Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Trip Date: June 22-24, 2009

Queen Victoria

We got to the London Stansted Airport very early in the morning and our plan was to take an early EuroStar to Paris. We took a bus from the Airport to St. Pancras Railway station.
As we walked in, we were met by some security guards. They asked us if we had tickets for the train. We told them that we did not, expecting them to tell us to leave. They told us that the ticketing counter opens at 6:00 am and that we were welcomed to hang around in the vicinity. They pointed to a fake grassy area. We looked in the direction they were pointing and saw two people fast asleep, or passed out on the Astroturf.

A St. Pancratic nap
So, naturally, we slept on the Astroturf too. Luckily for me, it was right next to a 24hr Starbucks, so I ate some yogurt before fluffing my backpack and falling asleep.

The EuroStar ticking office at St. Pancras Station
At 6:00 am we went to the EuroStar ticketing office and bought tickets to and from Paris.
There weren’t many tickets available so we got ones for Wednesday to Paris coming back on Friday in 1st class. (My brother paid for the first class tickets. Thanks Malcolm!) Then we headed out to look for a hostel.
My brother was a bit worried because I, in my usual manner, did not make any reservations at a hostel. My plan was to just show up. I told him that there are many hostels near the Bayswater tube station, so we should just go there and look around.
He really wanted to go to an internet cafe to look for places to stay. But since it was still so early in the morning, and most internet cafes weren’t open, it would have been a waste of time. My mom and I left him outside an internet cafe waiting for it to open. By the time it did we had found a place to stay at the Smart Hyde Park Inn, which was good since we had forgotten to leave him any money to pay for internet time.

He just looks so happy!
Malcolm started to have fun
My brother’s biggest complaint during the trip was the lack of ice for his drinks. When ordering a coke in China a waiter would hand him a room temperature bottle of cola. He would then ask for a glass of ice.
waiter:  I’m sorry sir, are you sick?
Malcolm: No. I want some ice for my drink.
waiter: For your drink?
Malcolm: Yes, I would like a cold drink. May I have some ice.
waiter: Why?
Malcolm: It’s a hot day. I would like a cold drink.
waiter: Would you like me to get you a fan?
Malcolm: No, just some ice…
waiter: I’m sorry, but we don’t have ice for drinks.
He had this conversation in every restaurant. All the waiters were perplexed as to why a man would want his drink colder than room temperature. No one had ice for drinks.
Determined not to give up, he set out to look for restaurants with their drinks kept on display in refrigerators. We walked past restaurant after restaurant until we found one. We sat down at a table and ordered our food. Then Malcolm walked over to the fridge to grab a nice cold Fanta and the Fanta was warm.
The refrigerator was unplugged. It was being used more like a display case for drinks rather than a cooler. Malcolm was defeated.
In Russia and Finland it was cold, so even room temperature drinks would be cold. But in London, Malcolm got all the ice he wanted with his drinks.
He was most happy about speaking English again. Though I must say that for being in Russia for only 2 days, Malcolm picked up quite a bit of Russian. He could introduce himself, order food, and be polite. He even learned some cyrillic. He said that he had Russian co-workers back in Ohio and had a head start. But still…

“If we do a trip like this again, I’ll just meet you guys in England.” – Malcolm

How to get there:
You can enter the E.U. and the United Kingdom by a train, plane, or boat. I’m not sure what needs to be done to get a European visa before hand. Americans are issued stamps at the port of entry which allow up to a 90-day stay.
  • Emergency number: 112 for fire, police, and ambulance (for the UK and most other EU countries)
The E.U.:
The UK:

  • 51°30’12.3″N 0°07’10.1″W
  • Go to Waterloo Station.
  • Look up, the Eye can easily be seen.
  • Walk to it.
Merlin Entertainments London Eye
Riverside Building
County Hall
Westminster Bridge Road
  • 09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Sunday
  • Telephone: +44 (0)870 990 8883
  • Calls cost 10p per minute plus network extras
  • Usually 10:00-20:00
  • Open everyday, but Christmas
  • Time changes each season
  • You can have parties in the Eye.
  • You can get some of the best views of the city. The best time for romantic looking photos are just before sunset.

  • 51°30’04.9″N 0°08’30.6″W
Use any of the below underground stations:
  • Green Park (Jubilee and Piccadilly lines)
  • St James’s Park (Circle and District lines)
  • Tour                                      £8.7515.50
  • Changing of the Guard   Free
  • Tour: July 31 – Sept 29  9:45 – 15:45
When the Queen is not in residence 19 State Rooms are open to the public. Book in advance to ensure admission. £8.75-15.50
  • Non-Tour
Well no one can stop you from strolling by at any time day or night, but it’s best to pass by during the changing of the guards.
  • Changing of the Guards
It takes place in front of the palace at 11:30 everyday in summer and every other day in winter. In the summer it’s gets pretty crowded so come with some sort of icy beverage and grab a good spot.
It’s great to just walk around and see the gates of her Majesty. Who knows, you might even get a quick glimpse of one of the Queen’s butlers.

