Feb 042015
 

1. Suomenlinna Fortress and fergeturen trailers
– This is probably the most visited place among tourists to Helsinki. There is a very fine,and cheap, fergetur. I think it is a particularly nice walk in the winter when the ice is above the fjord and frost mist surrounds the water. In winter there are low season for tourists and when I was there in January so I was about the only tourist on the entire island. It's free to go walking around the fort,but the museum costs a euro.Det was built in 1748 to protect the city against the Russians.

Fergetur!

Fergetur!

Suomenlinna in wintertime

Suomenlinna in wintertime

Helsinki seen from the ferry

Helsinki seen from the ferry

 

2. Torni hotel tower viewpoint.

I over 50 years was the tallest building in Finland, but it is still the best place to get an overview of the city. On top of the tower there is a bar, where one can enjoy a beer with terrific views. The toilet here is supposedly very familiar(then known as a toilet can be) because there is a large window with good views.

View from Torni tower

View from Torni tower

 

 

3. Churches;

The lutheranske cathedral: Stands as a bastion heart of downtown. Senat square in front of the church is the natural place to start a sightseeing day in Helsinki.

Senate Square with Lutheran Cathedral

Senate Square with Lutheran Cathedral

It is a short distance from there to “The rock church” – a church that is built into harmony with the mountain, special mood.
It is also not far to the Russian Orthodox Church which stands on a peak above the harbor with good views of the city.

Russian orthodox church

Russian orthodox church

Kamppi Chapel of Silence is a church that does not resemble any other church. It is worth taking a think the only to see the architecture.

 

 

4. Sauna outside the city –

One can somehow not visit Finland without taking a trip to a sauna is ! There are a handful of good saunas near downtown. Sauna Sera is good because it is right by a lake so that one has the opportunity for some ice swimming on vinteren.Det is 5 different rooms, 2 vedfyrte saunas. There are separate days for men and ladies,and according to tradition so you have to be naked.
Kotiharjun public sauna is a sauna that is a little closer downtown, and where they have separate rooms for men and ladies, so that one can actually go there with girlfriend.

Saunamoro !

Saunamoro !

 

 

5.Esplanade –

A very nice and quiet way to experience Helsinki is to stroll along the esplanade, and maybe stop for coffee and cakes at one of the many sidewalk restaurants.. Here is a small park where bohemians hang, and where street musicians gather in the summer months. In summer they put up stalls along the park where you can buy local food,cakes,fruit and souvenirs.
Along this street you can find anything you want by shopping,everything from big purchases center to small cozy corner stores.

Helsinki esplanade

Helsinki esplanade

Shopping street Helsinki

Shopping street Helsinki

 

 

6.seurossari open air museum-

a very nice getaway from the city on a small island. Only open in the summer. Here they set up a small village showing traditional Finnish rural life and values. It is an educational and interesting way to understand Finns, and it is very close to the city center!

Open air museum

Open air museum

Seurasaari museumet i full sving

Seurasaari museumet i full sving

 

 

7.national museum of Finnland
here are lots of great exhibits for those who want a chronological understanding of Finland's history from the Stone Age to modern society. They also often interesting temporary exhibitions. Unlike Seuossari so it is open year round.
What's funny about this museum is that there are many interactive exhibits,so it becomes a little more interressant for children,and for people who easily bored.

Museum

Museum

National Museum of Finland

National Museum of Finland

 

 

8.Hakaniemen torikatu marked
Nicely little marked as your less “touristy” than elsewhere. Here goes the local to buy fresh produce and traditional Finnish meals. There is plenty cafes and bakeries here where one can easily pass the time watching people while enjoying Finnish cakes. There is also much souvenirs and such here,and can be a bit cheaper than the souvenir shops in the center.

hakaniemi markedshall

hakaniemi markedshall

Other markedshallen

Other markedshallen

 

 

9. Sinebrychoff Park

a perfect hangout in the summer when it is sunny and warm. Here you can quickly spend a whole day picnic and do some “people-watching”. Sometimes it is also itinerant show with acrobats here.
In winter there are not quite as attractive, but the park is used a portion of sledging when there is snow.

People in the park on a nice summer day

People in the park on a nice summer day

 

 

 

10. Linnanmaki Amusement Park
One of the biggest theme parks in Finland, lots of different attractions,including a roller coaster made of wood. It costs nothing to enter,Only if you want to try the various attractions. Nice place to spend a few hours,eat ice,get up adrenaline and look at people and livestock.

Linnanmaki Amusement Park

Linnanmaki Amusement Park

 Posted by at 10:16 in the morning
Dec 162014
 
MArked og attraksjoner

MArked og attraksjoner

In this period before Christmas I took a trip to London to enjoy this metropol., and then a visit to the Christmas market in Hyde Park mandatory. I've been there a few times in previous years, and have the impression that there has been growing steadily and evenly, and now covers a very large area in central Hyde park.

luxury chocolates

luxury chocolates

The Christmas market is very popular, Thousands of people crowded the streets between all the stalls. There are hundreds of stalls where they sell all sorts of weird stuff, very many homemade and unique things, mostly made by British artists / artists/ artisans.
We ended up buying local cheddar cheese from different regions of England. These were luxurious and expensive cheeses that you won`t find at any store in England, and they tasted wonderful. It was the sort of cheese that one can continue to snack on until you burst.

The Christmas market is also a little mecca for food,but most of what is found there is of the tasty,but unhealthy type. The entire market is set up to mimic the German Christmas markets, in both food,drinks and entertainment.
Bratwurst, people in lederhosen ,and yodeling in the speakers is all a part in establishing this as a Bavarian-inspired event!

the entry to Wonderland

the entry to Wonderland

Another good reason to visit this market is all the places serving beer !. And then I am talking about proper big german-style beers !, none of the 0,4 litre-nonsense that they serve in Norway. They also serve hot drinks,with alcohol,and without. Mulled wine is a common favorite on cold winter days. It's almost the same as the norwegian drink "Gløgg", only with more focus on wine,spices and raisins, and less sugary than "gløgg". All the pubs are obviously German, with associated oompah-Lompa music.

