Finland, Sweden, Norway - and that's it! :)
Funny thing...Finland is not actually Scandinavia. But it is a part of the north and it is a part of me with my mother being from Finland. So half my family lives up there and a great many vacations have been spent in Finland too. If you ask me then Finland has the most beautiful flag in the world.
I got there by boat from Tallinn. Not the first boat because it had an accident but the next boat 5 hours later. The nice lady who rebooked me took one look at my very disappointed face and then gave me a free lunch ticket for the ferry ride :)
I was behind my original schedueI when I reached Helsinki but luckily Finnish Red Cross had a Christmas party that night so I was welcome to stop by in the evening. And that I did - only to be lead down into the basement where a group of half naked men welcomed me and told me to get undressed. Now...how strange does that sound? But before you call the police please be advised that sauna is a deeply rooted tradition in Finland. If you never heard about it before then a sauna is a small wooden room which gets heated up to degrees close to 100 Celsius and then you sit inside the room naked..and sweat. Hmm...I guess it still sounds strange. But it is really nice. Try it :)
The crazy sauna team :)
I had a good talk with the Finnish Red Cross employees inside the sauna while enjoying a cold beer. All of this within the first 90 minutes of being in Finland. Now that's the way you do it!! After the sauna I stopped by the Christmas party where this year's theme for dressing up was: the circus!! I was torn in half between really wanting to stay and get crazy with the circus...and between meeting with my family as promised. So I only stayed for 10 minutes and parted reluctantly.
A small part of my crazy family :)
However, the party was soon forgotten because my family is equally crazy and I do not get to see them very often. My cousin, her boyfriend and my uncle were there to great me and we had a good couple of hours together before I got on a train to Turku. What's in Turku? My grandmother! The last of the "elders" in my family and a woman who told the military that she was old enough, when she really wasn't, so she could be a nurse during Second World War. She is almost 6000 years old now and about 40 centimeters high. In fact she might remind you a lot of master Yoda from the Star Wars...apart from not being green, of course. And around me she is always lovely while the force is strong.
My Jedi master grandmother!
I spent the night at my aunt's place where I had a second round of sauna and a good night's rest. My aunt is looking into producing honey through acquiring her own bee hives. How amazing is that? Well...it was nice to see my family and in case you still wonder what kind of country Finland is then all you need to know is that everyone is drunk on vodka while running around naked in the snow throwing knives and speaking a weird language - all the time! Yup...that's Finland :) Oh yeah...and it is insanely beautiful too!!
Aaaahhh Sweden. Denmark used to fight Sweden all the time in the past. We lost interest when we started losing all the wars and now we are connected by a bridge instead. A very long and beautiful bridge. I didn't get anywhere near it on this trip though.
I sailed from Finland to Sweden on a very big passenger vessel and woke up in Stockholm. The vessel's receptionist, which is operated by Viking Line, wouldn't let me go up on the bridge because of security. But they did treat me to a free drink and free breakfast. By coincidence my good friend Hasse, whom I worked with in Bangladesh, is now working in Sweden and living in Stockholm. So I had a place for the night.
What to do in Stockholm? I'll tell you what! A few years ago I read a few books about how the capital came to be and Stockholm has a very old and beautifully well kept old town too. So I opted for a free guided tour of that. But not before spending 5 hours in the Vasa museum. The Vasa is a magnificent and very old warship which was completed in 1628. It then left the port and sailed towards Poland to fight King Sigismund but after only 20 minutes sailing (and still in the port) it began to sink and after another 15 minutes it was resting at the bottom of the ocean. No good back then. Brilliant today!! Because after lying in its watery grave for 333 years we finally had the technology too bring her back up and stick her in a museum. And 98% of what you see in the museum is the original ship from back then because of the optimal conditions she was preserved under.
The magnificent Vasa after 333 years of peace on the bottom of the sea
The Vasa museum is one of the finest museums I have ever been to and I enjoyed being "reunited" with stories of King Sigismund. When I did the free city tour in Warsaw, Poland, I first learned about the Swedish King Sigismund who was thrown out of Sweden for having the wrong religion and instead became King of Poland. He then moved the capital of Poland from Krakow to Warsaw and continued fighting to get Sweden back. A country that now had a Protestant King. Funny how I get to tie history together as I travel around.
The beautiful Hasse and some guy with a hat :)
It was great to see Hasse again and he proved to be an honorable host for me as he offered me the bedroom and spent the night on his couch. I was also treated with pizza while we reminisced about the past. Good times :)
Norway is a great country. And they know it. It is also an insanely expensive country. And they know it. Norway is also where one of the projects main sponsors, Ross Offshore, is from and I was treated first class from the time I arrived until I left. And by sheer coincidence I again got in touch with a friend from the past when the lovely Line wrote me on Facebook. Again I was set for the night but not before visiting Norwegian Red Cross followed by a luxury meal with Ole Marius from Ross Offshore...and a million beers...
