Yearly Archives: 2012

Rudolf Reinvented: Not Just Your Average Finnish Holiday

Kuusamo: one of those deliciously Finnish names I’m not quite sure how to pronounce. It sounds like a small town out of a nordic fairytale, and to some extent it is. I have a certain affinity with frontier towns. I’m deeply interested in their out-of-the-way existence, just along the road from more prosperous areas (my fascination with the open road and the American imagination has a lot to do with that). Kuusamo branches northeast from larger Oulu. Many of us have reignited a love affair of sorts with all things Scandinavian, inspired perhaps by the re-emergence of Scandinavian themes in recent popular culture. Norse mythology has cleverly woven it’s way back into the 21st century imagination thanks to recent films (How to Train your Dragon) and TV series (The Killing). If you are a victim of this recent Scandinavian fashion craze, then Kuusamo is the perfect secretly wintry enclave for you, and will perhaps offer more than you bargained for.

 Spa

I heart Ruka

Ruka is the ski resort that belongs to Kuusamo and sits atop the Arctic circle. If glacial is what you’re after then there is no better place than this. Not only does it offer the average skier a better than average opportunity to experience the best of nordic activity first hand, but there is a whole host of interesting things to get involved with. Snowmobiling is just one of them. This is a fascinating activity, and comes highly recommended. Where else could you do something as thrilling, whilst feeling as though you’re racing through the woods of Narnia, with absolute unrestricted absorption of beautiful scenery?

Another offering is ice fishing and Ruka is one of the only places in the world where this can be safely and legally done. It’s quite tricky to track down a legitimate ice fishing safari group so make sure you go through a company that has been tried and tested. I’m not the world’s best fisher but this is something you have to do at least once in a lifetime. More importantly, as a foodie myself, the prospect of smoking and eating the fish afterwards sounds divine.

 

Finlands Dark Materials

It’s not quite a run-in with Mrs Coulter or one of Philip Pullman’s infamous daemons - instead the Aurora Borealis (better known as the Northern Lights) are the beginning of your own epic fiction. I’m not going to over-romanticise the lights too much. Having read a few specific accounts (written by my good friend Flora about her experience in Iceland) it seems the lights can be somewhat a fickle mistress. Typically not seen during the Winter months, a visit could bring you anything from a smattering of colour to a full-blown display. I daresay however, that even for just a brief glimpse of something other-worldly, a visit is definitely worth the risk.

 

Not just any old Rudolph

Embedded within Kuusamo’s history are the Sami, a semi-nomadic indigenous people of Scandinavia and primarily reindeer-herders. This culture is something that makes Kuusamo (and indeed Finland in it’s entirety) pretty special. The area is peppered with Sami influences, and Reindeer are just the first sign of it. Don’t get me wrong, Ruka Kuusamo is pretty much a Westerner’s paradise when it comes to winter sport activities – I’m not claiming the boons of visiting the Sami, instead merely highlighting the rich history that this country has. As a result of tradition, reindeer safaris have been fostered into the experience. Equally, it’s wise to have some form of transport, perhaps economy car hire, so that you have the freedom to visit a few of Finland’s other hidden treasures. The Oulanka National Park plays host to wildlife ranging from eagles to bears and the Klutakongas Rapids are only a short drive away, crashing alongside the Oulankajoki river. If you’re planning to head to across the border into Russia – which is a good 140km east – then having a car would be an absolute essential. Don’t forget to secure visas and ensure your passport is valid before trying to attempt to cross the frontier.

 

Emma Winter is an American Literature and Creative Writing graduate from the University of East Anglia. She spent a year studying and living in San Francisco, and is a former writer for an online fashion magazine, she has also completed several internships in the world of publishing from editorial to publicity and is hoping to secure a permanent job in that field.

