A Travellerspoint blog

A Finnish finish

sunny 21 °C

After 120 days on the road we arrived at our final destination, Helsinki. We had heard that the Finns were famous for inventing the sauna and with only 5 days left we were pretty tired and keen to unwind after 4 months of travelling. We met a couple, Andrew and Terhi in St Petersburg who were from Melbourne. Andrew is a Maltese Aussie and Terhi a Finn and they invited us to give them a call if we were passing through Terhi´s home town of Tampere so they could show us the sights.

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We had a fantastic day with them experiencing some local cuisine (black sausage amongst others), wandering through the woods picking wild berries and our highlight - experiencing a local public sauna. The sauna experience was fantastic and we were glad to have a Finn with us to talk us through the routine. Basically, you sit in the sauna for as long as you can stand the heat and then go outside and swim in the cool lake water (thankfully for us it is summer, so the water was only 18 degrees. The Finns do this year round by preventing one section of the lake freezing over in winter and walking on heated carpets from sauna to lake to swim in the icey cold water whilst people are ice-skating or skiing on the frozen lake). You re-enter the sauna to heat up again and repeat this cycle for as long as you please.

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From Tampere we went to Turku to meet up with Elise´s sisters´ friend, also a Finn. Our timing was pretty good as we were there during Turku´s biggest summer festival where the Finns take their partying to extremes to take advantage of the 3 months of the year where there is evening sunlight.

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So as they say in the classics ´all good things must come to an end´and as we sit here in the Helsinki airport lounge, our end has finally arrived. It has been an adventure of a lifetime for both of us. We have seen so many unbelievable sights and met some great people along the way. But after 4 months we are looking forward to coming home and seeing all our family and friends. Until then .....

Posted by ScottBorg 05:20 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

Tallinn and St Petersburg

sunny 22 °C

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Travelling to Tallinn and then St Petersburg was like being the adjudicator where the big brother and little brother are having a fight and we have to decide who is in the wrong. When Estonia entered into the EU in 2004 I think they celebrated most out of all of the former eastern-bloc countries - finally they were part of a wider European community and would have support to retain their independance from their big brother neighbour, Russia.

Soviet monuments
Earlier this year after 15 years of independence, Estonia decided it was time to move a Soviet monument from the centre of the city. Soviet rule was not something the Estonians liked or wanted (and since having independence they are now experiencing a booming economy) so listening to their side of the story, moving the monument and the reminder of Soviet rule seemed like the logical thing to do. Russia on the otherhand took great offence to the monuments relocation and retaliated by attacking key Estonian government websites, in the worlds first cyber war.

Fascinating stuff!! We thought the Estonians were just super paranoid claiming without doubt that the attacks came from Russian government IP addresses and figured that upon getting to Russia we'd find that this would surely be denied by the Russians. In the first of many major cultural suprises (differences) we've experienced in Russia we learnt that the cyber attack on Estonian government sites was not at all denied, but a source of pride for the Russians.

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The bribing system
We've been lucky enough to avoid having to pay any "fines" (bribes) during our visit in St Petersburg, but they are an accepted part of every day life over here. From anything like avoiding having to do national service, to getting your desired mark at university (regardless of how smart you are) to selling produce on the streets, a bribe works.

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Paranoia
It would seem fair to us that a small country like Estonia would have good reason to be paranoid and super meticulous at their border controls, but we found that the Russians take paranoia to a new level. Crossing the border from Estonia to Russia was like a scene out of a WWII movie. As everyone gets off the bus to have their bags x-rayed, the border guards make the bus driver open up the engine to inspect inside, along with inspecting all the way under the bus with mirrors. This paranoia is not just at borders, but at the metro stations also, where it is illegal to take photos of the metro. (and yes, this is a rule that is enforced!). Not taking photos of key milatery sites and embassies I can understand, but the metro?

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All of these cultural 'suprises' have contributed to us having a fantastic time in St Petersburg. It is a very beautiful city that buzzes to the early hours of the morning as the summer "white nights" continue. Everywhere you turn there is a beautifully elaborate palace, church or building and we have loved learning about the history and very different way of life of this colourful place.

Next stop (and our last!) is Finland.

Posted by EliseJones 12:22 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

Scandinavian summer

Denmark & Norway

rain 16 °C

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Heading to Scandinavia we really didn't know what to expect as not being a popular destination for Aussies we didn't know anyone who has ever been here before. Along the way we had heard that Norway was the most expensive country in Europe and after paying $14 for 2 cokes when we arrived in Oslo we quickly realised that it would not be a cheap stop, but one we're definately glad we made.

