Finland

Lapland, Part 3 (of 3)

On our last night in Lapland, we splurged and stayed in one of the glass igloos at the Arctic Snow Hotel. You can spend the night in the snow hotel itself, which stays at a constant temperature of about 30°F.  The glass igloo, on the other hand, was nice and warm, especially during the day when the sun turned it into a greenhouse! Beware, though:  the bathrooms are freezing at night! Even so, the igloos were absolutely lovely.

Interior, glass igloo, Arctic Snow Hotel

They are fairly new, built last fall and opened to guests in December. The showers are amazing, with fabulous water pressure and optional rainfall shower head. The igloos are equipped with an aurora alarm that buzzes when the northern lights make an appearance, so you can fall asleep and not have to worry about missing them. And since the igloos have adjustable beds, there’s no need to put your coat and boots on if you don’t want to, just crank the bed up and enjoy the show!

Northern Lights, seen from glass igloo

I do have one complaint, and you might be able to tell what it may be in the photo above. It seems the people staying in the other igloos didn’t know that in order to see the stars and the northern lights better, it’s best to minimize your own light pollution. In other words, turn your flipping lights off, dumbasses! I left a comment card with the hotel saying they should “suggest guests turn lights off after 10pm unless absolutely necessary.”

Glass igloos, lights ablaze

Another very minor thing I found funny – the bathrooms have frosted glass, for privacy while you do your business, which is appreciated (although, the ceiling is open to the room, so you had better be comfortable enough with your traveling companion if you’re going to do anything particularly noisy or smelly!). However, just along the edge of the bathroom there was a slight gap, so that this was my view as I got out of the shower, naked.

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(Made me wonder if others could see in!)

 

In addition to the glass igloos, there’s the snow hotel itself. It’s built new each year, so the rooms look different year to year. You can visit the snow hotel easily from Rovaniemi (it’s about half an hour away by car, and many of the tour companies offer this tour), and of course it’s tourable if you’re staying on site. The intricate designs are spectacular!

Room, Arctic Snow Hotel

Room, Arctic Snow Hotel

IRoom, Arctic Snow Hotel

There’s also a super friendly reindeer on site:

Reindeer

Since Baby J was sick, we opted to have dinner in the lodge (possibly our best meal on our entire trip), but they also have a restaurant in the snow hotel, along with an ice bar. The ice bar doesn’t open until 10pm, though – we would have had a drink there if there had been a bartender on site in the afternoon.

Ice restaurant, Arctic Snow Hotel

Ice restaurant, Arctic Snow Hotel

Ice Bar, Arctic Snow Hotel

Ice Bar, Arctic Snow Hotel

It’s pricey, but certainly a once in a lifetime experience.  We saw a shooting star, a couple of satellites, and so many stars.  And, of course, if you get to see the northern lights, it’s even better!

Night sky

Night sky

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Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our trip for more photos!

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Categories: Finland, Travels | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Lapland, Part 2 (of 3)

Our second day in Lapland, we traveled about an hour southwest to the Ranua Zoo. A lot of the animals were sleeping, hiding, or hibernating, but we saw a lot of owls, and the polar bears were great! They seemed to think we had brought them some food in the form of a baby.

Polar bear

Fee Fi Fo Fum

Polar bear

I smell a little baby, Yum!

Polar bear

Did you bring me lunch?

"Did someone say lunch?" "They're not sharing."

“Did someone say lunch?”
“They’re not sharing.”

"Bastards." *sniff*

“Bastards.”
*sniff*

It was neat seeing polar bears in something close to their natural habitat:

Polar bears walking in the snow

On day 3, we went to a husky park and went dogsledding. We got a brief lesson in driving, including the suggestion that if the sled tips over, to hold onto it, because the dogs will keep going and leave you behind. Stephen drove while I held on to Baby J for dear life – and if the sled had tipped over, I would rather walk than be dragged along by the dogs, TYVM.

While on the trail, our guide stopped to let everyone change drivers (we opted not to), and he pointed up. “Look.”

