We really only had a day in Seoul because of the delay in leaving Russia. It was a pity as we had been looking forward to spending a few days there and exploring some of the city, and Greg had been hoping that we could get up to the DMZ. I think we managed to make the most of our one day, though.
We stayed at Itaewon, which is the nightclub area of Seoul – lots of restaurants, bars, clubs and street food. We arrived on Friday evening and it was very busy, noisy and colourful. The next morning it wasn’t quite as busy, but still full of life, with lots of things to look at and interesting places to explore. We walked down to the river via some side streets, calling into a supermarket on the way for a browse and a cold drink. It was hot and humid and we needed to go back to the air conditioned apartment for a rest after that! And that was how we spent the rest of the day – go off and do something, ,then head back for another rest. It takes a while to get used to humid weather.
We visited the War Memorial of Korea in the afternoon – a very impressive outdoor display of planes, tanks, weapons and other memorabilia, with exhibits, artwork and sculptures. It was well worth visiting and we could have spent longer there, or gone back to see more if we’d had more time. We caught the subway back to the apartment and thought it was very efficient, fast and cheap, it reminded us a lot of the Singapore metro system. We were interested to note that the subway stations are a long way underground and designated as shelters in the event of …. you know what I’m talking about.
Later on, we got back on the subway and went to Myeongdong, which is described as a ‘hyper-shopping area’. Oh yes indeed. Streets and streets of neon-lit shops, and people, and street food, and noise. Mostly women’s fashion, cosmetics and beauty products. It was good to see it at night when it was a bit cooler, and the streets were all lit up.
We had walked past a Korean BBQ place just near the apartment we stayed at. I forgot to find out if it had an English name, but it is opposite the school on Usadan-ro and whenever we went past it was full of people. Even this morning when we went past on our way to catch the airport bus, there were people there. So we ate there and it was great! Plenty of food, cold beers and a helpful waitress who must have realised we didn’t know what we were doing, so she took over and cooked our meat for us.
It was a good last day of our holidays, and Seoul is now on our list of ‘want to go back to’ places.
A Russian T-34 tank used in the Korean War at the War memorial
Sunset in Seoul
One of the many packed shopping streets at Myeongdong on a Saturday night
Just a very quick update on where we are. Well, we’re not in Russia any more. The relief at just being able to write that is overwhelming.
We had a busy day yesterday sorting out (more) paperwork, seeing a judge, paying another fine and then organising a flight out, but we got to Seoul yesterday evening and finally, finally relaxed a bit. We’re both still feeling pretty strung out about the whole thing and we’ve agreed not to talk about it much at the moment. I think once we get home on Monday, we’ll both feel much better.
We’ll backtrack and write about the events of the last couple of days, as it may help someone else who ends up in the same position as we were. Some of it was scary, some bits were so ridiculous, other parts were just frustrating and some of it did give us a better understanding of who Russians are as individual people …. mostly they were very nice. If I was a stand-up comedian, I could write a whole show around our experience.
This place has been on Greg’s ‘Must See’ list for a long time. It possibly wasn’t on his ‘Must Swim In’ list, but he can tick it off that one too. More on that later.
Listvyanka on Lake Baikal is just down the Angara river a bit from Irkutsk. It takes an hour or so to get there by car, bus or ferry (hydrofoil). We took the hydrofoil – it seemed appropriate that we reach the world’s oldest, largest, deepest unfrozen freshwater lake by water transport. We hopped on the No. 16 bus in Irkutsk, drove through the suburbs past the Angara dam (which has raised the water level on Lake Baikal by over 1 metre, there’s now almost no margin between the water and the lake wall, although there are sandy beaches on the eastern shore) to the Raketa ferry terminal to catch the afternoon ferry. We were lucky that it was a clear day on the lake, although we never did manage to see across to the other side. At its widest point, the lake is almost 80kms across.
We walked the 2kms from the ferry terminal to Deveranka, a ‘family hotel’ which offers accommodation in individual cabins with en-suite toilet and handbasin with hot & cold water, and tent camping in the field next door. Breakfast is included. In summer, there’s a shower room, but I guess it’s too freezing in winter for the little electric water heater to even take the chill off. There’s a banya – bathhouse, sort of like a sauna – which they probably use in winter.
