Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Helsinki, Finland

We were able to have another day in Helsinki but we had to go buy our “ferry” tickets to Estonia before we could do anything else. At this point in the trip Gulya was headed back to Moscow with a few other people and then we would be on our own to figure things out. I wasn’t too worried I thought we are here with 21 other people if anything goes wrong. I know some of the others were stressing but I was ready for the adventure to continue.  So back to buying ferry tickets, we found the terminal and bought our tickets. It was 35 Euros which is about $70. Once all the tickets were bought we gave them to the one head teacher girl to hold on too and made a plan to meet back at the terminal at 10:00pm. The ferry was leaving at 11:00pm (so we thought) which we weren’t too excited about but it didn’t seem weird since most of our transportation had been at night so far. 

Well it was 10am and we all looked at each other like what are we going to do for 12 hours???  Everyone broke off into their separate groups and made separate plans. Well there were 11 of us that wanted to try and find the temple and some of the girls wanted to go and do baptisms. Jess and another girl didn’t bring their recommends and I don’t have one so we just wanted to go and take pictures and look around. Mainly just to say we went to the temple in Helsinki Finland!!!  We had to take a taxi (which is a big no no in Russia but we figured we were ok in Finland) and it felt like a forever drive and we wondered if he was really taking us there or where we were headed. But we were able to get there safely and with no problems.  

We when first came upon it, it wasn’t what I was expecting. But then again I didn’t really have any expectations to begin with.  It is a really small temple and it sits on a very high hill, so that was neat to see. The most obvious difference was it had one black steeple; you don’t see much of those on temples.  It was so amazing to just be standing in front of it and knowing that I was in FINLAND at the temple gave me such a peaceful and happy feeling.  We walked around and took some pictures then the girls went inside and Jess, Hilary and I went to a little church building that was just down the hill. We asked if we could just wait inside for them to finish and they were like yeah no problem and if you need anything just let us know. They were so nice and friendly and they spoke English so that was a bonus! We just relaxed and read our scriptures and the church magazines that they had and before we knew it two hours had past and the other girls were done.  I was so at peace and just relaxed that I had no idea that much time had passed. The man that helped us was wonderful he told us how and where to get on the bus that would take us into town and he told us how to get to a shopping center that had food if we wanted. We headed back into town and went to an all you can eat pizza buffet and just chilled for like 2 hours. It was nice to talk and get to know the others girls and to branch out of our normal group and be social. Plus we were trying to kill some time off our 12 hours we had and the pizza was really good too! 
The rest of the time we spent just walking around and sightseeing and trying to find some souvenirs and then the weather turned really cold and it started to snow so we wanted to head back to the boat harbor and just wait inside for our ferry but we didn’t want to leave some of our group behind so we went to the train station and chilled for a while and people watched. Which is always fun to do and especially in a foreign country.  There were a lot of drunken people and crazy people and homeless people and once the one drunk man started to yell at us and look like he was putting a curse on us and that he might have a gun, we booked it out of there and waited outside to meet up with them! 

When we get back to the ferry terminal I didn’t really notice it at first but there was no one around except our group. They were all done for the day and came early to take a break and relax until we boarded. Some of us had to use the restroom but there was a cleaning lady who said we couldn’t and locked them. Well Lexi and I had to go really bad so we went upstairs and found one and asked the lady if we could use them and she said yes but then gave us a really strange look and got on her radio. We just went to the bathroom and again thought nothing of it and when I came out of the stalls there was a security officer standing in the women's restroom and he starts talking to me in Finish and I tell him I speak English and then he starts telling me that the terminals are closed and we need to get out cause they are locking the building up for the night. He pulled on the door handle of Lexis’ stall and I told her to hurry up and we went back downstairs.  I started to tell everyone that the guards said they were closed and we needed to leave. But that didn’t make sense because we had a ferry to catch then it all clicked and we  thought to actually look at the tickets and the guards said that the ferry left at 11am not 11pm. Are you kidding me, 21 of us missed the ferry and just spent 12 hours in the city wandering.  We couldn’t believe it, what were we going to do, we had no where to stay and we were being kicked outside where it was cold and snowing.  Plus we were missing Daphne, Madi and Auriana and we didn’t know where they were. We gathered our stuff up and went outside on the front steps and waited for a plan of action. The first thing to do was get a place for all of us to stay the night.  Myriam was able to get online and found a hostel and we all headed to it to check in for the night. Daphne, Madi and Auriana came to the terminal on time and we told them what was going on and where we were staying.  Then we all just went to bed and waited for morning to see if we could get on the next ferry without having to pay another 35 Euros. 

In the morning we were able to get things worked out with the company and they let us on the ferry without having to pay again or pay anything more. The terminal opened at 9am and we were standing by the front doors right at 8:55 waiting for them to open and no one left the area that way we could make it on the ferry that was at 11am!! Once we boarded the ferry our troubles seemed like no big deal. It was another really nice ferry (cruise ship) and I just sat and enjoyed lunch, drank my Dr. Pepper that I was finally able to find and watched us sail through the water. It was only a four hour ride so I got a little nap in and waited till we got into Tallinn, Estonia for our next days adventure!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My heart belongs to Sweden!!

