Monday, June 21, 2010

Dumb and Dumber do the Archipelago!

This past weekend we went to Turku to check out the archipelago islands.  It really felt like something straight out of a movie...

But we'll get to that part in a minute.

Saturday morning we took a two hour train west to Turku to see the city and some of the 20,000 islands of the Turku archipelago for the weekend.  After checking into our hotel, we headed to the Tourist Info center to see if they had any maps, ideas, etc for us to do. The forecast was for rain on Saturday so we decided to just check out the city and Turku Castle on that day and head out to the archipelago on Sunday.

(FYI - We booked a great hotel deal online with the Holiday Inn for only 61 Euros.  We were very happy with our room and the hotel was only 4 blocks from the city center - we recommend it if you are taking a weekend here.)

We decided to walk from the city center along the Aura River to Turku Castle (about 5 km) - it hadn't started raining yet so we wanted to enjoy as much time as possible outside before it did! This is when I got this cool shot - I am still loving my panaramic camera setting!

Then we came across the Forum Marinum (National museum specialising in Finnish shipping and naval history). 
The Suomen Joutsen

What was even more impressive is that we came across this propeller outside and Nathan says "Oh that must be the Azipod from ABB"  What?  How the hell did he know that?  I am impressed Nathan - not gonna lie.
Wow - are we supposed to be looking at this big propeller or Nathan's big guns?

Finally onto Turku Castle.  It was really cool to tour this castle because you got to go into almost every room!  And wow - it was massive - much bigger than it seemed!  The castle took over 200 years to build and you could see through the exhibitions how they lived during each century.  I thought it was pretty cool that it went from so primitve to having a Renaissance floor added in the 16th century - I wasn't expecting it to be so ornate when we finally arrived on that floor!
Entrance to Turku Castle

My favorite room in the castle - this beautiful renaissance church

Nathan's favorite room in the castle. He is always fascinated with the "crapper" when he is in an old castle...I guess boys never do grow up...

Then onto Turku Cathedral - which was beautiful.  But it was raining pretty hard by then so we headed back to the hotel for a sauna.
Turku Cathedral

The sauna.  I don't really get it.  I mean sitting in a small, hot and humid room is not my idea of a fun afternoon.  I could sit in my sister's garage in Albany, GA if I wanted to do that (which I don't).  And then add in a bunch of naked people.  No thanks.  Again, I don't understand saying to my friends - "Hey let's get naked and hang out (literally) in the sauna for the next hour and talk about the upcoming Eclipse movie.  Sound good?"  Uh - not so much.  Oh and then I forgot to add that we could jump in an ice pool at the end - yippee!  However, Nathan loves it, so I said I would go, but probably never again - unless it isn't a public sauna.  Seriously no one wants to see that.  (Oh, and for the record, WE both had on our swim suits.)

For dinner on Saturday night we went to a place called Blanko that was fabulous!!  I wanted to go to a seafood restaurant (we are right on the water) but they didn't really have one of those - weird.  Anyway, our hotel suggested this fusion-style restaurant and it was amazing.  Their most popular dish is the Lamb Pasta Blanko- one of the best meals I've had in a long time and the Garlic Scallops appetizer was really delicious too.  We highly recomend it for all you Turku visitors!

Sunday morning we woke up to a nice sunny day - thank goodness!  Since I flat out refused to ride my bike the 110 km around the inner circle route of the archipelago islands, Nathan came up with the brilliant idea to get the next best thing - a scooter!  He wanted to "feel" the archipelago. 
"Just when I thought you couldn't do anything dumber you go ahead and do something like this and...TOTALLY redeem yourself!"

We headed north and started our trek to Naantali.  While we were enjoying our breakfast we looked at the map to discuss our route and I remembered that the tourist info person had said something about the ferry schedule and how it didn't run very often.  We found the time table she had given us, and it said the ferry from Hanka to Nagu (the direction we wanted) was at 11 am, 2:30 pm, and 6 pm.  We decided we needed to be on the 11 am at all costs which was a bit of a problem since it was 10 am and we were about 50 km away from it and our scooter maxed out at 57 km/hour and only 32 km/hour uphill (which surprisingly there was a lot of)!  Well we had better get the show on the road!
Do I look scared? I kinda am.:)

We made it with 1 minute to spare!  We basically drove our scooter onto the boat and they shut the gate and took off!  Nathan said he was willing the go all "Dukes of Hazard" on them and jump the water into the boat but THANK GOD we didn't have to go there!  The ferry was about 1 hour long and we got the most beautiful views of the archipelago.  Also, the very nice lady who worked on the boat told us about a great restaurant to eat at once we got to Nagu - and since these trips are "all about the food" as Nathan says we were psyched.
Beautiful shot from the ferry as we left Hanka

You know what I especially love about being on a boat? They always have a flag! Might be the money shot!

