Holiday 2006

Summer holiday 2006 is a pretty quiet affair so far. Mostly we have been at home, but we have a few things planned, a couple of which we have already done.

The others I’ll add here as we get them done. So this will be updated sometime.


We had planned to spend one day lazing around on the island fortress in the Helsinki harbour. Since it was looking like it was going to rain later in our first week off we decided to head there before the weather turned bad. As it turned out that was probably the worst day to go there as it was windy and mostly cloudy. The rain never turned up at all and was stinky hot every other day. We might go back again if we have time and the weather is better.

But anyway, it wasn’t so bad and we had a few drinks and sat in the sun (when it was around). And a nice sailing ship went past at the exact moment we turned up at the harbour channel.

Good timing to arrive right at this moment.

Bengskär lighthouse

The lighthouse is about 28km south west of Hanko in the Bay of Finland. Hanko is about 120km south-west of Helsinki and is a major port. Most cars for Finland arrive here and many are transported over land to Russia from here as well (something like 300,000 last year). Hanko is the green arrow in the map.

All out at sea.

Anyway, back to the lighthouse. It is a major tourist attraction during the summer with several boats visiting there daily. We had been planning on visiting there for a while now, but never seemed to make it. This year with such a run of hot weather we thought it would be good to take a break from the heat with a nice cruise out to the island and the bookings for Friday (7th July) were quite light according to the tour company’s web site. As it turned out, it was nearly 30 degrees in Hanko and it was stinking hot even out on the water. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky the entire trip and our “sensible” sea clothes turned out to be a sweaty mistake.

Everyone is here for the Hanko Regatta.

On the trip out there they supplied us with lunch (salmon soup) and there was a guide who a talk on the battles there during WWII, especially with the Russians. There are still shell casings to be found on the island and unexploded grenades have been found as recently as year 2000. In the lighthouse itself there are still marks from the battles with grenade marks visible on some of the stairs. Once at the island a guide gave another presentation on the island and lighthouse history from its construction in 1906. Originally three families lived there, which accounts for the large accommodation wing on the lighthouse. But now it is mainly a tourist attraction and includes a small hotel.

Looming out of the haze.   Pistol from WWII.   Everyone ashore!

The island itself is nothing but a small group of well worn rocks with a lighthouse in the middle, so the couple of hours that we stayed there was definitely enough. It is easy to believe the story told by the guide, that when a six year old kid from one of the first families visited another island with trees for the first time he commented that “the flowers here grow very big.” They also mentioned that the island is swept clean during every storm, so if anything isn’t tied down it is lost. The lighthouse itself is built entirely from stone blocks and the tower is about 55 metres tall. It is possible to climb to the top, although the view isn’t so good since there really isn’t anything else to see from up there and there is wire across most of it.

There is scaffolding around every tourist attraction in the world!

Quite a few of those visiting on ours and the other boat had actually bought swimming gear with them and were sunbathing of swimming in the small inlet on one side of the island. The other side of the island was quite deserted with was a bit odd. The whole thing was only a few hundred metres from tip to tip.

Sunbathing in the Bay of Finland. Who would have thought.

After wandering around the lighthouse and the island for a couple of hours it was time to go back. The trip back was uneventful, and quite nice when you were out of the sun. As it turned out, we discovered that we had arrive in Hanko during the annual regatta. So that explained the lack of parking, but when leaving Hanko Friday evening we passed basically an uninterrupted stream of cars heading there. So the population probably doubled that weekend and it was just as well we went Friday and not during the weekend. Once we got off the main road it was an extremely quiet drive through the countryside home, but even at 8:30 that night it was still 28 degrees…

Pretty evening in the countryside. Not far from home now.

You can find more pictures in our online album. (Lisaa kuvia meidän kuvagallerissa).

Sex, Drugs, and Windmills Tour 2004

Monday, 05.04.2004

We left Helsinki by plane about 4pm, arriving in Amsterdam airport about 6pm. Got out bearings and found the shuttle bus stand. Our hotel is on the bus route, but it turns out we missed it by 15 min and it only goes once an hour. Wandered around the airport for half an hour until the next one turned up. It was quite cold and windy and seemed to be on the verge of raining most of the time. Got in the bus and was waiting for it to leave when it started peeing down. Good thing we brought the umbrellas with us!

Map of the centre of Amsterdam.

Map of the centre of Amsterdam. Locations mentioned are marked in red.

Bus to the hotel took about half an hour or so. Relatively speaking accommodation in Amsterdam is quite expensive. Both places we looked at were quoted at around 80 – 100 EUR a night each, but we took the more expensive of the two. One because it was a bit closer to the city centre, two because they provided breakfast and three because I thought it would be a nicer place. We got two out of three :-). That was also when we realised that there is no such thing in the Netherlands as a non-smoking area, well almost.

Our hotel room.   Street across from the hotel. The Indonesian restaurant is on the corner.

Hotel room and the view onto the street.

Once we sorted out the room it was still quite early, and we thought we’d have a look around. The hotel is on the outer ring of canals from the centre, but the centre of Amsterdam is reasonably compact, so it wasn’t long till we found something interesting. After walking around a bit we managed to find Leidseplein which is a square on one of the roads leading to the centre. The area around it is full of restaurants, cafes and coffee shops.

Lesson number one

Restaurant in Amsterdam is a restaurant, seems likely to be either Dutch food, Indonesian or Argentinean Steak.

Cafe is actually a bar where you can get food if you are lucky, or usually, beer.

Coffee shop is a place where you will get coffee if you are lucky, but more likely magic mushrooms or hash, both of which are freely available.

After investigating all the options in Leidseplein, we go to Burger King for snack.

Bikes, bikes and more bikes. A good number are stolen every year.   Bulldog coffeeshop   Bulldog coffeeshop

Everyone has a bike, and one of the most famous “Coffeeshops”, the Bulldog.

Tuesday, 06.04.2004

Tuesday is a shopping day. Or at least that is the plan. Breakfast at the hotel first. Not quite what we expected for the price, but bread, sliced meat, and cheese available along with cereal and coffee, etc. In the dining area there is a big fat ginger cat lying in the middle of the floor. He doesn’t move for anyone. Right next to the dining area the receptionist is smoking at the desk.

Headed to town at 9am. No shops are open yet! Get kicked out of one shop because it is 2 minutes before opening time even though they have all the doors open. Keep going towards the town centre and find the floating flower market “Bloemenmarkt” . It is a flower street market with the stalls half sitting on barges in the canal. There are frequent heavy showers, but we remembered to bring the umbrellas again. Get a few packages of tulips in Dutch blue pottery. Getting damp and cold and need somewhere to put on more clothes, but there is nothing open yet besides McD’s :-(.

Bloemenmarkt flower market.

Amsterdam floating flower market.

