Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

18.08.11 – I was looking over some pictures from this summer and there are some I didn’t have time to post because I was having so much fun. This was a great summer. Lots of karaoke, salsa dancing and visits from friends and family. These shots were from a mini-road trip I took a month back. I headed to Tampere, Finland for a salsa event and had to drive to Jaana’s parents summerhouse the next day in Padasjoki, Finland. I’ve barely used my car since I moved here but this was the perfect opportunity for me to make the most of my Honda Element. I danced (well, maybe more watched) till 4AM and then headed out of Tampere where I found a beautiful little campground, about 20 km out of the city, pulled over, laid the seats back and spread out my comforters. After 4 hours of sleep, I headed to Padasjoki to play in the annual farmers vs. summerhouse people’s pesäpallo, Finnish baseball, game. What a great weekend!

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09.08.11 – Emma and I were playing tour guides for my sisters Kim and Jackie this past week. We only had a week so we planned one day trip. Tallinn, Estonia is a great choice because you can travel over in the morning, spend 5-8 hours in the city and then return in the evening. We took the Nordic Jet Line, a catamaran jetboat which cuts the travel time from 3 hours to 1.5 hours, which added a bit of excitement from the very beginning.

We spent most of our time in the Old Town which has more than enough shops, restaurants and beautifully restored and maintained architecture. The Old Town is easily accessible from the ferry port, just a short walk, and although cars are allowed in some parts, the area is primarily a pedestrian zone. Here’s a great list of “must see sights” for the city.

It’s hard to suggest what to do while there because most everything is enjoyable. The shops are nice, food was good and people are friendly. We did stop in a Medieval Torture Museum which was more spooky then entertaining. If you want to hit a museum, I would suggest the Estonian Maritime Museum, located in the historic Fat Margaret cannon tower.

We had a great time and I would recommend the trip to anyone.

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10.02.11Kaivopuisto is one of the oldest and most popular parks in Helsinki. The park has several acres of flat land dense with trees as well as a large hill to overlook the Gulf of Finland to the South and the city center to the North. During the summer months, the park is popular with people sunbathing, picnicking and playing all types of sports. During the Winter months you’ll see nordic skiing and sledding, not to mention some of the best snow forts in the city.

I like to break my day up with a walk which happens to be something very Finnish. Finns love to get out for an hour or two of fresh air no matter what the weather conditions. Even when the temperatures have dropped well below freezing and the snow is falling, you’ll see a number of mothers and/or fathers out with baby strollers. One of these days I’ll get bold enough to ask them if I can get a picture because this is something I think is unique to Finland and appreciate very much.

I headed out to Kaivopuisto around noon because I knew the park was going to look great after the recent blanket of snow we received. Well, I wasn’t disappointed.

Make sure to checkout the panoramic shot I took on my Patchwork page.

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08.01.11 – The great part about taking the ship from Helsinki to Stockholm is the fact that you can sleep onboard the ship for most of the travel time. I titled my posts day 1, day 2, day 3 but it’s not really a three-day trip. You leave at 5PM on day 1 so you can still have a full day to explore Helsinki before you leave and on day 3, you arrive back in Helsinki at 1030AM, so you have a full day ahead of you. Plus, you’re well rested because most of the time onboard the ship is spent sleeping. Well, we slept, a large group of the passengers drink like fish and party like animals.

We were pretty exhausted from the day so we grabbed something to eat and turned in early 😉 There’s nothing like sleeping on a ship. It reminded me of my days in the Navy. I used to love laying in my “rack” and falling asleep while being gently rocked. The kids fell asleep early and I followed right behind them 😉

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07.01.11 – We had a full day to spend in Stockholm. The boat wasn’t scheduled to depart until 5Pm so we spent the last hours before we pulled in at 930AM eating breakfast in the ships buffet and planning the day. The ship had an information desk open 24/7 so I grabbed some maps and information flyers on popular things to do.

We came up with a list of three things, the Vasa Museum, a walk through the Old Town (Gamla Stan) and finally the afternoon in the Södermalm and Östermalm shopping districts. The plan was a bit ambitious, you could make a day of anyone of the three, but we knew we would be back and we just wanted to get a taste of Stockholm.

