Sunday, October 16, 2011

Finland and Sweden

Re-posting since I forgot to insert the links to the photo albums at the bottom like I normally do. You can always go to the blog ( and look at the right hand side for a link to the albums by clicking on the slide show for each country.

It has been a little over a week since my post. Time to check in and post what we've up to since then. I am at least starting this blog post in a unique environment. We are on a train from Stockholm, Sweden to Oslo, Norway. It is getting close to dark. There isn't too much in the way of scenery left to be seen. What we have seen though has been pretty. It is mostly flat with a lot of farming land or forest. It is about a 6 hour train ride between the two cities. I even have an electrical outlet at my seat allowing me to get things done on my laptop without worrying about how much power I have on my battery.

Since my last post we've covered ground in two countries. We spent a total 3.5 nights in Finland and 3.5 nights in Sweden. I say 3.5 because to travel from Finland to Sweden we took an overnight ferry from Turku to Stockholm. It was probably the largest ship that I've been on. There may have been about a 1,000 people on board. We had a nice cabin and spent most of our time aboard sleeping since it left around 9 pm and got into Stockholm around 6:15 am. I did do a quick walk through and wasn't overly impressed. There were plenty of dining options. The casino was pretty lame. It was just a room of about 20 or so gambling machines. No tables. My dad would not have been impressed. The duty free shop was a zoo with people buying all sorts of alcohol. The crazy thing is that the prices were decent by Scandinavian standards but were a lot more than the shops in Tallinn, Estonia.

Rock Church in Helsinki, Finland
Speaking of Estonia. Let me backtrack a little bit and pick up with with where my last post ended. The first country we visited after Estonia was Finland. To get to Finland we took a 2 hour ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki. It was a pretty large ship as well and probably had a capacity of 800 or so. Despite how large the ship was it wasn't really all that smooth. Alethea had a tough time with the conditions and was glad when we got to Helsinki. The views were not that scenic either plus it was raining and overcast throughout much of the journey.

Alethea & Eija with the goats in Finland
To tour Helsinki we only had about 4 hours. You would think that wouldn't be enough time to see the capital of a country the size of Finland but it is. Three hours was actually all we needed. Helsinki is only a couple hundred years old. It was just a small village at the beginning of the 1800s when the Russians who ruled Finland at the time moved the capital from Turku to Helsinki. They did this in order to get the seat of government away from Sweden who was the previous ruler of Finland. In all we spent the three hours walking another one of Rick Steves' self guided walks. We saw the Rock Church, the Esplanade, a floating and covered market, tried to see the Finish Orthodox Church, and then finished up with the Lutheran Cathedral. The Rock Church was probably the most impressive with the Lutheran Cathedral coming in second. We finished up our time in Helsinki by meeting some of Alethea's co-workers for dinner at a nice Asian restaurant. I think we almost spent more time of the restaurant than we did sightseeing. It was a very nice meal and we all had a great time.

Lutheran Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland
We spent the next three nights at one of Alethea's former co-workers house about a hour outside of Helsinki. We didn't have anything planned after Helsinki so we spent some time planning, catching up on things, doing laundry, and resting. Alethea wasn't feeling too good. It was good for her to stay put for a little bit. We ended up spending an extra night at Eija's to give Alethea some more time to rest. On two afternoons we drove around the country side and visited a flea market type store one day and went to a small arts and crafts village the next. The highlight for me though was that Eija and Vesuk had a traditional sauna powered by a wood burning stove. We relaxed in it one night for a hour or so. It felt real good. I cannot say enough thanks to Eija and Vesuk for their hospitality. They cooked two meals a day for us and couldn't been nicer.

Cottage Eija's & Vesuk's we stayed at in Finland
Next up for us was Sweden. To get to Sweden we first got dropped off on the side of the on ramp to a motor way by Vesuk where we were eventually picked up by a bus that took us almost two hours to the city of Turku. We spent a few hours walking around and eating in Turku. You'll probably find this hard to believe but we also stopped for a round of drinks at a micro-brewery that Alethea had previously found while researching Turku. We then took the ferry that I mentioned earlier to Stockholm arriving early in the morning. Our hotel in Stockholm was nice enough to allow us to check in when we arrived around 8 am so we rested up a little bit before starting our sightseeing in the afternoon.

Alethea about narrate a Rick Steves' walk in Stockholm, Sweden
We essentially spent two days sightseeing in Stockholm. On the first day we a Rick Steves self guided walk of the more modern parts of Stockholm that included the town's concert hall where the Nobel Prizes (except Peace) are awarded. We also saw a market and a couple squares before visiting a pub that served locally some locally made beer. The beer was actually quite good. So much of the beer on this trip that has been locally made hasn't had much flavor but these did. I was glad they did too considering they cost about $12 per glass. I justified this expense as a cultural experience versus just another beer at a bar :-).

what a $12 beer looks like in Stockhom
The second day in Stockholm was spent doing a Rick Steves' walk in the Gamla Stan or Old Town area. I really liked this walk. Stockholm is a very picturesque town. It kinda of reminds me of a mixture of Amsterdam because of all the water and canals and Paris. After a couple hours of walking that started off with watching the changing of the palace guards at the Royal Palace we ventured on over to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa Museum contains on old gigantic Swedish ship that sunk on its maiden voyage. Sound familiar Titanic fans? I think it actually only made it 20 minutes before it was tipped over by the wind. The ship was too top heavy due its guns and didn't have enough ballast. The ship sank in the 1628 and was raised in 1961 after 333 years under water. It was pretty much a pet project of the Swedish King after its initial discovery. It is well preserved and has been housed in a modern museum since 1990.
The final day of sightseeing in the Stockholm area involved a day trip to the town of Uppsala. Uppsala is a university town 40 minutes train ride north of Stockholm. We spent a few hours walking around town. The main site was the Uppsala Cathedral (Lutheran) which is Sweden's oldest (1453) and tallest church. It is also home to the tombs of several members of the royal family. We also stopped at Uppsala's University library where we saw a 1,500 year old bible that was written in silver ink.

Uppsala Cathedral 
This brings us to our final day in Sweden which includes a 6 hour train ride to Oslo, Norway. I really enjoyed this part of our trip. Finland was nice and relaxing. The countryside is beautiful. Stockholm to me was somewhat of a pleasant surprise. I had heard good things about Stockholm and it delivered. It is expensive though. I would recommend it in addition to some of the other great European cities. It is pretty easy to get around with excellent public transportation and just about everyone speaks English fluently.

Alethea excited about drinking some good Swedish beer in Stockholm
Next up for us is Norway. We'll start in Oslo then head to the Songnefjord area which is home to their world famous fiords. We plan on concluding our Norway stay in Bergen which I believe is the northern most town we'll be in on our trip. We've actually been on the same latitude line area as Alaska for some time now. After Norway we plan on continuing on to Denmark before heading in to the Netherlands. We plan on spending time with a friend of Alethea in Malmo, Sweden which is close to Copenhagen and then again in Emmen, Netherlands which is in the northern part of the country. 

As always, hope all is well back home and yes I know my Vols are doing a good of losing football games!

Link to photo albums: