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New Zealanders in Scandinavia and The Baltic in 2005

Following nearly three years of planning, two groups of 41 Club members from New Zealand visited Germany, the Scandinavian countries, then to Russia, Estonia and Latvia.

There were 24 on the first trip and 26 travelled with the second group.

After a long flight to Frankfurt, we were met by a group of members from the Wiesbaden Old Tablers Club who were our hosts for three days in and around Wiesbaden. Places visited included wineries, a cruise on the River Rhine, the Opel car plant, a ride on a cable car over vineyards, and some of the older restaurants in the city.

From there it was a short flight north to Copenhagen, where we met our coach and driver from Sweden, (Mats Granberg) - the coach was to take us the whole way, with a driver change in Sweden.

A trip on Copenhagen Harbour, a night at Tivoli Gardens during which we watched an illuminated tribute to Hans Christian Andersen, a visit to Hans's birthplace, a visit to Jelling where the earliest remains of Royal Burials are located, and some home hosting were features of our time in Denmark.

We sailed by ferry from Denmark to Norway, and then travelled a short distance to Gvarv, where we stayed in a hostel. This is an area of Norway not normally visited by tourists, so it was wonderful to see Norway in its "perfect" state. A canal trip, with some rather high river locks to be negotiated, a climb up Mt. Lifjell, our first visit to a Stave Church, and a chance to sample the local fare were highlights.

From Gvarv we travelled over the mountains (at heights up to 1500 metres) to spend a night in a mountain hotel, before heading west to Stavanger, and our first Norwegian 41 Club hosts.A walk around the old part (16th Century) of Stavanger was a highlight here.

The road north from Stavanger to Bergen takes in a mixture of ferry rides, tunnels and bridges - all go towards making it a very interesting trip.

Bergen and its Cable Car certainly created some photo opportunities, along with the old area in the city known as Bryggen and the fish market.

From Bergen the road headed to the North East and between Bergen and our next stop at Laerdal, we counted 48 tunnels with a combined length of some 78 kilometres, and including the longest road tunnel in the world at some 24 kilometres long. After a night in Laerdal, Mats took us East towards the towns of Hamar and Elverum. It was surprising just how quickly we left the mountains, and travelled through rolling farmlands.

Our meeting place in Hamar was the venue of the Ice Skating in the 1994 Winter Olympics, and the building had been designed to look like the upturned hull of a Viking ship - very realistic too.

The group was split between the two 41 Clubs here, and those who went to Elverum, were able to visit the Norwegian Museum of Forestry and stand beside two huge bears - up to 9 feet tall !!!.

Leaving Elverum, a short lunch stop was made at Kongsvinger where we were hosted by the local 41 Club members, and entertained by a very spirited retired Army officer as he showed us the local Kongsvinger Castle.

Our next stop was at Karlstad in Sweden, sadly only for one night, but the trip out on the huge lake and the island BBQ certainly made it a memorable stop.

From Karlstad it was a drive north to Uppsala, and more 41 Club hosts. We had lots of contact with the Uppsala members and also the local Round Tablers.

It was here we met our new driver, Tord Bergmann who was to take us the rest of the journey.

After two nights in Uppsala, it was only a short drive south to Stockholm, and more hosts. What an interesting old part of the city to walk through, particularly at night with all the different lights. We were also taken to the Vasa Museum - an old galleon which had lain in Stockholm Harbour for nearly 400 years before being raised and preserved for all to wonder at.

Time to change countries again, and we left Stockholm by ferry for a 12 hour crossing of the Baltic to Turku in Finland - and what an interesting ferry ride it was. In the 12 hours there would have only been about 1 hours when we were not in sight of land - there were just islands after islands the whole way.

Our first Finnish hosts were on the wharf at Turku when we arrived, and they introduced us to an old Finnish custom - sauna!!! The groups took to saunas like "ducks to water: and really enjoyed them whenever offered the opportunity. A visit to the Handicraft Museum where we saw 18 houses preserved exactly as they had been 200 years ago, along with people actually going about their lives as they did 200 years ago, made everyone think about where we are today.

On the coach again and north to Saarijarvi, a small town but with very generous 41 Club hosts. It was here that we were introduced to a smoke sauna, followed by a plunge into a rather cool river, but it was surprising just how many Kiwis went back for 'seconds' !!.

A night spent at the lakeside Suumasaari Lodge gave us a chance to be together and enjoy each others' company, have a quiet drink (or two !!!) and spin some stories.

Time to head south (from a Latitude of some 62 degrees North) and our next 41 Club hosts were waiting for us at Lappeenranta. Set on the side of a large lake and with river and canal access to the Gulf of Finland, large shipments of Russian logs are bought here to be processed at the huge timber mill, located on the side of the lake - more saunas for everyone to enjoy!!.

Our next stop was the city of St. Petersburg in Russia, and what an experience crossing the border into Russia - the first Officer to board the bus wasn't too sure what to do - a Swedish coach and driver with a load of New Zealanders!!!. However after 2 hours we finally got into Russia and on to our hotel in St. Petersburg.

With the aid of local guides (I would suggest it would be impossible to get around without a guide), we visited the Winter Palace, home to so many treasures and works of art, travelled out to Peterhof and the Summer Palace built by Peter the Great, and since our return home it has been severely damaged by fire.

To be able to see such a city, even if only for three days, gave us a small insight into how the people live there. There were scenes of huge residential apartment blocks, stretching forever, then we would cross a canal, (St. Petersburg is known as the Venice of Russia after all )and see scenes of absolute beauty.

To have been able to visit this city was certainly a bonus.

Time to leave Russia, and after another two hours at the Border, and some attempts at parting the driver from some of his money (!!!), we crossed into Estonia.

This country and Latvia (our next stop) have only been free of Soviet controls since 1991, and the steps they have made to rebuild their lives and their countries are amazing.

On arrival in the capital of Tallinn, our local hosts were waiting to welcome us and take us to their homes. These people could not do enough for the groups, and share their daily lives with us. A feature of Tallinn is a visit to the Old part of the city, set high on a hill, and so full of history. A night in an Estonian restaurant, singing and eating is a memory that will remain for many years to come.

One more border crossing and we were in Latvia, the second of the three Baltic States - Lithuania was the third - and another very warm welcome at the border of the capital city, Riga, by a group of very enthusiastic 41'ers. Our hotel in Riga was in the heart of Old Riga, a city dating back to the 1200's, and again so full of history. Visits to an opera, a walk around the old city, and a visit to the Latvian Museum of Soviet Occupation, something which really made you sit up and think, were the highlights of our stay.

After three days, it was time for farewells, and the most of the group flew back to Frankfurt for a couple of days before heading back to New Zealand.

Some of each group undertook individual tours including Turkey, the U.K. and the States.

One very strong memory which comes from all this travelling around is that of the people we met in each country we visited. They were so hospitable and friendly, and just could not do enough for us. The number of times we were told how they thought it was so good that we had come to visit them not once, but twice, and from so far away.

It would be so unfair to mention any names from our hosts - they were all so special - but let it suffice to say to them all "Thank you so much for all that you did for two groups of Kiwis when they came to your town".

One result of these two trips is that we have had approaches from Estonia, Denmark, Germany, Finland and Norway for groups to make reciprocal visits to New Zealand.

Planning is starting to get underway for these visits now.

To all those who travelled from New Zealand, thank you for being such great ambassadors for our country, and for 41Clubs here in New Zealand.

Keep watching this site as photos will be added at a later date.

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