Wednesday 13th July Edinburgh
Today, we had the train to Edinburgh to catch at 9.42am. A very civilised time, so we had ample time to pack our last things, make some food to eat on the train, tidy up; and we still walked out the door ½ hour early. So much easier travelling by train without a train strike to contend with!
It was cooler and more overcast today, but no rain for the walk to the station. Where we waited until they opened the gates 10 minutes before departure; we were in Carriage A, but the carriages were not marked! We walked to the far end, then found it was in fact the nearest carriage; it was a bit of a bunfight getting on, but we are sitting at seats with a table. We can't complain. A change at Stirling, and an hour later we were in Edinburgh, and walking down to our “student accommodation” at Brae House.
We were ½ hour too early to check in, so we left our bags and went for a walk. A little further out of town, where we found cafes, beauty parlours, and then a shopping centre with a big supermarket. So we have food for dinner and for breakfast, now. We treated ourselves to a coffee on the way back at a very nice cafe, then checked into our student room. It seems very reasonable; a narrow double bed (120cm) but for us that should not be a problem, a shared kitchen, and enough room to put our stuff away.
Then a walk via the nearby – and huge – Holyrood Park, a look at Holyrood Castle, a walk up the “Royal Mile” (which was, unsurprisingly, very touristy) and back home. Dinner in the kitchen and we even watched a bit of news on the television there.
Thursday 14th July Edinburgh
Our narrow bed here was no problem at all; and the traffic noise wasn't dreadful either. In the night, I thought about the half full bottle of Jura single malt whisky we'd seen left in the kitchen here; I came to the conclusion that it must have been left by someone who had to take a flight home, and that if it was left there the cleaner or someone would appropriate it.
We didn't really wake till nearly 8am, had a leisurely get up and breakfast, and went out – after moving the whisky bottle to “our” shelf in the kitchen. We walked back up Canongate and went to the Edinburgh Museum – an eclectic range of things, and quite interesting; we spent an hour or so there, then went up to tourist info where we spoke to a very helpful man, who advised us about a lot of things to do and see in Edinburgh – many of them free; and on how to get to the airport on Monday morning. It sounds not very difficult at all.
By now, it was coffee time; across the road to Cafe Nero, then via Waverley Station to find the airport bus stop, on the other side of Princes Street Gardens. Here there is a huge memorial structure to Sir Walter Scott – apparently the biggest memorial to a writer anywhere in the world.
Then back down south to the museum at the College of Surgeons; they were nice enough to give us a senior's discount, and it was very interesting; a huge collection of things. Then to the Lidl supermarket to buy food, and an attempt to walk home via Holyrood Park – the map seemed to indicate that you could, but we ended up walking past apartment buildings which were not at the posh end of town.
We dropped our stuff and went out for a coffee and cake at yesterday's cafe. Now it's roast chicken for dinner, which was followed by some Spanish practice with a couple of young Spaniards who are staying here. We are much more sorted now on how to spend our time here – I don't think we'll run out of things to do.
Friday 15th July Edinburgh
We slept in. A lot. We weren't up till nearly 9am. This didn't matter too much because 1. we are on holiday, and 2. we planned to walk up to Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park, but it was raining. So we had to change plans, and instead walked up to the Airport bus stop to see how long it took (22 minutes). This brought us to near the head office of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which Dougie at Tourist Info had suggested we see – so in we went. It is a working bank but they were very happy to show it to us; it had a most amazing dome with glass star “skylights” - about 50 of them.
Then, the National Portrait Gallery was close by; so after a coffee from our thermoses, while sitting on some dry steps outside a closed shop, that's where we went. It took a long time, and we didn't manage to see everything in it – but we were portraited out, and we'd learnt quite a lot about all the wars etc., between England and Scotland; most of which seemed based on religion.
By now, the rain had stopped. We walked down George St., in the New Town; full of swish shops, a bit like the Paris end of Collins St.; then headed down to Grassmarket. We'd heard the was a blues music festival there this afternoon, but found no sign of it; we heard music coming from up at the Castle, and went there. No sign of anything, except it was touristville again. So back down along George IV Bridge (which looks like a normal street until you find you are crossing a street which is three or more floors below you). It was getting late, and we were getting hungry; we had a coffee and a scone in a cafe, bought some food for dinner, and walked home via East Meadow Park and Holyrood Park.
Another excellent home-cooked dinner, followed by more Spanish practice in the kitchen.
