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RUSSIA & SWEDEN - June 6-24, 2012

RUSSIA & SWEDEN - June 6-24, 2012
Russia (Moscow/St Petersburg), Finland (Helsinki), Estonia (Tallinn), Sweden 
(Stockholm)  Trip - June 6th – 24th, 2012
June 6th (Wed)  NYC / Moscow
Leave our car at the parking lot of World’s Fair marina, and take taxi to JFK.
Fly in comfortable up-graded Delta Airline economy class (Economy comfort 
June 7th (Thu)  Moscow
No problem with flight and arrive on time at 10 am in Moscow. Our local guide’s name in Moscow is Alexander.  He tells us that he is going to be our man for 2 days. The first thing we notice about this short, middle aged, bold headed man is his funky breath.  He takes us to the hotel first (our hotel’s check-in time is 12pm), gives us 40 minutes to freshen up, and we take off again for 3 hours of driving SS. 
We both slept only 1 hour on our flight and there is 8 hours of time difference here.  So, we are passing-out tired, but try to enjoy this short SS before we crash in our hotel room. Our problem turns out to be our man Alexander instead of jet lag.  Aside from his vomit inducing bad breath, this guy is a real old USSR Bolshevik and total anti-USA and its’ values including equal right for women.  Shortly after we start our tour, he starts to scream at Sue about her calling Cuba a communist country.  Sue defends her remarks and he gets off.   I tell him “We are here not to argue about politics, but to enjoy sightseeing.  So, let’s go”
He calms down afterward and he apologizes about his behavior.  I was ready to call office to replace him, but I give it the second thought.   He apologized sincerely and he tried to improve his attitude.  Besides, I kind of enjoyed experiencing the true sentiment of an old USSR citizen.
We stop at impressive Christ the Savior Cathedral (replica of ruined cathedral), wonderfully awkward giant tower of “Peter the great” in the river, hilltop vista point and return to hotel at 3:30pm. 
For dinner, we go to a nearby Russian restaurant and have light dinner of Russian appetizers.
June 8th (Fri)  Moscow
We start our walking tour little after 9am with Alexander.   His copy of itinerary was not revised as agreed by his St Petersburg office.  Originally, we were going to see Tretyakov Art Gallery on the first day (yesterday), but I did not want to do sightseeing until 7pm after 13 hours of flight.     When I requested to re-arrange the itinerary, the agency moved gallery visit to the 3rd day.  When we mentioned about this to Alexander yesterday, he told us that he can only move the gallery visit to the 2nd day from the 1st day.   We were not sure about having 8 hours of walking SS today, but were not given any choice.  
We start our tour by taking metro to Tretyakov Art Gallery which contained enormous amount of Russian art (and also known as the place where the assassination of Rasputin took place).  Alexander kept giving us lengthy detailed information about some old paintings boring us to tears. So, I walk away to see some other paintings in the middle of his speech leaving Sue with him. (Sue tells me later that he was very upset about it.)
He also was annoyed by other tour guides in the place.  In the middle of explaining about one painting, he suddenly starts to scream at the other female tour guide next to him.   She was shocked and seemed to be frightened a bit.  He tells us that she was talking too loud and distracting him.  We were embarrassed about this obnoxious outburst and decide that Alex is a super-uptight, bad tempered creepy dude with foul breath and thick hair up-his ass.  
But at the same time, we also realize that he is trying his best to give us educational tour and we couldn’t help praising him for his through knowledge about the things we were seeing.  Problem was that we really didn’t need to know every single detail about everything we see, but he memorized them, and he was going to tell us all of it whether we wish to hear them or not.   
We have a light lunch at the museum café and start to walk back to Kremlin.  In the Kremlin, we go into 3 cathedrals which entire walls were covered by ancient icon paintings.   While Alexander was talking about one of them, in the middle of his speech, he turns around and walks away from us.  Sue & I look at each other, and she asks me what did we do wrong?  It was obvious that he was up-set about something.  So I walk over to him and ask him to finish his explanation.  He seems to like the fact that I am asking him to continue, so he returns to where he left, and finish his lecture.
