Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beyond the Arctic Circle...

Last weekend we went to Lapland! It was definitely the most unique trip I have been on here and it was definitely the highlight of actually being here in Finland. It was so beautiful, it was kind of like Planet Earth in real life.

Day 1

We took an overnight train from Tampere to Rovaniemi and arrived there early in the morning. We (meaning about 45 students from our school) hopped on a coach bus that took us to a grocery store where we could buy some food for the next four days. And of course, it was freezing! And white everywhere. We got back on the bus and drove for about an hour until we officially crossed the Arctic Circle and ended up at Santa Claus Village! If you picture a 'winter wonderland,' that's pretty much what it looked like. There were lots of little adorable shops selling traditional Lapland crafts, and cute little cafes. We made a stop at the Santa Claus Main Post Office, haha, to mail some postcards officially from beyond the arctic. They get a special stamp, you know. :)

Santa Claus Post Office.

At Santa Claus Village! Winter wonderland!

It's official. :)

We spent a couple hours there and I wandered about taking photos and such, then we got back on the bus to head to our final destination, Korvala. Now, Korvala is not actually a town, but really just a settlement by one family that includes their personal home, a main building, and about ten little cottages looking over a beautiful frozen lake. The same family has run the place since 1889 and the main building is over 100 years old. When we arrived, Jaana (the wife) and one of her children helped give us the lay of the land and reminded us to wear warm hats because in the arctic your brain can freeze without you knowing. :)

I think we were all in awe of how nice Korvala was. It would be an amazing place to have a family vacation. The family who runs it was adorable and friendly and they all spoke excellent english, even the children. I shared a small cottage with Sebastian, Meg, Birte, and Nelly. Veronika signed up for the trip a little late, but she was just next door so she came to visit often. We got settled in our cottages and then went out to brave the cold and meet some husky dogs! The owners have at least 20 of their own huskies, but most of them are still puppies, so they don't "work." Jaana and Seppo (the husband) brought in some working huskies who could take us on some sleigh rides around the snowy forest. Unfortunately the sleigh kind of broke before it was my turn, but it was fun to watch anyway. We also met Hopsu, who is the family's dog. She is a young Lap Hound, and possibly the most adorable thing on earth. I wanted to take her home.

Hopsu! My favorite!!!

Our adorable little red cottage.

The huskies!

We were all even more in awe when we made it to dinner that evening. We had dinner in the main building, which is a gorgeous old house with handmade wooden tables and benches, candle light and the whole bit. Alfred, the oldest son (he might be 9), had the job of lighting all the candles before dinner. Seppo made us delicious homemade meatballs with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables along with a delicious salad. Best food I have had in months! For dessert we had warm lingonberry soup made with lingonberries that they picked in the forest surrounding the lake. Pretty cool. Also, delicious.

Lingonberry soup, yum.

After dinner we returned to the cabin for a few games of "Sorry" and some drinks before bed. I bought hot chocolate mix to the cottages and Meg bought some "Minttu" alchohol at the grocery store. Just add a little mint to the hot chocolate and it warms you right up! Yummm.

"Sorry!"- Game time

Day 2

Dawn over the lake at...9 am. Really!

We woke up in time to get some breakfast in the main building, also impressive and delicious, before heading out into the forest on a hike/skiing adventure. I couldn't ski because my travel insurance evidently doesn't cover skiing (thanks, mom!), so I wore snowshoes instead. This worked out better for me because 1) I can take photos while walking on snowshoes, and 2) The trails were pretty rough on the skiiers anyway. There are pathways in the forest behind the cottages so we made our way along the paths for about two and a half hours before returning to the lake at Korvala. I took so many photos on the hike, it's probably embarrassing, but everything was just so beautiful. You could be walking through the snowy forest and all of a sudden you would just happen upon this massive frozen lake covered in snow, or a stretch of little mini christmas trees as far as the eye can see.

Heading into the forest! Pretty!

In my snowshoes and ready to go!

Across the lake we go.

The girls.
Back at Korvala.

