Norway & Iceland 2019

This year we went on a 14-day cruise to Norway and Iceland. We started with a visit to London. Then we traveled to Southampton England to board the Sapphire Princess cruise ship and sailed to Norway, with stops in Bergen, Flåm, Hellesylt, Geiranger, and Alesund. Then we sailed to Iceland, with stops in Akureyri, Isafjordur, Grundarfjordur, and Reykjavik. Then we sailed back to England.

Wednesday July 10, 2019
Flight to London

We left for the airport a little after 11AM to catch a 3:20PM flight to New Jersey. Cheryl is staying at our place to house sit and take care of the cats. The traffic was relatively light, so we made it to the airport with time to spare. We also had no problems getting through security, so we had plenty of time to have lunch at a restaurant in the airport.

Travel tip: If you do not have a direct flight, make sure you have at least a two-hour layover. Preferably longer. Our flight was delayed by one hour, so we did not take off until about 4:30PM. If the layover for our connecting flight would have been one hour or less, we would have missed our connecting flight. Fortunately, we were supposed to have a three-hour layover. Now it is two hours, so we still have plenty of time to make our connecting flight.

The flight to London is scheduled to take off at 10PM (9PM Minneapolis time). That flight will be a little over 7 hours, so we should be to London at about 10:10AM on Thursday (4:10AM Minneapolis time). Hopefully we can get some sleep on the airplane.

Thursday July 11, 2019

Well, that was a surprise. We boarded our flight last night dreading the long seven-hour overnight flight to London and discovered our business class seats that we purchased were individual private sleeping pods. Each seat could recline all the way back without infringing on the person’s space sitting behind us. Each seat also had its own access to the isle, so no climbing over somebody to use the toilet. We flew on United Airlines and the seats were called Polaris Business Class. I think we just discovered our new favorite way to fly to Europe.

We landed in London around 10AM (4AM Minneapolis time) and took a taxi to the Montague Hotel, located across the street from the British Museum. We picked this hotel because the British Museum was the primary place we wanted to visit before going on our cruise to Norway and Iceland.

They gave us our room around 1:30PM and now we plan on sleeping the rest of the day and night to catch up on jet lag. Even with the luxury seats on the plane, you still cannot get a good night’s sleep. On Friday morning, we will get up and spend the day visiting the museum and hopefully other parts of London, depending on how tired we get from walking around the museum.

Friday July 12, 2019

Travel Tip: When traveling to a distant place that involves a long flight and many time zone changes (like to Europe), plan on not doing anything the first day you arrive at your destination. Sue and I slept for most of the day yesterday and last night. We needed all that time to recover from the long flight from Minneapolis to London. We thought maybe we would go to the jazz club at our hotel last night after taking a nap in the afternoon, but that didn’t happen.

After breakfast at our hotel, we walked across the street to the British Museum to go on a Bible Tour of artifacts in the museum that have something to do with the Bible. Our guide was from London who use to be a missionary in Sierra Leone. He had plenty of knowledge and insight in the Biblical significance of various objects on display at the museum.

For example, he showed us some of the Lachish letters on display at the museum, which were discovered at the excavations at Lachish in 1935. These are secular letters that corroborate the historical accuracy of what is written at Jeremiah 26:20-23, which proves the accounts written by Jeremiah were historically correct, and not made up stories as some Bible critics claim. The letters also contain the name for God, which in Hebrew was written with the letters YHWH.

After the museum tour, we walked to Rocks & Sole Plaice for lunch because our guide said they had the best fish and chips in that part of the city. Then we took a bus to Trafalgar Square for a walking tour of that part of the city. The tour ended with a boat ride on the River Thames from the Westminster Pier to the Tower Pier. The highlight was seeing the famous Tower Bridge.

When we got back to our hotel, we ate dinner in the hotel lounge, which served very good hamburgers and fries. Surprisingly, we met a couple from the U.S. who are going on the same cruise that we are going on.

