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Europe

Iceland Video by Cam Thompkins

Video: Capturing Life & Iceland in Motion

By | Europe, Iceland | No Comments

“You can’t change the cards you’re dealt, just how you play the hand.”

The quote above is by Randy Pausch, a professor and author of one of the best books on life that I’ve ever read. In The Last Lecture, Pausch writes about how to achieve your childhood dreams. He’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer and this was the last lecture he gave to this students at Carnegie Mellon.

After my cousin Victoria was diagnosed with cancer 4 years ago, she had this quote tattooed on her arm. She used it to remind herself to seize life, no matter what the circumstances. 3 weeks ago she passed away. She was my life-long best friend.

In the midst of her passing, the Map&Move trip to Iceland was in two days. Amie, Cam, Matt, Joe and Nate were 5 strangers whose only common bond was the fact that they’d signed up for the same trip. I needed to be in New York to be with family, but but I was determined for them to go- life was dealing a shitty hand but there was no time to sulk.

So in the midst of planning  the funeral, I re-booked logistics for the trip, checked my maps and hashed out the new itinerary with the crew; they would be set to go to Iceland without me.  But I was nervous- this would be the first time I’d planned a trip and not be there to see it through.

PC: Amie Jean

PC: Amie Jean

The crew came back from Iceland 5 days later. Not only did they come back with amazing stories, but Cam created this breathtaking video of the trip. He wrote, “We had around 5.5 hours of daylight, with the sun constantly on the horizon. It was immensely beautiful. It also forced us to be very deliberate about where we went, given the small amount of time we’d be able to see these natural wonders. This video was shot over the course of 4 days. I want to thank those adventurous friends I made on the trip, and Map&Move for presenting me with this opportunity to venture to a place I never thought I’d go to.

Thanks to these magnificent Map&Mover’s for their support and taking the itinerary and making it their own. I’m grateful to Amie for taking the lead, to Cam for capturing the essence of the trip through his lens, to Joe, Matt and Nate for playing everything by ear, and to everyone for taking the cards they were dealt and playing a great hand.

Iceland nature Map&Move

Iceland Day 4: Driving the Golden Circle

By | Iceland, OUR TRAVELS | No Comments

Let’s see. Today, I walked the fault line between two tectonic plates, saw some geysers, checked out a waterfall, and saw a volcanic crater. Oh and I got a sweet new hat! -Matt

Photos and captions by Matt Levin & Cam Thompkins

PC: Cam Thompkins

PC: Cam Thompkins

Tectonic plates

The tectonic plate dividing the Eurasia and North America. PC: Cam Thompkins

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss, one of the largest waterfalls in the world. PC: Cam Thompkins

Kerid Crater

Kerid Crater, frozen over. PC: Cam Thompkins

The extended sunset is incredible. PC: Cam Thompkins

The extended sunset is incredible. PC: Cam Thompkins

Roadtrip Iceland

PC: Matt Levin

A contemplative Joe Hsu.

A contemplative Joe Hsu. PC: Cam Thompkins

Iceland Day 3: Hike Glaciers And Black Sand Beaches

By | Europe, Iceland, OUR TRAVELS | No Comments

Today was ermayzing. Hiked a glacier and saw ice pieces on a black sand beach.

Photos and text by Amie Jean & Cam Thompkins

Vatnajökull National Park. PC: Cam Thompkins

Taken just past Skaftafell, on the eastern side of the island. PC: Cam Thompkins

Glacier hike on Vatnajökull

Our glacier hike guide, Donna. She explained what glaciers are and how they form. Snow fall from the mountain top piles, flows down the mountain, melts. Then the next snow fall piles, flows down the mountain, melts. PC: Amie Jean

Glacier hike on Vatnajökull

Where I’m standing in this photo, the ice is only about 5 to 10 meters thick, and about 150 years old. PC: Amie Jean

Glacier hike on Vatnajökull

Over time, each layer compacts into a thick sheet of ice. PC: Amie Jean

Glacier hike on Vatnajökull

Donna chipped off a piece of the glacial floor we were standing on and I put a piece of the 150 year old ice in my mouth. Probably the cleanest piece of ice i’ve ever ingested. PC: Amie Jean

Inside a glacier crevacInside a glacier crevice

Inside a glacier crevice. PC: Amie Jean

Glacier hike on Vatnajökull

The thickest point of the Vatnajokull glacier is up to 1000 meters thick. PC: Amie Jean

Glacier hike on Vatnajökull

PC: Joe Hsu

Leaving Vatnajökull Iceland

Leaving Vatnajökull. PC: Amie Jean

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lake, Iceland

Arriving at Jökulsárlón Glacial Lake. PC: Cam Thompkins

Ancient ice on the black sand beach of Jökulsárlón. PC: Amie Jean

Ancient ice on the black sand beach of Jökulsárlón. PC: Amie Jean

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lake

PC: Cam Thompkins

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lake

Reflection. PC: Cam Thompkins

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lake

PC: Cam Thompkins

Iceland Days 1+2: Waterfalls, Volcanoes & Icelandic Horses

By | Europe, Iceland, OUR TRAVELS | No Comments

Ahhh, Iceland. I wasn’t able to make our most recent trip, but the newest Map&Move crew did. Amie, Nate, Cam, Matt and Joe flew in on Thanksgiving. After a proper home-cooked Icelandic holiday feast,  they took off driving through the land of fire and ice.

