Au revoir, my friends!

Not really a good-bye, but a “come on along!” invitation to my new blog, hosted on Blogger. I’m moving to France, possibly in January 2016 (maybe before), and with this move, I am taking the opportunity to move my blog over. It’s a new one, titled “From Finland to France“, and it’s going to detail my efforts in getting us ready for the move, then to report on life in our new home. We’re only going to be gone a year, so I’ll be back to publishing FinlandAdventures again, but most likely on the Blogger platform.

So come see me over in our new home, and follow along with the odd mix of reviews of Finland for the next few months, along with my encounters with the bureaucracy of moving to France.

Hope to see you there!

20 Lessons Learned from Traveling to 20 Countries

Having traveled to a number of countries in my life, I agree with so much of what you’ve written here. You are so fortunate to be able to travel, and it is something I encourage my girls to do at any opportunity. You see the world differently when you are in your 20s versus when you are in your 50s…and I would love for them to experience that comparison in their lives. Reblogging on my site, as well!

Brittany From Boston

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Among the wonderful benefits of traveling is the opportunity to grow and learn more about yourself, while learning about other people and cultures around the world. And along the way, it’s important to look back and reflect upon what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown. With my recent trip to The Bahamas marking my 20th country visited, I’m taking a moment to reflect! Here are the 20 Lessons I’ve Learned from Traveling to 20 Countries:

1.   I am not the center of the universe. Most people are self-absorbed on some level, and I think the easiest cure to a case of vanity is traveling the world to see how much life exists beyond your own. It’s actually a really beautiful realization to learn about other people from different walks of life, to appreciate what life is like all around the world. So pack your bags and leave your self-glorified…

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Where do I even start?!

“I have seen the south of France, and it is beautiful.” Okay, that’s not really the quote, but this works for my most recent experience(s). Pictures are behind the links. Enjoy!

Our first stop, on the way, was a six hour layover in Amsterdam. I’ve never been to Amsterdam, and while I can’t realistically say that I’ve “stayed” there, we did find enough time to take a canal boat tour and walk around the area for a bit. It was enough for me to declare that I would like to come back and spend a long weekend here.

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For my birthday, and with work obligations fitting in nicely, Wellu decided that a trip around the south of France would be in order, starting off with one of my favorite cities: Toulouse. Toulouse is such a lovely city, with so much to see and do, with a very rich, ancient history. While there in Toulouse, I met the wife of one of Wellu’s colleagues, and we went out for day walks (while our dear hubbies worked!), exploring the city. Since she’d done enough shopping and I had seen the museums, this time around we focused on other parts of the city, and ended up enjoying the ‘jardins’, or gardens in the center of the city. I showed her the farmer’s market, and we bought cheeses, fruits, and vegetables, and made ourselves sick on the sweet cherries and apricots.🙂

After Toulouse, Zii and her husband headed off to Barcelona (also on my list!), while Wellu and I boarded the train to Avignon. Once again, Avignon is an ancient city, and we stayed in a little place inside the walls, across the street from what used to be a convent, and just a nice walk from the Palais des Papes, (the Palace of the Popes) and the Avignon bridge.

Palais des Papes

Palais des Papes

We spent two nights in Avignon, then rented a car at the train station, and headed out for a drive and our next stops. First off, we stopped at the Pont du Gard, a Roman-era aquaduct in excellent condition. We thought this would be more of a ‘point and shoot’ stop, but we ended up spending a couple of hours there, crossing the bridge, climbing up the hills on one side, and taking some gorgeous pictures of the view. It really is stunning and well worth the stop.

Pont Du Gard

Pont Du Gard

From there, we went to the Chateau de Tarascon, another stop that surprised us with how much there was to enjoy. This castle was very well laid out, with one winding staircase that you go up, with stops at each floor, and another that you go down, again stopping at each floor. It was a bit on the sparse side, but still lovely.

Chateau de Tarascon

Chateau de Tarascon

Then it was on to Arles, for the roman ruins, and another museum, which was also quite interesting. So much history! We also visited the Museum of Archaeology in Marseille, which gave a fascinating history on the ‘tiny seaside town’. And then it was on to St. Tropez, where the weather conspired against me, giving me only a few hours to lay out on the beach. But the area was beautiful, and it was relaxing even under cloudy skies, to just lay there and gaze at the Mediterranean and contemplate how wonderful my life is.

