Posted in Life

Well, That Hasn’t Happened in a While

As I sat at the kitchen table this morning, obsessively refreshing my phone for updates on the US presidential election, the last thing I wanted was to have an argument with Little Man about whether or not he was going to daycare today. Without too much of an issue, we managed to get dressed and leave the house in time to catch the bus from the station. We even got there with a few minutes to spare before departure time.

As is typical with LM, he went in through the front door by the driver, and I went through the middle door with Young Miss in the stroller. I proceeded to sit down in the stroller section while LM climbed to the back of the bus to sit in the very last row. He knelt on the seat, looking out the back window. This is pretty much how we always sit while on the bus: me in the middle, LM in the back. Today, however, that was unacceptable to the driver.

With only five other people on the bus, the driver came up to me and said (in Finnish) to have LM take his shoes off the seat. I looked, and half of one of Little Man’s boots was on the seat. I told him to put his feet down and he did. The driver then kept talking to me in Finnish, so I finally told him that I didn’t understand him. Immediately switching to very good English, he told me that it’s safer for LM to sit with me in case there’s a sudden stop. (I’m assuming I’m expected to catch him if this happens.) The driver clearly wanted LM to sit in the stroller section with me and Young Miss, but, having already judged his mood for the morning, I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

You want us to sit together? Fine, I’ll hold the baby and sit in the back row. (For the record, I’ve held both LM and Young Miss as babies on the bus and it’s never been an issue.) The driver told me that I’d have to move now as he was leaving, making it sound like it was my fault that he was going to be late. Trying to stay calm, I explained that I was moving, and continued to unhook the stroller fastenings keeping YM in place.

Finally ensconced in the back row, we were ready to go. Unfortunately, the driver wasn’t. Not satisfied with our chosen seats, he came all the back to where we were sitting and explained, mostly in Finnish, why we needed to move closer to the window. (There are five seats in the back row, four of which are behind other seats, with the middle facing the aisle. LM likes the middle seat, with nothing in front of him.) The driver pointed out that if there was a sudden stop, there would be nothing to stop LM from going flying. Fair enough. So let’s put him in a seat where he’ll get a concussion if that happens. (I was pretty irritated at this point, and felt like I was being badgered.)

We scooted over so LM was in the window seat and I was right next to him. The driver then seemed to notice that I was holding a baby. He opened his mouth and I was prepared to argue back this time (dude, just GO!!), but he rolled his eyes instead, as if giving up, and went back to his seat. Finally!

I have not been pestered on a bus this much the entire four years that we’ve lived in Finland. It took me right back to our first months here, when everything was new and scary, and all I needed was a little help and compassion. I don’t think this driver knew I was foreign when he started talking to me (quite apart from speaking Finnish, I see a lot of other people not sitting next to their young children on the bus, so it’s not a “foreign” thing), but it made me feel like the ignorant foreigner, and I haven’t felt that way in a very long time. Until you live as an expat, you never fully understand this feeling or comprehend just how far a little compassion and decency can go to making someone feel welcome.

As we sit on the brink of a new presidential term, I hope and pray that Americans will show that compassion and decency; to their neighbours, to their friends, to the people they don’t like very much, and to the foreigners, many of whom are being threatened with deportation and separation from their families. Compassion and decency matter. I hope our votes can prove it.

Posted in Travel, Within Finland

The Magic of the North

We finally took a journey on the “big green train” as Little Man calls the sleeper trains. We had planned to be back in the States this September, visiting family, and introducing them to Young Miss. But of course, in light of the pandemic, we stayed in Finland. On the bright side (because if you know me, you know I always try to find the bright side), we took this opportunity to explore Finland a bit more, and go somewhere I’ve been dreaming about since we moved to this wondrous northern country: Rovaniemi.

Let’s start with the pronunciation: rove-ah-knee-amy. Good. Now, just what and where is this place you may or may not be able to pronounce? It’s located about 815 kilometers, or 506 miles north of Helsinki. If you’re like me, and distance doesn’t mean much to you, that’s a nine hour drive, or approximately 12-13 hours on the train. We opted for the train because, one, we don’t have a car, and two, Little Man loves trains, as you all know by now. Plus, if we took the night train, we could travel while sleeping, and not have to worry about packing restrictions in the same way as flying. Win-win!

Little Man settling into our accommodations

So, to the train station we went! Hefting much more luggage than usual, and pushing a broken-at-the-last-possible-second stroller. I kid you not, I released the break to push the stroller out the door, and one of the wheels jammed. Not about to let that deter us, I pushed it on three wheels all the way to the station, cursing the fact that it was the left back wheel, as my left arm is my baby carrying arm and already overworked. Nevertheless, we made it! We found our rooms easily enough, and settled in to wait for the conductor. We had booked two rooms with a connecting door which the conductor had to open. It worked out nicely as each room has two beds, a sink, and plenty of storage space under the bottom bunk. The toilet was a short way down the car, and never busy when we needed it.

