Category Archives: Travels

Saint Petersburg Russia

28 June 2014

Disclaimer – Very long blog article

Midsummer break is a huge affair in Finland. It comes, of course, over the Summer Solstice weekend. As far as I can tell, the celebration doesn’t track one specific historical event like many of the US-based holidays do. However, the celebration has deep roots that you can check out by visiting that link at the top of this paragraph. Most Finns have some sort of plan to take advantage of the long weekend in order to break from the routine. Plans can include partaking of various Finnish beverages and stoking up the grill.

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As with most holidays, a high-jacking of sorts by the religious world has occurred but as far as I can tell it simply coincides with the longest day of the year and if you are lucky perhaps some of the best weather to be had in the region. I can see why this celebration exists in a country where the winters are long, dark, and cold.

Midsummer for us meant an extremely thin week of football practice and probably the one chance that Charlie and I could extend out beyond the borders of Finland to see something new. Last year, we took a weekend trip to Tallinn in the little country of Estonia. That trip was a lot of fun and very interesting. This year we decided to take a look at Saint Petersburg Russia.

Considering all the hype and issues that had been going on with Russia and the Ukraine, we did have a bit of angst surrounding this decision. However, in the end we decided that there really should be no issues. However, we did do our homework using the Internet for advice on traveling to Russia as Americans. What we discovered was that Saint Petersburg is set up for visa-free visits as long as you don’t stay over 72 hours. And, Helsinki had a direct connection with Saint Petersburg through the Russian cruise line St. Peter. So the trip would be relatively easy to pull off. We just had to hop on the VR train to Helsinki on a Saturday, take an overnight cruise to Russia, spend Sunday checking out the city, back on the boat that evening and take the train back up to Seinäjoki on Monday. It was fairly cheap as well. The trip was 247 Euro for the two of us plus some tickets on the train, which when purchased about a month in advance, ran around 120 Euros for the two of us. We were set to take the train on June 21.

The nice thing about this trip was that there were no suitcases involved. A few items in a small backpack and we were ready to go. I decided to not even take a laptop computer with me. Charlie did bring his small tablet, which as it turned out later, was a life saver.

We hit the train, which was really a bus, at 9:10AM. The trip to Helsinki was part bus to Tampere and then a transfer for the remaining two hours over rail. The bus was a nice and comfortable ride to Tampere that had a single stop and took about two hours. From there, the VR was predictably smooth.

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The above two photos are actually from the transfer station in Tampere just before boarding. Here is a look at inside the rail car. The seats are very comfy and reclined nicely. The station at Helsinki is fairly large with about 8 or 9 tracks.

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We got off the train and headed into the station. The plan was to take our time walking through the city to the St. Peter Line. We had arranged to have plenty of time. It was about 1PM and we did not leave on the boat until 6PM that evening. The line was a different one that what we took last year over to Estonia but we knew the general direction in which to go.

Here are a couple shots of the entrance to the train station and then just as we exited out to the street on the other side, which is right downtown Helsinki.

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I took a couple more shots down the adjacent streets. The street with the Subway and McDonalds was really cool. There were a lot of nice shops and really nice surface work.

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We took off in the general direction we thought was correct, which was toward the Helsinki Market Square. We got to see this market last year and it is vibrant. It had been packed with tent vendors selling furs from the Lapland, artwork, souvenirs, food like reindeer meatballs, and so forth.

Along the way we hit the Helsinki Cathedral. This is a huge building completed in 1852 and set atop a big set of steps and overlooked Senate Square. Right in the middle of Senate Square was a statue of Alexander II. The previous link has a good panoramic view of the cathedral and the square. Here are some shots I took.

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After we left the cathedral, we headed down the streets and eventually ran into the market. I got a photo of it while standing right by the office of the St. Peter Line, which was closed. Because we did not know where we were really going, we ended up at the office by Googling it on Charlie’s tablet. We thought there might be a map or something that would get us going in the right direction. But, the office was locked up tight like most of the businesses here due to the Midsummer holiday.

The other photo to the right of the one I took of the market is of Hietalahden kauppahalli, which is an old restaurant as best as I can tell. I did some research and that is what I think it is. I took the photo because I thought the building was pretty unique.

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With a little luck and some wanderings, we finally found the St. Peter Line. From the market we could see a couple of large ships and we eventually found the Princess Maria, which was our boat.

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Inside the terminal, we checked in and got our passes and had some time to kill. We found a bar nearby the loading area and decided to have a couple Karjalas, a local Finnish beer.

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We boarded the boat and found our modest little room. It was tight but functional. We had not splurged on accommodations that was for sure. Each side of the room had a small cot. There was a miniature bathroom with everything you needed and might possibly be able to use if you were about 4 feet tall… we did seem to manage though.

Earlier, we had exchanged some Euros for some Rubles. The going rate was 40 Rubles for each Euro.

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So this was the first of two evenings to kill on the boat. It was only about 6PM or so by the time we got into the room and dumped off our backpacks. We headed to Deck 7, which contained the duty free store, the bar, a couple restaurants, and a night club. We were both very hungry so we hit the first place, which turned out to be pretty good, we saw – some rabbit-themed bar. It had a lot of televisions, some good chicken wings and cold beer. We basically spent the entire evening in this place. Note the funky decor.

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Later, when we were visiting the Fortress of Peter and Paul on Hare Island in Saint Petersburg we saw a small statue of a hare coupled with a fairly large statue of another hare that everyone wanted to have their pictures taken with, we made the connection. This link has a bit of history on the hare.

