Week 4: Wednesday (Porvoo, sunshine, and happiness)

As Finland’s second oldest (14th century) town, Porvoo bears all the medieval characteristics I love: a cathedral, a town square doubling as a marketplace, an endless sea of cobblestones. Add to that the spectacularly sunny weather, beautiful surroundings of water and trees, a good book, and Samantha in a Sundress, and we have a recipe for pure bliss.

I booked buses in advance to Porvoo (€10), and the trip took a very comfortable 50 minutes. I’d arrived at around noon (which gave me some time this morning to prepare a simple dinner for Maaria), and, as with yesterday, had no plans in particular except general meandering and prancing.

My first taste of Porvoo's loveliness, just a few minutes away from the bus station.

My first taste of Porvoo’s loveliness, just a few minutes away from the bus station.

Porvoo cathedral.

Porvoo Cathedral.

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Week 4: Tuesday (Tallinn)

And so the actual travelling/exploring part of Samantha’s Humble Tour continues! One thing I (especially as an Australian) adore about Europebigland is the close proximity of the various countries by air, land, and sea. I’ve been sharing my adventures on the first two by the bucketload, but today, I took a ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn (£18 return), with the trip being 2.5 hours each way. [As a side note, my most spontaneous ferry trip in Europe was when I went from Helsingør (Denmark) to Helsingborg (Sweden) for dinner after a Shakespeare conference day. We academics have to find an outlet somewhere.]

Since I wanted to bake a brownie-cake for Maaria’s brother’s birthday in the morning, I opted for the later ship, which gave me 4 solid hours in Tallinn.

The ship ride was super exciting, especially since this was the first time I’ve been on a cruise ship! I spent quite some time at the stern, taking a bunch of photos and generally grinning like an idiot while surrounded by sun, sky, and sea.

Leaving Helsinki.

Leaving Helsinki.

More Helsinki.

More Helsinki.

Even more Helsinki. The weather was perfect.

Even more Helsinki. The weather was perfect.

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Week 4: Fri – Mon (My lazy Finnish midsummer)

As I’ve learnt and lived over the last few days, Midsummer in Finland is a Really Big Thing. For a country with long and often unforgiving winters, midsummer brings about copious light, greenery, and even sunshine–in fact, the average temperatures in southern Finland exceed Belfast’s, and it’s only been since arriving here that I’ve consistently worn my skirt and dress (or just bummed around Maaria’s apartment in a oversized sleeping t-shirt).

Friday

True to Finnish stereotypes, Maaria’s family has a summer cottage, which is where she usually spends midsummer. This year, with the public holiday falling on the Friday, she decided to take me to the Seurasaari Midsummer Bonfires, the biggest such event in Helsinki. Held in a national park on an island, its main attraction is a series of bonfires–a nod to Finland’s pagan past–lit to celebrate the love and magic associated with midsummer. This also happened to be the first time Maaria’s attended, so we basically had a blast exploring and discovering and midsummering.

Singing traditional songs.

Singing traditional songs.

Raising a pole of fertility.

Raising a pole of fertility.

Ice-creams, matching fannish shirts, and adorable canine photobombers! :D

Ice-creams, matching fannish shirts, and adorable canine photobombers! :D

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Week 3: Tuesday & Wednesday (Travelling, Finland, cooking)

Moi moi from Finland! And thus begins the final part of Samantha’s Humble Tour, which will most likely be full of culinary adventures while I take over my friend Maaria’s kitchen, and essentially become her housewife (yay!). Since I’d spent so much time and energy planning for my English Dream Trip (which I’m pleased to say went without much of a hitch, and which I’ll summarise over the next few days), I honestly hadn’t given the Finnish part much thought apart from spending time with Maaria, participating in midsummer mayhem, learning about Moomins, catching up on some reading, catching up on lots of writing, and rolling around in pure Scandanavian happiness.

Tuesday

Despite the awesomeness of the sleeper train, my general failure at sleeping meant I didn’t really get much proper rest. The train stewardess knocked on my door at 6am to deliver breakfast on a tray, but I was too tired to eat anything, so I sipped on my tea and packed away the food for later.

Breakfast tray on the overnight sleeper train.