So Stockholm,Sweden was probably my favorite place. It was absolutely beautiful. I loved every minute I was there. I can’t even imagine what it would be like in the pure summer. When we were driving through town we past like four 7-Eleven’s!! Sweet it was the first sign of America we had seen in a long time. We knew we would be going there and seeing if they had slurpes!! Everyone else wanted to go to the museum but we wanted to walk around and see what Sweden had to offer.Who wants to spend their time in a museum when you're in Sweden!

We went and watched the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace. It was cool to see the guards and how precise they were in all their movements. It’s neat to know there are still a Prince and Princess that live in a palace. We didn’t have much time before we needed to get back on the bus so we scoped out what we would do the next day. We did a little more of the city tours with our bus and then we went to check into the hotel and man oh man was it the nicest place I have seen so far on this end of the world. When we got to our rooms I was so happy to have an actual bed and bathroom!!  Then we found out that the breakfast was included and we looked at the dining room and hoped that it would be a big breakfast because we were all on a budget so a big continental breakfast would be great!  We decided to go to the grocery store next door and get something for dinner, it was so nice to go into a place and even though we couldn’t fully read everything it was at least somewhat recognizable to what we have in America. Plus the fact almost everyone is Sweden speaks fluent English so that was nice.  After we got some food for dinner and snacks we headed back to the hotel where we just hung out and talked for awhile. 
We were able to have the entire next day free so we planned on going to IKEA. Yes that’s right IKEA we wanted to go to the one that started it all and have some Swedish Meatballs!! We didn’t know how or if it would be possible but our tour bus driver told us where to go and that there was a free shuttle we could take. FREE shuttle heck yeah we were all over that. It was only about 15 minutes to get there and we headed straight for the Meatballs. They were pretty good not something I would die for but still pretty legit for Swedish Meatballs.  Once we got back into town we just roamed around and tried to take in the sights. There were really neat little streets that had tons of souvenir shops and neat old buildings. Sweden definitely holds a place in my heart and I know I will be back someday. Two days just wasn’t enough to see everything Stockholm had to offer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

9 Day Vacation of a Lifetime!!

St. Petersburg & Helsinki

So I was finally able to go on my big trip that I had been waiting for!  I traveled to St. Petersburg in Russia; Helsinki in Finland; Stockholm in Sweden; Tallinn in Estonia; Riga in Latvia and Vilnius in Lithuania. That’s a mouthful in itself!  So we took a night train to St. Pete’s and it lasted 8 hours. But it was a sleeping train so once we boarded we were able to get our beds set up and just chill for a little while and take in the fact we were on a train for the first time. And it was fun to finally say I have been on a passenger train. We only spent one day in St. Pete’s which was nice, but I’m glad we are going again so we can see a lot more.  The big thing we went to was ‘Winter Palace’. It was the castle of the Romanov Family, who was the lasts Czars of Russia. And if you have seen the movie Anastasia then you know who and what I’m talking about because she was a real girl and lived in the castle.

Then we boarded a night bus that was headed to Helsinki, Finland.  All in all it took about 11 hours on one bus to get there since we had to pass border patrol and customs and traffic was so bad because there was supposed to be a Ferry instead of buses but they all got canceled so around 5,000 people were on buses all headed in the same direction. So that’s a lot of people and buses to check. That bus ride was hard, I was able to get a seat to myself, but still not very fun to try and sleep on a bus let alone be stuck on it and have nowhere to change, go the bathroom or get ready for the morning. So we all did the best we could and when we got into Helsinki, we found a restaurant that was an all you can eat pizza buffet  so we headed in there bought our plates, then I headed straight to the bathroom to try and freshen up and put clean clothes on. Then I would be able to enjoy my pizza. A lot of other girls did the same thing as me so I didn’t feel that awkward! After lunch we just walked around for a bit then got back on the bus and did a city bus tour around the town. We saw some pretty interesting things but the thing I liked most was a sculpture that was built for a famous conductor and it was made to look like 600 organ pipes. It was really neat and the details were amazing!  
After the bus tour we had to drive to Turku, Finland because that was where our first ferry was waiting.

Holy cow, these things were not the type of ferry’s I was thinking. It was like a cruise ship. They had restaurants, casinos, bars, dance clubs, a full on supermarket, lounging decks, and a karaoke bar. The rooms were really small and we had four people to a room but hey at least it was a bed that I could lie down in. Once I boarded the ship and got a shower finally, which it had been since Thursday and it was now Sunday night.  Jessica and I got ready and met up with the other girls and we headed to the karaoke bar. It took awhile for us to finally have our turn on stage we when they called our name all seven of us went up on this little stage and sang, “Every Time we touch”. Let’s just say it was an experience I would prefer not to repeat. It was fun but it was too many people and the song was not a good one to sing at karaoke. But hey at least I can say I finally got on a stage and performed karaoke in front of an audience. After that we went to the dance club and danced until about 2am. I was way tired by then and knew we had to be up at 6:00am so me and some other girls left and headed back to our rooms for a little sleep. All I thought about that night was how I would wake up and finally be in Sweden! Somewhere I have always hoped to visit. In the morning we had no time for breakfast because it was back on another bus that was headed into Stockholm.  More about Stockholm, Sweden in another post!