Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Helsinki Or Bust!

Joe and I just returned from a little trip.  We took an overnight ferry to and from Finland.  Two nights on the boat and one day in Helsinki.

Two things that Joe and I love: walking and learning.  One of the first things we do when meeting a city for the first time is to go on a walking tour.  So that is just what we did.  Helsinki and our tour guide Emil did not disappoint.

Finland has a fascinating history.  People have inhabited the land since 9,000 BC.  (One archaeological dig is waiting to have its findings confirmed.  The scientists think the artifacts they have unearthed may be 125,000 years old!)

The region belonged to the Kingdom of Sweden from the 13th century to 1809.  It was then ceded to the Russian Empire.  Finland did not gain independence until 1917.  So the country is not yet 100 years old!

Finland has been an underdog over the ages.  But the country has what the Finns call 'sisu'; which means sustained courage, perseverance and determination.  We were told it is a word that cannot be fully translated.

We really enjoyed our day in Helsinki.  Lovely people.  Interesting history.  Beautiful landscape.

All this bracing ocean air makes a guy very relaxed.

Beautiful villages dot the islands in the Stockholm Archipelago.

Kids and dogs love the ocean.

Joe made a new friend!

No matter how small the island, chances are there will be a cottage, an outdoor sauna and a flagpole on it.

This photo was taken through the ship's dining room window at 11:00pm.  Look how light it still was!  And look how remote the house is on that barren island.

We landed in Helsinki the next morning.  Our walking tour guide Emil said to meet him at 10:30am.  "I'll be the one in the funny hat."

The Lutheran Cathedral.

Where is everybody?  This photo was taken on one of Helsinki's busiest streets, yet it was empty.  We were told that Finns head to their cottages in the forest for the month of July.

Interesting architecture in this city.

Helsinki is another city dominated by water.

Yay for holidays!

Outside the Russian Cathedral.

Inside the Russian Cathedral.

The statue 'Havis Amanda' in Market Square.

People enjoying the summer sun.

'Chapel of Silence' in the heart of the city.  Anyone can go inside and have a few quiet moments for prayer or reflection.

I love a bit of whimsy in public spaces.

When our 3 hour walking tour was over, we invited Emil to join us for a beer.  What an interesting young man!  His mother is Finnish, his father is Iraqi and his wife is Polish.  He is fluent in 8 languages and can understand another 15.  

Taking time out to send postcards to family.

So many choices at the market!  Tinned bear meat?  Or tinned reindeer meat?  Of course Joe bought both!

When Joe went to pay for this hand-knitted cap at the market, he learned that the woman did not take Visa.  He was so disappointed!  (He had spent the last of our euros on tins of bear and reindeer meat.)  The woman said, "Give me what you've got.  I am the boss."  Joe handed her 150 Swedish krona along with a handful of coins and she handed him the cap.  After a hug and a kiss on the cheek we were on our way back to the ship.

Good-bye, Helsinki.  Thanks for a great day.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Swedish Cottage Life

Cottage life.

In addition to the apartment in Stockholm, we also have a cottage to use as part of the home exchange!  The cottage is only a 30 minute drive from the city.  We really enjoy the peacefulness. The only sound you hear is birdsong.  Sometimes we just drive out here to spend the evening and to sleep over.

A walk in the woods.

I am obsessed with this island!  It is full of nesting sea birds.  The birds' presence has killed the trees and now the tree trunks and branches are completely white. 

Oh, hello, little snail!

Relaxing is exhausting!

Swedish strawberries are incredibly tasty!

"Hey...where is everybody?"

Dala horses are everywhere!

Heading back to the cottage after an afternoon at the beach.

Cabins and reading.  A match made in heaven.

Oh, hello little forest gnome.

The view out the window.

This was our fourth and final trip out to the cottage.  We only have one more week in Sweden.  So what are we going to do?  Why, take a cruise to Finland of course! 

Good-bye little cottage.  We loved staying with you.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Road Trip To Dalarna

Vintage Dala horses in Nusnäs.

Joe and I took a road trip up to Dalarna, about a 4 hour drive from Stockholm.  We visited many of the towns and villages along Lake Siljan.

The words I'd use to describe this part of the world?  Peaceful.  Idyllic.  Simple.  Bucolic.

What a beautiful way to live.

Our road trip started off in the best way possible!  My cousin's wife connected us to her good friend Eva.  We stopped by Eva's home in Leksand for an afternoon visit.  As Eva said before we left, "Now we are family."  Check out the flag she had hanging on her front porch.  I hope our paths cross again soon.

Eva's flowers and the view from her gazebo.

Me and the largest Dala horse in the world.

Hanging out at the Rattvik train station.

The pier in Rattvik is the longest in Scandinavia.

The pier is so long because the water is very shallow for almost a kilometre from the lakeshore.

Photo op on the pier.

Everything is decorated in Sweden.  Even defunct telephone booths.

As seen in a knife shop in Nusnäs.

Hand-carved wooden Dala horses waiting to be hand-painted.

The wooden Dala horse began life as a simple toy but has since evolved into a symbol – not just for Dalarna, the region where it originated, but for the whole of Sweden. 

Almost every house is painted a rusty red colour.  "Falu red is a dye that is used on wooden cottages and barns. The paint originated historically from various copper mines in Sweden. The traditional colour remains popular today due to its effectiveness in preserving wood."  Thanks, Wikipedia!

Antlers optional.

Dala horses can be found everywhere.

The Swedes have a knack for making everything beautiful.  Case in point: a pretty bunch of weeds in a painted tin can.

The village of Rattvik and its ski hill.

The sun sets very late in this part of the world.  And it gets up at 2:30am!

Traditional Swedish fences (gärdesgård) are everywhere in the countryside.

Even signposts are decorated.

Sunset over Lake Siljan.

And now we are back in Stockholm waiting for our next adventure to begin!