RukaKuusamo

Food Options in Ruka/Kuusamo

A very common and important question to ask when traveling to foreign countries is, “How is their food?” And as exciting as it is to research, it’s even more fulfilling to experience with your own taste buds alone. Lappish cuisine has always heavily relied on local materials. In Ruka and Kuusamo, reindeer herding became a way of life in the 19th century. Prior to that, most people were bird hunters and fishers. While reindeer is vital to Lappish cuisine today, game, fish and wild birds are also significant. The cuisine of Ruka and Kuusamo consists of a variety of dishes.The natural livelihood is still an important tradition today and is essential in Lapp culture.

 Traditionally, the recipes were passed down from generation to generation orally and only just in later years have the recipes been actually written down. Among some of their most popular meals, reindeer, fish, and eclectic berries are the predominant. Berries have been important food, because other kinds of vegetables were not available during the long winters. The most valued berry is the cloudberry. In addition, there are plenty of blueberries, cowberries or lingonberries in Lapland, which are used for jams and desserts. In recent years, cloudberries and blueberries have been used in liqueurs. You’ll also find large quantities of crowberries which are mainly used for juice and wine.

Many restaurants in Ruka and Kuusamo offer these traditional dishes and even cultural dancing post meal and drink. If you’re worried about eating reindeer, don’t fret! They, of course, still offer the comfortable international foods found in many countries like delicious steak restaurants, pizza joints, burger stops, and well-known fast food restaurants. As they say in Ruka, hyvää ruokahalua! (Bon appetite! Enjoy your meal!)

 

Photo by Flickr User RukaKuusamo.com

Top 5 Kid Friendly Things to do in Singapore

Many people from this area are faced with the vacation decision of heading to Singapore or Maui. If you can’t find cheap Maui flights then you should consider Singapore as an alternative. Singapore is a location of endless activities and adventure for the whole family. Indoor seekers can share the excitement of museums with engaging activities for young minds. Outdoor seekers must be sure to visit zoos, botanical gardens, and bird parks. And of course in a common ground for all seekers, there are many places to eat in many authentic Chinese Restaurants.

Here’s a top five of kid-friendly activities!

Photo By Flickr User jjcb

Underwater World of Sentosa

This giant aquarium features 2,500 marine animals from all over the world! Awesome hands on experiences include feeding and petting rays, sharks, and other marine life. The best feature of this aquarium is the circular moving walkway that takes visitors through a tunnel of sea creatures including even bigger ray, sharks, parrotfish, turtles and countless others!

Singapore Science Center

At this museum, science comes to life and features 14 galleries with interactive displays. The center has nearly 65,617 square feet of outdoor and indoor space for all science lovers of all ages. In the outdoor Kinetic Garden, there is a pendulum swing and life-size scales to measure your weight! Indoors, there are so many galleries; it’s hard to visit them all in one trip. The Solar system and The Mind’s Eyes are great places to start!

National Museum of Singapore

This museum is housed in a beautiful old colonial building with a History Guide for children aged 7 and up. The guides are captivating for young imaginations through colorful stories and enjoyable stories. There are also many interactive exhibits to take advantage of. And if you’re hungry, there is a tasty café with child-friendly meals.

Singapore River Cruise

Looking to relax with your kids after energy filled day? Sit back and enjoy the history of Singapore as you float down the river on an old-fashioned bumboat, which is a boat used to transport cargo to warehouses years ago. There are many photo opportunities here, including the city’s Merlion fountain and a sculpture of children jumping into the river near the Fullerton Hotel.

Singapore Flyer

This revolving observation wheel soars 541 feet into the sky, making it the best way to view Singapore! It takes a half an hour to complete and provides a bird’s eye view in a safe manner. Witness the views of the harbor, Singapore River, Marina Bay Sands, the Fullerton Hotel and much more!

Photo by Flickr User Javi Vte Rejas

Dishes To Try In Spain

 

As the home of world renowned chefs such as Paco Torreblanca and Ferran Adrià and a vast range of top quality tavernas and restaurants, Spain can accurately be described as the culinary capital of Europe. Visitors can even indulge in delicious native dishes, as highlighted in this article.

 

Cochinillo Asado

Anybody who believes that the taste of British pork is unbeatable should give the Spanish suckling pig a try. It is notable for having a crispy rind and delicious meaty flavour. The writers of the Directline Holidays Spain page have revealed that this speciality has been mastered by chefs in the restaurants of Segovia.

