Archive for February, 2013

22
Feb
13

standing tall(inn)

Sometimes you leave a place and just a get a feeling that you’ll be back someday. Not quite sure why that is, call it a traveller’s sixth sense or something, but certain places you leave and you just know your paths will meet again sometime in the future.

Take Langkawi in Malaysia as an example. I had a few days on the Malaysian paradise island in October near the start of ‘the trip’ and several months found myself back there, mate and all with me, exploring the same beach bars, swimming in the same sea and even staying at the same digs. It wasn’t planned that this would be a place to go back to so soon after the first visit, but leaving on that ferry to Penang, I knew I’d see Langkawi again. Bangkok was the same. I didn’t quite imagine I’d be visiting Thailand’s capital city with my half-Thai / half-Essex (she’ll hate me for that) girlfriend just a couple of years after my previous encounter, but somewhere inside me knew I’d be walking round those familiar Khao San backstreets again. Mumbai was another place – I disliked it massively the first time I went there, but knew I’d be back. And I have been – not once, but twice!

The reason for this rambling is because I’m having that feeling again – that someday I’ll re-visit the capital city of Estonia, Tallinn.

A couple of nights in this Baltic beauty weren’t enough to fully discover everything Tallinn had to offer. Sure, the fairytale-esque old town was so small you could easily navigate it in a matter of hours, but to say you’d seen it all would be nothing more than box ticking. On our walk home from the magic ‘Clayhills gastro-pub’ just off the main square on our final night in Tallinn, we stumbled across more intriguing bars and restaurants that would have been great to explore had we more time.

Also cities like this are an entirely different proposition in the summer.

The main square had all the hallmarks of a cracker of a spot to spend a warm summer’s day people watching whilst supping a few ‘A le Coq’ or ‘Saku’ beers. I could imagine all the restaurants would spill their tables and chairs out onto the square and temporary bars would be set up, as locals came out alongside thirsty tourists to create a cracking atmosphere on the long summer nights you get this far north.

There was none of that on a Monday and Tuesday in February though – the only people out in the main square for any prolonged periods of time were the odd brave tourist, snapping away at the cathedral or the snow cladded rooftops before hurriedly getting the gloves back on before frostbite kicked in.

So Tallinn was pretty much everything I expected, given the time of year. It had the pretty buildings, it had the snow, it had the underground bars (check out a place called ‘Porgu’), it had the romantically lit restaurants and it had the picturesque side streets, ripe for exploring.

Next time I go I’d like a nice outdoors bar with a bit of live music.

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12
Feb
13

helsinki is numero uno

I’ve wrote a number of these updates since I started blogging about travel from numerous types of transport. Many planes, buses, taxis and ships have seen me scrawl (or type) down my thoughts and feelings whilst on the move. For me it’s the perfect time to get my ideas and opinions into print as simply a lot of travel between places is just a means to get somewhere else as opposed to be over analysed; a perfect time to kill a bit of time if you will.

Besides, a lot of time when not travelling between places is spent visiting sites, walking and exploring side streets and socialising in bars and restaurants. The travel bit between two places is often the only chance I get to write something when away as the last thing anyone wants to do is miss out on a night or afternoon drinking or exploring just to write a blog.

Today’s blog is brought to you from a café on a Tallink ferry, crossing the Baltic Sea between Finland and Estonia! This is the kind of trip that would usually be perfect to blog from, but seeing as the ferry is four of five times the size I expected and the ship is breaking through massive chunks of ice that are big enough to ruin Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet’s romantic escapades, I’m trying to take this journey in as best I can from over the top of the laptop.

It’s a cool place to blog from – sat on a stool, I can see the chunks of ice break from underneath the side of the ship whilst the missus sups on a Kopparberg cider next to me. Happy days indeed – and a happy two days we have had in Helsinki, the under sung capital city of Finland.

