Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday July 17th, Stockholm

     Today is our last day in Sweden. We return tomorrow to the States.  I didn't sleep well last night so I made it a short day of sightseeing.  We decided to give the Vasa Museum another try, getting there earlier in the morning.  Our plan was successful, as we were able to walk right in.

     The Vasa was a wooden sailing ship built in the 1620s. On her maiden voyage in 1628 she traveled about one mile before she keeled over.  The King wanted a tall, majestic warship to intimidate the enemies of Sweden so it was built in a way making it top heavy.  It also was too rounded on the bottom, and there wasn't enough ballast, and the ballast that was used was the wrong shape.  The ship began to list, and water entered the openings where the cannons pointed out, filling the ship with water.

     In the 1950s, a man believed he knew where the Vasa was located, determined he was correct, and the effort was underway to raise the Vasa from the bottom of the harbor.  This was done in 1961.  The Baltic Sea is a mixture of salt water and fresh water, and this environment was perfect for preserving the Vasa as she was on the day she sank.  Amazingly the Vasa on display is 98% original.  Karl remembers seeing the Vasa when he lived here as a boy, but it wasn't yet in a nice museum.
  I don't believe I've complained about anything yet in this blog, and maybe it's because I'm sleep deprived, but here's some negativity.  The Vasa is an amazing ship that has to be seen to be appreciated.  The informative displays setting the Vasa in its political and social contexts were also very well done, as was the introductory film.  Here's my complaint--the Vasa Museum is too crowded to be enjoyable.  Guided tours were offered by museum staff twice an hour in multiple languages.  Karl and I thought the tour would be around the outside of the ship, pointing things out, etc., so we spent our time waiting for the tour start time by looking at the displays.  Well, the tour, for the most part, ran around looking at the displays! The museum was so crowded that we lost the tour guide as we went upstairs.  We (and several other visitors in our group--there was an elderly couple who had trouble with the stairs. We were behind them.) zigged, and our guide (and the rest of the group) zagged.  We found him again, but the elderly couple and others didn't.  In addition to the museum staff giving tours, there were dozens of organized tour groups getting a tour from their tour guide.  At one point our guide was trying to talk over a guide speaking Italian and discussing the same display.   Another time, a tour group marched right through our group, and snippy words were exchanged between our guide and theirs.  It was just unpleasant, whether in the tour or on our own.  So ends my rant.

     I'd read where the restaurant at the Vasa Museum was good, so we decided to give it a try.  We'd been at the museum for 2 hours and felt like we'd seen everything we wanted to see (and were tired of being jostled about).  Well, I have to say that this was probably the best food I've had in Stockholm! I meant to take a photo of its description on the menu board, but I forgot.  The translation on the board said something about fried pork, boiled potatoes, and creamed stalk cabbage.  I have no idea what stalk cabbage is, but it tasted like regular cabbage and seemed pretty much like regular cabbage.  And the fried pork was thick sliced bacon.  So there you have it, bacon, potatoes, and cabbage in a cream sauce.  Oh, and the ubiquitous lingonberries...Yummy!

     So, the Vasa exhibit on a 5 point scale... 5 points.  The Vasa Museum experience....2 points.   The Vasa Museum fried pork lunch....5 points.

     After our post-lunch coffees, Karl and I decided to go our separate ways--just for the afternoon!  We rode the tram back to Nybroplan and then walked to the Östermalmstorg subway station.  He headed northeast on line 14, and I headed southwest on line 13.  Karl went to Lidingö to find another place they lived in the 1970s, and I headed back to the apartment to rest and begin packing for our return journey.

     Karl got back to the apartment around 4:30 and we worked on our projects (packing and computing) until about 6:00 when we walked around a couple of corners to Pizzeria Italia, where we shared a Hawaiian pizza (I know, it's my 3rd one in 2 weeks).    They had an Indiana pizza, that had shrimp, pineapple, banana, and curry.  We decided that was maybe Indian and not Indiana!   This was the first time in our trip that we encountered a language barrier.  The young man at the pizza restaurant did not speak English, and I'd guess that he's not a native Swedish speaker either, but with our rudimentary Swedish and sign language we managed to get the pizza, waters, and salad (the vinegar based slaw) ordered.  And speaking of salad, the salad bar at lunch contained mixed greens with a vinaigrette...AND they offered ice for the drinking water.

     A stop at the grocery for a packaged ice cream treat was next on our list, then back to the apartment where Karl is now packing and I'm blogging.

     Final thoughts on Sweden.  I really like it here and would live here if I could.  The people are happy and content, polite and helpful.  People take one look at us and speak English.  (But if I lived here I'd learn Swedish.) The food has been good.  I love this neighborhood.  Oh, Maude told us about an app that you can use to change the colors on the Telefonplan tower.  It's called Colour by numbers.  I can't see the tower from the apartment and it won't be dark when I go to bed, so maybe next time...

     So I will say Hej då! to Sweden, but I know I'll be back.  I want Ellen and Caroline to see the country of their ancestors (they're 1/4 Swedish), and I want to see more of this beautiful country.

     Today's photos are here.  Riina and Karl have some more photos for me so I will post them as soon as possible.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thursday July 16th, Stockholm

     Well today was a day I've been excited about for pilgrimage to the ABBA Museum.   Many thanks to Karl for putting up with my enthusiasm about the museum.  Like I mentioned in an earlier post, the ABBA Museum is located on Djurgårten.  Again we took the subway and tram to get there.  It opened at 10:00 and we got there at 10:04.  We waited for about 25 minutes to buy tickets.  We could've booked online ahead of time for a certain time slot but wanted some flexibility. While waiting, we asked another visitor to take our photo with our faces in cut outs of Björn and Agnetha. Everyone was having fun passing their cameras to others in line.
    We opted to pay extra for the audio tour, and I think it was worth it.  The tour starts down two flights of stairs. The first thing we saw at the bottom of the stairs was the lit up ABBA letters...another photo op.   We then watched a 4-minute montage then went into the first room of exhibits.  Each ABBA member told about their early life and how their careers got started.  The next area told about how they got together and won Eurovision in 1974.  The exhibit continued with their stardom, personal lives, and the break up.  We saw a mock up of their recording studio, a dressing room, several of their costumes, and their albums, gold records and other awards. Along the way there were fun things like a telephone.  If it rings, you should answer it because it will be one of ABBA calling!  There was a piano there hooked up to Benny's piano at home.  If he starts playing at home, the piano in the museum will play, too! (Neither of these things happened when we were in those rooms). There are more interactive things to do, which I would've done if I'd been with one or both of my daughters.  We can get a little crazy playing ABBA Singstar on the PlayStation!  There was a recording booth, where you could do karaoke and it could be recorded for you.  We also saw a stage where you could be the 5th member of ABBA and sing with hologram images.  In another place you could just dance and be shown on a screen.

