Posted in Travel, Within Finland

Savonlinna

Oh my goodness, we went somewhere!! Since travel is so crazy right now, we decided to stay in Finland and have a long weekend getaway while Little Man’s daycare was closed for staff training. Alas, I still have mom brain and got the dates mixed up, so Little Man will have a four day weekend at home this week. I’m sure I’ll find something fun to keep him occupied. *fingers crossed* 

Back to the travel! After much deliberation, we chose Savonlinna as our destination. Aside from hearing about how beautiful it is, and the fact that there’s a castle there (linna is Finnish for castle), it’s easily accessible by train from Helsinki. We would’ve been happy to rent a car, but something like 90% of them were sold out, and we’re iffy about our licences being valid here, so we went for the safe option. Besides, LM loves trains, and it seemed easier with Young Miss. (She’s never actually been in a car so we have no idea how she’ll react to a car seat.)

LM went to daycare as usual on Thursday, then Hubster, YM, and I picked him up a bit early, and we all walked to the train station. We took the normal commuter train to the Helsinki Central Station, then boarded a long distance VR train bound for Jouensuu. The family compartment had already been booked when we looked at tickets, so we reserved seats in a business compartment instead. It seats four and has a closing door, so it was pretty easy to keep LM contained. As YM didn’t require a seat, there was one extra. It only remained vacant for one stop before we were joined by the chattiest Finn I had ever met. He was very nice, incredibly interesting, and helped pass the three hour journey enjoyably.

Young Miss’ first long distance train ride!

Hopping off the train at Parikkala, we boarded the next (and final) train to Savonlinna. This was only about an hour ride on a smaller, and much older, train. It was nice though, because the windows opened so we could catch the scent of the forest as we plodded along. The scenery was beautiful. From the Savonlinna station, it was about a twenty minute walk to our Air BnB. We checked in, got settled, then YM and I went to the nearby grocery store to get a few things for dinner. Little Man was not too pleased that we’d messed with his routine, even though we’d been talking about this trip for at least a week, and Young Miss had never been away from home for so long, so they both took a while to settle, finally falling asleep at 9:30.

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Zzzzz

At least I have babies who sleep well (for the most part); Young Miss woke up at 5:30, and the two of us enjoyed some quiet girl time, complete with coffee and copious amounts of spit up.

She finally wore herself out again.

After the boys got up, we walked back to the market square to find breakfast. There were a few food stalls and we picked one with lörtsy, the local dish, to try. Lörtsy is a half moon-shaped pastry with either a sweet or savory filling, and was invented in Savonlinna. We got both sweet (apple, which is the most common, and blueberry with vanilla) and savory (reindeer). I have to say, while I’m usually a sweet pastry person, that reindeer lörtsy was absolutely delicious and I’m pretty sad that we didn’t go back for another one later.
Reindeer lörtsy. Served warm and folded in half.

Happily full of pastry and coffee, we set off in the direction of Olavinlinna Castle, walking along the waterfront. It was a bright, mostly sunny morning, perfect for enjoying the rippling water, and a long stop at the playground that was on the way.

The beautiful Saimaa lake.

After almost an hour at the playground, during which LM thoroughly enjoyed climbing all over and going down the tunnel slide, and YM napped, we continued to the castle. We were aiming for the guided tour in English at noon, but hadn’t taken into account that it’s still tourist season, and quite a few people were visiting Savonlinna. By the time we made it to the front of the line, we had given up on the tour, and decided to just explore on our own. (Normally, the tour takes you to towers you can’t access on your own, but those were under renovation, so we weren’t missing much, other than information.) I’m not sure if castles are intentionally built to be confusing, or if this one was simply lacking directional signs, but we walked through the same three rooms a handful of times trying to get outside. When we finally made it, we decided it was a good time for lunch and stopped to eat along an outer wall.
Lunch at Olavinlinna Castle

After that, we decided to call it quits (I had carried a sleeping baby through most of the castle, including some fairly treacherous staircases because I had forgotten to bring the carrier), and headed back to the entrance to pick up the stroller. As we were walking through the courtyard, it began to rain. This is where I tell you that we had zero rain gear, other than Little Man’s rain coat and an umbrella each. We then made the decision to go back inside and have some coffee in what was once the great hall, and wait out the rain.

When it eventually let up, the sun came out long enough for us to get a few nice photos outside the castle, and stop for ice cream. It was my favourite part of the afternoon, and I think LM would agree.

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Thoroughly enjoying our ice cream

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to guess the weather. We successfully made it to a restaurant near the square, where we enjoyed some drinks (beer for Hubster, a latte for me, and a huge glass of milk for LM), and a bread plate, before deciding to chance it and walk home. Of course, it started really raining the closer we got to the apartment, so we ducked into the grocery store to pick up some things for dinner. Unfortunately, the rain hadn’t let up any by the time we finished, so the ten minute walk to the apartment was pretty wet. LM didn’t seem to mind, and YM was quite cozy with the rain cover on her pram (though not happy; she cried the entire way home). We stayed in for the rest of the night, happy to be in a home setting and able to relax.

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Coffee in the most adorable mug in the house

Saturday morning was a slow start, with Hubster making a run to the store for breakfast, followed by the two of us trying to convince Little Man to go on a steamboat. He was adamant about not going on a boat, for whatever reason. Finally, we figured out that he wanted to go back to the tunnel slide. After that, it was easy to say that we would go on the boat first, then go to the playground.