Photos and captions by Amie Jean & Cam Thompkins

We hiked behind the waterfall (got soaking wet and frozen, but so worth it). PC: Amie Jean

SO MUCH happened today!! Departed Reykjavik, stopped at Seljandsfoss and hiked behind the waterfall. (Got soaking wet and frozen, but so worth it). PC: Amie Jean

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PC: Amie Jean

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

PC: Amie Jean

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

PC: Amie Jean

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PC: Amie Jean

Stopped at Skogafoss and climbed a bajillion stairs to the top of the waterfall. PC: Cam Thompkins

Stopped at Skogafoss and climbed a bajillion stairs to the top of the waterfall. PC: Cam Thompkins

Everywhere the clouds seemed to rise from the ground. It felt like another planet. PC: Cam Thompkins

Then we went off route and discovered an epic archway. Everywhere the clouds seemed to rise from the ground. It felt like another planet. PC: Cam Thompkins

The black sand beaches of Vik took my breath away. Viewed from off route, from Dyrhólaeyjarviti. PC: Cam Thompkins

These are the black sand beaches viewed from Dyrhólaeyjarviti, which sits about 1000 feet up. The white on the right side is snow. PC: Cam Thompkins

Dyrhólaeyjarviti

Dyrhólaeyjarviti, PC: Cam Thompkins

Icelandic horses (ponies?) PC: Cam Thompkins

Icelandic horses (ponies?) PC: Cam Thompkins

PC: Amie Jean

PC: Amie Jean

Yuri, our instructor picked us up and ushered us 30 minutes outside of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Unlike Estonia, we were shooting in open air.

What’s It Like To Shoot A Gun In Lithuania?

By | Baltic States, Europe, OUR TRAVELS, Perspectives, Trip | No Comments

“On May 11th, more than 37,000 men, aged 19-26, woke up and found their surnames on Lithuania’s compulsory military service list…”

 

That’s how a recent article from earlier this year started. Just a few months ago, Lithuania responded to the tensions in Russia and Ukraine by reinstating the required service that they had abolished in 2008. We didn’t realize this when we recently went to a gun range in Lithuania. This is how the next three hours unfolded.

Yuri, our instructor picked us up and ushered us 30 minutes outside of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Unlike Estonia, we were shooting in open air.

For €75, we had arranged to have access to 13 different guns, ranging from pistols to assault rifles. Yuri, our instructor picked us up and ushered us 30 minutes outside of Vilnius, the picturesque capital of Lithuania. We’d spent the morning wandering through old churches and romantic cobblestone streets, and the dusty, open field of the shooting range was a huge (but exhilarating) departure.

Yuri trained soldiers for the Lithuanian military. When he first mentioned this, we didn't realize the weight it carried. It wasn't until later on that I realized that Lithuania had restored its mandatory military service for men earlier this year. It issue really people hard; it came a surprise and this incredible article captures the emotional issue well. The most surreal part in all of this was Yuri's 6-year-old son who hung out with us on the field.

Yuri trained soldiers for the Lithuanian military. When he first mentioned this, we didn’t realize the weight it carried. It wasn’t until later on that I understood why he emphasized his training: because many Lithuanians felt unprepared for military service and the issue has been hitting the country hard. “Can you imprison a man’s choice and call it free living?” someone pleaded in this emotional reaction to the unexpected mandate.

The most surreal part in all of this was Yuri’s 6-year-old son who hung out with us the entire time.

We started out with pistols. 4 types to be exact: the Glock-17, SIG Sauer P226, Colt, and Makarov PM. No big deal.

Back on the shooting range Yuri made it clear from the start: we would be learning everything from the ground up. First, the pistols…

There was no hand-holding: Yuri made sure we learned how to fill our own cartridges and to lock and load our guns.

We learned how load bullets in our own cartridges and to lock and load our own guns.

The Uzi

With every rotation, the guns got heavier.This was the Uzi.

The Uzi

I’m proud to say that Emily was the best shooter of the day. #GirlRepresent.

Target practice

I liked Yuri from the start. He was like a gentle militant, the kind of dad I’d imagine drilling you hard at soccer practice but would let you get an extra scoop on your double fudge sundae. He made us review our target practices after each and every round, marking each successful shot with tape and teasing us when our aim was embarrassingly off.

Guns20

AK-47

Shooting the H&K G36

And while it was empowering as a woman to own the gun range, I realized that I rarely flip gender story around to talk about society’s expectations of men. Men who protested the military service were quickly labeled “unmanly,” “cowardly” and “disgraceful.”

Shooting in Lithuania

Thompson “Tommy” Gun

The Thompson “Tommy” Gun.

Obligatory victory shot. Dave, second from the right had a staple gun. #dork

Ending the day.

Leftover casings from one of our rounds.

Leftover casings.