Getting off the ship and quickly on our way in an unfamiliar city was relatively easy. We were off the ship in 15 minutes after docking and followed a crowd of people making their way to the metro station, a short walk from the harbor. We bought full day transit cards at a kiosk in the metro and headed to our first stop, the Vasa Museum.

The Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet), a maritime museum with the 17th century ship Vasa on display, is located on the island of Djurgården, about 3km to the South of the harbor. The Vasa was a Swedish warship built in the 17th century which sank just 2km into its maiden voyage. The ship was salvaged in 1961 and finally moved to the Vasa Museum in 1987 which quickly became one of Stockholm’s most popular tourist attractions. There are several floors to the museum with exhibits or archeological findings of the ship and of 17th century Sweden. Scale models of the ship, dioramas depicting the salvage process and two-story walls with glass enclosed salvaged sails surround the main attraction, the actual ship situated in the main hall. The museum was a great start because it was something both the kids and myself really enjoyed.

We decided to grab lunch at our next stop, The Old Town (Gamla Stan), which is situated just West of the Vasa Museum on the island of Stadsholmen. The tiny island is located right in the center of Stockholm and used to be called Staden mellan broarna (The Town between the Bridges). Although the island is small, which makes it perfect for walking the medieval streets and alleyways, there are quite a few things to see and do. We passed churches, cathedrals, the baroque royal palace Kungliga Slottet before making our way to the town’s large open square the Stortorget. We found an inexpensive cafe and had a lunch of Panini-like sandwiches and pizza slices, not exactly Swedish fare but it definitely “filled the tanks” so we could be on our way.

Our next foray into Stockholm was mainly to appeal our teenage traveler Emma. We had read about a couple of shopping districts and we had our day travel passes so we jumped on the metro and headed to Södermalm in the Southern section of the city. Södermalm has a bohemian/alternative vibe and we spent some time walking on the street Gotgaten checking out the record stores and trendy clothing but Emma was more interested in finding the more mainstream Urban Outfitters rather than the hit or miss trendy boutiques.

Östermalm, the other shopping district we wanted to checkout, was located on our way back to the ship. It also had the Urban Outfitters store so we jumped back on the metro and headed there. Where Södermalm is more working class, Östermalm is definitely home to the more affluent so there were an overabundance of stores, cafes and restaurants to choose from. Emma spent sometime in the Urban Outfitters and I shopped for a new contract free iPhone. Emma was luckier than me 😉 Unfortunately Sweden does not appear to have contract free iPhones but Emma picked up a couple of items to take home.

It was getting late in the day and we had to be back to the ship in two hours so we found a cute little cafe and crashed. We even learned a little Swedish while hanging out there. While I was waiting for my cappuccino and older woman returned with her Parma ham sandwhich and started talking to one of the baristas. She was obviously unhappy about something and then I heard her say “stinkerdoo” in that sing-song Swedish way which made the barista sniff the sandwhich and shake his head no. Max, Emma and I, a bit slap happy from our full day, started making the most of our new-found Swedish word. We were the most animated customers in the place, laughing at the idea of ordering the stinkerdoo for two or a pasta dish, the stinkernoodledoo. It was definitely time to put a fork in the day and head back to the ship!

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06.01.11 – If you have the time, one of the must trips to take from Helsinki is the overnight trip to Stockholm, Sweden by ship. Two lines, the Viking Line and the Silja Line, depart daily from Helsinki at 5Pm for an overnight journey to Stockholm. You spend the night on the boat, wake up just before the ship arrives in Stockholm, enjoy a full day in Stockholm and then depart at 5Pm for the trip/sleep ride back to Helsinki. Of course, you can stay as long as you like but the kids are on winter holiday from school so we decided to make it an overnight holiday.

The first day of our holiday included checking into the ship and an overnight journey by sea. Checking in on the Silja Line is quite quick and easy. We grabbed our tickets and found our room, a berthing which had four beds and a view of the ocean, albeit a frozen ocean 😉 We grabbed dinner on the main deck, which is more like being inside a large shopping mall, and watched as people streamed by our table to shop, watch performances and make their way to party while the ship steamed onto Sweden.

