We think we’d like living in Finland. It feels like I’m making it up when I say how much we’ve enjoyed just about every place we’ve been on this trip, but no, they’ve all been really different and really great in different ways. As much as I’d like to vacation again in a lot of them though, Finland is the first place we’ve been to where I would seriously consider living. OK, granted, we were here in the summer and 24 hours of cold and dark in the winter might be too much, but in a country and culture like this it might be worth a try! This was Greg’s third trip to Finland and my first so he got to play tour guide while we spent the first two days hanging out in Helsinki. I’d been craving Mexican food so one of our first stops was at a great little Mexican restaurant near our hotel for burritos and margaritas! That’s what everyone associates with Finland, right?! On Saturday morning we boarded a ferry to take a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia. It started out as a bummer of a day since we’d heard about Fuzz that morning, but it turned out that it was just what we needed. The two hour ferry ride to get there was very pleasant and when we got off the boat we walked straight into the Tallinn Maritime Festival. There were street vendors, food trucks, live music and Russian tall ships...so much fun! After going back to Helsinki and a great day of just bumming around we boarded an overnight train to Rovaniemi. The thirteen hour train ride turned out to be very comfortable and since we figured it would probably be best to sleep for at least some of it, we were a bit disappointed that it wasn’t longer (especially with so much of it in daylight, with such great views, and with really fast, free wifi). Once in Rovaniemi we took the requisite trip to Santa’s Village and to the Arctic Circle and stopped into Santa’s post office to write a few postcards. We also had a really great traditional lunch of smoked salmon and berry juice in a Lappish hut, warmed by a fire, while we waited out a brief rainstorm. It was absolutely perfect. We also realized that it had been ten years to the day since Greg was in Rovaniemi the last time...crazy! After flying back to Helsinki we stumbled upon the Tall Ships race that happened to be passing through. Another round of summer street fair made for a perfect end to our time in Finland. P.S. For those of you who know what a non-picky eater I am, I finally found a food I never want to try again....salted licorice...ick!!!
July 2013 Archives
After arriving in Moscow and getting a good night’s sleep, we walked the next morning from our hotel down Tverskia street to Red Square. The tour of St. Basil’s was totally worth it and we had a good time wandering through the passageways and small rooms inside. We also checked out the GUM shopping mall with it’s gorgeous architecture and ridiculously high prices. On Tuesday, we went to the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics. The museum was better than we had expected and had some great replicas (and a few originals) of various Soviet satellites, shuttles, and a replica of the MIR space station that we got to walk inside. We also spent a good part of the day touring the Mocow metro (on purpose). It absolutely wins as the most architecturally and artistically impressive metro either of us has ever been in. Each station had some sort of mural or statue or even stained glass that was absolutely gorgeous. We could have spent a week just stopping at every station to explore them all. With rain the previous two days we decided to go to the Kremlin and see Lenin’s tomb on our last full day in Moscow. We should have known better. We did manage to go inside the Armory at the Kremlin which was very impressive, but we had gotten the wrong tickets and couldn’t go any further inside the courtyard. We had also seen the outside of Lenin’s tomb on our first trip to Red Square, but since the inside was closed that day we planned to go back after the Kremlin. Alas, we messed that up too and it was closed again by the time we got there. Oh well, we both decided that we liked Moscow even more than we’d expected to and seeing it again (maybe in the winter) would be worth a trip back.
If I ever run away you can probably find me in Santorini! So wonderful! We arrived in Athens after a roundabout flight from the Emirates. We were supposed to have a rather long layover in Cyprus and hoped to leave the airport, but because of restricted airspace over Syria our flight was significantly delayed. Alas, no passport stamp for us. We spent our first day in Greece bumming around Athens and enjoying time just sitting in some of the outdoor cafes (an instant indication that we were back in Europe)! The next morning we explored the Acropolis and hiked up to see the Parthenon. We’ve been to some pretty amazing and culturally significant places already on this trip, but the sheer history (and maybe relationship to western history) here was humbling. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the Plaka neighborhood nearby and just taking in the city sites. The seven hour ferry ride to Santorini the next day was a bit long. We thought we knew what we were getting ourselves into, but the boat was packed and the whole experience was fairly unpleasant. Luckily, once we got to Santorini everything was great. Freddy, our hotel owner, was there with his son (Freddy) to pick us up. We spent the next few days lounging by the pool and exploring the area of Perissa beach near our hotel. Towards the end of the week we rented a car for the day and drove around the island. We stopped first at the Red Beach and then drove out to the eastern end to see the lighthouse. Then we spent the afternoon in Fira before continuing on to see sunset in Oia. It sounds like a lot, but takes maybe 45 minutes to traverse the entire island so made for a very relaxed day exploring (ok, maybe slightly less relaxing for Greg who did the driving through the narrow streets...). Fira and Oia look just like every postcard I’ve ever seen of Santorini and totally lived up to the hype. The small streets winding up the side of the island were beautiful, with the white and blue house and gorgeous pink bougainvillea flowers. Oia was more crowed that Fira, but gorgeous, and we managed to see a procession of donkeys before we left. The ferry back to Athens was much less crowded, more pleasant and fairly uneventful (in a good way). It turned out to be a nice way to end our trip before another overnight in Athens and then backtracking to Amman and then off to Moscow!
