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Stockholm to Oslo by railNow you can travel from Stockholm to Oslo (or reverse) in a relaxed style on UnionsExpressen’s new train line between the capital cities.

According to the company, created by a group of Swedish entrepreneurs in 2005, the trains have been renovated to a 1960s look inspired by Blue Train and Rovos Rail in South Africa and the Orient Express. The train has a restaurant coach with snack bar and à la carte menu, with the most expensive main meal costing 145 Swedish kroner (about $25).

The train leaves daily, except Saturdays, from Stockholm at 4 p.m. and from Oslo at 7:17 a.m. The trip takes a little over five hours and stops at Södertälje, Hallsberg, Karlstad, Kongsvinger and Lillestr∅m. The cost is 700 Swedish kroner (about $115) one way. During the summer, a ticket in the tourist section costs 500 kroner one way.

Tickets can be reserved at www.unionsexpressen.com or paid for on the train.

High-class accommodations"Stylish lodgings" is how the Web site www.culture-castles.de describes its castles, monasteries, manor houses and culturally significant houses available for visitors wanting to spend the night.

Locations include 25 lodgings in Germany from Bavaria to Thuringia, 10 in the Netherlands, two in Belgium and one in France. Prices for hotel-style accommodations range from 80 euros to 300 euros per night. A night in the Kloster Malgarten, a Benedictine monastery, runs 31 to 65 euros each, while a weekend in the Herrenhaus Friedrichsfeld, a country house, costs 290 to 495 euros for a weekend for two to four people, 695 to 1,600 euros for a week for two to seven people.

Arrangements by themes, such as "Wedding," "Active," "Wellness" and "Creative" also can be made.

Best BetsBelgium

In the summer, Belgium’s Royal Palace opens its doors to the public. Within its walls are King Albert II’s official offices and the rooms where state receptions, royal audiences and court ceremonies are held. The tourist board particularly recommends viewing the 150-foot-long Throne Room designed with an elaborate mosaic parquet floor and 11 chandeliers; the Goya Room with its tapestries modeled on the painter’s drawings; the two White Salons decorated with furniture from the King of France; and the Mirror Room, with its mirror-paneled walls. The palace is opposite the Parliament building on the Park of Brussels. Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays; admission is free. Details at www.monarchie.be/en/visit/palace/index.html.

Through Aug. 31, you can enjoy the magic of walking through the biggest sand castle in the world at Blankenberge’s pier on the country’s North Sea coast. Created by 60 international artists, the castle, made of tons of sand and containing 40 chambers, serves as a setting for fairy tales, legends and city traditions and folklore. Along the way, visitors encounter an awakened Sleeping Beauty at the ball, meet the beautiful Rapunzel and help free Cinderella from her evil stepmother. Sound and water sculptures add to the enchantment. The castle is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Admission is 9 euros for adults, 5 euros for children 5 to 12 years and free for those younger than 4. The Web site is www.zandsculptuur.be/home.asp?taal=uk.

Finland

Finns just want to have fun! This Saturday, the folks in the South Karelia district on the border of Russia hold the second annual Old Geezer World Championships. Riding in a traditional Finnish milk cart, a man (the geezer) is pushed by a woman over a 650-foot course of mostly sand and gravel, with some hills and a water obstacle. This year is even more exciting with a new souped-up milk cart competition, where the audience decides the winner. Details at www.kulttuuripalvelukaiku.fi/old-geezer-carting. If this event sounds too active for you, how about trying the Sauna Bathing World Championship? The competition will be held Aug. 1-2 in Heinola, about two hours northeast of Helsinki. The rules state competitors must sit in a strictly specified position in the 110-degree Centigrade sauna. Every 30 seconds water is thrown on the sauna stove, adding humidity to the heat. The last person to leave the heat is the winner. The Web site with competition details is www.saunaheinola.com.

San Marino

This small country, completely surrounded by Italy, holds its annual Medieval Days festival through the weekend in the capital city of San Marino. The old town center will be transformed into the Middle Ages with costumed battles, historic games, music, flag-throwing and dinners. The full program is at www.giornatemedioevali.sm (in Italian). The San Marino Web site, which includes an English-language link to the event, is www.visitsanmarino.com.

Wales

Caerphilly Castle, located on 30 acres in the center of the city of Caerphilly, is the site of The Big Cheese festival this Friday through the weekend. The annual event is a lively mixture of living history camps, medieval re-enactments, medieval entertainment, folk dancing, food and cheese market (the city is famous for its cheeses), crafts market, contemporary music, dance and carnival rides. Details at www.caerphilly.gov.uk/bigcheese/english.

— Jayne Traendly


Stripes in 7



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