2# Throwback Travel- New York: Big Bus from Midtown to Brooklyn (day 2)

On day two in New York, we did the most touristy thing you can do, the Big Bus tours. I usually prefer walking tours, but when you have a baby and the weather is a bit drizzly this was easier. We got to see so much more than we would have on foot since the city is just so massive. The Big Bus tours are only offered for 1-3 days. Of course, we wanted to save money so we went tried to do four bus tours and a cruise two day. We still did shopping, dining and sightseeing on foot on the same days, so its definitely doable. Today we did the Downtown, Brooklyn and Night tour loops. We also visited the Financial District, Battery Park and 9/11 Memorial.

Since we had a big day ahead of us we need a big breakfast. My hotel did have complimentary breakfast, but I preferred not to dine there since the food was very processed. The healthiest option they had was Quaker Oats, but I was aware there was a class action against them. I preferred to explore some healthier breakfast options near my hotel. I found Le Pain Quotidien (Bryant Park location). They offer pastries, artisan breads, jams, eggs, steel-cut oats and more healthy breakfast options. Their bread is made traditionally with organic stone-ground flour and most of the other breakfast menu options are also organic. They have a large selection of organic jams and other condiments that are also free to use. Octavia and I had boiled eggs with a selection of breads and jams and soy cappuccino. The staff were so lovely and brought Octavia some extra bread to chew on.

Downtown Loop Bus tour

We began with the Downtown Loop, which we did in two parts that day. We took it from the 5th Avenue Midtown (3), all the way to City Hall Park (10), which covered Midtown to Lower Manhattan. The bus goes right through the middle of the island, so we saw districts of Nomad and Greenwich Village, Spring and Canal shopping strips and all the important law buildings in the Lower Manhattan. From the second level of the bus, I was able to get better views and photos of buildings. I listened to all the commentary from the guide with the earphones. The guy on this part of our tour was pretty entertaining and one of my favourite guides.

We got off the bus at City Hall Park, where we saw our first squirrel. It was so cute and much tiny than I imagined. We also saw Black Lives Matters activists, but it was pretty quiet at that time of the morning. We did some retail therapy at Century 21, which had great deals on designer apparel. I found some great bargains for O and myself in our short visit. What I really loved is that they had a petite section for short people like me, so I found a couple of great dresses that were cut correctly for my height.

World Trade Centre

Next, we made our way to the World Trade Centre district to see the 9/11 Memorial. One of the most noticeable buildings we saw as we were walking up was the Oculus. It is actually the World Trade Centre train station, designed by Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava. Next, we saw the sky-high buildings that were adjacent to the twin towers. To think that twin towers had been taller and then to see the space for the memorial was amazing. The memorial does have an eerie feeling, despite the crowds of people. It makes you remember how crazy that day was and reflect on the tragedy and where we were at the time of the event. I was actually in Athens on my first trip to Europe with my parents. We were in shock and weren’t sure if we would finish the bus tour and be stuck in Europe for months. It seems silly now to think that, but that feeling that we weren’t safe from such a distance was very real. I regret not going to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. I wasn’t that interest to visit it on this trip, since celebrating my birthday. Next time, I hope to go see the museum.

Financial District

We visited the Financial District for lunch and take our next tour bus. It was nothing like I imagined. The roads seemed so narrow with this sky-high buildings and it was also pretty quiet. I did see the Charging Bull of Wall Street, which was in a peculiar position, on a bit land between two roads. I could not get near it, there was way too many tourists taking photos. I have a photo of it below, from the Bus tour, it was still busy.

For lunch, we made a stop for one of the best lobster rolls in New York. This was very exciting because in Australia, lobster is super expensive and usually served in a fine dining restaurant alongside vegetables. Luke’s Lobster has various locations in NYC, across the US and Japan and Taiwan. They offer Maine-style seafood rolls, chowder and bisques using fresh sustainable seafood. They also have vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options. On the day we visited, it was pretty busy, with local workers stopping in for a quite bite. We ordered a few different seafood rolls to share, including crab, lobster and prawn, which came with a crab claw and a large pickle. Considering I was dining with people who don’t like seafood, they all loved it as much as I did. Even little O, who was excited to try all the new flavours.

