Trip to Scandinavia & Russia
Vinod Kumar Goyal
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Since we heard about Scandinavian countries, we were looking for the opportunity to visit as early as possible. Scandinavian or Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland & Iceland) are known for amazing phenomena created by Mother Nature. The Scandinavian Peninsula is the largest peninsula in Europe and it extends from above the Arctic Circle to the North and Baltic Seas.
We planned to travel on 4th September 2015 after the peak summer rush is over and the flight/ hotel bookings are easily available at discounted rates. Some of our friends suggested to include Russia also in our itinerary since it shares the boundary. We finally decided to visit Denmark, Norway, Sweden & Finland in Nordic and St Petersburg & Moscow in Russia. We took the tour from Caesars Holidays for 14 nights & 15 days. My friend and his wife accompanied us which made the trip more enjoyable. We started applying visa in 1st week of August’15 per following:
Scandinavia Visa : Since our maximum stay was in Norway, we applied Schengen Visa at Al Qabas Assurex - Visa application center who have tie-up with Norway embassy. It took about one week to get the visa. The Visa fees per application is KD 30.000, It is mandatory to have travel insurance for Visa.
Russian Visa: Obtained from Russian embassy which is situated near Indian embassy. It also took about one week. The Visa fees for Indian passport holders is only KD 13.300 per application due to discount for Indians.
Preparation: Based on the weather forecast, we packed light winter clothes for autumn season, some ready to eat food packets (MTR), Thepla/Paratha, Namkeen and some sweets. Being vegetarian, we were bit cautious about the food although there are Indian restaurants in every city but could be difficult to reach due to time constraint/ location & cost of course. We also took our regular medicines & first aid kit.
On 4th Sep’15 early morning at 04:45 Hrs we departed for Copenhagen, Denmark by Pegasus airlines which arrived Copenhagen at 2 PM same day. The journey was very comfortable since we had a stopover for about two hours at Istanbul airport. After successful completion of our tour, we left Moscow on 18th mid night by Air India for Delhi and back to Kuwait on 26th Sep’15. We had wonderful experiences throughout our trip which I would like to share with our friends along with some suggestions.
Further, our detailed itinerary is also given below which may be useful to others to plan their vacation.
Scandinavian countries are less populated and almost pollution free therefore it is easy to move around any time of the day & night. These countries are very safe to travel since crime rate is very low.
Unlike Canada & US, weather in these countries is not very extreme cold. Sept/ Oct is the right time when the usual school vacation rush was over, weather is very moderate and hotel & air tickets are available at reasonably cheaper rates.
We enjoyed mesmerizing view of the fjord landscape in Baltic sea from Stegastein view point in Flam, Norway. Cruise journey through the North sea was one of our dream.
Denmark is world fame for dairy products which we really enjoyed. Seasonal fruits such as apples, pears, plums & fresh berries of Nordic reason are much more tastier than produced in other countries.
Sweden is one of the very clean, pollution free country and been planned cashless by year 2016 as 1st country in the world. This sounds minimal corruption and Government attitude to build their country on top of the world.
We found people very co-operative, polite & helping in nature. Even they are very much satisfied with the support being received from the Government in all the countries we visited. Prime facilities such as free medical, free education up to university level is commendable although taxation is high which is justified.
We were inspired by the use of bicycles by almost 60-70% citizens as a means of transportation to their offices, University & shopping. Even there was small trolley attached to their cycles to carry their children & older people. This habit is encouraged by the Government to keep the city green/pollution free beside savings.
Internet WiFi connectivity is free in all the countries with very strong signal be it a hotel/restaurant, malls, cruise, sightseeing buses and even on small boats. We did not spent any money on our international calls or internet roaming charges.
It is advisable to carry Credit card for all adult passengers that helps free access to lounges at airports. Further, NBK offers free travel insurance if air ticket is booked using NBK credit card thereby one can save about KD 20-30 insurance fees.Better to carry some packed food items sufficient for 4-5 days so as to avoid hassle to look for Indian restaurants due to time constraint and saving some expenses as well. Customs checks in these countries for food in particular is not very strict and we could carry cooked & semi cooked food items without any objection.
We carried limited luggage therefore did not find difficulty in transportation.
There are always some problems when we are away from home and should take lessons out of it. Few of them are shared below:
When we reached Stockholm airport, we did not find our tour agent and did’nt have any contact number to call them. We called our Kuwait agent and he co-ordinated with Sweden agent. Therefore, we should keep all contact numbers before travel for such exigencies.
In most of the hotels, room access card was required to operate lift for security reasons. In Moscow I came down for some purpose leaving my room access card in the room with my family. When I was returning back to my room, lift could not be operated without swapping the card. I had to request reception to allow me access to operate lift. I had to justify my identity to reception before I was helped by them. So one should be very careful while travelling to such places.
Communication in Russia was bit difficult since very few people speak & understand English however could be managed with some body actions.
4th Sep’15 (Copenhagen): Left Kuwait early morning at about 01:30 am to catch Pegasus airlines for Copenhagen, Denmark and arrived at 2 pm same day. The journey was very comfortable since we had a stopover of about two hours at Istanbul airport.
