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Showing posts from July, 2016

Tallin, Estonia

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My Baltic Adventure

We were on an offshore excursion in Estonia, heading to the Song Festival Grounds (Lauluvaljak) – the largest open-air entertainment and music festival grounds in the Baltic. As we passed the coastal district of Pirita, our guide pointed to the bay and said, "It's the Gulf of Finland. You can take a boat to Helsinki from here."

Helsinki is only 80 kilometers away and shares the Gulf of Finland with Estonia. Tallinn, the largest city and capital of Estonia is on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland.  Our guide told us a little bit of history of Estonia and Finland under Soviet rules for decades and the contrasts between the two countries post-Soviet Union. Although close in proximity, Helsinki, the capital of Finland has remained subdued and Scandinavian, while Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, has transformed itself into a tourist mecca and has adapted a Western European attitude.  Tallinn was named “the European Capital of Culture”.  Our guide wa…

Stockholm

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My Baltic Adventure

Our cruise ship was sailing smoothly through the Baltic Sea along the coast of Sweden. I could tell that we were not that far from shore for I saw under the blue skies miles and miles of greenery dotted by a gray structure – a castle, perhaps - and small houses painted in red, something different from what I’d seen in my previous travels. It was quite charming. As we reached Stockholm, the sky became grey and brooding.  It was not charming anymore. Dark clouds hovered above the cityscape consisting of modern Scandinavian buildings juxtaposed with medieval architecture. It looked like a European city, not necessarily the IKEA picture of Stockholm, but the European city of a Kieslowski or a Fincher movie. Coincidentally, Stockholm was one of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” movie locations.



After hearing from the ship location guide that Stockholm is a cosmopolitan and diverse city, and after seeing the cityscape with buildings that seemed to float on water, …

Copenhagen

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My stay in Copenhagen was part of my Baltic Adventure. I booked my flight three days prior to sailing the Baltic, but did not book my hotel at the same time. When it was time to book my hotel, I was surprised at the hotel rates going for $450.00 - $700.00 per night. Unfortunately, I could not use my Starwood Hotel points because the company has 0 (zero) property in Copenhagen. My other option was to stay at a hostel and share a room with four strangers or stay outside the city. I opted for the later.

On my first day in Copenhagen, I thought I would take it easy and spend the day just visiting one site. I made plans on going to the Kronborg Castle, the home of Shakespeare Hamlet. When I asked for direction from the hotel reception desk, the clerk looked at his google map app and printed a copy of the direction complete with the number of train stops and estimated time to my destination. The trip would have taken 1 hour by train to Helsingør. But after three metro stops, I chang…

The Bernina Express: The Red Train from Tirano to St. Moritz

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Last month I took the Bernina Express to St. Moritz, Switzerland. It was my second most scenic train trip. My first was on the Taieri Gorge Railway in New Zealand. While the Taieri Gorge Railway is historical with century old wooden carriages and also runs along stunningly beautiful landscapes, the Bernina Express is like the train on steroid. Touted as the slowest express train, the Bernina Express has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites for its sixty-one kilometers of high-altitude engineering wizardly and running along the highest altitude mountain, against the backdrop of the tallest peaks of Graubünden.

My train journey started in Tirano, Italy, a medieval town once said to be a part of Graubünden. From the train station, I grabbed a map and informational guide that showed points of interest, towns and stations. After passing a Mediterranean scenic view, a narrow valley of vineyards, the train slowly ascended to Brusio circular viaduct, where the view went around whi…