So, we were there for a day and a half, and we walked, ate Mongolian barbecue by the lake, had dinner at the same restaurant both nights, and went for a swim. In water that was probably no warmer than 5C. Yes, we probably were crazy, but it was one of those things that we just had to do, or risk regretting not doing it for the rest of our lives. Certain parts of Greg’s body are possibly regretting that he actually did it, but that’s okay, he’d already decided he doesn’t want more children. It was so, so cold. ‘Swim’ is probably not quite the right word to describe what we did – we raced in wearing swimsuits and sandals (to avoid any broken glass), gasped at how cold it was, and ran out again.The Russian guy sunbaking near us gave us a ‘thumbs up’, and the look on his face implied that he wouldn’t have been so stupid, but then he might not have finished having children yet.
Yesterday we went on the Circum-Baikal Railway, which goes along the lake, on the original Trans-Siberian tracks from Port Baikal, on the other side of the Angara River from Listvyanka, to Slyudyanka. It’s a full, long day that starts with a short ferry trip across to Pork Baikal, then the train trip that stops 5 times along the way at places of historical or scenic significance (I think – all the commentary was in Russian, and there was a large Chinese group with their own guide). The train was pulled by a diesel engine, then when we got to Slyudyanka they uncoupled the diesel engine and used an electric engine to take us back to Irkutsk on the regular train line. We’ll go on that same section tomorrow night on the Trans-Siberian train
The Hydrofoil ferry docking at Listvyanka on Lake Baikal
A boat on Lake Baikal – we never could see the other side, its nearly 70km away.
Lake Baikal from near where we stayed looking south west to Port Baikal
Cleaning carpets on the beach at Lake Baikal. You can do lots of things with a fresh water lake
Beach life on Lake Baikal at touristy Listvyanka
Part of Listvyanka from the restaurant
our siberian cabin
Building a Siberian log cabin
the main street in Listvyanka
Baked Omul fish – the local fish caught in Lake Baikal
Lunch on the beach at Lake Baikal Listvyanka
Morning mist on Lake Baikal
the Circum Baikal tourist train, electric train pulled by a diesel-electric loco. The circumbaikal line is cut out of the hills at the edge of the lake.
We’re on Train 002 Rossiya: Moscow – Vladivostok. We caught the train from Platform 2 at Yaroslavsky Station at 1:50pm yesterday (Thursday) afternoon. Trans-Siberian trains always leave from Yaroslavsky Station, from platform 1 – 5 at the eastern end of the station. The nearest metro station is Komsomolskaya. Train departure times are displayed on a large board at the near end of platform 2, so it’s not really necessary to go into the railway station to get information. Platform number is only displayed 40 minutes prior to departure, so if you get there earlier, you just need to wait until closer to the time of departure.
The day before we caught the train, we did a ‘practice run’ from our apartment, changing metro lines and trying to work out the best places to stand so that we could get on the metro trains with all our luggage and the least amount of fuss. When we caught our first metro train in Moscow, we hadn’t realised how quickly the carriage doors close, and we both got stuck between the closing automatic doors – thankfully a local passenger who was already on the train helped us prise the doors apart! We gave ourselves plenty of time to get to Yaroslavsky Station with our gear, and during our practice run we had found a good local supermarket so that we could buy water and food for the trip. The station was full of people arriving, leaving and generally milling about, which was a bit of a relief because the day before we watched 2 police harass 2 travellers for their ‘papers’, which seems to be a common occurrence at railway stations, but best avoided if at all possible. More people means we’re less likely to stand out as tourists or targets. So we got Greg settled with all our bags and I went across to the Billa supermarket on the other side of the busy road outside the station. Access is via an underpass near Lenin’s statue in the car park to the east of the main station building. There is also a smaller supermarket east of the car park, which mainly sells cooked & pre-packaged food and drinks especially for train travellers.
