Day 1: Gothenburg

By the time we actually got to our room, we were both pretty exhausted. Paul laid down for a “quick nap” and two hours later, he begrudgingly got up. We puttered around the room a bit, checked email, caught up with news, etc. And then it was my turn to lay down. I think we ended up napping for about 3 or 4 hours total between the two of us. Although it didn’t FULLY rejuvenate us, it was enough so that we didn’t completely look like American zombies.

We knew we needed to get up and do something if we were to have any hope of starting to adjust to the time difference. We decided to just go walk around Gothenburg doing some exploring as well as grab something to eat. Because it was Easter Sunday we didn’t expect too much to be open for business, but were, in general, pleasantly surprised. We walked a couple blocks west and discovered a lot of activity – the mall was open (apparently it is the biggest mall in Scandinavia) and we took a quick walk through. Some of things caught our attention during our walk include:

  • McDonald’s are EVERYWHERE! One of the first “restaurants” we saw was McDonald’s and we both agreed that we had NOT flown 3500 miles to Sweden to eat at Micky D’s.
  • Dogs are apparently welcome everywhere – we saw their owners bringing them into the various mall stores – and it was great to see. In retrospect, all we really saw in the area was small dogs – nothing larger than a Cocker Spaniel or a large Miniature Poodle. As a dog lover, I, personally, found this to be a GREAT difference between our two cultures.
  • Everywhere we walked, there was architectural “style.” Even the obviously newer buildings were warm and fit in with the historical buildings that were everywhere. This is something that is SORELY lacking in some of the larger American cities.
  • There were a ton of small and “micro” cars throughout the area. A lot of the side streets had little to no car traffic which was great when wandering around.
  • There are buses and “trolleys” everywhere, so when crossing streets, be sure to look all around before you proceed.

We wandered along the canal for a bit (which is GORGEOUS,) snapping some pictures, before heading south along the “main drag.” Before we left the hotel, we had done a quick check of local restaurants and one of them, O’Leary’s, sounded interesting and promising. Being sleep deprived, neither of us thought to figure out exactly where it was relative to the hotel – all we had was an address. Fortunately there was a map on the street outside of the mall – we found the street the restaurant was on, and started walking. It turned out to be only a few blocks away – and was well worth the walk. It turns out that O’Leary’s is patterned after a Boston Sports Bar – the walls are covered in sports memorabilia for all Boston teams. Pretty cool, if you ask me. And the other thing that we immediately realized is that we have never REALLY experienced a “Football” game before this. There were three or four different football games on various televisions throughout the bar, and just over our seat backs in a booth was a group of Scottish guys who were REALLY into one of the games. Paul and I just looked at each other every time one of them dropped the f-bomb at the top of their lungs.

The food was very good – Paul had a burger, and I had a dish called Sweet Chili Pasta.

Sweet Chili Pasta at O'Leary's in Gothenburg

 

O'Leary's Pub in Gothenburg

 

After dinner, we walked up to the Wheel of Gothenburg – a GIANT Ferris Wheel up near the harbor of Gothenburg. The view from the top is magnificent, and I suggest everyone take a ride on it. We ended up getting 4 or 5 trips around.

Wheel of Gothenburg from a Distance

Wheel of Gothenburg Up Close

View from the Top of the Wheel of Gothenburg

One of Gothenburg's Downtown Canals

Once we got off the Ferris Wheel, we walked around the city a bit more and headed back to the hotel. We ended up going downstairs to the bar for a drink just to relax a bit, before heading back up to call it a night. The last decision of the day was not setting an alarm for the next morning…

If you are interested in seeing all of our pictures from Day 1, Gothenburg, you can find them at the following link, and look in the folder labeled Day 1.

OSD Photos

Just a heads up – there are LOTS of photos posted, so be forewarned.

Also, we continue to fall behind in our posting (we have basically collapsed each night!) – but have been making notes about each of our days – so we won’t miss anything,j and will continue to post about our trip.

Nancy

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Day 0: Traveling to Gothenburg

After spending almost three months preparing for our trip, our big day finally arrived. We were still in panic mode for the most part. No matter how much you plan and tell yourself that you are going to have everything all set, it never works out that way.

