You know you have great friends when they need to drive from Prague (Czech Republic. Not the same thing as Chechnya 😉 ) to Tomsk (yes – drive, as in, by car. And yes, Tomsk is in Siberia, Russia) with a little 4-years-old kid aboard and decide to go via an ‘obvious short-cut’ – through Scandinavia (here’s a handy map 😉 ).
I have never been to any of the Scandinavian countries, soooo…
Backtrack to August 2013. As usual, I was planning to definitely stay at home in the end of the month. I had, however, completely forgotten about that potential trip and, once I was reminded of it and invited myself along, decided to also tuck in the Amsterdam Zouk Congress into the itinerary (even though I was initially very much on the fence about going) because, well, it was also, obviously, en route. The full story of my Nth stay in the Netherlands and the fun we had at the Congress (including the most outrageous outfits for Sunday night) can be found here.
On September 5th I left Haarlem, made it to the Amsterdam Central Station and hopped onto my train to Hamburg – the pick-up point where I would board the North-bound car an hour after arrival.
The team (myself, Alexandra, her dad, his partner and little Alec) united, tucked the belongings into the trunk and took off.
We arrived to Copenhagen just short of midnight instead of the planned 10pm due to roadworks and related speed limits on the way, but it was right in time for me to find my friend Nicolas at the party venue. I was staying at his place together with one more Zoukeira Veronika and the others were invading the living space of yet another lovely Zoukeira Julia for that night.
Once we split, I got a ride by the bike to drop off my things at the apartment and back to the city center for a drink, although Nicolas got lost and it took us a while to get to the spot :D. There was a live concert at the bar, a funny story related to jacket-smuggling, a spilled beer and some silly pictures taken before we headed back to la casa to sleep.
In the morning on the 6th I walked towards the Town Hall where the free city tour was set to begin. I grabbed a coffee at the first spot I saw on my way and was promptly informed that it was 100% organic (like ANY living matter, for that matter…). We ended up waiting for the rest (they had to find a parking spot) and a second, smaller group for the tour (always better!) a bit past the announced tour start time. Pictures and stories here.
(Note: I put all pictures into separate respective albums because otherwise this post would be a kilometer long with a load of pictures from all around. It made much more sense to separate them)
We didn’t stop for the night and kept driving – a wise decision. Originally, the plan was to stop over in Oslo, but it took such a long time to drive all the way to Kjerag that had we stopped over, we would have only gotten to the hike starting point by late afternoon – a bit too late for something that took about 5 hours! That damned ‘hike’ (more like mountain climbing session) was one hell of a challenge for sure, but the view from above is stunning. All pictures from Norway, including our acrobatics at the cliff, are here.
We spent that night at a cozy house good to have 10 people in it at a winter sports resort that has a population of 1500 that swells to 30000 during the season – a piece of info from our waiter at the very expensive restaurant we dined at (virtually nothing else was open 😦 ). We shared the salmon cream soup (yummy but the portion was way too small 😀 ) and reindeer (yummy as well and a more reasonable portion size) with Alex. Others also had a salad and some lamb – I would expect the lamb to have been more impressive than that, but it was just normal. I much rather prefer the lamb knee at Potrefena Husa – it’s divine!
On the 8th we made it to Stockholm. The front left headlight went out very soon after the sunset – not the best thing to happen on a highway. We stopped to change the bulb but it didn’t work anyway, so we continued on to the city with the plan to hit a service in the morning. We ended up sleeping on a boat that was used for cruising a while ago. A friend of mine said he took a cruise on it some 15 years back – it’s a small world!
The 9th was a bit of an adventure that probably had something to do with going to bed very late, waking up too early (but still an hour later than planned) and a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding :). This is how it all played out:
We left the boat hostel and split up: Alex and her dad went to the service and Elena, myself and Alec took a morning sprint towards the main train station to see where the Viking Lines office was. As we were leaving, I heard someone ask Elena if she has the money for the tickets (at least that was what I heard).