Shooting in Lithuania

Photo Credit: Calvin Sun

Shooting range in Lithuania

Shooting range in Lithuania

All the while, this little nugget was riding his dirt bike around. T

And in the face of all of this, my sense is that Lithuanians are tough people. Case in point, Yuri’s son who had been riding around on this little dirt bike. No big deal. Just hanging with a bunch of rifle-handling noobies on the field.

How to Spend 2 Interesting Days in Unexpected Vilnius, Lithuania

By | Baltic States, Europe, Trip | No Comments

Medieval churches sit on old cobblestone streets and everything melts into a pink mirage come sunset. It’s almost hard to believe that you can find a renegade republic and shoot a Tommy gun in the same city. Here are our tips.

 

Get A City Tour of Old Vilnius

Vilnius is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the largest surviving (and arguably most gorgeous) medieval quarters in Europe. Case in point: the 13th century St Ann's Church.

Vilnius is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the largest surviving (and arguably most gorgeous) medieval quarters in Europe. Case in point: the 13th century St Ann’s Church.

St. Anne’s Church Complex

I’m not usually a fan of tours, but there’s more than meets the eye with this old city and the best way to appreciate its history is to take a free city tour. They start in Town Hall and you can get info at any hostel or hotel.

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St. Casimir’s Cathedral

Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania is the stuff that fairytales are made of. Another favorite: the fluffy, bubble gum exterior of St. Casimir’s Cathedral.

Find the Runaway Republic of Užupis and Get Your Passport Stamped

Here, you can cross the bridge to Užupis, the renegade district that has declared itself an independent republic. It has its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers and constitution- all fittingly made official on April 1st, 1997.

Cross the bridge and walk over the Vilnia River to the neighborhood of Užupis. The renegade district has declared itself an independent republic from Lithuania since April 1st, 1997. (Notice the date.) The republic has its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers, and of course, constitution (see below).

Go inside the cafe pictured above, and a waitress will knowingly nod her head, reach inside of a drawer, and make your stay Užupis official with a passport stamp.

Come on April 1st, Užupis’ Independence Day and get your passport stamped. If you can’t make it then, the Republic is forgiving. Just go inside the Užupis Cafe (pictured above), and a waitress will knowingly nod her head, reach inside of a drawer, and bestow upon you a stamp of validation.

Bridge to Užupis

Go back outside and take a flight of steps until you’re under the bridge. Find the swing over the river and make merry!

Off to the side of the bridge, spot a whimsical mermaid.

Off to the side of the bridge, spot a whimsical mermaid.

Užupis!

On the bridge, find some love locks.

The Užupis Constitution

Take a 10-minute walk to Paupio Street, and you’ll find the Constitution of Užupis fixed to the wall. It declares perfectly just statements like: “Man has the right to individuality”, “a dog has the right to be a dog”, and my personal favorite, “a cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.”

Climb up the Bell Tower of Vilnius University

Bell Tower of the University of Vilnius

Climb the Bell Tower of the University of Vilnius for an amazing spread of the city.

Bell Tower of the University of Vilnius

Voilà!

Bell Tower of the University of Vilnius

Change Courses and Shoot a Gun in an Open Field

Shooting in Lithuania

Take advantage of the plethora of artillery choices and the wide open fields, and book a session at a gun range. Our instructor picked us up from our hostel and drove 30 minutes outside of Old Town.

Shooting in Lithuania Shooting in Lithuania

Catch a stellar Sunset

St. Casimir’s Cathedral

Enter through Bernardine Park, stroll along the river and climb up Hill of Three Crosses.

Check out the view of Old Vilnius from the Hill of Three Crosses.

Check out Old Vilnius from the Hill of Three Crosses.

Spy Gediminas Tower off in the distance, the very last bits of the Upper Castle of Vilnius. Lithuania.

Spy Gediminas Tower off in the distance. It’s the very last bit of the Upper Castle that’s still standing in Old Vilnius.

Sunset

Contemplate life, or nothing at all, but remember to come prepared with a bottle of wine.

Take a night stroll through Old Town

Cathedral Square

Cathedral Square.

 lazy dinner among the quaint cobblestone streets along Vilnius University:

Finish off by walking along Pilles Street. It runs from Cathedral Square to Town Hall and it’s line with cafes, small shops and artwork being sold along the street. Our rec: Forto Dvaras for local dishes like meat zeppelins, wild mushroom soup, and deep-fried cod.

The Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, Lithuania

Walk all the way to the southern edge of Old Vilnius and rendezvous with the Gate of Dawn, the only surviving piece of the city’s one defensive wall. Our accommodations, Hostel Gate, were right by here.

 

Art Nouveau District of Riga

5 Reasons Why You Should Linger in Riga, Latvia

By | Baltic States, Europe, Trip | No Comments

From Tallinn, Estonia, we took a 5 hour bus ride to Riga, the historical capital of Latvia. Here’s why might be charmed into staying a few extra days in the city that’s been dubbed the “Paris of the North.”

 

1 | It’s the Cultural Hub of the Baltics.

Like Tallinn, the entire city of Riga is an UNESCO heritage site.