The Billa supermarket has a good range of food and drinks & I bought bottled water, bread, apple pies, long life milk, breakfast cereal, instant mashed potato and noodles. The 2 men in front of me in the checkout line bought several bottles of vodka (?!?), and the woman behind me had lots of styrofoam trays of cooked pancakes, dumplings and salads. When I got back to the station, Greg wasn’t where I had left him, and of course I immediately thought the police had taken him away, but he had moved because he’d been waiting near a garbage bin and all the smokers congregated there. We got lunch from the cafe/takeaway place just near platform 3 – wraps filled with chicken and lettuce/tomato or cabbage/carrot. The service is fast, the food tastes good and the woman who served me spoke English.
The train was at Platform 2 around 40 minutes prior to departure, so we gathered our bags and walked down to our first class carriage, No 7. We have a 2-berth cabin with 2 bench seats that become beds, with a table in between. There is storage space under the seats, and there’s also a storage compartment above the door. The padded headrests of the seats lift up and have small shelves for a bit more storage. There are reading lights at either end of each seat, and a power point under the table. Greg bought a triple adaptor so we can plug in our small fridge, USB charger, computer and other electrical paraphernalia. At one end of the carriage there are 2 toilets with handbasins, at the other end near the carriage attendant’s office is a samovar, so hot water is always available. As far as we can tell, there is no shower. Good thing we’re only on the train for 3 days to Irkutsk, not going the whole way to Vladivostok (6 days) in one go. We do have a good supply of baby wipes.
So, we’ve been on the train for almost 24 hours. We have crossed 2 time zones and travelled 1500 kms so far. Our guide books (The Lonely Planet Trans-Siberian book and Bryn Thomas’ Trans-Siberian Handbook) both mentioned that it was possible to buy food on station platforms when the train stopped, but so far we haven’t seen any. The carriage attendant sells a range of drinks and snacks, and there is a dining car on the train and we’ll probably end up having a meal or 2 there. We went and had a beer there last night. On the second part of our trip, from Irkutsk to Vladivostok, our meals are included; for some reason we couldn’t just buy first class tickets, we had to pay for ‘services’ – meals – as well. The first class compartment isn’t full at the moment – there is an American couple who are also travelling to Irkutsk, then going on the Trans-Mongolian route to Ulaan Baatar, and several other people have hopped on and off the train at various stops.
The second class cabins are the same as ours, with 2 extra bunks over the bench seats. And then there are the 3rd class carriages, which have 54 bunks in an open carriage, arranged into open compartments of sets of double bunks at right angles to the windows on one side of the carriage, then a walkway, then double bunks arranged alongside the windows. Apparently the bunks at either ends of the carriage are best avoided (toilets at one end near the higher-numbered berths, smokers near the carriage door at the other), and the lateral bunks are short, so no good for anyone taller than 5’5″ and people keep bumping into them as they walk past.
Our Trans-Siberian train trip, Day 3
The Russian railways all work on ‘Moscow time’, so train departure & arrival times, and on-train & railway station clocks are all set to whatever the time is in Moscow. The timetable in our carriage has all the arrival and departure times for the whole Moscow-Vladivostok journey. Yesterday we were running a bit late, so our time at each station was shorter than stated in the timetable. We’ve read a few cautionary tales of people getting left behind, and there’s no warning when the train takes off, so we’re very careful about getting back on the train as fast as we can. Each time we stop, we make a quick dash for the nearest station kiosk to see what they were selling. Late yesterday afternoon we got lucky and found a shrinkwrapped (!) loaf of bread at one kiosk and some drinking yoghurt and filled bread rolls at another. The woman at the second kiosk did her very best to try and pretend I didn’t exist, by restocking and moving items around on her shelves, looking out the window, peering in the fridge and carefully avoiding any eye contact whatsoever, but when more customers lobbed in, she had to finally give in and sell me some stuff.
This morning when we stopped at Barabinsk, we hit the jackpot – babushkas (grannies) selling their baked goodies and berries up and down the train. They were also offering furry Russian hats, scarves and a range of other non-essential items. Greg spotted a supermarket nearby and dashed off to get us some beer and chocolate, and I bought some bread rolls on the platform. Next time I’ll try to be quicker and get some pancakes as well. We rushed back onto the train, leaping onto the nearest carriage ‘cos we couldn’t see anyone else on the platform and we thought it was about to depart, and then sat there for another 10 minutes. A little old lady with a box full of berries sold Greg a cupful at the carriage door. There were a few strawberries on top, but most of them are plump, ripe raspberries. Yum.