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Steamboats in the harbour

It was supposed to rain off and on all day, so we weren’t in any rush to get out. Of course, that meant that it was gorgeous and clear all morning. It was a bit windy and starting to drizzle by the time we made our way to the harbour; the perfect time to go on a boat tour. We got there about fifteen minutes before departure, right as they were boarding, but early enough to get an excellent seat inside. We parked the pram on the deck and Young Miss proceeded to sleep for the entire hour and a half tour (and longer, taking a two and a half hour nap in total). I think the gentle rocking of the steamboat, along with the rhythmic chug-chug-chug of the engine kept her asleep.

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The perfect spot for a nap

We enjoyed some refreshments along with the views. Little Man was happy watching a movie on the tablet, only occasionally glancing out the window. (I didn’t expect a four-year-old to be excited about scenery.  As long as he was content, I was happy.)

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How to successfully travel with kids

That being said, the scenery was spectacular. Having grown up near the ocean, and often spending time on rivers and various lakes, I love being near water. It soothes my soul.

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My happy place

We cruised around the archipelago, content to be inside, while also admiring the many islands and signs of life on them. I always like to imagine what life would be like in these places, probably romanticizing it to the extreme (that’s what I do best). I then forced myself to remember that this is Finland, and, knowing what winters are like, realizing how nice it would be to have a summer home here, but not loving the idea of the icy wind and meters-deep snow. Sigh. 

As promised, after disembarking from the steamboat, we made a beeline for the playground. It was ugly windy at that point, and lightly raining. I continued a short way passed the park to the public bathroom; Young Miss had finally woken up and needed a diaper change. Normally, I’d be fine to do that in the pram, but with the weather, it was nice to get out of the elements. Little Man happily spent 45 minutes at the playground before we gave in to the cold (I should also mention that the only “coat” I had brought was a lace sweater with three-quarter length sleeves. Apparently I have no idea how to dress for Finnish weather), and went back to the same restaurant as the day before. 

Amazingly, it was packed. At 5:30, we had expected the dinner crowd not to have arrived yet, but we were lucky to get a table. We all enjoyed burgers and a nice atmosphere before once again making the trek back to the apartment. Both kiddos fell asleep pretty easily which was nice, as they both slept in the living room: LM on the pull out sofa bed and YM in a travel cot.

Sunday was our travel home day, so we spent the morning cleaning the necessities in the apartment and doing last minute packing. Our train left at 12:30, but we went into town a bit early so we could try another dish that is well-known in Savonlinna: muikku. A friend of mine had suggested a restaurant on the square that serves them, so we went there when they opened at 11:00. Also known as vendace, muikku is a white fish commonly found in Finland and other northern European countries. Here, they are served fried and eaten whole, minus the heads. The bones are soft enough to not be a problem, but every now and then, I’d get a poker. Still, they were quite delicious. Even YM wanted to try some.

After that, we stopped for one last ice cream before hopping back on the train.

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Our shortest day had the best weather!

It was so nice to get away for a few days and see another little part of Finland. Hopefully we’ll be able to explore it more before we move.

Posted in Travel, United Kingdom

Playing Tourist in London

Sunday night in Kensington is much quieter than Saturday, so we were all able to get some sleep before our big day exploring London. Hubster, Little Man, and I breakfasted in the flat, then met up with Unky Mark on the way to the tube station. Let me say that I was incredibly happy not to be navigating on this trip; I’ve been spoiled with the Helsinki metro and its one line, with no need to transfer. The London tube, quite frankly, gives me a headache just looking at the map.

We took whichever lines necessary to get from Gloucester Road to Westminster. Little Man, as usual, enjoyed every moment, from booping the Oyster card upon entering the station, to navigating the winding underground tunnels, to climbing the crowded stairs back to street level. Once we stepped back into the chilly January air (ah, fresh air!), we were standing directly across from Big Ben. I looked up excitedly, admiring the beautiful clock tower in all its scaffolded glory. Sigh. I could barely make out the clock face through the criss-crossing metal, and didn’t bother getting any pictures. I’m slightly regretting that now as it is amusing to look back at the disappointment.

We walked a little ways onto the Westminster Bridge, which passes over the River Thames, and admired the Houses of Parliament.

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Such a pretty view!

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Figuring out the best route to Buckingham Palace

After we all agreed to the route Hubster had suggested, we set off down Birdcage Walk, along St. James’ Park. Deciding to enter the park rather than stay along the street, we walked along the beautiful St. James’ Park Lake.

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Little Man picking up some navigation skills

We walked the length of the park, ending up near Buckingham Palace. There were swarms of people gathered outside, and eventually we figured out that they were waiting for the changing of the guards. As cool as it would have been to see that, a nice older gentleman was going through the crowds, informing people that it would be at least a half an hour wait until the new guards arrived. Little Man was not about to stand still that long, and the rest of us weren’t too fussed about watching the ceremony from afar, so we continued walking back along The Mall, which runs along the opposite side of St. James’ Park to Birdcage Walk.

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The streets around Buckingham Palace were closed in preparation for the changing of the guard

We lucked out on our choice of route as it brought us alongside the military barracks. We may not have seen the actual changing of the guard, but we did get to see this amazing procession of guards on horseback!

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Such a cool sight to see!

We passed Clarence House, the Queen’s Chapel, and the Royal Society before passing under Admiralty Arch and arriving at the famed Trafalgar Square. Maybe I was expecting more people, or possibly more pigeons, I’m not sure. All I know is that Peppa Pig has a lot to answer for when it comes to how exciting Trafalgar Square is. Perhaps not much was happening as it was January and not the best weather, but I did find the whole place rather underwhelming.

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Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

We wasted no time in plotting the course to our next stop: The Royal Observatory in Greenwich. There’s a bit of a back story as to why we wanted to visit, and it’s so random, I feel I should share it. Little Man had become rather obsessed with watching airplane videos on YouTube. (It’s amazing how many people film themselves flying!) One video in particular was his favorite for quite awhile: Flying Around the World in 80 Hours. It’s done by Noel Philips, who lives in the UK, and it starts, you guessed it, at the Royal Observatory. So, because it’s a cool story, but mostly because we spoil the crap out of LM, we had to go. Besides, I thought it would be a great spot for an expectant family photo.

