A Travellerspoint blog

Exploring a new city


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large_5550_1471892008832.jpgCopenhagen has some similarities to Amsterdam. Canals, quaint buildings, people on bicycles, make that very tall blonde people on bicycles and a drug scene (refer last picture).
I walked to the train station and took the train to Helsinki airport. There was no queue at check-in. The kiosk wouldn’t through-check me or my bags to Milan probably because I had 20 hours in Copenhagen [Copenhagen-travel-guide-921103]. However, I asked at the counter and that was done easily for me, leaving me a little lighter for getting around in Copenhagen.

The flight on the SAS Canadair 900 jet (operated by Cimber) was quiet on take-off but not that quiet inflight. I was a little surprised because I had expected whisper-silence from those rear-mounted engines.

I have about 20 hours in Copenhagen because when I booked the ticket to Milan, I had chosen a cheap fare and forced the connection to be super-long so I could explore a new city “for free”.large_5550_14718919988983.jpgTown hall.If it had been over 24 hours, the connection would be counted as a stopover and the fare would have been higher, and airport tax payable too.

At Copenhagen airport, the train to town was about NZD7, which was about the same price as Helsinki but half the duration. Yep, my “free stopover” Copenhagen certainly turned out expensive. A single-scoop ice cream was about NZD6 (about the same as New Zealand in the wrong places). But surprisingly, even the factory-made ones were about NZD6 and they were half the size that I’m used to. My lunch and dinner from 7-Eleven were pricey too with a sandwich being NZD8-10 and small salads about NZD6.

It was about 1200 when I got to my Hotel Nebo, across the road from the railway station. It was too early to check-in so I explored the city with my cabin bag on my back.large_5550_14718920013818.jpgAwesome street performer on the walking street.As it had my laptop and valuables with me, it wasn’t a good idea to park it at reception and it wasn’t as light as I would have liked.

The canal boat tour seemed like the best way to kill time. I walked past the Town Hall on the city’s main walking street, to the location that was shown on the map. I knew full well that there were two companies operating this service, with one more expensive than the other. I found the first one, looked around and didn’t see the other. I paid about NZD16, hopped on the boat and shortly after we set off, I saw the other place which charged only about NZD8. Damn! But that particular boat was empty and there would have been a bit of a wait. It was also open-topped and it was getting cloudy and cool.

We made our way through the canals into the part of the sea sheltered by the nearby islands.large_5550_14718920035548.jpgModern living on the waterways on ex-Navy land. The Nordic countries are famous for their modern design in many things including architecture.During the 1h cruise, we saw old Copenhagen, and new single-storey and low-rise apartments built on old Navy land. The weather had turned and it was scorching hot and I was glad I wasn’t in an open-top boat. I realised later than both companies operate open and sheltered boats; it was completely random what you get, it seems.

By the time I walked back to the Nebo Hotel, it was about 1500. This not-for-profit place was good value by Copenhagen standards and the shared bathroom/toilets were spotless. My single room were fitted with a hand-basin which made it quite handy.

After a brief rest, I took a long walk to Christiania, located on the second off-shore island. This hippie commune is just beyond the Church of Our Saviour. It has a degree of self-government due to a special law. While still illegal, there is a roaring drug trade on “Green Street”. There were stalls of marijuana with masked or balaclava’ed men behind them. No photography is allowed as it would incriminate them. Running is also not permitted because it causes panic (as people may think there would be a raid).

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

Picking wild mushrooms


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large_5550_14718916751561.jpgSami and Yanni take me mushroom picking.
Today was my day for mushroom picking with my old friend from Yemen days, Sami. The weather was wet. Sami wasn’t free till early afternoon as he had doctor’s appointment. When the rain eased i wandered out back to Market Square and visited Market Hall which I had missed yesterday. It wasn’t a true market place any more but more cafe/deli style outlets.

The pricing there was a little more expensive than New Zealand and with everything else I had seen I concluded that Helsinki can be about the same cost-wise as New Zealand if one was careful, but typically more expensive. However, for some things like high-end restaurants, the Euro went as far as an NZD which meant that it would be 50% more.

I met Sami around 1300 at the Stockmann department store and took the metro out of town to meet his friend Yanni who had a car.large_5550_1471891667676.jpgThe chanterelle is quite a highly sought-after mushroom. I saw them quite a lot in Baltic markets.We drove into the countryside and then parked up and walked into the forest.

The damp loose forest floor comprising of dirt and decomposing leaves, combined with the summer warmth and autumn rain had caused a variety of mushrooms to sprout. I didn’t know the names of all of them but neither did them. They appeared to prize the Yellow Chantarelle, Black Trumpet and Porcini but settled for a lot of others that they knew were not poisonous.

We saw some moose (elk) droppings and insects associated with these beasts but the actual animals proved more elusive.

We returned to Yanni’s place and cooked up the Porcini and nameless ones. To appreciate the delicate flavours, they were just stir fried with a little salt and pepper. The mushrooms made a good accompaniment to the spaghetti bolognaise. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to savour the Chantarelle and Trumpet.

Sami and I walked back to the metro to get back to town. It was a short but sweet reunion; I think it had been 8 years since we were hostel-mates next door to each other in Sana’a, Yemen.