Saturday July 13, 2019
Stonehenge Tour & Transfer to Cruise Ship

We checked out of the hotel around 7AM and were picked up by a tour bus that took us to Stonehenge. We had about 2 hours to walk around seeing the site and the visitor center. Then the tour bus took us to Southampton where we were able to board the ship a little before 2PM.

Stonehenge is probably a site you should visit if you travel to the south of England, and we are glad we got to see it. But it is also one big huge tourist attraction. Over 1 million people visit the site each year, and I think a good portion of those 1 million were visiting today. Of course, it did not help matters that it was a Saturday. There were long lines of people waiting to get tickets (our tour bus driver got our tickets, which sped up the process for us). And once you get your tickets, there are long lines of people waiting to get on a bus that transfers you to the site. The parking lot is about a mile away from the site. Once the transfer bus gets you to the site, there are long lines of people walking around the collection of rocks, everybody wanting to take selfies, all on a narrow pathway with ropes to keep you on the approved walking path. They don’t let people walk up to the rocks or walk inside the circle. You basically spend an hour trying to get up close for about a 5 minute look, pictures, and then a long line waiting to get on the transfer bus to take you back to the visitor center, with crowds of people walking around the museum, gift shop, a restaurant to eat lunch, and then walk back to the parking lot where our tour bus was waiting.

It is a good thing the tour bus driver gave us about 2 hours, because it took almost that much time to stand in all those lines for our 5-minute look at the rocks. After Stonehenge, it was a 1-hour bus ride to get to our ship.

The process of checking in to board the cruise ship went very smooth. It was a huge relief to finally get into our room. Now we can unpack the suitcases and settle in for the next two weeks.

At 3:15PM, there was a mandatory lifeboat drill. A muster station is where you are assigned to meet in case of an emergency. The drill demonstrates how to put on your life jacket, where to get on the lifeboats, and other things you need to know in case of an emergency.

Travel Tip: When going on a cruise, go to your muster station about one half hour before the scheduled drill. There are never enough seats for everyone to sit. Sue and I had to stand because we got there about 5 minutes before it started. This lifeboat drill seemed much longer than all the other cruises that we have been on.

After the drill, we went back to our room to take a nap. The ship left port around 4PM. We have dinner reservations at 8PM each evening in the traditional dinning room, where we eat with the same people and have the same servers for the entire cruise. This ship also offers anytime dinning, where you can eat at one of 5 different dinning rooms at anytime during the evening. But you have to make dinner reservations first, and sometimes those areas are filled up at the time you want to dine. There is also a buffet dinning room where you do not need reservations.

After dinner, we went to the main theatre at 10:15PM to watch a show before going to bed.

Sunday July 14, 2019
At Sea

Our first full day of the cruise was at sea, with no ports of call, sailing from Southampton to Bergen. This gave us a chance to sleep in and rest up from the busy schedule we have had the last few days. So, there is little to report for this day.

We slept, we got up, we ate, we explored the ship, we did some shopping, we had some drinks, we went to the theatre for some evening entertainment, and then we went to bed.

Monday July 15, 2019
Bergen Norway, and the Bryggen & Scenic Cruise Excursion

Today we visited Bergen, the second largest city in Norway. It is a very rainy city with about 240 days of rain per year. We had perfect weather, with highs around 70 and mostly sunny. Nothing like our last visit to Bergen in 2016.

We had planned on walking into town to eat lunch at the fish market, but our ship was docked about a 15-minute walk from downtown. That would mean a half hour of walking to and from downtown, plus whatever time we would spend eating lunch, plus shopping, etc.

We skipped it because we had an excursion booked for around noon. The excursions begin on board the ship where you meet in a designated waiting area, such as the theatre, or one of the night clubs. So, we would have had to walk back to our ship, go through security, all before 11:30AM to go on our excursion (you have to meet at the designated meeting place about a half hour before the actual excursion begins). We decided it wasn’t worth all the extra walking. There was already a lot of walking on the excursion. Maybe it would have been different if the ship had docked next to downtown.

