Posts Tagged With: europe

3 days in Riga


Show of hands – Who knows where Riga is?

It’s in Latvia.

Who knows where Latvia is?  🙂

Stephen and I wanted to take a quick long weekend trip this month.  Sounds easier than it is.  Since we live 3 hours from Helsinki, getting to and from the airport and waiting to board is half a day each, which would really cut into the whole idea of a weekend trip.  So I started looking for flights out of Turku, which is just an hour south of us.  The only direct flight I found (we might as well drive to Helsinki, between the flight time and the connecting time) was to Riga, Latvia.  Our other two options were to take the overnight ferry to Stockholm, or just going to Helsinki for the weekend.  I’ll probably be doing Stockholm a couple of times this year, so we said, What the heck, let’s check out Riga!  Latvia is pretty much due south of Finland, across the Baltic sea, a quick and easy 1 hour flight.  Love it.

Riga has an amazing skyline.  As you approach from the west, the various spires of the city rise from the River Daugava.

Riga Skyline at Sunrise

Riga Skyline at Sunrise

The historic centre of the city (Vecrīga) is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site (check one more off my list!) due to it “retaining its medieval and later urban fabric relatively intact” and because of “the quantity of its Art Nouveau/Jugendstil architecture, which is unparalleled anywhere in the world, and it’s 19th century architecture in wood.”  And the Art Nouveau buildings were, indeed, impressive.


A lot of buildings, however, have deteriorated, and green mesh covers a large amount of building facades to keep them from crumbling and falling to the ground.  The buildings need a lot of work, and the trick is finding someone to buy the building who has enough money to renovate and refurbish.

This building had a fire, which destroyed the top floor (you can see some of the destruction through the top floor windows - there's supposed to be a roof there...

This building had a fire, which destroyed the top floor (you can see some of the destruction through the top floor windows – there’s supposed to be a roof there…

The building also has numerous broken windows and a crumbling facade.

The building also has numerous broken windows and a crumbling facade.

On Sunday, we had a fabulous tour guide who showed us around the Central Market for a food tasting, then took us on a tour of Art Nouveau.  He was Australian, but had lived in Riga for 5 years, and was amazingly knowledgeable about the buildings, history, and lifestyle of Riga and Latvia.

Central Market, Riga Latvia

Central Market is in the foreground. These are massive former Zeppelin hangars that have been repurposed to house vendors and goods.

Our Latvian Food Tour included a rundown on what Latvian’s have historically eaten – lots of smoked meats, lots of fish, lots of pickled and preserved food.  Things needed to make it through a frozen winter.  They also use a lot of caraway seed and dill, so we had two lovely cheeses with these ingredients.  And pickled pumpkin!  It was so good!

Before our tour on Sunday, we decided to check out the Latvian Academy of Sciences.  The view from the top floor is supposed to be amazing.  However, even after I checked the hours on the website, we were turned away when we arrived.  We were told it was a winter holiday, but when we told our tour guide that, he had no idea what they were talking about. “There’s still a lot of Soviet era mentality here, and they probably just decided to close for the day, just for the hell of it.”

Latvian Academy of Sciences.  Both of thought it looked like a mental institution out of a horror movie!

Latvian Academy of Sciences. Both of thought it looked like a mental institution out of a horror movie!

I told Stephen I envisioned boiling clouds and lightning striking the building, for some reason.  He said it looked like the building from Ghostbusters, and I think he's right!  So I did some editing to make this a little closer to my vision.  :)

I told Stephen I envisioned boiling clouds and lightning striking the building, for some reason. He said it looked like the building from Ghostbusters, and I think he’s right! So I did some editing to make this a little closer to my vision. 🙂

For dinner Sunday night, we went to 3 Pavāru, a Modern Latvian restaurant recommended by our tour guide.  The food was good, nothing “strange” (I had foie gras and perch, Stephen had fish soup and quail, and we shared creme brulee for dessert), but we both loved the bread course they served us.  They brought the  bread out, then started pouring all these different sauces on what we thought were our placemats.  I’m not usually one for taking pictures of my food, but I found this fascinating:

Dipping sauces included pesto, hummus, and several other sauces I can't remember!

Dipping sauces included pesto, hummus, sesame oil sauce, and several other sauces I can’t remember!