Christmas market just opening for the public!

Christmas market just opening for the public!

This year it has been unusually warm in London throughout November /December. This is obviously true for all countries of the world, as the global warming finally is revealing its ugly face to those who doubt it..

In any case , we did`nt get as much Christmas feeling this year compared to previous years when we've been there. Gray weather and heavy rain simply does`nt give the same christmas-feeling as frost and snow, Like there has been all previous years that I visited this market. The market is called “Winter wonderland !” !

The market in Hyde park is more than just a market, it is an amusement park as well !

walking through Hyde park

walking through Hyde park

it was quite impressive to see how many different attractions there is here, everything from teacups and Ferris wheels to the pirate cave and a tower that shoots you 100 metres into the air and back. They also have an ice rink, and acrobatics show.

Here is the official webpage; Winter wonderland

 Posted by at 7:30 pm
Oct 232014
 

 

 

 

 

Tallinn is a small Baltic gem with a rich cultural heritage, and with many inviting gastronomic experiences. The old town has real personality and is well worth exploring. The whole place has a real medieval feel to it. It probably helps that there are many people on the streets dressed in medieval costumes trying to get you into the various restaurants. Despite the strong medieval feel of Talinn it is actually a very modern and developed city.

Medieval lady

Medieval lady

The entrance to the old town

The entrance to the old town

 

 

Estonia is the only country in the world where open wifi is considered a human right! It is quite amazing that no matter where you are there it is almost always an open network nearby. Another curious little fact is that the inventor of Skype was actually an Estonian man.

Always funny with streets named "Pikk" (means cock in norwegian)!

Always funny with streets named "Pikk" (means cock in norwegian)!

The most natural place to begin a sightseeing tour is in the beautiful and well-maintained old town. This is also where the best parties are at night,for those who like to get down on the dancefloor. There is also a small “red-light district” with various strip clubs and adult entertainment . The entire old town is surrounded by a big citywall with many large towers that was once used to protect the city against lunatics who tried to conquer them, and those were all over the place in the Middle Ages. Estonia has been in the possession of the Danes,Swedes,Germans and the Soviet Union. It is possible to walk a bit of the city walls for 3-5 €.

Another entrance to the old town

Another entrance to the old town

 

 

Toompea is the name of the hill on which the old town is buildt. The whole area is covered with cobblestone streets and middle-age stone-houses, but the edge along the city wall is mostly parkland. It's really worth taking the trip up to the top of the hill, where there are several excellent viewpoints over the old town and harbor. You can also find the pink parliament building, and several other official government buildings.

view from Toompea

view from Toompea

Talinn on a sunny day

Talinn on a sunny day

 

 

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – nice russian orthodox church that sits on top of Toompea. City Walls and Cathedral There is still worshippers there daily, so it is not always possible to enter the church. The locals might get slightly annoyed at the tourists who are inconsiderate and noisy.

 

Raekoja square is a large open square right in the center of old town.

Raekoja square

Raekoja square

The square is surrounded with cafes and restaurants, many of them with promoters dressed up in medieval clothing. If you let yourself be drawn into one of these restaurants you should be prepared to pay somewhat higher prices than what is the norm. I would recommend finding some more anonymous restaurants in the many small side streets and alleys.

Life is hard in Talinn!

Life is hard in Talinn!

My favorite experience at the Square was when I strutted around outside the old Town Hall Town Hall (which is now the city-museum) and found a small anonymous cave-like entrance.

Suppedamen fra 1300 tallet

Suppedamen fra 1300 tallet

I popped my head in and found an Uber-cozy little tavern(.? I can find no other descriptive word for it) It was decorated like a 13-century inn. To my surprise the cute little barmaid served me boar soup and a big glass of mead for a reasonable price.

Delicious with a glass of mead in the cold!

Delicious with a glass of mead in the cold!

There were 10 Celcius freezing and really gusty outside, and nothing felt more perfect than eating warm soup with mead in a cave lit by candle light ! I experienced the Estonians as a very pleasant and outgoing people. If you are in Talinn with little time I would warmly recommend the free “walking-tours”.

The tour is about to begin..

The tour is about to begin..

It is one of the best ways to experience the city,See the main monuments,and learn a little bit about the history without spending too much time in museums. Talinn free tours

 Posted by at 7:08 pm
Oct 022014
 

We drove the car through several countries in the Balkans, and only 3 times we took a shortcut from the main road, as the GPS seemed to think it was a good idea. It was not a good idea. All the 3 times we took shortcuts I ended up at the worst possible carriage roads. We ended up losing a lot of time, and came very close to getting some serious damage to the cars that I was driving. The worst experience was in Albania, there I was completely fooled by google maps and the gps, like a small technological uprising of sorts!, and took us on a road where we were a hair's breadth from death several times.

The main road...yeah right...

The main road...yeah right...

 

 

It looked like a main road on google maps, but turned out to be the worst road I have ever in my life seen. It would hardly even qualify as a dirt path…

our path..

our path..


After an enjoyable day exploring the magnificent fort in Gjirokaster, we decided to go to another historical UNICEF graded city - Berat. According to the map on google, and the GPS app we had downloaded, there was 2 roads running between the 2 towns. One road was much longer, and was tortuous beyond the coast before turining inland again, while the other way looked like a straightforward direct route According GPS`en then took the long route 2 hours and 40 minutes, while the short route would take 1 hour and 35 minutes. There was no question for us - we would be driving the short main road,why not! The distance between the 2 cities is approx 100 kms .

