Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

The diversity of the content and experiences included in the itinerary organized for us is its most impressive and memorable legacy
Joyce and Martyn Roetter | August 1, 2023
Joyce and Martyn Roetter

1,000-2,000 new vines are planted each year at Hällåkra Vingård in Anderslov Sweden. Photo: Martyn Roetter

The itinerary covered Sweden and Denmark. The planning had to incorporate two specific requests from us. The first request was to fit in time with relatives we only recently discovered in Sweden. They are descendants of the sister of my paternal grandfather. They fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and found refuge in Sweden, while my grandfather, his wife and their three sons, including my father, had fled earlier in 1935 to England. They then moved on to the US in 1939, except for my father who stayed in England. This discovery was one of, if not the only benefit of Brexit, which so angered me that I made the effort to investigate the German side of my family to acquire a German (i.e., EU) passport, leading eventually to my contact with this hitherto unknown branch of my family. The second request was to build our itinerary and schedules in Sweden and Denmark around a tour of Norway which we had planned for 2020 and already paid for but was postponed to 2023 because of the pandemic. The planning of our itinerary involved several video calls and email exchanges with Jan so he could understand our wishes and interests and we could appreciate the range of possibilities and evaluate his recommendations and alternative suggestions, including several we would not ever have considered. He also explained what we should especially look for during our tour of Norway and the unique natural beauty we will see there, notably of course its fjords.

In the event, our experiences exceeded all our hopes and expectations. We were lucky with the weather — in contrast to the oppressive heat being suffered at the time by many tourists in other parts of Europe — and with the on-time performance of all the flights and train rides in our schedule. There were no strikes or weather delays or cancellations, which lie outside the control of travel advisors. All the guides we encountered who were chosen by Jan’s office were extremely knowledgeable about the subjects we are interested in. They also gave us insights into the status and recent or modern history of today’s Scandinavian societies, responding to the many questions we asked. The guides worked very well with the drivers we had when we traveled by car. We were delighted to find that Scandinavians’ sense of humor is akin to ours, incorporating a strong sense of irony. Their jokes were amusing, and we think they found ours to be as well, which stimulated very open, informative, and thought-provoking discussions between us. The hotel accommodations in the hearts of the major cities we stayed in were grand in the best European tradition, and in the smaller towns and villages delightful and charming. The only encumbrance we encountered was in Copenhagen when on arrival we had to make our way to the hotel entrance through crowds waiting and hoping to catch a glimpse of Bruce Springsteen, who was giving several performances in Denmark.

The itinerary we finally agreed on with Jan’s team covered a very wide range of historical sites and exposure to the arts and culture of the region, as well as insights into the realities and achievements as well as the not so positive behavior of the Vikings and the transition from the Nordic Gods to Christianity. We were reminded that among many other heritages from the Vikings, “Thursday” is Thor’s day. We also found out that important words in English such as “husband” and “law” are derived from the Viking language. Moreover, Nordic runes as translated to us refer to more inspiring examples of human relationships than many of the modern graffiti found on walls and monuments today.

Our experiences during the trip were very diverse and sometimes unexpected, but invariably positive. First our WOW Moment in Sweden, a visit to a Swedish vineyard. Before this trip we had no idea winemaking in Sweden was even feasible. We were greeted by the couple (the Hanssons) in their 70s who founded and run this enterprise and have a long family history at its location. They served us a smorgasbord of meats and cheese, called Swedish “tapas,” and we enjoyed samples of all the wines they currently make. They explained that people thought they were crazy to try to make wines in Sweden, but they saw an opportunity that would only grow thanks to climate warming. We had a tour of the vineyard and the property after lunch. Sweden has a state monopoly on selling alcohol (in a chain of liquor stores Systembolaget). We wish that an exception could be made in this case to allow the vineyard to sell directly to visitors. This surprising and delightful viticultural experience more than lived up to the WOW designation. We understand that it was chosen by our guide that day (Annette Hansson, no relation to the owners of the vineyard), who had been tasked by Jan Sortland with coming up with a WOW Moment we would appreciate.

