Saturday, August 15, 2009

Last Day in Stockholm

When we arrived in Stockholm yesterday, I suggested to Jim that since it was Friday night we might be able to find some local festival or show to go to. With very little effort we discovered a city-wide cultural festival that featured music from around the world. We headed to an area that had several stages in it, had a quick beer and salmon dinner and then found our way to one of the stages. Here we discovered group called Pickadoll that was high energy and played, in my opinion, good music!
Jim compared them to Rochester's Skycoasters band. Most of their songs were in English, but none that I recognized. When they took a break we went to another stage where we heard a group that described their music as Finnish retro soul. They were OK.
We returned for Pickadoll's second set and thoroughly enjoyed their music and were sorry when they didn't come back for a second encore.

Our third band was described as Danceable's Electro Techno Kraut, and I did not enjoy their music at all~ although at first they were very entertaining to watch. We left after their first song because I did not like the feeling of their hard-driving beat, taking the place of my heart beat in my chest!

We then walked to a third stage, where by far the largest crowd had gathered and we heard alternative psychedelic rock, by a group from Mexico City. We didn't hang around here too long either.

But we were out and about for Stockholm's night life! One funny thing that we saw was at one of the stage sites, there was a large tent set up that had the word "Sauna" on the outside and all these people on the inside wrapped in towels! These must have been the transplanted Finns! Another thing that we saw but didn't really understand were all the posts and wires that were decorated with hand-knit wraps! And I'm not talking about small scarves here, these were major projects decorating the performance areas.

After a late night, we tried to sleep in, but that is not a skill that we we're too good at. But we had plans for today anyway and were ready to get on the road (or in this case, water).

We boarded a small ferry boat for a trip through the archipelago to the small island of Vaxholm.
Since the archipelago is a what makes Stockholm Stockholm, we decided to visit one of the islands a bit further from the actual city. The trip took about an hour and we arrived about 11 AM.

We spent most of our time walking around the small town and on a nice coastal trail. Early in our walking we discovered a small restaurant right on the water that was away from the main shopping area, so after working up an appetite, we returned to this place for a simple lunch and entertainment provided by passing boats and kids swimming in the harbor area. Here are a couple of photos from our time on Vaxholm.

Tonight we will be spectators at the annual Midnight Run, a 10K road race through the streets of Stockholm in which 21,000 runners participate! Jim looked into how to enter, but the entries filled up on July 8th, so we will cheer on the runners tonight. Fortunately, the race starts at 10 PM with the post-race festivities lasting well-past midnight. Actually the race goes right by our hotel and we will have a window view of all the action.

Then I guess we will pack up our stuff because we have a 1 PM flight outta here tomorrow! Of course we need to take a subway and a bus to get to the airport, so we will get an early start to make that all happen.

So from Stockholm, hey!

Hope all is well.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Counting Down the Days

We've been sooo busy that I haven't had time to update this blog for a couple of days and we are on our way out again right now, so here is an update for Thursday and Friday. All the photos are at the end, they will make more sense if you read the text first and then look at the photos! Bye!

Today we arrived back in Stockholm which marks the beginning of the end of our Scandanavian adventure.

Yesterday ended up being a beautiful day for our planned bike ride and we made the most of it. The bike rental shop was about a mile away, so a nice walk started our day. We were outfitted with 3 speed cruiser-type bikes and a bike map of Helsinki. We ended up riding about 34 kilometers. Helsinki is another town, like Stockholm that has been planned with bikers in mind. There are many trails through parks and most roads have a designated bike lane or a marked spot on the very wide sidewalks. We loved exploring Helsinki in this manner!

Our route took us along mostly coastal paths and roads so our water view was always changing. There is a photo across one of the harbor areas where the boat we would board later that day awaited us.

We supplemented our PB&J lunch with some fresh strawberries from the market. When we decided we'd had enough biking, and our time was running out, we headed through a high traffic area and I was a bit concerned about riding our bikes through all these people. But not to worry, there was a wide bike lane with its own traffic signals!

