$candinavia Part 2: No’way are you saving money here!

After Copenhagen, we spent two days in Oslo before heading to the Norwegian countryside. Norway is the most expensive country we’ve visited yet, so we had to breeze through it in only one week. We made the most of it and were able to get in plenty of museums, hiking, and beautiful train rides.

In Oslo we visited the National Gallery, where we saw one of Edvard Munch’s Scream paintings. Then we visited the Contemporary Art Museum. You never know what you’re going to get with modern art, and this place was no exception. It was pretty small, and after an hour of looking at things like a box of garlic powder and sculptures made of molding bread, we decided it was time to move on. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the sunny weather, walking around the city’s old fortress, and checking out the opera house where you can walk on the roof!

We had to.
Some funky art and inside the opera house.
The opera house from across the harbor.

Our second day we decided to do as the locals do and hang out in a park. Our host told us that everyone tries to spend as much time outside as possible in the summer since the winters are so long and dark. Sounds like Wisconsin, right? Although it gets colder in Madison than Oslo, Norwegians have fewer daylight hours in the winter. We soaked up the sun at a picnic in the Vigeland Sculpture Park, checked out the Oslo City Museum, and meandered through the palace gardens.

That evening we stopped at a small brewery and nearly cried when we saw the prices; a pint of beer for $15? And we complained about $5 beers in South America! In addition to crazy alcohol prices, we also spent double to triple what we did on lodging in South America. Restaurants were outrageously out of our budget so we cooked all our meals. The one thing we found that was cheaper than elsewhere was fresh salmon. This became our staple protein while in Norway.

This is how we felt about prices in Norway.

After Oslo, we trained to Stavanger, the country’s third largest city located on the southwest coast. Stavanger itself was a pretty small town, but with its winding cobblestone streets we managed to get lost everytime we wandered around. The real reason we came was to hike to Pulpit Rock, one of the most popular hiking destinations in the country. Unfortunately for us it poured that day, but even the rain could not ruin the view.

The colorful houses along Øvre Holmegate.
Stavanger's Geopark, a playground made with recycled materials.
Pulpit Rock was awesome.

Bergen, dubbed “the gateway to the fjords,” has a similarly quaint old town area, but it was mostly overrun by cruiseship tourists and kitschy souvenir shops. Bergen is, however, in a beautiful area surrounded by mountains and fjords so we hiked to the top of Mount Fløyen for great panoramic views of the area.

Looking up to Mount Fløyen.
The fishmarket on the harbor.
Looking out from Mount Fløyen.

Similar to Copenhagen, we would have loved to do more hiking and exploring in this area of the country, but the prices of lodging and transportation alone were just too much for our current trip’s budget. Hopefully we’ll make it back some day when we have jobs. Really good jobs.

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$candinavia Part 1: Costly-hagen

Copenhagen is awesome! And expensive. It was our first stop in Europe after five months in South America, which is cheap cheap cheap in comparison. Despite the sticker shock, we loved Copenhagen. It’s clean, charming, full of bicyclists and canals, and provided us with 18 hours of sunshine! We don’t know what it would be like in winter, but Copenhagen is the first city where we have thought “Yes, we could totally live here!”

We’re planning to meet friends in Austria on July 24 so until then we budgeted three weeks to explore Scandinavia. Because we knew it was going to be expensive, we planned to move rather quickly from city to city and only spent three days in Copenhagen as a result.

Although it’s considered one of the most bikeable cities in the world, we wandered around on foot. We picniced with the most delicious wienerbrød (what we would call Danishes) we have ever eaten in the Rosenborg Castle Gardens.

Rosenberg Castle.
Exploring the gardens like a pro!
So many delicious pastries!

We strolled along the canal to the famous statue depicting Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

We spent more time at The Genetically Modified Little Mermaid than the real statue.

We walked along the ramparts of the star shaped Kastellet Fortress, stared up at the ceiling of Frederik’s Church, visited the palaces in Amalienborg, looked out from Parliament Tower, and drank a beer with our feet dangling over the canal on the iconic Nyhavn pedestrian street. We had a great time!

Along the Nyhavn canal.
Palace complex around Amalienborg.
The view from Parliament Tower.
Walking around the Kastellet Fortress.

