Wrapping up the year 2016

It is December again, the end of the year, time of celebrations, traditions and the beginning of winter. It is a good moment to count your fortunes, check if you have offended the Karma, and how much more, or less, kilos there are on the waistline. After that we can all consider whether the year was a good or a bad one, and what to do in 2017 to make it better, or worse, in case someone happens to be a masochist.

Well, I started this year with my Waffle in Barcelona. Making wishes as people around us swallowed grapes on every beat of the clock. Since then there has been some new pins appearing to our map. Somehow we orientated a lot to the Eastern Europe this year. Some great mountains and wild nature there. I think both of us fell in love with Montenegro in its endless greenery. Not that Romania is left too far behind.

I think we have gotten a bit used to this traveling. It felt like a quiet year until we lay our eyes on the photo album. We have been to places with quite a hectic pace.

Beside the traveling we do, there is the normal, everyday life we are having. Our relationship is only getting stronger I think. And forming sometimes even a little spooky, symbiotic features. But I love my Waffle and he loves me back, so I don’t really mind even if we transform into one of those disgusting couples who do everything together and the same way.

We have also gained some amazing friends this year. They make me realize the fact, that you should surround yourself with people you feel good to be around and that support you and offer a healthy amount of critique at times, when you are going wild on a stupid idea. Thank you, my new people. And thank you my old people, who are still there and haven’t forgotten me, no matter the distance in between!

And personal growth? Someone told me it is sometimes important to consider that as well, sometimes. Pfft, says I, but lets give it a try. I have always been, and still am, very bad at self reflection. I go with a flow, see where I end up and embrace the opportunities that rise along the way, out of coincidences and accidents. Sometimes it is liberating, at times it is stressful but it works for me. And Waffle seems to be able to tag along nicely, so I am happy.

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Somehow this passed year did force me to look a bit deeper too. Taking a jump off of work was something I had to consider a bit. I wasn’t sure if I was giving up too soon and whether it was fair towards Waffle. But since quitting I have gained a new language (somewhat) and a new job! So no new lessons learned about being spontaneous and reckless.

What about the coming 2017? It is getting closer and closer and somehow we all need to survive it. I usually do not make any resolutions. Now I am making an exception, since I think I came up with a good one that might make me a better person. Or a more irritating one, who knows.

You know, there are those moments when you end up saying “We definitely should do that!” I think most people have that habit. But what happens after saying those words? Sometimes something, often absolutely nothing. Now, I promise that after I blurt out a thing like that, something will happen.

My dear friends. I love you, please don’t make me regret this…

What about you, people out there; How was your 2016 and what is the survival plan for 2017? In any case, Happy New Year!

Couple, Sailing, DFDS

On actual normal picture of the two of us together. Nobody making faces!

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A Christmas in Finland

Oh, if this wasn’t a trip I had been looking forward to a long time! A Christmas in Finland with all the traditions that make Christmas so special to me! And now hopefully for Waffle too; this would be his very first Finnish Christmas.

Latvia, Riga

Well, we did not make our way directly to Finland. We flew with AirBaltic, and they land in Riga, Latvia before continuing to Finland. For us this presented an opportunity to get a short sniff of a new country. We arrived at noon and our flight to Finland was scheduled for late evening. So to spend the time we rented a car and headed off to the Latvian coast.

Latvia is pretty. There are pine forests lining the coast and a few beaches here and there. Close to Jurmala we found a large swamp area, which we are sure is an important resting place for moving birds when that season comes. The countryside has also a heavy print of Soviet history in its buildings and farmlands.

 

We dared to enter also the city of Riga. Neither of us is a huge fan of visiting cities and especially Waffle was skeptical towards this small capital by the Baltic Sea.  Turns out Riga is actually a very pleasant place to visit. The Christmas market was as Christmassy as they come with hot pots full of sizzling foods and a tolerable crowd. The whole city was lit with beautiful lighting to celebrate this dark season, even a rainfall couldn’t bring the atmosphere down. We spent a few hours walking around the city until it was time to find a plane again.

Finland, Helsinki

Soon my blocked nose told me that we were landing, causing an excruciating headache. As soon as we got out of the airport we took the direction for Espoo and a birthday party of my dear friend Miia. We arrived at two in the night and the celebration was having a rather drunken tone to it. Nevertheless it was nice to see my Finnish friends again and squeeze all of them a little too tight.

The next day was, as usual, booked full. Visiting family members, eating and seeing some more friends. Waffle had met a nice piece of hangover and was less than happy to be dragged out of bed so early, but after a coffee or two he was waking up. In the evening some of the friends gathered around as we visited the Christmas market in Helsinki.

