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30 July 2011


Day 62: Thursday, 21 July 2011

We arrived in Turku from Tampere in the evening. Without a map, it could have been difficult to find the apartment where we staying with our hosts, Marko and Ksenia, but I hand-drew a few streets in my notebook that guided us there within 10 minutes. Ksenia was meeting a friend to practice some schoolwork (they were speaking Finnish so they went into the kitchen as Lisle and I got settled). Since they had to work early, we decided to stay in.

I woke up in bed next to Lisle. It was already like 9:30, and Marko and Ksenia had already left for work. We helped ourselves to breakfast - muesli and coffee, but we couldn't find the sugar. And we headed out into the town.

Our goal was to get to the ferry ship terminal so that Lisle could buy her ticket (it wasn't working online). We walked along the river, seeing many pretty buildings. There were a set of giant rubber duckies just floating in the river as part of some art installation.

The riverwalk somehow reminded me of that in Paris. We passed several bridges and interesting ships, and a cool art installation of an oversized daisy.

The weather was cloudy and the forecast had called for rain. After walking for a couple kilometers and stopping at a cafe/museum to use the toilet, we soon found the ferry terminal. It was deserted, except for one ticket office. Lisle got her ticket, and we walked back. Soon, we we at Turku's castle.

29 July 2011

Letting it Be in Tampere

Day 60: Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Wow, I simply love Finland. I've never felt so automatically comfortable in a foreign country. Finland feels so much like America at times, just with much more of a liberal and contented attitude toward everything. People here just don't give a shit. Yet they're all so socially conscious and progressive. Also, with a completely unintelligible language. I've been able to pick up a few words, such as kiidos. But there's no way I could figure out or reasonably understand any sentences.

Finland, like the rest of Scandinavia, is very expensive. Students in Finland get 50% off many things, such as train and bus tickets (not to mention that besides having to pay zero tuition, students here receive a few hundred euros a month from the government for living expenses! How amazing is that! Needless to say, I really wish we moved toward a similar system in California - maybe including a bit of the social service that is required of young people… but I digress and daydream…). I try not to think of how much money I'm spending and just do my best to live cheaply. Luckily I have not had to pay for accommodation anywhere, save for the €40 for the campsite at the festival. I can't just live here like an American, buying everything whenever I want; I actually have to plan the best way to budget my money, time, and transportation availability. The markets here are only allowed to sell alcohol from 9:00-21:00, and beers are quite expensive. In Tampere, buses taken after midnight cost twice as much per ride.

We were back from the Festival in Tampere, and Lisle and I slept as Petri and Pekka departed for work at 8am. We returned to our favorite café next to the supermarket and got some waffles… again, eating them while sitting in the comfy chairs in the corner of the cafe. We then decided to make dinner for Petri and Pekka, so we bought some ingredients for Lisle's homemade chili. It was somewhat difficult but fun to try to translate the different ingredient/seasoning names from Finnish to English.

I had my own "blonde moment."

26 July 2011

Ilosaarirock Festival

Days 56-59: Friday, 15 July 2011 - Monday, 18 July 2011

We left for Ilosaari on Friday. In the morning, Petri and Pekka each had work, so Lisle and I got some much-needed rest, one couch for each of us. We then got up, slowly made some breakfast and tried to figure out the washing machine. In the mid-afternoon, we finally left to get some food and supplies at the nearby supermarket. We were hungry but tight-budgeted, yet we semi-splurged on some waffles at a cafe in the shopping center, which turned out to be some amazing waffles!

The train to Joensuu took about 4 hours with one transfer along the way. I traveled with Petri, Pekka, Sami, and Olli who met us at the station in Joensuu. I was able to use Petri's brother's student ID to get a discount fare. The train was mostly full, so we first rode in the restaurant car for the first leg, and then snuck into some empty seats for the second part, and then we stayed in the "animal/pet room" after transferring to the second train . Along the way, a random older man walks up to us and says "excuse me"… we think something is wrong but he then proceeds to simply ask for one of our beers. Haha.

We arrived in Joensuu, the major city in eastern Finland. We're now only 100 km from Russia, but more importantly, we were a 20-minute walk from the campsite. It was nearly 9pm, and we stopped by the supermarket, where I frantically bought some food right before the store closed. We then walked through the town to the campsite, where we set up our tents.

