Flying around the world & Russian Visa Trouble
After flying from Lax to Taiwan to handle a few things on the business end it was time to make the long flight westward with a 3 stop flight from Taipei – Hong Kong – Moscow – and on to final my destination of St. Petersburg Russia to meet the crew who were running into trouble still obtaining the Visa to enter the country.
Russia and the grand city of St. Petersburg has always been on my list of places to visit and paddle. Called the Venice of the north it’s filled with canals, palaces, cathedrals and endless museums and of course lots of amazing nightlife. It’s a bucket list destination to cross off the list and i was so close I could taste it but….
In order to enter Russia and St Pete it requires a significant amount paperwork to be filed and a special visa and it wasn’t looking good. On my final leg from Moscow to St Pete I pulled the plug as the visa hassles did not get solved and entry for the crew into the country would create a big problem without the proper documents and visas. This far north already, i decided to switch gears and take a jaunt across Scandinavia hitting Helsinki, Stockholm and finally Copenhagen to paddle, eat, be merry and enjoy the coastal cities.
Getting Weird in Helsinki
As I landed in Helsinki’s small airport just 15 minutes outside the city center, I headed by taxi to a hotel on the main harbor. It was a Tuesday afternoon and all was quiet under grey skies in Helsinki, eerily so almost as if the city had been abandoned with no one really around and everything looking closed down.
After cozying up in my room on the water I decided to take a stroll across town and soak up the waterfront and interesting architecture. Up on the hill was a large church looking very much like a Russian orthodox architecture I had seen so much of in all the St Pete travel books. Helsinki with its close proximity to Russia was of course influenced from times past and it was about as close to St. Pete and Russia as I was going to get this time.
I took a walk across some bridges and the harbor to stroll around the majestic brick church with its golden domes and have a look around the city from atop the hill. Def ready to bunk down for the night after the long flight and catch the next ship departing to Stockholm in 2 days. With cold and rainy weather a paddle in the icy water didn’t sound all that great and an early goodnight shot of Finlandia Vodka at the hotel bar won the evenings to do list.
Boat Cruise around Helsinki & Shots Bar
I opted to take a boat dinner cruise around the city, fresh reindeer and potatoes with some crispy champagne to wash it down, while soaking up the sites around the city cruising the various natural waterways and rocky islands peppering the city center. After stuffing my belly I figured it best to take a stroll uptown and check the scene. It was dead as a doorknob to say the least with a few Viking males shooting pool in a smoky pub. I opted for a hip looking yet empty shots bar to toss a few back near the main square. The shots bar was definitely the highlight with lots of all time funny drinking signs on the wall, a magic spinning wheel for suggesting shots and I even learned a new shot…. My all-time favorite “The Mexican Prairie Fire” – A shot with 1 part tequila and 1 part tobasco. After a few too many I ended up at the MiliClub down the road on a tip from the keep at the shots bar swilling at the Captain Morgan’s table dancing around with a bunch of drunken Fins on a Tuesday night and some friendly bloke in a turban from India. Def a weird one for the books and was eager to hop the luxury liner to port of Stockholm the following day.
Taking the Big Ship from Helsinki to Stockholm
The next morning brought sunny skies, and made for splendid views of the city as we exited from the port of Helsinki. We climbed aboard and I opted for the upgrade to the cozy sea view to enjoy the sights, sounds and breezes of the Baltic. It would come in especially handy as we made our way into the the famous Swedish archipelago I heard so much about. I was ready to jump in the water now more than ever and paddle the canals of Sweden so after settling in we opted to catch a show in the main belly of the ship before bunking down for the night.
Finland’s Top Drag Queen
The show for the evening turned out to be a dashing performance from Finland’s top drag queen and boy oh boy what an experience. Half jet lagged from flying for 20 hours across the world just days prior and buzzed off champagne I watched in awe with 200 others in the grand theater as the he/she queen performed over 20 different famous Scandinavian artist and celebrity renditions in under 30 minutes. It was a tiring spectacle to endure and astounding to see how the drag queen would go from personality to personality in seconds with a full change in the dimly lit area of the stage to reappear again as someone new. One of the most bizarre things I have seen in a while and by the laughter and applause of the crowd I think Finland’s famous drag queen did a good job impersonating the stars, it was all in several languages none of which being English which added a nice twist. Bravo Jukka K – Queen of the SEA!