After eating and before heading back to the bar to watch World Cup and drink some more, we did wander up to the top deck and got some shots of the water.

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We hit the sack around midnight in fairly good shape. It was a little different than our boat trip to Sweden for the infamous pre-season scrimmage we took with the team last year. I don’t think we found our rooms for that overnight trip.

The next morning we woke up with only about 30 minutes before making landfall. We gathered up our stuff and headed out to find some coffee. Along the way, I got a couple shots of the port into which we were landing.

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There was a little place on Deck 4 that had some friendly girls running a small food shop. This area turned out to be where everyone was congregating to exit the boat as well. We got some coffee and took our time not wishing to mash into the press of humanity jockeying for the pole position at the door. Later, we found out why there was a big concern for getting off the boat as fast as possible.

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After the swell of people had made their way off the boat, which incredibly was over a single, roll-up stairway device that attached to the side of the boat, Charlie and I made our way off and down into immigration. As we walked into the small area where immigration services were conducted, our nimble minds put it together why everyone wanted to be first off the boat. The lines for processing people were horrendous. The area had four booths painfully processing the entire ship’s population. We immediately made the mistake of picking the nearest line, which of course had no structure. This is the line that it seemed into which everyone had decided to merge. Had we been thinking, we would have worked over to the far wall where it later became obvious that some civility existed.

Resolved to our mistake, we remained in our ad hoc line and slowly inched forward over the course of 90 minutes. Total distance traveled in those 90 minutes was probably 10 yards. By the time we got to where we actually had a shot at getting processed, the situation became even more tense as others positioned to be the actual “next” person to get serviced. To compound the situation, we both were sort of on the outside of the line and had to literally force our way into a spot where we could actually stage ourselves for the booth. I finally indicated to this couple that was parallel with me that I would be going in after them. They said “fine.” Before this happened, though, I should mention that some older lady from New Hampshire decided it was necessary to announce to Charlie and I that the family behind them had been waiting “a long time”. I decided not to respond to this in the several ways that I could have responded to that inane announcement. Instead, I just stared at her blankly. Her husband, who was obviously embarrassed by his wife’s stupidity, muttered something unintelligible as he himself moved toward the immigration agent.

The couple I had negotiated with finally was through and I was seemingly next up. At this point, some guy behind me decided that since he was traveling with this couple that he should be next so that they would not have to wait on him. After some polite pushback I pretty much had had enough of him and told him that I “didn’t give a fuck about it” and that was the end of that conversation. Maybe I should have let him go but I was getting a bit irritated by then.

I got processed by the agent and was waiting for Charlie, who was in my “group”, to get through after another five or six people. Meanwhile, the tool that had had the issue with me going before him got through right after me and his friends had somehow had to endure an additional 45-second wait.

By the time we actually hit the outside, it was about 10AM. We found a free shuttle to drop us off in the city. Ironically, the group of three were on the same shuttle, which I thought was pretty funny.

After the short shuttle ride, we got off and got our first true look at the city.

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Right near where we got off the shuttle was St. Isaac’s Cathedral as well as the Monument to Nicholas I.

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By this time it was close to lunch and we were getting hungry. We picked a random direction and headed down the street in search of something to eat. After a short distance, we discovered a sidewalk menu in English with the familiar word “Pizza”. That pretty much made our minds up.

We entered the place and it was quite nice. It was an Italian-based affair with comfortable sofa-like chairs. We were the only customers as it was still a bit early for the traditional lunch period.

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We got a couple pizzas and a beer and water. We had learned that in Europe when you order a pizza, that is a one-person meal. Unlike in the states where if you get a large pizza you pretty much are sharing it across the table. The pizzas here, which turned out to be just like those in Finland, are fairly large but have very thin crusts and not a lot of cheese. They were pretty good and would do us until we hit the boat again in the evening.

Afterwards, it was back out to the street. Our goal was to find a few key places that we had researched prior to the trip. We had a rough map and were going to go it on foot rather than use the “Hop-on Hop-off” bus system.

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The above photos were just a street shot outside the place we ate and a license plate from one of the autos. I thought the Russian plates were pretty cool so I wanted to get a shot of one.

We headed toward the river in hopes of finding the church of blood. That was our first goal. On the way we came across a cool archway leading into some large area. It turned out it was the General Staff Building whose archway led into Saint Petersburg’s Palace Square.

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Atop the triumphal arch was an array of horsemen and soldier statues commemorating the Russian victory over Napoleonic France in the Patriotic War of 1812. Across the square was the famous Hermitage Museum. Right in the middle of the square was the tall Alexander Column.

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According to what I dug up on the Heritage, it is something you could wander around in for several days and just scratch the surface. Our time on the ground here was severely limited so we basically did not have any time to actually go into any of these places we were seeing. If I ever had the chance to visit this city again, it would be over the course of several days.

On the way out, we passed one of the Portico of the New Hermitage. It was a pretty impressive entrance. If you check the link out you can read more about it.

Nearby was the next place we accidentally stumbled upon – the Field of Mars. This is a large park with a center dedicated to the Roman God of War. It had a fire pit in the center that, I presume, continually burned.

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I must admit that between the time spent on foot in Helsinki the day before combined with today, my older hips and feet were beginning to talk to me a bit. We were still trying to find our number one destination goal of the Church of the Savior on Blood. Thus far, we had not found it.

