Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Category: Finland

My Top 10 from 2015

2015 was a pretty epic year of traveling for me. I’ve just switched over to my new 2016 calendar and I counted all the days I was out of Saudi traveling last year. It was 109. 109!!!! How is that even possible? Since the last time I checked I work a full-time gig as a VIP nurse in Saudi Arabia. But apparently I was on the go a lot. I visited 16 countries over the last year, 11 of them new for me, and I thought I would share my top 10 favourite memories from the last year. Enjoy!!

1. Cyprus

Way back in February I took a trip to Cyprus and my kiwi sidekick and I rented a car and drove around the quaint island. I have 2 favourite memories from this trip. The first was the a day we spend driving in the hills between Limassol and Paphos. The  day was cold and dreary and we visited a local winery and then made our way to a small village that was devastated and deserted by an earthquake in 1969. As we arrived in the village a torrential downpour started which only added to the creepiness of our visit, and we got soaked walking around taking photos. The village is on the way to a town called Lemona. The other great memory I have from that trip was the time a stranger gave us his BMW to drive for an afternoon. You can read about that travel tale here.

Creepy right?!

2. Norway

Two words. Lofoten Islands. Quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. They are picturesque and have this kinda of awestruck beauty that isolated and desolate places have. Every which way you turn your head was a postcard perfect view. The gagged snow covered peaks drop dramatically into the arctic sea and I would go back in a second. I think an Atheist would have a hard time believing there isn’t a higher power of some sort after visiting this island chain. See for yourself…..

3. Sweden

The whole of Scandinavia is awesome, and travel there is pretty easy. It would be a real shame if you went to Sweden and didn’t visit the Ice Hotel, even if only for the day! The Ice Hotel is an artistic marvel in that every year the design and decor is completely different. Different artists take part every year so the theme rooms change, which you have to admit is pretty cool. It is pricey, but well worth the stay. You can sleep in one of the actual ice rooms, or stay in a heated cabin like we did. Oh, and if you go make sure to do the tasting menu at the restaurant there- it is phenomenal. Maybe you’ll luck out and the Northern Lights will come out like they did for us!!

4. Finland

Dog sledding in Lapland has got to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was bloody cold, but so worth it.

5. Maldives

This view……I dream about it often. This is one of the most relaxed vacations I have ever had. Ever. It was hard to decide between spa, pool, eat, nap, read, repeat. This is also the place where I attempted to overcome my fear of the water and tried scuba diving.

6. Bahrain

So VIP culture is huge in the Middles East. You rarely see anything VIP in North America unless it’s in a mocking nature, but over in these parts everything is VIP. VIP movie theaters, hospitals, parking spots, entrances. It’s all a little over the top. That is until you catch a ride over the causeway to Bahrain in a vehicle with diplomatic plates and get to cross via the VIP lanes. Yep. And funfact….they have tea boys who come right up to you car to serve you tea, while you wait in line to cross the border.

7. Morocco

I blogged at great length about how difficult it was traveling in Morocco, but one the best things we did while there was take a cooking class thru Souk Cuisine. This class included a shopping trip to buy the needed ingredients in the Medina and was a great way to learn about local ingredients whilst mixing with the locals. Even though Morocco was sometimes very challenging the food was ALWAYS delicious. I would pretty much recommend doing a cooking class or food tour whenever you travel. I’m doing one later this month in Spain and can’t wait!!

8. Bali Indonesia

At the end of August I took part in a retreat on the northern part of the Indonesian island of Bali with 17 other ladies from all over the world. My time there was so needed and really came at a time when I needed to slow down and work through some things on my own. The location was beautiful, as were the many lovely ladies I met. This was a time of much needed R&R and reflection, and I’m so thankful for the wonderful friendships that were formed from my time in Bali.

9. Oktoberfest Germany

Even though I ended up with a GI bug from hell, Oktoberfest was a seriously fun time (while it lasted.) I mean what’s not to love about a group of traditionally costumed and hugely intoxicated people smashing beer steins together while singing traditional German songs at the top of ones lungs. It was a good time, and YOLO you really only do live once so you should go.

