The Baltics and Scandinavia... Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Sweden to be exact

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August 11th 2010
Published: August 22nd 2010
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Copenhagen Kastrup beach areaCopenhagen Kastrup beach areaCopenhagen Kastrup beach area

Marina with sea wind turbines behind.
Joining a Cosmos tour called Jewels of the Baltics and Scandinavia for a couple of weeks seemed a good way to get to see these countries in an easy way....

Thursday, 5 August 2010 Copenhagen, Quality Dan Kastrup, Denmark
Woke at 4am and was up for about an hour. Then slept again until 9am. Had brekky which I am sure I mentioned is awesome and a slow pack. Got downstairs early which was lucky because transfer was 20min early. Busy traffic drive to airport and got there about 3 hours early. Can’t check in until 2 hours so went and were lucky to get a seat and then had to queue about 10-15m for check-in, which took nearly an hour! Then we had to do passport which was a half hour at least, lucky we were the only plane leaving or we would’ve missed our flight based on their timings! Anyway, our passport queue was slow trainee we think so I went to another queue and ended up somewhere else in airport. Found Joanne basically just at our gate, which has no lounge, and only 3 seats. Obviously you are supposed to shop until you board….. or they know you’ll be running late from the queueing! There was this guy who stood out like doggies whatsies in an orange shirt who kept trying to push in. He was funny because he’d cut in on the line and talk to someone (who we are sure he didn’t know) but it looked like he was meeting a friend in the line. Then we noticed he stole a window seat on the plane and had to move. And on touchdown, he was nowhere to be seen, we presume ran up the aisle as far as he could before aisle passengers stood up. Oh, flight was weird. Apart from an emergency brake, well we were barely moving when taxiing but we nearly all got thrown into the brace position (ie heads up bums). Taking off was scary, we were wobbling around like the pilot was drunk, and half the flight was like that as well, like when you have a bad bus driver and the back end sways. Oh well, we made it ok and got through passport in 2 seconds. Asked information about transfer or taxi and she said just to walk. It was about 1km into a nice little airport town. People here seem lovely already and there is food and atm and everything you need handy. Dropped gear and headed back out to draw money and have lunch/dinner. Saw Chinese shop across road and sussed it out. Was expensive, but then they had buffet for about $21 which was good. Drinks were expensive but I can live without that, especially when trying to stuff myself with sushi, nice asian food (probably best red curry I’ve ever had), probably about 8 sushi rolls all up, a ½ watermelon, 2 oranges and half pineapple. Bought some drinks from supermarket, especially so I can have a drink bottle again, and got charged 60c per PET bottle. Oh well good on them, but why not put it on the price. Came home and got internet code which has taken up the last 4 hours. A bit excited about northern lights, says you might see on horizon from just north of here, but is dark now and can’t see 

Friday, 6 August 2010 Copenhagen, Quality Dan Kastrup, Denmark
Shocking nights sleep. Didn’t get to sleep until after 3am, and then was smokey even though this is smoke free hotel. Then left window open because
Copenhagen Ameliaborg Change of GuardsCopenhagen Ameliaborg Change of GuardsCopenhagen Ameliaborg Change of Guards

In front of building where Mary and Fred kissed in public after marriage.
there is no air con and kept worrying about someone creeping in. Finally got a couple of hours sleep but very tired. Brekky and then back upstairs to rest. Saw reception and got fan because our room is so hot and hallway feels air conditioned, but they said they don’t have air con because they don’t need it, it is just this heatwave. Fan though is mainly heater and the cold bit you can only feel 1 foot away! Laid about doing nothing most of day and went for a walk down to beach area about 4pm. Met Jean who is on our tour tomorrow and organized to meet at breakfast to catch train/bus into town tomorrow. Wandered for couple of hours which was nice and then came back and watched tv till going to sleep. You know often people look on the dull side of life, I mean, we were disappointed when we couldn’t get a nice bright picture of St Basils in Moscow, but were also aware that we were lucky to be there at all and a lot luckier than the people who were losing their homes. Now today, we are even more lucky as they are closing down airports and could have easily had our holiday plans disrupted. All is good on the bright side of life 

Saturday, 7 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, Copenhagen
Woke ok finally today and got up early and had shower before meeting Jean at breakfast. Stuffed myself silly again and then got ready to head into town. Luckily we didn’t have to move rooms. Caught metro into town and had trouble trying to pay for ticket on credit card, lucky a guy came who helped us. Then got two receipts so don’t know if I’ve paid twice or if one is a failure. Either way, was bloody expensive, worked out $7 for a ticket (we don’t know one way or return) for about 10-15min train. Took a while to orientate ourselves popping up out of metro but then wandered through Botanical gardens which were nice and past military building and down pedestrian street past Round Tower. Then down to canal area with nice picture of coloured houses. Joanne and Jean ate around here and then we wandered past Royal Theatre to metro to catch train home. We risked that we had return ticket which wasn’t stamped on way in anyway and got home ok. Jean went back to hotel and we went to supermarket. Now 3.30pm and will rest/watch tv/internet (maybe a bit of moving bubbles to beat Raelene again ) until 6.30pm meeting and dinner tonight. Oh, had a dream last night about making memory space and managed to delete heaps of movie files of 12 month trip so now have heaps of space on computer. Went down and did tour meeting. We have two parallel tours of about 30 people each. Dinner was nice with ice cream for dessert. Now ready for bed for early day tomorrow and 1 ½ hour breakfast! Would rather sleep another hour. It is the only time food doesn’t rate highest on my priorities is when sleep is involved.

Sunday, 8 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, Berlin
Slept like shit last night, again, having to have the window open, so little flying things were crawling over me all night. Alarm 6.30am, bags out 7am and now finished breakky by 7.20am and waiting just over an hour before we leave. Could’ve slept that hour if my luggage wasn’t first thing needed to be out! Anyway, had Danish Pastries again at breakky which are very nice. Extra flaky and extra light, I suppose they should know how to do them. So after wasting nearly an hour lucky we went to check out early because the lady said we hadn’t paid for the extra 2 nights. I thought it was done on the net and the checkin guy said it was ok. Will have to check? Anyway, we off on our tour of Copenhagen. Everyone was early which was great and kept it up throughout the day which was awesome! Copenhagen means Market Port. I knew it was islands nation but there are over 500 islands, of which over 400 have been named. There are only 5.6m people with 1.5m living in Copenhagen. Took photos of main government area of the Treasury, Finance Dept buildings, the 1st Castle which was originally built in 1167 to start Copenhagen, which, the same as Portugal, claim to be the oldest continuous Kingdom in Europe. Saw mini Amsterdam which is funny because the whole town seemed that to me, Christiansborg Palace, the canal area we went yesterday is the longest bar in the world and also we didn’t know that Hans Christian Anderson lived in a little house on this street for ages and died in one next door. The Marble Church, which was never marble because after 1813 the country went bankrupt after losing most of it’s sailing fleet so it didn’t get built until nearly 100 years later and then not in marble, but it does have the 2nd largest dome in Europe. I don’t know if you know my luck, but I went to Perth to see Australia II’s winged keel which had been shipped to Sydney a few days before, then to Kimberleys and the Broome coastline where there are dinosaur footprints, but they had been removed and put into some museum, and so the tradition continues with the Little Mermaid, she has taken a holiday to Shanghai for the Expo. The guy who designed the birds nest for the Olympics ‘designed’ a tv screen to be put on the base rocks where she was (because she took her original rocks with her to be more authentic) so we could watch the holiday she was having while all the people at the expo wandered past her not even taking much notice. I thought at least he could’ve
Berlin Jew memorialBerlin Jew memorialBerlin Jew memorial

Built in 2005 which is 2700 concrete blocks of different sizes that builder did not say why, he wants everyone to have their own reason?
designed a replacement sculpture, if they didn’t tell us we would never know and why not put a sculpture copy in Shanghai? Anyway, not to be bitter. Then onto Amelienborg Palace where the current King and Queen live, not Fred and Mary, who, incidentally have come out in papers yesterday that they are due to have twins. There are 4 buildings all the same, one where Fred and Mary had a kiss on the porch just after they got married. We saw changing of the guard in which I nearly got walked over by the relief team. He kind of waved at group to move so moved aside and they did a u-turn onto us  There was a huge queue to go into the Queen’s Palace which was last open day after being refurbished. Oh, we saw the place of one of the Kings of Denmark who had 6 kids who all went off and married royalty of Europe. Got dropped off in Town Square area for a quick photo, we were going to go into Tivoli Gardens but was expensive and theme park like so ended up having KFC and Burger King - something different though, little chilli cheese bites which were damned hot, and a milkshake that was cold, my first one in months! More info now because I was shocked, Scandinavia countries are Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. Finland comes into it when you talk Nordic countries. Oh, and Greenland, which is the largest island in the world, comes under the reign of Denmark. We got to the ferry crossing over the Baltic to Germany but the boat had broken down so we had a couple of spare hours and went to Marielyst, a little beach town to pass the time. Was ok, but I managed to drop my camera off my lap there and it smashed to the ground. Luckily it still all seems to work ok. Oh, it was good to see also that there is heaps of people riding bikes, even the main highway had bike lanes separate to the highway, and noone locks them up. It seemed if they were locked they would be vandalized with buckled wheels, seats taken and handlebars broken etc. The Baltic sea has only 1/5 the salt of normal sea, so I wonder if they have a totally different breed of animal and plant life. And another couple of interesting tidbits. Germany is 2nd largest European population with 82m and Russia being the lead with 142m. There were 12 original members of the EU and now there are 27 of the 52 European countries. I think I am out of info now, I was lucky to remember/write all that because I was sooo knackered today and slept heaps of time on the bus. Is now 11pm after getting in late obviously, had to wait 10 mins for luggage to come up and have alarm at 6.45am tomorrow.