We finally spotted it quite by accident as we were leaving the center of the Mars field.. There it was on the horizon nearby. The architecture and colors were very distinctive against the sky.

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We headed off in that direction and were soon at the foot of the church with hundreds of other tourists. It was set up so that you could pay and go in but of course we did not have the time to do that. So we settled for some pictures.

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According to the information we had dug up before making this trip, the site was where Alexander II was assassinated by a couple of grenade-wielding anarchists. The building is, to say the least, impressive.

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Just outside the site, was an ornate gate that led into a pretty large park. We later learned that it was Alexander Park, which also included Leningrad Zoo. We did not take the time to explore the park let alone check out the zoo. Here is a good shot of Charlie, though, standing by the gate.

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The next major point of interest we wanted to hit was the Peter and Paul Fortress. This structure was over the water and quite large. There was no mistaking how to get there as it dominated the shoreline from where we were. It was over the Trinity Bridge, which was quite long.

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Once over the bridge, we navigated another shorter bridge called the Ioannovsky Bridge, which lead directly into the fortress. Here are a couple photos with the first being the entrance right over the bridge and the second being the first look inside the fortress grounds.

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A dominating structure in the fortress was the Peter and Paul Cathedral. Very near the cathedral was an old cemetery where many famous Russian generals were buried. I couldn’t find any links for this particular outside burial grounds but the plaque on the side of the iron-wrought fence listed off about 20 famous generals going all the way back to the early 1700’s.

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Right across from that burial grounds was a small statue of Peter I seated on a throne or chair – Monument to Peter I. We stood quite a while looking at this odd rendition of a man. The first thing we figured was that whoever sculpted it must have been heavily influenced by the Shuar, which would be found in the jungles of Equador and Peru and also known for their head-hunting and shrinking practices. However, a little digging into the sculptor, Mihail Chemiakin, revealed that he was a non-conformist of sorts and had actually undergone treatment by the government to attempt to rid him of his particular thinking along those lines. Bottom line though, the miniature head, elongated arms, and intricate hands did not dissuade the line of people taking the time to have their photos taken with this fellow.

Directly across from Peter was a the fortress Guardhouse. I thought this building was particularly cool and its perfect symmetry provided a nice contrasting backdrop against the misshapen monument to Peter.

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We continued to wander around the large fortress grounds and found lots of interesting buildings. Here is a shot of the Boathouse. I haven’t a clue as to the other building. I thought, though, that the lettering was interesting so I took a shot of it.

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The time was getting on and we decided to head out and try and take a riverboat tour. We had seen several venues available while walking through the city. On the way out, we entered an area that had a stage set up that had what I am guessing to be an 80-person orchestra set up. By the looks of it, it was the full deal. It had violins, a huge cello, cymbols… everything. We decided to stop and listen as it seemed they were about to start up.

As we stood there, we listened to no less than three Russian dignitaries give lengthy speeches around the event. We, of course, had no idea what the event was commemorating or, for that matter, what any of the words meant. Well into the third speech as we stood there with the crowd in rapt silence, I turned to Charlie and asked him how much he would give me if I yelled out “FREEBIRD” from our position in the back. We decided that it would not be a smart move and that we might actually be hauled away. So, after listening to one of the pieces, which was quite good and very representative of classic Russian music, we made our exit.

Back over the Ioannovsky Bridge and we were right on top of several boats conducting river tours. We still had about 2 hours before we needed to be back so we popped the 500 Rubels each and found some seats. The tour was about an hour and the only negative was that it was all in Russian. Nonetheless, it was very interesting and gave us another unique perspective on the city.

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These photos were purely random as we had no idea what was being said by the tour lady. I had plenty more pictures but this blog piece is getting long and the images were pretty much the same. The Russian lady did utter a short phrase that helped Charlie out at one point. We were entering underneath one of the low, short bridges inside the city and we distinctively heard the words “low bridge”. Charlie was able to turn, see and avoid the oncoming light fixture with which he would have collided had she not given him that warning.

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After the boat tour, we were back on the street and took no time in finding a taxi that drained us of our remaining Russian Rubels for the ride back to the St. Peter Line. This driver didn’t speak a lick of English but was intimately familiar with the streets of Saint Petersburg and the operation of the vehicle’s accelerator.

Once at the terminal, we checked in, boarded the boat and settled back into the Rabbit Bar to get some food and beer. We were both pretty hungry.

The overnight cruise was uneventful and we soon were back in port in Helsinki. It was about 8AM in the morning. Again, we got some coffee at the little cafe near where you left the boat. This time, we decided to just wait things out and let the masses get out. We were in no hurry to stand in a line for hours.

Finnish immigration turned out to be an adventure in itself. After getting to an agent without having to threaten anyone, I was lectured about my upcoming departure date in September. The guy running the booth and scrutinizing me told me that I could not be in Europe over 90 days without some permit. I indicated that the organization I was coaching for was dealing with that. So, after getting lectured a bit more, he stamped my passport and I was cleared to enter the country.

Charlie, however, was not so lucky. He had spent two months coaching football in Corsica off of France before flying to Finland to coach. His days in Europe exceeded the magic 90 day limit. I was waiting for him just outside the officer booths when he and two escorting officials arrived and informed me that “my friend” was going to be deported back to America.

