Adventures in Stockholm and Helsinki

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June 21st 2010
Published: June 21st 2010
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Travel so far- stats and facts

Manchester to Nottingham - car (thanks Dad) ~ 2 hours
Nottingham to Bristol - train ~3 hours
Bristol to Swindon - car (thanks Granville and Jo) ~ 1 hour
Swindon to London - coach ~ 3 hours
London to Harwich - train ~ 2 hours
Harwich to Rotterdam - ferry ~ 8 hours
Rotterdam - Berlin - train ~ 7 hours
Berlin to Copenhagen - train ~ 6 hours
Copenhagen to Hirtshals - train ~ 6 hours
Hirtshals to Bergen - ferry ~ 20 hours
Bergen to Oslo - train ~ 7 hours
Oslo to Stockholm - train ~ 7 hours
Stockholm to Helsinki - ferry ~ 16 hours
Helsinki to St Petersburg - train ~ 6 hours

That’s 44 hours on a train, 44 hours on a ferry and a total of 94 hours of travel since we left Manchester. Or, approximately two and a half working weeks of travelling- 89 hours of this in the last 15 days. By the time we arrived in Stockholm we had been travelling on 4 out of the last 5 days and I think it is fair to say that the magic of European train travel was beginning to wear a little thin.

Consequently, we arrived in good spirits and were looking forward to spending more than a few hours in one place. All day on the train we had imagined the luxury of putting our toiletries in the bathroom and doing our washing.

We checked in to our hostel/hotel and waddled off to our room- waddled, both because we were staying on a boat and because with our packs on we are extra wobbly. Fortunately this wasn’t a problem for us in the room, since it was so small that there wasn’t physically room for us both to fall over. Our options were, stand wedged between the wall and the bed, or lie on the bed (beautifully demonstrated by Luke).

Overall this turn of events was not received well by our sleep deprived selves and after a quick game of, “do you want to move rooms?”, “go and ask the receptionist if they’ve got something else”, “I’m tired, you ask the receptionist”, “I’m tired too, you ask the receptionist” we moved to a more salubrious cabin. This one had all mod cons, like floor space, chairs and windows that opened.

After exhausting ourselves over the last few days we decided to take it easy in Stockholm and didn’t give ourselves a shopping list of things to do. Fortunately, Stockholm is perfectly suited to mooching around and drinking coffee so this all worked out very well for us.

Stockholm is founded on 10 islands and our boat was moored on Soda (you read one Stieg Larson book and suddenly you are down with the local slang). Our boat was just opposite the old town and not far from the Royal Palace. Soda is a residential part of Stockholm and although it has a seedy history (I think the word Soda is derived from either knife or stabbing) it is now filled with coffee shops and trendy bars. It is also the home of Legumes, a very reasonably priced veggie restaurant/café, where I ate like a big fat pig. Nom, nom, nom.

To get anywhere but Soda we had to walk through the old town which was so beautiful that we didn’t really get much further. The old town is filled with beautiful little streets, including the one in the picture which is only 1m wide in places and the narrowest in the city.

We were in the city on the Thursday and Friday before the wedding of the crown princess Victoria and her former personal trainer, Mr Daniel Westling (held on Saturday the 19th June). Everyone seemed to be on wedding watch. Naturally, there were pictures of the happy couple plastered on every kind of tat you can think of. It was very tempting to send out some terrible post cards but everything was too expensive to waste money on bad jokes.

Unfortunately the wedding preparations meant that royal apartments were closed to visitors. This is quite a big tourist attraction in Stockholm and it would have been nice to visit but to be honest we were so tired that it was a relief to take it easy. Instead we watched the changing of the guard and then ate our sandwiches while watching people clean and tidy the palace flower beds (incidentally my Manchester formula is still holding true). Our only, somewhat, touristy visit was to the photography museum, where we saw exhibitions on the work of Lennart Nilsson (who is famous for his electron microscope pictures of embryos/foetus’/babies in the womb) and Annie Leibovitz (who is famous for taking pictures of rock stars, being BFFs with Susan Sontag and almost going bankrupt every six months). FINALLY we found a gallery that Luke and I both liked. There was also an exhibition by a guy who photographs (posed) corpses- and we also agreed that we didn’t like that one so much. I think we may be finding some common artistic ground at last!

A quick note on the Stockholm to Helsinki ferry
A palace! By far the nicest we’ve been on, it had two saunas, a spa, a pub, a theatre, a nightclub glass lifts and a promenade. Of course the only thing the Swedes/Finns were interested in was the duty free (and who can blame them with such high duty on booze). Duty free were obviously clued up to this ‘pile em high’ philosophy and gave away free wheelie trolleys when you purchased 4 crates of beer, they even had a selection already made up.

We had the added bonus of travelling with Sijya Line ferries who happen to be the official carrier of both Santa Claus and the Moomins. I enjoyed this fact very much.

We were welcomed onto the ship by some of the crew and were made to stop under a big arch in front of the ship’s photographer. Even when we said that we didn’t want our picture taken we were made to stop. Our sour expressions had more of an effect on the photographer who, having lined us up in his camera lens, declined to take our picture and waved us on. Inside we were welcomed by two people on stilts and a Moomin- all was forgiven!

