St. Petersburg, Russia!!

St. Petersburg was absolutely stunning. It is by far one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The first day we got into the city after a few hour delay at the Russia-Estonian borer. Usually tour groups and busses have to bribe the Russian border to let them in for around 250 euros. Lucky for us, we didn’t have to! That was a good introduction to Russia! The first night we got in we just stayed in at the hotel. It was right across the street from the Aurora ship, the ship that fired a shot to signal the start the revolution in 1917! We were about a 25 minute walk into the center of the city where the Cathedral of Our Savior and Spilled Blood was. The Cathedral of Our Savior and Spilled Blood was one of the most magnificent cathedrals I’ve ever seen. The gold domes that can be seen from around the city and the vibrant blue and green colors on the lower domes were remarkable. The cathedral had a variety of domes some of which you could only see from certain angles. It was a highlight of St. Petersburg. The area that the cathedral is around too was great. The main street called Nevsky Prospect was where all of the shops and cafes were around the city. The first day we did a driving tour which pretty much consisted of driving around Nevsky Prospect. We ate pie and drank vodka for a midday snack, a typical Russian snack. After walking around the city, we headed to dinner at a local restaurant. One of the Russians we met out told us that it was her favorite place to eat. When we got there, a tourist would have no idea that it was even a restaurant. It was very hidden and they barely spoke English. The next morning we went to the Hermitage, one of the biggest art galleries in the world. It’s similar to the Louvre if you have been to Paris! I highly recommend going inside. We also walked by St. Isaacs Cathedral which was beautiful with a massive golden dome on top. After that we hung out around Nevsky Prospect some more because it’s just beautiful. There are a lot of musicians around and locals just lying out to catch some sun. From there we had some borsht, a traditional Russian food, and headed to a Russian Folk Show! It was pretty interesting. It was nothing like anything I’ve seen before. The boys were very athletic doing half of the movement with just their legs, and the girls would walk around fast, but it looked like they were rolling around – true ballerinas!

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Estonia

Tallinn is one of my favorite new cities. If you have the opportunity to go, I HIGHLY recommend it. Tallinn is a very old city that has a medieval twist to it. In the center of the city, there are multiple stands where the workers/owners were dressed up in medieval wear. It was awesome that most of the local people in the main square were dressed up. It was a little but touristy, but it wasn’t on the same level of Rome or Paris. The first night we were there we ate at a traditional Estonian beer hall and it was VERY COOL!! I don’t know how else to explain it. It was an upper class family house years ago that they turned into Old Hyne. We drank honey beer and ate a lot of meat! It was all you can eat, so you can only image how much we all had. It was great, they had a special Estonian beer sauce as well which was great! We went to a few pubs after dinner where we met the locals. I talked to quite a few early 20 year-olds who have never left Estonia before, even though Helsinki is a two hour ferry ride away. I thought that was a huge difference in culture compared to many other European countries. The colors of the buildings were also very different from other European countries I’ve been to. The buildings had a feel of the Bahamas to it which was strange, but the colors were vibrant and mostly pastels. It was beautiful.

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Finland

Lapland was our first stop in Finland, specifically Rovaniemi! It was a beautiful citiy that is also known as Santa’s City! We went to Santa’s Workshop and took a picture with the “ultimate” Santa. The Workshop was perfectly set on the Arctic Circle which was pretty cool. Right down the middle of the park, there was a line that showed the line. So technically I’ve met Santa in the North Pole! It was a neat place where kids were running around in joy. It was beautiful in the summer, It would look stunning in Winter, especially with the Northern Lights illuminating the sky! We didn’t have much time in Rovaniemi, but Jyvaskyla made up for it! It is a city in the middle of Finland. It is a student city, with a major university right in the city. Unfortunately we didn’t see it in its full light because the students are on holiday! Some of us went out though and had a great time! We did some karaoke and met locals. It was a fun night. Then we finally headed down to Helsinki, the city that we were all looking forward too! Helsinki was beautiful. The colors were vibrant and again, it was right on water, like most of the cities I’ve been traveling to recently. The Finnish in Helsinki were different from the other parts of Finland – I like to think of it as New Yorkers are different than people from Texas. We went on a pub crawl and it was great, especially because it was a Friday! They have a pretty neat bar district. However, the ages of the people varied from 18 year-olds to 70 year-olds. Thats not something you usually see!

Norway!