     After the ABBA portion of the museum you come to the Swedish Music Hall of Fame.  It seemed well done, but aside from ABBA and Roxette we didn't know any Swedish musicians.  I think we were in the museum for about an hour and a half.  I spent 945 kroner in the gift shop!

     Our next stop was the Vasa Museum.  The line for tickets was probably 50 yards long and wasn't moving.   We decided to try again tomorrow, earlier in the morning.  We headed to my favorite place in Stockholm, Gamla Stan.  We went to the Royal Armory and looked at clothing, armor, and weapons of the Swedish Royal family.

     By this time it was 1:30 and Karl and I wanted some lunch.  We had the fixed price lunch at a little restaurant.  We both had meatballs today.  After lunch we went back to the Royal Palace and toured the State Apartments.  They were much fancier than the rooms at Drottningholm Palace.  While there was still some Trompe l'oeil, there was also a lot of real marble and carvings.  This Royal Palace was built in the 1700s.  All the kings since that time lived there until the current King Carl XVI Gustav.  He lives at Drottningholm but his offices are at the Royal Palace.   The Royal Palace is undergoing a 20 year restoration on the exterior.

     When we were done touring the Palace, we did a little shopping as we walked to the Gamla Stan subway station.  We were back at the apartment by 4:15.  The skies were threatening and Karl seems to be catching a cold.  We did dash out between rains to pick up Indian food from a food truck at Telefonplan.

     Photos from the ABBA Museum and the rest of the day are here.


Wednesday July 15, Stockholm

     It took me a while to get my head wrapped around the money here in Sweden.  In other countries I've been in, there's a large unit, like our dollar, and a smaller unit, like cents.  Here there are only kroner.  Looking in my wallet, I have coins of 1 kroner (silver and the size of a quarter), 5 kroner (silver and bigger than a quarter), 10 kroner (gold and smaller than the 1 kroner).    I have bills of 20 kroner, 50 kroner, 100 kroner, and 500 kroner. The larger the denomination, the larger the size of the bill.  I owed 40 kroner and the woman at the cash register asked me if I had any coins. I gave her a 20 kroner bill and then I showed her the coins I had and she gladly took two of my 10 kroner coins.  Until then I didn't realize that each 10 coin was half of a 20 bill.  I think I've got the hang of it now.  There are about 8 kroner to one U.S. dollar, so 100 kroner equals about 12 USD.

     Today we went to Skansen.  It's Conner Prairie on steroids, if you're in the Indianapolis area.  Otherwise, it's a living history museum with old buildings and people dressed in period costumes acting as though they are in that time period.  The neat thing about Skansen is that it was founded back in 1891 to show what life was like in different areas of Sweden before the industrial age.  There's also a zoo and an aquarium.  We looked at a few of the animals, but didn't really visit the zoo or aquarium.

     Skansen is on a large island called Djurgården .  It was once the royal hunting grounds but now it is home to several tourist attractions including the Vasa museum and the ABBA museum (more on them in a later post), an amusement park, walking paths, and several other museums.  We got there using a tram after we got off the subway.    We spent about 2 1/2 hours at Skansen then ate lunch at a restaurant across the street.  One nice thing about Stockholm is that many restaurants in the touristy areas have a special fixed price lunch menu.  For about 100 kroner (12 USD) you can get a main course with sides, salad bar (Scandinavian style--see an earlier post), bread, coffee/tea/water/reddish-pink juice.  We like to do this then eat a lighter dinner.  (It would be hard to find a dinner for 100 kroner...well, maybe a kebab plate).  And each restaurant has a varied selection offered at that price.  This restaurant offered a pork dish, Swedish meatballs, lasagna, pasta/pesto, a fish dish.  Karl and I both had the pork.

     After lunch we took a boat tour that was included with our Stockholm Card.  I was so sleepy and I couldn't stay awake.  No photos.  We then walked back to Gamla Stan and had carrot cake and coffees.  Our next stop was Storkyrkan, or Stockholm Cathedral.  This church was so beautiful! It has stood at its current size since the 15th century but must of the current interior is from the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

     Our last stop was the area around the Royal Palace again and the Medieval Museum.  The entrance is located under a bridge near the Royal Palace.  This museum was a gem.  Nice exhibits and descriptions in Swedish and English.  As we were walking on Drottninggaten toward T-Centralen, it started raining again.

     Today's photos are here.

Tuesday July 14, Stockholm and Drottningholm Palace

     Today we finally met Karl's cousin, Lars.  They showed up at the apartment around 11:30 a.m., having driven from Blidö.  It was nice to have a morning to sleep in and get a slow start.  Lars and Maude are Swedish but currently live in Washington, D.C.  We'd met Maude last November at their home in Washington but Lars had been called out of town on business at that time.  Maude and I can definitely see a family resemblance.

     We took the subway to central Stockholm and walked to the boat to Drottningholm Palace .  The trip takes about an hour. The city of Stockholm is spread out among 14 islands so water transportation is important to the residents and tourists. Drottningholm Palace is located outside the city to the west.

