By Abdisalam Garjeex
I was fortunate to take a long planned 10 days trip to Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Denmark. As I bid farewell to these countries, I took a moment to reflect and share this historic events with your readers. It became a habit for me over the last decade to plan a trip once or twice in the year in which I will travel to few historic places in different parts of the world. This time, I chose these European countries for their easy travel – although, they are among those of lesser traveled but they hold a great history, culture and natural beauty. The old buildings and churches are a proof to the old civilization of these countries. These cities are filled with interesting stories of the past. You taste their culture and cuisine and take lots of pictures to share with your friends and family and keep them for historic purpose.
I have always had the passion to travel the world and as Somalis say “Nin aan dhul marin dhaayo ma leh” — in my late teenage years in Somalia, I read the stories of Marco Polo journey to China (the silk road) and the one Ibnu Batuta made in the 13 century which included a stop in Somalia, I was fascinated by these incredible men ever since.
Always, while traveling, the political and economic problems of Somalia are on my front burner. This time, not only I followed the news of the chaos and unruliness in the Somali Parliament, but I felt sad the unending dilemma of our people and continuous infighting between personalities and Government Branches. I even shared a commentary with Wardheernews about the current affairs.
Planning the trip
When most of the people prefer to travel during summer season, I favor to travel during winter season for obvious reasons; I’m a budget traveler and I spend half of what it would have costed me in peak seasons; tickets, hotels are cheap; you will not see more tourists and busy streets; you will afford to go cities’ attractions and restaurants. It’s not easy to plan a travel between six countries, buying a ticket and choosing a travel with plane, train, ferry & bus – the most important thing is to choose a place to stay that’s near the center and the airport.
This trip was the first I decided to stay for Hostels. Apart from the low price, you will share a room with minimum six persons and it’s a great way to connect with fellow travelers – in my case, as a man in his early fifties, I was able to stay in room with young European men and women. My family and friends thought that I was crazy on my choice to stay in Hostels; they thought that these places are for the youth, not for an older guys like me; that it’s not safe and my belongings could be stolen, but it turned out to be my best experience in the whole trip.
Why I should visit these great European Countries
Baltic States (Lithuania, Lativia & Estonia) are a special land inhabited by non-Slavic natives as well as ethnic Slavs; they are nestled together on the coast of the Baltic Sea and although the three countries are grouped together, they have distinct culture and language from one another and consistently strive to emphasize the notion that the world should see them as unique nations.
Scandinavia (Sweden & Denmark) countries offer history and metropolitan atmosphere and they are very receptive for all types of tourists. Scandinavia is known for the peculiar phenomena of northern lights (the lit-up skies) – Norway is not included in this trip because it was one my early travel visits and I was very impressive about Oslo and its beauty.
Finland is the safest place on earth and where the happiest people in the planet live. Finland has beautiful landscape and it’s one of the best places to watch the northern lights. Helsinki is considered to be a world design Capital and a place to have a real Finnish sauna experience.
Free walking tours
For every city I visited, I participated a 2-3 hours free guided walking tour. This is the best way to see all the historic places in the city and its surrounding. I devoted a complete day for sightseeing in every city. After I complete the free walking tours, I embark my own sightseeing tour in order to cover any remaining landmarks and in the night, I discover culture, restaurants and local cuisine.
Some of the Places I visited
1-Vasa is 17th century ship that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628. It has been salvaged and kept as museum.
2-Royal Palace is the official residence and major royal palace of the Swedish monarch.
3-Gamla Stan, the Old Town, is one of the largest and best preserved medieval city centers in Europe, and one of the foremost attractions in Stockholm. This is where Stockholm was founded in 1252.
4-The Stockholm City Hall is the building of the Municipal Council for the City of Stockholm in Sweden.
1-Gediminas’ Tower – this 3-story brick tower was originally part of a castle constructed in the 15th century – this is a must see; at the top, you can see a panoramic view of the whole old town.
2-The Cathedral Square in Vilnius is the main square of the Vilnius Old Town, right in front of the neo-classical Vilnius Cathedra.
3-The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is a palace in Vilnius, Lithuania. It was originally constructed in the 15th century for the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the future Kings of Poland.
1-House of Blackheads the original building that was erected during the 14th century for the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild for unmarried German merchants in Riga. It was rebuilt after WWII.
2-The Freedom Monument is a memorial located in Riga, Latvia, honoring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1918–1920)
.3-St. Peter’s Church is a beautiful red brick church built in the early 13th century.
1-The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is an orthodox cathedral in the Tallinn Old Town, Estonia. It is beautiful and was built to a design by Mikhail Preobrazhensky.
2-Kadriorg Palace -This is a lovely palace, built for Katherine by Peter the Great. Later used by the President of Estonia.
3-KGB Museum in Viru Hotel is exhibiting KGB artifacts from the Soviet occupation, including uniforms, cameras & spy gear. It was a hotel for foreigner and KGB had a floor to spy the guests.
1-Suomenlinna – World Heritage site accessed by ferry, with cannons, tunnels, a dockyard, museums & a brewery. This island is where I stayed for the two days in Helsinki and it’s only 10 minutes by ferry. 2-The Market Square is a central square in Helsinki, Finland, and one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city. 3-Helsinki Central Station is very nice train station in Finland. A lot of shops and restaurants inside the station.
1-The Copenhagen Opera House is the national opera house of Denmark, and among the most modern opera houses in the world.
2-Kongens Nytorv is a public square in Copenhagen, Denmark, centrally located and tourist attraction.
3-Strøget is a pedestrian, car free shopping area in Copenhagen, Denmark. This popular tourist attraction in the center of town is one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Europe at 1.1 km.
During my trip, I spoke with countless Somalis on the streets and city centers of Stockholm, Copenhagen & Helsinki; I met three Finnish-Somali young men in fast food restaurant; I discussed with them over their aspirations and worries of their future and the future of their motherland Somalia. I also encountered a Somali lady “Zahro” in Copenhagen who after 30 years in Denmark dedicated her time to uplift the community. Privately, I visited my mother-in-law and family in Sweden and Finland and I briefly met my sister Khadra at Heathrow airport and on my way back to USA, I transitioned Schiphol airport and while boarding United airline bound to Dulles Washington Airport, I saw Mr. Comey, the previous Director of the FBI sitting in the first class seats, I spoke with him and told him that “I’m with you” and he saluted me and thanked – it’s unbelievable that a person like Trump is being elected to the highest office in the land; it’s shame for all Americans including myself.
Ashburn – VA (USA)
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