A Travellerspoint blog

Day 18. On Tour in Tallinn

the last day of the trip

rain 62 °F

OK – now, on to Helsinki. The trip here was uneventful and the whole day yesterday was taken up with getting here. The flight was only one hour long but was right in the middle of the day so there couldn’t be any touring activities scheduled before or after. Everyone was pretty low key and stayed close to the hotel until we all wandered about ½ mile to have dinner in a part of town I really like. To be honest, we are not staying in as nice a hotel as J&J and I stayed in before. It is friendly and clean and the rooms are good size, but the location sucks. I just hope that after the rest of the ladies tour Helsinki, they come away with as positive an opinion of it as I did four years ago even though they don’t have the advantage of a great location. I have heard from a few that they really enjoyed their tour of Helsinki today and they did get to see the Sibelius Monument. I am jealous because it is an amazing sculpture that you have to see and wander through and under to get the whole effect. Pictures don’t cut it.

However, Tallinn was delightful. Our private guide was Eva who has been guiding for fifteen years and is a knowledgeable, enthusiastic proud Estonian of 32 years old. She met us at the boat dock when our ferry arrived and walked us up to the old town – a beautifully preserved, walled, medieval city which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. I was surprised at how big the old town is – many cobblestone streets curling up and around a hill, on top of which sits the Parliament building, some embassies and a 100+ year old Russian style cathedral built during the time when Estonia was part of the USSR. (As you can imagine, they are not particularly fond of the building.)

We spent three hours with Eva, wandering the town, learning about its history, Estonia’s history and what it is like today. Fascinating. This tiny country has a population of only 1.3 million, of which 1/3rd live in the capital, Tallinn. Estonia boasts a pretty healthy standard of living with a high education level. Tallinn also boasts a lot of tourists, there were two or three cruise ships in port yesterday. It’s no wonder – the medieval town of Tallinn can handle a lot of people, it is a big piece of charming and undisturbed history, some dating back 500 – 600 years.

After Eva left us we had a very nice lunch at an Italian restaurant in the old town, did a bit of shopping (no buying) and then went about finding a cab to the dock of our replacement ferry. You see, the weather was not good yesterday and the ferry that we had booked for the return trip to Helsinki cancelled our particular crossing. We felt those choppy seas on the way in, so that was not a big surprise. But what to do now? Can we even get back? As it turns out, the other major ferry service operates huge ships that always make the trip, no matter the weather. And what a ship it was! We found ourselves in a large, multi-tiered, amphitheater-like Las Vegas styled cocktail lounge to pass time during the two-hour crossing. At one point a three-piece band entered the stage area and proceeded to play a variety of Estonian, Finnish and American songs, including “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” in Estonian. Now, that was special. (I should have recorded it, it was pretty funny.)

About the weather. The beautiful warm, sunny weather that we enjoyed in Bergen and Stockholm has come to an end. By the time we arrived in Helsinki, the temperature had dropped to the low 60’s (which for some is heaven, for me that is a bit cool) and cloudy rainy weather had set in. It is admittedly inconvenient to be touring far-off places in the rain, but what can you do? You open your umbrella and enjoy the wonderful sights while you take care not to poke out someone’s eye with an umbrella rib while traversing the narrow walkways. That’s what you do, and you have fun doing it. The only dicey part is trying to hold an umbrella and focus your camera at the same time. But I got a few good shots:

A view of Tallinn from up the hill

A view of Tallinn from up the hill

The City Square of Tallinn

The City Square of Tallinn

A tiny house in Tallinn is now a shop

A tiny house in Tallinn is now a shop

Eerie statue of a monk

Eerie statue of a monk

So, now it's time to go home and it will be a long, trying day. Getting to Sacramento from Helsinki involves a couple of connections which doubles the risk of something going wrong, like late flights and missed planes. A small price to pay for making wonderful memories.

