2017 APHC Cruise — Port Notes

We at A Prairie Home Companion are excited to set sail with you in June! To help you plan your trip, we've put together some information and suggestions for each port of call.

Holland America shore excursions are a convenient option for making the most of your time in Scotland and Norway. Experts have handpicked the most popular activities, partnered with reliable tour operators, and will take care of every detail for you, including transporting you to and from your activity. The Holland America excursions are also a great value — it is difficult to find a better bargain, especially when you factor in transportation.

But we know that Prairie Home Companion listeners are adventurous people, and some will want to make their own arrangements. Below you will find suggested activities and helpful information under each port name. A word to the wise: if you do set off on your own, be sure to plan plenty of time to return to the ship as it must set sail at the designated time regardless of stragglers.

We look forward to seeing you soon!

Jump to a port:

Rotterdam, The Netherlands: the bookend to APHC Cruise 2017

Saturday, June 10, 2017: depart at 3:00 p.m.; Saturday, June 24, 2017: arrive at 7:00 a.m.

Population: 633,471

Weather: At this time of year, the average high temperature in Rotterdam is 66° F and the average low is 53°. Rotterdam enjoys a mild climate that doesn't usually get hotter than 72° F or colder than 33° F.

Money Notes: The Netherlands' currency is the euro (€, EUR). Modest tipping is the norm, rounding up or leaving an extra 5 to 10% for restaurant and taxi service.

Tourist Information: There are two Tourist Information centers in Rotterdam: one in the Central Station (Stationsplein 21, open 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m.), and another in the garden of the Schielandshuis (Coolsingel 114, open 9:30 a.m.–6 p.m.). There is also a "Rotterdam Tourist Info app" for iPhone and Android with a list of Wi-Fi spots, a calendar of events, a guide to the city's top attractions, and more. The English-language tourism website is en.rotterdam.info.

If you want to store your luggage while wandering Rotterdam before or after our cruise, you can rent a locker in Rotterdam's Central Station. Prices start at €3,85/$4 per hour (for the first 24 hours), depending on the size of the storage locker.

The story of Rotterdam began with the building of a dam on the Rotte River in 1270; the city's power as a major port increased over the centuries and made a fantastic leap in 1872, when the Nieuwe Waterweg was completed. The Nieuwe Waterweg allowed easy deep-water access to the North Sea, and today Rotterdam is indeed the largest cargo port in Europe. The port area itself comprises about 50% of the city.

Besides being known as the "Gateway to Europe" because of its port capacity and direct route into the heart of Western Europe, Rotterdam is famous for its dazzling array of modern architecture. Many European cities were forced to rebuild at the end of World War II, but Rotterdam made the exceptional decision to plan their redesign very carefully. The result is a city that feels like an open-air museum of innovative architecture, from its Nieuwe Bouwen ("New Construction") buildings to its pedestrian-friendly Lijnbaan area. Today Rotterdam is having a cultural renaissance in the form of hot new restaurants and nightlife. If you have time, try snagging a reservation at one of the three restaurants by superstar chef François Geurds.

It's easy to walk around Rotterdam on foot, but public transportation is a good option, too. RET operates Rotterdam's buses, trams, and metro, and offers a day pass for €7,50/$8 (half price for children and seniors) as well as single fares. You may also want to consider buying a Rotterdam Welcome Card, which costs €11/$12 for one day and includes free public transportation for 24 hours as well as discounts (usually of 25%–50%) at select museums and restaurants. To learn more, visit RotterdamWelcomeCard.com.

Bicycling is hugely popular in the progressive and flat Netherlands. In Rotterdam, rent from Zwaan Bikes on Weena 703-705-707 near the train station for €12,50/$13 per day.

If you find yourself in Rotterdam on a sunny day, the best thing to do is soak up the sun and the architectural marvels on a walking or biking tour. Go with the professionals (check out the options offered by InsideRotterdam.com) or plan your own tour incorporating the sights that most interest you. Below is a list of some of Rotterdam's best architecture examples:

  • Grote Kerk: the only Medieval building left in Rotterdam
  • The McDonald's at Coolsingel 44: the light and airy glass structure provides a confusing contrast to the not-so-light-and-airy fare
  • Blaakse Bos: tilted cube houses set on top of shops. The largest of the cubes is now a youth hostel called the Stayokay Hotel
  • The Chabot Museum: an utterly 1950s-futurism-looking villa built in 1938 in the Nieuwe Bouwen ("New Construction") style. Inside are mostly works from the 1920s
  • Het Nieuwe Instituut: architecture, design and digital culture museum housed in a terraced glass rectangle
  • Erasmusbrug: a graceful cable bridge reminiscent of a swan, spanning the Maas river
  • KPN Telecom Ventures: on the southeastern end of the Erasmusbrug is an office building that seems to lean on a skinny pole
  • Willemswerf: a large white office building that appears to be made of one triangle sliding off the other

Outdoor sculptures constitute another phenomenon of public art in Rotterdam. Over 60 sculptures are scattered across town, including a collaboration between Picasso and Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar called Sylvette, located in front of the new wing of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. For a full list of sculptures and their whereabouts, visit SculptureInternationalRotterdam.nl/en.

Rotterdam has plenty of indoor attractions, too. For history museums, try Museum Rotterdam (€7,50/$8 for adults, discounts for children; open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.), which explores the development of Rotterdam's port, local industry, and how World War II affected the city; or The Maritiem Museum (€11,50/$12, discounts for kids; open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Check the view from the Maritiem Museum's café terrace—it is one of the best in the city.

Art lovers can visit the Nederlands Fotomuseum (€12/13 for adults over 26, discounts for children and Rotterdam Welcome Card holders; open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, which houses well-known early Flemish paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder as well as art from many other movements across the ages (€18,50/$20, discounts for seniors, children, and Welcome Pass holders; open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

Popular Dutch foods include pancakes, potatoes, croquettes, mussels, herring, and good cheese. Street food and markets are always a good bet for snacks; wander around the enormous, upside-down U-shaped Markthal on Dominee Jan Scharpstraat 298 to find something you like.

Be aware that in The Netherlands, "café" means "pub," while "coffee shop" means "place where one procures marijuana." Most beloved are the bruin cafés ("brown cafés"), whose name derives from centuries of tobacco smoke staining the pubs' walls. Try Café Timmer in Rotterdam. The Hotel New York, the former headquarters of the Holland America Line, is also a lively place to have a drink. Get there via speedboat across the River Maas. Try savory and sweet pancakes at Pim's Poffertjes en Pannekoeken. For an unforgettable (and pricey) foodie experience, check availability at Chef François Geurds's flagship restaurant FG or FG Food Labs; for a slightly less expensive splurge, try the prix-fixe meal at FG Bistro.

The city of Rotterdam offers a free, public Wi-Fi network called Rotterdam Hotspot that you can connect to anywhere in the center of the city. Further afield, most cafés will offer Wi-Fi: try La Place, Dudok, Hotel New York, and Coffee Company.

ATMs are everywhere. Along the harbor, try Rabobank ATM, DHB Bank, and ING Bank ATM.