St. Peter's Church and House of Blackheads

St. Peter’s Church and House of Blackheads

On Monday, we took the train to Sigulda, a small town about an hour away.  Sigulda is known as the “Switzerland of Latvia” and is home to the bobsled track used for Latvian luge and skeleton training.  We had hoped to pilot our own bobsleigh down the track, but they’re only open to the public on weekends.  Instead, we walked through some of the Guaja River valley and saw some castle ruins.  We also found love padlocks on the bridge over the Guaja River!

Love Padlock on the bridge over the Guaja River

Love Padlock on the bridge over the Guaja River

Latvia has a rich and often violent history, and I’ve become completely fascinated with how both Latvia and Estonia lived during Soviet control and how they’ve done since establishing their independence in 1991.  But that’s a post for another day.

Riga Panorama from the top of St Peter's Church

Riga Panorama from the top of St Peter’s Church

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

Ireland, part 2 – Dublin

After spending several days driving around Ireland, we spent four days in Dublin.  We did some shopping and sightseeing, and did a couple of day trips to the Wicklow Mountains and Newgrange, each about 45 minutes outside of Dublin.

The Wicklow Mountains are just a short drive outside of Dublin – you can actually see them from town.  Within Wicklow Mountains National Park lies Glendalough, the site of an old monastic settlement founded in the 6th century.  We took a walk through the ruins, then walked on the “sunny side” of the lake.  It was a gorgeous, clear day, and the sun warmed us, so that when we walked back to the car on the “shady side” we didn’t get chilled.


On the way back to town, we stopped in at Powerscourt Estate, which has a huge garden that includes Italian, Japanese, and Walled Gardens, a small lake, and a Pet’s Cemetery.  The manicured lawn and pruned flower beds lent a nice dichotomy to the wild beauty of Glendalough.  (Dichotomy became the word of the day, as Stephen attempted to use it as often as possible, just for show.)

Powerscourt Gardens

I took dozens of photos of the flowers on the estate, and I could easily fill a blog post with them.  Maybe I will.  But for now, I’ll just share this one – these little flowers were in the parking lot:

At some point in the last few months, I’ve gotten it into my head that I need to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can.  I live in one, or I guess, technically, near one:  Old Town Rauma.  And there’s another one nearby that I’ve written about before, Sammallahdenmäki.  We visited Mont St Michel when we were in France.  So now that we were in Ireland, I wanted to visit the two there.

One of the sites is Newgrange, an ancient temple and passage tomb constructed over 5,000 years ago.  That makes it older than Stonehenge and the Pyramid of Giza.  The passage at Newgrange is significant in that at sunrise, on the winter solstice, sunlight enter the lightbox above the entry and snakes upward through the passage to fully illuminate the inside of the tomb.  The tour includes a demonstration of this – the electric lights are turned out, everyone stands to the sides, and a single bulb representing the sun beams light into the tomb.  It was weak in comparison to the sun, we were told, but it still brought chills.


A couple of the satellite mounds at Knowth

Between Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, and the many satellite mounds nearby, this area has a sizable collection of megalithic art.

The other World Heritage Site in Ireland is Skellig Michael, an island about 12km off the southwest coast where a monastary was founded in the 6th to 8th century.  While in Killarney, I contacted Owen, a friendly (is there any other kind?) Irishman who said he would be able to take us out the next day, weather permitting. “Call me back at half past eight in the morning,” he said. “We’ll see what the seas look like.”  I was simply dying to go, especially since so few people get the chance.  Unfortunately, when I called Owen in the morning, he said the seas were too rough to go out.  I guess that means we’ll just have to make another trip to Ireland!

As I mentioned, we did some shopping in Dublin, and rode the hop on/hop off bus to see some of the sites.  We stopped off at Kilmainham Gaol, did the Guinness tour (of course!), and saw Dublin Castle.  I also got to get reacquainted with an old friend:

Hello, old friend, how I’ve missed you!

