Saturday, May 1, 2010

Helsinki, Tallinn, and Stockholm: 1 Weekend, 3 Capital Cities

Hei hei folkens!

Finally writing about our weekend in Finland, Estonia, and Sweden… Sorry about the long hiatus! It’s springtime in Lillehammer now, and so I’m feeling fresh and bloggy.

And we’re done with our final for Norwegian Culture and Society, (5 hours of solid writing = not fun, btw.) so it’s nice to have that checked of off the list.

Helsinki, Tallinn, and Stockholm- Three Capital Cities in One Weekend
12. mars – 15. mars

Helsinki, Finland
We woke up at the bright and cheery time (little sarcasm) of 0400 hours to make it for our taxi, to take us to our train, which took us to our airplane. Let it be known, dear readers, that Kjerstin is not a morning person. In the blurry confusion that was the beginning of a long day of traveling, the bag of liquids I had so nicely set aside on top of my carry-on happened to fall out without my knowledge. Goodbye, contacts. Goodbye shampoo, etc. Not a good start to the morning, but it wasn’t so bad after that. We arrived in Helsinki with no problems (just in a sort of daze from the early start). The sun was shining and the snow was slushy. We made it to the station, where we had a nutritious meal at McDonald’s. Okay, so not really nutritious, but it was so cheap compared to Norway that we couldn’t resist!

With our hunger curbed and our appetites for exploring renewed, we took off in search of our hostel. It was the Eurohostel, and it was a short distance from the station by streetcar. The hostel was clean, and pretty basic. Probably a favorite part was the bird noises in the bathroom… It felt like you were brushing your teeth in a jungle. Very exotic.

After getting freshened up, we headed out to take on Helsinki. Our first stop was the Uspenski Eastern Orthodox Cathedral. It was made of really pretty red brick with domes and the interior was huge with lots of blues and golds.

We walked towards the city and saw the harbor. While we were walking along, we stumbled on the presidential palace. We didn’t realize what it was at first, but after we did, a fancy lady in a long coat with a suitcase came out of the house and the iron gate was opened for her. We’d like to think she was someone famous/important, but she didn’t have red hair, so we knew she wasn’t the president.

Next we walked to the Helsinki Cathedral, a big white building with columns and lots of stairs leading up to it. The church is Lutheran, and had a big statue of Luther inside. The interior was pretty, but a more simplistic beauty in contrast to the Uspenski Cathedral we had just seen.

After the Cathedral, we went to see the Helsinki Library, which was gorgeous inside. The building was really big, with different rooms and shelves upon shelves of books. It was a nerd’s (or scholar’s) paradise.

Dinner was a group meal at a restaurant called Zetor in downtown Helsinki where we met with some of Uwe’s friends. The place had a fun atmosphere, even it was mostly empty—too early for the Finns to be eating, I guess. I would describe the décor as farm meets woods, meets western… There were tractor seats for stools and random odds and ends on the walls. (You would have loved it, Dad!) The food was delicious, too.

With our bellies full, we headed back to the hostel to hang out for a bit before going out to get a taste of the Helsinki nightlife. We went to a club and after getting in, found that there was a fashion show, complete with catwalk, loud music, and weird clothes. It was an “interesting cultural experience”… we left after one drink. We hopped on to the trolley and hurried to the hostel and to our comfy beds.

In the morning, after a quick breakfast, we headed off to the harbor to our Viking Line ferry that would take us to Tallinn. The ride was only a few hours, and it was sunny and warm enough that we could stand outside on the deck and say,

“Hyvästi, Suomi!”

Tallinn, Estonia

We arrived in Tallinn in the afternoon, and were greeted by more sunny weather. Our hotel, the Interpol, was very nice, and just a short walk from the harbor. After checking in, Uwe led us on a walking tour of the city. And what a charming city it was! Complete with skinny streets, cobblestones, and old buildings with plenty of character and history. Some of the city was tourist-y, but not obnoxiously so. The vendors wearing period clothing added to the atmosphere, and their roasted almonds made the square smell delicious.

We stopped at an overlook to get a beautiful view of the city, and saw a few of Tallinn’s churches.