Another unexpected experience (but in this instance not planned even as a surprise in our itinerary) was an antique car rally in the small village of Tällberg, which is well known for its beautiful rural surroundings and its houses and buildings that are all made of wood. This village is situated in Dalarna in central Sweden, which is home to many Swedish traditions and cultural heritage, for which reason it was included in our itinerary. The rally was dominated by American cars from the 1950s. They were in widely varying states of maintenance and appearance, from the pristine to the nearly wrecked, some burning rubber very noisily. They were driven and occupied by Swedes (male and female) who looked like those one would expect to encounter at similar rallies in the US, playing music contemporary to the cars when they were new. In some respects, the scene was reminiscent of the movie “American Graffiti.” When we talked to some of the participants (Joyce learned to drive in a 1955 Chevy) they were delighted to discuss their cars and other subjects, including in some cases their visits to the US.

The diversity of the content and experiences included in the itinerary organized for us is its most impressive and memorable legacy. We enjoyed urban and rural settings (both natural and cultivated). We learned about history from the Viking era (and even earlier) through medieval times, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. We covered the move from divinely ordained to constitutional monarchies, and the turmoil of the 20th century up to and during World War 2 and the establishment of today’s welfare states. The Scandinavian monarchies all seem to be well liked these days, without the turbulence associated with the British Royals. We were able to appreciate the very different balance in these countries compared to the US between individual (including property) and community rights and obligations. For example, allemansrätten (literally “the everymans right”) is a freedom granted by the Swedish Constitution. Allemansrätten gives a person the right to access, walk, cycle, ride, ski, and camp on any land—except for private gardens, the immediate vicinity of a dwelling house and land under cultivation. It places an equal emphasis upon the responsibility to look after the countryside; the maxim is “do not disturb, do not destroy.”

We learned much we did not know about the evolution of relationships and interactions between Scandinavia and the rest of Europe, including Russia, as well as the Americas, in cultural and artistic (painting, sculpture, literature, film) and other spheres, as well as the impact of conflicts and migration and the contributions of several extraordinary individuals as explorers, traders, and scientists. On the cultural side we will mention specifically the visits to (a) Kronborg Castle in Denmark, the setting which inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and (b) the home of Anders Zorn in Dalarna Sweden. He was a celebrated 19th-century painter from very humble origins who achieved international success (including portraits of 3 American Presidents). On a very different note, we were told about the filming of “The Girl with the Golden Tattoo” (one in the series of Stieg Larsson’s Nordic noir novels) in locations in Sweden, which starred Daniel Craig (of James Bond fame) as the journalist Mikael Blomkvist. In Denmark the subject of the Danish political drama series “Borgen” came up. We had watched this series, which portrays a complex and rare combination of idealism, realism, intelligence, human frailties, and courage in politics.

We experienced firsthand a wide variety of natural landscapes and man-made achievements over the centuries, as well as examples of more recent architecture in public and private buildings. We were impressed but also embarrassed by the quality of the urban public transit we took and of other infrastructure compared to their lamentable state today in many parts of the US. This trip and travel itinerary met the criteria of broadening our minds and perspectives and covering our major interests while offering a rich and thoroughly enjoyable set of vacation experiences.

Final Remarks:
1. Scandinavia is well worth a visit, even if you do not have relatives or ancestors who hail from there. It is a surprisingly diverse region offering a rich combination of history, culture, tradition, and modernity, in settings ranging from beautiful walkable cities and towns to extraordinary natural landscapes and well cultivated farming areas. This region is at the forefront of issues confronting us all, from the relationships between individual rights and our responsibilities toward others to understanding our dependence as well as our impact on planet Earth and the consequences of ongoing climate warming.

2. Jan Sortland and his company, with whom we built our itinerary, is an outstanding resource, maybe even unique in its ability to work with clients to plan and organize a Scandinavian trip which will meet or exceed all expectations and will be thoughtfully tailored to satisfy specific interests, while also allowing room for the serendipitous or unexpected.