All in all, though, it wasn’t all that bad. I had a small errand to run in the morning, and we were packing up to the minute that my brother-in-law arrived to drive us to Newark, but we finally got to the point where we just said that if it wasn’t done by now or if we forgot something, OH WELL…

Our travels this day would start at Newark International Airport and take us to Copenhagen, Denmark, before arriving in Gothenburg. Our drive to Newark was uneventful, arriving almost 3 hours before our scheduled departure. Since this was our first international trip, neither of us knew what to expect from this point forward. Sure, we knew the security screenings to which we would be subjected, but other than that, we were flying blind (pun intended???)

We checked in and got our boarding passes – so far so good. Next, we had to check our baggage. Again, no problem. (We WERE concerned about the weight of our checked bag – but it came in 3 kg under the max… WHEW!) The final hurdle was security – nothing surprising here for anyone that has traveled by air in the last 10 years or so. Got through the lines fairly quickly without incident. At this point, we could start to relax since we still had about 2 hours until departure.

We found our way to the SAS Business Lounge (THANKS VOLVO!!!) and all I can say is that I could get used to that very easily. It was so nice to be able to sit down, grab something to eat, and enjoy an “Adult Beverage” or two while waiting for our boarding time. We connected to WiFi, and sat in the lounge for about an hour and a half before heading out to the gate. DEFINITELY this was one of the best perks of our trip.

Once on the plane, we got settled in our seats and tried to get comfortable. This was the largest plane we have ever flown on. It was an Airbus A330, which seats 8 across: 2 seats, then an aisle, then 4 seats in the middle, another aisle, and then 2 more seats on the other side. We were seated in the middle section for this flight. On our trip back we get 2 seats by the window. We thought about upgrading to Economy Extra too late.

One of the first things we noticed is that all announcements made by the flight crew was done first in Swedish, and then in English. It still amazes me that anyone can switch seamlessly between two languages – this is a skill that I have never been able to come close to mastering.

We took off just about on time, and once airborne our pilot informed us that we would be ahead of schedule, and would be landing in Copenhagen about 15 minutes early. Good news – this would give us an additional few minutes of buffer time once we landed.

One of the coolest things on the plane was the personal entertainment system at each seat. In addition to the typical movies/videos/music selections, it ALSO included two external airplane cameras – one showing the view out of the front of the airplane, and one showing the view looking down at the ground from the plane’s belly. As someone who loves flying (and has taken two lessons) this was just the coolest thing since sliced bread… Watching the ground drop away as we lifted off was fun for me… I even snapped a couple shots of my screen with my iPod Touch.

Looking Out the Front of our Plane During Takeoff

 

Looking Down from our Plane

None of the in-flight movies were working at first, but the flight attendant rebooted something and got them working pretty quickly.

Shortly after liftoff we were served dinner – which was tasty considering it was airplane food. But the biggest surprise for us came when we were getting our beverage service. Again, having never flown internationally before, all we have experienced is domestic flights and their policies. Because we both figured we would have some trouble sleeping on the plane, we both opted for additional “Adult Beverages” in the form of wine. I pulled out $20 to pay for our two small bottles, and was VERY pleasantly surprised to learn that there was no charge, even for those of us that were flying Economy. AGAIN, this is something I could get very used to… :-) I even opted for another bottle a while later. I am not sure if this is typical of all/most international service, or if it is just SAS’ policy, but I certainly like it!

The choice of movies was pretty good, and included “The Next Three Days,” “Gulliver’s Travels,” “North by Northwest,” “Pirates of the Carribean,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1,” “The Dark Knight,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Little Fockers” and a few others. I opted for Harry Potter, twice, in fact. Apparently I did doze off for a while, but certainly not long enough. Unfortunately, Paul only got about 30 minutes of sleep, even with the wine-sleep-aid.

About 90 minutes before touching down we got our morning snack. I have to say that what we received was a bit of a surprise for me – we were given a small (~4″ in diameter) ham and cheese sandwich. I was expecting a bagel or something along those lines, but I suspect this is a cultural difference. The sandwich wasn’t bad, just not what I typically would have for breakfast. Although, they did also include orange juice and yogurt.

Once we touched down in Copenhagen, we let most everyone else deplane before we gathered our stuff. We followed the signs for “Arrivals” initially, followed by “Departures,” since we needed to board a connecting flight. Apparently, all flights between members of the European Union are considered “domestic” so we had to change terminals which involved going through security again. The primary difference between the European security screening and our security screening is that the EU does not require removing your shoes. Definitely a plus. Once Paul got through the screening, one of his bins was selected for a “random” search – and his Scottvest jacket (you know, the one with the gazillion pockets) happened to be in the selected bin. It was quite amusing watching the security lady work her way through all the pockets, emptying them along the way.