After having made a bit of a zig through the flower market we make a zag back through the Kalvertoren shopping area. Small streets with lots of shops and a large shopping plaza. Lots of expensive places there, but we locate the American Book Centre that Pia found on the internet before we left. About 5 floors of English books on every subject. Very scarey place for the wallet, but so much stuff we come away empty handed. Better to buy it later when we don’t have to carry stuff all over town.

Keep going heading north and end up at the main square, Dam Square . Impressive looking place, the original centre of Amsterdam (ie the place the first dam was placed on the Amster river!). The Royal Palace is at one end of the square, it used to be the town hall. At the other end is the Dutch national monument.

Royal palace and Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) behind.   Magna Plaza shopping centre.

The Royal Palace with the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church – 500 years old) behind it and the Magna Plaza shopping centre.

Its getting about lunchtime, but we are near the Magna Plaza shopping centre, so go there and try to find a place for lunch. No such luck. Nothing besides a tiny coffee bar and an expensive restaurant that is full of smoke. Head north again along  Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and find a restaurant. It is quite empty and they have a nice covered terrace on the street. Almost manage to have lunch before someone starts smoking. We both got a Dutch omelet with ham/cheese and bacon.

Continue on and try to find a large souvenir shop, supposedly with a clog factory. Find the address eventually, but no shop. We have come up to the west of the main shopping area, so cut back towards there through the small side streets. They are full of shops as well and plenty of tourists wandering around. Seems to be a large quantity of shoe shops and party clothes. Probably for all those drug induced raves :-). We find the main street again and come across a tour office, just down the street from the Central Railway Station. Decide to book a canal tour for the evening.

Central Amsterdam.   Damrak, just south of the Central Station in central Amsterdam.

The centre of Amsterdam on the left, Damrak on the right.

Its mid afternoon and our feet are getting a bit buggered and it is a long trip back to the hotel, so start heading back. Continue on to the east and do a bit of a loop back through the red light district. On the way there from the main street you pass through another maze of small side streets. These are probably the worst and most of the porn movie shops and sex shops are found. Although it is afternoon, so its pretty quite there. The “real” red light area is pretty dead too. A few women sitting in the windows, but most of them look pretty bored. Don’t seem to be many customers either, just tourists wandering down alongside the canal. Last time I was there with Contiki it was night and there was much more happening.

Red light district (Oudezijds Archterburgwal)   Hash museum   Hash seed shop.

The red light district and a couple of the places there. The other more interesting ones didn’t allow photos 🙂

Finally get back to the hotel and our feet are completely knackered. Probably did about 10km today. Evening cruise doesn’t start until about 7.30pm, but it is only about 5pm now and we don’t have any idea about dinner. The guide book says that an Indonesian meal in the Netherlands is about the same as having a curry in England, so we give that a go. There is a place right across the road so we go there.

The restaurant is almost empty, just a couple of locals there. There is a small Indonesian guy waiting on the tables. His English isn’t so good, but he manages quite well. On the menu is “Rijsttafel”, a rice table, it is similar to a Chinese banquet in that you get a small portion of everything. I decide to take that and Pia has Nasi Goreng. When the waiter starts bringing out an extra table for me I start to panic! By the time he finished I had 26 portions of food in something like 20 different plates! The locals are staring and within 10 minutes all the kitchen staff have passed through watching us. I think they enjoy scaring tourists. A short while later some more guests arrive and end up with similar quantities of plates at their tables, so I don’t feel so bad :-).

Rise table part I   Rice table part II

Dinner holds a few surprises!

An hour later and we are about at deaths door. Have to go and have a quick rest before the canal tour so I don’t explode. Luckily it passes quickly, bit like chinese I guess, and we are able to walk around the road to the canal tour dock. It is a bit cool still, but not raining for the moment. The tour is full, but everyone has their own chair and table, so we aren’t squashed in. The evening tour goes for 90 minutes and passes through some the more interesting areas of town and does a loop out onto the Amster river and back. By the time we are about half way through the light starts to fade and all the canals and bridges are light up, which looks good. The tour guide explains the history of Amsterdam and the reason for the design of the houses alongside the canals. Towards the end of the tour it starts to rain again, but it is almost dark and not much to see any more.

The houses in Amsterdam next to the canals were taxed on their street frontage. So they are very narrow and tall. The most narrow house is about 1.8m wide!

Because the houses are so narrow there is no way to get furniture inside. All the houses have a hook poking out from the peak of the roof to hoist things up to the top floors.

Boarding the tour boat.   Amsterdam from the canals.   Amsterdam from the canals.   Another canal tour.   The seven bridges.   Amsterdam by night.

The evening canal tour around Amsterdam.

Wednesday, 07.04.2004

Today we thought to visit Anne Frank’s house. The guide book said that if you are there first thing in the morning you can beat the rush, so we started out just after 9am. It was a few kilometres walk there and it was raining the whole way, although it was canal side the whole time, so it wasn’t too boring. When we arrived the line was already about 20 metres long outside and it took about 15 minutes to get in. Glad we bought the umbrellas.

The house has been preserved from the time just after the war. All the furniture was stripped by the Germans, so it has been kept in that state, with short movie clips in each room and small items left over from the family’s time of hiding there. Later in the tour there are versions of her diary in all the published languages along with the story of how her father got hold of the diary after her death in the concentration camp. There is also a bookshop where you can buy her diary in several languages, including the latest unabridged version. I hadn’t realised that both she and her father had edited the diary. The first version published was one that she had re-written once already and that her father had also removed some passages.

Waiting in line at Anne Frank's house.   The front of Anne Frank's house.

Standing in line and the front of Anne Frank’s house.

We finished at the house after about one and half hours. Since we had managed to do most touristy things and didn’t feel like going to museums, etc we decided on a bus tour. We had found two in the brochure that looked okay. One was to the tulip fields, the other to the countryside and windmills. The windmills won. Once we arrange the bus tour at the same office as the canal tour we found a KFC up the road and stopped there for lunch (KFC doesn’t exist in Finland). There was also time for a bit more shopping before the tour started, which was about 2.30pm.

The bus tour started with trip through the countryside and then a stop at a historic site where they do all the touristy things for the local Dutch and tourists. On site were working windmills along with a clog factory and various arts and crafts place. Bit of a tourist trap, but otherwise quite nice. Stopped in the clog factory for a quick demo and then the purchasing could start. Not quite feeding time at the zoo (that would come later), but almost. Manage to escape with our lives and a pair of clogs. Surprisingly enough, they were no more expensive than the tourist shops in town. A couple hundred metres away were three windmills, two that were working still. The wind was blowing quite hard, so they were really going for it!

The Dutch countryside.   Making a clog.   Clogs, clogs, and more clogs.   Windmills go round and round.

The Dutch countryside, the clog factory and shop and a few windmills.

After the stop there we headed towards Edam — the place the cheese is from. Actually we didn’t quite go there, but stopped at a cheese factory nearby where they made Gouda instead :-). Another quick demo and then the chance to buy authentic Dutch cheese. This time it really was like feeding time at the zoo!

