|With Geir Haarde, current Iceland
ambassador to the US and former Prime
Minister of Iceland
We applied and got our Schengen visa through the Finnish embassy in New York. The process is relatively straight forward and it took about a week to get our passports back, stamped with the visas.
|Bergen from Mt Fløyen
|Our first proper meal of the trip,
Day 1 (Bergen, Norway) : We landed at around noon local time in Bergen, and our Airbnb host was kind enough to meet us at the apartment door and also allow us an early check-in. We settled into our Airbnb apartment, got some breakfast essentials at the near by grocery store, ate lunch and caught up on our sleep. Evening we went to the near by funicular, which takes you to the top of a local hill, get some bird's eye view of Bergen.
|The Kjosfossen waterfall
|View from the edge of Flåm
This railway is one considered to be one of Norway's major and most spectacular tourist attractions and the train journey provides some of the country's wildest and most magnificent scenery.
|Our cruise ship on the fjords
After the cruise, we waited in Gudvangen for the bus to Voss, which was about 2 hours later. It's a local bus, so it’s not possible to buy tickets in advance, but the schedule is available on the Skyss website. We had been a little worried about whether there would be enough seats and how the transfer would work. The reality is that this route—whether or not you purchase the Norway in a Nutshell package through the company—is built for tourists. It’s unlikely you’ll run into a problem getting stuck on any of the legs of the trip.
After dinner in Voss, we took the bus back to Bergen, which was actually much more scenic than the train, as there're lesser tunnels along the way and most of the drive is along the fjords.
Evening we caught the 8 pm Norwegian airlines flight from Bergen to Copenhagen.
|Olafur Eliasson's circle bridge
Day 4 (Copenhagen, Denmark) We had got a 24 hour zone 1-4 pass at the Copenhagen airport the day before, so we took the excellent and efficient Danish metro system to our first destination, which was the Copenhagen harbor, since we'd booked a 1 hours canal ride through Hey Captain.
København, as is the Danish name for Copenhagen, translates into the Merchant Harbor. So most of the historical sites are located by the waterfront and along the beautiful canals.
We started off by the Royal Palace. We passed through the historic canals of the old city center where we caught a glimpse of how it is to live on a house boat. We also saw some historical buildings, many of which were constructed by King Christian the 4th in the early 17th century. At the end of Christianshavns canal we will passed by Olafur Eliasson's beautiful Circle Bridge, designed to make the rushing bicyclist slow down and enjoy the beautiful view of the Black Diamond - the Royal Library.
|Marble church on Frederiksgade
Our next stop was the Frederiksgade, a street in the Frederiksstaden neighbourhood of central Copenhagen. It runs east from Store Kongensgade to Toldbodgade on the waterfront, passing the Marble Church, Bredgade and Amaliegade on the way.
|View from Church of the savior
The Round Tower is just at the start of the street.
Our last stop was Saviour's church which is one of Denmark's most famous churches. Ever since the serpentine spire was inaugurated in 1752, is has been a popular passtime to climb the 400 steps to the top. The views of the city from the top are unparalleled.
Day 5 (Northern Denmark Castles)
|The Castle Chapel
|Frederiksborg castle and the lake
Our second Copenhagen castle to visit was Kronborg Castle in Helsingør. We headed back to Hillerød station (and through the best ever 7-11 one last time) to catch the 930R train to Helsingør.
We skipped exploring this one from the inside, as the reviews said there isn't much to see here, except for a hamlet style play enacted by the performer inside the castle.
Day 6 (Malmö and Lund, Sweden)
|Lund Cathedral, Sweden
|A street in Lund
|From the Malmö town sqaure
|A street in Malmö
|Our guide, Adam, showing us the span
of the Swedish empire during it's heyday
|Lunch at Govindas
|Griffin Sculpture, Malmö
Day 7 (Riga, Latvia)
|Riga from St Peter's church
decorated Christmas tree
Andis started off the tour with he called the birthplace of Riga. It was just an old, almost destroyed ruin, on the bank of an then existing river
|Ghost alley, Riga
The tour also included a stop to taste the famous Riga black balsam, and we ended up buying a small bottle at the local grocery store.
