A Travellerspoint blog

Epilogue - Scott's Field Tested Travel Tips From the Road


I thought a list of some of the travel tips and tricks that I have picked up through the years might help out some of you. Please let me know if these help you and if you have any more tips you think I should add!

  • Take a washcloth with you. In all of the hostels and hotels I have stayed in overseas, I have rarely seen a single washcloth. Carry 1-2 of your own washcloths in ziploc bags, along with 2 standard sized bars of soap and travel shampoo.

  • When you get to your hotel or hostel, get a card listing its address. If you get lost, you can give the card to a taxi driver who might not speak English. In the absence of a card, a postcard of the hotel will usually do nicely.

  • Make sure you take the proper power adapter and transformer with you. A transformer is important to regulate fluctuating power supplies.

  • Take an extra memory card for your digital camera. You will inevitably take more pictures than you think you will, and finding the proper memory card overseas can take valuable time. The card you do find will almost always be more expensive than one you find back home.

  • Consider taking a laptop computer with a headset and/or webcam. You can download your digital pictures onto the computer for a backup and to email to friends and relatives. If you take a headset or webcam with microphone you can call home using an internet telephone service like Skype.com for pennies a minute. The webcam is great for teleconferencing the same way very cheaply, and seeing someone's face from home while on a long trip sometimes makes all the difference in morale. Most areas I have visited have internet access. Also, when Skype is installed on your computer, it automatically formats telephone numbers found on websites so that you can call country to country very easily when making upcoming travel arrangements on the road. This is how I made my hotel reservations in Stockholm and Oslo.

  • Set up your cell phone in advance so that it can be used in the countries you will be visiting. Make sure ahead of time that your cell phone has a sim card that can be removed and replaced. Sometimes you can buy a cheap sim card in the contry once you arrive and install it in your phone for less expensive calls. Remember to keep your original sim card to return to your phone when you get home!

  • Tell your credit/ATM card company in advance which countries you will be travelling to and when so they won't flag your account or cut it off due to "suspicious charges." You don't want your bank card to cut you off with no money in the middle of a new country!

  • ATMs can be found pretty much everywhere in Europe, and usually give the best exchange rates.

  • Keep a copy of your passport and credit cards separately from your wallet, and leave identical copies at home with someone you trust so you can inform authorities quickly of they are stolen.

  • Most people in Scandinavia speak better English than we do, but still learn some words in the native language out of respect. Start with the words "please" and "thank you."

  • Take at least two good guidebooks on your trip with you. I highly recommend Lonely Planet and Rick Steves' Scandinavia. What one misses, usually the other one picks up on.

  • Guide books can be wrong. I found several mistakes in my guidebooks as I went along. Always ask at local tourist information offices, and always get a local map when you arrive, marking your hotel on the map before you set out exploring.

  • Talk to people. People in Europe are usually very open to talking to you, especially if you are polite. Americans seem to have a mindset of "If someone is being nice to me and they are talking to me, they must want something." Get over this and open up.

  • Always be polite to everyone, especially under adverse circumstances, and especially to hotel and restaurant personnel. I got spots in otherwise fully-booked restaurants and hotels by being polite (and flexible).

  • Always be flexible. No matter what happens, roll with the punches. Despite making reservations ahead of time, I still had to play musical chairs with my rooms several places in Europe, but I always ended up with a decent place to stay. Most hotels say they would like for you to check in by 6pm, and they mean it. They will give away your room if you arrive after 6, if you don't inform them of a late arrival. On the other hand, if you arrive at a hotel or hostel at 6pm or later without a reservation, you will stand a good chance of getting one of these rooms. If a place doesn't have a room, ask them for comparable places in the area that you might try. In Stockholm I couldn't find one place for the full length of my stay, but I found one hotel for part of the stay, and another around the block for the remainder.

  • Don't be afraid of staying in hostels. Many older people especially shy away from hostels, thinking that they are college flophouses. This is not true. In my experience hostels generally are very nice and clean, and the restrooms and showers down the hall are well kept. I also met many more interesting fellow travellers in hostels than in hotels. Hostel guests are generally very nice, open, and willing to chat about their travel experiences.

  • It is very easy to eat cheaply on the road. For some reason, hot dogs and hot dog stands are almost universal in Northern Europe, as well as pizza and hamburgers. I usually bought sandwiches and fruit at convenience stores to eat, and these items are even cheaper at real grocery stores. This kind of diet will save you money, but every 2-3 days it is a good idea to treat yourself to a decent meal at a restaurant. You won't feel as run down over time, and your body will thank you. It is also a good way to get a taste of the local cuisine.

  • Do not expect American breakfasts. On my entire trip, I encountered eggs for breakfast only twice - once in Sweden where I found one soft boiled egg on the breakfast table, and once on the Viking Line Ferry, where the scrambled eggs tasted like modeling clay. Everywhere else had slices of luncheon meat, cheese and bread. I found that it is a good idea to take a gallon Ziploc bag full of power bars or breakfast bars with you for those mornings when you just can't face the lunchmeat and herring one more time.

  • Don't be intimidated by big cities. Wherever you go, remember that people just like you live there. There will be neighborhoods with stores, restaurants, groceries, transportation, and things to see and do.

  • Build in rest days. On an extended trip overseas you tend to tire over time as your brain gets information overload. Building in rest days here and there are highly beneficial. You can sleep in and just become "part of the neighborhood."

  • Take a journal and plenty of good pens. Every night write down what you did that day, or you will forget important details in the flurry of activity.

  • Don't be afraid to travel alone. When people found out that I was planning on travelling alone to Europe, many thought I was crazy. Most are conditioned to travelling in groups, getting on and off tour busses on a set schedule. Resist this impulse! Travelling alone you really see much more of a place, and it forces you to talk to people who live there, and not just those in your familiar group. You can change plans on a dime, and go anywhere you want, often following up on tips on interesting travel stops from fellow travellers. On the downside, you do spend a lot of time by yourself and it can tend to get a bit lonely. Some nights in my room I would tun on the TV and turn it to an English language program just to hear someone else speak English! Sometimes there were no English programs on TV (Estonia), and I just had to deal with it. In these situations, I would spend my time in the evenings working on the blog!

  • Pack light. I cannot overemphasize this enough. I knew this rule going into my trip, and still ended up mailing home two boxes of crap I didn't need, totalling 16 pounds! Wash things in the sink with shampoo and hang them up to dry. Laundry machines can be few and far between, so when you find them, take advantage. I packed Tide detergent in single-load sized packets, along with several dryer sheets. Both came in very handy.

  • Public toilets and lockers in museums usually require a coin. In each country the coin is different, so find out what it is and always carry 2-3 with you. Everywhere I went in Northern Europe the public toilets were clean, much better than in the U.S.

  • The trains, busses, and trams in Eurpoe are great, and usually run on time. In the U.S. we are not used to good public transit and do not trust it. In Europe public transit is alive and well, and you do not need a car. You meet many more people on public transit anyway, both locals and fellow travellers, just like you.

  • Get out of the big cities and spend some time in the small towns. The difference in the people can be remarkable. You get much more of a feel for how "real people" live in small towns. Small towns usually don't get as many tourists, so they are more willing to talk to you and help you.

  • Remember to smile. A smile will get you a long way when travelling. Try not to get stressed out - remember that you are in a new country having an adventure!

  • Take a day pack, and carry hand sanitizer. You will use your day pack every day while exploring. Remember to carry plenty of bottled water with you each day and stay hydrated. Hand sanitizer is useful for washing hands whenever you cannot find a toilet. Also, it might be helpful if you pack deodorant, a toothbrush, and toothpaste in a Ziploc in the bottom of your pack in the event that you ever get stranded.

  • Learn the name for "bathroom" in your host country's language! This sounds simple, but there is nothing worse when you really have to go than being met with blank stares when you ask for a bathroom in English. In Northern Europe it is "toilet." In England it is "WC." In Mexico and Latin America it is "Bano."

  • Always pack Immodium. Nothing is more miserable than diarrhea when travelling.

  • Watch closely how the locals eat. In Denmark, if you use your hands to eat (even a hamburger or french fries), your fellow diners will look at you with complete disgust and most likely will not eat with you again. In Australia people use a knife in their right hand and a fork in their left, never putting either down to eat. We ate the traditional American way, switching knife and fork for use with the right hand, and the other diners in the restaurants stared at us unabashedly as if we were complete barbarians!

  • Take a jacket, preferably two, for layering in cold weather. Northern Europe can be chilly, even in Summer.

  • Think about packing replacement insoles for your shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking, and your shoes are very important. My insoles began curling up and giving me blisters in the first week of my trip. They then tore, and I panicked, not knowing where I could possibly get a replacement for my size 14EEEE shoes in Europe! I finally fashioned a field repair out of sheets of moleskin, using it as tape to fasten the torn insoles back together. It worked great, saved the trip, and lasted until I got home.

  • Always pack 2-3 packs of moleskin and scissors. Trim the moleskin to a round shape and place on hot spots on your feet to avoid blisters. You will be doing a lot of walking, and blisters will kill you!

  • Pack duct tape. Get the flat rolls if you can find it. Duct tape can repair anything, and, on an extended trip, you can count on at least one thing breaking. During my trip the handle on my rolling duffle broke, and it was duct tape to the rescue.

  • Take only what you can carry. This is a tip that Sofie from Landskrona gave me, and she was right. Always be able to carry all of your luggage yourself. If you can't, get rid of some of the stuff until you can carry it. And, sooner or later, you will have to carry it all, possibly up multiple flights of steps. My main two pieces of luggage were a Rick Steves backpack and a rolling duffle with sectioned compartments. Both worked great. The link to the backpack is here (I get nothing for the endorsement, by the way!)

  • Always take your camera with you everywhere you go, no matter what. Some of my best shots came when I was least expecting them.

  • Beware of pickpockets. Take and use a money belt or a neck pouch everywhere you go. Most rooms in Europe do not have safes, so take your passport and extra cash with you every day. I always carried my wallet in my front pocket, and wore my neck pouch. Here is a link to the neck pouch I wore on the trip - it did a great job.

  • When lost or in trouble, ASK! Most people are very willing to help you if you are polite and ask nicely. Remember to smile!

  • Cellphones - just say no! Why is your cellphone the only one to be heard ringing in a public place in Europe? Why are you the only person to be seen speaking on a cellphone in public? Why is everyone glaring at you while you chatter away loudly on your cellphone in Europe? BECAUSE YOU ARE AN AMERICAN!! Americans on cellphones in Europe invariably stand out as being loud, rude, and obnoxious. What is even worse is that most Americans are so used to this practice that they don't even notice or realize what they are doing! Most Europeans are very discreet with their cell phones, setting them to vibrate and removing themselves from a public place to return the call. Remember, to fit in, do as the locals do!

Posted by sfoshee 13:42 Archived in USA Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (1)

Norway - To the Ends of the Earth

In the footsteps of Nansen, Amundsen, and Thor Heyerdahl

58 °F
View Scott's Iceland and Scandinavia 2008 on sfoshee's travel map.

I boarded the morning ferry for the 2 1/2 hour trip back to Helsinki, where I would catch a flight to Oslo, Norway for the last leg of my trip. I left my bags in the ship's luggage room, where I met Monica. Monica is a student in Estonia, on her way to Finland for the summer to pick strawberries. We chatted over a ship's breakfast of herring and powdered eggs, which tasted suspiciously like modeling clay! Monica told me that Finland is known for its summer strawberry crop, and every year young people from all over Europe head to Finland to make extra money helping to bring in the harvest. It is not an easy job, she informed me. There is a lot of stooping involved, and you have to examine every berry by hand to determine if it is ready to be picked or not! I wished Monica the best of luck with the strawberries and her studies!

Back in Helsinki, the famous statue of the Three Blacksmiths. Legend holds that if a virgin walks by, they will strike the anvil.

I was continually amazed by the train system in Eurpoe. Although the Oslo airport is something like 30 miles outside of the city, you can take an express Flytoget train from there directly to the city center every 20 minutes. It was incredibly easy. I ended up at the Oslo central train station, within close walking distance of P Hotel, where I stayed.