After check-in and rest, we left in the evening for Tivoli garden which was about 15 minutes walk from our hotel. It is an amusement park with full of flowers, greenery and food court. As usual till 8 pm it was almost day time and suddenly became dark which gave us the feeling of demographic location of Copenhagen.
5th Sep’15 (Copenhagen): Today was Shree Krishna Janmashtami so we kept fast. We kept some fruits and vrat items so as to keep ourselves fit & healthy throughout the day and prepared for full day busy tour. Started with Copenhagen panorama excursions castle tour - Kronborg castle & Frederiksborg castle.
Kronborg castle is one of the northern Europe’s best preserved renaissance castle and made famous all over the world by Shakespeare’s Hamlet play. Frederiksborg castle is situated in the centre of Hillerod on three islets in the castle lake and surrounded by Frederiksborg castle gardens. The castle gardens are English style romantic gardens and recreated in 1996 to replicate J.C. Krieger’s gardens from 1725.
We took double decker panoramic bus tour from Vester Voldgate (near Tivoli) which passed through Baltic sea at one side & country side view on other hand. It was amazing tour showing us fisherman’s houses where the fresh green grass is grown on the roof top of the houses to protect them from cold weather/snow, various type of fruit trees (Apple, Pears, Berrys..etc). We were sitting on upper open deck and enjoying cool breeze, mild showers at times, captured beautiful snaps with my Nikon SLR camera. It was an exhausted but enjoyable seven hours tour which ended with great memories of the day, celebrated Shree Krishna janmashtami in the room.
6th Sep’15 (Copenhagen): Today was the day for local sightseeing and royal canal boat tour. We saw statue of Mermaid on the sea shore facing the palace. Mermaid has become one of the famous souvenirs of Denmark. We found Danish people very friendly & co-operative. The most appreciable memory is the vide use of bicycles as a means of transportation by the students, office goers and even house wives to carry their little children in a small trolley attached to their cycle. The use of cycle is for two purposes – One for economic consideration & secondly to keep the country pollution free which is really commendable.
Evening 04:30 pm we were to leave for Oslo (Norway) by cruise. We checked out hotel at about 3 pm and left for DFDS sea ways ferry station. After completing immigration formalities, we checked in to our cabins on 9th deck facing sea side. It was a huge 13 deck ship and with capacity for about 2,000 passengers, deck 7 & 8 was mainly for various types of shops, restaurants, night club/ Casino & big dining hall, looked like whole city was moving. We enjoyed the sumptuous dinner and walked around. It was a wonderful moment to capture images of sun set in the Baltic sea and some video clippings.
7th Sep’15 (Oslo): We reached Oslo at 09:45 AM and straight went to our Hotel. Kept our luggage in locker room since check in time was 3 pm, we went to enjoy pre booked boat ride which was hop on hop off type. We visited Opera house, Fram museum and Oslo city hall which is very famous for honoring Nobel Peace prize on 10th December every year. Oslo is big capital city of Norway, very clean and full of greenery. Returned to hotel after visiting markets, purchased souvenirs and had tireless sleep.
8th Sep’15 (Oslo): After breakfast, we left for city tour of about 7 Hrs covering major attractions such as city centre of Oslo, the Vigeland Sculpture park, ski jump at Holmenkollen, Viking ship museum, country side, harbor and then experience of Oslo Fjord on a two hours guided boat tour. Evening returned back to hotel with nice pictures.
9th Sep’15 (Flam): Checked out hotel early morning at 6:30 am and walked to railway station just opposite to our hotel to catch a train at 8:25 am for Flam valley. Train passed through the mountains covered with snow. At Myrdal station, we had to change the train to Flam. This train passes through wild Hardanger mountain plateau, stopped to view the thundering Voringsfoss water fall which is the highest in Norway. Arrived Flam at 2:30 pm and checked in hotel. It was a sunny day with nice cool breeze. Flam is a very small village in the valley and is one of the famous tourist destination. 10th Sep’15 (Flam/Burgen): After breakfast, we went for lovely sightseeing trip to spectacular Stegastein view point, 650 meters above the fjord. Stegastein is a part of the national tourist road that leads from Aurland to Laerdal, popularly known as “the snow road”. We had fantastic view of the fjord landscape. After return to hotel in the afternoon, relaxed a bit and then checked out since we had to leave for Bergen by ferry at 3 pm. On the way took amazing photographs of sun set in the fjord and various islands. Reached Bergen at 8:30 pm and checked in hotel very close to the ferry station. Night life of Bergen city and clean cool environment is unforgettable.
11th Sep’15 (Stockholm): Early morning we had to leave for Stockholm, Sweden by Scandinavian airlines (SAS) departed Bergen at 6:10 am. We reached Stockholm at 8:45 am. The hotel was quite far from the airport about 40 KM so had a nice sleep on the way and missed some scenic beauty. After check in the hotel, left for local sightseeing by a cruise through scenic lake Malaren to world heritage site Drottningholm on Ekero Island. Drottningholm palace is the best preserved palace from the 17th century and several kings and queens have influenced the interior of the state rooms. In 1981 the royal family moved in and today the palace is the permanent residence of the Swedish regents. After a wonderful experience of about 5 hrs cruise, returned to hotel. Evening was free for self exploration and therefore, went to see nearby markets, purchased famous souvenirs (Dala Horse) and enjoyed vegetarian dinner in Indian restaurant.