10. Sparkling Hills Spa in British Columbia Canada

Last month I took my mom to this spa about an hour from where she lives. This is a place people have been raving about since it opened a few years back and I was keen to see what all the hype was about! The hotel is pretty much the luxury accommodations in the Okanagan region of British Columbia and known for its spa, saunas and heated outdoor infinity pools. The views from the rooms are amazing, as are the 7 saunas and the indoor floating pool with classical music playing under the water. Well worth the visit, and it was a great mother-daughter retreat.

So really that wraps up 2015. It was a pretty great year. I’m really excited to see what is in store for 2016. I’m excited for the new faces I will meet, the new sights I will see, and the changes that will take place inside of me.  I found this quote that sums up my thoughts about the upcoming year perfectly, and my hopes for both you and I…..

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.

You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, for all of us, and my wish for myself.

Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.

Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t prefect, whatever it is; art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing. Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

Neil Gaiman

Finland

After spending 3 nights in Sweden we crossed the border into Finland. We traveled by bus to Rovaniemi from the border city of Haparanda/Tornio. Rovaniemi is famous the world over for being the home of Santa Claus- in fact he lives just north of the town center on the Arctic Circle. (More on this later). The other reason we wanted to visit Finnish Lapland (apart from Santa) was that we wanted to spend a night in a glass igloo, and more importantly, I wanted to see the Northern Lights from the inside of a glass igloo!!

Originally, we had planned to travel to the very northern area in Finland to stay in these igloos. If you spend any time on Instagram or Pinterest then I’m sure you’ve seen the photos. Sadly, we were running out of time to make the trek there so we opted for a different igloo experience closer to Rovaniemi. We spent 1 night at the Arctic Snow Hotel which is about a 30 min taxi ride from the town center. The Snow Hotel was a bit of a let down after spending a night at the Ice Hotel in Sweden, but the glass igloos where super cool. The were all self sufficient with a domed glass ceiling with picturesque views of the sky. Ours had 2 super comfy twin beds, with a decent sized bathroom and shower. Insider tip: the beds are electronic, so they can be adjusted into chair positions which unfortunately we didn’t find out until the following morning, but would have been really cool to gaze at the northern lights in.

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On site is the Snow Hotel (duh) which had that kinda yellow colouring of old snow. The bar and snow restaurant on the inside were pretty neat. There are a couple hot tubs, and saunas which you have to book in advance. There are also a few different dining options depending on whether you want to eat dinner in a cottage near the lake, or in the Snow Hotel. You can also borrow snowshoes, or try your hand at ice fishing while there. We were really, really lucky the night we spent there because we were able to see an amazing display of the Northern Lights. I also got to teach my winter-naive kiwi sidekick how to chill a bottle of wine in a snow bank in the middle of a Finnish winter without the availability of a fridge. It might have literally blown her mind!!

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After our night of Northern Lights bliss we headed back to the town of Rovaniemi which was to be our base for another 3 nights. This was March 2nd and there was a very visible solar eclipse that I nearly went blind from taking photos of and was pretty cool to witness. Don’t worry Mom my eyesight is back to normal now! The first thing we did once we got back to Rovaniemi was go visit our boy Santa. Anyone who knows me knows I love Christmas. Like seriously love it. I was pumped to visit Santa’s workshop and wander in the Christmas Village. And then we got there. And surprise, surprise there were like a million tourists and tourist buses. And while Santa was great, the lines, and general kitchiness of the place was a major let down. But we did get our photo taken with Santa and asked him to bring us both husbands for Christmas. And we did get our photo taken straddling the Arctic Circle. And the coolest thing of all was that you can mail postcards that have the official Santa’s Village stamp. Well I thought it was cool……

Solar Eclipse

Santa Hall of Fame

Santa Hall of Fame

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent the rest of our time in Rovaniemi wandering the town. We spent an afternoon at Arktikum Museum which tells the story of the Arctic Circle and is also a science center. We spent a morning dog-sledding which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. We got to drive the sled with 5 mischievous dogs. It was freezing cold (about -10C) and we spent about an hour and a half outside. Thankfully, winter clothes were provided so it wasn’t super unpleasant. After dog sledding over snowy trails and frozen lakes, we got to visit the kennels and cuddle some baby huskies. They melted my nearly frozen heart. And I seriously had to resist the urge to steal a couple of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Finnish Lapland is a magical place. I mean if it’s good enough for Santa it’s well worth the visit!! From here we flew to Copenhagen……..

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