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by Dorothy Williamson
For a California gal this was a tour of danger and wonderment. Danger because I never see snow and here we were going into ice and snow and cold and even cobble-stones. Having come back in one piece without bruises or broken bones makes me happy and proud that this group took care of those around them. It was an Adventure with a new group, one that seems to be welcoming new faces as well as enjoyed the old friends who ventured out for this adventure.
The walks were of a slower pace which was nice since the footing could be a bit slippery. We saw interesting sights and of course the shopping. We had some "real" shoppers and some of us that just wanted memories.
This was a small group which means we all spoke to each other and no one was a stranger and friendly faces were just a stride away.
Would go with this group any day. We saw a great deal of the Cities we walked in considering we were in each place a short time. The trip was very affordable except for the prices of food. Caught me by surprise as I had not traveled outside of the U.S. for quite a while.
I'd do it again. Thanks Matt and thank you to all of your friends who were so nice to me.
“3-2”- 1 - GO - That Way?
No, This Way! Back the
Way We Came? Who Cares?
This Place is GREAT!
by Gail Wegner
Adventure 32 walkers saw a lot of indecipherable signs, like this one in Old Tallinn, Estonia. Trying to read Icelandic, Finnish and Estonian in one Adventure was part of the fun!
The flyer announcing Adventure 32 would make some walkers cringe. Three walks in February in Iceland, Finland and Estonia? How cold is that? How much snow will we mush through? When do frostbite and exposure start? Where is Estonia? Don’t you need one suitcase just for your down jacket and winter boots? Won’t my camera freeze?
Thanks to organizer, Matt Pernick’s ability to persuade Bad Pennies to suspend rationale thinking and head out for Winter Adventure about as far North as one can get on this planet, our group has an amazing set of great memories (and some great photos!) Bad Pennies spirit is “embrace what the next step offers.” In some instances, that meant, falling on your keester (that would be me) and attempting to rise again with dignity. However, this trip offered so much nature, history, shopping, weather, food, entertainment and cultural exchange that if you didn’t sign up for #32, ask Matt to do this again. It is simply that good!
Iceland: After flying overnight, we arrived in Iceland during darkness, found our transportation to the Hotel Loftleidir and arranged for check-in before 8 AM in the morning! What a treat since American hotels will not check you in until 3 PM. Our rooms were spacious and well appointed, a pleasant change from London last year!
Dropping our bags, we quickly gathered downstairs because it was now Daylight and Bad Pennies don’t waste daytime opportunities. We met a friendly local club member who stamped our books and took any type of currency we had which was great. Everyone kept asking where all the snow was because the streets were not covered and walking was pretty easy. Plus, the weather was cold, but not unpleasant.
We hiked into town along a beautiful waterline watching local birds and greeting pedestrians who looked very surprised to see our merry, well-bundled group out for a stroll. In town, we visited the City Center (of course! That’s where the shopping is.). We also walked to the Hallgrimskirkja cathedral which was hosting a children’s concert and very busy. The design is representative of Scandanavian form. It looks like our Space Shuttle standing on its tail ready for launch. A gorgeous building with various pieces of sculpture on the grounds leading to the entrance. The cathedral is visible from most places in town. It has a lovely touch of tulip shaped streetlights surrounding its perimeter.
Then, it was time for lunch. You will have a very good time in Iceland if you simply do not try to figure out what anything costs (ex: $4/coffee; $26/burger. You could get thin in this place!). The people and the stores are fantastic. We had a great meal in a local coffee house, sampling several dishes, which included lasagna made with cheddar cheese, proclaimed by our party as surprisingly good. Then we each decided on afternoon adventure.
When you have a short time in a town like Reykjavik, head for the Tourist Information Center. We did and we were not sorry. We met a great fellow who asked if we’d been to the Blue Lagoon and suggested it was a must see.
He arranged our tickets and sent us on our way. See separate article on the Blue Lagoon.
Others learned about the possibility of viewing the Aurora Borealis, a night trip that departed at 8 PM and returned after midnight. There are very few places in the world where you can view this spectacle of lights. Unfortunately, the skies turned cloudy in the afternoon, so the majority of the group decided to enjoy a wonderful local restaurant for dinner instead. Seafood does not get any better than what you find in Iceland.
The hotel is well-served by local inexpensive bus transportation and also offers a complimentary shuttle. Walkers who wanted some independence had many choices available to them with great convenience and help from the hotel staff. If you want to return to Iceland for a family adventure, this is a good choice for lodging.
