Jun. 2004
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Check out Weeks ending: [5 Jun 04] [12 & 19 Jun 04] [26 Jun 04]

Week ending 5 June 04 (Bob)

Branching Out - After a week of being guided gently by Ilona and Jaska, we set out to drive along the southeast coast, and then north to the midnight sun.  Along the way we have made a few stops:

  • Lapeenrata - and Jukka - This is a lakeland district of Finland with causeways connecting the little remaining land.  It is very beautiful and a true sportsman's paradise.

  • Saima Lake and Canal - Saima is the largest lake in Finland, and a 19th century canal connects it to Russia, a very close neighbor.  At one point on the road the wire fence appears to be only a hundred feet away and a watch-tower graces the countryside.

Finnish Buzz-Saw Massacre -  Finland is also a country of trees - forestry is the historical basis for their economy.  As we drove through the countryside we heard a helicopter, getting closer and closer.  Stopping to find out what was going on we found the helicopter - dangling a huge multi-bladed buzz-saw.  The 'copter and saw flew over houses, cars, people, and power lines as it flew back and forth through the forest, clearing a wide path as branches flew everywhere. It turns out it was trimming branches from trees as it cleared a path for new power lines. We visualized someone in the US trying to get permits and liability insurance for this operation - Hah!

Savonlinna - A cute vacation area in mid-Finland, this provided a great couple of days.

  • Lakeside Cottages and Saunas - Friends of Ilona and Jaska have a vacation home on a small lake and we spent a delightful day with them rowing on the lake, relaxing in their sauna, taking a cold dip in the lake, watching moose swimming from island to island, and eating freshly caught fish.   Finns take advantage of the many lakes and islands to build simple or fancy cottages to enjoy the outdoors - we were very happy to have had the opportunity to share ... and ...'s for the day.

  • Retreti Art Gallery - A few miles from Savonlinna is a bridge-causeway complex that links several islands on its way across a lake.  In the middle, an entrepreneur dug large caverns and turned them into an underground gallery and theater.  The artwork was fascinating and included large wire-mesh sculptures of sea creature appearing to float in mid-air, lit by ultraviolet lighting.  

  • The Bolshoi The piece de resistance for this beautiful town was Swan Lake, performed by the Boshoi Ballet Company in the courtyard of a medieval castle.  It was a beautiful performance, and historic surroundings made it one of our most memorable evenings in years. We even shed our cruiser clothes for the evening and dressed for the part of sophisticates out for an evening.

Kuusamo - Driving north from Savonlinna, signs warned of moose, and reindeer, crossing the roads, so we were careful.  We saw lots of reindeer, mostly domesticated and a few moose, definitely wild.  On rounding one corner we screeched to a halt - starring at a field full of figures.  They were all dressed, sported full heads of hair and looked quite perplexing.  We investigated and found they were The Silent People, a piece of art by a Finnish artist that had been originally created in Helsinki in the 1980's, and moved to this location in the '90's.  The number of figures had now grown to several hundred, and their clothing was changed twice a year - it was a fascinating sight.

Rovaniemi - Santa's Country - At the Arctic Circle in Finland, entrepreneurs have created a whole village dedicated to Santa Claus.  He receives mail, has a workshop - and of course a few souvenir shops.  We sent a few cards - with instructions to deliver by Christmas, posed for obligatory photos on the Arctic Circle (over 63°N) and visited an interesting museum dedicated to the Arctic and the people who lived in the far north - very informative.  Nearby was the Arctic Zoo with polar and brown bears and many other animals of the far north.

Weeks ending 12 and 19 June 04 (Bob)

Speeding through Sweden - We decided to focus this trip on Norway so Sweden received a very short visit.  We crossed northern Sweden around the Arctic Circle and found rather flat land covered in pines. Houses seemed to be well-protected against the winter cold - we will have to return one day.

Norway - Amazing Fjordland - We had seen many photos of the fjords of Norway, but were unprepared for the spectacular beauty and variety we found as we drove for 10 days through this beautiful country.  We worked our way from North to South varying our route from coastal islands to inland mountains - and water, water everywhere.  It ranks in the top 3 of all of the 40+ countries we have visited over the last 12 years of wandering Planet Earth.  Some of the highlights included:

  • Saltstraumen - We read about this place where 20-knot currents spill from a fjord into the North Sea, and had to see it for ourselves.  It was truly amazing as a huge fjord was funneled thru a narrow pass, directly under a bridge where we could watch the maelstrom - as it was called.  This current built and ebbed twice a day as the tides filled and emptied the fjord near the Arctic Circle.

  • Stave Churches - Norway had many wood stave churches - ones built with vertical planks that served as the sheathing as well as the frame of the church.  We visited one built in the 12th century that retains much of its original wood and painting inside.  It has been maintained as a good example of the style of construction, and used once per year and in 2003r Kofi Annan was a guest at the church.  We were struck by the peaks that resembled those on Buddhist temples, but were told they were Viking carvings - not Buddhist.