Ahhh...life is good!

Ahhh…life is good!

The next day, (and my birthday!), we returned the car and then got on the train, headed to Besançon, where Wellu had some collaboration to do with a colleague. That meant that it was up to me to go explore the old city, which I did! I walked over 7 miles (from the time I turned on MapMyWalk), just wandering around. I saw some amazing historical buildings, fascinating clocks — that is what Besançon is known for, clockmaking, and so much beautiful scenery.

Besaçon and the Doubs River

Besaçon and the Doubs River

After a few days in Besançon, we then packed up again, and boarded the train to Paris! This would be our final stay, just a night in the heart of the city, right near Notre Dame (about a block away). Our hotel was situated right on a busy market street, and we got out and walked all over, finally pausing for dinner. The next morning, we checked out, left our luggage behind at the reception, and headed to Versailles. I had been there a few years back, but in the winter, so the fountains were turned off and emptied, many of the statues were covered, and nothing was in bloom, of course.

One of the gardens of Versailles

One of the gardens of Versailles

The lines were insane! Fortunately, we were only going to the gardens (no need to tour the building again), so we didn’t have a long queue at all. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the fountains were not running all day long. Apparently they run on a schedule, starting at 10am, and cycling through one side of the gardens until about 11:30. Then starting up again at 15:30, and cycling through the other half until late in the afternoon. There were a few that ran every hour. Still, the gardens were breathtaking, and I did get to see a few of the fountains running. The ones we really wanted to see were scheduled for later in the afternoon, and we would already be on our way to the airport. I suppose I will just have to go another time!

Love locks on one of the bridges in Paris

Love locks on one of the bridges in Paris

Finally, we picked up our bags, and headed to the airport, CDG, which is one of the worst airports to get through. It seems to be laid out in a way that has you backtracking or going from one end to the other, and the signage is appallingly sparse. In addition, as I found out all through France, the French don’t tend to speak English, or anything other than French, and too bad if you don’t understand it. I was able to suss through some of it, but it was odd not to have a common language to fall back on.

The trip was long, but wonderful, however there is nothing like returning home to your own bed, own shower, and own routines. We leave again July 4 to go to Oulu, where we will participate in a family reunion of sorts, and pick up Shiva, who is having far too much fun vacationing at the summer cottage!

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Toulouse, first full day

Once again, I am in Toulouse! This is my third trip to this lovely city, and the first one in the summer. I wanted heat, and I got it–it was 32°c today!

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I rode the bus to the center and got off to go exploring. Dear Wellu headed to his conference to work (so that he can bring me to all these cool places to enjoy!), and I set out to first find a place to get a SIM card for my phone. “Orange” seems to be the popular provider here, so with help from the tourist center, I set off to find them.

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No problems, as their store is outlined in orange, with orange banners outside.  I’ll summarize in that I overpaid for the convenience, but hope to utilize it enough to reduce the sting. It was 9,99€ for the SIM card itself, and it came with 5€ credit, but not data. I went ahead and did the top-off for 30€ which gives me unlimited calls and messaging in France, plus 2GB of data, which should be plenty for the whole trip. However, it cost me 9€ to have them enter the API info, which I paid mainly for convenience sake. So, 50€ to have mobile data. But the SIM card is good for any return trips now, and the unused time for a year. Might still come in handy.

Since I’ve seen all the museums (not that I have recall of them, but I have pictures!), I decided to just stroll around and enjoy the bustle and architecture. A secondary goal was to find a fish pedicure place. I googled for them, and out of the three I tried to find today, two were permanently closed and one was just not to be found.

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Tomorrow, I’m meeting up with the wife of one of the other conference attendees, and we’re going to go do some more exploring. We’ve never met before, but I think we’ll hit it off fine.

I’m going to leave you with a few more pictures of Toulouse.

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Bingo!

I haven’t played bingo in a long, long, looooong time. However, along my morning walks with Shiva, I have been passing these signs for bingo being played each Friday at noon at the local…community center, I guess.

