Finland – Home, Hiking and Friends

For a change, I headed to Finland alone. Waffle has fewer holidays than I, so I am sometimes obliged to get out of Belgium without him. It always is a bit of a weird feeling to climb onto the plane on my own, there is nobody to be silly with and keep me company. I was missing him throughout the holiday.

Finland in the darkness of October is not the most comfortable, romantic or pretty destination on Earth, but with luck, it is not raining the whole time and there is still some fall foliage left. As the plane came down to Helsinki, it was evident that I was in luck. It was sunny and the trees were still having a golden coat of leaves.

I didn’t really spend any time in Helsinki. Just bought some wool and knitting needles to keep myself busy in the train and headed to the Northern Savonia, to our cottage and my parents’ place. The sun had set a long ago as I arrived to the quiet train station of Siilinjärvi. My dad was waiting there to take me home.  As we drove away from the street lights,  in the dark northern sky we could see the pale green pulse of the aurora’s. A group of three elks passed us by too. Magical!

The first night I slept in the summer house of ours. Dad had heated the sauna and the open fireplace, so a gentle heat welcomed me while the impenetrable darkness had surrounded the world around. The cottage has a very distinctive scent to it, of wood and lingering smoke. That hit me deep to the emotions and the full extent of my homesickness rushed over me. Sometimes it is in the small things.

The morning came with a substantial chill to it. The night temperatures were approaching zero and on the inside of the hut, the warmth from the sauna was only a fading memory. It took some courage to stick my toes from under the blanket and get going to find something warm to wear.

The world outside was pretty; damp and gray and cold but still, in my eyes, pretty. The golden leaves in the trees framing my view to the lake and the surrounding fields and the still lake mirroring the sky can be very soothing. The silence out there is amazing, too as the birds have left for the south and the life on the surrounding farms is slowly halting. I felt a bit lost out there all by myself. The hut is something me and Waffle have together and it really felt like something crucial was missing without him.

On the agenda for that day was to pack my parents, me and the dog to a car and drive to the east, to the town of Lieksa and the National Park of Patvinsuo. A few hours in a car followed, through the vast emptiness of the Finnish countryside, under the heavy grey sky and low hanging clouds. Finnish melancholy at its best. 

I had rented a log cabin via Villi Pohjola from the edge of the park, at a lake shore, in a pine forest. It was a tiny thing with two bunk beds, a kitchenette and, most importantly, a sauna. It was conveniently close to the hike around Suomujärvi, which I was aiming on doing the following day.  We heated the sauna, the most brave of us even tested the lake water then it was time to cook. Everybody went off to bed fairly content, drowsy from the sauna and food. 

Nothing much had changed the following day. A soft cloud of moist was sticking to the pines, and it was difficult to see further than a couple dozens of meters. The forest bed was soaked too and the plants drooping over the tiny trail made my shoes and pants wet in no time. 

My parents and the dog followed me for the first kilometers before turning off to a shorter loop. Before leaving me alone into the woods they saw it proper to mention that the area had a hefty population of bears. Probably at least 70 of them roaming between me and the Russian border. Yay. 

So with a slight chill down my spine I went on my way, through swamps and magnificent forest of pines. It was endless. The forest went on an on, I could not see an end to it. Every now and then the trail took me to the shoreline of the lake Suomujärvi, which has over 20 kilometers of softly curving sandy beaches. I was really taken aback by the beauty of the nature there. Sometimes I was hoping it would be a bit warmer, so I could take a dive. 

It had been a long time since I had been in a forest all on my own. I had been missing it, sometimes planing on going on a multiple day hike alone. This was just a days stroll in the nature, but still it gave me a touch of the peace and self-secureness I had been looking for. I was probably a little more sane when I excited the hike. 

My parent’s met me again at the nature center of the national park, we made coffee on campfire; something that unites us all Finns: love for the little bit smokey coffee, made on living fire, in a pitch black pot. They days are short in October, and soon we were forced to return to the cottage. 

 

The following day it was time to return home, through the same, soaked and grey landscape. I still had a full day to spend with the family up there in Savonia, before heading to Helsinki. I prepared the cottage to be ready for winter (some appropriate raking happened too) and my aunt made sure I was well fed, before heading to Helsinki. 