This is the one photo I didn’t get that I so wish I had. We looked up and saw a crescent sun. Yes, a crescent sun, because where we were, right at the Arctic Circle in Finland, we had an 85-90% solar eclipse happening. It was just cloudy enough that you could look directly at it and see it without, you know, burning your retinas.  It. Was. Awesome.

Meanwhile, Baby J fell asleep on the sled.

On Day 4, we went out to Santa Claus Village – Home of the REAL Santa Claus! 😉 We visited with Santa for a bit, and Baby J was fascinated.

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I sent out a few postcards to friends’ kids, letting them know I had met with Santa and he said to tell them hi. We had intended on going on a reindeer ride, but Baby J was sick, so we opted out.

Side note:  If you have kids that you’re trying to break of the pacifier addiction, I thought this was a really neat idea. Have them send the pacifier to the baby elves at Santa’s Village!

Bin of Pacifiers with note

We may not have gotten to take a reindeer ride, but that night there was a reindeer race in Rovaniemi! We found a spot to watch from, and I got the camera ready. The first race happened so fast I literally missed it – man those suckers can move!! Was able to catch the second race, though:

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our trip, with photos from the Snow Hotel and more Northern Lights!

Read Part 1 and see my pictures of the Northern Lights!

Categories: Finland, Travels | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Visiting Lapland – Part 1 (of 3)

Lapland, home of Santa and reindeer and the northern lights. And after three years of living in Finland, we finally made it!

We left home on March 17 and took the overnight train to Rovaniemi. Incidentally, the 17th was the night the northern lights went crazy! My neighbors took photos from our backyard, they were even seen as far south as Helsinki! And I was stuck on a train. *eye roll*

The train ride was nice, the beds were actually pretty comfy. The cabin was tiny, of course, but what do you expect? We had a private bathroom with a shower, but there wasn’t any hot water, at least on our trip north. The train had a car carrier, so we were able to take our car with us. Load it up, sleep the night away, then drive the car off the train in the morning. It’s a pretty nice setup!

Sleeping cabin on train

Our cabin on the train – Stephen’s leg is propped against the left wall (to give you an idea about the size).

We arrived in Rovaniemi around 11am the next day, too early to check into our hotel. So we went for lunch, then checked out the Arktikum museum. The museum was…boring. Or I was tired. One of the two. Actually, the museum had some neat exhibits, and it would be a lot of fun with a kid around 7 years old. Note to self – take Baby J back when he’s older!

Ceiling of Arktikum Museum

The ceiling of the Arktikum museum

I braved the cold that first night and went out to a spot I had read about online, on the river by the museum. I set up the camera on the tripod and spent some time fiddling with the camera settings. Once I had the camera focused, I stood back and waited.

Night Sky

Night Sky, Rovaniemi

It was a mostly clear night, just some thin high clouds every once in a while. I was still close enough to the city to have quite a bit of light pollution, but I could still see the stars. I watched the thin clouds come and go for about an hour, then I saw one cloud that looked a bit…odd. And was that a hint of green? I took a picture, waited for the 30 second exposure, then checked the screen. I’ll be damned – that was it.

Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis

My first glimpse of The Northern Lights!

And this is where I want to address the issue. The Northern Lights, at least what I saw, despite the photo above, were not what I would call amazing. To the naked eye, they looked like exactly what I described earlier – light bouncing off high thin clouds. Yes, some of them had the minutist green tint to them, but for the most part, they just looked like clouds. The camera, with a longer exposure, is able to bring out the colors, and they are beautiful. But standing out there in the cold at midnight, I was quite disappointed. They didn’t dance across the sky like I had heard.  I found a post by another blogger that talks about the color of the auroras, and the author does a good job at explaining the difference between what your eyes see and what the camera sees.  I just wish I had read it prior to seeing it for myself – maybe then I wouldn’t have been disappointed!!

Regardless, I am glad I got the chance to see them and photograph them. I feel like I did fairly well with focusing in the dark, and with exposure, although they may be a bit overexposed. The pictures turned out amazing, even if the real time experience wasn’t as spectacular as I had hoped.  🙂

Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland

Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland

Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland

Stay tuned for Part II of our trip!