We also visited the beautiful Tivoli Gardens, a small amusement park complete with rides, themed restaurants, live performances, and - as the name suggests - gardens. Along with everything else in Denmark, it was on the expensive side, but we enjoyed walking around and watching one of the shows.

Live peacocks wandered the audience during this ballet.
This pirate ship is a three floor restaurant.

Finally, we visited Freetown Christiania, a “self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood.” In stark contrast to the cleanliness of the rest of Copenhagen, Christiania is grungy and plastered in graffiti. Among many things, arguably the most famous aspect of Christiana is the greenlight district where the sale of some softer illicit drugs has been historically tolerated. Our AirBnb host warned us to obey the rules as the neighborhood had been raided by the police a few weeks before and its residents were a bit on edge. The entrance has a large sign listing the rules as “Have fun, don’t run (it causes panic), no photos.” Inside this district, small stands line the street and vendors wear ski masks to protect their identities. Since we don’t have any photos, this is one of those things you’ll have to smell for yourself.

The few photos we were able to take of Christiania (outside of the greenlight district).

Despite the insane taxation on alcohol, we had to bite the bullet and try a few beers. To give you an idea, a good craft beer on draft would run about $8 for a half pint. Not a great place to be if you’re a beer lover on a budget. On the flip side, everything we tried was between good and excellent thanks to our friends’ awesome recommendations. One such place was Taphouse (thanks, Mark!) which had 60 or so beers on tap from all over Europe and the USA. Mikkeller was another awesome brewery we tried (thanks, Anna!) which had our favorite beer of the trip so far: Noa Peca Mud Cake Stout by Omnipollo. Finally, in addition to great beer, we enjoyed authentic Texas BBQ at Warpigs (thanks again, Anna!). Warpigs happens to be a joint venture between Mikkeller and 3 Floyds, one of our favorite breweries from Munster, Indiana.

Taphouse and Mikkeller.
Delicious beers and BBQ at Warpigs.

We had a great time in Copenhagen and definitely plan to come back when we don’t have such limited time and budget. Hopefully we’ll be able to explore more of Denmark then too!

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Six Months of Traveling Complete

It’s crazy to think that we’ve been traveling for six months already. That’s half a year! We’ve been telling everyone we’d be traveling for about a year, but at this rate we might be gone longer since we’re only on our second continent. Let’s see how long we can stretch that budget…

In the last month we have traveled to seven cities in five countries: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Copenhagen, Denmark; Oslo, Stavanger, and Bergen in Norway; Stockholm, Sweden; and Vienna, Austria. We had to move pretty fast through expensive Scandinavia so look for posts on these places soon.

Month 6 and Scandinavia Observations

  • Laura stuck out in South America where there are few blondes. In contrast, she fits in so well in Scandinavia Vesper had a hard time finding her.
  • $candinavia is SO expensive! In South America we were able to get by cheaply without planning ahead - in fact, we often saved money by booking directly the day of - but we got screwed over in Scandinavia a few times doing this and paid way more than if we had planned ahead. Time to change strategies?
  • You can easily get by without cash in Scandinavia; credit cards are accepted practically everywhere. You could even use them to pay the 50 cents for public bathrooms.
  • Scandinavia is super clean and well maintained. We aren’t sure what to attribute this to (e.g., infrastructure, income levels, etc.) but it was obvious.
  • There is recycling available everywhere, which was usually not a thing in South America.
  • Scandinavia is pedestrian-friendly! After playing frogger in South America for so long, it’s taking us a while to get used to drivers who actually stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.
  • Most places we stayed had a shoe horn by the front door since it’s customary to remove your shoes at home.

Fast Facts

  • Best beer: Noa Peca Mud Cake Stout by Omnipollo
  • Favorite city: Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Favorite museum: Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden
  • Most interesting experience: Visiting the greenlight district in Freetown Christiania

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Central and South America were awesome! We had a great time, met a ton of interesting people, and ate delicious food everywhere we went. We definitely plan to go back in the future and hope all of you are able to as well.

By the numbers

  • Number of days: 158
  • Number of countries: 10
  • Number of cities: 35
  • Number of times we flew*: 11
  • Number of times we bused*: 26

*These are total trips and not individual legs. Sometimes it was a direct trip, but other times it may have been up to four legs (e.g., busing from Coyhaique to El Bolson).