I was soon introduced to all the friends at our campsite - Ville, Juhanna, Tuomas, Juho, Sami, Mikko, Cole, and even more each day. There was a little boat in a sand pit that we climbed up on. Many more drinks were had, and dancing and craziness ensued.

22 July 2011

2 More Days in Helsinki; Hitchhiking to Tampere

Day 54: Wednesday, 13 July 2011

After the previous night's debaucherous fun, it was natural that I slept in. Topi was up earlier to clean up a little, and I said bye as he left for work. I stayed in again for a bit, checking up on emails and deciding whether to go to Tampere this day. I decided to try for a rideshare online, and otherwise I'd wait for my new travelmate to arrive from Russia tomorrow and I'd hitchhike with her.

So I left in the afternoon, walked through the city again, seeing a few parks, jazz music on the esplanade, and the Russian Orthodox church.

I strolled back through the market square and enjoyed some more live jazz music before heading for Koff park, where Topi works, and I helped him and his coworker Christian put away their stuff. We then walked to the nearby park that was formerly a gravesite during the black plague, and met Aaro and few more friends, Niko and (something). Another friend came by and Topi and I walked with him away for a couple blocks before splitting off and searching for cheap food. Topi bought me a €5 salad at a cafe on the top floor of the Kamppi shopping center. I bought some Duff beer at the supermarket - amazing!

Helsinki Continues!

Day 52-53: Monday-Tuesday, 11-12 July 2011

Finland is simply fascinating. Thanks to Topi, I'm meeting a lot of people, each pretty outgoing and with a very cool life perspective. It's likely that I'm not getting a complete picture of the Finnish people. They say that the collective mood of people here changes dramatically with the seasons; in the winter, everyone is grumpy and generally despondent. And the summertime non-stop daylight can make it very hard to stay sane as well.

I think that everyone here is really smart to know Finnish and English so well, since they're two completely unrelated languages.

I woke up on Monday in the separate guest house at Topi's grandmother's country house. I joined them for breakfast, and since there was no shower, Topi and I went for a morning swim. We soon packed up his grandma's stuff and loaded up the car, locked up the house, and Topi drove us back to Helsinki. His grandma was talking most of the way, and I daydreamed in the backseat as the countryside whizzed by.

20 July 2011

A Packed First Day in Finland

Day 51: Sunday, 10 July 2011

My first day in Finland was one of my longest days, full of so many different encounters and interesting people, and was a very good day overall. (Having non-stop daylight makes it easy to keep going well into the night - but more on that later.) I am yet again amazed at how much I've been able to see, thanks to couchsurfing! It's truly amazing.

The day started early, in Tallinn. I woke up at 6:30am, got my stuff quickly together and was out the door with Charly by 6:40. He rushed to work, and I ambled with my two full bags to the ferry terminal. I got my ticket and joined the big crowd of people pushing onto the boat. The ferry was a big ship, like a cruise ship, with at least 8 levels for cars and cabins. The ride was 2 and a half hours; I charged my laptop, contacted my host in Helsinki, and read a bit of On the Road. Nearly into Helsinki, a young man approached me and sat down at my table. His name was Alex, Bolivian but living in Helsinki. He was part of a Christian missionary group traveling around Eastern Europe to "spread the good news of Jesus Christ." I deflected his proselytizing by telling him about my amazing journey so far. He gave me some tips on what to do in Helsinki and a small religious pamphlet that they were passing out on their trip.

The ferry docked and I walked around for a few minutes to get my bearings. I then called my host, Topias, and asked him for directions. I took the tram to his place, accompanied by an incredibly drunk old man who was sloppily trying to grab the poor woman sitting across from him. It was sad to watch but also extremely entertaining - welcome to Finland in the summertime!

Topias had his friend Tuomas over, both recovering from a big night out, and the three of us quickly went out for some brunch. We went to a bar called Pacifico, which was somewhat Latin/Mexican-themed but felt like a local underground rock music venue. The people there gave off some good vibes, nonjudgmental and friendly. The brunch cost €10, but was all-you-can-eat, and, most importantly, they had Cholula hot sauce! Oh how I missed you! I had the most amazingly spicy meal since that curry in Manchester…

We explored a nearby park and the Linnanmäki amusement park, which was small but had some interesting coasters.