Norway was the third of the Scandinavian countries we’ve visited and being in Norway for over a week has given me a feel of the country. Our first stop was Oslo, the capital. It wasn’t what I expected it to be! It kind of looked like Geneva, Switzerland. The opera house was beautiful! A big white building that was right on the harbor where all of the cruise ships dock. We walked to the top of it and the views were great! The only thing I wasn’t really too fond of was that the skyline was polluted with cranes – much like Berlin. They are restoring a lot of the city and building new buildings which kind of ruined the overall view of the city. They had a neat shopping area that we walked around for a while. And I’ll just say it now, there are little viking statues EVERYWHERE! If you get to Norway, take pictures of them! Most of them are different in different ways – ears, noses, flags. It’s cool! After Oslo we headed into the fjords and country of Norway. First stop was Andalsnes. On our way there we went to Lillehammer for a few hour stop! That is was the 1994 Winter Olympics was held. While we were there I went bobsledding on one of the olympic tracks! If you have ever seen Cool Runnings, (if you haven’t that’s the firs thing you need to do!) it’s the same thing (minus the snow!) When we reached our campground in Andalsnes, it was right on the water and beautiful heated room which was pretty different from some of our previous accommodations! We stayed at the campground because there was nothing around! We were just surrounded by rivers and mountains! At midnight, since we were still awake, we went outside and the sky was unbelievable. Since they have a midnight sun this time of year, it was bright as ever outside, but the sun was “trying” to set as they say so it was creating a purple/orange cloud throughout the sky. It was beautiful. After Andalsnes, we headed to Steinkjer! Before reaching Steinkjer, we stopped at Geiranger Fjord which was one of my highlighs of Europe so far! We drove through Trolls-Pass which is, by far, one of the hardest roads to drive. It is a road with fast turns that spirals on the side of a steep mountain. The views were amazing. I’ve seen waterfalls in my life, but every time I would turn my head and blink, there was another one! That is how the whole drive was to Steinkjer! After getting there we were exhausted from the day and headed to bed. Next day was a traveling day to get to our next stop, Korgen. Korgen was a pretty cool city. They had a lot of sports complexes and shops! However, that far north, everything was too expensive. We all wanted to go to a music festival but for a one-day pass, it was about 100 US dollars. So we decided against that and went to a bar- which wasn’t much better…it was 15 US dollars for a beer! That was all after we played a pick up game of soccer with some locals of course! Early wake up call the next day to go hiking to Svartisen Glacier – easily one of the best things I’ve done while traveling. We had to take a 20 minute ferry to the the start of the trail to hike. It was 45 minutes of one of the most fun hikes I’ve ever done – and being born and raised in Arizona, I know a lot about hiking. You could make your own path, there were just flags that showed you the general direction you need to go it. So we did that and all the sudden you put your head up and you see this gigantic glacier in between two of the mountains. It was beautiful. It looked a lot like Fox Glacier in New Zealand! We hung out there for about an hour or so – we brought some drinks and food and had a picnic-like meal while we were there! Our next Norwegian stop was Skibotn! Skibotn was where we did the polar plunge! It was crazy! Not only have I done the polar plunge in Antarctica now, I’ve done it in the Arctic as well! Antarctica was definitely colder, but it was still cold. And when I say C O L D, I mean it! After words I took a long hot shower because the walk back to where we were staying to miserable – it was very windy! After dinner we also made s’mores which was really fun! We all got to sleep pretty early again because our next stop, Olderfjord, is where we would leave our bags and head to Nordkapp!! Nordkapp is the most northern point in Europe and boy was it amazing. We went up there for the Midnight Sun! It took about two hours to drive all the way North but it was worth it! If you ever get the chance, I would highly recommend it!

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Copenhagen!

Copenhagen was by far my favorite city on this trip so far! The colors, the people and the things to do in the city were amazing. Right when we entered the city, we passed a zoo, that had glass windows that allowed the public to see camels wondering around. If that wasn’t kid-friendly enough, the first major view we had was of an amusement park ride. That was the beginning of what I found to be the Danish culture! Tivoli, the second oldest amusement park in Europe is in the heart of Copenhagen. At first, I didn’t want to go inside, but I’m so glad I ended up doing it! The rides were unreal, some of them I doubt would be allowed in the United States….they looked so unsafe! There were also rides there for everyone, even older couples! They had multiple cafes and restaurants too. My favorite aspect of it was that different sections of the park were based off of different countries! For example, you could go to a beer hall in “Germany” or have some rice and noodles in “China!” Aside from Tivoli, the streets and the shopping were cool. The city center is beautiful. More on the kid-friendly side of things, Lego had a store in the city – and since it was founded in Denmark, there were huge Lego animals all around the store. So we went inside and made Lego’s of ourselves – something that is a must-do if you are in Copenhagen. The highlight of Denmark, however, was doing a 3 hour bike tour around the city. The weather was perfect and we got to ride around with the thousand of other bikers. Copenhagen is like Amsterdam in that it is mostly flat so everyone gets around by bike. We then ate some Danish pastries and enjoyed the views. By night time, it ended up raining, so we went to a local pub and got some typical Danish beer, Carlsberg!

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Stockholm!!

Stockholm was not what I expected at all. It was a beautiful city, but much like Berlin, there were cranes all over the city which really took away from the natural beauty of the city! Our first stop was the City Hall which was neat! One of the rooms was full of golden mosaics. On one of the walls, the artists messed up so the heads of two warriors were cut off. It’s an interesting story though, the artists, after they realized their mistake, figured it would work out because the story is that those warriors were beheaded! Stockholm was pretty difficult to get around since it’s all on water. We bought a hop-on hop-off boat to get around. It was a great way to see the city at a decent price. Also, Tivoli (same park at in Copenhagen) was right on the water – part of the skyline! I didn’t go into Tivoli in Stockholm, but some of the girls on my trip did, and Jason DeRulo was playing there! He is a Top 40 artist is you don’t know who he is. I would highly recommend going to Scanson too! It is a park that has a lot of different animals, activities and food! We went there for the midsummers day festival, we made flower halos, which is a very traditional thing to do! We also saw wolverines and bears. It was a fun area to walk around. The nightlife was great! Most of the clubs were outside, so all of the pictures I have of us going out it looks like it is like 8pm instead of 2am!

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