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Arriving in Copenhagen we soon found out that we needed to buy some warmer clothes as the Scandi summer is the equivalent of our winter, around 15 degrees and wet. So we hit the shopping strip (Stroget) and bought some hoodies which are all the rave over here. The hoods come in very handy to keep the rain off your head (it rains about 270 days a year). We took a stroll though the city and checked out the Royal Palace and Elise got really excited when she saw Queen Magarethe being chauffered out of the palace. After coming all this way we were kind of hoping to chew the fat with Princess Mary about life in Denmark but she gave us the royal brush. Oh well her loss!!!

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I managed to score a free city bike and rode around the city while Elise checked out a Danish war museum. My ride came to an abrupt halt when the chain snapped. I had to walk the bike back to the stand, luckily I hadn't gone too far. I knew there was a catch! Nothing is cheap, let alone free in Scandinavia.

Next stop was Norway where we had read about the scenic railway from Oslo to Bergen so we hopped on the train from the airport for the 7 hour journey. What a spectacular journey it was as we were both glued to the windows for the entire trip. Magical mountains, glaciers, snow and greenery cutting through lots of water...like nothing we'd ever seen before. Seven hours has never seemed to go so quickly. A bonus for Elise was she she did not have to sit next to a wet smelly dog this trip.

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Arriving late into Bergen we prebooked our accomodation, a youth hostel run by a church charity. It was my first taste of dormontory sleeping since school camp days down in Bowral and after spending 102 nights in private rooms I thought it was time to mix it up a bit. Little did I know that this hostel had one large dorm with 20 triple decker beds (yes...that's 60 people!) and not lots of smaller dorms as is usually the norm. Our timing was perfect as Thursday nights were waffle night and we got there just in time and scored the last batch of waffles... yum just what the doctor ordered after the long train ride.

We soon got chatting to some other travellers at the hostel and before we knew it the time was 2am and time to head for bed. The challenge then was to try and make our beds. One problem - a pitch black dorm full of people trying to sleep! Thankfully I eventually dug out a torch Mum insisted I buy (good tip Mum..thanks!). It came in very handy and we managed to make our beds and get to sleep although a few snorners initially stood in my way.

Next day we headed to the tourist office to try and figure out the best way to plan our trip around Norway. Lady luck was definately on our side. After talking to one of the ladies at the office she invited us on a road trip with her and a friend which she was leaving for in a few hours. She was taking us to the Hardanger fjord region... and then we could continue our trip around Norway from there after some good tips on where to go. We stayed in a hut on a campsite in Sundal at the base of a massive glacier mountain....beautiful spot.

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Hiking is really big here, given the amazing mountainous setting we were not surprised. From Sundal we hiked up to the lake at the base of the glacier which was an awesome experience. The air is so fresh here and the scenery so breathtaking you kind of forget about the physical challenge involved with the climb. Unfortunately we didn't have the right gear and not enough time (we had to get back down to get a connecting bus) so we could not reach the top...but I hope one day we might be able to come back and do it..would be a great experience.

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We kept on loosing track of the time as it did not get dark until midnight. It was great to go for late night walks around the mountains. One night we were admiring the views when all of a sudden Elise screamed at the top of her voice. She had been zapped by an electric fence.... ouch!! A couple of meters down the road we spotted the smallest sign warning about the fence. We wondered what the fence was protecting, it didn't seem to fit with the beautiful natural setting. Then we saw a lonesome bull about 50 meters away. Cattle are prized possesions over here, unlike bears, deers, whales and anything else that moves which are all fair game in Norways national passion for hunting.

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Norway definately has been a surprise packet for us. It is postcard views everywhere (though you do have to pay for the privelage). We've met some very friedly locals (thanks Yolande and Jurenn!!) They went out of their way to show us their fantastic country. We loved it so much we extended our stay here for an extra couple of days so we have to squeeze Sweden in maybe at the end as we need to get to St Petersburg ina couple of days.

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Posted by ScottBorg 09:19 Archived in Norway Comments (1)

Krakow-Prague-Berlin

Lessons in modern history

rain 18 °C
View European Adventure on EliseJones's travel map.

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The last 10 days has seen a big change in our travels. We´ve left the sun and sea of Croatia behind and have been to 3 of central Europe´s amazing cities. Thoughts and experiences on each below;

Krakow
Krakow is a beautiful and quaint town and its not suprising that the number of tourists visiting this place has exploded in recent years. It also has a very sombre past.

We did a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau about 60km away, which was as depressing as you would imagine it to be. When we first arrived I was able to slightly remove myself from the place when were just looking at lots of buildings in the camp, however when we entered into the building that is now part of the museum that displays the personal items of the victims it really did highlight the reality of the situation and I was left with a sick feeling in my stomach for the remainder of the tour.

We also did a bike tour of the town of Krakow itself. This included about 13km of riding on flat ground, so was pretty easy and was a great way to see everything including all the main sites of the town, the jewish ghetto and cemetary and Oskar Schindlers factory (that the movie Schindler´s List was based on).