Also, apparently something I was wearing set off the detector, so I had to be patted down – no biggie… after about 45 seconds it was over. All in all, it amounted to about a 5 minute delay – again, not a big deal.

After grabbing a couple bottles of water (our first European purchase!), we worked our way through the airport to Terminal B… all I can say is that portions of Copenhagen’s Airport looked more like an upscale mall than a traditional airport!

Airport or Mall???

 

Copenhagen Airport

We finally got to our gate, and were one of the first people there. The two hours went by quickly (I was reading my Nook, and Paul the “USA Today” he picked up as we boarded the plane in Newark.) The plane for this leg of our trip was much smaller (4 seats per row as opposed to the 8 seats per row on our transatlantic leg) but it was comfortable. (For the aviation fans, it was a Bombardier CRJ900)

As we lifted off, the first thing that caught my attention was a windmill farm just offshore from the airport – and there were numerous additional windmills all along our flightpath. I was impressed by this and couldn’t help but think that Denmark was so far ahead of the States when it comes to embracing alternate forms of energy generation.

The view from our plane was breathtaking once we crossed over land again. Of course, it helped that the weather was perfect! This was a very short flight, and before we knew it we were touching down in Gothenburg. Down to the luggage claim to get our big bag, and then we saw this very large sign, which told us we were in the right place!

Volvo arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport. Because this was Easter Sunday, it wasn’t the usual Volvo S80 stretch limo, or even one of the many “Volvo Logistics” vehicles (V70s and XC90s). Nope, we got picked up a a cabbie driving a VW Jetta wagon. But he was very polite and good at his job – and most important… he brought us right to the hotel.

When we walked into the Radisson Blu Scandinavia, my jaw dropped – this hotel is QUITE impressive. It has a beautiful atrium with five floors of rooms surrounding it.

Hotel Atrium

Cool Hotel Elevators

The staff could not have been friendlier when we checked in. All we had to do was give them our names, say that we were visiting as part of the OSD program, and hand them the voucher Volvo had sent as part of our confirmation package. Our room is on the top floor overlooking the Atrium area, and is probably one of the best rooms in which we have ever stayed. The bed is comfortable, but more important – the room is amazingly quiet. We have yet to hear any sound from the hallway, the atrium (five floors below,) or either of the adjacent rooms.

Volvo, you certainly know how to treat your customers – you are a class organization, and we cannot thank you enough for our trip so far.

If you are interested in seeing all of our pictures from Day 0, Trip to Gothenburg, you can find them at the following link, and look in the folder labeled Day 0.

OSD Photos

Just a heads up – there are going to be LOTS of photos posted, so be forewarned.

Also, we are a bit behind – but hope to catch up in the next day or so, so keep checking back…

Nancy

Categories: Daily Post | 8 Comments

Getting There from Here

Back in 2003, my husband ordered a MINI Cooper with a built-in navigation unit. At first, I thought he was nuts. But then, after driving with him, I knew I needed to have a nav as well. I did my research, and purchased a Garmin iQue 3600, which integrated the functionality of a Palm OS device with a navigation unit. This served my purposes for almost 10 years. When we ordered my V50 in January, I knew I wanted the integrated nav.

Funny thing is, last summer, Paul got a used C30 which did not come with an integrated nav. So he did HIS own research, and purchased a portable nav. So we have switched places, navigationally speaking.

As we have been preparing for our trip, we have both agreed that we want to have the benefit of having a nav to guide us. But my nav comes pre-loaded with US maps, not European maps. Apparently we could request that European maps be loaded, and then the US maps reloaded before its trip home, but it would be at a cost of using up two updates. We both figured it wouldn’t be worth it.

We thought about borrowing a nav from the FDC, but there is no guarantee that one would be available, and then there is the problem of returning the nav since we are dropping the car off in London.

Unfortunately, the portable nav that Paul bought doesn’t have a European maps option with the overall package he got. So again, not an option.

Since we already have a portable nav, and my V50 has an integrated nav, it really didn’t make sense to buy yet ANOTHER unit that would only be used for 18 days…

So we started brainstorming about how to have all of the functionality of a nav without having to spend hundreds of dollars and without unnecessarily duplicating the hardware we already have. We knew we would be bringing, at a minimum, our netbook, so we started wondering if it would be possible to use it as a nav. To do this, we would need to find a GPS receiver, a compatible mapping software package, and a car cord for our netbook. I won’t bore everyone with the details of our research into this, but we did come up with what I think is a great solution.