     Drottningholm Palace is currently the home of the Swedish royal family. They were at their summer home south of Stockholm celebrating the 38th birthday of Crown Princess Victoria.  We ate lunch on the ground just outside the Palace.  Lars and I had Swedish meatballs with boiled potatoes, lingonberries, and picked cucumbers.  Karl had salmon, and Maude had halloumi.  It was a beautiful day to sit outside and eat.

     Drottningholm Palace was built beginning in the late 1600s. It is definitely an example of "keeping up with the Jones' ".  The first thing you see upon entering the palace is a hallway leading to the formal gardens.  It was been painted with a distorted perspective and has a sloping floor, giving the illusion of a long hallway, when in fact it was not nearly so long.  A series of doors leads leads through another hallway...or do they?

      You then notice the lovely marble walls and banisters.  But wait!  They're painted wood or stone!  All throughout the palace there are beautiful examples of this Trompe l'oeil painting.  I went a little crazy with the photos but it was really amazing. Unfortunately we didn't have time to go to the Chinese Pavilion or the Court Theater.  That will have to wait for another trip.

     After the boat ride back to central Stockholm we walked through Gamla Stan (the old city) and into Södermalm, a large island part of Stockholm.  By this time it was raining and we all were pretty wet.  Södermalm was a working class part of Stockholm but now it's pretty trendy.  We found a restaurant with a dry table under an umbrella and had a very nice dinner.  Lars is very knowledgeable about Swedish and European history so it was great to have him show us around Stockholm.

     After dinner we headed back to the apartment.  Lars and Maude had to drive back to Blidö so we didn't want to be back late.  Did you know that a word for island in Swedish is 'ö' ?  That's why so many islands in Sweden end in ö.  I forgot to mention that in my post about Blidö.

     After Maude and Lars left we watched a special program on TV in honor of Crown Princess Victoria's birthday.

     So lots of photos today.  I tried to give them all titles.  Sorry they're not better organized.  I can only do so much on this tablet.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Monday July 13th

    Today was a long day.  We were up by 6:15 to leave the apartment by 7:00. Saying goodbye to Riina was hard but we had a wonderful week with her and made many good memories.  We drove to the Oulu airport and returned the rental car.  Karl stopped for a coffee and roll once inside the airport.  We then had about an hour to wait for our plane after clearing security. You don't have to take off your shoes in Europe, but everything else seems about the same.

     Our flight to Helsinki on Finnair was fine.  Forty five minutes flying time.  We had about four hours to kill in Helsinki before our flight to Stockholm so we wandered around. I found the Helsinki Airport Book Swap!  This awesome place is where you can take a book if you need something to read or leave a book if you have one to get rid of. I was bummed because I finished my book on day 3 of the trip and would have loved to have left it, but I'd left it at the apartment in Stockholm.  I saw books in Finnish, Swedish, English, Chinese, and German.

     We stopped at a cafe and bought an early lunch.  I had a tomato mozzarella panini.  We took advantage of the free WiFi.  At boarding time we went to our gate and boarded a bus to take us out onto the tarmac.  There seem to be too few gates so we had to board using steps sine distance away from the terminal.  The flight from Helsinki to Stockholm was also about 45 minutes flying time.  We landed a few minutes early.  Sweden is an hour behind Finland so we gained an hour.

     Before I start talking about Stockholm here are some final thoughts on Finland:

The country of Finland has a population of 5.4 million, about 3 million less than that of New York City!

Most everyone my age or younger speaks some English.  In general the young people speak better English than those my age.

I have nothing but good things to say about the Finnish people.  Generous, helpful, polite, friendly.

There were some beggars in Helsinki around the train station but far fewer than in Stockholm.  They appear to be Roma (what we used to call gypsies).

Finland is very clean and the roads seem to be in good repair.

Wood. There's lots of wood. Cabinetry, doors and floors in our hotel rooms and wall panels in the Helsinki Airport were a nice, stained wood.  Not surprising in a country where the majority of the land area is forested.

In Helsinki, especially, I sometimes felt a Soviet or Easten influence to the architecture.  Lars told me that during the Cold War, movie filming portraying the Soviet Union often took place in Helsinki for the reason that the Soviet Union wouldn't allow the filming.

     So we arrived back in Stockholm around 2 p.m.and took the bus back to central Stockholm.  We then walked to a main square to pick up our Stockholm Cards.  We paid about $135 each for these cards and they will allow us 5 days of unlimited public transportation and entry into most of Stockholm's main tourist attractions.  We then walked into the main subway station in downtown Stockholm, T-Centralen, which was adjacent to the place we picked up the cards.  The apartment we're staying at is near the Telefonplan subway stop, a journey of 8 stops and 15 minutes.

     The apartment we're staying in was built in 1939 as housing for the employees of the Swedish electronics company, Ericsson.  The old factory and offices are located across the street from the subway station.  Ericsson moved out about 10 years ago and the complex is now occupied by an arts and design university.   The apartment itself is cute.  There's a little foyer upon entering, a small bedroom to the right, a nice living room straight ahead, and a kitchen, dining area, and bathroom to the left.  It's probably small by today's standards, but in 1939 was almost luxurious because of the indoor plumbing and bathroom!   I haven't timed it, but it'd guess it's less than a 7 minute walk to the subway. We pass a bank, grocery,  pharmacy, public library, and a restaurant on the way.  The neighborhood is very quiet and probably on its way to becoming trendy.

     We dropped our luggage off at the apartment then headed to the neighborhood of Mälerhöjden, where Karl lived as a 10 year old boy when his dad was on sabbatical in the early 1970s.  He was able to locate the house he lived in and the school he attended.  We then returned to central Stockholm for dinner.

     Karl and I were pretty hungry by this time so we stopped at a steak and barbecue restaurant.  I had chicken and Karl had fish. Large American style meal--salad, cole slaw, ear of corn, breadstick, baked potato.  We got back to the apartment around 9 p.m.

It wasn't a very photographic day, but here are the pics.

Sunday July 12th, Rovaniemi

     This was a day I was anxiously waiting for...the trip to the Arctic Circle!  I've always been interested in geography and spent hours as a child playing with a globe. Years later when I learned there was a physical marker for the Arctic Circle, I knew I had to go there.  So today was my special day!