Day 8 (Riga, Latvia)
|The flower market inside the central
market in Riga
Riga Central Market (Latvian: Rīgas Centrāltirgus) is Europe's largest market and bazaar. In operation since 1570, the market flourished during the mid-1600s when the city outgrew Stockholm to become the largest stronghold of the Swedish Empire. Laden with goods, boats travelling down the Daugava river would meet those traversing the Baltic Sea for a mutually beneficial exchange.
Here you can find anything from fresh fruit and vegetables, to flowers, to fish and meat.
|An interrogation table in the building
|The prison cells in
|The Nativity Cathedral
|St. Saviour's Anglican Church
We then took a Taxify cab to our next stop, the KGB museum. The museum which was actually a former KGB building and jail cell. The Soviet regime was supported by the Soviet political secret police, called Cheka. It was founded in December 1917 as “The All-Russian Special Commission” for combating counterrevolution and sabotage. It quickly established a large and oppressive apparatus that searched for and physically eliminated any opponents of the Soviet philosophy. The Museum offers guided tours of the basement prison cells and an exhibition about the history of KGB activities in Latvia during the Soviet occupation.
|St. Alexander Nevsky Church
On the way back, we stopped to admire some of Riga's beautiful cathedrals and churches, pictured above.
Day 9 (Riga to Tallinn)
For trip from Riga to Tallinn, instead taking a direct flight (50 min) or a bus (5 hours), we had booked a sightseeing tour van through Riga Traveler. Their knowledgeable local guides take a small group, of max 8 people, a 12 hour road trip from Riga to Tallinn, crossing about 4 to 5 different sites in northern Latvia and southern and central Estonia along the way.
|Cēsis fortress in Latvia
|Sigulda Bobsleigh Track
We started off at 9 am from Riga, making our way to the first stop at the Sigulda Bobsleigh Track. Although the view was good from the top, the attraction itself was a bit of a letdown. The total length of the bobsleigh and luge Track is 1200 m and allows for a maximum speed of 125 km/h. There are separate starting points for men and women along the track though.
|Stairs leading to the castle from
the castle grounds
|Gauja National Park
|Lunch in Valga at Hotel Metsis
We did a small hike around the sandstone, which was made very easy by the wooden steps on the routes along the Gauja valley.
Our next stop was for lunch at the Estonian border town of Valga, at Hotel Metsis.
|View from the Viljandi castle
|The crumbling Vijandi Castle
About 2 hours after leaving Viljandi, we arrived in Tallinn at around 9 pm, and checked into our Airbnb.
Day 10 (Tallinn, Estonia)
|Freedom square in Tallinn
|Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
|Toompea Castle tower
|Tallinn from St Olaf's church
|Tallinn from Patkuli
|A street in Tallinn old town
We then made our way to the Patkuli viewing platform where you can get a view of the old town, before ending the tour in the main square of Tallinn.
|Kadriorg palace interior
Day 11 (Tallinn to Helsinki, Finland)
Next day morning, we woke up to bright sunshine in Tallinn, and after a quick last stroll through the old down, took a Uber to the port of Tallinn, which is only 5 minutes away from the old town.
|View of Tallinn from the cruise
The cruise ship was much bigger than we had expected it to be. When the cruise docked we saw about 20 odd trucks and more than a 100 cars coming out from the ship, in addition to all the passengers that off boarded. The process happened in reverse as we boarded the cruise at 11:30 and the ship left at noon, sharp.
|Our cabin on the cruise
|My first meal in Helsinki -Veggie kebab
It was pure veg and delicious!
After checking our bags into the room, we headed for the desk to get view of Tallinn from the port. We then checked out the cruise restaurants and shopping, and then relaxed in our cabin, the 2 hours just flew by!