Food

Money

  • Most expensive country: Argentina
  • Cheapest country: Mexico
  • Number of currencies used: 9

Despite a few expensive flights and fun splurges, we’re under budget! This is especially good as we head to Europe where things won’t be cheap. Our biggest expenses were lodging and transportation. Workaways have been a great way to keep costs down.

Highlights

Miscellaneous

  • Items sent home: hammock, water purifier, a couple books, brewery stickers & coasters (the only real souvenirs we’ve been collecting)
  • Number of times we needed cipro: 4
    • Number of times that stopped us from eating street food: 0
  • Collective weight lost: around 15-20 pounds!

Constants throughout our 5.5 months

  • Always have your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer since those items may not be provided in bathrooms.
  • You usually can’t flush toilet paper.
  • Liquids (yogurt, milk, etc.) often come in bags rather than plastic or cardboard containers at the grocery store.
  • Eggs are never refrigerated.
  • There is an excessive amount of car alarms and honking.
  • Always check to see if it’s ok to drink the tap water. Chile, Argentina, and Rio were the only places we could drink it. Bottled water is cheap in places where the locals need to drink it too.
  • Only cross the street when the locals do. For the most part traffic laws seem to be optional throughout the region, although drivers in Chile and Argentina tended to be more courteous to pedestrians.
  • No matter what time or day of the week, soccer fútbol is somehow ALWAYS on tv!
  • Locals were generally encouraging when we tried to speak Spanish. Even if they could speak English, they would help teach us new phrases or words, correct our pronunciations, or just patiently wait while we searched through our limited vocabulary.
  • Since we weren’t there in high season, we really didn’t need to book anything ahead. We often got cheaper rates than advertized online by going to the hostel, bus station, tour company, etc. and talking directly with them.
  • Hostels are not always the cheapest option for couples. For the price of two dorm beds, we can often get a private room at the same price or only $1-3 more. Otherwise, we usually find the best deals on Airbnb.
    • We purposely chose not to bring a tent and sleeping bags, but if we had only traveled in South America it would have been worth it for all the free/cheap camping sites there (especially in Patagonia).
  • We still suck at bartering. Turns out if you give Laura a beer beforehand, she gets a little better at it. Vesper just can’t.
  • Always have cash since many places won’t accept credit cards. Some small towns don’t even have ATMs so plan ahead for that too.
  • Craft beer is surprisingly expensive, but as we learned over and over again, this is usually due to the difficulty and cost of getting all the necessary brewing supplies down here.
  • From the few times we flew, we were almost always given free meals (even if the flight was only an hour) and free checked bags - unlike US airlines where you’re lucky to get anything for free.

As a bonus, here is a quick video compilation of our time in South America where I try really hard not to look at the camera:

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Fun Under the Brazilian Sun

Our original plans for South America didn’t involve Brazil because of the costly visa requirement for US citizens, but when we found out that the visa was waived starting June 1 for the Olympics, we knew we would visit! Plus we heard that flights to Europe from Rio were cheaper than anywhere else in South America so that was a huge win for us too. We spent nine days exploring Rio de Janeiro and its beautiful beaches, delicious food, lush scenery, and awesome hikes.

The Food

As we mentioned in our Iguazu post, we started off our time in Brazil eating pão de queijo (cheesebread balls) and coxinhas (basically Brazil’s version of chicken croquettes). Off to a good start, we continued eating our way through the city trying African-influenced sandwiches on the beach, acai berry and granola smoothies, bolinhos de bacalhau (fried codfish balls) paired with ice cold cerveja, and all-you-can-eat steakhouses. There were small bars on every street serving chopp (draft beer) around the clock and numerous stands selling caipirinhas all over the beach. When we tired of those, we managed to find possibly the best beer bar yet! Botto Bar had a huge selection of awesome beers on tap and was an excellent way to wrap up our beer experience in South America. Our favorite food we tried in Rio was hands down the amazing sandwiches at Cervantes, located just two blocks from our Airbnb. It has a full restaurant, but we always went to its walkup bar around the corner from the restaurant since it took us all of five minutes to inhale this deliciousness. We probably would have gone everyday if we could have but budgets exist for a reason. Who wouldn’t love slices of amazing filet mignon paired with delicious melted cheese, a slice of pineapple, and some killer hot sauce?

