8 Countries in 8 Days…
I have a window of eight days to travel after visiting London to co-chair the Digital Marketing World Forum. I’ve decided to set up a scavenger hunt for myself. I’ve scheduled myself to visit eight countries in eight days. Seven of the countries I have never visited before. I may be setting myself up for failure. Any delays or missteps will create a mess for me. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I’ve book six flights and one ferry.
FYI, booked my flights through Expedia (non-sponsored). I thought it’d be easiest for tracking to stick with one service. I’ve also used Expedia many times before and have found it to reliable and reasonable in finding good prices.
And I booked all but one of my hotels from Hotel.com (non-sponsored) as I’ve always found their pricing fair and I like their loyalty program of a “free” room for every ten rooms booked. They also have very good customer service. (One I booked from Expedia.)
I’ll be flying from London, where I have visited nearly every year for the last ten years. So the first country, England, my point of departure, I’m counting as my day one and country number one. Here is the list of countries I will visit in the order I will visit them:
- Lithuania, and
Five airlines. SAS, Ethiopian, Norwegian Air, Air Baltic, LOT-Polish Airlines. (All new for me.)
One ferry. Eckerö Line: Helsinki to Tallinn.
Visas. None required for US citizens staying no more than ninety days.
Currency. Four accept the Euro; four, England, Norway, Poland, and Sweden, do not. I already stopped at a local bank for Britsh pounds and Euros. For the others, I’ll pick up a small amount of cash as I need it.
“Wait. Why not stay longer in one or two countries and savor it?”
Good question. The short answer is that I’d like to see a few more jewel cities in the short window of time I have.
Of course, I’d love to linger longer. But, given the choice of fitting in a new city or two — or catching a glimpse of seven new countries and seven new pearl cities, I’m going to go with the seven new countries.
Hopefully, I’ll get to return to each of these cities again and stay much longer as I have had the good fortune to do with some of the many countries (sixty plus) I have visited before. But, perhaps not. Which is what the rush of travel will give me in the itinerary I have set out: a glimpse, a whiff, a taste of each. More than nothing. Much more.
There is no one way to travel.
What I’ve set out for myself to do with this trip is more ambitious and exhausting than I’d prefer. My past travels have included slow travel, for example, a week in Venice and another week in Venice and enough visits to Venice that I have forgotten how many. Ditto for Sevilla, Spain. About a month in Thailand… So, please, allow me a rushed itinerary on this trip.
I’ll be launching off after chairing the two-day Digital Marketing World Forum in London. I’ve usually lingered a few days after that event to see more of the UK. Not this time — though I will be there two days before the forum to sneak in a stay in Oxford, where long ago I spent a summer a as a non-matriculated student at New College (founded 1379), Oxford.
My first big travel adventure was a two-month Eurail pass in Europe right after college.
I loved it. I knew the jewel cities I wanted to see and I raced to see them, hoping I might return someday to each (I have), but fearing I might not. I heard lectures when I returned: “You missed the Spanish stairs in Rome?! Then you’ve never been to Rome!” At this point, I have returned to Rome so many times that there, too, I have lost count. My point is, don’t let others bully you about how you travel. I love “slow travel”, but I love travel even more!
So here’s my itinerary —
1–2. London to Oslo, NORWAY (plane)
If my plane arrives on time, I’ll have 6 hours and 15 minutes from touchdown to departure. (Any thoughts on SAS?)
Setting aside the time I’ll need: one hour (half hour each way) for travel into and out of the city. And hour for security and processing at the airport.
Barely 4 hours in the city. This will be my shortest stop.
Transportation to/from the airport. It seems that the train from the airport to the Central Station is the best option. There are six trains every hour.
Will so need to check my luggage into storage at the train station. I’m traveling with a day pack and a carry-on. Looked and it seems as if it’ll be quicker and cheaper for me to check in my luggage at the train station.
Reminder to self, pay close attention to the return train to the airport! — I’ve already downloaded the app for the train so that I can see the schedule and purchase the ticket without any delay. Have already added my credit card information to the app. Uber is my back up.) (Note to self: start heading back by about 6 p.m.!)
Seems Trip Advisor saw me coming to Oslo. They have a list of Top 10 Things to Do near Central Station!
