Monday, July 14, 2014

Two More Countries Off My Checklist


I took an extended Fourth of July weekend last week to visit Helsinki, Finland and with a day trip across the Baltic Sea to visit Tallinn, Estonia -- two cities, and for that matter, two countries, that I had not been to prior to this trip.  I was looking for a quick, cheap get-away for the holiday weekend.  I had severak options:  Cinque Terre, Berlin, Munich, and Barcelona.  Helsinki won out because I had not been there before, and I wanted to take advantage of the trip with Helsinki's 20+ hours of daylight during mid-summer.

I left early Frankfurt on an early Wednesday evening flight and returned Sunday night.  I arrived in Helsinki at about 10:30PM, and easily found a bus headed for the city center from the airport.  I arrived at the city center just a bit after 11:00PM.  With my iPhone in tow and a city map app opened, I was able to walk and find my hotel quite easily.  Finding places in a new city utilizing electronic hand held devices makes what used to be a daunting task, effortless.  It does help that Helsinki is not a high crime city.  And nearly midnight, it was not so dark yet -- the amount of light at that time seemed like it was only dusk.  So there was no worry as I rolled my luggage through the cobbled streets of Helsinki looking for my hotel.  The information I had read about Helsinki only warned travellers about the ocassional drunkards.  There were no usual warnings about pickpockets, thieves, and scammers, as in other big cities of Europe.

I had visited Norway and Sweden before, both high cost countries.  People warned me about the high cost in Finland.  It was not too bad -- meals and drinks were a litle bit higher priced than what I am used to in Wiesbaden, Germany.  I had found a cheap hotel.  My rule about hotels -- as long as it is clean and close to local transport, it will do.  I won't be spending too much time in a hotel except for sleeping.  I won't spend money on a luxury hotel, unless someone else is paying for it (work or using mileage points).  The hotel provided a breakfast with good selections.  So this helped out a bit in cost savings.  I've also learned to pack snack foods (granola bars, trail mix, water, etc.) that when I go to coffee shops, I only need to buy the coffee drink -- not the pastries that add to the expenses.  Because of the abundance of fresh seafood, good and cheap sushi places were all over.  The ocassional beer, just to sample the local brews, were not so expensive.  I had a great lunch of grilled meats and sausages at a local brewery in Tallinn.  My meals in Finland were standard fare.

I had told you earlier about the amount of daylight this time of the year in this region.  During wintertime it is the opposite -- only 2+ hours of daylight.  So the Finns really take advantage of enjoying their summer.  This time of the year, a lot of them are taking month-long vacations to their summer homes.  Their holidays during winter time are to warm weather locations.  Most of the establishments and tourist sites were open.

Thursday, my first full day, was spent in the city center.  First thing in the morning, I walked to the harbor where there is an outdoor market.  Nearby was the Helsinki Cathedral which was quite a sight -- brightly white, and a wide and steep stairs to get to the church.  The rest of the afternoon was spent taking trams and walking to various venues around the city.

Helsinki Cathedral

On the second day, I took a 30 minute boat ride to the island of Suomenlinna, formerly a fortress made up of several small, inter-connected islands.

Suomenlinna, island fortress near Helsinki

The rest of the afternoon on the second day were spent back in the city center of Helsinki.  I visited Uspenski Cathedral, an Christian Orthodox church.

Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki

The third day, I took a 2.5 hour cruise ship headed to Tallinn.  I spent nearly 5 hours exploring the Old Town part of Tallinn.  I enjoyed a great lunch in Old Town Tallinn.  The city is definitely worth visiting again.  I would have loved to have stayed overnight.  I took a late afternoon/early evening boat ride back to Helsinki.  I still had time to sightsee later that evening in Helsinki.

Lunch in Tallinn

Old Town Tallinn

Market Square in Tallinn

The last day, I ventured around Helsinki including the nearest public beach within the city.  I also took several trams criss-crossing the city to get more flavor of the city, especially the residential neighborhoods.

More photos can be viewed in my flickr account.