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Entrance to the Charing Cross tube station

Back on the Underground we went! At least the entrance to Charing Cross was in  Trafalgar Square. Oh, but then we had to walk about a mile through the tunnels to actually get to the train. It was exhausting. (Perhaps I should mention here that the only pair of shoes I brought with me were one inch heels. They’re super comfortable, but holy cow, there’s a reason heels are not recommended during pregnancy! My lower back was killing me by the end of the day.) But of course, being in London has its perks. Not the least of which is making random Harry Potter connections to things you weren’t sure actually existed or not. (I was a little bummed that we didn’t go on a Harry Potter walking tour. Perhaps when the little ones are old enough to appreciate it…or at least humor me.)

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This makes an appearance in the 7th HP book. I tried to contain my excitement. (It didn’t work.)

Upon our arrival in Greenwich, we realized it would be a good time for lunch. Deciding pizza was a safe bet for everyone, we found an amazing place called Franco Manca, which serves pizza with a sourdough crust. We each ordered a personal pizza (one off the kids menu for Little Man), beer or juice (I asked for a non-alcoholic cider and the waiter laughed at me, asking, “Isn’t that apple juice?”), and settled in at our cozy table. The food was ah-may-zing! I’m fairly certain it was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, and we’ve ordered pizza in just about every country we’ve been to. Besides having the best crust I’ve ever tasted, it’s served with a choice of oils for dipping. I went with the chili oil since spice is sparse in Finland and, hello, cravings. But don’t take my word for it; the true test of how good food is, is how much of it Little Man eats. He ate his entire  pizza. The whole thing. Hubster and I were shocked. That was the most he’d eaten at one time in at least a month, if not ever. (He’s not a big eater at the best of times, but for him to eat that much of one thing goes to show how delicious it is.) Also, it was pretty big for a kids’ pizza.

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The best pizza ever at Franco Manca

Completely stuffed, we heaved ourselves away from the table and began walking to the Royal Observatory. (At least we had a decent walk to help us digest!) It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, if a bit chilly, and Greenwich is a gorgeous place for a stroll. Hubster once again took the lead with navigating and we moseyed through a park full of dog walkers and squirrels, always a hilarious combination.

Eventually, we came to the base of a hill, atop which stood the Royal Observatory. There was a sign stating that it was a six minute hike up (I say “hike” because it was a steep hill), or you could take the handicap accessible trail, taking 18 minutes. I decided to brave the six minute path and go slowly. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to look back halfway up and was rewarded with a stunning view.

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View of Greenwich on the way to the Royal Observatory

At last, we all made it to the top. Unfortunately, that’s when Hubster realized that we’d come to the Royal Observatory, when what we actually wanted to see was the Prime Meridian…at the bottom of the hill. Cue long-suffereing groan. The nice thing about this park is that there seemed to be no end to the number of paths, so we chose a different one for our descent. About ten minutes later, we reached our planned destination. (Looking at the map now, where we really went was the Millennium Sun Dial, next to the Greenwich Boating Pond. This was where Noel filmed his flight video and luckily, exactly where we wanted to be.)

Although the boating pond was empty, and being used as a playground for happy pups, we were not the only ones admiring the sundial, and had to wait our turn for a photo opp. It was well worth it.

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Family photo at the Millennium Sun Dial in Greenwich

As Little Man was still fairly energetic (it takes quite a bit to wear him down), we stopped at the Children’s Playground next to the sundial. Another excellent play area, he had a blast and ran off the last of his pizza.

Ready to head home (and get cake at Fait Mason near our Air BnB), we made our way back to the tube, stopping briefly at a souvenir shop along the way. We had been telling LM all day that we would get cake on our way home. I was so excited to stop at the beautifully decorated cake place, with beautiful-looking cakes, not to mention eat some of that beautiful deliciousness. Alas, as I was getting ready to place our order, Hubster noticed the sign that said “Cash Only”. What a blow! Of course, none of us had cash, and we didn’t feel like finding an ATM and coming back. Seriously, why was this sign next to the cash register and not on the door?! I was heartbroken. Fait Mason, you will always have the cake that got away.

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I’m sad every time I think about it

Slightly depressed (don’t come between a pregnant lady and cake!), we said farewell to Unky Mark for the final time, swung by a store for some form of dessert for LM since it was so constantly talked about, and went home. LM couldn’t have cared less about his dessert, and passed out close to 6 pm. (I guess we did wear him out.)

Apparently anxious to get home, he woke us up at 4:30 the next morning. Oy, kids. At least we weren’t rushing to get to the airport. While checking in, I was finally asked if I was expecting. I was so flattered that someone would ask that I’d completely forgotten about my Finnair form. Of course, it was on file, and the counter agent was simply doing her job by asking, but it made me happy nonetheless.

A friend of mine had upgraded LM and I to business class for the flight home, and Hubster had paid for his seat upgrade, so we all flew in style. (After also flying business class to Mexico in November, I’m getting used to this. It’s an amazing way to fly.) There’s so much leg room!

Other than Little Man having a complete screaming meltdown when he had to put his seat belt on for landing, it was a pretty good flight. Those last twenty minutes made me feel bad for everyone else in business class, but hey, at least it wasn’t the entire journey. Of course, as soon as we touched down, he passed out. That’s what happens when you wake up too early. One day he’ll learn…I hope.

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Good thing he’s cute.