Monday, 9 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, Poznan
Up early for bags and breakky. Is going to be another smash tour that I will need a holiday to recover from. Basically straight into Berlin centre to pickup our local guide for city bus tour. Learned a heap today so I hope it makes as interesting reading as it did trying to pick up the main points. Berlin is a pretty little place, lots of green, good weather and very cheap, especially after expensive Copenhagen. It has been the capital of lots of different rulers over the years including Prussians, Germany, East and West, and basically anyone else who ruled for a bit. Germany came together only in 1920 and it was after the 2nd World War when the victors sharpened their pencils and drew new boundaries where Russia got East Germany under communist rule and USA, UK and France got West Germany under capitalist rule. Poor Berlin was split up so that each side of the victory team could have a little bit of the prize capital. It was agreed that there would be three safe air routes in and out of West Germany which was basically ½ of Berlin disjointed from the rest of West Germany. Poor Germans used to run for the bunkers when they were hearing planes during the war and then during the cold war, they used to hear planes and know that supplies were coming and to run for the queues. It was mentioned that 1/3 of the planes flying in supplies were used to build up a power generator and then coal and supplies for that which would allow approximately 2 hours of power on rotation basis per day. Everyone knows about the Berlin Wall and that is about all I knew about it! To be honest I wasn’t even
Poznac squarePoznac squarePoznac square

Didn't get to see the famous goats, but did get to see the countdown clock to Euro 2012.
sure there was a wall or just a figure of speech. But there was a wall, that was put up overnight on 3 August 1961 before it was destroyed in 1989. It started because there were a heap of Germans leaving communist East Germany and the Russians didn’t like losing all ‘their’ people so built the wall to keep them in, oops, I mean to stop anyone from coming in  It was originally a barbed wire fence that split families who were then unable to see or talk to each other for nearly 10 years and then at a cost. Then they built a block wall that trucks could knock over so then came the 3.5m reinforced concrete wall. It was all built within East territory, even with a metre spare so that they could repair the wall if needed and not be in West Germany. And there wasn’t just one wall, then there was a 5 metre (sometimes 100s of metres) of minefield, then another fence that was patrolled by guards every 70m and then on the East side, an exclusion zone. So it was an effort to get out. There was anywhere between 140 and 220 people
Poznac bikePoznac bikePoznac bike

When locked you will have missing handlebar seat pedals buckled wheel etc, if you don't lock it, it will be there safe and sound.
killed trying to escape, however noone really knows. Throughout our tour we saw Tear Gardens which I think was the forrest that had a million trees before the war but after the war it was bare because everyone chopped trees to make new housing or fires. Queen of England sent over 20,000 trees as a present after the war. We saw Victory Column, well at least the fake material façade (they do this everywhere in Europe now to allow renovations which is kinda good but bit over it too). It had a cool story though because the first floor showed cannons captured from Danes in 1864, the 2nd floor cannons from Austria war, the 3rd floor cannons from France and the 4th floor Hitler demanded to be left vacant for cannons he captured… so there is nothing  We saw the Reichtag which was kind of parliament building, which Hitler didn’t really need when he came into power in 1933. So they say it was where WWII started and it is where last European shots were fired when Russians parked a few tanks out the front. We saw Brandenburg Gate which was cool, and it was hotel there that Michael
Warsaw Chopin statueWarsaw Chopin statueWarsaw Chopin statue

Chopin statue which shows 3 national symbols of Poland.. White Eagle, weeping willow, Chopins Piano Hand
Jackson was going to teach the Flying Blanket? We went past Checkpoint Charlie but didn’t get to stop, which was famous because US controlled the gate between East and West and they had free passage in uniform. Then one day an East guy dressed up and walked through and celebrated in front of East soldiers just on the west so that nearly started WWIII. USA parked 4 tanks on their side at the checkpoint, so Russia parked 4 tanks on their side at the checkpoint lucky it didn’t get to the US bringing their whole 27 tanks to the checkpoint, otherwise Russia would have brought their 1200 tanks to the checkpoint. They both backed off though and renegotiated terms for the checkpoint. Oh, next stop was our view of the 200m of wall that is left in place. All around the city they have a fake line of bricks at ground level where the wall was, and often some white crosses indicating where people were shot trying to cross to the West. At this section of wall though, it is an interesting place because the wall is left in place, right there on the West used to be the underground
Warsaw President houseWarsaw President houseWarsaw President house

Surrounded by protestors about removing the cross until permanent memorial is promised. That night at dinner, there were more Police that South Africa 2010 - seriously I was a bit scared, 2 police every 50 metres!
HQ of the SS and to the left the Lufthansa HQ. We saw the bunker where Herman Gering used to hide and also the HQ area of Hitler including the area where he was found in a bunker after he poisoned and shot himself. The exact site is unmarked to stop ‘respecting or worshipping’ the area. There is still a small section of building with bullet holes in it around Hitlers HQ. Oh, there was a Jew memorial (only created 5 years ago) with 2700 concrete blocks of different sizes which was really interesting, but apparently the designer never revealed his theory so that people could make up what they like about it. The guide showed us areas that were basically bare in the West and built up in only 10 years after the wall came down. Oh oh oh, and the other shocking thing, was how much in Debt Germany was. There was lots of zeros to a number I can’t say, but a figure around 3500 Euro that it was rising every second. Every child born is said to have a debt of €80,000. I thought they were the rich ones bailing out Greece and Portugal? Anyway, I think I have covered most of the war stories. Oh, except the church that was destroyed in the war and they left it as is to remind everyone that Germany was never going to start a war again. Tried a currywurst that Joanne had which was normal sausage with curry sprinkled over the tomato sauce. Was quite nice, but I was expecting the curry to be in the sausage. Then we wandered and saw an awesome water clock. To describe it I would have to say picture something that Albert Einstein would have had tucked away in the back of his cupboard somewhere, with green liquid bubbling and oozing and steaming, only it was about 10 metres tall. It was filling up little tubes and dropping them everywhere and we were lucky to be there just before 1pm when the water from the 60mins spilled over into the hour container. Then went to Maccas which is first Maccas toilet that had a charge sign. Lucky I didn’t notice until I came out and there was noone there to collect money until I came out. Then I kinda felt bad, but not like I’d stolen something seeing as it is only
Warsaw Victory SquareWarsaw Victory SquareWarsaw Victory Square

Victory Square cross where Pope John Paul II gave mass to 1m people
a flush and bit of paper I got for free, there wasn’t even a seat on the toilet, just the bowl. While we are on toilets, I can’t wait to get to a toilet where I can reach the toilet paper without having to sit crooked on the bowl or drip dry before I could reach it anyway… Oh, had a donut thing from bakery that was only 25c Euro. Was going to draw rest of my money in Euro but probably won’t need it until Finland when we will be Euro again so will wait. Back to bus and someone got time wrong so our 100% early record is broken. Anyway, off we head into Poland to Poznan. Was a very interesting drive with a few ladies in very skimpy clothes wandering along lonely highways. There was the odd sign for a nightclub with very skimpily dressed ladies too so I think I bit was lost in translation of what a night club actually is! Anyway, Poznan is a little industrial town that was taken by Hitler to produce lots of his war supplies. As it was put, poor Poland stuck between Germany and Russia - they never had much hope to be peaceful did they? There are 36m people in Poland (don’t know if that contradicts with Carlos’s Krakow info) with nearly 400,000 in Poznan. It is a beautiful little town though with a lovely and colourful main square that we had time to quickly walk to before dinner. And Poland is apparently famous for it’s lakes, the relationship was made to Finland which looks like more water than land on a map. Dinner was nice buffet but ate too much. Jumped on net and found out that John and Mel are having another baby. Lucky for Facebook or we may not have known, but then again, noone bar parents would have 

Tuesday, 10 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Warsaw
Well slept shocking last night after finally getting to sleep so had less than 5 hours sleep. It was terrible fog as we drove off this morning so was perfect to catch up on some sleep. We did pass over the Varta River which was pretty hard to see even from 10 metres, it is the same Varta batteries that I have and love, until they died quickly last night, but ironically Joanne had
Lithuanian forrest damageLithuanian forrest damageLithuanian forrest damage

This was weird and everywhere from a storm a few days before we came through - looks like many little tornados touched down with spot damage.
trouble with her batteries and another lady did as well so maybe there is a Varta conspiracy? I am terribly disorientated here as well. Darinka keeps saying that we are heading east from Berlin to Warsaw and then keep going east through the Baltic states. I would’ve put my house on it that they were north. I felt the same when Moscow guide kept saying north to St Petersburg. I can only put it down to the roundness of the globe and we always see a disjointed picture because of this. Heading into Warsaw we got a bit more Polish info. I am sure Darinka told us the Polish bird was the stork, they are everywhere here and down south, but then Warsaw guide said it was the White Eagle. Was mentioned again that Poland is really the home of vodka and not Russia as I would’ve thought. Poland was huge Polish Lithuanian empire from 1700’s and their King actually saved Austrian empire from the Ottomans and then they were partitioned and kind of just let them divide up their land into Prussia, Russia and Hungary. Oh the cemeteries here are as beautifully kept as the ones down south and
Vilnius Peter and PaulsVilnius Peter and PaulsVilnius Peter and Pauls