Our excursion started with a walking tour of the old part of downtown Bergen to look at the old buildings that once were used by the Hanseatic League, which consisted of German merchants trading with Norwegian fisherman. The above picture was taken in front of a row of Hanseatic League buildings right next to the harbor in downtown Bergen.

Then we got on a bus that took us out of the city and through the countryside. After about an hour, the bus let us off to board a tour boat that took us back to Bergen via one of the many fjords that surround Bergen. The excursion ended with a tour of the Bergen harbor.

Then, another 15-minute walk to get back to the ship. We were very tired by the time we got back to our room. After dinner, we went to the theatre to watch a comedy act.

Tuesday July 16, 2019
Flåm Norway, the Stegastein Viewpoint Excursion, and the Flåm Valley Train to Vatnahalsen Excursion

Another day of perfect weather, with highs around 70 and mostly sunny. Two days in a row with perfect weather might be a record for Norway. Tomorrow, it should be back to normal with a forecasted temperature of 49, cloudy, and chance of rain.

Today we visited Flåm Norway, which is located at the head of Aurlandsfjord, which is connected to Sognefjord, the longest fjord in Norway. The Sognefjord stretches some 120 miles from the ocean into the interior of Norway.

This time our ship docked right next to downtown Flåm, so it was easy to get on and off and back on again without walking a mile each way to get to where we needed to go.

Stegastein Viewpoint

In the morning, we took a bus to the Stegastein viewing platform. You can see from the pictures above that we had spectacular views of the fjord from above.

Then in the afternoon, we took the Flåm Valley train to Vatnahalsen and back. The train takes you up the valley and climbs the mountain where it eventually connects with the main railway that runs between Oslo and Bergen. It is popular for travelers to take the train from Oslo to the Flåm Valley train, and then once in Flåm, take the ferry to Bergen. This route is more scenic than simply riding the train all the way from Oslo to Bergen.

Halfway up, the train stops and lets riders off on a viewing platform to get pictures of a thundering waterfall right next to the train tracks.

Travel Tip: This is a very popular train and is usually crowded with passengers from cruise ships. While the train goes back and forth from each side of the valley, the best views are on the right side of the train as it heads up the mountain, and on the left side as it heads back down. If you want to take good pictures, you need to be next to the windows. There are six seats across, three on one side of the isle and three on the other. So only two out of six people can get clear and unobstructed pictures of the scenery.

After getting back from the train ride, we sat on the balcony of our room to take pictures of the cruise back out the Sognefjord. This time, we skipped the evening entertainment after dinner, because we were too tired.

Wednesday July 17, 2019
Hellesylt & Geiranger Norway, and the Herdal Summerfarm, Eagles Bend & Scenic Drive Excursion

The weather forecast for today was a little off. Temperatures were in the upper 60s with no rain, and you could actually see the sun for most of the day. Norwegians must think they are going though some kind of drought with no rain for three days.

Today we visited two ports. At 9AM we anchored in the harbor next to Hellesylt for two hours. This was basically to allow passengers who had all day excursions to get off the ship, tour the countryside, and then meet up with the ship later in the day in Geiranger, which is the next town a few miles up the fjord. There were no docks. Instead, passengers getting off the ship had to use the lifeboats (called tenders) to get to shore. Sue and I did not get off the ship, but we had great views of the town from the observation deck in the front of the ship.

Then we sailed to Geiranger and arrived around 12:30PM. Again, passengers had to use the lifeboats to get to shore and back.

Travel Tip: People with mobility issues have a hard time getting on and off the tender boats due to the many stairs. While the cruise ship itself is relatively easy to get around for people using walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters, getting to shore on a tender boat is a different matter. Check to see if getting to shore involves using the tender boats before booking a shore excursion.

Sue and I booked the Herdal Summerfarm, Eagles Bend & Scenic Drive excursion for Geiranger. The excursion started with a drive up the mountain to a viewing platform 1,700 feet above sea level overlooking the Geiranger fjord below. Then down the valley on the other side of the mountain, and then up a different valley to a summer farm that originally was used by the Vikings. A summer farm is a place where farmers bring their livestock up to graze on the mountain grasses during the summer. This allows the grass back home to grow so they can cut the hay in the fall and store it for winter use when the animals are brought back down the mountain to shelter in the barn.