 

Pulpo a la Gallega

Photo by Flickr User Javi Vte Rejas

This Octopus dish is regarded as the speciality of Galicia, a region in North West Spain. Those of you who haven’t developed a taste for seafood may like to try it in a grilled form. Individuals with a rich and diverse palette are encouraged to push the boat out and give the gallego version a try. It’s flavour may be enhanced by the addition of spicy paprika and rock salt.

 

Spanish Omelette

 It is a well-known fact that the simplest dishes are sometimes the tastiest. This holds true for the Spanish omelette, which consists of egg, potato and onion. Of course you can add colourful Mediterranean vegetables and seasoning to really bring out the flavours.

 

Paella Valenciana

 This wonderful rice based dish includes tender rabbit, spicy chorizo sausage and succulent chicken. It was originally invented in the picturesque Valencian village of El Palmar. Since that day a number of Spanish chefs have added their own individual touches to the recipe. It is even available in a vegetarian form from some of the local restaurants.

 

Queso Manchego

 If you’re planning a picnic at one of the pretty Spanish tourist sites then you might like to incorporate some crispy bruschetta with Manchego goat’s cheese. It has a smooth texture and delicate flavour that goes well with tomatoes and fruity wines.

South Africa’s Garden Route

This is a guest post by Matt Hope from BackpackingWorldwide.com

South Africa’s Garden Route is an amazing place to visit. With it’s beautiful setting, cultural background, and friendly inhabitants—it makes one of the best places to visit in the world. It’s often difficult to figure out just what to do in a place that offers so much. So, I took the trouble of making a top ten list for you troubled travelers.

1. Safari Adventure!

A visit to South Africa’s Garden Route is not complete without a safari decorated in lions, leopards, elephants, and giraffes! The Garden Route offers various safaris to choose from. Fancy breakfasts and down and dirty explorer’s hats and binoculars all in a malaria-free zone. The imagination can’t be limited when it comes to a Garden Route Safari!

2. Township Tours!

Township tours are a great way to experience the culture of Garden Route. With as much luxury around every corner, visitors find it surprising they are even in South Africa at all. But when you take the township tour behind the velvet curtain you will find the truth of the land. Under extreme poverty, unemployment, and unfortunate living conditions a strong sense of community, optimism and genuine friendships thrive above all, truly showing the love the townships live off of.

3. Go on a Whale and Dolphin Watching Safari

The Indian Ocean is a popular place to find whales and dolphins galore. It’s one of the main attractions of South Africa’s Garden Route. A true highlight of any trip to Garden Route is to take a boat ride to witness these majestic splashing creatures in their natural environment.

4. Explore The Cango Caves

The Cango Caves are a series of gigantic limestone caverns that open into immeasurable halls of towering pillar formations. The Cango Caves are FILLED with mystical and stunning dripstone formations and are open for serious exploration. After millions of years of development, it is said that the caves are one of the world’s great natural wonders. Not all the caves are open to visitors, but a very long section is open for discovery to adventurers alike.

5. Tee Off at a Top Golf Resort

Golfing in the Garden Route… it doesn’t get much better than this. South Africa’s Garden Route hosts some of the most beautiful and best golf courses in the world! Beautiful backdrops and amazing surroundings make golfing that much sweeter.

6. Visit The Addo Elephant National Park

The Addo Elephant National Park is a must on the checklist of things to do in the Garden Route of South Africa. It’s a great place to embark on a safari trip of a lifetime and witness a wide range of African wildlife. Whether you decide to go for a day or come back to experience all the activites, the Addo Elephant National Park is the perfect place to spend time with family.

7. Cage Dive with a Great White Shark

One unique experience that is offered nowhere else in the world I to dip into the waters with one of nature’s most scariest creatures: The Great White. It’s one of the largest predators in the ocean. This amazing opportunity provides a truly unique adrenaline pumping experience.

