Well, my family came to visit me during my last month abroad. I met my younger sister and my parents in Oslo. From there, we took the train to Bergen, and then a plane to Copenhagen, and then took the train to Karlstad and a final train to Stockholm where they flew home. If it sounds like a lot (for 10 days), you're absolutely right. Seeing and hugging them for the first time in 6 months was really amazing. But, to be honest, it was such a different experience than what I pictured.
See, no matter how close you are with someone, it doesn't mean that you travel well together. I was expected to be the leader, even though I had only been to 2 of the places. This was quite a strange turning of tables, as it has never been anyone's role besides my parents' on every other trip we have taken. I have travelled fast and in an organized way on my many trips and it felt strange to have to change that. We were in bed at around 9 every night and there was not much research done beforehand as to what we had planned to do, so I was a bit frustrated that there seemed to be too much wasted time. At the end of the day though, we all got to spend those days together and I am thankful they got a first glimpse of how amazing and different from home Europe is. I think they realized too that traveling isn't always so easy and the fact I've been able to figure out so much on my own indicates my determination and how much my self assurance has grown.
But, overall, it was an incredible time and we were able to do a lot of things despite being in transit so often. Highlights include the Opera house, the Parliament, the palace, the ski jump, and the fortress in Oslo, the incredible view of the mountains and fjords on the train from Oslo to Bergen, the view at the top of a mountain, a fjord tour, and the fish market in Bergen, Nyhavn, the royal palace, the little mermaid, and the marble church in Copenhagen, a boat tour of Karlstad and one last night out there, and exploring Gamla Stan and Skansen in Stockholm.
all of us together :)
In Stockholm, my older sister met us (she couldn't come with the others due to work). It was so nice, if only for one night, that we all could be together in Sweden. We had a nice dinner and walked the streets of Gamla Stan...it was amazing. The next day, the parents and younger sister flew home while Chelsi (my older sister) and I took the train to Oslo.
Due to the train delay, we ended up taking a replacement bus and it took us almost twice as long to get there than planned. So, we spent the night walking around the city center and relaxing by the water, which was really nice. The next day, we did a Norway in a Nutshell tour, which is a 14 hour trip across some of the most beautiful parts of Norway. You take trains, a bus, and a boat (through the fjords). While it was beautiful, we were disappointed that it wasn't much of a tour at all. There was no guide, it was all public transport, and you pretty much had to figure out all the changes on your own (if you missed any, you would have been totally screwed). I know it was an effective use of our time and that we got to see a lot, but, given the opportunity, I would have planned it myself and likely saved a good chunk of change.
The next day, we got on a flight to.....(wait for it) Paris! It was quite a trip figuring out where our accommodation was, and the train strikes did not simplify this (how typical). We hit the highlights in our 3 1/2 days there (I swear it could never be long enough) including a boat tour, Versailles, top of Arc de Triomphe, top of Eiffel Tower, ate macaroons and drank cider, took touristy pictures at the Louvre, put a lock on the love lock bridge, went to Montmartre, and, of course, went in the Notre Dame. Paris with your sister truly is nothing short of a dream come true and I wouldn't trade that time with her for the world.
After, we headed to Karlstad to (finally) relax. We got to spend time with some of my friends, go on a boat tour, walk around town, and even go out to eat (which I never did in Karlstad...and once the bill came I remembered why). And then she headed back to Stockholm to fly back.
My friend Moni (from Germany) and I went on a last second trip to Gothenburg (Sweden's 2nd largest city) before she left to spend Midsummer, Sweden's biggest holiday. We spend the day in a couple of parks in the city, having picnics, some drinks, and enjoying music and sunshine under a maypole. It was an experience I really enjoyed and it was so nice to have time to enjoy our last time together and relax. Highlights include attempting to make flower crowns, visiting an island, and tackling Hagabullen (gigantic cinnamon rolls that the Haga section of Gothenburg is famous for). When in Rome, right?
I had about a week left in Karlstad after that, which I spent saying goodbye to friends, exploring the city I had called home, buying last minute presents, and, of course, packing and cleaning. By the time I had left Karlstad, all but one of my good friends was already home so I felt pretty much at peace with the fact that I was doing the same.