We found the office in a building near the train station after a bit of asking around. This is where my autopilot went slightly crazy: in my understanding of the sleepy mind, the only reason for the urgent need to get to the ticket office NOW, instead of, say, a few hours later after the planned city tour, only meant one thing – gotta get the tickets while there are still some left. Additionally, in that same understanding, we were bound to Helsinki that evening at 8pm.
So here I was asking about the trip and for some strange reason the lady said the latest ferry to Helsinki was at 4:30pm, and other companies have similar departure times. I figured it must have something to do with the season (summer season just officially ended and we only checked the ferry information in August before the trip). The lady then proceeded to take all our information and prepare the tickets. This was when it turned out Elena didn’t have the money with her, so I paid using my card and texted Alex to tell her about an earlier departure.
I also suggested we could go ahead and try to get to the free tour starting point see if the group was still there – we only would have missed the 10am start by 10 minutes by the time we got there, so the chances were high. We, indeed, caught up with the free tour people just a couple of blocks away and tugged along.
Because we overslept and ran around afterwards, we didn’t have breakfast. For me it wasn’t too big of a deal because I usually eat later anyway, but Alec was getting hungry. Elena suggested we split up so that they could eat – we did so on the market square and arranged to meet up there once the tour was over (it was meant to be a pretty short one anyway). I was supposed to give her a missed call when I would be closing in.
Just as we got onto the square and before we parted ways, Alex texted me to ask where we were. I sent her the location and carried on.
The tour progresses forwards with one more lengthy explanation stop at the same square, then we walked away and up some street to the next stop – this was at least 15 minutes after we first got to the market square. Alex texted me again asking where we were. I said we split up so that they could eat. She wrote back that it was wrong to split up and I should go back immediately. I replied I was already reasonably far away from the place. She then said whatever – the last message for the upcoming 2 hours.
Now, reasonably speaking, here was my thought process: Alex was at the car service. That means where exactly we were at the time didn’t matter at all. I didn’t need to eat and wanted to at least get some city info while I could, while Elena wasn’t quite as much into it anyway and needed fuel. Other than making one another company for as long as it might have taken at the service, I had no reason whatsoever to go back to the square right away.
What Alex failed to mention, and I failed to telepathically figure out using ancient voodoo magic was that a) they were done at the car service very quickly (it turned out a fuse blew on the headlight) b) heading back to the city already.
The tour finished shortly afterwards nearby the older part of the city on the island (all pictures and fun info about Stockholm here). I headed back to the square, picking up a coffee on the way, gave Elena a missed call when I was nearby and got to the staircase we arranged to reunite at. No one there… After about 20 minutes of waiting I texted her saying I was at the stairs. Another 15 minutes later she replied saying that Alex picked them up from the square already (yet another useful piece of information I failed to telepathically read in the runes…).
Then we had a brief message exchange regarding the tickets. As I had my mind set on Helsinki, I completely forgot that (two weeks ago) the plan was made to buy the tickets to Turku and then drive from there to Helsinki. THAT was the ferry leaving at 8pm… I was a bit perplexed as to why Elena didn’t stop me from buying the tickets in the first place… It turned out, we were sent running to the ticket office just to see where it is (wtf for? We couldn’t see where it was 3 hours later after the breakfast and the tour? Granted we were meant to leave at 8pm, surely stopping by around 1pm was no big deal!). Tickets, however, were non-refundable and it was decided to just go ahead and go earlier (spending more time at sea) directly to Helsinki…
I wanted to walk around the island as well a bit, so it was disappointing that I wasted almost an hour on walking all the way back from it to the square for no reason, then sitting there waiting for someone who wasn’t even there. Alex wrote me to stay at the square and wait for them to pick me up another 35 minutes later. I said no way – I already wasted an hour, let’s meet near our hostel. She wrote back (I quote) “Our car is there”. I responded by saying “Great, then see you there”. She wrote that she meant that the car was near the square and they won’t be going to the hostel any more because it’s an extra detour from the pier (ehm, the hostel is exactly mid-way from the market square to the pier, alas on the other side of the road, but never mind…). We finally agreed to meet at the pier.