8. Hit the beach

Another great way to experience the Garden Route is to visit one of their amazing beaches. With hundreds of miles of golden coastline and some of the most memorable beaches in the world, it’s never a doubt that you will find the perfect Garden Route beach. Offering it all, the Garden Route can provide the perfect place for a relaxing stroll or even the perfect wave for the surfers. Many boards can be found for rent and even lesson are offered. A visit toe a Garden Route beach makes for a beautiful day out!

9. Jump the Highest Bungee Jump in the World

Near the Tsitsikamma Forest Village you will find the world’s tallest single span arch bridge. The Bloukrans bridge sits 656 feet high over the raging Bloukrans river and has some of the most beautiful views over valleys below. What’s better than viewing this from a safe spot at the top? Why, throwing yourself over the bridge in a rush to the bottom, attached to a bungee cord of course! Warning: this requires immense bravery and an empty bladder!

10. Go Ape at Monkeyland

Monkeyland may sound like a fictitious place in a book, but it exists just a few short miles away from Plettenberg Bay. It is the first multi-specie free straying primate reserve. First opened in 1998, this unique sanctuary is one of the top attractions of the Garden Route. Their goal is to rehabilitate and allow previously caged primates to be free and go about their monkey business the way nature intended!

Culinary Delights in Ruka and Kuusamo

One of the best reasons for visiting this area is to savour the local food and check out the regional specialities.  Flying in from the UK, you can land at Kuusamo Airport and find a cheap car rental and then drive to Kuusamo town centre to inspect the local shops.  Even though public transport in the area does exist you really need a car for independent travel.

 

 Natural Paradise

Most of the food in the region is locally sourced and even though the actual summer in this part of northern Europe is relatively short the bounty to be received from nature’s own pantry is large.  A sense of adventure is required when experimenting with the regional dishes as elk, moose, wild boar and even smoked reindeer pasta can all be bought in the local shops.  Raspberries, cloudberries and blueberries all grow in this part of the Arctic tundra and are well worth sampling.  The lakes that surround this region provide a healthy diet of trout and other assorted fish, many of which are smoked.

 

Local Restaurants 

In order to sample some local traditional cooking try the food of the Sami people at the restaurant Isonkenkaisten Klubi on the shores of Lake Heikki and 46 kilometres along the E63 outside of Kuusamo town.  The restaurant Isonkenkaisten Klubi is famous for offering its visitors a choice of eating their food inside a traditional Sami tepee, a ‘kota’, or their more conventionally built wooden restaurant.  The delicious food is prepared by the sisters Katja and Sirpa Kamarainen, using fresh cheese created from the milk of their own cow or delicious lake fish served in a mustard and dill sauce.  Sitting in the smoky ‘kota’ gives an impression of how the Sami used to live and is well worth the visit.

 

Ruka Restaurants

From Isonkenkaisten Klubi why not drive on to Ruka along the E63; the drive should only take around an hour.  You should ensure that the roads are all viable when you make your restaurant booking and it’s a good idea to check in advance to verify that the restaurant of your choice is open as some of them only open from September at the start of the skiing season.  Ruka has free parking in the summer months, which is a real bonus.  Of those restaurants open in the summer, the Vanha Karhu, is one of the most charming and based in Ruka village.  The restaurant resembles a magical castle and can seat up to a 120 people, though the owners do recommend advance booking.  A typical meal here consists of sautéed reindeer with pickled cucumber and lingonberries, or wild boar noisettes accompanied by beetroot in a green pepper and cognac sauce.  The restaurant caters for all dietary requirements including those who are on a gluten free diet.  Another fascinating place is the ‘Iisakki House in the heart of the nearby restored Iisakki Village.  If you happen to be visiting here during the winter, try out the traditional ‘Lappish Dinner,’ which is served every Wednesday.

 

 

 

 

By Celina Bledowska

skiing

Winter Fun in the Snow

Whilst in the midst of a rather bad British summer, my mind has moved to winter fun – skiing in particular. Whilst there are many fantastic spots for fun in the snow, Austria’s Bad Hofgastein area is particularly popular, with a charming vibe to boot.