Saturday 16th July Edinburgh
Another day in Edinburgh, where it is hard to run out of things to do. This morning was fine, so we went up to Arthur's Seat - a good uphill walk beginning very close to home. We called in first at the St. Anthony's Chapel ruin, then continued up. It is a popular walk, and quite busy; we passed some people resting beside the path who appeared to find it hard going.
So there were quite a lot of people up at the summit; we'd taken coffee and biscuits, but it was too windy there for them, so we continued down the other side to a more sheltered spot; before then going up along the ridge to Salisbury Crags, which overlooks our hostel.
The view all along were excellent; and the size of Holyrood Park was more apparent. Edinburgh is very fortunate in having such a large open space so close to the city.
Then is was down to the supermarket – to the only one we know here. Food for dinner, and some bread rolls for lunch; we've not eaten bread much for days and days. We went home and ate. This was unusual, and very pleasant.
For the afternoon we walked around the Scottish Parliament, and down Cowgate to Grassmarket. Here, we found the free blues concert; we also found that it wasn't very good. Greyfriars Cemetery was close by, with lots of tourist groups there. We looked around, then went to the nearby National Museum of Scotland. This, we discovered, is enormous! We couldn't possibly see it all. We wandered in there for a while, revived ourselves with a coffee, wandered some more... Just before closing I found the way, through the rabbit warren, to the rooftop terrace on Level 7; more good views. The museum closed at 5pm, and we had to leave.
Down South Bridge, then North Bridge, to Regent Street; and a better way to take to the airport bus on Monday, with a stop at the old Calton cemetery on the way.
After dinner – and speaking to some new arrivals, two Chilean sisters – we went back to Holyrood Park to the swan lake. Lots of very friendly swans. And home again to a little more Spanish practice when I went to make a cup of tea before bed.
Sunday 17th July Edinburgh
Our last day in Edinburgh; so it was time to head out to Stockbridge, to the north of the city, and the Botanical Gardens. This meant going first to Calton Hill; but this was a little tricky, because access to it is not so clear. It began to rain, but Alison found a very usable umbrella! We ended up walking along Regent Terrace, which has a lovely elevated outlook over Holyrood Park; not surprisingly, many of the buildings are foreign consulates. But we finally got in, and went up to Nelson's Column there, and the incomplete Parthenon copy; and more fine views. Edinburgh has so many good viewpoints!
After getting a little lost, we headed out to the Botanic Gardens. Very good botanic gardens, where we wandered for quite a while; we entered by the East Gate, intending to leave by the West Gate (the only other one) but, until we put our minds to it, kept finding ourselves back at the East Gate.
Eventually we got out out, and walked by the Water of Leith (a creek) to the colony buildings – where workers employed in building the New Town lived. 8 rows of 2 storeys, with the upper storey accessed from one side, and the lower from the other. (They are now desirable residences.)
This led on to Raeburn Place, a “normal” shopping strip. After walking up and down, and looking in a number of shops and a small farmers' market there, we continued down the Water of Leith until we found ourselves 3 storeys under Queensferry Street So typical of Edinburgh! We walked up to Queensferry St. and back into town.
We walked down the Princes St. Gardens, where there was a lot of activity; many performers of all sorts, and lots of drumming. All in preparation for the upcoming Edinburgh Festival, I presume. So our walk along was slow, but eventually it was time to go home. And put on the alarm for 6.15 tomorrow morning, to get to the airport by 8am.
Monday 18th June Helsinki
We both slept quite poorly, though we didn't disturb each other; but we were both awake at 6.15am, ½ hour before the alarm. So we got up. Had a cup of tea, and left the hostel early. It was a fine and warm morning, and the walk to the airport bus was enjoyable. So was the ½ hour trip to the airport – but then......
The airport was as crowded as any I have ever seen. We saw no “departure” boards, and had to ask which counter to check in at. 34 & 35. There was no business class check-in; and the counter wasn't open yet anyway. We waited in the queue, which grew longer and longer. Eventually the counter opened, but it proceeded very slowly; perhaps partly because of the phenomenal numbers of golf bags, on almost every flight leaving Edinburgh; the Golf Open at St. Andrews finished yesterday.
We finally got to the counter. The bag procedure was weird; there was a huge queue taking golf bags to “oversized luggage”, and a conveyor belt behind – with no bags on it! An employee there told us to leave our bags at the end of a large line of others, and they'd be put on. So we did, and went through security – through the priority lane, thank goodness; it was still quite a bunfight, but better than out in the general space.