To no avail, we explained our situation to them. I was “invited” to come along to the holding room where we might try and straighten things out. Here is where Charlie’s tablet came in handy. Neither of us had phones or any numbers memorized that we could give to the officials so that they could call someone from the Crocodiles to see if this whole thing could be avoided. Through the tablet, Charlie got off a key email and found some phone numbers and we did get a hold of someone with the team. Unfortunately, it could not be resolved.

I was quickly separated from Charlie and sent on my way while he was loaded into the back of a holding van and transported to the Helsinki airport for deportation. This all happened so quickly that I failed to get the apartment key from Charlie or even say goodbye for that matter. As he was whisked away, I headed down the road on foot to the railway station with a million things going through my mind on how to deal with this situation.

After about 45 minutes, I reached the VR station where I grabbed something to eat and had a beer. I then waited out the two hours before boarding the train. I arrived in Seinäjoki about 5:30 that evening and was met by Aki, our faithful team manager, who told me everything had been worked out with Charlie and he would be arriving around 8PM.

Evidently, once Charlie had gotten to the airport, a different investigator took over the “case” and determined that they deportation was not necessary. The deal was that Charlie had to turn over his passport but could pick it up in a week at the Seinäjoki police station as long as he had the proper paperwork filled out for his extended stay in Europe.

Thus ended our adventure to Russia. Overall, the trip was great! It was something we had really wanted to do last year but did not have the time. We learned a lot about Russia, the people, line dynamics, and immigration laws. If you made it this far reading this blog entry… way to go!

Later,
Scott

2014 Traveling Back to Seinäjoki

1 May 2014

I had been a few days camping on the sofa of my good friend Joel Newgard in NE Portland
when the morning arrived for me to head back to Finland for my second season as the
Seinäjoki Crocodile’s Defensive Coordinator. The flight was scheduled for a 2:30PM
departure. I was being routed through the Chicago O’Hare airport, then onto
Copenhagen Denmark, and finally into Helsinki Finland at 6PM the next day, which was
the first of May. It would be a long day in the air and on the ground. Gate-to-gate
travel time is 18 hours. To that, add the 10-hour time difference and you have a clock
differential of 28 hours. I really wasn’t looking forward to this part of the trip.

This trip was complicated by the fact that I was slated to carry over a huge amount of
practice gear for the team that had been purchased and shipped to the Portland. One of
the Finnish players was spear-heading an effort to coordinate the look of the team and
had taken orders for socks, shorts, shirts and the like. Four sizable boxes had arrived
a week ago and I had secured three extra large suitcase/duffles with the help of my
sister and daughter to transport the gear. So rather than the single checked bag, I
would be checking four bags.

Shortly after Noon, I was engaged with a friendly United Airlines clerk attempting to
straighten out a goof I had made while working through the automated boarding pass kiosk.
For some reason, the number “3” was stuck in my head as I worked through the screens.
So, instead of indicating four pieces of checked luggage, I had incremented up to three.
I guess it was because I had it in my mind that I was dealing with three extra bags.
Anyway, the net result was that I needed to have help adding that last single bag to my
ticket. The problem was fixed and $500 later for extra baggage fees I had my three
boarding passes. Believe me, extra baggage is not a way to hang onto your money. I
was really hoping that I could recover some of this money during my stay in Finland.

The flight was pretty standard. I had a decent seat from Portland to Chicago as I had
spent a little money to get into an exit seat, which gave me some extra leg room.
Chicago to Copenhagen was wretched. The plane was bigger. It was one of those planes
that had a four-seat row in the middle. And I was unlucky enough to have drawn one of
the interior seats in that middle row. Add to that the sick lady that sitting next to
me. Near the very end of the boarding process, I noticed four completely empty seats in
the left-hand row. I decided to grab one of the sets. This was great. I settled into
a comfortable seat with nobody beside me. While waiting for the plane doors to close,
several late stragglers came down the aisle. With each passenger, I would track their
eyes as they looked for their seats and hope that my seat was not theirs. Each
time when they passed me over I had a silent sigh of relief. In the end, my little party
was ultimately ended as a family of four came rushing in seconds before the plane doors
were secured. Sure enough, I was in one of the seats. So, I was sent packing back to my seat
that was wedged into the interior row to endure seven and half hours over the Atlantic.

Once in Copenhagen, I had to make my final connection, which was easy and afforded
plenty of time. This flight, like last year, was barely full and was a brief 90 minutes
into Helsinki. We touched down right on schedule at 6PM local time.

At the baggage claim my bags were surprisingly right in front. I grabbed all four and
loaded them up on a free cart. I walked out of the area with no issues with customs.
I had been a bit worried about that as well.

Outside, I found platform #11 and the free shuttle bus to the Holiday Inn soon arrived.
I had booked a night there as Charlie was arriving four hours later than me and we would
not be able to catch the VR train North to Seinäjoki in order to arrive at a reasonable
hour. That night around 11PM, Charlie got there and we settled in for the night.

The next day, we hired a cab for 16 Euro to take us the 5Km to the nearest VR station.
The tickets North ran 65 Euro each and we staged our eight items multiple times up and
down several stairs to get to Platform 3 to catch number 47 at 10:22. With no issues
other than having to deal with all the luggage, we found our seats in the car. We had
gotten seats that faced each other and had a small table in the middle. This
arrangement afforded us to work out our AM and PM camp agenda for Saturday. We would
be having two practices with the team – one on the home field and the other in a newly
constructed bubble dome.

At 1:15PM, we rolled into Seinäjoki. There was a spitting of snow in the air just before
we got there but for the most part, it was clear. Greeting us were Timo and Doc, the
player who had put together the effort to get the team gear. We got the gear into Doc’s
car and we were soon on our way to our shared apartment.

