Friday, September 23, 2011

Last Post ...

I think I'll wrap up my blog about this trip now.  I'm at the airport in Amsterdam waiting for my flight to Seattle.  There are more things that I could have written about like the boat hostel in Stockholm or the thrift shop that was owned by Canadians and filled with Canadian and American second hand clothes.  The weather, the people, the drunk man on the ferry and on and on.  But that is all behind me now.  The only thing that I have left to say is THANKS to Aliisa for making this trip what it was.  She organized most (and when I say most I mean all) of the things that we did.  Tallin, the ferry to and the flight back from Stockholm and the two (how lucky am I) hockey games that we went to .... and more.  They have called my row to board so I'm gonna have to go now. 

Thanks Aliisa !!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Swedish Elite League

Aliisa organized to go to a Swedish elite league game.  Amazing experience.  I thought that the fans in Finland were crazy but the Swedish take the cake for sure!!!  The riot police were out in force before the game and they were not sitting idle .... they were moving the hooligans along while we were waiting in line to get into the stadium.  There were clearly two sides in the stadium and they had a serious hate for each other.  They don't even sit in their seats .... they stand on them!  It was Mayhem ..... and a lot of fun!


video

Stockholm

The Ferry docks right in the heart of Stockholm so you get an excellent view from the ferry.  A beautiful city for sure!  The buildings of the old city look so closely packed it hardly seems possible to navigate between them.

Later in the day after making our way to the hostel we went to the old city.  It is even more impressive up close!  If you ever come to Stockholm check out the old city.  I was impressed with the old city in Tallin but this is decidedly better. Many of the buildings date back to the middle ages.  We had lunch in a dungeonous restaurant below the city.  We walk through the narrow cobble stone streets, checked out the shops, listened to the sounds and smelled the smells of the city.  An amazing experience. 

The next night we went back to see the city at night and it was again very impressive.  Like walking through a movie set or something.  I don't think that the below pictures do it justice but have a look for yourself.







Viking Line : To Stockholm

After lunch we walked thru the rain to the ferry terminal and boarded the boat to Stockholm.  My first thoughts were that this is  huge boat.  Bigger than the ferry to Tallin.  We put our things in our cabin (which was on the lowest possible level ... below the car decks and just above the rat and cockroach deck) but for 40 euros for a 15 hour overnight cruise you can't go wrong.

We headed to the decks that were above the water line and had a look around the boat.  There are 3 bars in total and pretty much everyone is in one of the three.  It was pretty funny as the music was from the 50 – 70's and I would say and the average age was about 105.  The cruise line clearly caters to the majority crowd.  Anyways .... we hung around listing to what sounded like polka for a bit and continued exploring.   Karaoke, an English style pub and some roulette (lost 10 euros) rounded out the night. 

One of the things that people do is they go to the duty free shop and buy a bunch of alcohol and then they get their drink on in a big way.  You could see the blurry eyes on the breakfast buffet crowd the next morning.   While eating breakfast, outside the windows were the Stockholm archipelago.  It reminded me a lot of  the islands between the mainland and Vancover Island.  A few hours later we were in Stockholm.







                                                    Stockholm

Rudloph for lunch

It's been a few days since I've had the chance to post.  A lot has happened and the next few posts tell the story. 

So, before boarding the ferry to stockholm we went to lunch at a traditional Finnish restaurant.  Luckily Aliisa's frined Siina's mother works there and except for one other table we had the whole place to ourselves.   This made for a great lunch :)    Finnish food is pretty hearty.  Stews, meat, potatos ... etc.  There was bear, elk and other meats but I knew as soon as I saw it on the menu that I would have the Reindeer.  Yes ..... Rudolph was on my plate :)  It was excellent of course!  Christmas has been cancelled .. sorry children of the world but ...  I was hungry.



