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Breathtaking Lapland

After we handed in all assignments – which mend the end of the exchange semester in Finland – it was time for Fabienne (my best roomie ever!) and me to start our Lapland road-trip. The trip were we had been looking forward to for already a long time and for which we got so nervous that we got almost sick … we did not book any activities and didn’t really have a plan what we wanted to do where, besides this, for me it was the first time driving in the snow. Nevertheless, the couchsurfing places were already organised more than a month before as well as the route – From Rovaniemi to Pyhä to Inari and back to Rovaniemi.

A seven day trip through the far north were we hoped to experience the real Lapland.

 

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It was hard for me to picture what to expect – we don’t have mountains in the Netherlands, no hills, not that many lakes nor trees and for sure not that much snow! The sun goes up at 8.30 and down around 17.00

nope, I had no idea what to expect

After a harsh 13 hour train-ride – don’t go for the cheapest ticket when driving all the way from Helsinki to Rovaniemi! No sleep guaranteed – we picked up our cute little car and started the adventure … with being flashed because of driving too fast – great! -.- Luckily already quickly enthusiasm took over the bad feeling because of the beautiful landscape. The sunrise was so pretty, that we stopped at several places along the road to enjoy the view as well as the snow – still dressed for southern Finland and not Lapland so a bit chilly and very wet – and I of course took hundreds of pictures – I know … most of them look similar, but I just love to take pictures and to capture great moments, can’t help it ^^ Instead of a 1.5 hour drive, it took us 3 hours.

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During our trip we wanted to do as much as we could, especially things we had never done before, and we surely succeeded in doing that! On the first day we started with cross-country skiing, which turned out to be very doable and quite fun, especially going down which went pretty fast! – I still feel sorry for the animals around us … going down went so fast (for me) that I could not help myself making some noise, besides this, me only having skied once in my life, at age eleven, caused some hilarious moments, going backwards instead of forwards or spontaneously falling down. A lot of fun!

 

The next day we experienced which muscles we haven’t used that much before, but this did not stop us from snowshoe walking to an invisible waterfall. It was a beautiful walk through the forest covered by a thick layer of snow and especially the valley was lovely! … however … the waterfall we have never discovered. In the evening we decided that we wanted to go to the sauna and go ice swimming – something we had to do before going home – sadly the company did not dig a hole in the ice, so it was “snow-rolling” instead, which really is not advisable! The snow quickly melted on our skin which made it feel burned. Luckily on the last day in Rovaniemi we managed to find a place where we could go ice-swimming. It was -18, next to the river – which was mostly frozen, except for the hole dug for swimming – there was a little tent which functioned as sauna were we tried to heat up before “dipping” in the icy water. It actually wasn’t that bad as expected! It was actually really refreshing – how surprising ? – and it felt so good! After two times “dipping” in the water I told myself that I could not call this ice-swimming so went for a third time – by now the sauna-tent was completely full with cold people and did not heat up anymore – to really go ice swimming, and I did. It felt so good and it felt like an accomplishment, nevertheless my feet seemed to be ice blocks for the next two hours …

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Yeah … we have done some crazy things

I don’t know how it came, but on the third day in Lapland, we suddenly had the genius idea to go down the slope – the closed one ? – on a little pan sledge. I turned out to be crazy fast and so much fun!! Completely covered by snow we almost peed in our pants from laughing! Why don’t they everywhere make a side of the slope open for sledges? This was so much fun!

Other great things we have done were a snowmobile safari in Pyhä, which was wonderful! It went so fast – it was only the two of us and the guide … the advantage of the beginning of the season – and again, the landscape was so pretty! A 1.5 hours tour through the middle of nowhere.

Furthermore, we did a husky safari in Inari at one of our couchsurfing’s places. I looked so much forward to the husky safari, nevertheless I could not really enjoy this. Our host turned out the be the most negative and unsocial person on earth and one of the husky dogs on our sled was close to killing the dog next to him … in front of our eyes, just before we started the safari… a horrifying picture which I could not get out of my head :/ The photos I took from the safari are beautiful and it must have been great, but I could not see that at that moment …

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Because of all this – we really did not want this to destroy our Lapland trip! – we decided to directly leave Inari and not stay another night at the host’s place, but to drive to Äkäslompolo – a place where one of our Swiss exchange friends kept saying we really had to go to, so we did. Luckily the Swiss girl – thanks Claudia! – could arrange a place at a hostel for us, so we could leave quickly. On our way – over extremely snowy and empty roads – we were even surprised by many falling starts and stunning northern lights!! I was so thankful! ^^ Something I really hoped to see in Lapland, the northern lights, so beautiful!!