Posted by Follow Carol 01:35 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

Day 17. I'm in Helsinki

but I have more to say about Stockholm

semi-overcast 64 °F

Something had been haunting me in Stockholm. When I awoke this morning, I knew what I needed to do – I needed to track it down, capture it, and take it home.

“Homeless Fox” is a sculpture by Laura Ford and is one of the pieces in her “Rag and Bones” collection. This particular piece is also referred to as “Rag and Bones with Blanket”. It depicts a small homeless fox and her cub, wrapped in a blanket, sitting on a corner waiting for someone to drop a coin into the old shoe next to her. She can be found on the corner of Drottninggatan and Stromgatan. She shares the neighborhood with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Chancellory, and is across the bridge from Parliament. The City of Stockholm purchased the piece and left it up to the homeless of Stockholm to decide where she should go. So a vote organized by a Stockholm based newspaper (that is sold by the homeless) decided the location. Per a local political blog site, the wretched fox is a “constant reminder that there are still improvements to make in the Swedish welfare society”.

Well, she was certainly constant on my mind. Carol, Fran and I encountered her on our freedom walk from the “Boat of Boredom” the other day. I was not at all sure what I was seeing at first. She looks real, but too small to be real. Yet I approached her slowly and respectfully, just in case. I stared at her for a minute or two, wondered about her, snapped a picture and then walked away. Somehow, my mind didn’t walk away though, and when I reviewed the day’s pictures I saw my one poor-quality photo of the little homeless fox and knew I had to make a place for her in my home. That meant a better photograph.

As such, after breakfast I was back on the streets of Stockholm, searching for the corner where my fox could be found. And here she is:

Homeless Fox sculpture by Laura Ford

Homeless Fox sculpture by Laura Ford

So. . . .what does this say about me? I am sad, appalled, concerned, indirectly responsible, and disgusted that homelessness exists. Yet the sight of homeless people on the streets of Sacramento has become so commonplace that I hardly pay any attention. . . .unless they have their dog with them, making it that much more pitiful. Do I care more about homeless animals than homeless humans? Is that bad? Do I need therapy? I don’t know and I imagine I won’t arrive at an answer any time soon – but I welcome any feedback.

Meanwhile, the effect of "Homeless Fox" is the souvenir that I will carry home with me from Stockholm.

Posted by Follow Carol 11:58 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

Day 16. Last Day in Stockholm

of palaces and boats

sunny 70 °F

We awoke to another beautiful sunny day in Stockholm. However, the weather forecast for the Helsinki area (tomorrow’s destination) is one of rain. Janet, Jacquie and I are going to veer off from the group and tour Tallinn, Estonia while everyone else is seeing Helsinki. Tallinn is 50 miles from Helsinki so I’m hoping for sun. . . .kidding. . . .we’re gonna get wet. J&J and I visited Helsinki in 2012 immediately after the Russian Volga River cruise that ended in St. Petersburg, 200 miles and a quick hop away. It is a very pretty and clean city, and I am sure that I would enjoy visiting it again. . . .but!. . . Tallinn is a new experience and is so close. There is one thing in Helsinki that I would love to see again and that is the Sibelius Monument. We’re thinking about taking a cab to the monument since we’ll be in town and all three of us love it so much. We’ll see what happens – we may be attempting too much.

As I am writing this I am sitting in the hotel bar – I know, not a big surprise. But I was just surprised by the bar clientele. I took my G&T to one of the only available small tables and settled in when a gong rang out. I looked up and a bunch of the bar clients all stood up. I thought, “OMG is it some sort of fire alarm?” Then they all sat down. . . . .at a different table. Ah HA! It is a speed dating session right here in front of me! I can’t think of anything more dreadful than schmoozing with strangers for five minutes while they are sizing you up. Oh yeah, I was in loan sales once. It was dreadful.

Today was relatively short and that is OK. As this trip is winding down, I am beginning to look forward to my own life, in my own house with my own wine, and my puppy ignoring my every command. I think everyone feels this way at some point in the trip. It must mean something that it has taken me this long to detect it in myself. After all, there are only a couple of days left. I’ve been on trips where I started counting the days earlier on.

