Finland – Buried in snow

Landscape, Snow, Finland

We had had already 2 Christmases without snow, so it was about time to go and enjoy some winter landscapes for my birthday. On an innocent Wednesday morning in the end of January, we were heading to the Brussels airport, to catch a flight to Amsterdam and then further to Helsinki.

In the meanwhile Mother nature had had the brilliant idea of giving us some snowy landscapes in advance. You should know, that snow in Brussels airport means a state of paralysis for the first hour or two.  We were stranded, well aware of the very short time we had in Amsterdam to catch out flight to Helsinki. Eventually we got up in the air just 30 minutes behind schedule, and arrived to Amsterdam just in time we ran to the next gate with about 20 seconds to spare and got to Helsinki safely.

Our first stop was Tampere, to say hi to our Armenian friends Ana and Yuri. The evening was spent with sushi, wine and laughter, until we had to start heading further up to north.

As we drove on the snow around the road got deeper and deeper and the air colder and colder. Every now and then, there was an oasis of light in the middle of darkness, as some lonely house spilled its light on the snow covered land. The road was calm and we were quickly at the half way mark, where we stretched our legs and sniffed the brisk, frozen air.

I was happy when we finally reached home. The familiar red house was sitting there as always. Blanketed in snow, underneath the massive pine tree. The sauna was still mildly warm, but we headed directly to bed, falling quickly to sleep.

The morning came and we woke up to an amazing landscape. Everything was covered with frost, the temperature was somewhere around -20°c and the soft light was making it all light up and glitter in pastel colors. This was winter at its best.

A quick breakfast later we headed out. To see our cottage of course. The road to there had not been plowed for the whole winter, so we had to waddle through knee deep snow for the small kilometer before reaching our little summer home.

It looked peaceful out there. Our small huts sitting on their small hill. Surrounded by pristine snow and the wast whiteness of the frozen lake. Inside the hut it was just as cold as outside. The distinctive scent of wood and smoke had disappeared too, in to the freezing cold. Everything was just waiting for the summer to come and the frost to thaw away.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had missed this. A true, white, cold and snowy winter. The sound the cold snow makes under the feet and the frost that clings onto everything, making the trees wear jewelry. For Waffle this was the first time experiencing temperatures below -20°c. Luckily he had bought a super warm jacket to cope with the Finnish winter. The next days we strolled around, taking in the full wonders of winter, visited some friends and family, hunted the northern lights, stuffed a 55 inch TV into a Toyota Aygo and celebrated the birthdays of me and my dad.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The time to go back to Helsinki came all too soon, even though we were looking forward to seeing the friends there too. We drove down in a blizzard, the visibility was very low at times, making the journey quite stressful. I had already forgotten what a snowy weather can be to drive in.

Luckily we got to Helsinki safely and ran directly into a restaurant to eat and enjoy some of my dear friends. I had randomly picked a very nice Indian restaurant in the heart of the city. The food laid a good base for the beers that followed.

The following day we spent wondering around Helsinki. I wanted to show Waffle the frozen sea, maybe to take him walking on the ice. We headed to the Uunisaari island right next to the city center.  We reached the shoreline of the island and quickly decided that walking on the ice wasn’t an option. The “ice” was heaving up and down, slowly and sluggishly as the waves beneath it pushed to the shore. We would have gotten a chilling swim.

After a while, the wintery chill of the sea wind got too much to bear. So we headed back into the city. There is a new library opened in the city center, called Oodi, and I was very eager to visit it. They organized a competition to design the thing and all, so my expectations were high.

To start of with, library is a small word to describe the building. First of all, it looks cool. Secondly, it has swallowed a whole world of things from movie theater to cafes and interactive, immersive spaces. People can come there to use 3D printers, sowing machines, format cutters, studio spaces, game rooms and learning environments and to borrow books. Free of charge. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Well done Helsinki!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the awe the Oodi left us with, we headed to the airport again. Back to home, back to work, back to looking into new travel ideas. Vercors, The Netherlands and things like that are on the drawing table.

 

 

Advertisements

What happened in October

November is usually the depressingly boring month, when the autumn really sets in, turning everything into grey, wet and cold misery. Then the nature goes to sleep, sun does not want to rise anymore and people are getting ill and depressed. At the same time the wheels of the economy are starting to spin faster after the summer break. That is usually a bad combination, and unnatural, in my humble opinion.

