We visited during Summer Solstice. We were in Iceland on the actual solstice. While there was only 2 hours of dusk light, it was cloudy so it was hard to take it in.
Since I got a speeding ticket last time I was in Iceland, Allie wouldn't let me drive. I wasn't happy about this. Those of you that know me, know that I like to drive - not ride. It is rare to see police on the roads in Iceland. There are small electric boxes sporadically placed along the roads. If you are going the speed limit you get a smiley face. If you are speeding you get a sad face. My sad face in 2016 resulted in a ticket. We'll find out in 9 months if Allie's sad face also results in a foreign speeding ticket.
We're pushing 30 hours of no sleep at this point. We grabbed dinner at a local Italian place, walk the streets and then gear up for the Blue Lagoon. I got to tell you, I was a little skeptical of this place as it's rather touristy, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you Allie, for making us do this! We spent about 3 hours wading through the steaming water trying to find the hottest spots, sipping wine and bubbles, hanging in steam room + sauna and standing under the waterfall to let hot water pound my very tired shoulders. I was in such a state of delirium by the time we left, I gifted a lucky Blue Lagoon goer my favorite Sezane scarf.
We flew over water, fields of open land and farms before landing in Helsinki.
castle hotel room, Helsinki is pretty empty during summer solstice weekend. Shops, restaurants and markets were closed. Streets were empty and the city quiet. People flee the city this particular weekend and head to their vacation homes. Glo hosted a free breakfast down in the basement. This in itself was such a treat. We should all be eating Scandi breakfast meals in a castle cellar. There was a long wooden table with very well staged buffet of eggs, bacon, mushrooms, hash browns, toast, loaves of bread, jams, salted butter, fruit, charcuterie meats, cereal, cheese boards and oatmeal with all the toppings. Kettles of hot water for tea and coffee and a juice bar filled the beverage table.
Design City'. The country has several famous designers and architects. There is such detail on every building, store front, cafe, park, etc. While we didn't experience the vibrancy of Helsinki, an empty city does have its perks. Insert no lines, waits, crowded sidewalks or parks. Along the waterfront there were boats turned bars and cafes. For those that did stick around, it appeared they were all in the same beautiful tree lined park, Esplanadi. There was plenty to do and see here: watch a magic show, jugglers, bubble extraordinaires, lay in the sunshine and eat fresh made gelato. This park opened in 1818!
Kamppi Chapel. The Chapel of Silence was on my must do list. A long time friend lost her husband just a couple days before we left and having a moment of silence for JBird was really important to me. Old classic Cathedrals make you stand in wonder and question how something like it was built hundreds of years ago... but Kamppi Chapel and it's silence, echos of energy and clean lines make you focused and present in why you are there. It's located in one of the busiest areas of the city and when you walk in a calmness instantly covers you. It's simplicity was peaceful. The chapel was completed in 2012. Both interior and exterior walls are made of wood. The exterior is made from finger jointed spruce wood planks and are treated with a transparent wax. The interior walls are made of oil rubbed alder wood planks. The benches inside the chapel are also made of solid wood. I sat, prayed and lit a candle for Jonathan.
Marimekko- a Finnish design house with bold colors and design. In my next life I would like to own a gift shop like Madeby or Tre...both full of delightful artwork, clothing, home goods, decore, smell good things, make up, bags, furniture, etc.. Lifestyle Store are what Finnish people call these dream shops.
Hietalahti Market Hall, was a neat spot to pop in for a drink or bite. The building is 115 year old and now home to a weekend flea market, gift shops and a couple dozen cafes, drink shops and eateries!
Since Helsinki was a ghost town, we decided to pop over to Tallinn, Estonia. This day trip is one I had to persuade Allie to endure. Turns out it was one of her favorite days! From the waterfront of Helsinki, we took a 2 hour ferry across the Baltic Sea. The "ferry" was really like a small cruise ship! It had a bar, shops, cafes, balconies and lounge areas!
In 1265 a defense wall was built 2.4km long. 1.9 km of the wall still stands today. The wall was built to be 14-16 meters high, 3 meters thick and 46 towers. 20 towers still stand and many you can go up in!
The cobblestone streets wind and turn with each corner revealing another picture worthy scene. Handcrafted wooden doors, shades of color as far as you can see and window boxes with gushing flowers.
