UNESCO World Heritage Site

Stopping for a selfie at a lava field on Chain of Craters road in Volcanoes National Park

Two quick stops with a long flight in between. From Bora Bora the goal was the Big Island back in Hawaii, but instead of trying to arrange a connecting flight we stopped for a day-and-a-half back in Tahiti. Same hotel that we liked, the Hilton, but this time we made reservations in advance to have dinner at a very nice French restaurant in downtown Papeete. Definitely better than resort food once again.

I walked around Papeete a little and it had the potential to be a cute place for a day or two. Nothing you ever need to see but possibly charming.

Steak tartare at L’O A La Bouche, a lovely French restaurant in Papeete

Then it was back to Hawaii, a six-hour flight north and then a connecting flight to the Big Island. (The island is officially called Hawaii but since that would constantly confuse people wondering if you were talking about the island or the state, everyone calls it the Big Island.) Our first stop was again pretty short, just two days in a rustic lodge very near the entrance to Volcanoes National Park.

If you are really into geology and how the earth was formed and all that, Volcanoes National Park would be just your cup of tea. There were lots of trails to hike around various volcanoes and lava flows, and lots and lots of boards explaining how this had happened and why that had happened. It turns out that I was just never a science guy and after just a few of those my eyes were glazing over.

One of the smaller craters we hiked by. If you’re from northern Minnesota it looks a lot like an abandoned iron ore pit…

With that said it was still interesting to walk around and see stuff. We hiked quite a ways around the rim of Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Lots of steam but sadly no spewing orange fire balls. And we did a drive along the Chain of Craters road that passed by lots of smaller craters and lava flows.

That’s me out on one of a million lava flows

Beyond that I loved just the peace and quiet of the place. The park is up at a pretty high altitude and so the weather was surprisingly cool, a nice change of pace for us. Our little cabin was a decided change from the fancy resorts we usually stay in and it was a nice diversion. It was in a pretty remote spot so I could do long walks on quiet country lanes that were beautiful.

And that was that, four days and a long flight. We have one last stop on the other side of the Big Island before we go back to the small island we call home.

The Tahiti Hilton at sunset. Not too shabby.

The deck on our little cabin made for a great spot to read and maybe have a little scotch. The lodge was in the town of Volcano, so there we were, staying in a volcano!

That may look like a hiking trail but in fact Mark is just a couple feet from the door to our cabin

Part of my very cute and very relaxing country lane walk

Our hike along the crater rim

Mark up above the crater. We were high above the floor at this point and back further it got a lot deeper still.

Hiking the trails of Volcanoes National Park

It may not look it but that’s a long way down

At the entrance to a lava tunnel. Fortunately they had electric lights in there or it would have been a pretty challenging walk.

The Hōlei Sea Arch at the very end of the Chain of Craters road

Beautiful, moody Bergen, snuggled in between the sea and the mountains

From Finse our next stop was Bergen, over on Norway’s western coast. The second largest city in Norway (after Oslo) and Norway’s capital in the 13th century, today it is an important commercial port and major tourist destination. The historic buildings on the eastern side of the old city harbor known as Bryggen form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of Bergen’s picturesque streets

First though, we had to get here from Finse. We’ve traveled by train a lot in Europe and we’ve come to expect reasonably timely service, reasonably comfortable service, a reasonably easy trip. OK, not so much in Norway. Our train was some 45 minutes late getting into Finse, it stopped a few times en route to Bergen due to technical problems, there was no café car, and we’d been warned that at the penultimate stop we would have to get off and transfer to a bus.

OK, things go wrong. But when we got off the train to finish the trip by bus … there was no bus. The signs all pointed to the place to catch a bus, but there was no bus. I just assumed they would have that all arranged but … not so much. Now eventually we only had to wait 10 or 15 minutes, but then the bus didn’t have enough seats for everyone so some people had to stand the full 30 or 35 minutes it took us to get to Bergen. Not exactly what you expect for Europe’s train system.

Eventually, though, we got to Bergen. The first thing to note about our stay here was that the weather was not normal. You know those European heat waves you’ve heard about recently? Totally missed Norway. Mark was here 36 years ago in August and he remembers normal summer weather. Our three-night stay was all rain and fog and cold and more rain. You’d look at the forecast on your iPhone and see that there was a high chance of rain, and sure enough it was raining. You’d look at your iPhone and see there was zero percent chance of rain and … it was probably raining then anyway.

Three American tourists, three new raincoats!