As noted… the trip was long but we were finally here and were facing an exciting season
again in Finland with a very different team than last year. I will try and keep up the
blogs on the games and other events over the course of the year.

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Tallinn Estonia Trip

29 May 2013

This weekend was a bye week for the Seinajoki Crocodiles. That meant a rare occasion to do a little traveling. Charlie and I had decided to take a quick trip to the little country of Estonia, which is just a short boat ride south of Helsinki Finland. Mika had told us that we could manage that with an overnight trip where we would leave early Saturday and return late Sunday. Mika arranged it and decided to also go with his girlfriend. So the four of us were heading off to Estonia.

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Apparently, Estonia is a favorite destination stop for the Finnish. The reason is because it is relatively cheap for booze as compared to Finland. A regular site coming back from Estonia to Finland on the boat is to see Finnish people lugging huge amounts of beer and liquor that they purchased in Estonia. I am talking about shopping carts full of the stuff. I did notice too that the price of a pint of beer over there in the pubs runs about a Euro cheaper than it does in Finland.

So our destination was Tallinn Estonia. Tallin is the capital city and is right on the Northern shore of Estonia. The city itself has a lot of very old architecture and actually contains a tourist area for the old city that is ringed with the old city walls and towers.

We started the trip early Saturday morning at 7:30 with the four hour car trip from Seinajoki to Helsinki where we would catch the ferry down to Tallinn. We arrived near the port with about an hour to spare so we decided to stop at an open-air market near all the boats. This place was packed with shoppers and tourists who were walking up and down the two full rows of vendor tents that were set up with goods from all areas of Finland.

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There were artworks, food items, and clothing from all over. One booth was interesting in that it had shawls, hats, and skins from fox and reindeer out of Lapland, which is an area very North in Finland. The shawls were basically an entire fox pelt with head, feet and claws. I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of a booth like this set up in Portland where you would need a perimeter established to hold back the angry mob that would be protesting the practice of actually using an animal skin as a garment.

Another booth we checked out had some food items that we sampled. One of the foods was meatballs made out of reindeer meat. These proved to be delicious. Besides those were some little fish that were fried up whole called Muikku. These were about the size of sardines and were very salty but had a nice flavor once you got past the eyeballs.

In the harbor were lots of boats. One in particular was a tall ship with the masts and rigging of the past. I have always liked these ships and had Charlie take a photo of me standing with it in the background.Helsinki Market near boat lines.

Pretty soon it was time to board the cruise ship. We boarded and lockered our small amount of luggage and found a nice comfortable spot in a bar to wait out the 2 hour boat ride. The place was packed with people heading to Estonia. The trip lasted two beers and got we got up, got our stuff and queued up at the exit.

Off the ship we found the weather perfect. It was too warm for any type of light jacket as we made the short walk from the boat to our hotel, which Mika had pre-booked for us. We were staying at a place called the Tallinn Spa and Conference Hotel. It was a very nice place that featured a huge spa and sauna. They had nice silvery statues out front.

Naked statue outside hotel

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie and I laughed at the sign of a local business just across the street from the hotel. It was the Portland Gentlemen’s club.Strip Club across from our hotel

Those of you familiar with Portland Oregon might know that it ranks very high up on the charts for number of strip clubs per capita. At one point in the not too distant past, some claimed it to be the number one city in the states with the most strip clubs per captia. Not so any more apparently. We both thought it was somewhat ironic that a club in Estonia hailed by that name.

We checked into our rooms and were going to meet in the lobby in ten minutes to make a quick trip into the old town. It was about 4PM and we were getting pretty hungry. The plan was to get to the old town, eat something small, get back to the hotel for a spa, and then back into the old town for a booked dinner at a place called Ribe. Ribe came highly recommended by Mika. We did not take this recommendation lightly as both Charlie and I had witnessed him unconsciously wreaking havoc on six buffet lines on the cruise ship from Finland to Sweden just two weeks prior.

We entered the old town through one of the many entrances.One of the entries into Old Tallinn

The old town was rimmied with these types of walls and towers. The streets were cobblestoned and narrow and had plenty of tourists from all over based on the various languages we heard. Charlie and I caught the occasional familiar sound of the American as they joked and enjoyed themselves in this part of the world.

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Before grabbing a quick bite to eat, Mika wanted to take us up to a viewing spot at the high point of the old town. Apparently, from there you could see over much of the old town and the view was spectacular. So we followed him up and up the small narrow streets. At points we were reduced to going single file up steep stairs and through old archways.

Charlie heading to high point in old Tallin

old door in Tallinn

At one point, we passed a guy in character that was trying his best to get every tourist to stop and engage themselves in his blacksmithing demonstration. I was a little interested in this and would probably have stopped to listen and watch this guy but Mika was on a mission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eventually, we reached the small plateau that was used as a viewing platform of the old town. To one side there was a three-foot wall that you could stand next to and take it all in. The site was worth the climb. From there you could see the everything. The pictures I took don’t really do the view justice but here is one.

Viewpoint over Old Tallinn 2

 

 

 

 

 

By now I was famished. We had to get some food. The last food I took in was about 24 hours ago at the home of one of our players who had invited Charlie and I out for a sauna and dinner with his family. That was an experience that I will write up later.