We are now in Siberia, and it’s a mixture of flat grassy plains (steppes) and forest, electricity sub-stations and with an occasional village or larger town. We just stopped at Novosibersk, the capital of Western Siberia, population 1.4 million, and the 3rd largest city in Russia.
3 days (73 hours to be precise) on a long-distance train trip is long enough. We are stopping for almost 6 days in Irkutsk, and Thank Heavens for that! Doing the whole 6-day train trip in one go would be very trying – no showers, limited food choices and only occasional stops of 25 minutes or less. I’d strongly recommend anyone doing this trip to at least stop for a couple of days somewhere along the way, for a chance to walk longer than a few hundred metres at a time, to wash clothes (and yourself!), to get a better night’s sleep and for probably a whole lot more reasons that I can’t think of at the moment. The beds on the train are only 55cm wide, so if you’re used to the luxury of a wider bed, even turning over in such a narrow space requires some thought and planning.
Even on the train, we have people coming and trying to sell us stuff. A guy came into our cabin and tried hard to sell us a battery-operated massager thing, then a while later a woman did the rounds with scarves. Closed doors are no deterrent and they are very persistent, so after that for a while after we left each station we would lock our cabin door
A video of our train trip. You can view it on Youtube in HD if you follow this link
No 2 train pulling into the station in Moscow
crowds waiting at the Moscow station
1o minute stop at Perm
loading more water at Perm
triple adaptor to power all the electronics – the train cabin has only one power outlet
The samovar in the corridor proving all the hot water
there are kilometre posts all the way, this marked 1650km from Moscow
the marker for the border between Europe and Asia
babushka selling hats on the train
Marlinsk Station at night
We passed and got passed by lots of freight trains transporting oil
We’ve just arrived in Irkusk, Siberia, after 3 days on the Trans-Siberian train. I’ve written a bit about the trip so far, and Greg has taken heaps of photos and videos, and we’ll post some soon. But while we find our legs again and get used to the floor staying still and not rocking from side to side, here’s a post from Greg’s mum & dad, Fay and Ron, about a trip they did to Russia in 1980.
Memories of Russia 1980
Judy emailed us, wondering if we would like to reminisce on our trip to Russia in 1980, comparing it to their trip 2013.
So here goes.
We were in the UK to visit the relations, and had arranged a trip through Europe, called Russia, Poland and the Northern Capitals, cost $1,220 each, included dinner and breakfast along the way.
In July 1980 we left London for Harwich and embarked on the D.F.D.S. SEAWAYS for Esbjerg in Denmark, day two and three Copenhagen, and day four embarked on a ferry to Sweden, reaching the capital Stockholm in time for dinner. Day five spent sightseeing in Stockholm. Later that day we were driven to Norrtalje for the overnight crossing to Finland. Sightseeing in Helsinki our sixth day where we toured the bustling capital.
Then eastward to Russia:
First have to explain the times, we were arriving in Russia just before the 1980 Russian Olympics, several nations had banned athletes from attending the Olympics due to Russia invading Afghanistan. Australia did not send a full team to the games. Americans did not send a team.
We arrived at the border of Russia to overbearing custom people, there was only 18 of us in the coach (which could hold 44) many had cancelled because of the Russian situation.
They kept us in customs for four hours, went through everyone’s personal luggage, I had heated curlers, they took them apart, all books were searched through methodically. Small dogs were let loose in the coach; rods were put through the bodywork. Later they let us go.
Next Leningrad, now called St Petersburg, where we were taken by coach sightseeing and then to the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, a cemetery for 500,000 people. These people died during the siege of Leningrad, by the German army during World War 11. We walked down past this vast cemetery, to the monument where we found many Russians stood crying. A heart stopping moment to see such sorrow thirty six years after the siege ended.
In the evening we were taken to a performance of ballet at the spectacular Kirov Theatre.
Day nine we were driven to Novgorod where we first learnt you could only shop in Berioska shops, special shops for tourists. Shops in Russia at that time were not good; we see many queues outside premises, which to us did not have much displayed.