  • Geiranger - This postcard-perfect fjord has steep sides, oodles of waterfalls, and clear blue water.  We arrived at Geiranger at 16:45 and found that there was a cruise ferry leaving in 15 minutes, so we hustled aboard and had a thoroughly enjoyable 2 hour cruise the length of the fjord and back.  The skipper nosed the ferry right up to the waterfalls, just as they do in NZ in Milford sound, and we all had to hide our photo gear.  A 80' yacht made its way into the fjord while we were cruising, and anchored where we wished we could have joined them.

  • Trollstigen - Above the town of Geiranger a winding road with 11 hair-pin turns climbed to the glaciers and snowfields beyond.  The road was narrow and had wonderful views of the fjord, and the waterfalls that crisscrossed the road.  The snowfields brought new surprises as we came across a downhill skiing area on a glacier, with the hill full of skiers and later a cross-country area, where hoards of skiers enjoyed the spring-like conditions.  We were also passed by a gaggle of antique sports cars, 1930-40 vintage with tops down, scarves flying, and goggles on - looked like fun.

  • Bergen - The transport center of Fjordland seemed to be Bergen with cruise ships, a big airport, and ferries that reach out to the surrounding fjords.  We found it sort of depressing (200+ days of rain, including the two we were there) and lots of traffic and only a quaint waterfront (and lots of wool sweater shops) to make it interesting.

  • Pulpit Rock - Our last stop before returning to the UK was Pulpit Rock - a cliff-top with walls that plunge 3000' to the fjord below, all sides unprotected by anything other than common sense - do not get too close to the edge!  We wondered how the litigious USA would handle such a natural wonder, where a person is protected by their common sense rather than signed waivers and threats of liability suits.

Bridges Ferries, and Tunnels - It seems that Norway has a surplus of tunneling equipment thus there are tunnels everywhere.  2 to 4 mile tunnels are common, and many are much longer.  The coastal road is a network of tunnels through mountains and under fjords (one went down 1000'), bridges spanning rivers and fjords, and ferries connecting the remaining roads.  Ferries cost $10 to $25 per ride, and vary from 10 to 60 minutes.  It was a fascinating drive along the coast.

Midnight Sun - We were near the Arctic Circle for nearly a week, and never really got used to the sun going down at 11:30 PM and coming up at 1:00 AM.  If we had waited a couple of weeks, the midnight sun would have stayed up 24 hours/day, great for growing plants but tough when trying to sleep in a motorhome.  We found we had to cover windows and hatches to keep the sun out so that we would not wake up at 2 AM. We also shuddered to think what it will be like in December when the sun never rises - 24 hours of darkness or faint sunlight - yuck!!

Week ending 26 June 04 (Bob)

Bekah Arrives - Right on a schedule set several months ago, Bekah arrived at Heathrow airport on time, looking none the worse for her 10-hour direct flight from Los Angeles.  She had a few comments about American Airlines service, but we'll save those for a letter to them.  After a little sightseeing we headed out to our motor-home parked at Crystal Palace, a caravan park outside of the city.

London Sightseeing - For several days we acted as guides, hitting some familiar spots and a few new ones:

  • London Eye - We had saved this one for Bekah's visit, and really enjoyed the 30-minute ride on this Ferris Wheel with gondolas reminiscent of large ski areas.  For £11 it is hard to beat

  • British Museum - Bekah is a budding Egyptologist, and a trip to the British Museum with its huge collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts was a 'must'.  We visited twice and really enjoyed seeing their collection of statues, mummies, and jewelry. 

  • Hyde Park - Judi and Bekah went on a outing in Hyde Park and found plenty of wildlife deep in the heart of London.  Swans, squirrels, rabbits, and lots of other water fowl graced this quiet and restful park.  In addition to the wildlife, they were preparing for a rock concert by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and thousands of fans were spread on the grass inside and outside of the fence.

  • London Show - We thought a London show might be fun, and selected "We Will Rock You", a rock opera by Ben Elton featuring the music of Queen, for the honor.  We all enjoyed the great music and fun story-line. By the end of the show, fans were clapping, cheering, and waving glow-sticks all over the theater. 

  • Buckingham and Kensington Palaces - Buckingham Palace is supposed to have a change of guards, but they decided to skip it the day we visited.  Kensington sports a collection of royal clothing, including hats worn by Queen Elizabeth II, and the ladies in our group enjoyed the finery on display.

  • Parliament - Foreign embassies provide passes to watch Parliament in action, so we visited the NZ embassy (the US has a 3-month backlog), to receive our passes.  We then spent a couple of hours listening to Ministers and Lords exchanging polite barbs and questions in the two houses of the British Parliament, and had a pleasant lunch in the Parliament cafeteria

Motorhome handover - On a whim we had offered use of our motor-home to cruising friends we had met in the Caribbean 11 years ago.  When they arrived to pick it up we shared a meal, lots of stories and laughs, and now they have taken charge of the vehicle, with a plan to leave it in France for us to pick up mid-August when Bekah returns to the USA.

Cheap Flight to Turkey - The Internet coughed up information on inexpensive charter flights from London to Antalya, so we grabbed a few seats with a planeload of British tourists who were bound for the sunny Mediterranean.  The downside was departure near 11 PM, but the price was right so checked in a as early as we could.  As it turned out, the flight, by Excel Airways was on time, flew safely, provided meals, and was reasonably comfortable - for less than half the price of the regularly scheduled Turkish Airlines.

 

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