Then we rushed back because Topi had just gotten word from a friend that they were going to an island that afternoon, and the ferry was leaving in less than an hour! So we rushed ahead to the bus station, saying bye to Toumas along the way. We just missed a bus, and it looked like we wouldn't make it, when we Topi's friend said they could drive us to the ferry terminal. So we got off the bus, and after a minute, Janne and Otto swept in to pick us up. The car was running out of gas, so it was a fun ride to the ferry pier. We made it on board, and I met Ellena and Manu.

More Estonia

Days 48-50: Thursday, 7 July 2011 to Saturday, 9 July 2011


My second day in Tallinn was spent shopping, lazing around, and then exploring on foot. I slept in a bit, so Erko had gone to work and Davide had gone to the festival. It was midday and I wanted to get some food. Since I had not found anywhere to eat, I walked to the shopping centre just across the train tracks. It was a big suburban-style mall with lots of modern conveniences. Inside was also the big supermarket, where I bought some groceries (cereal, milk, pasta, and sandwich supplies), shampoo, and a new pair of sunglasses since I left my other pair in Nottingham.

I made some sandwiches for lunch and then walked out into the city. After spending some time wasting online, I walked through the upper part of the old town, seeing plenty of fantastic views from the ramparts of the old city walls. There's the iconic Russian Orthodox church, and plenty of fantastic postcard images of the very well-preserved old town. Two girls were walking around dressed up like Russian nesting dolls. I encountered a loud group of maybe 50 American girls on some sort of school or sorority trip. Then I walked around the eastern periphery of the old town, passing through some nice parks before returning to the shopping mall. There I searched for some cheap food, walking up all 5 floors before settling on a pre-made sandwich bought in the supermarket downstairs.

I walked all the way back to the apartment and shared some dinner with the housemates. Herring and potatoes. That's Estonian food. Everyone was just eating outside.

Friday, 8 July 2011

I made breakfast: eggs and bacon. It was a nice and sunny day, so I went to the beach. Erko also decided to go, so I joined him, Marta, and Ibsen. They had an extra bike for me to use at the house!

So we all biked through the city to the prison complex near the port where we settled in by the water. There was a sandy beach perched above the actual rocky shoreline, and the water was murky and cool, but fresh. Waves came only when one of the big ferry or cruise ships pulled in to the nearby port.

We shared a couple ciders and the girls played around in the sand before we headed off. Erko had to leave early because he had to get to his friend's place in the countryside.

The girls and I checked out a nearby pub/café that was a London city bus originally. Then we saw a bit more of the TunedCity festival, which was going on at the Kulturiikatel nearby. It's an abandoned factory that they're trying to make into something artsy. A man was playing recordings of ambient noise and answering questions about it.

12 July 2011

Estonia! I'm Here!

Day 47: Wednesday, 6 July 2011

It's hard to believe that I'm here in Tallinn, Estonia. It's not (yet) one of the best known city for tourists, especially from America. But it's conveniently located as a starting point to travel around northern Europe. And the flight here was cheap.

So to Tallinn I flew, and couchsurfed in a neighborhood just southwest of the city center/old town. I stayed in a community house - a type of co-op for the neighborhood, with people continuously coming in and out. In the attic there are many mattresses, on which I am sleeping. My "official" (if you will) couchsurfing host, Erko, is one of the most enthusiastic people I've met, which contrasts sharply with the general aloofness (or so I've been told) of the Estonian people in public.

I arrived in Tallinn on Wednesday, taking a RyanAir flight from East Midlands Airport (England). The flight was not as bad as I thought it would be, and it was pretty quick to get through the airport, except for the public bus everyone took into the city, which was packed full of people. I walked for about 2 km from the bus stop, through a shopping mall and a city park, across the city center, to the house where I was staying. It was exhausting, especially carrying my two fully packed bags, so I stopped every couple minutes to catch my breath. I also learned how to say "Vabaduse Väljak."