     Tuula picked us up at the apartment and we drove to Ella's apartment, where we met Hese.  Ella's boyfriend Toni dog-sat the puppy for Tuula and Hese while we were gone.  We had to take 2 cars because there were 6 of us on the trip to Rovaniemi--Tuula, Hese, Ella, Riina, Karl and me.  The driving was split by the Finns and we rotated who sat in which car so we could talk with everyone.  We stopped for a snack on the way up there at a truck stop type place.

     The trip to Rovaniemi took about 3 hours.  It's located about 220 km, or 140 miles northeast of Oulu.   Rovaniemi is a small city in northern Finland and it is the capital of Lapland.  It is also the home of Santa Claus, who lives at Santa Claus Village, a few miles north of Rovaniemi.  Santa Claus Village is a popular tourist place.  We saw license plates from Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Germany and Russia, to name a few. Note to those who may want to visit...before arriving at Santa Claus Village, you will pass Santa Park.  Tuula says this is the fake Santa. ;-)

     The Arctic Circle is marked by a heavy white line running through the Santa Claus Village. (And yes, I realize the Arctic circle 'moves' so this is not exactly the true geographical location, but I am trying to ignore that fact).  ARCTIC CIRCLE is printed on the pavement in several languages and it is popular to have your photo taken.

     We then entered the building where Santa was and entered a scene reminiscent of an attraction at Disney World--a path winding through various scenes. This one was dark and we joked about zombie elves jumping out to scare us because we got the haunted house vibe.  When we finally made it to the door guarded by Santa's helper, we were only the third party in line.  The young woman working as the gatekeeper was excellent in her job.  She was great with the children and entertaining.  Her English was excellent, and I'm guessing she can speak several other languages, too.

     We were ushered in to Santa's chamber and Karl and I sat on either side of him.  Riina's family filled in behind and beside us.  Santa talked to us for several minutes and then we had our photo taken.  This entire encounter was videotaped as well.    Santa told us that they were having the coolest summer since 1962.  The high temperature today was 17 C, or about 62 F.

     After our encounter with Santa we walked around the Marimekko and iittala shops, then several of the little souvenir shops. I sent a couple of postcards too.  I bought a certificate to commemorate my Arctic Circle visit, then we left the Village to find some lunch.  We ended up in downtown Rovaniemi at a kebab, pizza, and burger restaurant.  Five if us ordered pizza and Karl ordered a kebab wrap.  Well, this place was all about super-sizing their portions. Karl's kebab wrap could've fed 3 or 4 people, and the rest of us each ended up with a personal 14" or maybe even 16" pizza. It was ridiculous.  Plus the salad bar was included, but it isn't much like what Americans think of a salad bar.  If I remember correctly the options here were vinegar slaw, green olives, fruit cocktail, and there were two other items... we had a salad bar at another Finnish restaurant and that one at least had lettuce, but was also minimal.

     So after stuffing ourselves we drove to Oulu, stopping for packaged ice cream bars at the travel plaza after 1 1/2 hours of driving.  Tuula's sister Tarja was expecting us for a light supper.  Tarja visited us when Riina was living with us, so we'd met her before. When we got to the apartment, Aija and Viivi were there already.  Toni, who lives in the adjacent apartment with Riina's sister, Ella, came over with the puppy.  Tarja had made chicken, fish, and a nice tossed salad that really hit the spot.  It was nice to see Tarja again, and we enjoyed chatting.  We only stayed maybe an hour or so because we had to pack and get up early to leave for Stockholm.  Ella took a photo of Riina, Karl and me before we left.  It will appear in a later Flickr album when I get the photos from Riina and Karl.  The photos from today are here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Saturday July 11th Oulu

     This was an 'eat all day' day. Not complaining!

     This was the first night I think I was affected by the lack of 'night'.  I just didn't feel like it was bedtime and had trouble unwinding.  I took a photo from the window at 11 p.m., midnight, 1 a.m., 2 a.m., and 3 a.m.  I'll put them together for a comparison sometime, but it seemed lighter at 3 a.m. than 11 p.m. just checked--sunset was 11:47 p.m. and sunrise was 3:01 a.m.

     So, we were out of the apartment around 9 this morning when we meet Riina's parents and middle sister at the Oulu City Market.  We walked along the waterfront to get to the market square. The Market building reminded me of the Indianapolis City Market, but on a smaller scale.  We ate breakfast from a little coffee shop in the market, then Tuula bought fish from a vendor inside the building and potatoes from a vendor outside the building.  Hese and Tuula left and Riina, Ella, Karl and I walked through the shopping district to return to the apartment.  I was suffering from my lack of sleep so I wanted to rest for a couple of hours before eating my way through the rest of the day.  Karl, Riina, and Ella walked around Oulu some more.

     Soon it was time to go to Riina's grandparents' house in Oulu for lunch.  (Not the grandparents whose apartment we are using).  Riina's grandparents were anxious to meet Karl and me.  They did not speak English because it was not taught in their schools.  Riina or her dad acted as a translator.  Tuula and her mother had spent the morning preparing a delicious lunch .  There was raw fish, pan fried chicken, boiled new potatoes, tossed salad and rye bread.  Then we had berry soup as a pre-dessert, I guess.  It was very good...strawberries, blueberries and red currants cooked with sugar.  It was still warm and we ate it with a vanilla cream and a little additional sugar. After our berry soup we had dessert--a baked blueberry pie-ish thing, and coffee.  After dessert we went out in the garden. Riina's grandma is very proud of her beautiful yard.   Ella took a photo of Karl and me with Riina and her parents.

     We said our goodbyes, then Riina took us to an open-air museum near Oulu.  It's called Turkansaari.  It has old buildings from that area of Finland that have been moved there and restored.  Hese joined us there.  We spent about 1 1/2 hours there, then it was time to go to Tyrnävä for dinner.  (See, I told you we ate all day!)  We had grilled sausages and Finnish pancakes with jam and whipped cream.  Several friends of the family joined us for this cookout.  It was fun, but rather chilly.  We went back to Oulu and went to bed.  It takes about 40 minutes to drive from Tyrnävä to Oulu.