Whenever I tell people who don’t overly travel of where I am going there is always a pretty negative response. ‘Oh India, you don’t want to be going back there you’ll get a runny tummy’…’Oh Thailand, mind out for those lady boys’….’Oh South Africa, make sure you get a taxi everywhere, place is full of robbers’ The standard response when I told people I was going on a Baltic double header in early February was an even more obvious one than the above. ‘Oh Finland, why would you go there, it’s gonna’ be freezing’

Well yes, there has been snow. It hasn’t been flip flop weather, for sure. But that is what a coat, scarf and gloves are for. In all fairness we might have got a tad lucky – a few weeks ago my iphone app told me to expect -20c in Helsinki. Things have warmed up and yesterday afternoon we got to the dizzy heights of 1c…the locals were stripping the layers off, not quite Hawaiian shirt weather but no worse than an English winters day.

Anyway, enough of boring weather updates. Helsinki has impressed me greatly. It’s not a city full of obvious landmark history (or at least if it does it doesn’t shout about it) and its touristy sites can be ticked off in a matter of hours. But that doesn’t make it a dull city – in fact, far from it. If I am honest it has never been a city that I have longed to visit, like an Amsterdam or a Rome. But in a way the low expectation of the place has made for a cracking couple of days.

We’ve had clichéd romantic(ish) strolls through the snow covered parks, marvellous grub in Café Engel opposite the city’s landmark cathedral Senate Square and even located a bar in the Kallio district that served pints of our new favourite beer, Karhu, for 3 Euros.

And what a great bar it was. Ravintola Linja was stumbled upon thanks to a fifteen minute heated argument with the idiots at Santander who yet again decided to make me feel like a crook for daring to withdraw cash outside of the UK. Anyone would I’m Christopher Columbus, discovering ATMs the world over that I need to give my vital statistics over the phone before I can withdraw my money. Anyway, after hanging up on the unhelpful idiot we happened to be outside a tiny bar that had all the hallmarks of being a classic.

It was dark, dingy, housed about four tables and several locals who instantly made us feel extremely welcome.

The man holding court was an ex-marathon runner called Jari. He was a lovely chap, had the gift of the gab about him and even bought us all a round of drinks because Martin had bought him one. Jari managed to get the other dozen booze-hounds involved and out two groups were soon bantering. The one Finish woman, called Christie asked us politely ‘Is Emmerdale a real place, I watch it all the time’!! She then went on to exclaim her love for ‘Heartbeat’…..clearly Finnish TV isn’t up too much if these are her favourite shows! There was also an old couple at the end of the bar, the chap we nicknamed Willie (or pervy Willie after his wandering hands during a team photo) because Jari did not know his name and started shouting at him ‘Wille, Willie!’ At the time we thought this must have been his name, but it turned out Jari was just giving him some grief for not sharing his name!

I’d read up about a bar called the ‘Karaoke Restroom’ that was a converted public toilet. We tracked it down thanks to the friendly tram driver and took our place at one of the few tables next to the bar. After Martin opened with a bit of U2 I plucked up the courage and sung out a little bit of Kasabian’s ‘Shoot the Runner’! Before we knew it all four of us were competing with the locals who were happy belting out Eurovision-style numbers, fresh with cheesy snow laden music videos playing in the background to accompany the lyrics.

As Naomi took on her first solo of the evening, a Norah Jones number, the sparsely populated bar suddenly came alive with a group of noisy, tipsy and keen-for-karaoke middle aged women out for a Saturday night birthday session. One even described the missus as having a ‘voice like an angel’…..think she’d been on the Kahru! Naomi sounded excellent, far better than anyone else on show but between lines she’d announce off the microphone to me ‘this is embarrassing’ then sing a perfect line before again saying ‘can’t believe I’m doing this’ etc etc!

Martin soon serenaded the birthday girl, Outii, with his version of Maggie May, changing the words to ‘Wake up Outii’ naturally….

The night finished with me and Mum taking the floor with the local birthday group, trying to join in with the arm gestures that accompanied one Finish number. It was a top Saturday night out spent entirely with ‘real’ local people, just like the Linja bar in the afternoon.