According to Lonely Planet, oil discovered in the North Sea in the 1960's transformed Norway from one of Europe's poorest countries into one of its wealthiest. The Norwegian government has used the money to foster one of the most extensive social welfare systems in history, with government-sponsored health care, schools, and even university education. Needy immigrants even get pocket money in jail! The result, however, has not been entirely positive. Oslo felt a bit gritty around the central train station, and it was the first place on my trip that I really worried about being pickpocketed. The permissive attitude of the government has attracted many addicts and others down on their luck from the countryside, and a good number of beggars could be seen in the tourist areas. Despite these initial drawbacks, however, I never had any problems with crime, and Oslo really grew on me during my stay.

I began by exploring the city on foot, always the best way to get a feel for a new place. I visited Oslo City, a modern shopping center near the train station.

Karl Johans Gate is the main pedestrian walking street downtown, running in a straight line from the train station to the royal palace.

The Norwegian parliament building.

The Grand Hotel, where Nobel Peace Prize winners stay.

The Grand Cafe at the Grand Hotel, frequented by Oslo's creative and intellectual elite. The playwright Henrik Ibsen came in every day at 1:00pm. The artist Edvard Munch ("The Scream") also spent a lot of time here.

See the play Singin' in the Rain - presented in Norwegian!

The Oslo Hard Rock. No, I didn't buy a shirt!

This is the University of Oslo.

Walking from the university to the royal palace I met Ashish. Ashish is a student from India, currently studying molecular biology in Stockholm. He was in Oslo to do some work at the university before returning to Stockholm.

Ashish took this picture of me in front of the royal palace. The royal family stands on the second floor balcony every May 17th to watch the marching bands and costumed flag wavers parade the length of Karl Johans Gate celebrating Norway's Independence Day.

We walked around the grounds of the palace waiting for the tour to start.

Here I am with one of the royal palace guards.

Ashish said that he would like to travel to New York one day to see the city. He also told me that he loves the Spiderman movies! He had to leave before the palace tour started, so we said goodbye. Great meeting you Ashish, and good luck!

The royal palace underwent a very costly renovation a few years ago. To quell public criticism for the amount of money spent, the royal family opened the palace up to public tours. The interior of the palace is beautiful, although no pictures are allowed. An interesting highlight of the tour were the guest quarters. I was very surprised to learn that the week before they had hosted the president of Vietnam!

This is Oslo's City Hall.

Inside City Hall, the Nobel Peace Prize is presented in this room every December 10th.

Akershus Castle, overlooking Oslo harbor, dates from the year 1300.

Inside Akershus is the Norwegian Resistance Museum, featuring displays of artifacts from when Norway was occupied by the Nazis during WWII.

A display of captured Nazi guns. It is really intimidating!

During the occupation, the resistance hid radio sets in all manner of objects. Here is a radio receiver hidden inside a hollowed-out telephone book.

An authentic Nazi torture device! Ouch!

This is a set of dentures that a Norwegian prisoner could remove and wire up to receive radio broadcasts from the BBC!

This is a journal that a Norwegian kept while a prisoner of the Nazis. He used toilet paper and took a stick pin to poke holes in the paper in the shape of letters to record his time in captivity. Although the prisoner didn't make it through the war, his journal, so painstakingly kept, was discovered later hidden in an air vent. We are extremely lucky to have this brave inmate's words survive to this day.

A girl I saw on the city tram headed to Frogner Park.

The entrance to Frogner Park.

The Norwegian sculptor Gustov Vigeland made a deal with the city in 1921. In return for a studio and state sponsorship, he agreed to spend his life enriching Oslo with a beautiful sculpture garden. 212 Bronze and granite statues now grace the park, depicting almost 600 unique figures said to capture the joys of life. The park is absolutely gorgeous.

This statue is called the "Little Hot Head," and is one of the most famous in the park. The story goes that Vigeland gave a little boy a bar of chocolate and then took it away to get this reaction!

According to Rick Steves, six giants hold up this fountain, "symbolically toiling with the burden of life."

This is a maze built in to the walkway around the fountain. It reminds me of the popular new age labyrinths.

The centerpiece of the park, the monolith, surrounded by 36 granite groups, which continue the park's circle of life theme.

One of the interesting statues around the monolith.

The monolith contains 121 figures carved out of a single block of stone. Three stone carvers worked every day for 14 years to complete Vigeland's vision!

Some interesting characters I met hanging out at the base of the monolith.

Vigeland's Wheel of Life, with the monolith and a steeple in the background.

The kick is up...it's good!!

Leaving Frogner park it began to rain, and I stopped and asked these two nice people for directions to the train station. What fantastic people Oslo had!

A street performer I watched on Karl Johans Gate later that evening.

The next morning I picked up a ham sandwich at a convenience store near where I was staying, and met Chris. Chris was very nice and extremely helpful in helping me find the correct trams around the city for the day. When I told Chris where I was from, he said that he likes Atlanta for it's famous rap music scene. He particularly likes southern rapper Chamillionaire, who Chris says has a reputation for clean lyrics. Thanks a lot for the help, Chris!

I next went to the National Museum, and really enjoyed the Edvard Munch room, featuring his masterworks the Scream, the Sick Child, and Self-Portrait After the Spanish Influenza. Looking at the paintings you really get a sense of Norway's long, dark winters and social isolation. The Scream was stolen from the National Gallery in 1994, the day of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. It was recovered unharmed three months later. Another version of the Scream as well as Munch's Madonna were stolen from the Munch Museum, also in Oslo, in 2004. Both were recovered just over two years later, although slightly damaged. Security has since been beefed up considerably at both museums. There were no cameras allowed in the gallery, but here is a link to images of Munch's magnificent work. http://www.edvard-munch.com/index1.htm

I next walked down to the Nobel Peace Center.

Of all the places I visited on my trip, the Nobel Peace Center undoubtedly pissed me off the most. I left the building very angry. I found the exhibits to be extremely political, condescending and preachy. I did find one section particularly humorous, though. Here is a picture of Nobel Laureate Al Gore balancing a stick on his nose!

I must say that the electronic Ipod-like displays were pretty cool, though.

I took a ferry from the waterfront near the Peace Center across Oslo harbor to the Bygdoy neighborhood. Bygdoy has a much more rural character than the rest of Oslo, and many of the city's residents maintain beautiful summer homes here.

From the dock in Bydoy I hiked up the hill to the Viking Ship Museum, the best display of Viking ships anywhere. The ships were used as tombs for nobility, who were buried in them with various items believed to be needed in the afterlife, including carts, sleds, jewels, etc. The ships were built in the 9th century out of oak, and were buried in blue clay, which was responsible for preserving the ships so incredibly well. Here I am in front of the Oseberg, buried in 834.

The Oseberg from above.

The burial chamber found with the second ship on display, the Gokstad.

The Tune in the foreground with the Gokstad in the background.

An intricately carved Viking cart, said to be the only remaining one of its kind.

A beautiful Viking sled.

From there I walked across the peninsula in the rain, stopping in at a local convenience store for two soggy hot dogs. At the end of the road I found two of the highlights of my trip - the Fram Museum and the Kon Tiki Museum!
The exterior of the Fram Museum.

The Fram is 127.8 feet long and was powered by both sail and steam. The Fram was probably the strongest wooden ship ever built, and is said to be the wooden ship to have sailed farthest north and farthest south. It took Fridtjof Nansen's North Pole expedition to within a few degrees of the pole during his 1893-1896 adventure. It then took Otto Sverdrup around southern Greenland to Canada's Ellesmere Island between 1898 and 1902. In 1911, Roald Amundsen used it to land on the Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica, en route to his becoming the first man to reach the South Pole. The Fram was built with a double hull and is shaped like an egg, so that it popped up out of the ice instead of being crushed by it while trapped in the polar floes for almost three years!

A bust of Roald Amundsen himself.

Here I am at the helm of the Fram! I felt truly honored literally to be able to walk in the footsteps of true modern-day Vikings Amundsen and Nansen.

A shot of Nansen's cabin. It looks like he just left (well, except for the statue of himself)....

The Fram's main salon, where countless conversations and card games must have taken place. Notice the Victrola and piano, both of which must have gotten plenty of use. To generate electricity for electric lights used on the ship, the deck could be fitted with windmills, which generated clean renewable power!

After seeing the Fram, I walked across the street to Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki museum. The first of Heyerdahl's ships on display was the Ra II, built from reeds. In 1970 he sailed it 3,000 miles from Morocco to Barbados to prove that Africans could have populated America.

I have read Heyerdahl's book Kon Tiki several times, and was incredibly excited to see the actual craft he used to sail 4,300 miles from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. He made the voyage to prove that early South Americans could have settled Polynesia. The actual Kon Tiki is a balsa wood raft, and is surprisingly small! It was amazing that it could complete such an epic voyage of discovery.

I then took the bus back over to the Norwegian Folk Museum. Even though Stockholm's Skansen was the first such park open to the public, this one is actually older, begun in 1882 as the king's private collection. These were two of the costumed guides who explained the buildings on display, brought to the site from all over Norway.

This is a stave church, built from wood in the year 1200...yes, 1200!! The trees for such a church were specially grown over the course of 30 years or more. Certain branches were periodically trimmed in order for the sap to settle in the trunk to make the wood extremely weather resistant. The angles in the roof were fashioned from the curved knees of trees, said to be the strongest part of the tree. The open air alcove outside of the church door itself is where people would store their weapons before going inside. Because of this practice, the room outside of a church sanctuary in Norway is called the weapons room to this day!

This is a farm storage warehouse, where items were stored upstairs away from winter's drifting snows.

On the boat back over to downtown Oslo, I had a great time talking with Anna (from Oslo) and Mari and Adam, who live in London. Mari, who was from Ireland originally, told me stories about when she and Adam backpacked around the world for 18 months and also when they hiked the Inca Trail for four days to reach Machu Picchu in Peru! They were in Oslo for the weekend, and were absolutely fascinating to talk to. It was fantastic meeting you!

The next morning I boarded the train in Oslo for the Norway in a Nutshell route, which takes you to the fjords of western Norway and back. The early morning trip gave me some time to catch up on my journal. 7small64_Scott_train.jpg

The train journey between Oslo and Bergen has been called the most picturesque in Northern Europe, and I believe it. The views from the train windows were unbelievable.

We made a quick stop in Finse, the highest point on the line. That is where I took a picture of this breathtaking scene. Notice the lodge on the left hand side.

I changed trains in Myrdal to a private line that descends an 18% grade to Flam, on the Sognefjord. On the way we stopped to view the Kjosfossen waterfall, fed by glaciers.

According to local legend, a temptress lives behind the waterfall and tries to lure men into the falls with her song. I am not sure, but I think I actually got a shot of her.... ;)

A beautiful village on the way down to Flam.

On the train to Flam I met David and Carol, from Maryland. David's said that his great grandfather was a Norwegian merchantman who owned his own ship and travelled all around the world trading various goods while taking his wife and children on board with him. David was also involved in founding the first private avaition club in the United States in the 1960's. The club had a DC7-B aircraft that flew its members all over the U.S., Caribbean, and even Europe! The FAA had to come up with new rules for the club because of its unique status. David was proud to point out that the club's safety record was better than the commercial airlines!

I also met Carl and Gloria from Monsey, New York. Gloria is a retired teacher and Carl is retired also, currently enjoying his business working on antique watches. It was great chatting with you!

In Flam I boarded a boat to Gudvangen, through the absolutely stunning Sognefjord, the longest fjord in the world. This is me on the boat, and no, I am not standing in front of a backdrop!

The boat first went up Aurlandsfjord and stopped in the town of Aurland.

The fjord is more than a mile deep, with 3,000 foot mountains on either side!

Rowers having a good time in the beautiful afternoon sunshine.

We passed the little village of Undreal, famous for its cheese and for its church, the smallest still in use in Norway. The church seats 40 and holds services every fourth Sunday.

Although there is no regular ferry service to Undreal, you can request a stop there. To get back on the ferry, just go out to the ferry dock and turn on the blinking light. The next ferry boat will stop to pick you up!

This house (top center) has no road access. You take a boat to its dock and hike all the way up. The house is old, and is currently owned by Canadians. It was constructed by carrying materials up the hill. I was told that if you hike all the way up the hill and knock on the door, the owners will not only offer you a free beer, but will also put you up for the night! How is that for hospitality?!

Some of the locals, soaking up the sun....

A stunning four-fall glacial waterfall.

This is Naeroyfjord, the "Narrow Fjord." Our ship went right through this tiny pass to Gudvangen.

An elderly couple has lived on this small farm their entire lives. Can you imagine waking up to your own waterfall and mountains like this?

I was told that many consider the fjord even more beautiful in the winter. When the sea ice here freezes up during cold weather, ice breakers come to open the shipping lanes.