The starting of my October was not quite that depressing, or business-wheely. It started of with a birthday hike. Our dear German friend from Karhunkierros was getting older, and she had had the wonderful idea of hiking a part of the famous Mullerthal trail accompanied by hiking people. For us that was also a wonderful opportunity to get together with more or less the same group with which we hiked the most important hike of my life. Oh the nostalgia and the pretty memories! We should start doing that more often!

The planned hike started from Mullerthal and looped back via Larochette, 37 km of Luxembourgish countryside for us to hike in 2 days. We drove to Mullerthal in pouring rain. The weather didn’t get much better when it was time to get going on foot. So we all ended up looking more or less like walking tents in our rain gear.

The first day took our convoy through a beautiful valley all the way to Larochette. By the time we got there the rain had more or less ended and our wet convoy of hikers was able to get their feet dry. The evening was starting to turn a little bit moist though; Someone had brought some absinthe, and the store of the camping had a good supply of beer. We were able to get our birthday girl, and more importantly, the rest of the group, nicely tipsy. Soon there were plenty of inappropriate German jokes and out of focus pool games around.

The return hike to the car began in the late morning and was sturdily hangoverish. The convoy was walking less than straight, but everybody seemed to be pleased with the small party we had had the night before, I certainly was. We crossed quite a bit of beautiful Luxembourgian countryside with rain and wind on our backs.

The ending part of the trail took us to a wooden path that was extremely slippery after a couple of days of rain. On every second step someone was almost dropping off to greet the bushes. Soon we started to see more and more people, we were approaching the very popular bit of the famous stone formations, waterfalls and bridges, which many people obviously want to see.

Soon after that we found the cars, packed all the wet hikers into them, and drove home. For us it was a bath awaiting accompanied by some good wine.

The next weekend it was time to teach some basics of kiting to our dear friends Maria and Bram, who we have met via my Dutch lessons. One Friday we sent them off to Les Hemmes with their camper van and children. We would be coming after them on Friday.

That weekend turned out to be full of surprises.  First one being, that the camping we have started to use, was closed for the whole winter.  We had sent our friends there to find a closed gate and felt very bad about it. They had to go look for another campsite for the night.

On Saturday we arrived too, and got a confirmation of the camping really being closed. Another set of our dear friends, Maarten and Yvan, had found us another camping and even reserved a spot. Lovely people those guys! So we managed to focus on the more important tasks at hand, socializing over a beer with buggiers that is.

There was of course eventually a time for the beach too. The beach was perfect, I realized and felt immediately sorry for myself, since my wrist would not allow me to kite or drive at all. But the weather was nice, I had a chair, a camera and a good book with me, so the beach life would not be that bad.

By the time Maria and Bram joined the group we had already built our buggies and enjoyed a very buggier-like portion of beer, thanks to our dear friend Maarten. It was definitely time to drag ourselves to the beach. We set camp and Waffle started teaching.

Waffle’s day turned out to be hectic. There were two adults to be instructed and their kids to entertain. He was driving our tandem up and down the beach all day long, with too low wind and massive kites and kind yelling at him to go either faster or slower. If he wasn’t driving he was teaching people to fly a kite. I was ruminating my own misery of not being allowed to even touch a kite (I did though, do not tell Waffle).

That teaching resulted to the next surprise of the day. Bram was incredibly talented. Waffle shoved bigger and bigger kites into his hands and he didn’t die. Soon Bram found himself in a buggy with the kite and sure enough, he drove! He found the correct wind direction very easily and managed to drive some very impressive lines. Either Waffle is getting great at teaching or Bram is phenomenal.

The following day the wind was completely gone. Other activities needed to be invented. Since there were kids and all, we decided to go see the seals. As usual, to see them we had to drive through the makeshift refugee camp, The Jungle. Driving through that place is always an experience. To the kids it left quite an impression for sure.

At the shore we saw quite some seals. Apparently very contempt and happy seals. I have never seen them so relaxed before. They were just floating around with the current and socializing with the other blobbers. It was great to end that weekend like that, watching something so beautiful.