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After catching up on some sleep when the guests left at 6am for the airport (and I caught the bus back, etc), I decided that doing a bit of bingo might be a fun way to practice on the numbers, since I have to pretty much count them out on my fingers, as well as have them repeated a half-dozen times. Makes it hell to get someone’s phone number like that.

I got there about 2 minutes after noon, as I thought it was one place, and it was actually at another (still walking distance), and they were already about a half dozen numbers into the game, so I had to wait for the second game. Cards were .50 per 3 number set, and five rounds per were played: 1 bingo, then 2 rows, 3 rows, etc., until you get to “blackout”. After that, everyone writes their names on the back, crumbles up the paper, and tosses it in a basket along with .20 per card, and a winner is drawn. That person wins the pot. Trash bingo.

I bought two cards (1€) and settled in to play. Overall, I think I did alright. I messed up 60 for 16, but my tablemates helped out with that, and in the 3 row game I missed a number, but it didn’t really matter in the end.

They won’t play next Friday due to a concert being held, and I will be gone the next 3 Fridays, but I do plan to go back and play when I can. I think it makes for a fun way to practice hearing and associating the numbers in Finnish.

(P.S. I am still sorting through all the photos I took on my trips, and will write up a post as soon as I am organized. I promise!)

It’s been a travelin’ kind of May!

I have been on the road, so to speak, for almost the entire month of May! Sorry for the lack of updates, as I haven’t really figured out how to post through the app. It is on my to-do list to learn at some point. I had so many pictures (too many pictures!), and I kept putting this off until I get them organized…but I have given up and since I am about to leave on ANOTHER adventure, I figured I better get this one caught up!

I’m going to break this down by destination, and just do some short snippets. The entire experience has been amazing, and I hope it gives you some ideas for traveling, as well! Links to the pictures are in each title. Feel free to poke around the album to see other pictures, too.

Plus, I get back, and everything is green!

May 20, 2015

May 20, 2015

ATHENS – aka “AthensFest 2015”

As mentioned before, my mom runs a cooking forum on DelphiForums, and within the group that posts there, they organize these ‘fests’, a gathering of three or more members in some locale. This time around, dear Evelyn organized one in her hometown of Athens, Greece. Mom asked me if I would like to go…haha, she didn’t have to ask the AntiCook twice!

With her usual flair, Mom booked us into a brothel. And you think I might be kidding? No, it has a reputation among the cab drivers! Even so, the rooms are cheap (and they do rent by something other than the hour), relatively clean, and breakfast is included in the low, low price. I think during the summer they cater more to tour groups rather than their ‘other’ clientele, but we still go to sit on the gold couch and watch the women hawk their wares.

TRAVEL TIP: We used a service called “WelcomePickUps” for Athens. They are only available in Athens and Istanbul, but I can’t recommend them enough. Spiro was my driver from the airport, and then we hired him for the day to take us to Delphi and Thermopalyae. It was great having a ‘private’ driver to wait on us as we climbed the ruins, to drive us to lunch and through the crazy Athens traffic. The pick up from the airport was sooooo nice, as well, and the company was fantastic in every respect. Very reasonable rates, too.

Pictures from AthensFest 2015

SANTORINI

Oh wow! This place is as beautiful as the pictures! I have always imagined visiting Santorini, with the white buildings and blue domed roofs, and when I did, it was just as I had imagined! Our rental through Kastro Suites, was perfectly situated. It was a bit large for just the three of us, but the location was perfect (at least for me). Our patio opened on to the public path, and while I wouldn’t want to LIVE there, having the tourists and the donkeys climbing past us was all part of the charm.