Visit Olso, the official tourism office for Oslo, also has “10 Suggestions” for just about every taste!
The Viking Ship Museum is one on my list.
Would also love to see the Norsk Folkemuseum — Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, especially for a glimpse of “a stave church from the year 1200.” Don’t know if it’s doable in the limited time I have in Oslo, but, it’s on my list!
Sometimes the “Hop On/Off” bus is your best bet. In Oslo, it’s a 90-minute route that stops at eighteen sites, including the Viking Ship Museum. I’ll see when I land, but I’m thinking this’d be my best bet for such a short stay. (By the way, don’t underestimate the value of on/off buses. In Edinburgh, for example, I used one without ever getting off of it until the end, to get a nice sense of the city. It was worth the ticket.)
Oslo City Card. I’ve decided to go ahead and get myself an Olso City Card which covers the Hop On/Off bus (and train and boat), entrance fees to many attractions (including the Viking Ship Museum!), as well as other transportation. I need to hit the ground running and this should help! You can download the app and purchase your pass here!
3. Oslo to Stockholm, SWEDEN (plane)
Place your bets! What time will the plane leave actually Oslo and arrive in Stockholm? I have no idea as I’ve never flown Ethiopian Airlines before — I’m betting they’ll keep me on schedule!
I’ll be staying at the Scandic Continental, located directly across the street from Stockholm’s Central Station.
What makes the hotel a perfect spot for a quick visit to Stockholm? According to Bookings.com, “Local attractions including Stockholm City Hall, Kungstragarden Park and the Old Town are about a 10-minute walk away. A variety of shopping choices can be found in the surroundings. Arlanda Express with its swift 22-minute train ride to Arlanda International Airport, departs from Central Station.”
To speed things up, I’ve already downloaded the Arlanda Express train app so that I’ll have quick access to the train schedules. I’ve also gone ahead and inputted my credit card information so I can make a purchase on the fly!
I’ll begin my stay with some evening photography and have a nice morning and early afternoon. Will need to head to the airport by 3 p.m.. So, I’ll get to enjoy a nice lunch somewhere in Stockholm. Suggestions?
Visiting Stockholm on a budget? Not to worry, there’s plenty to do!
I’m heading to the subways! Look at the incredible station featured in one of the photos shared by Visit Stockholm! Each stop has its own character.
4. Stockholm to Helsinki, FINLAND (plane)
My visit to Helsinki almost seems extravagant compared to the duration of Oslo!
“Visit Finland” tourism office offers some great activities for those on a quick visit to Finland’s capital: 24 Hours in Helsinki.
“There are over 3 million saunas in Finland”, according to Visit Finland. I’m hoping to visit one and am glad to have an official list of “10 Sauna Tips for Beginners”.
The Helsinki City Pass, which includes the train from and to the airport, seems like a good investment for my short stay. (Wasn’t sure if they would simply provide me with an online pass to use, so I chose the pickup card option. Disappointingly, the instructions say that one should bring a printed copy of their purchase voucher, rather than simply showing them a copy of the barcode included in their email confirmation.)
Suggestions on anything I should try fit in to see, do, drink, eat while I’m there?
5. Helsinki to Tallinn, ESTONIA (ferry)
The ferry costs 19 euro and takes two hours and fifteen minutes. And boarding closes a half hour before departure time! (Glad I looked closely or I would have been waving goodbye to a departing boat!) There’s also an option to purchase a discounted ticket for an onboard buffet. It looks pretty good and locavore.
I should have a nice tour around Tallinn when I arrive with the summer sun. And, the next day, I’ll have a full day as I don’t depart to Riga until the evening.
I’ve booked a hotel, “My City Hotel” in the Old City and, according to Hotels.com, there is much to see nearby:
- St. Nicholas’ Church — 3 min walk
- Town Hall Square — 4 min walk
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral — 5 min walk
- St Mary’s Cathedral — 7 min walk
- St. Olav’s Church — 11 min walk
- Port of Tallinn — 20 min walk
- Kumu Art Museum — 39 min walk
A reflector for every visitor. Curiously, “Estonia’s traffic laws stipulate that wearing a luminous reflector on the right side of outer clothing at night or in conditions of poor visibility, particularly in winter, is compulsory.” Tourism information says visitors are offered a complimentary Estonia-branded reflector from distribution boxes at Tallinn’s port and airport. (I let you know how that works out.)
