Jun 27, 2010

Norway Motorcycle Tour

Honestly, part of me doesn't want to write anything about our Norway tour because I know my words will not do this trip justice. I will not be able to convey how much fun the drive was, or how majestic the mountains were, or how seriously blue the water was. But, I do want to document some memories from the trip, so I'm going to give it a whirl :) If you really want to get a feel for our trip, the video that Brian made is PHENOMENAL! He did such a great job putting together the highlights. I've watched it several times now, and it still has me laughing and wishing I was still in Norway. Without further ado...

Norway Motorcycle Tour from Brian Rentsch on Vimeo.

Awesome, right??

When we were first planning this trip, I have to admit I was a little nervous. Nine days on the motorcycle? Will my butt survive this trip? But I followed my husband's intuition, and I'm SO glad that I did.

Here's the plan...

View Norway Motorcycle Trip in a larger map

On Friday, 11 June, we put the finishing touches on packing the motorcycle up, and we took off for Hannover, Germany. Hannover was just a half-way point so that our Saturday could be a little bit leisurely and so that we could reduce the chances of missing our ferry in Kiel, Germany!

On Saturday we arrived in Kiel just in time! We were able to check in and get all of our proper documentation, but we didn't have to wait long to get onto the ferry. A couple of funny notes about this part of the trip. When we pulled up to the ferry check-in, I asked Brian, "Do you need my passport now or later?" And then terror struck his face - he didn't bring his passport. We were leaving Germany, going to another country, so we started to think the worst. What if we can't go at all?? I've never seen Brian so shaken up. It obviously worked out, but that was a little scare! Another fun note , I had no idea what to expect for this "ferry" trip. I had only seen pictures of Brian's ferry to Scotland, which looked pretty industrial and functional. To my surprise, this "ferry" that we were taking to Oslo wasn't a ferry. It was a full-on cruise! With shops, gourmet restaurants, bars, shows - the whole bit! That was a great start to the trip : ) Two vacations in one - a cruise and a motorcycle tour!

Getting on the ferry

The cruise was a lot of fun! We celebrated the start of our trip with a fantastic dinner and a great view out of a wall-sized window looking out to the sea. We spent the night on the boat, and the next morning the cruise into the fjord to Oslo was gorgeous. We had our worst weather that first day, which made us a little nervous about the rest of the trip, but it only got better!

Another funny note about our arrival in Oslo. We decided to go ahead and fill up on gas before leaving the city because we had no idea how many gas stations we would see on back roads in Norway. When we went to pay, we had another small scare. It didn't seem like our credit or bank cards were going to work! How were we going to pay for anything? Then after speaking with the gas station attendant for a few minutes, we figured out that Norwegian credit cards all have PINs like our debit cards do. So the store you're trying to pay just has to approve the card without a PIN. That lesson came in very useful throughout the trip! But it definitely had us worried for a few minutes.

The drive from Oslo to Lom was a great start. We were so excited to be there, and we were ecstatic to find that the roads were perfect for motorcycling. They were all either two or one single lane, perfect for a cruising speed on the bike. And the roads were not crowded at all, which made it so relaxing.

On our first break for a snack, we noticed the gas station next door had an interesting offer : ) 59 krone is about $1.50, for those of you who are thinking, "That's an expensive burger!" haha Texas love, all the way in Norway!

Me in my gear, excited to be on the road!

For some reason, Brian and I thought the next picture of me was hilarious. This picture was taken right before we did our first mountain pass, and it was on our coldest day on the trip. I was pretty cold when we took the photo, so I wasn't too animated!

My impression of a foosball player...

After a few hours of driving, we arrived in Lom, our first overnight stop in Norway. It's an adorable small town that had a really cool stave church.

Lom in the distance

We were pleasantly surprised to find our hotel was really nice! Their restaurant had an award-winning gourmet chef, and our room had a great view!

