Sep 16, 2019

6 days in St.Peterspurg

My summer vacation destination this year was St. Peterspurg. I personally loved the city and will definitely go again. Here's everything I did.

As most people know, Finland shares a border with Russia, so traveling there is quite easy, as long as you have a valid visa. We have trains, buses, planes and boats that go to Russia. I picked a bus this time. It was quite cheap, only 38 euros back and forth.

I left 8AM and got to St.Peterspurg around 3PM.
So, I still pretty much had the whole day to do stuff. I was trying to be adventurous and take the subway instead of a cab. Well my internet didn't work and I did get lost. Asked 3 people for directions but no one seemed to understand English. I went to the subway and only dared to go for 2 stops because I wasn't sure if it was the right metro. Probably not.  I ended up walking to the hotel. The walk was around 30 minutes. It was such a hot day and I was dying carrying all my stuff. Our hotel was on Rubenshtenya street which was in the heart of the city. Absolutely gorgeous location.

I took a shower and dropped my stuff at the hotel, then went out with my Russian friend Evgenia.
She walked me through the city and showed me all these gorgeous buildings and parks. She showed me this tiny cozy coffee shop, subway station that looks like a spaceship, the only mosque in the whole city and much more. We had dinner at a rooftop terrace restaurant and climbed on the top of the St. Isaac's cathedral, the view was totally worth it. We also walked in the harbor and tried to go to this small island in the middle of the city. Unfortunately it was 11PM and the island was already closed. Can you believe it, all this in the first night. Gave me a good picture of the city!

I really can't remember everything I did in order but I don't think it really matters.

First full day, we left early cause we had to sort out some problem with our rooms. They accidentally gave us 2 rooms even though we only had one booking. Everything sorted out easily and we picked the nicer room for us. Maree had the day planned for us. We went to the Hermitage museum. We had 2 tours booked, the gold room and the diamond room. The whole museum was so huge that there's no way anyone can see everything there in one day. You need a map and a plan. And good shoes and food and water. After our 2 rooms, we were so beat we couldn't even think about seeing more of the museum. It really was like a maze and everything was organized in a really confusing way to be honest. We also visited an art museum called Erarta and the faberge museum. Fabrege was probably my favourite.

Our hotel was on Rubensteina, which is a big street in the middle of the city. It's full of great restaurants and it was super easy to walk everywhere from there. The main street was 5 minute walk away. So we did have some great food whilst there.
This really good place named Bekitzel right there on Rubensteina street with Israeli food, a restaurant called Biblioteka right on the main street, across the street from Zara and one of the best indian food I've ever had in a place called Tandoori, it's located close to the Hermitage.

One of the things I was the most excited to do in St. Peterspurg  was to go to see a ballet show. We got tickets to the sleeping beauty show at the Michailovsky theater. I've never been to ballet before and it was very exciting. I can't say I understand much about ballet and I was more into the costumes and the set pieces than the dancing itself, but it was a great experience.

One day we decided to take a ferry to peterhof. The ferry ride was about 40 minutes. I reckon it's a bit shorter usually but the weather was extremely bad that day. Super windy and cold.  You can also go by bus or by car. Peterhof is the place where the Romanof's used to live. It's beautiful with all the fountains and golden statues. Everyday at 11AM the fountains go on, there's music and everything. Totally worth seeing. We didn't go inside the palace, mostly cause all my Russian friends told us not to go, I heard it's not worth the money, but beautiful outside.

My friend also organized us a sup- board trip in the canals of St. Peterspurg at 6AM. What an amazing experience. The reason for the crazy early timing is that the boats are not allowed on the canals at that time. So it was very peaceful and safe to ''sup'' through the canals for couple of hours. I got amazing view of the city whilst doing something fun and special. Highly recommended!

Evgenia also took us to the tsars garden and the really beautiful mozaic street with beautiful street art. We got to see so much during this trip! Only thing I failed to see and regret a little bit, is the opening of the bridges around midnight. I was supposed to do it at 2 occasions, but I was too exhausted to get up. But it's something I can do when I go next time

I didn't forget working out during this trip and I actually managed to do some amazing leg training sets at the staircase of the hotel where we were staying at. Also my friend kindly booked me a day to try out this amazing gym in the city. It was called the flying Dutchman and it was a boat! I repeat, it was a boat! Fully equipped gym with all the gadgets and latest technology on a floating boat. So cool.

Naturally we went to see all the churches and cathedrals there was to see as well.

Till next time Russia!