One picture I didn’t get, that I wish I had, was what looked like a newspaper printing facility.  Viewed from the freeway, the entire back of the building was glass, and through it you could see the huge printing presses.  We passed by it several times, and each time I was fascinated, bu couldn’t take a picture.  I thought I might be able to find a good photo online, but I haven’t been able to find one that truly shows what I saw.  I did find out that it is the Independent Newspapers Printing Facility.  According to a press release from 1999, “the landmark design press hall will be an impressive 200 feet long and 57 feet in height.  It will be entirely surrounded by glass, showcasing the dark blue presses within as a piece of industrial architecture….  The building’s glass facade and commanding location alongside the Naas Road, will allow car passengers to watch today’s news being converted into tomorrow’s newspapers at a rate of 75,000 copies per hour.”  I really wish I could have found a better picture than this:

Independent Newspapers Printing Facility, Dublin. Photo from Bruce Shaw website – Bruce Shaw provided the quantity surveying and cost control services on the project.

I’ll have another blog post or two with some random thoughts and pictures, but that about sums up our trip.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather – we pulled the umbrella out once, for about half an hour, and we had plenty of sunshine.  Considering the summer Ireland has had, that’s saying a lot!

Categories: Travels | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Reflections – 6 months in Finland

Six months ago, we arrived in Finland to a tiny hotel room and a vicious cold snap that surprised even the Finns we talked to. This week, we determined that summer is over, although I’m not sure it ever actually began.

In May and June, I surprised myself by thinking that 14°C was warm enough to walk around without a jacket. Today, 14°C feels so chilly I wish I hadn’t lost my lightweight down jacket in April. I seriously think I would have worn it today. A couple of us wives had talked about going early to the sauna on Wednesday to swim in the lake and hang out on the beach, soaking up the most of the summer sun while we could. We decided not to go early, and later in the evening while in a fleece and standing next to a fire, we were wishing we had heavier jackets.

It’s actually surprising how seldom I think about the fact that I’m living in a foreign country. Most of the time, it just feels so normal. I miss my family and friends, of course, but Stephen and I are both quite happy being alone most of the time, and we mostly hang out around the apartment, watching TV, reading, me doing crafts, him playing video games – it’s all so very normal. Every once in a while I realize, “Holy crap, I live in Finland!” and it all feels very surreal.

There’s a bit of a language barrier sometimes, but most people under 50 speak English at least well enough to get by, if not better than me. It’s sometimes a bit hard to communicate with people, but it’s almost never truly a struggle. Everyone is very nice here, with a few exceptions (our grumpy neighbor downstairs), and I’ve never met anyone not willing to help if I ask and they are able.

In the States, I maybe went 10 days a year without driving somewhere. I think I may have driven the car 10 times since we’ve been here. One of the things I was looking forward to the most on this move was the chance to not have a car – to walk everywhere I needed to go. And it’s one of the things I still love the most about living here. You would think as much as I walk or ride my bike, I would have lost some weight, but no such luck. One of the other wives was surprised at her lack of weight loss, as well, and she thinks it’s because we have no stress around us, so we burn less calories. I don’t know, maybe she’s right.

It’s an odd feeling, not working. And I honestly don’t know how I managed while I was. Several of the other wives agree with me – I’m surprised at how little free time I actually have. I don’t sleep all day – I’m generally up by 7am. I fix Stephen’s lunch and see him off (such a good little housewife), and then it’s laundry and dishes and dusting and ironing and a trip to the grocery store and then it’s time to cook dinner. I’m lucky if I watch an hour of TV during the day, luckier still if I’m able to pick up a book between 7am and 7pm. I’ve done some writing (my job, as Stephen calls it), but not as much as I feel I should have, given the “free time” not working allows me. Until recently I hadn’t even exercised much, although one could argue that all the walking and biking around town should count for something.

Until recently, it was my habit to see Stephen off to work, then fix myself breakfast and a pot of tea and watch an hour of TV. Then I would surf the internet a bit, catching up on Facebook and email, then look at the clock, realize it’s 10:30, and jump in the shower. Then my day would fly by, with all the little errands and chores and random meet-ups with the other wives. I realized that this schedule was not working for me, so a couple of weeks ago I changed things up. I see Stephen off, then have a small cup of tea while checking email and Facebook, do a couple of small chores, and at 9:15 I’m out the door, running 3 miles or biking 14. Get home, shower, then handle the rest of my day. Things have gone much better on this schedule, I’ve been doing more writing, and I feel better about how I’ve spent my day.

