Holiday Travel on M/S Sija Serenade

Poll: What you will do to make a memorable holiday?
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DIY - provided it's not "memorable" in the negative sense
3 50.00%
Still join a tour - provided it's a customize one and not those large standard tour
3 50.00%
others - please post and contribute your ideas
0 0%
Total 6 vote(s) 100%
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I feel like a baby as the gentle breeze stroking my hair; caressing my face and at the same time, keep warm by the expensive G2000 winter clothing...

As I saw an asian couple walking in front of me, holding hands... so lovely... I smiled. You could imagine a million-dollar view in front of you, could you?

Amazingly, the old couple turn around and the husband wanted to take a photo of his wife.

I walked up, "What a happy occasion. Do you want me to take a photo for both of you?"

Without hesitations, they pass me their iphone and the rest is history.

Both of them are retired business owner from Singapore. They had followed a organised tour from Singapore and are quite disappointed. They spend most of their time in coach and on the road. They visited so many church that it's one too many.

Typical feedback, isn't it?

What will you do differently?
This was what I did for most of my trip including this trip.

Everyday, I scout for cheap air ticket to decide where I wanted to go for my holiday. This time round, Finland signed a new trade agreement with Singapore and Finnair decided to fly direct. The promotional air ticket is too good to refuse.

Once decided, I get into itinerary planning.
From the guidebook as well as my imagination, this is what I draw up:
1. Landed in Helsinki, immediately fly to Bergen (Eastern coastal town in Norway "yes, Norway")

2. Stay in Bergen for 2 nights and then rent a car. My plan is to drive to Oslo thru the magnificent fjord and also tall mountain peak of Norway country side.

3. From Bergen, I drive to Gudvangen and took my car across the Fjord thru a car ferries. As I look back, waterfalls, blue skies, clear water, cool weather, crisp air still makes me smile.
After driving off the Ferry, I saw a supermarket on my left and stop there to pick up some groceries.
After one hour of browsing, I continue my drive to Solvorn. I'll be staying in Eplet Bed & apple hostel for two nights. I found Eplet as it's most recommended hostel from Tripadvisor and I agreed.

4. Next morning, I took a bicycle from Eplet and then took a ferry to Ornes which is across the fjord. I remind myself to took the return ferry at 16:50 otherwise, the next and last ferry will be 19:20. And, if I missed this ferry, then I'll have to stay in Ornes.
Temperate is 12 degree and it's perfect for cycling. 15mins later, I'm on top of a hill, joining a tour on Norway's Stave church. This Stave church has a very good Feng Shui. Thou it's small, it's the oldest of its kind. Ok, what's a Stave church? You know Norway? You heard about Viking? Yes, they are from Norway. They took boat and goes everywhere to trade (err sometime take). So, this church built around 1130 has the architect of Viking's decoration as well as the christian church design.
I'm fully aware of the existence of other Stave church and I purposely pick this one because it's the most original aka untouched. Can you imagine that in Bergen, there is also a Stave church, but it was migrated/reconstructed from somewhere else? Anyway, a lot of organised tour will bring you to many churches and at the end of the day, you can not remember anyone of them as they did not create anything that's memorable. Moral of the story: Be selective.

Cut the cycling story shorts, it's a good work-out because I had to force myself to cycle fast fast to meet the Ferry timing at 4:50pm. When I reached the jetty at 4:45pm, it was such a good relieved! I brought a Norway branded cone ice cream... Best treat!

Back in Eplet, I bake my own salmon and toasted bread. A french mother cooking bake bean etc with her daughter. Ah ha, that's a chopping board hiding below the tabletop...

Relaxed and watch the kids playing garden golf... tomorrow, my legs will ache...