The view from our first hotel

Stave church in Lom

For dinner, Brian and I tried the reindeer. We had never tried it before, but Rudolph tasted quite delicious!

Then, for dessert they served a seasonal ice cream that is only served for about 3 weeks out of the year. It is flavored with a flower that blooms only for a few weeks, so of course we had to try it. Ice cream...yes please! It was definitely interesting - kind of floral tasting, but it was very refreshing. The ice cream was also served in a frozen rock.

Nice presentation of ice cream in a rock

For our first night in Norway, we noticed how far north we actually were! This picture was taken at midnight - still plenty of light outside!

On Monday, we had two famous mountain passes ahead of us! We bundled up nicely, just in case, and I'm glad we did! At the top of both passes, it was quite snowy that day, and the bike handled the conditions beautifully. The passes were called Sognefjell Mountain Road and Trollstigen, and they were both breathtaking, but very cold. It was fun to watch the temperature go up and down on our dashboard of the bike as we went up and down in elevation! In the valleys, we had great weather.

On our second day we experienced our first actual ferry rides (unlike the cruise) in Norway. The ferries were so efficient, and we always seemed to arrive right when the ferry was showing up!

We drove all the way to Kristiansund on our second day, which was the furthest north that we traveled. We ate at this cute little restaurant on the water, and this was our view...

That night in Kristiansund, I woke up around 2:30am to find that the sun was still shining like it was early evening! Thank goodness we slept really well, despite the bright sunshine.

On Tuesday, our big event was the Atlantic Road. When we were buying our motorcycle a few months ago, a picture of the Atlantic Road was behind the sales guy, and Brian and I had both said, "Let's go there!" So we were very excited to see this sea-side road. And it didn't let us down. We had beautiful weather, and we spent a lot of time taking in the scenery and enjoying the drive along the coast.

If you enlarge this picture by clicking on it, you'll see how clear the water was!

And if you click on this picture, you'll be able to see the road a lot better in the distance.

My personal photographer - he's so great

We didn't take this picture, but it gives you a better sense of what Atlantic Road is

That day we drove back through the two mountain passes that we had driven the day before, and we were SO glad that we did. The weather was so much better the second day! We had blue skies and warmer temperatures, which made the views even more stunning and the drive even more fun!

Trollstigen, day two (you can see the bridge if you open this picture)

Tuesday night we stayed in Vangsnes. Because we had spent so much time exploring the Atlantic Road and the mountain passes, we didn't arrive until around 8pm that evening (with plenty of daylight to spare), so we basically ate a quick dinner and hit the sack!

On Wednesday, we continued to drive south toward Stavanger. We were doing this part of the trip because we wanted to hike Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock), so we didn't have high expectations for the drive on Wednesday. Man, were we wrong! The weather was perfect, the views were just as beautiful as any other day, and the scenery was always evolving.

If you click on the picture below, you'll see some sheep in the bottom right corner. We had several times on this part of the trip when we came around a bend, and there would be a whole flock of sheep in the road! Brian was always very aware, and I was so impressed that he knew when to be cautious. Later in the trip, he told me his secret - he looked for sheep pee in the road. hahaha! Unfortunately, I never had our video camera ready during any of our herding incidents, but it was fun to see their reactions to Brian revving the engine and honking his horn.


More beautiful ferry crossings!

And of course more awesome mountain passes

For meals, we figured out that unless a restaurant received recommendations or accolades of some sort, a lot of the roadside restaurants just weren't the best value or the best food. So, we started to eat a lot of our lunches at gas stations or grocery stores. Wednesday night was a notable gas station experience. We had almost arrived at our overnight spot, and we were staying at a hostel that night, so we weren't sure if they'd have food available. We stopped at a gas station for dinner, just in case. We had seen these hot dogs with bacon wrapped around them at a couple of gas stations, so we decided to go for it! Those hot dogs were soooo yum. We got them with this "onion salad" on top, which was delicious!