Like Tallinn, the entire city of Riga is an UNESCO heritage site.

Views of Riga, Latvia

You can get 360 degree views of the city from the top of the Academy of Science, €6.

It was originally a Viking settlement before being occupied by a different culture nearly every century (Germans, Poles, Swedes and Russians). Today, Gothic churches cozy up next to outdoor cafes, modern lounges, and tranquil spas.

It was originally a Viking settlement before being occupied by a different culture nearly every century (Germans, Poles, Swedes and Russians).
Today, Gothic churches cozy up next to outdoor cafes, modern lounges, and tranquil spas.

Riga, Latvia

Modern mixes with old.

 

2 | You’ll Be Amazed By The Architecture.

Riga is a cultural mutt and it shows in everything from the Dome Cathedral, it's more important church, to the Art Nouveau district.

Riga is a cultural mutt and it shows in everything from the Dome Cathedral, it’s more important church, to the Art Nouveau district.

Art Nouveau District of Riga

Riga has one of the world’s biggest and best Art Nouveau districts.It also happens to be one of my favorite art history periods, so I’m justifiably biased. #artnerd4lyfe

Art Nouveau District of Riga

The period stressed creative freedom and movement and inspiration from nature, hence the incorporation of vines. It was a reaction to the stiff, Victorian era of realism. And while these these buildings may look stoic today, Art Nouveau was innovation at its prime in its heyday.

 

3 |You’ll Be At Home If You’re A Digital Nomad

While I try to stay away from most things digital when I’m traveling, for a design consultant like myself, I like the option of lingering in an open-air cafes to catch up on work. Riga has the largest number of free WIFI spots per square km in Europe and is surprisingly one of the most and settings like these don’t hurt.

While I try to stay away from most things digital when I’m traveling, for a design consultant like myself, I like the option of lingering in an open-air cafes to catch up on work. Riga has the largest number of free WIFI spots per square km in Europe and is surprisingly one of the most and settings like these don’t hurt.

 

4| You Can Indulge Your Caviar Dreams

Food is relatively cheap, compared to other EU countries.

Food is good and relatively cheap, compared to other EU countries. A simple breakfast of smoked salmon in tartar sauce and lingonberries was light and awesome.

Central Market, Riga

But for the super cheap, one of the best places you can go for fresh, local goods, is the Central Market. Everything from pickled fish and baked goods to desserts and fresh berries (amazing) are located in and around 5 WWI Zeppelin hangars that have been converted into Riga’s biggest market. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

My favorite was the fish market in the last hangar, where I got smoked salmon (ask them to slice it) and caviar for a total of €9. Tuck that in a loaf of just-baked bread (€2) and you’ve got the lunch of a queen.

My favorite was the fish market in the last hangar, where I got smoked salmon (ask them to slice it) and caviar for a total of 9 euros. Tuck that in a loaf of just-baked bread (€2) and you’ve got the ballin’ lunch of a queen.

Riga15

McDonalds and caviar dreams

Dave from our group bought a jar of caviar from the market for €25 euros. If you’re wondering about the back story, he decided to bring it out to the club, and later on for a late night snack. #caviardreams

 

5 | There’s Good Night Life

It’s been called "the second city that never sleeps" (though I think whoever coined that term may have never been to New York). Even on a weeknight, we found restaurants open until midnight and lounges and small clubs raging until 3am. Hearing Miley blast from outdoor patios is a funky juxtaposition to the quiet cobble stone streets of 800-year-old Riga. But that’s what makes this city such a charming mix of the old and new.

It’s been called “the second city that never sleeps” (though I think whoever coined that term may have never been to New York). Even on a weeknight, we found restaurants open until midnight and lounges and small clubs raging until 3am. Hearing Miley blast from outdoor patios is a funky juxtaposition to the quiet cobble stone streets of 800-year-old Riga. But that’s what makes this city such a charming mix of the old and new.

It wasn’t until 1991 that Latvia gained its independence so until 1994, people had never seen a McDonald’s. So here we are sitting at the crossroads of history, eating late night Big Macs and leftover caviar from the market in Latvia’s very first fast food joint. I’m still not sure why someone brought a jar of fish eggs to the club, but what did I say about caviar dreams? Anything is possible.

Compared to gun ranges in the US, Estonian rules are relatively lax. Where else can you get your hands on an assortment like this? #wheninestonia

7 Things To Do In The Fascinating City of Tallinn, Estonia

By | Baltic States, Europe, Trip | No Comments

After leaving Helsinki, we crossed the Baltic Sea for the off-the-radar capital of Tallinn, Estonia. From getting lost in a fairytale town, to shooting AK-47’s, and visiting abandoned prisons, here’s our list of to-do’s in this fascinating city of contrasts.

 

1 | Take a Free Tour of Old Town

Tallin, Estonia

The entire town is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Old plazas with modern cafes melt into small alleyways with cute markets and shops.

Old Town, Tallinn

After centuries of being absorbed by the Germans, Danes, Swedes, Russians, and then later by the Germans and Russians again, Estonia is a cultural mutt. The easiest way to capture its long and complicated history is to join a free walking tour. They start at noon and start at the Tourism Center in Old Town.

