Fjord Norway? Yes Please!!!

I’m not sure if it was Benjamin Franklin, or Albert Einstein who said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” Errr… not really. According to Ryan Howes, Ph.D in Therapy, it’s actually a legal term pertaining to a defendant’s ability to determine right from wrong when a crime is committed.  Well, a crime has been committed alright! It’s called THE TEXAS HEAT! 75+ days over 100F (39C) and still counting with little to no relief in sight. That’s usually when my mind starts to drift, and I begin to dream of being somewhere cooler than my beloved Austin, Texas. Until about… right now… 100% of my travel blog entries have been about places I’ve already been. While I enjoy blogging about my trips, I’d much rather get some feedback and participation from the 5-6 of you (7 if I include myself) who actually read this Travel Blog and change things up a bit by conversing about destinations I WANT to visit.

Milford Sound - South Island, New Zealand - November 2005

I was recently asked, “Hey Cooke, how do you come up with these crazy trips like South Island – New Zealand, Vermont, U.S.A., and Lake Bled, Slovenia of all places?”. Although a magician typically doesn’t tell you how he picked the Seven of Spades with your signature on it from the jacket pocket of your cousin’s next door neighbor’s uncle’s pharmacist, I’m here today (and today only) to reveal my secret weapon for absolutely awesome fantastic make you say “OH WOW!” destinations. The answer is quite simple – and highly recommended – National Geographic Traveler’s 133 Destinations Rated. Currently Ranked #1 on their list… NORWAY.


As they clearly state… it isn’t a popularity contest. It is an assessment of authenticity and stewardship, evaluating the qualities that make a destination unique and measuring its “integrity of place.” So far, we have been to 8 out of their top 20, and have been able to say “OH WOW!” each and every time. You could almost count Medieval Granada and the Alhambra, Spain as 9 out of 20; however, if you read my previous blog, you already know that I only made it as far south in Spain as Seville. Take a look at the list and you will see what I’m talking about.

Lake Bled, Slovenia - May 2011

133 Places Rated: The List, by Score

Next year, we are supposed to go to England for The Olympics, visit family, and go to another TBD (to be determined) destination in Europe. The problem I’m having is the British Pound versus the US Dollar. STINKS! Plus, I’ve only been to England about 20 times as an adult, and lived there for the first 11yrs of my life. Not much I haven’t already seen. Which leads me to my dilemma. While I  don’t want to disappoint family members, and would absolutely love for my kids to see “where Daddy was born and raised”… I keep going back to National Geographic Traveler’s 133 Destinations list with a selfish dream to visit their TOP RATED #1 out of 133 destinations – Fjord, Norway. Just can’t get my mind off that place. Fjord Norway? Yes Please!!!

Norwegian Flag - officially adopted on July 17, 1821

The Internet is a beautiful beast! Only tamed by those capable of putting information in a concise and bad ass arrangement for me to locate what I want (and need) to plan a trip. Vist Norway is definitely one of the BEST travel web sites I have ever seen in my life. In addition to a GREAT web site, also has a solid YouTube Channel – . has only fueled my desire to see Fjord Norway by about 789.26%. Yeah, I made that number up; BUT… I am absolutely fascinated by the fact Norway has a population of about 4.8 million and covers an area of 385,155 square kilometers of astonishing nature (fjords, mountains, waterfalls, glaciers), unbelievable history (Vikings and the Sami), arts & culture, and of course… Norway is the home country of my favorite pro-cycling sprinter – Thor Hushovd – God of Thunder – World Champion – recently signed on BMC Racing Team for the 2012 pro-cycling season. So, what’s not to love about Norway?