     Photos are here.

Friday July 10th, Tyrnävä and Oulu

     Today was great!  We spent most of the day with Riina's family. It was nice to finally meet everyone.

     We got up and went to breakfast in the hotel.  The breakfast buffets in these tourist hotels are really something else.  They have a huge selection of food so any tourist can find something familiar.  A typical Finnish breakfast might be bread from rye or barley,   meat like fish or ham, a mild cheese, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, all assembled like an open face sandwich, and fruit.  Oatmeal or rice porridge might also be eaten.

     On our way to the car we looked across the road and got a glimpse of a ski jumping ramp. I don't think the photos truly show how high it was.  I have a new respect for ski jumpers.

     It took us about 4 hours to drive from Jyväskylä to Tyrnävä.  I think I forgot to mention that the distance between Helsinki and Tyrnävä is about 600 kilometres, or 370 miles.  The road was mostly a two lane highway, with occasional stretches of four lane divided motorway or an additional passing lane.  The speed limit ranged from 80 km/hr (50 mph) to 120 km/hr (75 mph), with the most common being 100 km/hr (62mph).  The terrain is flat, and a mix of forest and some small- scale agriculture.  There's lots of hay grown for animal feed.  In the area around Tyrnävä there are many potato farms.  Lupines of purple, pink, and white line the roadsides.  If you've ever been to northern Minnesota, I think most of Finland looks the same.

     If you're curious as to what's in bloom now, we've seen lots of lilac bushes. In the Stockholm and Helsinki areas they're done blooming, but they're in full bloom up north.  Also in Oulu we saw peonies just starting to bloom and bleeding heart was blooming, too.  It seems to be a cool summer here. High temps are in the low 60s.

    So, we drove to Riina's home which is out in the country near the town of Tyrnävä, arriving at 1 p.m.  They have a small farmhouse, several outbuildings, 4 horses, 3 dogs and 3 cats.  Riina's dad Hese is a teacher and Riina's mom Tuula is self employed as an occupational therapist.  We were warmly greeted by Riina's parents in the yard, then went inside where Riina's oldest sister Aija, her boyfriend Janne, and their baby Viivi, were waiting for us.  Janne is a chef and had cooked a wonderful traditional northern Finland meal for us.  Poronkäristys, or stewed reindeer, was accompanied by mashed potatoes, lingonberries, and picked cucumbers.  We also had Finnish rye bread, a bread from barley, and another bread.

     The reindeer was wonderful!  It had a mild flavor, not gamey like I expected.  I asked if the reindeer were wild or farmed.  I understood that the reindeer are rounded up from the wild and then some are selected to be meat, so kind of wild and kind of farmed.  While we were finishing our dinner, Riina's middle sister Ella and her boyfriend Toni came to the house.  They quickly ate and then we had dessert and coffee.  Aija made a wonderful strawberry cake, as it is the season for fresh Finnish strawberries.  We also had leipäjuusto, a baked cheese dish eaten with cloudberry jam or crowberry jam. I liked this, too.  And coffee. Lots of coffee.  Finns drink lots of coffee.  The cup arrives about 2/3 full because most people seem to add a liberal amount of milk.

     The little girl Viivi is adorable!  She's about 20 months old and is very chatty. Riina's family taught her to say 'hello', 'my name is Viivi', and 'bye bye'.  She's a very busy little girl with a pleasant disposition.  After dessert Aija and Ella took Viivi out to see the horses. We stayed inside and talked.

     I think by this time it was 5-ish.  Because the farmhouse is small, Riina, Karl and I are staying at the apartment of Riina's grandparents in central Oulu .  The grandparents are at their summer cottage in southern Finland.  We got settled in and then went for a walk around Oulu.  Ainola ParkHupisaaret is only a few blocks from the apartment.  Apparently we missed quite a bit of rain because there was a lot of flooding in the area.  On our way back to the apartment we stopped by a grocery and bought fixings for sandwiches.

     After a quick dinner we watched some TV and Karl and Riina took saunas. The apartment has an electric sauna! And the TV in both Finland and Sweden shows American and British programs in English with Finnish (or Swedish) subtitles.  Of course there are shows in Finnish, but I found it interesting to find English language programming so easily.

    Photos can be seen here.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Thursday July 9th, Suomenlinna

     Today was a short day of touristy stuff.  We spent about an hour in pursuit of a rental car (long story not worth repeating), made a reservation to pick up a car later in the afternoon, then walked to the Helsinki City Market, located at the end of the Esplanade where it meets the Baltic Sea. It was a lovely day, bright sun and nice temperatures...maybe around 70?
   Our three day public transportation pass included the journey on a boat to and from Suomenlinna, an island fortress built in the 18th century by the Swedish government to fend off the Russians. I suppose it was a 15 or 20 minute trip.  On the way there I sat next to a guy wearing a Chicago Blackhawk's t-shirt.  I told him I liked his shirt and he told me that he was from Chicago and was visiting Finland with his Finnish girlfriend.

     We picked up a visitor's guide upon arrival and stopped in the grocery to buy a couple of bottles of water.  We followed the suggested route from the brochure, visiting the church and the fortified areas. I think it is interesting that the islands that comprise Suomenlinna are inhabited. There is a grocery, a school, and a little minimum-security penal facility with the offenders working as maintenance workers at the fortress.  Along the way we passed cafes, mini-museums, and shops, and at the end facing the sea were the cannons and gunpowder magazines.  When we got down to the farthest point from the main quay (maybe 1 mile?) we decided to stop for a little snack at Pizzeria Nikolai.  We ordered a pizza to share and soft drinks and sat down under an umbrella because we wanted to eat in the shade.

