Three-Day Weekend: Norway
This is, undeniably, the most beautiful place I’ve ever used a toilet.
I should probably explain: In Norway, I often find myself uttering variations of “this is the most beautiful _______ I’ve ever seen.” But after years of exploring my ancestral homeland, I never thought I’d say it in a bathroom. It’s a nice side effect of the country’s oil-funded Tourist Route system, an ambitious program pairing Norway’s top architects with the country’s most scenic drives to design overlooks and bridges (nasjonaleturistveger.no). Their genius is also applied to roadside rest stops.
Widely hailed as one of earth’s most stunning places—especially if you gawk at natural beauty—Norway’s fjord country has also been one of the most expensive to visit. But thanks to a surging U.S. dollar, plunging oil prices, and direct cheap flights on Norwegian Air, this year is the perfect time to see Norway at a discount (fares from $249, norwegian.com).
With so much to explore, the best plan is to see Bergen…and then get the heck out of town, driving through fjord country and hitting every scenic view you can.
Soaking in Norway’s Seattle
Small enough to see in a day, yet chock full of great neo-Nordic cuisine, culture, and postcard-everywhere-you-look scenery, rain-drenched Bergen always reminds me of the Pacific Northwest, starting with its music. Norwegian acts aren’t quite household names, but the local scene has an impressive range, from Röyksopp (electronic pop) and Enslaved (black metal) to Sondre Lerche (singer/songwriter) and Ylvis (“What Does the Fox Say?”), all the descendants of classical icon Edvard Grieg, who play in small venues like Bergen Kjött (a meat market turned art gallery/concert venue, bergenkjott.no) and the adjacent large stage and intimate club setting at Lille Ole Bull (olebullhuset.no).
I know this sounds touristy, but I can’t visit Bergen without walking through the colorful wharf buildings of the Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage site and 14th-century trading center. Dodging the relentless drizzle, I ducked into the expansive Bergen Art Museum ($12, kodebergen.no), then hit the vintage shops and cafés along pedestrianized Skostredet.
They aren’t cheap, but Nordic standouts Restaurant 1877, renowned for its seasonal, local organic produce (from about $64 for a three-course meal, restaurant1877.no), and weather-inspired seafood perfectionist Cornelius (from about $48 for a two-course meal, corneliusrestaurant.no), complete with boat trip to its own island, compare to the best dining experiences I’ve had in any city, from New York to Copenhagen. To give your credit card a break, Marg og Bein’s award-winning local seafood (entrées from about $20, marg-bein.no) and Bare Vestland’s delicious Norwegian “tapas,” craft beers, and the best bread and butter you’ll have in your life (dishes from about $5, barevestland.no) offer quality far beyond their price.
Once the weather cleared, I dropped everything to hop on the Flöibanen funicular up Mount Flöyen for a panoramic view of the city, fjord, and surrounding mountains (round-trip ticket about $11, floyen.no).
Driving a Fjord
It contradicts everything said about traveling in Norway, but I rented a car. Yes, gas is expensive, but with a scenic view better than the last around every bend, I needed to explore on my own.
My first stop was Naeröyfjord, the narrowest fjord in the world, with 5,000-foot-high snow-capped peaks plunging almost vertically into blue-green water just 750 feet across at its tightest point. This UNESCO World Heritage site is best seen from the water (I opted for a kayak, but there’s also a ferry) or hiking along the 600-year-old Postal Path.
Tunneling under the mountain took me to Flam, a town best known for a railway repeatedly voted most scenic in the world (tickets from about $42, visitflam.com). This hour-long train ride, switchbacking 3,000 feet up the mountainside past a dozen waterfalls, is a must-see. But so, on the way out of town, is the toilet at Stegastein—even if I didn’t need to go. A Tourist Route overlook, this doozy of a loo peeks over the cliff’s edge, thousands of feet above Aurlandsfjord, offering a private, scenic view.