5. It's going to be a long drive today. Tonight, I'm staying in Elveseter Hotel (2 nights). It's all beautiful drive up the hill. Even a normal toilet stops take my breath away. A simple climb up a small knoll besides the public toilet; brighten my day. I drove all the way up and stop at a Glacier lake, so smooth and vast. I'm so tiny... how did I deserve this?
Somewhere near the top (plateau) , as I drove on at 80km/h and guess what? My road has 10 meter tall snows on both sides. Basically, there were heavy snow fall and somehow, all the snow on the road are melted but not the road sides. They formed 10 m tall snow WALL along the road that I'm driving. You can only see the snow wall and the road ahead of you. Strange experience. Got time I'll google some photo in my next post.

Elveseter hotel is a charming old style hotel in the middle of nowhere. I choose this place as a transition stop but also its in the mountain.

6. I woke up early in the morning. When I was eating my breakfast, I observed some wild deer at the fringe of the forest. Born free.
Based on the advise of the hotel receptionist, I will cross the road and hiking/glacier trekking on Galdhøpiggen Peak. She says that Norway has many forest and hiking/trekking is a national favorite activities. Well, when in Rome, do what the Rome did.
Surprisingly, my legs does not hurt despite the heavy cycling in Ornes. And more surprise, even after the few hours up and down climbing, no pain. Must be the air... I tell myself.

7. Today, I'm going to Lillehammer which is my last transit stop before OSLO. I check tripadvisor yesterday and decided to book a room in "Clarion Collection Hotel Hammer" which is a Norway hotel chain. It's weekend so the easy street side parking is free. Receptionist told me that there is a free wafer tea break at 3pm (luckily, I checked in at 2pm)
When I came down at 3pm, there was already few people there. I observed how they make the wafer (yes, you make your own) and did it myself. Got a cup of coffee and laze around. This is life, I told myself.
Times-up, it's time to do some exploration - the largest open-air museum Maihaugen.
After about 30 mins walk from my hotel, I reached Maihaugen. I walked pass the shopping streets, parks and lovely cottages. Nice.
Ok, the good news is Maihaugen is free entrance and the bad news is although the park is open, the buildings are closed. No problem, I'll follow what the local do, stroll in the park. The exterior of the buildings are anything but common to Singapore/Asia. They are typical norwegian building. Now, this particular one looks exactly like what "Little house in the prairie". I observed the way the log/timbers stack up on top of one another to form the wall. Ah, upon detail inspection, there is a difference. The chimney is outside the house instead of inside. I think it's more logical and practical to have the chimney outside. What do you think?

8. Today, I'm a bit tense as I'm driving into Oslo to return my car. You know... traffic. When I reached Oslo, I'm suppose to be very close to Avis but I'm lost. As usual, the best way is to park somewhere and locate by foot. I stopped at a restaurant and asked for directions from passer-by. Then, I walked around to double confirm. Wait a minute, wasn't that the place that they gave Noble price? Take note, come back later. Let me return my car first.
I drag my luggage for 200m and I'm at the wharf. It has a carnival going on. Tents, stages, songs filled the place. I smile, this is the right place, right atmosphere, another lucky day.

After check in, I walk to train station and pay special attention to the route and take my timing. Tomorrow morning, I will take the first train out to Stockholm. I had pre-booked the train from internet few months ago and you can trust that I choose and gotten the cheapest train ticket available.

Next, I took a tram to Oslo #1 attraction Vigelandsparken Sculpture Park. I am impressed by two entrance pillar of the strange creature embracing a woman, a angry boy whose facial expression and posture looks so real and of course the favorite human pillar as the center art piece. In total, there are 212 Bronze and granite sculpture all design by one man: Gustav Vigeland. Amazing, talented and lucky chap.

Thank you for reading.

[Image: 3372510-Children_riding_a_woman_Oslo.jpg]

Elveseter Hotel:
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Snow wall, Road to Elveseter:
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Cycling (free if you stay in Eplet). One warning, the time stated in the video is for professional biker. For normal people, you'll take at least 4 hours of cycling (return) from the waterfall. It's called Romantic road for a good reason. Enjoy:
At the wharf, you can see Nobel Peace Center and the Oslo City Hall sitting with serenity.