I thought that this picture looks like one of those giant jigsaw puzzles you do with the family while on vacation.

While on the boat I met Jan (in hat) and Barry, from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and Barry's mother, from New Orleans. I quickly found out that they are huge LSU football fans, and to their great credit they were very hospitable even after learning that I am an Alabama fan living in Georgia Bulldog country! ;) Barry teaches physics at the University of Texas at Arlington, and is a very funny guy. He had terrific stories about going to high school in New Orleans, and we talked some about quantum physics and string theory, two of my interests. Barry's mother survived the flooding in New Orleans and is proudly watching her city get back on its feet. You guys were great - maybe we can get together for a ball game some time! By the way, look at Barry's shoes. He said that he has another pair just like them at home!

This is a beautiful farm I saw on the way to Voss.

There was only one problem with the bus. It arrived in Voss an hour AFTER the last train to Oslo had left! The train company had booked the whole thing, but had made a mistake, and this was the one day of the week that there was no night train! I sized up my options standing in the train station. I was stranded in Voss!! My first reaction was that I was going to be one of these people...
I could just see myself crashed out on a bench at the train station all night, playing blues on the harmonica for coins from passing tourists.... "Just had to come to Europe! (da DA da dum) Travel lust I could not quench! (da DA da dum) Now I'm stranded in Norway, and I'm sleeping on a bench! I've got the blues!! The Voss Train Station Blues!"

Ok Scott...don't panic...remain flexible...ohm...ohm...ohm....

I started off towards town, and stopped in every hotel I passed. For some reason, in this small town in the middle of Norway, every single hotel room was booked! What was going on? I eventually found out that there was an extreme sports festival in town, where people were base jumping and hang gliding off of the sheer fjord walls. The crazy extreme athletes had the town cram packed! What was I going to do? Finally one receptionist said that she had just gotten off the phone with the Hotel Jarl on the other side of town and that they had one room left if I could make it over there in time. I ran through town and made it just in time to snag the room! Relief! It was very small, but it had a bed, and it was inexpensive. I have to thank Egil at the front desk of the Hotel Jarl for saving me! Thanks Egil!
Egil let me use the hotel's computer to send a message back home to let them know where I was, which was a life saver. It turned out that he formerly worked in Louisiana and Texas in the petroleum industry before deciding to return to his native Norway. Thanks again for your help, Egil!

Once I got the room, I realized that I literally only had what was on my back. No change of clothes, no nothing! So I ran down to the grocery store which was closing in 10 minutes and bought a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a pair of cotton socks to use as washcloths!

I spent a few hours walking around Voss, and discovered something amazing. Voss, Norway is the birthplace of legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne! Arrgh! Will the Fighting Irish ever leave this Crimson Tide fan alone?!? Several things in Voss carry the Rockne name.

One of the extreme athletes practicing down by the lake.

I liked this statue, near the church.

The sun came out just long enough for me to take this gorgeous picture of the lake at the other end.

The Voss welcoming committee!

The next morning I got up very early so as not to miss the train again. Breakfast at the hotel was complimentary. Sliced meat and cheese...


with pickles, beets, and three types of herring!!

I ate a (very) light breakfast and jogged to the station to make the morning train. Yay!!

The views on the way back were stunning.

A beautiful snowfield and sky.

This was a very cool snow fence - it would look great on a model train layout.

This lake was like a mirror. Unbelievable.

See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

Back at the P Hotel, Oslo, I met Luan, who's mother is Lena, who works the front desk at the hotel. Lena told me that Luan is Albanian for "lion." That afternoon this little lion was enjoying a bun and playing with the shoe polishing machine!

Lena was absolutely terrific, and really helped me out during my stay. One evening I came downstairs and found her surrounded by a group of Russian tourists. Lena, originally from Germany, speaks no Russian, and none of the Russians spoke any English, Norwegian, or German. So the Russians made a mistake that many American tourists make when faced with similar language barriers overseas. When the Russian tourists realized that Lena could not understand them, THEY...SPOKE...LOUDER...AND...MORE...SLOWLY......IN...RUSSIAN!!! It was hysterical! I looked at Lena's ever patient face and had to laugh. When you work the front desk of a hotel, you never know what will happen next! Thanks Lena, and good luck to you and Luan!

I made it to the plane the next morning for the flight to New York, and had the good fortune of sitting next to Kelly from Tallahassee, who owns a landscape design business. She was just returning from two weeks at a yoga retreat in Bali. I knew I had met a kindred spirit when she leaned over, offered me a bag of snacks, and said, "Do you want to try some weird Japanese french fries?" We spent the rest of the flight having a great time trading funny stories of our travels. At one point I looked out of the window and realized that we were flying directly over Greenland! My regular camera was packed in my luggage, so I took some quick photos out of the plane window with my camera phone.

Two remote glaciers, merging into one. Astounding.

A large bay with many icebergs scattered across the water. So incredibly beautiful.

I snapped the pictures and then looked around the plane, not believing that many of the passengers were actually sleeping through this! I guess that happens with many people, though. If you simply focus on your destination, you often sleep through the journey. It reminded me of a quote I heard in the Nick Nolte movie, Peaceful Warrior. "It is the journey, not the destination, that brings us happiness."

I sat back down in my seat and put the camera away for one last time. Kelly, who had by then finished her Japanese treats, turned and asked me, "So, where are you going on your next trip?"

"Now that you mention it, I do have a few ideas," I answered. I slowly turned to the window, smiled at the ice cap below, and watched it stretch towards earth's distant horizon.

Posted by sfoshee 11:51 Archived in Norway Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Tallinn, Estonia - Off the Map!

A jewel in amber emerges from behind the former Iron Curtain

65 °F
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I was up at the hostel in Helsinki and down to the Viking Ferry dock this morning for the 2 1/2 hour trip to Tallinn, Estonia. In the terminal waiting for the boat I saw a little girl. It is wonderful to see how children are so similar wherever you go.

One of the best things about the Viking ferry is the incredible Viking buffett, as I have mentioned before. I was really looking forward to breakfast, because I had not seen a scrambeled egg in weeks. I figured that this was my chance, finally, to satisfy my craving. Alas, to my dismay, breakfast eluded me yet again. They instead served an early lunch. Sigh. "Elaborate" scrambeled egg breakfasts really must be one of those uniquely American inventions. So, my breakfast/lunch consisted of this. I called it the "Breakfast of Champions," and my stomach was greatful for a break from convenience store sandwiches and street vendor hot dogs. At least I got some authentic Finnish food in the deal - shrimp, meatballs, and boiled potatoes....

Investigating the ship, I ran into this character.
He said he was a performer on the ship, and entertained in the extensive children's play area. These Scandinavian ferry lines are something else!

The stern decks of the ship were adorned with decorative tree branches, which I found to be a nice touch....
I asked one of the waiters what they were for, and he said that they were still up from Midsummer. It is a Finnish tradition to tie these particular types of tree branches around your door for the Midsummer celebration, much like you put up a Christmas tree at Christmas. When I asked him what they symbolize, he said that it is an ancient tradition and while everybody does it in Finland, he has no idea why! I have since found out that they are symbols of fertility.

Everybody over here travels with their animals, even on subways, trains, and ferries. Viking Line accommodates their pet-crazy customers with built-in animal boxes right on deck!

I arrived in Tallinn, capital of Estonia, and checked into the Hotel G9, which is on the third floor of an office building within walking distance of the old city. It was nice - my best room yet, and it only cost $50 U.S. a night! Tallinn proved to be the most inexpensive stop on my entire trip.

Estonia was totally different from any other stop in my Scandinavian travels in that it had been a part of the former Soviet Union for 45 years. It is probably the best preserved of all of the Nordic medieval cities, with a Nordic Lutheran language and culture combined with a real Russian flavor. It is only 2 1/2 hours from Finland by boat, but it seems very far away. In Finland almost everyone spoke English, but here very few did. I looked forward to the challenge, and was not disappointed. Estonia has only opened up to tourism fairly recently, and thus is "off the map" for a lot of people on vacation in Europe. That makes it a perfect destination for adventurous travellers!

I set off on a walking tour with my trusty Rick Steves' guide book in hand. I saw this great statue in one of the fountains right outside of the old town.
One of the things I noticed in Europe is that people were outside a good bit, having picnics in the park, and generally enjoying the nice weather. In the U.S. we spend a lot more time in our houses, shut away. Sometimes people live for years next door to neighbors they do not even know! Here in Europe, everybody seems to be much more in tune with what is going on in their neighborhoods and towns.

Near the old city gate is a statue called the "Broken Line," a broken arch serving as a memorial to hundreds of people who lost their lives when a passenger ferry sank during a run between Stockholm and Tallinn in 1994. There was a photo shoot going on in and around the statue when I passed.

This is a picture of the entry gate to the old town. Fat Margaret tower, on the left, guarded the gate.

Just inside, I saw this little girl snacking on a sweet bun.

The main street is lined with medieval merchants' houses leading into town. The merchants were positioned near the gate to handle incoming goods for the city. Many still have cranes jutting from the gables, which helped them lift goods to the upper floors of the warehouses.

An interesting house facade along Pikk street. Pikk means "long," as it is the longest street in the old town area.

I met this interesting couple right outside of St. Olav's church!

This is St. Olav's church, which once had the tallest spire in all of Scandinavia.

The interior of the church was quite impressive.

I have never seen televisions installed in a church sanctuary before. It is probably a good way to bring in the Sunday football crowd....

These spiral stairs, all 234 of them, led up to the roof of the church spire. It was an exhausting climb up! And to think it only costs 30 Kroner! Halfway up I began to think that they should be paying me instead!

At the top, in the church attic, sat this guy. He said that it is his job to sit up there all day to make sure visitors make the strenuous climb safely. I asked him if he had a private elevator to get up there, and he said, rather proudly, "No! I climb the stairs every day!" I hope he gets special hazardous duty pay - I can't imagine anyone else who would want to do it!

Once up on the roof, the bird's eye view of Tallinn was absolutely amazing. Here I am standing on the roof's very narrow walkway.

This is the old town from the top. You can see the various churches, the Russian Cathedral with the onion domes, and the city wall, complete with watch towers.

The church steeple, from the roof.

Walking back down the spiraling stairs, I kept encouraging those on their way up. "Almost there!" I would say cheerily, almost feeling guilty about it, knowing that they were nowhere near the summit!

Back down on terra firma, I found the infamous 59 Pikk street.

This was the former local headquarters for the KGB before 1991, while Estonia was still under Soviet rule. It was here that suspects were questioned and tortured using "creative interrogation methods." Troublemakers were sent to the Siberian gulags!
The address now houses the ministry of police. Walking around the building, I had the creepy feeling that cameras were tracking my every move.

I thought this was funny. A taste of Texas - right here in Estonia!

This is the Hell Hunt, first pub in Estonia, established in 1993.

After many windings and meanderings through the old town, I finally emerged into Town Hall Square. In medieval times it contained criminals chained up for public humiliation and knights competing in tournaments. Today it is filled with cobblestones and many picturesque outdoor cafes.

A cool dragon's head on the Town Hall.

The Town Hall spire, complete with dragon's head in the foreground.

A lady in traditional Estonian dress.

Scott in the square. The Town Hall dates to the 15th century.

This is St. Nicholas church, dating from the 13th century. According to Rick Steves, on the night of March 9, 1944, during Nazi occupation in WWII, the entire area was bombed flat by the Russians. Some of the ruins remain behind the church as a reminder.

Part of the town wall and guard towers. The wall once had 46 towers watching over the city. The far tower in this picture is called "Peek in the Kitchen," because that is what guards stationed here could do into neighboring houses! It was once considered to be one of the most powerful towers on the Baltic coast.

This is the "Pink Palace," now home to Estonia's parliament.

Everywhere else on my trip I had no problem getting people to let me take their pictures. In Estonia, though, people were more reluctant. I wondered if this hesitation is a holdover from the old repressive Soviet days. There were some people who didn't mind, however. I met this woman resting on some nearby steps. What a fantastic face. It makes me think about what she must have seen and been through during her long years here.

This is "Tall Hermann" tower, the tallest in the castle wall. During Soviet rule, the USSR flag flew from the tower while Estonians hid their own flags away in dark basements. According to Rick Steves, "In 1987, as the USSR was unraveling, the Estonians proudly and defiantly replaced the red Soviet flag here with their own black, white, and blue flag." The following year 400,000 patriots - a third of all Estonians - gathered at the festival song grounds outside the city to sing national songs. "In 1989, the people of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia held hands to make the 'Baltic Chain,' a human chain that stretched 360 miles from Tallinn to Vilnius in Lithuania. Finally, in 1991, Estonia declared its freedom." What stirring days those must have been.