Check out all the little islands!

Nagu had a cute little seaside village that we explored before heading about 10km outside of the town to Kirjais - the little island with the recomended restaurant!  Once we saw the Cafe Bystrand we were so excited to be eating at an "off the beaten path" true seaside restaurant with no other tourists.  And the food didn't disappoint - I finally got my fish (perch over a delicous horseradish sauce - mmmmm) and Nathan had the best burger either of us had EVER tasted!  Which again sounds a little weird - but this place was a steak house. Which I don't really get - how come no one was specializing in fish since they are right on the water?!  I guess I will never know - maybe they are sick of fish? I guess that would be a reasonable assumption...I'll go with that!:)
On our way to Kirjais - we decided to get some shots with the scooter...

My favorite action shot, but Nathan refused to get on it with ME driving - what's up with that?

Cafe Bystrand

Then back on the road to complete the loop back to Turku.  What a great Sunday - sun on our faces, wind in our hair, almost running out of gas - who could ask for more?  In the end, the scooter was an amazing choice (you go Nathan) and I know it added to our archipelago "experience"!  We highly recomend this choice if you come!
This was just a short ferry that took people and cars about 1 km from one island to another because there wasn't a bridge. We were super happy too - since that was one more km closer to the gas station!

By this point I was too tired to take off my helmet:)

Our last view of the archipelago before heading back to Turku.

What a great trip! Lloyd and Harry - eat your heart out!;)

Friday, June 18, 2010

We ate reindeer.

Sorry Santa but when in Rome Helsinki - you must try the Finnish Food! 

Last night Nathan and I had dinner with two of his colleagues at Ravintola Konstan Möljä at the recommendation from another local colleague. 

Apparently this restaurant is quite well known for its traditional Finnish buffet menu including - marinated herring, sour cabbage, karelian pie, roast reindeer, and so much more - sound appetizing?  Well actually - it was!  I was a little hesitant to try the marinated herring - I wasn't sure how cold fish in some yellow sauce was going to taste, but I loved it (the sauce was, to my surprise, dijon)!  The reindeer was actually pretty good too- waaaaaaay better than deer meat!  Nathan and I weren't all that keen on the karelian pie, but while writing this blog I looked up exactly what it was and unfortunately since we weren't with any actual Finnish people we missed the fact that we were supposed to spread munavoi (egg butter) on top of it.  I guess we'll just have to try it again - EVERYTHING tastes better with butter;)! 

Karelian pie - a traditional finnish pastry made from rye bread and rice

The restaurant is owned and run but a cute little couple that wear traditional Finnish dress.  They were very nice and explained to us (in english) all about the menu items, the traditional dress, origin of the recipes (his family is from the finnish island Uuras), and the "dock" theme of the restaurant. 

I would definitely recommend this restaurant to any of you traveling to Helsinki, and if you come to visit us, I'm sure we will go!  And Nathan's favorite part - it was only 18 Euros per person!:) Woo hoo!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

To all our Swedish readers...

I found Kauralastuja cookies at the grocery store today and am now addicted!  So good!  If anyone has their grandmother's recipe and wants to share it with me - please do;)

Swedish Cookies
And yes this is my plate for lunch...don't judge me!:)
The back of the label reads:
The delicious biscuits of Gillebagaren are baked in the small village Örkelljunga, in the woods of North Scania.  They are made of the best ingredients, after old traditional Swedish recipes.  Healthy oat flakes are being used in Gillegagaren's biscuits.
Now I think we can all agree that the most important line was the last one that stated "healthy oats" are used.  Thank goodness!  I thought I was going to get fat eating them since there isn't any nutritional facts on the box, but not now!!  Thank you Sweden - I am indebted to your cookie making ability!

In other Swedish news... we are headed to Stockholm!  If anyone has ideas for things for us to do please let us know!  It would be greatly appreciated!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Our first weekend in Helsinki

Last weekend, was our first weekend in Helsinki.  Saturday was beautiful - around 60 degrees and bright blue skies!  We (read Nathan) thought it would be a great idea to bike into the city center and explore.  I was a good wife and agreed, but as you can tell from this post - I'm not a huge fan of biking.