Breakfast tray on the overnight sleeper train.

The majority of my trip to Helsinki was fine, but the final leg (Oslo to Helsinki) was a little bumpy. Namely, I had 55 minutes between the “arrival” in Oslo and “departure” in Helsinki—while that might seem like plenty of time, a lot depends on a number of factors. Unfortunately, every one of the “uh-oh” factors were in play for that connection: there was a shuttle transfer from the Oslo plane to the terminal (15 mins with the taxi-ing), passport control, and another security check. With many apologies (and Japanese-esque bowing), I jumped the queues, and made it to the gate just a few minutes after boarding had commenced. But it turned out my haste was uncalled for, as the flight was delayed for some reason. Things got even more interesting once I had boarded, since the system had somehow double-booked a whole bunch of seats, and I kept being ushered to the back of the plane by an air stewardess who, while smiling, had no idea what was going on.

But it all turned out for the best, since the gentleman who sat next to me (another displaced passenger) was a Finn with lots of advice to impart.

The view leaving Norway.

The view leaving Norway.

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Week 3: Monday (Parting [with Penzance] is such sweet sorrow)

I spent my last day in Penzance—and, indeed, the last day of my English Dream Trip—chatting with the good folks of Estoril, packing my things (yet again), and watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones (during lunch—six seasons in, and I’ve yet to learn the dangers of that particular food pairing). I have my priorities.

Since the three nights I’ve spent in Estoril was the longest of my English Dream Trip, I got to know the owners quite well. Eddie and Nong have been running the place for the last six or so years, and the hotel room itself has been one of my favourites so far. Crucially, the memory foam mattress is pure magic—my bad back/shoulders/hip flexors/everything were appeased when in bed, and I’ve honestly never slept so well in a foreign bed.

The breakfasts were also wonderful, with my two favourite items being the fresh fruit salad and the daily homemade croissants Nong bakes every morning. I missed out on the croissant yesterday, so I made sure I was down at breakfast in time for my fair share today.

I love those fruit bowls!

I love those fruit bowls!

Glorious croissants!

Glorious croissants!

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Week 3: Sunday (Oh, Cornwall)

I’m around halfway into my five-week Humble Tour, which is probably about time I hit a snag. I’m not talking about the usual transport/delay/getting lost/what the heck is going in London Paddington snags, which are pretty much inevitable while travelling, but the much more unpleasant and difficult (for me, at least) snags of bad health and feeling sick. This is mostly because I am a super duper weakling who’s suffered from both WoW injuries and PhDitis—and I’d also like to go back to the start of the game and keep rolling until I max out in Constitution.

Another (more plausible) explanation for the general ugh-ness this morning might’ve been my massive trek yesterday, but that would be logical and boring. Instead, I’m going to blame the foul weather, because rain, wind, and 15 degrees Celsius does not a summer make.

For the entire morning and a good chunk of the early afternoon, I just stayed in the hotel, phoned my parents in Sydney (hi mum, I’m glad you’re enjoying these posts!), washed my underthings, caught up on some TV on iPlayer (finally finished BBC’s Shakespearean Upstart Crow—hilarious stuff!), nibbled on my various snacks, played Sailormoon Drops, and so on. Eventually, I decided to brave the weather and head to St. Ives (£2.65 return)—except I can’t read properly and had a platform/train misunderstanding, and ended up in St. Ives an hour later than expected.

A sign from a legal firm in Pnezance. The Poldark reference was both epic and slightly concerning.

A sign from a legal firm in Pnezance. The Poldark reference was both epic and slightly concerning.

I was quite surprised that, despite the horrible weather, the water in St. Ives was still pretty!

I was quite surprised that, despite the horrible weather, the water was still pretty!

Trying to make the scene more summery.

Trying to make the scene more summery.

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Week 3: Saturday (Poldark & Cornish coasts)

My hotel (Estoril; £60/night)’s memory foam mattress played a large part in ensuring I had a (relatively) good night’s sleep, with the other significant part being yesterday’s general zombism. I filled up at breakfast (the homemade croissants are delicious!), and was fortunate enough to meet Grace and Steve, a couple celebrating their anniversary (congratulations!) who were also thinking about heading to Land’s End today. Given my genteral plan was to bus it there first, we decided to go there together. Yay unexpected travel buddies!