Having seen the mob of Germans who gathered to watch the football on the Bergen ferry we had dinner in our room (Nutella sandwiches and a glass of duty free wine) and then, full of patriotic anticipation, made our way to the bar to watch England vs Algeria.

We were the only English people there, but from the snippets we could make out the Finns behind us also thought they should have brought Crouch on earlier. Oh dear, oh dear…

From Nutella sandwiches to Helsinki and a 4* hotel (via a great deal Luke got when he booked the ferry). We arrived early and were very grateful that the hotel let us check in. We spent an hour or so enjoying decent internet access and our comfy bed (on the Stockholm-Helsinki ferry, Luke’s bed had moved whenever anyone in the next cabin sat down) and the rest of the day mooching around, admiring Moomin merchandise and buying bits and pieces for the Moscow to Beijing journey. On Sunday ventured out for a spot of sight seeing.

Karelia parade - Walking though the town looking for our first Kodak moment we noticed a lot of women in traditional dresses. Hmm, we thought, that’s a bit strange- they obviously take church very seriously round here. As we passed through the square of the Russian Orthodox cathedral we found loads and loads of people dressed the same. A nice lady (who had travelled 600 km by coach to be there) told us that in the 1940s Finland give part of its land to Russia- Karelia, Salla and Petsamo. The Finnish population fled the region and every year their communities gather in a different city in Finland to mark the event. It was great, everyone lined up behind the placard of their region, each one with slightly different costumes and flags. At noon the choir came out of the church, stood on the cathedral step and sang. The whole square joined in for what I think was the Finnish national anthem. After a few speeches they began to file out of the square for a 3 mile parade around the city.

We had been hanging around for about an hour just enjoying the sunshine and people watching. After all the build up it seemed a bit sombre when everyone set off in silence, I think we had been expecting some music or a bit of singing. Clearly some of the participants had expected the same and one or two groups braved a few lines of song before falling mute when they realized that no one else knew the words. The lull was broken by one of the last groups to leave. They were only 4 members and they were led by a man who was obviously determined to inject some vigour into proceedings. In a jolly baritone he began to sing what I assume was a traditional song with a booming voice that would not be dampened by the self conscious crowd. After a few lines everyone realized that he wasn’t going to stop and those that knew the words began to join in, those that didn’t know the words clapped. He sang pretty much the whole way out of the square interrupting himself only to shout words to the effect of “come on Helsinki” (very well received). You could hear the ripple of clapping following him along.

Suomenlinna Fortress - A 15 minute boat trip from Helsinki harbour, which was lovely on a nice summer day. On the promotional pictures the boat is sailing through frozen seas so it must be quite different in winter. Building work on this fortress, which is spread across six islands, started in 1748 and after a long military history in which it was used by the Swedes, the Russians and the Finns it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

At one time the buildings were used for military purposes but now they function as expensive craft shops, cafes and museums (including a rather randomly placed toy museum). There are 700 permanent residents on the island and quite a large population of geese. The geese were good because they had lots of baby geese (super cute) but bad because there was geese poo everywhere (super stinky).

The Church of Rock - Ok, really this is called the ‘Rock Church’ but how I wish I had a picture of Gene Simmons that I could put here. Much as Finland is famous for its love of heavy metal music, this is not a sequel to School of Rock, staring Jack Black, but is actually a church carved out of rock. It was really nice inside, surprisingly cosy with a beautiful copper roof. This did not stop me from making the Spiderman fingers and sticking my tongue out when I thought no one was looking *Luke rolls eyes*.

Sibelius Sculpture - This sculpture is in a park in the north of the city. Luke actually likes this one- I think that’s because from certain angles it looks like Australia!

Sunday was also Father’s Day in the UK so “hi” to our Dads.

Helsinki to St Petersburg train
It feels as though the journey really starts to get exotic here. Although our friend Dmitry has pointed out that both St Petersburg and Moscow are in Europe; Luke and I both feel that in making this journey to Russia we are passing a big milestone in our trip. This distinction seems to be made all the more apparent by the two Russian ladies in the seats next to us- who began drinking half a litre of neat whisky at 7.45 in the morning and now, as I finish writing, at 10.20 have almost finished it. I suspect that even the liquor loving Finns would shirk at this.

For those that have managed to read this far, don’t worry, Luke will probably write the next blog so it is likely to be much shorter than this!

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21st June 2010

I loved your post and photos from Stockholm, Helsinki, etc. I haven't been there yet but have always wanted to, and hope to be able to soon! Looks like such fun! My blog is looking for travel photos, reviews, new foods, etc, to share. If you have the time, check it out at, or email me at Continued fun on your travels! Heather :)
21st June 2010

Hmmmm... the Sibelius statue does look like Australia... and not a bit like Sibelius. Unless he had REALLY bad rickets. Lesson: Finns are strange.
21st June 2010

good trip
Hi Luke/Liz Looks like the trip is goin great - small room did look very small, suspect i wouldnt have fitted in att all anyway - have fun, thinking of you both....John/Lin/Emma/Sarah

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