After getting our fill of the view, we headed back down the trail and soon found a little sidewalk cafe with an open bench for four. We didn’t want to eat a lot right now but had to get something. The menu offerred several nice appetizers and beer of course. I got some garlic bread and a small bowl of potato and cheese casserole. It was very tasty.

With that accomplished, it was back to the hotel to do the spa. Mika was excited about this part of the trip. He had talked it up several times. We made the short walk back to the hotel during which I realized I did not have a pair of swimming shorts. When I voiced my concern Mika said I could purchase a pair at the front desk of the spa.

At the desk, I gave the lady in charge my size and and she whipped out what I thought was a piece of scrap material about the size of a large postage stamp. Nobody but me and Charlie seemed surprised by this. I could not restrain my laughter and said “not happening.” I decided on a quick nap in my room instead. The last I recalled was the word “speedo” in a conversation that Mika was having with his girlfriend, which I am sure was some sort of baffled explanation as to why I was not going to do the spa.

About 8:30 we all met in the lobby and were ready to make the trek back into the old town for our date at the Ribe. I really was not that hungry but this was supposed to be a special spot to eat. We found the place with no problems and were escorted to our table. It was a very nice place and I felt a bit underdressed. But, I had packed light and left my suit back in Oregon.

We started with a drink. Mika, who has taken to discovering the finer points of wine, got some red wine while Charlie and I both stuck to beer. From the menu, I got the asparagus appetizer, which was delightfully arranged and very tasty. It was in a light sauce and had some small stewed tomatoes as well as some fish egg stuff that according to Mika is the cheap version of caviar. The main menu choices were fish, pasta, duck, pork, or beef. Both Charlie and I opted for the pork.

Dinner at The Rike in Old Tallinn

The main entrees arrived after a liberal wait beyond the appetizers. The dish was excellent though! I have to say I have not eaten such tender and tasty pork ever. There were two nice, round center loin cuts that were pink and tender. I was pretty much done at that point but Mika insisted on the dessert menu.

From the dessert menu I chose “chocolate.” I have a severe sweet tooth and despite the fact that I really was pretty full I wanted to try this out. It finally came after an equally long wait and it was presented nicely in a ring of six different concoctions of chocolate. Each type was repeated once. These were not manufactured items but were actual culinary creations of various states entirely in chocolate. They were all very good. By the time I had finished them off I was truly stuffed.

We rolled out of Ribe’s at around 11PM totally satiated. But, the night was not over. Off to some pubs now.

On the way, we went through the main square of the old town. The square was dominated by an old large building near the center. This building is the old Gothic Town Hall that was built during 1402 through 1404. It was the meeting place for the ruling burgermeisters and has been a show piece of the city ever since.

Main Square building in Old Tallinn

The rest of the square was rimmed with cafes and pubs all of which were full of customers. The only modern piece of “architecture” was a stage that occupied one part of the square that was used for live entertainment. Nothing going on that night though.

The first stop after dinner was a place called Mad Murphy’s Irish Pub and Grill. This place was lively and packed with tourists. They had a live band playing there that consisted of three guys who were playing classic American tunes. The dance floor was packed and energetic. I basically enjoyed the scenery from a booth and was not even able to have a beer I was so full. We hung out in this place for about 30 minutes and then moved onto a place called The Beer House. We had passed this place a couple of times earlier and they featured beer maids that rivaled the St. Pauli Girl from the famous poster. Check out the link in case you don’t know what I am talking about.

We stayed here for about 30 minutes as well and I still could not find room for a beer. It was getting late now and we needed to get back to our rooms. The day had been long and fun but I was ready for some sleep.

We exited the old town through a really cool part of the wall.Night entry into Old Tallinn

I have never seen any castle architecture and have always wanted to see this type of stuff. Coming out this way we actually got a bit lost but our route ended up skirting a good portion of the wall. So, the walk out was very interesting as we got to see lots of the wall and old railings of the city.

The walk from the old town to the hotel was quick and soon we arrived back at the hotel. It wasn’t long before we were asleep in our bed, I slept soundly beneath atypical art decor atop our headboard.

Artwork in our Tallinn Hotel

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning we were on our own until Noon when we were to meet at the boarding area. I took a long two hour walk around Tallinn that found me back in the old town and around the main town proper. Here are some more shots of the old town.

Here is another shot I took yesterday of a typical street view.

Old part of Tallinn 1

This is a shot of the exit we took last night out of the old town but in the daylight.

Day entry into Old Tallinn

 

 

 

 

 

Here is one of a street that was full of fresh flowers for sale.

Street of flowers in Old Tallinn

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, on the way back to the hotel, I noticed again this weird structure that was decaying and near the water.  I later found out that the structure was the old docking port. It sort of resembled a Mayan pyramid but was larger on top. I climbed the several sets of old broken down steps and had a decent view of the water and my surroundings. Here are a few photos. Weird temple-like structure near hotelGraffitti art in Tallinn

View from weird structure in TallinnThis structure had multiple layers all of which I explored. The bottom layers had old, abandoned cars that were gutted and trash strewn about in every corner.  Down below there also was what looked like walled off office areas and administration wings also. I can imagine the entire structure would be a skateboarders dream in the US with all the stairs, ramps, etc

 

 

 

 

 

This is the view shot from atop the old structure.