The Red Ship Malaren – Paddling the Canals of Stockholm
After a few laughs at the drag show and a good night’s sleep the majestic cruise liner rolled into port of Stockholm early the next morning. We finally were able to catch a glimpse of the famous archipelago of small islands surrounding Stockholm. Tiny little wooded islands with summer houses and docks cozily tucked away one after the other as far as the eye could see looking like something out of a fairy tale. As Stockholm proper approached we pulled in and proceeded to find a hotel. Unfortunately every single hotel in the city was sold out so on the tip of a friend was able to book a room on a docked boat, the Red Ship Malaren. Funny to go from a cruise ship to a small docked boat but it was kind of fun being on the water still. And would make an excellent location to paddle from being in the center of the city and all the canals.
After enjoying a nice little buffet breakfast on the Hotel Red Ship Malaren I decided to take a stroll around and check things out. The city is filled with historic architecture, canals and waterways, tiny islands with castles, a Tivoli and everything is clean and tidy. The amusement park was so clean it was like you could eat of the ground. I linked up with a friend who lives there now full time and she took me out for a night on the town. We actually ended up at an outdoor club built under a freeway overpass with a giant disco ball and ping pong tables and food. I think they should donate a few freeway overpass areas in the states to build some outdoor clubs. Makes for great acoustics as well. With only 2 days to spend it was finally time to catch the next flight.
Welcome to the Happiest Place on Earth – Copenhagen Denmark… Well Almost
So when I decided to go to Copenhagen I never realized it was at one point considered the happiest place on earth but has slipped to #3 in 2015 just a few spots below Switzerland #1 and Iceland #2. Copenhagen is a bustling city of bicycles, the main form of transportation, and canals with lots of great old world architecture and history. It even has a city within the city, Christiania that allows drug sales and use and you can purchase, roll and spark up a spliff with beer in hand and it’s all good as long as you’re in the city limits of Christiania. We quickly got settled into the hotel and made plans to set off on a paddle after looking over the city map the next day.
Stand Up Paddle the Canals of Copenhagen
After so much travel it was finally time to hop in the water and get wet. Probably the best thing I did the entire trip outside of my Mexican prairie fire shot in Helsinki. The skies cleared and it was a nice sunny day to hit the canals. I walked down from my hotel to the nearest waterway and started to pump up my inflatable board on the shoreline. On the way I encountered a giant fish sculpture made out of plastic trash on the shoreline. Not something you see every day and a bit of an oxymoron since we humans love to pollute the ocean with mountains of toxic plastic trash.
After pumping up to full capacity I hopped in the warm water and started to make my way into the city center canals. I mapped out what looked to be the best possible route to get the full city tour on the canals and as I made my way I noticed the tour boat filled with lots of tourist taking pictures and cruising along right beside me. Made for a somewhat awkward moment to have 100 people gawking at you paddling a stone’s throw away from their long crowded open air boat in the small canal. The tour boats are custom made to sit ultralow to the water so they can fit under the tiny bridges that line the canal.
Lots of fun bridges to pass under including a very very long one kind of like Disneyland and a nice easy current flowing along in the direction of my paddle pushing me so it was easy peasy. A cool way to see the city and all the great architecture and eye candy less the awkward moments when the tour boat passed by by a couple feet away every 10 minutes or so. The city is filled with these large bell towers with giant candy cane tops and spiral staircases, palaces and cozy little cottages. I finally wound into some harbors near Christiania filled with boats and residential houses and even bumped into a few fellow Danish paddlers. They definitely looked a bit out of control and narrowly avoided getting smashed by the tourist boats mushed to the dismay of the tour boat driver who sneered and yelled for them to get the f*ck out of his way.
After a full afternoon on the water I decided to head back to the hotel and head out for the night to check out the town. Since Copenhagen has pretty lax laws, a drug city, and it’s fairly cheap by Scandinavian standards many people come to party and enjoy the city from other countries in Europe. The city is filled with lots of people, bars and pubs of all kinds that go into the wee hours of the night and offer up plenty to do and drink. And of course no trip is complete without tasting a giant hot dog from the street vendors. There is even a Tivoli for those who like to go “wheeeeeee” on the roller coasters.
After a big night out it was finally time to say avoir and make the long flight home. I never got to see Russia in all its splendor but I can’t complain about the trip. Russia and St Pete I will be backkkkkkk! And to the coastal capital cities of Scandinavia you will be missed! Until next time…