 

After indulging with  the sweet and savory scents and tastes of the market with my dear people, it was time to find us a car and head on. We wanted to get to the central Finland to my parents as fast as possible.

The Winter Wonderland

As we got higher up north the snow started falling and soon we were surrounded by snow covered forest, driving on an icy road. Waffle’s knuckles were getting whiter and whiter as he squeezed the steering wheel.  I was excited to be back home, couldn’t be there fast enough.

It was well past midnight when we finally arrived at my childhood home. Everything was under snow, and the darkness was pushed away by candles and lanterns all over the yard. Just like always. The sauna was still gently warm, and we got to crawl between the sheets squeaky clean after a good bathing.

 

A few days of profusion followed. We were hardly able to lift our backsides away from the table, when we were called to eat again. As it should be, if you spend Christmas in Finnish style. We managed to squeeze in a couple of walks here and there. Finland is so beautiful when it is all covered in snow, I see it now with a complete different set of eyes, as I do not live in the middle of it anymore.

Pre-Christmas Lapland

Before enjoying the actual feast of Christmas we went to Lapland, in order to hunt down some auroras and revisit Karhunkierros, the trail that led us to the point where we are now. Our hotel was between the cities of Kemijärvi and Sodankylä, way up north from the arctic circle. We took a route in the eastern Finland to get there. Those are small roads, covered in ice in winter, which added some excitement to the road tripping business. I am not used to driving on ice anymore, and Waffle haven’t been given the chance to learn it in the first place.

The traveling was slow, not only because of the icy conditions but also because after every corner the breathtaking and icy scenery forced us to stop and stare at the wonder. We stopped at Ruka, the ending village of Karhunkierros, to have some nostalgia and food. The ski season was in full swing and that sleepy little town was not so sleepy anymore. We had our lunch in the last light of the setting sun. At 2 pm everything was swallowed by blue darkness.

 

In that afternoon darkness we drove on to our cabin, bathed in a cold sauna and went to bed. The sky was covered in thick layer of clouds and the forecasted heavy storm of northern lights was nowhere to be seen. All those kilometers we had driven for nothing.

Karhunkierros – Nostalgia

We left early in the morning and headed south. We were so high up, that the sun did not rise. Even though the sun does not climb above the horizon, it is not as dark as you might imagine. There the whole southern horizon has a bright yellow glow and the landscape seems to glow with it. It is a very special world of soft colors and indirect light as the snow reflects every little bit of the hiding sunshine.

It was around noon when we arrived at the starting point of the Small Karhunkierros. Some people had been walking it, and there was a trail visible. Icy and slippery, but a trail nevertheless. Since the days were short and I was still rather ill, we did not go round the whole walk, just picked the rapids which lay relatively close by.

First we headed for Myllykoski. A small waterfall with an old mill on the side. That one I had come down with a raft in the summer two years ago. The rapid and the nature around it looked a little bit different this time. It is a beautiful sight to see the water rolling from underneath the ice and falling in a rapid, shaking the hut underneath your feet.

 

We headed on, towards the Jyrävä rapid, taking in the beauty of nature in the moments of disappearing daylight. We reached Siilastupa, the hut looking at the Jyrävä rapid, there we had said a goodbye on the midsummer 2014. The place holds some memories for us and it was beautiful to just sit there and listen to the ice crusted rapid, now when the shortest day of the year was just behind us.

Christmas is here!

For Christmas we returned home, on the quiet and icy roads. We almost hit a reindeer that happened to stand in the middle of the road and did not consider a fast approaching car a major threat to its existence. All of us continued our lives happily from that incident. But a little further, right in front of us someone drove into a moose. The result of that was less happy.

At my parents we had some duties to attend to, like finding the perfect spruce to bring in the true spirit of Christmas and of course decorating a gingerbread house etc. But mainly our Christmas is  about calming down and eating as much as you can, while going to sauna every day.

We managed to get a very nice tree inside and the gingerbread house was not completely ugly, nor so pretty that you wouldn’t dare to eat it. Success I would say! Waffle enjoyed the dining so well, he hardly left the table, and is now swearing to come back every Christmas.

 

Before the Christmas was over we had one more chance of seeing the auroras. The sky was clear and Waffles phone said the probability of seeing the magical light was somewhat high! So out we went into the cold of the night. A bit further from my home there was a perfect place with minimal light pollution and an open view to the sky. There we saw something we thought was a cloud. Until it started shifting and glowing in eerie green light. We were indeed looking at northern lights. That was a cherry on top for this holiday!