Things haven’t been all good. I’ve had my dark days since moving here. A bit of homesickness, a bit of loneliness. For some reason, knowing that we will probably not get any visitors while we’re here upsets me. I want to share this experience with someone (other than Stephen, of course) – I want someone else I love to see how I live and what I do and enjoy the things around me like I do. And I get sad when I think that won’t happen. Finland, and Western Finland at that, is remote and hard (and expensive) to get to. I get that. I, too, if given a choice between a vacation to Finland and a vacation to France or Spain or England or Italy would not choose Finland.

I worry about the winter. Summer was beautiful, more like April where I’m from, sunny and breezy and warm, but not hot. I had the doors and windows open, I was outside when I could be, I sat on the balcony and watched soccer practice across the street and read a book while sipping a glass of chilled white wine. Now, while I’m actually looking forward to the cold and the snow at this point (I can’t explain it, don’t ask), I’m scared to death of the darkness November and December will bring. I have loved the 20-22 hour days of sunlight, and I think I would be happy with them year round. I’m worried that having only 4 hours of sunlight, weak, horizon sunlight at that, will make me depressed and negative and irritable. I don’t want to be like that, and I’m quite sure Stephen doesn’t want me to be like that. I know, I know, I’m letting it get into my head. Focusing on the bright side – I think this is one NaNoWriMo that I’ll be able to complete!!

In the end, life keeps moving right along. I’m just lucky enough to be able to have this amazing experience, with this incredible man by my side. Six months down, another 18 months to go. I’m already sad about the dwindling timeline.

Some highlights so far:

  • Finnish Penkkarit. It wasn’t necessarily one of those incredibly cool things, but it was such a surprise, completely unexpected, and it delighted me on an otherwise cold February day.
  • Walking on water. Another completely random surprise, going for a walk and suddenly realizing you’re walking on the sea. I can’t wait to do it again!
  • Finnish Artist Juhani Linnovaara. Yet another surprise, an artist most people have never heard of, and his paintings had me in awe. I’m very glad I bought a print, so I can look at it in fifty years and remember those colors.
  • Our trip to Normany, France.
  • Our first experience with the Finnish Sauna. Plus a lovely conversation with a 14 year old French girl who wants to visit Missouri.
  • A trip to Tallinn, Estonia – a place I had never even heard of before we moved here – and I can tell you where Suriname and Montenegro are without looking at a map!

Up next – a trip to Ireland at the end of the month. I can’t wait!



Categories: Finland, Random | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

4 Finland Links (and 1 Italian Link)

There have been several news articles, blog posts, and mentions of Finland online lately, and I’ve wanted to share them. Why not share them all at once?!

The Independent, a British newspaper, recently published an article: AAA to Y* of Finland. The subtitle is “Finland is now the last eurozone country to hold a triple-A credit rating. So, why are things so rosy in the Scandinavian state?” The alphabetical list includes C for Coffee (although, I’ve heard the coffee here is pretty atrocious – I don’t drink coffee, so I can’t give you my opinion); G is for Games (Did you know Angry Birds came from Finland?); L is for Lakes (187,888 lakes, to be exact); and W is for Wife Carrying World Championships (I seriously want Stephen to agree to hoist me over his shoulder and carry me in a race). And yes, the article is only to Y, because the letter Z does not exist in the Finnish alphabet.

Life in Finland reviewed the book  A Year in South Karelia, a book written by and about a Canadian in Finland. I haven’t been here nearly as long as either Michael Child or the Life in Finland blogger, but I, too, can already relate to some of the things mentioned – the “parking puck,” the “Finnish ‘Non-smile,’” and I absolutely must know more about the bathroom incident… Dying to read the book, if anyone is looking for a future gift for me…

This isn’t about Finland, but it ties in. According to Amusing Planet, the Village of Viganella in Italy is so deep in a valley, the mountains block the sun completely from November 11-February 2 each year. That’s no direct sunlight – in other words, we get more direct sunlight here in Western Finland in December than this village in Italy! Of course, some engineers have designed this gigantic mirror that reflects the sunlight into the town square for 6 hours a day – not really possible in Finland…

Found this blog post from steverp, who reposted it from Trapped in Finland: How to be Happy in Finland. Number 1 – Don’t learn Finnish. I keep meaning to write a blog post about that… I think the most important one, though, is Number 5 – Don’t surrender to negativity. “Finland is not tough for foreigners, it’s tough for everybody. Perhaps the effect of these problems is amplified for foreigners because they are away from home, their comfort zone, but I really don’t think these challenges are due to racism or xenophobia.” Sure, he’s talking more about public institutions and systems, which I don’t really take much part of, but it’s still a good point to remember. Things are tough sometimes, but they seem tougher because we’re out of our element, our comfort zone. One of the things I always remind myself to do when I’m not happy with something, is to take it out of context. If something is odd to me, I ask myself, “Yes, it’s odd, but removing any expectation, is it okay?” Because it’s the expectation that’s the killer.