After returning the bikes, we walked back to the hotel where we claimed our luggage from their storage area and decided to walk to the ferry terminal. We wanted to get there in plenty of time so we could be checked in before Jim had to make his 4 o'clock phone call. There was a nice waiting lounge so while he talked across the pond, I made some progress on my knitting.

Our return to Stockholm was on a different ship than the one that brought us to Helsinki. We still had a small cabin, but quite spacious when I compared it to my train cabin.

We stood out on the deck as the ship left the port area, wanting to watch as the ship made its way through a narrow passage between a rock and a hard place! The hard place was the island of Soumelenni, an island we visited when we first arrived.

We moved along to the lower decks after being sure of the safe passage through the narrow channel, because we had the 6:00 seating for the buffet dinner. After all the exercise we had that day, the choices on the buffet were wonderful. Also, this buffet has unlimited beer and wine to go along with your dinner. I did not really get my money's worth (according to Jim) because I only managed 2 glasses of wine, but Jim made up for my short-comings with 5 beers! Jim wants me to point out that they were small beers, and he is right!

After a decent night's sleep, we awoke to overcast and rainy conditions. We ate the breakfast buffet and then found a comfortable spot to sit near the windows so we could enjoy the cruise through the archapelago approaching Stockholm. The weather started to clear as we neared our port and the sun was out with just a few "Kodak' clouds around. We had a 15 minute walk to our hotel, which did not have our room ready at 10 AM (imagine that!), but has a luggage storage area where we deposited our bags before heading out on another Stockholm adventure.

When we were here 9 days ago, we bought a ticket to tour the palace, which included 3 related sites. We still had the National Treasury left to do on our tickets, so that was our first destination. At the Treasury we saw all the crown jewels. On the way out of the palace grounds, we saw an advertisement for a free organ concert in the early afternoon. When we figured out that the recital was in the Royal Chapel, we decided that would be a great way to spend an hour. But before the concert, we needed lunch and once again, the ice-cream shops with their homemade waffle cones were calling me! Life is good when lunch is ice-cream!

The concert included pieces played on the Royal Organ(?), and on a grand piano and it was all wonderful. We enjoyed the beautiful music while taking in all the decorations around the inside of the chapel.

After the concert we hustled over to a nearby church hoping to catch the 2 o'clock tour of their bell tower. We just made it and the tour was great! Our 2 guides were students studying to the Lutheran ministers and this was their summer job. As we climbed the 206 steps to the top, we climbed through history, starting with bricks and mortar from the 1300's, up to the top which was completed in the 1700's. We walked around on the outside of the tower (similar to what we did in Estonia) and were rewarded with wonderful views of the city.

We got checked into our hotel and while Jim went for his run, I walked around the area near the hotel.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Day in Turku

Here is an update of the last 2 days.

I arrived back in Helsinki at 7 AM yesterday and after a shower and breakfast I visited a huge department store here in Helsinki called Stockman's. It took me 2 hours to walk around all 7 floors of the place. This store has a hardware department, pet store, flower shop, 3 restaurants, a grocery store, a liquor store, and a fabric and craft department to go along with all the clothes, shoes and home decorating stuff you might imagine would be in a large department store. It was pretty amazing.

I then had a leisurely lunch at an outdoor cafe before walking to the site of the 1952 Olympics. The highlight here was being able to go to the top of the tower that held the Olympic flame. Here is a photo of the tower as well as a couple of views from the top.

For all you runners out there, here is a photo of the legendary Paavo Nurmi, a Finnish runner who won many gold medals in his long running career.

I walked a few more miles, checking out the marketplace and harbor area before heading back to the hotel. Jim has typically gotten back from work between 4 and 5 PM, but then has an hour or more of phone calls back to the J&J crew in the USA. There is no need for me to hang around in the hotel room while he is on the phone, so it is a good time to do more exploring.