Here is the fabulous Russian Cathedral, which was built in 1900 by the Russians over the grave of an Estonian national hero, during a period of Estonian national revival. Not a nice gesture, but a beautiful building nonetheless.

Walking up the street I encountered this rather discombobulated knight! Humm...maybe he should have laid off all those meatballs and shrimp for breakfast....

This was a cute pig flower box that I saw on the street.

I ended up eating dinner that night at the Beer House, right off of Town Hall square in the old town. The elk roll kebobs were excellent!

I saw very few other Americans on my trip. I am not sure if it was because of the weak dollar, fear of travelling abroad, or both. On some lonely nights during my solo travels I switched on the television and turned on an American or English show just so that I could hear someone else speaking English. Sometimes I found them, sometimes not. In Estonia, English speakers and even television shows came few and far between. For the first time I gained some insight into what it must be like for an immigrant who doesn't know the language to settle in the United States. It can be tough, even on the most basic of levels.

After finishing my elk rolls, therefore, I was very pleasantly surprised to hear English coming from the next table. I met Ben, Mike and Bethany, three Americans travelling together in Tallinn. They had just come from St. Petersburg, Russia and were on their way to Riga, Latvia and Poland before heading home. They had grown up together in Texas. Ben (left) now lives in Virginia and Mike and Bethany enjoy life in Arizona.

Ben told the story of a Finnish man they ran into earlier in their trip. Fins are famous for being quiet, introspective people, but during the Midsummer celebrations, the man said, "We laugh, we drink, we cry...and then maybe some sausage!" It was hysterical!

Mike, who was in the military, had formerly been stationed in Iraq. He had scheduled leave a few Christmases ago after spending many months away from home, and planned to spend it in Germany with Bethany. All of the sudden all of the communications between soldiers and home were cut off due to the U.S. capture of Saddam Hussein. The armed forces didn't want word to get out through emails from soldiers before they could make their official announcement about this important development in the war.

Bethany, who was stateside at the time and preparing for her upcoming trip to see Mike, had no idea what was going on. It was a real nail biting time for them both. Would Mike be able to travel for Christmas? Should Bethany stay at home and cancel the trip or should she go to Germany anyway by herself, not knowing if Mike would be able to show up at all?

Finally, right before the scheduled trip, Bethany recieved a satellite telephone call from Mike. Due to the tendency of sat phones to cut out at a moment's notice, Mike had to talk fast. He told Bethany what happened and that he would be able to meet her in Germany for Christmas as planned. Christmas was saved, and Mike and Bethany had a wonderful time that holiday season in the country that "practically invented" Christmas. It was wonderful to meet Ben, Bethany and Mike, and it was hard to bid them goodbye that evening. They set off to watch Ben's beloved soccer on TV at the Euro 2008 football tournament as I headed back to the hotel to work on the blog. Good luck guys - it was great getting to know you!

The next morning at the Hotel G9 I spent some time talking to Anika, who worked the front desk there. Anika did an excellent job, was extremely patient and helpful, and made my stay at the G9 very enjoyable. Thanks for everything, Anika!

As mentioned earlier, Estonia was the most inexpensive place I visited. One of the local specialties there is Baltic amber, which is fossil resin between 30 and 90 million years old. It occurs naturally in the Baltic region, and often contains the remains of small insects from prehistoric times. Amber was featured in the movie Jurassic Park, where scientists extracted dinosaur DNA from blood found in mosquitoes from the era trapped in amber. In any event, amber proved to be a good deal, so I did a little shopping. Olesia at the shop helped me out.

I then took one last look over Tallinn from the Patkuli viewpoint. What a magnificent city this is. And how far it has come from the days of the 1980's, when many locals had never even seen a banana or a pineapple except on Finnish television, broadcast across the water 50 miles away from Helsinki! It is astonishing to me what a huge difference those 50 miles can make.

So I set off with a new gem in my heart. Tallinn was easily one of my favorite stops on my trip, and definately the most surprising. How many more places like this are out there - ones that are nearly unknown to most Americans, somehow holding that secret, magical quality that cannot today be manufactured? It is an ancient quality, trapped in amber, glistening when held high in the brilliant Baltic sun.

Next: Oslo, Norway

Posted by sfoshee 12:05 Archived in Estonia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Midsummer's Eve in Helsinki, Finland

Bonfires, a wedding, and Jimmy the Finnish Rockabilly!

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The overnight ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki really surprised me. I was expecting a small car ferry where I might have to sleep on the deck with the seagulls. I took the Viking Line's Gabriella, which turned out to be a bonafide cruise ship, complete with cabins, restaurants, a disco, duty-free shopping, a children's play area/kid's club, and even live entertainment!

It was so cheap that I went ahead and got a cabin and settled in. The cabin was an interior one by choice, and I was very relieved that it did not have a window. I would be able to sleep in complete darkness at last!

In the terminal waiting to board the ship, I met Jimmy, a self-described Finnish Rockabilly!
Jimmy loves Elvis, the Stray Cats, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and plays guitar in his southern rockabilly band in northern Finland! Jimmy proved to be quite popular on the ship and made many new friends throughout the night.

Once the ship sailed they served the FANTASTIC Viking buffett. I don't think I have seen 8 different types of herring dishes served in one place anywhere else in my life!

At my table I met Michael, an ordained priest fron Seoul, South Korea. Michael was eating these knarly octopus tentacles!
Michael was taking a year's sabbatical from the church to travel. He had been on the road alone since March, and was now nearing the end of his journey. I asked him if he was ever lonely on the road, and he said that he usually slept in dormitory-style hostels with 10-16 other people in the same room to save money, and there was always someone around. He had gone throughout Eurpoe, and referred to himself as a "Pilgrim," travelling light and as cheaply as possible.

Michael has been doing Europe on 50 Euros a day, about $75, including lodging. In the morning he usually buys a baguette and some cheese, and eats it during the day when he is hungry. If his room costs too much, he just buys less to eat that day. I asked him if he has found what he is looking for out on the road, and he replied, "I don't know. I do know that I have found SOMEthing." I told him that he should write about his travels. He said, "I am not a writer. I go places, I see things, I meet people, and then I go back to my parish and tell them about it. That is it."

I believe Michael was either sleeping on the deck of the ship that night (it is very cool that Viking line allows this) or was sharing a room with 3 other strangers to save money. I got his email and hope to hear from him soon. Michael is one of those very special people who move among us almost unseen each day. He still, however, seems to touch everyone he meets in some significant way. Good luck and God bless, Pilgrim.

This is a German student I met named Korbinian. He had been on the road alone for 5 days and already had open invitations from people he had met to stay with them on their couch in Liverpool, England!

Jimmy, Korbinian, and Scott

Leaving Stockholm, you sail through the stunningly beautiful Stockholm Archipeligo, consisting of hundreds of rocky and wooded islands. Some of the islands contain small settlements or summer houses.

I thought this guy's shirt was fitting....

In order to preserve the ship's tax-free status, it has to stop in the middle of the night at an island halfway across called Aland in a little town called Mariehamn. It was midnight when I took this picture.

We took on some cars in the hold of the ship and moved on.

I then met a very cool group of students who were headed back to their homes in Finland after working as counsellors at a summer camp in Sweden for children with special needs. This is Tia...
and this is Kimmo and Veli....
We hung out for a while listening to live music by a Norwegian guitarist before I headed to my dark cabin. I slept like a baby! Thanks guys for the fantastic Finnish hospitality!

The next morning at the ferry terminal in Helsinki I saw this face....

Helsinki has very helpful information agents stationed throughout the city. These helped me find the Euro Hostel, where I was staying.

Here is the Lutheran church, which is one of the landmarks of the city.

Another landmark is the stunningly beautiful Church in the Rock. Instead of building a church on top of the rock, like the other buildings in the city, the designer decided actually to put the church inside the rock, blasting it out and covering it with glass windows and a green dome. I have never seen anything quite like it. I lit a candle and sat in peace for a long time, thinking about Pilgrim.

Exploring Helsinki on foot. Here is a biker shop downtown.

Honolulu East.

I looked over and saw this when I sat down to rest waiting for the bus.

This is the monument to Sibelius, Finland's greatest composer. It is made up of hundreds of melting organ pipes. Awesome.

The Olympic Stadium from the 1952 Olympic Games. Helsinki was supposed to host the 1940 games, but they were cancelled due to World War II and then pushed back to 1952. There is actually a youth hostel here where you can sleep in a real Olympic Stadium!

I got on a city hop-on hop-off tour, but the bus was very late. When it did come, the driver whose name was Toija, explained that two of their three busses "go kaput!!" If we got off the bus to look around, and waited for the next one, it might take an hour an a half! Passengers started grumbling, and things began to get ugly. Thinking fast, however, Toija saved the day. Instead of stopping to let people off and immediately pulling out as usual, he turned the entire bus into one big impromptu city tour, stopping for 10-15 minutes at each stop and letting us see what we wanted before getting back on. It worked great! Horray for Toija!

This is me at the top of the Lutheran Church steps in the city square. When I finally got up there I swear I could hear the theme to Rocky playing.

Here is Marcus, who was having a long day as the transportation coordinator for the hop-on hop-off tour busses.
He was so relieved that I didn't ask for a refund that he offered to drive me over to Uspenski Cathedral in his own car! I told him that I would just walk, and asked him where a restroom was. He said there was a public toilet around the corner that costs money, and then tried to give me a coin for the lock from his own pocket! He also said that he loved the Atlanta Thrashers NHL hockey team, because their goaltender is Finnish!

Walking around the city parks and the waterfront. This is a guy who was singing opera in the park for money! I have never seen a street opera singer before.

A cool sea lion statue in a waterfront fountain.

Vendors by the waterfront.

Finnish tortises on parade.

I like the guard's private little candy cane umbrella...

I finally made it on foot to Uspenski Cathedral, a massive Greek Orthodox church.

Now here's something you don't see every day....

Poster for an artist's show. "Come to show - or I keel you!"

Doing laundry at the hostel I met Lenka, who was travelling alone in her car from her native Czech Republic to "points north." Her goal was to drive to the northernmost point in Europe, and then work her way down the west coast of Norway seeing the fjords. She piloted a Ford Galaxy minivan in her quest. She spoke Czech, a little English which she had picked up by ear, and good Spanish from living and working in Spain for several years. She had three months off from work, and was fulfilling her dream of travelling. Growing up in oppressive Czechoslovakia had a profound influence on her, and now that the country has opened up and she finally has the money saved up, she is hitting the road.

Lenka loves to race 4X4 quads in the mud. Here is a link to some videos she shot and posted on You Tube. They are of some quad events she has attended in the Czech Republic and Germany.


This night was Midsummer's Eve, the longest day of the year and a huge deal in Finland. People all over the country customarily retire with their families to the country where they burn huge bonfires on lake beaches all night to ward off witches and goblins. Helsinki's celebration was being held at a cultural park outside of town, so Lenka drove her car over, which was most convenient in the cold, spitting rain. Lenka has a GPS that speaks Czech in a very commanding voice. She drove along and a man's voice would bark out orders in Czech, "TURN LEFT IN 100 METERS!! ...TURN LEFT IN 50 METERS! ...YOU HAVE MISSED YOUR TURN! REDIRECT THE AUTOMOBILE IMMEDIATELY!!!" It was hysterical! Here is a picture of Lenka's crazy Czech GPS!

Walking around the Midsummer's Eve festival. On Midsummer's Eve it is customary for Fins to take an icy swim at the beach or in a nearby lake.

This guy came out from his swim and then did a handstand to drain the water out of his boots!

There were ladies hand making wreaths out of flowers for the celebration.

Native arts and crafts were on display. I got this good one of sparks shooting out of the blacksmith's anvil.

Is this the world's largest birdhouse?

A Finnish windmill...

For some reason there were many people walking around on stilts.

A highlight was the food. They had Paella, salmon, reindeer, and Finnish Lake fish, which look a lot like sardines.

This is me eating reindeer! It was delicious!

The tradition during the festival is for a couple to get married and then go out across the water in a longboat to light the biggest bonfire.

The married couple is in the front.

Later, when the couple left the festivities. The groom is holding her dress up in back to keep it from getting wet.