And just like that, Little Man had completed his 59th flight. This was also my 14th flight while pregnant, the same number as with LM. These two were born with wanderlust in their veins.

 

Posted in Travel, United Kingdom

London Called, So We Called at London

It transpired that in January this year, Hubster made a business trip to Bristol. As I was desperate to see London, and Hubster’s brother was also there on business, Little Man and I flew out to meet them on a Saturday.

At this point in time, I was 31 weeks pregnant. We were flying on Finnair, who, at the 28th week of pregnancy, require a doctor’s certificate to prove that the pregnancy is progressing normally. You’re required to send the certificate to Finnair prior to your flight, and they will send you an approval, which you must have in order to board. In Finland, this certificate can be signed by a midwife, but when I asked mine about it, she said that only private clinics will provide them. So I made an appointment at the Terveystalo (literally “health house”; this is the private clinic), saw a doctor for about 15 minutes, and obtained my certificate for a whopping 154€. (Insurance did eventually cover it, but it took being submitted twice before that happened.)

For Finnairs requirements for flying while pregnant, click here.

The day of our flight to London, no one asked to see my certificate or, indeed, asked if I was pregnant at all. I had been emailed an approval from Finnair, so I wasn’t worried, but after all the hassle, it would’ve been nice to know that it was needed. All the same, Little Man and I boarded the flight, and spent an enjoyable three hours on the airplane. It was probably one of his best ever flights, behaviour wise, other than the ones where he slept the entire time. Lucky for me, since being so pregnant is not comfortable at the best of times, but especially not on an airplane.

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This was Little Man’s 58th flight!

We landed safely in London, breezed through immigration, and made our way to the train that would take us to Paddington Station. I love Paddington Station. It’s so iconically British and has everything the harried traveler could need, and then some. We had timed it perfectly so LM and I had only about a ten minute wait for Hubster’s train from Bristol. I managed to find which track it would be arriving on and planted LM in front of it while pointing out various dogs to keep him occupied. Soon enough, Hubster appeared, and we all made our way to a nearby cafe for a quick coffee and snack before catching the tube to our Air BnB in Kensington.

We picked up the keys from a hotel, then decided to stop at Waitrose for a few essentials. We then proceeded to walk from the Gloucester Road tube station to Queens Gate. Turns out, that’s where a lot of Embassy’s are, and it felt very fancy, walking through Kensington, surrounded by high end cars and gorgeous buildings.

Our accommodations were a small but nice ground floor flat, with drafty windows and the noisiest neighbors I’ve ever encountered. Little Man had started running back and forth around 6 pm, causing (I’m guessing) the neighbors below us to slide a note under the door asking that we not run “noisily”. I felt bad for disturbing them, but then again, it was 6 pm on a Saturday! I really wanted to know if they had a word with any of the people coming and going between 10 pm and 3 am who decided that yelling up the stairway (directly in front of our door) was the best possible way to communicate for extended periods of time. I doubt it. At least LM managed to sleep through all the ruckus.

Sunday morning dawned bright and crisp. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the flat, before setting out to explore Hyde Park. I was thrilled to finally see it. After reading all the Jane Austen novels, and so many others that reference this marvelous green space, my romantic teenage heart was swooning. With the sun shining through the trees onto the frost-covered grass, the smell of the fresh air, and the lovely English accents surrounding us, I felt like I’d walked right into one of those novels. Little Man found no end of enjoyment in chasing after the various dogs taking their morning constitutionals, and we slowly wound our way to Round Pond. Here, we marveled at the geese and innumerable swans floating merrily on the still water.

We continued our explorations by passing Kensington Palace (OMG, that’s where Will and Kate live!!), and admiring the pretty, if not yet in bloom, gardens.

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Kensington Palace and the statue of Queen Victoria (she’s my favorite)

From there, we walked to the Diana Memorial Playground. We picked up a coffee and pastries from the little coffee shop outside, before entering the most amazing play area. Any adult entering must be accompanying a child, and the gate is unlocked by someone inside. This place is indescribably fantastic. All the play structures are made out of wood, with the exception of the metal slides, and there are numerous little areas, all with different themes, and separated by foliage. (One area is filled with a huge ship. It was incredible, and clearly a favorite of the kids.) You could easily spend an entire day there, but we called it quits after about two hours of nonstop running by LM.

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Well, he did stop to eat a chocolate pastry in a play house

As we left, we met up with Hubster’s brother or, as Little Man calls him, Unky Mark. At this point, Little Man was pretty worn out, not to mention hungry (he does this great thing where he gets too distracted by playing to realize how hungry he is or, indeed, eat), and showed all the signs of an impending meltdown. It was nearing lunchtime anyway, so we made our way to a pub for a classic British lunch. I had a chicken and mushroom pie (not at all the type of “pie” Americans think of, more like chicken pot pie), and the boys had pub food and beer. It was all delicious. I have no clue where the idea that British food is awful comes from, but I love it. Of course, it could have been the pregnancy hormones (give me all of the food!), but I’d recommend trying it before writing it off. 

Happily full, our little group then trekked to the nearest tube station (the riding of the train being the highlight of Little Man’s day), and headed to Vauxhall City Farm. Hubster and I had taken LM to a city farm on our trip to Bristol two years previously, and thought he might enjoy it this time as well. We had also tried to plan things specifically that he would like, hence the Diana Memorial Playground. Honestly, he would’ve been happy riding the tube all day long, but it was nice to have a destination.