Green ribbons dancing in the sky … unbelievable but real

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As our friend said, Äkäslompolo is a place worthwhile visiting when being in Lapland. A quite empty/not seeming as an interesting place, but the snow makes the nature around there look so incredible!! For me the walk to the top of Kuer with our snowshoes was the most beautiful walk! It took my breath away!! Walking through a fairy-tale landscape with trees completely covered by snow, bending over the trail through the weight of the snow … and the 360 degrees view on the top … Stunning! Breathtaking! I could walk around there for days … so picturesque! Really, I am not exaggerating it was just beautiful!

Not only the landscape was, also all the sunrises and sunsets we have seen during our trip – which were almost directly after each other since the sun rises around ten and starts to go down around one or two. A completely yellow/orange or pink sky with white lakes and trees in front of it …

 

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In Lapland I felt like a kid in a candy store …
Beauty all around me which made me so intensely happy!

I surely belief that driving around yourself really is the best way to thoroughly discover Lapland’s beauty. You can stop whenever, wherever and how long you want – which we extremely often did and led to fun and crazy moments – besides this, you are able to go to places where others won’t come. We for example stopped at the side of a dam when we were driving from Pyhä to Saarisälkä. We found it by accident, but it was a great place to have look around and take too many pictures. At that moment we also realized that it wasn’t that warm outside. After taking some pictures and walking to the middle of the dam our toes and fingers started freezing … shortly after also our nose, and then our eyelashes and hair changed into white … it turned out to be -27 degrees! Crazy cold!

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Besides this, it makes it much easier to do couchsurfing which 2 out of 3 times turned out to be great! Those two times we stayed at the apartments of Finnish guys who grew up in/around Lapland. They were so kind and hospitable, we had lots of fun with them and they also gave us more insight in the life in Lapland – for example how it is to have 24 hours light in summer. Our first host in Pyhä took us on the first evening to a Finnish pub bingo, which was so much fun! – trying to learn the Finnish numbers in the last days – and on the second evening we played pool with a friend of him in a sports bar. We received his house key – they really trust everyone, the door is actually always open – so during the day we could do whatever we wanted to do and in the evening, when they came back from work, we spent some time together. The last host in Rovaniemi seemed to be so happy to have couchsurfers to break his daily routine that he was more than happy to do anything and so we have been talking for quite some time and ended our trip eating together in a burger restaurant – with our still frozen feet. Next time I only stay at a local’s place!

All in all a very happy story!

 

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If you can, one day you should really go to Lapland!

Yes, it is extremely cold, but it is totally worth it!! The mountains, the lakes, the trees and the crazy amount of snow – for Dutch people – it’s wonderful!

… Nevertheless, the Lapland trip mend the end of my exchange semester … It was rather difficult for me to leave Finland last Sunday – even some tears have fallen … – I had such an incredible time! In only four months time I discover the beauty of Finland, have done so many amazing and crazy things, met great people and even made some lifetime – I hope – friends!

One more time I would like to thank everyone for making this experience unforgettable! <3

Liefs Regina

 

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It’s getting colder!

We have been waiting for this already for quite some time and this weekend it finally happened …

it is snowing!

Not much – not how I had pictured Finland at the end of November – but it does look very pretty and makes me very happy! It is so great to see people getting really enthusiastic when it starts snowing, and that is what we really needed since it is getting darker and darker. At the moment it starts to get light around nine and dark just after three o’clock – but only if the weather is not too bad, which is not often the case …finland-porvoo-nature-winter-2015

 

 

Of course I could not wait to go outside and take some pictures of the beautiful landscape covered by a thin white layer of snow. Just wandering around accompanied by my camera, exploring new areas of Porvoo, almost slipping into the water due to the icy wooden planks, walking through the forest over moss and rocks and getting kinda lost.

I love it ^^

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I really have to start capturing Porvoo on camera since there are only a few weeks left. People are starting to count down which makes me sad. I enjoy my time here so much that I do not want to go back. For sure Finland is too dark, rainy and cold for me in winter, but how great it is to live together with your friends in one building. If you want some company, not eat on your own or watch a movie, you just walk to your neighbour, how easy is that! I believe these past three months I have enjoyed my student life more than the two years before … having a good time with friends around me, partying at least once a week and going away quite often … why should I go back? Luckily Malaga is waiting for me in February otherwise it would have been quite a disappointment.