This is a traditional midsummer's pole.

As you read this, Lenka is deep in the wilds of Northern Finland. Goodbye Lenka, and we all wish you good luck!

The staff at Eurohostel Helsinki was excellent and amazingly helpful. Here is a picture of Nelli and Viljami. Thanks for all the great assistance guys! You are the best!

Looking around the city the next day. This is the Helsinki opera house.

The Ingman ice cream man!

Sea life Helsinki was surprisingly good.

I have never seen a member of the stingray family with this coloring.

A great Lion fish.

A shark swimming through the aquarium's bubbles was especially cool.

The only restaurant in town that was open was Garlic, a place where every dish contains garlic - even the ice cream! The owner was very gracious in finding a table.

I got this awesome Garlic Chicken with a raspberry cream sauce. Ummmmm!

Such a violent reaction to baked goods just can't be healthy....

These music students were playing down by the harbor. They seemed very happy that I stopped to listen. I gave them a few Euros.

My entire time here in Europe people everywhere have been watching the Euro 2008 soccer tournament. Back at the hostel, the game was on in the lobby. It was Russia vs. the Netherlands....

At one point, Russia scored a go-ahead goal. Instead of people grumbling and sighing as I expected, the whole place actually erupted in cheers! I was dumbfounded. I have never heard anyone cheering for Russia before! Yelling loudest were a group of friends travelling from Latvia. Time expired in the match and the Latvians took the party out into the street! I don't know what I expected from Midsummer's Day 2008, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would end with me chanting Russian football songs in the middle of the street with a group of crazy Latvians!

Happy Midsummer everyone!

Next: Tallinn, Estonia

Posted by sfoshee 03:39 Archived in Finland Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Stockholm - Ghosts In The Rigging

Swedish guards old and new

sunny 0 °F
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On my last night in Landskrona, Per was feeling better. I went over and showed him my pictures from the day and he was busy making more HO scale paper flowers. He seems to be very happy when working on his miniatures, and his hands, although shaky, were functioning fairly well. It was great to see him in good spirits again. When I left I snapped one last picture of him on his balcony, and wondered when or if I will ever see him again. Good friends are hard to find, and are even harder to leave. Goodbye Per! I hope to be back some day soon.

The next morning was my birthday, and I was headed to Stockholm. The train that morning was running late, which worried me because I had to make a connection in Lund for the X2000 "fast train." I saw a guy on the platform listening to his headphones, and started a conversation. He said that his name is Daniel and that he is out of school for the summer. He was on his way to visit his girlfriend that morning. Daniel said that he would like to become an electrician when he is finished with school. His favorite band is Metallica. When I showed him my Ipod, he quickly scanned through it and picked something he liked - the actor Jack Black's band Tenacious D! Here is a picture of Daniel.

I also met Sofie, a student from Landskrona who was on her way to Stockholm on the train after mine. She was going to work there for 4 days, helping to set up and run a seminar that teaches public speaking. Sophie has one more year in school before graduating and going to university. Her English is excellent, and she was very helpful. I told her that she would make an excellent profesional tour guide!

The train was running late - so late in fact that I missed my connection. Sophie calmly read the electronic message boards and kept up with the constantly changing announcements emitting from the loudspeakers. She guided us down to the correct platform in the Lund station, where we boarded the next train to Stockholm, leaving an hour after my original departure. We finally boarded the train to my great relief, but that relief proved to be short lived.

The train pulled out and then the conductor came through to check tickets. I explained to him that the train from Landskrona had been late and I had to take the next X2000 train. I showed him my ticket, and asked him if that would be alright. He looked at the ticket, his eyes widened and he stood up straight. "No! That is not alright!" he proclaimed, quickly removing his glasses. My heart nearly stopped! Did they think that I was a stowaway? Would I be condemned to a life of servitude to pay off my debt to society? I gulped, wondering about the possible quality of food in Swedish train prison.

The conductor explained that the ticket I had was for another company, which ran the exact same train the exact same route on the exact same track! How was I supposed to know? If I wanted to stay on the train, I would have to buy another ticket! I grudgingly handed over my Visa card and paid. The conductor said that I could go to the train office once we got to Stockholm and request a refund for the first ticket. Traveller's rule #1 - always remain flexible. So, new ticket in hand, I settled in to the roomy, comfortable seat. The train was very nice, and even had internet! Absolutely amazing.

I sat working on the blog while watching the beautiful Swedish countryside roll past at 200 kilometers an hour.

The X2000 train is a high speed train that runs on normal tracks. When it comes to a curve the entire train tilts one way or the other to compensate for the lateral G forces. The sensation is strange. You sit, feeling that the train is perfectly level, while the passing scenery outside the windows tilts crazily back and forth like a ride at Disney World! I was OK, but the ride made Sofie a bit queasy, a sensation that many passengers feel. Because of this, each seat is equipped with plastic bags that can be used in case of motion sickness. Urp! Instead of the trip lasting 6 or 8 hours like a regular train, we made it to Stockholm in a little over 4.

Stockholm station was a confusing hive of activity.

Sofie, now feeling better, introduced me to her friends who were picking her up, and then very kindly walked me over to the train company's offices (which I am certain I would never have found by myself) so that I could fill out the necessary paperwork to get my money back for my first, unused ticket. I turned everything in to the train company, along with written explanations and photocopies of all tickets and reciepts, but I'm not holding my breath waiting to hear from them. Anyway, I got to Stockholm safe and sound after a long and harrowing journey, and now breathed that long-delayed sigh of relief. I never would have made it without Sofie guiding the way. Thanks Sofie, and the best of luck!


I checked into my hotel for the first night, The Colonial, which is a mid-range place within walking distance of Gamla Stan, the old town. This was the view from my window. I felt like a chimney sweep from Mary Poppins!

After settling in, I set out walking the city alone. This is a street guitarist I saw. He reminded me of Glen Hansard's character in the terrific film "Once."

A beautiful plaza.

Stockholm is a city laid out on a number of islands, so there is a lot of water everywhere.

The Royal Palace, said to be the largest in the world still in use. It has over 600 rooms!

Entering Gamla Stan, the old town.

All of Stockholm was contained in Gamla Stan at one point. It is a maze of shops and restaurants, with twisting streets and alleyways shooting out in all directions. It was fun just wandering around getting lost, and then unexpectedly emerging out into a light-filled city square.


Some cool signs in Gamla Stan.

This tunnel, about the height of my shoulders, led to yet another alley containing a cool Swedish restaurant.

Another place featured reindeer steak. I hope that Santa, Rudolph and the gang aren't too offended by my posting this....

This is a cool statue looking up at the buildings. Notice the flowers at his feet.

One of the neat things about Gamla Stan is that every once in awhile you look up to see a completely unexpected spire towering over the narrow street you happen to be on.

The next morning I woke up and opened the window, where I was surprised to come face to face with one of the locals....

This morning I was on a mission. My brother-in law Brandon is a huge Greta Garbo fan, and he told me that she is buried in Stockholm. I wanted to find her grave and photograph it for him. So I put on my only black shirt out of respect and set out. The subway is supposed to go all the way down to the cemetery, which is is the southern part of the city. Work was being done on the line, however, and it only went part of the way. I took a city bus from the end station, which let me off near the cemetery. I saw this building along the route. I think it is supposed to be a stadium, but it really looks like a giant golf ball.

Asking around, people were very helpful in pointing out the way to the cemetery, but were very vague as to where Greta Garbo's grave actually was. I was surprised to learn that Skogskyrkogarden cemetery was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994 for the "exceptional universal value of a cultural or natural site which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity."

Everyone I asked in the cemetery invariably pointed the direction vaguely and shrugged. Famous for wanting to preserve her privacy, right before her death the former film superstar requested that she be buried in her native Swedish soil.

So many people had the same vague reactions to my questions that something gradually dawned on me. It was as if they were protecting her, one of their own finally come home to rest. They didn't want the grave to become the circus that Jim Morrison's became in Paris, so to find Garbo, you really have to want it and work at it. Finally I met up with Wieslaw, a local, and Ela and Andrei, on holiday from Poland, who were on the same mission. We joined forces and, working together, finally found the spot. The pink marble headstone bore only her signature, in gold. First class, to the very end. May she rest in peace.

I found this statue at the cemetery to be interesting, depicting death and rebirth.

So then is was back on the bus and the subway back into town.

Wandering in and around Kungstragarden, Stockholm's bustling central square. These people look like they are life-sized pieces on a giant Klingon chess board.

Obviously yoga is big in Sweden....

As if I needed another excuse to return to Stockholm next summer!

I saw three guys riding unicycles together through the city streets. One fell, but was well-padded and soon was up and off on his way.

A cool mural near the tourist information office.

Next came the Vasa museum, one of the most incredible places I have ever seen. The Vasa was a galleon built by Sweden and commissioned in 1628 in its ongoing war with Poland. It was a beautifully decorated warship adorned with over 500 brightly painted carvings. It also had a second gun deck. Its towering height, narrow beam, and round ballast stones which shifted while at sea all conspired against it, and it capsized in Stockholm harbor 20 minutes after it was launched.

After sailing approximately one nautical mile, a gust of wind hit the Vasa's sails and water began gushing through its gunports, which were still open after firing a salute to the king. The ship sank like a stone, dunking both the crew and their families, who were invited on board for the Vasa's maiden journey. It lay under water for 333 years until rediscovered by an amateur wreck hunter in 1956. The Vasa was finally returned to the surface in 1961.

The entire ship was dismantled piece by piece and the wood was treated with spray baths of water every 20 minutes for several years and then treated with ethelyene glycol to stabilize the material. The ship was then put back together, like the world's largest jigsaw puzzle. It is 95% original, the best preserved ship of its age anywhere in the world. Walking around the ship I had to keep pinching myself - here I was in the presence of a real galleon, raised from the dead!

The Vasa is huge, at just over 200 feet and weighing 1,200 metric tons.

When the gun ports were opened, opposing ships could see gold painted lion's heads above the cannons. Talk about intimidation!

Decorated external walking galleries on the sides of the ship.

The magnificent stern, as viewed from below. It stands 60 feet high, and looks like an intricately carved piece of furniture.

The 500 symbolic figures decorating the vessel were all brightly painted, as shown on these recreations.

A full model of the Vasa, painted to look like it did on the day of its first (and last) sail.

Gold lion head gun ports on the model. What an awesome sight.

External walking galleries from the stern, above.

This is the stern from above and up close. The museum has benches built into the gallery here so you can just sit for a while, looking and imagining long gone sailors scampering around the decks and rigging, preparing for battle.

This is one of the sails of the Vasa, probably the world's oldest.

Next door at the Nordic Museum is a great statue of Gustav Vasa himself, regarded as the founder of modern Sweden. Long live King Gustov! Now where did that chicken leg get to....

For more information on the warship Vasa, click here.

For more information on Gustav Vasa, click here.

The Nordic Museum was good, with many depictions of Swedish life through the centuries. They also had a terrific dollhouse collection. The ornate and very valuable dollhouses began as custom made curio cabinets for very wealthy families to display, and did not become toys for children until many years later.

I then walked down the street to Skansen, Stockholm's beloved outdoor museum.

I took the inclined railway to the top and strolled around in the warm afternoon sun. Skansen contains actual homes and buildings from around Scandinavia, transported piece by piece and reconstructed on site. It was very special to walk into the actual home of a fisherman from northern Sweden from the early 1800's and see how he lived. Walking around Skansen I realized that we are used to many recreations of things in the U.S. - Williamsburg, etc., but here in Sweden I was seeing the real deal. People really lived in, gave birth in, and died in these actual houses hundreds of years ago. It was hard to get my mind around the concept. Two hundred years from now, how would my house hold up to people walking around it seeing how I lived? Will the cat's litter box and my underwear drawer be on display for all to see?

Here are a couple of buildings in Skansen.

An actual windmill from a farm, which was used to grind grain. The sails were adjustable to adapt to various wind patterns.

This is an actual belfrey from a church that burned down. The belfrey was the only thing remaining from the fire.

Walking through the shady lanes in Skansen, I came upon two girls admiring one of the resident squirrels. They were talking to the squirrel when it suddenly came right up and grabbed one of their lollipops, stealing it right from under their noses! I later took a picture of Matilda, Ellinor, Aekie and Elisabeth, who were together enjoying Skansen on holiday.

Walking home I saw a great accordian player near the Central Train Station.