     Our pizza arrived quickly, then it started to pour. It honestly went from sunny and warm to cool and rainy jacket weather in a matter of 5 minutes!  Not to worry, ten minutes later it had stopped raining and we left the protection of our umbrella and headed back up the path. While waiting for the ship to take its back to Helsinki, Riina spotted a Finnish TV actor named Aarni Kivinen. He was dressed in a suit and was talking on the phone waiting for the same boat. No one approached him for his autograph, as far as I could tell.  Riina says he was in a soap opera show that was popular among young people.

     We picked up our rental car near the Helsinki train station around 4:30 p.m. It's a Volkswagen Golf.  Karl is the driver and Riina sits up front to translate the signs.  If you've never seen nor heard Finnish, it is a totally different language group from English, French, Spanish, German our any other language you might know. It's related to Estonian and Hungarian.  You can look at a sign and not even make a guess at it's meaning.

     So we headed out of Helsinki toward Tyrnävä, the town Riina lives near.  We stopped for dinner in Lahti and ate at a Finnish chain Italian restaurant called Rosso.  Karl and I had pasta and Riina had a sandwich on ciabatta bread. We continued on our way to Jyväskylä, Finland, where we stayed the night at the Spa Hotel Rantasipi Laajavuori.  It's difficult to find hotel rooms for more than 2 people in Finland, by the way.

     Anyway,  here are the pics from Suomenlinna and the rest of the day.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Wednesday July 8th, Tallinn, Estonia

     I've misplaced my notes so this is off the top of my head a couple of days later.

     We were out of the hotel by 6:15 this morning.  Fortunately the tram stop was right outside the hotel. Tram number 9 delivered us to the ferry terminal in about 15 minutes.  We checked in and at about 6:50 a.m. we boarded the Silja Tallink Line's 'Superstar' ship/ferry headed for Tallinn, Estonia.  Another new experience for me, being on a large ship.  I knew there would be cars on the ship, but was very surprised at the number of long-haul trucks that were there. Just something I hadn't thought about.

     We didn't get breakfast at the hotel since we had to leave so early, so we headed for the buffet, but it was sold out. No worries, they had a cafeteria line in another part of the ship.  It was mediocre food, at best, and after breakfast we decided to explore the ship.  The ship left Helsinki at 7:30. Out on the deck we learned it was quite windy.  It was also chilly and not looking like it was going to be nice weather.  The ship also had a few places to shop, including a grocery store, selling mostly alcohol and candy. I also noticed cheeses, packaged meats, toys,  souvenirs, and pet supplies in this grocery.

     The ship seemed to have a mix of people on it-- Finns and Swedes and tourists headed to Tallinn for a day trip,  people headed home to Estonia after a visit to Finland, truck drivers, families. I was puzzled by the people traveling with empty luggage carts until Riina told me that it is much cheaper to buy alcohol in Estonia or the duty free shops on the ferry than Finland.

     We arrived in Tallinn around 9:30 and followed many of our fellow shipmates to Old Town Tallinn.  Tallinn is the capital city of Estonia, a country which was occupied by the Soviet Union from World war II until 1991.  You can read more about Tallinn here, if you're interested.  The Old Town has buildings from the 13th century, winding cobblestone streets, and lots of tourists. It took over 30 minutes to walk from the ship to the main square, probably closer to 40 if you count disembarking.  We stopped to take some photos and peek in shops along the way. We went to the tourist information office for a map and to find out about guided tours. A tour was leaving in 10 minutes time, at 10:30, from a hotel just outside the Old Town district. We hustled over there, arriving at 10:28, and found the bus.  There were maybe 15 Japanese tourists and 4 Americans already on the bus.

The bus took us away from the Old Town area and we saw old wooden houses in various states of repair, now a trendy area to live.  We also saw sites from the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, as some of the boating events were held in Tallinn, and drove through the Kadriorg area of parks and palaces. We stopped at the Tallinn Song Festival grounds where there is a huge bandshell built in the 1960s.  The Estonian Song Festival is held there every 5 years and entertainers such as Madonna and Elton John have performed there, too.

     The bus then drove to the upper part of Old Town where the upper class German nobles lived.  Estonia has been ruled by Danes, Swedes, and Russians (and after their short lived independence between the two World Wars, the Soviet Union until 1991) but the Baltic German noble families of the 17th - 19th centuries had a strong influence on the food, culture, and architecture of Tallinn. The upper part of Old Town has large residences, beautiful churches, and wonderful views of the the lower part of Old Town. I enjoyed the little old buildings and narrow streets of the lower Old Town the best.

     After our guided tour ended at the Town Hall, it was close to 1:00 p.m. We'd passed a restaurant called Kuldse Notsu Kõrts, or Golden Piglet Inn, that advertised Estonian country food so we headed back there for lunch.  We ordered fried bread and the meat platter for two to share three ways.  Karl and I drank Estonian beers and Riina drank Estonian lemonade. I tasted the lemonade and I thought it tasted like ground up Sweetarts dissolved in water. The beers were both good.  The fried bread was yummy and we all loved the meat plate.  It had a pork knuckle, a thick slice of pork roast, bacon, ribs, fried tenderloin, sauerkraut, potatoes, and root vegetables.  Like I said, it was the meat plate for two, but it was enough food for four.

     While we were eating it began to rain. We were eating outside under a canopy, but since it was raining we ordered coffee and sat for a while longer. There were a few more places we wanted to see, and we didn't have to be back at the ship until 7 p.m., so we spent the next couple of hours wandering around and popping into shops.  We finally surrendered to the rain and left the Old Town and went to the Viru Keskus shopping mall. It was a large, multi-floor shopping mall. We all had coffee and dessert, then Riina went shopping and Karl and I took advantage of the free WiFi.

     At around 6:15 we headed back to the ferry terminal D.  Thankfully it has stopped raining.  The grocery store in the terminal was a madhouse with people loading up on alcoholic beverages to put on their luggage carts.  We boarded the Star at 6:50 p.m. and found a nice table looking out on the water. The Star was a bit older and a bit smaller than the Superstar, but it was still nice.  We spent most of the time reading but Riina and I did do a bit of candy shopping.  We got back to Helsinki around 9:45 and were at the hotel by 10:30. This was a fun day.  I'd like to return to Tallinn again.