One of few white baroch left in Europe.
it is because they are practicing Catholic country because they see one of their Catholic leaders as saving them once. And of course they had the first non-Italian Pope in the 450 years of the Vatican, in Pope John Paul II. He hosted a mass in Victory Square where 1m people attended. Then somehow, we turned to Napoleon because he came through and liberated Poland from Russia in 1912 or so, on his way to Moscow. He actually made it to Moscow, took over the Kremlin, had a few sleeps in the Tzars bed and was awoken one morning to the city being burned. They just burned everything as to having it overtaken so his army was starving and they walked the 3000km odd home back to Paris. And he fell is love with a Maria Valevska who was married to some old Pole and her girlfriends talked her into satisfying Napoleon because he liberated them and she ended up divorcing her hubby and moving to Paris and has since become a national hero for this  Napoleon ended his run in Waterloo in 1815 beaten by Britts, Russia and Prussia. In 1939 Stalin and Hitler’s men made secret agreement (Molotov Agreement) to share Europe where Poland would be Russian. Jumping a bit here, but trust me, I have made it in sequence compared to how it came to me. There are nearly 3 million people in Warsaw whose main icon is the Mermaid with a fable of how the city started because a guy fell in love and she couldn’t leave the river so he built a city to stay with her. Other famous people who were born in Warsaw, Frederic Chopin the composer was born here and lived here for 20 years before moving to Paris, but when he died he asked his loved one to return his heart to Warsaw where it is today in a church here. And Marie Curie was born here as well, actually, Marie someone else was born here and you wouldn’t know her by her birth name anyway. She is the only person to have received two Nobel peace prizes in two different categories being Physics and Chemistry. Not to take away from that but I would deserve a prize if I could differentiate between physics and chemistry. The Baltic area is famous for Amber because of a huge forrest that was caught in some prehistoric event with all ducks in a line to make the sap set and harden. Very recent events was obviously the plane crash which killed basically all of Poland’s elite on 10 April 2010. The Prime Minister, First Lady, 3 Heads of Defence, head of National Bank, leading politicians. Ironically they were flying to Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre in which Stalin ordered the execution of 25,000 Polish Officers. Of course there were conspiracy talks but flight data now says there was someone in the flight cabin, probably of a General and maybe it was bad weather. Down at the Presidents house now there is a huge cross which locals are picketing until a formal plan is in place to make another memorial. On our city tour, we saw the Cathedral which was built in 1530 originally and rebuilt in 1949 I think. The old town square was very pretty and came with a lovely story, well kind of, it was totally razed and buildings individually blown up by Germans in WWII, not air raids, but explosives placed in them. It was then rebuilt by locals with no monetary help from those wartime funds because they were then ruled by Communist Russia who wouldn’t allow it. It was done amazingly in that they even rebuilt buildings with old buildings showing from underneath if that is how they were. In 1980, Unesco made it a world heritage site and it is the only one on the list that isn’t an original but a copy. It obviously wasn’t only Warsaw that was destroyed, 85% of Poland was destroyed in WWII. Oh, apparently, Warsaw was 1.2m people then of which 800,000 were killed. We saw a place where in one afternoon the Germans executed 430 people. Then we saw a memorial to the Jews in the middle of what was the Jewish Ghetto’s which was all totally destroyed as well. The biggest memorial to Jews is currently being built in this place as well. Over 25% of Warsaw is parkland which is nice, but I just don’t get the feel for the place. The Poles here are still very bitter over history which is a bit sad to see. It is near the town square where Marie Curie was born so a quick photo of that building, and also we saw a lovely statue in a park for Chopin. 2010 is the 200th year celebrations of his birth and the statue, which was destroyed in the war and rebuilt, symbolizes 3 of the national symbols, being the White Eagle, a weeping willow tree and a hand playing the piano. They play Chopin’s music in the park on Sundays and you can sit on the benches in the lovely rose garden. It was cool to see one of the Stalin Towers that we saw in Moscow there were 7 of. Locals hate it as it is a sign of communist rule besides they had to pay for it to be built. They say the best view of Warsaw can be seen from the top though, not because of the lookout as such, but you can’t see that building from on it. The only other major thing I can remember at the moment is that Warsaw had an uprising 28 June 1956 against communism and that gave others motivation to make a stand as well. Went out for optional dinner that was €38 which was sausage and egg soup, duck, and cake with as much drink as you like. I became known as the red and white
Riga Day parking spaceRiga Day parking spaceRiga Day parking space

Was still laughing at parking spaces up the kerb when we saw the sign saying to park up the kerb!
girl because I didn’t know whether I liked red or white whine so had both to try, then they just kept topping up both so I kept drinking both  Oh, driving to dinner, there was shitloads of security about, I am talking 2 policemen every 50 metres at the max! Was a bit scared but noone else was reacting. Asked after dinner and it was because of the protest at the Presidents house for a memorial. I asked whether the cross was being removed tonight and Andrei said no it was just because people work during day and it gets busier at night? So I was pretty jovial after dinner anyway and chatting to guys from the other bus and realized my jacket was missing. Then realized I had given it to Joanne while I ran back to the toilet. Then I realized I maybe should be worried that Joanne was missing, not just my jacket. Ran back to look for her and Dave came with me and then we saw her with group so Dave set her up to miss me and she just shrugged her shoulders. Anyway, then had to walk somewhere else for bus pickup because
Riga DayRiga DayRiga Day

End of soldiers barracks with all Latvian city shields.
it couldn’t come near the Presidents house and I managed to hail it lifting up my shorts. Probably very lucky it was dark and he didn’t just keep going  Then my jacket turned into a football needing a few friendly tackles. Back at hotel same thing happened and porter was watching us, I caught his eye and knew he wanted to play as well so I threw my jacket at him  I had a great night, but think I could’ve done it cheaper than 38 euro by myself.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Vilnius
Finally had a good night’s sleep last night - 7 hours. Today is just big drive day from Warsaw to Vilnius in Lithuania. Crossed Visula River in Warsaw and also saw Red Army Liberation Monument. Oh, early in the day Harold had to brake pretty hard to save running over a d*ckhead which caused my camera to slip off the seat, smash on the floor and slide forward a couple of seats. That is 2 drops but it survived again. I think next time I will get a shockproof camera. Oh, saw on the side of the road an old tank, well kind of a tank, it had wheels not tracks, and then a chopper, yesterday we saw an old jet, similar to the fighter jet we saw in southern Poland just parked at an intersection. Then we got lots of talk about Marie Curie and how she got 2 Nobel Prizes, but also that her husband shared one of them, and her daughter won another for something, and one of her kids is till running head of some university in France. Amazing family. But it was really interesting to hear the history of the Nobel Prizes. Mr Nobel got rich after patenting dynamite. He was always single apart from a girly he had who got pregnant to some other guy and he was heartbroken. One day sipping coffee and nibbling a croissant, he saw his obituary in the paper saying The Killer of Many Men is dead! He realized it was him and they never found out how this happened. It did make me realize why dad has been checking the paper every day I’ve known to make sure he wasn’t dead yet - it can happen! Anyway, it made Mr Nobel become more Nobel and having noone to leave his huge fortune to, he wrote his will that the interest on all of his investments should be divided equally every year on the anniversary of his death being 10 December 1896 for up to 5 worthy people who have helped the world in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Medical, Literature and of course Peace. The first four are given in Stockholm every year and the Peace Prize in Oslo. This has happened every year since 4 years after his death bar a couple of years in WWII. The prize can be upwards of 800,000 Euro now. Oh, were told again about pierogy the local dish that is pasta with cabbage or meat inside. Oh, and more info on those storks. They are migratory and come back to their same nests in about May each year from their trips to Africa. They float on thermal winds so go a heap further, but barely flap their wings other than take off and landing. Their nests, which are everywhere here, can weigh up to 300kg, and Poland has about 50,000 pairs of birds. One little town somewhere even has web cams in 4 of the nests. Must remember to look
Riga Day Riga 2010 signRiga Day Riga 2010 signRiga Day Riga 2010 sign

Couldn't read what was on in 2010 but it was pwitty.
that up sometime. I am in love with Poland by the way, is quite cheap, has nice weather, so that is most of my criteria set, but the countryside is beautiful and country like with tractors and little farmhouses. After our lunch stop in Augustow which is a quiet little country town based on a canal which is now used for recreation, oh we had crepes with mushroom which were awesome too, and only about $4. We headed across the border into Lithuania, with its 3.3m people who have the biggest difference in age expectancy with males 66 and females 78. I think it might have to do with men working in forests…. That is a bit sarcastic because as we drove through, there looked like there may have been a rampaging elephant, spot tornadoes, huge lightning storms or something that had taken out heaps of the forest, but very sporadically and seemed to miss most of the houses. Darinka didn’t know what has caused it and it was not like it last fortnight on this tour. Very weird, and quite shocking. Oh, Lithuania claim to be the first country to gain freedom from Russia (I think Slovenia claimed this as well on my last tour?). But there was a human chain made by 2 million people over 600km from Vilnius to Riga to Tallinn. And last year, Vilnius was one of the European capitals of culture. We saw the TV Tower while driving into town where in 1991 14 lives were lost in the siege of the tower. Was quite relaxing day sleeping half of it, not being hungover and finally listening to some of my music in the afternoon. Tonight is good as well, now 9pm, have done all my homework, had dinner and we get to sleep in until 7.30am tomorrow! Oh, was locked out of room after dinner, door worked in afternoon and then it sounded like it was working, security had to let us in.