 

The first 3-4 the miles went by in no time driving on relatively modern highways. Then we came to a place where the GPS told us to take a tiny side-road. We drove straight there because we were going to take off because there was no way in which! When we drove back and took a closer look at where our road was supposed to be we saw a well hidden entrance to a proper dirt road.

mountain road..

mountain road..

It would lead us from the main road to another main road, so we figured this would work out just well. It was a narrow and uneven dirt road that it was very difficult to navigate. We soon found out that we were not able to run faster than 10-15km / t. We spent nearly an hour to drive a distance of 15 kilometers, before we reached the main road.

We were so excited and happy when we finally got back to an asphalt road - thanks and praise the lord!,Now was the worst of. Little did we know about the hell hole we were heading towards. We drove for about 5 minutes until we came to a small village. This was a typical Albanian village where all the older men sat and chatted around the city square, while the younger generation were enjoying some beers and Greek salads at a small outdoor restaurant across the street. We drove slowly through the town, and I noticed that EVERYONE in the town were staring at us as we were moving slowly forward in our bright red mini-car. There is`nt much traffic here up here in the Albanian mountain ranges, but it still seemed a bit odd that everyone in the village should be looking at us. About a kilometer after the village the dream of paved roads disappeared for us. The main road was suddenly becoming a dirt road, and we had 45 kilometers to go before getting to Berat. Which would prove to be the toughest 45 kilometers I have ever driven. It went ahead slowly,but forward none the less. At times it took 10-15 minutes to drive a single kilometer, humpy bumpy roads .

Eventually the dirt road turned into a kind of path with rocks and gravel, and it continued up and up towards the sky. There were big rocks everywhere on this trail. There were 20-30 cm holes on both sides of the path, and the hilly parts were 10-12 degrees straight up on a path covered with boulders…and here we come along with our cute little,bright red city-car. I sat in the passenger seat, sweating like a pig with the adrenaline pumping.

mountain rally

mountain rally

 

One hill worse than the next one,and just when it looked like this "road" could not possibly get any worse ....IT GOT WORSE!. I felt sure we would be stranded there far atop the Albanian mountains, alone and abandoned, until the Albanian wolves and bears would jump at the opportunity for a quick supper. Fast food in its true sense. All it would take for a crappy day to become a horrible day was for one of our wheels to hit one of the many sharp rocks in the road, or for some mechanical component in the car to be destroyed after many hours of intense humpety-dumpety driving. The Gps had failed us.

helter-skelter in the way

helter-skelter in the way

 

The trip did not take 1 hour and 35 minutes, but 5 and a half hours ! It took 3,5 hours to drive the last 40 kilometers, and throughout the entire journey we met only one other car,and it was a raised landrover. They looked at us like we were nuts, and with good reason. The same was happened with the few shepherds we met at the top of the mountain. I felt like I had just been given a real round of beatings after 5 of constant humping, but amazingly enough the car survived without any major injuries(even though it looked like it had been through the war) On the positive side, we had at least seen a part of the country that very few other tourists(or people in general) get the opportunity to see. It gave us some perspective on how much of Albania is actually undeveloped /unoccupied.

No one can save us here..

No one can save us here..

After the last week where we had driven across the country as we had seen very little natural scenery, and mostly buildings(ugly buildings) and industry across the country. It was nice to see that there was still some unspoiled nature in the interior of Albania. After a long and uncomfortable day, it only got worse when we found out that I had lost my laptop . my brand new laptop worth 8000 kroner(1200$) containing all the videos and pictures of our! We called our previous hotel, and worked hard to find out who had taken the. I had an amazingly bad 24 hours,and could not stop thinking about loosing my pc, and was not going to get anything back from the insurance. Then it miraculously reappeared when we were handing back the car. We had looked through the car 3 times already, but the laptop had jumped behind a side door on the tumultous journey through Albania....what a trip!!

 Posted by at 1:49 pm
Sep 302014
 

 

Rent a car

Roadtrip Albania

Roadtrip Albania

The easiest (but not the cheapest) way to get around is to rent a car. There are many car rental companies in Tirana. the cheapest cars cost about 18-25 € , depending on the season, and how long you rent the car. It is a good idea to plan ahead. we did`nt plan anything,just went to Tirana,and tried to find a car, but at that time most cars were gone, and those who were left were more expensive. We rented from a company called Albarent which has an office in the center.

Albanian mountain road

Albanian mountain road

I was positively surprised by the quality of Albanian roads when me and my chick were on a roadtrip there in September 2014. No one assosiate Albania with great roads and infrastructure, but they have actually worked hard at updating the roads over the past decade. Many of the main roads are spanking new, nice and broad. However, it is far from a finished project.

the main way...

main road..…

On our travels through Albania we drove from the far north of the country, to the far east,then to the far west, and finally down to the extreme south of the country. We drove along the coast,along the mountain ranges, crossing through the tortuous central parts of Albania. Driving through Albania the road would vary from 3 hyper-modern highways with 120km speed limits, to dirtroads with more holes and deformities than plain stretches..

 

The worst I experienced was when I ended up on a road that I thought was a "shortcut" between 2 central cities. LEs mer her

 

 

Albanian Traffic and drivers? Get ready for a surprise…an unpleasant one…

First and foremost, – download a gps application for Albania on your smartphone or tablet. It is very difficult to find the right road and direction. The worst is when you have to drive through major cities. The Tirana traffic is fairly chaotic, this is the “survival of the rudest“. I am unsure if there are any rules at all in Albania, Everybody just drive hard and push in from all sides. the junctions there can be quite full of cars that are moving in all directions,across each others paths. It is important to look people in the other cars in the eyes before choosing your next moves,such non-verbal communication is the only way this system can work in practice.
Albanians LOVE to overtake other vehicles.it is true love.

Road block..

Road block..