Fun Facts:

  • About 85% of the citrus fruit consumed in Europe and 40% of all Britain's tea passes through Rotterdam's port first
  • Holland is a former province comprising North and South Holland on the western side of the Netherlands and including the country's three largest cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. Informally, people within and without the Netherlands use "Holland" as shorthand for the whole country, though some find this practice misleading or even insulting
  • The Dutch have loved tulips ever since they were brought to the country by the Habsburg ambassador to Istanbul. At one point, the bulbs of exotic-looking tulips became so prized that speculation may have caused an economic crash in 1637 known as "tulipomania"
  • The Dutch are the tallest people in the world. The minimum height requirement for doorways in new buildings is 7 feet, 6 inches (in the United States, the requirement is 6 feet, 8 inches)

Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K. Gothic revival (tendering at port town of South Queensferry)

Pronounced "ED'in-burah" — does not rhyme with "Pittsburgh"
Monday, June 12, 2017: Arrive at 8:00 a.m.; depart at 6:00 p.m.

Population: South Queensferry: 9,026; Edinburgh: 464,990

Weather: Average temperature this time of year ranges between 48° F and 61° F. Edinburgh enjoys a moderate climate, with even distribution of rain (about 1/3 chance of rain in June) and more wind than other cities given its position between the coast and hills. The weather in Scotland is liable to change on an hourly basis — so bring a raincoat just in case.

Money Notes: Scots use the British pound (£, GBP), but Scottish banks also print their own interchangeable notes at a rate of 1:1. For great restaurant service, it is customary to tip 5 to 10%.

Tourist Information: There is no physical location for South Queensferry tourist information, but you can likely ask for brochures and maps from tour boat companies on the harbor. If you'd like to learn about the town in advance, check VisitQueensferry.com. The town itself is compact and easy to navigate.

Edinburgh's Tourist Information center (operated by Visit Scotland) is between Edinburgh's Old Town and New Town, on the rooftop of the Princes Mall and Waverly Train Station. Drop by for maps and advice, but be aware that they are rather keen to sell sightseeing bus tours. Address: 3 Princes Street. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

South Queensferry, where our ship will be tendering for the day (i.e., anchoring off the coast and shuttling passengers to shore), is a town 10 miles to the northwest of Edinburgh's city center. Its name derives from a ferry service that Queen Margaret of Scotland opened in the 11th century. The town is located on the southern side of the Firth of Forth (an estuary of the River Forth), between the iconic Forth bridges.

Should you decide to spend the day close to the boat, there are a number of things to do in South Queensferry. You can learn about the history of the village at Queensferry Museum (free admission; 10 a.m.–1 p.m. and 2:15–5 p.m.). For a stunning "Downton Abbey" moment, you can visit the Gothic Revival mansion Dalmeny House (£10/$13 for guided tours at 2:15 and 3:30 p.m.). To get there, find a taxi by the harbor, check the local bus schedules (they change seasonally), or walk along the coast via John Muir Way, toward Cramond village (allow 1.5 hours each way).

Edinburgh: Scotland's capital is a place of rich history, intellectual prowess, medieval and Georgian architecture, and entertainment. It is the place where Lowland and Highland culture meet and where the Scottish Parliament convenes, though most major decisions are made in London. While a 2014 referendum showed that a margin of 10% of Scots preferred membership in the United Kingdom to independence, England's "Brexit" vote to quit the European Union may have changed the landscape — perhaps you'll hear chatter about this in the pubs!

Edinburgh's history is ancient: the earliest known human habitation was found in nearby Cramond from 8500 B.C., and evidence of Bronze and Iron Age settlements have been found on Castle Rock, Arthur's Seat, and more. In the early Middle Ages, the area was culturally dominated by Angles, and the people spoke a dialect of Old English. In the 18th century, Edinburgh was at the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment, with luminaries such as philosopher David Hume and economist Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations) calling the city home. Today, Edinburgh is a top tourist attraction (No. 2 in the U.K. after London) that plays host to major cultural events like the Fringe Festival, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Divided into the medieval Old Town and the Georgian New Town, Edinburgh is rich treat for tourists.

South Queensferry is walkable, but you might want to take local buses or taxis to more remote areas such as Dalmeny.

To get from South Queensferry to Edinburgh, you can take Lothian Bus #63 from the police station (13 Farquhar Terrace) to Gyle Shopping Centre to the east of Edinburgh. From there you will find regular connections to bus stop PP in the city center. See LothianBuses.co.uk for timetables. Alternatively, you can take the train from Dalmeny Station in South Queensferry to Edinburgh's Waverly station. See NationalRail.co.uk for more information.

Within Edinburgh, walking is a great option, black taxicabs are abundant, and Lothian-operated buses are handy. Daylong tickets for the buses can be purchased onboard (exact change only) for £4/$5 for adults and half-price for children. For schedules, see LothianBuses.co.uk or pick up a map at the Tourist Information center. If bicycling is your thing, rent from Cycle Scotland on 29 Blackfriars Street (£25/$31 daily rate, with discounts for partial-day rentals).

Highlights (Edinburgh only):
If there is one absolute must-see in Edinburgh, it's Edinburgh Castle. Actually, the huge, looming castle is more like a "can't miss," visible from anywhere in the city. Admission (£17/$21, discounts for students and seniors) includes a 30-minute guided introductory tour that departs from Argyle Battery, and the castle is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. It is recommended that you allow at least two hours to experience Edinburgh Castle in full.

Moving east from Edinburgh Castle, you will find yourself on the Royal Mile. Because the settlement of Edinburgh developed in a downhill direction starting at the castle, the walk from Edinburgh Castle to the Scottish Parliament Building (built in 2004) will feel like a trip through time. To know what you're looking at, you could download the free Rick Steves Audio Europe App for iPhone or Android and follow along to his Royal Mile walk in Edinburgh. Another option is to hop onto one of the four city sightseeing bus lines that run every 15 minutes and circle the town center, stopping at major sights. A 24-hour adult ticket for the Edinburgh Tour bus costs £15/$19 (discounts for children, seniors, and families) and includes the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Scottish Parliament Building, Old Town, New Town, the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle, and more. Hop on at any of the locations mentioned and buy your tickets on the bus.

Those looking for historical drama may especially want to visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the end of the Royal Mile, the home of Scotland's Stuart royalty and the location of such events as the murder of Mary, Queen of Scots' personal secretary by agents of her jealous husband. When Queen Elizabeth II is not visiting, the palace is open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; tickets for adults start at £12.50/$16 and can be purchased at the Queen's Gallery, which houses a small but impressive royal collection. To see a larger collection of art, check out the Old Masters and Impressionists at the Scottish National Gallery on the other side of the Royal Mile; admission is free and hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, located significantly east of the city center, is also free.

Just beyond the palace are hiking trails leading up another of Edinburgh's highlights, the 822-foot extinct volcano known as Arthur's Seat. For a slightly less challenging climb, hike along the Salisbury Crags. If you know you want to get to the top of Arthur's Seat for a bird's-eye view of Edinburgh and the surrounding area, take the wider path on the left from the Holyroodhouse parking lot. Bring a jacket, since it is usually a windy climb.

Shopping (Edinburgh only):
If you have Scottish heritage, you might want to ask tourist shops to help you find your clan's tartan (unique plaid pattern). Besides tartan and kilts, the most Scottish things you can buy are Whisky (try Cadenhead's Whisky Shop, Whiski Rooms Shop, or the Scotch Malt Whisky Society), tweed/fashion wear (check Walker Slater and the women's store Ness), Celtic jewelry (Hamilton and Young and Celtic Design are both at the bottom of the Royal Mile), and shortbread. Note that if you purchase a bottle of alcohol, you will have to declare it before boarding the ship and have it stored for you until the end of the cruise. For general shopping enjoyment, try the boutiques along Thistle Street, the big chain stores on Princes Street, and the creative stores along Victoria Street in Old Town.