Thursday, 12 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, Vilnius
Woke with alarm and was buggered, considering I had a good sleep. Had a bit of headache which started last night and didn’t leave with sleep which is becoming more usual. Anyway, breakky was ok, but the sour milk that was recommended was just sour and had no nice about it at all. Then went back to room and forgot I couldn’t get in, so lucky I was basically prepared. Off to city tour which was ok. Found out that Vilnius was started in 1323, but Lithuania was started in 1009 so last year they had their 1000th anniversary which is pretty special considering Australia is not even ¼ way there! We saw another building that was built by Stalin and the locals were thinking of destroying it but realized in 50 years it will be part of history whether it is good or bad. Can’t say the same for statues though that have all been removed and taken to statue cemetery. There is now a Stalin Park without the statue. First stop was Peter and Paul’s church which is special because it is one of only few white baroch churches that are left in Europe. The interior is Unesco listed as well and it was quite nice with a couple of interesting things, there is a Viking ship near the altar which indicates that the altar was being brought over by ship and sank, and it was here that modern science proved that the pulpit is the most acoustic place in this church as well as others, and that over 2000 sculptures were carved when the church was built in 20 years back in 17th century. Oh, you will have to excuse me too if I am a century out here and there. I remember learning in school that for example, the 20th century is the 1900s it just causes too much confusion in my little head though when you are smashed with 40,000 numbers and dates everyday. During communism, Stalin used to use Lithuania as an example that his regime was not so bad because they had 21 churches here though Russia only had 5. He would say his people didn’t want churches but they did here so they got them. Next stop was the Old Town. We entered the only gate left which is the Gate of Dawn which has a Black Madonna that is a pilgrimage site. Then Town Square which is actually a triangle, but hey that is cool. Then saw Casimir Church which I thought was great because it was named after the Kings son and there is a crown on the top. It is also Unesco listed because of the outside of the building. The other more exciting thing listed is the Catholic Crosses of Vilnius. Pope John Paul II came and said sarcastically about locals being good Catholics but what is going on with your fancy crosses, so later comes along Unesco and lists the crosses. It is nice because 50% of Lithuania was wiped out during wars, but the Old Town was saved. Of course, driving past St Anne’s Gothic church which is Unesco listed. I have learnt more about that list in last two days than ever. We stopped then in old town and saw statue of man who started Vilnius with a wolf and he is off his horse and holding his sword (on the sharp bit) because it shows he was a diplomat. Guide then described Diplomatic answers. Yes means maybe. Maybe means no and if you say No then you obviously are not a diplomat  Another church, the Catholic Basilica which has been rebuilt 5 times, so basically every century since 1300’s and has been lucky last couple of centuries. Was very nice inside as well. It was out front of this church that was the start of the human chain I mentioned earlier. It was actually 670m long via Riga and Tallinn. Also on this square was the main Defence tower which was 4 metre thick walls. It was here that 2000 of Napoleon’s men were buried as well after he took over Russia for 3 days and had to withdraw. Next was Presidential Palace which comes with funny story. They had to learn protocols with flags etc. They used to put flag on Palace when President was in building but he was very active and they were barely getting flag up or down and having to change it again. So now they have it up when he is in Vilnius. Next year she joked it might be in Lithuania. Last year, Lithuanians voted in a lady President. That wasn’t enough, but also a lady speaker, and finance minister, but that still wasn’t enough but a lady head of Defence. You know that means…. Don’t fight with Lithuania. It was nice to see as well that the University Library is very special, it is rich in the meaning of holding 315 of the 1200 books in Europe that were published between 1500 and 1550. The rest have been destroyed, mostly in wars. Prior to the holocaust, Jews were invited to live in the main city and appreciated by the president for their smarts and there were 80,000 living in Vilnius. Now there are only 5,000 in Lithuania. Oh, the main sporting event here is basketball with locals being imported to the USA all the time and earning nearly as much as their whole country. Had lunch and ordered potato sausages for about $4. Was ok but a bit bland and interesting. Had a lie down and then panadeine and slept on the bus on the way to Trakai Castle. Passed KGB headquarters that were here with heaps of plaques on the wall for those who were executed there. Lithuania used to be one of largest countries in Europe with territory from Baltic to Black sea. Trakai Castle was ok but definitely not a stunning castle! Learnt though that that is how the Russian name for Rubles came about, old days when payment was made by cutting off the end of a stick of silver, you would authorize the merchant to ‘cut off’ and in Russian that was roo bill. Was cool to hear that in gothic buildings there was an acoustic thing of the Gothic Secret, two people could stand in opposite corners
Jurmala beachJurmala beachJurmala beach

Notice how far out you are and it is only ankle deep.
and whisper to each other with someone in the middle not hearing. Then it was exciting, Joanne and I had sex on the beach at the castle. Well not together, each. Fancy an ice cream being called that….. Learned that average wage at the moment for Lithuanians is about €650 per month and €230 for low income and pensioners. €619 for Latvians and €720 for Estonians. Poorest country is Bulgaria at €300 per month. Oh, also that the KGB nearly got back into power subliminally in Lithuania with the leader elected and then a review of his spending showed he had spent much more and it was supplied by KGB. Apparently this isn’t uncommon through the rest of the world either. I was late heading out for dinner because my computer was doing updates and would not shut down so I couldn’t lock it in my bag to heat up, ended up running out with it to lockup on the bus and ran into Darinka who was late as well and were having a race down the hallway of hotel each not to be last  Got to see more of the town, there is Zalgoris Stadium which used to
Latvian dinner with a flipper as an instrumentLatvian dinner with a flipper as an instrumentLatvian dinner with a flipper as an instrument

Not being disrespectful but can't remember the name of this steel stringed instrument.
be a Jew cemetery until Russians destroyed it and made it a sports stadium. Also found out that communist buildings are either 5 stories or 9 stories because up to 5 stories you didn’t need a lift and then it was most economical to make 9 stories once you did. Saw bridge again with kind of communist statues but not really so they didn’t get to go to statue cemetery. Had a good night and had beetroot cold soup which was interesting. Folk songs which were very fast and reminded me a bit of Irish music. Dinner was in old farmhouse with one bar being a wagon which was very cool.

Friday, 13 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, Riga
Leaving for Latvia today and heard about the little detached bit of Russia which sounds like Kalingrad. They have to go to the rest of Russia by plane or boat otherwise they have to cross other Baltic states which are all part of Schengen convention for visas. That part of Russia is apparently the most militarized zone in Europe. The Latvian cost, which is rich in amber, used to have gallows all along the beachfront from when it used to be part of Prussia pre 1921. This region has 90% of worlds amber supplies. We got story of the Amber Room which I think used to be in a Russian Palace near St Petersburg, but when they retreated at some stage, they didn’t get time to take with them so covered it with paper, but was pillaged by German troops and moved to a castle in the Kalingrad bit. Then apparently, Russia destroyed most of it when they were attacking that building to win it back. I think conspiracy, they told us the other day about the amber with insects being expensive so now they melt it down and add a mozzie caught yesterday, so in my mind, if it got burnt, it would be a big 6 tonne blob at the bottom of the castle. Has anyone looked for it? We stopped and had lunch at Palace of Rundale. I felt like a Queen but didn’t eat like one as usual. It was funny though because dessert was what Darinka couldn’t explain and when we got it we tried but failed. It was kind of a raspberry (or some other mix of red berries) that had a wine like flavour as well, floated with a blob of whipped cream that had soft rice through it with a mint leaf. Was very nice though. Anyway, the Palace was for Duke of Courland Euros Johan Biren who started building in 1736 but in 1740 he was exiled by Russians because he was made carer for the deceased Queen’s nephew who was to take Russias throne so he was seen as a problem and sent to Siberia. He was lucky though because went from execution row, to Siberia forever to being release I think when Catherine the Great regained throne in 1760’s and he came back to finish building Palace. There are 138 rooms which had 80 stoves/heaters of which only 7 survived. Palace was never destroyed as I take it but pillaged every so often and used as grainstore, hospital, officers quarters and even a school. We didn’t get to see garden with 13000 roses which would be biggest rose garden in Europe. Was all very nice though and had a good resemblance of Palace of Versailles. Got into Riga in the afternoon with a population of about 800,000 people. Had a rest and then had buffet dinner which was pretty awesome and then headed to bed early. Oh, helped out Louis with her new camera she has had since home. I used her camera the other night and it reminded me of mum’s first digital camera when I took photos of my feet because it was that slow at taking photos I was already trying to see what photo I’d taken. This one is much better and told her I’d give her a test tomorrow afternoon.

Saturday, 14 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, Riga
Had a great sleep and even little sleep in. I am getting pissed off with having to get up at 5am every day for the toilet though!!! Anyway, awesome breakfast with even an ordered omelet. The only thing is you had to fight. Some guy pushed in but then he didn’t get anything. Then I ordered mine and it was awesome! Then I went for coffee when the queue was low and this lady was right up my arse basically when I breathed out I bumped her plate and she dropped bread. Man, the death stare I got. Oh well. Then she tried to push in on me for coffee. I felt bad for the lady who was in front of me because I had to force past her to beat this b*tch. My arm flung out about 5 metres, only then narrowly placing my cup under the spout before her, but my body and hips followed which then squeezed in past her. I was so pleased with myself. She didn’t drop any bread that time either so she was probably braced up as well. Anyway, I won! We had to walk downstairs because the elevator was so busy then I think with 4 buses leaving at the same time. Tour was good, but the guide would start talking when there was 5 of our 30 odd people there so you had to be quick - no time for photos. It was pointed out a lot of old buildings near the old town are wood because they had to be previously so that if the old town was in trouble, all the closeby buildings had to be burned down. A city was lost though mistaking a heard of approaching cattle as marauders and burned their buildings down. All the buildings are only 5 stories here, but not communist rule but to allow enough sunlight into the streets. We got a good rundown on all the building styles of art nuveau, eclectic, and special one of eclectic art nuveau?, gothic, this that and the other. Got some interesting info on people being able to reclaim their houses/farms taken during soviet times post 1990’s, and also how USSR used to just say that Latvia had to deport eg 10,000 people to Siberia and it was local officials who had to decide who they were. If they ran out of specific people, they would just take farmers because farmers still held their property in high regard which was not communist thinking. We saw the old canal that used to protect the old town which was basically an island. Oh, it was pointed out about having free organ shows at churches in Latvia, it was mentioned in Lithuania as well. We saw a great monument that signified 3 stars of the 3 independent regions of Latvia that made the country initially. It is also used as a monument to memorial days, of which they have lots if you count every time someone was deported, and is usually protected by guards like the eternal
Parnu beach gamesParnu beach gamesParnu beach games