One of the most difficult things about extended travel is doing laundry. Some places have washing machines, but most don't. And the ones that do have facilities have European machines, with strange knobs and dials all over the place which make you feel more like you are trying to jump start the space shuttle. So tonight it was time to wash out some socks and underwear in the sink. I usually have a hard time getting this wet, dripping mess dry by morning, but the Colonial hotel had an ultra-cool heated towel rack in the bathroom, fashioned with a take-off from the hot water line in the shower. How ingenious! Why don't we have more of these in the states?

My second night in Stockholm I had to move around the block to the Hotel Bema, where I was up until 3am working on pictures and the blog. I also took calls from home, going in and out of the small hotel's locked front doors several times in the middle of the night. Each time I did a bell would ring, and Plamen, the night manager would spring up from resting to see who it was. He was a terrific sport and was extremely nice to the crazy "American writer in room 11!" Here is a picture of Plamen!

The next morning I got up early, checked out, and was able to leave my bags at the hotel for an afternoon departure on the Helsinki ferry. I saved some time by taking a taxi and went down to the Royal Palace, where they keep the Royal Armory, supposed to house one of the best collections of armor in Europe.

The Armory was extremely interesting. The museums over here offer an "autoguide," which is worth every penny. You get headphones and a very small hand held unit. When you point the unit at each exhibit, a dramatic commentary is fed wirelessly into your headphones. For a tech nerd like me, it is a very cool setup, and I haven't seen them in the U.S. anywhere.

Anyway, this is a picture of the shirt Gustav III was wearing at the masked ball at the opera when he was assassinated in March 1792. The assassin dressed identically to the king at the ball in a dark cloak, hat, and mask. He shot the king in the back, and the king died 13 days later of blood poisioning. You can still see the bullet hole in the shirt as well as the remaining dried blood!

Armor by Dr. Seuss!!

Go ahead - make my day....

I thought the ladies might appreciate this amazing royal cloak, just right for those chilly nights around the castle....

For some reason, I don't think this helmet was built for midnight nacho runs down to the 7-11....

As an added bonus, the royal coaches were displayed in the basement. This is an antique coach, but Royal coaches are an "ongoing concern," meaning that preservation efforts continue to this day with the current fleet of royal automobiles.

I then went up into the outer courtyard for the changing of the guard. At exactly 12:15pm, a military band played its way up the street and into the courtyard. Then the festivities began. The soldiers looked like a bunch of wind up toy soldiers marching around in various formations. What a show! It all looked very official until the troops halted. An order was given, and then all the soldiers looked over to their right and shuffled their feet "scooch scooch scooch" until the lines were straight again. This happened several times throughout the ceremony. Order, move, "scooch scooch scooch." Order, move, "scooch scooch scooch." Could this be the latest craze in country line dancing?
I found it very charming that the guards prided themselves on their military precision...
and yet still retained a very human element....
At the end of the changing of the guards, the old forces trotted off, almost hopping, while the new ones hustled in to take their posts!

As I stood on the deck of the Viking Ferry line's Gabriella that afternoon, I thought about Sweden's beautiful people, wonderful traditions, and very real commitment to keeping its history alive and vibrant. I would love to return some day and revisit my dear friends there, both old and new.

With rigging taut and sails raised, I set out with the midnight sun bound for Helsinki.

Posted by sfoshee 15:31 Archived in Sweden Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

How to Become a Professional Viking!

How you too can become a terror of the frozen north and still keep your day job

View Scott's Iceland and Scandinavia 2008 on sfoshee's travel map.

First and foremost my deepest thanks go out to Peter Daams at Travellerspoint.com, who made some trail magic happen for me this morning regarding my site trip photos. Thank you Peter! Trail magic still happens - believe!

On this day I made the resolution to try and talk to people more. I am naturally shy, at least initially, and I am really working to overcome that. As I waited to board the train at the Landskrona station, I got into a conversation with Sarah, a social worker from Malmo who works cases in Landskrona. Although I had really seen very little of it myself, I had heard that there is a bit of a problem with gangs in the area. I asked her about it. She told me that several of the local factories closed in the 1970's and early 80's, and many people moved away. Apartments became very cheap, and when Landskrona became one of the few cities in Sweden to open up to immigrants, many poured in to live. The unemployment problem persisted, however, leading to some dissatisfaction among the youth lasting to this day. Sarah works cases in the area, doing her best to help in a difficult situation. She helped me find my way through the Malmo station, and then disappeared into the crowd.

After the train stopped at Malmo, I had to find the correct regional bus to Hollviken from there on my own. Finding the right bus outside a busy train station is not an easy task to begin with, much less when you are dealing with a foreign language. I kept asking and looking, and finally made it to the shelter across the canal for the 100 bus. Also waiting were Camila and Matilda, who were on their way to attend church camp. They told me about a new youth church in Malmo that they now travelled to on their own from out of town to attend. They were very excited about it. The church was now putting on a short four-day summer camp where there would be climbing, paintball, and all kinds of other youth activities. It was refreshing to see young people actually excited about church, and I wished them well.

I got off the bus at Hollviken, home of the Fonteviken Viking Reserve. Walking the 2 miles from the bus stop a cold rain began with lightning, and I stopped into a gas station to buy a sandwich for lunch. The rain let up a bit (it really is amazing how quickly the weather changes in this part of the world) and I continued on, stopping some time later to look at a strange, twisting, tailing cloud high up under the dark thunderheads. It took me a few seconds for it to register - it was a tornado! I watched it for a few seconds, mesmerized and hardly believing. It was small and thin, staying way above the ground, but a tornado it was. I suddenly thought to lunge for my video camera, but by the time I got it on, the mini twister was gone. Sorry guys - no feature on the Weather Channel this time.

I finally made it on foot to Fontevikens Viking Reserve!

This was a great sign on a maintenance door.

Entering the settlement.

When I walked into the Viking Reserve, I practically had the place to myself for about an hour. I began speaking to one of the Vikings, Per, who very kindly filled me in on the mission of the settlement.

Make no mistake, these houses are no recreations and the Vikings are not actors and are not doing a mere reinactment. The residents actually consider themselves Vikings, and they actually live in the Viking homes in the settlement, following the old traditions and laws even after the reserve is closed to visitors. They even follow Viking religious beliefs, although the settlement is officially Christian due to the proclaimation of King Harold Bluetooth around the year 980. Here is Per demonstrating a Viking wood lathe, which ingeniously uses the springiness of tree branches to power the turning of the wood, which can then be carved into round objects such as chair legs.

Per considers himself a professional Viking fighter, and is the Jarl, who runs the village in the King's absence. He considers himself Viking "100%" and wears his period clothing even when flying through the Atlanta airport on his way to the big Viking show in Waco Texas every year. Per has been doing this for 15 years, and was formerly a chef and cared for the elderly. He is also a diver, and once was called in to do a dive on a Viking ship. It was then that he became involved in the Viking world.

The last weekend of June is Midsummer's Day, a holy day for the Vikings as well as very important time for most of Northern Europe. Huge gatherings take place all over celebrating fertility and the green of nature. At Fonteviken, they are expecting over 700 Vikings to show up for this year's celebration from 22 countries! Some of the celebrations and feasting are held in the Viking Great Hall, shown here.
And what would a Viking Great Hall be without a set of crazy giant antlers!

I asked Per how does one actually become a Viking. He said that the requirements include that you become "100% Viking," pay 150 Swedish Kroners to become a member, and wear your Viking clothing from at least 10am to 4pm every single day, weather at the reserve or not. Because they are "Modern Vikings," some leave the reserve for extended periods of time for things such as work. During that time, however, the clothing must still be worn whether at work, at home, or wherever else you go. Even though he lives at the reserve much of the time, Per still maintains a modern home and returns to it from time to time for various reasons. All Vikings, however, have free access to the homes on the reserve. A telling point is that they have decided to call their settlement a "reservation" instead of a "village." Per compared this distinction to the reservations of Native Americans in the U.S. The Vikings at Fonteviken want their settlement to be one in which people actually live, and not merely a place to put on a show for tourists.

Per was extremely earnest, very intelligent, and I really liked him. When we stood for this picture he put his arm around me and then said in his thick Swedish accent, "You're HUGE! You have blue eyes. You would make a good Viking!!" "Yeah," I laughed, "I can just see it now. A Georgia Viking. 'Skol, yall!'"

Here are some more pictures of the reserve.

These are three rune stones, on which someone "left their mark" for others to see. They can be highly symbolic and often contain important messages.

Here is a Viking house, which is actually occupied. They are held together only with wooden pegs, just like in the old times. That way the homes and other buildings can be taken down completely and transported to a new place for easy reconstruction by hammering the pegs back into place.

The long axe was very effective at cutting off opponents' legs in battle. One good swing could take off 5 or 6 legs at once!

This is Odin, Father of all. He was the most important of the Viking gods. Odin is always portrayed with one eye. He gave away the other to see into the Well of Wisdom to see what happened to his brother, Ve (pronounced "Vey"). What he saw was so horrible that he never spoke of it again. Per said that this is the origin of the Jewish saying "Oy vey!"

Viking helmets did not have horns on them, despite popular belief. Horns would get in the way of swinging weapons in battle.

Here is a Viking woman consulting the gods using stones painted with the runic alphabet.

A house roof, covered with sod.


Here is a tent in the settlement, where some visitors stay when the houses are full.

Here is the interior of one of the houses.


Here is the lookout tower and the view from the top.

Scott and Sven the Viking!

Hans the Viking.


Ironically, right off the coast where the Viking settlement is, and visible from it, it a giant new wind farm out in the ocean. These windmills are everywhere here, and this region of the world generates a huge portion of the world's wind power. I think they are beautiful.

On my way back that evening I stopped in Malmo to eat. I ended up having Thai food in a square in Malmo Sweden in a place called the Moose Head Pub! Internationalism at its best! Some pics from around Malmo.

This is an automatic air machine with settings for bicycles, baby carriages and wheel chairs!

One of the main squares.

A cool fountain in the square.

Two girls from the University in Lund.

A cool griffin.

A statue forever leading a parade through the streets of beautiful Malmo!

Posted by sfoshee 08:06 Archived in Sweden Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Landskrona at last!

Sweden on a small scale

View Scott's Iceland and Scandinavia 2008 on sfoshee's travel map.

I rode the train from Copenhagen on Friday the 13th, a date which will live in infamy. The trains were all screwed up, and a simple direct 45 minute trip turned into a 2 1/2 hour nightmare, with late trains, changed schedules, shuffled platforms, and unannounced train changes. One of the biggest keys to independent travel is always to remain flexible, so I just grinned and did my best. The beautiful farms and giant white power-generating windmills made the view worth the aggravation. I finally got on the right trains due to a fellow traveller named Peter, on his way home to Helsingborg Sweden returning from a business trip in Norway. Peter was a regular on the route and his experience really got us where we needed to go. Everyone at the train station was so used to the trains running on time every day that the system being 15 minutes behind was freaking them out!

Anyway, I made it Landskrona - finally, after 11 years!

I took a taxi to the Hotel Chaplin, which is themed after the legendary silent film star Charlie Chaplin. The Hotel Chaplin is fairly well-appointed and relatively inexpensive for Sweden. I asked the always smiling owner Ina Zachhau why it is named Hotel Chaplin, and she said that she is a big fan of Charlie Chaplin, and that he is very big in Sweden to this day! The hotel building itself was built as a factory and was later turned into a boy's home until the 1970's. The Zachhau family bought it in 1981. When I got to my room I found a giant picture of Charlie Chaplin from one of his movies sitting with a dog and staring right at me from the foot of the bed!

I then walked out to explore the town. Landskrona is a beautiful small Swedish town with very friendly people, and the feel of the place was a great break from the bustle of Copenhagen.

I expected a quiet, sleepy little town, but instead was greeted downtown by hordes of young people all dressed in identical white sailor hats marching around town blowing whistles and shouting through bullhorns! I was completely mystified, wondering if bands of well-dressed militant youth rebels had somehow overthrown the Swedish government during my delayed train ride. I asked and found out that I had arrived on Graduation Day for the equivalent of the local high school, and the tradition was for the graduates to sing on the steps of the town hall and then party through streets the rest of the day making as much noise as possible. Many also were carrying posters their families made for them with various pictures and slogans on them.