Dubai was a good place to relax and warm up again after South Africa. We cashed in another free hotel night to stay at the Grand Hyatt for my birthday. It was completely over the top, but gorgeous, and seemed to epitomize what we saw and experienced in the Emirates: people from all over the world and lots of gold leaf. This was a fairly short stopover so we didn’t do much sightseeing, but still managed to check out the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world) and the Dubai mall (largest mall in the world). Also both completely over-the-top and pretty much what we’d expected. We also scouted out and tried some camel milk chocolate (bar and milkshake). Seriously you should look this up. I'm jumping on the "it's the next superfood bandwagon" (ok, maybe not when it's combined with chocolate, but very tasty)! Everything else we did and saw felt a lot like spending time in a big western city (ok, except maybe the indoor ski slope, the giant in-mall aquarium, and most of the local attire…hmm). A great place for a few days and maybe longer if on a corporate travel budget.
Of course we had a blast in Cape Town. We used Airbnb again and stayed with an absolutely wonderful couple, Angela and Faizel. The first night there they treated us to a lovely dinner, some drinks and fantastic conversation! We would have loved to have been able to spend more time just hanging out with them. The whole area was beautiful though and we had a busy, but relaxing few days exploring. Our first full day we took a cab down to the waterfront and spent a good amount of the day just ducking in and out of little shops and art galleries and grabbing a few drinks before a lovely dinner on one of the piers. It certainly lived up to the hype as South Africa’s most visited locale and reminded us a lot of various waterfront towns we’ve enjoyed at home. On our second day we decided it would probably be easiest to rent a car so we wound up going back to the airport to pick it up. This worked out well because I also needed to file a police report for my iPhone, which short version, I unfortunately “donated” to someone after dropping it on the flight the day before. Total bummer, but hopefully our travel insurance covers most of it and it did mean I got to pick up a cool $15 Nokia complete with a flashlight and an FM radio. Anyway, once all of that was taken care of we drove out to some of the nearby wineries. This was another place where visiting off-season turned out to be fantastic. I was a bit chilly, but everywhere we went had a fireplaces and buckets of blankets. (Why is this not a thing at home‽) It also meant that at most places we stopped to visit there were only one or two other people there with us. The area was beautiful, the wine was delicious and everyone was super friendly. Success! Day three took us on another mini-road trip from Cape Town down around Cape Point and back. We took our time and drove through some more lovely little coastal towns and admired the huge (really huge) waves off the coast. One of the definite highlights though was stopping to see the Slangkop Point lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in South Africa. We were taking pictures outside when one of the security guards asked us if we wanted to go inside. Saying yes of course, he took us to meet the (very cool) lighthouse keeper who explained that it would be five rand apiece and we had an hour or so to explore before they closed for the day. He then unlocked the door for us and we had a blast as the only ones inside climbing up to the top and getting so close that we could actually stick our heads inside the lens (luckily the light didn’t flash at the same time). From there we kept driving to see Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope (much smaller than we were expecting) and saw wild penguins on Boulder Beach. They were completely adorable and I still can’t believe the wildlife we’ve seen on this trip. Finally, on our final day we spent the morning on a tour of Robben island. It was incredibly moving and very much worth the visit. Our plan was to then hike (or take the funicular) to the top of Table Mountain, but like every other day we were there it was covered with clouds and so we decided we wouldn’t get to see anything anyway. Instead we drove back towards wine country and enjoyed another afternoon in a beautiful area. We weren't sure what to expect for our time in South Africa, but can now enthusiastically say how much we loved it and hope to go back again soon.