We usually don't know where we are going to eat dinner when we leave the hotel in the evening, and just wander around checking out the menus of the various restaurants and cafes. When the weather has been good, we've tried to eat at a restaurant that has outside seating, which is fairly common. Mom asked what we've been eating. We've had salmon a couple of times, but mostly pretty regular food. It has all been good.

On our walk home last night we stopped to hear these guys playing the marimbas. They were awesome, and seem to play on this closed off street most every night.

So this morning I was off to the town of Turku, via the train. Turku is a 2 hour train ride to the west of Helsinki. When Finland was ruled by Sweden, this was the capital. When the Russians took over, they moved the capital to Helsinki. After a stop at the Visitor's Info Center, I got on a bus for a 3K ride to the Turku Castle. Lots of history here considering that construction on this place started in the 1200's.

Turku is built up on both side of the Aura River, which flows into the Baltic Sea.

After my return bus ride I crossed the river and walked to this Handicrafts Museum, kind of like the Genesee Country Museum. In 1827 most of Turku burned to the ground, with the exception of this cluster of homes and businesses. In the early 1900's a decision was made to refurbish this area and turn it into a museum and it is very well done. There were 7-8 people in various parts of the museum demonstrating their crafts, including this woman who was making lace. She had 44 pairs of bobbins that were intricately woven back and forth, while pinning the lace work open on a roller. You can see part of the lace piece that she has completed. It was fascinating!

Several of the homes had grass roofs, which looked to be thriving!

One more sightseeing stop before heading back to the train station and that was to see the Turku Cathedral. Don't have a lot of details, but another old building, with a long, rich history!

By now it was after 3 PM and I was starving! Turku has a branch of the Stockman's department store and stopped in hoping that they had a bakery and that they made these soft pretzels that I tried yesterday from the Helsinki Stockman's. Sure enough~they had 'em, so I bought 2 for my lunch and they were tasty!

My train back to Helsinki left at 4 PM and it was an easy way to travel. During my train travel today I got most of the heel done on my second sock.

Our pre-dinner wandering tonight reached a new high! We walked almost 3 miles looking for a place to eat! And then we ended up at a good Italian place less than a half a mile from our hotel!

Oops~ don't want to foget to tell you that I participated in another Finnish custom, that being the sauna. Saunas are everywhere and it is part of the Finnish lifestyle. Our hotel has a sauna so last night I decided to give it a try. Couldn't convince Jim to go. There were separate men's and women's sauna and I was the only one in mine. There was a sand timer in my sauna which I flipped over as I entered and I lasted about half of the recommended time, about 7 minutes. I think I would have died if I stayed in there for 15! I took a cool shower when I got out, got dressed and returned to our room. I didn't feel all that great when I returned so I don't think I will go again tonight. I guess the sauna is something you have to get used to! Mercifully, there are no photos from my sauna!

Tomorrow is a bike riding morning around Helsinki, rain or shine and then we board the ferry back to Stockholm tomorrow night.

Hope all is well!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

To the Arctic Circle and Back

I had a successful solo adventure to the Arctic Circle and arrived back in Helsinki right on time at 6:54 this morning.

My train left Helsinki at 9:24 PM on Monday and I had a berth in one of the sleeper cars since I had 13 hours on the train, most of those during my usual sleeping time. Here is a photo of my cabin.

I was assigned the bottom bunk and my cabin mate was due to get on the train in Tampere, a stop on our route around midnight. I did some knitting and looking out the window until it got too dark, (11 PM!), enjoying the new scenery. Logging is big business in the north of Finland and I saw several trains full of logs going to a mill. Finland is very flat and the central part has lots of lakes.

My cabin mate never showed up to our cabin, so I had a nice single room for the trip. The conductor did come into the cabin shortly after midnight to see if the woman had arrived. I didn't sleep great which is know real surprise, but I was ready to explore Rovaniemi when we arrived at 10:41 on Tuesday morning. My tour book indicated that there was a public bus (#8) that went to the Arctic Circle/Santa's Village and that I could catch this bus at the train station. And sure enough, after a bit of wandering around, I found a bus sign with the number 8 on it, along with a small group of people who were also headed to the Arctic Circle. The bus was a great way to travel and after about a half hour ride we pulled into the very touristy Santa's Village. And here I am, north of the Arctic Circle!