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

The Negatives of Living Abroad

One thing about living in a foreign country is that I’m very conscious about what I say about my host country.  I think about what I would want to say if I was back home and a foreigner expressed negative views about my country.  “If you don’t like it, leave.”  Of course, it’s not always that simple, I know.  But there’s certainly a bit of that protective instinct that takes over, even if you agree with the what the person is saying.

In general, I try to stay positive about my stay in Finland.  I actually really do like this country – I love how safe it is, I love the spring and summer seasons, I love that I can get anywhere in town I need to go just by walking.  I love the quietness of Finland, where there’s not a need to fill every silence with words.  I love long summer days and having 20 hours of daylight.  I love the random crazy holidays and competitions and television shows, the ones that make you go, “Only in Finland.”

I try very hard to defend this country when others say negative things, and I get very uncomfortable when fellow Americans say unfair things.  Have I said negative things?  Of course I have.  You can’t live somewhere and not occasionally express displeasure about your lot in life.  First World Problems like “I can’t find Italian Ice” and “I wish we were closer to The Big City.”  And of course I miss things about living in the US – being able to go to the grocery store at midnight on a Sunday, being able to find just about anything I could possibly be looking for, going to Target.  But negativity doesn’t make living abroad any easier, and it doesn’t account for all the great things that come with being an expat.

So, yes, I could start a category labeled “Things I can’t find in Finland” and fill it with a hundred posts.  But I’m not going to.  When I do complain, as I did in my last post, I try to do it with an ironic tone and convey that my complaint is really about nothing substantial.  Can I live without Italian Ice?  Of course I can.  I can live without a lot of things, I’ve found.  Tostitos Hint of Lime chips.  Jiffy peanut butter.  Good Tex-Mex.  I’ve learned how to substitute for things I can’t find, thanks to the Internet, and how to make my own Bisquick, limeade concentrate, egg nog.  I’ve survived two years without Wheat Thins and Thin Trisquits, I’m sure I can survive another couple.

 

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Things I can’t find in Finland, Item #14

Italian Ice.  A light, tart, frozen substance.  I can get ice cream to my heart’s content, but I really would love a simple Italian Ice.

Let me be clear – this is not a pregnancy craving.  It’s simply that I like a good Italian Ice much more than I like ice cream, usually, and I feel a whole lot less guilty eating it.  And I love lemon “sweets” that refresh, rather than coat your mouth with cream.

Today at the grocery store I found one box of popsicles that looked less like “cream” and more like “ice.”  I got them home, ripped into one, and found it was still a bit creamy for my taste.  What’s a girl to do?

Whenever the other American women take a trip to the US, they ask if they can bring back anything for anyone.  I usually say no, except for some OTC drugs.  Unfortunately, frozen goods are simply not something anyone is willing to bring back to me.  But if anyone wants to give it a try…

Luigi’s Real Italian Ice, lemon flavor.  Mmmmmmmmmm………

http://www.luigis.com/home1.aspx

 

(There is no “Things I can’t find in Finland #anything else,” I just chose a number at random.  However, perhaps I should make it a new category?)

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

Our Christmas “Tree”

So I’m a little late with this post.  Whatever!  As I mentioned before, we didn’t decorate for Christmas last year, and I thought that was one of the reasons Christmas didn’t feel “quite right.”  I was determined this year to put up some decorations and get a small tree – maybe a rosemary bush or something to hang some ornaments and lights on.

I had planned on buying a bunch of stuff at Ikea, but the day we went down to Turku I was suffering from day two of a vicious pregnancy migraine, and after dealing with the mall and the hardware store, I knew I couldn’t suffer through a trip to Ikea.  So we stopped at Hong Kong (kind of like our local Big Lots) and I picked up a bunch of things there.  Rather than a tree, I bought a green garden trellis and some garland, thinking I could wrap the garland around and hang it on the wall.  Sounds crazy, I know, but you know what?  I LOVED the end result!

alternative Christmas tree

Our “tree” – a garden trellis wrapped in garland and hung on the wall.