That night we stayed at a hostel that's located at the trail head for Preikestolen. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the main lodge had a bar, and the hostel itself was very clean.

View from the main lodge - we stayed in the building with the grass roof! Grass roofs are very common in Norway

The hike to Preikestolen is a very popular one, so we really wanted to beat the crowds and see it in its natural beauty. To be sure we were the first ones up on the rock, we woke up at 5am to start the 2 hour hike up. Luckily, Brian and I both love a good early morning hike, so we were in good spirits!

It was a hazy morning, but we had high hopes that the clouds would part for us! It didn't quite work out exactly like that. When we reached the top, it was still quite cloudy. However, it was so eerie and cool to be inside a cloud. And I think it helped me deal with the shock of being up so high! We were the only people on the rock for a good 45 minutes, so we had time to take it all in, just the two of us.

Me on Preikestolen

If you enlarge the picture below, you'll see me laying at the edge of the rock, looking down. Brian had climbed further up to get a good view of the rock, which of course, I felt high enough, so I let him go on without me. While I was sitting on the rock, taking everything in, the clouds literally parted for about a minute. I could see the fjord in the distance and the hills surrounding me. I really felt like God was giving us the view, and it was spectacular.

Because we had left so early in the morning, we hadn't checked out or had breakfast yet, but we also wanted to see the view when the clouds burned off. We ran through our options, and we decided to just hike up again later! So that's what we did. We hiked down in time for breakfast and check out, and then we headed back up again! This time there were lots of people on the trail, including a lot of older folks. We were so impressed that they were doing this hike, because even though it's a popular hike, it definitely is not an easy one. Almost the entire trail involved climbing over rocks and boulders, as shown in the picture below.

Preikestolen in the afternoon was incredible! The view just went on and on! We were so glad that we got to see it in the morning and the afternoon.

Me, sitting close to the edge : ) Not with the waving people

After we hiked down again, we jumped on the bike for a quick 2.5 hour drive to Hara. We stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast type place there - we had an apartment with a loft and a great view. The lady who runs the place was so nice, and she made us a delicious pizza for dinner. After all of that hiking, a good, hearty pizza hit the spot!

On Friday we drove to Drammen, which is just outside of Oslo. It was another one of those drives that we weren't sure about, but it turned out to be awesome. I don't think there's a bad road in Norway, so it was hard to mess up the planning! Drammen is definitely a modern little city, so after a few days in the country, it was fun to spend the night in the city.

We saw the Heddal Stave Church on our drive to Drammen

This type of barn is really common in Norway. This one was across from Heddal.

The next morning was our last in Norway. Brian and I were definitely sad that our trip was coming to an end. For our last few hours in Oslo, we went to a really cool Norsk Maritime Museum, where we saw lots of cool viking ships and a panoramic movie on Norway. It was the perfect way to finish our trip!

Brian manning the whaling harpoon

View from the Maritime Museum with our cruise in the background

On our cruise out of Oslo, Brian and I sat in the Observation Lounge, enjoyed the view, and reminisced on all of the great memories from our trip! We loved riding through Norway, taking in its natural beauty; we loved having nothing to do but ride and enjoy each others company and conversation; we loved this trip.

Jun 20, 2010

Kim's Trip to the USA

I am so blessed to have had 2 opportunities to come back to the States with work! During the last weeks of May, a last minute opportunity came up for me to attend some meetings back in DC to discuss some upcoming IT developments in my office. I was excited to have the opportunity to engage in the meetings, but I was also excited about coming home for a few days! My boss let me take off a few days early so that I could have some time at home in Texas. And the timing couldn't have been better! Kelly was home and just beginning to dig into wedding planning, Kevin was home and had a baseball tournament, and two of my good friends, Amanda Farmer and Lindsey Terry were in town!