In South Queensferry, check out the seaworthy views from The Boathouse, or go Italian at Bella Vista. Good options for pubs include The Ferry Tap and Moorings Pub.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh has plenty of restaurants. For a creative menu and noticeable attention to detail, try Forage & Chatter in New Town. If being in the United Kingdom makes you crave a fancy afternoon tea, try the Colonnades at the Signet Library. Yummy cheap eats include the pulled pork fast-food joint Oink and Dough Pizzeria Delivery. For pubs, we recommend The Castle Arms or Whiski, though there are sure to be plenty of great options in town.

The South Queensferry Library is located at 9 Shore Road, open 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Cafés such as the Rail Bridge Bistro, The Little Parlour, or the diner Down the Hatch also offer free Wi-Fi.

In Edinburgh, virtually all coffee shops will have free Wi-Fi, and all local public transport has high speed, free Wi-Fi on board.

In South Queensferry, stop by the Clydesdale Bank right next to the Tourist Information center. Note that the ATM might dispense Scottish or English bills, or a combination of the two.

Near the Edinburgh Tourist Information center are a Barclays Bank, a Royal Bank of Scotland ATM, an HSBC ATM, and a NatWest ATM.

Fun Facts:

  • Some people claim that Arthur's Seat was the site of Camelot, the legendary castle and court of King Arthur
  • Philosopher David Hume is buried under a large, round mausoleum in Old Calton Cemetery, on Calton Hill in the eastern part of the New Town. His grave was guarded for eight days after his burial due to public outcry against his atheism
  • The Royal Botanic Garden, a 10-minute bus ride from the city center (take #8 from North Bridge), was originally established in 1670 for the cultivation of medicinal herbs
  • Inside the St. Giles Cathedral, Scotland's most important church, is a 1985 stained glass window honoring the Scottish poet Robert Burns
  • Children and the young at heart might enjoy Edinburgh's Museum of Childhood, a free attraction displaying historical toys and games

Scottish words and phrases:
Scots speak English, but they also have a language of their own called Scots (think: aye, wee, lads, lassies). Below are a few phrases and words you might come across, if you're lucky:

  • "Dinnae fash yersel" = Don't worry about it
  • "Gie it laldy" = To give something 100%
  • "Lang may yer lum reek!" = Cheers!
  • "Awa' an bile yer heid" = "Away and boil your head"/Get lost
  • bonnie = attractive, good
  • ken = to know
  • neeps = turnips
  • innis = island
  • wynd = narrow lane connecting larger streets

Inverness, Scotland, UK (docking at town of Invergordon)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017: Arrive at 8:00 a.m.; depart at 6:00 p.m.

Population: Invergordon: 4,075; Inverness: 46,870

Weather: The average high this time of year is around 61°, and the average low is 47°. It can be rainy out in the Highlands, so pack waterproof shoes and a jacket if you plan on hiking.

Money Notes: Scots use the British pound (£, GBP), but Scottish banks also print their own interchangeable notes at a rate of 1:1. For great restaurant service, it is customary to tip 5–10%.

Tourist Information: Invergordon does not have a physical tourist center, but information such as maps and attractions can be found at visitinvergordon.com or invergordon.info.

Inverness's Tourist Information Center is located just below Inverness Castle — a five- to ten-minute walk from the bus and railway stations. Open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., its address is Castle Wynd. You can also check their website, inverness-scotland.com, beforehand. Free public restrooms are available nearby.

The Highlands: The romantic picture most of us imagine when we think "Scotland" is more precisely a picture of the Highlands, or the northern half of Scotland. The Highlands boast majestic scenery and a population that is still sparse — over half of all Highlanders and Islanders live in communities numbering fewer than 1,000 people. Single-track roads, which only have room for one single car, dominate the areas west and north of Inverness: this means that sometimes a car will have to reverse to a passing area when faced with oncoming traffic! The unique, mythical-feeling landscape offers unspoiled glens, lochs, castles, and battlefields in a modern world. Inverness is a fine working city with enough to keep you busy for hours, but we highly recommend that you get out into nature if possible. Just be aware that it will be midge, or "no-see-em," season, so you might want to bring some bug spray along.

Invergordon: The quaint port town of Invergordon, where we will be docking, is known for the Invergordon Mutiny of 1931, a reaction to the British military's pay being docked during the international economic crisis. This work strike by British navy personnel during exercises at Invergordon caused further financial panic, the discharge of about 400 sailors, but also compromise on some conditions of salary.

If you do not plan on journeying to Inverness for the day, you might consider some of the athletic excursions offered by Holland America that depart from Invergordon. There is not a whole lot to do in Invergordon itself, with fewer than a dozen eateries and just one small museum, the Invergordon Naval Museum & Heritage Centre.

Inverness: Known as the capital of the Highlands, Inverness is an ancient city 17 miles south of Invergordon. It has been described as a city whose charm lies in its normalcy; even though it's the largest city in the north, it still feels like a town with its compact downtown.

Inverness's history is the stuff of legend. It was a chief stronghold of the Celtic Pict people in the Iron Age and early Middle Ages, and it lies between the sites of two major battles in Scottish history: the 11th-century battle of Blàr nam Fèinne against Norway and the failed 18th-century uprising of Jacobites in an attempt to restore the Catholic Stuart monarchy. This failure would result in the suppression of Highlander culture and the demise of the traditional Scottish clan system for more than 100 years. Inverness was also subject to raids by the Gaelic-Viking lords of the Western Isles of Scotland during Medieval times, and in 1921, English Parliament had an unprecedented meeting outside London to discuss the unstable situation in Ireland. The "Inverness Formula" developed by the lords (including a young Winston Churchill) formed the basis for discussions that would become the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Option 1:
To get from our port city of Invergordon to Inverness, you can take the 25X bus from Invergordon High Street, which departs about every 30 minutes and takes 40 minutes to get to Inverness bus station (price = about £6/$8). Return via the 25X bus from Inverness bus station using a Dayrider Zone 3 ticket for £11. Check schedules at stagecoachbus.com.

Option 2:
The ScotRail train from Invergordon (fare: £14/$18 each way) makes fewer trips per day than the bus and takes about 52 minutes, so you'll want to plan your train journey carefully in order to ensure you get back to the ship on time (before 6 p.m.). Check schedules at nationalrail.co.uk.

Highlights (Inverness only):
Cultural sites to see within Inverness include the Inverness Castle, right next to the Tourist Information center. Built of red sandstone in 1836, the castle is now used as a courthouse, but the grounds overlooking the river are open to tourists and the structure can be admired from the outside. The Old High Church, dating from the 11th century, was likely built on the site of a pagan holy ground and was later used as a prison for Jacobites, with executions taking place in the churchyard.

The Inverness Museum and Art Gallery exhibits art and artifacts from the Bronze and Iron Ages and contains a social history exhibit of Scottish culture in the upper level. Admission is free and the museum, located between the Tourist Information center and Inverness Castle, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Consider simply walking south along the river for a view of some old Victorian homes in this otherwise architecturally bland city. You will also see World War memorials, Eden Court Theatre, and river islands that are a popular refuge in this busy city.

There is one main pedestrian shopping street in Inverness, which is High Street. You can also shop around in the Eastgate Shopping Center. The Victorian Market in an alleyway off Church Street houses shops in a beautiful iron-and-glass arcade built in 1876. Bibliophiles will want to browse the charming Leakey's Bookshop, located in a converted church from 1649, for vintage maps and books (Greyfriar's Hall; 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.).