Hotels were unique as well. On every floor there were security, a lift in the Novgorod hotel could not be installed because the area left for it was not correct shape. Also food, we were served chicken which was so tough you couldn’t eat it. And we were served with caviar one time, which was a memorable moment.
In Novgorod we see young children led along holding on to a long rope, we see older children guarding the tomb of the unknown warrior, which apparently they performed this duty every day.
We learnt about another custom, brides on their wedding day they came to the memorial to honour the dead.
In the streets woman swept the roads with birch twig brooms, they were older woman and wore aprons and scarves.
In Russia there was not much traffic, mostly looked like government cars, few private. People did not speak to you; one place a man spoke in English but quickly moved away when security came into view. Not a happy country.
We continued on to Moscow where we did the usual sightseeing Red Square, huge queue for Lenin Mausoleum, we did not go in. The Kremlin and St Basil Cathedral, Tretyakov and Pushkin art galleries and the amazing Pavilion of Scientific Achievement.
The special thing we did in Moscow was to visit the Moscow State Circus in their permanent home, I would say circuses do not come at the top of my list to go and see, but, the Moscow State Circus, what can you say, it was amazing, never seen anything like since.
The journey through Russia continues past huge housing estates, high rise, ugly places, no landscaping.
We see paddocks were people lined up in a long row were cutting corn with scythes.
Saw woman washing clothes in creeks.
We stopped to get diesel on our way to Minsk, 150 litres the cost two cartons of cigarettes, the driver had them under his seat.
During our long travels through Russia we came across many block houses with armed guards.
So you can see how 1980 behind the iron curtain was different compared to 2013.
When we were leaving Russia we had to give roubles we had back.
Into Warsaw Poland, we learnt quickly how they all hated the Russian people.
Still behind that Wall, taken to a hotel in East Germany, built by the Swiss and run by them, the best hotel we had been in.
Taken around to see the wall, Brandenburg Gate and the gigantic Soviet memorial.
Next day out of Russian hands through Check Point Charlie, with more security checks underneath the coach they used mirrors. Into West Berlin, like another world entirely, shops packed with goods, and happy people.
We arrived in Moscow yesterday morning, but before we start sharing our adventures here, I want to write about our last full day in St Petersburg before I forget what we did and where we went.
Greg wrote about visiting the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery in his last post. We took the subway there and back and oh my gosh the subway is a long way underground. It must be halfway to China, or maybe even Australia. When we stood at the top of the escalator going down, it was impossible to see people getting off at the other end, that’s how long it was.
We had lunch at the shopping centre near the Akademicheskaya metro station (filled pancakes from a Teremok fast food place, and I tried Kvass, which I thought was a fruit drink with mint and is actually a fermented rye bread drink. There’s another drink made with cranberries but I can’t remember its name. Will look for it and try it when I find it), then we caught the metro back to Nevsky Prospekt and did the Lonely Planet’s recommended walking tour, which took us along some of the many canals and past more fascinating buildings between Nevsky and the river.
Starting off at the magnificent Singer Building, which now has a large bookshop and cafe (and probably no sewing machines!), we nipped into the bookshop for a quick browse. I found a full set of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks plus a few of Gordon Ramsay’s in Cyrillic, and most surprisingly, a Cyrillic language version of Bourke Street Bakery, which is a Sydney-based bakery. I sell the English language version. We wandered along one of St Petersburg’s many canals to the magnificent Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, where Alexander ll was blown up by a terrorist group in the 1880s hence its catchy name. Greg reckons there’s a bouncy castle in the highest cupola, but we didn’t go inside to check. We kept on walking along canals, past the now-ruined Court Stables and Pushkin’s last home, now a museum. We saw 4 of 5 bridal parties while we walked – Friday afternoon must be wedding time in Russia.
We wandered along a canal by the side of part of the Hermitage Museum to the Bolshaya Neva River, then along the back of the museum to the Alexander Column and the large square at the front of the museum. Crossing Nevsky Pr, we wandered through some side streets to the Faberge building which is still a jewellers but sadly there were no eggs anywhere. We caught a trolley bus just around the corner from the Hotel Astoria and I caught a glimpse of No 13 Malaya Morskaya, where Tchaikovsky died in 1893.
