The Nordic Capitals


Copenhagen deserves an apology, as this section is very brief. However, for those who have read our earlier description of the Royal Zealand cycling tour, you will know that salmonella is not conducive to discovering a lot about a place - other than the fact that Denmark has an excellent health service. Before the symptoms kicked in, confining me to no more than a 50m radius from the nearest bathroom, we did manage to go for a brief wander around part of this city of lovely red-brick buildings, monumental palaces, canals and a million bicycles. It was a warm blue sky day - the kind that makes the world a pleasant place to be in.

Christiansborg Castle

Copenhagen cityscape

Amalienborg and the dome of Frederiks Kirke

The city where bicycles outnumber cars

View from our hotel window over Peblinge Sø

In Kongens Have Park

Colourful canal-side buildings

Copenhagen sunset

The garden at Christiansborg

Rosenborg Castle

A striking choice of colours

Canal precinct

Thus ended our brief visit to the first of the Nordic capitals. Stockholm awaited, but before we headed there it was time to make a brief stopover in the Swedish countryside and cycle alongside the historic and picturesque Gota Canal.


Turret of the City Hall

We arrived in Stockholm by train after a 3-day cycling tip along the Gota Canal. For our day in the Swedish capital, we opted to use the hop-on hop-off boat, coupled with lots of walking. After a quick visit on foot to the Stockholm Town Hall, famed as the place for handing out assorted Nobel Prizes, we headed down to the wharf and hopped on to the red boat.

Courtyard of Stockholm City Hall

The Tivoli

Our first stop was the Kastellholmen Island, where the small castella has been flying the Swedish flag every day for several hundred years. Then it was onward, passing the roller coasters of the Tivoli to reach the largest island of Stockholm, Södermalm. Here we climbed the steps up the black granite cliff that forms a natural rampart for the island to reach a classic viewpoint of the Stockholm skyline - classic old buildings lining the sea-front, backed by the spires of numerous churches. Nearby, a small street showed a glimpse of a 1700s streetscape of small wooden houses.

The Kastellet on Kastellholmen

View from the ferry

17th century wooden houses in Södermalm

The dark cliffs of Södermalm


Canal-side buildings of Gamla Stan

Silhouette of Riddarholmskyrkan

The grand waterfront panorama of Stockholm

On the opposite side of the channel lay Gamla Stan, the old and original city of Stockholm on its own small island, shared with the massive Royal Palace. We crossed over on the boat to wander through the narrow streets of the old city - fascinating, but overcrowded with huge numbers of tourists.

In the streets of the old town

Archway in Gamla Stan

View towards the spire of Storkyrkan

A long stroll home led us through the Kungsträdgården Park and down the main shopping malls to Kungsgarten, where the locals wander up and down. It was a chance to see the less touristy side of the city - and sitting in a sidewalk cafe on Kungsgarten with a beer in hand allowed the fair Nello to hone her people-watching skills.


A slow train brought us from Stockholm to Oslo via Goteberg. It was early evening when we arrived and checked in to our comfortable studio apartment just down from the main drag of Johanns Gate, a long boulevard that lead from Central Station for over a kilometre to the Royal Palace. It was a place for people to wander and, after nearly all day on the train, we were happy to join them.

Looking down the long boulevard of Johannsgata

The Royal Palace

Waterfront buildings

The next day was grey and menacing - there was change in the air. We decided to buy an Oslo Pass for our day in the Norwegian Capital - this gave free public transport and entry to most of the museums and galleries. Today was to be our culture day. After a visit to the very modern and blindingly white stone edifice of the Opera House, we caught the bus to Bygdoy, home to several museums.

The stark modernity of the Oslo Opera House
1100 year-old Viking longboat

For the next few hours, we checked out several of these; first, the Viking Ship Museum (an absolute must-see with its three 1100-year old Viking longboats on display; next, the National Folk Museum, with buildings from city and country dating back to the 1700s reconstructed in town and village settings (the highlight being a wooden stave church from the 13th century.

13th century stave church

17th century village at the Folk Museum ...

.... and restored farm houses

The bow of the "Fram"

Finally, the Fram Museum, where the ship used by the famed Norwegian Arctic and Antarctic explorers is on display - a great museum that quickly threatened us with information overload.

Holmenkollen ski jump disappearing into the fog

The stark outline of Oslo Town Hall

Finally we caught the ferry back (a surrogate fiord cruise) to visit the Oslo Town Hall, a massive and blocky brick building with large murals celebrating the working man in its cavernous hall. We thought we'd try the metro, taking it up to the Holmenkollen Ski Jump. Having watched "Eddie the Eagle" on the flight over, we wanted to look down the length of a 130m ski-jump and see the fear. Unfortunately, the threatened rain beat us to the mountain and the accompanying mists hid the terror of the end of the ramp. We walked back to the Metro in the rain and headed home.

We liked Oslo - it is a smaller city, but one that seems to be modernising rapidly.


Over five weeks had passed since we left Oslo, doing a series of walks from the south to the north of Norway and then the north to the south in Finland, to finally arrive in the Finnish capital by night train from Rovaniemi. The train got into the impressive art decoesque central train station soon after 7am and we could not check-in to our apartment until 4pm. So, we stowed our bags into a railway locker and set out to explore the city.

Helsinki Railway Station

Art nouveau buildings

Helsinki skyline

Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral

It did not take long for us to declare Helsinki our favourite Nordic capital. From the moment, we stepped out of the train station with its copper-topped clock tower and quartet of mythical giant statues, we found ourselves admiring its architecture; from its boulevards lined with pastel-shaded Art Nouveau buildings, the neoclassical white-walled beauty of the Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral and its red-brick orthodox counterpart, both rising above the city skyline, to the simplistic modernism of our favourite, the copper-domed Tempelliaukio church, carved into a rock.

Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral


Interior of Tempelliaukio - carved into solid rock

The interior of Helsinki Cathedral

The interior of Uspenski Cathedral

A quiet out-of-the-way spot

Kauppatori harbourside market place

The entry to Kauppatori Harbour

Houses of

Our wanderings also took us along the water's edge, past harbourside market place to the peaceful park at Kaivopuisto, where we could gaze out at many of the several thousand islands, islets and skerries that dot the waters about Helsinki. The combination of water, green parks and amazing architecture made the time to check-in slip by without notice.

Helsinki waterfront

View from Kaivopuisto Park

The next day, more refreshed, we took advantage of our city transport pass to ride the trams and ferries and visit the four interlinked islands that comprise the sea fortress of Suomenlinna (or Sveaborg in Swedish). Built by the Swedes, added to by Russians and Finns, it is now World Heritage site and reflects much of the history of Helsinki in a nutshell. We spent several hours there, a perfect complement to our previous day of urban perambulations.

The church/lighthouse at Suomenlinna


Time for contemplation

Part of the fortifications of Suomenlinna

A quiet spot on the island

The next day was our last, so armed with our transport pass, we rode the trams of Helsinki for a couple of hours, checking out Sibelius Park and watching a local rowing regatta, before one last tram ride down to the West Terminal to catch the overnight ferry to St Petersburg. I am not really a city person, but, as cities go, Helsinki is right up there as a place worth visiting.