Monday, September 19, 2011

The next few days :

In a few hours we are heading to Stockholm, Sweden. I'm really excited as I have never been.  I've not done a lot of research so I don't really know what to expect.  I suppose it will be a lot like Finland but we'll see.  We take a ferry to Stockholm which takes about 15 hours.  2 nights in Stockholm (and one hockey game!) and then fly back to Helsinki Thursday.  I'm going to try to update this blog while I am there but I'm not sure I will be able to.  If not I'll post again on Thursday which is my last night before returning home.  The time is going very fast of course with all these new experiences.  It's not over yet though ..............

Oh Baby!

So yesterday morning was a special day for Aliisa's family.  Her sister Josefiina had a baby boy.  4 kilograms.  His "temporary name" is Sulo.  Congratulations!


                                                 Aliisa and her new nephew - Sulo

New people, tar alcohol and a muddy dog!

So the last few days have been packed with parties and gatherings and what not.  Aliisa's friend Siina had her 30th B-Day on Saturday the 17th.  We were at her place by 2 in the afternoon and the night ended 12 hours later :)  We started at Siina's house with some friends and family and then later in the evening we went to a fusion buffet restaurant.  I had the sushi but to be honest it didn't taste as good as the sushi in Vancouver.  I'm going to OD on sushi when I get back.  Anyways ... dinner was followed by a few drinks at the local Irish Bar (every city has at least one) Molly Malones.  I met a lot of people that night and they seemed genuinely interested in me, Canada and Vancouver.  This has been my experience all along. 

The previous night we went to Miia and Lauri's place.  I had met them in Vancouver so it was good to see them again.  They actually had a friend from Vancouver staying with them so it was a bit strange to hear someone who sounds like me.  While there I tried some of the Finnish "Tar" alcohol.  Yep ... that's what it's called.  It smells like smokey BBQ sauce to me and it tastes better than it smells.  Apparently it's made by burning pine cones and ..... well ..... from there I can't see any way of making alcohol, but they did. 

One thing you'll notice soon after visiting Finland is the drinking culture.  The Finnish know how to drink.  Drinking in public is totally acceptable and you see it every day.  This is totally different to Vancouver of course so it is a bit strange to see so many people doing it.  Just go out on a Friday or Saturday night and the streets and squares of the city are full of people drinking and having a good time.

So here is a funny video.  While at Siina's house we took her dog Milo for a walk.  I don't think Siina will let me take Milo ever again.


video

Cycling the city

Helsinki is well set up for people to ride their bikes.  Most of the sidewalks are divided between those that are walking and those on bikes.  It's fantastic!  One of the things that I don't like about riding around Vancouver is that you have to ride on the street with the cars and ..... well .... I don't trust drivers so I don't ride much.  Riding on the sidewalk is way better.

So, on Friday (16th) I went on a bike ride.  This was the first time I went riding by myself .... it find it easy to get lost in this city but I'm getting better :)  I rode into the city and then made my way to the seawall.  This is a great place to ride of course because it is a dedicated path and the scenery is excellent.  So along the seawall I passed the icebreakers, lots of sailboats which I can't get enough of, parks, the docks for the large passenger ships (like the one I'll be on going to Stockholm) and much more.  This is better in pictures than words so have a look for yourself.




















Finnish Hockey

I'm Back again!  It's been a few days since I've written.  It's been action packed and the weather has been really good compared to the first 4 or 5 days here so I've spent more time outside.  I've been riding my bike (Aliisa's dad's bike actually), walking and even went for a run through the forrest at night.  It's not dark though as the paths are all lit up.  There were quite a few people enjoying the park.

Anyways ...........

Last thursday we went to a hockey game between two local Finnish teams - Jokerit and HIFK.  It was the opening game of the season and the fans were really into it.  The sections behind the nets were were dedicated to either Jokerit or HIFK fans.  The Jokerit fans were the craziest.  They had flags, all the gear of course and they chanted pretty much the whole game.  Like soccer fans at a hockey game.  I guess they had some influence because Jokerit won 5-3.  After having gone to this game and having so much fun Aliisa had a look to see if there were any games on while in Stolkholm and so we are going to watch DIF and AIK play as part of the Swedish Elite League!!!  Can't Wait!!!


