Falling for Helsinki

Helsinki stole my heart.  It may have been the perfect weather, the beautiful shoreline, or the colorful autumn leaves making the city especially festive.  Who knows.  Like every other city we visit, Bobby and I decided to tour Helsinki on foot.  We arrived in late afternoon, and with only a couple of daylight hours left, we headed north to visit the famed Rock Church and the Jean Sibelius Monument.  We reached the shoreline at dusk and it was a perfect night to take the waterside jogging path back to the city.  The following day, we took the scenic route, walking again along the harbor to the fish market and up the hill to Kaivopuisto Park.  Here, we had sweeping views of Kruunuvuorenselka (what a word!) Sound.

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The Natural Wonders of Iceland

The waterfall as seen from the viewing platform

From our base point in Reykjavik, we traveled to some of the most famous natural wonders in Iceland: Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Skogafoss (“foss” = waterfall in Icelandic), Thingvellir National Park, the basalt cliffs in Vik, and Midlina, the point in which the European and North American continents are pulling apart.  It has been a whirlwind trip!  Although the country is beautifully lush and green, we are excited to fly back south to sunnier, warmer weather.

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Reykjavic Adventures – Whale Watching & The Blue Lagoon

More jumping

We’ve officially made it to Iceland, our 30th country since this Olmsted Scholar experience began (almost) two years ago.  It’s been quite an incredible journey.  After leaving our car in Oslo, we booked a late flight into Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.  Our first day, we took a tour with Elding Whale Watching, the oldest company of its kind in the city.  We changed our 10.00 reservation to 14.00 after suffering an unexpectedly acute case of jet lag and the weather was nearly perfect. We had clear skies and although it was a bit (a lot!) brisk, the whale guide commented it was the most active the dolphins and whales had been in some time.  We lucked out!  Unfortunately, our second day in Iceland turned out to be pretty crappy weather-wise.  In order to make up for this, we took the bus (which Bobby was amazed was equipped with wifi) to the Blue Lagoon, where the water is warm, no matter the temperature outside.

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Lysefjord Hiking – Lysebotn, Norway

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For the second half of our journey in the fjords of Norway, we spent our time in Lysebotn.  A small town that sits at the mouth of the Lysefjord, Lysebotn is surrounded by 3,000+ foot cliffs.  In some parts of the fjord, the water is as deep as the mountains are high.  That is crazy.  I’m guessing it may be a little too cold to swim?  Of course, with its mountains comes some spectacular hiking.  Two of the three most famous hikes in Norway – Kjeragbolten and Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) – are situated in the areas surrounding Lysefjord.  (The third popular route, Trolltunga, is near Odda, Norway, which we already completed.) We dared to climb the Kjerag Mountain and stand on the Kjeragbolten, a boulder that is wedged between two cliffs.  Unfortunately for us, there wasn’t a good route to get from Lysebotn to hike Pulpit Rock (it would have taken us over 3 hours of driving each way), so we’ll have to settle for two out of the “big three.”  … [Read More]

Hardangerfjord Hiking – Odda, Norway

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Near the Hardangerfjord area, on the western coast of Norway, there are some drop-dead gorgeous, awe-inspiring, can-we-stay-here-for-ever views.  People come from all around the world to see the fjords and partake in many of the outdoor activities that the region offers: hiking, biking, kayaking, skiing, and even base-jumping.  For the first part of our fjord experience, we decided to stay in the small town of Odda, which sits at the mouth of one of the fingers of the Hardangerfjord.  Odda serves as a great base if you want to hike one of the most famous routes in all of Norway, the 22 km (some say it’s more like 25 km) route to Trolltunga.  You can also make your way up to the Buer glacier from Odda.  Because visiting the fjords of Norway is a once in a lifetime opportunity (according to us), we decided it was necessary to do both treks…. [Read More]

Oslo, Norway – The Other “Emerald City”

Oslo Opera House at sunset

For our entire trip in Oslo, Bobby kept comparing the city to his beloved Seattle. There are a lot of similarities: the cities both sit on water in an area carved by glaciers, they have large shipping/fishing industries, similar craftsmen’esque homes, and strong art/architecture scenes.  We are partial to Seattle, but Oslo gave us an unexpected sense of home despite the huge distance separating the two.  We stayed with a lovely woman who gave us great info for all the best things to see in her city: the Oslo Opera House (of course!), the islands in the surrounding area, the Vigeland Sculpture Park, the Akershus Fortress, and several interesting museums.  We tried our best and saw the majority of the list in just two days!  Of course, we could have stayed much longer…. [Read More]

Stockholm, Sweden – The Vasa Museum

Old Town Stockholm

I think our good weather streak ran out by the time we reached Stockholm, the next leg on our Scandinavian adventure.  For our entire stay, it drizzled or poured rain, so we spent most of our time exploring the Vasa Museum (although we did take a quick jaunt through “Old Town”).  The Vasa Museum is the home to Vasa, an enormous viking ship that sank on her maiden voyage.  The ship was built in Stockholm in 1626 and set sail for the first time in 1628.  However, after only 1300 meters, Vasa tipped over, took on water, and sank in Stockholm’s harbor.  Attempts to raise the ship soon afterwards were fruitless.  In 1961, Sweden’s Navy, the National Maritime Museum, and a salvage company banned together to bring Vasa to the surface, some 333 years after it first sank.  The Navy moved the ship to its current location (in the museum) in 1988 and the Vasa Museum opened two years later.
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Denmark – Venturing into Scandinavia

Castle and sculpted hedges

This may sound incredibly inane, but the two things that I took away from Denmark were 1) Danish people are really blond (blonder than Swedes!) and 2) every person in Copenhagen must own a bike (I think there were more bikes than Amsterdam!)  On this leg of our trip, we continued on our journey from Germany to Denmark, stopping in Odense and then Copenhagen.  This was our first time in Scandinavia, and we were really excited to see the area, since we’d heard such high praises from multiple sources.  Luckily, Denmark didn’t let us down (….well, other than everything being really expensive, but that’s a given in the Nordic countries)!  :)… [Read More]