I was wondering how to play beach basketball?
flames, however today was too hot (a whole 26 degrees) so they weren’t there. It is the hottest summer in 95 years though. We were told of how Latvia has had the huge building boom in 2004 that they put to becoming Euro and having access to loans and houses rising 50% in a year. That is same as us though and we didn’t join EU. Anyway, it turns out that banks managed to lose 20 years profit in one year when all the prices halved in 2008. The Government had to bail out one of Latvia’s big banks as well. We saw Bastion Hill which is made of the rubble of destroyed buildings (oh, didn’t mention that in Warsaw but it was said and we didn’t see it, apparently they are using it now to build the soccer stadium for Euro 2012). They have a Powder Tower as well which is called Dune Tower which has been used as grain storage and museum now. The old city wall was pretty impressive and also the Swedish Gates. Latvia (same story in Lithuania) did not have many stones so that was the tax that was imposed to visit the old cities. We saw the Parliament Building which is where the 2nd declaration of independence happened after a vote in 1990. It was a problem when they did because Russian’s had no need to learn Latvian language when they were ruling, but they couldn’t get citizenship to Latvia (which is where they now lived) without speaking Latvian. Some just got a temporary visa type thing in the end as I understand it. Saw Gothic church of St Annes which was pretty cool and the Three Brothers which are 3 buildings next to each other and I missed why they are famous - we’ll find out one day. They were built in 1400’s with one stating renovations of 1646. One is set back to prove how wealthy the owners were to be able to waste that bit of valuable land out front for public use. It was the same one that had the windows slanted as though they were running up a staircase. Saw Riga Castle which was pretty boring building, but it was funny to see the guard just wandering around his little box and talking on a mobile phone, unlike the other guards in those little boxes. Saw Dome Square named after the church that I managed not to take a photo (it did have biggest organ in Europe when it was first built) of and the pretty buildings, of which one was the bank and then the Central Radio Station. Communists loved that but the building was saved in the barricade era (of 2 weeks) where farmers and locals parked their tractors or built bonfires to save buildings. They still broadcast in another area during that time anyway. Was told again to try Balzams which is made from 30 herbs and spices, oh no that was the Colonel, this was just 30 herbs. Got some later and it tasted like shite! It was cool for me to see two churches, St Johns and St Peters very close but it was then hilarious to learn that they used to have battles and removed the roofs and would fire arrows at each other. That sounds like the John and Peter I know! St Peters at one stage was highest wooden structure in Europe but it got burned down, shot down, 3 times destroyed. They got a cheap builder in and I think it looked horrible so they tore it down, then paid again for expensive architect who celebrated throwing a glass from the top and it didn’t break because it landed on straw - bad sign, and people noticed it tilting, but 200 years later it is still there. The town square was cool, it had some ugly building that they put back there just because, the Town Hall which is exact replica, a communist building which is museum of occupation 1940-1991 which is controversial because it is German and Russian occupation which neither of them like to share but it is the only original building in square and Blackhead House. Joanne and I then walked down to markets which are 4 big hangars, ran through the fishy one with shirt over our nose and the others were boring and went outside which was nicer with pretty flowers and fruit. Then wandered back to home so I can keep up my mission not to pay for a toilet this trip  Was wandering what they would do if you were not allowed in if you had no change so just peed on their floor and walked away? Then went up to 26th floor of hotel for view but wasn’t open so came down lift on other side with view over Old City which was nice, but most importantly, you could see a map of Europe in the grass. We walked all over Europe in a minute then before grabbing hot dogs for lunch and trying the 2 local drinks, Balsam alcoholic, lucky I got a Smirnoff to wash it down, and a Kvass which was just as bad but bearable. Holy moly, this takes heaps of time, now not long before we head out to dinner again. Oh, already put up Russian blog, but remembered today about the guide telling us about the meteor Russian’s think is going to hit earth in 2012. Oh oh, that adds up to Nostradamus, the Incan calendar, some other thing - then the other day the large hadron collider thing was in the news again - I don’t like that but really think it should be banned at the end of 2012 at least! Headed out to optional dinner for Latvian folk show. Drove via Jurmala which is 32km of continuous nice white beach on the Baltic Sea. Lovely old houses in the area from rich days gone by. I was amazed at how shallow the beach stays hundred of metres out you are still only ankle deep! Walked out through it and it was quite cold but with warm patches that were a bit of a worry. For dinner, we had an egg thing that was like mashed egg, you know, curried egg without the curry. Had Baltic Cod for dinner which was very nice and light and white and tasted like KFC fish. Dessert though had us all in giggles. It was supposed to be an apple tea cake we think, but you couldn’t get the fork in and we had to use knives. It was like Madeira, only 3 times as heavy and may have been cooked last week if it was. Nah seriously. And weddings! They were everywhere. It was cool to see the girls in their historical dress and also playing a local instrument that was like a flipper shaped board with metal strings so was beautiful sound.

Sunday, 15 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, Tallinn
Oh, have I mentioned my neck tried to seize up yesterday out of the blue, but have been stretching heaps, and then woke up again this morning and it was trying
Kadriorg PalaceKadriorg PalaceKadriorg Palace

Art of Jesus turning water to wine with wine makers church advertising.
to seize up all day. Ended up having to take Panadeine to stop it. Got the tree story again today with Linden trees again that were on the streets of Berlin. Apparently the oldest Linden tree is in Nuremburg Germany, however, olive trees live for a couple of thousand years. Other discussions were the freedom of passage thing where anyone can pick berries and pitch a tent on land without having to see the landowner. This allows locals to pick berries, mushrooms and the like in the woods. You often see a bum sticking up out of the trees or a pushy in the middle of nowhere. We stopped and saw Gauja Castle which was nice, but also the cave near there with the fable of Maya, a girl who fell in love with servant and when Polish prince took her to cave to win her over she wasn’t in it and she was killed in the ensuing fight so became the symbol of endearing love. Awwwww. Ahhhhhh. Drive through Gauja National Park was lovely, at least the bits I was awake. Stopped on way out of Latvia to spend last of coins so got more cough lollies but realized I am over the cough finally, and a snickers crunch which was awesome! Estonia is the smallest of the 3 Baltic states, but has the largest coastline. More than 75% of Estonians have a home computer and there was talk of making the whole country covered with wifi, even though 50% of it is forrest. They have online everything so much so that often banks have no money because everything is done online. Stopped in Parnu for lunch with lovely drive through old houses. Walked down to beach which was pretty cool. Still shallow way out, but awesome games on the beach - if my neck wouldn’t seize up I would’ve tried the hanging swing and or the hanging see-saw. There was also beach basketball which I was interested in how that works! Coming into Tallinn we learned that it means Danish City. Poor buggers, at one stage, they had Germans raiding from south, Denmark and Swedes from the West and Russia from the East. At least they have hills again with the highest point being 518m. Latvia was only 160m and Lithuania only 60m. Finland is the most educated country in Europe with 35% having a degree, however Estonia is right behind them. Most people under 35 speak English and probably better than the English. Changed some money and it is EEK. Will be the only time I would call money eeky. Had dinner at Medieval restaurant called Olde Hansa. Had pickled tongue, berries, ginger turnips, hazelnut barley, almond chicken, crusader lentils, and lots of other stuff I can’t remember. Oh, the wine was sweet white, but had a cinnamon flavour. It is supposed to be what rich people would eat in medieval times. Oh, we were told the toilets were a must (not because they were free) and they were weird. Took photos of me as the Queen on the Throne and for some reason instinctively pretended to wipe. After dinner went to walk up to lookout but ran out of time and then had to wait on bus for other group anyway. But realized I was going up for night lights but at nearly 10pm it was still daylight anyway! Walking back we saw nightclubs advertising Can Can downstairs. Stopped and watched the movies and I think they got the leg lifting can can mixed up and were doing it spreading legs sideways!

Monday, 16 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, Tallinn
Tallinn has 400,000 people of 1.4m in Estonia. It has a new Freedom Square with a statue of Liberty but think it is a cross. They first declared independence in 1918 and again in 1991. The language here is very hard and is the same family as Finland and Hungary which I have already mentioned is supposed to be hard. He gave example of cat which has 14 versions somehow. Helsinki is only 40 mile from here and there is talk of building either a bridge or a tunnel. There is also talk of actually making Helsinki and Tallinn a joint city. Cost of living here is weird, to buy costs about USD1100 per square metre on average and our guide was renting a 45m unit in old city for USD300 per month but the minimum wage is only USD300 per month. So for future comparison, a metre of housing to buy costs about a months wage. There is a flat tax rate of 21% which would be easy to administer. Now I think it was St Nicholas church that was the highest building in Europe at the end of the 16th century. The tower isn’t as high now because it has been burnt down 8 times. Funny though, the old town was never destroyed by war - they always managed democratically to give themselves away  Tallinn was 1/10th destroyed though in WWII. We saw Fat Margaret, a tower so named because her walls are 6m thick and the city wall. Locals can only travel by rail to Russia because the rail is different width into Europe. At least they are different countries, unlike Australia with different gauges. The airport here is named after the first President after reindependance in 1990s because his first media interview was in the public toilet at the airport to make a point that it would be the first thing tourists see and it wasn’t nice. Was nice to see statue of Yohan Hitka who was hero of independence movement in 89 and 90. The hill we were on was the site of the 1st Anticommunist parade. It is also the place of legend where Denmark was fighting Estonia in 1300s and the red flag white cross fell from the sky as they were losing but the king waving it around inspired his men and they won and it became their flag. It is funny to note that Estonia share the 3 lions on their coat of arms with the Danes and Britain, as well as sharing their National Anthem with the Fins - well different words same tune. We saw Long Herman which is another tower who is their talisman power image which is right next to the Estonian Parliament building which is a lovely pink. Oh, the Russian Orthodox Church is Alexander Nirusky who Russians love and I think it was the first Russian church I have been inside of maybe, looked very normal though, oh and the crosses on Russian churches have an extra two crosses, one I can’t remember, one diagonally which signaled the two thieves on the cross with Jesus and one believing and going to heaven and one not and going to hell, then the crescent at the bottom to catch the blood which is a version of the holy grail. I don’t know if you are like me and heard a bit about 3 years ago when Estonia was faced with an IT Crisis which was probably Russia holding a cyber war with Estonia as it is very advanced
St Petersburg CastleSt Petersburg CastleSt Petersburg Castle