                                                               Jokerit and HIFK

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tallin, Estonia : The Old City

After our interesting trip across the Gulf of Finland (see my post : Tallin - Stormy Seas) we safely arrive in the Port of Tallin.

A bit of info on Tallin : It is the capital city with roughly 400,000 people.  Estonia overall has 1.3 million people.  The Russians occupied Estonia for many many years and their influence is unmistakable.  You can see clearly in some of the buildings that they are Russian design.  The newer buildings are totally different as the Estonians want to have their own identity.  Still 25% of the country's population are Russian. 

Ok, so we arrive and of course it is raining but not long after it stops and stays dry for pretty must the rest of our time in Tallin.  We walked to the gates of the old city and spent the rest of our day there.  It is an amazing place dating back over 600 years.  Most of the buildings have been restored, some have been rebuilt and others have been touched very little since they were built giving you a good idea of what it was like at that time.  We spent most of our time in Tallin exploring the old town.  We made a short trip to the mall to do some shopping and then headed back to the ferry terminal for our 5:30 sailing back to Helsinki.   

                                  Tallin - The Old Town



Short Video : The Main Square
  video
 

                                                             More of the old town







Tallin - Stormy Seas

On Sept 14th Aliisa and I went on a day trip to Tallin which is the capital city of Estonia.  It was an eventful day so I've decided to create two posts ...... One about the ferry trip and one about Tallin itself.  This is about the Ferry trip.

The day before we were to go to Tallin Aliisa's friend called her to say that there was a storm brewing in the Gulf of Finland.   We understood that it could be a bit of a rough ride but ultimately we ... nor it appeared anyone else on the boat ... knew what we were in for.

It was an early start as we had tickets for the 7:30 ferry to Tallin from Helsinki.  When I think of a ferry I have in mind something like the BC Ferries but this boat is more like a cruise ship.  It is huge by my standards.  This is one reason why I thought that a storm may not be too bad to sail in given this boat's size.  WRONG!  So we board the boat and go to the breakfast buffet to fill up and while we were sitting waiting for our boat to leave there was another one of these ferries (there seems to be about a dozen or more of them going all over : Stockholm - Sweden, Germany, St. Petersburg - Russia and other places) being towed into port by two tug boats.  It appeared as though they could not navigate preciously with the winds.  10 minutes after we get under way the waves that were hitting the front of the ship were splashing up on the window that we were looking out of from the buffet area.  We were on the 8th level.  Everyone was watching out the window in amazement at just how bad the weather was.  We eventually finished our breakfast and decided to go up one level to the front of the boat.  This was not easy to do as the boat was being thrown around pretty good by the waves and wind.  We staggered up and fell into some seats. I could see that the furniture was in a bit of disarray as it had been sliding around and that some people had used the sick bags that were available.  For me ..... as long as I could look outside I was ok but once I was in a closed space I was not feeling too good.  So now we are on the 9th level and still the waves that were crashing into the front of the boat were spraying all the way up.  It was like sitting in your car when you take it through the automatic car wash.  Each time the boat hit a wave you could hear the bang and feel the vibrations.  Aliisa has been on this ferry many times and had not had an experience like this.   

Usually the ferry takes 2 hours but since we were headed straight into the wind and waves it took 2.5 hours to get there.   It was the first time that I had been on a boat that size so I was really surprised with how the seas were able to throw this boat about.  I was not concerned for our safety or anything like that, I just felt queezy at times and awe inspired by the power of the sea.  I'm sure that someone who spends any amount of time on these ships would think that this storm was a non event but for me it was my first time being on a boat in this type of weather.

The below video gives a pretty good idea about the weather but of course a lot is lost.  It seems less intense watching this than being there but I figured I would post it anyways.  BTW ... The music in the background is what they were playing over the speakers. 

video

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Suomenlinna Fortress

Today was mainly about going to Suomenlinna Fortress.  It's about a 15 minute boat trip from Helsinki Harbour and cost the same as a bus fare.  It is a military fortress build in the early 1700's and established in 1748.  There are 5 Islands connected with bridges making it easy to walk all of them.  Here's the thing about this island ....... It is very very windy out there.  I had dreads when I got back.  Anyways ... we walked around the island looking at the buildings, guns, bunkers and the rest.  It's definitely an interesting place and well worth the trip.