My husband and I went to the Akrotiri ruins, and from there, we attempted to break our necks climbing up and then down to the red beach. I think we were climbing on goat paths that even goats weren’t dumb enough to utilize, all so I could get some red volcanic sand for my collection.🙂

Pictures from Santorini

ATHENS – redux

We’re back at the brothel…it feels just like home. This is the one time we got a ‘bad’ room: the ac wasn’t working, nor the fridge. Went downstairs to let them know, and by the time we got back from our tours that day, we had a new room with working items. It may not be the prettiest place in town, but the customer service is great (and I’m trying to say that without it being an innuendo…)🙂

ABRUZZO REGION, Italy aka “Cooking school”

We arrived at the Rome airport, but because we were coming from within the EU, the directions from the cooking school weren’t accurate (they were for the US/Canada guests), and a fire in the Rome airport a few days previously had rerouted things. But it all worked out, and soon we were picked up on and on the bus to Abruzzo, an approximately 4 hour ride, in which we were consistently terrified by our driver, who texted while driving the bus, drifting into the oncoming lane and shoulder, and who didn’t understand English. But, that aside, we made it alive and were ready to go.

The place where we stayed and where the school was is beautiful.  It was rather cold up in the mountains, but the views were amazing. All of us in the class were there on the Groupon deal (essentially a BOGO deal). We met some amazing travelers, mostly older women and couples, who have been on adventures all over the world! Everyone seemed to get along quite well, and I even found two other women who didn’t drink wine there. We were the popular ones to sit next to.

In a nutshell, we went on some amazing tours, fixed some amazing food, and ate even better. I know I gained weight in Greece, and I know I added to it in Italy. Everything is fixed with fresh ingredients, full fat, and lots of olive oil, of course!

Pictures from Abruzzo

BALTIC CRUISE – STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

This was the first stop on the 3 day Baltic cruise aboard the St. Peter Line’s Princess Anastasia ship. The ship looks like a throwback to the 80’s, which it probably is, but overall, and for the price, the cruise isn’t a bad deal. I’ve done it once before, but it was in March, very cold and wet. This time around was late May, and it was just cold. Well, chilly. We hardly spent any time on the decks, but that was alright, as we spent our days out sightseeing.

In Stockholm, there are a couple of must-see places. Definitely the Vasa Museum. It was still interesting my second time there, and I think the girls enjoyed it, too. In a nutshell, the museum houses a ship that went down in the harbor on its maiden voyage, due to poor design.

BALTIC CRUISE – TALLINN, ESTONIA

Ah, Tallinn. My hubby met us here, having come in on the Eckerd Line ferry, just to see us. We went and ate at Old Hansa House, dropped Mom off at a wine shop, then walked around and toured the old city while he gave his history report. We had a “bowl of decent elk soup”, which is always very good, and the girls tried moose sausage and a wild game meat pie.

BALTIC CRUISE – ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

MeetMeTaxi was amazing for this. If you have a group together (4-6 people), skip the ferry bus and use these folks. Our driver, Vladimir, drove us around to see about a dozen landmarks, gave us a running commentary on the history, and sat with my mom while I and the girls went into Hermitage. We were able to stop for pictures, and he waited for us outside the Church on the Spilled Blood while we toured and took pictures there. It was not a bad price at all, the van was comfortable, and it was a lifesaver for those of us who can’t walk far distances any longer.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the cruise, as I had been on it before, and wanted to experience without being behind the camera lens. Most of the pictures I took were with my daughter’s phone, for her, so I don’t have them. We also took the ferry out to Suomenlinna, and the bus to  Korkeasaari Zoo. I’ll post about those trips when I get THOSE pictures organized!

It comes down to practice.

Yesterday, I talked my husband into just speaking Finnish to me for the day. There was a lot of asking him to repeat slowly (hitaasti) and me trying to translate in English what he was saying. I actually understood more than I thought I would! It was a struggle for me, trying to find the words for the simple things, and I used the wrong form for most of them, but I was understood, and I felt more bold about speaking out loud. We’ll do this once a week, then add another day and so on, until I finally get it!

In other news, it looks like spring is finally here. I figure it must be spring when they collapse the ‘bubble building’ next to the dog park. It’s weird to see the field and all now. Today there were several soccer (oops, I mean futbol) games going on today. It was a beautiful day, and we went out and joined others from our complex in doing some raking and sweeping.

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I leave next week for Greece and Italy, and won’t be back for about three weeks. I’ve been faithfully taking nearly daily pictures of how the seasons change, and now I will be gone during the big spring bloom. Everything has buds and little green leaves, but when I get back, it will have burst forth fully. Oh well, it will make for a dramatic before-and-after picture.