I walked into the City Hall and join in a FOC tour organised by the officials. I'm lucky as this is the last English spoken tour for this week. After today, City Hall will be closed to get ready for Aung San Suu Kyi. She will be receiving her award in the City Hall this saturday.

The first things I observed inside is the vast wall painting of the WWII. Impressed. I told myself - we need peace in the world. However, freedom is more important and we must fight to gain our freedom.

[Image: 549925459_56ec5c54a2.jpg]

From my hotel room, I can see the following white color building 2-3 KM across the water. As I already taken my dinner, I decided to walk there and have a look.

[Image: 8524007969_e4b07bcbf7_b.jpg]

It turns out to be the newly constructed Oslo Opera House.
You see the white color facades? These are the building walls but carefully constructed as a walking path/slope. After walking/climbing one Kilometer along the building walls, I'm at the roof top, overlook Oslo City. Amazing architect.

[Image: 359_Oslo_Opera_House_Rorschach.jpg?itok=--_xoHTJ]
#9 Today, I woke up early to catch my train to Stockholm.
I had already done by recce of the route yesterday and it's a easy 15 minutes drag of luggage to the train station.

Arrived at Stockholm after noon. Got dis-oriented for about 15 minutes as there is a huge construction going on around the train stations. Stockholm is a growing city.

Found my small hostel on the western edge of the new town. The reception is kind enough to remind me that there is a smaller room available tonight and ask me whether I wanted to stay in this smaller room instead (cheaper mah.)

I did notice this smaller room when I was doing my online booking. However, it's only available for one night. What happens to my 2nd night in Stockholm?

She seems to be able to read my mind and she says no trouble with the shifting of my luggage. The next morning, I'll just need to pack my stuff and someone will help me to shift to my new/bigger room. She pointed to a Asian looking man - Suleiman was his name.

Ok, save 20 bucks.

She asked me whether I wanted to eat breakfast in the hostel? some additional fees. Suleiman says that no problem if I can not decide. I can always check out the breakfast tomorrow morning and then decide to take his breakfast of not.
Yes, he cook the breakfast!
Also, if I wanted to eat the breakfast tomorrow, it will be 5 bucks cheaper by paying him directly. erh... the government has just lost 5 bucks of tax. Smile

I chat with Suleiman a bit:
an indonesia whom married a Swedish 15 years ago. They met in Indonesia (Bali may be). His kids are big already. However, now, he divorced and married another Swedish woman. Got a small child and recently a new baby too.
Life is good. Only complaint is there is a flux of foreign workers.
I says from vietnam? He says from spain.

Ok, eventually I took his breakfast for two morning because although fast food is cheaper by 50%, Suleiman's breakfast is buffet! Very filling!

[Image: colazione.jpg]
Thanks for sharing, very beautiful pictures! Haven't been to that part of the world yet.
How long do you intend to roam the world?
You are really so carefree at this stage of your life? Enjoying life!
Fully retired oready?
(14-05-2013, 09:48 AM)etan Wrote: Thanks for sharing, very beautiful pictures! Haven't been to that part of the world yet.
How long do you intend to roam the world?
You are really so carefree at this stage of your life? Enjoying life!
Fully retired oready?

we are all born free.
if our end goal is to enjoy life, then what is stopping us from enjoying life? (ok, you're right, health is one)

I'm not sure where did I hear this from but it had been with me for quite a while:
if a problem can be solved by money, then it's not a problem at all.

Just like everyone/forumer, we have the right mindset, we are prudence and we enjoy our life whenever we can.

Stockholm old town is called Gamla Stan - one of the best preserved medieval city centers.
Going there is a easy and interesting 1 hour walk. There are a few bridges that you can choose and all leads to Gamla Stan. Mind you, Stockholm is build on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges.

When I reached Gamla Stan, I rest on a chair and saw a few kids play with the fountain water on my left. I circled around the fountain and it's really very old. Bored, I survey the surrounding and notice a awkward huge building occupying one side of the park square. It also has a modern glassy door which is tightly locked. On top, it says Nobel Museum. Look at the photo, right hand side.

