West Family Travels

Robert is a world famous travel writer with having pieces appear in National Geographic Traveler, The New Yorker and Cottage Life Magazine. Robert when he isn't travelling lives with his family in Edmonton, Alberta.
Living in: Edmonton, Canada
  • Day20

    Taking it easy for a day

    1 hour ago in Norway

    It started raining pretty hard yesterday afternoon and kept up all night. We had planned to do another hike today but it seemed unlikely that it was going to let up. I let everyone sleep in. The kids were pretty tired after the hiking. By 10 the rain had slowed so Cheryl and I went for a Canadian stroll around town and within 30 minutes the sun was out again and shining very brightly. In Kaupanger they have 5 and 3 meters diving platforms on the water. With the rain yesterday we had to take a miss on the platforms but with the sun out they really wanted to use the window to give the platforms another go. It was low tide so the platforms were more like 6.5 metres. This is pretty high. They actually talked me into doing it. It is a long drop. I talked with a local while watching the kids. I told that at home they would never have such an unsupervised structure as someone would get hurt. She told me that no one had ever been seriously hurt. I told her that we were just a bunch of worriers at home. We had a late lunch and there were some more showers. Videl came over with his kids and took my little ones fishing again and then towed them around on inflatables behind the little boat. It was very kind of him. Just when I thought things were going to quiet down another mega yacht came into the bay. Forever one. 54 metres long and owned by billionaire Bruce Grossman who was heir to the Mexican Coca Cola bottling group. It is interesting what you can find out on line. Chris and I went to check it out in the canoe. Just a beautiful yacht.

    With some time on my hands today I have had time to reflect on one of my colleagues dilemma. My colleague owns a vintage BMW. It is a wonderful looking car but unfortunately its time is coming to an end. My colleague has enjoyed the image and prestige of a European built vehicle but may not be able to afford a new one. I think though that this vacation that I have stumbled on a solution to my colleague's problem. We have been privileged to drive a Skoda Octavia station wagon since Oslo. Skoda is a Czech build vehicle which is actually built in Europe. No Mexican content here. It drives wonderfully and is probably much cheaper then a Mexican built BMW. My colleague would be the first to own a Skoda at the RAH. It would really improve his image amongst the staff parking such a car in the Doctors car park.
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  • Day19

    Hiking in the Sognefjord

    Yesterday in Norway

    We have spent three glorious days here in the Sognefjord in our little boat house. It was sunny for the first two days and much of the third. Supposedly they have had no rain for a month which is typically the daily norm. Having exhausted the museums the first day it was time to do some hiking. I have been trailing my hiking boots through Scandinavia so I thought it should be time to put them to use. My right ankle is very weak from an old volleyball injury so I am always worried that I could roll it again. Therefore I really need to wear the hiking. One of my colleagues wives broke her ankle while hiking in running shoes a few years ago which has further increased my anxiety about not having hiking boots. For our first hike I chose one called Bjorahaug outside of a small town called Hermansverk. It was described as a Norwegian stroll which I thought would be a good warm up hike. It was only 1165 metres long. What I didn't realize was that the elevation gain was 500. It was a hike up the side of a fjord. I don't think I have ever hiked so steeply. It certainly did give me an appreciation of how steeply the sides of the fjords rise from the water. There were ropes in areas to help oneself up. At one point my son Andrew told me that he thought that his mother had fallen. I quickly backtracked to check up on her but she had just lost the trail and was calling us to see where it went.The kids had no problem. They must be part billygoat. The hike was rated as 70 minutes. At the 70 minute mark we were very high up but not at the top of the fjord. The trail started to go down before I suspect it would go up again. I was absolutely drenched in perspiration. After all that work I decided that I didn't want to lose any of the elevation we had worked so hard for. We stopped for lunch. The view of the fjords was spectacular. On a sunny day I think it looks prettier then the west coast of BC.

    After our warm up day, we decided to try something a little more difficult although we had set the bar pretty high the first day. We decided to do the Mount Molden which was a small mountain looking out over an arm of the Sognefjord. The arm is known as Gaupnefjorden. One can also see the glaciers to the north from the top. It was a longer hike with an elevation of 600 metres. We reached an elevation of 1116 metres. It was a pretty hard hike although probably not as hard and definitely not as steep as the warm up hike. We were well above the tree line at the top. The view from the top was even more breathtaking. When we were at the top we realized that there was a storm system coming in from the south. We were 9/10s of the way down when we were hit with a wicked rain storm. Gale force winds, snapping branches etc. We only had to walk 15 minutes in the rain. I wouldn't have wanted to be on the top of the mountain when the storm hit.