I then called up Per, my friend for 11 years who lived here. We have been in touch by telephone and email for all that time chatting about our shared interest in model trains, but had never actually met. Per was a terrific host, showing me his exquisite work on his train layout, diaramas, and on O and HO scale plants and flowers, which he had hand made from paper and had even added veining and weathering. They were amazing - I had never seen anyone hand make them individually like that.
And more amazing is the fact that he has done them while suffering a degenerative muscle disease which causes his hands to shake and gives him severe arthritis.

We then took a walking tour of the town, and I really enjoyed the many beautiful houses, parks and gardens. It made me wonder why we don't have more of these in the U.S. Walking in the mall just does not compare!
This is a schoolyard fence that has a soccer goal built right in - or out...

This is the town's old water tower, now converted to apartments. Apparently the residents have some difficulty fitting regular furniture in with the round walls, and have complained about moisture being a problem - imagine that!

After eating terribly for most of my trip, I was looking forward to a good meal. Per did not disappoint, taking me to Danny's Corner Restaurant, where I had an amazing "plank steak," cooked on a wooden plank, and the best French Onion soup I have ever put in my mouth.

The next day Per wasn't feeling well with his condition, so I set off to explore the city alone. Here is a cool playground swing I have only seen in Europe...

These cute little straberry carts are all over the city, selling fresh locally grown strawberries...

Every self-respecting 16th century Danish astronomer should have his own little neighborhood place...

I stumbled onto the Saturday market in the town square and enjoyed the not-so-warm sun while doing a little shopping.

There are lots of dogs around, as people seem to take them everywhere with them, including on the trains with their leashes. I met this cute pekingese while wandering through a park...

This is a carving of a tennis shoe created from a stump by a local jogging club.

Many Swedes have small "summer houses," second homes where they live during the summer and work in their incredible gardens. They move out of the summer houses around October because the pipes freeze during the winter. Here are two nice ones I found...

Replacing the town's old water tower was this creation, which looks like something off the front of an old E.L.O. album.

This is Landskrona Citadel. While taking this picture a group of baby ducks walked up and started pecking at my shoes! (See the ducks at the bottom right).

There was also a very nice outdoor sculpture garden. Notice the graduation sign placed at the foot of one of the statues.

In the funky Landskrona Museum, they were having an exhibit on hairdressing, of all things.

I can't figure out if this terrifying thing is an old electric hair curling machine or something from the dark bowels of one of the CIA's secret prisons...

I looked up and saw a bowl of hair on the wall. That's right, a bowl of hair, with a small sign in Swedish and a pair of scissors dangling fom a string. I asked a group of older ladies if any of them spoke English, and then asked them what the exhibit could possibly be. They told me the sign said that if you cut a lock of your hair and put it in the bowl, you could make a wish. Brigitte, one of the visiting ladies, then grabbed the scissors and proceeded to take a whack at my head! When I put the lock in the bowl, I made the wish that I had more hair!

Here is the Davy Crockett restaurant. Independent franchises are now available throughout Scandinavia and the greater Baltic region (just kidding).

I then went to the grocery store, something I love to do in foreign countries. It is always fun to find out what they have available there. I saw these really cool see-through chest freezers lining the frozen food aisles.

My shopping cart was a design I have never seen before. It looks like a regular hand-held grocery basket, but has a telescoping handle and wheels so that you can cart your frozen Bagel Bites around like a piece of carry-on luggage.


Before the trip I set up a webcam at home and set up my laptop with one as well. I tried it out for the first time that afternoon, calling home with Per and videoconferencing with my wife Emily, daughter Anna Kate, and our friends the Brickmans - Joey, Amy, Will, Zach, Aaron and Ethan. It was absolutely terrific seeing everyone's faces live, even for a short time, and it raised spirits immensely. I was walking on air as Per and I headed afterwards to a great Greek restaurant on the town square called the Akropolis. We ate outside, and both had Gyros, which were served with everything laid out separately on the plate, with no wrappers. Per had never heard of Gyros with wrappers before. They were very good anyway. By the time we finished a big Saturday night crowd had gathered, talking, listening to loud rock music, and dancing. Who knew that the Akropolis was such a hot night spot! Per and I ended up spending the evening chatting with two guys who were members of two local bands, if you can believe it! Christopher was a drummer in a local covers band and his dream is to move to New York City and become a policeman there. David, with dyed red spiky hair, plays lead guitar in the cover band and in another band that does original metal music. When they found out that I am from Athens, Georgia they went nuts because Athens is the home of R.E.M. and the B-52's. I began to wonder if they thought I was some kind of talent scout or something! "No, I don't know Michael Stipe, but my wife Emily once ran into his grocery cart in Kroger's."

As we sat back and chatted about everything from music to the American elections to conspiracy theories on the moon landing, I took a look around and wondered, where else could two self-professed model train geeks be hanging out on a Saturday night with a bunch of mohawked metal head musicians? As Per and I walked back late that night, the nearly full moon emerged from the clouds and helped light our way down the empty street as the strains of "Sweet Home Alabama" echoed up the alleyway behind us. The music was wildly out of place, yet felt hauntingly familiar to this traveler so far from home.

Posted by sfoshee 14:32 Archived in Sweden Tagged tourist_sites Comments (4)

Hamlet's Castle, the Atlanta Falcons, and...a Cheeseburger

Why are the Atlanta Falcons wildly popular in Denmark? Read on....

View Scott's Iceland and Scandinavia 2008 on sfoshee's travel map.

I found and took a free "City Bike" this morning, riding it to the Central Train Station in Copenhagen before replacing it on the special rack and getting my 20 kroner coin back.


Here is a great tip for travelling in Denmark - always have a 20 kroner coin with you. You need to leave it as a deposit for City Bikes and for every bag locker in every museum I have been in here. Just deposit it, lock your locker, and get it back when you unlock your stuff. You can use the same coin the whole time, so keep it in a special place!

I figured out the train system, and was amazed at how easy it is. Trains run everywhere you need to go every 20 minutes. Buy a 24 hour pass and go everywhere you want to go. That's it! It was like a light bulb going off over my head, after the patient ticket agent explained this to me over and over to yet another stupid America (me). I felt like an idiot walking out of the office, and averted my eyes from those of the Europeans waiting in line behind me, their expressions a mixed bag of amusement and total disgust.

The weather was cold, windy and rainy as I stepped off the train in Helsingor, Denmark, home of the massive and intimidating Kronborg Slot, also known as "Hamlet's Castle," because of its being used as the setting for the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare never actually saw the castle, but talked extensively about it with people at the time who had visited it. It was built at the narrowest part of the strait that separated Denmark from what is now Sweden, so the king could dominate and control access to the Baltic Sea. Each passing ship had to pay a special coin as a passage fee, thus enriching the country's coffers immensely. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I was really looking forward to seeing it.

It was driving rain and very cold as I walked up to the castle - absolutely perfect.
I crossed many moats and battlements before entering the central courtyard.

I bought the 85 kroner ticket to see everything. First came the Royal Apartments, where the royal family actually lived while the castle was occupied. The rooms are huge, yet sparsely furnished due to it being ransacked over the years. Particularly impressive was the Queen's bedroom, which is linked by a specially constructed hallway to the ballroom, wide enough for the Queen to pass from her chambers to an event dressed in her huge dress skirts, which were the upmost in style at the time. Now there is a King who can keep his lady happy!
Next came the huge ballroom, the largest in all of northern Europe when it was built. At one end is a tremendous fireplace at least 7 feet tall, and at the other a specially crafted tapastry to cover the royal dining table at functions. It is said that banquets here consisted of 65 courses, with each guest given his own vomiting bucket! Now THAT is a feast!
Next came the Maritime Museum, housing mementos of Danish maritime history. The sea has been very important to the Danes, and they owe it a lot.
They also had the world's oldest ship's buiscuit, dating from 1852! Still looks good to eat!

From there I climbed to the top of Telegraph Tower for incredible views of the castle, the sea, and the town. It is situated so that messages could be sent by visual telegraph up and down the coast. It is also at the very top of very steep spiral stairs - 146 of them - I counted!
I next visited the chapel, where services are still heald on the first Sunday of each month. It should be noted that the King made sure the Queen had a special passageway built for her to the chapel directly from her room.

I finally went to the Casements, which are the dungeons below the castle. They are not lighted, and you have to take a flashlight with you to explore. It is incredibly spooky, especially the triangular-shaped cell rooms, which had bars set progressively back from the wide entrances to reduce the space a problem prisoner had, step by step, him ending up at the narrow lightless point with no room to lie down. Extremely creepy, especially in the dark!
There is also a huge concrete statue down there of Holger Danske, Denmarks ancient legendary hero. It is said that he is actually waiting down here, frozen in time, ready to come back to life in the time of Denmark's greatest need. During Nazi occupation during WWII, the Danish Resistance actually used him as a symbol of their dangerous movement to free their country.

After this I actually began talking with one of the tour guides, William, who works here during the summer so that he can travel during his 4 months off. I told him I was from the Atlanta area, and he said he was planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail next year. He also said that Atlanta has an increasing international reputation because of the Olympics, CNN, and the Atlanta Falcons NFL football team. "What?" I asked, mystified? "Yes, the Atlanta Falcons are wildly popular here in Denmark." This completely dumbfounded me, because after the Michael Vick incident, you couldn't pay most Atlantans to take season tickets, even if you threw in a ham and a free bowl of cheese. "Yes, it is because of your place kicker, Morten Andersen. He is from Denmark, and is a national hero here." Andersen, the only Dane in the NFL, holds the league's all-time scoring record. Apparently he comes back to Denmark every summer, signs copies of his autobiography, and is mobbed by fans. Amazing. Three cheers for Morten Andersen, the oldest player in the NFL! Now let's go down to the Georgia Dome with Danish flags and give him some support!
We exchanged email addresses, and I walked back to town in the driving rain, this time a big smile on my dripping face.
On the way back to the train station saw a bunch of schoolchildren, apparently unfazed by the weather.

I took the train back down the coast o a small town called Humlebaek, home to the world famous Louisiana modern art museum. The museun is shaped like the capital letter "C," opening to a sculpture garden on a beautifully manicured lawn facing the sea. I enjoued the abstract art, but the sculptures were the real treat. And, NEWS FLASH - the sun ACTUALLY CAME OUT!! It was glorious as I walked around examing the unusual statues.
Abstract art...
This one is the recreation of a men's room wall...
and sculptures...
This one was called "Eyes." Discuss amongst yourselves...

I then caught the train back up to Helsingor for dinner, and did some more exploring in this beautiful small town.
There was even a Dixieland band playing in the town square!

I finally found a place that haden't closed after hordes of Swedish tourists had left on ferries hours before. I saw this sign...
and interpreted it to mean that the Viking Garden had the land's best burger. So, all other options exhausted, I went in and ordered a cheeseburger. The man behing the counter asked me with a completely straight face if I wanted a double. I thought about it, but said no, I would just take some of those scalloped potatoes and a chocolate shake instead. He took my order calmly and I sat down, trying to read German television magazines. Finally the chef rang the bell and yelled "Cheeseburger!" I got up and went to the counter, and my jaw dropped in disbelief. My "single" cheeseburger was as big as my head!!
Apparently the word I thought meant "best" actually means "biggest!" I simply took the burger, laughed, and did the best I could!

Posted by sfoshee 14:23 Archived in Denmark Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Copenhagen Deluxe!

Or how to walk and walk and walk...and walk...and walk some more

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OK guys, a lot has been happening. The flight into Copenhagen got in and my hotel had given away my room! Luckily another across town had a room for 3 nights. Upon arrival there, I was told they only had 2 nights because of a convention in town. I took them and set off the next morning bright and early to find rooms for my last 2 nights. I finally found a hostel with 1 room for 2 nights, which I took. Then, this morning, my hotel said that another of its sister hostels had a room for my final 2 nights, and it was just around the corner. Musical rooms are par for the course during the summer in Europe, even though I booked them in April, so you have to keep your chin up and keep plodding along. I witnessed several "Ugly Americans" in my same situation, and it was not a pretty scene. It always pays to be nice and polite I have found, especially in foreign countries.

Yesterday I saw quite alot. First was the City Hall and square, and then on a bus to Rosenborg Slot, the former summer castle for the Danish royalty. It was beautiful, and the construction positioned many of the rooms with windows on three sides to try and brighten up the interior during the dark winters. We really take interior lighting for granted these days!
I then walked to the National Gallery, which had a crazy Scandinavian modern art exhibit. I like modern art, and enjoyed trying to figure out the meanings of chains bolted to iron stones on the floor, etc. Bizarre and interesting.