     I'm posting a link to the photos here but I will add titles to the photos later.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tuesday July 7th, Stockholm to Helsinki

     We were up early today and out of the apartment by 7:00.  We took the subway to T-Centralen then an airport shuttle to Arlanda airport, located north of Stockholm. It took about 40 minutes from downtown to the airport and we arrived around 8:45.  We were a little confused about the check in system for our flight to Helsinki. First we got in a long line at the SAS terminal, then, because everyone else in the line had their boarding pass, decided we needed to do the self-check.  We'd checked in online but needed to check the luggage.  So we figured that out, then returned to the long line with our boarding passes.  The SAS employee told us that since we were going to Helsinki, we just needed to go to a special place and scan our baggage tags (that we'd printed at the self check terminal) and put our bags on the conveyor, then go to the gate.  The system worked nicely once we'd figured it out.
     We found a cafe with free WiFi so we just hung out there until it was time to go to the gate.  The flight time from gate to gate was about 55 minutes.  We collected our luggage and found Riina, who was waiting for us in the arrivals hall. For those of you who don't know, Riina was our exchange student in 2012-2013.  She lives in northern Finland but came down to Helsinki on a train to spend time with us.

     We took a bus to the Helsinki train station. It may have taken 30 minutes? I really wasn't paying attention.  From there we walked to our hotel, Scandic Simonkenttä. It is a very nice hotel in a great location.  We got settled in and left to take a walk around 3:30. We stopped in a little shop for cake and coffee, then we walked to Temppeliaukio church, which is a beautiful church built into rock in the 1960s. The acoustics are fantastic.  A woman was playing the organ and I could have listened for hours.  After maybe 20 minutes, we took a tram to the Helsinki Cathedral.  This is a beautiful Lutheran church that was built in the mid-19th century.

     By this time we were getting hungry so we went to a Tex-Mex restaurant.  That's about the last thing I expected to see in Helsinki!  It was called Sante Fe. Riina had been there before.  She and I had grilled chicken nachos that were quite good.  Karl had a burrito.  Both dishes were a little different from what we'd expect, but definitely kept to the Tex-Mex theme.  After dinner we walked through a pricy shopping area with a nice park.  Riina had just finished telling me that celebrity sightings were not uncommon in Helsinki.  She'd been to the theater with her family recently and had sat behind a famous singer and a couple of actresses.  Karl was walking behind us and he caught up to us and asked Riina if she knew the man and woman in front of us because everyone was gawking at them as they walked by. Riina's eyes popped out of her head. The man was a Finnish politician, Ilkka Kanerva, who resigned because of a sex scandal.

     We did some shopping in a mall on our way back to the hotel.  It was a fun and busy day. Photos here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Monday July 6th, Blidö to Stockholm

     A rainy day. We'd only seen the north part of Blidö island so today Maude and Brum-Brum showed us the southern portion.  There's a nice little church with a nautical theme, and a few businesses and services, but mostly summer homes.  Maude thought that maybe 400 people live on the island year-round, but several thousand live there in the summer.
     We had a nice lunch of spaghetti and salad and chatted over coffee and tea.  At around 2:40 we left for the short drive to where we could catch the ship to take us to Stockholm.  There were quite a few people on the ship already when we got on, and maybe a dozen others got on with us. It stopped several times before we got to Stockholm.  For most of the trip it was raining so the view wasn't as nice as it could've been.  We sat by a window at a table in a snack bar area.  They had free WiFi but it was kind of slow. This was our first WiFi since we left Chicago so Karl and I were very happy to sit and be anti-social!  Well I wasn't exactly anti-social; I chatted online with my mom, daughters, and a couple of friends!

     The photos show some of the sights along the way, taken through the window.  I love to do jigsaw puzzles of pretty scenery and I felt like I was living in a jigsaw puzzle!

.     I think we got to Stockholm around 5:45 p.m. and made our way to the T-Centralen, the main subway hub.  Took the subway to the apartment and dropped off our luggage, then headed back to a little commercial area near the subway station.  There were 3 food trucks to  choose from, all Asian themed.  We chose the Indian food truck.  The food was very good and the portion was quite generous.  I gave half of mine to a beggar, and Karl and i decided that next time we'd split one dish. We then went to a grocery store to buy breakfast food.  Back at the apartment we spent the evening online and reorganizing our luggage in preparation for our trip to Finland.

     Photos can be seen here.

Sunday July 5th, Stockholm archipelago

     Today was a beautiful day.  We had a relaxing morning before we drove to Öregrund, northwest of Blidö by maybe 100 kilometers. It's a cute little town on the Baltic Sea. We walked around and enjoyed looking at the old wooden houses. I know I took some photos but I don't know where they ended up.
     We had a late lunch at a restaurant on the waterfront. Karl and Maude has herring, mashed potatoes, and lingonberries, and I had pizza.  After lunch we took a ferry from Öregrund to the island of Gräsö.  Aside from a church and a grocery near the ferry, the island was very rural and sparsely inhabited.  There was a wildlife preserve.  We drove to the northern end of the island and got out of the car to look for a lighthouse.  The lighthouse was actually located on a small adjacent island accessible only by boat so we weren't able to visit it. We stopped at the island's church. It was closed but we walked around the church grounds and bell tower. On our way back, something interesting happened. We were in the line to get on the ferry. The ferry came over and nearly docked when it suddenly began going back to the other shore! We waited several minutes and then the ferry came back over to our side. An ambulance raced off the ferry and headed down the road! And, as you might expect, the ferry was obligated to wait for the ambulance! So we sat for quite a few more minutes and finally we were able to board the ferry. They left a lane open for the ambulance. It returned without lights or sound, so I guess it wasn't an emergency after all.
     We drove back to Blidö--I'm guessing it took more than 2 hours--and had a light supper.  Maude and I watched Wolf Hall on television.  The British and U.S. programs are shown in English with Swedish subtitles. After the show ended Maude said she had to go outside and bring in the laundry from the line before it got dark--it was 10:45 p.m. and was still fairly light out!
     Today's photos can be found here