Brooklyn Loop tour

From the Financial District we took the Brooklyn Loop at the Battery Park stop (29). By this stage the heat had finally broken and it was quite drizzly. Luckily the bus offered plastic coats for those like me who wanted to still sit on the top deck.

The tour took us along the southern shore, which runs along the East River and through China Town. We then took the Manhattan Bridge, which gave us great views of the Two Bridge area, as well as the East River and Dumbo, Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, we saw one of the few fuel stations as well as a strange suspended car park. Brooklyn wasn’t exactly what I expected. However, we only saw a little snippet of it, since we only went as far as the Grand Army Plaza, and then turned around and went back over the Manhattan Bridge. It did take a slightly different route on the way to Battery Park, past Seaport and the Charging Bull.

Battery Park

After that tour we were eager to have a break, so we got some cold drinks from Starbucks and relaxed at the Battery Park. This green space is 37 hectares and sits on the southern-most top of Manhattan. There are quite a few monuments in the park, as well as the Pier A Harbor and an abundance of street food vendors.

Downtown Loop tour

We then took our third bus tour, which is actually the second half of the first bus we took that morning. We got on at the Battery Park stop (29) and travelled along the west coast, all the way through Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen and Time Square. By this stage, we were all toured out, but it wouldn’t be our last bus for the day.

Urbanspace Vanderbilt

For dinner, we wanted to go somewhere near our hotel for a quick bite before the night tour. So, we stopped in at Urbanspace Vanderbilt. This is an amazing food hall, with rotating concepts and diverse cuisines. I really needed to eat some vegetables and wanted to make sure Octavia had someone healthy as well. It was so hard to choose, but I settled with Two Tablespoons, who offer vegan and vegetarian veggie bowls and rice paper rolls. They use mostly organic and locally sourced ingredients and avoid using any heavily processed ingredients. I ordered the Shanti Express, which included a chickpea stew, quinoa, curried Cauliflower and a  kale and Lentils salad. It tasted fresh and fragrant, it was healthy and it was satisfying.

Discover NYC by Night tour

The very last tour of our day was the complimentary evening tour. It began at M&M’s World Stop (37), just a block from Time Square. It was so crowded and hot. I felt like I could barely breathe. Since they were doing construction under the road, there were large pipes pumpkin hot air to the road level, making the streets even warmer. After quite a wait we got the last bus off the night. This bus took us through Time Square, Midtown, China Town, Little Italy, Lower Manhattan, across the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn, Soho, Greenwich Village and back up to Midtown. Although we saw a lot of we had already seen today, it was definitely different by night. The stories were different and so was the city.

So reflecting back on a big day of Big Bus tours, I think it was totally worth it. I love tours that talk about the history and culture of a city. I normally prefer to do my tour by foot, but this bus tour allowed us to see so much in short amount of time and get to know some of the places we would be visiting. Was three bus tours in one day too much? Well as you can see it was a pretty cruisy day. We still have the Uptown loop and Circle Line Liberty Cruise on day three, which we did on day 3.

Finnish Roadtrip: Savonlinna to Porvoo (day 6-7)

This is the end of my Finnish Roadtrip and Nordic Adventure. Since this only covers and a half days I combined it all into this last post. One this day we departed from Savolinna, made a stop in Lappeenranta and arrived in Porvoo. We only stayed on night in Porvoo before making our way back to Helsinki for our flight. I am so happy we made this last stop, because I really loved exploring Old Porvoo.

Savonlinna

We woke up to a beautiful site out of the window of our summerhouse cottage. It was so nice to feel like we were walking up in the middle of nowwhere. It was so quiet and serene, but we need to get up and going to start our last day.

We arrived inn Savonlinna’s town centre for an early morning breakfast. Today was Monday, so we expected that today everything would be open, meaning an end to our Midsummer nightmare. I would have loved to spend time walking along this main shopping drag and also visiting Linnankatu to see the arts and handicrafts. However, we were up quite early and nothing was opening for another hour. So we had to decided if we waited or kept going to our next stop Porvoo.