Kiek in de Kök (Round Tower) is a 15th-century tower built by the Germans. We didn’t end up getting to it, but from here, you can also check out the bastion tunnels, a network of passageways 10m under the city.

Kiek in de Kök (Round Tower) is a 15th-century tower built by the Germans. We didn’t end up getting to it, but from here, you can also check out the bastion tunnels, a network of passageways 10m under the city.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a relic from the Russian Empire.

 

2 | Haul Yourself Up A Tower and Mount The Old City Walls

City Walls of Tallinn, Estonia

Climb up the tower in the middle of the city and walk along the ancient borders of Old Town. €6 admission. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Views from the city walls.

You’ll get spectacular views.

I couldn't help but be a creeper and spy on this cute terrace next to the city wall.

I couldn’t help spotting this cute terrace next door. It’s not spying if I admit it.

 

3 | Take a Shortcut Through a Hidden Alley

Hidden alleyway of Tallinn

Veer off the beaten path, go under an unmarked archway and find solitude in an old passageway.

Alleyways of Tallinn

 

4 | Channel your inner Furiosa

Compared to gun ranges in the US, Estonian rules are relatively lax. Where else can you get your hands on an assortment like this? #wheninestonia

While I’m far from being a gun enthusiast, there’s nothing more empowering than a girl who can handle her own. Compared to gun ranges in the US, Estonian rules are relatively lax, meaning you can shooting things like an AK-47 is actually allowed. #wheninestonia

Shooting in Tallinn

Shooting in Tallinn

Shooting in Tallinn

Golden Desert Eagle

Golden Desert Eagle

Shooting in Tallinn

Yowza.

 

5 | Get a Glimpse of Estonia’s Soviet Past

Patarei sea fortress-prison

It’s hard to appreciate how hardy Estonians are without getting a first-hand glimpse of its rough history. Patarei was first built by Tzar Nicholas I as a sea fortress-prison for the Russians. It was then taken over by the KGB to torment and kill political prisoners. It wasn’t until two centuries later in 2004 that this chamber of terror was finally abandoned. It was the same year that Facebook launched.

Patarei sea fortress-prison

There are 4 floors, with this being a relatively tame level where prisoners bunked. It was in the basement, where men were used for experiments and the incarcerated were taken into a room and shot.

Patarei sea fortress-prison

In one of the courtyards where prisoners were allowed to roam for an hour each day.

Art in Patarei Prison

After its abandonment, art exhibits, concerts and festivals started popping up.

Today, the occasional concert, art exhibit and music festival happens within the prison's graffitied walls.

In one of the old communal bathrooms.

Art in Patarei sea fortress-prison

Point taken.

 

6 | Reconcile Your faith In Humanity At The Patarei Beach Cafe

Patarei Seaside Cafe

Unwind from Patarei’s dark past with a visit to the seaside Cafe they built right next to the prison.

Patarei Beach cafe

In the summer you can grab a beer, a chaise lounge and borrow a blanket for a cat nap next to the Baltic Sea.

 

7 | Try a locally sourced meal

Last but not least, eat well my friends. While there’s no real national dish, Estonian food is defined by its locally sourced ingredients. Try anything with root vegetables, berries, mushrooms, and if you’re adventurous, game meat (beaver, boar, elk, etc.).

 

 

Sibelius Monument

People, Art and Good-byes in Helsinki

By | Europe, OUR TRAVELS, Scandinavia | No Comments

10 of our group of 26 people parted ways with us in Helsinki, Finland today. A week ago, most of us were strangers.

We said our good byes at our last meal in Scandinavia together. Biased as I may be, #girlswhotravel, are probably the most independent and phenomenally strong women I know.

If high school pre-calc taught me anything, it’s that yielding this group of 26 required the perfect probability of mutual connections, interests, logistics, and timing. When life’s unlikely equations happen, it’s best to appreciate the bonds that brought you together.

Good-byes in Helsinki

We said our good byes at our last meal in Scandinavia together. Biased as I may be, #girlswhotravel, are probably the most independent and driven women I know.

Sibelius Monument

Taking advantage of our last hours in this design-driven city, our remaining group took a cab to Sibelius Park to feast our eyes on this hefty piece. The 24 ton monument was constructed to honor the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius.

Sibelius Monument, Helsinki

The Sibelius Monument is an abstraction of the composer’s music and weaved together from over 600 pipes.

Sibelius Monument

I’m just slightly obsessed.

Ferry from Finland to Estonia. At 4pm, we took a 2 hour ferry from Helsinki, Finland to Tallin, Estonia. Goodbye Scandinavia. Hello Baltic States!

At 4pm, we took a 2 hour ferry from Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia. Our view.

We landed at 6pm in Tallin, Estonia. Hello Baltic States!

Good bye Scandinavia. On to the Baltic States!

Discovering Helsinki’s Ancient Sea Fortress

By | Europe, Scandinavia | No Comments

We spent the day clambering through stone garrisons, retreating into camouflaged bunkers, and bringing hip hop to an ancient sea fortress.