And finally, this is a rather old post, but I dig it. Float trips are awesome. I really need to find out when this is and attend next year. I give you: Keljakellunta, Beer Floating in Helsinki. Video below is probably NSFW:

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Blessed by Holy Water in Tallinn

The church bells are deafening, ringing out across the city, announcing, “It is time.”  Time for what, I don’t know.

I’m standing directly in front of onion-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia, trying to decide if I want to join the crowd in pushing my way up the steps and into the door.

It’s good I was hesitating.

Priests appear, green robes flapping in the wind, arms straining to hold the crosses erect.  Five, six, seven priests, coming down the steps, in pace with the knell.  Behind them are perhaps a hundred women, heads covered in scarves, purses clutched in hands in front of them, backs bent with age, making it easier to watch their feet so as not to trip down the steps.  The crowd is energized, cameras whipping up, shutters whirring, people running across the street to get closer, to get The Shot.  There is a moment of awe as the procession rounds the corner and is gone – did we really just see that?  What an amazing opportunity!

I’m to the side of the church now, watching the other side, wondering where they are walking to, if they are just going around the church and then back in.  Should I wait, camera ready?  But the bells have stopped, the crowd is pushing its way back into the church, a massive tidal wave gaining in volume and height.  I sigh, brace myself, and join the flood.

It takes five minutes to climb the twenty steps, push through the double doors, the lobby, and the second set of double doors into the nave.  It is a disappointment – thirty feet wide by ten feet deep, nothing incredibly exciting.  I wonder if the church can even hold the number of people I passed who were leaving as I was coming in.  I head back out, telling my friends I’ll be across the street.

I fight the crowd back out of the church, cross the street, and find the front of the parlaiment fairly empty.  Ah, space.

Klong-Klong-Klong.  I whip around as the bells ring out again.  To the left of the church, crosses and fluttering robes appear.

I am now the one racing across the street, getting The Shot.  The church officials pass, the ladies with covered heads and clutched purses.  The processional stops in front of the church, Priests on the steps, women on the street.  Water flies, and the crowd is blessed.  Snap-snap-snap – I don’t bother looking at the screen, checking the histogram, I just shoot, trying to get the water flying, trying to capture the experience.  Photos never do it justice.

The street we are on is a through street.  A woman in a Mercedes is aggravated, inching her way up, waving people out of the way, honking her horn.  The lookey-loos move aside, but is she aware that the biggest part of the crowd is elderly, local women, currently still in the middle of some sort of religious ceremony?  She honks again.  Perhaps she doesn’t care.

I find my friends.  “We’ve been blessed!”  They were hit with holy water.  No head scarves or clutched purses or bent backs, but no less awed by the experience.

(Did you see my first blog post on my trip to Tallinn?)

Categories: Travels | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Trip to Tallinn with the Ladies

My friend Pam had a friend come for a visit, so we decided to do a Girl’s Trip to Tallinn, Estonia.  It’s just a two hour ferry ride from Helsinki – of course, it takes three hours to drive to Helsinki from here!  Tuesday at noon four of us piled into the car, drove to Helsinki, and picked up Kim at the airport.  Five women and their luggage in one car – we were quite impressed with ourselves (and our car!).

Before driving out to the Satama (dock), we made a brief stop at Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki.  This church is built into the rocks and has a beautiful copper ceiling.

We arrived in Tallinn about 9:30pm, took a 5 minute taxi ride to our hotel in Old Town, then walked up to the town square to have a drink.  The evening was lovely, and I was already in love with the town.


We started the day by walking around Old Town, going into a couple of churches and walking along parts of the city walls, then headed to the Town Square for lunch.  We went to Maharajah for lunch, an Indian restaurant on the square, and the food was wonderful.  We were also thoroughly entertained with the Bollywood videos playing on TV.

