Tag Archives: scandanavia

Tuscany 2014-Not Off To A Good Start

The day finally came and we were off to Newark Airport to begin our trip to Tuscany, Italy. We had a late flight so we made a stop at Pru Thai in Clinton, NJ for dinner on our way. Pru Thai is our favorite Thai restaurant and it was a good way to avoid the rush hour traffic too. We dropped our car off at the ABC Airport Parking and were quickly whisked away to Terminal B at Newark Airport. As we rolled up to the terminal it was starting to sink in that we were finally on our way. Or so we thought.

The SAS Ticket Counter

The SAS ticket counter was rather vacant of travelers, but there were several ticketing agents standing there. Hmmm…that’s strange? The ticket agent swiped our passports and said “do you know your flight was cancelled?” WHAT??!!! Suddenly I felt like I was in a dream and this was not really happening.

There was a lot of back and forth and the eventually all of the agents had come over and were huddling around trying to figure out alternatives for us. There wasn’t any, other than to fly out the next day. One option was to fly a little earlier on Friday morning with another airline that had a connection that was less than an hour. It would get us there 8 hours earlier, but we would risk missing the connection and possibly our luggage. The other, safe option was to leave at 6:55pm EST Friday via SAS with 2 stops and get to Bologna at 5pm on Saturday.

We chose the safer option and they put us up for the night in a hotel in Newark. Yippee!! The girls at the ticket counter were really nice and they told us we could use the airline lounge the next day since the one girl would be working the counter.We headed down to the welcome center at the airport to line up a hotel and shuttle pickup. Our voucher was for the Wyndham Garden hotel, but when I called the number the Hilton Garden answered. They said they would take our voucher and we needed to head to the P4 parking area to meet the shuttle.

Newark AirTrain

We made our way via the AirTran to the P4 Parking area to shuttle pickup. We waited while shuttle after shuttle came and went. None of which said Hilton Garden. There was Hilton, Hilton Newark but no Hilton Garden. There was even a Wyndham Garden! WTH? I asked the driver if that was the same as the Hilton Garden but he said no. Well we waited over an hour and saw the same shuttles come and go. We took the next Wyndham Garden.

We got a room at the Wyndham Garden, no problem, with vouchers for dinner and breakfast. I have no idea to this day where the “Hilton Garden” is or if it even exists. After checking in, I snagged some to-go Corona’s and water at the hotel snack bar and settled in for the night. I started cancelling and sending emails to change our reservations before falling asleep.

Wyndham Garden Newark Airport

We headed down for our free breakfast after a pretty decent nights sleep. We hung out in our room most of the morning until our late checkout at 1PM. I finalized changing our museum arrangements, rental car and cancelling our first nights room. We packed up our stuff had our free lunch at the hotel before heading back to the airport.

When we checked in at the SAS ticket counter and there was some more confusion with the ticket agents again. Now what?? The guy kept asking us what flight we were on and kept reminding him that they were supposed to be all confirmed for the day. He started going down the line asking the other agents something. Eventually he reached the last lady who seemed to know what she was doing. We walked down to her and got the scoop. She said there was two options. We could wait until 11:30pm and do a similar flight as what we were supposed to do yesterday with only one stop in Copenhagen. Or we could just do the two-stop flight that we were planning on doing which left at 6:55pm, but stopped in Oslo and Copenhagen. Either way we still got to Bologna at 5PM. We decided on the two stop flight just so we could get the hell out of the US. We made our way through TSA and headed to the gate.

The SAS Lounge - Newark Airport
The SAS Lounge – Newark Airport

I spotted the SAS Lounge and we looked through the doors and spotted the girl from the ticket counter the night before. She recognized us right away and we chatted a bit with her. She let us in to the lounge for free which was cool. It was free food and drink, comfy chairs and free WIFI. We enjoyed some nice snacks, wine and beer. They even had an open bar that you could make your own mixed drinks. It was pretty nice!

 

Before we knew it, it was time to head to the gate. We boarded the plane and settled into our seats. Our seats were at the exit door and bulkhead so we had a ton of leg room to stretch out a bit. SAS has gotten pretty stingy with their food & beverage service these days. They now charge for beer and wine on international flights which they did not the last time we flew with them. Oh well their flight was $400 cheaper(per ticket) than any other airline for the flight.

We taxied down the runway and we were finally off to our Tuscan vacation!

SAS, flight, sunset, oslo, norway, tuscany, italy
In Flight Sunset

Haute Route 2013-A Long Layover in Stockholm

Before I knew it, we were on our way to Newark Airport to begin our journey to Switzerland. I was still dealing with the realization that Ironman was over and now we were on our to begin the trip we had planned back in January of this year(2013). We planned it so far ahead that it always seemed so far away. My focus had also been so heavily directed to triathlon, that it was always a distant thought. Even while we made our way up I-78 towards Newark Airport it still was no sinking in. When we pulled up to the departures hall, then the reality settled in. Travel time!