It's almost like a matter of principle. As long as there is another car on the road they feel a deep nee to overtake it.. There is an overtaking culture It does`nt matter if there are turns,and impossible to see anything, or whether there are vehicles coming in the opposite direction…they`ll happily overtake any cars,or die trying. We saw quite a few close deaths…

Finally cleared one lane of stones....

Finally cleared one lane of stones....


Remember that even though Albania seems like a pretty laidback country considering rules, they do actually have a zero tolerance for alcohol and driving, stricter than even Norway. It might also be a good idea to stay well within the speed limits as there is an absurd amount of traffic police along the roads. I've actually never been in any other country with that many police controls. Luckily I never got stopped.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bus travel
If you only plan to visit a few places in Albania, then it is really not difificult to get around by bus or mini bus / private car. They call these Furgons.

Here is a albania bus -les more about Linn's experience here:  http://travellinn.net/2013/08/06/the-beautiful-and-charming-town-gjirokastra/

Here is a typical albania furgon -read more about it here: Linn's experience

 

They do not have a schedule and leave only when they are full. The drivers can get pretty desperate if they see tourists. When we were in Shkodra I saw a bus that was going to Tirana, and went to get a ticket. Right next to the bus there was a Furgon. The driver came running towards me and grabbed me by the arm, and started pulling me towards his minibus. He claimed that the other bus was out of order,and that it did not go to Tirana,but the opposite side of the country... I just ignored him,pushed away his arm and jumped on the big comfortable bus that was just about to leave for Tirana!

Local taxi

Local taxi


Mini buses and private cars cost a bit more than the big buses, but are less comfortable,and in some cases slightly faster. There is no public bus stations in Albania, You just have to ask the locals where the buses leave from(random locations on the streets).
Here is a timesheet of furgons from Tirana:

Tirana to the rest of the country (wikitravel)

Tirana to the rest of the country (wikitravel)

 

train

Buses are super cheap in Albania,we paid 10-15 kroners (1100$) for 2 hour ride. Trains are even cheaper than this!.

Albania train (ViktorSzékely)

Albania train (ViktorSzékely)

I was told that it was only those who could not afford the bus that took the train. The Albanian trains are in a pretty sad state, but it does have its own charm . There are not many train routes in Albania. one trainline goes from the north towards the capital Tirana.

 

 

The trains in Albania are horrible sluggish…so it should be viewed as an experience, rather than just a means of transport. Shkoder to Lezhe is supposedly a very beautiful train ride. From there you can reach Durres / Vlore and Tirana.

 

 

 

 

Boat

It's not as convenient to travel around Albania in boat,since there are relatively few rivers, and none of which are large enough to support public boats.

"cycling-boat" converted to motorboat

"cycling-boat" converted to motorboat

There is a lake / fjord in the north of the country,in the proximity of Shkoder, where one can take a boat over to a small island. This is supposed to be a nice experience.
otherwise there are also boats between Durres and Italy, and between Saranda and Corfu.

What experiences have you had with transport in the Balkans ?

 Posted by at 5:02 pm
Sep 262014
 

Montenegro is one of the smallest countries in Europe, and many have`nt even heard of this small country that`s sandwiched between Croatia, Albania and Bosnia.
The country is so small that you can easily drive from north to south, or from east to west in under a day.
There are also organized trips going from Dubrovnik, which is a tourist mecca that`s very close to the northern boundary of Montengro.

Stig And Montenegro ladies

Stig And Montenegro ladies

To all who are travelling in this area,I would definitely recommend staying a few nights in Montenegro, instead of just a quick-peek-a-boo organised from another country..

Kotor old town is definitely one of the nicest cities I've ever stayed in.
From Kotor it is also very easy, and relatively inexpensive to join organized tours going all around the country. You usually have the choice of taking a day trip around the beautiful “Bay of Kotor”, or going on a trip to southern Montenegro or northern Montenegro. There is also a separate tour for adrenaline-seekers who go white water rafting in Europe's deepest gorge. These tours are organized by the 2 hostels located in the old town – “Montengro hostel” and Old town Kotor hostel”.

These are some of the most popular places to see in Montengro:

 

1. Bay of Kotor – Resembles a Norwegian fjord, very grand and beautiful. There is even a small man-made island with a small church in the middle of the bay. There are many small towns that are worthwhile visiting along the fjord. The largest and most impressive towns are Kotor and Budva.But remember that ONLY the old towns are impressive,the modern parts of these towns are not much to speak about.The best villages to visit in this bay are Kotor,Budva,Tivat,Perast and Herceg Novi.

Small church in the middle of the bay

Small church in the middle of the bay

 

Bay of Kotor

Bay of Kotor

 

 

2. Kotor ! – It is well worth staying a few nights in the old town of Kotor. We lived in a 600 year old home, which was filled to the brim with antiques reflecting the long history of building, and the city. You should set aside a day wandering around the narrow cobbled streets between churches and small pizza places. Do not forget to take a ride up the fort located on the hillside of Kotor – what a view!

Vakre flower Kotor

Vakre flower Kotor

 

Kotor and local beer

Kotor and local beer

 

 

3. Budva – fine Gammelby corr at sea. More tourists here than in Kotor. Nice little beach just outside the city walls. Well worth a visit.

The beach outside Budva

The beach outside Budva

 

Storm approaching Budva

Storm approaching Budva

 

 

4. Tara canyon – Europe's deepest gorge in northern Montengro near the border with Bosnia. Very classy place, well worth considering to treat the 500 crowns it cost for a half day “whitewater rafting” her. Like 3,5 hours to drive from Kotor.