Up to the “Aspire” lounge, where we were able to sit down comfortably and eat breakfast; till we thought time to go the the departure gate, 20 minutes before departure. A walk to the other end of the airport, where it was very crowded. A delay in boarding, but then it was announced; and, again, the first person in the queue held it up for what seemed like ages. But then we got on. And sat there for quite a while; the captain announced a delay; and a bit later announced that, unfortunately, none of the luggage had been loaded! I was not really surprised. And, a little over an hour late, we finally took off for Helsinki.
The flight was uneventful. So was arrival – except for the lack of bags, and needing to fill in an online form about it. I set out to do this on my phone, it got complicated because there were 4 bags and I mixed them up, and one of the bags tag number was not legible. I got uptight about it, Alison felt rejected because she was just sitting there watching; in the end words were said (very reasonably) and I left the whole thing for later.
We took the train into town and the ticket machine short-changed me 50 cents in my change. I rang them about it. And then we went into Helsinki; I have only shorts to wear – no long pants; fortunately I have a jacket; but no change of clothes; and no way of recharging any of our electronic devices. Not really a great start!
We went into the Holiday Inn, where they very kindly gave us a map; and we found and got into our apartment. Then out; we will need dinner, and we need some toothbrushes and toothpaste as well. We bought some of these, and after much looking around had a pizza for dinner. And then I went online and did the luggage report on the computer; a much easier way to do it, but even so it took the best part of ½ hour. Now we'll have a cup of tea from the teabags we've also bought.
Tuesday 19th July Helsinki
We are still here in Helsinki, and still without our luggage. Many times today I heard Alison say “we could use.....” - then to realise that what she wanted was in our luggage, wherever that is.
The only good thing about it is that it makes a good travel story, and it forces us to fend for ourselves more than we would have. So, after a reasonable sleep here (waking at 9am, on UK time still), and two cups of tea, we set out to organise ourselves better. We needed an ATM, and somewhere to have some breakfast. We went on a quite long route to find these things, ending up back at the station; we went looking for tourist info there, and came across two ATM's! The first ones we'd seen in a long walk. The ATM's wouldn't give us money; I asked in the train info office next door, and the very helpful lady showed us that we needed to use a different slot; then it worked. She also told us where the tourist info office was, down next to the market building on the waterfront.
We had a coffee and pastry in a shop near the station, then headed down to the waterfront – familiar territory to us. There were two ladies there; we went to one each. Alison's was much better value, giving us advice on where to shop and what to do. So we went home on a circuitous route past a favourite op shop in Ulanlinna to a supermarket in Ruoholahti – buying muesli, coffee (things we had in our luggage), some fruit and food for lunch, and dinner. We came home. We were hungry, because it was after 3pm in the afternoon. We ate.
I had a brief lie down after this, but then went out to do more necessary things – try to find a razor (I don't want to grow a beard) and work out how to recharge phones and computers. So first was the nearby Radisson Blu hotel, where I asked if they had shaving kits; yes, and they gave me one. Very nice of them. Tourist info had thought that the Central Library would be able to charge our devices; we headed off there, but first came across Kiasma, a large Modern Art Gallery. I asked in here and the lady in the cloakroom there has the correct plugs and is very happy to do this when we need. Hooray!
The library was close by. It is large, spacious, and a very impressive new building with flowing lines and curves. It has three floors; we went to them all. Apart from the usual library things, you can use sewing machines, overlockers, laser cutters, 3D printers... and there were lots of quiet places to sit and read, etc. And a very nice cafe! So for Friday, when we need to move out of our apartment at 10am and get to the airport at 10pm, we have somewhere good to spend our time. And it is next door the the station.
We walked home. Another circuitous route across to the beach at Etu-Toolo and home. Alison cooked our food (not easily, the facilities here are very limited); we ate, and walked to a supermarket around the corner for some icecreams for dessert. And before bed I washed my undies, socks, and shirt – thank goodness I was wearing quick-drying ones in the plane from Edinburgh.
So – we are surviving OK, but it would be so nice to have our luggage here.
Wednesday 20th July Helsinki
On Monday I was hoping we'd hear news of our luggage within 24 hours; now, I am resigned to going home without it at all and hoping that, eventually, it turns up.