Mar 25, 2019

Just Cruisin'

This post is for travelers eager to see and experience as much as they can in a short period of time.
Did you know that from Finland you can take a quick cruise to at least three countries? You can cruise to Estonia, Sweden and Russia.

1 St cruise I want to talk about is the Estonian cruise. All you need is one extra day. I'm not kidding, you can do a day trip to Tallinn and have 6 to 8 hours to explore and you can get it as cheap as 6 euro.
The trip itself is 2 to 3 hours long and there's heaps to do on the boat. You can sing karaoke, listen to live music, have a nice meal at the buffet or one of the bistros. You can also relax at the bar, play pokies or do some tax free shopping.
The city of Tallinn is great, the old town is right next to the boat terminals and you can easily walk there in less than 10 minutes. Again, it's full of restaurants, shops and these great little markets. You can enjoy local food or something a bit more familiar. Old town is also full of culture and history. Taxis and Ubers are super cheap and there's few great shopping malls nearby. I recommend Ulemiste shopping mall for shopping. Taxi there takes about 20 minutes and costs around 9 euros.
I personally love Estonia, but it's a little too familiar to me, since I've spent every summer there since I was probably 6 years old. I love going there with friends who have never been there, it's like looking it through their eyes.

2 Nd cruise is Sweden cruise. Now this cruise you can actually call a cruise. Your spending 2 nights on the boat and 1 day in the city of Stockholm. I mean you can pick a cruise that doesn't allow you to go to Stockholm and makes you stay on the boat, but where's the fun in that? All the boats have wide range of cabins  to choose from. You can pick a huge room with sea view and massive windows or a tiny little room with barely enough room for a bunk bed, or everything in the between. Not like your spending much time in there anyway. Since your spending a lot more time on the boat at this cruise I definitely recommend to look into all the stuff you can do in there. Also I recommend the dinner- and breakfast buffet. It's a lot cheaper than the other foods on the boat, food is always great and you stay full for the whole trip. We did these both with my Aussie mum and barely ate anything else. She got to know the traditional Finnish- and Swedish foods. On the way back I also booked the spa for us. I think it was around 10e and there was regular sauna, steam sauna, hot tubs and showers. It was the perfefct way to spend our way back after the long day in Stockholm.
Our day in Stockholm was freezing, probably around -15 degrees. My aussie mum is over 60 years old and she had no trouble walking around the city with me. So again, everything is in walking distance. If you don't want to walk there's also a lot of buses, taxis and Ubers around. The city is full of art, culture and history. There's so many museums I can't even count. Since Sweden is ruled by King and Queen, there's a lot of Royal history, which I personally find very interesting. Also unlike Estonia & Finland, Euro is not the currency of Sweden.

So all that, leaves us Russia.
I honestly don't have a lot to say about this cruise since I haven't done it yet. I really want to though! I was supposed to go do this cruise in January but the boat was on the dry dock. Now when it's operational again, I haven't found a friend to do it with me yet. Great thing about this cruise is that it's Visa free! You can spend a day in St. Petersburg without a visa. So i'm definitely going during this year. My sister has done this cruise and she did like it. Although she said all the announcements on the boat are in Russian and that was a bit confusing. Also the trip is long so you might find it difficult to do much if you don't drink. My advice is to go there in great company and it will turn out amazing.

Can't believe it took me 2 months to finish this piece. I do have an excuse again. ha.
I've been studying and training to get into school. I've also been looking for work and taking care of my nieces and nephews on regular basis. Doesn't sound like much but I've definitely had my hands full.

Oh yeah, you can also drive to Norway, Russia and Sweden from Finland.

Feb 11, 2019

Exploring Finland

My ''Aussie mom'' Maree, came recently to Finland and she gave me an perfect opportunity to play tourist. See, I've never really traveled in Finland, even though there is quite a lot to see. You wake up to that fact when people ask you about northern lights, Lapland and the differences between different cities and you don't really have an answer. In Australia, I started thinking, where would I take my friends who'll visit. What would I want to see, if I'd never been to Finland before? I wanted to see Finland through someone's eyes, who's never been here.

My wish was granted. Not only did I have one friend visit me, I had two. With the first friend we didn't get to see much more than Helsinki but we did get to go to Poland as well. More about that in my previous post.

It's been great playing a tourist in my own country.

First thing we did with Maree, was a cruise to Stockholm, Sweden. It was our plan B, since we failed to get the visas on time to go to Russia. Nothing wrong with Sweden either, I just have seen it before. But I'm going to tell you guys more about that cruise on my next post that's dedicated only for cruises.

