Well I decided to give myself a bit of a treat for my birthday again this year, so in late October Malaika and I set off on a 3 week European Safari.
We flew KLM to Vienna, arriving at 9 in the morning to find sunny skies but a temperature of 0! Caught the airport bus into the city, where I’d booked us a rooms at Dan In ‘n Out, a somewhat funky and inexpensive hotel just a few hundred metres from Morzinplatz where the bus terminates. Vienna is a lovely city and we went for long walks, plus caught the subway to Schönbrunn Palace – magnificent. Stumbled upon some squirrels while there and Mika had great fun trying to take a photo of them. But she succeeded!
Next we caught the overnight train to Venice, which was not without some drama since the fire alarm went off shortly after leaving Hütteldorf station. I thought I could smell something odd when we boarded and it wasn’t my imagination. Evidently new brake pads had been fitted to our carriage that day. The train set off again once the “all clear” was given, but I had to keep the window open all night to let fresh air in and minimize the acrid smell. You can imagine how much sleep I got though as the train went in and out of tunnels through the Alps at 200kph. The noise and pressure changes were awful. Mika managed to sleep well though and at 8:30 the following morning we arrived at Venice St Lucia station.
The view of Venice and the canals as you walk out of the station is normally so beautiful, but unfortunately it was raining quite heavily when we arrived, so it all looked a bit gloomy. I’d booked a hotel within walking distance of the station – the Adriatico hotel. Unfortunately they’d been full the previous night and so couldn’t give us our room yet, so, what else to do but make use of our umbrella and walk around enjoying the scenery in spite of the weather and sit and have some cake and coffee until noon. Went to a nearby pizzeria for lunch – I’ve never seen Mika eat so much! She loved it. Had a lovely dinner too. The following morning we caught the water taxi to the Piazza San Marco, but unfortunately the rain just got heavier and heavier so I couldn’t take any nice photos.
That afternoon, looking a bit like drowned rats, we boarded the cruise ship the Costa Fortuna for a 7 night Eastern Mediterranean cruise. That evening we enjoyed a fantastic 5 course dinner – Italian style naturally. I do love Italian food
The ship docked the next day at Bari, but we didn’t disembark due to the rain still coming down heavily. The day after though we docked at Katakolon in Greece and the clods finally went away and the sun began to shine. The temperature was nicer too – in the low 20’s. We rode a horse drawn cart around the town, has a delicious Gyros lunch and then caught a coach to Olympia where we wandered around the ruins of the place where the Olympic Games first began centuries ago.
Next stop was the island of Santorini – breathtakingly beautiful and just like in the photos you see. We rode a big old donkey from the dock up to the top of the cliff (it’s further than it looks!) Wandered around the many shops, Mika had her ice-cream and I my latte. Must go back there again for a longer stay one day.
We docked in Mykonos that evening, but a cold, howling wind had set in, so we dined in the comfort of our on-board restaurant – another delicious 5 course meal.
Rhodes was our next port of call. Had the whole day there and walked for hours around and within the old city walls. An place that is worth visiting again I think.
The following day was spent at sea, and then our final port of call was Dubrovnik in Croatia. The weather held out and the sun was still shining. Dubrovnik too is a beautiful city.
Next morning we were back in Venice, and back under rainy skies. Mika and I dragged our heavy suitcase up and over the stepped canal bridge singing “Rain, rain go away…”
Made it back to St Lucia station cold and a bit wet, but then on to a nice warm train to Milan. A couple of hours in transit there, then another train to the town of Brig in Switzerland. This second train journey was in darkness and I’d chosen Brig specifically so that we could continue the journey to Geneva in the morning and enjoy traveling through the Swiss Alps in the daylight. Glad we did, because the scenery was magnificent.
We didn’t have time to stop over in Geneva unfortunately and that afternoon we flew to Oslo, where old friends Bea & JJ met us. We stayed overnight as their guests, had a delicious dinner of roast wild moose while chatting about old times and catching up on the last 12 years or so (since I last saw them).
It began to snow overnight, which set the scene for the rest of the trip to come!
The next day we continued our journey northwards to Tromso, in the far north of Norway. Plenty of snow there! Temperature was around -6, so not too bad. We stayed in the centrally located AMI Hotel. The room had a single bed and they had put an extra foldaway bed in for Mika. But the room was so small it was impossible to open it! No worries – Mika and I “topped and tailed” and we slept well enough. Kings Park was across the road from the hotel and they provided complimentary sleds, so we had much fun doing a bit of sledding the next day.
Just 2 nights in Tromso to help us acclimatize for the final destination of the trip – Longyearbyen on the island of Svalbard, well north of the Arctic Circle. Svalbard is a destination I’ve long wanted to visit, because of its wild beauty and remoteness. Because of its high latitude, the place is in perpetual darkness from late October until March, so I knew we were going to be well and truly ready for some Muscat sunshine by the time we got home!
We flew with SAS – they are the only airline that flies to Longyearbyen. Exiting the plane on arrival, we were greeted by strong winds, blowing ice pellets and a temperature of -10. Brrr!!!
Here I’d booked the Basecamp Trappers Lodge for our stay. What a great choice it turned out to be. The hotel is totally unique – the photos will explain better than words can. We were here for 4 nights and hoped to see the Aurora Borealis on at least one of them. No such luck though. Clear skies on two of the nights, but no Aurora. To rub salt in the wound, they told me on the day we arrived “You came to see the Aurora? Oh, you should have been here yesterday – there was plenty!”. Nevertheless, Mika and I really enjoyed our time in Svalbard and I wouldn’t mind at all going back again one day in the hopes of seeing the Aurora “next time”.
Leaving Longyearbyen, we flew SAS to Tromso then Oslo, overnighted (well, until 3am only!) in an airport hotel, leaving early morning on KLM to Amsterdam, Abu Dhabi and then finally home.
Mika made me laugh as we disembarked in Muscat. She wanted to put her winter jacket on before we left the plane. When I told her she won’t need it, she asked “Daddy, there’s no snow?”