We chose Vauxhall City Farm over a few others for a couple of reasons: First, it was close to a tube station (about a ten minute walk), and convenient to get to from our flat; second, it was open on a day and time that we could visit; and third, it was free! (London is expensive, so any free activities are a total bonus.) It wasn’t very big, but the farm had alpacas, goats, chickens, rabbits, and horses. The people are friendly, and they ask for a donation, if you’d like to give one, at the entrance. We managed about twenty minutes there before Little Man tried making his way back to the tube station, so we gave in and headed home. Unky Mark had some more work to do, so we said “see you tomorrow” after disembarking from the Underground, stopped again for groceries, and had a quiet dinner in. LM fell asleep at 8:30, I’m assuming in order to recharge for the next day which, unbeknownst to us at the time, would be the most jam-packed of the trip. But I’ll save that for the next post…which I promise I’ll publish much quicker than this one!

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This place had gorgeous cakes. Find out in my next post why that makes me so sad!

 

 

Posted in Life

Happy January!

Good grief, I’ve been slacking! The last you heard from me, we were about to go to Colorado, then Oregon to visit family. We did that in September, then in November went to Mexico to celebrate my mom’s retirement. On the way home, we had a half day layover in Istanbul (boy, was that exciting!), and somewhere in there, I became pregnant. It’s been such a long time since I last wrote, there’s only two months until the baby is due!

So here’s my plan: I’d like to write a post about Cozumel because it was such a great trip. We’re actually heading to London this weekend, so that might come first. I’m also now writing a pregnancy blog (because if life in Finland is different, pregnancy definitely is), so I’m juggling that as well. However, Little Man is now enrolled in daycare five days a week, so you’d think I’d find the time for all this. Plus, you know, preparing for a new baby. Eek! I figure if I write out a plan, I have a better chance of sticking to it. Here’s hoping!

I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year! For now, I’ll leave you with this adorable picture of Little Man poolside in Cozumel.

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He had a blast! Pappy is in the background (that’s my daddy!)

Posted in Living in Helsinki

Helsinki Airplane Museum

One of the main advantages of being an expat is having other expat connections. It was one of these wonderful ladies who made me aware of the Airplane Museum in Helsinki, a museum that seems to be little-known, even among locals. Of course, as soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to go. Aviation really gets in your blood, and even though it’s been three years since I’ve worked for an airline, the pull is still strong. Plus: Airplanes!!

Getting there

The museum, called the Suomen Ilmailumuseo in Finnish, is located next to the airport. From the train station in Helsinki, you can take either the I or P train (the P train is faster in this direction; I take the I train home), and get off at Aviapolis. Take the exit toward Aviabulevardi and when you eventually make it to the surface, turn right and walk along the Clarion hotel until you can look left and see an airplane on display. Don’t let the fencing fool you, it’s perfectly acceptable to walk through the gate to the museum. It is housed in an old aircraft hanger, after all, so it makes sense that it would be fenced if it used to be part of the airfield.

The Museum

The 10€ entrance fee is totally worth it (children under 7 are free), and I was giddy when I walked into the first exhibition room. I should probably point out that I went twice; once with Little Man, who had a great time running around all the planes and climbing the stairs (which are old air stairs used for boarding planes from the tarmac), and once on my own, so I could actually look at the planes. The hangers may be spacious, but they are packed with aircraft. There are two main rooms, separated by a “family relaxing room” (including a couch, small play area with aviation-themed toys, a tv showing something about flying, and a hot air balloon basket), as well as a decent-sized cafe near the entrance.

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Ready to board his next flight!

It’s recommended, especially in the winter, to wear appropriate clothing as the exhibition halls are not heated. For more information about the museum, click here. Okay, now on to the planes!

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The worlds smallest flying boat

This plane made its first flight on 23 February 1949. It was originally designed by Torolf Eklund as an amphibian with a 28 horse power engine. However, it was found to be under-powered, so a 40 HP engine was installed, the landing gear removed, and it became the worlds smallest flying boat. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a flying boat!

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Finnish Air Force jet engine

This plane was the first jet engine trainer in the Finnish Air Force (FAF). Nine of these beauties were in use between 1955-65. It was also the first aircraft in Finland with ejection seats. Have you ever thought beyond the ejection? I’m a little disappointed to say that I never did. Until I saw the supplies these planes were stocked with.

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Ejection seat supplies

This was supposedly everything a person would need to survive until rescue after ejecting from an aircraft. Do you think it’s sufficient?

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This one is older than my grandparents!

This little guy was built in 1922, making it the oldest surviving aircraft to be built in Finland. It is classified as a three-seat license built maritime scoutplane. The FAF had 120 of these in use from 1922-36. I can’t imagine fitting three people in here; I stand at least two feet higher than the roof.

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Record breaking!

This is the only Finnish aircraft to have achieved a world’s record. Designed and built by engineer Juhani Heinonen in 1954, he then made a record long distance flight on 10 July 1957. The flight from Madrid to Turku was 2,844 kilometers and took 17 hours 1 minute to complete. This took the world record for a single-engine land plane with a maximum take-off weight of 500 kilos. The record stayed with this aircraft until 1974.

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Convair Metropolitan

I do believe this is the only commercial aircraft in the museum. It was amongst the first three Convair airliners ordered by Aero Ltd in 1951. It was manufactured in San Diego, CA in April 1953, and flown to Finland a month later. Originally built as a 44-seat Conavair 340 type airliner, it was later converted to a 52-seat Convair 440 “Metropolitan” in 1956. This is the longest serving aircraft in the history of Finnair. It flew its last flight on 30 April 1980, after which it was donated to the Finnish Aviation Museum.

But the best part of this plane is that you’re allowed to go inside! There are only a few seats open to be sat in, and you’re not allowed in the cockpit, but it’s super cool to see how much planes have changed over the years!

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Inside the Convair Metropolitan

I think my favorite part was the purple seats. It also still smells faintly of smoke, since smoking on flights was fashionable when this aircraft was in service.