Furthermore I have accepted that Finnish is too much of a difficult language for me. At the moment I have to translate questionnaire answers from Finnish into English – by using google translate – it takes me hours and it doesn’t make sense to me at all. In so many languages you can somehow guess what it means or at least understand the content by identifying some words, this is however not possible in Finnish – at least for me. For example the word activity. In Dutch it is: activiteit, in German: Aktivität, in Spanish: actividad and in Finnish: toimintaa. Even the word ‘yes’ is so different. In Dutch: ja, in German: ja, in Swedish: ja in Estonian: jah, and in Finnish: Kyllä. If you master the language I do get it that it is a very logical language – for example pink is ‘Vaaleanpunainen’ which means ‘light red’, very logical – nevertheless, to learn it is quite a challenge.

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Besides spending my time on translating and writing reports I of course have been traveling and attended some events. I for example went to Jyväskylä – 4,5 hours by public transport from Porvoo – visiting Maire who is doing exchange over there and celebrated Halloween in a Swedish/Finnis way … at least is was called “the Sitz”, people were dressed up as scary/ugly nurses and patients – which was the theme of this year – and there were some long tables nicely decorated where we had our “3-course meal” … if I had known that it would be only a cracker, a few fries with a fish finger and some kinda jam with whipped cream, I would have eaten something before … but of course I didn’t … never mind

 

So, there was the host who was the only one allowed to speak and explained the rules and told the story. In between we were singing, “eating” and drinking and drinking and … drinking … What made it even more fun was that the whole happening was in Finnish – which I, as earlier explained, have not mastered at all. Luckily we exchange students – as we were a bit outnumbered – got someone appointed to translate everything – which was quite a challenge for the reason that the host was speaking rather fast, but it worked out pretty well – and as the evening progressed we even joined them “singing” in Finnish. A totally new experience, which was great fun and won’t quickly forget about.

*Hereby I want to apologize for the maybe incorrect explanation of the celebration, nevertheless, due to the presence of a slightly large amount of booze, I cannot recall everything*

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As if I would not do anything else, the weekend after we went on the “Pirates of the Baltic sea” trip. With a massive luxurious cruise and 1.500 students not averse to party, we went to Stockholm, enjoying life all night. Starting with an opening ceremony and maybe the best buffet I have ever had in my life and then dancing all night with exchange students from over the whole world dressed up as pirates. So many new people and so much fun. Hard to explain, but it was special!

After only two or three hours sleep and a delicious breakfast we explored Stockholm which turned out to be a beautiful city, one where I would love to spend some more time. All those old and colourful buildings and so much to see and do … we only had about four hours time, yet at least visited Gamla Stan – old town –, the lively city centre and even got to see the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace. On the way back to Helsinki of course some more partying going on, on a boat that didn’t seem to find it’s balance. Tipsy people all over the place …

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Another special and unforgettable experience!

 

To prevent you from thinking we only party here – it is not that ‘bad’ – I will shortly explain about the great event I attended last Saturday called “restaurant day”. This time not about drinking but about eating ^^ A great idea invented in Finland, but also organized in other parts of Europe, where everyone can have their own restaurant for the day. You can register on the website, promote it and try to get people to eat in your house/restaurant or – like we did – build up your restaurant in a park in Helsinki. There was Turkish food, Thai, Indonesian, Finnish, and much more. But also people selling sweet and coffee. Many people were well prepared with a ‘party tent’ and cooking equipment and some others were less … like us. We were just standing there selling our basic – but good tasting – muffins out of a paper box from Lidl and promoting it with a – cute – drawing on another box. But it worked! At the end of the day we sold all cupcakes and had enough profit to celebrate it with one drink ^^ We tasted some great food for reasonable prices and had lots of fun!

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So … a whole month full of crazy things ^^

I hope you enjoyed reading it!

Liefs Regina

Holiday in a Mökki, the Finnish way

After driving further and further away from civilization, the pastor – who was so kind to drive us all the way to the Mökki – turned off the engine of the car. There was the small red cottage I recognized from the picture, more little cabins and the beautiful lake in the background.

 

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Like little children, so excited about what was coming, we tried to get into the cottage as soon as possible and explored our new house for the coming days. “Look at the fireplace, how big it is” “come have a look upstairs, we can sleep here all together!”, “The view of the balcony is so beautiful, you can see the lake … and look, there is the rowing boat!” … The pastor showed us the first sauna and the lower cabin with the second sauna, a wood-heated one. The outdoor toilet – which was more or less just a ditch, covered by a cute outhouse – and the shed with more firewood. Through our excitement, we even forgot to pick up the other boys from the bus stop.