The Christmas day came as did our time to say goodbyes and head back to Belgium. We packed one extra piece of luggage, thanks to all the gifts and Finnish goodies we were dragging home with us.

Belgium greeted us with grey skies and heavy rainfall. Quite a contrast to the pure white of snowy Finland, there is a bit of home sickness on my mind after this trip, thank god there are all the goodies in the cupboards at home to kill the worst edge of that!

A mission in Champagne

There is this champagne house, Stéphane Brunet, that we once found by accident and bought a few boxes from. Ever since they have been sending us a seasonal greeting card, with offer of their very good champagne. So happened this year. Now it caused quite an adventure. So here you have it, our story of a champagne hunting mission in Champagne.

So I had the marvelous idea of sending out the offer to a group of people I work with, to see if they would like to order some too. We could then drive over, buy our own champagne and bring theirs on the same go. In less than two days I had an order of over 200 bottles. I had to stop taking in any more at that point. I was wondering whether our car would be able to handle such a load.

On Saturday morning we got going south, towards Champagne. We found ourselves from a road trip on small roads of Belgian countryside and through quiet French highways covered in soft mist. Soon we were swallowed by a forest and as we shot out of it, we were surrounded by vineyards; ranks and ranks of champagne.

We had some time to spare before serious shopping, so we strolled around the vineyards to look at the wintery views over the champagne villages and Épernay, all hugged by low hanging clouds. Some workers were still there, cutting the wines for winter. From there, the birth place of champagne, we headed for Épernay, to see where the actual money is made.

The town was preparing for an event and the Avenue du Champagne was under hassle. The big champagne houses were putting up stages and light installations for the evening and the Light Festival. A pity we did not have time to stay around to watch it. We had some champagne to buy.

Épernay, Moët, Champagne

Dom Perignon.

We drove to the Brunet house and were called in for a tasting. The bottle of Brut was just as good as we had remembered. So, we laid out our order. 250 bottles, more or less. All of a sudden the face of the seller turned serious. They were out of stock, almost. They would be out of stock completely once we left the property.

We managed to get about half of what we came to look for. But none of the Tradition Bruts. We were facing a major issue. A group of 20 were expecting their boxes and bottles, which we did not have. There were two ways out of the situation. Either go back with the tail between our legs and return the money they had payed, or put some effort into the game and find Brut from other houses.

We searched for a roadside hotel close by and stayed over night, with minds set on a mission. We muttered something about our situation to the hotel receptionist. His face lit up immediately, he was slightly shaking as he snapped the phone and started calling. Soon we had two addresses of small, family-run champagne houses! What a wonderful help he was for us!

In the morning we leaped to our car and headed for the first address. Waffle had just gotten his nose blocked so a lot of responsibility for tasting the good stuff lay on my shoulders.

We headed to a village in a more northern part of the province. That is an area where they produce champagne with more Pinot Meunier, compared to Épernay region where it is more easy to find bottles of Pinot Noir. That was good; we would be able to offer people another type of taste entirely.

We arrived at the first farm of the day. It was a small producer with a good selection of different grape combinations and ages. We sat there and tasted a couple as the farmers told the stories of their trade. Turned out, they were one of the providers of Veuve Clicquot. We were clearly onto something.

Champagne, Bottles

Roger Chemin selection.

After tasting, talking and bargaining we left with almost half of the Brut we needed, in two different types of champagne. Well done, we thought to ourselves. It was time to head back to more southern regions in search of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

There are a number of small villages around Aÿ and that was where we were heading. It took some driving around to find a house that would be open on a Sunday. Especially when the day before had been a day of celebration for the champagne producers.

A few futile doorbell ringings later we managed to catch an old lady and her daughter-in-law. They were surprised to have visitors on a Sunday, but as we explained ourselves they let us in and we got into tasting again. We met a very gentle and soft sparkling bottle form their cellar with still enough fruitiness to it. This was the Lejeune Del’hozanne -domain.  We bought their remaining stock dry, making them very happy.

Still one stop was needed to fill our whole load. A bit further to the east we found the last open door and behind it a very enjoyable sparkles. The owner of the place had clearly been enjoying the light festival to the fullest and was still feeling it, speaking French we could hardly understand.

That was the end of it. Our car was packed with 40 or sow boxes of champagne. We still needed to get that dragged to my office and sort it out so that everybody who ordered would get an equal selection. It was a long evening and a lot of calculating(errors), but we did it.

For me this was en extremely enjoyable project. I got to make my colleagues happy and in the process I got to support some small vineyards. And of course taste some very fine wines and meet those produces, whose stories I never grow tired to.