Sunday, July 15, 2012

Eurotrip 2012 - Day 16 (6/30) - Return home and final thoughts

There's not really much of note to add here for this day - all I did was go back to St. Louis.  But there were a couple of noteworthy happenings at the airports. In the Oslo airport, (when I finally found the right terminal after a couple of tries) they had a pre-board kind of thing going on for my flight to Newark, where they roped off the seating area for the gate and then scanned the boarding passes to enter that area (and  then not have to scan them again to actually board). I was about 1.5 hours early, so I didn't fret too much when the gate attendant said that they hadn't yet assigned me a seat. I later found out that this was because they (as usual) oversold economy class, waiting for people to upgrade - but I guess this time people didn't upgrade (and they ended up offering $600 in credit or $300 in cash for a volunteer to relinquish their seat because the entire flight was overbooked - not just economy).  After going up to the counter a couple more times, including when boarding really started, and still not having an assigned seat, I started to become a little annoyed, though I played it off as I usually do. The lady was pretty nice and apologetic about it, and she assured me that I would indeed be assigned a seat on the plane. In the end, I was upgraded to an Economy Extra seat for no charge. It was a bulkhead seat, and included a footrest. So I can't really complain.

I was originally scheduled to spend about 3 hours in Newark then fly to DC, spend another 3 hours, then finally fly to St. Louis, arriving around 11 PM. When I went to check in at the United counter in Newark, I asked if I could switch to a direct flight to St. Louis, and the attendant kindly did so for me, with no extra charge (though she did have to get on the phone due to some sort of ticket issue). I had a little over an hour after being switched until scheduled departure, but I had no problems making it to the gate on time. The Embraer jet with 3 seats across (1-2 configuration) felt a little claustrophobic after being on an A330 (with a 2-4-2 configuration), but the flight was mostly uneventful.  I ended up arriving back in St. Louis around 4:30, and my father picked me up from the airport.

Some quick final thoughts:
  • St. Petersburg was my favorite city, then probably Moscow, but Stockholm and Oslo weren't too far behind.  Helsinki was somewhat underwhelming, but the weather may have played a part in that.
  • Russian women are gorgeous. I can't remember seeing more beautiful women anywhere else in my travels, but then again I'm a bit of a "present-ist" since I have a pretty terrible memory.
  • I was pretty confident before the trip that St. Basil's Cathedral would likely be my favorite church that I would see. I'm not quite sure that was the case. While it is pretty cool, and definitely iconic, the divided interior (with 9 separate tiny chapels) was a bit underwhelming (though still interesting).  St. Isaac's Cathedral, on the other hand, was a surprise hit. It reminded me a bit of St. Peter's Basilica, which is #1 on my (and probably most people's) list of churches in the world. The Church (of the Savior) on Spilled Blood was also pretty cool - it had the onion dome thing going on, and the interior was more impressive than St. Basil (and, interestingly, it had no permanent seating inside because that's how the orthodox roll). I wish we had been able to enter the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, as that also seemed like a cool one. Joe still contends that nothing compares to St. Basil's, though.
  • Peterhof may rival Versailles as my new favorite palace, though mostly for the grounds as opposed to the interior. The royal palaces in Stockholm were also pretty impressive. And the one in Oslo was really interesting, despite being smaller and less showy than the others. Too bad (but understandably) I couldn't take pictures inside any of them.
  • If I lived in Oslo, I would spend a ton of time at the opera house. It's such a cool building, and you can freely walk up to the top and enjoy the view, and maybe have a picnic.
  • The statue of Jupiter in Stockholm is now one of my favorites. At first I thought it might be my new second favorite, behind Michelangelo's David, but I've enjoyed too many other statues to make that determination.  I'm pretty sure David is still my favorite, though.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Eurotrip 2012 - Day 15 (6/29) - Oslo

I caught up a bit on sleep the night before but still managed to make it down for breakfast a little after 9. The breakfast spread was just about as good as the last hotel, though perhaps a bit less fancy, and I had pretty much my usual breakfast plus some grapes. I then left to walk to the Stortinget (Parliament; but more specifically the Stortingsbuilding) which was only a few blocks away. I also realized that the hotel was less than a block from Karl Johans gate (I had always come from the other direction) and less than two blocks from the cathedral; and the city blocks are pretty small in Oslo. Because I underestimated my proximity, I arrived at the building 20 minutes before the English guided tour at 10, and had to wait a bit. Though they only allow 30 in the group (so they advise arriving 15 minutes early), only 11 showed up for that tour. The tour ended up being more interesting than I expected.

It had begun raining while I was inside the parliament building, and it would continue to do so for the rest of the day. This put a damper on my plans, which included a couple of outdoor activities. After a failed attempt at buying a 24-hour metro card from a metro kiosk and a wrong turn, I wandered around for a while then eventually ended up by the national theater metro station. I bought the metro pass at the convenience store just outside the station then took the metro to Majorstuen and walked into Frogner Park. I found the Vigeland Sculpture Park and took some pictures in the rain. I then hustled back to the Royal Palace to try to make it by 1 PM, forgetting that the next English guided tour was at 2 (even though I had written that down in my plan for the day). I was reminded at the entrance when I arrived there right at 1, and the lady suggested that I go to the post office and buy an advanced ticket for 2:20 since the tour at 2 looked pretty full. I then wandered about for over 30 minutes in the rain looking for the post office she directed me to. After asking a few people for help I finally found someone who knew where it was, so I found it (it was at the back of a building that I had walked past) and bought the ticket. I still had over 30 minutes to kill before the tour, so I walked slowly back toward the castle and briefly took some shelter at a nearby building. I made it over to the entrance a little early, and after a bit of waiting eventually went on the tour. As with previous palaces, pictures were not allowed inside this one. Even though the palace was fairly small in comparison, the interior decorations (mostly painted walls) were quite nice. After the tour I was fed up with being wet and cold so I walked back toward the hotel. I made a stop across the street for a falafel pita, which I took back to my room to eat while I dried off. I went out later that night (after it stopped raining) to see the movie 21 Jump Street, and then swung by the opera house for one last visit before leaving the country.

Observation of the day: Sunrise in Oslo on this day was officially at 4:00 AM and sunset was at 10:43 PM, yielding 18 hours and 44 minutes (I guess due to rounding - check Wolfram Alpha if you don't believe me) of daylight.