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Prague
Prague is beautiful and has a great vibrant feeling to it. Unless your into museum´s (which we aren´t) there is not too much touristy stuff to do, so it was good to spend a few days wandering about and taking in the buzz of the city.

We had a very interesting train journey from Krakow to Prague. We had settled into the cabin that we had all to ourselves for the first 2hrs of the journey, until finally the luxury was over and we had to share with others. We couldn´t believe our luck on public transport could get any funnier than kicking a nun out of our seats.....but this one does compete. We were joined by a family who looked like they were going on a Griswalds holiday, complete with the family dog and rat. I´m sure you will all have a little chuckle of this pic that Scott slyly took of me with the dog seated comfortably next to me on the train. (I wouldn´t have mind so much if it didn´t smell like wet dog.....yuk).

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Berlin
The constantly evolving city. I was in Berlin 5 years ago and can´t believe how much it has changed since then. I´m sure if I came back in just 2 years it would have changed again still. Berlin has such a massive history I´m sure you could spend years here and still be trying to understand it all. In our attempt to learn and take in as much as we could we did an 8 hour walking tour of the city, which was extremely interesting, though probably would have been slightly more pleasant if it hadn´t of rained for the majority of the day. (That umbrella we bought in Barcelona on our first stop is still getting a work-out. By far the best €6 we´ve spent on our trip).

Tonight we fly to Copenhagen to start the last leg of this tour - Scandinavia and Russia (we are loving the cheap flights on offer over here, makes getting a train seem stupid).

Posted by EliseJones 05:59 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Cruising Croatia

Islands of Dalmatia, Dubrovnik & Montenegro

sunny 35 °C

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Sitting at a bar on the dock of Trogir the night before our 7 day cruise we were very excited and also very curious as we had booked it over the internet & weren´t sure about the boat or the clientele it would attract. When we spotted the ´Otac Ivan´ we were quite relieved that it was quite an impressive looking boat so our only worry was that we may have been the only english speakers on the boat.

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On boarding we quickly figured out that it was a much older demographic on board and everyone was either speaking German, Dutch or Austrian. To our relief there were 2 other Aussies & 2 Americans so out of 34 people we at least had some other english speakers on board.

The cruise was absolutely fantastic experience and we made some great friends from Holland who spoke fluent English (Hi Sylvia & Peter !) and Aussies Kim & Derek. The islands were spectacular to see and we stopped at Korcula, Hvar, Vis, Lastovo, Brac, Bisevo and Solta along the way.

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We visited the Blue Grotto in the island of Bisevo an amazing blue water cave where the light shines under the mountain rock and produces an amazingly blue water cave.

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It was a nice change of pace for us not having to worry about finding accomodation or a place to eat. We just relaxed in the sun for 7 days as all of our meals were provided by a chef who seemed to work all day every day preparing the food which always tasted great. The crew on board also made it quite a memorable experience especially Capitan Branimir who could hardly speak a word of english but always managed to get his message across.

The Adriatic is a great place to swim with the water so warm albeit extremely salty. At the start of the week the water was 24 degrees and by the end it had reached 29.8 which was really warm. We were warned about the sea urchins in Croatia so rock booties were our first purchase in Croatia. They also came in handy when walking along the rocky beaches.

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After the cruise we ended up going to back to Hvar and staying for 3 nights also where our Aussie friends from the cruise were also staying. Hvar is an unbelievable place with the most picturesque little harbour and funky bars. One day we hired a scooter and drove around the island stopping for swims along the way at the most fantastic little coves. The roads were really scenic and it was quite an experience riding thru the lavender scented mountains with Elise hanging on for dear life on the back.

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Next stop after the cruise was Dubrovnik the amazing old town that was unfortunately bombed during the civil war here in the early 90s. Although the war was some 15 years ago it is still a sensitive topic with many of the locals and it was strange to be walking around the old town where you could see where the bombs had left their impression. We did a night tour about the 'War history of the Balkans' which was really interesting. A kayak tour was also a nice way to check out the city walls.

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From Dubrovnik we took a day trip to Montenegro where Elise was in search of Daniel Craig but to no avail. Kotor is a beautifil little town and although it was only 1 hour from Croatia it did have completely different feel.

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We definately will be back to Croatia one day. It is the most spectacular place which unlike Italy, Spain and France does not feel that turisty (I hope it stays that way!) We were not expecting Croatia to be such a culinery delight but we have had the freshest and best seafood to date, plus it is relatively cheap compared to the other more well known tourist spots.

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Croatia is also one of the best places to people watch. The locals love congregating in squares to chew the fat. I just loved getting a coffee and watching the world go by.

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Next stop is Krakow in Poland where we are planning a day trip to Auschwitz.

Posted by ScottBorg 02:38 Archived in Croatia Tagged cruises Comments (1)

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