I really enjoyed seeing the old row houses people live in around the city. I passed a set at this point walking up the street and got some good pictures.

Next stop was Gustof's Church, home of the Swedish church in Denmark. The caretaker was very nice, letting me in to tour the church by myself. There really have been few crowds, and I was all alone most of the time. I should mention that the weather has been very cold and windy, with scattered rain showers. I bundle up in my fleece to walk around, and when I enter buildings they have the heat turned up so high I usually have to take my coat off and put it in a locker.

Next I walked through Kastillet, a well-preserved moated fortification near the Little Mermaid statue. It is still being used actively by the military, but its beautiful location in the center of a gorgeous park invites joggers and walkers during the day. After Kastillet, I walked around a small marina filled with sailboats to see the statue of the Little Mermaid, donated by an admirer of Hans Christian Anderson, who was a resident of the city. Small_Little_Mermaid.jpg
This was the only place I encountered crowds, because of the two giant cruise ships tied up nearby. I also ate lunch from one of the ubiquitous hot dog stands here. For some reason people in Copenhagen seen to absolutely love hot dogs, as there are vending stands on very many corners.

Geifion fountain followed, which is a huge fountain near the harbor. The wind was blowing the water right out of the fountain, drencing you if you were in the wrong spot at any given minute!

I then took a very cool canal tour from Nyhaven. Copenhagen is a city of canals, and the homes and buildings lining the various waterways are breathtaking. From the boat I saw the new very cool Opera House, which cost $500 million to build, donated by a local corporation. Small_Opera_House.jpg
I also saw the new theatre, also right on the water. When it opened, the first play put on, fittingly, was Shakespeare's Hamlet (the prince of Denmark). The Queen's royal yacht was also in the harbor, and they take it out during the summer, visiting coastal town around the country.Small_Royal_Yacht.jpg

I then walked down to Amalierborg palace, where the Royal Family normally lives. The changing of the guard happens here every day at noon, with guards in big fuzzy hats marching over from Rosenborg half an hour before.
Right behind the palace is the Marble church. It's impressive dome is the 4th largest in Europe.

Back to Nyhaven. Small_Nyhaven.jpgIt is a canal dug out so that merchants could sell their goods in the city center. It has quite a sordid history (sailors on leave and all that), and was fairly seedy until a revitalization in the 1970's Hans Christian Anderson lived here in three different houses at various times in his life. Despite being a well known children's author, he reportedly lived a fairly unhappy and troubled life. Living in this formerly seedy area may reflect that. Today Nyhaven is gorgeous, the canal lined with great restaurants and shops. I actually had my first decent meal in days here, eating a passable hamburger and boiled potatoes. I also got three different types of haddock as an appetizer, and although I ate it, it appeared fairly dicey! It had a kind of a slimy, sweet flavor, and I liked the mustard-covered ones best. Here is a picture of me standing in front of one of the Hans Christian Anderson houses in Nyhaven.

After dinner I continued my walking, seeing a cool spiral-topped church that actually has steps all the way up to the top of the steeple - on the OUTSIDE!! The church was closed for renovations, or I would have made the climb!

I also saw the beautifully modern "Black Diamond," the expansion of the Royal Library. The black glass wally are built at fairly extreme outward angles, in order to appear like a ship's bow. The Parliament building nearby, has a very cool spire made out of three dragon's tales intertwined!

The day ended with me going to Tivoli Gardens, Europe's oldest theme park. It is small, right in downtown, and absolutely wonderful. It is heavily wooded and has rides, but really has an old-world Europe feel, with nice restaurants and outdoor performances. I saw a show by the Pantomime Theatre, which was accompanied by a live orchestra! I also really enjoyed a show a bit later there where a great jazz band played big band favorites in a gazebo while people danced in front. What a wonderful end to a huge day!

This morning I had to change hostels (see above) and then went down the the National Museum, the "National Museet." It has an absolutely huge collection on Danish prehistory, including several ancient mummies recovered in recent years from peat bogs in the area. They are remarkably well preserved, right down to their clothing and facial expressions. There was also another great section with many Viking artifacts, including wooden shields, metal swords, helmets, and a partially recovered Viking ship!

Following the National Museum I walked over through a cool quiet waterfront park to an area of the city called Christiania. Christiania was a former walled military installation that was granted to civilian people in the 1960's I think for a social experiment. It became an independent hippy enclave, free from outside laws. The government finally moved in during the last several years to clean up the hard and then soft drugs, but the hippy culture remains. As I walked through there were signs asking that you take no pictures. There were numerous stands selling various pariphenalia, and every so often a randon explosion would go off, sounding like a pipe bomb. There were several police in a group investigating the explosions, but seemed to be intimidated by the rough residents, who were not going anywhere. I was very glad I went and saw Christiania, but I didn't feel very safe there, and left after about an hour.

I then walked over to the Royal Danish Naval Museum, which had hundreds of hand-built ship models of every shape and size, as well as mock-ups in miniature of important naval battles and a submarine. It was very impressive. I left and enjoyed a Diet Coke outside of a cafe nearby on the canal while resting my swollen and blistered feet. Good thing I brought plenty of moleskin with me - a very valuable addition to any pack.

I should mention here that there are literally thousands of bicycles everywhere. People ride them everywhere, and hundreds can be found at any one time outside of the train station, etc. Crossing a street you learn very quickly to look both ways before stepping out, because giant herds of bicycles literally will run you down! There is a cool project the city has done called "City Bike," where they bought and put out 1000 specially designed bicycles for people to use all around the city for free. The bikes are locked in dozens of locations around town. If you find one you put a 20 kroner coin in the lock, it opens, and you are off wherever you want to go. When you are finished you just return it to one of the City Bike racks (marked on the map), put the lock back on, and get your coin back. It is an awesome idea, and very popular. The bikes have solid spokeless wheels and puncture-proof tires, and are only 1 speed. Tired of walking, i finally found a free one and rode along with the crowds back to Nyhaven for dinner. It was great fun, and I think it is an idea more cities in the U.S. should try. Denmark is a very "green" country, and it shows.

I ended up the evening eating at a fish buffet on the canal, which was wonderful. I finally got the hang of the subway, and took it back to my hostel, where I now desparately need to do laundry but cannot find machines here. Maybe I can hold out by handwashing in the sink until I leave to see Per in Landskrona on Friday. Tomorrow the plan is to take a train up the coast and return tomorrow night.

One last word on European breakfasts. Every morning here I really have to scramble for breakfast. At the hostels they have ham and turkey luncheon meat, cheese, rolls, and apple juice. For some reason on my travels overseas breakfast seems to be an afterthought. I wonder why? Also, most places I have been outside of the U.S. do not have washcloths at all, so I have taken to travelling with two of my own. Just a tip.

Vincent Vega: [Y]ou know what the funniest thing about Europe is?
Jules Winnfield: What?
Vincent Vega: It's the little differences.

Posted by sfoshee 13:50 Archived in Denmark Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Hello from Reykjavik!

Land of the midnight sun

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Hello from Reykjavik, the northernmost capital city in the world! When they say this is the land of the midnight sun, they aren't kidding. I have yet to see the sun set, and it has my sleeping schedule all off. It is bright as the afternoon all night long! I kind of feel like a zombie!
I have had a lot of fun walking around the city and exploring. I went to the National Photography Museum, which had a special exhibit by Viggo Mortensen, the actor. I was here for the last day of the arts festival, and went to a terrific concert at the University. The Iceland symphony orchestra played and 4 vocalists sang Icelandic pop songs in English while video was projected on a huge screen behind the stage. It was truly amazing.
I ate at a terrific seafood place on the waterfront called the Sea Baron. They specialize in lobster soup, which was terrific, and I also got a cod kebob. Believe it or not, they actually had Mink whale meat (Iceland is one of the few countries that still whales), but I couldn't make myself eat it! I also ate at a cool place called The Hamburger Joint, reportedly serving the best hamburger in Iceland. It was good, and the ambience was cool, with John Lee Hooker music playing in the background!
The big landmark at the center of town is a church built from native stone. The church is called Hallgrimskirkja, and I climbed to the top of the steeple to get some good pictures of the city. There is also an impressive statue of Leif Ericksson in front.

I fly to Copenhagen tomorrow, so I will try to pull the shades and get some sleep!

Posted by sfoshee 12:55 Archived in Iceland Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

The Road to Iceland

Looking for bad roads

overcast 80 °F

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Things have been very hectic these few months getting ready for my solo adventure to Iceland and Scandinavia this Summer. My wife Emily and I did a business conference in Hollywood Florida a few weeks ago, and I had to turn around and do a scouting trip to Las Vegas checking out hotel meeting space for upcoming conferences. I returned sick as a dog and recovered just in time for major Memorial Day festivities at the house with our friends Joey and Amy Brickman and their sons Zach, Will, Aaron and Ethan, Keith Coker and his daughter Angela, my great friend from Emory University Beth Martinez and her daughter Anna and son Diego, my daughter Anna Kate's friend Ali and her dad Alan Pieratti (his wife Sherri had strep throat and could not make it). We had a house full all weekend and it was a lot of work, but everyone had a lot of fun and it was a great send off for the trip.
Reading Surfer's Journal magazine on the plane back from Las Vegas I came upon a quote that really stood out to me. It read, "Bad roads bring good people." I really like that one - it can mean so many things. Geographically it might mean that you almost inevitably will find good people at the end of a bad road, the ones really dedicated to a task being the only ones who actually make the trek. Emotionally it might mean that after traversing very difficult terrain together, people become closer than ever before. I think that I will make this quote the motto of my journey this year, and I really hope you all enjoy travelling along with me.
When I tell people I am going to Iceland and Scandinavia alone, usually the first question I am asked is "Why Iceland?" Well, I ran across Iceland Air flights a long time ago before my previous trips (Africa '07, Australia '06, Peru '05) and their stopover offer on the way to Europe has always intrigued me. Why fly directly to Europe when you can spend time in Iceland on the way? It sounds like a lot of adventure and fun. When my previously planned trip this year to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos fell through twice (my Semester at Sea friend Herb Thompson, who organized the three previous trips I went on, worked really hard on them and I felt bad for him), my thoughts drifted to Iceland and Europe. It was cemented when I thought of my friend Per, who lives in Landskrona Sweden. I have known Per for 10 years and we have never met. So I thought that it might be fun to combine meeting him and seeing Iceland into one trip. That is where the idea for the trip was born.
Per called me one night 10 years ago out of the blue after seeing a picture of my father-in-law Paul and me in Model Railroader magazine, where we were posing in front of a newly-donated train caboose and asking for members to join a model train club. Per is a model train enthusiast in Sweden specializing in Southern Railway (the road name of the caboose). When I took the call from my wife Emily, I was surprised by the flabbergasted look on her face. I took the phone. "Hello? This is Per from Sweden. How are you?" Since then we have chatted on the phone and written monthly, and have become good friends. Per has a degenerative muscle disease and I thought that this finally might be a good time to make good on my promises to go see him.
The current plan for the trip is as follows:
Fly from Atlanta to New York on June 4th and then on to Reykjavik Iceland overnight, arriving 7:00am the morning of June 5th.
Spend 4 days in Iceland seeing Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon, and the Golden Triangle.
Fly to Copenhagen, Denmark for 4 days.
Take the train across the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo Sweden and Landskrona to see Per.
Take the train to Stockholm for a few days.
Ride the overnight ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki, Finland for a few days before heading over on another ferry for a few days in Tallinn, Estonia.
Return to Helsinki on the ferry and then fly to Oslo, Norway.
In Norway ride the cross-country train across the mountains to the fjords on the west coast and explore for several days before returning to Oslo.
Fly back to New York and Atlanta via Reykjavik, arriving home on or around July 1.

I have purposely kept the itinerary fairly open, hoping this time for a more loosely-structured travelling experience, remaining flexible for whatever what might come along. In the past I have been on several trips with small groups, and they are great, but at times the structure begins to wear thin. I hope to leave a little room for more adventure this time around.

I plan to post trip blog entries and photos on this site as I go along, and I really hope that you enjoy them! Please let me hear from you at sfoshee@yahoo.com.

A special thanks goes to my wonderful wife Emily, who lets me go on these crazy adventures to retain my sanity. She and our daughter Anna Kate have been the best things in my life. I love you both.
Email me at sfoshee@yahoo.com Skype me at sfoshee

Posted by sfoshee 14:33 Archived in USA Tagged packing Comments (1)

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