We decided we were going to use the Garmin GPS 10X Bluetooth GPS receiver. It turns out that this particular receiver has been discontinued, but we found were able to find factory refurbished units through eBay for about $48, shipped.

Next, we needed to get a Bluetooth adapter for my Netbook. Again, we were able to obtain this through eBay at a cost of $3 shipped.

I honestly don’t remember how much the car adapter was for my Netbook, but I think it was in the neighborhood of $15 or so.

The last piece of the puzzle is the software. We opted to use Microsoft AutoRoute. Microsoft offers a 60-day fully functional trial version of this software which is perfect for our needs. We loaded the software and everything worked together perfectly! The software has some great features in it – such as the ability to track your gas consumption, cost, etc.

So, for approximately $70 we have European navigation functionality while minimizing our financial outlay and hardware duplication.

Hopefully some of you will find this information useful if you want to have a nav while driving throughout Europe. Feel free to get in touch with me with any questions you may have, or if you want to know where we got any of the stuff.

Categories: Daily Post | 3 Comments

Travel Agents Are My Heroes!

I need to apologize to everyone for not having posted in over a month… 36 days to be exact! The truth is that I have spent the last 36 days STRESSING (and Paul would say that that is an absolute UNDER statement) over making hotel arrangements for our 18 days touring Europe. I suspect Kate is experiencing FAR less stress planning her wedding to Prince William than I have had trying to nail down our accommodations! I now have a total and complete new appreciation for Travel Agents! After all I learned in the last month, I may qualify to come back in my next life as a top-notch Travel Agent!

On the one hand, I must say that the last month has really flown by. I suppose the distraction of my Hotel Grail Quest was a blessing. I can’t believe that we are only about 2 weeks away from picking up our baby. But I also have to say that I never thought that it would have taken this long to book eight hotels! It started off rather easily – our first three nights are courtesy of Volvo! It was downhill (for my sanity, that is,) from there…

I learned one very important lesson after making our first two hotel reservations. For some it may not be a big deal, but for us it was. Be very aware of the cancellation policies for each hotel as you make your reservations. Most hotels offer a low rate, but only with very strict cancellation policies. Don’t be surprised to learn that if you want to modify or cancel your reservation with no penalty, it must be done 2 or more days in advance of your original arrival date. In most cases, this would not be a problem – but if you experience any mechanical problems which could postpone your arrival, or if you simply are not making as much progress as you originally thought, it could cost you a lot of money. I made this mistake with our first two hotels. This probably contributed to some of my stress over the last few weeks… I was terrified of committing to a hotel reservation in case we changed our minds. It finally got to the point where we just had to go with something. Fortunately, with the exception of our first two hotels outside of Gothenburg, the hotels we selected have relatively liberal cancellation policies, so if we do get delayed, we can cancel on the day of our arrival without penalty.

Before beginning to search for hotels, I would suggest making a list of what you want in a hotel, and then use those criteria when searching for hotels. For us, there were a few things that were must-haves:

  • WiFi/Internet access
  • Onsite Parking
  • Non-smoking rooms
  • I used these criteria when comparing rooms between different hotels. If one of more of these criteria were not met, I scratched them off my list.

    ALSO, after looking a hundreds of hotel rooms, it became clear to me that the average size of hotel rooms throughout Europe is significantly smaller than what we are used to here in the States. It basically comes down to different cultural “norms.”

    Another suggestion I have is to compare rates between different sites, including the corporate sites for each hotel. I do this whether I am traveling domestically or overseas. One of the sites I used most often for our OSD trip was Booking.com. This site provides great information compiled in one spot, such as internet/WiFi availability, parking, and other amenities. I also used Hotels.com, but it didn’t seem to be as useful. In general, these are great resources when trying to get an idea of the hotels within any specific geographic area.

    Another great resource is the “Search nearby” feature within Google Maps. After you enter your destination address or city, do a “Search nearby” for “hotels” to see a list of hotels in the area. A lot of the hotels displayed provide websites and rate information.

    Once you have found a few hotels that look promising, try to find the hotels’ webpages, and compare the rates there with those through Booking.com and/or Hotels.com. Sometimes the hotels offer better rates. Sometimes you get better rates through the travel sites. Of our eight hotels booked for our trip, the split was probably 50/50 between having made our reservations through the hotels’ websites and Booking.com.