Broen about Tara

Broen about Tara

 

The river through the Tara canyon

The river through the Tara canyon

 

 

5. Durmitor national park in the north. – For those who have rented a car,or been on a tour of North Montenegro so it's well worth getting up this national park. Here you drive on narrow mountain roads right by the highest mountains in the country. Everywhere experiencing traditionally Montenegrin bondeliv – goats, and sheep crossing the road ahead, farmers who are out on the proposed, traditional Monte Negro houses with narrow roof.
The most “turifiserte” Instead of Durmito is “Black lake”. There is a small lake where you'll pay 3 euro to be allowed to”get into” to innsjøen.Nei,I'm not kidding. First and last time I pay to see a lake. There were hundreds of other tourists and busloads of people came to see the lake, some of the most ridiculous thing I've been involved in. It looked like any lake in Norway.

Black lake -The world's only lake with admission ??

Black lake -The world's only lake with admission ??


Typical Montenegro mountain house

Typical Montenegro mountain house

 

View of Dumitor

View of Dumitor

 

Baskebane/vei

Baskebane/vei

 

6. Skadar Lake National Park – This picturesque lake extends from extreme south of Montenegro and along the North-Albani lake is 44 kilometers long and 10km wide,, making it the largest lake in the Balkans. Along this lake one can see much of the country's bird and wildlife. There are several small fishing villages that are well worth visiting.

harms innsjøen

harms innsjøen

P1080707

7. Sveti-Stefan – A small island in the Budva coast. Some tricksters built a way out to the island,and lo and behold there was a peninsula. It's almost like a national symbol of Montenegro – The classic image that is used in all articles and books on this small country.
The entire island is privatized, and all the traditional houses which is part of a hotel complex rådyrt.

Sveti Vetlanda the main halvøy

Sveti Vetlanda the main halvøy

 

8. Ostrog Kloster – There are many fine churches and monastery in Montenegro, but none is like this.
Ostrog is something so special as a monastery built into a vertical cliff. It is annually visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, and is indeed one of the 3 most visited Christian monuments in the world. Just like Sveti Stefan there is also a typical “postcard” destination, and a picture that shows up in most articles about Montenegro. It takes about 1,5-2 hours drive from Kotor. It is even planning closer to the capital Podgorica.

Ostrog Monastery

Ostrog Monastery

What is your favorite place in Montengro ?

 Posted by at 7:58 pm
Sep 182014
 

When we arrived at Lake Ohrid in Macedonia there was only one thing that came into my head as I saw the crystal clear waters; I need to dive in this lake ! !
I have more than 700 dives in 21 different countries, but never have I dived in a lake before, so it had to be tested!.

Me and torunn in the lake!

Me and torunn in the lake!

Who organizes diving there ??

Ohrid city

Ohrid city

There are relatively few scuba diving operators in Ohrid, but with some planning it is relatively easy to organize. The cheapest operator is the Koteski brothers at Kaneko diving. They have a website where one can at least find some contact information – Kaneo divers address was not updated, which we found out the the hard way. When we finally,after much ado, had found the address it was an empty house. We did not have a working phone, so could not call them.

We ended up organizing a dive with the considerably more prolific operator Adriana -Amfora divers . This is the operator that is recommended by tourist operators around Ohrid.

Torunn watching the dive-shack

Torunn watching the dive-shack

You should contact them yourself to organise a dive suitable to your experience level.. If you book through a travel agent you might end up with a bunch of people who do not even have diving certificate, and only plan to splash around at 2 meters depth.

Amfifora is located right by one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Ohrid - The bay of bones.

Bay of bones village

Bay of bones village

It can be reached relatively easily by public transport from Ohrid, or even easier if you rent a car like I did.
A dive costs 35 € and it`s 10 € extra to dive in the Bay of bones(absolutely recommended!) or 5 € extra to dive from their boat. They offer dive packages where you can get discounts if you dive more than 5-6 dives.
Amfifora is a serious operator, and the people workiong there have lots of experience(the boss told us that he does 5-600 dives every year)
The prices ar a bit on the high side, and there is no discount if you do 2 dives- In contrast you might be able to negotiate 2 dives with the Koteski brothers… for 50€.

What are the best dive sites?
We dived in the Bay of Bones, which is known as one of the earliest areas where civilization started in the Ohrid area. The first residents were a tribal people who built houses on stilts in the lake.

Fish between the poles

Fish between the poles

It was extra tough for the men who had to install 3 pillars for each wife they married. Seems like a lot of work to get new wifes..

The first 5-10 minutes of the dive I began to wonder if this was worth 300 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". There was mostly just seaweed and micro fish, with little variation. When we got to the "archaeological" part of the dive it was not much better.

Old jaw

Old jaw

Torunn ecstatically happily showing off some old shattered pottery...

Torunn ecstatically happily showing off some old shattered pottery...

Most artifacts from the old civillization was found in the water here. There were jars,pillars,remains of bonfires and animal bones. Most of the stuff has been picked up and put in a museum, but a few pitiful pot shards has been left under water. This is why they require € 10(!!) from the dive center to let people dive there. I would argue that you would have to be particularly interested(archeologist or something) to derive any enjoyment from looking at a few shards of pottery and 2000 year old bonfire remnants.

under the village

under the village

However, what was really interesting and fun,and made the whole experience worthwhile,was when we got to dive under the recreated pillar-village.

Diving under village

Diving under village

Thousands of fish were gathered between poles,and the sunlight shone through the torn planks and created a semi-magical effect.
When we swam back to the dive center I had used only 50 bar of total 200 bar during 45 minutes. So I asked to continue diving a bit, as I wanted full value for money!,and had been told that there was some sea-snakes close to the diving centre!

We continued diving along a more rocky area where we encountered something like 4-5 very beautiful and stylish sea-snakes.

sea snake !

sea snake !

We followed the biggest of them, and were really impressed to see how it hunted the small fish. Dinner plate was set at all times.

inside the cave in search of snakes

inside the cave in search of snakes

There are many other places to dive in this lake, and there is diving at any debth from 5 to 40 meters . In some of the dive sites you can see a special type of anemone/snail found only in this lake. The reason we chose not to do it was cold-exposure. They told us that at 16-20 meter debth the temperature is about 15-17C, while at 30 meters debth it is usually only 8C !!. Where we dived(max 12 meters ) the temperature was around 20 C .