We stocked up on small pieces of artwork, local Kalev chocolate and ornaments before snuggling up under blankets for lunch at Clayhills Gastropub! We had mushroom risotto and grass fed burger with local cheddar cheese with tomato and warm onion salsa. Like Helsinki, Tallinn is overflowing with lots of gifts shops. We particularly loved, Rode.
We land at 6pm and uber to the hotel.
Haymarket. We decided early on in planning that we would do half hostels, half hotels... I was really thankful for this plush room and bed with blackout curtains on this particular sleep! It was in Stockholm we found you can't get a cure-all pill for sickness. You must explain what you have and buy medicine for each symptom... dry cough, wet cough, scratchy throat, body aching, natural sleep aids, headache, watering eyes, running nose. $70 USD later I was stocked with boxes and bottles of things I hoped would do the trick. To get Melatonin you have to have a prescription from the doc! The nice lady at the pharmacy did a great job of explaining each medicine and I then wrote a short description on a sheet for me to carry with me.
Bolognese from a local corner spot on our walk back to the hotel was dinner. It was divine. I do not recall the name. I was in bed asleep by 9pm.
The next morning, I woke up feeling not better but not worse. Our area was thriving with people, markets, cafes and musicians. There was a big farmers market right in the square outside the hotel doors. We stumbled across a teeny coffee shop + bakery called Fabrique. There was standing room for just a few people, one small table outside and several bar stools inside. You could literally smell the goods from the sidewalk. Hot tea was something I knew I needed to have that morning, the lady working the shop could tell I was sick and told me she had the right tea for my 'condition'. Allie and I each had a Swedish cinnamon roll called Kanelbulle and it was delicious.
Old Town Lodge, a quaint 19 rooms with 47 beds. The room was simple with white walls, one side table, 2 lamps, big windows, tall ceilings and creaking hardwood floors. Our room was on the ground level with windows that opened to a window box of red flowers hovering over a cobblestone street. Each morning breakfast was served in the tiny kitchen then strangers gathered at several community tables.
Djurgarden. This place is spectacular and dates back to the 15th century. It might as well be called the Museum Island! So much history sits over here. Grona Lund is an amusement park dating back to 1883- I didn't ride, but it was fun to walk through. There is an old neighborhood made of wooden buildings dating back to the 18th century. There is an Abba Museum and Vasa Museet which houses the only almost fully intact 17th century ship. It took it's main voyage in 1628 and sat on the bottom of the sea for 333 years.
Once back in Old Town, we just couldn't get over how many unique doors there were!
Dala Horses. We even found the most narrow street in all of Stockholm! Trying to find something good for supper, we looked at menu after menu and were finally sold on a gentleman very good at his job who lured us in. We sat outside people watching, drinking wine and eating dinner! While sitting here, we noticed that people drink hot drinks (coffee, tea) out of glass, not mugs. I asked for honey for my tea after dinner and they were out but the host- the one who lured us in, ran across the street to the market to purchase some for me!
Welcome to one of the expensive countries in the world where crab legs run you $125, bolegense $35, burger $23 and a glass of wine $25... but man it this country breathtaking!
We arrived at noon and took a taxi to the Marken Gjestenhus, our hostel for the next two nights. The hostel was very clean with comfy beds and shared bathrooms. The rate was $79 each for two nights. Bergen is a very walkable town so we headed out on foor to find lunch. After a short walk, we find ourselves a corner cafe where we each ordered a cheeseburger and fries. We are pretty sure is was reindeer meat with lots of herbs and seasoning. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. Allie hated it. Across the street is the cutest McDonalds you ever did see!
Right in town there is a tram that will take you to the top of the mountain to get views of the city and to play with local goats. The ride up is only about 10 min then you can spend as much time as you wish up top. If you are feeling up for the hike and have the right shoes you can hike down, it takes about 45 minutes.
From here we board the train. The train ride is 12.6 miles long and said to be the most beautiful train ride in the world. It climbs almost 3,000 feet in elevation, passes through a couple villages, one tunnel and past several waterfalls before landing in the Myrdal Station. Construction started in 1924 and was completed in 1940 and is one of the world's steepest railway tracks, on a normal track.
A taxi carried us from the airport to the marina where we purchased ticket for the ferry to Tau. While we wait for the 12:45 ferry, we walk around the port and grab lunch at a bakery. It was hard to choose what to get, everything looked and smelled devine! Kanelsnurren was full of fresh baked breads, sammies made to order, juices, fruit bowls and the most beautiful artisan chocolates. You can drool and admire design on their instagram.