When we arrive at the Armory chamber, Sue tells me that her ankle started to hurt.  We finish the tour of chamber looking at rich collection of jewelry, horse carriage, armors, gold kitchen wares etc.
Then we walk a very long way to red-square where it is closed due to the preparation for coming national celebration day.  We take a ground floor tour of St. Basil Cathedral by the square, and I walk up to the tower while Sue waits in the ground level.   
After the tour, I tell Alexander that we can walk back to the hotel by ourselves but he insists to walk us back.  When we return, we thank him for taking us back.   Without him accompanying us, we would have gotten lost completely and be totally miserable.   So, I give him extra tip for his 2 days of excruciating service and say Dasuvidanya
Upon returning to our room, Sue rests to get rid of the pain in her ankle, and afterward, we walk to another Russian restaurant nearby the hotel for dinner.   (We liked pancake with crawfish, caviar, and smoked eel)  
June 9th (Sat)  Moscow
Sue decides to skip the walking SS today because of her ankle pain. So, I take off with a new guide named Lena for a walking tour of Moscow.  Lena is a 57 years old pleasant lady who reminisce the old Soviet regime like Alexander. (In more amicable way) It is freezing cold out with light rain.  But our morning tour takes place underground visiting various subway stations with artistic decorations.  We visit about 6 ~ 7 of them using metro.
When we come out on the ground, we see the clear sky with much higher temperature.
We go to Pushkin art museum and see the art works of the famous modern European 
painters. Then we spend about 1 hour in the museum cafeteria me listening Lena’s life 
story over cappuccino and apple strudel.  Lena buys a freezer magnet of Matisse painting in the museum souvenir shop for my sick wife resting in the hotel room.  I thought it was very sweet.
The tour was going to last until 3:30pm, but I find myself back in the hotel at 1pm. (We finished everything on the itinerary…)    I think that I should have insisted to Alexander to change itinerary back the way it was so that we could have had more evenly distributed 3 day itinerary. We go out for a lunch in the nearby coffee shop, and I have a tasty rabbit 
burger. Afterward, I go out for an afternoon walk.   When I return from 4 hours of non-eventful walk (other than getting totally lost a few times), we decide to go find a Georgian restaurant for dinner.  Unfortunately, we cannot find restaurants front desk told us and end up in the first restaurant we went in Moscow after 40 minutes of walking around. 
After the dinner, I go out again for the last night walk of Moscow.   But at 10pm, sky is still bright like it is late afternoon.  This really is “white night” country whiter than the one I saw in Alaska.   On the way back to hotel, I pick up rather expensive desserts for our late-night snacks.   
June 10th (Sunday)  Moscow / St Petersburg
We take taxi in the pouring rain to the train station.  We get there early and try to find English speaking person to ask about the boarding process.   Realizing that there is no English speaking person in this entire station, I just go up to the window and show my train documents to a ticket counter clerk. Eventually, I manage to find the right track and board the train in still pouring rain.
Our 4.5 hours of train ride goes smoothly except pretty bad sandwiches we bought for lunch. We meet our driver on the platform of St Petersburg station, and go to the “3Mosta hotel” where we will be staying for next 4 nights.
Upon entering into the hotel lobby, we both get shocked by the shabbiness of the place.  It was supposed to be 4 star hotel and I am paying $220(USD) per night, but it looked more like 2 star hotel.  Fortunately, 2 young front desk clerks are very helpful & pleasant, and the room was (although it is more like 2 & a half star) okay with basic facilities.  We un-pack and settle in.
For dinner, we look for a Russian restaurant recommended by the front desk, but somehow manage to get lost again.  After about 30 minutes of walking around, we pick a restaurant by the busy main street and have surprisingly good Russian dinner.