A pile of cheese.

Cheese, cheese and more cheese. All Gouda!

Next stop was Volendam, a touristy place that used to be a fishing village on the sea shore. In the early 1900’s, during a patch of particularly active dyke building, the Dutch managed to wall off the entire sea and cut them off from their fish. So they have relied on tourism ever since. Nice little village even if it is a bit of a tourist trap. At this point most of the tourists took the ferry to Marken, an island in the “used to be” sea. We went by bus instead. Thoughtfully they had built a 2km long dyke to the island, otherwise we would have gotten wet feet.

Streets of Volendam.   Volendam by the sea, I mean lake.

Volendam, and it’s used to be sea, now a lake.

In Marken, since it was an island in a “used to be” sea, they had tides, or once did. Anyway, because of the tides they built the houses on stilts, but of course since it is a lake now and not a sea they don’t have tides any more. I guess because of living on a little island with nothing to do and having expanding families they needed space and built extra rooms beneath the houses filling in the space between the stilts, giving rise to the current design of houses there now, with the front door on the first floor (second floor if you happen to live in place where they count the floors wrong).

House on Marken island.   Harbour on Marken island.

Marken and the filled in basements. The port at Marken.

Once we picked up the others off the ferry it was back to Amsterdam. We arrived back in the centre of town quite late, so it was another long day and walk back to the hotel. Don’t know if I mentioned, but it is about 3km or more from the town centre to the hotel.

Thursday, 08.04.2004

Start by walking to Alberts Cybdmarkt street market first thing in the morning. Supposed to be the biggest street market in Amsterdam. Just over a km walk from the hotel. Along the way we find the pride of the Amsterdam fire brigade and a gem and fossil shop, that was closed. Made a note of it for the trip back. Finally get to the market just as it is opening. Stalls line both sides of the road for several streets, but not so much interesting stuff. Lots of cheap “party” clothes and shirts, etc. Shoes, belts, some jewelry as well. Also some food stalls, but not really anything very special. Walk up and down the market for about an hour and then back towards the hotel. Remember to visit the fossil shop on the way and find it is open. The guy running it is quite friendly and end up getting a 50 million year old fish :-).

Little cars for little streets.   Down in the market.   A long dead fish.

The joy of the Amsterdam fire brigade, the Alberts Cybdmarkt street market, and our old fish.

We are running out of cash and it is nearly lunch time, so try to find a cash machine. They all seem to be hiding until we finally find one in Leidseplein. I finally get my dutch croquets for lunch. After lunch there is still quite a lot of time, so we finish off our shopping. First back to the Kalvertoren shopping area and get a large Easter egg from the Australian chocolate shop (which is owned by a Belgium company!). Visit the American Book Center again and get all the books we didn’t take the first time, then grab a few more tulip bulbs at the flower market.

Back to the hotel again and wait for the bus. Bus is right on time (early even) and it turns out he thinks he is in Formula 1. He drives the bus like a Mini and we arrive at the airport a bit more pale than when we started. Although we are early!But then we are so early we can’t check in :-(. We wait some more and then check in, pass through security and find more shops. Same shops as all airports with the exception of all the tulips and one place that sells nothing but scale miniatures of aircraft. All the aircraft you could possibly imagine at all scales. I get two Air New Zealand 747-400s, one in the Lord of the Rings colours and the other in All Black colours. We visit all the other shops on the way to the gate and arrive at the far end of the airport only to realise we forgot to take the fresh tulips for home 🙁 They were about 50 for 10 EUR, but no time to walk back. Its still raining when we leave at 6pm. We arrive back in Finland about 10 that night.

Beats walking.   Raining again.

Homeward bound and still raining!

St Petersburg trip

Last week we went on a bus trip to St. Petersburg in Russia. We have intended to go there for quite a while since it is quite close to Helsinki, only being about 400 km away. Actually, there weren’t so many trials or tribulations on the trip, but it was definitely interesting.

Getting there

To visit Russia just about everyone needs to get a visitors permit first. Since we were going on a group tour this makes life much simpler. In the case of the Finns on the tour it was even easier, they didn’t have to do anything except supply personal details and the tour company just gets a group visa. But since I’m (and as it turns out a couple of others) would be traveling on a different passport I had to apply for a separate visa. Basically it just required form filling and sending my passport to the tour company. I think that going with a group is definitely the way to go though since the Russian bureaucracy is definitely something to behold. As we learned after the tour started the visas for everyone only arrived the day before the tour left. This it seems is common practice, no matter how early you apply for your visa it will not be issued until it is absolutely necessary. In some cases they have had to be couriered to the border crossing in time to meet the tour bus!


Left Varkaus in Finland mid-morning and traveled to the border near Lappenranta. The bus stopped in Lappenranta for lunch and then we continued to the border.

Getting through the border took about an hour and a half. Clearing the Finnish side was easy, although I had to get another stamp in my passport for leaving the country. The Russian side was a bit more interesting. The two sides are separated by a km or so of winding road. On arriving at the Russian checkpoint everyone had to queue in alphabetical order for the passport control. Everyone with a Finnish passport (and the tour visa) had to go first. I got the lucky last place. My passport must have been interesting because it warranted a phone call by the passport officer! Once through passport control many went to exchange money although several missed out when the exchange office closed promptly at 5pm even though there was a line waiting.

Once we left the border post we passed through a military zone. That required that at about three checkpoints Russian army personnel would stop the bus and check everyone had the appropriate stamps in their passport. Finally after the 1 1/2 hours we cleared the last of the checkpoints and traveled on to Viipuri.

Viipuri is a town which was originally inside Finland. But after WWII the Russians claimed that area as “war compensations” and kicked all the Finns out. So the building styles and other details have lots in common with other Finnish towns, the only difference being that they obviously stopped repairing anything about 1960. While here we made a quick trip around town and picked up our Russian tour guide.

The final part of the trip was Viipuri to Saint Petersburg. Mostly it was traveling through the countryside, which didn’t look a whole lot different than the other side of the border. We eventually arrived in Saint Petersburg later in the evening. We were split across two hotels on the first night, although it wasn’t until just before we arrived the tour found out which hotels in the city had been booked. We were told during the bus trip that this was normal and if we didn’t hear anything before we arrived then everything could be assumed to be okay!


Breakfast in the hotel was a full buffet. Needless to say it was a little difficult to walk afterwards.

First business for the day was Peterhof Park, one of the castles and grounds. On the way there we took in some of the sights, although after breakfast it was a bit hard to stay awake.

We were one of the first busloads to arrive there in the morning and I get the impression they had only opened within the last hour or so. The park, etc was pretty impressive and one of the major tourist attractions here. This year is the 300 anniversary of founding of the city and most of the public buildings, castles, etc have been restored to great expense. This hasn’t impressed many of the locals who live in run down apartment buildings and are missing things like hot water.