I arrived at the house with an enthusiastic "JASON! Come in!", and before I knew it, I had a cider in my hand, was introduced to 5 people with nearly impossible-to-remember names, and learned all the procedures of the house.

11 July 2011

Nottingham and Good-Bye to England (for Now)

Day 46: Tuesday, 5 July 2011

I had a train booked from York to Nottingham. Jacek walked me to the train station, and I boarded the train, first to Sheffield, where I changed onto a second train to Nottingham. I listened to my ipod the whole way.

Nottingham is a bigger city, so it had more of an urban feel, which felt comfortable to me. My host, Luisa, came to the train station to meet me. We dropped my bags off at her place, and after a small bite to eat, set off to explore the city. It was really fun - apparently she found my antics of climbing on the Robin Hood statue quite hilarious.

We then peeked inside the oldest pub in England (apparently). And walked along the Robin Hood trail for a bit.

There was an old church that had been turned into an upscale lounge/bar, the Pitcher & Piano. We stumbled into a museum that had criminals and Robin Hood. Random explorations are fun!

The 4th of July in York

Day 45: Monday, 4 July 2011

It's the 4th of July and I'm on a train from Manchester to York. I had originally planned to travel to York yesterday, but having not found a couch to surf I decided to stay in Manchester one more night. (Frankly, I have come to dislike packing all my things up and out every time I change cities.) But I enjoyed my time in Manchester - it was a much-needed break from my non stop stream of daily activities. Everyone was really nice and polite too, very British, which I liked (although I'm still working on developing my understanding of British sarcasm and humour). I did get a chance to watch a few comedy/panel shows last night, sort of like a wittier version of those VH1 gossip shows.

Anyway, I rushedly said bye to each of the housemates either at night or in the morning, and I rushed to Piccadilly station to catch my train - but I missed it by just a minute. I kept calm and carried on to the next train, which left in 15 minutes, so no big deal. Did I mention how much I like trains? They're such a great way to travel, smooth and convenient. I remember being obsessed with trains when I was little; I wanted to be a train conductor.

York is a well-preserved medieval city, founded by the Romans and with a lot of Viking history as well. It's great to walk around the city center. There's The Shambles, a narrow street with buildings that have remained the same since the middle ages apparently.

Lakes to the City

Day 43: Saturday, 2 July 2011

England has some interesting and fast-paced cities, but I feel that England is really best experienced in the countryside. The peculiarities of British culture (politeness, formality, simple home-style cooking) just seem to make more sense in a small town atmosphere. And Ambleside is such a great example of this. There's a university, so there are plenty of young people, but there are so many more outdoor things to do. Many people were hiking up and down the many hills and mountains nearby, and as I passed them, they would all smile and greet me. The economic downturn has benefited domestic tourism here, as UK residents choose to spend their holidays in England's most scenic area instead of going abroad.

Nick had gone to work early, and after another late morning, I went for a hike to the top of nearby Loughrigg. It was nice, sunny and warm, and the views were great as well. I returned to the apartment, and Claire, Vicky, and I went to the park, where we played some card games (Egyptian ratscrew), and tried to juggle/play with Claire's diablo. Nick arrived and joined us, opting to play catch/baseball with Claire's juggling balls, and then their friend Matt came too. We all walked to The Apple Pie and I got to try some Bath bake, which is kind of like a fruit-filled bread, which wasn't as good as usual apparently. I also got a couple bottles of local ale from the wine shop where Claire works, and then Nick drove me to the train station in Windermere.

09 July 2011

The Lake District: Climbing to the Top of England

Day 40: Wednesday, 29 June 2011

England's Lake District is well-known for having the most scenic areas in the country. And in my 3 days there, I must whole-heartedly agree! There whole area is full of rolling hills and mountains, sheep grazing, slate-exterior cottages, and quaint towns that provide a perfect postcard of English countryside!

I spent one night in Manchester, and then I took a morning train to Windermere, a town right on the lake of the same name. My friend Nick picked me up (in his car - yes!) with his girlfriend Vicky and his flatmate Claire. We grabbed some lunch at a carvery, a kind of restaurant where you get roast meat served to you as you want, with veggies and yorkshire pudding.