Is the only castle, all others are palaces, and this is colour of builders favourite's glove.
in all things IT. They even spell Estonia with two EEs so it is e-Estonia  They have eID, eCard, they eVote, and after the trouble a few years ago, and as part of NATO commitment, they have an eArmy to tighten up all things E! It was here that skype was invented. The government here actually manages a paperless office, most parliamentarians are around 30 so it works. They have compulsory military time here, but their army is only 3000 (at least there is a worst Army than Australia’s), but they basically practice guerilla warfare and if anything happens they disappear into the 50% forest and fight from there. Oh, this is exciting and I haven’t even got the whole story! Estonia is mostly Lutheran religion but while we were checking out the church, the guide said something about Martin Luther - now the thing I missed is was he named after the religion or was the religion named after him……? We walked the long way down the hill which is the long leg, locals say Tallinn has a limp because there is a short leg up the hill and a long leg, but the long leg is the oldest street and some of the cobbles were laid 600 years ago. Oh, and we saw a Marzipan museum because marzipan was created here. Some famous guy was a bit crook and asked for something special so the young man whipped up some marzipan - lucky because when I cook and something turns out awesome, I can never recreate it. Saw Church of Holy Ghost which has awesome step roof, but street is called Holy Ghost now which is much better than the medieval Evil Street. Oh, the world’s oldest pharmacy which was built in 1422. The Telegraff Hotel where President Bush stayed here 4 years ago, so they now have a Bush Balcony. We went for a walk then for lunch and saw the monument to the 1994 Estonian Ferry disaster which killed 800 passengers, then after lunch we saw an angel monument facing the location where 170 soldiers were killed in a ship sinking. There was this awesome place where every 5 years they have a music festival where 30,000 people can sing in a choir and 100,000 people can sit on the banks of the dome and listen. There is a monument to Gustav someone here who was a composer and basically started the singing revolution. Oh, it was weird, because today was lovely weather, even a touch cold if you sat in the shade and ate ice cream, but we had one guy faint, totally out of it for a bit, then another guy looked like a ghost and went home and one lady from the other bus nearly fell down the stairs. We are all knackered though, and didn’t know whether something was going around, but then added up that we have been on our feet from 9am to 5pm basically with only an hour sitting scattered through there. Leith is still in hospital though and adding to the list of people going to miss St Petersburg, Michelle couldn’t get another visa because she was there recently, Joon and Tess didn’t know they needed a visa, and now Jo and Leith are spending more time in hospital. Anyway, back to the tour, this was optional extra tour to Kadriorg Castle which is literally translated to Catherine’s Valley because it was ordered by Peter the Great. He knew they would only be using it as a summer palace so ordered the gardens to be made public. It was cool to see Peters end of the Palace looking over the Baltic (remember he started the Russian Fleet) and Catherine’s end looking over the gardens. Oh, right near there is the Presidential Palace - again in a lovely shade of pink, and the Kumu Art Museum which won some building award recently. Basically the inside of the Palace is now art as well but was interesting with stories of men seeing women bathing and turning into a deer and being eaten by his own dogs, which was meant to resemble Peter’s loss against the Swedes. Oh, the palace was a prototype for the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg so we’ll see. There was another painting from a famous Russian Shuskin who painted photo like and it was pretty awesome even now. There was a painting commissioned for a church by winemakers depicting Jesus first miracle of turning water in wine, the interesting thing was that all the pitchers of wine were symbols basically advertising different wines which was hanging at the church  We walked out past Swan Pond which was nice, but then they said it freezes in winter and is used as ice skating pond as well as ice statues. There was a monument for a Soviet War Memorial which was huge, and last stop was the Pirita Convent which was burnt down by Ivan the Terrible. Last but not least, Tallinn is going to be another European Capital of Culture in 2011. Got home about 5pm with dead legs and got some diary done and photos, then down for dinner which was very nice fish, it is all very light and very white here and very tasty. Now am going to meet Dave, Lisa and Simon from the other bus because it is his birthday, but can’t walk anywhere for a drink but will have a quick one if they have a drink down at hotel bar. Met downstairs and went to Brazilian bar downstairs to beer garden where locals were practicing Salsa dancing which was cool. Only had apple juice and left about 9.30pm and now 11pm and still have to catch up on yesterdays diary…..

Tuesday, 17 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, St Petersburg
Stupid alarm at 5.45am - yes I can’t believe either that I am on holidays. Did I mention before that it is just like being at work, especially with doing this diary and photos everyday for an hour or two, the only thing is I generally have lunch in a different city if not country. Put luggage out and then had to wait ¼ hour for breakfast to open which sucked. Fireplace was cool though - they had a tv screen of a fire  Off early then to Narva area which was site of first battle of Great Northern War. Swedes Charles XI smashed the Russians Peter I, with an army of 10,000 with 660 lost over 40,000 with 10,000 lost and 25,000 captured. Sounds like something Australians would celebrate a loss that bad! Saw oil shale trains which is main resource of the Baltic area. It is generally 50-60m underground in layers 4-5 metres thick. Qld has huge deposits but apparently we have stopped mining it because of environmental concerns. The shale waste can be used to make good concrete so don’t know what the problem is. Anyway, once mined, the rock is heated to 400 degrees so that the oil melts out. Dutch are working on heating the rock underground now and just sucking the oil out. You should appreciate getting this much story too after struggling to stay awake most of the day. We got to the border just after 10am and while waiting I went to the bus toilet. It was so squishy I think some part of my body was touching every wall at the same time! We got to go through border without unloading our luggage although they try and basically bribe you to say that you need to pay €1 each to not unload luggage, but they don’t check it anyway. Was funny sitting there watching people walking over the border and they had small bags which reminded me of the movie Defiance which is a pretty bad thought. Then there were 2 Asian girls who were on another bus who couldn’t get through border. Apparently they had a single entry passport and just went to visit Estonia so then couldn’t get back in, poor buggers, but if they only had as much trouble getting their visa as I did in the first place they wouldn’t’ve been that stupid. So just over 2 hours we were out of Estonia and into Russia. Took me nearly that long in a stinking hot queue remember to go 10m to
St Petersburg Bronze HorsemanSt Petersburg Bronze HorsemanSt Petersburg Bronze Horseman

Peter the Great - rock is like iceberg with only 3rd above ground.
have the border closed in front of me so I would think we were very lucky. Ok, so interesting tidbits of Russia. It is 8,000km wide and 6,000km high and covers 11 time zones and over 40% of continental Europe. They have a few lakes that hold ¼ of the worlds unfrozen water and 20% of worlds freshwater reserves, the biggest Lake Ladoga which is 1,600m deep. They have the highest mountain in Europe even though most would think it is in the Alps, and the longest river the Vulga. There are 142 million people which only rates them 9th in the world for population. Oh, Moscow is just getting over the fires because there is a huge storm going through which caused heaps of damage in St Petersburg yesterday. Oh, poor Portugal and Spain are going up in flames too. Russia was communist rule for 74 years to 1991. During this time, they say you would see the shops open and queue to buy something. You didn’t know what it was for sale, but you knew you’d need it. St Petersburg was renamed Leningrad after Lenin, but a referendum was held in 1996 to change it back to St
St Petersburg folk showSt Petersburg folk showSt Petersburg folk show

Is there some underwear there?
Petersburg. 40% of people wanted to keep Leningrad though, not because they liked Lenin as much as the history behind the Leningrad siege for over 900 days 1941-44. We saw some nice ceremonial gates to the city which were built for 1870s Russia win over Prussia. We saw the St Nicholas church which apart from being a pretty blue, was the only church to continue services through the whole communist period. Saw the Kierov Theatre, this is only for anyone reading because it meant nothing to me - Bolshoi in Moscow I was excited about because I’d heard of and I got a great photo but hey know nothing about this one. Crossed the Neva River and saw some amazing architecture which we will get sick of on tomorrows city tour no doubt. Snapped a few photos of submarines which are still made in this port as well as the Icebreaker Krassin which was famous for making paths for ship convoys in WWII. Is only a museum now and the slightest bit exciting because we are heading to Arctic next. Got into hotel about 4.30pm after losing an hour today. Quick look at 24hr supermarket to suss out what will
St Petersburg sunset over NevaSt Petersburg sunset over NevaSt Petersburg sunset over Neva

Awesome shot just snapped through bus window...
be lunch day after tomorrow because tomorrow is a 9-9 day. I don’t know how the oldies are keeping up actually. My legs are killing me more than when I climbed up Lesotho mountains. Even my thighs are killing me today. Saw some babushka dolls, one set was 29, apparently they are always odd numbered? Then 6pm had an awesome buffet dinner with the best roast potatoes I’ve ever had. Fish was awesome, veges, spinach lasagna and then piles of desserts. Wow 8.30pm and finished everything and just need to be as tired as my legs to sleep, even though it is really 7.30pm this morning time and I have slept half the day. Joanne then needed the converter out of my bag so then got out dvds to backup and then ended up till midnight on computer again.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, St Petersburg
Had a little snooze this morning and then had to fight for a table at breakfast and Joanne and I ended up sitting at different tables. St Petersburg is made up of hundreds of little islands, some made after canals were made I think from when it flooded, however Peter the Great always wanted canals and even the street names One to Twenty One are were canals were planned. The main island is Vaselivski Island (spelling excused I presume), and there are lots of bridge with 21 draw bridges that open during the summer months between 130 and 330am, so we didn’t see this even though it is regarded as a national sport. The first church we saw was Russian, which you would expect in Russia but it isn’t that way, it was exciting to know though that each church has a purpose and this was for the wives of husbands who were heavy drinkers. Shit we could start a few of these at home! Saw the Annunciation Drawbridge which is near Winter Palace which of course we saw as well. We went through it later in the day and with my initial thinking of art and nearly not signing up for the tour, it was AWESOME! There were heaps of paintings of Leonardo, Rafael, Michelangelo’s statue Crouching Boy, Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son when she described the son getting love from dad after many years away and the other son jealously watching with the father having different hands maybe father and mother like, Monet’s one from his mental institution and one from his brother’s house who saved him, Gauguin’s from when he went to Tahiti, Matisse and Picasso. We got photos of Nikolevsky Palace which is where we had our Russian Folk Show that night which was awesome as well - heaps of Russian bouncing off the ground dancing as well as spinning and pretty girls - you could see intensely all the actors loving their job. At half time we had some nibbles and all the oldies were acting like they would starve if they didn’t get another 1.5cm square piece of bread, my worst fault was when I got some fish eggs, oh caviar. It doesn’t deserve a fancy name trust me, it tastes like fish oddly enough, but it is worse and weird because you are being nice trying to swallow without spitting and then you accidently bust through another egg and get a burst and splash of fishy goodness. Anyone watching would notice the police smile removed from your face and your eyes squint and your throat muscles tense to save the gagging effect this has. I held off on the free champagne and vodka because they show had funny bits and didn’t want to get carried away which was lucky because I did get the giggles when a man came out in costume of old man and girl dancing and it was only him. It took me the whole show to work out his hand and leg ends but others didn’t even realize it was only one person, in fairness he was doing handstands against the wall so obviously some just normal leaning against the wall as well. OK, back to the city tour. We saw St Isaacs which has the 3rd biggest dome in the world, and it has been the main church in use for 100 years. The gilding is all original gold too which is impressive. Right there is the statue of Nikolai I and also the hotel building which is famous because Hitler sent postcards from here inviting others to come to the celebration of winning the war and then his intent to burn the city down. Saw the Constitutional Court and Library as well as a Court building sharing with the head of church which is ironic. The Bronze Horseman statue which is effectively an icon of St Petersburg was cool and especially to know that only a 1/3 of the stone is exposed. Heaps of photos of the sphinx at the Art College which our Egyptian Ahmed got excited about and an obelisk across the road that must have sent him over the edge  Somewhere later we saw more sphinx on the river bank and I had hilarious giggles to myself when I kinda yelled, hey, look at the sphinxes to the left….. Saw the Rostrum columns celebrating boat wins and the bows of ships on the posts, a tradition brought from Italy. Oh, saw Konberg barracks which is now museum which was straight across from Peter and Paul Fortress. Right next to it is another obelisk marking the place where 7 Decembras were hanged for opposing the leader at the time. There is the first so I presume oldest bridge, Ivan Bridge which headed over to the Fort. We stopped for a break at a shop which was awesome that I got to take photos of lots of pretty Russian Babushka dolls, have a free cranberry liqueur as well as a free toilet. Life was so good I nearly forgot to take a photo of Peters