We started a little later than usual. At 9:30AM we rode out to the Drottningholm Palace which is the private residence of the Swedish royal family. It is a major tourist attraction in Sweden but as palaces go, it is not particularly opulent. We wandered through about ten rooms and then went out into the gardens (which seemed to be in better condition than the palace) and had a very nice morning strolling around. But I tell ya, I am “about palaced out” (to quote Diane Navarro, a much beloved traveler who died recently). It’s not that after you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. It’s that after you’ve seen twenty, you get a bit jaded. Our guide is very knowledgeable and animated and can make the history come alive, but in the end it’s more of the same stuff you’ve seen over and over. Besides, these things were built for the very wealthy who ruled over the poor and struggling. There will always be something wrong with that picture.
Drottningholm Palace

Drottningholm Palace

Drottningholm gardens

Drottningholm gardens

The next (and last) official tourist event was a narrated boat ride around the nearby islands and through a canal. OH NO! Not again!! No, this was much better. There was room for everyone, the narration was understandable and it only lasted an hour. Once we left the boat we were on our own for the afternoon. A few of us went in search of gifts and souvenirs, then finding none, had a late, light lunch at a local pub.

Dinner was once again in the Old Town. The place was hoppin’ on a Saturday night. So many sidewalk cafes and all were busy. It’s really exciting to be in a medieval town that is so vibrant. But that is short lived because we leave for Helsinki tomorrow morning.
Old Town Plaza

Old Town Plaza

Posted by Follow Carol 13:32 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

Day 15. Touring the Stockholm Area

old warships and new computer games

sunny 80 °F

I see that yesterday I forgot to mention an important advance in my education. I tasted aquavit (or akvivit, or akevitt) for the first time. Carol and I had agreed that this would be an important thing to do whilst we are in the region of the world that produces the stuff. We recognized that Stockholm might be our last opportunity since the next stop is Helsinki Finland and I won’t be spending much time there (more on that later). So we took our assignment seriously and strode down to the hotel bar, hopped on barstools and requested assistance from the bartender (a fellow named Mark from Boston, as it turns out.) He recommended a particular brand and poured us each a shot. Aquavit is a slightly gold, clear spirit that tastes like vodka infused with caraway. Mark served it cold but told me that “on the rocks” is simply not done, so I acquiesced and accepted the poison as it is done, neat. About 1/2-way through I switched to chardonnay but Carol would not waste good alcohol. I wouldn’t waste GOOD alcohol either but this was something different. Anyway, in the end we completed our assignment and went on to wine for extra credit.

Today we visited the Vasa Museum. I had never heard of it either. It is a giant exhibit of the only fully intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged. (well, 98% intact) The Vasa is a war ship commissioned by the King of Sweden to his specifications. Unfortunately, he wasn’t much of a ship designer and it was way too top heavy. The thing sank 20 minutes into its maiden voyage and remained at the bottom of the Stockholm Harbor for 333 years. In the 1950’s an archeologist re-found it and choreographed the raising of the thing. It is a beautiful, ornate ship. Giant and stunning.

There are times while travelling when the reminder of your incredible good fortune suddenly stabs you in the heart. For me, it is rarely a matter of what comforts I have, though they are many, to be sure. For me the feeling usually involves an experience that overwhelms me with a sense of gratitude and awe that I am experiencing whatever-it-is. That happened today as I walked around the Vasa. I feel so fortunate that I was able to learn about this piece of history while standing in the same room with the subject. I am a lucky, lucky girl. [It is here that I usually begin my sermon about how travel is so much more valuable than most anything you can buy and that you need to travel while you are physically able to do so. Consider it done.]

The next stop was the Skansen Outdoor Museum which is a lot like the Living History Museum in Oslo, except on a bigger scale, 74 acres to be exact. As you wander through it you encounter the types of farms and homes that existed throughout Sweden over hundreds of years. It was interesting, but mostly it was a beautiful day and it was nice to take a long educational walk.

