Walking Helsinki, Finland

When I thought of Finland, prior to this trip, I imagined snow, cross-country skiing, dried fish and healthy living. That the citizens of this country are noted to be famously happy to live here was a notion I took with skepticism. It is a cold country for many months of the year. Cold, in my small (very small,) world view could not equate with happy.


And then there was Helsinki. Maybe the people of Finland’s capital hide out for months in winter, but they were out with a vengeance while I visited, and I sensed it was not just for the sun. Bicycle riders, walkers, people making purchases at the outdoor markets, and more walkers still whizzed around me energized, it seemed, by the simple fact they lived here.

From the walking culture to the profusion of bicycles to the fresh food market, I felt healthy simply by being in Helsinki. So healthy that I allowed the decadent aroma from Ekberg Bakery call to me. With the obvious healthfulness of the city, certainly the bakeries would be worth a try. Rustic six-grain rye bread and an unpronounceable sweet tart let me prove that guess to be true.

There were impressive buildings in glorious squares. There were bustling city streets. And there was the public toilet I would like to nominate for best in the world. It was so clean that it gleams even in the photo. A feat of sanitation engineering, it cleans itself and tells you when it is safe to enter after the last user. To visitors, nothing says ‘welcome’ better than a fantastic public restroom.


I hopped on the bus when I had walked so long I needed a rest, and saw the coastline of Helsinki in a series of parks.

Thank you, Helsinki for outdoing yourself on one summer day while I visited.

Ever see a more pleasant tram?

Next up, St. Petersburg, Russia

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Walking Tallinn, Estonia

img_3696Delightful, scenic. A day totally devoted to pleasant encounters, lovely strolls, and welcoming people. These are my impressions of Tallinn. Several residents along the way pointed us to the tall hill of the Historic Centre of town. They were like walking friendly maps and I didn’t mind at all being treated like a tourist. Especially because they were right – this is one tourist destination that visitors shouldn’t miss.

The stonework of the older structures and cobble of the streets are not glossy reproductions. They look time-worn and grizzled, used to the hard work of protecting centuries of people from uncertain times.

I walked up and down the hill, getting lost and then finding my way. I tracked up and down tiny walkways, in and out of the gathering spots and the tucked-away corners. Some of the cobbled stones were shiny and worn by footsteps over time, some – down the less-conspicuous roads – were rougher and unused to foot traffic.


But the day was glorious with warmth and sun. So, I kept walking up and down, round and round this hillside of Estonian history.

At one point, I merged with a ceremonial walk around the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Out from the sanctuary burst a church-full of parishioners. Holy water, chants and songs accompanied the worshippers. They circumnavigated the entire church, then re-entered the sanctuary, following their Orthodox tradition.

What a wonderland I had walked into. Descending the Old Town Hill, I walked along the canal that separates the newer city from the old. Cars and buses raced by on my left, while on my right, medieval walls and centuries-old  buildings were framed in the sunlight. If I had a list of favorite walks, this would be one.


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Walking Botanical Gardens

I’m taking a break from the Nordic cruise, which we took in the early spring. Here’s what the Central Coast of California is looking like lately.

I’d passed by the San Luis Obispo County Botanical Garden in El Chorro Regional Park several times a week for the past 4 and 1/2 years. The hillsides this time of year are dry and golden, the oak trees giving plenty of shade. It was past time to take a walk in the garden, to try to identify those pesky volunteer plants that survive my gardener’s neglect. It was a quick 6 mile drive inland from the coast. Off came the sweatshirt, on went the sun hat.

Entering through a cheerful purple bridge over a dry creek bed, the buzz of the bees and the stone steps pulled me into the garden. Even in this late season, after the driest year I remember, there were flowers that lingered.