Thor Hushovd - God of Thunder - World Champion - recently signed on BMC Racing Team for 2012 pro-cycling season.
Wearing the yellow jersey of overall leader, Norway's Thor Hushovd rides to the signature ceremony prior to the start of the fifth stage of the 2011 Tour de France on July 6, 2011. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)
German fan Didi Senft (El Diablo) jumps as overall leader, Norway's Thor Hushovd (center) rides in the pack during the 7th stage of the 2011 Tour de France on July 8, 2011. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)
German fan Didi Senft (El Diablo) jumps as overall leader, Norway's Thor Hushovd (center) rides in the pack during the seventh stage of the 2011 Tour de France on July 8, 2011. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

I’m learning new words that I can’t spell OR even pronounce, and LOVING every minute of it! Places like Bergen – The Gateway to the Fjords – known for Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf, the Fish Market, and surrounding mountains and fjords, such as the Hardangerfjord and Sognefjord. The Sognefjord is Norway’s longest fjord and one of its arms, the Nærøyfjord, is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, so that alone tells me… I MUST see this. The city of Ålesund – known for its architecture in Art Nouveau style, its surrounding fjords, and the high peaks of the Sunnmøre Alps. And if the timing was right… it’s hard to beat viewing The Northern Lights from Norway. Just looks incredible!

Flam Railway (Flamsbana) - Norway

But more than anything, IF… let me rephrase that… WHEN I get the opportunity to visit Norway… I am most excited about seeing the panoramic views of the fjords and mountains along the world famous Flåm railway (Flåmsbana) as the train loops its way from Myrdal on the Oslo-Bergen railway to the city of Flåm, nestled in the innermost corner of the Aurlandsfjord. I also want to explore the Geirangerfjord , another fjord on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. There are a LOT more places I’d love to see; but, for now… check out this video on The Flåm Railway and you’ll quickly understand my fascination with Fjord Norway:

Fjord Norway – famous fjords and beautiful mountains – Norway official travel guide –

I would LOVE to hear some thoughts/ideas from those of you who have insight on Norway and/or have visited recently, so Join the conversation! Until then…


SPAIN – Not with you 2 idiots!

I think Texas went to hell… and somebody forgot to tell us; because, there’s no way it’s supposed to be this bloody hot! The only people excited about the weather in Texas right now are Scott Fisher  – Austin’s Fox 7 Weather and air conditioning repair man-woman-persons. Just trying to be politically correct. Scott do something! Anyway, I was thinking about taking a vacation to Arizona, just so that when somebody says “Man! It’s hot!” I can reply… “It’s not as hot as Texas!”. OK, I’ll step down from the weather soap box now.

Plaza de Toros - Seville, Spain

As I jumped in my black SUV (Super Urban Van). Just kidding. And that’s actually quite creepy. As I jumped in my SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) this evening at 6:37pm, I couldn’t believe that the temperature gauge showed 111F (43C). WHAT? 10 hours of sitting on black asphalt at my company parking lot will do that to a vehicle. Before I could project any profanities from my mouth, the black leather seats burned my black backside as I was grabbing the black steering wheel.  It was at this moment that 2 thoughts came to mind.

A) OUCH! Why did I buy a black SUV with black leather? Because it was October when you bought it. That was my sub-conscious answering the question. I quickly told it to shut up!

B) There must be a patio in Spain somewhere that I could be sitting with a sangria (or cerveza) right now listening to flamenco music.

Las Ramblas - Barcelona, Spain - Nov 2003

November 2003. I had been dating a girl in Texas for about 6 months. I really liked her. A LOT. So, what do you do when you REALLY like somebody? You go to Spain with your friends Mario and Chad. Huh? Mario had been to the United States. Chad had been there too. Unfortunately for the 3 of us… I had the most travel experience, and I only spoke 1 language – English. 2 if you count Jamaican as a language. So there we were, The Three Amigos on our way from London, England to Spain. Our destination… the capital of Catalonia – BARCELONA!