Sat in the imposing and beautiful Gasteinertal area, this is the largest ski region in Austria, reached easily from Salzburg, with cheap transfers available when pre-booked. Lower the cost of your energetic break even further by pre-booking great value airport extras, such as airport parking, and jet off with peace of mind and extra money in your pocket. I rarely travel without airport parking, so give it a try and see for yourself. Check out Manchester airport parking.

Bad Hofgastein is perfect for all ski abilities. The nursery slopes at Angertal are perfect for beginners, with the ideal setting to practice and perfect your skills, before moving onto the intermediate slopes. It’s easy to get around the whole resort, with buses and trains running regularly and all areas covered by your lift pass.

A little more advanced? Well I’d suggest you head to Stubnerkogel for a challenge. For more exhilaration, head off piste, hiring a guide. I’d recommend arranging activities with the ski school, such as off piste tuition, to really get the most out of your time on the slopes. You’ll be an expert in no time!

When you’re not whizzing down the slopes, the resort itself is picturesque and I’d definitely recommend exploring. Bad Hofgastein offers many attractions, including fantastic spa facilities, all in a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. The nightlife is equally as chilled-out with many bars and restaurants to choose from, with a menu to suit every palate. My advice? Wear yourself out during the day on the slopes, and chill out in the evening with a nice meal and a few drinks with friends. Perfect.

Ski holidays are surprisingly affordable, with many deals to had, including ski passes and deals for families. Cut costs further by taking advantage of airport extras, such as airport hotels and airport parking. Check out parking at Gatwick, and Heathrow airport parking, and see what fantastic rates you can find. I’d highly recommend either service, and I rarely travel without.

So, for fun on the slopes, a fantastic setting during the day and night, and ease of travel – it has to be Austria, it has to be Bad Hofgastein.

snow

Kuusamo, Finland – Getting There the Convenient Way

Playing winter sports is a popular recreational activity in Europe. The extreme and unique exuberance it brings is incomparable. People crave for that adrenaline rush when doing activities in such a distinct atmosphere. The cold climate is ultimately the main factor on why enthusiasts are so keen to playing winter sports. Good thing there are many places that provide the finest service in winter sports such as Ruka in Kuusamo, Finland.

Ruka is a sought after ski resort up on the mountains of the lovely country of Finland. Tourists mainly consist of UK locals who want to get a dose of the crisp and cold air while enjoying a couple of lapses in the snow. This getaway place is a great way to unwind and spend quality time with your friends, family or special someone.

Tourists coming from various parts of the UK have alternate ways to get to Ruka the most convenient way possible. People from Ireland won’t need to worry about having to park their car upon hopping in a plane as there is such thing called Dublin Airport parking. Availing if this service is reasonable especially with the small price you need to pay in exchange for this sort of convenience. Tourists coming from London who have the same problem of not knowing where to park their automobiles can also avail of this service in Edinburgh Airport parking. Airport parking is an amazing development in transportation service facilities as it offers hassle-free parking service to on-the-go travelers.

Of course, visitors of Ruka are not only limited to locals of the UK. However, there are various key cities in the UK which house airlines that fly to Finland. This means that there are a handful of tourists that pass through cities such as London and Manchester in order to get to Finland. Hopping from one place to another is not taboo to people from Europe. This continent is full of spontaneity and dynamic culture that will definitely enthrall incoming tourists. It is a great deal to have so many recreational activities offered, and a wide variety of accommodations to complement these activities. Airport hotels are quite popular in this region as these hotels, as suggested, are located if not beside, but very near key airports. In London, there is the Park Inn Hotel Heathrow Airport. On the other hand, Manchester also offers this kind of unique service. One of the more prominent airport hotels is the Crowne Plaza Manchester Airport.

Traveling to Kuusamo to experience the wonders of Ruka is now made convenient with so many options. Choosing the best facility in each sector that comprises your tourist experience is vital when evaluating your trip as a whole. It is best to do proper research of what alternatives you may want to take in order to maximize your trip to the fullest. With the continuous service of the finest facilities in Europe, there is no way for you not to have the best time of your life!

skiing in Ruka

When to go skiing in Ruka

It’s that time of the year again: time to start thinking about your winter ski holidays. When is the best time to come skiing in Ruka? Well, that all depends on what you want, and what prices you can find.  Flights will be one thing, but you can find great hotel deals with Easytobook.com.

