Monday, 30 January 2006

Scandinavia: Viking Land

Winter in Scandinavia is really the epitome of winter...or at least it sure seem like it while I was there. Think complete white all over with black leafless trees and large snow covered areas that would be water in the summer. Oh and of course it has to be snowing too, with the wind blowing snowflakes about, making them dance in the air.

Beautiful? long as you're indoors looking out. It's an entirely different story if you're outside and then the whole situation I've just described takes on a far less pleasant view. For starters, the temperature would be about -10 degrees or lower and the snow covered ground while pretty, gives cold feet and makes the ground slippery and more strenuous to walk upon. The wind blows the snowflakes into your face, especially your eyes, numbing your face and making it tough to see where you're going.

I guess beauty pretty much always comes with a price. It's too cold to even make snowballs coz de snow doesn't melt enough to stick, but it's perfect ski snow though. I ended up having to purchase furry boots for walking through the snow coz if I stayed using track shoes, I reckon I'd have lost my toes long ago! Still I liked Stockholm even though it snowed every day I was there. It was pretty imressive seeing the snow-covered frozen sea that was just tempting me to step on it. Fighting the temptation wasn't very easy, especially when the hostel I was staying in was really a boat and the docks make it pretty easy to just step off!

I spent quite some time in museums simply coz it was warmer and most museums were free. I think I know more about viking history and the whole royalty back when they wore armour and such better than I know NZ history. Anyway it made for an interesting experience. I think the only complain I have about the place is that the stores all close by 6pm...even the huge department stores. By 6.30, the streets are pretty much deserted, and can seem a trifle scary in Gamla Stan which is the old town with it's tiny alleys and cobbled streets.

Compared to Sweden, Finland was much better, it being warmer by the time I arrived and certainly stores were opened till much later. I really liked that there were so many outdoor skating rinks, simply coz all the lakes were completely frozen over so anyone can just ut on a pair of skates and skate (which many did). The "rink" I went to was the size of 2 olympic size rinks. It rocked. There's just something about skating outdoors, plus there's plenty of space for everyone!

During the time I was in Helsinki, I also went to Suomenlinna, an ancient island fortress listed on the world heritage list. As they wanted to preserve it as it was, there wasn't any railings or stuff anywhere and you pretty much could climb everywhere at your own risk. The view is great from the top of the fortress walls and climbing up is pretty easy with lotsa natural footholds. If you slipped though, it would mean a nasty plunge down to the rocks and the frozen sea below. Being very helpful, signs are posted from time to time reminding people to look out for small kids if they have them with them. My friend told me many a person has met an unpleasant end at the bottom of the cliff, her grandmother being one of them and the most recent being a 9 year old girl last year. It's easy enough to fall and die without any railings as it is, but it's even more treacherous in winter, when the place is totally snow covered. The problem with snow covered ground is that you don't know how deep it is so if it turns out deeper than you think it is you end up slipping...which I did at the edge of the cliff and almost fell if not for this plant I grabbed hold of. I like plants. Not many tourists come in winter so the fortress was pretty deserted while I was there and you really feel totally alone in a silent fortress with the stone walls all around you and caves and canons. It's almost magical really, you feel like you're really looking into the past. Unfortunately I am unable to put into words the intensity of the feeling so please do go and experience it yourself!

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