Of course, Inverness is mostly popular with tourists as a jumping-off point for explorations of the natural wonders of the Highlands, such as the famous Loch Ness (home of the legendary sea creature Nessie) and the site of the Battle of Culloden. To avoid having to think about transportation too much, consider the excursions offered by Holland America or check out other tours advertised in the Tourist Information center. Jacobite Cruises offer many options for touring Loch Ness, and public buses heading to the battlefield at Culloden Moor (£11 –16, open 9 a.m.–6 p.m.) depart from Queensgate Street in Inverness. Check the Tourist Information center for up-to-date bus schedules.

In Invergordon, you can cozy up to a two-course lunch for £10 at the Kincraig Castle Hotel's restaurant, open noon–9 p.m. The Crazy Horse Coffee Shop is perfect for a midday snack.

For those lunching in Inverness, you can try the two-course £17 meal at Rocpol, which serves lunch until 2:30 p.m. Fig & Thistle has a lovely lunch menu of soups, burgers, and vegetarian options, while Number 27, across from the Tourist Information center, serves affordable crowd-pleasers with a Scottish twist (see: stir-fry veggie wrap with Scottish beef). Or sample some Spanish tapas (three make a good-sized meal) at La Tortilla Asesina. Picnickers and adventurers might want to grab some food at the Marks & Spencer Food Hall next to the Eastgate Shopping Center, open 8 a.m.–6 p.m.

Invergordon's tourist website actually notes that there is no Wi-Fi at the library, but you could always use a computer there if you need to access the internet (located on High Street & School Lane; open 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.–5 p.m.). Cafés offering complimentary Wi-Fi to their customers include the Tomich Café and the Purple Turtle.

In Inverness, there will be many more options for Wi-Fi, including the Tourist Information center. Most cafés should also have Wi-Fi.

ATMs (Inverness only):
There are several banks and ATMs along and around High Street including the Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, and Barclays.

Fun Facts:

  • Invergordon is now the premiere mural town of the Highlands, with a series of 17 murals adorning its buildings so far.
  • In 2015, the Scotland Herald reported a study that ranked Inverness as the happiest place in Scotland.
  • It is considered very rude not to wave at an approaching driver on a single-track road.
  • It is recommended that you blow or brush away annoying midges because if you swat one, more midges might be attracted by the smell of blood. As the Scots say, "If you kill one midge, a million more will come to his funeral!"

Scottish words and phrases:
Scots speak English, but they also have a language of their own called Scots (think: aye, wee, lads, lassies). Below are a few phrases and words you might come across, if you're lucky:

  • "Whit's fur ye'll no go by ye" = You'll get what's coming to you, good or bad
  • "Yer bum's oot the windae!" = You're not making any sense
  • "Here's tae us, wha's like us? Gey few, an' they're a' deid" = Cheers!
  • "A dinna ken" = I don't know
  • auld = old
  • aye = yes
  • blether = talk
  • nae bother = you're welcome
  • tattie = potato

Trondheim, Norway

Thursday, June 15, 2017: Arrive 8:00 a.m., depart 4:00 p.m.

Population: 187,353

Weather: Trondheim has a moderate climate and is generally sheltered from the strong winds that can occur on the outer seaboard. The average temperature this time of year is a high of 61° and a low of 49°.

Money Notes: Norway uses Norwegian Kroner (kr, NOK). At restaurants, service is included in the bill, but that money goes to the owner, so it is nice to tip your waiter about 10%. For taxis, round up the fare to the nearest 10 Krone (85 kr becomes 90). Be aware that alcohol is taxed at one of the highest rates in Europe.

Tourist Information: Located downtown at Nordre gate 11 ("gate" is the Norwegian word for street), next to a TGI Friday's. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Bounded by the Nidelva River and sheltered by the Trondheim fjord, Trondheim is Norway's third-largest city and technology capital, graced by the presence of universities and the scientific research center SINTEF. It was founded in 997 by Olav Tryggvasson, although it is more strongly associated with Olav II Haraldsson, also known as St. Olav. Though arguably a mediocre ruler, St. Olav gained cultlike status after his death on the battlefield and subsequent canonization at Nidaros (the old name for Trondheim). To this day, people can make the pilgrimage along St. Olav's Way from the ancient part of Oslo to Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, where St. Olav's remains were buried, and even receive a certificate of completion.

Like many cities in Norway whose principal buildings were made of wood, Trondheim has suffered several devastating fires over the centuries. After the fire of 1681 devastated the bulk of the city center, King Christian V commissioned Luxembourg general Johan Caspar von Cicignon to reconstruct the city, giving Trondheim the gridlike layout it retains today.

To get into downtown from the harbor, walk to the Pirbadet bus stop and take the 46 in the direction of Tiller and get off at Søndre gate (roughly a 7-minute ride). Alternatively, the walk from the harbor to the Tourist Information center is only 16 minutes long, and once you get there you can purchase a 24-hour ticket for the Trondheim buses.

AtB operates all the buses and the tram, so if you are planning on using public transport, it would be a good idea to grab a service route map at the Tourist Information center. AtB also has a mobile app, AtB Mobillett, for buying tickets that can be used on bus, tram, and ferry.

Most of the sights downtown are within walkable distance, however, and the city also has a bike share program with 120 public bicycles available across 20 locations. First you must buy a rental card from the Tourist Information center (70 NOK/$8.25), and then you are free to check out bikes for the whole day, using them for a maximum of three hours at a time before checking them into a bike rack. If you decide to check out Kristiansten Fortress, located at the top of Trondheim's steepest street, you can use the world's first and only bike lift, Trame, to get there with your leg muscles intact. Rental cards must be returned to the Tourist Information center.

The Nidaros Cathedral (Norwegian: Nidarosdomen), built on the site of St. Olav's burial ground, is a must-see. As the largest medieval structure in Norway, it has been reconstructed and restored several times since construction commenced in 1070. Norwegian royalty have traditionally held their coronations in the cathedral, and today Nidarosdomen displays Norway's crown jewels. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., 90 NOK/$11, with discounts for children and families. Admission to prayer service, daily at 12:15 p.m., is free.

For a picturesque photo opportunity, pause on the Old Town Bridge (Gamle Bybro), which boasts the perfect view of the colorful warehouses and wharves lining the river. Crossing the river will lead you to the bohemian neighborhood of Bakklandet, where old-style residences and coffee shops abound. The street Brubakken becomes Krisitanstensbakken, and suddenly (well, after a hike up a hill) you will find yourself at Kristiansten Fortress, which offers a panoramic view of the city below. Built after the catastrophic fire of 1681, the fortress has never seen active battle, but its mere existence may have deterred attack from the Swedish during their siege of Trondheim in 1718.

Trondheim is home to two major music museums: the Rockheim Museum of Pop and Rock Music (Brattørkaia 14; open 11 a.m. –6 p.m.; ticket prices from 100 NOK/$12 to 130 NOK/$16; free admission for children under 15) and the Ringve Museum, an expansion of the Bachke family's collection of historical musical instruments (Lade allé 60; open 11 a.m.–4 p.m.; tickets 100 NOK–130 NOK; free admission for children).

The Trondheim Kunstmuseum (Bispegata 7b; noon–4 p.m.; tickets 50–100 NOK; free admission for children under 18) houses art ranging from the 19th century to the 21st, mostly by Norwegians like Edvard Munch but also including international artists. If you would like to buy art (or just see a lot of art for free), you can head to the Modern Art Gallery, which is Central Norway's largest gallery. Located at Olav Tryggvassons gate 33, it is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For a scenic overview of western Trondheim and its outskirts, you can board the tram (Gråkallbanen, Line 1) at St. Olavs gate and take it through residential neighborhoods all the way to Lian — from which point you can hike to the winter sports area of Bymarka. The views of the Trondheimfjord at this height are unparalleled. The journey is 30 minutes each way and you can use your AtB pass for fare. Trams leave St. Olavs gate every 15 minutes.