For the stay in Helsinki I had found a lovely little accommodation from Airbnb, a boat! The Nikoali II, docked at the old market hall in Helsinki. It was most certainly a special accommodation, a slight smell of oil and a soft swinging were the most distinguished features. 

Before I got to crash in the boat’s bunk, there were food and friends to be enjoyed. I was happy enough to go full tourist mode in my former home town. I was gawping at the old buildings and the beautiful parks and soaking my nose in the smells of the old market hall. It is a funny feeling, to be a stranger in your old home. All the places are familiar, you know the streets, shops and boutiques, but every time you find something that has changed or is new.

After all the gawping it was time to dip my fork into the creations of a Finnish contemporary fusion kitchen with some friends around the table. There we dined and talked and laughed, until the evening grew long and people had to head home. 

The next day it was time for me to return to Belgium. Bag packed with some Finnish goodies I headed to the airport. Sad, again, to leave Finland behind but happy to return to the normal every day routine, with my dear Waffle. 

This year I won’t return to Finland anymore. There is no time for holidays and for Christmas our path takes us to a very different winter destination. More on that later! 

 

 

 

 

 

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My route back to the saddle

I have been an enthusiastic horse lover for the greater part of my life. Since I was 6, I have been going to lessons, and pretty much spent all possible time at stables. Before long I got my parents to buy me my own horse. She ended up being one of the most important friends of my youth. Then, after 10 years together, her journey came to an end.  Afterwards I resulted into renting a couple of horses, until that, too came to an end, as I moved to Belgium.

After the move, life happened. I was busy exploring my new home country and quite some of its surroundings. Then came work, and an utter lack of time, plus I wasn’t exactly thrilled to go and search for a place where there wouldn’t be a massive language barrier. And also, from owning and renting horses, it is kind of a big step backwards to return to a riding school. So, life went on, for almost 4 years, with no horses.

This spring we moved, closer to work, which meant a lot more free time. Additional free time was the key to light the spark again. Somewhere in the summer I started to search for stables in the area and contacted a few.

A couple of days later I got a reply from one of those stables. Welcoming me to a workshop, where I could get an idea of the functioning of the stable and the of the philosophy they follow. I was through the roof!

So, on a warm Sunday morning in August, I found myself sitting in a circle with ladies of all ages, talking about the feeding of a horse; in Dutch. I tried to follow, googled the names of plants and body parts of horses they were mentioning, taking in the smell of sand, hay and horses. There was a welcoming atmosphere, everybody seemed to have the same goal in mind; how to have a healthy, happy horse.

The horses had plenty of space to roam around, which is not always the case in Belgium, where some stables don’t let the horses out at all, so I was happy. The herd seemed harmonious and well cared for. The well being of the animals was clearly the first priority there. Without too much doubting I enlisted myself for weekly lessons. This has been going on for about one and a half months.  Now I have also started to rent a horse once a week. Centered riding is the way of riding here. Everything is to do with breathing and balance. I am excited about this, since I think this will be a great way for me to get back into riding and become better in it.

Every lesson before we even get on to the horse, the teacher busies us with ground work. Which I find also a very smart approach. If you think about teaching a person to ride, without teaching them how to be with a horse, read it and handle it, you are cutting quite some corners short, eventually asking for trouble. By working on the ground first, you get the first contact with the animal on the eye-level. You see its mood and the way it moves easier. And everybody gets a little warm up.

The lessons advance slowly, focusing much more on the thinking side of the whole thing, rather than getting through complicated exercises. So we learn to lead the horse, learn to balance our own energy so, that horse follows and listens. We search for the movement of the horse, while on horse back and try to follow it and see and feel, how your seat affects the horses movement and mood. It all is very slow, the riding skills are really being built from the bottom up, block by block.

I have been happy to notice that this break from horses has done some good for me. I am a fairly reactive and nervous person by nature. I used to have a horse that was the same. Which was not necessarily a good combination if you wanted to stay on top of the situation. But we both had fun, which back then was the most important thing!

Now during this break I think I have matured. I am less hasty. I am not only reacting, but am able to stop and asses the situations before doing anything. I find myself enjoying the moments when I can just watch and see how the horses interact with each other and try and learn from that and interpret it to my own actions with them. I am learning loads more now, than what I was capable of, or willing to, before!