  • 51°29’57.8″N 0°09’47.8″W
Go to the Knightsbridge tube station. Go west down Brompton road and pass Lancelot place. Harrods should be on the left side of the street.
  • Mon-Sat 10:00-20:00
  • Sun 11:30-18:00
  • Opens later on Sale Days
  • Open even on holidays!
  • A tour guide once told me that anything can be bought at this store if the buyer has enough money. It’s a great place to do some serious shopping if you are rich. If you don’t have a lot of money, it’s a great place to buy a knickknack or two on sale. There is one floor that is always decorated for Christmas. What more could you want in a store? By the way, this place also has the nicest bathrooms I’ve ever seen in a store.
  • For the American shoppers, when using a credit card here, the buyer is given the option of paying in pounds sterling or U.S. dollars.
  • Don’t forget to stop by to see the Dodi and Diana memorial.

  • 51°31’25.7″N 0°09’30.3″W
  • 9:30-18:00
  • Open everyday, but Christmas
  • Adults £6
  • Kid’s (<16)  £4
I can’t say what this place is like since I never went in. It was good enough for me just to take a photo of the outside. I’m not a big Sherlock Holmes fan.

There are lots more to see and do in London, but we had very limited time. Since I had lived in London for about five months in 2005 and this wasn’t my mom’s first visit, we let my brother decide where we should go.
The beefeaters tell the most gruesome stories in the most wonderful ways. I only wish I were British so that I could be a beefeater when I grow up!
How to get thereGo the Fenchurch or London Bridge tube station. map
    • Tues-Sat opens at 9:00
    • Sun-Mon opens at 10:00
    • Mar-Oct closes at 17:30 with last entrance at 17:00
    • Nov-Feb closes at 16:30 with last entrance at 16:00
Although I never actually went to see it, I’ve always wanted to. But then again, I don’t really want to. I think wax figures are a bit creepy. (Dead communist leaders aren’t creepy, but wax people are…)
Go to the Regent’s Park or Baker Street tube station map
Opening Hours:
    • 9:00-18:00 open until 19:00 in the summer
    • 9:30-17:30 on school days
This is the closest I’ll ever get to Isaac Newton or a British queen.
How to get there: Go to St. James’ Park or Westminster tube stations
    • Mon-Sat 9:30-15:30
    • Sunday and religious holidays it is open only for church services, but everyone is welcomed to join.

  • Big Ben (51°30’02.6″N 0°07’28.6″W)
Go to Westminster tube station  map
It’s free because you can’t go inside without special permission.
Unfortunately I have no idea who one would ask to get such permission. If you know, please tell me.
Other than that you could always run for parliament, but I doubt it’s worth going through all that trouble. But you can walk around it for free any time of the day.
I once joked, before I had ever seen it, that I wanted to put my foot in the Thames. But after seeing the river, I have no urges to jump in. It’s still really romantic to walk along the Thames.
Stare at the extremely tall monument to Lord Nelson. In case you care, this is where you can find the South African embassy.
Go to Charing Cross tube station  map
Exit #4 is right next to Trafalgar Square
I’m not a big fan of art, but when I lived in London, my apartment didn’t have air conditioning.  So I spent hours staring at paintings and cooling off.
There was one of a skull that I really liked. When you stood in front of it and looked at it, the people in the picture looked normal, but the skull looked odd.  You have to stand off to the side on your toes to see the skull in a proper perspective. If you ever go to London, check it out.
Remember that Wayne’s World movie quote?
This is a very crowded part of London, which is a very crowded city to begin with. In every city, there is a part of that city which looks like it could be any city in the world. This is London’s any-city section.
You have to see it to say you’ve seen it.
go to the Piccadilly Circus tube station then go above ground.
When the city starts to get to you, just go to a park. One thing I loved about London is that there are many lovely parks to choose from. This one is filled with flowers, especially in the inner circle.
Go to Regents Park tube station. Cross Marylebone road.
    • Opens at 5:00 every morning.
    • Closing time varies.
  • Hyde Park: (51°30’26.1″N 0°09’56.4″W)
This is a huge park which is connected to other parks like Kensington Gardens. This is a great place to have a picnic or an afternoon nap. I wouldn’t walk alone in this park at night though.
Don’t miss the Princess of Wales Fountain.
Look for the peter pan statue.
This park is very big.
One way is to go to Hyde Park Corner tube station, but there are many ways to get in.
Hours: 5:00-0:00


Oyster Card:
Get an Oyster card. It can be used to ride both the subway and buses in London. You can get one from any tube station for a refundable £3. You can also get one for free with the purchase of any monthly bus or tube pass.
It lowers the cost of a single fare ticket.
If you can’t decide whether to get a single fare ticket, return, or day pass, the card will decide for you. At the end of the day, you will only be charged for what the cheapest option would have been.
When your vacation is over you can return it at any tube station and get your £3 back. Yes, there is a tube station at Heathrow Airport.

