After enjoying beautiful Scenic Bypass 7, it is time to head back to Little Rock.
After enjoying beautiful Scenic Bypass 7, it is time to head back to Little Rock.
At Seaplane Harbor about a twenty minute walk from Old Town I experience some very cool exhibits including a submarine built in1854. It is not a yellow submarine but more interestingly it is a wooden one.
Other neat ships here, Estonia’s first combat vessel, “The Griff” built in 1976 for the former Soviet KGB.
This is definitely a one of a kind.
The church itself has it's own unique history including being bombed by the Soviets in World War II.
Danse Macabre, “The Dance Of Death” probably Tallinn's most famous medieval painting, at least a part of it, is also found here.
This painting that was the topic of many sermons reminds us that no matter what your status is in life, death unites us all.
Surprisingly it is much colder here than in Helsinki although I have journeyed about 80 miles south.
However, this is a perfect time for me to bundle up and explore this medieval city by foot.
Down narrow streets that are softly light with amber lighting, I eventually make my way to a delicious serving of “Mojito Chicken Tango”.
At midnight I am having some of the best wings I have ever tasted at Clazz Restaurant as I enjoy some musical tunes with an Estonian flavor.
After about an hour roadside stop 5000 kilometers from Shanghai, we are back on the road again one step closer to reaching EBC, Mount Everest Base Camp.
The floor is littered with so much trash that it almost seems as if we are eating at a land fill.
Past more prayers flags along an amazing landscape, soon from the comfort of a warm van I am glancing at a landmark that tells me we are getting closer to our ultimate destination.
Although the howling wind is cold and bitter I leave my comfort zone and step outside for a better glimpse of Mount Everest in the distance. At over 15,000 above sea level I take in great views without supplemental oxygen.
I think this is something many dream about but only few get the chance to do. I am one of the lucky ones.
We have one more hotel night stay before we actually reach EBC and we spend the afternoon strolling the town that is the gateway to the highest point on the planet.
My hotel room which has no heat becomes like the inside of a freezer. This presents a challenge as I try to go to sleep. Even fully clothed from head to toe, lying on my mattress is like being on a block of ice.
The sun cannot return quick enough and radiate the chilled air as I am not really prepared for life at 15,000 feet.
This morning I get to experience the inside of Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral and it is just as magnificent as the outside. A few moments of being awed and I descend a small hill to Market Square.
As if sensing my temporary confusion, a gentleman approaches. In less than five minutes we are sitting together on a ferry and he is drawing me pictures as we sail away to Suomenlinna.
By the time our journey is over I have a better understanding of Finland and Suomenlinna.
I also now know what that “strange” Finnish fish pastry is, “Kala .. Kukko”.
However, I have a planned detour thanks to my fellow ferry passenger who was so kind to give me some island tips.
This island which is one of eight is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and holds an important part of Finland's history. There is a small amount of inhabitants here year round but this place really becomes popular during the summer months.
Except for an occasional almost freezing wind near portions of elevated coastline it is beautiful and exciting to enjoy this island. The views it gives from the ocean to the mainland are amazing.
Canons from years gone by still stand guard over the sea routes to the mainland but thankfully their glory days are long over. Although signs of Finland war history remains it is nice to be able to relish the tranquility this island now offers.
As I leave Suomenlinna after a few hours of climbing hills and navigating tunnels, I can see how it is so easy to spend a whole summer day here.
With souvenir magnets at 5 Euros, I do not see any real bargains here and move on. Amazingly, a block away in a store I find better souvenir deals like three magnets for 12 Euros.
In a few hours I will leave Finland but there is one more site that I am interested in seeing. About a 20 minute walk away I find a few moments to relax as inspirational music fills the otherwise still air.
Sitting inside of Temppeliaukio, a church carved out of rocks with mostly natural lighting, I reflect on how fortunate I am to see another part of the world and to experience another culture from its people to its food and its religion. My hope is always that more will get to do the same.
Estonia, here I come.
As I check out of City Backpackers Hostel, I make some inquiries about sights I would enjoy seeing in Stockholm and the best way to see them. My original plan was an about 3 hour organized tour “Hop On Hop Off plus Boat Tour” for about 360SEK.
With nice weather promised for the rest of the day, instead of a 360SEK tour I hop on a rented bike from City Backpackers and save myself 310SEK in the process.
At eight fifteen in the evening I am on the cold and windy sundeck of the Amorella as the lights of Stockholm slowly fades in the distance.
For about $70 US dollars, this time of the year I have a cabin all to myself onboard a Viking Line cruise ship.
The Amorella turns out to be more fun than expected with a line up of entertainment from karaoke, to live bands, and casino slots. Sleep comes at a premium and the ten hours pass too quickly.
Within a few hours of arriving in Turku I am in the Finnish capital, Helsinki. A light cold rain is falling as I leave the central bus station but I have an immediate love for this cosmopolitan city that is so alive and vibrant.