A day after the cruise we left straight to Lapland. We were on a tight schedule really, since she only had 10 days with me, and I wanted to show her as much as possible. We flew to Kittilä, which is all the way up north, near Swedish border. It was only hour and half flight, since Finland isn't that big. At least in Australian point of view. We arrived around midday and went straight to our rental car that was waiting us outside. Since we had the whole day to spend, we headed straight to the reindeer farm.

It was a bit of a drive to the farm and everything was just completely covered in snow. It was mesmerizing. Honestly, I've lived in Finland for over 20 years and I've never seen anything so beautiful. Northern Finland is a whole different world and no wonder a go to place for 80% of the tourists. We were lucky enough to get great weather too. Usually it's pretty dark here during winter but we had 3 sunny days out of 4.

At the farm we had hot chocolates inside by a fireplace and we prepared sausages for ourselves in the traditional Finnish style. Meaning you put the sausage on top of a stick and cook it in the fireplace and then eat it with tomato sauce and mustard. All that got us warmed up for the reindeer sled. We picked the 30- minute one. It was a tight sled but it was very comfortable and nice.. Until the last 10 minutes when your face froze off and you couldn't feel your toes. But really It was worth it. I even got to pat a reindeer at the end! Like the farmer said, he can't tell me if I can or can't, I need to try for myself. I'm pretty sure the reindeer liked my scratches since he was shrugging and wasn't trying to go anywhere. So cute!

Afterwards we went straight to the grocery store and to our cabin. I booked a cabin with everything we needed, engine heating pole for the car, sauna and a drying cabinet to warm up our clothes. We cooked a nice dinner, went to sauna then chased some northern lights at the highest point of Levi. We didn't see anything though. There was too much light. Still I can say it was a perfect first day in Lapland.

Driving itself was an adventure for us. I can't drive here yet, since I haven't changed my licence to Finnish one yet, and Maree had never driven in the snow or on the right side of the road. She did a great job though.

The next day we went to the famous Game of thrones- themed snow village. The whole place was absolutely gorgeous and so much better than I expected. Everything, and I mean everything was ice. All the rooms had themes too, like the house of stark with the head of a wolf and the mother of dragons with 3- baby dragons and Khaleesi. Just beautiful. My toes were freezing solid though. I sat on a ice throne. Felt good. They had an ice restaurant there as well, but we preferred the cafeteria inside in the warmth. We had traditional creamy salmon soup with rye bread. That night we watched a movie, went to the sauna and around 11 PM we left out again to chaise the lights. The tourist information center told us where to go and we were supposed to leave our car at the parking spot and hike to this tiny hut on the top of the mountain but we failed to see where the road was, since it was snowing quite much and we got stuck in the snow. First I tried to dig out the car and push it by myself but it was no use.

We decided to go look for people to help us. First people we found, were an Aussie guy and his Russian girlfriend. We managed to get the car more stuck by trying to reverse out of the snow pile. After an hour or so the gave up and left. Four more people came our way but they didn't seem too keen to help and the just passed us saying it's never gonna work, we stayed behind determined to call the road services and so we did. While we were waiting another group came our way, this time there was a group of German and Dutch guys. They were all super helpful and got us out of the snow in no time. We exchanged numbers and decided to go see the northern lights as a group the next day.

The next morning we decided to go try our luck with the husky farm, unfortunately all the ones we drove to had pre bookings only. So note to you, if your ever going over to Lapland, pre book everything! We booked the husky farm for the next day, that also happened to be our last day.
So instead the farm, we headed to the Sami exhibition. Sami people are the indigenous people of Finland, and the only indigenous people of European union. The live and lived mostly in Sweden, Norway and Finland. The exhibition was both in and out doors. Unfortunately the temperature was close to -30c that day and we just ran through the outdoor exhibition part really quick. I can say I learned a lot. The first people in Finland were some bad ass people. Temperatures can go close to -40c up north and they survived in huts farming reindeer. Crazy. After we went to have some reindeer meat.

Later that night after Sauna, we went to look for some northern lights. We went to
Kätkänranta, left the car safely in the park and hiked up to the hut. The hike was just about 1k long. There was a fireplace both outside and indoors in the hut. We were able to cook food and enjoy some drinks. Most importantly we did see northern lights!! The were a bit faint and some local guys did say they were bad, but we saw them! I think they were the best lights I've seen!

The whole trip had been more than perfect and we were down to our last day. On our way to the husky farm we realised our 12.30 appointment was supposed to be 11.30 appointment.  They couldn't squeeze us in and despite all our efforts and calls we never got in to a husky farm. No huskies for us.We did some sight seeing instead. Ended up being a good day.

Hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I did taking them!