There were lots of gift shops and touristy photos opportunities, including this huge basket of knitting, where people from around the world have knit on this scarf!!! I couldn't pass up that photo op!!

Across the street from the village there was a nature walk/hike so I figured that was a good thing to do. This walk highlighted how a young forest takes hold in the mostly peak bog land mass that is quite common in northern Finland.

Right at the beginning of the hike there were these large replicas of the locally famous Cloudberries.

When I'd had enough of Santa's Village, I took the bus back towards Rovaniemi, but got off near a museum that got very good reviews, and I wasn't disappointed. The museum, Arktikum, was dedicated to life in Lapland, both historic and present time, and to the native Sami culture.

It was all very interesting and I am very glad that I stopped. An architectural feature of this museum is the very large and imposing glass tunnel.

All the exhibit halls are off this central tunnel, and the tunnel can be seen from several different major roads around Rovaniemi. When I came back into the glass tunnel after seeing a good slide show on the Northern Lights, it had started to rain outside and very shortly after that came the thunder and lightening. The glass tunnel was the place to watch this storm blow through. It seemed like most people in the museum made their way into the tunnel and just stayed there to watch the storm!

There is a research library attached to this museum and I was able to use one of their computers to send Jim a quick e-mail, letting him know that I had arrived safely and completed my mission of getting north of the Arctic Circle. I was also able to delay my exit into the rain storm.
I had a 20 minute walk back to the train station, and fortunately I had packed my raincoat and umbrella because they were still essential items! It felt good to take a power walk before getting on the train again.

I boarded the return train at 6 PM and once again had a private cabin! And, believe it or not, I slept like a dead person! I even slept through my alarm at 6:25 AM, awaking at 6:38! I jumped out of bed because the train was stopped and I knew our arrival time was 6:54! Fortunately, the train hadn't arrived early into Helsinki, allowing me 16 minutes to get myself ready for when we did arrive!
Jim met my train, then he went for a run. After quick showers for both of us, we ate breakfast together before I sent him off on a train for his day at work.

So I will spend the day exploring Helsinki on my own and try to do some laundry.

Thanks to all who sent congratulatory comments to Jim!

Hope all is well.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tallinn, Estonia

Today was our day to travel to the country of Estonia, which is across the Sea of Finland, south of Helsinki. We took a fast-speed ferry at 10 AM and arrived in the capital of Estonia, Tallinn, at 11:30 AM.

It was another picture-perfect day, and this town is a photographer's dream. If you are only in Tallinn for one day, there is only one thing to do and that is wander the cobble streets of the Old Town, so that is what we did.
Do you see the church steeple in this photo below? Remember, you can click on a photo to make it bigger. This church rises up above the city and there is a staircase up to where the pointy corner pieces are and you can walk around the top of this tower section. We knew we had to do that so that was our second destination, the first being an ATM where we could get some Estonia Kroons ($$$). We climbed 265 stone stairs up a narrow spiral staircase and then there were about 35 more very steep wooden steps to get out onto the narrrow walkway by the metal steeple part! It was amazing! Corey, you would have loved it! The views around the city were unmatched! Check out these photos.

After spending some quality time up top, we continued our adventure by walking down all those stairs.

We spent the next 3 hours wandering the narrow streets, and marveling at the view around each corner and through each arch. There were unique churches on every corner and in the main market square. Many of these buildings date back to the 14 and 1500's. Enjoy these scenes.

We even found a view of the local track!

Lunch was in a restaurant that featured Estonian food.

We took the 5 PM ferry home because I am catching a 9:23 PM train up north so I can cross the Artic Circle. So I have to stop writing right now. Time to catch my train!

Hope all is well.