We dropped my stuff off at the apartment, and then drove to Keswick (pronounced "kezzik"), where we got some food from Booths to prepare for our hike the next day - we were hiking up Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England!


Day 39: Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - Liverpool Day!
I decided to visit Liverpool on a day trip, since it's only a 45-minute train ride from Manchester. I started the day with a walk to Old Trafford, the stadium home to Manchester United. There was construction going on, so I couldn't see too much, but I guess it'd be better if I were a more devoted football fan.

After a bit of rain the night before, it was warm and sunny yet again in Manchester. I took the tram to the Piccadilly station, used the automatic machine to pick up my train tickets, and got on the next train to Liverpool (I had to show my ticket to enter the platform area, odd…). I put some Beatles songs on my ipod as I drifted along into the city, and as I emerged from Liverpool's Lime Street station, I was greeted by a chilly sea breeze that instantly made me regret wearing shorts.

I picked up a city map from the train info stand and walked first to the Walker Art Gallery. Gotta love the UK's museums with free admission! There was a good selection of art ranging from classical sculptures to Victorian to modern.

I was too antsy to stay around looking at art for so long, so then I headed out through St. John's Garden and into the old streets in the city's center. I passed some locals, and their accent - "scouse" - was really hard to decipher. (I had been warned that the accents here can be particularly strong.)

I soon found Mathew Street, home to the Cavern Club, the place famous for being the birthplace of the Beatles.

Welcome to Manchester

Day 37: Sunday, 26 June 2011
The flight from Reykjavik to Manchester was only about 2.5 hours. I sat in front of an obnoxiously loud child, about 6 years old, who kept whining about everything. The didn't deter me from falling asleep for most of the flight. I groggily passed into the airport and through immigration, where I got held up for a quite a while, because the immigration officers had no idea what kind of visa I had. They had to look it up online, because it was a new category that had just been introduced (so apparently I knew more than they did).

It felt hot in Manchester, especially compared to Iceland. It was apparently 27°C, which is like 81F. I took the train from the airport to the main train station, Manchester Piccadilly. It only cost £3, which is much cheaper than the analogous train in London. I then took a tram to Kieran's place, which was also quick and easy. I arrived at the house, but Kieran wasn't there and his housemate Johnny didn't have the key to unlock the door. No worries, I sat on the front ledge and laptopped away.

Kieran arrived with Amy and another guest, Tsachi from Israel, whom I at first called Ducky. We went for a long walk into the city center, which was pleasant. It felt good to be back in a city, surrounded by people.

Final Day in Iceland: All Day and All Night in Reykjavik

Day 36: Saturday, 25 June 2011

We tried to get as much sleep as possible at the hostel, because the next night we were planning for the possibility of staying out all night before our early morning flights. So we slept until 10, but had to check out at 10:30. Taking it easy, we checked emails and other internet stuff for an hour or so. I also frantically tried to help out Ueli, who had texted me that he was stranded in San Francisco at 3am with nowhere to stay.

The day's drive was short, less than 2 hours to Reykjavik. Along the way we passed along a fjord (Halfnafjorthur) with some spectacular views. We stopped at a lone church, decided against making a 2-hour hike to Glymur (Iceland's tallest waterfall), and drove offroad to find a hot spring that Georg had recommended to us. The hot spring was pretty isolated, a natural jacuzzi right by the water. We didn't really feel like jumping in, as rain had begun to sprinkle and I wanted to get to Reykjavik anyway.

01 July 2011

West Fjords Day 2: More Cool Encounters and Puffins!

Day 35: Friday, 24 June 2011

Georg left at 8am to go to work, and we were up shortly thereafter. Something was up with my electric plug so I borrowed Jurate's to charge my camera. With a lot to see and do, we wanted to get moving a little earlier. So we finished our cereal quickly and left by 10am. Our first stop was a hidden hot bath in a small town somewhere in this part of the west fjords. Georg had told us how to get there, and when we arrived we were the only ones there. It was our little secret… almost. One older man appeared and settled in to one of the pools. But whatever - it felt so good to just sit in hot (40-45°C / 105-115° F) water, with the sea on one side and isolated mountains on the other side.