We took a 15 minute ferry ride to Suomenlinna, a sea fortress first built by the Swedish royalty in the 17th century to protect their new Finnish colony from the Russians. It wasn’t much of a deterrent, however, as the Russians easily captured the fort and turned it into a Russian base of operations. After Finland gained its independence and retook the island, its military eventually gave it up to the municipality in 1973 to turn it into an open-air museum.

A 15 minute ferry ride from Helsinki is Suomenlinna, a sea fortress that was first built by the Sweds, then taken by the Russians, and finally given to the Finnish and declared an UNESCO World Heritage site for good measure.

The fortress walls of Suomenlinna.

The fortress walls of Suomenlinna.

Vesikko, a Finnish WW2-era submarine that saw action against the Nazis

A retired Finnish submarine from World War 2 sits on its banks.

The fortress walls of Suomenlinna.

Suomenlinna is a little less combative and a bit more quaint these days. Bring a blanket and snacks for a picnic lunch.

Suomenlinna

Our travel fam :)

Dancing on Suomenlinna

Bombastically American. Alice and Kel show the Finnish how the Nae Nae is done.

Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna actually stretches over 6 islands and is lined with picturesque beaches. Pack a bathing suit and be prepared for frigid, but gloriously blue water.

Suomenlinna

Just jump. Photo Credit: David Zhou

You might expect a hobbit to pop out of one of the bunkers on the island.

You might expect a hobbit to pop out of one of the bunkers on the island.

On the fortress walls

On the fortress walls.

Cannons on Suomelinna

Emily and Kel put the cannons to use. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Popping out of a bunker on Suomenlinna

Popping out of a bunker, my hobbit home. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Suomenlinna

Going home.

Senate Square, Helsinki

Slow Cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki

By | OUR TRAVELS, Scandinavia | No Comments

We spent our last hours in Stockholm people-watching from sidewalk cafes and guzzling fresh cinnamon buns over strong coffee. At 4:30 in the afternoon, we boarded our cruise to Helsinki, Finland.

Viking Line Cruise to Helsinki

We took a break from blitzkrieg-ing, and opted for a more leisurely route to Helsinki: sailing through the Baltic Sea. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki

The cruise was full of the usual suspects: European families, retirees, and the occasional bachelorette party. No better setting to insert a few rambunctious Americans. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Karaoke on the Cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki

For the next 16 hours, we dominated karaoke night, took over the dance floor, and satisfied our caviar dreams at the ship’s buffet. #shameless.

Sunset on the Baltic Sea

From dinner, we watched the sun set over the Baltic Sea.

At 10am the next day, we landed and caught our first glimpses of Helsinki.

At 10 in the morning, we landed and caught our first glimpses of Helsinki.

Kauppatori Market Square

The ferry and cruises dock right by Kauppatori Market. The best berries I’ve ever tasted in my life are sold between stalls of fresh salmon soup and fried fish, all of which are must-tries.

Senate Square, Helsinki

We landed on the steps of Senate Square just in time to catch the tail end of a huge orchestral performance. #win. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Senate Square, Helsinki

Continuing the trend of being unabashedly American, Kel from our group asked the conductor to help us with a quick pic. Right after he conducted a 68-piece orchestra.

Esplanade St: the main pedestrian street of Helsinki is lined with big stores, cafes, grassy areas for you to stop and sunbathe, and little turn-offs waiting for you to get off the beaten path and explore.

Esplanade St: the main pedestrian street of Helsinki is lined with big stores, cafes, grassy areas for you to stop and sunbathe, and little turn-offs waiting for you to get off the beaten path and explore.

Street Art

Street Art

 

After a 30 minute tour of Stadshuset, we walked diagonally across the inner courtyard to the tower. A 400-step climb will reward you with sweeping views of Stockholm.

Stockholm’s charming Old Town & Urban Art

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After a 7-hour overnight bus from Oslo, Norway we arrived in Stockholm, Sweden at 6:30am with a strong need for caffeine. For the next 2 days, we’d be rambling through the cobble-stone streets of Old Town, exploring the home of the Nobel Peace Prize, and plunging into the subterranean art of Stockholm’s metro system.

Walking along Drottninggatan Street in Stockholm

After darting to the hostel for a hot shower and to unload our bags, we came out feeling brand new. Nothing that a cup of strong Swedish caffeine can’t fix.

Drottninggatan Street

It’s all in the details. Love this lettering embedded into Drottninggatan Street.

Along the way, one of our travelers, Alice, made it a mission to play at every public piano in Stockholm.

Along the way, one of our travelers, Alice, made it a mission to play at every public piano in Stockholm. #wegottalent

View from Riksbron Bridge, leading you into Old Town.

View from Riksbron Bridge, leading you into Old Town. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Stockholm Old Town

From Drottninggatan Street, it was a straight shot down to Old Town (Gamla Stan), Stockholm’s original city center. Awesomely charming cobble stone streets open up into public squares with open-air cafes. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Entering Stockholm

We darted to the hostel to unload our bags, grab a hot shower and a quick caffeine fix. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Stockholm's Nobel Prize Musuem

Unlike Oslo’s Nobel Museum which focuses only on the Peace Prize winners, Stockholm’s features all the prize winners (Economics, Physics, Physiology/Medicine, Literature, Chemistry, Peace) and their accomplishments. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Alfred Nobel's original will where he hat dictated the foundation of the Nobel Prize.