Greg went to the railway station to buy a luggage trolley for our still-enormous duffel bag – we’re hanging on to a few things we think we may need when we’re at Lake Baikal for a few days in the middle of our Trans-Siberian train trip. We had dinner at one of the many Coffee House cafes near Nevsky Pr – they seem to be Russia’s answer to Starbucks (which are also here, but not as common). A young waitress practised her English with us. It was … okay, she told us she had done a 7-day course.
On the first Thursday of the month, admission to the State Hermitage Museum is free. As luck would have it, we visited the Hermitage on Thursday August 1st. I’m not sure whether that was good or bad – the queues to get in were long, and even longer by the time we left, but at this time of the year there would always be a long queue, free tickets or not. At some of the popular exhibits (Da Vinci’s Madonna and Child, and some of the Rembrandts), we had to wait till the crowd thinned to see the painting. But the museum’s crowd control was pretty good – they are obviously used to getting a lot of people through as quickly as possible.
The Hermitage Museum is huge, opulent, impressive, bewildering at times, easy to get lost in and a fine tribute to the excesses of Tsarist Russia. I couldn’t help thinking of how many of Russia’s poorer classes would have paid for those artworks with their blood, their sweat and their lives. The collections are displayed throughout the Museum, which itself comprises the Winter Palace, the New Hermitage and a couple of other buildings. In addition to the main exhibits, it is possible to buy tickets to see other collections including the Porcelain, Gold and Diamond rooms. We only saw a small sample of the main collection, and apparently what is on display in the museum is about 1/20th of the whole collection.
It took us about an hour to get into the museum and while we waited we watched some workmen replacing cobblestones around the edge of part of the Winter Palace. Well, 2 were working and 3 were supervising. We got our free tickets, took our bags to the cloakroom, went through metal detectors and headed straight to the Egyptian Room which has a great display of sarcophagi, jewellery, assorted artifacts and a mummy. Unfortunately there were no English translations for any of the display headers, so we couldn’t really work out what, when or where the exhibits were.
Then we headed up the magnificent Jordan Staircase in the Winter Palace to the Imperial staterooms and apartments, many of which had photos showing how the rooms were furnished during the last Tsar’s rule. We were following our Lonely Planet Guide which had a suggested half-day tour plan, although their map wasn’t all that easy to follow. We wanted to see the Da Vinci, the Monets and the Van Goghs, all of which we saw – a room full of Monet paintings, 2 rooms of Picassos plus one of Rembrandts. I know, all very mainstream, but the vast range of what was on display was pretty overwhelming for non-museum goers like us.
After the Picasso rooms we decided we’d seen enough – by then we had probably walked through at least 150 rooms spread across 5 buildings and 3 storeys, so we went to find a late lunch and a trolley bus back to the hotel.
We are staying in Espoo, home of Nokia and the second-largest city in Finland. It’s actually just an extension of Helsinki. We are staying in another Airbnb apartment and you can have a little look at it here. Nice 1 bedroom apartment on the 3rd floor of a 4-storey apartment building, bus outside the door, shops and railway station about 10 minutes walk away. We’re here for 5 nights and will put the car and ourselves on the ferry back to Stockholm on Saturday night.
We decided to go into the city and have a look around today. It was overcast this morning but the forecast was for a fine day with temps in the low 20s. That’s double the maximum temperatures we had while we were within the Arctic Circle!
So … even though there’s a bus outside the door, we walked up to the nearest railway station and dithered around for a while working out where we were headed and how much it would cost. As Espoo is in Zone 3 of the local train network it was going to cost us 4.5 euros each. So we thought it might be cheaper on the bus and headed to the nearest bus stop where we boarded a bus and paid …. 4.5 euros each. Okay, so now we have all that worked out. We’re going to Tallin, in Estonia, tomorrow for the day and we wanted to check where the ferry leaves. The ferry terminal just happens to be near an open air market that I wanted to visit, so that was all rather good planning, or luck.