There’s precious little to do in Fjaerland, and that’s why this 300-resident hamlet is one of my favorite spots on Earth. The sleepy streets in town are dotted with tiny bookshops (some just shelves with an honor-system cashbox); above town in summer they’re lined with the sweetest raspberries I’ve ever tasted. Adding to its air of fairytale perfection, the only real lodging option, Hotel Mundal, celebrating its 125th birthday this year, is almost ridiculously quaint and furnished with family antiques (from about $163 per night, hotelmundal.no). The toughest part was finding any motivation to go anywhere else.
Journeying through the Land of Glass and Ice
Just outside town, I stopped by the Norwegian Glacier Museum (admission about $15, english.bre.museum.no) to join a trek on—and in—nearby Jostedalsbreen, Europe’s largest glacier, its arms still grinding inexorably down at a rate of six feet a day (hikes from about $33, jostedal.com). For more midsummer snow, Stryn Summer Ski Centre offers the rare chance to rocket down a 900-foot ski slope in nothing but skis and shorts (about $15 for one trip down, about $45 for one-day access, strynsommerski.com).
The nearby town of Geiranger, another UNESCO site often called the “most beautiful place on earth,” offers hiking, kayaking, and ferry rides past waterfalls plunging thousands of feet from impossibly perched cliff-top summer farms straight into Geirangerfjord.
Driving up the Valldalen valley, I passed through the spectrum of Norwegian ecosystems (fjord, forests, farmland, alpine meadows, arctic mountain peaks) and history (centuries-old farms and grass-roofed cabins to the new modern visitor center at Trollstigen Pass), seeing the country’s highlights in just 20 miles. My vote for most scenic of all Tourist Route overlooks, Trollstigen, or “Troll’s Ladder,” is a favorite spot for BASE jumpers. I watched jumpers in wingsuits plunge past the buses that climb the hairpin turns, as they tried to get close enough to almost touch one without dying.
Doubling back down Valldalen, I found an understated architectural marvel: Juvet Landscape Hotel, a scattering of glass-walled cabins and spa unobtrusively perched among birch trees over a rushing mountain river (from about $190 per night, juvet.com). (If it looks familiar, you’ve seen the movie Ex Machina.) Built by the architectural firm Jensen og Skodvin without blasting rock or cutting trees, the cabins have dark walls, sparse furniture, no TVs, and no curtains—ensuring there was nothing to distract from the most impossibly perfect view I’ve ever had from a hotel room. Do I really have to leave?
Eat Like a Local in the Bahamas
Like other Caribbean islands that rely heavily on tourism and food imports, the Bahamas are not a cheap destination. Whether you’re on a cruise, at a resort, or even renting with Airbnb, restaurants, activities, taxis, and souvenirs add up fast. Sure, you can skip the latter, bring your own snorkeling gear, and stick to the $1.25-a-ride local jitneys to get around, but the restaurants? Expect to pay more than $25 a plate for something as mundane as shrimp over linguine—and that’s at a casual sports bar outside Nassau. Of course, where there’s a will, there’s a way to eat cheap in the Bahamas, and you can bet that it involves local food. Here are some tips for sniffing it out in and around the pricey cruise capital of Nassau, on New Providence Island. Track Down the Parking-Lot Vans On weekdays, lunch vans will often park in beach lots or near souvenir shopping hubs to provide lunch for local vendors—and any savvy tourists in the vicinity. What’s a lunch van, exactly? Just what it sounds like: a car or van with a hatchback full of home-cooked Bahamian food, from curry chicken to oxtails or pork chop, depending on the day. A heaping plate with two sides—rice and peas, potato salad, coleslaw, steamed vegetables, the islands’ trademark “slice” of mac-and-cheese—will run you about $6. They are not always easy to find, as signage might not be present, so ask around. We found one called Shan’s in the lot behind the massive Mélia resort in Cable Beach, a stone’s throw from the area’s famed Daiquiri Shack. (Incidentally, the daiquiris also cost $6 apiece, if you’d rather drink your lunch!) Visit the “Other” Fish Fry To be clear, there is only one Fish Fry on New Providence—that colorful strip of fish and conch shacks on Arawak Cay—and it’s definitely worth a visit. But there’s no denying the more laid-back, local flavor of Potter’s Cay, which stretches underneath the bridge to Paradise Island. The “dock,” as it’s called, is lined with eateries and bars, likewise rainbow-hued, but a bit more ramshackle than on Arawak; produce stands and a fish market add to the local vibe. (Also, you’re