I had just over an hour to walk all the way there, so I picked one random street to walk through and see at least a little bit of the old city. I ran through it taking a few snapshots on the way and sprinted to the meeting point. 15 minutes later than the time we set for the meeting Alex messaged to let me know they would be there in about 40 minutes – very timely announcement. I could use that piece of info just about 15-20 minutes earlier when I was still in the old city so that I would walk around there a bit more instead of ending up sitting on my ass at the parking lot and, yet again, waiting and doing nothing… At least it was warm and sunny, so I was catching some tan until they finally showed up.
We embarked on the ferry, put our stuff into the cabin and went to explore. At first we thought of going into the sauna, but we didn’t bring any swimsuits with us and didn’t feel like renting any, so instead we had dinner, I then spent over 1,5 hours on the top deck taking a million pictures of an awesome sunset and chatting to random people, then we got online for a little while trying to find some CSers (yet again), and then we decided to try our strength at karaoke. The horror! :D. We slaughtered Adele’s “Someone Like You” as a duet, then took turns solo. I sort of managed my (usually very easy for me) “Dream a Little Dream” (although the time spent on the top deck in crazy wind did nothing great for my voice) and Alex closed the night by “The Winner Takes It All”. It was a funny night :).
Then we dropped off our stuff at the cabin and went to watch the evening show, which was actually quite alright for a ferry boat :). There was a disco after the show with live music and some funny people doing some funny things on the floor. I ended up having a random conversation with another random passenger that lasted till way past 4am…
On the 10th we reached Helsinki. It looked like a pretty bad weather day in the morning while we were having breakfast (with absolutely to-die-for cinnamon rolls!!!), and the rain was still on-and-off as we disembarked and drove into the city looking for a parking spot, but it eventually stopped and, while the day remained sort of grey, it wasn’t as bad after all.
We walked around the newer quarters of the city for a bit, all the way to the cemetery (pssst! They have free toilets at the main gate 😉 ) taking a few pictures (which have all miraculously disappeared from my memory card… Even though I copied the entire picture folder onto my computer as well – those 30 pictures or so didn’t…). We took a break at the beach, where I managed to fall off the swing :D. It all worked fine while I was swinging on it, but when I got up and wanted to sit down again – the board turned and I slid right down onto the sand, so I had a great excuse for laughing for the upcoming 10 minutes :D.
We then progressed back towards the city and the rest of the crew decided they didn’t like Stockholm all that much and they would not stay overnight but will drive back to Russia. They dropped me off at some hostel that we found online and we parted ways.
I took a much needed nap and decided to check out the Zouk-Kizomba party happening that night at Havana. At first there was no one I knew there, so I got to dance some Kizomba, although I warned everyone I don’t really know it :). Later on a few Zoukeiros showed up, including a couple of them that I knew, so I got my ‘fix’ :).
On the 11th I planned my time so that I could see the older part of the city before leaving to the airport. It was a great plan because it turned out that Helsinki is a lovely city with many green spaces and actually pretty cheerful architecture! I ran around taking pictures all day (those ones that actually stayed on my SD card and are all here), then walked back to the hostel (a roughly 25-minute trip), picked up my belongings, and walked yet again towards the center. Originally, I thought I would need to catch a bus from the central station to go to the airport. Luckily, I saw the Finnair express airport bus sign at the bus stop roughly half way to the station from the hostel. Since I had a heavy suitcase with a semi-broken wheel with me and a big heavy box to carry, I was more than delighted to see that I didn’t need to walk all the way to the central station :). I only realized how much I actually walked in that one day when I started feeling slightly sick from over-strain on the way to the bus, but luckily that was the absolute final stretch and my feet got some rest on the bus and plane 🙂
Thus finished my (very expensive!!!) Scandinavian adventure. I’d definitely want to go back for longer, especially to Norway, and try it during the warmer season to enjoy its beautiful landscapes as well as checking out the far North, the Northern lights and dogsleds. But for now, it was a very lovely appetizer of the region :).