We stumbled upon a cute little café that greeted us with lovely homemade chocolates (named after operas) and warm drinks. A few of us sat and enjoyed the atmosphere and each other’s company for quite a while. Then we went to meet the rest of the group for dinner at a little Italian restaurant. The wait staff was friendly and loud, and the food was amazing. It was so nice to be in each other’s company, eating delicious Italian food and sipping on red wine. We were in the restaurant for a long time, and the wait staff was in no rush to kick us out. It’s so nice to enjoy a meal that way—slowly, when you really savor the food and the conversations run freely. We headed back to the hotel in good spirits and with our bellies full.

After we got back to the hotel, we decided to partake in what the magazine on the airplane told us was a popular trend in Helsinki, but that we didn’t get around to doing: Karaoke! Yes, ladies and gentleman, Shelby and I can now officially check “karaoke” off of our bucket lists. Thank goodness there were only a few people around in the bar! We had fun, though. :)

Tallinn, day 2

We had a nice breakfast at the hotel before heading out to do some wandering and shopping. Amber is very popular in Tallinn, so we popped our heads into a few of the amber shops. There were also souvenir shops and stands that we visited. And, of course, we had to check out the mall. Pooped out from a day of walking, we found a cute little café with delicious crepes and coffee where we hung out for a while. (Are you sensing the café trend yet?)

The wind had picked up and snow was falling by the time we headed back to the hotel to meet up with the rest of the group. We grabbed our belongings and headed to the harbor to meet our Baltic Queen, the big ferry that would take us to Sweden. From the deck we called,

“Hüvasti, Eesti!”

The Baltic Queen was bigger than the previous ferry we took, and we had cabins since it would be an overnight voyage. I was expecting the worst, but our cabins were actually quite nice. Not roomy, by any means, but there was enough room to move around without feeling claustrophobic. There were four bunks, a TV, and a bathroom in each cabin. Cozy.

The Baltic Queen had different restaurants and bars offering different types of entertainment and food, and we wandered around for a while seeing what our options were for dinner. We decided on a restaurant called the Grill House. It was very delicious, and we had a nice view of the ice chunks floating past off the starboard side. After our leisurely meal, we walked around the ferry for a while, hung out in our cabin for a while, and then came back to the Grill House for some yummy dessert.

Later, we decided to check out the night life, and we made our way up to the Disco. It was fun while we were there, but the music we were previously enjoying was not so fun when we went to bed and discovered that the disco happened to be situated right above our heads. Between the music, the noise of the boat, and the scary loud noises (it sounded and felt like we were crashing through icebergs) I didn’t sleep too well, but our berths were comfy enough that I did eventually tune out the noises and drift off.

In the morning, we packed up and went to have breakfast at the buffet at the bow of the ferry. We had a lovely view as we were coming through the Swedish waters and seeing the Swedish landscape for the first time.

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm greeted us with yet another lovely, sunshine-y day. After departing the ferry, we took the subway to the city center, where we met with one of Uwe’s Swedish friends, who was very sweet and acted as our personal tour guide. She showed us the Old City, the opera house, the palace, City Hall, the parliament building, and other places of interest in Stockholm.

Unfortunately, we only had a short day in Stockholm, but we did get the opportunity to see the Vasa Museum. Now, I’ll be honest… when I was told that we were going to another museum about a ship, I was a little dubious of the high acclaim it was getting. But I was definitely very pleasantly surprised with the result. The museum was actually one of the better, more interesting museums that I’ve been in. The Vasa was a ship that sank on August 10, 1626, just minutes into its maiden voyage. You can read all about its interesting history here: The whole ship is on display in the huge building. Not only is there engaging information about the Vasa in the museum, but there is also artifacts found on the ship. The museum also has interesting information and artifacts from 17th Century Sweden, which makes it easier to understand the time period. All in all, the museum was put together very well, with plenty of information for visitors with different interests.

After the Vasa Museum, we went back to the old city to do some leisurely shopping and find a cute café (of course) where we had delicious fresh sandwiches and hot chocolate.

Even before the sun went down, it was time to meet everybody at the train station to take the bus to the airport.

As we took off in the airplane and watched Sweden get smaller and smaller we called,

“Hej då, Sverige!”

We made it back to Lillehammer without a hitch. Og snipp, snapp, snute, her er eventyret ute! ;)

Kyss og klem,
Kjerstin (and Shelby)

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