Anything else I should be sure to see, do, drink, eat while I’m there?
6. Tallinn to Riga, LATVIA (plane)
Riga will be a late evening stroll and early morning tour.
Again, I’ll be staying at a very strategically-located hotel, the Wellton Centrum Hotel & Spa in the historic center.
There’s a lot to see within a five-minute walk of the hotel, according to Hotels.com:
- In Old Town
- Riga Central Market — 6 min walk
- St John’s Church — 2 min walk
- Latvian National Opera — 4 min walk
- Menzendorff House — 4 min walk
- St. Peter’s Church — 4 min walk
- Occupation Museum — 5 min walk
- Great Guild Hall — 5 min walk
My plan. I’ll arrive at my hotel 10:30 p.m.-ish. I’ll head out to see a few sites that evening. Get up 6:00 a.m.-ish. Catch a few sites. Head to the airport NLT 11:00 a.m.-ish.
7. Riga to Vilnius, LITHUANIA (plane
Vilnius will be a bit of a blur. Like Oslo, I’ll store my luggage and make a quick tour around town.
Vilnius Tourism has a nice online resource center.
The 10th century Gediminas Tower (see left) is certainly on my list and is supposed to offer great views of the Old City. That’ll make for a nice morning hike!
The Telegraph has a great list of “15 reasons why Vilnius should be your next city break”.
8. Vilnius to Warsaw, POLAND (plane)
Uber is available at Warsaw airport. I’ll update with public transportation information.
What to do in Warsaw? Don’t leave it to chance. Warsaw Tourism has created an interactive quiz to personalize suggestions for your visit. Take the quiz here!
I’ll be staying at the Westin Warsaw. Gotta confess I made my choice mainly by brand here. Just always enjoy staying in a Westin and this one, architecturally, caught my eye!
What I’m packing
My goal is super-light. One carry-on suitcase and a daypack. No time for laundry.
- Shaving kit (pared down to essentials: toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, sunscreen, comb, razor, couple bandaids, and Immodium.
- Digital photo of my passport and credit cards.
- Glasses, disposable contacts, sunglasses.
- Foldable large-rimmed hat to protect my fair skin.
- Cotton laundry bag with freshener sheet for dirty clothes.
- 11 pair of socks and boxers, one for each day, and an extra.
- 2 pair of travel jeans (one gray, one black).
- Loafers and sports jacket. (For my forum chairing.)
- Hiking sneakers.
- 5 Long-sleeved cotton t-shirts and 3 collared shirts (I’ll pick up a sweatshirt a couple of t-shirts along the way.)
- Mid-length raincoat with hideaway hood.
- Super light-weight, compact down coat.
- Two smartphones. An iPhone8 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro (beats iPhone by far for nighttime photos — disclosure, I’m a Huawei business partner and was gifted the Mate 10). Even leaving behind my compact Canon camera behind for added lightness. (Some of the airlines will be weighing bags for pricing. I don’t want to be anywhere close. Plus, I’m lugging what I bring.)
- A book. (Asimov I Robot collection.)
- iPad with a keyboard case.
- AM I FORGETTING ANYTHING? Please let me know! I’ll try to pick it up along the way. Thanks!
Lessons Learned Already:
Some lessons from my travel prep. (Sure to be updated.)
- Give yourself time for planning — try and do it in one sitting. Try to make it fun, not a chore. One of the best parts of travel is planning for it. Don’t be afraid to plan even if your plans change — which they will.
- Fill in all the pieces of your travel puzzle as carefully as you can, especially if you’re on a really tight schedule. For example, I looked a little closer at my one ferry ride and saw that they end boarding a half hour before the departure time. If I had missed this point, I likely would have missed my ship!
- Don’t wait too long before you start your planning. On one of the legs of my travel, I saw many flights to my destination. But, only one remaining flight with four seats that was non-stop remained. It would have changed an hour flight into a day-long flight due to a layover!
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