    Last night this huge yacht maybe 60 metres long came into our bay and stayed for 24 hours. It was owned by Jade yachts so I checked it out on line. People can rent this yacht for a week for 362k Cdn. Chris and I paddled a canoe out to it to check it out. I couldn't believe just how large it was.It was bigger then my house.
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  • Day18

    Sognefjord

    July 16 in Norway

    We drove from Oslo to Kaupanger on the 14th of July. We were right at the car rental place in downtown Oslo at 9 am to pick up the car. The process was painfully slow. I had gotten a very good deal on the car rental. 1200 Cdn for 13 days. They had told us the day before that a walk in rental for two days with drop off in Bergen would have cost the same amount. I think they wanted to scrutinize everything extra carefully as they could have rented our car to a walkin for much more. Finally after 30 minutes we got the car but not after realizing that Cheryl's license had expired in March. By then there was a massive line up out the door. I wonder now that the government isn't sending out notifications how many Albertans are driving with expired licenses.By the time we were done there was this very long line up of people behind me. We got back to the hostel by 10 and the kids were all ready for us. We packed and headed out of town and within 30 minutes we were at a standstill in traffic. After this our trip was punctuated by a long stop for groceries and an unsuccessful grocery stop. We drove over a mountain range with an elevation of 1200 metres before descending to the fjord. Travel time was an astounding 7 hours. My highlight of the trip was stopping at a gas station with some old volvos one which looked like from the early 70s which reminded me a lot of the Volvo my parents had bought in 1968. It looked good but was a terrible car always breaking down when on holidays and rested out very quickly. This early experience with Volvos scarred me for life. I don't think that I could ever own a Volvo.

    Our boathouse in Kaupanger is right on the fjord with a million dollar view. As soon as we arrived Videl the brother in law of the owner who has two children took my two youngest out on a boat with his kids fishing in their little motor boat out into the centre of the fjord. It is a little rustic by Muskoka standards but for us it is perfect. Kaupanger is very quiet and there are few tourists here. I have had two great sleeps here. The fjords are quite spectacular. The sides in areas rise quite sharply up from the water. It reminds of BC but it is different. Cheryl keeps saying that it reminds her of Saskatchewan but I am not sure how and I don't think she is being smart.The water is a lot less saline the sea water so It doesn't taste very salty nor does one's skin feel salty after swimming in it. It really doesn't even smell like the ocean. Yesterday we drove to a very picturesque town on an even prettier fjord called Solvorn home of the Walaker hotell a historic expensive looking hotel. We took a ferry across a fjord to Urnes home of the world's oldest wooden church. It was a 20 minute hike up to the church from the ferry. It wasn't a hike by our definition as we saw some girls doing it in flip flops.These old wooden churches are known as Stave churches as the old Norwegian word for the supports were known as Staves. This one dated from 1100 AD. It looks impressive now but probably looked even more impressive when it was built. There were wood panels on the outside carved with snakes and dragons which were felt to be from the 900s. It looked like celtic meets Scandinavian. We ate our lunch at the museum before hiking down and catching the ferry. We were all pretty hot by the time we made it to Solvern which fortunately had a beautiful swim area with platforms for jumping and diving off. We were all tired but had a good day. My son Chris said that he would have given it a 7.5/10 which by his standards is pretty good.
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  • Day15

    A day in Oslo

    July 13 in Norway

    The train trip from Stockholm went pretty well yesterday. We got in around 8 and successfully navigated the T subway system to the hostel. The hostel is very nice. The boys have a room for two and Madeline, Cheryl and I have a room for three with our own shower. We had a gourmet meal at the hostel of Ichi ban noodles which we had stocked up on in Sweden. We had been munching the whole train trip so we didn't need a big supper. It has supposedly been quite warm in Oslo this summer with temps of 29 degrees Celsius the last few weeks.Fortunately it cooled off over night and we all had wonderful sleeps. We didn't get to bed until 10:30. It was still pretty light out when we went to bed. There were people playing frisbee golf in a park beside the hostel. It really is the place of the midnight sun as it is so far north. Breakfast was included and was a wonderful spread not like the youth hostel meals I remember from my youth.