The strong Stavanger team doing it the Ross Way!
Line met up with Ole Marius and I in Oslo where she lives and works as an Engineer. We had a few more beers and around beer'o'clock we broke up and headed to Lines place...where we had tea :) I might be Viking blood...but I completed a full marathon back in October before I began this journey and the past few months have not added any weight to my ever aging body. So a million beers takes its toll the next day. And it really did...
The lovely Line and a hairy guy...
The next day also presented a misunderstanding when I wanted to buy a train ticket from Oslo to Stavanger. Because all I wanted was a train ticket but judging from the price I bought the entire train. Oh well...it's good to invest in infrastructure and I guess on some level I always wanted a train.
In Stavanger I was set up with an apartment by Ross Engineering and I got to see Wojciech again. What is a Wojciech I hear you ask? Not what but who. Wojciech is a friend and colleague from Ross Engineering (also a main sponsor) and we have worked together before on a project in Denmark. He is also a family father and soon to be father again. He works as an engineer in Norway and lives in Poland when he isn't treating me like royalty in Stavanger. I had a HUGE meal of MEAT like a real Viking - and a beer down by the harbor side - and then it was time to sleep.
Norway concludes the first part of Once Upon a Saga. With Norway I have visited 37 countries since October 10th 2013 and I have traveled to all of them without returning to Denmark and without flying. I have also spent a minimum of 24 hours in each country (apart from the Vatican) and been in contact with the Red Cross in 36 of these countries. The Vatican is the only country so far where the Red Cross has not been present. From here on I will leave Europe and the original plan was to do so from Norway to Iceland. But being late in the season with few options I made a tactical decision and decided to head to the UK and find a vessel from there.
To make a long story short I got in contact with Sea-Cargo (www.sea-cargo.no) and they invited me onboard the "Baltic Bright", a cargo vessel heading from Tananger (near Stavanger) to Immingham in England. The Baltic Bright is a Swedish vessel under the command of Captain Thomas Larsson and his Swedish crew. I was given a cabin next to the captain and I was told to feel at home. Unfortunately I wasn't feeling 100% well and the 5-6 meter waves on the North Sea left me very seasick so I did not get to leave my cabin before the final day of the two night passage. The day I spent in bed also happened to be my 35th birthday. Hurrah.
The 'Baltic Bright' with thanks to Sea-Cargo
Coming into Immingham Captain Larsson invited me to use the vessel as a base while searching for a connection to Iceland. I was also invited to stay an extra night onboard. But when I got in contact with the port services in Scrabster I had to make a flash decision. We arrived to Immingham on December 20th. A trawler named "Silver Fjord" was set to leave Scrabster in the far north of Scotland towards the Faroe Islands the very next day. And in order to reach Scrabster from Immingham you need to travel about 18 hours of trains and busses. So I said goodbye and thank you to Captain Larsson and the crew and dashed towards Scotland. It was a miserable long trip up north and I traveled all night by bus reaching Glasgow around midday on December 21st. And in Glasgow I was notified that the Silver Fjord had been redirected to the Shetland Islands and would not be able to carry me...
To make things worse I had an appointment to meet my girlfriend on Iceland on December 26th and was now told that there were no more vessels going to Iceland this year. Boom!! That hit me hard like a kick between the eyes. And it took some time and a lot of fighting for options before I could adapt and improvise.
Okay, now I am in Edinburgh...again. The last time I saw my girlfriend was in Edinburgh about two months ago. And now history will repeat it self and she will meet me here again. We will have 6 days together between Christmas and New Years and following the new year I hope to have passage to the Faroe Islands on the Silver Fjord. To be more precise: arriving on the Faroe Islands on January 5th 2014.
Back in Edinburgh
What would you do in Scotland for Christmas when you are all alone? Well, my idea was to team up with Red Cross in Scotland and do some voluntary work like serving soup, arranging for shelter, fighting loneliness...but according to Red Cross in Edinburgh there are no such activities carried out by the Red Cross for Christmas. The Salvation Army takes care of that. So I called the Salvation Army who told me that they have all the volunteers they need. So now I am all alone for Christmas with nothing to do...oh dear...
...or am I? No I'm not!!! :) Because I just met Nadya form Vancouver, Canada. She works and lives in Edinburgh and invited me to join her Christmas party. So what do you know...a very Merry Christmas - for every one!! And dare I say; a stranger is a friend you've never met before ;)
(Finland is full of Mummin Trolls and stuff like that)
Torbjørn C. Pedersen - that lunatic that is traveling to EVERY country in the World!! ;)
Once Upon a Saga