My visit to Helsinki and Tallinn went well.  The weather throughout my visit was wonderful -- sunny with temperature in the 70's.  Most people that I had to deal with during this trip spoke English really well.  Both cities are definitely places that I would visit again.  So, two more countries off my checklist of places visited.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Yes, I know -- nearly 5 months since the last post.  But here are some updates:

I'm still enjoying my stay in Wiesbaden.  Work can sometimes get in the way, but hey, it's the reason why I am here.  I am still exploring and travelling as much as I can while I am here in Germany.  I will usually find ways to do an extended weekend to a nearby site, or a 5-7 day jaunt outside Germany.

In early January 2014, I spent 5 days in London.  Aside from the touristy sites of London, I was able to do a day trip to Stonehenge -- another item crossed off of my list of things to see.  I was also able to see a couple of London theater shows:  "Jersey Boys" and "One Man, Two Guvnors".  Jersey Boys, a musical about the group Four Seasons, was a great show.

In March 2014, I spent two extended weekends to visit Strasbourg, France and Maastricht, Netherlands.  I have been to Strasbourg a couple of times before, but it is only a short train ride from Wiesbaden.  Strasbourg offers culinary delights and interesting walking tour stops in its old town area.  I wanted to do the trip to Maastricht using local trains and buses.  The train ride started in Wiesbaden, to Koblenz, and then to Aachen.  From Aachen, I took a bus to Maastricht.  Maastricht is a small town in southeastern part of Netherlands, near the Belgium and Germany borders.  The old town area was a delight to walk around in.

Also in March 2014, I finally did a walking tour of Mainz.  Mainz is the city across the Rhine River from Wiesbaden.  Although only a short train ride from Wiesbaden, I really never took the time to explore the city.  I have been there for its beer festival and Christmas market, I but did not venture out to explore the city until this visit.  Mainz has two nice cathedrals -- St. Martin's Cathedral used to be a regional seat of the Holy Roman Empire; St. Stephen's Church has the impressive "blue" stained glass windows by Marc Chagall.

In April 2014, I drove to Belgian coast for an extended weekend.  I visited the city of Ypres and the many WWI memorial sites around the area.  I hope to re-visit the area soon to explore other small towns around the area.

In late May 2014, I spent 8 days in London.  I purchased a rail pass to be able to do several day trips outside London.  I managed to visit Oxford, Canterbury, Cambridge, Salisbury, Winchester, and St. Albans.  As it turned out, these day trips became a "cathedral" tour.  These towns that I visited all had impressive cathedrals, most dating back 800-1200 years.  As far as the London theater scene, I managed to see "Twelve Angry Men".  I stopped by a few London tourist sites -- Big Ben, Westmisnter Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Chinatown, National Gallery, British Museum, and Victoria & Albert Museum.  I also ventured just outside of London to Greenwich -- prime meridian site and basis for the Greenwich Mean Time.

In early June 2014, I visited New York city for 5 days.  I met up with three friends who I worked with in Germany -- two have moved back to the States and one who I still work with in Wiesbaden.  We were blessed with great weather during the visit.  All in all, it was a great trip of the Big Apple.

In between these trips, I found time to visit nearby Frankfurt and Cologne a few times since they are both short drive or train ride from Wiesbaden.  Pictures from all these trips can be viewed in my flickr account (eantonio82) and instagram account (eantonio64).  As summer season nears, I am planning a few trips.  This is busy time for work, but I will find some time to do a bit more travelling.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Holiday 2013 Visit of Seattle

I was in Seattle for 2+ weeks for the holiday period.  Not as hectic as previous visits, but still managed to accomplish most of the things I had planned to do while in Seattle.  As always, it is always nice to see family and friends.  But for the most part, it was a relaxing visit -- which I needed.  I hosted a Hawks game (game #15) party at the house before Christmas and our family Christmas party.  I am planning my next visit home during the summer.

A few photos during my visit -- more can be viewed from my flickr account.

With my seven siblings during our family Christmas party.

With some of the early arrival visitors.

Mek getting the most coveted pick in the white elephant gift exchange.

With the Fukeda, Lessard, and Dosono kids -- my great nieces and nephews.