Munkholmen, a fortress islet just north of the city, is another "further afield" option. Ferries (50–100 NOK/$6–12) leave Ravnkloa harbor every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and take you to the small island, which has room for little more than a café and a beach.

For a snack of croissants and quality espresso drinks, stop by the cozy Café Le Frère or Godt Brød for prime baked goods. Hagen, in the neighborhood of Bakklandet, has fast vegan and vegetarian options, while Istanbul Döner Chef has Turkish kebabs and döners. For some more traditional Norwegian fare and a leisurely setting, you might try Folk og fe.

Be aware that many of the fancier dining options, like To Rom og Kjøkken, will not yet be open for the day since we are departing Trondheim early at 4:00 p.m.

Most restaurants and coffee shops have free Wi-Fi. Internet access is also available at the Tourist Information center at no cost, and at the library (Trondheim Folkebibliotek Hovedbiblioteket, Peter Egges Plass 1: 9:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.).

There are banks and ATMs (known locally as minibanks) sprinkled all over the city. For the sake of convenience, you might try the Danske Bank right across from the Tourist Information center at Nordre Gate 12.

Fun Facts:

  • The city of Trondheim has its own app — Trondheim Guide — that you can download for iPhone or Android. Its navigation menu features useful categories like Attractions, Events, Restaurants, Bars & Nightlife, and Shopping
  • Olav Tryggvasson used the island of Munkholmen as a place to showcase his enemies' severed heads on pikes. Later it was the residence of monks, who supposedly got rowdy enough for Trondheim's residents to sometimes ask that they please keep the noise down
  • The Rockheim Museum offers a free tour for children ages four to five years old
  • Students comprise almost one-fifth of Trondheim's population

Ålesund, Norway

Pronounced "Ouhl-es-ind"
Friday, June 16, 2017: Arrive 7:00 a.m., depart 4:00 p.m.

Population: 45,033

Weather: Average high of 67° F, average low of 40°. Like many places in Southern Norway, Ålesund has a very mild climate, with the highest temperature ever recorded being 94° F and the lowest being 12° F.

Money Notes: Norway uses Norwegian Kroner (kr, NOK). At restaurants, service is included in the bill, but that money goes to the owner, so it is nice to tip your waiter about 10%. For taxis, round up the fare to the nearest 10 Krone (85 kr becomes 90). Be aware that alcohol is taxed at one of the highest rates in Europe.

Tourist Information: Located at Skateflukaia, on the inner harbor next to XL Diner. Open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. For the online version, go to VisitAlesund-Geiranger.com

In 1904, a fire utterly destroyed the town of Ålesund overnight, leaving 10,000 people homeless. Luckily, foreign nations were quick to respond with aid, and the town was entirely rebuilt within three years in the style of Art Nouveau (or Jugendstil). Many of the museums in Ålesund explore the town's distinction for having such a high concentration of Art Nouveau architecture, and one of the busiest streets in town, Keiser Wilhems gate, is named in remembrance of the German chancellor's generosity in the wake of the 1904 fire.

Ålesund is one of Norway's most important fishing ports and the world's largest exporter of klippfisk, or dried salt cod. The town itself is built over several islands connected by bridges and underwater roads. The two main islands are Aspøya, to the east, and Nørvøya, right next door to the west.

Downtown Ålesund is easily walkable, though you may take a shuttle, bus, or boat on excursions offered by Holland America or local touring companies.

Despite its being simply the top of a mountain, Fjellstua Viewpoint is ranked by Trip Advisor as the No. 1 thing to do in Ålesund. The climb up Mount Aksla is steep, but the resulting view is postcard-perfect. Two hours (one hour to climb the steps, 30 minutes to take photos and rest, and another 30 minutes to climb down) should give you enough time for a leisurely experience. Note that the top of the mountain can also be reached via a gentler path from the back, and that the café at the summit will charge you a fee to use their bathroom.

It is both worth it and unavoidable to admire the Art Nouveau architecture in the city. The prettiest houses are the ones lining the inner harbor between the islands of Aspøya and Nørvøya, and you can fit that detour into any plan adventuring through Ålesund. For more information about Art Nouveau in Norway and in general, you can head to the double museums of Jugendstilsenteret, which houses authentic Art Nouveau interiors and investigates the art movement thoroughly, and Kunstmuseet KUBE, which manages a collection of mostly national artists. Tickets are good for admission to both buildings and range in price from 45 NOK/$6 to 80 NOK/$10 (free for kids under 18). The museums are open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Apotekergata 16.

Kids will enjoy visiting the Atlantic Sea Park (Atlanterhavsparken), a gigantic aquarium artfully nestled into the wild landscape of Tueneset, about two miles west of the city center. Observe feeding time for sea lions and penguins, and try your hand at crab fishing. Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; tickets from 80NOK/$10 to 180 NOK/$21; free admission for children under two years old and discounts for families. To get there, take the bus marked "Akvariebussen" from Sankt Olavs plass, which only takes 10 minutes and which runs every hour on the hour from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Return buses run at 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, 3:15. For more information, check atlanterhavsparken.no.

Sample local fish at Zuuma, a modern Japanese-inspired grill and sushi restaurant. A plate of eight pieces of maki starts at 135 NOK/$16. Fjellstua, located at the top of Mt. Aksla, is divided into a formal restaurant known for its fish soup and a small coffee shop on the upper deck. Hidden away within the Scandic Hotel, Brasserie Normandy offers a lunch buffet of both hot and cold dishes. The popular Café Lyspunktet has a good selection burgers, soups, salads, and smoothies.

Wherever you go for food, consider trying a dish that incorporates Ålesund's famous dried and salted cod, sometimes sold under the Spanish and Portuguese names bacalao or bacalhau. Also, be sure to check the hours of other restaurants you may have heard of before committing, since many will only open after our ship leaves Ålesund at 4 p.m.

Free Wi-Fi is available in many places, including the Tourist Information center and the library (Ålesund Bibliotek, located on the eastern corner of Keiser Wilhelms gate and Korsegata). Restaurants and cafés in the harbor area providing internet access include Café Lyspunktet, Invit Espresso Bar, Hoffmann Café and Bar, and Søstrene Fryd.

There are several banks in the port area including Danske Bank (Kongens gate 13), Nordea Bank Norge ASA (Notenesgata 2), and Handelsbanken Ålesund (Keiser Wilhelms gate 23).

Fun Facts:

  • Eight miles of the roads connecting Ålesund's several islands are underwater tunnels
  • Amazingly, only one person died in the 1904 fire that consumed the town's buildings and was supposedly started by a cow who kicked over a torch
  • During Nazi occupation of Norway, Ålesund was known as "Little London" for the Norwegian resistance work being done in the town

Flåm, Norway

Pronounced "Flome"
Saturday, June 17, 2017: Arrive 7:00 a.m., depart 7:00 p.m.

Population: 450

Weather: The average high this time of year is 61° F (16° C), with a low of 43° F (6° C). It might be sunny, overcast, or rainy, but the beauty of the surrounding landscape will be immense in any weather condition.