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As if it was the only day we stayed here, the first day we hurried to try out everything as soon as possible. We started making a fire in the fireplace and rowing on the lake, which turned out to be so much larger than expected. The colourful trees, the reflection in the water and the sun made it just look so picturesque. How peaceful it was to just float in the middle of the lake and soaking up the beautiful view. Nature at its best …

 

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After a nice tea, which we of course drank in front of the fireplace with a fleecy blanket, it was time to enjoy a real Finnish sauna, a wood-heated sauna, which the boys already heated up for us. I am so grateful that we have a sauna in our apartment in Porvoo, but this one just surpasses everything. Hotter and much more löyly (steam) which makes you sweat so much more and makes it somehow really pleasant. I know, it sounds contradictory, but if you experience it yourself, you will understand. And how to better cool down than jumping in the lake. So cold, but so refreshing! Heating up in the sauna and jumping in the lake again … I love this Finnish cultural habit!

“Sauna helps you to calm down in a modern society
where it is never quiet”

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Exhausted from the “busy” day and all impressions – and the adventure which some had the days before – we headed to bed really early, never thinking about the fact that the heat of the fireplace heated up the bedroom so much that it was quite unpleasant to sleep. Something to think about next time.

After this day, we started to really enjoy having no obligations and just relaxed. Going out of bed at ten, baking pancakes for brunch, reading in front of the fire place, rowing, more sleeping, playing games … and going to the sauna – a lot – of course. The best thing we did … hmm … I guess skinny dipping after the sauna. How great it is to come totally sweated out of the sauna, run to the lake and jump in it totally naked – I felt like new-born. So refreshing and so … I don’t know how to describe it … but it was good, real good! Worth a try for sure.

The days went by so fast. I had a great time with great people and liked having no obligations and just doing whatever I felt like doing – which wasn’t much – but it is not me doing nothing for such a long time … so after the five days I was ready to go home. Nevertheless I would really advice to rent a Mökki one day when visiting Finland, and would love to do it one more time in the remaining months I stay here. I don’t like it … I love it!

“If you want to have complete relaxation, de-stress and
feel like new born … have a holiday in a Mökki!”

Liefs Regina

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Seasons are changing quick

I wake up … the sun shines bright into my room – this due to the fact that my curtains are more like net curtains – and I walk towards the window where I see the colourful trees being even more colourful through the sun –

It looks like a wonderful day!

But then I realize why the sky is so clear … it is freezing, not a little, no, a lot! – at least for my and considering it is only the beginning of October. I take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast and try to prepare for the bike ride to school. When I step outside I am so happy that I bought that thick scarf just before I left the Netherlands, it is so colt outside! I also realize that I made the first big mistake … do not shower in the morning when it is freezing outside – or at least wear a thick head, what I did not do – this does not make you feel any warmer. Red cheeks and ears, a runny nose and watery eyes … winter isn’t making you any prettier for sure.

 

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Yet freezing weather is not only negative. The last week the sun was shining almost every day and we had not a drop of rain and better … the Aurora Borealis – Northern Lights – decided to provide us with a beautiful show!! We were all jumping around and screaming, being so pleased to see them. The Northern Lights were not the most clear, but I for sure did not expect to see them here in Porvoo, in the south of Finland.

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Beside this, I experienced that the Finnish cuisine is not totally boring – I am so sorry guys, but you have to start using herbs! – this at the Finnish cuisines afternoon organized by our tutors. We made Karelian pies (rice pastries), Korvapuusti (cinnamon buns) and Pannukakku (oven pancake) and it was so delicious.

We also got the opportunity to go to the largest chocolate factory of Finland … the factory where they make Fazer chocolate, located in Helsinki. It was a pity that we could not see the factory itself – only in the movie – nevertheless we could taste as much chocolate as we wanted! You do not have to say such things twice, I love chocolate! I have to admit, it did not taste bad at all! which resulted of course in a little supply in my apartment … now I know why we got invited -.-

Last Saturday, Vanessa, Vera and me tried to get the most out of our day, really the most out of it. We left our apartment at 5.15 to take an early bus to Helsinki, transferred in Helsinki to a bus to Tampere where we arrived around 10am. After a 40 minute walk we finally reached the centrum and started exploring. Since the weather was so good, we walked along the lake with the many colourful rowing boats, through the forest to the observation tower. Here we had a beautiful view over the city as well as the surrounding lakes and forest. The location of the city is just perfect!