Anyway, the park was BIG and there are lots of fountains and gardens and many “mansions” scattered around the grounds. Its pretty hard to describe, so I’ll just drop in a few pictures. As you can see, we bumped into Peter while we were there.

Palace  Gardens  Canal  Fountains  Peter the Great and guests

After the park it was lunch time. For that we had traditional Russian Mexican food. Some Mexican guy was singing for us as well during the whole lunch. So that was different.

For the late afternoon we had a cruise on the river Neva, one of the main rivers through Saint Petersburg. The city itself is split by several rivers and many canals, sometimes being known as the Russian Venice. The cruise lasted an hour or so and traveled down the river, a short distance up one other river, then back, continuing further along the Neva and then returning to the start. There was a bottle of vodka and sparking wine per table with refills, some fruit and a starter of caviar on bread (which I didn’t  touch! blurg!). There was also a folk show onboard which required some “audience participation”. Not having drunk enough wine or vodka I wasn’t particularly in the mood to provide any participation, although many of the others were. Not surprising really, considering there is a Finnish saying something to the effect that its not possible to have fun without vodka. But anyway, being obviously the least likely to participate you can see who they were going to pick on the most… sigh!

The trip itself was party organised by the local free newspaper in Varkaus, so there were two woman on the trip from the newspaper and they have also set up a web site with some pictures. Not yet having the film from the second part of the trip developed yet, I “borrowed” some of the pictures from their site. To save further embarrassment I have removed the most incriminating items :-). Lets just say that attempting Cossack dancing leads to sore legs!


To be continued…


Holiday 2001

22.7 Ferry to Stockholm

Took the Viking Line ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm. It left about 5pm and arrived in Stockholm about 9am the next day. Not much happened on board. Did a bit of duty free shopping and stocked up on cans of Coke for the powered cooler box for the car.

23.7 Arrive in Stockholm

Arrived in Stockholm. Drove from the ferry to the hotel we had booked. It took a little finding, but the traffic was pretty light in Stockholm. The hotel ended up being about 30 minutes walk from the centre of town (the information centre). The room wasn’t ready, so we parked the car in the underground garage and walked down to the city and to Gamla Stan, the old town on the island in the centre of Stockholm. We walked around and had coffee, then visited the Science Fiction bookshop there. Did more shopping and walking around the centre of Stockholm. It was a very hot day. Had a drink in the evening and looked up a restaurant in the local guidebook for dinner. Found a nice Italian place close by our hotel.

24.7 Stockholm

Had breakfast at the hotel in the morning. Some bus tour was there and the buffet was quite full. Found the local underground station and bought a 10 trip ticket, then took the underground train to the central station and then out to the natural history museum. They have an IMAX theatre (70mm film on a hemispherical overhead dome, 760 sq. m screen and 15000 watt sound system). One of the more interesting movies didn’t start till midday, so we looked round the museum. The movie was T-Rex and the theatre was full of families since it was still the school holidays. The movie was dubbed into Swedish, but it wasn’t hard to follow. Our seats weren’t so good, but it was still quite impressive. With the right movie it could probably make you very sick.

Took the train back into town after that and then walked to Skansen which is a large open-air museum. It is near the Vasa ship museum, just along the road a little. It has a zoo and a large number of old houses and workshops. People are dressed in period costume (1800’s) and do handcrafts, etc. It was another hot day and we tried to stay in the shade as much as possible. It was quite nice in the zoo part. Lots of wolves, bears and other such animals. They all looked a bit hot as well. One of the bears was sitting in a pool up to his chin and chewing on a broken tree branch and throwing it around. He was quite cute and just like a big dog with a stick.

After spending the afternoon there we went to Tivoli Gröna Lund, which is the amusement park in Stockholm. It is in the same part of town, just next to the Vasa ship museum. It was packed as well. Lots of rides, rollercoasters, etc. Actually as we noticed later you can actually hear the people on the free-fall tower screaming across the other side of the harbour J .

25.7 Leave Stockholm

Another breakfast in the hotel. The bus tour must have left because there were fewer people at the breakfast buffet. Pia had found a shopping centre advert on the back of the tourist guide for Stockholm. Our maps didn’t show where it was exactly, but we figured from the phonebook map it must be easy enough to find, so we headed out there before we left Stockholm. It was about 15km northwest of the city centre, and with it being summer they have gone crazy with the road works. Seems like every critical intersection in Stockholm has been dug up and nothing ever matches a map, but we found most of the signs and even found the shopping centre. Only problem is that all the shops in Sweden don’t bother opening until about 10 or 11. In this case it was 11 and we arrived about 10:30. The place was fully of factory outlets for most of the big brands here, so by the time we had walked around and seen what shops there were the place was open. Lots of cheap stuff there too, although usually not the right sizes L .

Eventually left there just after midday and went south again, through Stockholm and on to Norrköping. Just outside there along the coast is a place called Kolmården, which has a large zoo. It was quite a short drive, about a couple of hours, but another hot day and the cold box in the car didn’t seem to get very cold. We figured that we wanted to stay in a camping ground since it was cheaper and drove directly to Kolmården. There is a camping ground 5km from the park, but it didn’t look very nice, so we went into Norrköping and managed to find another one there. The one there was a bit better, so we set up the tent and went for a drive around town and then found a shopping centre with a supermarket and got some hamburger buns, tomatoes, meat patties and cold drinks. We had bought a small “instant BBQ” before we left, so we cooked up our meat and made hamburgers for dinner.

Spent the night in the tent, which was okay, but everything got very damp with dew that night. Could have been after such a hot day, or with a river being right next door.

26.7 Kolmården zoo

Left the camping site early and stopped off at a petrol station to get a bun and drink for breakfast. Headed out to the zoo. We found that it was divided into a zoo and safari and the safari was first on the road. So we went there and waited about 20 minutes for it to open. It took about 45 minutes to drive through the whole thing. There were several different fenced off areas and you could drive slowly through each one, and then through a gate system to the next one. There were giraffes, antelope, ostriches, and all those sorts of animals in several of them, including quite a few baby animals. In another were lions and then in one were bears and wolves. The bears were a bit more worrying than the lions, especially when they stop and watch the cars go past. In the bear cage you are not allowed to stop the car at all and there is a park vehicle parked in there while your drive through.

After the safari we went to the main park. It is quite large, all together in the zoo and safari there is supposed to be 1000 animals. It took most of the day to look around there and it was another hot day. Staying in the shade helped a bit, but venturing out into the sun couldn’t be avoided quite often. There were all the normal zoo animals there as well, antelope, zebras, giraffes, elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, etc. The giraffes could reach over their enclosure wall and you could pat them, which was quite nice. One of them was quite keen on getting one kid’s lollies. There were polar bears as well and they were quite funny too. They were all asleep when we arrived, but several started playing with a ball in the water while we watched. In the petting zoo Pia made friends with several of the baby goats and one little pig who was sitting in a mud pool. But then he decided he should go for a walk and shook mud all up her leg.