November

ruka kuusamo november

We may not have much in the way of ground snow in November but thanks to snow stored from last winter and the brilliant snow cannons they have on the slopes here, there will be some ski runs and some cross country ski tracks open in Ruka. And, if the weather is obliging, it may even be possible to go snowmobiling or ice fishing at this time of the year.

Daylight: Average of 5 hours per day
Average Temperatures: -10 to -3 degrees Celsius

Good: cheap pre-season holidays

Bad: no guaranteed natural snow so possible lack of other winter activities

December

christmas in Ruka

This is the darkest month, with only a couple of hours of daylight towards the end of the month. The temperature can be anywhere from a few minus degrees to -20C. The majority of the ski slopes will be open at this time of the year, and activities like reindeer sleigh rides, husky sledding and snowmobile driving will be in full swing. Northern lights sightings are quite possible in December, especially towards the end of the month. The Christmas nativity play and new years celebrations are great fun.

Daylight: Average of 3 hours per day
Average Temperatures: -16 to -8 degrees Celsius

Good: Ruka is a great place for a magical Christmas holiday

Bad: a very dark month

January

january Ruka

January is usually the coldest month of the year and the temperature can be as low as -30C. For some this is an exciting time of the year to visit, for other’s the cold is off putting. With an average of 5 hours daylight a day it’s brighter than December and a great time of the year to see the northern lights, kaamos (the eerie blue light when the sun isn’t up) and the trees frozen into Dali-like statues on snowmobile trips to the Russian border. It’s wonderfully quiet on the ski slopes with no queues for lifts – except for the week starting the 7th January which is Russian Christmas week and quite a busy week in Ruka.

Daylight: Average of hours of daylight 5
Average Temperature: -19 to -10 degrees Celsius

Good: beautiful, quite month – great for photographers. Best month for northern lights

Bad: cold, dark and quiet.

February

northern lights February ruka

February is very similar to January but a touch warmer and a touch lighter. By February the sun is up for an average of 9 hours a day. The slopes are still pretty quiet and the snow cover is fantastic. The northern lights are still quite common. The ski slopes are still lovely and quiet at this time of the year and all winter activities like husky sledding, reindeer sleigh rides, santa trips are running.

Daylight: Average of 9 hours a day.
Average Temperature: -18 to -9 degrees Celsius

Good: lighter and warmer than january but northern lights still common

Bad: Can still be quite cold and quiet.

 March

march in Ruka

March is a great month for skiing, the slopes are bathed in sunshine and the temperature can be as warm as -3C. However it’s a busier month with the slopes filling with people and the activities being quite full. You can still see the northern lights although they are not as frequent and the closer to the end of the month you get the less frequent they become.

Daylight: Average of 13 hours per day
Average Temperature: -14 to -3 degrees Celsius

Good: warm, bright days. Good snow.

Bad: busier, queues for ski lifts.

April

april ruka

Another good month for skiing, April can be quite warm, with temperatures above 0C, however towards the end of the month it can also mean slushy snow and which can make skiing and other snow related activities like snowmobiling more challenging.

Daylight: Average of 17 hours per day
Average Temperature: -7 to 2 degrees Celsius

Good: Warm and sunny

Bad: If it’s too warm the snow conditions can deteriorate.

May

may in Ruka

Weather depending, May can either be a great ski month or a terrible one. Generally all other winter activities like snow mobiling and husky sledding are finished by this time as there isn’t enough ground snow for them to continue, and some of the restaurants will be closed. However, the slopes will still be open and if you get a cold week it can still be great skiing. May is best booked last minute depending on the weather.

Daylight: Average of 21 hours per day
Average Temperature: 0 to 10 degrees Celsius

Good: cheap out of season holiday. Bright, sunny days.

