Troll fjorden (this bird has flown)
Trip Start Feb 18, 2004
80Trip End Dec 05, 2005
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Helsinki has a mix of old buildings by the port and newer buildings (more commercial) in the city center. There are a couple churches whose architecture have a bit of Russian influence, so those were cool. The dock area is quite lively with a market and there's a park/promenade nearby where lots of people hang out.
Uspensky Cathedral, Helsinki
I did a sidetrip out to the town of Porvoo. The "old town" area was quite small but quaint. Had a little canal going through the town and a restaurant where boats could pull right up and dock. Not someplace you'd go for excitement, but it was alright.
Another daytrip I did was to Tallinn, Estonia (took a ferry across the sea). Estonia has now claimed the throne, i.m.o., as the country with the loveliest ladies...sorry Czech Republic. The old town is very cute and there is a cool church (looks like Moscow). I quickly lost interest in the city itself though as more interesting sights presented themselves. :)
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The cruise back to Stockholm provided very similar entertainment as before. I watched as the poor single and pairs of ladies got hit-on by various men on the cruise. The worst, to go along with the stereotype, are Italian men (Massimo and Stefano excluded, of course). I swear they're like sharks that smell blood. They spot the "victim", circle then go in for the kill. I saw a girl push a guy away from her, another just turn and walk out...I don't know how you ladies deal with it. Now you know why I don't just go up to random girls and bug 'em.
After the overnight cruise, I got to enjoy a long train ride to Oslo by way of Goteburg (8 hrs). It was sunny and warm in Oslo. They had a boat race going on and a carnival by the pier, plus it was jazz festival weekend. The view points at the castle were closed due to the boat race (so I didn't get any good pics of the harbor). There's a cool park west of the center called Vigelandsparken with all kinds of sculptures of humans. Since it was so nice out, I hung out there a bit.
At night I went into town to check out what was going on for jazz festival...apparently nothing. I couldn't find any place with live jazz (I did find a place called The Jazz Cafe that was playing CDs of jazz music). There were a couple bars with cover bands that sounded awful, plus they wanted about $15 cover charge. I decided Oslo's nightlife sucks. Another day in the sun and I was on a bus heading to Bygdøy to see a couple museums, but there were all kinds of young people on the bus with their beach gear so I just followed them. There's a big park there everyone was hanging out at watching the boat races. So I just stayed there for a few hours with the crowd.
With all the nice weather I just kept hoping it would stay sunny for when I went to the fjords. The day I headed north the clouds and rain set in. I took a train north to Andalsnes. (I originally was going to go to Otta and take a couple buses to Boverdalen, near a nat'l park, but decided waiting around for buses and transfering isn't any fun. The next day would've been spent taking 3 buses not very far in distance but all day due to transfers.) I hung out in Andalsnes next to a fjord for a bit then caught the bus south to Geiranger along the Trollstigvegen. It's a steep and windy road with lots of good scenery (though the clouds and rain hid some of it). On the bus I met a Brit, a couple Americans and a couple Chileans. The hostel in Geiranger turned out to be $40 per night for a freakin' cot on the floor, so the Chileans, one of the Americans and I got a cabin at a campground. That was cool - we cooked dinner and hung out then had breakfast in the morning. The weather was reasonably good the next day so we went for a hike to Storseterfossen. The others were rather slow (actually, very slow) so I had to race ahead, see the waterfall then race back to get our bags out of the tourist office before it closed. They headed back north to catch a ferry down the coast and I took the ferry through the fjord to Hellesylt and stayed at a hostel there. Hellesylt is very small (pop. 500) so there's nothing to do at night. Back to Geiranger for quite a nice day and I hiked up to a viewpoint along the Flydalsnakken trail. I officially named the viewpoint "Tom's Viewpoint" since I sat there a while. Trying to find my way down proved an ordeal - the Norwegians don't seem to like to mark their trails very well. I followed the sign for the trail but it took me in a circle. I thought I might have missed a trail down, so I went again...no cut-off trail. There was a path in the opposite direction that the sign pointed so I followed that and found that to be the trail down. Soon I came to a path with about three splits, none of which were clear trails, and no sign or markings. I ended up just kind of heading down the mountain towards a creek then eventually linked back up with the trail. All these side trails were of course muddy or swampy. Geesh. Took a while, but I made it down (cursing whoever maintains the Norwegian trails). I rested in town a bit after that then took the ferry back to Hellesylt (so that makes 3 trips through the Geirangerfjord).
good viewpoint of Geirangerfjord
Thursday (Aug. 19) I took a bus from Hellesylt down to Bergen. It was another long trip - 8 hours. The scenery along the way was really pretty though. We passed by Nordfjorden and Sognefjord. Unfortunately, the rain was back so not as good a view of things.
Bergen is a neat town on the west coast and referred to as the 'gateway to the fjords' since lots of cruises and tours leave from here. It has an old town area called Bryggen with many very old buildings (slanting).
I took the train to Flåm and then a ferry to Gudvangen through the Nærøyfjorden. It wasn't as impressive as Geirangerfjord, but had more Fall colors so that made it pretty. On the ferry, there was an American family and the dad reminded me of Clark Griswold...kind of a dopey fellow who doesn't realize it (and he'd say things like "hey kids, let's do __").
waterfall in Nærøyfjorden
I explored Bergen for nightlife, but it's hard to get enthused when places charge a cover and a beer costs $8-10. I have Saturday and Sunday to do whatever, but it's miserable outside (cold & raining)...might just lay low. Maybe I'll splurge a bit tonight.
One of the hardest things to figure out around Europe is how to get a bottle of normal water. You wouldn't think it would be that hard, but it is. They have water with gas, mineral water, mineral water with gas, natural water (normal), flavored waters, etc... And when it's all in a different language, ya good luck. I sit there shaking the bottle sometimes to try and tell if it has gas or not.
A little bit trivia for you - Finland is the only country in Scandinavia using the €uro currency and Norway is not a member of the EU. There seems to be some apprehension among the people about the EU...that it's corrupt and going to become a "big brother" entity.
While travelling around Scandinavia, I heard people from most every country commenting on how crime has gotten worse with the influx of new immigrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. It's too bad that a few bad apples cast a shadow over all the people from the region. Maybe the Muslims should start a positive ad campaign. All the countries in Scandinavia have such good health care and such it's no surprise they'd want to come here. Plus the people are friendly. The U.S. is the one at war, but Europe is the one that has to deal with the refugees. Nice.
Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway are all great countries but just too expensive (Norway especially). The 25% sales tax probably has something to do with that. It's crazy when a crappy fast-food meal costs $10-15, a bottle of water $4 and a can of beer from the store is $4. The residents of the various countries go different places to get cheaper booze - the Danes go to Germany, Swedes go to Denmark (or buy on cruise tax-free), the Finns go to Estonia...I'm not sure where the Norwegians go. Someone should open a bootlegging business. I look forward to getting to Spain where I can actually afford to go out and have a meal or get a drink...though I will miss the friendliness of the Scandinavian people, the clean cities and the lovely ladies.
...speaking of Spain - I fly there tomorrow afternoon. I'll be in Alicante a day then up to Valencia as my base for La Tomatina.
(an example of the high prices in Norway: the bus from Bergen to the airport $10, the bus from Alicante airport to town $1.20)