2015 Trip Accomplice Year in Review

Well, another year has passed. Another chance to look back and see what we’ve done with the time available to us. Here at the Trip Accomplice blog, I’ve used that time to produce 32 posts dedicated to locations in 8 countries on four continents, along with quite a bit of information about various travel tips and philosophies. In case you’ve missed anything, here’s a recap of the year’s journeys….

The Book is Here!

ebook You can Keep Your AdventureFor me, the highlight of the year was the release of my witty travel guide You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper. If you haven’t yet bought a copy, c’mon already…where else can you tour the world for under five bucks – and have some laughs along the way? It’s available on all major online book retailers. Click here for links.

The U.S. of A

DSC_2707
I can’t shake the feeling I’m not remembering something. That’s right: the basement!
More than any other period in this blog’s history, I focused on quite a number of U.S. destinations. Having moved from Long Island to Texas early in the year, I paid tribute to my former hometown in the post Reflections on Shirley (And Don’t Call Us Shirley) before a series of posts about my adopted state. In Houston as the Center of the Spacefaring Universe I talked about the main attraction (NASA’s Johnson Space Center) of my new home base. I also shared insights on nearby locales in The Alamo Has No Basement & Other San Antonio Facts and my most viewed post thus far Dude, Where’s My Ranch? Review of Rancho Cortez, Bandera, Texas. I paid tribute to the Windy City & 1980’s in the post (Insert Your Name Here)’s Day Off in Chicago. I also reviewed the somewhat out-of-the-way destinations of Southwestern Arkansas in Crater of Diamonds State Park – a.k.a. the Arkansas State Lottery and Hot Springs Will Melt Your Heart (& Your Fingers).

South America

Sugarloaf
A cable car ride to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain is a rite of passage and great place for city views
Though I had already covered some of my favorite places in Brazil in earlier posts, I finally got around to covering my favorite foreign city in the post In Rio de Janeiro Save the Drama for the Scenery. I also covered the intangibly cool Argentinian capital  in the post If You Suffer from Low Self-Esteem, Don’t Go to Buenos Aires.

Asia

Agra Fort Entrance
Seeing Red at Agra Fort
I didn’t focus a lot of direct attention on Asian countries this past year, though I did mention them in other context. My sole post was about the other attraction in the Indian city of Agra in Second Fiddle in Agra is Still A Show Worth Seeing.

Europe

Walking Flam
Walking the trails above Flåm
2015 saw my return to Europe, with a whirlwind tour of Scandinavia and Italy. I shared my brief impressions of Sweden in the post The Swedish Chef Was Asian & Other Surprises from Gothenburg. I next proceeded to gush over the magnificent sites of Norway in the post Norway Beyond “the Nutshell” before zeroing-in on specific sites such as incredible Flåm in Take A Ride on the Flåmsbana. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200, and the surprisingly charming city of Bergen in Bryggen of Bergen – Character & Charm That is Way Off the Level. I documented the mixed feelings I had about my return to the magical Italian Island of Ponza in the posts Ponza Revisited Parts I & II. From there I went on to wax poetic about the stunning Amalfi Coast in Have Your Cannoli & Eat it Too in Positano, raving about this heavily-touristed but still worthy Italian destination. Lastly, I recounted my impressions and insights about Holland’s premier city in Amsterdam: Advice Without the Vice.

The Miscellany

This year saw a lot of posts touching on my own travel goals and philosophies. I continued my streak of made-up terminology in Tranticipation: Defining the Joys of Trip Anticipation, revealed my personal travel goals in Snapshot of My Bucket List: Where and Why, and reminisced about my favorite travel experiences in Been There, Done That (But Would Do It Again). I also took aim at reluctant cruisers with my posts Cruising Advice For People Who Don’t Like Cruising – Tip #1 and Tip #2. To round things out I outlined my ideal traveling digs in A Wanderlust Wardrobe for the XL Seasoned Traveler.

2016 Preview

So what can you expect to see on the Trip Accomplice blog in 2016? Beats me! I have no firm plans for the year to come, and that’s all part of the excitement. But you can be sure that I will continue sharing the wonders of world travel with you, my faithful followers (I mean that in the least cult-leader-like way) in a way to make you marvel and smile. See you next year!
Is there anything you want to see more of in the year ahead? Leave a comment and I’ll be glad to take it under consideration.