Sunday morning saw me and Naomi take the responsibility of sourcing ferry tickets to Tallinn. After getting dropped off at the last stop on the tram route, our driver pointed out a grey building in the distance saying that’s where we need to go. Stepping off the tram it became clear this wasn’t a popular tram stop. There were no footsteps in the snow to be seen other than the ones we’d created – this wasn’t going to be an easy trek in my ever dampening sports trainers (yes I know, what an idiot not bringing walking boots but the trainers were fine in the UK snow the other week)

We set off through a building site, naturally covered in the white stuff. The pavements were somewhat sleety, making walking in trainers a pretty unpleasant experience. Anyway, Naomi kept my spirits up by making light of the situation and after a miserable trek we located the West Terminal, correct tram stop and all, and purchased tickets for the four of us to get to Tallinn.

After feasting upon meatballs and mash in our new favourite Café Engel we set off on another stroll towards the other harbour to take a few touristy snaps. This lasted nothing more than a fifteen minute break in the cathedral, where the democratic decision was soon taken to taxi it back up to Kallio and find another little bar. Sometimes you can take photos for photos sake, and this was certainly one of those early afternoons.

We got lucky again finding a cracking little gasto-bar with an amazing selection of beers called Sivukirjasto. The woman that owned it was extremely friendly, letting us sample several alternative options to the Kahru beer when it ran out early on during our six hour(!)stay. Yes, the weather was cold and a tad grim outside, but the elongated stay might have been down to the groups competitive side during a marathon session of ‘Uno’…..the eventual undisputed champion turned out to be the old dear – perhaps it had something to do with Me, Naomi and Martin all hitting the booze on arrival whereas Mum didn’t hit the vino until later.

Ironically the title of the previous blog was ‘itchy feet’ The stay at Sivukirjasto will be remembered for some as ‘smelly feet’ as I placed my wet trainers and socks on the radiator on the other side of the bar to dry out….

Bare feet in a bar in Helsinki in the middle of winter losing a game of Uno to my Mum?

Now there’s something I never thought I’d say!

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03
Feb
13

itchy feet

It’s been a particularly dry spell in the life of me as a traveller / backpacker / holiday maker / overseas trip with work blagger. A whole half a year has passed since me and the missus spent a few weeks in Thailand. This was the last time I stepped foot outside of the UK, and my god does that six months feel like a long time ago.

That sounds terribly spoilt, I know. But when you consider I managed a whole twenty brand new different countries between January 2010 and April 2012, it’s no wonder I’ve been feeling hard done by the lack of encounters with customs officers of late.

Just before Christmas I decided it would be a nice idea to treat my mum and stepdad to a trip away as a yuletide present. After all, I’ve never been abroad with Martin, and the last time I was overseas with mum was way back when I was a spotty teenage oik, trying my best to avoid Maths and English lessons by watching Hereford United away football matches.

Back in November I was studying the map of the world located on our kitchen wall and noticed how close two certain capital cities were to each other. Thinking how cool it would be to travel into one and out of the other I quickly checked some flight websites and realised it was a feasible trip to undertake. Being two brand new countries for all four of us (Naomi being my plus one, obviously) it seemed the perfect adventure to undertake.

With a short two hour ferry ride between the two cities, it would also give the chance to experience some ‘proper’ travel over the five nights we will be away.

The suspense is killing you I can tell – the place we will flying out to next week is Helsinki, Finland! Following a few nights in one of the most northerly capital cities in the world we will catch the ferry across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn, Estonia.

Not your average European city (plural) break for sure – but hey, that should add to the fun.

Since booking this trip, myself and Naomi have also booked up a trip to Amsterdam in April for our two year anniversary (where the hell has that time gone) plus a four day stay in Berlin in March to complete our spring travels.

It will be nice to get back to discovering new bars; sorry I mean cities and countries, in the company of my nearest and dearest.

It’s certainly been long overdue.




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