The summer farm is also where they make cheese from goats’ milk. Norwegian brown cheese is a sweet cheese because it is made with the sweet part of the milk, which other cheese producers discard when making white cheese. While in the mountain valley, the animals are free to roam. The goats know when it is time to be milked and come back to the summer farm on their own.

After the summer farm, there was a stop at a bed and breakfast for some coffee and cake. The cake was like a folded pancake with butter and sugar on the inside. It tasted like fluffy lefsa.

Driving back to Geiranger, there was a traffic jam on top of the mountain at Eagles Bend. It took about 20 minutes to get through. Then back in Geiranger, there was another traffic jam of people trying to get back on the tender boats to go back to the ship, which involved about a half hour of standing in line.

Travel Tip: Again, people with mobility issues will have a hard time getting off the ship to go on excursions or walk around town. Basically, there are only two directions in Norway. Up and down. Even without stairs, the streets go either up or down, and there is a lot of standing in crowded lines. Geiranger only has a population of 200, but over 1 million tourists visit the town during the 4-month tourist season.

When we got back to the ship, we took video leaving the port of Geiranger and cruising the Geirangerfjord. We skipped the evening entertainment after dinner. All of the walking is challenging my mobility issues.

Thursday July 18, 2019
Ålesund Norway, and the Easy Ålesund Excursion

Partly cloudy and temperatures in the mid-60s. No rain. I get the funny feeling that Iceland is going to pay us back for all the good weather we had in Norway.

Ålesund Norway

Today we visited Ålesund, our last port of call in Norway before heading over to Iceland. Ålesund overlooks a string of islands off the west coast of Norway and is nestled at the entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Geirangerfjord. This town was rebuilt in the art nouveau style following a catastrophic fire in 1904 when most of the buildings (which at that time were made of wood) burned to the ground. After the fire, the government required all the buildings to be rebuilt with stone and brick. Buildings could not be rebuilt with wood.

Our excursion today was a bus ride through the town with a guide telling us all about the fire and the buildings and how nations from all over Europe and the United States donated funds for the re-building project. The Emperor of Germany is generally credited with much of this relief because he diverted three of his warships to Ålesund with food and building supplies within days after the night of the fire. Our guide, however, pointed out that most of the money and work was provided by other countries and that the relief provided by Germany was just a small part. Ironically, 40 years later the Germans occupied Ålesund during World War II, and that many Norwegians died trying to escape Ålesund on fishing vessels. We could see many of the German bunkers from the occupation that are still there today.

The excursion took us up to a viewing platform on one of the hills overlooking the city for photos. You can also walk up the stairs to the viewing platform from a park in town without taking a bus if you want to walk up 418 steps. Sue and I took the bus.

After the excursion, we sat in a few lounges on the ship for drinks and to listen to music. One had a pretty good rock band that did a tribute to the music of Queen.

We have dinner reservations each evening in the traditional dinning room, where we sit with the same people and have the same servers for the entire cruise. Two of the couples we are sitting with are from Australia, and one couple is from Malta who I think were originally from the UK. It has been very interesting visiting with them and getting to know about all their travel adventures.

Friday July 19, 2019
At Sea

Today we are at sea, sailing from Norway to Iceland. We are scheduled to arrive at our first port of call in Iceland around 8AM tomorrow (Iceland is 5 hours ahead of Minnesota time). For most of the day we sailed through thick fog. The ship keeps blowing its foghorn every two minutes. But the good thing is the seas are calm, as there is virtually no wind. I had hoped to get a picture of the midnight sun. The sun sets at about 12:30 AM and rises at 3:20AM, because we are almost right at the artic circle, and only about a month past the summer solstice. However, due to the thick fog, that didn’t happen. Maybe tomorrow the fog will go away.

When we are at sea, there is little to do on the ship. We slept, we got up, we ate, we explored the ship, we did some shopping, we had some drinks, we ate some more, and then we went to bed.