Seriously, I kept looking at it during the weeks it was up and smiling.  Stephen will probably kill me, but I fully intend to keep this thing and put it up every year, along with a “normal” tree once we get home.  It just made me happy.

A strand of lights and some ornaments completed my little tree.  Most of the ornaments were cheap store-bought ones, but I did have a couple of special ones on there:

Hyvaa Joulua - "Merry Christmas" in Finnish (actually I think it's more "Happy Christmas")

Hyvaa Joulua – “Merry Christmas” in Finnish (actually I think it’s more “Happy Christmas”)

 

I picked this up at the Market in Helsinki - a little pine cone made of pieces of tree bark (I think maple?)

I picked this up at the Market in Helsinki – a little pine cone made of pieces of tree bark (I think maple?)

I had a couple of these on the tree.  Stephen thought I was crazy - "What do mushrooms have to do with Christmas?"  But they were so cute - and mine wasn't the only tree I saw mushroom ornaments on!  (Blurry photo, I know, sorry!)

I had a couple of these on the tree. Stephen thought I was crazy – “What do mushrooms have to do with Christmas?” But they were so cute – and mine wasn’t the only tree I saw mushroom ornaments on! (Blurry photo, I know, sorry!)

I’ll be honest – Christmas still didn’t feel quite right.  Not being close to family and friends, not having presents under the tree and opening them Christmas morning, not seeing the joy on loved ones faces as they opened their gifts – those things mean more than I realized. That, combined with the fact that we’ll have a baby around next Christmas, has made me determined to go home for Christmas this year.  We’ll see if we can make it happen.

Oh, and I picked up a bunch of ornaments at the Christmas markets in Vienna and Prague.  I can’t wait to put them on the tree next year!

 

 

 

Categories: Finland, Random | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

What’s so great about Finland?

Thanks to facebook, I stumbled across this BuzzFeed article:  12 Surprising Things In Which Finland Is The Best In The World.  I felt the need to share, and comment on parts of the list:

  1. Least corrupt government in the world.  We just got back from a trip to Prague, where we asked one of our tour guides about the Czech Republic getting on the Euro.  Our tour guide told us that Czech Republic is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, with top-down corruption, and until they get it somewhat under control, they won’t be allowed to use the Euro.  I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I find it interesting that Finland is the least corrupt government in the world.  Not surprising, though (see #10 below).
  2. Most heavy metal bands per capita.  Not being a heavy metal fan myself, I could never have name a band (or singer) from Finland.  My husband, however, has been an Apocalyptica fan for years, and we have friends that used to live here who knew (and went to see) a lot more bands.
  3. The best education system in the world.  I think this is well know by now, with so many articles about it lately.  It’s interesting, because the kids seem to have a lot more freedom and spend less time in the classroom.  I’m always seeing 12-year-olds out and about during what I think of as “school hours,” and the high school kids seem to be let go early or allowed to come in late all the time.  But I think part of it is the integrity and honesty that Finns exemplify.  (Again, see #10.)
  4. The country with the heaviest coffee consumption in the world.  Which is kind of funny, considering every non-Finn I talk to says the coffee here sucks.
  5. (skipping – no comment)
  6. Most saunas per capita.  3.3 million saunas for 5.3 million people.  Most apartments, and probably all houses, have a sauna.  Those apartment buildings without private saunas (like mine) have a sauna in the building.  Then there are the saunas at office buildings, hotels, and gyms, plus the public saunas.  Oh, and let’s not forget the saunas at the summer cottages that everyone has!  Stephen went to a coworker’s house one night, and there were two saunas there.  So, yeah, lots of saunas.
  7. Best country in the world to be a mother.  Well, obviously I’m quite glad to hear this one, even though I won’t reap some of the benefits that come along with being a Finnish mother.  Low risk for maternal death, low infant mortality rate, and let’s not forget the lengthy maternity leave (and paternity leave) available.  Kela, the Finnish healthcare, pays a maternity allowance for 105 working days, starting at least 30 days before the delivery date.  Paternity leave is good for up to 54 working days.  Plus, some towns will pay you to have children.
  8. The country drinking the most milk per capita.  Finns often drink a glass of milk with their lunch or dinner.  In fact, the prenatal vitamins here don’t have nearly the amount of calcium in them as vitamins from the US, I think specifically because Finns drink so much more milk.  (The Finnish vitamins I picked up have 300mg Calcium per dose.  I get mine at the healthfood store, and they’re from either the US or the UK, and they have 650mg per dose.)
  9. (Skipping – no comment)
  10. Helsinki is the most honest city in the world.  I can’t comment on Helsinki in particular, but I can comment on Finland, in general.  My friends and I often comment on, when we go to a cafe to eat, how safe we feel about leaving our purse at the table while we go to the register to order.  I try not to let myself get into that mindset and be so lax, but it’s simply safe enough to do so.  One day a few months ago, there were two purses on top of the table about 5 feet from the door, while the owners were about 20 feet away in the other direction, not even looking at them.  It would be so easy for someone to come along, grab the bags, and be long gone before anyone noticed.  But it doesn’t happen here.  The locks on our bikes are ridiculous, but they don’t get stolen.  People leave cars unlocked, strollers outside (heck, they leave babies outside), bags unattended.  I love it here.
  11. (skipping – no comment)
  12. (skipping – no comment)

