I lived in London for 2.5 years, it was a fabulous time of my life filled with lots fun and lots of travel. I have so many fond memories of the many trips I took to all the countries that are so close to you when you live there. For a lot of my travel experiences I had written emails home full of information, life changing experiences and inspiration. This is what I am basing my memoir of Scandinavia and Russia on, join me as I jump back into my bus trip on a 33 day tour through 11 amazing countries.
My First stop was Denmark. Much of our time was spent in Copenhagen itself, it is a picture perfect city. It is one of Europe’s oldest capitals that has an obvious royal touch. The Monarchy in Denmark is the oldest in the world. There are many tourist attractions to tick off the list and it is very easy to explore by foot. The Nyhaven harbour area is very pretty with it’s coloured buildings lining the canals, it is filled with people enjoying the relaxed atmosphere in many of the restaurants lining the 17th century waterfront. We took a canal boat ride to explore the area more, as so much of Copenhagen is visible from the water.
In the evening, we headed to Tivoli Gardens which is an amusement park located in central Copenhagen. This is the second oldest operating amusement park in the world, the oldest is also in Denmark. We enjoyed lots of rides and exploring the beautiful grounds and gardens. I always end up regretfully going on those rides that drop from the sky at a rapid speed where you feel like you lose your stomach somewhere up near your ears. One day I will learn not to go on these again, but other than that we loved Tivoli Gardens.
Our next major city stop was in Stockholm, Sweden. Again, like Copenhagen this city is situated amongst lots of waterways. The city itself consists of 14 islands. Here we visited the Vasa Museum which holds an old Viking ship, we also went up the city hall tower to take in some amazing views over the city and the beautiful water ways. We visited the Royal palace and had a little browse down the main street mall called Drottninggatan.
After two big city stops we were up for some natural beauty and all the amazing sites Norway had in stall for us. Oslo itself is another fun city to visit, at the time they were preparing for a royal wedding so the vibe in the city was one of excitement and fun. The Gustav Vigeland park and it’s sculptures are quite something, and worth visiting.
Being in the northern hemisphere it was interesting to visit the sites where they do winter sports, the ski jumps in Holmenkollen and Lillehammer (which was where the 94 Olympics were held), they were huge. They jump from such a high distance, it must be amazing to see covered in snow. In saying that, I was happy to be there in summer as I don’t like the cold that much. We got to give the Lillehammer bobsled track a go, it was so much fun. Yes, our bobsled did have wheels on it as we were lacking the key component of snow but it still went very fast. I could feel my cheeks pressing back on my ears with the forces as we raced down the track. It was a fantastic experience.
The roads through Norway are probably some of the most picturesque in the world. You see mountains, and waterfalls. I visited my first Fjord (a water way carved by a glacier) it was the Geiranger Fjord in all it’s beauty. We had pictures at Stigfass falls and Seven Sisters waterfalls as we drove along the famous Trollstiggen Rd. It is all so natural and breath takingly amazing. The most awe inspiring site along our route was the Svartisen Glacier and we had to work to see that. It was very much worth doing the huge trek in the rain along the rocky mountainous surfaces to see. It was a huge block of ice that had been there for decades, it was a very impressive site in colours of white and blue, visible as far as you could see up into the valley and diving into the water at the bottom.
At this stage in our journey we had entered the Arctic Circle, so we stopped into the
Polarsirkelen Arctic Circle Centre for a photo to prove it. Yes, it was still freezing cold here and it was summer. We went further North and stayed in Europe’s most Northern town of Hammerfest for the night. Being a fishing village, we did a fishing charter and boy did we catch some fish, our tour chef managed to whip them up for our dinner that evening, delicious! We stopped at Nordcapp and had a photo at Europe’s most northerly point, then headed back through Lappland the land of the midnight sun on our way to visit Santa. With Santa being the only person we know that lives in the North pole, you can’t come all this way without paying him a visit. He lives in Finland, in a place called Rovaniemi, which is on the line of the Arctic Circle. Santa’s house is great, you get to shop for Christmas decorations, sit on Santa’s knee and make your Christmas wishes and even visit the reindeers, we couldn’t find Rudolph though.
We also visited the capital of Finland, Helsinki and got to explore this city for the day. Visited lots of tourist hot spots like the Olympic stadium, the cathedral and the famous church in the rock. Helsinki was our last destination in Scandinavia as next we moved into Russia.
We started Russia in St Petersburg. There are so many ornate buildings, monuments and tourist sites to see here. There are endless places to look at including the Hermitage museum which is the largest in the world. The most impressive was the Redemption Church which is very elaborate and colourful. We had a real culture hit here with tickets to the swan lake ballet, a folklore show with Russian dancers and a nightclub with it’s own version of entertainment in the boys’ toilets. Hmm…(they had pornography playing on a TV above the urinal).
Russia is very elaborate and over the top with decoration, statues and monuments. It was explained to us that this all dated back to the communist times where it was designed to make people feel inferior. Moscow was the next major city we visited and this was highlighted here with the beautifully designed and picturesque metro system. It is filled with murals and marble and ornate archways and mosaics at each turn. Red square was the highlight with St Basil’s cathedral, this being the famous postcard picture Moscow is known for. It is even more colourful and elaborate than the church in St Petersburg. The war museum was also impressive with lots of missiles and fighter jets on display. Russia is quite an amazing place as it is so over the top, there is also the underlying underworld vibe. You often see blacked out cars racing by with sirens that are apparently not part of the police force, but another form of law enforcement. Needless to say, we all towed the line. The last thing we did whilst in Moscow was attend the Moscow circus of course. I don’t think I will ever get the image of an ice skating bear out of my head. Yes, it was actually a real bear that could ice skate. He didn’t look that impressed about it either….
Crossing boarder security in a bus from Russia is not that easy, there was a lot of down time spent waiting in cues, I think probably there was some money on the side too but we won’t mention that! It is a long and tedious process but we found our way through and our next country was Belarus and a visit to Minsk. Then onto Poland and a visit to Warsaw. Both seem to have strong ties with Russia as we are still seeing Lenin monuments. The “old” town of Warsaw was very pretty although it had to be fully rebuilt after the war.
Our next country and destination was Germany and a visit to Berlin. The history here and the significance of the Berlin wall is all very interesting to see and hear about. The check point Charlie museum was a great place to learn all about this. So interesting how families were separated when the wall pretty much went up overnight. We got into the German spirit and had some steins in a German beer house. Our final stop for the tour was Amsterdam, there is only one place to go when your young and in Amsterdam so we went to the red light district. Checked out some interesting Cafes and saw some even more interesting sights, we also enjoyed some of my favourite food from the croquette vending machines. Yum! Then it was back on the bus and on our way to our final destination in London.
Our final tourist thing in London to do after living here for so long and spending years exploring the city was the London eye. It does a very slow loop around and it is actually quite interesting. You get some magnificent views from up there, I took some great pictures of Big Ben and all the bridges down the Thames river, it was an impressive final jaunt.
Now off to Heathrow airport we go….I’ve just realised I’m going to have to write about my time in London as well. That will have to be another blog.
Until next time, warm regards, Kylie