After lunch we headed over to Hotel Viru for a tour of the KGB museum.  We started in the Hotel Lobby, headed up the elevator to the 22nd floor in groups, then walked up the stairs to the 23rd floor. “Is everyone here?” the tour guide asked. “It’s not a random question – a few years ago, a couple of you could have disappeared already.”

We learned about the Hotel, that it was built as an all-encompassing hotel, with everything a traveler could want – there was no need to leave the hotel.  Which was how the KGB wanted it – no foreigners roaming around town.  Our guide told stories about bugged rooms (One guy went to the bathroom and said, “They don’t even have toilet paper in here!” and five minutes later someone came along with some TP), Floor Monitors (old women responsible for keeping track of when people entered and exited their rooms), and life in Tallinn under Soviet rule.  It was a great tour, and the 23rd floor offers great views of town.

While wandering around town, I noticed some old women setting up tables with flowers and berries.  I approached one woman and asked her what kind of berries they were.  “Kaksi,” she said, and held up two fingers.  Well, 2€ is a small price to pay for an experience, so I gave her the money and took the berries back to the hotel, where we enjoyed them with our cocktails.  We asked our waitress if she could tell us what they were, but she didn’t know the word in English.  We assumed they were a wild strawberry, and she essentially confirmed that.


Thursday morning we grabbed a taxi and went out to Kadriorg Palace (currently serving as an art museum) which, unfortunately, is currently closed for renovations.  We were able to tour the grounds, though, and walked out to the sea, where I was able to put my feet in the sand.

We headed over to Kiek in de Kok (which we were calling “kick in the cock,” but it actually translates to “Peep in the Kitchen”) and did a tour of the Bastion Tunnels that run beneath the town.  The tunnels have been hiding spots for various people through history, including punk rockers and homeless people, as well as serving as a bomb shelter.

Later we made a stop at the Photo Museum, where an elderly woman watched our every move (we figured she was one of the old hall monitors from the Viru Hotel!).  Later still we wandered down St Catherines Passage, and stumbled into an Old Dominican Monastery Claustrum.


We boarded the ferry Friday morning and were thoroughly entertained by an emergency helicopter evacuation practice.

In Helsinki, we stopped for a quick look at Eastern Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral before heading out of town.

We all enjoyed our time in Tallinn, and I would love to go back.  It was a beautiful city, and there’s a ton to do.  I have a couple of stories to tell about the trip…I hope to get them up later this week!

Categories: Finland, Travels | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Random Update

  • Stephen and I have been watching West Wing on DVD.  For whatever reason, I never really watched it when it was on TV.  I saw maybe three episodes.  So I went in not having seen…anything.  And I wonder…WHY THE HELL DIDN’T I WATCH THIS WHEN IT WAS ON TV?  I’m seriously enjoying the hell out of it – it’s funny, intelligent, and interesting.  Especially going into an election…Can I vote for Bartlett?
  • I made chicken fried steak for the first time ever the other night.  I was going to make mashed potatoes, too – another thing I’ve never made.  Stephen was shocked when he found that out – “You’ve never made mashed potatoes?”  Here’s the thing – I don’t really like mashed potatoes.  I only ever eat them as a dip for meat, with, of course, gravy.  So Stephen made the mashed potatoes.  I also made gravy for the first time ever.  All in all, it was a great meal.

    Husband Approved

  • I received a notice a couple of weeks ago that I had a package to pick up at the post office.  I had no idea what it was, I wasn’t sure the size of the box, thus I wasn’t sure it would fit in my bike basket, so I had to wait until I had the car to go pick it up.  It turned out to be a gift from my mother-in-law: two crocheted baskets.  They’re super cute (made out of Target bags!), and after a few days I determined how would use one of them – it makes a perfect clothespin holder!
  • I went for a long bike ride last Thursday, about 13 miles.  I thought I was only going to go 8 miles, but then I decided to get a little lost (on purpose) and see what I could see.  It was a nice little bike ride, I went past….lots of woods…and fields…because that’s what Finland has a lot of… 
  • Took another bike ride on Sunday to the coast.  I found this lovely little secluded area, and watched the rain off the coast.  I think I’ll go back soon with a book. 
  • It was overcast and rainy for most of last week, and I was feeling correspondingly down in the dumps.  I want my warm, beautiful Finnish summer back!!  I did get a bit of it on Friday and Saturday, thank goodness, but why can’t it be like that all the time?  Rainy again today, but I can’t be too sad – I’m about to go on a Girl’s Trip!  Info and photos to follow…
Categories: Finland, Random | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

4th of July is just another day around here…

…but that doesn’t mean we Americans don’t celebrate in style…multiple times!