We were supposed to go on a long husky sleigh ride, but unfortunately the people cancelled because there wasn't enough snow on the paths. It's hard to believe because I think there was at least two feet of snow, but I guess it's too hard to control the dogs unless the snow is really deep. I was dissapointed about that, but what can you do? We ended up heading over to the dog pen in the afternoon to help Jaana take a few of the dogs for a walk. It was fun to see the dogs get all rigged up on the harnesses, but two of them were really nervous and whiny because it was their first time out. Veronika had a harness around her waist with two female dogs. Of course, she didn't really walk them, more like they pulled her as everyone ran.

Taking the doggies for a 'walk.'

Somewhere in there we attempted to ice-fish. It was rather boring and no one caught anything, but we did drill a hole in the ice.

After a few more games of "Sorry" we had another delicious dinner at the main building. It was Meg's birthday so we celebrated back at the cottage with a few drinks. Unfortunately for me, it turned into more than a few drinks after I went to bed at midnight (my bed was in the very small main room) and I was stuck awake until 3 am trying to drowned out the noise with my ipod. I hate not being able to go to sleep when you are so exhausted.

Day 3

We took the bus after breakfast to the Pyha ski resort about an hour away. A bunch of us didn't want to ski (very expensive and only one run), but we figured there would be other things to do there. Not really. We did see some wild Reindeer when we got off the bus, so that was pretty cool. Nelly and I stayed after the group moved on and took some photos. I think we probably got within ten feet of some of them. They are much smaller than I would have thought, but really exquisite creatures. I am really glad we saw some of them in the wild.

The beautiful wild Reindeer.

At the ski resort.

And...we finally make it up to the bar. Phew.

So because we didn't ski, our only option was to hike up the hill for about an hour to get to the bar in the middle of the run. We had a few more mint hot chocolates and just hung out. Eventually we got hungry so we headed over to the Ski Bistro for some Reindeer Burgers. Yum.
We didn't get back to Korvala until about dinner time, and we were surprised to find that our last dinner at Korvala would be....Reindeer! Haha. Reindeer Reindeer everywhere. Anyway, it was delicious as usual. We were all sad to know that we wouldn't be getting any more of Seppo's delicious meals.

Day 4

Last day in Korvala and I think all of us wanted to stay just a little bit longer. After breakfast we went over to the lake to see some more Reindeer! A Reindeer herder had brought about six Reindeer to give us sleigh rides. He was very nice and told us about each of the Reindeer and their personalities and such. We got to pet them and feed them and I got to take lots of photos. They really are beautiful. I didn't want to leave.

This is the King of the herd.

They are very gentle with humans.

This was a really shy teenaged Reindeer.

I think he was sneezing??

We decided to go say goodbye to all the dogs before we left on the bus at 2 pm. I was sad to leave them, it was fun to have them around to go see. I had to say goodbye to Hopsu, my favorite doggie, and that was very sad. She was just too cute! Eventually we packed up, said goodbye to the family, and hopped back on the bus to head back to Rovaniemi for a few hours before our train back to Tampere.

Saying goodbye to Hopsu. :(

Bye doggies!

I will miss them!

Unfortunately locking up our luggage was quite a hassle, but eventually we made it into the Rovaniemi city center to visit...wait for it...the northernmost McDonald's in the world! YES. haha. The inside was even decorated with all kinds of Lapland kitsch. Anyway, we all got some food in us and then wandered around the mall for a while before catching the train. Four a.m. came quickly and then we were back in Tampere.
The trip was so much fun. I wish I could go again. The family was so nice and the wilderness was so beautiful. If you ever go to Finland, you have to go there.

Santa says hello and be good. ;)

Weekend in Helsinki and Tallin.

This is a bit late, but better late than never, right?
A couple weeks ago I decided to go on a little weekend trip on my own so I could see more of Helsinki and visit Tallinn, in Estonia. Tallinn is just a quick ferry ride from Helsinki, so it's a pretty easy trip to make.

