Archive for June, 2010

June 26th, 2010

Everything comes to an end

It is our last full in München, and fortunately there is not that much of things to do anymore. I need to go and pick up a shirt that has been altered to fit me — typically all collared shirts have too long arms for me. Also there is a couple of items that I need to show to Sanna to get her opinion.

Then we maybe visit the English Gardens and stroll around the city. The weather has been nice for a couple of days, a welcome change from the constant rain of the previous week.

The last thing on our list is to finalise packing. We have already sent one big suitcase full of stuff (mostly Legos from Legoland) with my parents to Finland last week. They brought the suitcase empty — in fact, it contained two smaller bags — so there should be enough space for the stuff we’ve bought here. As there are four ticket holders in family, we can bring up to 80 kilos with us. That should be plenty.

Modern art and nice views

Moderna Museet is the leading modern art museum in the Nordic Countries, and it is worth the walk from the city if you have a few hours to spend with culture. The museum is located a couple of kilometers out of the city centre, on a beautiful Skeppsholm island that is a destination itself. It is easy walk and takes about 20 minutes from T-Centralen, but there are also public transports available (ferry and bus), and you can always take a taxi.

The collections themselves are pretty standard fare, you can find Picassos, Dalís, and Matisses there among with the local modernists. The exhibitions can be outstanding or then about someone that you’ve never heard ever before (and chances are that you won’t hear again…)., Slupskjulsvägen 7-9, Stockholm, Sweden, +46 8 5195 5200

Good hotel on a fancy neighbourhood

Scandic Park is a typical four star Scandic hotel found in almost every major city in the Nordic Countries. The rooms are big, beds are comfortable, and the breakfast buffet is good. Everything just works, and the price is decent. In our case, we spent less than 100€ per night for four people (two adults + two children). As an additional perk, we got a family room that had a big sofa bed for the youngsters. The hotel has an excellent sauna facilities on top floor with street and park views.

The major perk of the hotel is the location on the trendy Östermalm area. Most of the luxury and fashionable boutiques in Stockholm can be found on and around Birger Jarlsgatan, a few hundred meters from the hotel. There is a good selection of restaurants, cafés and pubs in the neighbourhood, too. The nearest grocery store is just around the corner, There is also a huge park just next to the hotel with a good children’s playground., Karlavagen 43, Stockholm, Sweden, +46 8 5173 4800

June 24th, 2010

Reviews, once again

After a long — too long — pause, I’ve added a few travel reviews from my past travels. Due to my workload, I haven’t been able to focus on as much I’ve wanted to, but I try to work less during the next year. Probably that won’t happen, to be honest with you, but at least I’ll try.

Now published reviews are from our recent trip to St. Petersburg, and I’ve got some pending reviews for Stockholm that we’ve visited last January, and of course for München and Salzburg — I’m currently writing this at our temporary apartment near Kolumbus Platz in München.

Good Italian

Mama Roma is a chain of small Italian restaurants in St. Petersburg that offer excellent value for the money, and work especially well with children not familiar with the Russian cousine.

We visited one of their restaurants on Vasilevsky Island, on delta of Neva, and were very happy with the food and the service. The waiters have really limited English skills, but there are English menus available. Knowing a few Russian basic words, like “voda” for water, helps you to get everything you need. The service in general is very helpful, albeit the language barrier can be problematic sometimes. A lot of pointing, waving, and drawing in the air helps.

The food itself is delicious and the portions are large enough to satisfy a bigger hunger. The menu is pretty long, and all typical Italian foods are available., Sredniy pr. V.O., 6, Vasilevsky Ostrov, St. Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 328 0639

Pies, pies, pies

A friend of mine who had lived in St. Petersburg for many years recommended Stolle for any and all quick and tasty eats. The café chain that has several stores around the city is focusing on traditional Russian pies; heavy in filling (and fat), delicious in taste.

We didn’t try the café part at all, just bought a piece of pie as a late snack in the hotel. The pies are not small ones — we had half a portion and fed four people (two of them kids) with it and ate second time, too. The available pies depend on the season and your luck, we had excellent salmon and onion pie — there were a couple of other choices available, too.

The clerks do not speak that much of English, but they are ready — as Russians in general, it seems — to go lengths to help you with the purchase., Vasilievsky Ostrov, 1st Line 50, St. Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 328 7860

Luxurious hotel and cool spa

Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge is an ideal solution if you are spending a few nights on pleasure in St. Petersburg. It has big and well-maintained rooms, an excellent breakfast buffet, and a top-notch spa. The hotel is operated by a Finnish hotel chain that has three hotels in the city.

The rooms are typical business level hotel rooms; nothing fancy, but everything just works. The bed is good, and the room is big enough to fit an extra bed and a crib. The breakfast buffet that is included in the price is the best I’ve ever encountered so far. And trust me, I’ve ate breakfast in numerous hotels. Both the quantity and the quality of the items is astounding.