    We headed downtown on the T and visited the car rental place to make sure all was in order for our car rental tomorrow. We then took Rick Steves tour of downtown Oslo. My favorite part of the tour was the City Hall. A large Art Deco building build in the 30s. The front was covered in wood carvings of Norse mythology. Inside the central hall was covered in Art Deco murals. We wandered around a little and saw the room where they present the noble prize which has a spectacular view of the harbour. We then proceeded to walk around downtown Oslo taking in the National theatre, the parliament building which was less impressive then the city hall, the cathedral and downtown ttrain station which were all spread out principally along one street with a lot of high end shopping stores. We bought some groceries for lunch before heading off to Vigleland park on trolley 12. In 1921 an artist by the name of Gustav Vigeland made a deal with the city of Oslo that they would support him and provide a studio if he produced bronze and stone statues for the park.He produced 600 nude statues of men and women which were all gracefully arranged throughout the park. Some of the statutes dealt with the phases of life others dealt with the interaction of men and women. They were very beautiful. We spent a long time wandering around. It was a little sunny and by the time we were done viewing the sculptures we headed to a nearby outdoor swimming pool to cool off. It had a 50 metre pool and 1,3,5 and 7 metre pools. The kids were in heaven. I had hoped to make it to the National gallery to see the scream but we just ran out of time.
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  • Day13

    This is my second attempt at this entry. The first entry was lost when my iPad crashed. It makes me feel like I am at work and one's dictation gets lost. I am actually working on this on a high speed train to Oslo. One can watch the speed of the train and at times we have been doing 200k per hour which seems pretty fast but maybe not as fast as the TGV trains in France. Maybe someone could fact check this for me. We finished our stay in Stockholm on a strong note. We toured the Vasa museum which contains the Vasa ship from 1638 that sunk in Stockholm harbour within 40 minutes of it's maiden voyage. The guns made the ship too top heavy. Due to cold water, low oxygen levels from fecal matter and a low saline water, all of the wood and fabric on the ship and many non metal items were perfectly preserved. It was raised in 1961 and the ship and contents made the perfect tourist attraction. It is the most visited site in Stockholm. The ship is very large and all of the ornate wood carvings are incredibly preserved. This combined with all of the preserved nonmetal items including shoes and cloth made it a very interesting museum. We lasted about 2.5 hours which is pretty good for the West family. After the Vasa museum we headed back to Gamla Stan for Rob's quick tour of the old town. We started with theRoyal Palace where none of the Royal family live but was being over run with tourists. In fact the old town was all overuse with large bus groups following numbered ping pong paddles. We checked out some of the old church's which served the various nationalities of the merchant communities from the 17 and 18 century. There was an impressive statue of St. George slaying the dragon and the tiniest little statue of a boy looking at the moon. If you rubbed the boys head it would bring you good luck. We wandered the narrow streets of the old town trying to avoid the hoards of bus/ cruise ship tours. By 2:30 we had had enough so headed back to our BnB to make supper for some Swedish guests. Our friend Jennifer Klein's first cousin once removed Astrid and her boyfriend Oscer came over for supper. We made the quintessential Canadian meal of macaroni and cheese. It was a more luxury version compared to Kraft dinner. My children certainly enjoyed it and I think our guests did as well. It was nice to get together with them as it is always nice to meet the locals which when one is travelling one doesn't always get the opportunity to do. They also brought over a Swedish game called Hukke that we went to play at the park after supper.It consisted of throwing batons to try to knock down one competitor's blocks. After several spirited games we let them go home so we could start packing up for our trip to Norway today. After three transfers we made to Flemingsberg station in good time. Chris was very helpful figuring out where the commuter trains leftRead more

  • Day12

    The Stockholm archipeligo

    July 10 in Sweden

    Today we headed off to the Stockholm archipelago which consists of a lot of islands in the Baltic ocean which have summer houses and summer communities. We decided to head to the community of Voxholm which is about a 45 minute ferry from Stockholm. Enough to give us a taste of the archipelago but not long enough to get bored. The archipelago struck me as a Muskoka done Scandinavian style.Lots of large Swedish looking houses on islands. We got to Voxholm and did the Rick Steves tour of the town having an opportunity to see the quaint fisherman's cottages which have all been converted into multimillion dollar summer homes. We hung out at a beach with the locals for a while, visited a playground where Andrew got stuck in a child's swing and received a lot of funny looks from the locals. All three of us had to work to pull Andrew out of the swing. It was a very unusual situation but Andrew was pretty happy when we got him out. We checked out the castle before heading back to Stockholm on the bus. This island happened to be connected to the mainland by a bridge. Of course the kids didn't realize this until we were waiting for the bus.Read more