June 11th (Monday)  St Petersburg
We start the tour with a classy female guide (shocking contrast to Alexander in Moscow) named Helena with a private car. (Driver name: Dennis)   We visit St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Peter & Paul Fortress, and fantastically mosaic decorated “Church on Spilled Blood” and other many interesting places. (Funny thing was that in one of the cathedrals, there were pillars painted like marbles. Helena tells us that Czar realized that he was running out of money, so he used a regular stone and had them painted to look like marbles. Trouble was that the painting job is so bad that the pillars looked like cheap stage props.  I suppose he couldn’t afford to hire a better painter.)  
After the tour with Helena, we take tour boat ride for 1 hour listening to 100% enthusiastic Russian tour guide giving tour in 100% Russian language.
For dinner, we go to a Georgian restaurant (which we couldn’t find in Moscow) nearby our hotel and have very interesting & different dinner.
June 12th (Tue)  St Petersburg
Today is Russia’s new Independence Day in which Russian people are taking with very mixed emotion. I hear in the Russian TV news that there will be celebration ceremony in Moscow & here.  I also hear in CNN that some major anti-government demonstration is 
going to take place in Moscow.
We start the walking tour of Hermitage museum with Helena at 10am.  We see different section of this vast museum filled with arts & artifacts from different era in Russian monarchy.  As we walk out from one chamber, we look out of a window to see that it is 
raining outside. Under the rain, we see a very long line of individual tourists waiting to enter this museum.  We also see some musical performance taking place on the big open stage in the square in front of small wet standing crowds.  Helena tells us that it is the celebration party of the Independence Day.
After the museum, we walk on the St Petersburg’s main street of “Prospect Nevsky” looking at different stores and historical buildings. (Rain stopped sometime ago.)   Sue splits when we come near the hotel while I go to a nearest hotel lobby with Helena to ask about Folklore show at night.  She makes a few phone calls using her cell phone and arranges tickets for tonight’s show.
We take off from hotel at 5:15pm with taxi for the show in Nicholas Palace Theater.
While we have a light snack in the café waiting for the entrance door to open, 
rain starts again.
The show is what we expected it to be – touristy, formulated, song & dance show with mediocre performers.  But it was what we expected and we wouldn’t have taken anything less.  We enjoy the show with roomful of mostly Asian tour groups.
I was full from snacks and drinks I had in the intermission, but Sue did not have anything in the theater, so, after the show, we go to the Georgian restaurant in our neighborhood for late dinner. There is a different waitress from the night before and she brings food which we did not order.  We get too full and take half of it back to hotel.  
After returning to hotel, I have a drink and decide to go out to see if I can catch some of the ending portion of Independence Day celebration party that was still going on TV screen. When I go to the square, I see that the stage is already cleared and that the square is empty. I see some young guys wrapped in the Russian flag drinking beer on the street and that’s about it. I buy beer for myself & return to my room.   TV new is still showing the concert in St Petersburg, but judging from the rain on the screen (rain stopped by the time when we came out of the restaurant), I realized that it was pre-recording.  The concert looked as bad and sad as it did from the window of museum this 
afternoon.  One Russian TV station kept showing much bigger and much better attended celebration concert in Moscow, but the CNN channel kept showing the big 
anti-government demonstration in Moscow.
June 13th (Wed)  St Petersburg
We started today’s tour with Helena by visiting Katarina palace in the outskirts of the city.
We get impressed by this humongous and over the top gaudy palace in spite of our taste. Then we go to Petrograd to see Peter the Great’s summer palace, and enjoy the walking tour of enormous garden filled with various fountains.
Helena misunderstands my request about visiting local food market and stop at a big super market on the way back to hotel.  We buy a dark bitter Russian chocolate which I thought was one of the best chocolate bars I’ve ever had.
Back in the hotel, we say good-bye and thank you to Helena & Dennis.  Then I take-off to see the food market I wanted to see which was located about 40 minutes walking distance from the hotel.  The market happens to be a rather empty small warehouse space with a several food venders. I take a few pictures and walk back to hotel to pick up Sue for the dinner.