Bad: it can be too warm and slushy to ski. Some restaurants closed.

 

How to enjoy travelling with children

Travelling with children is something I’ve been doing on a regular basis for the last 5 years. Air travel, train travel, coach, car and even horse-drawn cart travel. As long as you’ve got decent travel and health insurance, getting the kids away from home and giving them new things to look at is wonderfully restorative for the soul. Relieving some of that boredom that creeps in when they are in the same environment day in day out.

But it can also be pretty stressful.

Especially when you get lost, lose your baggage, lose a child, break a limb, get so sick you need a doctor or lose you child’s favourite toy in a packed theme park. All of which have happened to me over the last few years. Thankfully not all on the same trip – I’m not sure I’d ever have travelled again if they had.

But, as long as you have decent travel insurance, most of those things are easily mended – well, apart from the losing a child. I’ve not yet found a travel insurance company that will replace one when lost. But, you really shouldn’t let the little things like that put you off. Travelling with kids is brilliant.

No, really. And you don’t even have to go far.

Travel is fun. Nothing is more entertaining than a day at the airport, travelling by plane or climbing on board a train. Even if you can’t afford a big foreign holiday, leave the car at home and climb aboard some public transport for the day out.

Travelling with kids opens your eyes. When travelling with kids, even the mundane can become interesting and exciting again. Look at things through their eyes and spending time talking about the unusual things they are seeing can make you realise how much of the little things in life you miss when you have your adult head on. Life is full of surprising and fascinating things going on all around us.

You get to play. It’s amazing how much you can get away with if you have a couple of young kids with you. Swinging on barriers, using the poles for a slalom race, playing hopscotch on the tiles in the airport: people see you doing these things with kids they smile and laugh, consider you a good parent for getting involved with your child’s play. Try doing them when you don’t have kids with you and it’s a whole different kettle of fish.

You’re allowed to be nosy. Ever wondered just what they see on the x-ray machines at the airport, how the life boats work or what exactly is in that weird looking pan of things being cooked at the roadside? When you’ve got kids, as long as you make it seem like you’re asking on their behalf, you get to be as nosy as you like and find out some really interesting stuff. Much more interesting than reading the in-flight magazine or only eating at places with proper menus.

People are friendly. Okay, apart from the odd business traveller who thinks that because he flies regularly he actually owns the entire plane and airport, the majority of people are really lovely when you are travelling with kids. People stand up to give you a seat, help you with heavy bags, are generally more considerate and also strike up conversation and chat to you. Which can lead to all sorts of interesting conversations and, once, an offer of a free guided tour around the city by a local lady.

So what are you waiting for? Make sure you sort out some family health insurance or health insurance for individuals and go explore. Oh, and don’t forget to take the kids.

polar bear cub Finland

Baby polar bear at Ranua Zoo

I love Ranua Zoo. I’m not normally much of a zoo person, I have little time for animals being kept in captivity. However, Ranua Zoo is one of the few zoos I’ve ever visited where the animals have homely looking enclosures, and really large spaces to move around in. There is plenty of natural habitat for them to hide in and not be on display if they wish and the animals, with the exception of the polar bears, are all native to Finland – not lions and tigers being kept in cold climates etc..

You can read more about a visit I took to Ranua Zoo, here.

Late last year, a baby polar bear was born at the zoo. Three months later, the little bear took her first steps out into the world. And the gorgeous little cub was caught on video.

httpv://youtu.be/uv6_Ko1RxME

How wonderfully cute.

I want one. Only if it’s not going to grow up into a great big bear, mind.

 

 

 

Getting fit for skiing

The first time you ever go skiing you will struggle. Turning and stopping are two of the most difficult moves to accomplish when you have no clue how. The beauty of skiing is the fact you can only do it at certain times of the year, however this is also a problem in terms of preparation. You need to be ready, but practise is difficult to come by.

There are exercises you ought to do to ready yourself for your trip. And while the temptation to go on Finnish Party Poker or Facebook instead is probably high, you should do these exercises as often as possible.

