A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: ScottBorg

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)

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)

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)

Malta buses

A whole new transport experience

sunny 26 °C

Unlike most other countries in Europe and presumably the world, the buses in Malta are privately owned and the driver makes a commission on the tickets sold. Factor in the old school Leyland buses, where the front door is always opened and the bus is decorated with the drivers favourite football team and religious sayings and you have a transport experience like no other. Quite often there is a side-kick hanging out the front door yelling obscenities at his mates whilst trying to increase passenger numbers. Now I may not fully understand the language, but coming from Maltese blood I know enough of the swear words to find this hilarious entertainment.

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We've enjoyed many fun bus rides in Malta whilst steering clear of the "dodgy bastard taxi drivers". My parents were only very young when they emigrated to Australia but one thing they warned me about was to avoid the taxis. After only taking a couple of steps outside customs we were approached by taxi drivers who proceeded to tell us that the only way to get to our destination was of course by taxi....and it would only cost us 25 euros. We refused their kind offer and started the walk up the hill to Valletta city centre which was 'apparently' only a 15-20min walk from the ferry terminal. Some 45 minutes, and many stairs later we arrived at the bus terminal 2 hot and weary travellers given the combination of backpacks and 30 degree heat. A 30 minute bus ride costing a mere 0.30 euros we arrived at my uncles empty flat. The 2 bedroom flat just 2 min walk from the water at St Paul's Bay seemed more like a palace to us after 2 months of hostels, pensions and dodgy hotel rooms with noisy motorway views.

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One thing I haven't been suprised by is the friendliness of the locals, especially the old folk, which I encountered in my search for my mum's family cave. The beauty of Malta is that pretty much everyone knows everyone. Even though my Mum's family left over 50 years ago, I only had to ask a few locals in the town where they lived who somehow could still recall my Mum's family and point me in the direction of where they lived. On many occasions I can recall my Mum saying "Son, if I told you I was born in a cave you wouldn't believe me!" and to be honest I probably didn't. But having tracked down the site where there are about 10 caves built into the side of a rock face where my Mum's family lived amongst others and wandering through them, I now believe her. The caves have long since been vacated but there were still signs that these were well lived in caves. Some were sectioned off into numerous rooms, the hessian sacks used as curtains were still hanging, along with rusted old buckets we're told were used to carry water, and old cooking pots. Visiting these caves was quite a surreal experience to think that people actually lived here, let alone my Mum's family.

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When visiting a country you always gain a much bigger appreciation of the history because you get to see it with your own eyes. In Malta I have been blown away by the amount of attacks and attempted invasions this little island has had to endure, mainly due to its strategic location smack bang in the middle of the meditteranean. We visited some WW2 air-raid shelters when Malta became one of the most bombed places on earth.

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We also visited the Mosta Dome - a massive church, which during WW2 a bomb was dropped, piercing the roof during a service and did not explode or injure anyone. This is considered a miracle by the Maltese. It's after visiting these places that the locals are so proud of their history and these little islands.

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We've had 2 wonderful weeks here and even though you can drive from one side of the island in less than an hour there is plenty to see and do here. We have swum in some of the most crystal clear bright blue water at the Blue Lagoon, had a day snorkelling, did a Jeep Safari around the island of Gozo and experienced a religious festival quite unlike anything I've seen before. We sampled the islands night-life hotspot at Paceville where some of the female fashions really do leave nothing to the imagination. Throw in the hot weather and we can see why this is such a pommie tourist haven.

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Next stop is to Sicily and then the Amalfi Coast.

PS: The pastizzi and Kinnie taste better here!

Posted by ScottBorg 22:59 Archived in Malta Comments (1)

Paris to Como to Cinque Terre to Lake Bled

sunny 26 °C

We've been on the move for the last 10 days and have covered some ground and seen some beautiful scenery. The good news is we have figured out how to resize pics on our camera so can now load more pics on the site as they tell the best story.

After enjoying the touristic side of Paris we met up with one of Elise's friends Lisa, who has just moved to Paris with her French husband and has just had a baby. They say the best way to get to know a culture is from the locals and for French cuisine/culture Jean Philippe certainly did a great job at that.

Elise and I had only been on the road for 5 weeks but we certainly did enjoy the comforts of their wonderful hospitality and some delicious home cooked meals. Jean Phillippe cooked up a storm each night giving us some authentic French cuisine including boudin (specially prepared pig sausages), potatoes (specially cooked in Fois Gras fat) and lots of other food which the names I cannot pronounce nor remember except that they were yummy.

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After spending some relaxing days in Paris which included pushing little one month baby Oscar around the parks of Saint Mande in Paris, we headed through the French-Italian-Swiss alps via a stopover in Dijon. For anyone planning a trip to Dijon can I suggest a quick stop rather than an extended stay as although it is quite famous for mustard there was not a huge amount going on there.

Next stop was Lake Como a really picture postcard place. Elise thought it would be nice to walk around the lake but after checking out the map and seeing it was over 50km long I thought it would be best to take the boat trip, which was amazing with some of the most beautiful lake views we've ever seen.

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The drive to Como was fantastic as we saw some amazing scenery with the snow capped Alps and amazing mountain views, however we did pay for the privalege. On one day it cost us over 80 euro in tolls!!

From Como we did a day trip to Milano which was only 1 hour by train. This is the fashionista capitol of Italy. Every second person has a Louis Vuitton handbag (even the boys) and it is luxury brand paradise. We bought a few things, but had to be restricted by the fact we have to carry everything we buy and of course would be home next week if we bought a few LV handbags!!

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Arriving in the Cinque Terre was an interesting experience as those of you whom have been there will know that having a car in this place can be a little difficult as it such a small and isolated place. We both did not know what to expect as we normally dump the car somewhere when we get to a city and go and hunt for some accomodation. After driving along the very windey Italian coast we arrived at Monterosso which is the last of the 5 towns and we hit a dead end in the road with a boom gate to the Town. Anyway a little old Italian lady tapped on our car window and starting speaking to us. We did not really understand her at all but we assumed she wanted us to come and stay at her place which has a private room. With nothing to lose she jumped in the back of the car and we went back up the hill about 100 metres and dodgy parked the car... I'm getting good at that and went down about 10 flights of stairs and got to the place which was a really nice little flat, and only a 3 minute walk to the town centre. Lady luck was smiling on us and we did not have to do any leg work that day.

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Next day we planned to do the walk through the 5 towns. This is one of the most remarkable and beautiful walks I have ever done. The track is constructed on the side of the mountain with stones that have been laid over thousands of years by generations of Italians. The path is no more that 3/4 of a metre wide for the most part and there are thousands of stairs along the way. The trek is about 9 km from the start to finish and we really did earn our drinkies at the end of that day. We completed the walk in 3.5hrs and it takes the oldies with hiking apparatus/walking sticks 4.5hrs. My heart rate hit over 160 beats per minute heading up some of the stairs. ( I wore my heart rate monitor).

I will let the photos do the talking about this place......

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After a marathon 10 hour drive we are now in Lake Bled in Slovenia, an equally beautiful place where we have booked a Kayak trip for tomorrow.

So, as you can see we've had an action-packed couple of weeks, hence no update for a while!

We have loaded lots of pictures but haven't added them all to this blog, so click on our names under Author, and from there you can click on more images to see them all (i think! I'm sure you'll find it)

Posted by ScottBorg 09:02 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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