It took a while to reach Finland from Iceland. Departing in the mid-morning, it was dark by our 6 PM arrival. The darkness served us well as we had the opportunity to marvel at the beauty of Helsinki at night. One surprise upon arrival is that Finland does not have any Customs procedures for those entering the country. It is quite a warm welcome considering that many places have very restrictive entry and exit procedures.
The Helsinki Radisson SAS hotel had our rooms and keys ready as soon as we arrived. Seasoned Bad Pennies were floating on air at the luxury of this hotel. It was fabulous to look at and even better in the rooms. Located on the water, we were able to walk (blocks, not KMs) to dinner and to the ferry we would take later to Estonia. There were snowflakes in the air which heightened our feeling of “Can you believe we are actually in Helsinki?”
Many of our group took the advice of the hotel concierge and dined at Meri Makasiini seafood restaurant. One of the highlights of the trip was the service and quality of food that we received here. Plus, luckily for us very hungry travelers, we had no wait to be seated. A picture of the restaurant is on page 2.
For those who elected a light meal, the hotel restaurant, Sokotel Oy, offered a great range of items at very good prices for a hotel.
Walking Helsinki: Talk about stepping back in history. The 3 YRE’s in Helsinki depart from the grounds of the 1952 Olympic Games! The start point is a sports store where the proprietor was pleasantly surprised to get 13 walkers for his walks in February! Unlike Iceland, Helsinki had crusty snow on the ground, but walking was not difficult. The weather was nippy and the day pretty much sunny. Our group did two of the three walks. We got to see a whole lot of the central business area, the docks, residential areas and the embassies. In addition, we spent a lot of time in very nice parkways.
To show you how friendly people are in Finland, Joann Kovach (Annapolis Amblers) had a conversation with her breakfast server who recommended purchasing a “book about Finnish women that is very funny.” One the walk, Joann went into a department store asking for this book, was immediately directed to a bookseller across the street, who knew exactly what she was looking for and personally showed her where this book was. The title is “From Finland with Love.” This whole process took about 5 minutes!
Later, during our second walk, we stopped in Kappelli’s, an eye-popping bakery/café/restaurant/bar that is in all of the “must see when in Helsinki” books. We encountered a lot of folks from other countries and helped snap some memory pics for a group of Asian visitors. While there, we enjoyed fabulous seating and some of the best hot cocoa I’ve ever had, while looking outside the window walls at snow coming down. It is a vivid memory of the beauty, taste and friendliness of this outstanding country.
Estonia: The Adventure 32 brochure said “ferry ride.” My U.S. ferry experience is on small boats. The M/S Norlandia is a huge, ocean liner size vessel with sleeping compartments and about 5 floors for guests, entertainment and gambling. A very pleasant way to pass the time, with music provided by some of Finland’s biggest stars.
With this lead-in, what could we expect from Tallinn? If you like medieval style architecture, this is the place for you! We spent a terrific afternoon with a local guide helping us understand the history of the country, the pride and talents of the Estonians and offering a glimpse of a country positioned to take off economically. The Finns travel (via the Ferry) to Estonia to purchase goods, so there is a lot of currency being injected into the local economy. The beauty of this walk is that, at least for now, the Estonians are preserving their historical city center while putting up new buildings and development on the outskirts. Our group was able to shop at stalls offering local wares that consisted of two wood posts and a fabric drape for a ceiling where the heat is provided by small pot-fires. We visited several of the churches in the Old City which represent the competing religious values, but which are all well-maintained and speak of the importance of faith to the Estonian people. Absolutely breathtaking day spent getting to know an area few Americans will get the opportunity to visit. If you go, think Amber, woven goods, crystal. That seems to be the vote of the walkers in our group.
Closing Thoughts: Before visiting these countries, be careful what you purchase and be sure to understand what may be brought back to the United States. I had my “gift items” (wild boar, reindeer and elk meat) for the men in my family and office confiscated at the Baltimore airport because, even canned meat cannot be brought into the US. That was certainly a surprise.
Do not worry about the language barriers. You will find the most hospitable people who are genuinely happy to know that Americans are interested in their countries.
Matt, we’ve traveled together on many occasions. Each time, you’ve arranged a phenomenal Adventure that truly makes for happy hearts and great scrapbooks. I got to meet many new friends and get reacquainted with others from past trips. The quality of the friendships is one of the best features of Bad Pennies Adventures!
Hotel Radisson SAS Seaside