I made a reservation in a restaurant which was recommended by a hotel staff.  They had a little gypsy show with song and dance, but the most interesting part of the dinner was fillets of bear meat.  I have never had bear meat and I don’t think I will have another chance to try it.  So, I ordered this rather expensive ($50 USD) house special dish.  Bear meat turns out to be exactly what I expected.  It is gamey, mineral tasting and tough.  It could have been old dog meat, but I wouldn’t know.  At least I can now say that I have eaten bear.
I walk around to experience some more of the white night while Sue rests at the room.
As I Look up the bright sky at almost midnight, I remember what Helena was saying about the Russian seasons.  She said that Russians suffer endless darkness during the winter, and then when the summer comes, they have collective suffering of insomnia. 
June 14th (Thu)  St Petersburg / Helsinki
We walk to the nearby Russian museum to see modern Russian arts.  I am glad that we had a time to see this wonderful museum for local art.  Then we walk back to our hotel to pick up our luggage and taxi. On the way back to the hotel, we see some wedding parties.  I must have seen 40 wedding parties since I came to Russia.  They were just about in every parks, and churches and nice looking bridges.
One interesting custom for newly weds here is to hang a lock on a tree or bridge rail and throw away the key.  It means that the relationship is locked eternally.  Funny thing is that when we first saw them in Moscow, there were some locks with a key inserted on it.  We guessed that some couples were not so certain about throwing away the key for the eternal commitment.   
We take taxi to the train station, and I use the last Rubles in the nearby super market buying water, beer & vodka.   Train takes off on time at 3:25pm.
We have a smooth train ride except that Sue gets sick as we near Helsinki. Upon arrival in Helsinki, we find our apartment key left for us at the train information desk, take taxi, and after walking around a few blocks (and with the help of local people), we find our apartment.  This brand new apartment is in a brand new building (It’s so new that it didn’t 
have address number, yet) and it is very nice, but we notice a strange sewage smell coming from the bathroom. We try to contact the apartment manager but the emergency telephone line is not working.
We go out for dinner finding out that all restaurants close at 9pm in this neighborhood.  It was 9pm and we end up eating humus at the mid-eastern fast food place.
When we return from our dinner, we finally succeed in contacting apartment manager.  She tells us that she will deal with the problem in the first thing tomorrow morning.   We finish our laundry using their wash machine and I use their private sauna before going to bed. 
June 15th (Fri)  Helsinki
We wake up in the morning, and call the office of the apartment about the smell problem.  
After a few exchange, they tell me that the cause of bad smell is sewage back-up in the upper floors. After my insistence, they agree to let me cancel my reservation for the next 2 days and to give me refund for it.  I make 2 nights reservation at Radisson Plaza and we take taxi out of there.
Sue loves the hotel we moved to and we take afternoon hop-on/off tour bus to see this relatively small city.  Then we walk to a small food market and buy garlic pickled olive for snack and a X’mas decoration of a fat ballerina. (We loved it.)
June 16th (Sat)  Helsinki
We eat full breakfast in the hotel, and go out for SS.  We start with 1.5 hours 
of bay cruise, and go up the hill to visit a cathedral.  Then we go down to the 
square to see Samba parade which was a special event for the day.   We didn’t 
have any idea why Helsinki people are having this Samba party, but we sat on the 
public staircase to see people dressed up like Brazilian samba dancers (except 
it is PG rated version).  They seemed to be preparing for some big parade.  We 
sat there for about 10 minutes and walked away.
Sue goes back to the hotel and I go visit a couple of art museums.  In the first 
museum, I see video art piece called “Artist’s dilemma” which shows a guy in 
tuxedo standing under a sign post with 2 arrows pointing 2 opposite direction 
(one is art and the other one is life) in the middle of tundra.  He ponders and 
goes back and force trying to decide 2 options presented to him.  It is about 3 
minute and I don’t know why I liked this work.  It is not a good work, but 
sometimes, I think I am allowed to like bad art.
