  It was fine, with none of the disadvantages of Ryanair.

I was sad to see British Airways moving in the same direction as Ryanair, requiring an extra payment for any advance seat selection, not just the selection of preferred seats. The food on British Airways compared unfavorably with recent trans-Atlantic flights on KLM and Air France.  The in-flight entertainment selection, however, was marvelous – a selection of two dozen recently released movies plus hundreds of CD’s that could either be heard entire or formed into playlists like an iPod.   This was not much use on the flight to Europe where my goal was to sleep from the moment I hit my seat after 10 PM until just before our arrival at Heathrow (I succeeded).  But during the day flight home I was able to catch three movies that Nancy had been unwilling to see, plus listen to some good music than gave my iPod a rest.

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