View of Barcelona from Montjuic Castle

Like good little tourists, we took the city bus from Barcelona Airport (El Prat de Llobregat Aeropuerto) and wheeled our luggage about a mile after getting off at the wrong stop in the city. Nice. Real nice. We were off to a great start. In case you want some solid transportation advice -There are a couple of different buses.  Aerobus Express Bus Service and then the other one. We took… the other one. Don’t make that same mistake. Aerobus is an express service to the city center. More specifically, to Placa Espanya or Placa de Catalunya. Makes life MUCH easier for navigation. These are the troubles I go through so that I can hopefully one day turnaround (albeit 8yrs later) and help others avoid failure… or looking like 3 idiots from Texas. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before we found our destination and settled into our hotel. I’m quickly realizing that I’m going into waaaaay too much detail about this trip, so let’s zoom out a bit for a more bird’s eye view of the adventure.

Madrid, Spain - Nov 2003
Madrid, Spain
Madrid, Spain - Nov 2003

If you’re slightly familiar with who I am, you will know that I LOVE to people watch. If you have no idea who I am… I LOVE to people watch. Now that this has been established, I can tell you that one of the greatest places on the entire Planet Earth to people watch – Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain. We “rambled” if you will from one end to the other and everything in between. I’m not sure if it was Anthony Bourdain (one of my Travel Channel favorites) or Samantha Brown (another Travel Channel favorite) who said that if you want to learn about a city, go to the marketplace and see where the locals buy (and even eat) their food. In Barcelona, the epicenter of market life is Mercat de La Boqueria. Probably one too many beers inside us, we played “Where’s Waldo?” amongst the various fruit and vegetable stands. In addition to Dublin, Ireland, The Rialto in Venice, Italy, and Saturday morning in Ljubljana, Slovenia city center, Mercat de La Boqueria is definitely one of the most impressive marketplaces I’ve ever seen.

"Where's Waldo?" - Mercat de la Boqueria - Barcelona, Spain

Which reminds me. The FOOD! I think paella is to Spain as BBQ is to Texas. It’s everywhere! And… it’s good! I think I ate paella at least once per day. Chad stuck to anything with the word pollo (aka chicken). Mario was addicted to the cured meats and breads. Food in Spain is fantastic. Funny story. On our last night, we went to a Chinese restaurant by the hotel. Mario is Mexican. Do NOT confuse this with being Spanish. A Mexican from San Antonio, Texas speaks a completely different Spanish than a Chinese lady who speaks Catalonian Spanish in Barcelona. Meanwhile, Tweedle Dum (that’s me) and Tweedle Dee (that’s Chad) just stood there smiling. I ordered carne de res y brócoli. I’d eaten enough paella to last a lifetime, so could make out BEEF and BROCCOLI from my pathetic Spanish skills. Can’t remember what Mario ordered; but, he tried to order chicken fried rice for Chad. The lady was arguing with him in Spanish and there were a lot of arm movements. To make a long story short… poor Chad got a piece of FRIED CHICKEN and a bowl of white RICE. This is what makes travel FUN!

The Alcazar – Seville, Spain
Before leaving Barcelona, I recommend doing the cheesy double decker Barcelona Hop-on Hop Off  bus tour around the city. You truly get a taste of Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi’s architectural influence – Sagrada Familia – Park Guell – Casa Batllo.  And if you’ve got some time to spare, visit Montjuïc Castle – Castell de Montjuïc, where you get a fantastic panoramic view of the city. We actually walked up to the castle, so there’s probably an easier way to see the city; but, recommended. My favorite place in Barcelona… Barri Gotic – The Gothic Quarter in the old town. Plaça del Pi, located just off the Ramblas, and the church of Santa María del Pi are definite highlights; but, the entire area is filled with incredible history, architecture, culture, arts & crafts, cafes, restaurants, shops, and of course… people watching!

La Sagrada Familia (under construction) - Barcelona, Spain - Nov 2003
Statue of Christopher Columbus - Las Ramblas, Barcelona
shopping in Barri Gotic - Barcelona, Spain - Nov 2003

Continue reading SPAIN – Not with you 2 idiots!