I will be a bit less active (even moreso), although I may post a few pictures through my Facebook page. So bear with me, as I get to explore even more of Europe and spend some time with my mom! Then back in Helsinki, to spend time with my youngest daughter, too!

Voting Day!

Actually, it was Sunday, and I started a post to try and explain it, but I failed. So here I am today, armed with a new infomercial. I had my Finnish husband actually explain the system, so here it is:

Here are alllll the people running for those 200 seats.

Here are aaaalllll the people running for some of those 200 (somewhere around 22) seats from Helsinki.

There are 200 places in the Finnish Parliament, although the chairman doesn’t vote nor ask for the floor, leaving 199 voting representatives.

Keskusta (Center party) got 21.2% of the popular vote and 49 seats (24.5%).

Perussuomalaiset (True Finns) got 17.6% and 38 seats (19%).

Kokoomus (Coalition party, capitalists) got 18.2% and 37 seats (18.5%).

As you can see, it is not exact match since you can have the last candidate just barely squeezing above another one in a district, but it is a lot better than having 1 representative representing just one party from a district.

At the low end, we have Kristillisdemokraatit (Christian Democrats) with 3.5% of the popular vote and 5 seats (2.5%).

Small parties which did not make the 3% popular vote cut and hence did not get any seats, got about 72000 votes altogether, about 2.5% of the popular vote. The number of people who didn’t get their ‘representative’ is not too bad.

The system has been criticized that it favors the big parties and it does. The 3% cut also makes it harder for little parties to make the cut, but they can form those election alliances, in which case they are treated as a single big party instead for election purposes. There has also been talk about just having national elections, treating the whole country as one district. Then they could also just dole out seats based on strict proportionality: if you got 20% of the vote, you’ll get 20% of the seats (40) and those seats would be divided based on the personal vote numbers within the party.

Here is a page (in Finnish) which shows those different election districts:
http://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eduskuntavaalit_2015
The number of seats per district is based on the number of residents.

I can’t vote in these elections, but apparently I can vote in the smaller, more local ones. I guess I better learn some Finnish before then!

Cooking Adventures

My mom runs a cooking forum called Cook’s Talk. My alias on there is the “AntiCook”, because really, I don’t cook, while my mom is a self-taught chef. So, on this forum, her handle, “Madmom” has become an verb — to “madmom a recipe” is to improvise on it (when you may not have the ingredients called for). Now, I have become an adjective — something can be “Michele easy”, meaning that it is such an easy recipe that it ranks right up there with boiling water.

One of the members posted a video for a dessert and said it was “Michele easy” and looked nice. So, obviously, I had to try to make this and see if it really was worthy of being called “Michele easy”. We might have to change it to “Anticook easy” just because it looks weird to have my name up there.

Because of limited space, the photos are on Flickr, but I’ll give you a running commentary here. In addition, here is a picture of the finished product (spoiler alert! they turned out delicious and pretty!)

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

First off, I unrolled the dough too early, so it thawed a bit crackly. Added some moisture and tried to roll it out. My mother practically wet her pants laughing at all the ways that went wrong.

Eventually got it rolled out in to some semblance of something that I could cut six strips from.

Then, when getting the apricot preserves ready, my mom said it was a cup of water to add to it. So I did. “This doesn’t look right” I says. She double checks the recipe, “Oh, it’s two tablespoons.” Derp. Since you can’t really separate the preserves from the water, we brought in a substitute…strawberry!

Oh, the apples. I butchered those seven ways from Sunday. It was a struggle to find enough halves that would work. But the mandolin functioned beautifully, and I even remembered to wear the protective glove so I didn’t slice my fingers like SOME people tend to do.

I had to put up with my mother chortling through the entire construction process. She’s such an elitist.

I finished making them (a bit sloppily, I’m afraid), and popped them in the oven, and they were very delicious! So nyah.

It’s been sort of dreary here lately, temps in the low single digits, along with rain and some sleet. I did see a rainbow the other day, but the pictures barely came out.

Other than that, life has settled in to a routine, although that’s all about the change – -trips to Greece and Italy are planned, plus my youngest daughter and her friend will be here in about a month! So excited!