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Take A Ride on the Flåmsbana. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200

View from the Flåmsbana
View from the Flåmsbana

Growing up, I had a friend who employed an annoyingly simple strategy when playing Monopoly. Instead of buying every property he landed on, he saved his money to buy the railroads. So while I was off investing in more potentially lucrative sites such as Park Place and Marvin Gardens, he very quietly – and unopposed – would soon have all four railroads under his control; thereby beginning the process of eroding my wealth while I would without fail land on those four spaces or pick up the most dreaded of all Chance cards: Take a ride on the Reading.

It may be a bit of a stretch, but that memory made an appearance when I took a ride on a very different type of railroad – the scenic Flåmsbana – a winding iron trail through some of the most breathtaking views in all of Norway. This was one railroad I was more than happy I had landed on. It didn’t even cost $200.

Getting there

The Flåmsbana starts (or ends, depending on your direction) in the town of its namesake, Flåm – a tiny hamlet at the tip of the lovely Aurlandsfjord in western Norway. From Oslo, it is a solid six hour drive; more if you stop to take pictures (and you will take pictures!) If you’re coming from Bergen, figure on a ride of two or two and a half hours. Many visitors skip the roads entirely, arriving via the numerous cruise ships that pull into this ridiculously gorgeous port nearly a hundred miles from the ocean.

What to do in Flåm

Walking the trails above Flåm
Walking the trails above Flåm

As a cruise port, Flåm’s “business” district centers around a cluster of capacious souvenir stores brimming with troll figurines, viking paraphernalia, and just about any item that you can think of with the word “Norway” stamped across it. Once you’ve got your souvenir shopping done, you can grab a bite in one of a handful of eateries, or sign up for a fjord tour, provided you didn’t get enough of that on your way in. If you’re staying in the area, I heartily recommend taking the ferry one-way to the miniscule village of Gudvangen via the UNESCO World Heritage Naeroyfjord and taking a transfer bus back. I know it’s not a railway, but the scenery is more than worth the deviation.

If you’d rather stay local, starting behind the large Fretheim Hotel at the edge of the fjord, there are a few walking paths that will take you to some strategic lookout points above the town. Like nearly everything else in the Vertical Republic of Norway, there’s a relatively steep incline, but I can assure you that the views will take your breath away even if the climb didn’t.

Riding the Flåmsbana

A Hulda at Kjosfossen Falls
A Hulda at Kjosfossen Falls

The most popular area attraction is the aforementioned Flåmsbana. You can either purchase tickets through a tour operator or directly at the station ticket counter (approximately $55 US r/t). If there’s a cruise ship in port you’d better get your tickets early, lest you have to wait an extended period of time. Though only spanning a length of about 20 kilometers, the route rises some 886 meters, taking nearly an hour just to do so. In that time period, you will be tempted to hop from side to side (space permitting) to snap off pictures of incomprehensibly quaint alpine villages lining crystal-clear rivers, all nestled at the base of towering mountainsides that are literally gushing with waterfalls. Speaking of waterfalls, riders will have a five-minute break at the colossal Kjosfossen Falls to get out, stretch their legs, and in the summertime, listen to the haunting strains of Norwegian folk music blasting while a local blonde in traditional attire dances out in the distance; a tribute to the legendary Hulda – a siren-like woman who would lure men to death in the mountains. Glad I never got that card in Community Chest. I’m sure those guys did not pass Go or collect $200 either.

What to do in Myrdal

The tiny hamlet of Myrdal – a collection of hardy-looking homes perpetually surrounded by snow, even in summer – has little in the way of attractions. I suppose that if you brought your bike along and were a moderate sadist, this would make a good jumping off point for a thrilling yet punishing ride down. But for the majority, Myrdal is a convenient link to the Bergen-Oslo rail line, allowing passengers the chance to ride the Flåmsbana down for a view of the fjords before continuing onward for their Norway in a Nutshell tour. For me, it was a chance to switch seats and prepare myself for a replay of the amazing panoramas on the way back down to sea level.

Picture break on the Flåmsbana
Picture break on the Flåmsbana

Western Norway is a natural wonderland, and a stop in Flåm is more than just an average diversion. Plan on spending at least one night here if traveling by land. If you’re arriving by boat, make sure the Flåmsbana is on your itinerary. It is a rewarding portal to the ruggedly beautiful and inaccessible Norwegian interior, and a lot more memorable than the Reading, Pennsylvania, B & O and Short Line combined. Monopoly or not, the Flåmsbana is a railroad you’ll want to land on, and a destination far beyond anything you’ll find in Community Chest.

Have you taken the Flåmsbana? Share your experience by commenting below.

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