Place where if husbands have been good, wife will let them out to wash the carpets. I'd be slipping in a bit of washing as well :)
special house that was built small because he didn’t like open spaces. Saw the cruiser Aurora who fired the first shot of the independence revolution in the early 1900s. Saw Trinity Cathedral and some boat which has expensive meals when we heard over 200 churches were destroyed. Saw Summer Garden which was kind of right next to everything, the Winter Palace, the Fort, the Bronze Horseman, the Church of the Christ of Spilled Blood (similar to St Basils in Moscow). Named so because it is built on the site where Alexandra II was killed. It has 2000 square metres of mosaic inside. There is only 1 Castle in St Petersburg unbelievably, the others are all Palaces and the one castle is a bright orange colour which was painted so after the builder found his favorites glove and wanted it painted that colour. Oh oh, exciting because it is about food. I got a snap of the building where Beef Stroganoff was started. There you go, it is called Strogonoff Palace. Oh, for lunch we went on a cruise which was nice, but we saw lots of the same stuff we had already been introduced to, but lunch was interesting, we had the beetroot soup thing which is ok and I’m nearly used to now, but the lunch salad involved cold mushrooms that were slimy and like worms - long slim slimy ones didn’t slip down easy though - they slipped back up easy. I have to go back to the Winter Palace or Hermitage art museum now. I did mention it is awesome didn’t I, and that the only turtle paintings we didn’t see were was Donatello, which kind of explains my grasp of the arts. The exciting thing is that we had two hours, but to look at every item for 2 seconds it would take you two years. I took a photo of all the stats of what is there but I don’t have enough zero’s on my keyboard to retype them all. This is definitely one of those better to regret what you did than to regret what you didn’t times. Had Chinese when we got home after theatre and it was quite nice, except I ordered pork which came very late and wasn’t pork but beef, Dave got my pork which she called beef and he worked out but we didn’t twig it might be mine.
Finland 1952 Olympic stadiumFinland 1952 Olympic stadiumFinland 1952 Olympic stadium

U2 played here the day we were there which is the queuing people and statue of Paavi who ran Finland into world.
Was all good fun. Then bought some snacks at supermarket, crab, mushroom and lamb chips which were all exciting and tasty, and a couple of packs of nut biscuits and a can of green lion alcohol from Brazil which was very nice and a Black Russian with coffee flavour which was very coffee’ey. Coming out of supermarket, Lesley asked if she could help carry anything and I said I still wasn’t carrying any of mine, Dave and Lisa had their arms filled and she stormed off in a huff saying she was only asking. Poor girl is so defensive but it is funny. So then we went back to our room and had the drinks which was a struggle and ended up going to sleep at nearly 2am.

Thursday, 19 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, Helsinki
Getting up today was not as bad as expected after late night but don’t let me mislead you, it was still a struggle. Didn’t have to really fight for breakfast today, at least we got to sit together. Headed off to Peter and Paul Fortress which is where Peter the Great started St Petersburg. It was nice, but the tour
Finland Juan Sibeluse Finland Juan Sibeluse Finland Juan Sibeluse

Composer who composed by writing notes, he actually didn't like sound?
consisted of going out back to see over Neva River again, there was a funny sign board here with pictures that we worked out were no jumping from the castle wall (you would nearly need a parachute), no fat people, no bikinis (in a fort?) etc, and then the Cathedral where all the Tzars from Peter I, ie Peter the Great in case you haven’t been paying attention (poor bugger sat in his coffin and waited three years for the Cathedral to be finished), right up to last Tzar Nicholas II (and his family who Lenin murdered by memory) are buried. It was cool to see Tzar tree of successions as well, between a bit of hint (ie names in Russian) and memory reckon I could work it all out. Other girls went to toilets but I didn’t want to pay (I have still managed not to pay since that fat lady in Zakopane letting someone try and break in on me and have a wrestle with the door handle), but apparently it was worth the money for the experience. The walls/doors were very short to stop people from squatting on the seat. Then off we go towards Helsinki. Got more info on the Baltic sea which is 1600m long and average 200m wide. It is cool to know that Scandinavia is still rising 1-2cm per 100 years. Tides are only 1 foot and it takes 30 years to cycle out the water from the Baltic sea. The most exciting bit though is when it freezes in winter it freezes in the shape of little waves. This is déjà vu like so hope I am not repeating myself but too lazy to scroll back and check. Good revision anyway! Turns out it was all déjà vu but ended up fixing it because I had lost a diary day repeating myself. I am confused now and hope it is right - you will never know and I will never remember so all is well  I slept through most of Finland talk but did catch that it has 70% forrest, with Europe having an average of 40% which is probably a bigger shock. Now the Russian border. Got to border at 2.10pm which we changed back to 1.10pm and it is already now 3pm so 2 hours sitting here. Remember it was just as hard to get out of Russia last time too. Got out of bus while it was nearly running still in the queue and toilet was 15 rouble but was a queue and smelly - three worst things - paying, smelling and queuing so I went a bit further into the bush and only had to pay a prickle in the bum! Then got to have an ice cream with my money! Actually put time to good use though and did diary for today, skipped yesterday but named all my photos which took forever. The Russian lady to stamp me out I thought wasn’t going to let me out because I was smiling, which made me smile more I just had to look away - you know like when you get a passport photo taken and they say don’t smile - so you do! I remember seeing a claw waiting for my passport and then a face that hasn’t smiled in all her life. Then laughed with Fin man trying to say hello which included some big roll of the RRRs. Then he went mad at Dave trying it and told him no more jokes  It ended up taking us 4 hours from Russia to Finland which
Helsinki City HallHelsinki City HallHelsinki City Hall

Another art show - cool mirrored chain though :) Lisa Joan Eddie Dave Joanne
wasn’t bad overall I suppose. Then we had few hour drive to hotel and were late enough to have to take our own luggage in! Sat with guys at dinner but just chatted and went to bed about midnight again.

Friday, 20 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, Cruise
Now this is a funny diary note - we saw rocks yesterday today, everywhere. We haven’t seen rocks since the Mermaid TV was on rocks I don’t think. Any wonder why old taxes were rocks! It was cool to see coming in yesterday and this morning skiers, well people either walking or roller blading with ski poles. Roller blading is kinda normal, but walking with ski poles??? Oh, reindeer are only in the top 1/3 of Finland and they still roam wild and have culling every year. We had reindeer balls for lunch to try and were quite tasty. There are fences all over the road for the moose/elk. I remember Bill Brysons book asking why they try to look scary wearing an oven glove on their heads and then describing their gangly running and dumbness. We got some more Finland chat so have to fill you in now. Oh, first up, the people here are so lovely, could’ve married either of the nice young men in the lift, or our waiter at dinner, or some of the guys at breakfast. Is a bit expensive here and weather is great to us but I am already scheming coming back in winter - especially if I don’t get to see northern lights this trip  Ok, back to info. Finland is the 7th or 8th biggest European country with only 15 people per square meter compared to 450 in Nederlands. I think Australia even has 6! There is the winter solstice on 21 Sept which only has darkless nights for about 3 weeks. Lapland area is all parts of Scandinavia about the arctic circle, think I lied to you the other day and said it was a province of Finland. Close. Finland has the only goldmine in Europe and is rich in just about every other mineral including Sprectrolyte which is only found here. You know Nokia started here, well it is actually a little town just north of Helsinki and the company started making farm machinery, then tyres, then wellington boots and then finally electronics. We got our local guide for city tour and off we went. Helsinki was only made capital after Russians took over from the Swedes in 1814 and it was considered the Grand Dutchy of Russia. They have 8 icebreakers which are their pride of fleet and quite impressive if I do say so myself. At Senate Square, there is the oldest house which was built in 1757 - huh, that is only 31 years older than Australia! Lots of statistical facts I’ll have to quote… All schooling is free, average wage is €3000 per month and tax is about 35% but marginal up to 60%. There are 5 million Fins, and apparently 3 million saunas, so much so that our overnight cruise ship for 2600 people has a sauna. They have built the worlds largest cruise ship for 8,400 people. There are 1788 lakes in Finland, looking at it on a map it is like craterland. There are 6 Wolf Islands with a fortress that is Unesco listed. Do we have anything Unesco listed in Australia? It is the only place in the world where all of it’s harbours freeze. Any wonder why they are proud of their fleet of 8 icebreakers. Finland was under Swedish control from 12th century to 1863 and after that they had their own Finnish mark, language and identity, however most are multilingual speaking at least Swedish and Finnish, and most speak English. All street names are in Finnish and Swedish. They have a female president who is running her second 6 year term along with 80 of 200 members being female. You can go fishing in the city centre and catch salmon, it is tradition that any weighing 14kg are given to the president (I just wouldn’t weigh it properly ). The city was basically untouched through all the wars, however Russia did throw a few bombs in WWII and it was funny to see that the first bomb that landed was on the Russian Embassy. Juan Sibelius was their greatest composer, but the funny thing was he hated sound and composed all his music just writing notes. His daughters all learned piano and used to have to stand guard on the house while their father was out for a walk. The monument built for him looks organ like which Fins didn’t like knowing he didn’t like music. We were told about City Hall having a free
Stockholm City HallStockholm City HallStockholm City Hall