12th Sep’15 (Stockholm): Today was bit relaxing day since evening we had to leave for Helsinki, Finland. So we decided to enjoy the 1st half of the day by taking a Royal canal sightseeing tour of about 3 hrs. It was very relaxing and full of comfort. We had some snacks & Swedish coffee on the boat. After completing the boat trip, we saw city hall where Noble prizes for Medicines, Literature, Physics, Chemistry & Economics i.e. other than Peace prize are given on 10th December every year in remembrance of Alfred Noble’s death anniversary. Evening we checked out hotel and left for Tallinksilja Cruise station for Helsinki. After immigration, we boarded cruise and this time we chose our cabins on 11th deck sea facing. It was a also a huge ship with capacity for about 3,000 passengers and was about 75% occupied. It had a very big duty free shop on board with wide collection of garments, perfumes, souvenirs. They arranged many activities such as music, acrobatic play, various events in night club to keep passengers relax & happy. The varieties in dinner were beyond expectation. We passed on night in the cruise and captured all these great memories of life time experience.
13th Sep’15 (Helsinki): The cruise docked at around 9:30 am in Helsinki, Finland. The travel agent’s representative received us and checked in hotel. After settling, we went for a local sightseeing tour with Hop on Hop off bus services. The weather was fine although bit cool. Being the autumn season, flowers were at full boom and city was green throughout. Cleanliness and environmental control is the main concern of every citizen. We had a spectacular experience of Tram journey of full city. Enjoyed vegetarian food in “India House” restaurant and returned back to hotel for night stay.
14th Sep’15 (Helsinki): Morning after breakfast we went for sightseeing on a boat through beautiful canal route, Takiskuljetus. Explored local culture, many old ladies were weaving sweaters, caps, gloves and selling on their shops. It reminded us the olden days of our culture when every lady of our houses used to knit woolens before the winter for their whole family since readymade items were not easily available in market. We purchased some of them and also purchased some souvenirs for friends & relatives. Fresh fruits particularly apples, pears & different kind of berries are unforgettable. Tonight was the departure from Europe so we were very happy that we had seen our dream destination and sad to leave such beautiful countries. Any way, we were excited to catch a train at 8:00 pm for St. Petersburg, Russia which arrived at 23:30 pm. Checked in hotel Nevskiy Grand in St Petersburg.
15th Sep’15 (St. Petersburg): After breakfast, we went for a full day city tour with English speaking Russian guide. We visited St. Isaac Cathedral, Peterof & Paul fortress, Hermitage museum which is considered largest in the world. Peterhof is one of the oldest countryside residence of the Russian Tzars, world famous for its palaces and fountains. It s located by the shore of the Gulf of Finland. After having dinner in Indian restaurant “Namastey” and returned to hotel for night stay.
16th Sep’15 (St Petersburg-Moscow): Early morning we had to take a 6:00 am train from St Petersburg for Moscow, therefore we took packed breakfast and checked out hotel at 6:00 am. Went to railway station with tour guide and boarded train which left at 7:00 am & reached Moscow at 11:00 am. Checked in hotel Cosmos. After relaxing for about an hour, we went to see the exhibition wherein now a days it is developed as a beautiful garden. This was at a walking distance from our hotel. We had a lunch in Mc Donald. Evening 5 pm we had to go for Russian Circus which was quite far from our hotel. Circus was from 7 to 10 pm, it was amazing and much different than conventional circus we had seen in India. Night we returned to hotel and took vegetarian sandwitches from Subway in the hotel premises.
17th Sep’15 (Moscow): After breakfast, we were ready for Moscow city tour at around 10 am. We visited famous landmarks such as Red Square (so called because of the surrounding red brick buildings), The rebuild golden domed Cathedral of Christ Saviour (original was dynamited by Stalin), the Bolshoi theater, the head quarters of the KGB, the Lomonosov university, the Novodevichy convent. We went all along the Kremlin walls and the famous multi colored onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral. Lenin Mausoleum statue is still located at the red square. We stopped at Sparrow Hills for a superb view of the city. We finished the tour in Arbat, a busy pedestrian street in the heart of the old city centre. Evening of our own we took metro and went to Red Square to see Moscow in night glittering lights. We took packed dinner from Indian restaurant “Taj Mahal” and returned hotel for night stay.
18th Sep’15 (Moscow): After breakfast, we checked out the hotel and kept luggage in the locker room. Afternoon, we enjoyed the 3.5 hrs river cruise with the guide. We passed through The Kremlin, Gorky Park, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and enjoyed cool breeze while passing through the river banks. Today was the end of our Europe & Russia trip. We relaxed in the hotel lobby and around 7 pm left for air port to board Air India flight for Delhi. Flight departed at 01:00 am Moscow airport and reached Delhi at 09:00 am/19Th Sep’15.
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