Divers in the lake

Divers in the lake

Typical Macedonian fish

Typical Macedonian fish

Cold-diving in wetsuit we did once before - in South Africa in the middle of a seal colony - and it is not something we want to do again !.
The dive that we did not do that tempted me the most was a special pålace where a river mounts, and you can dive in water that is much more clear than in the rest of the lake. The visibillity is so amazing that it feels like flying. What is the coolest place you ever dived ? Any reccomendations ? Ever dived in a lake before ?!

 Posted by at 10:48 in the morning
Sep 152014
 

The air was dry and dusty, a snake was snirkling in front of me on the overgrown cobblestone road. Grapewines where encompassing the thousand yer old ruins from all sides. A little kitten was staring at me with a sleepy gaze, from its vantage point at the top of an old column. I continued up the trail with ancient ruins on one side, and 150-200 year old olive trees in full bloom on the other. On top of the hill I was standing right in the center of what was the old town of Himare ,overlooking the coast, and the village beneath. A goat bleated as he was chewing on a cactus plant growing right on what had once been a church. There are no other people nearby. I found myself at one of the few recommended tourist attractions in the Albanian Riviera, and this was in the middle of high season. 2014.

The castle Himare

The castle Himare

 

pussy relaxing with wine grapes

pussy relaxing with wine grapes

 

The southern coast of Albania,that borders to Greece in the south, is popularly known as the Albanian Riviera. It covers the coastal area from the small town Dhermi to the slightly larger town of Sarande in the south. This stretch of road has been described as one of the finest stretches you can drive anywhere in Eastern Europe. Driving along the mountain side you will pass a dozen of small villages, while always having a great view of the Ionian sea far below. Sometimes you have to stop for shepherds in the road with their big flock of goats, other times you`ll be braking constantly due to the many uneven sections of road.

typical situation in Albania

typical situation in Albania


This is an area that have not yet been discovered by the "troll" called mass tourism, which is one of the best reasons to go there as soon as possible, Here is some practical information on how to get around, and where / when to go there.

 

Transport:

The most rewarding way to travel in the riviera is with a car. If your plan is only to see one of the coastal areas, Then the most affordable option is to take a bus from Tirana to Sarande,Dhermi or Vlore, and rent a car in one of these cities, drive down the coast, and then take it back again. The distances here are not great. One can drive from Vlore to Sarande in under 3 hours, But if your goal is to experience the Riviera properly, it is probably wise to spend some nights in different places along the road. If your plan is to experience several locations in Albania, Then the best thing is to do what I did; rent a car from Tirana for the whole Albania visit. Depending on season and length of rental you can get a car for 18€ to 25 € per day,and fuel is about 1,3€ per litre. For Backpackers and single tourist it is fully possible to get around using local buses or hitchhiking.. The infrastructure in Albania is actually pretty good/okeyish(most places at least...), and it's perfectly possible to take a bus from Tirana directly to Himare. It requires a bit more planning,and is slightly less convenient , but significantly more budget friendly.

Another option option is to fly directly to Corfu,and then take the boat over to Sarande and travel north from there. It can actually pay off as you might get a cheaper flight to Corfu than Tirana,and avoid a 7 hour bus rid from Tirana to Sarande ! 7 !.

Points of Interest:

Dhermi: Village located right by the Llogora mountains(that must be crossed to get to Vlore). Some tourists found here in the high season. Sort-of techno music vibe here in the summer time, but it should be possible to find quieter places here as well.

Dhermi region seen from Llogora pass

Dhermi region seen from Llogora pass

 

Himara; The only town on the Riviera with city status. Located close to the mountains of the Llogora national park, which means that the weather here is a little less predictable than the rest of the coast (since clouds are gathering around the mountain) . 3 beaches, and many places to stay. The old town is well preserved and provides great views of the area.

Our hotel right on the beach in Himare

Our hotel right on the beach in Himare

 

Porto Palermo / Ali Pasha castle: only 8-9 kilometers from the Himara coast is a very cool-looking small peninsula with a well-maintained fort, it is impossible to miss it if you are driving southwards from Himare. It is well worth stopping there and spending half an hour checking out the fort. It costs 100 Lek in admission(about 6 Norwegian kroner(14$) ").

No tourists at this castle

No tourists at this castle

 

Peninsula with fort south of Himare

Peninsula with fort south of Himare

 

Borsch: The longest beach -4,5 kilometers - on the whole Riviera is located by this village. It is possible to stay in the village, or along the narrow gravel road that runs along the beach. There are few tourists here. Not the prettiest beach, some abandoned buildings and garbage in places.

Borsch 5 km beach

Borsch 5 km beach

 

 

Bunec - Nice little beach with a few quaint restaurants and guesthouses / camping places. Nice and quiet place to relax on the beach

rocky beach of Bunec

rocky beach of Bunec

Bunec beach

Bunec beach

Lukove: the village itself is a bit up the hill where the main road goes past. Shpella beach is quite small and undiscovered, and should have some okay snorkelling sites. The village itself is not too interesting.

Sarande: A relatively uninteresting industrial park. Might be ok to stay here a few nights for people who do not have a car, Since it is an easily accessible city that can be used as a base to see Interesting things in the area - the ruined city of Butrint,The blue eye, smaller villages along the coast etc. There are some pretty nice beaches south of Sarande which can be reached by bus.

Albanian motorboat

Albanian motorboat

 

Ksamili: beach-side village 17 kilometers south of Sarande. Fine beaches, and several small islands within swimming distance-. Is also very close to the scenic ruin city of Butrint. a lot of activity here in the summer, so it's best to book ahead.