After getting thoroughly cooked there we left and visited the tropical zoo across the road. It was run by a different group, but was worth visiting. They had all tropical snakes and spiders and lizards. Many of the snakes were extremely poisonous. They also had alligators and a huge aquarium section as well. They had all tropical fish, along with piranhas and also a sea aquarium with rays and sharks in it.

Went back to Norrköping after that and visited the shopping centre and supermarket again. Got some bread, etc for breakfasts and had McDonalds for dinner. Another night in the tent. Leaving the door open a bit helped with the dampness this time.

27.7 To Kalmar

Left Norrköpping and drove south along the coast to Kalmar. Took some of the smaller roads and looked at a few sights along the way. Kalmar is the city on the Swedish coast opposite the island of Öland. Öland is about 6km off the coast and is about 140km long. Vikings and other people have inhabited it for quite a long time. In 1973 they built one of the longest bridges in Europe to the island (at the time). Even now the bridge is still quite impressive.

We went to the tourist office in Kalmar and decided that the local camping ground was probably a good choice. As it turned out it was probably one of the nicest grounds we stayed at. There were trees everywhere and lots of nice places to put the tent up. After setting up, it was still quite early, so we decided to drive across to Öland for a look.

We found our way across the bridge and onto the island and followed our guidebook to several ancient sites. The first we found, which was by accident, was a 1000-year-old burial site that had some standing stones marking it. We followed the signs to a small back road that was almost deserted and ended up at 1500-1000 year old burial site. There was no one else there at all and it was quite strange. During the Viking age and even before they used to mark the graves with stones, often in the shape of a circle, square, triangle or ship. Usually the body was just cremated on a pile of wood inside the stones along with belongings such as a sword, etc. In Öland these are reasonably common since it has been used as a stepping stone to the European mainland and a trading centre. In the same area, hidden in the forest, was an Iron Age (pre-Viking time) fortress that has been abandoned over 1000 years ago. You could still see the fortress walls and the foundations of all the buildings. There was also no-one else there either and it was very quiet. After looking at those places it was getting into evening, so we headed back to Kalmar. On the way out, we found the factory shop for a local ceramics factory. Very nice stuff, but even the badly marked seconds for the large plates went for about 900SEK (NZ$180). The originals go for 1600SEK (NZ$320).

Stopped in the centre of Kalmar and had a walk around. Plenty of restaurants, but nothing very interesting. Most of them were already full, so we just got a kebab each for dinner.

28.7 Öland

Kalmar is known for its medieval re-creations and markets and there was one market on today as well. The guide said that it started at 10, but when we went to look it turned out that it started at 11 which was too late for us. So we just went back to Öland for a better look round. This time we stuck to the main road and headed north about 30km to the main town, which is on the west coast. The roads were absolutely packed. For as far as you could see were cars, caravans and campervans full of Swedes on holiday. The funny thing is that none of them ever ventured off the main path and away from the beaches. The eastern coast and the south of the island were deserted.

Just south of the main town is a castle ruin. It cost to go inside, so we just had a look. There is also the summer residence of the Swedish royal family, which is supposed to have very nice gardens, but we didn’t find the signs for that and missed it. We continued on north to a small village that has an 8 storey tall windmill, just like the Dutch ones. Actually the whole island is covered in windmills, but of a different style. Usually, they are one large hut, which can rotate around an axis to follow the wind. The guidebook says that there were 3000 in the 1800s, but now there are about 400 remaining. In a few places there are Dutch style ones and the one we visited is probably the biggest in existence. It was very touristy though and the cafe there sucked. After that we drove across the island to the other coast and visited a church that dated back almost 1000 years. Inside there were models of the church as it had appears through the years and as with many of these old buildings it had changed quite a bit and was probably rebuilt many times. Probably saying it is 1000 years old is like saying that your axe is 50 years old when it has had three new heads and six new handles in that time.

After the traffic of the morning and the disappointment of the windmill we decided that the old ruins were more interesting than the touristy things. So we drove down the east coast of the island almost to the southern end. The eastern coast road was almost deserted, a few camper vans and some locals, but not much else. We also had to avoid quite a few cyclists as there seemed to be some sort of road race on at the same time. The trip was very nice, although it was another quite hot day. Went through plenty of Cokes and we even figured out that the cold box worked better if it was full and especially if the cans made contact with the little cooling plat on one side. Still, even with its 20 deg cooling it was having trouble with the temperatures in the car.

The southern part of the island is a limestone plateau that is very flat and featureless. There are some trees, but mostly just scrub and grassland. Right in the south we visited a rebuilt fortress. It was very much the same as the ruin we visited the day before, but this one had been mostly reconstructed and some of the buildings recreated. The previous one had only been inhabited for one period, but this one had been inhabited three times, up until the middle ages. The recreation was from the second period of occupation and looked quite good. The whole place had been excavated about 30 years ago and they had come up with over 20 tonnes of human remains and several Viking age skeletons. The museum inside was quite good as well. There were a few animals kept as they would have been at the time, although the sheep and goats were missing because of the foot and mouth scare. They gave a demonstration of a middle age catapult as well.

On the way back up to the bridge to the mainland we stopped at other gravesites which lay along the roadside. There were more standing stones and ship shaped graves. Driving back up the west coast to the bridge we could see the power generation windmills, of which a few dot the coastline there. Here and there were a line of six or seven along the Swedish coast or in the channel between the island and Sweden. Eventually we crossed back over the bridge and got a pizza for dinner on the way back to the camping ground.

29.7 To Copenhagen

Time was going quite quickly on the trip and we hadn’t made it very far, so we decided that there wasn’t so much interesting left in southern Sweden and that we may as well go straight to Copenhagen. There were a couple of towns along the way, which might be worth a visit, and the south of Sweden is known for its glassworks, so we wanted to stop at those places.

We left the camping ground and drove inland to the closest and one of the more famous glass factories. It was only a short drive and we arrived about 10:30 in the morning. It was a Sunday, but we figured that the places would be open since the whole area was still swarming with holidaymakers. Turns out that the factory didn’t bother opening until 12, so in the end we thought bugger that and went south towards the coast and the first town, Karlskrona. It was rebuilt in 1790 after a fire and has an interesting looking town centre and old harbour. But apart from that there isn’t much else there and everything was closed. So we drove on to Kristianstad. The south of Sweden was once part of Denmark and Kristianstad is known as the most Danish town in Sweden. It was ordered built by the Danish king in the 1600’s and is named after him. It was also quite nice, with lots of old buildings. But extremely quite with all the shops closed. It was another very hot day, so we had an ice-cream in McDonalds, so that we could use their toilets without feeling guilty. Turns out they charge for them anyway L .