Last but not least:

 

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Two Seat Unarmed Fighter Trainer

I’ve saved this plane for last for a couple of reasons: One, it’s got a pretty fascinating history, and two, anyone notice the swastika painted on the side? Yeah, I’ll get to that.

Firstly, this is the sole surviving aircraft of this type in the world. It was designed and built in the Soviet Union in 1937. The FAF used it from 1941-42. It is also the only remaining plane of the 90 Soviet aircraft captured during the war.

It is NOT, however, the only Finnish plane with a swastika. Finland’s use of the now notorious symbol predates that of Hitler’s Nazis by a good decade. In 1918, the Finnish White Army was fighting a battle against Soviet-backed Red Guards in hopes of establishing an independent Finland. A Swedish count, Eric von Rosen, had a swastika painted on the wings of an aircraft which he donated to the White Army. After the Whites won, the swastika became a symbol of freedom and independence, as well as the official symbol of the Finnish Air Force. This remained the case until after WWII. As you can imagine, not many people were fans of the swastika at that time and, having signed a post-war armistice with the United States and the Soviet Union (and probably a few other countries), Finland agreed to no longer paint the swastika on their military aircraft.

Interestingly, it is still a part of the FAF emblem and can be found on numerous wartime monuments around Helsinki. There is quite a debate about whether or not that should change. (The best article I found on the subject is this one. It freely shows both sides and is very informative.) I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on the subject. I for one don’t think it’s a black and white issue.

Questions: Which was your favorite airplane?

What do you think of the Finnish swastika?

 

Posted in Living in Helsinki

The Hidden WWI Park in Helsinki

In an attempt to get out of the apartment more, now that Little Man is attending daycare three days a week, I’ve been looking for places to explore nearby. While searching Google maps, I stumbled upon a park with a camera icon. I clicked on it and found a hidden treasure. It was labelled in Finnish, so I didn’t know exactly what it was, but the posted photos showed some sort of structure in the park. I told Hubster about it and he (tech wiz that he is) went to the website and discovered that it was a park containing bunkers that were used during WWI. *insert astonished face here* How could there be a park with WWI bunkers this close to us that I’ve never heard of?!

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There were also great opportunities to practice my nature photography

I decided to investigate. As it was a Tuesday, and therefore no daycare for LM, the two of us hopped on the bus and rode about ten minutes. This is where I admit to my embarrassing lack of navigational skills (yet again). Let me share a story with you:

When I was about eight, my brother and I spent the summer in Arizona with my grandma. We had gone to some church camp in the middle of the desert and were staying in an RV. Rather than forcing an 8 and 10 year old to sit through two hours of preaching in the Arizona heat, my grandma let us wander. (I’m still amazed at this fact. I mean, we must have been somewhat responsible.) I followed my brother blindly through the vast openness, happily searching for lizards and other wildlife. After what felt like days, I decided that I wanted to go back to the RV. (I was probably thirsty. Hmm, not responsible enough to bring water.) My brother, likely tired of having to watch his little sister, told me to follow a pipe along the ground and that that would take me back to the campsite. Ha! A likely story. Frightened of dying alone in the desert, I insisted he escort me back. He did so, grudgingly. Covering my eyes with his hands, he walked me goodness only knows where, planted me facing a tree, and ran off. By the time I opened my eyes, he was nowhere to be seen, and I was staring at pine needles. I was just about to start crying when I turned around and saw our RV. I was so mad, I could’ve screamed.

Fast-forward to the day LM and I went in search of this park. GPS had been invented and I no longer needed to persuade my brother to escort me places. Luckily, LM has an adventurous spirit and happily went along as I too-trustingly followed the map on my phone. Oy vey. Suffice it to say, I felt like I was back in Arizona, minus the heat. (And not really afraid of dying alone, seeing as we were in the middle of suburbia.)

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I’m pretty sure the left-hand dot stops in a driveway

Knowing that I was circling the park, but unable to get to it without traipsing through backyards (very possibly that’s perfectly acceptable here, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it), I eventually found a sketchy set of stairs leading into a field. This was our best bet, so, kicking LM out of the stroller, we made our way down and found a path.

Thanks to my fearless sidekick, who doesn’t understand that paths are there to be walked along, we actually found the exact place I was looking for. (I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have found it before giving up if it weren’t for this little adventurer.) Aside from having a bit of difficulty pushing the stroller through the forest, we had a great time simply wandering.

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My faithful sidekick

Okay, so what is this place?! Good question. The website Hubster found, this one, from the National Board of Antiquities, was very informative, not to mention lengthy, so I’ll try to give you the short version.

This is part of a defense chain built to protect St. Petersburg from the Germans. The chain consists of land and sea stations around Helsinki (which means there are more of these!) and was devised in the 1910’s when Finland was still part of Russia. The Russian Revolution and ensuing Finnish independence disrupted construction in the fall of 1917. Only two of the fortifications were used during the Finnish Civil War in early 1918, after which, the naval fortresses were taken into use by the armed forces and used as prison camps, also in 1918. The earth and sea fortress structures have since been classified as “fixed ancient monuments” under the Antiquities Act of 1971.

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Natural stone was a main component of the structures

It seems like this area of the defense chain has been all but forgotten. Houses surround it, and even though there was lovely weather both times I visited, it was mostly deserted, with only a dog walker or two passing briefly through. It’s also a bit tricky to photograph as it just looks like a rocky forest area. I did, however, manage to find an actual bunker.

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That’s me! In a WWI bunker!

How cool is that?! My inner history lover was absolutely giddy. I’m still shocked that this park is there and more people don’t know about it. It makes it that much more special if you do visit. It’s like a hidden bit of history, just waiting to be explored.