Where dinner is hosted for 5 Nobel Prize winners.
toilet and art show. It was the toilet that took us there, but the art from Claire Aho was quite cool. A statue of naked lady Harvis Amanda, was put in town 100 years ago and of course nakedness was a worry. Now it is tradition on 1 May for all schoolkids finishing that year to wash the statue and last year, 70,000 people were in the square to join in the festivities all wearing their old school graduation hats. Helsinki got to host the 1952 Olympics after the 1940 Olympics were put on hold for the war. We saw the stadium with the statue of Paavi who was a long distance runner and ran Finland into the world. They have a lovely relationship now with Swedish neighbours and their motto is similar to ours in they want to win or at least beat Sweden. Also there were heaps of kids queuing for the U2 concert that was to be that night. It explained why there was only the few of us at the changing of the guards, others were either stalking the hotel Bono was at or at the free military parade. They have a lovely park that has a rabbit problem with 2000 rabbits. They try to cull but Fins protest so they catch them and feed lions at the zoo. I know I would rather be shot than eaten alive! Finland was a Kingdom for a year in 1918 after independence. They didn’t have a King and the German Emperor didn’t want to send his son over but said of someone else. They built everything based on him but he didn’t come so in 1919 they became a republic. They are 81% Lutheran and they pay church tax out of their wages. It is optional but most do it but are lazy enough not to go to church. They have a funny tradition of washing their rugs. If the men are in the good books, the wives will let them go down by the water and scrub their rugs making a day of it. Their medical sounds a bit like medicare, but every time you go to doctor you pay first €15 and first €33 per day for hospital which covers everything. That sounds awesome to keep some of our abusers out of the system I reckon. It would make me never go. We tasted some cherries Joan had and were awesome, but then had pad thai and reindeer meat balls for lunch which were quite nice. It was funny at lunch because they have a system of bike tracks beside the road which are hard to get used to. I saw Joanne and Lisa walking across path in front of bike so yelled out ‘bike’. They both stopped right in front of the bike to turn to me and say ‘what?’ The man on the bike was not impressed with me, I think he thought I more or less told the others to stop  We met up at Senate Square again and headed off to overnight ferry. Got some nice pics of the archipelago on the way out and especially from the Fort where there were heaps of people and screaming loudly at us and the captain blowing the horn which was cool. Then met others for dinner, but 5.30pm I was knackered and went to bed to be rocked to sleep by gentle lulling of boat.

Saturday, 21 August 2010 Jewels of Baltic and Scandinavia, Cosmos, Stockholm
Woke 5am to alarm and was a bit of struggle outside for reccy and was ok. So went and got dressed and woke Joanne and headed back out to see Lisa waving frantically at me that I just missed the sunrise 2 mins ago. Was 5.20am by now so obviously on slow mode. Was nice though still and got lots of pretty coloured sunrises. Is little bit cold out here so much so that my fingers are having trouble responding correctly to my brain signals. Then this is where I realized my diary was all arse about face so gave up, had breakfast which was pretty awesome and now have another hour before we meet at the lifeboat. Yes Beccy Cole’s song Lifeboat comes to mind. Especially after the Tallinn Helsinki memorial we have seen and the announcement that I have now worked out was at 3am. It was Finnish though so didn’t bother, then Swedish so didn’t bother, maybe I just fell back asleep before the English part - sounded like they were calling a name though and Simon and Dave, who were up all night, said that we stopped at a port so all adds up. At breakfast, I had to rush back to room for toilet, in which Joanne tried to tell me I had left a skidmark, but it could not have been a skidmark, maybe a bathtub ring would have been more appropriate! The meet up which sounded so confusing was very easy and we got off first as planned and no hassles finding our coach. Straight into city tour. Sweden has 9 million people with 1.9m living in Stockholm. They get 5 weeks holiday here which sounds good to me. We saw City Hall where there was a Dala horse but I didn’t know what it was so resisted taking a photo. Found out later that they are only produced in 2 places in Sweden and it takes up to 8 people to make each one which is why they are so expensive. I stole a photo of souvenier ones of course. At City Hall there was impression room where they host the dinner for the 5 Laureates of Nobel prizes each 10 December. Actually 6 now including economics. The Peace Prize is given at Oslo remember. It is called the Blue Hall that is of red brick because the builder liked the red in the end. Then upstairs to the ballroom area which was impressive gold made with 18 million mosaic pieces ironically called the Golden Room. There is a mosaic of 3 Crown Castle which is the basis for a lot of their national teams now as well as the headless St Eric. Usually they have 100 days of snow but last season they had 4 ½ months in that worldwide cold snap. The highest point of Stockholm is 63m of rock across from City Hall. They have 4 governing parties, Conservative, Liberal, one somewhere between them and Democrats. I don’t know why they are worried about Australia having a hung election. And by the way, the news over here sounds like we are an African country about to go into revolt with quotes like “the incumbent leader is intending to keep power until something is decided”, “the country’s unstable government situation”, “the incumbent looking very ministerial like pretending nothing is wrong”, the country may have hung parliament first time since WWII, I am sure we’ve been in similar situation and a deal has been done before? Anyway, mainly the fact that if you didn’t know it would sound like we were going to go to war about it. If only they knew Australians are too lazy to vote let alone war about politics! There is a cool pedestrian street with huge PUB sign that isn’t a pub, but Stockholm does have the first ice bar in the world. Looked up prices though and don’t think my house line of credit can nearly handle it. Honestly worked out a few hundred dollars to have a bit of food and a drink of vodka out of a glass made of ice. They had the ceremony for reopening the trams today after being closed in 1967 when they decided to drive on right side of road so trams were closed. We were dropped at the Royal Palace and saw the end of changing of the guards, they had about 6 guards around the place, and they actually moved and talked to people which was interesting. What a novel concept, guards who actually guarded! There was a dodgy monument of what looked like cockroach creatures to a Swedish guy who saved probably 100,000 Jews by giving out dodgy passports. Gustavos Adolphus statue who had an awesome Swedish fleet but wanted to build the Vasa starting in 1625. It was finally finished in 1628 after he kept ordering more guns, more space for more men, make it bigger. The Captain was worried it would be top heavy so ordered 30 men to run across the top deck a few times to see if it would rock. The test was suspended when the ship did start to list. I suppose he didn’t want to sink it without sailing it at all. So it sailed 20 mins down the harbour and sank in 50m deep water. The ship was 35m tall but obviously rolled over and 69m long. It had 120 tonne of ballast to stop it from toppling which then made the gun ports very close to the waterline. It was built for 300 gun crew and up to 150 men to sail the ship. There were 68 guns which were recovered back early in the piece, 1660s maybe, and sold to the Germans. Everyone forgot about the ship and in early 1900s someone thought it might still be around because the Baltic is not so salty and little hungry seaworms did not live here to eat the wood. They found it and recovered it which was a huge feat. At first, they had to spray the ship every 20 mins so the wood would not dry too quickly. This was 333 years after it sank. How cool is that. Had a wander down famous pedestrian street and a Maccas Chicken Junior for lunch, then a walk through old town as it was pissing down rain. Back to hotel at 5pm and then get ready for farewell dinner at 7pm. Said goodbye to everyone and finally got a tear in my eye saying goodbye to Louis, she is so like our Grandma, so petite and lovely. Then had Christine and Simon from other bus, Lisa and Dave back to our room. Thought it ended an early night but it was still after 11pm.

Sunday, 22 August 2010 Stockholm
Either slept well or still energized from nearly 12 hour sleep yesterday because a few hours seems to have been enough. Went down at 6.30am to say goodbye to first transfer, and then got on net and called John and had a lovely chat to little Madison. I think I got more words out of her in 10 minute phone conversation than I have had ever with her which was great. Got to say real congratulations to John and Mel too other than facebook. Did some washing and managed to wash the email list from last night - didn’t even last 12 hours  Then back down to say goodbye to next transfer just after 9am and had breakfast. Felt guilty and have been going all day on photos and diary and travelblog (plus a little bit of bubble spinner in there). Again midday went to say goodbye to last people leaving but just missed them so chatted to Helen Gayle and John for an hour or so. Is now after 4pm and want to go out for a forrest walk too before dinner. Sussed out airport transfer, because luckily we realized that Joanne’s flight leaves at 7.30am and mine at 9.30am. Don’t know why we are flying the same way when we meet up at the next flight? Anyway, 12km airport transfer is apparently €50. That is about $80 - a ripoff, especially seeing as I have to go 2 hours earlier now to sit in an airport terminal! Finally we set off for a walk along river in forrest which was very nice. Then had dinner and bought some chocies with last of money. Booked taxi for tomorrow and called Narelle to say goodbye. Just going to do online checkin and try and get some sleep for 4.30am alarm.


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