Young Miss was quite content

We ordered dinner in the restaurant car, which we brought back to the rooms (there were no seats left in the dining car). Little Man had no interest in eating as he was so excited to finally be on this train. He took ages to fall asleep, then apparently woke up Hubster at 4 am to go to the toilet. That was the one time I was actually sleeping, so I missed the whole thing. It was easiest to keep Young Miss on the bed with me as she was waking up every two to three hours. I figured this way, I might be able to squeeze in some amount of sleep. It wasn’t much, but I wasn’t too bleary-eyed when we rolled to a stop in Rovaniemi a little after 7:00 the next morning.

Happy to be in Rovaniemi!

It was chilly and threatening to rain as we figured out where to pick up our rental car. Once we had that sorted, we filled the trunk with all our luggage, installed both car seats, and drove to the city center to get breakfast. Oh, and find new accommodations as our Air BnB reservation had been cancelled. Not exactly how we wanted to start vacation. At least we had breakfast pre planned; we went to the Scandic hotel, where non guests can enjoy the breakfast buffet for 19€ per person (children eat free). Amazingly, as we ate, Hubster messaged with our Air BnB hostess, who said she would be able to host us after all, as long as we arrived no earlier than 5 pm. That solved, we finished breakfast and drove to Santa’s Village to see what that was all about. (I’ll be honest, I was in it for the baby reindeer.)

Display inside Santa’s house

The petting zoo didn’t open until 11, everything I wanted to do was outside, and the weather was 100% against me. It was pouring down rain by the time we parked. Have you ever had one of those vacations where everything just tanks and you feel like you would’ve been better off staying home? That’s how this felt. If this was how the weekend was starting, it did not bode well.

Luckily, having a car opened possibilities we don’t normally have. We drove back to the city center (only 15 minutes by car!), and paid a visit to the forestry museum. The reviews said it was good for kids (it is!), and at only 7€ per adult, well worth a stop. As is typical with Little Man, I didn’t get to spend much time learning about any of the exhibits, but he had fun exploring everything, from the huge tractors you can climb in, to the wooden train tracks, and the dark woods. It was a nice way to escape the rain for an hour, and Hubster fixed the jammed wheel on the stroller! That made the rest of the trip much more enjoyable.

LM investigating one of the giant tractors at the forestry museum

After the museum, we decided it was a good time for lunch. Having located a promising-looking coffee shop, we drove the short distance there and quickly figured out street parking (you can download one of three apps to pay; the one we used let you check in and check out, so you only pay for the actual amount of time you parked). Once there, Little Man enjoyed some chocolate cake, Young Miss had a squeezy pouch, and Hubster and I refueled with hot drinks and a light snack. I don’t know about you, but I always feel better after a cappuccino. By the time we’d finished, the rain had let up and the sky had cleared, so we decided to venture back to Santa’s Village.

This time was much more successful. I had a list of all the touristy things I wanted to do there, so we set about checking them off. First up was the Arctic Circle crossing. We didn’t bother getting the certificate (I can only be so touristy), happily settling for a photo instead.

Crossing the Arctic Circle! And smiling!!

That done, we continued walking toward the petting zoo. Little Man was showing signs of an impending meltdown, and saying that he did not want to see reindeer. We happened to come upon a nice-looking play ground and Hubster offered to stay there with LM while Young Miss and I went in search of the baby reindeer.

Fabulous play ground in Santa’s Village

So, with YM asleep in the stroller, I kept walking, and we soon came to Elf’s Farmyard, the petting zoo with the baby reindeer. This also had a 7€ entrance fee, which I thought was very reasonable. Aside from reindeer, there were alpacas, rabbits, ducks, guinea hens, and a few other animals. Mostly, I just wanted to see the baby reindeer. He was born in August which is quite rare; reindeer calves are typically born in May, so this little guy was quite the surprise!

Reindeer at Elf’s Farmyard

I enjoyed these beautiful creatures for a while, before walking around the rest of the farmyard. When Young Miss woke up, I took it as our cue to return to the playground.

Just hanging out in the Arctic Circle

Reunited, we made our way back to the car, stopping briefly so I could take a look at the Roosevelt cottage. This was constructed in less than two weeks in 1950 for the arrival of Eleanor Roosevelt, who wanted to cross the Arctic Circle.

The Roosevelt Cottage

Having crossed everything off my list for Santa’s Village, we stopped for a late lunch, picked up a few groceries for dinner, then headed to our Air BnB. I love having a homey place to return to at the end of the day, where we can all relax. Little Man always enjoys exploring his new residence, and it was nice to let Young Miss move around after being in a car so much. Not to mention, it was beautiful.

Our home away from home

We had a relaxed evening, finally getting both kids to sleep a bit later than usual. According to the forecast, this would be the night we were most likely to see the Northern Lights, so, once it was well and truly dark, I went outside to see if I could see anything. I came back inside, jittery with glee, as I told Hubster they were happening. We both grabbed our cameras and headed back outside.

It was incredible

We stood out in the cold, taking turns with the tripod, completely in awe of the dancing lights. It was breathtaking to watch them move and shift across the sky.

The Northern Lights

They varied depending on where we looked, lighting up the sky and dimming the stars. That being said, it was so dark that the stars were incredibly bright. Hubster even got an amazing shot over our cottage with the big dipper in it.

Look at those stars!

It was such a fantastic end to what started out as a pretty awful day. It felt like Rovaniemi was saying, “see? I really am wonderful. You should stick around.” I couldn’t agree more.

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?