The market stalls are all selling berries, currants, cherries, peas and new potatoes at the moment so we bought some little new potatoes and peas still in their pod for dinner and strawberries and raspberries as well. I was interested to see that fruit and vegetables are sold by volume here, so I bought a litre each of peas, potatoes and strawberries, and the raspberries were already in a punnet. There were also a lot of stalls selling cooked food, with little tables and chairs set up. We went to a seafood stall close to the water where Greg had whitebait, fried potatoes, vegetables and salad, and I had prawns, fried potatoes etc. All freshly cooked, all delicious.
We wandered around to the ferry terminal and collected our tickets to Tallin, then did a modified walking tour of the main points of interest in Helsinki – the Lutheran Cathedral, the National Library which is currently closed for renovation, Pohoisesplanadi – Helsinki’s equivalent of the Champs Elysee and the highlight of our walk - Temppeliaukio Kirrko (The Church of the Rock), a 1960s church hewn into solid rock. A really simple but magnificent space, with a glass and copper dome and a beautiful organ. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos, but if you click on the link above there are some good photos with the Wikipedia article.
We caught a train back to the apartment, partly so that we could experience the full gamut of Helsinki public transport, but also because we couldn’t work out where the heck to catch the bus back out to the suburbs!
Buying fruit at the market
More market stalls in Helsinki
Its not a disease! The common name for Street food vans everywhere but Australia
Aww go on, how many of you remember the Monty Python song? I recall sitting in a lecture sometime during my nursing training in the early 1980s and the guest lecturer, probably a doctor, mentioned something about Finland, and Sue Sanossian (waves to Sue if she’s reading) and I spontaneously burst into song. Do you remember that, Sal? I still giggle when I think of it.
Finland, Finland, Finland,
The country where I want to be,
Pony trekking or camping,
Or just watching TV.
Finland, Finland, Finland.
It’s the country for me.You’re so near to Russia,
So far from Japan,
Quite a long way from Cairo,
Lots of miles from Vietnam.Finland, Finland, Finland,
The country where I want to be,
Eating breakfast or dinner,
Or snack lunch in the hall.
Finland, Finland, Finland.
Finland has it all.
You’re so sadly neglected
And often ignored,
A poor second to Belgium,
When going abroad.Finland, Finland, Finland,
The country where I quite want to be,
Your mountains so lofty,
Your treetops so tall.
Finland, Finland, Finland.
Finland has it all.Finland, Finland, Finland,
The country where I quite want to be,
Your mountains so lofty,
Your treetops so tall.
Finland, Finland, Finland.
Finland has it all.Finland has it all.
written and sung by Michael Palin
Anyway, here we are. In Finland. Lots of trees, lots of lakes and lots of mosquitoes at this time of the year. We have camped ‘in the wild’ for the last couple of nights in nice spots in forests, and last night we were near a small lake as well. Tonight is our last night before we get to Helsinki and we’re staying at Vaihelan Tila, a ‘farmstay’ hostel a couple of hundred kms north of the capital. It’s still a small working farm, but the large barn has been converted into accommodation. It’s lovely – all timber inside and sleeps around 14. There are several self-contained huts on the property as well, but tonight we’re the only ones in the large converted barn, which also has a wood-fired sauna. Our hostess told us about the various accommodation options and mentioned that her house has an electric sauna ‘and it’s not as good as a wood-fired one’. So we have had a sauna which Greg liked so much that he’s planning to have another one in the morning. I did like it but I tend not to sweat (and that’s nothing to do with ‘ladies don’t sweat’, it’s actually a nuisance as I don’t cool down easily when I’m hot).
We have been so excited to be back in a country that doesn’t require a second mortgage whenever you go shopping that we have visited at least one supermarket a day, mostly just to see what’s available. Norway is not part of the EU and the range of food available there is quite limited and more expensive than in EU countries. Here in Finland, food, fuel and accommodation are all cheaper. We still have some food that we bought in Sweden a couple of weeks ago – pasta, mashed potato, pasta sauce and a jar of beetroot (what was I thinking I would cook with that when I bought it? I have no idea) and I’m looking forward to being able to use an oven in the apartment we have organised in Helsinki, I’m a bit tired of one-pot cooking on a camp stove.
