A Travellerspoint blog

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FINE TOUR OF HELSINKI, FINLAND

We gained an hour of sleep last night and this morning's tour started at a reasonable time, so we headed out for our Helsinki tour well rested.

The tour we chose was scheduled for just a half day. It took us around various parts of capital of Finland, both new and old. Helsinki is a younger city than Tallinn. Because much of the original city was built as wooden structures, time and weather have taken their toll on the earliest structures. What's left are mostly from the late 18th century to the present. It is a vibrant city, despite the harsh winters. Our tour guide told us that Helsinki has two seasons: nine months of anticipation and three months of disappointment. Many of the older buildings resemble the long ornate palaces of St. Petersburg and the tall, narrower buildings in Copenhagen.

The three stops we made on the tour exhibited some structures that were outside of the norm, however.

The first stop was in Sibelius Park where we viewed an unusual sculpture on display. The monument is constructed of groupings of silver tubes and dedicated to a Finnish composer. This is apparently a well-known piece of art in this part of the world and now we know about it as well!
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The second stop brought us to the Temppeliaukio Church. This Lutheran church was constructed by blasting a huge "bowl" in the granite bedrock. Then a circular roof was constructed over the top of it. The ceiling is decorated with a huge spiral of copper piping—over 11 miles of it.
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Our last stop was in the town square that is surrounded by government buildings and a Lutheran cathedral on the high side. An added attraction for just this day was a display of painted bear statues. A total of 144 bears (one representing each member country in the United Nations) were standing hand to hand. Each is decorated to identify its sponsor country. We had fun looking at each one and trying to find the bear that represented each country we have visited.
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Back on the bus and we were headed back to the ship for a late lunch. At 3:30, a group of local Finnish dancers performed folk dances in the main theater on the ship. We enjoyed the show. Dinner was in the dining room at six; a game of cards after that; and a magician's show at nine.
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Susie and John headed back to the theater at 10:15 to watch the on-board version of the Newlywed Game. Contestants were three couples from the audience that had been married from 20 to 53 years. It was a hoot, but by the time that was over at 11:00, it was time to call it a day!

Posted by jeburns55 14:22 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

LAST STOP: STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

Today was our last day to dock and explore a new city/country. Our tour was scheduled to leave after nine, so we had a leisurely breakfast and then joined the tour group.

Our guide was chatty and funny; she played off of the centuries old rivalry with Denmark with banter back and forth with some Danes on the bus. The history of each Scandinavian countries is intertwined with the others and while they've been at peace with one another for many years, the age-old competitive spirit lives on.

We toured around the city for some time viewing important buildings and landmarks. Stockholm inhabits 14 different islands, so we went over and back on many bridges. Once again, we noticed an architecture here common to the style we had seen in Copenhagen, St. Petersburg and Helsinki. The are many ornate, gilded buildings; many large, rectangular palaces; and many colorful row houses.
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Our guide let the bus stop twice in order for us to take pictures of the harbor, the city skyline, government buildings, and the royal family's palace.
The last stop on the tour was at the Vasa Museum to see the Vasa, a ship built in 1628 that sank in the Stockholm harbor. Two interesting stories make this ship notable. The first is that King Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden commissioned this ship to be built as the most ornate and imposing ship of its time. Having been at war for nearly 30 years, he wanted a war ship that would intimidate his foes. The ship was built and it was magnificent; more than 1000 oak trees were cut down in order to build it. It had an array of 64 cannon on three decks. The rear of the ship was decorated with many carved figures and symbols, almost an art gallery on its own. Once it was finished, the ship set sail into a Stockholm harbor and it had gone little more than half a mile when a gust of wind hit the sails, the ship tilted over on its side, water poured into the lower gun ports, and it sank to the bottom of the harbor in less than 15 minutes. Fifty people were drowned.
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The second story involves the recovery of the ship 330 years later. An interested citizen of Stockholm located the sunken ship in the bay and successfully refloated the old ship. Because of the brackish (semi-salt, semi-fresh water) around Stockholm, the ship had not rotted or been damaged by shipworms. The entire ship is now on display at the Vasa Museum, a building that was erected around it. We could have spent more than the one hour we were allowed there to see all of the displays and exhibits about the ship.

The tour's end brought back to our ship's dock by 1:00. Lunch was still being served, followed by some R & R in the ship's sun and pool room. Dinner was at six, followed by a game of cards and the evening show—a musical/dance performance with a disco theme. After that, dreamland.

Posted by jeburns55 10:36 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

ANOTHER DAY AT SEA

Today was a day at sea, crossing back through the western side of the Baltic Sea, from Stockholm, Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark. We woke to "moderate" seas, swells that were four to nine feet making things move a little too much. A queasy tummy wasn't unusual among the guests on board. By mid day, though, the water was quieter and all was well.

What do you do on a ship all day when there is no where else to go? Well, of course, we eat. And Susie and Elaine went to another jewelry
making class, while John made notes about the trip. And we ate. And we napped. And we ate.