After bathing in the hot pots, my body continued to feel warm and comfortable - I could start every day like this! We drove west, around more fjords and discovering an abandoned iron ship from around 1910.

We drove on and found a small café with a US Navy airplane disassembled outside (and also a mock viking ship). The road was gravel most of the way, and our car picked up even more dirt. The car is covered in a solid layer of brown dirt.

We continued to Látrabjarg, a lighthouse sitting on a cliff which is the westernmost point in Europe.

Driving West Fjords

Day 34: Thursday, 23 June 2011

We woke up in Blönduós at Christina's apartment. Christina had to go to work and left as I was showering. After making breakfast and getting ready, it was nearly 11:00. We had an 8 hour drive ahead of us, so we had to get moving. We drove toward the west fjords, through more spectacular scenery. We drove through Brú and turned north toward Hólmavík. This part of the drive took about 2 hours. My guidebook mentioned a restaurant in Hólmavík that served puffin meat, and we were all interested in trying some. We went to the restaurant, Café Riis, only to find that puffin was not in season yet, so we settled for a hamburger and some salad bar food that cost ISK 1600. The drive continued, and the scenery continued to change every few minutes.

I fell asleep for nearly an hour, thanks to eating so much food (and the road was smooth). I woke up as we pulled into a gas station in Reykjanes, but the self-service pump was not accepting our credit cards, so we decided to risk it and drive on with our gas level at about 30%. The next petrol station was not for another 130km, and our car had enough fuel to last just about that long. So instead of worrying, I enjoyed the drive as we wound in and around several deep fjords carved into glaciated 500m-tall mountains with waterfalls cascading down every kilometer or less. It was, yet again, an unreal landscape. By this point, I had started "getting used to" the ever-changing spectacular landscapes everywhere in Iceland. Anyway, we made it to the petrol station and filled up the tank with ISK 12 000.

Myvatn Lake - Another Amazing Corner of Iceland

Day 33: Wednesday, 22 June 2011

I woke up after everyone else, because I had stayed up late sending couchsurfing requests - this actually was very fortuitous, because one host had accepted my request by the time I woke up! Jurate and Nerijus had prepared some breakfast of pasta and leftovers from dinner, while Jared had his own small snack. I turned on the TV to find that there were only 3 stations, and they were all playing the same thing, a kind of scrolling news feed.

We left the hostel around 10:30am, and it was cold outside. Our car was the dirtiest there. We drove to Myvatn lake and stopped at the N1 station for Jared to get a full breakfast. Then, onward: There was a sign to a farm named Björk, where we of course stopped for pictures; I scraped the palm of my right hand as I hung from the sign. Then we did a hike (the Church Circle) around some surreal lava formations at Dimmuborgir.

It was very cool, and we were able to climb into a few caves in the rock. We then realized how little time we had (because we had to be in Akureyri by 5pm for Jared to catch his bus), so we rushed to the next stop, a small hike next to a farm. There were odd lava columns next to pleasant ponds filled with birds and midges. We hurried onward to the pseudo-craters of southern Myvatn lake, which were relatively unimpressive (relative to everything else that we've seen in Iceland).

Crossing Over Icelandic Volcanoes

Day 32: Tuesday, 21 June 2011
It was around 10am when I woke up. A full night's rest, finally! It took a while for us to get ready, make breakfast from our leftovers, and to look up hostels online, so we didn't leave Seyðisfjörður until nearly 1pm. We stopped at the harbor and took in the scenery (this port was a US base during WWII and is the port for ferries arriving weekly from Denmark).

We drove back over the mountains, stopping in Egilsstaðir for food and continued on the ring road toward Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Iceland. I managed to sleep for a few minutes, waking up just before we stopped to take in a spectacular view of the desolate interior, all deserted brown rocks with towering snow-capped mountains in the distance. We decided to take a detour to see Kefla, an active volcano near Myvatn. We went all the way to Reykjahith, where we stopped for petrol. There were a lot of hot springs and geothermal activity in the area. We went to the hot springs, this area's Blue Lagoon, but it was too expensive for us to consider visiting. We went to Namafjall, a mountain overlooking the hot springs at Hverir.