The horse I am renting, she is lovely and ridiculously pretty palomino. She most definitely is not the smartest of the bunch, though some things she learns quickly, others she takes ages to figure out. Plus she is completely new to this way of working. But she is sweet, and trusting and I am very much looking forward to learning together with her.

This is a completely new start for me, to be with horses and to ride. There is a serious bunch of things to learn and find out, of the sport and of myself. I am so very happy I finally got to find a stable to continue my dear hobby. Once again I have a place to forget all the stress of work and just be present and have a horse to develop with!

Changing scenery

It has already been a while, since this happened, but I just haven’t had the inspiration to write about it. But anyways, we have a new home! We moved in May this year.

Nothing spectacular, we are still in Belgium and in Flanders, but Rupelmonde, charming and lovely Rupelmonde was left behind. We had been searching for a new place to live in for the whole spring. The main goal was to get closer to work. The 3 hours that disappeared every day while going to and coming from work was finally getting too much.

We selected the approximate areas where we would like to see ourselves living in. Not in Brussels but somewhere along an easyish railway connection to there. Simple, in theory. Many of you probably know that theory is often far from reality.

First of all we (Waffle) had to get our heads around the fact that an apartment might be a viable option (lower heating costs and maintenance etc.), then we started to create more requirements, like garage, preferably for two cars. Waffle wasn’t even turning his ear to any living space, smaller than 80m2. I was tearing my hair out, since almost none of the rental ads displayed the layout of the home advertised, which to me is more or less the most important piece of information when choosing a home!

Anyhow, we slowly began to find homes which more or less matched the criteria, and got on with visiting some of them. At times the lack of service-mindedness from the real estate agents was striking. They offered no help to us, nor the land lords. Frustrating! But anyhow, one day the moment came, Waffle called me to work, telling me he had found what we were looking for. I received a video of the visit, and approved. A week later we signed the rental contract and became happy inhabitants to be of the jolly town of Merchtem!

A few weeks passed, with packing boxes, sorting out stuff and so on. Waffle had been living in the same house for close to 10 years, accumulating surprisingly lot of things that you easily forget about. Also the fact, that we were moving from a 3 storey house into an apartment, forced us to get rid of quite some belongings. Including a hole pile of guitars, Waffle had collected… That was eventually a refreshing experience! Plus we hardly needed to buy anything new!

The move itself was a hassle, as they always are. But thanks to all our friends who lend their helping hands our stuff switched addresses quickly and we got to enjoy our pizzas and beers.

So that was done, our belongings were moved and we got to settle in. The building of new routines could commence.  I myself was very happy to find out that my walk to train station is only 3 minutes. And my travel time to work was cut to half (provided the trains bother driving)! Waffle has it even better, traveling to work in less than half an hour at best. Both of us are secretly nurturing the idea of eventually cycling to work, although for me crossing the Brussels center in morning traffic by bike is a somewhat terrifying thought.

But the main thing is, that we now have at least an extra hour to every day, and I am more independent in my mobility. Which is great, I’m sure you can imagine! Merchtem is not a bad place to live either. Although the population seems to be somewhat politically active (the local elections are approaching and the amount of propa… advertisements is overwhelming) the neighborhood is tidy, calm, fresh and green.

As we have been exploring the neighborhood, we have found a local kiwi grower and wine maker, a very jolly fellow. And as every self respecting Belgian, we have mapped the best places to get fries from (unfortunately the best has since burned down, forcing us to buy our fatty potatoes from the second best joint). We also found out that Merchtem is the proud town of stilt walkers! Apparently the area used to flood frequently, so the dwellers needed to figure out a way to keep their toes dry. Stilts were the answer!

Still, we are missing the beautiful nature area we had in Rupelmonde and the Skelt -river. Merchtem is mainly surrounded by endless fields of corn and paddocks for cows. No Beavers or otters here. We do have two big forests relatively close by, which is great, and there are trails to run on, when ever one of us lazies gets off of the sofa.  Also our caravan is sitting in our own garage, so our weekend trips got just a little bit easier to depart onto! So everything all fine and dandy.

Schelde, Rupelmonde, Belgium

The added time has enabled me to revive my old hobby, which is great, on that I will write a completely separate blogety blog!