Kept on going on the main highway to Malmö. That is the Swedish town at the other end of the bridge/tunnel to Denmark. We reached the motorway to the bridge late in the afternoon and headed towards it. The day was getting very hazy and sticky and we couldn’t see anything of the bridge until we were quite close and you could see the towers above the haze. There were plenty of warning signs about the toll road. Eventually we reached the toll booths and they charged us 230 DKK (NZ$55). It is very difficult to say anything about the bridge apart from it is very, very huge. This is the page for the bridge/tunnel information.

We made it across the bridge and followed the signs into the centre of Copenhagen. On the way into Copenhagen we started to see the first of the power generation windmills which are all over Denmark as well. Eventually we found ourselves in the centre and even managed to find a car park without many problems. The information centre was just a short walk away and there we found a hotel for the next couple of nights. We were expecting something some distance away, but the hotel was about 4 blocks away, almost in the centre of the city. We drove there and again managed to get a pack. Although this time we were a bit worried about leaving the car. Even though there are quite a lot of hotels in this area they don’t have any underground parking. And on the streets around there it was very messy, lots of rubbish and graffiti and druggies/drunks sitting on the corners and doorways.

We checked in and took the bags to the room. Since it was about 6pm or so we went for a walk towards the main square. A couple of blocks towards the square the streets looked a lot better and there were crowds everywhere. Even though it was a Sunday and all the shops had closed. We walked down a pedestrian street to another square and found a cafe in the middle of the square and had an open sandwich for dinner. It was very nice there, and a bit cooler as it was getting cloudy. Walked around a bit more and then back to the hotel. Found somewhere that appeared a little safer to park the car. Didn’t have to worry much though as it seems the druggies don’t stay up very late J .

30.7 Copenhagen

Next morning, breakfast in the hotel and then outside. Found an empty car park right outside the hotel, so we moved the car there. Had to pay a parking meter for the day though. Walked to the tourist office and had a look at some things. Decided to take a “hop on, hop off” sightseeing bus (like the one with Mum & Dad in Sweden). Except in Copenhagen they had three routes and the ticket was valid for two days. It was very useful. Took the main tour and went all over the central city looking at various sites. Ended up out at the harbour and hopped off at the Little Mermaid. There were crowds there, so we walked a little up the harbour to where we had noticed more factory shops. Probably they caught all the cruise ships that came through there. Some quite good bargains there too. Sat there and had a beer/cider at a cafe as well since it was so hot. Watched the harbour and the windmills in the distance. After that we walked back to the Little Mermaid and caught the next sightseeing bus and continued back to the main square. On the way we noticed a tea/coffee shop and after the bus trip walked about 20 minutes back to the shop and had a look. They had an impressive range of teapots and teas and coffees. We needed a new teapot since our one from London had a crack in it, but there was nothing really suitable there.

Walked back to the main square and had dinner at KFC. Next we were going to visit Louis Tussaud’s, the Copenhagen wax museum. Along the way we came across a comedian in the main square who was very funny. He was giving the Christian band who were setting up next to him a very hard time, along with anyone else who was walking past. Turns out he is Irish, but seems to have lived in Copenhagen for a while. We got his CD as well. Louis Tussaud’s wax museum is just on the other side of the main square. The square is very large and the museum is also right next to the Tivoli Park, which is the amusement park in Copenhagen, although this one is a real park with trees, etc. As well as rides they also have classical music concerts and opera there. Don’t know what the relationship of this museum to Madame Tussaud’s museum in London is, but Louis was a relation of the real Madame Tussaud in France (she used to make wax casts of people who had their heads cut off) and she appears in this museum. Anyway, it was very interesting and most of the figures looked very realistic. There were a few which, although they looked good, didn’t seem to resemble the original person very much.

After going back to the hotel we had to go and visit a laundromat to get some clothes washed. We had gone through most of our light clothes already since it had been so hot. We found one about 4 blocks away and after some help from one customer and the owner managed to wash and dry our t-shirts and shorts, etc.

31.7 To Billund

Breakfast at the hotel and some money in the parking meter and we headed into town again. We took one of the other site-seeing routes on the bus and found that the Royal Copenhagen ceramic factory had a factory shop. Also the bus route went past the Carlsberg brewery which is also open to the public. It was a bit difficult to stop anywhere because of time. We had to be back and check out of the hotel before midday. So after returning to the hotel we checked out and drove to the ceramic factory. We parked the car and walked to the factory and found a tent in the courtyard full of plates and various other things, but nothing very interesting. We had a look around and couldn’t see anything else. We were quite disappointed and were just about to give up when we noticed a sign that pointed to part of the factory upstairs where it turns out the main factory shop was. The tent must have just been the bulk specials and seconds. There were quite a lot of things in the shop. All the Royal Copenhagen hand painted dinner sets and figurines. Plus quite a lot of glassware from Sweden and Denmark. And all extremely expensive. A simple figurine was around 1000 DKK (NZ$330) and a dinner plate was up to 120 DKK ($NZ40). But we did manage to find a couple of things there.

Once we left the shop we drove westward. Copenhagen is on the island of Zealand and used to be only reachable from the rest of Denmark by ferry. But they have built a bridge connecting the two now. The bridge connects Zealand with the next nearest island, which is then connected by another bridge to the mainland, Jutland. This is some information about the bridge.

“On June 12, 1986 the Danish Parliament approved the construction of a fixed link across the Great Belt. Following 12 years of intensive construction work, H.M. Queen Margrethe II of Denmark inaugurated on June 14, 1998 what had then become the largest engineering project in the history of Denmark, The Great Belt Fixed Link.

The Link comprises the East Bridge, a 6,790 m long suspension bridge between Zealand and the small island of Sprogø, a 6,611 m long combined rail and road bridge between Sprogø and Funen and an 8,000 m long immersed rail tunnel between Zealand and Sprogø.

At 254 m above sea level, the East Bridge’s two pylons are the highest points in Denmark.”

Here is a little about the bridge.

Anyway, we got across the bridge after paying another 230 DKK toll fee and continued onwards. Driving in Denmark, for the most part was as good as Sweden. Lots of motorways and a speed of 110km/h, although no-one in Denmark followed that limit and 120 to 130 seemed fine most of the time.

We followed our guide book and turned off at Vejle towards Billund. The road was much smaller, 70 – 90 km/h and a lot of tourist traffic. We ignored the turn off to Legoland and continued into Billund to look for the information centre. After finding that the town is very tiny and didn’t have one we looked up the book and found that the tourist place is actually in Legoland. So back out there and drove around all over the place and still couldn’t find it. Right next door to Legoland was a camping place, but we thought something else like a cabin or a Bed & Breakfast would be nicer, so we went there and asked about a cabin, etc. They were full, but had plenty of tent sites. We asked about the tourist office and the lady pointed it out on the map. We went there and looked but still no office. Eventually after getting very annoyed we went to the hotel and asked them. Turns out that the camping lady had told us the wrong side of the road. So we went and had another look. Eventually we found it hidden behind lots of trees, a fence and the bus parking area. There was a tiny sign that you could only see if you were in the bus parking zone. They weren’t much use either and could only offer a home stay with an old Danish woman who didn’t speak English. So we decided on the camping ground. It was a good choice though. Apart from having to pay for the showers they were very clean and there was a hostel on site with a restaurant with buffet breakfasts, etc.