Mountain Lodge for the evening. The lodge is at the base of the Preikestolen Hike. We walk down a grave and dirt path to our building and find the cozy bunk room. Our room looked out onto the grounds, located on the lake. After a mental adjustment and pep talk, we began our hike up. We were told the hike should take about 4 hours round trip, we did it in 3.5. We didn't rush, took plenty of breaks when the elevation gain created heavy breathing. We trekked up and down, across boulder fields, woods walkways across water and finally arrive... almost 2,000 feet up and looking into Lysefjord.
Exhausted and no where to do my nightly walk, we call it an early night!
Stavanger is the sweetest little port town. Again, white neighborhoods, delightful shops, cafes, old churches and people just loving the outside life. We walked all over this town, did a little shopping, drank $4 bottled Coke window shopped. We found a market and bought handmade wooden spoons and troll string ornaments.
Oooooooooh Copenhagen how we loved you! Tired and slightly annoyed at our travel hiccups we arrive to Hotel Astoria around 11:30 pm only to find they didn't have our reservation and they are full for the evening. I pulled up the email confirmation and showed the front desk clerk the strand of emails I had with another employee. He makes a phone call and starts speaking in Danish. He comes back to us and explains that the person I was emailing with was with the hotel group, Brochner Hotels, but not specially Astoria. Apparently she never moved us to the correct hotel. This was a mishap that finally worked in our favor. Of their 6 hotels, they had vacancy at Hotel SP34, one of their 4 star hotels. He confirmed the room would be ready when we arrived and we would have a glass of wine on the house. We took a very short taxi ride to our new hotel and were gleeful when we walked in. The interior was hip, cool, modern and just our style. We bellied up at the bar, have a glass of vino and get checked in. We loved our room. The two beds were extremely comfortable, the bathroom spacious and stocked with REN products, nightstands, table for two with coffee, huge closet space and windows that open up to the city streets. Since we had booked the "Superior Double" at Astoria, this is what they gave us at SP34. SP34 should have been $750 each for 3 nights but they only charged us $272 each which was the Astoria rate! We snuggle up and are excited to make the best of our next couple days, since we lost 1/2 day!
Vaekst. It like its we're eating in a greenhouse! The breakfast spread was the best yet. All organic and freshly baked and made in house. There was a juice bar, smoothie bar, coffee bar, hot tea bar, a dozen or so types of bread, several butter and jam choices, cereals, fruits and eggs and meats + cheese!
Nyhavn Harbor, Frederik's Church, Charlottenborg Palace and The Little Mermaid.
Nyhavn is a harbor full of fishing boats, cafes, galetto stores, bars, boat tours and artist all lining the water with colorful 17th century buildings nestled in. The harbor was constructed in 1670 and took several years. Swedish prisoners dug the harbour. The first bridge opened in 1875 and was made of wood. It was replaced with current bridge in 1912. The oldest house in the harbor is No.9 and it dates back to 1681... that is 338 years old!!
We keep meandering and come across the Charlottenborg Palace. The palace was built for a Military General who happened to be the illegitimate son of King Frederik III of Denmark and Norway. Since 1754 it's been the Royal Danish Academy of fine arts and sadly closed while we were there! Just past the palace is Frederik's Church. The green dome dominates this area and pulls you in. Locals know it as the Marble Church. It's of Rococo style and is gorgeous. There is so much to look at, the detail is impeccable, the colors, curves, no empty spot in the entire structure. To drive the point in even more, it took 145 years to complete and opened in 1894. The dome was inspired by St. Peter's in Rome and is the largest dome in Scandinavia.
Hans Christian Andersen and has been an attraction since 1913. Along the way we passed a waterfront cafe with a bike out front that said Raleigh!
Restaurant Puk. We got the steak, veggies with wipped potatoes and it was divine! We sat outside so maximize our people watching. Next door was Sorens Vaertshus, a pub with a hundred or so people outside watching the World Cup. Denmark was playing that evening. Local Danes and all the visitings people were ready to cheer the team on! After dinner we walk back toward our hotel and stop in a pub around the corner and watch a little bit of the game and notice how people are just drinking anywhere and everywhere, that would never fly in the states! I scoot back to the hotel to grab a sweater and then I had back out. I was tired, but how often will you be in a country, while they are playing in the World Cup?! I walked back to Sorens and cheered as Denmark played, met some folks from NYC and Cali and then bar hopped with them after a very sad loss.