 

 

 

 

The last leg of the boat phase was soon upon us. Charlie and I stopped at a sidewalk marina cafe and had a couple bloddy mary drinks. The lady running the bar didn’t know how to make them but the owner jumped right in and knew what we were talking about. They didn’t have all the right ingrediants but in the spirit of improvision they managed to whip up a couple that approximated the taste. We had a nice time reflecting on the uniqueness of the city we had just had the privilege of visiting for a short while.

from deck of boat back to Helsinki

Next, it was on the boat to Helsinki, a stop at scheduled American Football game between the Finnish National team and a Division III college team out of Illinois. That proved interesting. I will write a bit about it later.

Seinäjoki Finland

Arriving in Seinäjoki

3 May 2013.

My day started at 4:45 AM Daylight Savings Time Pacific coast. I spent the night at Ken and Kristin’s house in West Portland. Kristi and Joel were house sitting for them so that is where I crashed for the night on their couch. Joel was going to transport me to the PDX Airport early in the morning to catch the 7:45 AM flight to Finland. I had packed up everything that day as well as mowed the entire yard and cleaned the house. I left the cat outside with a bowl of food and an email to Joey telling him to get up there no later than 3 days to check on things. We have people coming to look at the house on Saturday at Noon according to Ben Farley, the realtor.

After about 5 hours sleep I was up and we left for the airport. Check-in was without
incident and I was waiting at the gate for the first leg of three flights. Randomly,
I was approached by Cheryl Stulken (an old classmate from high school). She was making
the same first leg trip to Washington DC Dulles Airport to visit family.

I got the last email and FB chat communication off to my love in Belize, Nancy. And
boarded the plane. I had paid $61 for a bulkhead seat but to no avail I was wedged between
two males and one was a sorrid individual that was as wide and big as me. I spent the
entire trip leaning forward so our shoulders were not competing for the same space.
Finally, after 5 cruel hours in the air we landed.

I had a couple hours for the lay-over and got to my plane for the Washington DC to Copenhagen Denmark leg of the flight, a 7-hour affair. The airline is SAS (Skandanavian Air). They were good. Free food and booze on the flight, which was only about 3/4 full. I had two seats with no neighbor so was at least not cramped. Sadly, I maybe dozed for a total of a 2 rough hours on and off during the 7-hour flight. Coming over Greenland we had some serious turbulance of which I had never really experienced. The plane dropped sparatically to the point where passengers where exclaiming in fright. It didn’t last long though.

We landed in Denmark on time at 7:15 hours (morning) and the time was short between
that flight and my last leg from there to Helsinki. I got through customs, which consisted
simply of a quick moving line where an official looked at my passport and stamped it
without a word. No indication of how long I could stay, where I would be traveling, or
any worries about what I was bringing into Europe. I made the gate with about 15 minutes
to take-off.

The last leg was a small SAS aircraft that was only about a quarter full. I mistakingly
ousted some Finnish guy out of his seat thinking that the aisle seat he was in was mine.
He corrected me and I really had the window seat. Thankfully, I slept for most of the
flight and arrived at the Helsinki airport at around 11:00 hundred hours. I was last off
the plane and got my lone bag at the baggage claim area. No problems there. With the
bag, I was faced with going through two exit points: one to declare items and one for
which I would not declare items. Even though I was carrying 4 rolls of Copenhagen and
a bag of Big Red leaf tobacco, I walked through the non-declare exit, which was unmanned
just as the declare side was. On a side-note, my luggage was not even inspected stateside
as there was no customary slip in it. So basically, I could have walked into Europe with
a bagful of dip or whatever I might have been able to slip by the x-ray machines at the
check-in point.

The next adventure was getting from the airport to Seinajoki. This trip involved a bus
and a train. First order of business was an ATM cash machine at which I withdrew $240
Euro. Then I found an information station in the airport, which was fairly empty, and
was informed of the outside bus terminal (number 2 and station 21) where I could catch
bus number 61 to Turkkilla (I think that is correct). Turkilla is the main Helinski
public train terminal. No issues there. I had paid the 2.30 Euro for my single pass
ticket and soon was standing on the bus dripping in sweat from the heat from inside the bus and exersion of
lugging my laptop case, which had two computers and the cords, and my small Khaki’s bag,
which had other items I did not want to check. The one large bag was thankfully on
rollers. The bus ride was about 30 minutes to the train station and it was now 11:30 AM.

It took me a while to figure out the train schedule. They have several underground
chutes that lead up to train platforms. I saw where my train to Seinajoki was not until
22:14 hours, which was over two hours. However, I lugged my baggage up the chute to
platform 1, which was not the correct platform. After figuring this out, I lugged it
all back down and then over a bit and up again to Platform 2. These platforms are
similar to what you see in the Portland Metro area where there are a few benches and
people arrive and de-train as needed for the trains that come by like clockwork about
every 10 minutes or 20 minutes.

I decided to wait it out rather than find a better place than the platform. This was
probably a mistake as I was a bit damp from all the exertion and my jacket, while somewhat
heavy had a broken zipper, which I was unaware of, so I could not zip all the way up.
It only took about 25 minutes for my comfort level to dip into the “shit – I am freezing”
level. I spent my wait trying to find various areas out of the wind so as not to succumb
to hypothermia. I marveled at the many people (women especially) that had short skirts
on, a good stylish jacket and maybe an accessorizing scarf and hat. They all seemed
impervious to the cold, icy wind as they waited for their train. I decided that if the
US Navy Seals can endure hours of cold training while dripping wet that I could make the
two plus hours until my train arrived. So I hunkered down for the wait. I did approach
one lady and asked if she could speak English, which she quickly denied. But, I
managed to in fact confirm that I was on the right platform and my train would indeed
arrive at 22:14 hours.