Money Notes: Norway uses Norwegian Kroner (kr, NOK). At restaurants, service is included in the bill, but that money goes to the owner, so it is nice to tip your waiter about 10%. For taxis, round up the fare to the nearest 10 Krone (85 kr becomes 90). Be aware that alcohol is taxed at one of the highest rates in Europe.

Tourist Information: Located inside the train station, which is open from 8:15 a.m. to 8 p.m. Stop in for useful maps and transport schedules!

Overview: This tiny town, basically a small gathering of buildings around the pier and train station, is most often visited as a jumping-off point for nature excursions through the fjords or in the mountains. Located at the end of the Aurland branch of the world's deepest fjord, Sognefjord, Flåm has steadily grown in popularity as a tourist destination since the 1800s.

If you are looking for low-key, flexible adventures that don't take up much time, you might try renting a motorboat, paddleboat, or rowboat at the marina across the harbor. The Flåm Railway Museum (open daily, free admission) is a lovely museum that exhibits the history of the local railway and includes both an old train and re-creations of interiors like old schoolhouses. Otherwise, the best activities in Flåm are the ones that take you outside of it.

To see the best of the area's fjords and valleys on an all-day excursion, you might try the popular Norway in a Nutshell package, which combines a ferry ride, a bus ride, and two train rides in a triangular route between Flåm, Gudvangen, Voss, and Myrdal. Overall, the scenic journey lasts seven hours, with one schedule leaving Flåm at 10:00 a.m. and returning at 5:00 p.m. We highly recommend that you book this trip in advance and as a package via fjordtours.no, but it is also possible to buy tickets for each leg of the trip separately at each of the transport stations. Adult tickets cost 1250 NOK/$181 US while tickets for children aged 15 and under are 670 NOK/$97.

As a tourism-only branch of the Bergen line, the Flåm Railway train (included in the "Norway in a Nutshell" tour) departs up to 10 times per day for an unforgettable ride of twists, turns, and breathtaking mountain views in the 12.6 miles between Flåm and Myrdal Station. It has been named by travel publications as the most beautiful train journey in the world. Each way is about 50 minutes long, and round-trip tickets sell fast (Adults: 480 NOK/$70; Kids under 15: 240 NOK/$35), so if you want to make the journey, be sure to make a beeline from the ship to the Flåm Railway Station to purchase your tickets early.

FjordSafari offers several hands-on tours of the Nærøyfjord requiring participants to wear wetsuits, hats, and goggles on the sporty, 12-person boats. For 610 NOK/$71 (kids: 440 NOK/$52), you can take a 2-hour-15-minute Heritage tour of two fjords and hear stories and history from your guide. This tour is offered four times per day; tickets can be purchased at fjordsafari.com. Wear long-sleeved clothes and pants, and arrive at their white tent on inner harbor 20 minutes prior to your trip time.

Bicyclists can rent a bike at the rental cabin next to the train station (350 NOK/$42 per day from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) and either follow the bike path from Flåm or take their bike on the Flåm Railway to Myrdal (480 NOK/$70) for an added fee of 100 NOK/$12 and then ride along the gravel/pavement road for two to three hours back to Flåm. The train station will have useful maps for hiking and bicycling routes.

Hikers should stop by the tourist information center in the train station to pick up maps of good walking routes. Possible destinations include the nearby village of Undredal, which boasts fabulous local goat cheese and Scandinavia's smallest stave church, as well as Otternes Farms, a cluster of traditional farms on a ridge between Flåm and Aurland.

The Ægir brewery, housed in a Viking-style lodge with an outer façade reminiscent of stave churches, offers lunch and dinner menus as well as one-hour beer tastings that occur every day at 4 p.m. For a relaxed spot away from the crowds (and still boasting great views), try the Flåm Marina & Appartement Café. The food cart Green Norway at Flåm Camping Ground has a hip selection of breakfast, snack, and dinner options. The Fretheim Hotel's upscale Restaurant Arven prides itself on serving local produce and meats, and has à la carte options, a buffet, and a kids' menu. The lobby bar in the hotel has light snacks, too.

You can access free Wi-Fi in the railway station. The Flåm Marina & Appartement Café also has free Wi-Fi; just ask for the password.

There is a minibank in the Visitor Center where you can withdraw Norwegian Kroner only.

Fun Facts:

  • Norway's best preserved and arguably most famous stave church is located in Borgund, about 1.5 hours outside of Flåm. No worries if you don't make it out there, though — there's a replica of the church in Rapid City, South Dakota!
  • The Kjosfossen waterfall, visible from the Flåmsbana (AKA the Flåm Railway), is said to be home to a species of siren women named the Huldra, who lure men into the woods with their songs
  • The area surrounding Flåm is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • About 150 cruise ships dock at Flåm Harbor each year

Bergen, Norway (overnight)

Arrive Sunday, June 18, 2017, at 8:00 a.m.; depart Monday, June 19, 2017, at 6:00 p.m.

Population: 278,121

Weather: Bergen is rainy 248 days a year, and folklore says its residents are born already wearing tiny raincoats. Its climate is more similar to that of Scotland than that of Oslo. At this time of June, the average high temperature is 61° F and the average low is 48° F.

Money Notes: Norway uses Norwegian Kroner (kr, NOK). At restaurants, service is included in the bill, but that money goes to the owner, so it is nice to tip your waiter about 10%. For taxis, round up the fare to the nearest 10 Krone (85 kr becomes 90). Be aware that alcohol is taxed at one of the highest rates in Europe.

Tourist Information: Located within the modern-looking Torghallen market building, next to the fish market at Torget (Strandkaien 3). Open 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Pick up free brochures, ask for advice about restaurants, buy tickets for sightseeing tours, and consider buying a Bergen Card from this center of information ranked by Trip Advisor as #8 of "Things to Do" in Bergen.

To learn more about the Bergen Card, which entitles you to free admission to 30 museums, free public transportation, and other discounts, check visitbergen.com. A 24-hour pass costs 240 NOK/$28. Given Bergen's smaller city size and concentration of main attractions, the Bergen Card is a less lucrative deal than the Oslo Pass, but it might save you money if you plan on taking public transportation to your various destinations.

A World Heritage City with the charm of a small town, Bergen first gained town status in 1070 under King Olav Kyrre and was the former capital of Norgesveldet, the Norwegian empire at the peak of its power in the 1200s that encompassed Norway, parts of Sweden, Iceland, Irish settlements, and even colonial holdings in Canada. King Håkon Håkonsson (reigned 1217–1263) granted Bergen a monopoly on trade between Northern Norway and the rest of the world, which meant that Bergen became a wealthy trading center, with its main export being salted codfish. In 1350, a plague devastated Norway's population and economy, and about 10 years later, German merchants arrived in Bergen. They set up shop along the wharf and controlled the city's trade for about 400 years. In fact, locals used to call their trading center "the German wharf," but after Germany occupied Norway during World War II, the name became simply "the wharf" (in Norwegian, Bryggen).

Although Oslo succeeded Bergen as the capital of Norway in 1299, Bergen continued to grow as an important trading city. Today it remains the second-largest city in the country and has become a center for shipping, helped by the building of the Bergen railway line from Oslo in 1908 (prior to that, it was extremely difficult to get to Bergen via land routes). The seven mountains surrounding the city center embrace Bergen as warmly as its people do; Bergen residents are proud of their city's history and culture, and are generally happy to point you in the direction of their favorite café or local attraction. With a student population of 10%, Bergen has an established nightlife and hosts many events and festivals throughout the year. Check visitbergen.com for a calendar of events during our stay there.