Saturday July 20, 2019
Akureyri Iceland, and the Godafoss Waterfall, Botanical Gardens & City Drive Excursion

Today we visited Akureyri, which is Iceland’s second largest city located in the far northern part of the island, just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It is believed to have been originally established as a settlement by the Vikings around the year 890.

Once again we had great weather…relatively speaking for Iceland…with only a few rain showers and temperatures around 50. The sun even made an appearance for a few minutes. The fog cleared just in time to see the Eyjafjord, Iceland’s longest fjord, as we sailed into Akureyri.

Sue and I walked to a restaurant for lunch which was located next to where our ship was docked. We each tried a glass of Viking beer, which is brewed locally in Akureyri.

Then we went on the Godafoss Waterfall, Botanical Gardens & City Drive excursion. Godafoss is located about 45 minutes from Akureyri. It is a popular stop for travelers taking the Ring road all around Iceland. The waterfall is part of the Skjalfandafljot River.

Godafoss means Waterfall of the Gods. Around the year 1000, the Vikings in Iceland were on the verge of civil war. The chief of Akureyri decided that to avoid war, the entire island must convert to Christianity. All the Viking clans agreed, and the island became united. The chief then threw his pagan idols into the waterfall. Thus, the name Godafoss. While Christianity was the only religion allowed by the government, the chief told his people that they could still worship their pagan gods in secret and the government would look the other way.

After visiting Godafoss, the excursion took us to the Botanical Gardens located in Akureyri. This is a public park with samples of most of the Icelandic flora as well as about 7,500 plants from around the world.

For dinner, we ate at the Pizza restaurant on the ship, because we got back from the excursion too late to eat in the traditional dinning room. We went to bed early because tomorrow we have to get up early to go on an excursion.

Sunday July 21, 2019
Isafjordur Iceland, and the Hesteyri & Glacier Fjord Cruise Excursion

Today we visited Isafjordur, a remote village in the far northwest region of Iceland. This is a town that is usually overlooked by travelers visiting Iceland, because it is a long way from the Ring road. It is the capital of the West Fjords, Iceland’s least populated region. It was originally settled by the Norwegian Vikings in the 9th century.

Once again we had great weather, sunny, with temperatures in the 50s. There was very little wind, so it was warm when standing in the sunlight. Standing around in the shade was much cooler.

In the morning, Sue and I went on the Hesteyri & Glacier Fjord Cruise excursion. This was an hour boat ride across the fjord to a remote abandoned village with no roads or outside source of electricity. The village was once used by the Norwegians for whale processing, and later for fish processing. The town was abandoned around 1950. Decedents of the inhabitants of the town still own some of the buildings and use them as summer cabins. It is also a nature reserve that is popular with hikers and campers. After a hike through the area, we had coffee and cake at “the Doctor’s House.”

We had an interesting conversation with the guy who runs the place. He said the original language for Iceland was that of the Norwegian Vikings. Over the centuries, the Norwegian spoken by Icelanders and the Norwegian spoken by those in Norway began to change. The Icelandic language is closer to the old Norwegian language, while the Norwegian spoken by those in Norway changed. We told him the same thing happened with Norwegian immigrants to the U.S. The Norwegian spoken by those immigrants is much different than the Norwegian spoken in Norway today.

Sue loved the flowers and orchids growing wild in the fields. When you think of Iceland, people generally think of it as a giant volcanic rock, but the wildflowers grow everywhere and are very colorful, as you can see in the picture above. We also got to see whales and Puffins during the boat ride across the fjord.

After we got back from the excursion, we took the tender boat back to the ship. This was a Sunday, with not much of anything open for tourists. The captain said he thinks we overwhelmed the town with thousands of cruise ship passengers walking around town. It is relatively new for big cruise ships to stop here, and I think the Icelanders haven’t figured out yet how to capitalize on the commercial potential of selling touristy stuff. We saw no independent tours offered by the locals. Only those tours offered through the cruise ship.