Ok, this is a short post.  It's an early start tomorrow on our way to Tallin in Estonia.  Looking forward to it!!


                                                                   Me, on a bridge :)
 


                                                          A rare break in the clouds

First full day

I's been 2.5 days since I have arrived and I'm piling up the experiences :)  Yesterday was my first full day and a bit of a lazy day to start as I am really struggling with jet lag this trip.  I usually don't have a problem but this time it is turning out to be a bit of a problem for sure.  Anyways .... the jet lag has made for a slow start in the mornings both yesterday and today.

After  I got my sorry a** up and scrubbed the stink off I was ready to go.  We went for a bike ride to the city which didn't really take that long, probably 20 mins or so.  The thing is that it started raining pretty hard once we left.  It's pretty much been raining since with some periods when it didn't rain.  So ... we arrived to the bike lockup place and wandered the stores before finding a place to eat.  Then we went to the rooftop bar at the Torini Hotel which has amazing views of the city.  Helsinki reminds me a lot of Dublin in that there are no highrises.  The tallest building is probably 10 stories high with most being around 4-5 stories.  To me this makes the city look older ...... more .... historical.

Following that we rode home and got ready for dinner at a friends place.  That was the day :)













Sunday, September 11, 2011

It should be called Heaven-sinki !

So After 24 hours of travel I arrived in Helsinki to Aliisa and her dad waiting at the airport.  My first impression when approaching to land was that this is the land of a million lakes.  They are everywhere.  Also ... the trees are rugged an abundant.  It instantly reminded me of the west coast minus the mountains.   The airport was totally different than the one in Amsterdam where I had my layover.  Amsterdam must be a hub to Europe as it was totally packed, and with people from all over the world.  Helsinki's airport is Zen.  There were sounds of chirping birds being played over the speakers in the washrooms.  I mean .... who else does that!!

Ok ..... once in the car we went on a mini tour before getting to Aliisa's place.  It was a beautiful sunny Sunday so we went into the city and drove around the harbour and other areas .... which I am of course not familiar with yet ..... with aliisa pointing out the sites all along the way.  The architecture is amazing.  The buildings are very angular and pastel.  And you can tell right away that this city has a lot of stories to tell about time long past.  The streets of cobblestone .... horse and carriage garages ..... the older architecture etc etc.

Once at Aliisa's it was nice to relax and stretch out a bit.  After a quick nap to recharge we went for a short walk exploring the neighborhood.  She lives about 4 km's from the city centre but you would never know it.  It's a very quite residential area made up mostly of flats. 

OK, I'll wrap this up as it's is getting a bit wordy ..... I have to brush up on my blogging skills :)  So, to sum up, my first impressions are that Helsinki is a clean, tidy, organized city rich with history.  There is of course a European flare and the connection with nature is obvious as there are parks everywhere.  I'm looking forward to seeing and learning more about Finland and the rest of Scandinavia.

Forgive any mistakes ....... I'm writing this at 4 am.  Jet lag sucks!! :)


Helsinki Harbour



Walking on the rocks near Aliisa's Apartment

Friday, September 9, 2011

Here we go again!

It's been about a year since I last added to this blog and I'm a bit at a loss about how to start up again but I'm hoping to update regularly ... we'll see how this goes :)

I'm packed, and ready for an early start ...... because this time I am off to Scandenavia!!!  I was invited by my good friend Aliisa to visit her in Finland and of course I couldn't say no.

Tomorrow is day one and all about travel.  I'll keep this short.  It's an early start as I have to catch a bus to Seattle.  An afternoon flight from Seattle to Amsterdam, a 2 hour layover and then off to Helsinki.  I'll be away for about 2 weeks and have a lot planned while I'm there.  Can't wait!!

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