Day 1

I left on a train for Helsinki early in the morning and arrived by about 10 am. I walked around for a bit and visited their Stockmann, a huge and very nice department store. Helsinki definitely feels like a big European city, though definitely more modern and industrial feeling. Tampere doesn't have that so much.
I went to the mall to snag an umbrella and got some food at the food court (very exciting, I know) to save my budget, and decided to go see the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, which was nearby. FIrst of all, the building itself is a really cool, modern design. Inside was similarly cool and modern. It's hard to really explain what it's like, but I think it is probably one of my favorite museums I have ever been to. They had tons of really cool contemporary pieces and lots of multimedia and interactive pieces, which is always fun. I think the photos do it more justice than words.

The Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art.

Inside the museum.

In one of the light installations. The yellow light makes everything in the room look either black or yellow. Cool!

There was an entire room of written and mailed postcards, on tables and all over the walls. Really cool.

After that, I made my way over to the Design Museum, which was neat, but not as cool as I had expected. I think that was because the current exhibition was about plates and tea. Haha.

The Design Museum.

I wandered in the general direction of the port where my ferry would be leaving from and happened upon a really cool indoor market near the water. If I lived in Helsinki I would definitely shop there. Lots of fish and meat and special candy and little tiny restaurants and cafes. One stall was selling Reindeer and Bear meat! I had a cup of tea at one of the cafes to wait for my ferry.

Helsinki market near the water.

Reindeer and Bear salami! Yummm. The Reindeer meat was 63 euros/kilo!!

Eventually I made it onto the ferry, which was actually a small catamaran. It was pretty rocky so I was glad when we finally arrived in Tallinn. Unfortunately it was dark, pouring rain, and quite a walk to get to the city center. I had a map, but sadly it did not help me find my hostel. I finally asked for a taxi once I was soaked through and could barely read the map anymore. So, of course, even the taxi driver had trouble finding the hostel. I finally made it there after paying about as much for the taxi as for the hostel. Luckily that was only about 10 dollars. The hostel was definitely a student place and kind of felt like just a big open college house. But it was clean, cheap, and everyone seemed friendly.
It was already 9 pm and I was starving so I asked for directions to a cheap place to eat. After a bit of trouble finding it in the rain, I arrived at a tiny little cafe filled with local teenagers. I got a nice big bowl of dumplings with garlic sauce and a Fanta for I think about 4 dollars. I sat in the back room and read for a bit before heading back to the hostel.

Day 2

I got an early start compared to the rest of the hostel, and headed to the nearby square in Old Town for some breakfast. I ended up in a cute little cafe on the square and had some delicious porridge with berries and a chai for about 3 dollars. In Finland that would probably cost 11 dollars. No joke.

Yummy breakfast in Tallinn's Old Town.


It was drizzling and a little bit hazy, but not nearly as bad as the downpour the night before. I wandered around the old town and spent the day popping into the little tourist shops and taking photos. I made my way up to Toompea hill for a nice view of the city. After a bit more shopping, I ended up at a hidden away Italian bar/restaurant for some lunch. I order my favorite, spaghetti carbonara, and a local light beer and hung out there for a while to get out of the rain for a bit.
I passed by a little alley filled with stalls of women selling wool mittens, sweaters, socks and scarves. I bought some really thick wool socks form a nice lady who measure my sock size by wrapping the socks around my curled up fist. Sadly, by then it was time to head back over to the port to catch my returning ferry. I was running a little late so I scurried back to the port in the rain only to find out that my catamaran had been cancelled and I would have to go to the other port (which I had just passed on the way, trying to find the catamaran port) to catch one of the larger ferries. Thankfully I made it on that ferry safely and on time, but it meant that I would miss my train from Helsinki back to Tampere. Of course. Eventually I made it back home at about 1 am, tired and exhausted, but happy that I made the trip.
I'm glad I got to travel on my own for a bit, even if it was just a couple days. It was nice to be able to just wander and take photos and not worry about a schedule. Helsinki and Tallinn are very different cities, but I really enjoyed both of them for different reasons. I would love to go back someday!

Alley near the Italian restaurant.

Where I bought my wool socks! :)

The square in Old Town.

Up the hill to Toompea.

Ciao for now!