Being the party animals that we are, Emma, Max and I checked out the main happenings rather quickly and then headed to our room to watch a few movies before the ship gently rocked us to sleep.

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03.11.10 – We had just five hours to spend in Tallinn, Estonia and we wanted to make the most of it. Neither one of us had travelled together before but I think we did a great job because no one was stressed out and we made “democratic” decisions. It also helped that Tallinn is a relatively small city and it’s easy to make the trip from Helsinki so there wasn’t any pressure to see everything on one trip.

We spent all of our time in The Old City which is just a short walk from the ferry terminal. The Old City is a beautifully preserved medieval town originally built in the 15-17th centuries. Estonia has experienced rapid economic growth since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and the Old Town reflects how the country is prospering. The few crisscrossing streets which make up the Old Town are filled with trendy shops and restaurants, beautiful cathedrals and the Raekoja Plats, the square in the heart of the Old City.

We spent the morning in the Estonian Maritime Museum which presented the history of Estonian ships and navigation. A number of the exhibits were models of Estonian ships, WWI mine sweepers, fishing trawlers and a 1914 ice breaker, as well as historic old wooden fishing boats dating back to the 15th century.  The museum is located in Fat Margaret tower, was built in the 16th century and was part of the medieval city gate system. The roof of the museum is open and provides a panoramic view of the port and Old Town.

Next we wandered down the streets going in and out of some of the little shops. I told Bazhena, who is from Russia, I wanted one of those Russian fur hats which were always popular in American movies about the soviets. Of course the girls found one for me which had bunny ears on top… so I passed on that one 😉 One interesting find was a shop that sold marzipan which is very popular in Estonia. This shop actually had a museum below the shop which had everything from busts of people like Madonna, Eddie Murphy and Vladimir Putin as well as a three foot high lighthouse with crashing waves and seagulls flying above, all made with marzipan! I picked up a couple of gifts for Max and Emma.

We made our way into a cathedral. The best part of visiting the cathedral was when Mus’ab, who is Muslim, said “I’ve never been in a cathedral before.” It was a nice “first time” share with someone and it opened up a nice discussion about the differences between Catholic cathedrals and Muslim mosques. Luckily Mus’ab has a great sense of humor so he was laughing when we all started talking about getting a picture of him sitting in the church eating a pork sandwhich and washing it down with a beer, three big no-no’s of the muslim religion, to send to his friends back in Jordan. All kidding aside, I hope he’ll be able to take me to a mosque someday.

We were getting hungry so we started looking for a place to eat. Silvana, who had done the most research before the trip, had heard about a famous place located just off the main square. Luckily we found Olde Hansa and settled in. Here’s how Wikitravel describes it.

Olde Hansa, The ruling king among Tallinn’s restaurants with some of them trying to copy its style. The place is simply medieval, not just in terms of food but also in the sense of performance – no electricity, no music except live and authentic, no modern inventions. The house special is bear meat “marinated in rare spices and cooked over a fire in honour of Waldemar II, the brave King of Denmark” costing €40+. Try one of the extraordinary beers, such as the honey beer. – Wikitravel

It was awesome! We barely had time to talk because we were so hungry and the food was delicious. We all ordered something different and we made sure to share. Not only was the food great but the beer was great to. Our waitress/serving wench was pretty lively and when I ordered a beer she asked “Would you like the man’s size of the woman’s?” Way to up sell! The next question was “Do you want spices in it?” Well, I said yes to both and it was… interesting. It tasted good but I couldn’t finish it! I’m not sure what the alcohol content was but by the time I was half way through my man-sized beer I was ready to lay my head on the table.

Medieval restaurants move at medieval speed which was nice and relaxing but by the time we got out we didn’t have too much time before we had to head back to the ferry. We started making our way and our last stop was at a little cafe called Cafe Josephine where we could get coffee and desserts. I had probably one of the best desserts of my life. It was a slice of cake with raspberries, white chocolate mousse and drizzled with a rich chocolate. Pure heaven!

We made it back to the ferry and the whole time I was thinking, I can’t wait to come back here!

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