First we biked to Nathan's work to find the route that he could start taking to work.  It isn't that far from our place AND I found the Alko (wine store) so part one of the excursion got an A+ from me. 

Then onto the city center - it was only about 6.5 km (we probably rode 10 km the whole day) but it seemed like forever - I had obviously gotten out of shape during my month long break in North Carolina!

When we FINALLY got there we decided to break for lunch (thank goodness).  We had a nice little picnic in Esplanade Park which was a great place for people watching.  My question is "Where's the Chikfila?  I want one of those new Spicy Chicken Sandwiches!"

Follow me to Chikfila!

From there we biked down to the harbor and checked out Market Square.  Lots of cool Finnish handmade crafts and food that smelled really tasty - we'll have to come back here for a snack for sure! 

From Market Square we caught a boat over to Suomenlinna/Sveaborg, a sea fortress that was built, starting in 1748, on the islands off the coast of Helsinki.  The boat trip took about 15 minutes and for the first time I got to see how beautiful the Gulf of Finland truly is. 

We just bought the new Sony Cybershot with panarama cabilities and this is our first shot - pretty cool!  (Of course this would have been an awesome feature in Egypt but I going to try NOT to dwell on that!)

When we landed, we followed the blue tourist path around the Suisaari and Kustaanmiekka islands to all the historical sites.  We also ventured off a couple times just to take in the scenery - I definitely want to come back and have a picnic here - all the locals were doing it - probably becauase the views were amazing!

Map of the area so you can visualize where we are.

Suomenlinna Church

Vesikko Submarine

The Courtyard

View from the Fortress

Nathan at Kustaanmiekka ready to kick some commi ass!  (Too bad the guns are still facing east towards Sweden from when Finland was a part of Russia during the 19th century - it was still a good try though honey - the Finnish army might try to recruit you!)

Both pics above are of me at King's Gate - which is the symbol of Suomenlinna and the entrance gateway to the fortress.

Not sure why, but I'm slightly obsessed with getting a good picture of Nathan and I with the flags of the countries we are living in.  Here is our first attempt at geting one with the Finnish Flag... obviously we are going to have to go for round two!:)

I went ahead and pointed out the flag - just in case you couldn't find it!:)  Obviously NOT the money shot!

Theb we took a boat back to the mainland and checked out some of the cool shops.  I am DEFINITELY going to have to spend a day shopping (preferably without Nathan:)).  And finally I begged Nathan to take the train home - he is such a good husband and said yes!  Thank you honey - my butt greatly appreciated it!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Our New Finnish Digs

Now the moment I KNOW you have all been waiting for - the unveiling of our new 400 sq ft apartment:)!  Sorry this took a while to post but I had to get it all clean and straightened up!  I made a video so you guys could get the true experience.  I have included a link to the pictures at the bottom just in case you can't get the video.  (Just click on the "picture" below to start it.)

This apartment is about 200 sq feet smaller than our one in Zurich - basically we are missing the spare bedroom.  I laugh because I told my friend Miriam on the phone yesterday that it was pretty spacious - my how our perspectives change!:)  I think I even said the kitchen was big!  Makes me laugh but does go to show that we don't really need a big house (but I learned that after we moved out of Apex!)  The simpler life for sure.

Things I love:
1.  The TV speaks to us in English!  Yeah!  I guess it is b/c such a small population of people speak Finnish (and it seems to me that 80% of that population speaks English) that they don't waste the money to dub it - they just use subtitles.  Point for Finland.
2.  We live on the 3rd floor and there is no elevator.  I guess this could go in either the love or hate category - but I am going to choose to "love it" because it will be part of my work out each day (okay yes I know it is only 3 flights but I have been doing it several times a day!)
3.  Our freezer is huge!  (Again perspective)  More room for ice cream!  (See number 2 - hopefully these two things will even each other out:)).
4.  We have a nice sized storage closet.  The bummer part is that most of it had already been taken up by stuff that was left here (not sure by previous owners or by corporate apartment people so I didn't want to throw it away).
5.  We don't have a closet/wardrobe in our bedroom.  Again this could be love or hate - but chosing to "love it" because now when Nathan gets ready in the morning he does it in the hallway and doesn't wake me up!:)
6.  It is really quite at night - no Hookah Bar blasting music all night long!
7.  The shower, sink and washing machine all use the same faucet.  I don't know why I love it - it just cracks me up!  Good efficient engineering I guess!
8.  There is a bike storage on the bottom floor.  We didn't have this in Switzerland (we had to keep our bikes on our balcony) which kind of sucked because it was hard to carry my bike up and down the stairs by myself (especially with groceries).  This is even more awesome since Nathan is biking to work (it cuts 20 minutes off his commute daily) and I have to bike to the Wine Store (it would take forever to walk it - although you know I would if I had to!)