Little Man and I trekked out the way we came (because I didn’t want to get lost again and I knew I could get the stroller out), and made our way back to the bus stop. I was apparently being incredibly unobservant that day because I didn’t bother to look behind the bus shelter. Do you want to know what was there? Another entrance to the park.

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Maybe not an “entrance”, but certainly access

And yes, that is exactly how I walked into the park on my second visit. It was so much faster!

Question: Are there any hidden gems where you live?

 

 

 

Posted in italy, Travel

Climbing Mt. Etna and Touring Aci Castello

I never really wanted to visit Italy. Sure, I’d seen pictures of the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum, but it seemed so overdone. I mean, who’s been to Italy and hasn’t seen those things? (Answer: Me.) I guess I’ve always been more of the road-less-traveled type. Oh, you’ve already done that? That’s cool, but I’d rather do something different. Something less common.

The fact that we decided to stay in Sicily, rather than mainland Italy, was a big help. One of the first things I came across while planning things to do there was Mt. Etna, an active volcano not far from our lodgings. The more I researched it (and you know I hate research, right?) the more excited I became. You mean I can climb an actual volcano?! Sign me up!!

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The view of Mt. Etna from our rooftop balcony

So, on our last day in Italy (which was also the last day of our vacation), Hubster, Little Man, and I set out to do some light hiking. (Saba and Oma were having a well-deserved rest day and stayed home.) If you recall from my previous post, A Warm Welcome to Greece, I had to do the driving as Hubster had left his license at home. I was more worried about this in Italy than on Crete; the roads were narrower and the drivers much more aggressive. Luckily, the drive up the mountain was an easy one, with wide lanes and hardly any traffic. (Turns out those wide roads are there to accommodate tour buses, many of which were already taking up places at the base of Mt. Etna.) As this is a photographers dream, the multiple pull-outs came in very handy when we wanted to stop and take some pictures. Little Man had fallen asleep on the curvy roads, so Hubster and I took our time getting to the parking lot.

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Wide, easy roads up to Mt. Etna, lined with volcanic rock and ash

I may have grown up around volcanic mountains (Mt Saint Helen in Oregon last erupted in June, 1980 during my parents honeymoon, causing them to evacuate), but I’d never actually seen lasting evidence of an eruption. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t the black rock we saw lining the road. This gave off a sort of surreal feel. Everything was black. It was pretty cool to see in person. It made me feel small because it just kept going. Kind of like the ocean, but at the same time, completely opposite. Apparently it’s difficult to explain. Let’s move on.

When we arrived at the base of Etna, we discovered all of the tourists. I knew before going that this was a tourist destination, but it felt like all the tourists on Sicily had converged here. Multiple coach buses, along with endless cars, were taking up the parking spaces. There were pay-to-park spaces, but we hadn’t figured them out and, luckily, managed to find a free parking space along the road. At this point, we had to wake up LM, who was not happy about that, and protested the idea that we should attempt to make him walk. Eventually, we made it to one of the two craters you can trek around for free and began walking. However, we quickly realized that this would take longer than expected, and the going was more difficult than we’d anticipated as we were walking on lava rock. So we decided to turn back (leading to a meltdown from LM) and head instead toward the cable car that would take us to the mountain station.

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View of the craters from the cable car

It was a bit of a wait as there were so many people, but the cable car runs continually which helped move the line along. We payed 30€ per person (LM was free) and thoroughly enjoyed the ten minute ride to the mountain station. Here you will find a large gift shop, a cafe, and a rental place offering coats, boots, and hiking and climbing gear for those brave souls trekking to the summit. The coats are definitely a necessity since the temperature drops drastically at the summit. There was still snow on the ground at the mountain station and the summit is another couple hundred kilometers up! (We were told the summit was -2C when we were there in April.) We had decided before getting there not to go any further since the shortest trek you can do is about 40 minutes and requires a drive up in a jeep. The cost of the jeep didn’t seem worth it with a toddler, so we enjoyed the views from here, grabbed a snack at the cafe, then took the cable car back down.

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The sunny but cold mountain station at Mt. Etna

For all the information to plan a trek around Mt. Etna, check out this super detailed website. They made it incredibly easy for me, and I hate planning. Prices, opening times, and how to get there are all in one place.

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This is the 2nd generation cable car. The first was destroyed by lava flow in 1971

There was exactly one other thing on Sicily that I had honed in on and was determined to see: Aci Castello. It was a castle on the sea. That’s all I really knew about it, but it was a short drive from Etna, so off we went, yet again not really knowing what to expect. It was perfect. One of those gems you find that you could easily skip but are so glad you didn’t.

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Aci Castello

It’s actually a museum. With a reasonable entrance fee of 3€ per person (again, LM went for free), we enjoyed looking at the interesting architecture and lovely sea views. As far as museums go, this one is not very good. They do have some interesting archaeological finds from the sea surrounding the castle, and what was boasted as botanical gardens (which is really just a small garden area), but LM had the best time running up and down through a tunnel, climbing stairs, and looking for birds. It was a great way to spend an hour, and, if you know me, you know I’m a sucker for a castle, so I was happy.

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The clear water surrounding Aci Castello

The only way we were able to tear our little adventurer away from his tunnel was to tempt him with chocolate. (He’s definitely my child.) We had yet to try gelato on this trip, so we stopped by a place called Slurp and gave it a taste. Yes, it really is as good as it’s made out to be. Little Man adored it.

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Enjoying chocolate gelato outside Slurp

A small cup was just the right size, especially when served with a waffle cookie.

After a day of sun, snow, castles, and chocolate, we went home on a sugar high for a relaxing final evening in Italy. LM gifted us an early night, falling asleep by 8:30pm which allowed me to pack. This really was an excellent end to a long, at times exhausting, and fun-filled holiday.