Someone had thoughtfully labeled the plants, so I began my study, searching out species I’d seen but couldn’t name and verifying names I thought I knew. These botanical gardens are so helpful – I love their handy identification tags and descriptions. I walked around clucking with surprise at names I would never have guessed (propeller plant?) and humming with agreement at the more familiar (so many types of aloe.)

California Fuchsia
Strawberry Bush

All the species are adapted to the dry California climate. Like these:IMG_6276

And some blossoming plants served a higher purpose, helping a special little creature steal the show…

almost camouflaged

…and keep stealing the show…


again and again.

One of my favorites, an aloe plant, surprised me. This one was huge and stood up from the ground, showing me a new variation on my old favorite.


On the way out from the garden, I came across the peskiest plant in my yard, one that keeps finding new places to sprout. Now, instead of inventing bad names, I know what to call it.IMG_6319

Next up: more of the Nordic cruise

Walking Stockholm, Sweden

IMG_4196Stockholm was one of those ports on this cruise where we docked a good distance from the city. There was a small town near our tether, and usually small towns please me greatly. But this day, I took my walk in Sweden’s capital city.

All sorts of transport

Not only was the city in the midst of Eurovision fever, but it was commemorating World War II with military marching bands, flags, crowds and camouflaged gun boats.  Whatever my stereotyped idea about Stockholm, a songfest and a military parade with all the fixings awaited.

IMG_4125Crowds gathered as we reached the city center, then dispersed rapidly at the end of the festivities. It was impressive that battalion after battalion after marching band gathered at the palace, along with all the resulting onlookers, then seemed to dissolve into the city’s hustle-bustle like any normal day.

I enjoyed the narrow streets, the aging buildings and the festive feeling of Gamla Stan, the old town.

The central city park was packed with people enjoying the outdoor cafes. The Kungstradgarden Park is essentially a long strip of grass and garden at the end of which is a fabulous shopping arena.

Though it was hot during my visit, Copenhagen has months of cold weather, and has planned accordingly. An indoor shopping center, NK Stockholm, just off the park will astound any traveler and would offer warmth and comfort in winter. At least four stories of shops run one into the other, like a never-ending combined Target-Costco-Trader Joe’s (for those of you from the USA). I ran out of shopping tolerance long before I’d explored all the offerings. I could have easily gotten lost inside. If I ever had to spend a winter in Stockholm, NK Stockholm is where you would find me.

IMG_4159Exploring the downtown area’s water passages and walking streets filled my afternoon. Taking a 45-minute bus ride back to the ship turned out to be a good idea. It’s the perfect amount of time for a nap.

Next up: a little break from the Baltics as we get caught up with the botanical scene in California’s Central Coast



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Walking Oslo, Norway


Some of you may remember that I, a girl born and raised in California, spent a year in Ukraine. It is a lovely country with wonderful people, but it is cold in winter, and winter is very long. It’s the kind of cold that Californians like me simply do not understand and seldom can tolerate. I certainly had my fill of cold after one year and was quite happy to go home.  And now, I visit Oslo.

It is often cold in Oslo, and was during our visit. One thing that surprised me about this city was the abundance of nude statues. I’d heard of the very famous ones in The Vigeland Park.

Circle of friends
The Monolith

But others were in evidence all around the city. Every time I saw a nude statue, I thought, “Burrr. Someone put a coat on them. A scarf. Mittens. A cap with ear flaps.”

There is something about cold climates that make me very one-minded. I was glad to see the many sights of Oslo. The downtown square is beautiful and the walk to the park is invigorating. There are nice places to shop. I bought fleece-lined slippers.

There are many lovely neighborhoods,

and walking streets to enjoy, as long as you have the proper outer wear.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that as happy as I was to be in Oslo, I was just a bit happier when we left.

This is me in Oslo. Do you see the ear muffs? I wore triple layers everywhere. The hood went right back over my head after the photo. Next up, St. Petersburg.

The passage to Oslo, Norway

img_3414So, all I did on this part of the journey was walk around the ship.


But what a beautiful walk it was.