The walk from the Skolten cruise port into the heart of Bergen only takes about 10 minutes. There are also city sightseeing buses at the port if you'd rather sit down for the views.

Most sites in Bergen can be reached on foot, but some highlights further afield, like Edvard Grieg's house and the Fantoft Stave Church, will require a trip via bus, tram, or ferry. Bus and light rail tickets can be purchased at the Tourist Information center. A 24-hour pass costs 95 NOK/$11 (50% discount for children and seniors). Single tickets start at 37 NOK/$4 for the fewest number of zones covered; just make sure that you buy the correct ticket for the areas you want to visit. For more information, see skyss.no/en.

Within Bergen, some of the top sights include Bergenhus Fortress, Gamle Bergen, the KODE Art Museums of Bergen, and Bryggen. Bergenhus Fortress includes the 13th-century Håkon's Hall — the largest secular medieval building in Norway — and Rosenkrantz Tower. Admission is 80 NOK/$9, with a small added fee for the guided tours available on Sundays (we highly recommend taking a guided tour to understand the history). Gamle Bergen ("Old Bergen") is a cute gathering of about 50 homes and shops from the 18th to the 20th centuries that used to be in other parts of Bergen and that were rebuilt in one place. Walking around the area is free, but admission to the museum and to the interior of buildings costs 100 NOK/$12. The KODE Art Museums, whose in-town branches include KODE 1, 2, 3, and 4 around Lille Lungegårdsvannet, house a wide variety of art. Check kodebergen.no to see which branch most appeals to you.

To get the best sense of the historical significance of Bergen's iconic painted warehouses known as Bryggen, take a 1.5-hour Bryggen Walking Tour. English tours start at the Bryggens Museum daily at 11 a.m. and noon, and tickets can be purchased at the Bryggens Museum for 150 NOK/$18 (free for children under 16). Included in the price of your tour are tickets to the Bryggens Museum, which shows that there was a Nordic settlement at Bryggen before the Germans ever moved in, and the Hanseatic Museum, which shows how the influential German merchants in Bergen lived and worked.

The Fløibanen Funicular is a hugely popular way to get a bird's-eye view of the city, with rides departing every 15 minutes during most of the day. Buy your tickets (90 NOK/$10 round-trip or 45 NOK/$5 one-way) at the base of the Fløibanen and either take the funicular back down or hike back using the maps provided upon request at the ticket counter. At the top of Mt. Fløyen are cafés, hiking trails, and a large troll perfect for photo ops.

Six miles outside of Bergen is the home of Norway's greatest composer, Edvard Grieg. You can visit Troldhaugen on your own, or take a very good (and included) 20-minute tour. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., tickets 100 NOK/$12, daily lunchtime and evening concerts. There is also a Lunchtime concert package that will bring you from the Tourist Information center in Bergen to Troldhaugen and back. For more information, check griegmuseum.no.

You may not want to buy raw fish without a place to cook it, but the Fish Market at Torget is definitely worth a visit. Directly opposite the Fish Market is Oleana, where you can stop by for an assortment of fine Norwegian knitwear. Oleana's factory is located only 30 minutes outside Bergen and is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday. There is also a factory outlet there. Ting, at Bryggen 13, has interesting housewares and gifts (open 10 a.m.–10:30 p.m.). Husfliden is another good place for good quality, handmade Norwegian goods, and The Galleriet Mall on Torgallmenningen is your stop for pharmacy items, clothes, and anything else you might need.

Note that most non-tourist shops (including the mall) are closed Sundays.

Krog og Krinkel Bokcafe is a favorite for breakfast, and Sweet Rain is an affordable spot for coffee and pastries. If you want to sample Bergen's freshest fish, try Fjellskall Fisketorget near the Tourist Information center, right on the harbor. For a memorable (but expensive) meal in Bergen, try the wood-paneled Bryggeloftet & Stuene in the Bryggen area. 1877 serves traditional Norwegian food in an equally traditional-looking setting, and offers the option of a seven-course menu with wine. Pygmalion has a healthy international menu, with wraps, salads, and crowd-pleasing burgers. Good cheap eats include 3-Kroneren (hot dogs and sausages), Lido Cafeteria, and Söstrene Hagelin Fast Fish Joint.

The Tourist Information center near the Fish Market offers free Wi-Fi. The Bergen Public Library, next to the train station, also has computers you can use, and the community center, Kafe Magdalena, has both computers and free Wi-Fi. Lots of cafés will also have Wi-Fi, including the pizzeria Da Stefano, the vegetarian-friendly Pygmalion, and Bergen Kaffebrenneri.

Various minibanks are scattered around the city center, with the nearest one to port located within the Windfjord sweater and souvenir shop on the harborside road.

Fun Facts:

  • During the 16th century, the ruling Danish-Norwegian king kept Rosenkrantz Tower's cannon trained on the Germans at Bryggen as a not-so-subtle warning to pay their taxes
  • Håkon's Hall was built as a banqueting hall, and it hosts royal dinners to this day!
  • Composer Edvard Grieg's style was a combination of European Romanticism and Norwegian folk tunes. You might be familiar with his "In the Hall of the Mountain King"
  • Bergen is the street art capital of Norway. After the famous graffiti artist Banksy visited in 2000, others were inspired to make their own marks. The city itself encourages street art

Oslo, Norway (overnight)

Arrive Wednesday, June 21, 2017, at 8:00 a.m.; depart Thursday, June 22, 2017, at 6:00 p.m.

Population: 658,390

Weather: The average temperature this time of year ranges from 50° F to 60° F. Since we will be here the day after the summer solstice occurs, daylight hours will be long, with the sun setting around 10 p.m. and rising again at 3 a.m.

Money Notes: Norway uses Norwegian Kroner (kr, NOK). At restaurants, service is included in the bill, but that money goes to the owner, so it is nice to tip your waiter about 10%. For taxis, round up the fare to the nearest 10 Krone (85 kr becomes 90). Be aware that alcohol is taxed at one of the highest rates in Europe.

Tourist Information: The Oslo Visitor Centre is located at Jernbanetorget 1 in a small orange building next to the central train station. Open 9 a.m.–6 p.m., it also maintains a great website that lists the best cultural events of the week: visitoslo.com/en.

USE-IT, a second visitors' center geared toward young and budget-conscious travelers, is located at Møllergata 3 and offers free luggage storage, free Wi-Fi, and free coffee and tea. 11 a.m.–5 p.m. It also has its own app for iPhone, called "USE-IT" by USE-IT Europe, which can be used offline.

Oslo is the smallest of the Scandinavian capitals, but it is efficiently run and bursting with life and culture. Though Norse sagas date Oslo's founding to around 1049, more recent archeological evidence suggests an earlier founding of around 1000. As the residence of Norway's King Håkon V (1270–1319), Oslo took Bergen's place as the de facto capital of Norway. After the wooden city was destroyed by a fire in 1624, the reigning Danish king Christian IV decided to rebuild the city nearer to Akershus Fortress, which was constructed under Håkon's rule in 1299. The new city had a new name to honor its king: Christiania. Later, the spelling was changed to Kristiania, and finally in 1925 the city regained its Old Norse name of Oslo.

Today, Oslo is recognized as one of the most expensive cities in the world — but also one of the greenest and most people-friendly. Recent projects to overhaul infrastructure include the ingenious plan to put more roadways underground, allowing as an example five miles of car-free real estate for pedestrians to stroll along on the waterfront. Modern architecture is thriving, from the stunning National Opera House to the Astrip Fearnley Museum and a collection of boxy skyscrapers called Bjørvika Barcode. A new public library will open in 2018 and plans for a new museum of Edvard Munch's art have been made. And all of this development is set against the beautiful backdrop of a city at the head of the Oslo Fjord, with plenty of green space within.