I flew into DC on Wednesday night, where my wonderful friends, Sarah and David, picked me up and took me to dinner. I am so upset that I forgot to take pictures that night, but I had a great time catching up with them and enjoying some delicious food at The Counter. If anyone in the Northern VA area is looking for a cool new restaurant, The Counter was awesome! That night Sarah graciously let me crash at her place - thank you guys for such a great night!

Early the next morning, I flew to Dallas! It was so nice to be home, to see my family, and to experience the sweltering heat. I really was craving that 100 degree weather since Frankfurt still had not had temperatures over 70 degrees!

When I walked into the kitchen, the table looked like this:

I was SO excited to see my favorite red velvet cake, that I failed to read the words on the cake! haha But then I looked closer, and it said "Matron of Honor?" and was surrounded by pictures of Kelly and me. My sister had thought of the PERFECT way to ask me to be her Matron of Honor! Those cakes date back 25 years in our family, and it was so sweet of her to get me one of my many favorite things about Arlington and to use it in such a special way! I just loved it.

So excited to be her MOH : )

My mom, Kelly, and I enjoyed an afternoon of shopping for bridesmaid dresses, and that evening we met up with Kelly's fiance, Dave, and his family for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Joe T. Garcia's! I had never met Dave's parents, so I was thrilled that they could join us for dinner. Before this trip home came up, I really thought that I would have to wait until the wedding to meet them, so that evening was such a blessing.

Kelly, Dave, me, and Kevin at Joe T's

The parents

The next day, my Mom, Kelly, and I went for a long walk, got pedicures, and continued the wedding planning. We got to see the church and the reception location, and we discussed a lot of good ideas for decorating, dresses, and other fun wedding details! That night, my Aunt Debbie had us over for Happy Hour. Lindsay, Taylor, and Noah came over too, so it was great to catch up with everyone! I had a great time - going to Debbie and Bruce's house always brings back great memories.

Lindsay and Noah - he's getting so big!

On Saturday, we went to Kev's baseball game! I loved watching him play and soaking up the sun at the same time : ) Kevin is really doing well at club baseball, so I was really glad to get to go to one of his games. He did awesome!

After Chick-fil-a for lunch (mmm), Mom, Kelly, and I went over to our family friends, the Bruton's, house for their daughter's graduation party. Her sister and my dear, longtime friend, Amanda Farmer (Mandi), was in town from Australia for the festivities, so I loved catching up with her! She was so sweet to even give me a gift from Australia - yummy rum! And she gave me a camping tip for when we come to Australia : )

Moms and Daughters - Denise, Amanda, me and Mom

And the sisters - Amanda, Morgan, Kelly, and me

That evening, my friend Lindsey Terry came over, and we all went to dinner at Fuzzy's Taco Shop. Lindsey and I met in college, spent a year together as roommates, and we have been great friends ever since! I hadn't seen her in over a year, so I was ecstatic that she was in town!

Lindsey and me, enjoying the coldest beers in town!

Fuzzy's Family Foto : )

On Sunday, I had to say bye to the fam : ( We enjoyed a nice afternoon together, and then I had to go to the airport. I felt so lucky to have a few days with them though! And as you can tell, we squeezed a LOT into a few days! Great memories - thank you so much, family!

Back to DC I went on Sunday night! Monday was full of great, productive meetings, but on Monday evening I indulged in my most favorite steak restaurant in the world, Ray's the Steaks. I won't even try to describe their tasty fillet or the size of my smile after every bite.

On Tuesday, my last day, I had meetings till around noon, and then I had the rest of the day to kill. I decided to take a walk through some of my favorite places in DC - so I started in Clarendon and ended up at Federal Triangle in downtown DC (oh, about 6.5 miles)! After my walk, I met up with my friends Anne and Steve for dinner. I've really missed them - Brian and I spent a lot of time with Anne and Steve in Pakistan and in DC, so it was wonderful to catch up!

After dinner, I headed to the airport for my flight back to Frankfurt. I had only been gone for a week, but I was so thankful for everything I was able to do and everyone I was able to see in such a short time!