The article goes on to note other lists in which Finland is high up, but not number 1.  One of the happiest countries in the world.  In top 10 of Candy consumption (ohmygosh, if you could see the candy stalls here – it’s insane!!).  Second best workers in the world (again, I will point you to #10).  Second best in gender equality.

Overall, Finland really is a wonderful country to live in.  I’m so glad we got the opportunity to experience it firsthand!

(Note:  I did not link to or cite any references above, because they’re all referenced in the original BuzzFeed article.  Please go check the article out for yourself to learn more!)

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

World’s 50 Most Unusual Churches

A couple of days ago, I saw a slideshow on HuffPost titled “The World’s 50 Most Unusual Churches.”  I’ve been to a couple of them, but the biggest surprise was the one they missed one.

The Churches on the list that I’ve been to:

The one they missed:  Temppeliaukio Kirkko (The Rock Church) in Helsinki.  Even Stephen was surprised.  He walked in while I was scrolling through the list, and said, “Oh, yeah, the rock church in Helsinki has to be on there.”  It didn’t make the list!  WTH?

Temppeliaukio Kirkko is built into a rock outcropping and is topped with a gorgeous copper dome.  Windows above the rock face let natural light in, and the rock walls have small trickles of water seeping through in places, making it seem like the rock is a living thing.  The acoustics in the round church are amazing – we were there one day when a pianist was playing, I can only imagine what a full orchestra would sound like.  According to wikipedia, the rock church “is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city; half a million people visit it annually.”

Rock Church, interior, Helsinki

Rock Church, interior, Helsinki

The Rock Church, Helsinki

Temppeliaukio Kirkko, rear exterior view

Check out this pinterest search for more photos of this church (be sure to check out this one of the exterior at night).

Do you know of any unusual churches that were left off the list?

*Okay, I haven’t been to Sagrada Familia yet, but I will be there this month, so I’m counting it.  🙂

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Rauma Water Jumping World Championship 2013

As I mentioned in my last post, we spent Sunday afternoon at the Water Jumping World Championships here in Rauma. I had seen this event listed online a few months ago, and I knew I would have to check it out. I mean, people on bicycles jumping into the Bothnian Sea. It’s just one of those random things you rarely get the chance to see, you know? Apparently there were big name BMX people here, not that I would know any of them…

It was a fun day, we met up with some friends and watched a good show. I stuck my feet in the sea, and the water temperature wasn’t too bad. It’s probably getting close to 60°F. My feet weren’t immediately ice, which I took as a good sign, but I didn’t test it by going any deeper. Although, a few people did…

They had this cool…I don’t even know what it was. Like a Water Tron or something. Your feet and arms are strapped to these water jet packs, and a hose is hooked up to a jet ski, and when the jet ski driver revs the engine it provides the water power to propel you out of the water. It was apparently pretty difficult to master – we watched one girl struggle for 10-15 minutes before she was able to get up out of the water. I couldn’t help but wonder if my wakesurfing abilities would come in handy if I tried it, but for €200, I wasn’t going to find out.