  • Day10

    Volvos, volvos, volvos

    July 8 in Sweden

    Today was our last day with our car. We decided to drive to the ancient town of Sigturna on the northeast arm of Lake Malvern. Sigturna was a pretty little town on the lake. The only trace of the Vikings however was the Rune stones that had been organized around town on a little walk. We ate our lunch by the lake which was filled with Lilly pads and then decided to head to the University town of Uppsala. Uppsala is a university town. We visited the Cathedral with the longest nave in Scandinavia. It was of Gothic design build in 1453. It was a very impressive building and even the kids tolerated visiting it. After the church we headed off to the house of Carl Linnaeus, Uppsula's most famous son which is quite the claim given that scientists from Uppsula's university have won a total of 8 Nobel prizes. Carl Linnaeus was a physician and botanist who developed the formal naming system for plants and animals between 1743 and 1778. Think genus and species. He is quite big here having had his picture on the 100 kronor note. I thought of my colleague Mark who maybe had he been born in another time would have been a great botanist. The museum and garden were quite beautiful. They had an audio tour where one would walk from room to room in the house and click on a light to hear information about the room and about Carl's accomplishments. The children stayed amused for 45 minutes and maybe even learnt something. Our last visit was to Gamla Uppsala. This consisted of nine large burial mounds from
    1500 years ago. They were pretty large we walked around them and visited the gift shop. No one wanted to go into the museum. We enquired at the museum about a swimming location and learned that the town of Uppsula's maimed a swimming spot on a river wth bath rooms, a beach and a dock. It was quite busy. Madeline and I ended up chatting with some graduate students from the university. It was kind of fun to think that we were swimming where Vikings once swam. We returned to Stockholm and after supper we returned our car to the Avis car rental with no cars and dropped the keys off.

    Having spent the last three days driving around in Sweden, it is tough not to notice that there are an incredible number of Volvos here. There are Volvos everywhere. I think about 50% of the cars are Volvos. Seeing all of these old Volvos has been a little nostalgic. We told someone that we met that Volvos were considered prestigious cars in Canada and they really thought that was funny. Whether it is Volvos or skodas or BMWs, the Swedes love their station wagons. We also notice that they don't drive minivans or trucks. I think we only saw 4-5 personal trucks while driving around. We wondered what would all of the doctors drive to work at the Royal Alex if they didn't drive Volvos. Teslas ? The one car that we came across that piqued my curiosity was a 1981 Toyota Cirdan. It looked a lot like a Camry. We talked to the elderly owner who told us she was the original owner. It was 37 years old. By comparison my Toyota Odessey is only 15 years old. I am unsure It will make it another 20 years. For Ross there were a fair number of BMWs here but not many vintage ones. Maybe you could get a better price for your Beamer if you shipped it to Sweden.
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  • Day9

    Today we drove to a town south of Stockholm about 100 k away known as Oxelosund. Oxelosund is home to Boda Borg a quest centre which our friends the Kleins raved about after their trip to Sweden a few years ago. The trip was fun as we got to see some of the rural areas around Stockholm. The boys got their devices hooked up to the car computer via Bluetooth. I don't know how they can figure this out but they can. We had a good run of carpool karaoke all the way to Oxelosund. James Cordonwould have been proud of us. I wanted to get a video but Chris wouldn't let me.The joy but frustration of living with teenagers.

    We made it to Boda Borg before ten and signed up for the full day and the lunch. Boda Borg is a quest centre. To complete the task you need a team of 3-5 . You can't do it by one's self .You enter rooms and either have to perform physical tasks as a group, solve puzzles, press light sequences in a specific order before being allowed to proceed to the next room. Basic instructions were provided in English on the doors which after about an hour my children realized would be helpful to read before starting.Rooms have themes like escape from prison, Safari adventure or Ninja warrior. There was a lot of crawling on knees through small spaces. I felt at times that I was in a McDonalds play area. By lunch I was exhausted and Cheryl had a massive headache but the kids were having a blast. After a traditional Swedish lunch of make your own Tacos the kids were back at it. Cheryl and I took a long time over the Tacos in order to savour the food in such a romantic setting. Or maybe it was because we needed a rest. I headed out for another round with the kids while Cheryl had a drug induced nap on the couch. By 2 I was absolutely spent and feeling my entire age. The kids didn't want to go but fortunately Cheryl had an exit strategy. A Cold War military installation just outside of town. My children seem to love anything military. They must get it from their mother who also has a penchant for military museums. Did I ever tell you that her Grandfather was at Vimy ridge. The opportunity to visit a Cold War series of batteries dug into the bedrock in the 60s was just too much to resist. The installation consisted of these three huge guns and radar facilities controlled by central bunkers built into bedrock to a depth of 30 metres. It felt very 60ish something you would expected out an early James Bond movie. We had our very own personal tour from a local high school student whose English was just okay. The tour normally takes an hour but we were so interested that it took us 1.5 hours. In addition to the large guns, they had lots of other military paraphernalia including guns, rockets, drones etc. We were in our glory. After the tour we got back in the car, drove to a grocery store for supplies and did some more carpool karaoke. On the way back to Stockholm everyone tried to console me for my poor showing at Boda Borg by telling me that as a tall adult that the place wasn't designed for me and that I was probably one of the older players at the facility. I also think that our friends the Kleins are a little younger and obviously a little fitter then we are.
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  • Day9

