Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Fun in the lands of the Vikings...

From Germany we headed north to Scandinavia, to see if we could find us some vikings!!
First stop: Copenhagen, Denmark: beautiful city, we loved being surrounded by water again, it's something you don't think about, and don't think you'll miss till you don't have it. We walked along the waterfront around to the Little Mermaid sitting on her rock in the sea [she really is little!], and cooled off by the Gefion Fountain, which apparently the Danes think of as their own Fontana di Trevi... but it was very cool-and is the biggest monument in Copenhagen. We wandered back through the town, up and down the pedestrian shopping street [we like those too] and went into the Round Tower which was built in the seventeenth century with as an observatory, and is unique in that rather than having to climb hundreds of stairs to get to the top, it was built with a 210 metre long spiral ramp! Great view of the city, and interesting to look at the old observatory equipment still inside. There is an awesome church in town with an awesome external spiral staircase...but unfortunately it is closed for renovations till 2009 so we could only look from the outside. We also visited the 'free town' of Christiania, a suburb that was started in an old barracks by some hippies in the 70s, and has semi-legal status as an independent community [complete with 'you are now entering the EU' signs at the exits back into regular Copenhagen]. It was an experience, the place runs on it's own rules [though not many of them] and is like a giant commune. Cars aren't allowed, dogs run free, weed is openly sold, and there are some pretty basic looking houses [to say the least]

Next stop: Gothenburg, Sweden: We took a train from Denmark to Sweden over the bridge that connects Copenhagen and Malmo, and then up to Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden. We were staying about 12km out of the city, at a fantastic hostel in the bushes - it was a hell of a walk to get there in the scorching sun up a steep and winding road with all our packs on...but an absolutely beautiful place once we made it! We took a train back into the city on our second day and wandered around-Gothenburg is one of the biggest ports in Sweden and the docks were impressive. There is also a very cool maritime museum which actually just consists of about 20 vessels moored off the wharf that you can walk around, including a submarine and a destroyer. There are some lovely canals in Gothenburg, as the city was designed by Dutch city planners because the area was quite marshy and we know how the Dutch can build on ground that should really be water :) We also spent quite a bit of time lazing by a huge, beautiful lake that was a ten minute walk through the bush away from our hostel, enjoying the Scandinavian sunshine. It was a really relaxing place, and so great to feel like we were away from a big city feel for a while.

Take three: Stockholm, Sweden: Once we'd had enough of being lazy at the lake [not really...could easily have spent another week there...] we headed across to the capital city. Stockholm is an absolutely fascinating city, made up of thousands of islands, though you can walk around much of the centre without realising that you have actually crossed several of them, as the roads just keep going. We wandered through Gamla Stan, which is the old city centre, made up of three islands, and has some fantastic architechture [and lots of buskers with accordians!] We walked most of the way across the city to a telecommunications tower which you can go up to the top of for a great view. After that we were pretty tired [it was around 30 degrees] so we spent the afternoon at a 'beach' which was more like a park by the water, and was absolutely packed with locals. In the morning when we had some energy again we went to a Viking exhibition at a museum, very cool, heaps of old relics including the skeleton of a viking girl from an outer island of Stockholm. After charging through the city to the ferry terminal, we got on a Viking Line ferry to Helsinki, and spent the next fifteen hours watching the world go by. The departure from Stockholm was especially picturesque, as we weaved our way through the islands, some of which are very tiny, and seem to be inhabited by no more than one guy and a dog-what a life!

Next stop: Helsinki, Finland: we finally made it to Finland early the next morning, and found our way to our hostel which was actually in an outer area of Helsinki, near to some forest and some nice little beaches. We spent the first afternoon lazing at the beach, marvelling at how fantastic the scandinavian weather was... Made it back into Helsinki central the next day, and spent the day wandering the streets. It's a really nice city, lots of parks and lakes, and we found a fantastic huge market to wander around, and some very impressive churches to visit, we even nearly got ourselves included in a wedding! It was scorching hot again, topping 32 degrees, and this was obviously noteworthy in Finland, because we saw tv cameras filming in the city centre while we were relaxing by a nice fountain...then were surprised to see the footage on the 6 o'clock news back at our hostel that night!! We spent some more time at the beach, and visited the Helsinki City Museum, which gave a really interesting overview of the history of the city right from it's inception, through all the various invasions, and the five [5!] times the city has burnt to the ground [which helped explain why there aren't many old old buildings in town]. Grudgingly, we got back on the ferry and crossed back to Stockholm, raced across Sweden to Malmo and back to Copenhagen for another night, before heading back down to Hamburg and setting off for more bogan times at WACKEN!!

We absolutely loved Scandinavia, saw some beautiful cities, enjoyed some fantastic natural settings, and had amazing weather... disappointing number of vikings though!! Maybe we'll see more next time... :)

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