Many ships were tagging along, as ours was following others ahead. A popular route into Oslo, no doubt.

I spent hours on the deck, as the ship slowly passed the sheltered bays and the isolated towns.

Buildings along the seaway varied from quite old to colorful to ultra-modern.

Some towns were accessible only by water craft. Others were linked to Oslo by a long winding highway. On a busy trip with a packed itinerary, it was pleasant to just sit and watch the peacefulness pass by.

Next up, Oslo Norway. Put your coat on now.


Walking Copenhagen, Denmark

Not Copenhagen

You’ll simply have to take my word for it. I visited, twice. I walked and enjoyed. But what memories I have will stay in my head, for the phone that captured the memories crashed and shattered.

Also Not Copenhagen

What happens when the things you plan for don’t happen? If you are lucky enough to have only a broken phone with lost photos, you rejoice and travel on. For now, I would like to refer you to Anita’s wonderful post on Copenhagen. If you haven’t yet read it, you should!

A Hop-On, Hop-Off Boat: Cruising the Canals of Copenhagen

Walking Berlin, Germany

I don’t even recall the name of the port where we docked. It was near enough to Berlin to take a bus to a train to a bus to the center of the city. Berlin was a place I couldn’t miss, regardless how much time it took to get there from the cruise ship. So much of the world history that happened in my life -or just before- happened in Berlin.

I remember my aunt, stationed in Germany with the US army before reunification, talking about the divide between east and west Berlin. Today, we are welcomed to the city as a whole. Here, Berliner Fernsehturm, the television tower in what was the eastern section of the city.

The fraternal twin cities of Berlin East and West walked right out of my history book and challenged me to come and take a look. I wasn’t prepared for the view. I don’t know quite what I expected. But what I found was remarkable: a city with a vibrant atmosphere, unafraid of taking on its past, marking its history with informative sites.

I remember seeing this speech, by President Reagan, on the television news, never thinking I would stand next to the plaque that commemorates it on a street in Berlin.

Berlin seemed to allow history to speak its own story; enormous passion and complete misery shown in the words of the people who experienced it. We spent a large portion of our visit walking the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Berlin Wall Memorial reading the experiences from letters, newspaper accounts and business and personal documents retrieved and photocopied. First-person detail can be the most moving and the most frightening. Both were presented.

The city also seemed to be briskly taking on the future. I left with a respect for the people of Berlin, and a wish that we would all acknowledge our past, have hope for the future, then get on with things, the way they seem to be doing.

There is something about standing on a spot of history. My words are weak in describing that feeling, a blessed benefit of being able to travel. Thank you, Berlin.

Checkpoint Charlie and McDonald’s – certainly not what I expected 🙂     Next up – Copenhagen.

Stop by Restless Jo’s Monday Walks for more…

Walking Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Erasmus Bridge

Rotterdam or Amsterdam: that was the question. It brought more angst than trying to figure out which country we were in: The Netherlands or Holland. Most everyone who travels to this area visits Amsterdam. It’s a must-see destination. But I had no interest in Amsterdam beyond the feeling I should follow the crowded lines of travel opinion. I like to read well thought out travel advice. It’s a good idea to know what savvy travelers say. But I usually do what I want anyway. When I found out that our cruise ship would park center-stage Rotterdam, it was decided. No two-hour train trip to Amsterdam, I would be stepping off the ship into a city and then walking to my heart’s content. My kind of day.

Downtown Rotterdam, except for a few small interwoven areas, is a modern glass and steel kind of city, and very beautiful for it. Clean, sleek, design-conscious. I left the ship early and saw city workers riding their bikes to jobs in tall mirrored buildings, stopping in for coffee at cafes, emerging from underground transit. As I walked, my tourist pace seemed out of place for this brisk city. I had hours to spend, and no particular place to go (hello Anita and Richard https://noparticularplacetogo.net/) Unlike the workers, I could dally.