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Also the city itself is quite pretty with the red-brick buildings and the many parks. After a successful and enjoyable day we walked exhausted back to the bus where I went “knock-out” straight away – my energy level reached below zero. Once arrived in Helsinki, we had to go to Vapiano, since I had never heard of this before – I know, I know … We had to wait long, but it was worth it, I did really enjoy my pasta with crema di funghi. ‘Refuelled’ we walked back to the bus and finally at half past 10 we arrived at our apartment. I could not do anything else than straight going to bed, but … we got the most out of our day! 17 hours “on the road” of which seven in Tampere.

Mission accomplished. 

Liefs Regina

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The peacefulness of Finland

The wind is calm, the sky is blue …
while sitting on the jetty I soak up the beauty of my surrounding …
colourful trees are reflected in the lake and the little boats and wooden houses make this moment even more picturesque.
I am happy to be in Finland.

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During the last weekends I have been away less and had so more time to explore the area of Porvoo – which is somehow surprising me time after time. Last weekend I went to a little peninsula in Porvoo. With our little, green, not to be missed bikes – in the Netherlands I would not even call this a proper bike – we raced around Porvoo, crossed some bridges and arrived at a nice forest trail where we put down the bikes. Comparing to the Netherlands, the forest was quite hilly and spectacular with all the rocks, enormous trees and the greenness. I have been in various places in the world, but I do not think that I have seen a forest anywhere as green as here in Finland. This probably because of all the green moss which is literary everywhere, in all different shades and textures.

finland-forest-mushroomNow autumn is coming in, I cannot go into the woods without taking my camera. The colours are making the landscape even more beautiful. Yesterday I wanted to visit a natural lake near Porvoo. It was pretty challenging to come there – especially with my beloved bike – but in the end it was really worth it. A huge lake surrounded by … yes, forest. But those little boats, wooden houses and colourful trees made it look so peaceful, beautiful, picturesque, so … Finnish. The nature here is so untouched, that is what I really like about Finland.

Besides being fascinated about the nature I have been exploring Estonia. On the fifth of September in the early – very early! – morning we started the journey from Porvoo to Helsinki to Tallinn. With a group of about nine people we took the ferry at 8.30 to Tallinn, which wasn’t a normal ferry at all, more like a small cruise ship. There were different bars and restaurants, some shops and a kind of ‘casino’ – the last point however is becoming a more normal appearance, since you see the slots almost everywhere, even in supermarkets – there was even life-music on the boat. This made the two hour ‘drive’ very pleasant.

tallinn-oldtown-citytripTallinn itself is a beautiful old city with many small streets, where you can walk around for hours. Sadly we had no map and our group was probably too big to make quick decisions, so we walked around a little unknown and so haven’t seen all of the city. Despite this we have seen quite a few lovely sites – including many churches – and in the end did really enjoy the day in Tallinn. To be able to say that I have seen Tallinn, I possibly have to go there again.

On the 9th of September we finally had our ‘Freshman-party’, which is a festive day for all first years and exchange students from Haaga-Helia University. The theme of this year was ‘Videogames’, so with our exchange students team we dressed up as Pacman – some ghosts and Pacman & girl Pacman – we thought of a little entrance dance and were ready to win the game! With about four busses from Haaga-Helia Porvoo, we drove to Helsinki where we started the games. There were 26 check-points where you could get up to 100 points – except for the Heppo checkpoint – we of course were only satisfied with the full amount of points, which we were able to get at all of the checkpoints we visited! Our team spirit was the best! Whenever we did not get the full points by executing the game, we started making a human pyramid, do some silly trick and started cheering, till we would get the 100 points. It was hilarious! The day ended in a club in Helsinki and at 2am we drove – completely exhausted – home to Porvoo.

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The weekend after, I went with Gerard – the only other Dutch exchange student here – to Nuuksio National Park, which is located close to Helsinki – though fairly complicated to reach. The nature there was só beautiful! – yes again the nature. We were walking around for five hours through forest, over rocks and along many picturesque lakes, we even had to beat 314 steps to climb up the mountain/hill – for me it would be a mountain, but I experienced that for the Swiss and Austrians here it is like a little increase in the surface -.- Despite this, it was a lovely day!

When I am not away I enjoy my time at Kevari – our apartment – this, because there is almost always something going on. In the evenings, I usually eat together with other exchange students and later hang around with Vera and Vanessa and some others 🙂 Having long chats, watching a movie or playing games … which tend to end different than expected (a). Last Wednesday we even had Swiss fondue with 13 people.

“Gezellig”, that is the best word to describe the days here. I have been very lucky that it turned out this well and am very much looking forward to all experiences coming!

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Thank you for reading!

Liefs Regina