Alpana , Aniruddha Dange and family , Scandinavia with cruise

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Dear Manish  and Anita,
We are back after enjoying a great holiday in Norway and Sweden and thanks to both of you and the  ITF team that it was made possible. Everyone including us, kids and in-laws enjoyed the trip very much and I thought I need to share my feedback with ITF team as well; basically I am sharing my exciting times with you all.

1. Destination Norway: 

The flight Lufthansa:  Well the services are fine, food is average and the staff is heavily made up, in unkempt hair but courteous in a mechanized way! So much for the German designs, the magazines were stacked in the overhead storage right above my seat and though as much as I love reading books and magazines, the experience of German magazines showering on my head was unique for me! With 0-7 German win and their courteous behavior towards Brazil, I forgive them for this!
Since there is two change overs at Munich, please suggest our Indoris to carry their Parathas and Theplas as you will get sick of Burgers in no time! Incidentally sev and sauce make a good replacement for the Sabji!

SAS created a lot of confusion on seat booking and did not give us the good seats on both ways.

This town is absolutely charming and beautiful!! Though those who want to live close to the nature, Flam is recommended however you get to experience this place during `Norway in a nutshell' tour about which I will rave and rant in the next para. So our hotel First Marin in Bergen was okay, nothing great in terms of amenities, but its' location is bang opposite `Maharaja' (why am I not surprised at the name ::::)))  Indian restaurant and walking distance from numerous pubs, cafes and fishermen's wharf where you get great seafood! What more in eateries there, they even give blankets if you are feeling cold. There are fresh fruit stalls here. You could even take hop on-hop off bus from this place and boat rides. In Museums, children get free entry and senior citizen get discounts. Interestingly, what is now a part of their history is still living and thriving in India as a way of life so people be warned about their expectations from Bergen museums.
From the hotel funicular railway station is three minutes walk and those who love hiking could do a nice strenuous hike from Floyn to mount Ulrikan. However from Floyn peak you could just enjoy the view! Mount Ulrikan trek is 16 kms long and the terrain is rough so no chappals and sandals advised, light sweaters are needed. Advise people to keep enough water (there are no food or water stops here! ) as three of us were stupid enough to think ( or was it quintessential Indori overconfidence?) that it would be a simple stroll and survived on only 1 bottle for six hours. We finally drank everything water, cola, hot chocolate at mount Ulrikan. From here you can take a cable car to go down. Those who do not want to do this trek can trek back to Bergen town. There are children's parks at  Floyn and the way down.
Norway in a nut shell is really worth investing as the train moves from scenic locations. It even stops at a waterfall for a photo opp and there you get to see a gypsy girl dancing to music, then she goes and on another rock, you have one more girl dancing which is the pinnacle of cliched, keshu ramsay brand  mystery element to the waterfall! For us Hindi cinema lovers (and B grade Hindi cinema lovers),  this is a proud and Paisa Vasool moment of the trip! This trip is for two hours and since no one sells anything on the trains, it is advisable to carry dry snacks like Shakkarparas and Gathias. Flam is beautiful, you can walk around and spend an hour before you get the boat that takes you to Fjords (pronounced as fyords). For the boat, please advise people to be the real Indians, stand right at the start and get the best seats inside and outside. Remember, in capturing good seats, you are competing with the CHINESE TOURISTS, so there is no shame in acting like a seat capturing Ninja! Of course with better seats, you can always enjoy nature and who knows, even realign with your inner Qi. After a soul nourishing tour of Fjords, you take a bus which takes you through several twists and turns brings you to Voss from where you take a train and go back to Bergen. 
At the Bergen Station you can buy wool, sweaters and knitting accessories. Bergen is famous for Sweaters, but I was not tempted to buy, the reason being that buying those sweaters would have been a disservice to Manorama and Grihashobha that published `Sweater visheshank' every winter in 70s and 80s and  our moms so lovingly knitted  those designs. So in those sweater shops I had this smirk `been there, worn that'.
 Aniruddha and I walked around a lot in the evenings and during these walks we discovered that Radisson blu (the big one) is also a good hotel and a friend who last year stayed there loved the place. 
Next day until you catch a noon flight to Stockholm, you can walk around the heritage  area, see some churches enjoy yourself.In general Bergen is open, picture perfect and scores 5 stars!
2. Destination : Stockholm (Cruise)
At the airport you get taxis easily and the taxi drivers are honest. We were in Scandic Ariadne hotel which is close to the cruise terminal. Although this hotel was okay, its' location to the cruise terminal was great, I saw many people wheeling their luggage to the terminal. However we preferred to move our troops in a Taxi, so it may make sense to stay close to Vasa Mueseum if you have six people in a group as taking luggage for 1.5 kms could be taxing. Next day we went to Vasa Mueseum in a bus (easy to take as the stop is near hotel). Vasa mueseum is a perfect place to go before a cruise as you get a good idea about the size and scale. We checked in the cruise by 1 pm. There was a mistake in Ambar's name in our bookings, something that was done from Delhi I think. Both our room's location was perfect and parents' room with Balcony was awesome. Our room with two bunks was small and cozy but luggage cramped it completely. Never mind as you are hardly in the room. On the first and all other days there are several programs which one should try and attend. In the centrum there are acrobatics and other shows which are very good. You could even leave your child at the child center. There is fun and food constantly. A word of advise: dress up well on formal nights. Ladies can wear gorgeous sarees also. Photographs on the ship are a wastage of money, never miss acrobatic in Ship's centrum area.
City Tours: Finnland -Helsinki: I would recommend only bike tour as there is not much to see in Helsinki city. If one does not want to book any tour, the hop on hop off bus comes to the port. The town seemed dull to me , no wonder this place has hosted numerous peace summits in the world.
Russia- St. Petersberg: It is better to take a Russian VISA and hire a guide as in a bus tour of RC you may end up wasting a lot of time waiting for everyone to gather. Our guide was a disorganized professor of biology turned guide, so there was chaos all along. Alternatively you could on your own book a Taxi at the port and go around the city. Wednesday a few churches and museums are closed. Hermitage (must visit, beats Versailles) is scintillating so are other places. 
Next day we took a tour to Nevsky prospect but it was merely a bus ride and back. We managed to go to Peter and Paul's fort and walked around. I think even a boat ride would have been nice. This city has beautiful souvenirs but at the port you get more affordable ones. You could even buy cherry wine in one of the shops. Rating: Would like to go there again! There is even an Indian restaurant there! (height of sophistication it is named as `Cinnamon')
News news!!! Prolonged communism indeed affected the human gene in Russia! Gone are those tall hurly-burly strong Russian women! I only noticed medium height, straight haired slim, homogeneous beauties all around!
 Warning: Before visiting hermitage neck exercises are needed or you will sprain your neck while looking at the beautiful hermitage! And of course, pick pockets!
Estonia- Tallin
We had a very good lady guide (who hated Russia) which made our tour very interesting! The old town is straight from the fairy tales! There are some interesting tit-bits about religious men and their debauchery and you get to stamp on the grave of a certain man here in a church. There are souvenirs especially magnets, woolen clothing, Amber jewelry. You must buy spiced almonds from beautiful fairy like girl shopkeepers in Tallin. You can hand around here for a long time and walk back to the ship. Suggested buys: Refrigerator magnets!! (due to pricing)
Latavia- Riga