The sights entertained: old style bicycles in this modern city, a flower market serving the going-to-work population. Even a sudden hail storm – which is, after all, much much better than a soaking rain – didn’t take me off the streets. I stepped under the overhang of a nearby building and enjoyed the brisk smack of the ice pellets on the tops of the parked cars.

survivors of war and hail

A few buildings had survived the bombing of WWII, giving a flavor for the architecture of that time. Bridges crossed canals and narrow boats served as restaurants and still the city sky-scrapers intermingled pleasantly. I kept my eye on the Erasmus Bridge, the landmark for my return to the ship. It was never far out of sight, at least not far out of my mind’s eye. Walkers find it easy to keep a sense of direction in Rotterdam.

I walked the older section, saw draw bridges rise, watched storm clouds invade and dissipate, detoured through small streets along the canals and craned my neck to include the skyscrapers. Walking a city like Rotterdam is such a pleasure, everything at a pace that keeps you invigorated and able to really see the city. If I am lucky, I may see Amsterdam another time. But I was fortunate to be able to visit Rotterdam, and that is lucky enough.

Next stop: Berlin

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Walking Brugge, Belgium Without Regrets

Brugge is the perfect Medieval European town says the travel literature. The streets are not to be missed. The buildings are remarkable. The shops are a buyers paradise. I suppose all that is true. Unfortunately, we passed through Blankenberge first, and saw a glimpse of something I really did want to see that day. Blankenberge seemed to me to be where Europeans go for fun, Brugge where all the rest of us congregate. Neither was a disappointment, but Blankenberge called to me as I passed through.


IMG_3332The port where our cruise ship anchored was not an easy walk-off location, so we took a bus to the town center of Blankenberge. Through the rain, we ran to the train station, bought our tickets to Brugge and waited. It was during the waiting that I noticed some of what Blankenberge had to offer. The rain passed quickly and I noticed modern shopping streets, clean walkways, sea-side fun, a pretty town center. But we had already bought our tickets, so when the train to Brugge came along, we got on.

A short ride later, we stopped at the wonderful train station of Brugge. I wanted to take my time here, but the medieval Brugge with its travel brochure appeal lay ahead. We followed the crowds. Once inside the tangle of cobbled pavement, a waffle aroma wound around the entire street and convinced me to try this delicacy: a Belgium waffle in Belgium. It was the best part of my visit to Brugge. Sweet, crisp and – oh-that fragrant whiff.

Fabric shops, trinket stores, all the things tourists expect were there. It was all delightful, and a bit fairy-landish, like a caricature of the medieval town it really is.


It was delightful, and we even got a bit lost – something that always makes a place more memorable. Most importantly, we walked. Soon enough, we walked back to the train station, where I had just enough time to explore a bit before the return trip to Blankenberge. For many Californians, transit stations are a bit of a curiosity, and ones that are built underground are even more so. There is so much life in these beautiful underbellies – out of sight, almost secret. I found excellent coffee underground at the back entrance. I window-shopped regular neighborhood storefronts and wondered at the rates of all those currencies at the exchange. I heard a sudden rain storm from above, and felt the good fortune of being dry. Then we stepped on to the train back to Blankenberge.


We walked up the broad shopping avenue, passing the many fine clothing stores and stopping in at the neighborhood market. I looked at all the manner of coffee there was to purchase, at the pastries, the cleaning supplies, the style of the shopping baskets. We walked the entire distance to the seaside and then walked along a magnificent shoreline. Nearly deserted in early May, it was the perfect setting for simply viewing a lovely coastline and appreciating the elegant design of a boardwalk. Sometimes it’s not what you planned to do that becomes memorable, but what you do without the planning. I walked back to the train station glad that Brugge, a perfectly fine stop along the way, wasn’t all there was to my visit there.

From Brugge (and Blankenberge) to Rotterdam, The Netherlands next stop