under a giant bridge, so it feels kind of gritty and secret, despite the turquoise-water views.) Most of these places specialize in unmissable made-to-order conch salad ($12) and cheap Kalik beers, but several offer other Bahamian dishes, like chicken souse and stew conch. To get there, hop on a No. 1 jitney from downtown Nassau—and while some eateries do open for lunch, Potter’s Cay really gets going after 4pm. Hit Up the Bakeries Thanks to a handful of European pastry chefs who have landed in resort kitchens over the years, the Nassau area has a great little bakery scene. At both the Original Swiss Sweet Shop (locations in Cable Beach and downtown Nassau) and the Swiss Pastry Shop (Cable Beach), you’ll find some tasty and inexpensive breakfast and lunch items—Jamaican-style patties (don’t miss the conch patties; $3.75 apiece), dense johnny cakes with cheese, quiches—nestled among the cakes, custards, tarts, and Bahamian sweets. Be sure to pick up a traditional guava duff for dessert; you’ll pay a bit less here ($5) than in most restaurants. Eat on the Road Roadside shacks seem like common sense for inexpensive local grub, but if you don’t have a car here, it requires a bit of research. Along the No. 10 jitney route, west of Nassau between Cable Beach and Love Beach, there are a couple of worthwhile spots, including the always-hoppin’ Dino’s—home of some of the island’s best conch salads, which start at $10 a pop but can easily fill you for lunch or dinner. Cheaper than conch are the meat-and-starch meals you’ll find from food trucks like Evelyn’s, which parks daily at the very end of Potter’s Cay—try the steamed ribs or turkey for lunch ($6), or some grits and sardines for breakfast—and the roadside vendors behind Montagu beach, east of downtown. Go Grocery Shopping Supermarkets around here are pretty standard, not unlike those in the U.S. (and if you’re self-catering, you’re better off buying produce and fish from outdoor markets). But some of them, like the Quality Supermarkets chain, offer a prepared-foods section where you can pick up items like rotisserie chicken, ribs, and Bahamian-style mac-and-cheese for under $10. Add a six-pack of Kalik or a $10 bottle of Ole Nassau dark rum (from a liquor store), and you’re set for the night! This article was written by Laura Siciliano-Rosen, co-founder of food-travel website Eat Your World, a guide to regional foods and drinks in destinations around the globe.
Make It Happen: Bangkok
FLIGHTS: No carrier flies directly from the U.S. to Bangkok anymore, but here's what you can do: From the East Coast, fly in any direction, and air travel generally costs more than $1,000. From the west, airfare is almost the same price, but recently round-trip fares with carriers like Air China and EVA Air have been dipping as low as around $700 from LAX and SFO. STAY: The colorful, stylish Hotel Indigo Bangkok Wireless Road opened a year ago in the city’s embassy district. It might not be the sexiest address, but it’s near Lumphini Park and has a 24th-floor infinity pool with great views of Bangkok (from about $115 per night, ihg.com). EAT: For street food, head to trendy Chinatown, which is now home to buzzy bars and cool galleries. If you're looking for authentic street food, don't worry: Its alleys are still noisy with vendors hawking grilled meatballs on a stick, plates piled high with pad thai, spicy noodle soup, and more. Err—minutes away from Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha)—is a gastropub painted with murals that serves comfort dishes like slices of green mango soaked in fish sauce spiked with chilies and crisp-on-the-outside coconut sticky rice (small plates start at about $1, errbkk.com). DO: The Buddhist temples, like Wat Pho and Wat Arun, are must-dos, but so is a longboat sail through the city’s network of canals. There are many operators waiting at Tha Tien (Tien Pier) that provide everything from basic tours to excursions that serve a meal onboard. Bangkok’s markets are great for haggling and people-watching. The most exciting is the massive Train Market—located behind Seacon Square shopping mall—at night. Its countless stalls house vintage motorcycles, homemade clothes by local designers, antique furniture, and old vinyls. WHEN TO GO: The tail end of monsoon season (September and October) can mean more budget-friendly prices at some of the city’s hotels, but there really is no concrete low season in popular Bangkok anymore. Visit during Loy Krathong, an annual festival that typically lands in November. That's when Thai people all over the country celebrate the water goddess by floating candles on rivers, the sea, lakes—any body of water. In Bangkok, on the night of the festival, the Chao Phraya River takes on a romantic glow.