    Given the fact that we are driving our new car throughout Europe, secure onsight parking at our hotels is an absolute necessity. This proved to be quite the challenge, specifically in Amsterdam and Paris. Don’t be afraid to get a hotel in the outskirts of these cities and then take advantage of public transportation. This is exactly what we are doing in both Amsterdam and Paris. Both of these cities have extensive public transportation systems, so it will be very easy to move around to see the sites.

    Finally, put some thought into when and where you are going to stay after you drop off your car and its proximity to your departure location. We are dropping off our V50 in London, England, and the location happens to be right at Heathrow Airport which is where we are flying out of. We could have opted to stay in London-proper. But after looking at the big picture, it made more sense FOR US to stay on-sight at Heathrow and use the underground to go into London for our sight-seeing. We found a hotel that is adjacent to an underground station, is only one stop from our out bound terminal at Heathrow, and meets our other requirements. All in all, it is a great find.

    Bottom line when looking for hotel accommodations is be willing to do some homework. Know what amenities are important to you.

    And don’t make yourself crazy like I did… After all, it is ONLY a hotel room!

    Categories: Daily Post | 2 Comments

    Credit Card Caveats

    [DISCLAIMER: The information presented in this post reflects factual information learned by its authors based on their own personal experiences and financial situation. It is presented as such and is not intended to serve as any endorsement or criticism of any specific credit card and/or financial institution. All readers are strongly advised to make all financial decisions based SOLELY on their individual financial situations and NOT based on anything presented in this post.]

    As first time travellers outside of the US (other than a handful of casual trips to Canada,) we have been informed by veteran travellers of something called Foreign Transaction Fees (FTF) when using our US-based credit cards during our travels throughout Europe. Foreign Transaction Fees are percentage-based surcharges that are applied to the AMOUNT of each and every credit card transaction which requires a currency-exchange. Not all credit cards have this surcharge associated with them, but apparently most do, and they are in the 2.7% to 3% range. More on this in a bit.

    So, for example, let’s say you use your US-based credit card to buy souvenirs in Hamburg, Germany. The items you purchase cost 7.18 Euros which is then charged to your credit card. The 7.18 Euros are then adjusted based on the exchange rate when the transaction is posted and show up on your credit card statement as 10 US Dollars (yes, I picked these numbers on purpose!) Depending on the terms of the credit card you used, there could be an associated Foreign Transaction Fee of between $0.27 and $0.30 charged for this one transaction alone. Now, think about all the various occasions during your travels that you would typically use a credit card – meals, lodging, souvenirs, attraction admissions, etc. This could add up to a substantial surcharge.

    In order to minimize any unnecessary FTFs during our trip, we did a little homework and called some credit card companies to learn what their current FTF rates are. Here are the rates as of about February 23, 2011:

    • MasterCard: 3%
    • AmEx: 2.7%

    The GOOD news here is that one of Paul’s co-workers pointed us to a VISA card that has no FTFs associated with it [“What’s in YOUR wallet?”] Thinking this might be too good to be true, I checked it out. Sure enough, the financial institution has actually advertised on their web page that there are no FTFs associated with this card. After reading all of the related “legalese,” we opted to go for it. Even if we never use the card again, it will save us LOTS of money in saved FTFs alone!

    While on the subject of credit cards, I should say I have learned that the Discover Card is generally not accepted anywhere in Europe. In fact, currently it is ONLY accepted in Portugal and Turkey. However, they continue to add countries, so if you have a Discover Card and want to try to use it in Europe, you should check their webpage before you depart: Discover Card International Information.

    Lessons Learned

    The bottom line here is that anyone travelling as part of the OSD program (or any other time!) should check with their own financial institutions before departure to learn of any “hidden” fees that may be associated with their credit cards. In addition, don’t be afraid to investigate alternatives – you may just be surprised.

    Finally… and this applies to EVERYONE: Do yourself a favor and before travelling, be sure to call customer service for any and all credit cards you may use to inform them specifically WHERE you will be travelling and dates that you will be there. Failure to do this will, in all likelihood, result in fraud alerts being raised for your account and your cards will be denied/cancelled. As someone who has experienced this – and we had only travelled six-hours away by car to a neighboring state/former hometown – it isn’t fun and is quite the pain in the a$$. We now call customer service for each and every trip just to be safe, even if our destination IS only a 6-hour drive away.

    Categories: Daily Post | 3 Comments