Yep - that's my man - biking home from work.  And before you ask - yes -  the grey "Grease Preventing Biking Legwarmers" were his invention (I named them though:)).  They are the zip off part off hiking pants held up with rubber bands at the top and bottom.  Thank goodness he has a Georgia Tech education or he might not have been able to engineer these himself:)

Things I don't love as much:
1.  We don't have a dishwasher (well technically we or toaster, but we do have a microwave.  We didn't have a microwave for the last year and I didn't really miss it at all, but I do eat a piece of toast every morning.  I have been using the oven to toast the bread but that seems like a lot of effort... (oh and before you say go buy one - I tried that already - but remember who I am married to - no frivously spending - but seriously isn't that the best kind of spending?)
2.  No bedroom door.  This is a big bummer because I came up with the ingenious idea to use one of the bed covers as a curtain to help block the light, but so much additional light comes in from the kitchen that it is almost pointless.
3.  Three twin beds in the bedroom.  The first night Nathan tried to snuggle with me and the beds ended up coming apart in the middle of the night and he ended up on the floor - actually pretty funny:).  Well maybe I should but this in the "love it" category - it has taught him to stay on his side of the bed!:)
4. Our suburb/village is kind of remote - not a lot of shopping places or things to occupy my time when I'm trying to avoid working.:)

"Downtown" view of the metropolis that we live in.  Sorry - there is another grocery store and hair salon that I couldn't get in the picture - the area was just TOO big!:)  But hey- at least we have a grocery store within walking distance!

Well I guess the "Love its" win 2 to 1 - woo hoo!  Now that I've settled in (and quit whining) - I'm expecting another great European Summer!

p.s. - Here is the link to the apartment pics if you can't watch the video.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I think I'm overdosing on Vitamin D.

Has anyone been to their health care professional lately?  I think they are all pushing Vitamin D.  My doctor checked mine and it was "extremely low" (which I'm pretty sure is due to the fact that Zurich is grey during the entire winter and I didn't get enough sunlight) so I am now taking 50,00 units a week.

Then we moved to Finland - 20 hours of sunlight a day. Overdose for sure!  Side effects - staying up past 10 pm on a week night!  Even Nathan!  No HBT (horizontal by 10) for us this summer.  So feel free to call us at your leisure - we are wired!:)

The view from our balcony around 10 pm at night - still really bright!

View from our balcony at 4 am (I took this the first night when I woke up and couldn't sleep due to the jet lag - I had to ask myself - did it even get dark?  Still not sure...)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tässä sitä taas mennään - Helsinki, Finland

Here we go again! (or "tässä sitä taas mennään" in Finnish - as translated by Google translator:))!

Nathan and I both arrived in Helsinki this week - Nathan on Tuesday and me on Thursday.  Nathan has been here many times, but I've never been to Finland, or any of the Scandanavian countries for that matter, so I have been very excited for this new adventure!

With that being said - the first 48 hours have been a little challenging so bare with me on this first post - okay?:)

I arrived in Helsinki via American Airlines on Thursday morning at 8:30 am - a very easy and uneventful flight.  I then hopped in a cab to our new apartment (too heavy of luggage for public transportation AND I had no idea where I was going:)) where Nathan was waiting to greet me.  The cab ride was about 20 minutes - the first thing I noticed was the lack of Alps.:)  Of course I know I'm in Finland not Switzerland - but I had gotten so used to that view!  Anyway, for what I could tell, Helsinki is very flat and green - lots of trees and (at least where I was) not a whole lot of buildings.

Nathan magically appeared when the cab pulled up in front of our apartment building (thank goodness), because I had no way of calling him down to get me.:)  He carried my 50 lb suitcase up three flights of stairs (no elevator in this building) to our new home for the next 4 months.  I had no idea what it was going to be like because I didn't get to see any pictures before I got here - I just knew that it was 40 square meters (about 400 square feet) - 20 square meters less than our old place.

