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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

 

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Azores – The Wonder That Is Flores

You were abruptly left here the last time: Azores – The take Off 

We had made our way through the center of the island inside a thick cloud, being able to see only the first few meters of road ahead of us. So the dropping cliffs down to the coast came as a huge surprise as we finally reached them. Not to mention the almost ridiculous amount on waterfalls.

With our mouths open we drove down to the shore and found the town of Fajã Grande, which had a camping ground, free to use. The town also happened to be the westernmost village in Europe. It was a small, sleepy looking town, locked between the green slopes and waterfalls and the raging Atlantic, home to around 300 people and quite some cows.

We pitched our camp into a corner of a stone fence, to be safe from the sea winds and rain. Right on our doorstep there was the Atlantic, the coast displaying the frozen lava flows as rugged black rocks. The waves hitting the rocks were causing a constant mist of salty water flying around the whole town, we got slowly soaked as we stood there staring at the vastness of the ocean. We finished off the evening at the bar of the camping, enjoying some port wine and and local enthusiasm. It is not a common thing to have foreign tourists camping out there in the mid winter, so we did pull some attention.

The next morning we woke up with drizzle. That green blob of and island seemed to gather all the moist from the sea and mold it into clouds over the highlands, from where it drizzled down on everything. The day we spent by strolling around, looking at the views that were not covered by clouds. We found some waterfalls and a beautiful lake in the hillside, in the middle of a jungle in total peace and quiet. It was a bit of a lazy day of sightseeing, which was good, since both of us had a flu looming just around the corner.

Back at the campsite, there was a surprise waiting for us. Apparently all the attention of last evening wasn’t just because we were tourists camping out in winter. It was also because I was Finnish. As we arrived to the bar, some familiar sounding babbling from among all the Portuguese floated to my ears. There were other Finns there, at the furthest edge of Europe! Apparently there are a couple of Finns living there in Fajã Grande and they had gotten the notice of us camping almost instantly, and came to take a look if the rumor had any base in reality.

After some chitting and chatting we were invited for a dinner the home of one of these Finns. We learned that one of them had been living voluntarily outside of the safety net of the society in Fajã Grande in a hobbit hole for 12 years already and his friend had moved just a couple of years back. Inspiring stories we heard from them and enjoyed a very delicious meal too!

The camping at Fajã Grande became our home for the holiday. From there on out we did small excursion and hiked some distances when the weather allowed and nobody was dying out of fever. The island’s shores are littered with beautiful villages, connected by picturesque fishermen’s trails. Along those trails you can easily walk the complete length of the western coast. The eastern side is a little less hikable, but there are loops there too.

I loved the contrast between the paradise-like coastal areas and the rough and rugged highlands with the volcanic cones and lakes, often wrapped in clouds. You could almost think you are on another island altogether. On the coast the weather is relatively gentle, and sunny days are plentiful, as on the middle of the island the clouds hang low, leaving the visibility down to few meters and the air cool. No surprise that all the villages are right at the shore and the highlands are inhabited mainly by cows.

We bumped into the Finns still a few times, visited the hobbit hole and shared some wine, food and stories with them, learning loads about the island and how life there was. Turns out, quite some people have left their ordinary lives and settled on the island, to slow down in life. We had quite some inspiring conversations. (Also found out that it actually is real, French people like Aki Kaurismäki movies!)

When it finally was time to leave, we both were reluctant to see the island disappear behind us. We were rolling the idea in our mind of beginning a new life on one of these islands, like so many had done before us. Maybe still, one day?

We still had a day on Pico ahead of us. I’ll let you into that on the next post, hold on to your seats, the pretty things are not over!

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Normandy and Easter – A Perfect Duo

Normady, Hiking, Coast

Normandy. The green, softly flowing valleys, glistening sea, shining white cliffs and sky so close you could hug it. Normandy is such a picturesque place, I think my soul has found a second home from its shores. I am always happy to return there, and bring some friends along, like we did this time.

Normandy is starting to be our Easter habit, it seems. It is just close enough to get to for a long weekend, and just far enough to feel like you are abroad, or at least, somewhere else.

Early in the Saturday morning we hit the road. Despite the masses of people on the road we reached our first walk early. We had chosen a small loop around the countryside near the town of Yport. Yport, as many of the towns on the coast, sits there where the cliffs lower down to a valley. The streets climb and wind up from the beach onto the cliffs to go off finding other villages. The houses are a harmonious combination of natural rocks and bricks. I would imagine happy people are living in them.

After a good walk we headed to camp at the same place where we have been every time when we go to Normandy. On the cliffs, a few kilometres to the west from Étretat. Good weather and long Easter weekend had lured out some other wild campers too, so we did not get our favorite spot, right on top of the cliff, but no-one let that ruin the mood.

We got our camp up and campfire going at the edge of the cliff just perfectly to be able to enjoy the colors of the sunset. After dinner the cooling air shooed us away to our tents as the stars started to litter the sky. The night was chill and I could not sleep too much. Instead I listened to the sea and the calmness of the night… and Waffle, sleeping next to me.

I was surprisingly well rested in the morning, as we prepared for the coming day, by munching breakfast. The hike for the day was something we had already done with Waffle a couple of years back. The trail would walk us via the cliffs to Étretat and beyond, and return back deeper inland, stretching a distance of about 16 km.

Waffle and Bram found their inner children and were soon enough climbing and crawling into caves, eventually managing to get me and Maria into that business as well. The beaches and cliffs with their caves kept us rather busy for a while, but the crumbling tummies demanded us to climb back up and find our way to Étretat to get some food.

The closer to the village we got, the more people there started to be on the trail, everybody want’s the hottest selfie with the famous arches. I do think they are better seen a little bit further away, down from one of the beaches, rather than by sitting on top of one.

At one point Bram’s face went sour. He had dropped his phone somewhere. A vigorous search started. Me and Maria were left on the important duty of watching over the stuff, as the guys ran up and down the path in search of the phone.

It was nowhere to be seen.

After the shock treatment Bram swallowed his fate, blocked the sim and life started to go on again. We had a quick lunch in the beach boulevard of Étretat, trying not to get annoyed by the massive crowd of tourists.

Finally we headed on, over the cliffs again, before turning back via the fields. Half way back we ended up at the goat farm Le Valaine, where we had visited earlier too. The place where they make amazing chocolates and ice creams out of goats milk! Of course we had to pay a visit, after which Maria and Bram were rather sold too. The only sad thing is, that they are shutting the place down, since there is nobody to continue the business.

So if you happen to be into goat herding and ice cream / chocolate making, please go there, me and Waffle will promise to be your most loyal clients!

Another tired and serene evening followed with campfire rattling on the cliff and sun putting on its best show while setting. It felt good to crawl to bed and lat the sleep take us away to another world.

Monday was the last they we had in the beautiful Normandy. We started driving off towards Dieppe and another set of cliffs. We were passing a series of very beautiful Normandian villages and farmlands on our way to the destination, which was Criel-Sur-Mer.

Those cliffs covered in whispering grass were bathing in the sun as we climbed them. The northern wind had turned a little warmer with the sun, and hiking was very pleasant, even our Portuguese addition was unwrapping herself.

It was a very beautiful walk to end the trip, not a spectacular one, rather the beauty was more hidden in its subtle colors and warm sunshine. In any case it left me wanting to stay there. Normandy just feels like an improved Finland sometimes, very homely.

We’ll be back, soon I hope.