Albanian out and about with his donkey

Albanian out and about with his donkey

 

There are also many other smaller villages on this route. When we drove through the region, we did not have time to go exploring in every corner, but there may be some hidden gems there for those who have time to look.

Housing

There are a number of hotels along the way,in villages and right on the beaches. Do not expect anything like a 5 stars Hilton resort, most places are relatively simple, but with more charm than any resort could offer. There are also many locals who rent out apartments / rooms. There is usually a homemade poster outside the house. In the summer, you may want to book ahead. Booking.com has a lot to choose from in Dhermi,Himare and Sarande, but there is little to find in the other villages in the area. Expect to pay 20-30 € for a double room in a standard simple hotel / guesthouse.
For those who are more adventurous there are many camping places on the Albanian Riviera,and it can probably be combined with hitchiking / bus travel throughout the region.

cow eating olives

cow eating olives

 

When to go

In summer it can be difficult to find place to stay as most hotels are pretty full. It makes it much harder to travel around haphazardly like a vagabond,which is of course more fun than having to plan every detail. Best time to travel is September-October and April-June. The rest of the year as it is too cold too enjoy a beach vacation on the Riviera. Please note that the weather in the fall can be unpredictable. We experienced relatively heavy rain when we were there in early September, but also had some nice sunny days.

sunset Albania

sunset Albania

Albania is a country full of contrasts, from the fabulous modern highways to roads that look like swiss cheese,from well-groomed rich Albanian-wives to the poor old women who carries heavy sacks on their heads, from the crumbling communist homes to highly modern luxury hotels. It is worth taking the trip there.

Do you see Albania ? What was your experience of the country ?

 Posted by at 5:05 pm
May 142014
 

In Finland, the sauna is an integral part of the culture and daily life. I was lucky enough to stay with some finnish people, and get a direct introduction to their culture through them. It seemed like no matter how small the apartments in Finland are they had always managed to squeeze in a sauna somewhere. Not having a sauna is like blasphemy!.
It's a bit comical to think that there are 2 million saunas in Finland, an average of 1 for each family. That means there are many who have 2 or more saunas in their house,as there must also be some people who don`t have any..

Stig running towards the freezing water

Stig running towards the freezing water

In Norway sauna is considered a rare luxury, but in Finland it is almost like a fundemental human right.
In most cities,and villages, they also have public sauna facilities. These are more or less state-sponsored, and there is only a very small makeshift sum to use them. There is no room for shyness in these saunas, It is for example not uncommon for entire families to be sitting together completely naked.

sauna patrons

sauna patrons

There are usually several rooms to choose from, and often with several different temperatures, and steam levels. the rooms are usually between 70-100 C .

During a visit to Finland it is an absolute “must” to try out the public sauna, preferably on a Friday when they have a tradition to throw twigs on the stove,giving the classic odour . In some parts of Finland it is also customary for people to beat themselves with birch twigs. This is not intended as S / m , but rather as a way to get the muscles to relax even more. The only thing that is a little awkward with this tradition is that the sweat is flying around the room as you are beating yourself.

Public saunas are a unique opportunity for a people who are considered to be relatively introverted to get out and socialize ,without clothes!!

Stig and his Finnish friends

Stig and his Finnish friends

The sauna is often close to,water or rivers, to provide an opportunity to jump into the cold water when the sauna is too hot. this is most fun when done in the wintertime, when you have to cut holes in the ice to even find water.
Traditionally you would stay inside the sauna until you just can`t take it anymore, then jump into the snow,and have a bath in the icy water, and afterwards sit outside in the cold for 5 minutes drinking beer and eating local elk sausage!

It is not difficult to find these saunas,Most the locals would be able to point you in the right direction, otherwise there's always Google and smartphones!. I was in the city of Tampere, just north of Helsinki. It took very little effort to find the sauna(possibly because my local friends took me there), it was right by the frozen lake.

The darkness and the cold- let`s go for a swim!

The darkness and the cold- let`s go for a swim!

I went there with my new Finnish friends, beeing a little nervous before my first ice-bathing session. I soon found out that it was the most natural thing to do after 10 minutes in the blazingly hot (and packed) sauna.
It was actually incredibly fun!
I ran into snowy haze at 10 Celcius Below Freezing -. half naked,sweaty ,and red as a tomato. Then I rolled around in the snow before jumping into the icy water and splashing around. It was a numbing feeling in there.. I felt like a weirdo,but a good kind of weirdo, not the kind that ends up in an institution.
The trick was to go fast into the water, all hesitation is prohibited!
I was back and forth between the sauna and the water at least 5-6 times.

set for a cold swim!!

set for a cold swim!!

After each time it took longer to warm the body . After the last time I started getting a little dizzy,feeling that I had spent a lot of energy, .It took a very long time in the sauna before I was warm again. Then I decided to stop the fun,and retreat from the lake.
The woman that I was staying with was considerably weirder than most of the Finns. She went for a walk every morning, and ice-bathing without any sauna or change of clothes. even at minus 20 Celcius she would get in the water, even when she was half an hour away from her house,and any chance for a hot shower.

Stig doing ice-bathing! !

So the conclusion is; if you're going to Finland then you absolutely must try a sauna! There is no excuse to drop it, even with only one day in the country you should be able to easily find a sauna(or use the one in th hotel,or home, that you are staying in).
Remember to bring your swimsuit. Even at business meetings in Finland it is customary to end a successful meeting with a visit to the sauna, and if you say no then you might offend an otherwise easy-going Finn !!

 Posted by at 6:22 pm
Apr 242012
 

island hopping in Greece is a wonderful experience, and much more interesting than interrail among large cities in Europe. Each island has its unique history and atmosphere. Charter tourism is very prevalent in Greece, but it is actually possible to escape the worst tourist congregation hubs if you know where to go.

 

what is the best time to travel to Greece?

