Saint Petersburg, Russia, en Route to Northern Sweden; July 29 - August 1, 2016

For this year's (first) summer destination we considered a number of treks in Europe, finally settling on the Kungsleden trail in far northern Sweden. The Kungsleden makes appearances on "top 10 treks of the world" lists, yet it shouldn't be overly crowded, has basic huts to stay in, and promises stark beauty. Only Emily is along with Alex & Jennifer on this trip. Tim is still in the middle of his summer, living in Boulder, Colorado with a group of Stanford friends, enjoying the mountains while working at Photo Transit, a tiny company making software for photographers. Later on he'll join Alex & Jennifer for a scuba diving trip in the Maldives and backpacking in the Sierras. Emily is on an earlier schedule, already wrapping up her summer. Her job at InSTEDD, a global tech non-profit, allowed her to work anytime from anywhere. She took full advantage of the flexibility, spending some time at home but with jaunts to San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, backpacking on California's Lost Coast, Boulder to visit her brother, and the crown jewel: a three week, fully independent, self-funded trip through Colombia. Think the family travel bug has rubbed off on her?

With the Kungsleden as our main destination plus a couple of transit days in Stockholm, we still had a bit of time to spare; Saint Petersburg emerged as an intriguing nearby destination. Finding convenient and economical plane flights was no problem, but we naively underestimated the cost and minutiae involved in obtaining Russian visas. (It turns out most people visit St. Petersburg on a cruise, which circumvents visa requirements.) All's well that ends well though, and we certainly appreciated getting to know one of the great cities of the world.

We admired Saint Petersburg's signature landmarks -- the vast Hermitage Museum (photos 1 and 2), photogenic Church on the Spilled Blood (photo 3), St. Isaac's Cathedral (in the rain), the Mariinsky Theater (photo 4), Peter and Paul Fortress (photo 5), and others -- but our favorite activities had more of a local flavor. Our short stay happened to coincide with Russia's Navy Day, a major holiday featuring ship parades, fireworks, and a fun evening rock concert in Palace Square.

Also coinciding with our stay was the much smaller-scale Saturday morning Parkrun on Elagin Island. (Originating in England, Parkruns are free weekly 5K races becoming popular all across Europe, very cool!) The regular runners (photo 6) were extremely welcoming, even inviting us to a post-race birthday party. In the race Emily crushed the women's field (photo 7), while Alex didn't do too badly considering he only had Keen sandals and travel shorts to run in (photo 8); official results here. Jennifer wimped out and just cheered.

Next: From St. Petersburg we have an overnight in Stockholm, then fly to Abisko, Sweden, far above the arctic circle, where we begin our 11-day trek.

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