On Wednesday (the 4th) Stephen and I met up with a few friends at the sauna.  We drank some beer, grilled brats, and swam in the lake – just like home, except about 30 degrees cooler!!

On Friday, our friends Tom and Pam hosted a cookout, with burgers and hot dogs and red white and blue.  I brought the garland I made (on Wednesday, and then forgot to take to the sauna) and strawberries dipped in whipped cream and blue sugar.

My red/white/blue garland, with stars and an American Flag on each end

On Saturday, our friends Stephen and Nina hosted a backyard grill out, complete with games!  We played Mölkky, which is a Finnish throwing game in which you throw a stick…at a bunch of sticks….

Actually, all kidding aside, it was a lot of fun – I call it a cross between billiards and bowling.  There are twelve numbered sticks, lined up kind of like in a pool triangle.  You throw a stick and knock the sticks down, and wherever they fall is where they get righted the next round.  You get points based on the number on the stick you knock down (if you only knock one down, e.g. the stick with the number 11 on it will garner you 11 points) or the number of sticks you knock down (if you knock down more than one stick, e.g. you knock down 3 sticks, you get 3 points, regardless of the numbers on the sticks).  You play to 50 (or whatever you want to play to), but you have to get that number exactly, or you get half your points deducted.

Several rounds in, the sticks will have scattered some…

I foresee some Christmas gifts back home in the future…

Hope everyone had a happy and fun 4th!

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Medieval Market in Turku

I found out on Thursday that there would be a Medieval Market in Turku over the weekend.  I’ve been to a couple of Renaissance Fairs in the States and have always enjoyed them, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to go to Turku and be tourists, rather than just go to Ikea.

Turku is about an hour south of where we live, and although we’ve been down there several times, we’ve really only seen Ikea.  I got a quick tour one afternoon with my friend Pam, but it was cold and dreary and there was muddy slush everywhere from melting snow, so was not the best day for being a tourist.

Yesterday, however – What a day!!!  Absolutely gorgeous – low 70’s, light breeze, sunshine.  Stephen and I walked along the river, soaking up the sun and checking out the booths set up for the Market.

I felt that it was a much more authentic Medieval experience than what I’ve had in the States – although, I don’t know how I could prove that!  The costumes were much simpler, plainer, and worn – no lace, or vibrant colors, and I don’t remember seeing any women with their breasts spilling out of their corsets.  And some of the booths set up were much more authentic:

A woman at the Medieval Market dying yarn

Fresh thrown pottery

Roasted Pig

The Medieval Market was held in the old square, which is directly across the street from Turku Cathedral, so we had a look inside (although I didn’t take any photos inside, for some reason).

Turku Cathedral

There were some large floating ducks set up in the river, and one of them had a man on the back – both Stephen and I thought it looked like Burning Man!  You can see some of the booths set up in the background, too.

Burning Man?

We didn’t buy anything at the market, although I was very tempted.  To make up for it, we made a stop at….


As much as we didn’t want to, we still needed one piece of furniture that was out of stock last time I went down there.  We were finally able to get it, but it was so long that the front passenger seat had to be pushed all the way up.  So I had a very uncomfortable ride back.  But at least that’s done, and next time we go to Turku, we can be tourists again!  I still want to check out Turku Castle, as well as the Aboa Vetus museum, which apparently has a glass floor through which you can see the ancient remains of buildings and streets that were excavated.  Sounds intriguing, no?

