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Monthly Archive: September 2018

9/17 On to Tallinn, Estonia

Rather than fly, we took the Viking ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, about a 2.5-hour ride across the Baltic Sea. The ride was good and the ferry provides lots of entertainment in bars, night club – not so much on Monday morning with a ship full of old people!  One ferry worker told us the ship is rocking on weekends when it’s full of younger people heading to Tallinn for a cheap weekend. The drinking starts BEFORE they even board the ship.  On our sailing, coffee was the drink of choice for most people.

The highlight of the ship for many was obviously the duty-free shop full of wine and alcohol.  Given the prices in Helsinki, we understood the attraction.  All we bought was a bag of licorice and pepper candy that Juhis and Noora turned us on to in Finland.

Finish people seem to love black licorice and sell it in all sorts of forms. We saw at least 25 different types in the hypermarket. This one is licorice and pepper mixed.

The Old Town part of Tallinn is beautiful, full of stone walls, old buildings, churches, cobblestones everywhere on the street and the sidewalks. We needed to kill some time before we could get into our AirBnb so we opted for lunch and picked the Texas Honky Tonk for some Mexican food. Surprise!  The Mexican food was the best we’ve had outside of the U.S. by far and better than a lot we’ve had IN the U.S.  Turns out the Estonian owner visited Austin, loved Mexican food and opened this restaurant. We ate there twice!  We also ate at Vaike with great service and better food.  It’s a partner restaurant to Rataskaevu 16   that  was recommended by several friends and TripAdvisor! We didn’t plan ahead so couldn’t get a last minute reservation at Rataskaevu 16 but could get into Vaike – around the corner and serving the same menu.

Burito

Yes …Mexican food!

Window into Broccoli pizza

Who would ever name a restaurant “Broccoli”??

One thing we’ve noticed in both Estonia and Latvia – smiling must not come naturally to almost anyone, including people in the service industry.  Being grumpy or dour is the modus operandi in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, shops. The service people who smile definitely stand out!

One note – For those who wonder how we can travel at “such a pace”, we are NOT traveling at the Tour group pace! We spent at least 4 nights in Bergen, Stockholm, Tallinn, Riga, and, soon, Warsaw.  Our typical day is:

  • Sleep until we wake up unless we have a train, bus or plane to catch and have to set the alarm
  • Eat breakfast and drink coffee
  • Sightsee – try to walk at least 10,000 steps and that’s not hard!
  • Around 4 PM, come back to the apartment and rest, nap, read, work on blog, pictures, etc.
  • Find dinner about 7 PM or eat in the apartment if we ate lunch out
  • Go to bed whenever
Tallinn Town Hall in city center

The sun came out one day! This is the town hall in the city center.

City Hall at night in the rain

The city hall looked good at night, too, even in the rain.

Orthodox church in Tallinn

Russian Orthodox church in Tallinn

Most of Estonia is either Lutheran or Orthodox. There’s one Roman Catholic Church in Tallinn (population of about 500,000) and it’s the Cathedral, about the size of a small parish church in the U.S. There’s also one Ukrainian Orthodox Church and we visited that, too. Pope Francis is visiting the Baltic countries at the end of the month, including Tallinn on Sept. 25. Posters hang everywhere and the Ukrainians are hoping he will make a visit to their church when he’s in town. The schedule seems to be in flux.

Saint Catherine's walk in Tallinn

St. Catherine’s walk with lots of shops along the way.

City Gate

The biggest city gate still standing in Tallinn. We had to walk through it to get from the ferry port to our AirBnb.

Tallinn city gate at night with lights

Tallinn city gate at night

The flower stands were open until late at night.

City view over the roofs

View of the city from one of the overlooks. Rain started falling shortly after this to drive us to a coffee shop to escape!

City street

Old town city street in Tallinn along the walls

So far, we’ve with stayed in AirBnbs or with friends.  When we pick an Airbnb, we always find an entire apartment so we can eat breakfast and one other meal in AND make coffee AND do our laundry.  Prices vary, of course, from about $90 U.S. dollars per night in Stockholm to about $35 U.S. per night in Riga.  We’ve had great places so far and have seen all sorts of little showers built into renovated bathrooms, washing machines in all languages (This trip has had all English language machines.), walked up flights of steps to apartments, used elevators to get up to the 3rd floor, etc. We’ve picked up keys in lock boxes, met the owners to get keys, used key pads to get in the buildings and apartments, etc.  The one in Tallinn had the most interesting entrance. The 4 floors of apartments shared a building entrance with a strip club – Gentleman’s Club.