Saturday July 4th, Stockholm archipelago

     I slept like a rock. I woke at 11:17 and it was still light -- not bright, but the sky was light.  Woke again around 2 and there was still light in the sky.  Got up at 7:45. I walked down to the water (the Baltic sea), a walk of perhaps 400 steps (thanks, FitBit, whose battery has since died and the charger is in Indiana, or lost).  I then returned to the house and ate breakfast and read.
     Karl and Maude got three bicycles ready and we rode to a restored shop captain's house where the community was having an "Antiques Roadshow" type event. This was approximately 2 km (1 mile or so) from the house. It was a rather warm day, maybe close to 80 degrees? It was very interesting, and Maude and other bystanders made sure we knew what was being said.  At least in this part of Sweden almost everyone our age and younger speaks very good English.  In fact, we are spoken to initially in English nearly as often as Swedish. I guess we look like American tourists!
     We rode back to the house and had a lunch of herring, ham, cheese, salad, boiled potatoes, and fruit. We cleaned the kitchen, and made a picnic lunch to take to Wira Bruk. I think it took about an hour or so to get there but it may have been longer. It's between Blidö and Stockholm.  If you're wondering about the terrain, I'd say it is rocky, gently rolling, and agricultural/forest.
     Wira Bruk was a community of blacksmiths that made weapons for the King's soldiers from the 15th - 19th centuries.  It's now a open-air museum.  On this night, however, there was a special play. It was a story of the community trying to find a new master blacksmith, and it was a love story, too.  Live music, horses, singing and dancing--it was a very well rehearsed performance. It was in an open amphitheater and we sat on tiered wooden benches. Even though it was in Swedish it was easy enough to follow the story. Refreshments were available but most people had brought a picnic dinner.  This was the opening night, and to open the play, a speech was made by the United States Ambassador to Sweden! His 6 year old daughter was one of the children in the play. Afterwards we caught up with him and had our photo taken with him.
     We got back to the house around 10 or so and were quickly greeted by Astrid, an 9 year old girl whose family was renting the summer home adjacent to Maude's and Lars'. I guess I should mention that Lars is still in the US but will be in Sweden next week, so we will meet him then. Astrid was very anxious to try out the English words she'd learned in school. She went home around 11 p.m.and we went to bed.  Saturday's photos can be found here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Friday July 3rd, Stockholm and Blidö

     Our flight from Chicago arrived at Stockholm's Arlanda airport on time after an 8 hour flight. Cruised through passport control with no problem. We collected our baggage and Maude (the wife of Karl's cousin, Lars) met us at the arrival area.  She took a cute photo of us but lost her camera the next day.  Maude drove us into Stockholm in Brum-Brum, a 1998 BMW, to Lars' apartment to drop off our luggage and show us around the neighborhood. More on the apartment in a later post.
     We walked to the subway--maybe a 5 minute walk--and took it to the T-Centralen, the main subway hub in Stockholm.  We walked around the old town, Gamla Stan, had a coffee and prinsessentårta, then watched the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace.  We walked around central Stockholm a little more to get our bearings, then went back to the apartment to get our belongings and head to Blidö.
     Traffic out of Stockholm was heavy.  We stopped at a very busy supermarket in Norrtälje, northeast of Stockholm. American food is a very popular theme. They had a large Texas barbecue section with ribs, pulled pork, and a huge variety of BBQ sauces. (In a later grocery visit we saw a shelf section devoted to tortilla chips, taco shells, salsa, tortillas, etc.) We then took two short ferry trips to get to Blidö.  This part of of Sweden is called the Stockholm archipelago.  It is made up of hundreds of islands (one is Blidö), some big and some small, some connected by bridges and others by ferry.
     The ferries are run by the Swedish government and they are free to use. This was my first time on a ferry in a car and I was really fascinated by them.  The ones we took run on a set schedule for most of the day/evening, then on an on-call system late at night. I think it was every 30 minutes.  The first ferry was between the islands of Furusund and Yxlan. This ferry took about 3 minutes to cross. Then we drove across Yxlan for 1 1/2 minutes (it is a long and very skinny island), and got on the next ferry. This ferry to Blidö also takes about 3 minutes.  it was then a short drive to Lars' and Maude's summer home.
     Karl and I relaxed a bit while Maude did some work, then we cooked steaks on the grill and had salad.  We went to bed around 10 p.m.  Photos can be seen here .

Monday, July 6, 2015

Thursday July 2nd, Indianapolis to Chicago

Day one of our trip! I'm doing this on a tablet so bear with me.
     We left Indianapolis around 9:30 a.m. and drove to O'Hare airport. It was much cheaper to drive to Chicago and pay for a direct flight, rather than pay for an Indianapolis to Stockholm flight. We'd have to pay for parking either way. So we stopped for an Italian beef sandwich on Mannheim Road and arrived at O'Hare around 1 p.m. we stopped twice on the way up, aside from lunch--once for gas and once for a restroom.
     Check in went really fast at the SAS counter but the line for the TSA was ridiculously long.  People were mad because they were short on time to catch their flights. Karl and I got ushered into the First Class check in queue and that went a bit more quickly, but we weren't pressed for time.
     We may have left a few minutes late, but the flight was as good as one can expect.  I didn't sleep a wink, unfortunately, but I tried. This plane has recently undergone a facelift.  New paint job outside and new interior. Very comfy seats, clean, excellent TV, movie, game, music choices. I watched The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I caught Karl watching a program about ABBA but he claims it was about a photographer who worked with ABBA.  Mmm hmm.  There was even a USB charging port built in to the electronic pad on the back of the seat.  Headphones were provided, as was a bottle of water.
     Dinner was meatballs, rice, and maybe edamame--some kind of pea/bean-- both cooked and raw in a tossed salad. Roll, butter, cheesecake--passable.  Breakfast was a real mish-mash--yogurt, fruit, roll, butter, ham, cheese, juice, tea.
     Photos from this day are here.  Sorry they're in a random order. I'll try to figure it out tomorrow.