About a 20 minute walk from the city center I arrive at my accommodation for the night and what a surprise. With Hellsten Hotel And Apartments I have booked a single room for the night but at check in I am upgraded to an apartment that is so large “I can play baseball in it”. My bathroom even has a sauna in it. Nice.
This time of the year darkness comes early and the light rain is still falling as I set out to explore some of Helsinki by night. My journey takes me to an unknown part of Finland's history for me.
Yes, Finland hosted the Olympics in 1952.
After many times and years of visiting New York, with a little determination and subway patience, I finally head to a part of the “Big Apple” that I have always wanted to visit.
I guess during this time of the year even some New Yorkers need a break from the hustle and bustle of summer.
My introduction to Sweden came as a child with a few words that may be familiar to many others, “Bork de Bork, de Bork, it is time to put on make up.. it is time to dress up right.. “.Since then it has been Abba and Ikea.
A short stop at the Tourist Information booth which is very nice and 99SEK (US$15) later I am on my way to the city center.
At a McDonald's just outside of the main train station with free Wi-Fi available, I book a room for the night at City Backpackers a ten minute walk away.
For about 190SEK (US$35) I will have a bed in a 4 bed dorm room. Not bad considering most regular hotels near the city center are north of US$120.
On a brisk Sunday evening with a light rain occasionally falling I take my customary night time walk around the city. As I walk back to the Central Station, I am a bit disappointed that most of the cities famous buildings are not well lit for nighttime photography.
I do get a treat as a set of stomping feet head towards me as I am standing below the entrance to the Royal Apartments at The Royal Castle. I watch as a group of soldiers are performing some type of nighttime routine.
In Old Town I am delighted when I come across, The Liffey, an Irish Pub. A nice selection of beers, a great atmosphere, live entertainment and “The Broncos vs. The Chargers”.
I leave what I still call Little Rock (LIT) Airport and head on 440West to 30East to 40West. My destination, Arkansas Scenic 7 Byway.
As I drive west along the interstate I have a decision to make. I have to be back in Little Rock this evening and I am not sure if I want to circle back from the North or South.
Should I see a part of the Ozarks or the Quachita National Forest. Fortunately, this time of the year I do not think I can go wrong with any choice I make. In the end, I decide to venture in the direction of the Ozarks.
Although I am not sure if their burgers are “The Best In The State”, I would definitely give their fresh fries high marks.
Charged up with a tasty burger and fries, I am back on N Arkansas Ave (Route 7) headed north. It is not long before I begin to see telltale signs of why this is one of the most scenic roads to drive in the state during this time of the year.
The air is fresh and once a car or two disappears in the distance, I take in the delightful sounds and peacefulness of nature.
At one stop I am taken somewhat back to my childhood as I spot a blue and white swing set surrounded by the greens, reds, purples, orange and yellows of nature. I resist the temptation to trespass and be a child again encompassed by such beauty.
However, I am still not sure what is up with the long faces although they seemed genuinely happy to meet me.
At one time Route 7 was a popular North-South road through the “Natural State” and some of the history of those days still remain along the highway.
It must have been a fun time when a “Double Decker Outhouse” was a key attraction.
A highlight of my trip is taking scenic views of the Ozarks at “Rotary Ann Overlook”, a historic rest stop along Scenic 7 Byway. Being here alone on a beautiful afternoon with a gentle breeze blowing is simply amazing.
With the threat of rain looming, my scenic journey through the “Natural State” begins to wind down as the sun heads west and takes the daylight with it.
However, my journey is rewarded by spotting a white tail deer off the trail that is startled by my presence.
As I drive a curving, dark and fun AR-16 back towards Clinton then Little Rock, the promised rain is beginning to fall but it in no way dampens my experience of seeing the wonderful colors of nature in Arkansas.
From Calama Airport I set out in a rented Toyota 4x4 for San Pedro de Atacama about 70 miles away. My drive towards San Pedro covers some of the same areas that I had previously flown over less than an hour ago.
A brief stop and I am again driving across a desert landscape under clear blue skies. Although mostly barren the scenery with rolling hills and distant mountains is still enjoyable.
A sign for Valle de Luna and I find myself going down a dirt road where I am soon approached by a cloud of dust which turns out to be a group of cars heading in the opposite direction.The first car stops abeam me and the driver says something to me. My “no hablo espanol muy bien” starts him speaking a language that I understand.
Turns out they have been looking for Valle de Luna but without any luck. Further conversation and a group of us decide to give it a try together.
Parked at the beginning of a blocked off road, we lock our cars and I start hiking with a couple on vacation here from the southern part of Chile. I feel fortunate to have met them as they give me some history and tips of the area and their home country.
From talking with a local we discover we have come up the back entrance to Valle de Luna. This entrance is closed to cars this time of the year because it has the potential to develop sink holes.
I watch from the ledge of a “Grand Canyon” type rim as the sun heads west and brushes the landscape with all shades of orange.