One result was that the tourist stores along the harbor were full of tourists buying rain coats and rain pants and sweaters and coats and gloves. And when I say “tourists,” of course I’m referring to Mark and Jim. And Bart and Ann, who joined us here for the three days. And as you walk around the city you can see all these tourists who, just like us, have the nicest, cleanest, newest cold wet weather gear on. Quite the sight.

What’s to do in Bergen? Parts of it are really beautiful, you’re surrounded by water and mountains, and with all the precipitation the greenery is practically exploding. So you walk around (in your rain coat and rain pants, maybe an umbrella) and enjoy the moody beauty. A funicular takes you high above the city where there are great views and beautiful trails.

Bart & Ann enjoying the views from above the city

But there’s only so much of that you want to do in the rain. So there’s always laundry to do. Mark had done the research and found the service where you can drop off your dirty clothes in the morning and pick up clean, folded clothes in the afternoon. Sadly, though, the owners were on their summer holiday so instead I had to schlep some two miles north of the city center to a laundromat. Not ideal, but there’s little that makes us happier than a suitcase full of clean clothes.

Mark, Ann, & Bart getting high

And then spending time with Bart & Ann. Walking around, laughing, joking, finding places to eat. Talking politics and catching up on stories of the people we know but don’t see anymore. And playing Hearts. Lots of playing Hearts. Mark was the big winner if you’re wondering.

Now the sun is trying to poke out so it’s time to get the heck out. From here we board a boat and will spend six days sailing up through the fjords, up past the Arctic circle to the very northeast edge of Norway. Despite what one might think after reading about our two weeks on a boat in Croatia and now this trip, we’re honestly not cruise or really even boat people. But I didn’t want my first fjord experience to be some cheap day trip, and the chance to get that far north just seemed too good to pass up. So here we go.

More moody Bergen

Cozy streets

Cute houses

Historic wooden buildings in Bryggen

There’s a lot of green in this city

Oh right – history and culture. This was the King’s Hall next to Bergen’s old fortress. It is still used sometimes for events and concerts.

Political street art

Mark is always making new friends

A trail up above the city

Another pretty, wet street in the old town

Hard to believe that 25 years ago Bart was building our condo in Cambridge. A quarter of a century later there’s no couple we enjoy traveling with more.

Here we are early in the hike around the lakes. Pretty nice water, huh?

We made a two-day stop in Plitvice Lakes National Park, what the guidebook calls Croatia’s “Adriatic hinterland,” about a hundred miles southeast of Opatija. We’d wanted to go there way back in 2013 when we first came here on our big adventure but it’s really hard to get here without a car. So part of the calculation in deciding to rent a car for this leg of our Slovenia/Croatia trip was to get to Plitvice.

The whole reason one comes to the area is this series of cascading lakes and waterfalls, surrounded by lush forests. It isn’t cheap – it’s about $40 per person, plus $10 for parking – but for a day-long outdoor experience it’s hard to beat. I mean, it’s been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 1970s. Oh, and one historic note worth mentioning. When Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the Yugoslav (i.e., Serbian) army’s first point of attack was Plitvice. They held the park through the duration of the war and in fact it is thought that some remote parts of the park – not anywhere close to where tourists go – may still have Serbian landmines. Yuck.

As Lonely Planet puts it, “It’s as though Croatia decided to gather all its waterfalls in one place and charge admission to see them.”

So what’s going on here? The basic idea is that the geology of the area is loaded with limestone. As all the water flows along it picks up limestone and drops chalk sediment all over. That creates ideal growing conditions for moss and algae which constantly reroute the flow of water. The result is an ever-changing landscape of waterfalls cascading to lower lakes, over and over, all in stunning turquoise. And apparently it’s been going on for a long time, as in since the last great ice age.

And that was it. Though shorter routes are available, including lovely tour boats that glide across the biggest lakes as significant shortcuts, the full route around the major lakes in the park is about 12 miles. Which of course I had to do. Admittedly, I was sore the next days but the views were spectacular and definitely worth it.

Now it’s down to the ancient city of Split on the coast and off on a 14-day bike trip!

We were there quite early, before the crowds and when everything was very still

During the early part of the hike the boardwalk was often right over flowing water. We were amused by the lack of safety provisions; I can’t imagine you could have something like this without guard rails in the U.S.

More waterfalls

On the trail

While most of the trail was immediately next to the lakes, sometimes it went high up into the forest

From high up you would get views like this

And this