Alfred Nobel’s original will where he devoted his entire estate to awarding people who created the “greatest benefit on mankind.” His family wasn’t thrilled about this.

Lunch of Swedish Meatballs in the middle of Old Town.

We stopped for some strong coffee and a bite. Reindeer and elk meatballs with ligonberry sauce and a side of buttery mashed potatoes. Heart stopping-ly good.

Some of us missed the changing of the guards that took place in the middle of town hall, but we found this little nugget instead, who we shamelessly watched marching to the beat of his own drum in the middle of town.

We missed the changing of the guards that takes place at the Royal Palace takes place at 12pm everyday.  So we found this little heartbreaker marching around town instead.

Stadshuset is the symbol of Stockholm’s political process and is where the Nobel Prize banquet and ceremonies take place.

In the afternoon, we headed to Stadshuset, Stockholm’s City Hall. The building is both a mix of political offices and the site where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and aft-party takes place.

Climbing up the 356 steps of City Hall Tower

As you ascend, the passage gets catastrophically narrow.

City Hall Tower

In between floors and on the way up, statues line the interior of the Tower.

After a 30 minute tour of Stadshuset, we walked diagonally across the inner courtyard to the tower. A 400-step climb will reward you with sweeping views of Stockholm.

After a 30 minute tour of Stadshuset, we walked diagonally across the inner courtyard to the tower. A 400-step climb will reward you with sweeping views of Stockholm.

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Our motley crew of Map&Mover's

Our bus pulled into Stockholm at 6:30am. Our motley crew. Photo Credit: Kel Sage.

Public art by the water.

Public art by the water.

Dinner in Stockholm

The harbor is lined with crowded boat restaurants and parks for sunbathing. We chose a cafe and landed ourselves in front of a fresh. tuna tartar salad.

White fish swimming in a bowl of butter. It was unfortunately, terribly delicious.

White fish swimming in a bowl of butter. It was unfortunately, terribly delicious.

From dinner, we got a 24-hour metro pass to check out a few of the 190 stations of Stockholm., brimming with subterranean art. Each station has its own theme.

From dinner, we got a 24-hour metro pass to check out a few of the 100+ stations of Stockholm., brimming with subterranean art. Each station has its own theme. This was Stadion Metro stop.

Solna Centrum Metro Station in Stockholm

The Solna Centrum Metro stop was a favorite. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

On the ceiling of the Tekniska Högskolan Metro stop.

On the ceiling of the Tekniska Högskolan Metro stop.

Christiania, Copenhagen

From Copenhagen to Oslo

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We’re catching a 4pm ferry to Oslo today. Until then, there are city views to be seen and cannabis-scented-communes to explore.

The Canals of Copenhagen

We spent a leisurely morning getting lost in Copenhagen and wandering around the canals.

The Church of Our Saviour

We spent a leisurely morning meandering around Copenhagen and a less-leisurely walking to the top of the Church of Our Saviour, aka Spiral Tower.

View of Copenhagen from the Church of Our Saviour

Ascending the tower takes a sweaty 300-step climb. As you reach the very top, the spiral narrows so much so, that only one person can go up at a time.

The Church of Our Saviour, aka Spiral Tower.

We were rewarded with eye candy at the top. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Christiania, Copenhagen

We explored Christiania, the self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood of Copenhagen. Since 1989, the commune of 850 people has been granted a unique status, allowing it to be partially self-regulated.

Christiania, Copenhagen

BBQ grills on top of rooftops, graffitied walls, communal joints and cannabis-smoking tables.

Christiania, Copenhagen

Residents were hostile to our cameras, but they welcomed our kroners when we wanted to buy their trinkets, hot dogs and other imported goods. The experience made me wary, but it was worth bearing their pushy attitudes to see this different side of Copenhagen.

At 4pm we boarded the ferry to Oslo.

At 4pm we boarded the ferry to Oslo. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

At 4pm, we boarded the overnight ferry to Oslo.

At 4pm, we boarded the overnight ferry to Oslo. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Pulling away from the harbor in Copenhagen

Pulling away from the harbor in Copenhagen.

Leaving Copenhagen

Good-bye Denmark. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

 

Oslo: Finding Castles, Viking Ships & Discoball Hideouts

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After a balls-to-the-wall overnight ferry ride from Copenhagen to Oslo, we landed in Norway at 10am. We had 12 hours to explore the city and the countdown was about to begin.

The view from our ferry. Foggy entrance into the Oslo Fjords this morning.

Foggy entrance into Oslo this morning. Sailing through the Oslofjord.

Hello Oslo

After landing and storing our luggage, we began our tour with a welcome hug. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Oslo Opera House

On the waterfront is one of my favorite pieces of architecture in Oslo: the Opera House. The massive cultural center is designed to resemble a glacier floating in water. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Walking up the Oslo Opera House

Walk up the sloped roof, and you’ll get panoramic views of the Oslofjord.