The second museum had a special show of female Finland artist named Helene 
She seemed to possess enormous gift by painting like old masters when she was 19 
years old.  But then she seemed to slip as she got old.   Her paintings became 
overly simplified and stylized.  It looked cartoon like and her later works 
didn’t offer anything that grabbed my interest.  
When I came out of the museum, I saw that the samba street party was still going 
They were wrapping it up and I took a few pictures of them dancing down the 
street in costume.
After I went back to the hotel, I had some drinks and we went out for a dinner.  
We ended up in a restaurant that served bad food with very high price.   
When I returned to my room, I find out that the apartment office did not send me 
confirmation E-mail about my refund as they promised.  I call them and leave 
them angry message in their voice mail.
June 17th (Sunday)  Helsinki / Tallinn
It’s pouring rain when we wake up.  We finish full breakfast in the hotel, pack 
our stuff, relax a bit in our room and take taxi to the harbor.
The ferry boat takes off 5 minutes earlier than scheduled time at 1:25pm in the 
Strange thing is that there is no immigration check on the either side of ferry 
There is 1 hour time difference between Tallinn & Helsinki.  When we arrive in 
Tallinn harbor, we take taxi to the management office of the apartment.  The 
owner is a pleasant old lady named Jelena.  She drives us 5 minutes from her 
office to our ground floor apartment in the center of old city.  Apartment is 
basic but cozy and there is no foul smell from the bathroom.  
We are staying in the old town of Tallinn where it is surrounded by stone walls 
built in 14th & 15th century (current walls are all replica of original, but it 
is still a few hundred years old.)  It is a charming little touristy place.   We 
un-pack and go out for dinner.
We have a decent dinner of soup, appetizer plate and pork meat with berry jelly 
in the medieval styled, very dark, touristy but nice restaurant.  
After the dinner, I go out for a walk in pouring rain with a bottle of Aquavit.  
I heard that the old town of Tallinn is filled with medieval ghosts.  There are 
some famous spots where ghosts were sighted or felt including one square where 
allegedly, the devil had a wedding ceremony.   
When I reach the other side of the old town, instead of ghosts, I see a young 
Japanese girl standing in the street corner.  When she sees me, she asks me in 
English “Can I ask you a question?”  It turns out that her and her American 
friend just arrived here and was looking for a hostel which does not seem to 
exist any more.  I didn’t know how I could help, so I offer information that 
there is a hostel next to the place where I am staying.  I walk them to the 
place in the rain, but it turns out that the place is full.  
They started to walk to another hostel about 2 blocks away.  I didn’t know what 
more I could do, so I wished them luck, and split.
When I returned to apartment and told about them to Sue, she looked relieved 
that I didn’t bring them back to our place.
June 18th (Mon)  Tallinn
The rain stopped last night and it is sunny clear day for sightseeing. 
We start our walking tour of the old city at 11am.  Being Monday, some of the 
museums were closed but we see pretty much everything we wanted to see.  Sue 
rests at the apartment while I do more of the tour by myself in the afternoon.   
As I walk out of the door, I saw several firefighters with chainsaw in our 
block.  It was very windy during part of last night.  It seemed that a big tree 
branch fell down and crashed the fence.  They were there to cut it up so that it 
will not block the street.
During my afternoon walk, I visit city museum where the history of Tallinn is 
exhibited, and a puppet theater which was a rather waste of time and a few more 
churches and castles.  There was a church called St Olev’s church which had a 
very tall tower.  I climbed to the top and saw a rather plain view of the entire 
Tallinn. (Small area inside of the medieval wall has almost all the tourist 
spots.  Outside of the wall looked like Jersey City.)
After a dinner in another medieval themed restaurant with Sue, I walk around 
alone with a water bottle filled with Aquavit.  Aquavit is a kind of booze that 
will haunt you a long time if you have too much of it, but at least I am not 
haunted by ghosts of Tallinn.