Brazilians mostly favor ice cold light beer so Botto Bar was a delicious exception.
Cervantes was amazing. We would have happily eaten there everyday.
Pão de queijo are probably super healthy and a yummy post-hike treat!
Bolinhos de bacalhau and African-influenced beach food.
The aftermath of an all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse. Laura out ate Vesper. Seriously.

The Workouts

Motivated by the warm sunny weather and the weight we were gaining trying so much delicious food, we managed to get some type of workout in every day. It makes it easier to workout when you’re either running along the world famous Copacabana Beach or hiking to a majestic view of the city. Always on the lookout for free activities, we found out that you can hike halfway up Rio’s iconic Sugarloaf Mountain and then ride a cable car all the way to the top. It’s only about a 30-40 minute hike to the top of Urca Hill (the first peak). The first time we hiked it you couldn’t see Christ the Redeemer through the clouds so we decided to come back on a sunnier day to take the cable car up to the second peak. The second time we lucked out with great views of the city, but we were disappointed to find that that it totally wasn’t worth paying to go all the way to the top. The views from the top of the first peak were prettier and more panoramic - plus, we felt like we earned them since we hiked there.

View from the top of Urca Hill.
While the top of Sugarloaf looks cool from below, the views up there are not nearly as good.
The view from Urca Hill with Christ the Redeemer watching over the city.

We found even better views of Rio from the top of Christ the Redeemer. The hike to the top was insane, consisting of two hours scrambling up super steep slopes - literally pulling yourself up a “ladder” of vines, tree roots, and maybe a chain or two - but was it was fun and the views at the top were killer!

The hike up was quite vertical, but you get to do a cheesy picture at the top!
A view from the top of Christ the Redeemer. Look at the cover photo for this post to see another view.

Fun fact: We have now been to five of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.” Only Petra and the Taj Mahal are left!

The Beaches

We spent most of our time on Copacabana Beach since our Airbnb was only two blocks away. We also went to Ipanema, the next beach over, as well as a few other ones we stumbled upon walking around the city. They were all beautiful, but it’s still winter here so many were either empty or sparsely populated. Either way it was awesome to be at a beach and in warm temperatures after spending the last few weeks in cold weather.

Copacabana Beach, only 2 blocks from our Airbnb!
Vermelha Beach right below Sugarloaf and Ipanema Beach.
Copacabana Beach and Vermelha Beach as seen from Urca Hill.

Overall Impressions

With the upcoming Olympics, the government scandals, and the poor economic situation, we weren’t sure what to expect from our time in Rio. Our parents worried about the crime and violence, but we felt safe the whole time. We realize this is probably since we mostly stayed in touristy areas, didn’t wander around too much at night, and did our research ahead of time about places to avoid. Similar to any place you might visit, you need to be smart about where you’re going, what you’re carrying, and always be aware of your surroundings. Oh, and as for Zika: we survived! Granted we don’t plan on having babies anytime soon (sorry mom), but since it’s winter and not very humid there really weren’t any mosquitoes (although we also used bug spray just in case).

Apart from health and safety, the other common question was whether Rio is ready for the Olympics. Answer: who knows! The Olympic volleyball stadium on Copacabana Beach was definitely not close to being done… But Copacabana is also going to be hosting parts of the triathlon and the marathon, and we saw them setting up big spectator stands alongside the road that are basically ready to go for August. We asked an Uber driver what he thought about the preparations, and he was confident that everything would be done on time. He’s also excited for the Olympics because that means a lot more business for him so he was happy to be practicing his English with us.

Speaking of languages, we are ashamed to say we have no idea what is going on in Portuguese. After five months of Spanish we were thinking that the two languages were probably close, right? Wrong. Or at least, sometimes Portuguese was similar and then other times it sounded like they were speaking some version of Russian? Maybe? Portuguese is a descendant of Latin with influences from other languages including Gallaecian, an extinct Celtic language, so maybe that explains some of what we were hearing. It was pretty interesting and made for some comical Portuguese-Spanish encounters where neither of us could understand the other.

Overall, Rio was an awesome place to wrap up our five months in Central and South America! Great food, awesome beaches, and friendly people helped us to relax and get ready to springboard to Europe!

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