After landing in Helsinki at the port, we took the 48 hours public transit pass on the HSL, and headed straight to our Airbnb apartment.
Evening, we explored Helsinki central square and the harbor.
Day 12 (Helsinki, Finland)
|From left top clockwise:
Helsinki Central railway station
and Ravintola Salutorget
Our walking tour started at the steps of the Helsinki cathedral, where we learned about the history of the cathedral before stepping inside for a quick glimpse. The church is a distinctive landmark in the Helsinki city landscape, with its tall, green dome surrounded by four smaller domes. The architecture of the building is in the neoclassical style. Overlooking Senate Square and the harbor, the church’s towers never go unnoticed. Though from the inside the cathedral is plain and simplistic.
|Suomenlinna near Helsinki
|A fort inside Suomenlinna
Our next stop was the harbor and with it's many food and souvenir stalls. Here you can get fresh seafood plates, though a tad bit expensive for "street food". We ended the tour at a near by park, which although a few steps from the main square, feels far away from the hustle and bustle.
We had lunch at one of the market street food vendors, and then took the ferry to Suomenlinna, an 18th-century sea fortress and nature area with centuries-old artillery and defensive walls, spread across 6 linked islands. It was built by the Russian to protect their then capital Saint Petersburg from an invasion.
The island is now home to about 8 residents and it full of touristy attractions and cafe. However, it is probably the most important landmark in Helsinki, and one that you have to visit if you want to say you've *been* to Helsinki.
Day 13 (Golden Circle, Iceland)
|The Mid-Atlantic Rift
The golden circle is usually a common route between 3 beautiful natural attractions in Iceland; , Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall.
Our first stop was the Öxaráfoss waterfall and the tectonic plates rift in the Þingvellir national park. Iceland is divided by the Mid-Atlantic Rift; and is the only place in the world where this rift is above sea-level, and nowhere can you see the edges of both plates as clearly as in Þingvellir.
Next, we drove to the Geysir. Eruptions at Geysir can hurl boiling water up to 70 metres in the air. However, eruptions may be infrequent, and have in the past stopped altogether for years at a time.
|Gulfoss falls from the top
Our last and final stop, and what makes this route a circle, was the Kerið crater. While most of the crater is with little vegetation, it can be descended fairly easily. The lake itself is fairly shallow (7–14 meters, depending on rainfall and other factors), but due to minerals from the soil, is an opaque and strikingly vivid aquamarine.
There is a 400 ISK (~$3.75 USD) fee to get in, but since we visited pretty late in the night (can you tell it's 11 pm in the Kerið pic above?), there was no one to collect the fee and we entered for free.
Day 14 (Southern Iceland Coast)
|Path leading up at Skógafoss
We started off at around 10 am by picking up some pre-packaged sandwiches/wraps from Bonus, a cheap by Icelandic standards, grocery store. We then drove to our first stop, which was about 2 hours away, to Seljalandsfoss (foss stands for "falls" in Icelandic), so writing waterfalls after the word would be redundant; you get the idea.
|At the top of Skógafoss
Our last and final stop of the day was Kirkjufjara beach. The beach is closed off at 7 pm, so be sure to reach before that time. The beach itself is closed off, due to dangerous waves and previous incidents of tourists drowning in the tides.
After this last stop, we drove about 2 hours, back to Reykjavik.
Day 15 (Reykjavik, Iceland)
|Hallgrimskirkja in downtown
We drove about 15 minutes after checking out from our Airbnb to downtown Reykjavik and parked at Hallgrimskirkja, their main church. Its stepped concrete facade is an ode to modernism and a reminder of the Icelandic landscape. We then had lunch at the Icelandic street food restaurant. Their shell fish soup (1500 ISK ~ $14.50) is a must try, and you can get bread and butter to go along with it.
|On our flight back
This brought to end an amazing 2 weeks in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries. There is a lot to explore; cities, architecture, history, nature, culture, art. Whatever your interest, there is a lot to experience.