The apartment is what it is.  We have a bedroom with three twin beds in it, a kitchen, a bathroom where one faucet controls the washing machine, sink, and shower, and a sitting area with a couch, two chairs, a TV and the "Becker Command Center" as we like to call it (essentially the kitchen table with our three computers on it).  I'll get back to all of this in a later post when I give you a video tour:)

We live on the top floor of a three story building on a very quiet tree lined street.  No Hookah Bar downstairs.  No train station noise in the background.  Actually, no noise at all.

Nathan headed out around 9:30 am for work and walked me to the grocery store and train station, so I would have my bearings.  The grocery store is a little bit farther than the one in Oerlikon, but we have a place to store our bikes on the ground level of our apartment, so I will be able to ride there (yeah!). 

For lack of a better word - we basically live in a village - I can't say suburb because that would give you the wrong visualization.  The "village center" has an R-kiosk, a market, another market that is also the post office, and a hair salon.  Not a lot of action out here, which is slightly depressing me right now, but I haven't been able to get on the train to go into Helsinki proper, so I won't go into a full on "I need prozac" tailspin just yet.  Nathan said it is only two stops to civilization (I mean Helsinki) and we are going today so I will get back to you on this subject. 

Now back to the apartment - the corporate apartment - that isn't cheap.  Seriously - this place gets a big WTF from me.  The company that rents this place should be really embaressed.  It was DISGUSTING when I got here - leftover food on the dishes in the cabinets (gross), an inch of hair and lint on the bathroom floor (double gross), bottle tops and other stuff under the couch, brown goo and other marks (possibly food?) on a lot of the walls and doors - and I could go on.  First of all - who lived here before - a neanderthal?  Food on the walls - really?  And WHY wasn't the place cleaned before we got here - or possibly ever? 

I mentioned a few of these things to Nathan before he left for work the first morning, so he sent an email to the apartment people.  They sent over some 20 year old girl to "clean" about an hour later- I'm not sure she knew I would be there b/c she had a guy with her - possibly her boyfriend? - not sure.  Anyway - he left when he saw me.  She apologized for it being "not clean" and asked what the problem was.  I pointed out the two things I had noticed (food on dishes and hair on bathroom floor), but at that point I hadn't had a good chance to check everything out.  She spent about 20 minutes cleaning those two things and asked if there was anything else.  I was too tired to deal with her and obviously if I had to explain what was dirty it was going to be pointless.  I decided to finish my nap and then take on the cleaning myself. 

I took me about 8 hours to clean our tiny 400 square foot apartment, but I feel a lot better now (just for the record the cleaning took place over two days - Thursday and Friday - since I also slept, unpacked, and worked on Swagger stuff as well). The kitchen was the worst.  I washed ALL the kitchen stuff by hand (we don't have a dishwasher) and cleaned out the cabinets and refridgerator so our food would be "safe":).  I then put everything I thought was gross into the storage area including the pillows and bed linens with random stains (we brought our own stuff - thank God).  I can gladly report that both our mothers would be proud of the clealiness now - I know it would pass the white glove test! 

Not sure what it is about moving to a new country that makes Nathan and I argue.  Possibly it had something to do with when Nathan came home from work and wondered why I hadn't gone to the grocery store because he was hungry and wanted me to make him dinner. Seriously - I almost killed him - like boom - dead.  Of course when I told him he could go to the grocery store that was completely out of the question - figures.  I also said that since I had been working so hard the least he could do was take me into Helsinki and buy me dinner.  Nope - that didn't work out either - "we're going on Saturday" he said - "can't you just wait"? Seriously?!  He's lucky he's still alive - especially since I did go to the grocery store to buy stuff for dinner and they don't even sell wine there! (I came home and looked this up on the internet and apparently you have to go to a special alcohol store to buy wine - which is fine except that there isn't one in this village!)  Could be a long 4 months people:)

Anyway - enough venting! Sorry guys - I think I'm just sleep deprived, wine deprived, and a little cranky from all the dirt and the fact that my computer died last night (literally) and doesn't look fixable:(. Hopefully I'll be back to my normal self by the end of the weekend after I "go into town" and see Helsinki.  I need civilization - it makes me happy.  I'm sure that will take me out of the "I miss Oerlikon - with all the people and stores" feeling.  Hell - I'm even thinking that I'd take the Hookah Bar right now (did I just say that?)! But if I remember correctly the first couple of days in Switzerland weren't so fabulous either - shock of moving to a new culture and place I guess.  I'm sure I'll be on the "I love Finland" bus soon - so stay tuned!

For the next post I plan on taking you on a tour of our new digs and showing you the picture that I took at 4 am when I couldn't sleep - gotta love being this far North!:)


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