So last night we looked up what we can do; Finnair will cover us for 80 euros of emergency needs, and our travel insurance for more. So we decided to stop living as we are and go and buy some new clothes, so that we can actually change them. But we also planned to go on a trip to the nearby island of Vallisaari, so after breakfast set off, with orange, bananas, and a towel. But before long we decided that shopping first might be better; so we went to a couple of outdoor shops (shirts, and crocs for me), then went over to some mainstream shops; H&M, and Stockmann. These were depressing; very ordinary clothes at very high prices. Alison was also looking for another bra so she can change hers, but unsurprisingly had no luck. We gave up, bought a filled roll, and came home for lunch and a siesta.
It was clear to us that op shops were likely to be a better option, so that's where we went after lunch. Via Kiasma, because Alison's computer is nearly out of charge. In the cloakroom was a new lady; as soon as we said what we'd come for, she said “You're the Australian couple!” It appears we are widely known there, now. In the end three other people came to help, looked for chargers in other places, and came up with just the thing! So we left Alison's computer charging there, and I left my phone as well.
We went around the station, north to Hameentie, where there were three op shops. Only one turned ut to be useful, but it was very useful; a pair of jeans each, shirts, and sandals for Alison. And home, buying some food and some cider on the way. And picking up phone and computer, of course.
Thursday 21st July Helsinki
Last night I developed a tickle in my throat. Covid! I told Alison that I wasn't going to do a RAT test – and she reminded me that all the RAT tests were in our luggage. So I can't anyway; but today I've improved.
Today, we did go to Vallisaari Island, after buying some food for the trip and dropping off my computer at Kiasma to be charged. They have been so good to us there! Then down to the waterfront and on to the ferry for the 20-minute trip.We thought we'd have a coffee before we set off; the first cafe was closed, and the coffee from the second very mediocre. That's how it is sometimes.
It is not a big place. There are various old disused military buildings there, and some cafes, etc., but it is mostly “natural”. We walked over the causeway to the neighbouring smaller island, Kuninkaansaari; walked across to the far end (where there is a small private accommodation cottage) and then back along narrow (unofficial?) tracks. We stopped to read and have a snack at a high point – including some Finnish specialties of a rice pudding baked inside rye bread, which a man at the supermarket had told us about; they were not so memorable.
After walking through masses of wild blueberries, we found a strange (empty) camp further on, of two 2-storey triangular hammocks / tents strung between some trees. Then did a circuit of the main island, Vallisaari, past more old military installations including the Alexander Battery, and past the lake in the middle of the island. And time to go home again.
Back on the mainland, we walked up to the Sinbrychoff Art Museum – the former house of a very wealthy man from the 1800's; a very impressive building full of its original furniture and masses of paintings (mainly portraits) and the biggest collection of miniatures I've ever seen – some of which were extraordinary.
We went home, had a coffee, and went out along the sunken bicycle track / footpath to Kiasma, to pick up the computer; bought some food, came home and cooked dinner. We bought another bag today, to put the clothes we've bought in; but tomorrow we think we won't check any luggage in at all. We're too scared, now!
We are fortunate that Helsinki has been having fine weather with temperatures in the mid-20's all the time we've been here.
Friday 22nd July Helsinki Airport
We woke early. Silly! A travel day when we don't leave till after midnight. So we chatted, and played; and read our books, and put of getting up as long as possible. Fortunately my itchy throat of yesterday seems a bit better today.
So we were able to put off leaving till nearly 10am. We walked (slowly) down the sunken path to the library; we were going to use lockers here, but there are none. So it was back over to Kiasma, used a locker there, and put my phone and Alison's computer on to charge.
Then – having bought more clothing and footwear to replace what we didn't have – we went looking for another bag. Because we have a container of shampoo now, we will need to check at least one bag in. This meant an investigative tour of Forum and Kamppi shopping centres, which we are getting to know well. In the end we settled on a Sea to Summit bag,
We visited a supermarket for some food (when we got out, I realised I'd accidentally shoplifted two oranges, which were hanging in a bag on my wrist); and we walked over to a nearby park to eat Caesar salad and macaroons, before going to the Oodi Library (a very pleasant place to spend time) and started writing website. Till we needed to do more, so we went out for a walk around Toolonlahti Lake. From here, we could see the Ita-Pasila amusement park; the lady in Kiasma had suggested we go there, so we did. It had the most amazing rides I've ever seen,; there was a lot of screaming, and we weren't tempted to join the screamers.
Then back to the library, with a stop on the way at the Helsinki Rose Garden; it was another glorious afternoon.