In the evening, we had to pack our bags and set them out to be put on the pier tomorrow. After that, we went to the crew's farewell show. And then we ate....NO, no, no... We didn't eat again. We just went to bed so we would be well rested for unloading in the morning.

Posted by jeburns55 10:38 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

RETURN TO COPENHAGEN

Breakfast was early and then the rounding up and moving out of the passengers to the dock began. The whole process lasted about an hour.
Once we had our bags, we grabbed a taxi to take us to our hotel. Too early to check in, we left our bags there and caught another "Hop On Hop Off" tour of the city. This one took us out to the zoo, past the Carlsberg brewery, and to the "Free Town of Christiana", a place that has been inhabited by hippies (yes, think back to the 60's and 70's...hippies) for a few decades. They are mostly artisans, it seems. The entire area is colored with graffiti and scattered with junk. No photographs are allowed, so we've nothing to show for our little walk.

Once we arrived back to the bus stop on "hop on", Susie noticed that the bus brochure said that after September 1, the busses run only every hour and a half or so. We didn't want to stand on the sidewalk for that long, so we started walking. Fortunately, a taxi came by so we got a ride back to the hotel. Before checking in, we walked a block or two up to the nearest canal. Dozens of restaurants lined the waterway, overlooking dozens of sailing ships tied to the quays.

We had a nice lunch. It was different to eat somewhere other than in the dining room of a ship...and we had to pay for the meal when we were finished!
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The hotel was ready to check us in once we returned. The elevator is a hoot—it is just big enough for one person and a suitcase. The accommodation consists of two rooms, one with a couch/hide a bed and the other with a double bed. So the three of us can share.
John volunteered to take the dirty laundryto a laundromat (the hotel was supposed to have laundry service, but when we arrived we were told, "not on weekends.") So all the dirty laundry was put in John's suitcase and he headed off for an adventure.

It was interesting. First, there was the five block walk to the west to get money from an ATM. Then it was a 12 block walk in the other direction to the laudromat. After asking a few people for directions, I found it. And I found that I didn't have the correct change. John and the big suitcase trotted back down the street to a "take away" food place, where the cook was kind enough to provide some coins.

Back up to the laundromat, where assistance from a nice lady doing her laundry was in order. Unfortunately, she left before it was time to put clothes in the dryers. A friendly young man showed me how to use the centrifuges, large tubs that super-spin dry the wet laundry. You need to do that, another woman told me, because the tumblers (dryers to us) are expensive...to the tune of one dollar for 3 minutes. Many several minutes (and many more dollars) and the laundry was done, folded, wheeled back to the hotel, and packed away.

It was an early dinner in the hotel tonight because we have a morning flight to Hamburg, Germany.

Posted by jeburns55 10:38 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

"WE ARE IN THE FATHERLAND"

These are the words that Elaine spoke as we landed in Hamburg on our morning flight—she had arrived in the homeland of her family's ancestors.
Checkout of our hotel and the taxi ride to the airport were uneventful; Sunday morning is quiet in Copenhagen. The flight to Germany was only 40 minutes long.

After we got our baggage, we stopped at the Hertz desk and picked up our car. We'll be driving this week. Fortunately, the ol' GPS that's loaded with new maps of Europe was nearly flawless as it guided us to the hotel. We checked in, unloaded our bags, and headed out onto the street. First stop: Einstein's Bistro next door for some munchies and—of course—German beer. It hit the spot.
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Next, we disappeared down the subway tunnel and took a train to Jungfernstieg where we boarded a boat for a water tour of Lake Alster. This is a good sized lake in the center of the city that is very popular for recreation: sailing, canoeing, and people watching on the shore. We had an extra special treat as today was the last day of the "End of Summer" celebration. Stages with live bands were set up around the lake and everywhere in between were tents and stands selling every kind of food imaginable (and many things we had or could have never imagined...) and slushies and drinks and beer. We had one small glass of beer and watched the people go by for some time. Eventually, we walked across the street and through the town hall square. The town hall is a very ornate building that faces a plaza. Along one side is a canal that leads out of the lake. Ducks and swans make their way through the most of the canal area.
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On the other side of the canal is a restaurant, the Friesen Keller. Thinking what we really needed to round out our first day in Germany was a good German meal, we stepped in, had a seat, and ordered dinner.
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What we really, really needed was three more people to help us eat our dinner.

Susie and Elaine both ordered roast beef rouladen, which consisted of two huge slices of roast beef rolled up with onions inside, and sides of vegetables and a large bowl of parsley buttered potatoes. John ordered the "small sausages" (that would be eight big links) on a bed of sauerkraut and lots of those potatoes. None of us could eat more than have of what we were served. Needless to say, no room for dessert...

The subway entrance was just up the steps outside of the restaurant, so we took the train back to our neighborhood. A few calories were burned off with a little after-dinner walk on the street in front of our hotel.

We have finally retired to our room to settle in and rest up for tomorrow. The only English language shows on television are a nature show, CNN World News, and BBC news. Thank goodness for iPods!

Posted by jeburns55 10:40 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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