Monday, September 16, 2019

Longer Travels {Baltic + Scandinavian Adventure Part 2}

We took an amazing almost two week trip in August -- six countries in twelve days.  You can read about the first part of our trip here and also see our full itinerary. We spent the first week in the three Baltic countries and then moved on to the Scandinavian countries.

Quick refresh in case you didn't read the whole first post -- we flew in and out of Copenhagen and made a really big circle.  Again, this trip took a lot of planning and everything was booked in advance.  I left off the last post as we were heading to Helsinki...

We took a large ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki on the Tallink/Silja Line and it was nothing like any ferry you have been on before (and living in Seattle, I have taken plenty of ferries).  The ferry was HUGE and had multiple restaurants and stores (and lockers to store luggage so you don't have to carry it around with you, but you do need euro coins).  We happened to eat breakfast at the buffet which worked for us as it had options for everyone.  It was a pretty classic Scandinavian breakfast spread -- eggs, bacon, cold cuts, cheeses, yogurt + all the toppings, fruit, veggies and more!  The ferry is two hours so we had time to go to the amazing kids zone with tons of things for Serafina to do and even a worker who made balloon animals and face painting (all for free)!  Our girl was in heaven and SO sad when it was time to get off the boat!
When we got to Helsinki, we stayed here and it was great -- good breakfast included, great location (close to a tram stop if you didn't want to walk) and while it was a little warm they provided a fan that helped a lot.  Getting off the boat we took the tram straight into the city -- Helsinki has two main ports and each are pretty well connected by trams.  We also got a 24 hour tram ticket which worked out perfectly since we were only in Helsinki for one night.

Once in Helsinki, we made the most of our time.  We started by walking down to the main market square Kauppatori to grab some amazing fruit and a light lunch nearby at Vanha Kauppahalli market hall (seriously had some amazing places to eat -- you should try the soup at Soppakeittiö or basically any vendor in the market).  Also grab coffee and a pastry in any coffee shop, Finnish coffee is amazing -- actually all Scandinavian coffee is good, they take it very seriously.  We then made our way to Senaatintori (senate square) to view the gorgeous Tuomiokirkko (Lutheran Church) but it is not worth climbing all the stairs to go inside...  But it is worth the tram ride + walk out to Temppeliaukion Kirkko -- the famous church built into the stone.  We took a boat (covered by our tram ticket) out to Suomenlinna, a small cluster of islands that are a UNESCO site and was built as a fortress in the 18th century.  We mostly just wandered around and took in the views but there is actually a lot to do on the island, you can easily spend the whole day here. We also took Tram 2 and Tram 3 on a big loop around the city -- you can grab a free Sightseeing by Tram guide at the tourist office. 

And because the weather was gorgeous and Trevor and I love amusement parks.... we ventured out to Linnanmäki, Finland's oldest amusement park (easy tram ride from the main city center).  And it was SO MUCH FUN.  You don't have to pay to enter, just have to pay for the rides (buy tickets or wristband).  The park also has nine free rides which we took advantage of since they were perfect for Serafina!  But Trevor and I got to take turns and ride their newest roller coaster and it was one of the best we have ever gone on in our entire lives.  We ate dinner out here and the food was actually pretty decent for park food!

Then it was time to move on to Stockholm, again taking a large ferry on the Tallink/Silja Line, this time an overnight one -- basically a luxury cruise for 16 hours.  Check in was a little chaotic so I was happy we showed up early.  The boat was AMAZING.  We did pay for the dinner buffet (and again breakfast the next morning) and I highly recommend it.  Do the earlier dinner so you can enjoy the entertainment happening later in the evening.  The buffet was SO good!  The kids buffet was perfect and had everything that a kid would enjoy (Serafina ate her weight in noodles).  And take advantage of the included beer and wine (on tap) for the adults, but save room for dessert -- the chocolate mousse was amazing and Serafina loved the self-serve ice cream bar!
Once again our little lady LOVED the boat -- the play area was HUGE and amazing and they had a few kid activities, including a kid's disco and a surprise visit from Moomin, a very popular kid's TV character in Scandinavia.  Our normally afraid of characters Serafina actually hugged him not once but twice.  It was so fun to watch her just live her best life.  And Trevor and I got to try some of the world's best spirits -- two gins from Finland this one and this one.  Seriously, this boat was so much fun and easily a highlight of our trip.
We docked in Stockholm in the morning and took the metro to the train station -- I highly recommend just taking a taxi.  The walk to the metro stop was a lot further from the pier than we expected (and it happened to be warm in Stockholm).  Trevor and I have been to Stockholm (read that post here) previously so we opted to not stay overnight (or even a full day).  Stockholm has so many fun activities for kids so I do recommend going if you haven't been.  We had about three hours before our train to Copenhagen so we again made the most of it -- dropped our bags in lockers at the train station and hustled to Gamla Stan to show Serafina the palace (Kungliga Slottet).  I cannot recommend eating at La Neta enough, it is some of the best Mexican food we have ever eaten and so worth it (we may or may not have purposefully stopped in Stockholm for a few extra hours just so we could go here).