I thought I’d share a recipe that I kind of made up last night:
Mince and White Bean Hot Pot
1 small onion, diced
1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1 small can corn
Fry onion in oil, margarine or butter, add mince and cook until browned. Add a couple of tablespoons tomato paste with some water and cook for a couple of minutes. Add cannelini beans and corn, cook until hot.
Note: Don’t try this at home, it probably only tastes any good when you’re camping and you’ll eat almost anything and think it tastes great.
That’s not the start of a riddle, it really does baffle me when people clap in the presence of natural awesomeness. My brother John told me years ago about visiting Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park and seeing people clap, and we saw the same thing when we visited last year … so I guess it’s probably happened nearly every time in the intervening years. And it happened at Nordkapp at midnight last night when the sun stayed high in the sky. Well, not really all that high, but definitely well above the horizon. And it was awesome. But I didn’t feel like clapping.
My mum asked me a couple of questions and maybe other loyal readers are wondering too …. Have we seen the Northern Lights, and can we see any stars at this time of the year inside the Arctic Circle.
The Northern Lights are a winter phenomenon, occurring when the sky is dark. We’ll have to come back in winter to see them, and apparently in Tromso they are at their most spectacular at 6pm.
I must find out more about them, but at the moment I’m still trying to get my head around the whole ‘sun doesn’t set for 10 weeks in summer’ and then the ‘sun doesn’t rise for 6 weeks in winter’ thing. I know it is to do with the earth’s tilt, and I’m sure there are plenty of Youtube videos about it all that we’ll watch when we get home. Or I’ll ask Dr Karl. He probably know lots about this stuff.
And the stars. We haven’t actually seen a star since we left home. Even as far south as Copenhagen, there are only a few hours of night at this time of the year, and the sky just never gets dark enough to have any visible stars in it. Within the Arctic Circle, the sky is always light, although at midnight it’s not quite a bright as during the day, and it does cool down by a few degrees overnight. Our Lonely Planet Guide gives lots of dates of when the sun sets in various parts of Norway. It will set in Nordkapp around July 29th, for the first time since mid-May. And then the first star/s will be visible in late August.The sun sets for the last time in late November and rises again in mid-January. I know, I know – it’s all just strange for us who live in places where our days and nights only vary by a few hours depending on the season ….. and to people who live close to the Equator and have equal durations of day and night all year round it must be almost inconceivable.
And I’m by no means an expert, but if anyone wants to know anything else, ask us a question in the Comments and one of us will try to answer it for you.
We got to Nordkapp yesterday afternoon and paid the hefty fee to go into the Information and parking area. On the way there Greg had been looking out for possible camping spots, but I was fairly sure that there was only one place for us to camp last night … at Nordkapp itself. And we did. There is a field just outside the toll booths into the Nordkapp area and people are allowed to camp there, and lots of people with RVs just stay in the car park overnight. We went and looked at the lookout and read a few of the many obelisks, markers, monuments and other assorted items of interest, took photos and I sent a postcard to my 6 year old nephew to let him know that we’d seen Santa’s reindeer and would keep an eye out for Santa. There’s a pretty good chance that we’ll find him in Finland …. Lapland to be precise.
So then we pitched our tent and waited. For our dinner to cook … for midnight …. for the sun to go down (or not). And it was well worth the wait. We were lucky that it was a reasonably clear sky with not too many clouds. Tour buses kept on arriving and disgorging passengers from cruise ships, motor homes and motor bikes rolled in and one young German woman arrived on foot. I had a good chat with her and found out that she was there to start walking the E1 Walking Trail, which is a 4900km route that starts at Nordkapp and finishes in Sicily. The route was officially opened just last month. She hadn’t been able to find the start, so I took her to the stone marker and took a photo of her with her camera. We had a nice chat about walking – she has walked the Camino de Santiago, so have we – and I took her to our tent, gave her some water, we wished her ‘Buen Camino’ and she started off on her very long walk.
Greg put a few more photos on the post below this one, to show where we have been so far this trip, and to give an idea of where we would be if we were in the Southern Hemisphere. I’m just going to state for the record that I have NO PLANS to camp at 71 degrees south, or anywhere within the Antarctic Circle. I’m not that brave. Or silly.