    We picked up our rental car from a rental car agency which was only 1.6 k from the house. When we showed up they told us that they had no cars. After I told them we had travelled all the way from Canada and that we would take any car we mysteriously got a Kia Niro. We went back to the apartment picked up the children and headed off to Drottingham palace. It was supposed to have been a 12 minute drive but despite having a GPS which got terribly off course and ended up driving through a tunnel under central Stockholm. It took us about 50 minutes. Drottingham palace is the home of Sweden's King. It is known as the Versailles of the north which is probably a stretch. It is unique to Europe as it is one of the only royal palaces one can tour. I guess the Swedish king must be short of cash and needs a side hustle. It is probably only a matter of time before he opens up an Air Bnb. We checked out the palace gift shop and wandered around the grounds. Interestingly we bumped into an old colleague of mine, Mr Toilet PAPER holder man. Initially I didn't recognize him, a common problem that befalls pathologists not being able to recognize tumours out of context. He told me he needed a break from all the crap he has to put up with at work. The most impressive thing we saw in the gardens was this collection of Geraniums. There must have been 60 different species many of which I had never seen or heard of before

    Drottningholm castle is on Lake Malaren, a huge lake just west of Stockholm. We decided to drive to Mariefred home of Gripsholm castle. Mariefred was a very pleasant lake side summer resort town with a beautiful brick castle and grounds. We went for a swim in the lake just down the lake from the castle before touring the castle grounds and gift shop. There were some beautiful Rune stones in the gardens dating back to 1100. Rune stones were memorials that Vikings made to memorialize lost family members often with poems.

    All in all a very full day.
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  • Day7

    Slow train to Stockholm

    July 5 in Sweden

    I think the great thing about traveling with children specifically teenagers is that you can learn so much from them. Despite having so little worldly experience they seem to know how to conduct oneself when travelling. The first lesson I have learned from my son Christopher is that there is no need to show up for a train or plane departure in advance to give oneself any buffer room and doing so only indicates that you have a serious neurosis. Perhaps an anxiety disorder NOS. The second thing that I have learned from Chris is that one should never ever ask anyone for help even people working at information booths. One can learn all from the internet specifically YouTube videos. Being the accepting person that he was of my anxiety neurosis he allowed us to get to the train station 50 minutes early and he tolerated me talking to the information people. We learned that our train across the border into Sweden to Lund where we would catch our high speed train to Stockholm had been cancelled. My heart had a sinking feeling when I heard this. As we were in good time we could take another train and still make our connection which we did in Lund. At the Swedish border there was some pretty intense security with passport checks and ticket checks. I think the era of open borders in Europe may be coming to an end. The high speed train was glorious. I sat beside Cheryl and the children sat in other seats. The trip took about 4.5 hours which beat the 7-8 hour drive had we rented a car. All for $80 for all of us. When we made it to Stockholm we had a 10 minute walk to the subway line where we paid $20 to go three stops which was maybe 2 km. The enigma of Scandinavia. Oh it wasn't a slow train to Stockholm, it was a very fast train. A slow train to Stockholm just had a nice ring to it.

    When we got to our BNB accommodation in Stockholm Cheryl and I left the children to play one of our favourite games. It is called find the obscure ingredients for a recipe. This game is best played when you are a little tired and hungry . It is a timed event where the competitor, typically myself is expected to find obscure ingredients that the judge usually Cheryl wants me to find. I cannot be caught by the judge asking anyone for help or else I gain time penalties. At no time during the game must I say " Couldn't we make something simpler for supper or I will immediately forfeit the game and the penalty will be that I will have to make supper. The game went pretty well for me although I had some problems finding chicken broth. The best I could find were Oxo cubes. I also gained some penalty points as Cheryl caught me trying to explain what it was to a shelf stocker. I will have to improve my communication skills for our next game.

    We have been in Stockholm for less then a few hours. Maybe I was brainwashed by the Danes but I think that people really did look happier and healthier in Denmark. The Swedes well they appear more like us North Americans, a little frump ire and not as happy as the Danes.
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