After that my October became a little bit more business-wheely. I had to stop my Dutch lessons (still getting my diploma though, with 89% score!) and get to work. So it finally started. My new challenge in working life. I work in the EU quarter in Brussels, right in the middle of EU politics. Which is surprisingly lot of fun. The job is interesting and the people are great, finally I am happy to be working again!

But I do spend a lot of time on the road. It is not the optimal journey to work from Rupelmonde to Brussels, especially as I am for the time being refusing to drive to the center on my own. That is why I haven’t been writing too much lately, at least in English, so sorry about that. I just haven’t had the time. But I’ll try to get it going again.

We do have some things coming up. Waffle is doing his No Alcohol November and we are going to Mallorca for a getaway weekend. There is another set of Finnish Beer Festival coming up and of course, Christmas is here pretty soon. I am happy to announce, that we’ll be spending it in Finland!

How is autumn getting along there, where ever you are?

A Cacophony in Dutch

England, Hiking, Lake District

elgiumOh, after the weekend my brain was a wreckage. I entered a complete zombiemode on Sunday and Monday came as a relief. It would at least bring some order to the cacophony.

Compared to normal, we had a surprisingly social weekend planned. There was some relaxed campfires and a couple of birthday parties to attend to. As on the go we needed to plan the whole trip to Romania, which is only a few moments away.

Well, it all started very nicely. We camped with our dear friends at one of the bivak zones they have here in Belgium. We chose the one in Stekene in Stropersbos, since it was the only one close by with no forecasted rain. There were a whole bunch of Dutch people too around the campfire. They were apparently hoping to get a glimpse of the lunar eclipse that was meant to happen that night. So we chatted over very very inappropriate topics, laughed from the bottoms of our bellies and completely missed the eclipse. partially thanks to the clouds, partially because we were afraid of someone turning into a werewolf. After a busy week of working and studying, we all went to bed at a respectable hour.

The bivak in Stropersbos is a very pleasant camping spot. It is a short walk away from a road and nicely in a middle of a nature preserve. They also heard semi wild Galloway cows and horses there. One of those ruminants were seeing us off, in the morning. Lovely, huge black beast.

On the Saturday morning we needed to get fast up and going. Waffle had finally hunted down the map for Retezat park in Romania and we needed to pick it up. From Ronse, a small town in the Flemish Ardennes.

Saturday had also a birthday party lined up for us. One of Waffles good old friends got older and a celebration was in order. This time without fireworks, oh thank the lord. We arrived into a garden filled with young families. Loads of laughter and noise. We were literally the only couple with no kids, nor any plans of having kids. The reality of those people was so far apart from ours it was even a little scary. Many of them were somehow expecting that me and Waffle would have also a very clear picture of our future, a five year plan on life, with a set of determined steps and all that. They were having difficult time in finding out, that we do not. I was feeling like a bit of an alien.

Well, it was a lot to take in, that evening. The conversations were all in Dutch, loud and quick. I was doing my best to understand even some parts of it all. Difficult! I could hear my brain popping while it was working and trying to find meanings to the words and understand the complete sentences. I was absolutely finished after the evening. And don’t get me wrong, the party was fun, with music, dancing and helium, the normal things, you know.

We returned to Waffle’s parent’s, where we had earlier brought our tent. We thought it would be a nice idea to sleep outdoors, since the weather was great. It felt heavenly to crawl into the sleeping back, snuggle with Waffle and fall asleep with the cool air of summer night tickling our noses.

But why on earth were we sleeping in a tent in Waffle’s parent’s field? Well, there was yet another birthday party. Waffle’s father had turned 70 and the children had bought him a grand gift of a safari in South-Africa! Waffle’s dad was so very happy, he couldn’t stop thanking people.

We had a lunch with grilled nibbles. All the children with their spouses and grand kids were there. I was again faced with a cacophony of Dutch.  The center for language in my brain over heated, packed its bags and walked out of my ear.

We finally got home to the sofa, I was hugging a pillow, restoring my capability to think.As our TV showed us something pointless.

Monday came, back to school I went, for the only day for this week. Tomorrow a doctor is going to go all wise and smart on my wrist and we’ll find out whether I’ll hike with or without cast. Wednesday we are off to Romania, Wheee!!