[Image: old-town-stockholm-sweden-estea-600.jpg]

I walk up the the front door and stand there for a few minutes.
Air is crisp, bright but not sunny day, cooling and relaxing.
I close my eyes and started to absorb all the positive energy coming out from the building.

When I open my eyes, I saw someone coming out from the glass door. mmm.... I step up the notice board and YES, free opening hour from 5pm for today. Perfect timing, save some money.

Inside, I'm impressed with the exhibition, video of different nobel prize winner. It makes science so easy to understand. The video on Aung San Suu Kyi is a timely reminder as she probably will be receiving her peace price tomorrow in Oslo. Most important, I learn more about Nobel himself after reading his letters and reasons for giving to Nobel prize.

"If I have a thousand ideas and only one turn up to be good. I'm satisfied" - Alfred Nobel.

Photographing a molecule - a real apparatus exhibited

Enjoy Stockholm...
Today, we are going to sail across Baltic Sea.

Countries surrounding Baltic Sea clock-wise Sweden(Stockholm), Finland(Helsinki), Russia(St Petersburg), Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Denmark.

For this trip, I'm planning to sail across Baltic Sea from Stockholm to Helsinki overnight via a Super Ferries.
In fact, these ferries are well known for the huge buffet dinner and I make this a die die must try event.

Two ferries goes between Stockholm and Helsinki. I look up their website and also check some ferry ticket consolidator websites and found that it's cheaper to book directly with M/S Silja. Plus, half price if I book the buffet online. (Reminded me of LV buffet restaurant)

At about 3pm, I took the MRT to the Ferry port. A few passengers alighted the MRT with luggage (just like me). I just follow them and walk out of the station, down a long slope... and I reached the port.

Going upstairs of the terminal port and to my horror - long queues.
The people in the queue looks like Mexican (imagine law).
This is not good - will the ferry wait for me?

A bit worried, I decided to look around before I join in the queue. I noticed that behind me, there are two more counters and no queue at all. I try my luck and show my online booking form to the counter girl. Ha Ha, I got my boarding pass, room key and also dinning coupon. I take a closer look at the crowded counter - going to Estonia/Tallinn; lucky I did not choose that ferry.

The rest is history. After checking in to my room, I come up to the deck and enjoyed the famous Stockholm Archipelago bath under the sunset - a million dollar view.

[Image: 7814253814_9db94de7b8_z.jpg]

Ok, now let's go for the buffet.
Unlike it's peer, Helsinki is a very young city.
It was only after Russian Emperor move Finland capital from Turku to Helsinki in 1812 then Helsinki development started.

As I walk towards the Pasar Malam at the waterfront, I sense that Helsinki will be very crowded. These white tents are selling fruits, vegetable, smoked fish, snacks, soap, T-shirts, all sorts of things both local and visitors will buy. Clever - unlike most Pasar Malam stores that I had seen.

Not far away, I saw a very funny shape church and it's quite clear that it's influence by the Russian.

[Image: general-helsinki-finland-9af5-832480.jpg]

Further inland, there is also another interesting church, called Rock Church because it was build entirely inside a rock. A lady was playing a piano when I was there. Cool acoustic.

[Image: Helsinki-talvi-h%C3%A4%C3%A4t-Temppeliau...ja-222.jpg]

Today is a short day, because I'll be catching another ferry to St Petersburg this evening.

There is some uneasiness .... deciding to Russia.

Visa - not too many info on the web. need to get visa application letter from host in Russsia. need to pre-book accommodation. police spot check on independent traveler/tourist.

Schengen visas - which is used in nordic countries, can it be used by the Russia?

Currency - where and when to change to ruble? take from ATM?

Language - Is English their conversational language? I met with East German people after the Berlin wall was torn down. At that time, my experience is East German don't speak English at all (other than 1, 2, 3...)


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