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

No, I *don’t* understand the words coming out of your mouth

I’m glad I’m not picky.  Living in Finland, not understanding the language, means that quite often, I simply pick something up without knowing what it is and figure, What’s the worst that could happen?  Meals or drinks in cafes, what I hope is shelf paper in the grocery store…medicine at the pharmacy…

Luckily, pretty much all of the restaurants here have menus in English and English-speaking waitstaff.  Some of the smaller cafes, on the other hand, don’t.  The food is generally on display though – salads, sandwiches, quiches – so it’s often quite simple to just point and nod.  I do it all the time.  “What’s that?” my friend will ask me as I take a forkful. I usually just shrug my shoulders.  “I don’t know – it looked good.”  And, quite often, it is.  I honestly can’t think of a time when I wanted to spit something out after tasting it.  Food is food, and I love food – even if I don’t know what I’m eating!

I know, getting medicine without knowing what your getting – bad idea.  Again, the pharmacists usually speak English decently enough to get what you need.  Last time, I was looking for allergy medication.  Unlike in the States, where I would read the labels and compare dosage and hours and prices, here I just grab whatever the pharmacist holds out to me. “Sure, that’ll work, what’s the worst that could happen?  So, how do I take this?   Twice a day?  Cool.”  I figure that’s the most important thing, right?

Today I had to get cough drops.  I had already been told that the cough drops here were…not good.  But I needed them.  So I asked the pharmacist.  She handed me a box and said, “Tablets.”  I think she means it pills, and I try to clear it up. “I’m looking for something to suck on.  Like…(wracking brain for simple terms) like candy.”  She nodded. “Yes, that’s it.”  Okie-dokie.  I got home and looked at them:

Would *you* want to put these in your mouth?

Those look like *yummy* cough drops, don’t they?  I shrug.  What’s the worst that could happen?

I tried.  I really did.  I held that thing in my mouth for about 10 seconds, trying to convince myself it wasn’t that bad.  But you know what?  It was.  It was that bad, and worse.  So if anyone back home is putting together a care package…HALLS!!

I recently “liked” the Facebook page for the City of Rauma…which, of course, posts in Finnish.  Lucky for me, Facebook has a nifty “See Translation” option.  Unlucky for me, neither Bing Translate nor Google Translate work for shit on Finnish.  Take, for example, this translation for something they posted yesterday:

Huomenna pääsee taas iltatorille!

Iltatorit ja sunnuntaikirppikset alkavat torstaina 28.6. ja jatkuvat 2.8. saakka tiistaisin ja torstaisin. Pitsiviikolla iltatorit järjestetään poikkeuksellisesti maanantaina, keskiviikkona ja torstaina.

Myyntiaika alkaa klo 16 ja päättyy klo 20, ohjelmaa torilla on joka kerta eri teemoin klo 17-19 välillä. Tarkemmat tiedot eri iltojen esiintyjistä:

Tomorrow is, on the other hand, in the evening the square!On Thursday, the markets will start in the evening and sunnuntaikirppikset 25.5. and continue for 2.8. on Tuesday and Thursday until. The week will be held on Monday evening, on an exceptional basis, a lace squares, on Wednesday and Thursday. 

Sales begin at 16 and ends at 20, the program must be made each time in different markets with different between 17 to 19: 00. For detailed information about the different iltojen of the artists: (Translated by Bing)


Yeah, that makes a ton of sense, right?

So, I know something is going on in the square this evening – actually, it looks like something will be going on every Tuesday and Thursday evening from now through August 2nd.  And then there’s something about Monday and Wednesday, and lace is mentioned (Rauma has a big Lace Week festival in July), so I’m thinking during Lace Week, what is normally happening on Tuesday and Thursday will be happening on Monday and Wednesday.  Okay.  It starts at 4pm (16) and ends at 8, but then there’s something about something from 5-7pm, and I can’t figure out what.

Well, let’s go see what this is all about, shall we?  I took a little stroll down to the square, and yes, there were vendors set up selling things.  A few of the produce stands were still up, and there were a couple of “pre-made goods” such as jewelry and knit clothing.  But most of the tables were flea-market type merchandise – mismatched china, random shot glasses, out-of-date clothing, old books.

There was also a stage set up, and a woman started singing about 5pm, so I guess the 5-7pm part is a performer of some sort.

So there you go.  Oh – and there’s a little train going around town now, too.  That was also on the Facebook page:  Kake City can again be seen out and about in a newsletter sent to train to the streets!  City train leaves the hour in front of the restaurant, and to bring to the attention of the passengers to the city of La Bamban attractions under the leadership of the Finnish version of the Guide.  Mmmm-hmmm…what she said.  (La Bamba is a restaurant in town.)

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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