Monday July 22, 2019
Grundarfjordur Iceland, and the Breidafjordur Archipelago Cruise Excursion

Another day of perfect weather with sunny skies, no wind, and temperatures close to 70.

Today we visited the small port of Grundarfjordur, a fishing village which sits quietly in a beautiful fjord in western Iceland surrounded by ice-capped mountains. The port is not big enough for cruise ships to dock, so we had to use the tender boats to get to shore and back.

At noon, Sue and I went on the Breidafjordur Archipelago Cruise excursion. This was a boat ride out to some of the outer islands to see the variety of sea birds that nest on the cliffs. The highlight was seeing Puffins, which are one of Sue’s favorite birds. The boat got up close to the cliffs and I think the birds were used to tour boats because they stayed there long enough for everyone to get good pictures.

Then the boat dropped some type of net or cage to drag the bottom to catch Sea Urchins and Scallops. They brought up the catch and everyone got to try eating the fresh sea food. You eat it raw right out of the ocean. Sue tried some. I did not. She said it was very good.

Travel Tip: While cruise ships have many onboard activities, to me the highlight of any port of call is going on an excursion. Getting off the ship and going on a tour gives me a better perspective of the places we visit. Try to book excursions several months in advance because the best ones are usually booked up before the cruise begins.

Tuesday July 23, 2019
Reykjavik Iceland, and the Best of the Golden Circle excursion

Today we visited Reykjavik, the largest city and capital of Iceland. Our ship was docked two miles from downtown Reykjavik in the warehouse district. Our excursion was an all-day bus ride through the Golden Circle, so we did not have a chance to see the downtown area.

The Golden Circle is perhaps the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland. It refers to an area within a day’s drive from Reykjavik which highlights some of the most famous attractions of Iceland.

The excursion began with a stop at a power plant just outside of Reykjavik. The power plant produces electricity and hot water for city residents by pumping the hot water from the ground. Iceland is a volcanic island with several active volcanos. The power plant sits next to a volcano that has not erupted in 2,000 years. However, it still produces hot water, which runs electric generators, and produces hot water to heat homes.

After the power plant, the bus took us to the Strokkur Geyser, which erupts every 5 to 10 minutes.

Then we drove to the Gullfoss waterfall, which is famous in Iceland because it is the waterfall where they wanted to put a power plant to produce hydroelectric power. Sigríður Tómasdóttir, whose father owned land next to the waterfall started a protest movement against destroying the waterfall and threatened to throw herself into the falls to stop the exploitation of the waterfall. The government apparently listened and decided to preserve the waterfall. She is considered to be the first environmentalist in Iceland.

Then we drove to Þingvellir national park, which is the site of the ancient parliament of the Viking Commonwealth. It is considered to be the single most important historic site in Iceland. It is also where the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate meet. Both plates are moving apart from each other at a rate of 2 centimeters per year.

The excursion lasted 8 hours, which was our longest excursion for the cruise, but it was also our last excursion. For the next three days we are at sea with no ports of call. We arrive back in Southampton on Saturday where we leave the ship and fly home.

Wednesday July 24, 2019
At Sea

Today we are at sea with no ports of call. We will be at sea until Saturday, July 27th, when we arrive in Southampton early in the morning. We are scheduled to disembark the ship at 9:25AM. A bus will then take us to the airport for a flight to Chicago, with a connecting flight to Minneapolis. If everything goes as planned, we should be landing in Minneapolis around 10PM.

This is the part of our cruise where we are mentally done with our vacation. We are anxious to get home. Sue and I miss our cats.

We had a great time and did just about everything we had planned on doing. The only excursion that was cancelled was an airplane ride in Iceland. The company apparently got grounded for safety reasons. But that was the day we had a second excursion booked for the afternoon, so we still had plenty to do that day.

I am not too interested in activities on the ship. Some passengers go on cruises just for the many activities that cruise ships have to offer. I am more interested in the places we visit. So, for me, these next few days at sea will basically be occupied with sleeping, eating, and sleeping some more.