Here again we had a good lady guide (who did not hate Russia) who shared interesting nuggets about the old town, a charming place having an Indian restaurant (what else Ìndian Raja'). We even heard a giant size pipe performance in a church here. We hung around here and then went walking back to the ship. Souvenirs same as Tallin and some local art in glass and wood. 
Suggested buys: Refrigerator magnets!! (due to pricing)
Like cheappo Indians we (Mom and I) clicked photographs with pretty girls in Russia, Tallin and Riga
Cruise Food: In general there was a great spread of fruits, pastries, desserts. The food for non-vegetarians was really good however there was very limited choice for pure vegetarians. Every day there would be just rice, raita and sabji and twice maida paratha and once paneer and mutter. On live noodles counter they even used a separate kadhai for vegetarians, which was nice. Once a week there was Indian food. RC needs to include more vegetarian options, and rest of us could do with less hogging!
Busting myths about cruise: You may have all the right food laid out for you, but you always binge, so do other nationalities. And the gym? No you never gym or walk but you are always exercising by walking to restaurants and coffee shops and also exercising your arms by fetching umpteen number of hot chocolates.

3. Destination: Back to Stockholm

It would have been nice to have stayed in a hotel at Gamlastan proper, however in Radisson Blu Waterfront the advantage was connectivity as it is opposite T-central station. This hotel was very nice and wish we had stayed extra as on three days, fourth day was free. The day we arrived we went to the royal palace (pales after Hermitage), Noble museum and Gamlastan. Children have free entry at the Noble museum. Though we liked it, some people may not like it. Next day we went to the city hall which was at a walking distance from our hotel. It is a great place and the guided tours are very useful. The most over rated place is Skansen museum - I would not advise it to anyone. Technology museum was really nice. I checked out the shopping scene but the things were very extremely expensive, but wait that was not the only reason; we in India are enjoying a special season called `sale season' so we do not want to give importance to Shopping abroad! Many thanks Mr. Kishore Biyani. 
We could not do Stockholm boat cruises and bicycle tours. I feel you definitely need five days in Stockholm. My rating: 5 stars, would like to go there again, easy to go around in a public transport, totally safe also safe for husbands as wives won't shop at all! 
Suggested buys: Nothing due to high prices, unless you want to buy local glass work which is very expensive but unique.

So on the 8th we took our flight to Frankfurt and took Lufthansa flight full of Mumbaikars so felt like home anyway! 
Finally after enjoying for so many days, we are refreshed and back in Mumbai. Once again thanks to you and the staff at ITF!

I am just hoping that I have not left anything.
Warm regards,