So, after an all-you-can-eat buffet roast and ice-cream we went to bed, ready for Legoland.

01.8 Legoland

Nice buffet breakfast at the hostel, shame about the hoards of snotty German kids running around and sneezing on the food. We decided to buy our tickets at the hostel.

Legoland opened about 10am. We walked there about 10:30. The main road past the camping ground to Legoland was completely packed with cars as far as you could see. The entrance was about 300m away and when we got there it was also blocked with lines buying tickets. Luckily we could avoid all that and pretty much walked straight in.

Since it had been so hot, we wore light clothes, but it turned out to be cloudy and a cool wind most of the day which wasn’t so nice, but it was a change from the heat. It was nice when the sun came out though.

The park itself was absolutely packed. You couldn’t have swung a cat without smacking at least a dozen Germans and a few Swedes, and hopefully a few kids too. We spent from about 10:30am to about 5pm there. About a third of the park is the miniature buildings, etc made from Lego blocks. One half is amusement rides for kids, a castle, western town and such stuff. The rest is Lego shops, a toy museum and a dolls and dolls house museum.

The shops were a little disappointing. They had Lego kids clothes and some Lego branded adult clothing items, which were quite nice. But their Lego toy selection was pretty small. They only had the basic sets of most toys and lots of the latest special items (the ones that have used Maori words for the product names). Even the more interesting Lego Technic kits were missing. There was the starter kit for the Lego Mindstorm robots as well, but it was 2000 DKK (NZ$600), so I didn’t get that one.

Still, it was a pretty amazing place and obviously extremely popular with the German tourists. The entry price was 150 DKK each (NZ$ 50), but that covers everything apart from a couple of the rides. Still, I wouldn’t want to take kids there. The most basic rides had waiting times of over 30 minutes (some up to 55 minutes). There were huge lines for all that sort of thing. Plus by the time you counted food, toys, clothes, more food and drinks it would cost a fortune. I think the younger kids didn’t appreciate the scale models either. I heard one kid comment in English that this was the second most boring place in Denmark after his house J . Towards the end we thought we would just get pancakes for something to eat. They had one place that had pancakes, topping and cream-freeze which sounded nice. We made the mistake of getting one each. The pancake was okay with the strawberry sauce in it and folded up on a normal paper plate. But they covered at least half the plate with cream-freeze, a huge pile of it. Never thought that we would suffer from too much ice-cream!

After a long day and sore feet it was back to the camping ground.

02.8 Trip north

Breakfast at the hostel again with more snotty kids everywhere.

Decided that time was running short and we didn’t want to be away much longer than two weeks. So we decided to forgo much more sightseeing in the area and head to northern Denmark for the ferry back to Sweden. Most of the day was driving. We made a few stops along the way, but otherwise stuck to the motorways as much as we could. Along the way there were windmills everywhere. You couldn’t look in any direction without seeing one or two on the horizon. Usually they were in lines of five or more.

The first stop was a Jelling. There is the site of two very large burial mounds and a church. The burial mounds date from 1000 years ago and are supposed to be for the first king of Denmark (Gorm the Old) and his wife. The current Queen of Denmark is a direct descendant of them as well. Outside the church are two large Rune Stones. One was erected by Gorm as a monument for his wife. The second was erected by their son, Harald Bluetooth as a monument to his father and mother. Bluetooth is known as the king who brought Christianity to Denmark and united it with Norway (he is the same one that the Bluetooth technology is named for). The original church to stand on the site was one of the first in Denmark. The stone is also the first place where the name Denmark is known to have been used. Parts of the church do actually date back nearly 1000 years. The first few wooden churches having burned down and then a stone one built. It has had parts added, but parts are about 900 years old. The church interior was redone for the year 2000 celebrations and as part of that the bones of Gorm the Old were returned to a casket under the church floor. Gorm was originally supposed to have been buried in one of the mounds, but Harald moved him to the original church after converting to Christianity. After excavations under the church turned up the original wooden churches and the bones he has spent the past few years in one of the national museums. It was very interesting to walk around there and they had made a very good job of restoring the church.

The next stop was much further north, in Aalborg, the site of Lindholm Hølm, where there are nearly 700 graves dating from the Iron and Viking ages. Many are marked by stone settings, especially in circle or ship shapes. When we were there it was very cloudy and misty with drizzle which seemed quite fitting. There were also sheep sitting between the stones. One old guy started walking through while we were there and when he whistled all the sheep came running which looked quite funny. He must give them some bread or something. He tried talking to us, but he only spoke Danish. Another few tourists, Danish we guess, arrived after us and he had more luck with them. Quite an interesting place though. There is a museum as well, but we didn’t bother going there.

Further on we had to stop at Frederikshavn, which is the main northern ferry port to Sweden. We stopped in at the tourist office and found the local ferry office and also got a cabin at the camping ground. We booked the 5am ferry to Sweden.

It was still mid-afternoon and there were more things to see further north. Denmark still went for about 40km further north of there. The area is very touristy and has quite nice beaches as well.

The first place we wanted to see from the guide book was the Råbjerg Mile. In the book it says that it is an area of sand dunes caused by deforestation. Much of the north of Denmark is very sandy soil and looks quite odd with very flat featureless landscape covered by many mounds, several metres tall. Afterwards we figured out that most are probably old sand dunes that have been fixed with grasses. When we found the Råbjerg Mile though we got a big surprise. The area coming into there appears like normal hills covered in grasses or tussock. But when you drive between the hills you come across huge dunes. They are supposed to be over 40 metres tall and after we climbed the first one you could see the sand stretch off in both directions, east and west towards the coastline (both of which you can see from the top). Once you get onto the dunes you find that they are made of extremely fine and clean sand and it was extremely nice to walk barefoot on them. Afterwards it didn’t stick to your feet at all. There is a car-park there and people took picnic lunches, etc with them and make a day of it. It was a very strange place.

The next was the Tilsandede Kirke, which is a buried church. It was supposed to have been buried by drifting sand in the 1790’s with the tower left as a landmark. We figured that the church had really been buried, but once there we found that the sand was only a couple of metres deep and that they had knocked down the rest of church and just left the tower, which wasn’t quite so interesting. Anyway, it looks quite nice.