June 19th (Tue)  Tallinn / Stockholm
Sue tells me that alarm went off in the middle of night just right outside of 
our apartment.
I didn’t notice it at all.  I have been sleeping very well in this trip.
We wanted to stay in the apartment until later in the afternoon so that we don’t 
have to go to the harbor to catch over-night ferry to Stockholm too early.
Apartment manager Jelena sends me E-mail telling us it’s okay to stay there 
until later afternoon.
Problem arises after I receive mail from Jelena.  I notice that I lost our ferry 
boat ticket for Stockholm.  
I panicked of course, but I decided to play cool and started to think about my 
last 24 hours of activity.  After a few minutes, I realize that I threw it away 
with the rest of garbage last night into a garbage bin in the back parking lot. 
(I must say that this is an incredible achievement for a guy who can’t remember 
the color of his window curtain)
I run over to the garbage bin, find the plastic garbage bag and pick out the 
ticket among smelly mustard sauce for pickled herring which I ate last night.  I 
praise whatever that caused this miracle and clean the ticket.
During morning, we have a short walking tour of the old town looking at some 
more churches and castles and town walls. 
We have a lunch of coffee and cake in a café and I look for the way to the 
harbor while Sue waits in the apartment.  It starts to rain around 1pm and I 
realize that harbor is too far to walk and there is no taxi stand nearby us.  
Sue did not register Tallinn with her I-phone. So, we couldn’t call Taxi 
We decide to walk to the main gate of the old town where there was taxi stand, 
but luckily, we find a taxi sitting at a street corner about 1 block away from 
us.  We hop in and head to the harbor terminal. 
We had sometime before boarding started, so I walked around the harbor and saw 
this outlet mall where people were coming out with cases of beer tied to their 
hand carts.  They all seem to walk toward the boat.  I guessed Tallinn for 
Swedish people is like a Tijuana for Americans who goes there to buy cheap drugs 
& booze. 
We board the boat at 4pm and realize that it is a real cruise boat with bars, 
restaurants and night clubs.  Our premium class cabin is small but has own small 
bathroom with shower and a cable TV.  We were pleasantly surprised by them all.
After the dinner on the boat Sue signs up to get massage, but return to cabin 20 
minutes later fuming.
She tells me that masseur was extremely rude to her.  She tells me that she 
already made arrangement for refund with the reception desk.  So, I went down 
there to get money back.  
June 20th (Wed)  Stockholm
We wake up after good sleep in our cabin.  We have a light breakfast in the 
cafeteria, and enjoy the beautiful view of Swedish seaside villages on both 
sides of ship.  
Upon arrival at the harbor, we go through the harbor building without 
We get local currency at ATM machine and walk to the taxi stand and grab a taxi.
Taxi had a meter but it kept running up like it was on steroid.  We run up 1111 
kroner (about $160 USD) for 20 minutes of cab ride.  I read it later in my guide 
book that taxi companies are not regulated by government and that they can 
charge whatever they want.  We just must ask the fare before we get in 
regardless of whether they have a meter or not.
We check into the Radisson Blu Royal Viking Hotel, get sightseeing information 
at the tourist info office and start our tour by hop-on/off bus for 3 hours.   
After the tour, we visit a nearby hotel to see the “Ice bar” in their lobby.  It 
costs us $27 (USD) per person with 1 drink.  We enter the very small room 
wearing special coat with hand gloves.   We find several other tourists standing 
around in blue light, taking pictures of ice walls.  We order 2 sweet cocktails 
in the bar counter, take some photos and get out of there. 
I thought this was a rip-off, but at the same time I was glad that we went in 
there.  I was thinking about visiting ice hotel in Quebec City or in Sweden next 
winter.  It costs about $700 per night, but I thought it would be a neat 
experience.  After staying in this chilly room for 5 minutes, I realized that I 
don’t ever have to visit ice hotel any where.  It means that I saved $700 room 
fee and freeze bite on my ass.