Foodie Alert! Meet London’s Brand-New Cheap Eats Mecca
History! Culture! That accent! Potentially seeing Keira Knightley! Those are just a few of the many reasons London tops must-visit lists. But the two most common gripes we hear are about the reputedly not-so-great cuisine and the fact that the city can be pricey. The foodie scene has been evolving for a while, though, and there’s a new game in town that's taking a big step toward countering both of those stereotypes. Mercato Metropolitano is a 45,000-square-foot market set to open June 30. Come hungry, because you won’t want to miss anything in this edible metropolis, where admission is free. As we like to mention here at BT, visiting markets is one of the best ways to experience a city's culture. Here's what you need to know: Located in the new SoBo area (south of Borough), part of the Borough Triangle that is currently undergoing a £3 billion regeneration, Mercato Metropolitano is housed in a former paper factory. The warehouse has been transformed into a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces where farmers, artisans, and small producers from across the U.K. and Italy can mingle, all in the name of great food. Expect the best pizza maker from Naples, award-winning British food retailers, a bakery, fishmongers, butchers, coffee roasters, artisan beer makers, cheesemongers, specialist charcuterie, a wide variety of the best wines from Italy, fresh fruits and vegetables, pasta makers, an outdoor street food area, and much more. Also tucked inside the three-story building is Prezzemolo e vitale, a family-owned fresh supermarket from Palermo known for having the best of southern Italy’s produce. Mercato Metropolitano won’t just be for eating. There will also be an in-house cinema, cooking demonstrations, workshops, talks, and cultural events open to the local schools and public. You can find activities in the urban garden and talks from producers about their favorite foods, as well as musical performances and cultural exhibitions. How’s that for the flavors of London?
Prepare to Binge on Budget Travel's Addictive Coast-to-Coast Video Series!
My name is Robert and I am addicted to Budget Travel's Coast-to-Coast by Word of Mouth video series. I honestly thought I was immune. After all, I'm the editor in chief who greenlighted the crazy coast-to-coast concept: Our photo editor, Whitney Tressel, would drive from Los Angeles to Charleston, sans GPS, sans guidebooks, following only the advice of locals she met along the way; Whitney would shoot video and still photography and deliver dispatches from the road, which our senior, Jamie Beckman, turned into fun blog posts, a huge feature, and a pleasantly endless slideshow. But I'm not immune to binging on this incredible video series. From the moment Whitney hits the Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles to her final sunset in South Carolina, these short films keep me watching and smiling. And I'm not the only one: The great travel tips, amazing food, and friendly faces of Whitney's informal "tour guides" earned Coast-to-Coast by Word of Mouth a nomination for MIN's Best of the Web award for multi-media feature. To watch our Coast-to-Coast by Word of Mouth preview and episodes 1 through 4, visit Budget Travel's video collection (where you'll also find incredible "day-in-the-life" footage of Cuba, Antigua, Miami, Berlin, Bangkok, and more).