We didn’t see a lot open for breakfast, but we did spot Herkku Pekka. This bakery offered a range of sweet and savoury pastaries, quiches, sandwiches and cakes. All of which looked delightful for three hungry people. I had the Salmon, Egg annd Salad Crossiant and Perunapiirakka. Marco just had a Crossiant and a coffee and O had a sweet Finnish pastry for the very last time. All the pastaries were freshly made and delicious.

So we decided to keep driving to Porvoo, which was going to take about just under four hours. This was the longest stretch of this Finnish roadtrip so far, so we were eager to get it over and done with.

Lappeenranta

On our way we stopped for morning tea in Lappeenranta. This town is about about two hours from Savonlinna. If only we had more time we could of visited its multiple attractions, but time was off the essence. We only stopped at the bakery, Kesämäen Leipomo Oy, which is somewhat of a workers stop. I read that they had a speciality, Liha-Piirakka, which is a savoury donut filled with meat and rice. Marco was more interested in trying the Hevosenkenkä maidoton (milkless horseshoe pastry) and Viinermukki laktoositon (lactose free apple donut). I don’t know if we ordered wrong or we were expecting too much but the were ok. We may have been happy with some jam danishes. However, on the bright side, most of this stuff was either vegan or lactose free.

Porvoo

Porvoo is the second-oldest town in Finland and was the perfect end to our Finnish roadtrip. This historical trading town was established back in 1380. The Porvoo Old Town is paved with cobblestone, lined with with colourful wooden houses and the waterway features Red shore warehouses, which once held exotic delicacies from distant lands. If you like to wander through bohemian and antiques stores and sample sweet delicies then this is the place for you.

One of the must visit stops is Brunberg’s Chocolate Factory, which has been in operation since 1871. . Here you can sample and buy a variety of different chocolate and confectionary, which I promise you as very high quality. Once we tried a few chocolates we couldn’t leave without purchasing some to bring back home.

A short walk north from the centre of the Old Town is the Porvoo Cathedral. It was originally built in the 13th century and was made of wood. However it was later expanded and rebuilt after numerous fires in the 15th century. It is quite pretty inside and retains medieval feel.

Nearby the Cathedral we came across the Iso Linnamäki Castle Hill. It is free to visit this park, but you do have to use your imagination. It was once the site of an old medieval castle, which overlooks the city of Porvoo. The first wooden castle would have been built here in the late 1200s by the Swedes. It was modernised at the end of the 1300s to include moats and a wooden bailiffs castle, which was built under Germ administration. It was later demolished and abandoned in 1400 by the Scandivians, to destroy any reminents of the German period. It wasn’t until the Great Northern War of 1700-1721 that Russians occupied the Finland and took this hill as a gunpost. Much of what had been preserved was later destroyed by local inhabitance, who illegally took gravel from the hill . Today Castle Hill is a serene, quiet space that has lovely views of the Porvoo. Albert Edelfelt used the view for his famous landscape in 1892, which looks verily similar today. You can even see the Red shore Warehouses, which are one of the most photographed buildings in Porvoo. We weren’t able to get close to them, but I did take a picture as we were driving past later.

Before leaving the centre of Porvoo, we had a later lunch at Hanna and Maria. This little Finnish restaurant is in the centre of the old town and has been arounnd for 30 years. It was named after the daughters of the merchant Oskar Simolin, who resided in Porvoo in the 19th century. It is only open during the day from about 8am until 4-5 (depending on the time of year), 7 days a week. They offers a variety of homely Finnish dishes, prepared with mostly local ingredients and the prices are quite reasonable. They have an variety of steaks and schnitzel, reindeer and liver, served with mash potato and salads. They also have a variety of cakes and sweet treats. Octavia and I shared the Sauteed reindeer/Renskav with lingonberry jam, mash potatoes, salad and bread. Marco had a Wienerschnitzel/Vienna Steak, with mash potatoes and salad. The dishes tasted as good as any homemade dish you would loved to be invited over for and the salads were very fresh.