Gamla Stan- Old Town Stockholm, Sweden

We were flying to Geneva, Switzerland where we would then transport to Chamonix, France to begin our self-guided trek of the Walker’s Haute Route. The Haute Route is a network of high alpine trails in the Alps that stretch from Chamonix to Zermatt, Switzerland. We had arranged the trip through Alpine Exploratory, who had pre-arranged all of our accommodations based on our planned itinerary and provided us with maps & routecards to help guide our way to Zermatt. We would stay in simple hotels, auberge’s and mountain huts along the way, some of which would also provide us our meals when there were no other options available. The Haute Route is a very difficult and numerous mountain passes, altitudes from 5000 to over 9000′ elevation , and over 128 miles. We would be covering this in 14 days with all of our belongings on our backs the entire route.

Our initial flight on Scandanavian Airlines(SAS) took us initially to Stockholm, Sweden for a 12 hour layover. We figured this was a good amount time to visit downtown Stockholm while we waited for our connecting flight. We did some research and found that Old Town Stockholm, known as “Gamla Stan”, would be a good place to focus our time. There is a bus, called Flygbussarna, that takes you from the airport to the central station in downtown Stockholm for about $30 each. From there it is a relatively short walk over the bridge into Gamla Stan.

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The flight to Stockholm was pretty uneventful. We had seats that were across the aisle from each other. My seat was on partially shortened row so I was looking straight between the two seats in front of me when looking straight ahead. Made things difficult for viewing the movies on the screen and I had a table top that came out of my armrest. The airplane seemed a bit old and worn down. My seat was killing my tailbone by the end of the 7 hour flight. I thought SAS would be a pretty nice airline like the Asian airlines, but they seemed as bad as most of the American Airlines. They did remember my vegan menu request which I had totally forgot about. It was actually pretty good and looked much better than the standard fare my neighbor was eating. Although the zucchini and squash sandwich I got for the breakfast was a bit strange.

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We arrived in Stockholm around 7:30am which gave us a full day to walk around until our next flight at 5:20pm that evening. We didn’t sleep too much on the flight over, but the excitement of our trip had us fairly bright-eyed when we arrived. We quickly got through customs and even managed to narrowly miss being vomited on by the little girl in the line next to us. Yuk!! I stopped in the bathroom and took some time to enjoy the very private stalls. I love how the toilet stalls in Europe are like your own private mini-bathroom. I wish we would do that here. Anyway, we stopped at an information booth and asked if there was any lockers we could stash one of our backpacks and unload some stuff while we walked around town. We located them on the lower level underneath the 7-11 near the bus pickup and unloaded a bit of stuff. We then hopped on the bus, which was sitting right outside the arrivals area, paid our $60 and made our way to downtown Stockholm.

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I was amazed at how similar the landscape was to back home in Pennsylvania. The types of trees and plant life seemed very much the same. We eventually arrived downtown and the station and started making our way south towards Gamla Stan. The area near the station was pretty busy with people going here and there since it was “rush hour” on a Friday. Once we crossed the bridge into the old town area, it was bit less busy. Shops were just starting to open up and the only people in this area were mostly tourists. It was fairly quiet. There wasn’t much in the way of local folks going to work. The streets were mostly cobblestone and the buildings old but fixed up nicely  with very bold colors. We walked around a bit and I started getting that mall-walking, tired feeling. I finally convinced my wife to stop in a coffee shop so I could caffeinate a bit. I ended up getting a cappuchino-type drink, which contained some milk. Vegan break numero one!!

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We checked email and social stuff on our phone over the WIFI while we enjoyed our caffeinated beverages. The shop became more and more busy as we hung out and I could see the streets were filing up as well.  We eventually headed back out on the street and walked around some more. Now the large groups of Asian tourists with their earbuds started to appear. They followed around their leader who had the headset on with the microphone speaking in their native tongue. There was one group of English-speaking folks and I remember their leader strongly urging them to watch out for pick-pockets. I double-checked my security belt and took some quick inventory on my stuff.

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Eventually, lunchtime arrived and we headed over to Herman’s Hermitage for some lunch. I had researched this place earlier and it was the only vegetarian/vegan place in Stockholm apparently. They had a lunch buffet which consisted of a small salad bar style cart and then a stainless-steel drawer cart that had hot food in it. The highlight here was the vegetarian meatballs and some white, sauce that went over them. Yummy! I forget how much it was, but we filled the plates several times. It was all very good. We were the first ones in the place, but by the time we left it was totally packed. Really good food and worth a stop.

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We walked around town some more and found the area that you always see in the classic shot of Stockholm. I thought that it had been right on the water, but it was actually nestled a bit in Old town. Early afternoon quickly approached and we started to make our way back to the Central Station to get the bus back to the airport. The ride to the airport was around 45 minutes each way, so we needed to give ourselves some time to get through security. Security in Sweden was either more efficient or just less, but it is so much faster to get check-in than in the US.  We made our way to the gate and waited for our next flight to Geneva. It was a nice little trip into Stockholm. Probably about as much time as I would need to spend there.

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Next stop is Geneva and then onto Chamonix. It is going to be a long day or more of travel and not a whole lot of sleep.