Cover Photo: A majestic view of Suomenlinna, an inhabited sea fortress. UNESCO World Heritage site, Helsinki, Finland.
I recently returned from a Nordic tour, my first trip since I officially started the Wanderlust Travel Series. It was amazing.
We met up in Dublin, Ireland which is a well-established rendezvous point for those of us coming in from far-flung cities across the US. I love Dublin, but I had no time to enjoy it on the day I arrived.
Within hours, we were on a flight to Oslo. We visited Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Sweden (again), Finland, and Estonia before returning to Dublin.
As much as we hopped around on buses, trains, plains, and boats, my smartphone says we walked nearly 10 miles a day on average! It was so fun I could have done this for twice as long if I’d had the option.
I want to tell you a little about the overall experience. Then in subsequent posts, I’d like to write about each country, because they were all wonderful and deserving of their own posts. 🙂
Nordic White Nights
White Nights (not to be confused with White Knights) occur during the height of summer when there are only a couple of hours of “darkness.” And even at the darkest time, it’s not really all that “dark.”
Fortunately, most of the hotels accommodate these long days with room darkening window coverings. Really good ones that actually block the light so you can sleep.
I had never experienced anything like it. We took photos of clocks late at night, just to show people how light the sky still was in some of these cities.
For Muslims, the long days have some interesting implications
Have you ever noticed that a lot of Muslims don’t spend a lot of time discussing their daily prayers?
We normally don’t because, on the one hand, we need to have pure intentions. We’re praying for the sake of Allah, not to impress people or show off.
If we miss some prayers, that’s not something we want to advertise. We don’t want to have more witnesses to our mistakes on the Day of Judgement, nor do we want to discourage other Muslims from praying.
But I do want to touch on the matter here. Briefly.
For us (and I’m never sure about other Muslims), travel means that we can combine some of our prayers. The second and third prayer, as well as the third and fourth.
The easiest way to accommodate the white nights is to simply stay up late. Because your first prayers of the day come right on the heels of the last. Then you can arrange your day around your midday prayers.
Sometimes the easiest way to handle the midday prayers is just to go back to your hotel room for a little while. You can make wudu (ablution) and say your prayers in peace.
A Secret 🙂
One of the places Muslims sometimes go to pray is a department store or mall. Because there we can access a bathroom to make wudu, and pray in private in a dressing room.
We also take in at least one thing to try on so we may end up buying something new to wear. 🙂
I also have friends who pray right out in the open, but sometimes this can draw unwanted attention and even open hostility.
If there are mosques around, of course, we can go there. But you’re not going to find a lot of mosques in the Nordic countries
So it’s best to think ahead and try to work in prayers in your private hotel room, using other alternatives like the shopping mall as a last resort.
Muslim women will not feel out of place in hijab in the Nordic countries. You see tons of Muslims all over, and especially in Sweden.
It’s fairly common to see women modestly dressed, and no one is likely to bother you. We saw women in full Somali ensembles here and there, and even a few niqabis.
You will also see lots of people wearing pants that are cut above the ankle. Both men and women wear them.
Muslim men who wear their pants cut above the ankle will find themselves in fashion. 🙂
Finland was my favorite. All the countries were amazing, but there was something really special about Finland.
I liked Copenhagen, Denmark the least but that assessment isn’t really fair. It was hotter than expected in all of the countries we visited. But Copenhagen felt more like Tunis.
The sky was cloudless and the sun beat down on us mercilessly all day, leaving my face and hands sunburned. Who goes to Scandinavia to roast in the hot sun like a coffee bean??
By the way, I learned that the Scandinavian countries are Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The Nordic countries are those three Scandinavian countries plus Iceland, Finland, and a couple of Islands.
Estonia wants to be considered a Nordic country. I don’t know who gets to decide officially if they are or not, but as far as I’m concerned, if they want to be Nordic, then I’ll put them in the list. 🙂
On the way back from our Nordic tour, we got to spend some time in Dublin, a city with loads of charm and lots of friendly people.
The cool part of visiting a city over and over is that you find all the places you love. Visiting them when you’re in town becomes a tradition.
We went to Zaytoon for dinner, which is a very popular Persian restaurant. It serves halal food and it’s pretty much always completely packed with patrons, but well worth the wait.
Then went to Murphy’s for ice cream (handmade in Dingle). I took some pictures of the store and the people there were being very playful.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really capture that spirit in the photos. But this was typical of the happy, friendly people you’ll find in Dublin.
If there’s one sound I will forever associate with the Nordic countries, it’s the screeching of seagulls.
I’ve been to places where there are a lot of seagulls. But I don’t think there were this many. Or maybe I just was never around long enough to really notice?
There are seagulls by the gazillions all over the Nordic countries and they are LOUD. I saw one in an open-air market literally throw back its head and screech like it was under attack.
They swoop in close to people in some of the markets and sometimes sit and cock their heads and stare at passersby. I found it kind of creepy.
I wouldn’t be surprised if someday the seagulls decide to start dive-bombing people and taking food right out of their hands. Like something out of an old Hitchcock film. 🙂
We didn’t go to Iceland. But we saw the rest of the Nordic countries (counting Estonia).
Like everywhere else I’ve visited, the people in the region were incredibly helpful and nice. Though they’re not as outgoing as the Irish.
They seem a bit reserved and incredibly patient.
Incredibly. Patient. As in rivaling the biblical Job. 🙂
We saw a guy on a bicycle ring ring ring his little bell countless times while a tourist languished for what seemed like an eternity right in his way. I don’t know if she was deaf or what, but he never showed the slightest bit of annoyance.
In fact, after coming to a full stop to wait for her to ever-so-slowly get out of his path, he said “thank you” to her as he passed. Without a hint of apparent sarcasm.
Never try that in New York. 🙂
The mood in these countries is friendly and relaxed. And it’s contagious.
I think that must be why it wasn’t tiring. You just don’t have to do with a lot of hassles, and feel relaxed.
Other Tips and a Russian Game Cheat 🙂
We thought about taking a cruise to St Petersburg. It’s not easy to get a visa to visit Russia.
But they have a special arrangement with at least one of the cruise lines. You can come to St. Petersburg and get a short-term visa to see the city.
It’s probably the easiest, most economical way to sneak a peek. These cruises are definitely available from Helsinki, and maybe other cities, like Stockholm and Tallin.
Of course, we did not get to see the famous Northern Lights because they’re later in the season.
To see them, you need to go later in the season…late summer or early fall? You should check to be sure.
If you can only go to one or two countries in the region, I would say choose Sweden or Finland. Or visit both. But those are my personal preferences, and really, whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong.
Even if you’re not meeting friends, do check ticket prices to Dublin. A lot of times flights there are among the cheapest.
As I mentioned before, you can take cheap flights all over Europe on RyanAir. Our flight from Stockholm to Helsinki was only about $50 per person, so it’s quite economical.
The Nordic countries are similar to other European countries, yet distinct enough to warrant a visit. Even if you’ve already traveled extensively throughout other parts of Europe.
You’ll find great food, friendly people, and lovely cities. The culture is relaxed, and it’s really easy to get around.
We didn’t get outside the cities too much. Though we did take a boat ride in Finland and see some really gorgeous seaside areas.
Check out some other people’s photos of the gorgeous mountains and forests in the region. You’ll see why I’d love to go back and explore further.
If you liked this post, please stop by later and see the ones I write for each country. And if you’ve also traveled to the region, please tell me about your experience in the comments.
I love to hear about other people’s travels. 🙂