Our last stop before going back to our apartment was Porvoo Art Factory/Taidetehdas Konstfabriken. Here you can find a few stores, including H&M, a cinema and a gallery. In regards to shopping there is really not much here. Since I arrived quite late I am not sure I was mean to be walking the halls of the gallery, since there was no one around. I only saw a little bit, but I think they were probably setting up for a new exhibition. I’d probably skip this unless your coming for a big show.

Our last accomodation on this trip was at this beautiful Airbnb, located in the suburbs not far from the centre. It had a glorious garden in the backyard and was beautifully decorated inside as well. One of the nicest features was the large bathroom and sauna. It was the perfect place to relax and stay in.

While we were enjoying our accomodation we did get a little bit peckish again, so we ordered some takeaway from Thai Street Food Porvoo. They offer a small, seasonal menu of Thai favourites and they are pretty popular rated place. The dishes we ordered Phad Thai and Stir fried chicken with cashews and noodles. They were both generous portions, tasted spot on and served with a fresh little salad.

The next morning before leaving Porvoo we made one last stop to a bakery Marco had already scoped out the day before. Tuorila’s Home Bakery is a Finnish artisan bakery thats been around for 25 years. They offer quite a variety of fresh breads, sweet and savoury pastaries. The prices were extremely reasonable for some of the best delicious pastaries we had found in Finland so far. We ordered a sweet donut, blueberry danish, and savoury LihaPiirakka (meat and rice filled). I can’t recommend this bakery enough if your in town.

The drive back to Helsinki from Porvoo only took about 30-40 minutes. Since we had a couple of hours before we had to be at the airport to go back home we stopped at Kauppakeskus Jumbo (shopping centre). This is only a 7 minute drive from the airport, so its perfect if you need to waste 1-3 hours. Upstairs we found a nice little coffee shop, called Coffee House, which had decent coffees and a variety of lunch and snack items. As for shopping, you can find all the big brands as well as smaller boutiques.

We that is the end of both my Finnish roadtrip and Nordic Adventure. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I did reminising about our trip. If you have any questions feel free to drop me a comment.

Finnish Roadtrip: Kuopio to Salonlinna (day 5)

On our fifth day of our Finnish road trip we travelled from Kuopio to Salonlinna. We didn’t get to see much of Kuopio due to the Midsummer holiday, but we were able to visit the Puijo Tower. In Savonalinna, we made a scenic trip to a crepe house, visited the Olavinlinna Castle and had dinner on the water. So it was a pretty good day.

Kuopio

This morning we walked down to the Kuopio town centre. We were hoping that cafes and shops would be open. I really wanted to have breakfast at Trube Cafe, which is inside the Apaja Shopping Center. It has been around since 1913 and they sell baked Finnish baked goods and served their coffee in Moomin mugs. Unfortuately everything was closed, except a few food stalls. Since we didn’t have cash we decided to do breakfast elsewhere.

Before leaving we went past the Kuopio Cathedral. The building was built in 1806-15 and is a stone Neoclassical-style construction. Since there was a service I wasn’t able to take photos inside. The interior is quite plan and is mostly white walls with touches of gold Empire features.

Luckily, the Puijo Tower was open today and they have a cafe, so that was our next stop. This observation tower is located on the top of Puijo hill and is one of Finland’s oldest tourist attractions, visited by over 80,000 tourists per year. The original tower was build back in 1856, standing 16m high and was made of wood. The second tower was build in 1906, standing at 24m tall and was made of stone. The current tower was built in 1963 and is now 75m tall. It gives an unobstructive 360 degree view of Kuopio and beyond and thus is a symbol for the city of Kuopio. During the WW2 the Women’s Voluntary Defence Corps of Kuopio were able to carry out air survelliance from the Puijo tower.

On the first level you can find a tourist shop, where you can buy tickets to visit the tower. It costs about 6 euros for an adult or 4 euro for a student. You can take the lift up to the first observation platform, which is enclosed and has a cafe area. Here they sell a selection of pastarie, snacks and drinks. We got some Puolukka-vaniljapulla (lingon-berry vanilla scroll), Feta-tomaattihyrrä (tomato feta scoll) and some filtered coffees. They were not the best pastries but they weren’t too bad either.