The next place we wanted to see is Grenen, the northernmost point of Denmark. Here the Kattegat and Skagerrak seas meet at the point and they form whitewater where they collide. You have to walk a few hundred metres up the beach to get there and at this time of the year there is a tractor/trailer bus there, but we decided to walk. It turned out to be an extremely nice evening with hardly any wind and just the right temperature. The sea there is quite smooth as well and there was just some small waves coming onto the beach. Once we got to the waters edge we started along the beach and noticed small blobs of something lying of the beach. At first we thought they were lumps of some sort of jelly or silicone or something, but after seeing a few more we realised they were all jellyfish. As it turns out parts of the shoreline were covered in jellyfish and you could see many more floating in the waves. Some were quite large, at least hand sized, while many were coin sized. Quite a few different colours as well. We avoided touching them in case they stung, but we noticed a few kids running around with handfuls of them! It was about a 15 minute walk to the point and there was a small crowd standing there and watching the surf. Swimming is forbidden there because of the currents formed by the two seas, although a few were paddling in the water (and jellyfish!).

During the walk we looked amongst the stones in the sand for pieces of amber, which washes up on the shore of the north of Denmark. But mostly on the west coast. After getting back to the car we went south to Skagen, the main local town for dinner and had pasta and pizza. Finally it was back to the camping ground and ready for an early start the next day.

03.8 Back to Stockholm

Up at 4am, ready for the ferry at 5am. Boarded the ferry and had breakfast in the cafe. It was quite similar to the Inter-islander and the trip took about 3 hours. No duty-free onboard this ferry though, like on the Sweden-Finland ones. Ferry was mostly empty, probably because it started so early so managed a nap on the sofas.

Got into Gothenburg quite early, around 9am. Most of the shops were still closed, but first we wanted to get ferry tickets for Sweden – Finland since they could be quite full. Went to large shopping mall that has tourist information. Cashed in all our empty cans at the supermarket while we waited for everything to open. Stupid place just gave a coupon for the supermarket instead of money, so we had to buy something from there as well. No so nice since we didn’t actually have much Swedish money to make up any difference L . Found a travel agent and discovered that the Viking Line ferries didn’t actually have an office in town and that the agent couldn’t book them either. We decided just to go on to Stockholm and take our chances.

Took a secondary motorway from Gothenburg through Borås for old times sake. Had a quick look round town and a bit of a drive around. It is nearly five years since we were at school there. The university is building a large new building across the road, but not much else has changed. Continued onwards and joined the main highway to Stockholm basically only stopping for petrol and lunch. Had lunch in a cafe beside lake Vättern, the second largest lake in Sweden. The area is also well known for its bars of “rock” candy, of which we bought a few. From there we made good time to Stockholm. Traffic was quite light and it was possible to cruise around 120 or so with no problems. Did manage to get passed by several large Volvos and Audis going much faster though J .

In Stockholm we were back into the maze of streets and road works again. We found the entry into the main city easily enough by following the signs, and made our way to the main Viking Line terminal. After making a couple of wrong turns and doing some circles we found a park and got inside. The place was empty and all the ticket booths were closed (it was 6pm). Luckily the information booth was open and they sold tickets. Turns out the guy there was actually Finnish and has a New Zealand wife from Rotorua. They had lived together there for several years (also Auckland, Christchurch) and were planning to move back. Because, as he said, he has lived in Sweden now for nearly 20 years and hates it J . We got our booking and then tried to get to the tourist office but as we discovered again, the tourist maps bear no resemblance to the streets, nor do they mark any one way streets or dead ends. After getting blocked into unwanted turns a couple of times by taxis, we managed to actually find a car-park, only to discovered that after eating all our Swedish change it only gave us 20 minutes of parking time. Luckily the tourist office was quite close. But after waiting in queue for a while we realised that they don’t do hotel bookings there. For that we needed to go to the central railway station office. After getting forced into another few detours and dead-ends we managed to get there, get a park, find the office and get a hotel. That was a momentary relief. On the map it looked quite easy to get there. Back in the car we discovered that the route dropped off the bottom of our map and all we had was some hand-drawn directions and an address. Still, it seemed quite easy. We were told we had an hour to get there, else the booking would lapse (unless we called to confirm it). But from the map it seemed like it was just several main roads away. Turns out that none of the roads appears the same as on the map. Plus at least one intersection was screwed up by roadworks, we ended up going in the wrong direction once and spend 20 minutes getting very annoyed driving around where we were certain the hotel should be. Turns out we were almost exactly right, but more roadworks stopped us getting on to the bridge which would have taken us the 400m there!!! Eventually we asked a taxi driver who gave use more confusing instructions and we spent another 20 minutes going back and forth along a road until Pia had the idea of looking at the map in the bus stops. Eventually we figured out that the little street the hotel was on was actually the near-motorway sized thing under the bridge we were going backwards and forwards over!!!

At least the hotel turned out okay. Well, apart from the smell of the new carpet (and glue) in all the hallways. We went to a local pizza place and had a nice pizza and beer/cider for dinner.

04.8 Ferry home

A very nice buffet breakfast in the hotel. Bacon, little sausages and all the works. Turns out the place was quite empty it was very nice staying there. Bit more expensive than the other places though, but worth it.

Since the ferry didn’t leave until evening we parked the car at the ferry terminal and walked to the nearest underground station. We used our remaining tickets on the trip to town and back. We did a bit more shopping in this huuuuuggee music store. They had stuff I had been after for a long time. Plus the even had quite a collection of Crowded House CD’s, so I got some of them too. Dangerous place J . They had a good DVD collection too. We also visited the large Åhlens department store. Their DVD department was huge. I haven’t seen that many anywhere before. Worth a visit if we need something in the future. Also went to System Bolaget (the Swedish Government run alcohol shop) to look for a very nice cider we had had before. But they didn’t stock that brand. Got a few others anyway.

Then back to the underground and to the car. Got back in plenty of time to check in for the ferry and onboard by about 4:30pm. Once we were underway we went to check out the duty free shops. Pia got some things for her and her Mum and was given a certificate for a free ferry trip to Sweden for up to four people. It is only valid Sept – early Oct though and for any day during Sunday to Wednesday which is a bit limiting. Next it was the drinks and lollies/food shop and we got more stuff there, cheap beer, some cider and various presents. Turns out there that if we had spent another 20 FIM we would have gotten another free ferry ticket! Although we have had a free ticket before for a 20 hour, overnight cruise. Probably they make up the profit in the dinner, drinks and duty free for most people.

After a quick snack in the cafe it was back to the cabin. Turns out that it was right over the stern of the ship and even though the sea was calm our cabin moved quite a bit. But we were so tired it didn’t matter much.

05.8 Home again

Ferry arrived back in Finland about 10am. After docking we drove straight off the ship and home. There are no immigration checks now with the new agreements between several of the EU countries. And even the customs are pretty slack as well now, especially with the ferries.

Took a while to unload the car though. Seems that we accumulated a few things on our travels J .