Our trip to Sweden was beautifully executed
Lawrence Chamberlain | June 27, 2023

Our trip to Sweden was beautifully executed. Communication was clear, and our time very efficiently allocated, and in accordance with a preference as we stated. I would have preferred another day or two but perhaps another time. I would definitely use Jan again.

Jan knows Norway like the back of his hand
Travis Schmitt | June 25, 2023

Jan Sortland planned a perfect experience for us in Norway and he provided great weather as well!

Norway was one of the first countries to allow travelers without restrictions, and I have always been intrigued by the beauty of Norway…so I reached out to the WOW List expert, Jan Sortland.

Had a couple of Zoom calls with Jan—he was extremely gracious and informative…we discussed budget and main highlights of what we like in a trip…he said he’d provide an outline of the trip and then we’d review and provide some tweaks…Jan provided some great ideas and what our expectations should be.

Norway is a country where one needs to understand the logistics of where things are to get around efficiently (fjords, ferries, etc.), and Jan knows Norway like the back of his hand.

We decided on having a driver versus self-driving…a great choice for us.

Watch out for German Camper Vans…

We spent most of our 10 days in the Western Fjords and the Lofoten Islands—in a word—BREATHTAKING—such a beautiful place.

Our hotels were all outstanding—

Oslo Continental
Solstrand Hotel
Walaker Hotel
Union Oye
Storfjord Hotel
Reine Robur

The food in Norway was much better than expected…quality that you expect at 5-star hotels.

Some magazine rated Norwegian cuisine toward the bottom (note—they are highest per capita eating frozen pizzas in the world)…we would passionately disagree!

Our guides Isak and Veronika were beyond fantastic!! Fun, energetic, knowledgeable, helpful and always happy and smiling. A lot of laughter and fun in the vehicle and at dinner—like hanging out with good friends…

The pacing of our trip was excellent, the food was excellent, the hotels were excellent—the trip operated like a luxury Swiss—Everything was right on time and very luxurious considering our surroundings.

The scenery of Norway will enchant your eyes with its beauty…

Jan Sortland will make sure you have a wonderful trip.

We sure did.

Seeing the Northern Lights was on my bucket list and Jan helped me plan every detail of the trip
Judy Wimpfheimer | March 1, 2023

I first heard about Jan Sortland and his company through the Wendy Perrin WOW List. He deserves the accolades. Seeing the Northern Lights was on my bucket list and Jan helped me plan every detail of the trip. When the original estimate was more than I had budgeted, Jan figured it out so we could still go. And he did it graciously. From start to finish he was responsive and every question was answered thoroughly and quickly.

Our trip was planned impeccably. The hotels were excellent and we received many upgrades. Our hotel in Alta was particularly lovely and our dinners there were incredible.

Knowing how much we wanted to see the Lights, and being disappointed twice before in Iceland, Jan steered us to Alta, in the northernmost part of Norway. He said it would give us the best shot. How right he was! We saw them 3 out of 3 nights! Much of this is due to the incredible guides Jan arranged. Despite the fact that it was cloudy and snowing the first two nights, our guides looked at all the weather maps and found the area that had the most potential to clear up. It was a real drive, but the clouds disappeared and the Lights danced.

Jan also suggested a day trip, a visit to the area where the Sami live and herd reindeer. It was the best advice! These indigenous people live the same way their ancestors did and it was a privilege to spend the day with them. Mathis, a Sami elder, met us and drove us over 30 miles on snowmobiles to watch the Sami move a herd of 2,500+ reindeer to higher terrain. After that, we snowmobiled back to his home where he had prepared a delicious lunch of salmon and Arctic char. He generously and patiently answered all our questions and made us feel like welcomed guests. Our day with this incredible gentleman was truly the highlight of our trip and it is an experience that will not be forgotten.

Jan, my husband and I were the beneficiaries of your many years of experience. Thank you. Thank you!

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