Oslo Opera House

Yogis in Oslo.

Roof of the Oslo Opera House

On a good day, the roof is perfect for sunbathing a packing your own lunch. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

She Lies, a sculpture by Monica Bonvicini

To the left of the Opera House, is the famous sculpture, She Lies, by Monica Bonvicini. The steel and glass piece sits in the water and spins with the wind and tides.

Akershus Festning Castle

10 minutes from the Opera House is Akershus Festning. The castle and fortress is a whooping 700-years-old and its location made it one of the most important fortresses in Norway’s history.

Akershus Festning Castle

The castle is still a military fortress with a commander and daily patrol by the King’s guard to this day.

The view from Akershus Castle

The view from Akershus Festning.

Vikingskipshuset, the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo

We took a ferry to the Viking Ship Museum located on Bygdø, a peninsula on the western side of the city. The museum houses 2 impressive warrior ships and the building itself is awesomely Nordic by design: simple, beautiful and functional.

Viking artifacts at the Viking Ship Museum

Viking artifacts.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo every year. The museum honors all Nobel Prize laureates with a small but informative collection. This year's winner was Malala Yousafzai, the badass activist fighting for women's right to education in Pakistan.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo every year. Between 1901 and 2014, the prize has been awarded 567 times and the Nobel Peace Prize Museum is dedicating to honoring all those brains involved. In case you didn’t know, the most recent recipient was Malala Yousafzai, the badass activist fighting for women’s right to education in Pakistan and my personal heroine. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Aker Brygge

We grabbed a mid-afternoon snack in Aker Brygge, the waterfront area lined with chain stores and restaurants dishing out Norwegian (aka expensive) prices. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Dinner in Aker Brygge.

Worth it. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Live music in Oslo

Walk through the hipster hood of Grønland, look for a disco ball in an alleyway, and you’ll happen upon Dattera til Hagen, a cafe/ bar/ club with an open-air courtyard inhabited by live bands and locals.

Live music in Oslo

A friend actually brought me to Dattera til Hagen 4 years ago and I love that I accidentally stumbled upon it again.

A few beers and a good buzz later, we headed to the bus terminal for an 11pm overnighter to Stockholm. See you in the morning, Sweden!

 

To the Danish Coast and Beyond

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Today we ventured outside of Copenhagen to concoct the most perfect love child between art, nature and food.

Our first destination was the Louisiana Museum, a mecca of contemporary art that had been highly, highly recommended by a friend. From Copenhagen, we took a 40 minute metro ride from Central Station to the town of Humlebæk.Plopped in the middle of nature with a huge sculpture garden in the back, and the sea to our backs, Louisiana Museum is sensory explosion.

Our first destination was the Louisiana Museum, a mecca of contemporary art that had been highly, highly recommended by a friend. From Copenhagen, we took a 40 minute metro ride from Central Station to the town of Humlebæk.Plopped in the middle of nature with a huge sculpture garden in the back, and the sea to our backs, Louisiana Museum is sensory explosion.

Louisiana Musuem, Copenhagen

Sculptures are sprinkled throughout the garden and lawn.

Louisiana Musuem, Copenhagen

Squirtle from Pokémon?

Louisana Musuem, Copenhagen

On the edge of the lawn are steps leading to the sea. A museum can’t get better than this.

Louisiana Musuem, Copenhagen

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.

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Inside the museum, I was hit with one of my favorite installations: Yayoi Kusama's Gleaming Lights Of The Souls. I'd seen this piece in New York, but walking into the darkened room of lights and infinity mirrors was just as mesmerizing the second time around.

Inside Louisiana, I was hit with one of my favorite installations: Yayoi Kusama’s Gleaming Lights Of The Souls. I’d seen this piece in New York, but walking into the darkened room of lights and infinity mirrors was just as mesmerizing the second time around. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Yayoi Kusama's Gleaming Lights Of The Souls Installation

It’s like space, a disco and a funhouse combined into a single installation. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.

Music at the Louisiana Museum

Outside again, we were greeted by possibly one of the coolest contemporary jazz concepts I’d ever seen. As music drifted in, out and eventually encased the entire lawn, we realized that the beats were coming from this 2-man band. They were essentially a living, moving surround sound system.

Getting to Den Røde Cottage

Next, we rushed off to Den Røde Cottage, a Michelin star eatery tucked away in a forest 20 minutes outside of Copenhagen.

Den Røde Cottage

The restaurant is housed in a 200-year-old cottage converted from a hotel for bougey tastemakers in the 1800’s.

Prosciutto and cheese served over a cracker at Den Røde Cottage.

Prosciutto and cheese served over a cracker

Den Rode Cottage

Cheese with salted cucumber, radish and rye bread

Oysters with sea salt

Oysters with sea salt

Den Røde Cottage

Dinner, good conversation, then back to Copenhagen for a night out at the bars. Couldn’t have asked for a better end to a great day. Photo Credit: Calvin Sun.