Prior to determining my platform, some Brit informed me that you could purchase the 60
Euro train ticket on the actual train. So I did not bother trying to find a place to
purchase a ticket.

Finally, the train arrived. These trains are very nice. They are long with about 8
cars and include passenger cars and dining cars. They are electric, smooth, and quiet.
I got onto the train and had chosen a car that had a small seating area where there were
4 other passengers. I failed to notice the luggage storage areas so I just jammed my
gear into an adjacent seat and settled in. 2.30 Euro later I had a warm cup of coffee
from the cart ladies that traverse the train throughout the entire trip.

The stops were regularly announced and I knew the map for my journey. So I was confident
I was not going to miss my stop. I was set for about a 3 hour journey.

During the journey, I was regularly requested to move from the seat I was in to give
way to a passenger that had an actual pre-paid ticket. Also, ticket clerks would move
through the train after each major stop and the new passengers would be requested to show their ticket receipts, of which I had none. My plan was to pay once somebody asked me for a ticket. It soon became apparent that I somehow had slipped through the cracks and the ticket agents assumed I had already been checked because I was never asked to pay or produce proof of sale. So, I rode the train free that day. I later found out that was a rare mistake made and if caught, it would have been a $280 Euro fine.

Mika and Charlie were waiting at the Seinajoki stop when I de-trained. Mika is a manager
of sorts for the Crocodile Football team. Charlie is my middle son and is the head coach.

First order of business was a stop to our Wednesday participating eatery (a pizza buffet
place). Mika and I ate. It had been about 14 hours since I had any food. Then a quick
stop to my apartment.

The apartment is a one-room affair with a small kitchen and bath. There is no washer for
clothes and no freezer included as part of the small refrigerator. The overall feel is something
out of a Russian movie. It is part of a concrete, block-style structure. It did have a
small balcony that is cool. The bed is a double bed. They had dropped off four boxes of
various kitchen ware that included some things like a toaster, some spices, some hot pads,
an iron, dishes, etc. They are still in the boxes. Included was a small sack that had
a nice warm Crocodile green coaching jacket (with working zipper), a bar of soap, a roll
of toilet paper, and a box of some sort of juice. Mika gave me the key and then it was
off to a 16:30 practice at the facility.

We only had the field for an hour due to competing with a Junior A team. The field is
turf but has seen better years. Much of the rubber is up on the surface and it needs
groomed badly. They have a decent locker room where I quickly met all the players that
were gearing up for the practice. Names were a nightmare and I basically had to ask each
player to repeat their name a few times. It will take a while to put the faces to the
odd sounding names. The language, while Finnish, sounds more Russian to me.

I met “Tony”, who is a 12-year player that is no longer playing due to multiple knee
operations. He will be helping on the defensive line but can commit only to one practice
a week. He seemed like a good guy. I went over our main philosophy at D-line and he
seemed to understand it all. He speaks very good English.

Practice was only one hour and consisted of 20 minutes warm-up, 20 minutes Offense and
Defense group sessions, and 20 minutes for a team session. For my Defense session I quickly lined up the 9 guys
I had (early in the season and not everyone is there) and went through Base set with the Cover 0, 1, and 3 coverages. Also covered the
4-man pressure packages that included Mighty, Ram, and Lightning. That is all I had
time for. I incorporated signal calling and on-the-fly instruction. There were few
questions. I could tell they were generally familiar with the system through the
advanced playbook I had sent earlier.

Team session was fast-paced and good according to Charlie. We went offense against
defense, although we did not have corners. I called plays using all the slants, coverages,
and blitzes that we had covered. There was on-field instruction as needed.

We have some hitters and some skill players that have played at a high level. Stacey, our
safety, was two years on the Buffalo Bill roster in the NFL. None of the other imported
players had arrived yet.

During practice I met Timo, who is one of the head managers/organizers of the team. He
is the guy that actually hired me. He is a nice guy and has a son that currently plays
in one of the youth leagues. I had back in the apartment a set of youth turf shoes that
I bought for him and would give him later. I was unable to get the girdle and rib
protector shirt that he requested. I was under no pressure to get this stuff and he
was very happy to get the shoes. I insisted that he keep his money for the shoes and
offered them up as a gift.

After practice, Charlie, Mika, and myself went to a local pub and Mica bought us a
pint of Finnish beer that was pretty good. Then, it was back to the train station and
picked up JoctimusPrime, which is the FB handle for our running back Crawford from Tennesee Tech. He had just arrived from the states making the same trip I did. He is a big strong back that should do well. I just hung out for the introduction and then Timo took me back to the apartment. He briefly came up and I gave him his son’s shoes. He assured me that if I needed anything to just let somebody know.

It was getting later (around 21:00) and I did try to connect the modem that was given to
me. The internet is there because I can ping to my machine but the wireless is not working.
I tried direct connecting and then get one of those screens that indicates you have internet
but you don’t have a contract of sorts to actually use it. So, the internet is not working
and I have no working phone. So thus far, I am completely out of contact with Nancy or
anyone else for that matter. I did ask Charlie to shoot Nance a quick email to assure her
that I had arrived safely and that I had no way to communicate as of yet.

Around 23:00 I basically crashed on the top of the bed. The heat is good and there are
no issues around being cold when you are inside. The sun was down at this point but just barely. The latitude
is such that the days are very long and the dark is very short. I was so tired it really
did not matter.