One thing we did do today was book our next cruise to Alaska. By waiting until the end of a cruise, you get special offers and discounts to book a cruise while still on the ship. We got a good deal for Alaska next year. 2020 will be 10 years since our last visit to Alaska, so we decided it is time to go back. We also chose Alaska because we have now traveled to Europe 6 times in 8 years. We decided it is time to do something else, something closer to home.

Sunday July 28, 2019

Sue and I made it home around midnight last night. Cheryl did an excellent job of taking care of our cats. They seemed somewhat interested in our arriving home after two weeks of not being around. Cats are not like dogs. They do not wag their tail and bark in excitement to see you. If they look at you and acknowledge your presence, it means they are happy to see you.

Yesterday was a long day of travel, which is my least favorite part of any trip. We packed our big pieces of luggage the night before and set them out in the hall for the luggage people to carry off the ship. English customs required that the checked luggage be removed from the ship prior to allowing passengers to disembark. I think it had to do with scanning the big pieces of luggage for prohibited items such as drugs.

We had to be out of our stateroom by 8AM to allow the cleaning people to get the rooms ready for the next cruise. There are several public places on the ship that you can sit and wait until it is your turn to leave. We were assigned a 9:25AM disembarkation time. After leaving, we went to the luggage area to claim our checked luggage. Then we got on a transfer bus that took us to the airport, which was about a one-and-a-half-hour ride from Southampton to the London Heathrow airport.

We got to the airport about 11:30AM (London time), got our boarding passes, checked our luggage, and went through security. Everything went smooth. Then we found a restaurant in the airport for lunch. Hamburgers and fries. After lunch, we found the lounge for the first-class customers and discovered that drinks and lunch were included in the price of our first-class tickets. Oh well. Lesson learned. Next time we fly first class we will have to check out the first-class lounge at the airport before buying lunch. The flight from London to Minneapolis took off around 3:30PM (London time).

Once again, our airplane had sleeping pods for the business class seats, which allows you to lie flat without infringing on the space of the person seated behind you. Each seat had its own access to the isle so no crawling over the person seated next to you to use the toilet. Apparently, most international flights now provide sleeping pods for their first-class and business-class customers. With my back problems and long legs, I consider the extra cost of flying first-class a necessary cost of traveling to Europe. I can’t sit in economy seats for more than a few hours anymore. Our flight to Chicago was seven and a half hours, so we were able to get some sleep during the flight.

After landing in Chicago, we had to go through U.S. customs. We had to first claim our checked luggage and take it with us while having our passports checked. I had read that the process could take up to two hours if they decide to pull you aside and go through your luggage. No problem for us. The entire process was only about 10 minutes. Once outside of border security, we re-checked our luggage and took a bus to the terminal for domestic flights. Our flight to Minneapolis was scheduled for around 8:30PM (U.S. Central Time), so we had a couple of hours of sitting at the gate before our flight left.

Travel Tip: When getting your boarding pass and luggage tags for the checked luggage, they ask for a way to contact you during the flight. I gave them my cell phone number so that I could get text message updates for the flight. While sitting at our assigned gate for the flight to Minneapolis, I got a text message saying the gate number changed. We knew where the new gate was without having to check the departure board every so many minutes. Sometimes the new gate is a long walk from where the original gate is located, so it is a good idea to get text message updates from the airline for flight information while waiting at the airport for your flight.

The flight from Chicago to Minneapolis was less than an hour. We landed in Minneapolis at around 10PM.

Travel Tip: Terminal 1 at the Minneapolis airport has a shuttle train that takes you to the various parking ramps and Terminal 2. The shuttle train was fast and convenient and easy to use. It saved us about a 15-minute walk to get to our car which was parked in one of the outer parking ramps.

We got home around midnight. With a 6-hour time zone change between London and Minneapolis, that meant we had about 25 hours of travel from waking up on the cruise ship to getting home. We had a great time on our trip, but now we are tired and need a few days of rest.

Thanks for following my blog, and we hope you will check back next year to see video from our next vacation.


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