We walked across the bridge to the old town of Gamla Stan for a dinner.
When we return, we notice that our toilet doesn’t flush.  When I call the front 
desk, they up-grade our room immediately and give us free breakfast for next 4 
After we change the room, I check the E-mail and realize that I got a refund 
from Helsinki apartment for the cancelled dates.  I was almost certain that I 
was going to have to fight it out to get my refund from them.
It seemed that all the immediate problems were solved at this point and the life 
is good & peaceful for now. (Except that I am still pissed off about the taxi 
ride this morning.)
June 21st (Thu)  Stockholm
Today’s SS start with the walk to the National museum to see Swedish & European 
arts.  We get shocked to see the famous sculpture of Laocoon at the first room.  
Strange thing is that it is cut up in places and re-attached.  I think that it 
might be a copy. (But it looks like a real marble….) 
Then, we use the 2nd day portion of Hop-on/off bus ticket and have continued 
sightseeing with harbor ferryboat. (City of Stockholm is consisted of several 
islands, so it is necessary to take ferryboat for the city SS.)
We stop at Vasa Museum which exhibits 17th century battleship (named Vasa) which 
is the biggest preserved battleship from that era.  The ship sunk in 20 minutes 
after it left the land in 1628, but was lifted from the bottom of the sea after 
300 years.  The ship is very well reconstructed and is magnificent.  We get 
impressed by the enormous structure and its artistic details. (Too bad it didn’t 
Then we get on board on the actual ice-breaker ship docked in the harbor. (It 
was open for public)
We take the last fully packed ferryboat back to Gamla Stan.
We eat dinner at the restaurant where all you can eat sushi & dumpling were 
They were not bad but we suffer the curse of dumpling burp all night.
June 22nd (Fri)  Stockholm / Skara / Stockholm
In the hotel breakfast buffet, I notice that they have Japanese corner.  It was 
just dry white rice and very watery miso soup, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
When we return to our room, I have problem opening the safety box in our room.  
We call the front desk and a lady answers in Japanese.  There was an Asian lady 
in the front desk last night, but I was not 100% certain if she was Japanese.  
10 minutes later, an engineer arrives in our room and tells us that I 
miss-dialed the number causing the dial to freeze.  He fixes it in 2 minutes.
I wanted to leave Stockholm by 9:30am the latest in order to head out to Skara, 
but it gets delayed due to the safety box problem.  We take off from Avis office 
(which was located 2 blocks away) at 9:50am. 
4 hours of drive go smoothly thanks to our GPS. 
We arrive in the charming little town of Skara where Sue’s grandma was born.
Due to the fact that it is “Mid-summer day” holiday in Sweden (Avis guy told me 
that it is the biggest holiday in Sweden), the whole town is closed and empty.
We find a big cathedral in the center of town. (According to my research, Skara 
was the center of Christian mission around the region during 16 or 17th century)
Then we do a walking tour of the town including a stop at a little café for a 
coffee and a cake.
The highlight of this visit turns to be the holiday festival at the medieval 
village located in the center of town.  It seemed like the whole town folks were 
there to celebrate it together.  Old people in traditional clothes were 
decorating a laid down tree in the center of the village. (Sue tells me that it 
is called May tree which is like a X’mas tree.  People build it and dance around 
It takes them awhile to finish decorating it and when they were done, they push 
it to make it stand up using long wood poles.  It almost kills half of these old 
men with heart attack.
When it is stood up finally, people cheered and then old folks in the costume 
came out and started to dance.   We decided that this is a good time to leave 
this lovely town.
Sue tells me that it was wonderful to visit this place where her grandma and her 
grand aunt Lilly were born. (Aunt Lilly also died here.), but she was not 100% 
certain that it was really this town.  