AquaTron - coming soon to a theater near you...

AquaTron – coming soon to a theater near you…

Finally getting out of the water a bit-

Finally getting out of the water a bit-

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After a cold dunk in the sea, a warm dunk in the hot tub.

After a cold dunk in the sea, a warm dunk in the hot tub.

 

 

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

24\7? Forget it!

MP900385965

One of the things I’ve had to get used to living in Finland is that grocery stores actually CLOSE.  6pm on Saturdays. Closed on holidays.  I can always tell when there’s a holiday the next day because there are 20 times as many people at the grocery store, and they’re buying…milk and bread.  God, I wish I was kidding about that.  But there you go – it happens in Finland, too.  One time, I was behind a guy with nothing in his basket except 12 cartons of milk and 6 loaves of bread.  Hand to God.

The store closing for a day shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but I’ve learned not to trust the meat here in Finland more than a day.  I don’t buy meat until the day I’m going to use it, because if I buy it the day before, it tends to be…yucky.  So I have to do extra planning when there’s a holiday, maybe make a casserole the night before so we can have leftovers, or plan on frozen pizza.

Last weekend was Easter Weekend, and here in Finland, both Good Friday and Easter Monday are holidays.  Oh, and Easter Sunday, too, of course.  So three days of grocery store closures over the course of a 4 day weekend.  Luckily, we went out of town, so I didn’t have to do the Mass Pre-Holiday Grocery Trip.  However, I ran into a bit of an issue.  Stephen’s work sent out an email with the store hours, what would be closed, what would be open, and when.  According to this email, the stores would be open from 12-6 on Monday.  So, I figured we’d get home from our trip on Sunday evening, grab some take out, and I’d go grocery shopping on Monday.  No biggie.

Except (you knew that was coming, right?).  Except I drive to the grocery store and find it closed up tighter than…well, something closed up tightly.

There are a few gas stations that have a small grocery store inside, so I drove over to one of those (the one that was a little bit further away, because I knew it was bigger than the one closer to where I was).  I walk in, and find…the grocery part closed.  Oh, but there’s this other tiny little grocery on the other side of the gas station that’s open.  It’s probably about 20 feet long by 10 feet wide.  And there are about 25 people inside.  What options do I have?  None.  So I go in and see if I can figure out something for dinner.  Chicken.  Tortillas.  A quick mental inventory and I knew we still had some shredded cheese at home. Tacos it is.

So now I’ve got another issue, and that is, I won’t have the car again to go shopping until the weekend.  There’s only so much I can carry home with me while walking, and that does not include milk, soda, big cereal boxes, or (the most important item, as we were running out) toilet paper.  So this week ended up being one of those weeks where I visit the grocery store every day to get the stuff I would have otherwise gotten in one trip, and making Stephen stop on his way home to buy the bulky/heavy stuff.

Oh, I know, I need to quit my bitchin’.  The truth is, I like that stores close here.  I like that holidays are exactly that – holidays when no one has to work (except those in gas stations and kebab restaurants).  I like that there’s not “May Day Mania” and “Epiphany Extravaganza” sales.  It goes with the whole slower pace of life.

As long as I can plan for it… (whoever sent that erroneous information at Stephen’s work – I’ve got my evil eye on you.)

New in my zazzle store:  Took this great picture last week with my new zoom lens, on a morning when the trees were all frosty from the cold.  At the top of the picture is the Church of the Holy Cross in Old Town Rauma; colorful Finnish homes in the foreground.

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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