The last event was an archipelago cruise on a ferry. Again, the weather was beautiful today, but the vessel was crowded and the cruise was too long. There are 30,000 islands that encompass the greater Stockholm archipelago (the city itself has 14) so it is a really beautiful area. But mostly what you see is the fine homes that are built on the water. There was constant narration explaining the sights as we floated along, but the sound system was so bad that it was at least 20 minutes before I figured out that he was narrating in Swedish and English. Three hours of this was boring to me. (no, not because I was jealous). What could I do? Nothing. I was stuck so I made the most of it. I wandered around the boat (where there was room to wander) and enjoyed the weather and the view and tried to control my Type “A” internal ranting (“this is fucking ridiculous!!! I travelled 8500 miles to be stuck on a small boat looking at homes and private docks for three hours??” I could be doing something more productive!!!) When it was finally over, Carol and Fran and I walked back to the hotel rather than boarding the bus. We needed to stretch our legs and I personally did not want to have to smile sweetly and pretend that I’d had another Vasa moment.

This evening we had dinner in the Old Town, which is the island where it all began. Narrow winding cobblestone streets with old buildings and outdoor café after outdoor café. The weather is good tonight so the tables were full of people enjoying the evening. It was colorful, vibrant and fun.

A word on Pokémon Go: Yes I have downloaded the app and yes I enjoy catching Pokémon, I even caught one in Old Town on the way to the restaurant this evening. But the interesting thing is the troops of teens in odd costumes that we encounter roaming the streets of Stockholm, Bergen, Oslo, etc. playing the game. Kinda fun.

Posted by Follow Carol 13:32 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

Day 14. Arriving in Stockholm

a quick tour of the old city

sunny 74 °F

Today we left Norway and travelled to Stockholm. Taking off over the many islands and waterways around Bergen was incredibly beautiful. No surprise, it is beautiful from the ground too. I mentioned to a couple of my comrades that I would like to return to Norway one day and (roomie) Carol observed that I have said that about every place we’ve been. That may be true, but there are different reasons and varying degrees of motivation. Iceland is geologically wild and “other-worldly” and I know it has more to show me. Copenhagen has Tivoli Gardens. OK, yes – that is a weak motivation, scratch that. Norway is just f’n beautiful, in a more elegant geological way than Iceland. In fact, Norway would be a great place to live. Naturally, I’d have to winter elsewhere, but still. . . . . Importantly, Norway (and all the Nordic countries, as far as I know) are neutral, peaceful, tolerant, and take care of their citizens. What’s not to love?

And now here I am in Stockholm and I am quite enamored of it also. We took a walking tour through the old part of Stockholm and of course it is charming. Stockholm is a beautiful city, built on fourteen islands. The old city is one of the islands and it is cobblestones and charming. Approx. one million people live in Stockholm, so this is no small Nordic town. In fact, Carol and I observed that there is far more diversity among the people we encounter than in any of the other places we’ve visited. (In other words, they are not all blonde and blue eyed) The guy who guided us from the airport to the Stockholm Sheraton warned us that they have many “beggars” in Stockholm now because immigrants from southern European countries are entering legally and are on the streets. I don’t think I have seen the evidence of that but I have only been here for a few hours yet.
I’ll have more info tomorrow. Meanwhile, our guide is named “Ria” (pronounced with a trill on the “R”). Ria is from Denmark but has been here for more than thirty years. She is an opera singer and came here to sing with the Stockholm opera. As a performer, she is enthusiastic and entertaining. She’ll be with us while we’re here.

Here are a few of the pictures I took today:

View of old Stockholm

View of old Stockholm

Typical street in old Stockholm

Typical street in old Stockholm

Public Urinal outside the Royal Palace.

Public Urinal outside the Royal Palace.

The Central Square in Old Stockholm

The Central Square in Old Stockholm

Posted by Follow Carol 12:30 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

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