Stockholm to Helsinki in 24 photos

On March 6th, I took a weekend trip to Helsinki, Finland with a few friends. We took an overnight boat (the Mariella, operated by the Viking Line) across the Baltic Sea and into the Gulf of Finland, arrived in town Friday morning and spent the day adventuring around town. In the evening, we got back on the boat and it took us back home to Sweden, arriving Saturday next morning.

As we pulled out of Stockholm the Sun was slowly setting, so we went topside and stayed on the outer deck taking photos until it was too cold and dark. For some reason I have no photos of Johna, an American friend who accompanied us, sorry Johna! I’ll post two of Neil to make up.

Greg, my American classmate/flatmate:

Neil, an American friend of ours, and Juan Pablo, my Colombian classmate:

Adriana, another one of our Colombian classmates:

On the left is Stockholm’s amusement park, Gröna Lund, which translates as the Green Grove, and on the right is a dockyard with what appears to be an older Navy boat:

Looking back on the old city:

As we sailed out through the straits, the Sun was really making everything glow. These red buildings are very typical Swedish. They LOVE this colour of red for houses, it’s everywhere! But I like it too, so no complaining.

The world is full of funny signs, and occasionally we find one here in Sweden or nearby. This one was on a metal door, which is apparently an explosive door…

In case we sink.

This spray-paint stencil in Swedish under the stairs on the side of the boat, translates as “Here thought M & J about each other.” Cute.

We slept well enough, no one got overly seasick, and we arrived in freezing cold Helsinki looking for adventure. This is the Helsingin tuomiokirkko which translates as Dome Church; pretty much all cathedrals in Sweden are called Domkyrkan which means the same thing. This one is an Evangelical Lutheran cathedral, the seat of the Diocese of Helsinki.

We took a bit of a walk to go see the Sibelius monument, a series of over 600 steel pipes welded together, dedicated to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and officially unveiled in 1967, 13 days short of the 10 year anniversary of the composer’s death.

There is also a strange abstract effigy of Sibelius nearby. Somebody put some snow on the face, which was kind of funny, hopefully not offensive.

Later on in the afternoon we decided to hit up the Postal Museum, which was more interesting than I expected it to be.

The Finns have, for many decades, issued special Red Cross stamps:

An old-school postal worker in wax form – they had one from every era in the postal service history!

It may have enough postage, but there’s no address on this chair, so I guess it’s undeliverable:

They had a bunch of ridiculously old postcards too, like from the 1800s and early 1900s; I had no idea the concept of postcards existed way back then!

It was really cold outside so I didn’t pull my camera out too often in town, and it’s not the most photogenic city anyways, but of course we all braved the cold again in the evening as we pulled out of the port of Helsinki en route back to Stockholm. As we went, someone noticed this old submarine on the shore. Now I’ve seen random submarines in two capital cities: Amsterdam and Helsinki.

One of the most impressive things in Helsinki, which four of us didn’t manage to visit, is the sea fortress called Suomenlinna (also known as Viapori, the official name until 1918). It was built on six islands in the 18th century, at the entrance to Helsinki, and has all sorts of weird tunnels and walkways.

Another funny passport control sign, reminiscent of the one in Mariehamn in the Åland islands.

I’m jealous of the person who owns this little island, so neat!

It got cold and dark again so we went inside, spent the evening eating too much food and dancing at the club on board, and slept a few hours before docking in Stockholm. You can see Neil was happy to be going home:

Amsterdam and the Netherlands!

*This post is long delayed, my apologies for telling some people I would post this a while back.*

At the end of January, the first semester of my Humanitarian Action program ended. Many of our students went to one of the six other universities in the European network that offers this program for an exchange semester, while four of us remained here. We were given over a week off between the end of the first semester and the start of the new one, when all the incoming exchange students were to arrive. I decided to do the only logical thing when presented with such a long break: fly to Amsterdam!

I spent a full week in the Netherlands, sleeping on the floor of my friend Martin’s room (with a real mattress, it was quite comfortable) since he’s studying there now. I have a Dutch friend, Egbert, who is also studying in Amsterdam so I met up with him a few times as well; we hadn’t seen each other since New Zealand back in 2005!

One day, Egbert and I took the train down to the Hague, where his parents live.

The Hague is where the Dutch parliament is, even though Amsterdam is technically the capital of the country. Quite strange! The round corner tower in this photo is where the Prime Minister has his office

These two trucks at the cheese market had an accident, apparently due to poor packing. The guy in charge of loading the cheese into the trucks filled the trucks with cheese but failed to take into account the different densities of the various types of cheese, thus leading to a very uneven weight load distribution toward the top right. A strong windstorm that day (you should have seen us leaning into the wind, though it was worse when rain followed) was the final straw.

That evening we went to the home of Mr and Mrs Prenger, where Egbert’s mom made a really delicious meal. I don’t know what it’s called but it had tonnes of tasty things in it, it was in a casserole, and there was some sort of thin pastry type stuff on the top that sealed the casserole dish as if it were a lid. And then we had fresh apple tarts with cream, awesome! We then made our way back to Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is famed for its canals, which I don’t find particularly impressive (maybe I’m spoiled, having grown up by the ocean) but which, nonetheless, add quite a lot of charm to the city. Amsterdam is, in my opinion, quite a dirty city, but I’ve seen much worse. This is a canal boat filled with garbage:

On February 2nd, Martin had time to take me to North Amsterdam, on the other side of the lake IJ (which, in Dutch, is considered a single letter… yeah, weird eh?) which is accessed by a free ferry that takes about 15 minutes from pier to pier.

There is a Soviet Zulu-class attack submarine docked (abandoned?) at the ferry port. The internet has very little information on the sub, but it was apparently purchased by a bunch of Dutch sub enthusiasts and then towed to Den Helder, further north, before ending up in Amsterdam at some point in the last two years. It has 4/11 marked on the sail, but I managed to find one or two photos online and they all have it very clearly marked 4711, so it seems that somebody painted over the horizontal line on the 7 to turn it into a forward stroke (forward slash).

The port facilities were decommissioned some time ago and much of the equipment removed. However, in Amsterdam there are very strong squatting laws (by strong I don’t mean strict, I mean important and legally strong) that allow many inhabitable places to be squatted if they’ve been abandoned. There are rules that the squatter has to meet, such as showing that they have improved the community or something like that (I don’t know too much about the specifics) and after a certain time (I think it’s 2 years?) the property becomes owned by the squatter. Thus, in this abandoned port area, there are a number of squats.

Such as this bus:

No one squats in this massive crane, probably because that would not be legal according to the squatting laws. But it sure would be cool! What a view they’d have!

Squatted streetcars.

Note the stovepipe coming out of the roof:

I’m not sure if this one is drivable. It looks like it’s in good shape, and I don’t know how the laws would see a squatted van. Either way, the owner has a good philosophy, appropriately written in English with Dutch-style spelling (the windshield wiper is partly covering the letter L).

I also went up to Utrecht one evening to see my friends Mirte and Mark. Mirte lived in the same house with me in Cameroon and was a super hardworking volunteer while Mark, her boyfriend, spent several months in another part of Cameroon in order to visit her and work in a local hospital. They made me delicious food, including a typical Dutch thing called a Kroket, which was also really tasty.

Overall, I had a great week in the Netherlands, met a bunch of cool people, and managed to catch up with four old friends, so the trip was a real success!

PS Can anyone tell me what is wrong in six of the photos above? First person to do so (other than Egbert, who already knows) will get a free beer from me next time I see you.