Most sites in the city center are reachable on foot, but if you plan on venturing to Vigeland Park, the museum island of Bygdøy, or other areas, you'll find that public transportation is convenient and sensible. All public transport in Oslo (bus, tram, subway, ferries, and local trains) and the surrounding county of Akerhus is part of the same ticket and price system, and tickets are cheaper when you buy them in advance from the Oslo Central Station, from metro stations, or online using an app called RuterBillet. You can pick up a paper schedule or plan your trip using the website ruter.no. Note that each ticket is good for transfers for up to one hour.

Since we will be in Oslo for two days (34 hours to be exact), you may opt to buy a 24-hour ticket (90 NOK/$11 adults, half price for children and seniors) at metro ticket machines or online using the RuterBillet app. Purchasing an Oslo Pass will get you free entry to more than 30 museums and attractions, discounts on sights and restaurants, AND free travel on all public transport. One 24-hour pass costs 395 NOK/$46 for adults, with discounts for children and seniors, and can be purchased at the Visitor Centre, most hotels, and some museums. To see exactly what is covered by the Oslo Pass, search "Oslo Pass" on visitoslo.com, or download the "Oslo Pass — Official City Card" for iPhone and Android. You can download the app for free, buy a pass, and then activate it once you step foot in Oslo.

If you would prefer to see the city by bicycle, you can rent from the American-owned Viking Biking (Nedre Slottsgate 4). They offer adult city and hybrid sport bikes starting at 160 NOK/$19 daily or 200 NOK/$24 for 24 hours, and they have several options for children. Viking Biking also conducts a variety of popular tours; if you have an Oslo Pass, you are eligible for a 30% discount off adult prices. Advance booking is recommended during the summer months.

Oslo's Opera House is a must-see. The white marble building emerges from the water on the eastern harbor, looking like a half-submerged iceberg. Guided tours in English take place at three times a day for the price of 100 NOK/$12, and the Oslo Pass includes a 20% discount. Akershus Fortress, dating from 1299, is now also home to Norway's Resistance Museum, which chronicles the country's experience under German occupation in World War II (open 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; admission 60 NOK/$7, discounts for children and seniors, free with Oslo Pass).

Oslo's grandest boulevard, Karl Johans gate, leads from the train station to the Royal Palace and is a great place to people-watch, shop for souvenirs, and enjoy the famous landmarks clustered along it. Aker Brygge is Oslo's go-to spot for shopping, dining, and entertainment.

Many of Oslo's museums are clustered on the jutting peninsula of Bygdøy, accessible by ferry from pier 3 in front of City Hall (Rådhusbrygge pier 3). The Norsk Folkemuseum (10 a.m.–6 p.m.; 130 NOK/$15 with discounts for children and seniors) is actually an open-air cluster of 160 historic buildings featuring guides in traditional Norwegian attire. The Polar Ship Fram tells the story of Arctic exploration, displaying the famous ships the Fram and the Gjøa (9 a.m.–6 p.m.; adult ticket 100 NOK/$12, with discounts for children and seniors). Perhaps the most famous museum in Oslo is the Viking Ship Museum, which displays two perfectly preserved Viking longboats from the 9th and 10th centuries along with other artifacts (9 a.m.–6 p.m.; adult ticket 100 NOK/$12, free for kids). Note that admission to all three of these museums and the ferry ride to Bygdøy are covered by the Oslo Pass.

Other top museums in Oslo include the National Gallery, which houses the best of Norway's art (lots of Romantic landscape paintings and many original Edvard Munchs — including his famous Der Schrei, or The Scream) along with a healthy selection from non-Norwegian artists (10 a.m.–6 p.m.; 100 NOK/$12, with discounts for children and seniors, free admission every Thursday). The Vigeland Museum used to be the studio and home of Gustav Vigeland, whose incredible sculptures representing the human life cycle are in the eponymous park next door. The park — which really should not be missed — is always free and open, and the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (60 NOK/$7, discounts for children and seniors). Finally, a bit further afield is the Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Ski Museum, whose ski simulator will be a treat for those missing the winter (9 a.m.–10 p.m.; 130 NOK/$15, discounts available). Get there using the Metro 1 to Holmenkollen. Note that all three of these museums are free with an Oslo Pass, and the ski simulator is discounted.

If you're looking to get your hands on some authentic Norwegian sweaters and other high-quality souvenirs, try Norway Designs near the National Theater, Dale of Norway, Heimen Husflid, The Husfliden Shop in the basement of GlasMagasinet, or the Oslo Sweater Shop inside the Radisson Blu Hotel. Oslo Flaggfabrikk sells flags of all kinds and sizes, while the street of Bogstadveien is lined with trendy boutiques. Karl Johanns gate is a good bet for trinkets.

If you've bought an Oslo Pass, you might want to try the restaurants where you'll receive a 20% discount: the paleo-diet-conscious Brasserie Paleo, the kid-favorite Hard Rock Café, the Norwegian-centric Kaffistova and Rorbua, or The Scotsman, if you find yourself missing haggis. Other ways to save money in this expensive town are to eat on the cruise ship, pack picnics for lunch (the basements of department stores have gourmet supermarkets in them), choose takeaway instead of sit-down to avoid a higher tax, or try small foreign-food restaurants.

Engebret Café, close to Akershus Fortress and housed in a 17th-century building, serves classic Norse food, including reindeer meat. Good choices in the Grünerløkka area include Villa Paradiso Pizzeria, Mathallen Oslo (a 19th-century factory repurposed into a sit-down market), and Asylet, which feels like a Norwegian beer garden serving multiple-course meals. You may also want to have lunch in the beautiful but touristy harbor front mall Aker Brygge: walk up and down the lane and check the menus for what appeals to you. The Grand Café (Karl Johans gate 31), once the favored haunt of Norwegian artists and authors, briefly closed in 2015 but is now open again with a vengeance — and a wine cellar.

Hos Thea, Statholdergaarden, Maaemo, and Fjord are all on the shortlist for the best of the fancy and the avant-garde in Oslo.

Both the traditional Visitor Centre and the USE-IT information center offer free Wi-Fi, and most cafés, museums, and libraries will also offer internet access. Pastel de Nata, Starbucks, Café Sara, and L'Ardoise are just a few of the places you can pop into for a snack and an email check.

Minibanks and banks in the center of town include FOREX Bank, Bank Norwegian, Nordnet Bank, and DNB Flaggskip Karl Johan.

Fun Facts:

  • The city of Oslo has its own app ("Oslo — Official City App" for Android and iPhone) that includes an event calendar as well as information on attractions, restaurants, shops, and transportation companies
  • The Opera House, opened in 2008, has slanted levels of roof that together function as a public plaza and as outdoor seating for foyer concerts
  • The ships in the Viking Ship Museum are in such good shape because they were found buried as part of a gravesite! The Vikings, like the ancient Egyptians and Chinese, believed that there was an afterlife — and that they could take everything they owned in this life into the next one
  • Oslo-based sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869–1943) visited Auguste Rodin's studio many times in his travels. Both artists sculpted intertwined bodies, and neither personally casted their plaster statues, opting instead to have their workshop assistants do that part of the work

A Prairie Home Companion Cruise is produced by American Public Media. Ship's registry: The Netherlands.