Unfortunately I had a bad headache brewing. I think the mushroom-hunting involved looking downwards a little too much which put my neck in an uncomfortable position. Fortunately I managed to fell asleep and woke up in the morning completely fine.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

Small hiccup that could have been much worse


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large_5550_14718914998131.jpgMarket Square.
I had tried to change my 1200 ferry to 1000 so I’d have a little extra time in Helsinki [Helsinki-travel-guide-950806]. As I had bought a very good promotional fare, the fare difference to pay on changing it was too huge so I left it. I walked to the ferry terminal about 1030. I didn’t want to set off too late even though check-in opens only 20 mins before the 1200 departure, just in case heavy rain delayed my walk.

I got to the terminal just before 1100 to see the TV monitor saying all departures cancelled but boat arriving at 1140. I clarified the situation and learnt that the Linda Line catamaran was coming from Helsinki but it wasn’t going back.

They lady at the counter rebooked me on to the Eckero Line’s big ferry leaving at the same time of 1200.large_5550_14718915025765.jpgHelsinki Cathedral on Senate Square.I had just just made the booking cut-off time of 1100 for the 1200 departure. I walked to Terminal A about 10 minutes away.

Fortunately it didn’t rain during the unsheltered walk and I boarded the Finlandia for the 2h30 crossing. The travel time is an hour longer than the catamaran so I’d be an hour late. This small hiccup could have been so much worse.

The big ship had no public bench or aircraft type seats. Only restaurant, cafe and ar style seating. I managed to stay put near a bar and did a lot of admin on my computer (with internet) until we were in the slightly choppy waters. Then

I couldn’t concentrate because I felt a little sick. It certainly didn’t look bad enough for the catamaran to be cancelled. It felt a little too long before I saw land and the sea became calmer as we approached Helsinki.large_5550_14718915057103.jpgOrthodox Cathedral.Google Maps didn’t give me the best public transport to my hostel, Diana Park, but my friend Sami fortunately WhatsApp’ed me the best route which was tram 6T.

My former dive buddy from Sipadan, Samu has just moved back from China a month ago and we were meeting up at 1700. That gave me a couple of hours to explore the city on my own. I walked to the Market Square and Senate Square nearby. The weather had turned from gloomy and cool to a glorious sunshine.

Samu turned up slightly late. As usual, he was thinking of too many things at one time. He offered me two options: go around Helsinki on Meeko (his brand of electric-powered scooter) or go to Suomenlinna [Suomenlinna-travel-guide-1310366] with his dog Peto. I opted for the former as I had the ABC syndrome (Another Bloody Church/Castle) already and that’s what we would see in Suomenlinna apparently.large_5550_14718915074544.jpgSwimming pool being built in the waters of Helsinki.

We dropped Peto with Samu’s mum and went to a parked van to unload two Meekos. He taught me how to ride it as as I had never been on a scooter, skateboard or snowboard it took a while before I enjoyed myself. We went to Loyly sauna for a drink which was located on a waterfront area, then some new business park area and finally returned to my area. We rode on the roads, footpaths and on many cycleways.

We still had plenty of time because of the long summer days so we picked up Peto and drove to Market Square to take the short ferry ride to Suomenlinna. Suomenlinna isn’t one island but six interconnected islands of six islands dotted with fortification, bunkers, cannons, homes and probably just one church.

We walked around some of the different islands and got some pretty good views. At one place, a huge ferry (cruiseliner size) passed between us and a very nearby island. It was quite a sight and I thought there was very little room for error.

It was around 2130 by the time we ate back on the mainland at Cafe No 9 under my hostel. Considering I only got to the hostel at 1500, I’ve had a very good look around Helsinki.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

Wet day


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Yep, the forecast was right and it turned out to be a wet day. Disinclination and sloth meant that I didn’t make it to the KGB museum or any other museum. I did go out to get my laundry done to avoid the higher prices in Italy. And while waiting I went into a mall to keep dry.

In the mall, I stumbled upon a bookshop. To my surprise, for a small country speaking a rare language, there were lots of books in Estonian. It must be quite expensive to translate or write for a relatively small audience.

As I approach the end of my stay in the Baltics, here are some thoughts:

1. It is a nice part of Europe that's still affordable and I can easily have a good time. It gets more expensive from west to east.

2. Some countries and some people value an education system based on English language as the medium of instruction, more so than their national language.The three Baltic nations (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) demonstrate how they can have education, government, public signage in their own language but still have nearly everyone but the oldies speak good English (plus a third language).

Some would have argued that their respective languages are spoken by only thousands of people and are quite useless. On the other hand, they are languages that could disappear.

I think language is an important part of one's identity, national identity and even sovereignty.

3. The weather is very fickle. Summer is like an Auckland winter.

4. There seem to be quite a few people with walking impairments on the streets. More in Lithuania and Latvia and perhaps less in Estonia. Anyone know why?

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

Pre-emptive activities


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After breakfast, I explored both the upper and lower parts of the old city. My thinking was that the free walking tour at midday might cover some alternative sites or the weather may turn.

As it turned out, the free walking tour covered much the same areas but I got a little more insight into things. It didn’t mean that my morning explorations were wasted because it was quite crowded during the walking tour, both frm the participant and also other groups. It made photography very difficult especially in the two viewpoints.

I was happy that it didn’t rain too much today and all my activities had been planned in anticipation for a wet day tomorrow.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

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