It turned out an all-day bus ticket is £10 (a return to Land’s End would’ve been £7.50), so we all forked out a tenner, and climbed on top of the open double-decker. All the super fun (and windy) times!

Funfunfun (even though I got whacked a few times by passing foliage)!

Funfunfun (even though I got whacked a few times by passing foliage)!

At Land’s End, I was treated to a much-needed cup of tea, before the happy couple and I parted ways. My plan was to take the coastal route down to Porthcurto, and possibly meet them there for lunch. Someone at Land’s End said the walk would only take about an hour, and that seemed very much doable…

…except it took me over 5 hours.

Not sure how I feel about the apostrophe situation here...

Not sure how I feel about the apostrophe situation here…

At the edge of the world (until Ausland was discovered)!

At the edge of the world (until Ausland was discovered)!

Granted, I’m fairly slow and constantly stopped to take in the view and shoot some piccies, but the walk/hike was on uneven terrain, and there were some pretty steep climbs.

The best of everything (clouds notwithstanding).

The best of everything (clouds notwithstanding).

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Week 3: Friday (Penzance: a cafe and an island)

What an interesting and unexpected day. After my hasty and frazzled 1am post for “yesterday”, I boarded the only train running out of Paddington that evening, heading towards Penzance. Needless to say, the journey wasn’t anywhere near as relaxing or restful as I’d hoped, and I didn’t really get much rest. On the bright side, I managed to snap this early-morning shot from the train while we crossed a bridge of some description (I’ve no idea which).

Someone on the way to Penzance.

Someone on the way to Penzance.

I arrived in Penzance a little before 8am, but given I was sleep-deprived and exceptionally sore all over, I just wanted to lie down and recover a bit. Unfortunately, my hotel had no vacancies, and while I could leave my suitcase, I couldn’t check in until 3pm.

Two sides of the ocean: grey and soon-to-rain, and blue and happy happy joy joy.

Two sides of the ocean: grey and soon-to-rain, and blue and happy happy joy joy.

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Week 3: Thursday (Loltasticness & kinda being stuck)

First and foremost: I am typing this at 12:30am at London Paddington station, wrapping up a day of super craziness… I am sleep-deprived and rambly and nonsensical, but am determined to chronicle today’s adventures…

I got up this morning all optimistic and shiny, but my plans started to go awry when it started to rain quite badly in Stratford-upon-Avon. I had originally intended to walk from Shakespeare’s birthplace to the Anne Hathaway cottage, but the bus ride into town (£2.70) was delayed by a cycling event, and I decided to seek refuge at the Shakespeare Hospice bookshop. I spent a good few hours there, and had a lovely time reading my book (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) and chatting with the volunteers.

Go visit this awesome bookshop! :D

Go visit this awesome bookshop! :D

Shiny books!

Shiny books!

More shiny books!

More shiny books!

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Week 2: Wednesday (Stratford-upon-Avon)

From Regency to Renaissance, I’m really geeking it out in England. Since I’m in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of one William Shakespeare, I had already booked tickets to two shows by the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company): Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist (£5 standing), and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (£16 restricted stalls). Yup, I always go for the cheap tickets, but the sight restrictions don’t bother me (and that’s how I tackled my Bardathon Long Weekend earlier this year).

My day was relatively laid back, starting with a satisfying English breakfast at the New Inn Hotel (£49). While the hotel is a little out of town, most of the accommodation within the centre had already been booked, and I didn’t mind paying a little extra for transport given this was by far the most affordable (and it helps that the staff have been super friendly and helpful so far!). I took a bus into town (£2.70; the taxi back was £7.40), then went to the three Shakespeare Birthplace bits in town. I got a Five Houses pass last November for about £20, and it lasts a year—so for the purpose of my current trip, I got free entry! Yay!

Of course, when I passed a cardboard Shakespeare asking me to take a selfie with him, I had to obey. A lady tried to offer taking a photo for me, but that would’ve been cheating—it had to be a selfie. Always obey the Bard.

My hero! :D

My hero! :D

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