To avoid the worst tourist seasons, it is best to travel between April and mid June, or between mid-September to November. In these months it is still relatively warm and everything is considerably cheaper because there is much less demand, ie. much fewer tourists.

In July, August and first week in September, it can become too hot (as high as 40 C in the middle of the day) and there are extremely many tourists everywhere. If you travel during these months, it is necessary to have all the hotels prebooked well in advance, as it can be difficult to find any availability on the spot.

If you're planning on doing some island hopping it is important to first check the ferry routes, since some of the ferries stops going in the middle of October until next season.

We went there in late September and it was perfect because it was still nice and warm in the weather (20-30 C ), Hotel owners were desperate enough to four rates quite sharply, and we did'nt have to stand in line to get into the main sightseeing spots.

 

Is it wise to book the hotels in advance ?

In some cases it's a good idea to prebook, but most of the trips can easily be done without having prebook anything. This does'nt apply to the high season when you will probably need to prebook all the hotels.

At the islands we went to we were met by a legion of people who tried to persuade us to stay at their hotel. Most of them had pictures and good descriptions of their hotels so that we could pick and choose our best options . It's really worth to haggle on the prices, as the supply is usually far greater then the demand.

The only place we got to where we were'nt met by anyone was on the pier in Naxos. This was due to a local law that said that they could be arrested if they were talking to tourists. We still managed to find a lady who had rooms for rent. It was almost comical, because she just wandered around the pier with a brochure from his hotel without making a mark. She totally ignored us until we started asking her questions on our own initiative. Then she took us to the back of her car and whispered to us that she had some fine rooms at her hotel, a real criminal offender !

At least there are plenty of hotel owners in most of the docks, and there is ample room for some haggling for those who don't mind that stuff.

I was very happy that we were 2 people who traveled together, as a single room costs more or less the same as a double room in most places. There are relatively few backpacker hostels, but it is possible to locate some if you do some careful planning in advance, usually a Lonely Planet will be of good help. I did not see any places that offered dorms, but there were some places that had camping options. If you do'nt mind sleeping on the ground and carrying around a tent then the camping option is the absolutely cheapest way to stay while you do island hopping. The camping sites usually charge from 5-15 € to let you set up a tent. Then you will usually also have access to showers and electricity.

There are many great places online where you can find cheap hotels on the various islands. We used the hostelworld and Hostelbooker websites to find the cheapest rooms. The only island we booked rooms in advance was Santorini, simply because the pier is located miles away from civilization, and it is quite nice to have someone who can meet us at the pier and take us to the hotel. It was not difficult to find rooms for 20-30 € included transportation to the dock.

If you are on a really tight budget then you may want to find a placethat has a kitchen available so that you can make your own breakfast / lunch and dinner. We usually made our own breakfast and lunch (It is amazingly nice to sit in the sun on the porch eating breakfast), but for dinner we went out to restaurants. There are so many incredibly nice dishes that has to be tried while in Greece!. It was fully possible to find affordable restaurants too, generally 120-160 kroner (20$) for a full dinner with drinks.

 

Cheapest ways of getting around

The biggest expense is the all the ferries between the islands. The ferries are unreasonably expensive, But on most routes you have no choice of operators. There are many different ferry operators, and if you spend some time figuring out which runs between 2 islands there may be a lot of money to save. Sometimes we saw prices that were over twice as high for the same routes. There are some companies that have express boats that go much faster than the other boats. Where the regular ferries will take 4-5 hours the express boat will only take 1.5-2 hours, but for twice the price or more. As a tourist, then you have not just hurry and actually want to enjoy the boat ride with delicious sea air and views from the deck with a beer in hånden.Her is a handy page where you can check the Ferry. It is also possible to check directly on Hellenic Seaways, Blue Star Ferries their own pages. It's very nice to carry a small computer or a tablet to check such things. Most hotels have Wifi connections.

There is also an airline(Olympic airways) that can fly between the islands,but primarily flying between Athens and the major islands. This will always be the most expensive option, but in some cases it may be advantageous. This is especially if you are travelling from an island back to Athens, then it is better to pay 200 a bit more for a 40 minutes flight than having to sit on a ferry for 15 hours.

The ferries between Athens and the Cyclades were terribly expensive at about. rundt € 90 hver vei. It might have been cheaper to book in advance, but we had heard that it was quite ufortsigbart,so valgte the drag on Kaien. Others have reportedly been given ticket for 30 €.

If you fly from Norway(or anywhere else in Europe) it is definitely much smarter to get a return ticket to one of the islands in the Cyclades(Santorini and Naxos are relatively cheap to fly to) and then do a tour of all the other islands. If you fly to Athens you have to be prepared to pay 200 kroner more + 2 additional travel days just to get out to the islands. Athens is convenient for sightseeing for a couple of days, but not a priority, if islandhopping is the plan.

We only had 10 days set off for island hopping, but we still managed 5 islands without feeling that we had missed anything. Here's our route:

The best way of seeing as much as possible on each island was to rent a moped. We rented a moped for us both and took turns driving. It cost no more than 10 € for the day, and 4-5 € for petrol. It was an incredibly effective and memorable way of experiencing the different islands . Most of the islands we visited were small enough that we managed to get around most of the island in a day. We visited all the tourist attractions worth visiting in addition to all the best beaches,mopeds are incredibly convenient. I do'nt think it would have been as fun with a car !

On the way between the tourist attractions we met many buses that drove loads of charter tourists around…We felt pretty happy that we did'nt have to travel with that bunch !

The difference between sitting in a crowded bus with 50 other tourists in relation to drive around to find things on your own is like night and day. It is clear there may be practical for older people and people who can not bear the thought of driving on a moped, but it is not stuff for someone who wants a little adventure when they're on the road.

We had many great experiences on the trip that I will write some more about the posts on each island we visited.

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 Posted by at 4:26 pm