We had a great AirBnb in Old Town of Tallinn. The only quirky thing was we shared an entrance to a “Gentleman’s Club” .

9/12 Two weeks in Scandinavia

After we visited Mom, we headed off to Scandinavia to visit some friends and see a few new cities.  Miraculously, the flight from DC to Munich to Copenhagen to Bergen went flawlessly and our luggage even showed up at the end in Bergen, Norway, second largest city in the country. Bergen is a nice city right on the water and on every Scandinavian Cruise itinerary, we think.

Panorama of Bergen from the castle at the top of the hill.

We made Bergen the starting point for an all-day excursion “Norway in a Nutshell” – gorgeous scenery on a rail, bus, boat, and the steepest railway in the world trip.  Yes, Dave, we rode the Flam Railroad and found a Norwegian brewery along the way.

This was the view from the bus on the road from Voss to Gudvangen.

I took the picture from the bus. Yes, the road was really 18%  grade  Needless to say, the scenery was spectacular.

The next few pictures are taken when we rode a boat for 2 hours on the Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord between Gudvangen and Flamm. No pictures can do the scenery justice. Spectacular doesn’t come close to doing it justice.

This was some scenery from the train between Myrdal and Bergen after we rode the Flam RR.

After 4 days in Bergen, we headed via train to Tonsberg, Norway (Oldest city in Norway) for a weekend with Per and Lise. We met them on the Pacific cruise earlier in the year and they were kind enough to show us Tonsberg , feed us EXTREMELY well, and take us on a daylong boat ride along the Norwegian coast. Yes, the sun was out for the entire weekend.  If you’ve heard rumors about Norway being expensive, you heard right! Just bring your CC and vow not to drink much (or any) beer or wine.

Per and Lise swear they’ll come to FC next Fall so we’re taking suggestions for uniquely Colorado things to do – Bruce’s Bar???

Strawberry Cheesecake

Lise made this cheesecake from scratch. It was beautiful and tasted even better.

Stockholm was our next destination, this time via plane.  Another 4 days of sunshine and a visit to the Vasa Museum was the highlight of the week.  We enjoyed finding out about life in the 1600’s aboard a boat but the story of how the ship was raised and preserved was even more fascinating.  Stockholm looked affordable after Norway.  We stayed in an AirBnb and bought food at the little Thai food cart down the street.  It was yummy and only cost about $8.50 per meal.

Cans of Fat Tire beer

Made in Ft. Collins! Found in Stockholm at the liquor store in the middle of the city.

Boat from 1628 in Vasa Museum

This boat sank in 1628 on its maiden voyage of 1500 meters. It was recovered in about 1970 and preserved. Great museum!

In Stockholm, besides the Hard Rock, we also went to a cash free coffee shop.  Payment is only done with a card. We saw more cards used in Scandinavia that we saw cash exchanged.

When we visited the Seychelles last November, we met Noora and Juhis from Helsinki, Finland, on a trek from hell across an island.  They invited us to come for the weekend in Helsinki. As one friend said, “Never invite Susan and Mark unless you mean it because they WILL show up!”  We did show up and had a marvelous weekend with them and Lilly, the poodle.

In Helsinki yoghurt is sold in what looks like American milk cartons. This makes it easy to store in the fridge.

shelf full of wine in a box

Box wine is very popular in both Helsinki and Stockholm. This was the selection in one Helsinki wine store.

We had dinner in Helsinki at a Lapland restaurant and ate Rudolph. We told one niece that Christmas is cancelled this year since we ate Santa’s deer.

Gin and grapefruit juice long drink in a can

Gin and grapefruit Long drink was created in Helsinki for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. We want to make one with ice and fresh grapefruit juice next summer.

We saw lots of houses in Helsinki with these useful boot brushes in front of them.

Observations about Scandinavia …

  • Norway is expensive!
  • Norway, Sweden and Finland have a monopoly of wine, spirits and strong beer. You can only buy them at state monopoly shops. The name of the shops has what looks like “monopoly” in it.
  • Finland is WAY less expensive than Norway.
  • Many (most?) people in Norway, Sweden, and Finland speak English as well as, if not better than, our fellow Americans. We had a lovely discussion with a 14-year-old Norwegian girl in English and she wasn’t at all shy about speaking to us.
  • I cannot pronounce Norwegian, Swedish, nor Finnish language correctly… but I make people laugh when I try!