The spa is probably the highlight of the hotel. There are almost ten different saunas, one ice room, hot tubs, cold tubs, a huge swimming pool, and a children pool. All of this free of charge in the morning for hotel guests, and around ten euros per person later during the day. The spa was spotlessly clean, everything worked like a charm, and the different saunas were fun to experience. I didn’t know that there is at least five different variations of steam saunas.

The only downside of the hotel is the location — it’s about fifteen minutes walk to Nevsky Prospect and the city centre. Fortunately there are restaurants and services around the neighbourhood, too, but shopping possibilities are limited to groceries., Birzhevoy pereulok 2-4, St. Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 335 2200

June 21st, 2010

München travelogue

We’ve been in München almost two weeks now, and the region has offered some exceptional experiences, and also some lowdowns. Weather has been the culprit for the most of the lows, as it has been horrendous — raining several days on a row, almost constantly. This combined with surprisingly low temperature has made any longer trips outside the apartment a bit too taxing. I was expecting a better weather than in Finland, and fearing for constant sunshine and temperatures over 40C. The first week was good, but the second just horrible.

But let’s move to the positive experiences. The city is pretty compact, and surprisingly easy to navigate for a medieval town. There have been a plethora of shopping possibilities, and we have put our credit cards into use. It is not that much cheaper compared to Finland, but the selection is so much wider. For example, I’ve found a few multistory stores that sell only male clothing. I’ve never seen such male shopping palaces in any city that I’ve visited so far. I’ve added several critical pieces, including shoes, ties, and shirts, to my clothing portfolio.

We’ve only visited one museum in München, as we’ve spent weekends outside the city. Deutches Museum was an extremely large technology museum whose collections are in par with Museum of Science in Boston. The tour around the museum was both educational and fun, and the boys liked the whole place very much. We had to drag them out with promises of buying something from the museum store… These promises were found false later, as the shop didn’t sell anything worth buying for two small boys.

This week, we’ll pay a visit to BMW museum. Yes, there is one here. In fact, BMW is from the region and a big player locally. Almost half of the cars on the streets are BMWs, the rest are Audis, Mercedeses, and Volkswagens. Some Peugeots, Fiats and Volvos can be spotted, too. But not many Japanese.

We rented a car — got a 740D BMW that was luxurious to drive — and visited Neuschwanstein fairytale castle in southern Bavaria. The castle was built, and never finished, by Ludwig II — the king of Bavaria — at the end of 19th century. The castle in Disneyworld has drawn a lot of inspiration from this place.

If you visit the region and have a day off, go to see the castle. It is located on a peaceful and very beautiful countryside next to the mountains, and offers breathtaking views and very nicely done interiors. After walking through the castle — that was inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner — and thinking of the money spent there, it is no wonder that Ludwig II was declared not capable of ruling his country.

The castle is not finished, as work stopped pretty much immediately after Ludwig’s death. Still, the finished parts of the castle are something unique and well worth the trouble of getting there.

Another dream-like destination nearby is Salzburg. The old town is extremely pretty, and easily accessible with foot. The city has the biggest fortification in Europe on a nearby mountain that literally rises from the walls of the town. The ticket to the castle includes a return trip on a funiculaire car — another option is to walk about 30 minutes to the summit. The castle is huge and offers great views over the city and the neighbouring countryside.

We visited Salzburg with train; the trip took around 90 minutes and costed like 100€ for two adults and two children. The train station is not in within the old town, so you have either to walk for 15-20 minutes, take a taxi, or a local bus (2 €).

Third good destination, especially for families with children, is Legoland in Günzburg, about 100 kilometers west from München. The easiest way to get there is by car, speeding on the German highways that do not have any speed limitations — I was driving 170 kilometers per hour and cars were zipping past me all the time. Unfortunately, Germans seems to be really eager to build their highways, as there was a number of roadworks. Speeding like 80 km/h was not the experience of German highways I was looking for…

Anyhow, Legoland is a good place to spend a day with kids less than 12 years of age. We happened to be there on a rainy day, so there were practically no queues at all. The park didn’t show its best due to weather, but we purchased Legoland rain ponchos and were able to enjoy the day despite the elements.

If you a Lego freak or a parent of one, prepare to shell out money in several places. We bought a number of Lego boxes and also two different sets of individually picked bricks.

Compared to other Lego parks I’ve visited (London and Carlsbad in California), German version had the best restaurants. Portions were huge and tasty. Not anything like the crap we ate in the UK. The rides themselves are pretty much the same in all parks with some variations, and the miniland has somewhat different theme — so once you’ve seen one park, you have seen them all. But kids just love them.