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Aci Castello is narrower than it looks at first glance

Question: What hidden gems have you found while on vacation? What made them so great?

Posted in Life, Living in Helsinki

What I’ve Learned from 2+ Years of Expat Life in Finland

Two and a half years ago, Hubster, Little Man, and I packed up our lives and flew to the other side of the globe. I’d never set foot in Finland prior to arriving here as an expat. To do so with a four month old baby and two dogs might seem a bit crazy, and, looking back, it was. But it’s also been incredibly educational, not to mention a wild ride! Here are some things I’ve learned from life as an expat:

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Moving day, 2016!

You’re going to miss out on things “back home”

Marriages, babies, and all the other fun life events happen, whether or not you’re there to help celebrate. And that hurts. Sometimes you can see it coming. Sometimes it’s like a sucker punch that takes your breath away. It’s even harder when you want to be happy for someone but you can’t help feeling left out. Imagine seeing pictures of your entire family at one event without you. All you can really focus on is the blank space in the photo where you know you’d be standing. That gaping hole no one else seems to notice. Ouch, right? That’s the worst part about expat life. I haven’t found any way around it, so I bite my tongue when I feel a snide remark coming on, and try to let it pass. Because truly, I am happy for my friends and family. And I know, given the chance, they’d want me to be there too.

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And when you do make it back, you’re overwhelmed with joy

True friends stick around

It’s hard to leave a place where you have good friends. Sure, you can (and should!) make new friends, but some people have known you so long, you can’t tell a story without them already knowing it (or being in it), and you just can’t replace that. I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve kept most of my friends from the States. And it truly is states, plural, as Hubster and I moved from Oregon to Wisconsin a year after we married. Eight years there, and we’d dug our heels in pretty well. I figured if my friends in Oregon kept in touch over those eight years, moving to Finland wouldn’t be an issue. And it hasn’t been. Two of my Wisconsin friends have actually flown out to visit, so talk about being invested! Let’s not leave out Colorado in this list. Hubster grew up there and had/has an amazing group of friends in the mile high city. (I think I actually keep in touch with them more than he does. Thank you, Snapchat!) It might sound time consuming to keep in touch with so many distant people, but it varies person to person. Some people I talk to almost everyday, others get a text once a month. Honestly, I’m glad they put in any amount of effort; even a little bit goes a long way when you’re thousands of miles apart.

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Besties since we were 12, living in different states since 18

You become more of your true self

This was quite an interesting lesson, and one I didn’t realize I was learning. When Hubster and I first got married, my dad told me that the best advice he’d gotten was to move a thousand miles away from your family. Not being the type to do things halfway, we moved two thousand miles away. Then, we more than doubled that distance to move to Finland. When you can’t physically spend time with your family, you no longer pick up their habits. Sure, some things are ingrained in who you are, but adaptation can occur organically, and without your notice. I’ve picked up habits, mannerisms, and words that my family have never used and find quite strange. I caught myself just the other day referring to a popsicle as an “ice lolly”. I’ve left my sleeping child in his pram (stroller?) outside restaurants without a second thought. I now know to always weigh my produce at the grocery store. These are things that never would have crossed my mind had I stayed in the US.

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Just napping outside the restaurant

On the parenting front, this forced me to find what was important to me, and also highlighted my parenting style. I didn’t feel like I was surrounded by judgy moms (it was a real fear before LM was born) because the expat friends I made also had foreign customs they were adhering to. I felt supported in my decision to buck certain Finnish parenting standards (like always having your child nap outside) and went with the flow of what worked for my son and I. (And Hubster, because he’s here too.) That’s not to say that everything worked, but I felt more free to pick and choose from a much wider variety of options than I would’ve had Stateside.

Loving the pink sand beach in Crete, Greece

It does get easier

Thank goodness, right? Those first days, and even weeks, in Finland were new and exciting and I definitely viewed everything through rose tinted glasses. I was living in Europe! I was surrounded by a foreign culture! I could walk outside and hear a multitude of languages! It was everything I’d always dreamed of. And then…it wasn’t. All those exciting things turned into frustrations: this was a culture I didn’t know and wasn’t sure I could navigate. I didn’t actually understand any of those other languages, so where did that get me? (Okay, the living in Europe part never bothered me.) There were days when I’d come home from the grocery store and cry tears of frustration because nothing went right. Yet, somehow, I made it through. I was lucky enough to know another expat (living in a different country) and I can’t remember how many times I texted her telling her about what a crap day I was having. She would always respond by saying she knew exactly how I felt, and would usually share a frustrating/funny story of her own. That one connection made everything seem manageable. Knowing that I wasn’t alone made all the difference. Eventually, mostly through mom meetups, I found other expats, also with babies, and we bonded. On so many levels. It’s one thing to be a first time mom, but to do that in a foreign country really compounds so many feelings. Those ladies became my main support system and now, almost three years later, I’m so glad they did.

Mom night dinners are a sanity-saver for all

I would do it all again in a heartbeat

As exasperating as some days have been (and let me tell you, I’ve had some doozies), nothing widens your perspective like living in a foreign country. You not only get to fully experience another culture, you get to see the world from a different angle. I don’t have the words to properly explain it, but I did stumble on a quote by Mark Twain that really resonated with me: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” It’s just so true.

Teaching LM all the ups and downs of travel

So, if you’ve ever thought about moving abroad, or even traveling somewhere new (and you find that a little scary), take the leap. I promise, you will be better for it.

If you’d like to hear more about expat life in other countries, check out the Big Dreams Bold Moves pod cast here. You can also hear my take on it verbally as I was lucky enough to be interviewed by Malia.

Keep adventuring!