We caught a train from Stockholm to Copenhagen airport -- we booked directly through the Swedish train website which I highly recommend doing.  We had quite the adventure on our train.  There was a signal error on the tracks mid-way through our trip and we basically got kicked off the train in the middle of Sweden, not anywhere near Copenhagen airport.  Typically in events like this, the train company will provide buses to take you around the issue or to your final destination, however, there were so many people/trains affected, there were no more buses available.... so the workers on the train told us to take any means necessary to get to our destination -- rent a car, take a taxi....  We met some lovely Swedish ladies who took pity on us and we all split a SIX HUNDRED dollar taxi to Copenhagen.  And no worries, we are being reimbursed by the train company, just save your receipts. 

In Copenhagen, we stayed here which was near the airport because we were only in Copenhagen for one night.  I do NOT recommend the hotel, it was clean and nice and the beds were comfortable but the room was so freaking hot it was like a sauna and so beyond uncomfortable.  This was not our first time in Copenhagen (well, it was for Serafina) but it is one of our favorite cities ever so we never pass up a chance to visit -- go here for more information about Copenhagen.

We went to Tivoli Gardens the night we arrived.  This is my most favorite place in the whole world so I was SO excited to show Serafina and she LOVED it!  Tivoli is more than just an amusement park, but of course it does have rides.  It is the second oldest operating amusement park in the world and it is right in the middle of the city -- it is magical.  Do not go expecting Disneyland, it is not anything like Disney but it has its own charm and should not be missed.

We spent a morning in Copenhagen hanging out with my good friend Hanne who is Danish -- she and I met in 2003 when we were studying in Paris.  She took us to a yummy breakfast spot called Far's Dreng (if needed, nearby Torvehallerne Market is amazing, it is where we went on our layover when we first started the trip).  Then we walked past Rosenborg Slot (castle) -- you can go inside and should, it is pretty cool.  We wandered to the Copenhagen Botanical Gardens -- including the amazing Butterfly House which was very cool although it freaked our little lady out just a tad!  And then made our way to Nyhavn, Copenhagen's famous colorful harbor.  And of course grabbed lunch at one of the hot dog stands down near the water -- I learned from Hanne that you have to order all the fixings and a chocolate milk, that is the proper way to eat a Danish hot dog!

Then we were off for the grande finale of our trip -- Legoland Billund!!  In case you didn't know, Lego bricks are a Danish toy, founded and made in Billund, Denmark.  Lego is actually from the Danish phrase leg godt which means "play well."  So, Legoland Billund is the original Legoland and located about a three and a half hour drive from Copenhagen....
I highly recommend driving to Billund as there is not a direct train.  We chose to stay here in Odense which is about half way between Copenhagen and Billund.  Odense is actually a very cool town -- the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, and our AirBnB was amazing.  But sadly, we did not have time to explore the town, we had one goal in mind...

Legoland Billund -- Trevor and I came here as part of our honeymoon in 2012 and we were so excited to take Serafina!  It was everything we dreamed it would be and more.  She saw the Legoland sign as we drove up and just FREAKED from happiness!  I recommend buying your tickets online in advance to save a little money.  This is the only Legoland we have been to but it really is insanely family friendly, especially for those with kiddos under ten.  There were very few rides that Serafina could not ride on and they had plenty of younger kid friendly rides and family friendly rides.  We bribed Serafina to go on two (very very small) roller coasters and at the time she was SO mad but now it is all she talks about!  It is not a large park so it can easily be done in a day if you go in the off season, like we did (we never waited more than 20 minutes in line for a ride).  It was a perfect day and an even better way to end our trip!

And that is a wrap on our big summer trip -- it was a lot of planning, a lot of moving from place to place but so much fun.  I highly recommend doing your own Baltic Cruise!

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