Click here for Google maps

Monday, March 28, 2016


Trip Date: June 20-21, 2008

2:00am in Finland

The White Nights

The sun never set while we we’re in Finland. We arrived in Helsinki in time for what they call The White Nights. It’s the time in the summer when the sun doesn’t go all the way down at night. Unfortunately for us, it is also the time of year when just about everyone in Helsinki goes to their summer homes up north and the city is practically empty. It was quite a shock to go from Moscow and St. Petersburg, where there are so many people that they have to push and shove each other to get into the subway, to Helsinki where sometimes we were the only ones on the bus.
Our Olympic Room
Not having a setting sun to tell you when it’s time to go to bed was a bit weird. I would wake up at 3:00 am to use the bathroom and look out the window and it looked like 8:00 am. I thought that it was odd that people would go further north at this time because that would mean the sun would set less lower in the sky than it does in Helsinki… and, wouldn’t it be colder too?
The Olympic Hostel
Like a ’52 athlete
We stayed at an Olympic stadium that was turned into a hostel. It was the nicest hostel I’ve ever seen. There were so many of everything. Our private room had 9 beds, the bathroom had many showers and toilets, and there were many bathrooms. Helsinki itself, was my favorite city on the entire trip. Everything was neat and clean. Everyone we met was very friendly. Maybe all the mean people were up north. The streets were so un-crowded. They had broad sidewalks, but no people. I would like to go back to see what the city is like when there are more Helsinkians there.
Ice on the sidewalk in June in Tampere, Finland
RyanAir from Tampere
For a cheap flight to London Stansted we booked a flight on Ryan Air out of Tampere.
We were going to spend a day sightseeing in Helsinki, but everything in Helsinki was closed since everyone had left town. So we went further north to Tampere earlier than we’d planned. This is the furthest north I’ve ever been.
Sadly, everything in Tampere was also closed since everyone there had also left town. We walked around Tampere for a bit after we ate some kabobs (you know, traditional Finnish food). But then it started to rain and became really cold. (Yes, this was in June.) So we figured that we would be better off at the airport.
Jumping out of boredom
But the airport in Tampere was pretty much closed except for terminal 2, the Ryan Air terminal. My mom and brother fell asleep on a bench in terminal 2… I mean THE bench inside terminal 2; there was only one. I went wandering around and eventually got so bored that I begged my brother to come out side and take pictures.
The best advice I can give anyone going to Finland is to try not to go during any type of holiday. Other than that, Finland seems like a great country. I really want to go back to see more of it. I think I would even enjoy living there. Maybe someday…

How to get there:
You can enter the E.U. and Finland by land, air, or sea. I’m not sure what needs to be done to get a European visa before hand. Americans are issued stamps at the port of entry which allow up to a 90-day stay.
  • Emergency number: 112 for fire, police, and ambulance (for Finland and most other EU countries)
The E.U.:
  • In most E.U. countries almost everyone speaks some English and many people speak English very well.

  • 60°11’15.8″N 24°55’33.4″E
2.5 kms north from the main railway station.
You can take Trams 7A , 3T or 3 B to “Aurora Hospital” stop (300m).
Stadion Hostel
Pohjoinen Stadiontie 3 B
00250 Helsinki
Phone: 477 8480
  • This is where the 1952 summer Olympics were held.

  • 60°10’22.8″N 24°55’30.9″E
Take tram #2 to Kauppakorkeakoulut
Lutherinkatu 3, SF-00100 Helsinki, Finland
Phone: +358 (0) 9 2340 5920
Cost: Free
  • Mon & Wed 10am-5pm;
  • Tue 10am-12.45pm & 2.15pm-5pm;
  • Thu & Fri 10am-8pm; Sat 10am-6pm;
  • Sun 11.45am-1.45pm & 3.30pm-6pm
  • It is also known as the Rock Church, Temppeliaukiokirkko, and Church in the Rock.

  • 60°10’55.7″N 24°54’48.4″E
Take Bus 24 to Mechelininkatu.
Sibelius Park 00260
Cost: Free
Hours: Always available

There is a bus from the Tampere Railway station, but I don’t remember how much it costs.
Sometimes it might be cheaper to fly to/ from Tampere when traveling to/ from Finland.
  • There is nothing to do at this airport.
  • If you are flying on RyanAir, bring your own water, snacks, and reading material because the rest of the airport could be closed, even if the RyanAir counter is open.
  • The snack shop in RyanAir’s terminal is only open right before boarding time, and the food is not that great.
Click here for Google maps