There remained a possibility that we spent extra $500 (USD) and drove 8 hours 
round trip and wasted a whole day to see some old town folks standing up a tree 
on some town square.
We drive back to Stockholm with no problem and have a dinner in a crowded family 
restaurant in front of the hotel. It seemed that this was the one of the only 
few restaurants open in Stockholm on the biggest Swedish holiday. 
June 23rd (Sat)  Stockholm
It was raining when we woke up.  So, we walk in the rain for the last day of SS 
in Stockholm.
We start with the guided tour of the city hall where Nobel Prize winner’s dinner 
party is hosted every year. (Ceremony takes place in Oslo due to the pact they 
had with Norway when Nobel Prize was started.)
Then we walk to the old city of Gamla Stan again to visit the royal palace and 
the cathedral.
We see the change of guard in the square and visit the tiny yet popular 
sculpture called “iron boy” in the backyard of Finlandia church.  
This tiny sculpture sits in the small empty garden where 3 winos sat and talked.
They didn’t bother us but when we started to walk away, one of them went up to 
the sculpture and started to pick up the coins left by tourists.  Sue thought it 
was disturbing.  I didn’t think it was so bad.
In the afternoon, I realize that I need to make arrangement for the 
transportation to go to the airport tomorrow morning.  I go to a taxi stand by 
the hotel and ask one of the taxi drivers how much it is to go to the airport.  
He tells me that it is by meter.  I tell him that Tourist office told me that I 
can get fixed price to the airport.   Then another driver who was standing 
nearby us asks me if I wanted fixed rate. When I say yes, he tells me it’s 800 
kroner.  Then these two drivers started to argue.  
I walked away and asked another taxi driver in yellow cab (which was recommended 
by hotel and tourist office).  This guy tells me that it is 470 kroner to the 
I walk away and go to the tourist information desk in the train station.
A girl at the desk tells me that taxi fare is fixed and is somewhere around 500 
kroner to the airport.
When I ask about the airport bus, she tells me that it is leaving from this 
station.  So, I go to the bus information and buy 2 tickets for tomorrow paying 
198 kroner.
In Stockholm, I think I can say that 70 % of taxi drivers are crooks.     I feel 
that I must go to the travel chat website and tell this to the fellow world 
travelers when I return home.
Soccer game (Euro 2012) which has been going on since we arrived in Moscow is 
still going. (Germany won last night against Greece in the semi-final game.) 
The game was going on every time when we switched on TV.  Today, the game was 
between France and Spain.  Everyone seemed to be nailed to the TV screen in the 
We go back to the Gamla Stan for the last dinner in Stockholm and have the best 
Swedish meal.
(Sue has smoked sausage and boar meat while I had shrimp on bread, fried 
herring, and a huge piece of fried pork knuckles.)   After the dinner, we went 
down stairs to the basement in the same restaurant to hear Blues jam by local 
We walked back to the hotel afterward to pack.  It was a fun night and we were 
glad that this trip is ending in a good note. 
June 24th (Sun)  Stockholm / NYC
We leave hotel by 7am.  There is no taxi in taxi stand except one, but it was 
not from reputable company.  We are glad that we decided to take airport bus.
Bus ride takes 45 minutes to Arlanda International airport.  We have a slight 
problem at the check-in and we are told that Amex platinum card user cannot use 
Delta lounge. (We can if we have gold card with priority membership – it just 
didn’t make any sense.)  But we go in to the lounge anyway thanks to a gentleman 
who was behind us in line treated us as his guest.
I use the last Swedish kroner in the duty free shop and we go through 3 security 
checks to board the plane.
Stockholm was okay city and so was the town of Skara.  I like this country.  It 
is scenic, civilized and food is okay.  I just wished that things weren’t so 
expensive and that taxi meters were regulated.
Our “Economy comfort class” seat on the Delta flight is in the emergency exit 
row and right next to the toilet, but there were lots of leg room (and no smell 
from bathrooms).  
We had a very comfortable flight back home.



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