Endurance

Skiing takes a lot out of you, so you need plenty of cardiovascular endurance at your disposal. Your legs will no doubt feel like jelly after a long day on the slopes.

Prepare your heart and body by doing any of these activities up to five days a week if you can: running, step aerobics or roller blading. Completing a variety of exercises that last from 20 – 45 minutes will also be beneficial, as will a long but slow workout to condition your lungs and legs for the slopes.

Strength

Skiing requires every muscle in the body, so you want them to be strong. The most used muscle for skiing is probably the quadriceps. They are the ones that hold you in a position as you ski and protect your knees. Squats and lunges would be a good idea to maintain them.

Skiing downhill, you will normally lean forward from your hips and hold it. To do so you need to have strong hamstrings to stabilize your body. Hamstring rolls, step ups, dead lifts and pull throughs are all proven exercises to improve their strength.

Meanwhile your inner and outer thighs will work hard to stabilize your body on the slopes. Try and practise lunges, inner thigh squeezes and side step squats to minimise the chance of cramping.

More information about skiing in Ruka

When to go skiing in Ruka

Ruka Ski School

Ruka lift passes

Equipment hire in Ruka

 

 

northern lights Finland

Pictures of the Northern Lights

This year we have been very fortunate to witness some of the strongest and brightest displays of the northern lights in over 20 years in the north of Finland. Sadly, I seem to have managed to be out of the country for every single one of them.

However, last night they came out again in full force giving us a magnificent display that spanned right across the night sky, green trails swirling and twirling across black canvass, dancing to unheard music, curling, stretching, running and waving. Like the after-burn trail of a child’s sparkler, the furthest points often fade out to nothing to be replaced at next passing with brighter stripes of green.

I stood, open mouthed, head pointing to the sky, turning slowly around and around with my arms held out attempting to take it all in, watch each part of the performance at once, head snapping left and right as movements in the corner of my eyes drew my attention this way and that.

It was a heart lifting and soul restoring performance that left me with a spring in my step and a goofy smile on my face. Sadly, the photographs go nowhere near to capturing the scale, colours or movement of the display but I wanted to share with you what little I did manage to freeze in time on my camera.

northern lights Kuusamo

northern lights Lapland

northern lights Finland

I hope you enjoyed them, you can also find out more information about the Northern Lights and see more beautiful winter northern lights pictures and late autumn northern lights sightings on this site.

fire

No heat without fire

Living in the frozen north of Lapland, heating ones house can be quite a challenge. Especially when the all heating comes from a log burning stove. But at least you’d think, wouldn’t you, that we’d make this as easy as possible. Do clever little things like store the logs near the house, to make this issue less of pain in the rear end.

But, no. We keep them in a log shed. All the way at the other end of the farm. Which makes heating even more challenging. Especially when it’s -20C outside.

Step 1.
Get dressed in snow suit, balaclava, thermal boots, gloves and scarf.

Step 2.
Locate empty log basket and cart.

Step 3.
Drag cart, with log basket, 500 yards through snow. Get mugged and slobbered on by horses as you cross horse field.

Step 4.
Load basket up with logs in the wood shelter.

Step 5.
Drag now heavy cart back through snow, pausing at horse field to run the ‘crazy horse gauntlet’. I don’t know why the sight of a full basket of logs has this effect on my horse but this is what I face every time I try to drag it through her field.

Step 6.
Lift incredibly heavy basket full of logs, stagger up steps, attempt to rest it against house and balence it on one knee whilst reaching for door handle. Almost make it before basket tips and logs spill over steps.

Step 7.
Pick up logs. Leave very snowy ones where they are – snow doesn’t burn so well anyway. Prop door open and stagger inside with logs.

Step 8.
Lay fire.

Step 9.
Light fire.

Step 10.
Re-light fire.

Step 11 – 15
Re-light fire whilst blowing on paltry flames until you almost pass out.

Step 16
Consider opening wine.

Step 17.
Give it one more go before giving up.

Step 18.
Perform happy dance as fire crackles into life.

Step 19.
Scream in frustration as it goes out again.

Step 20.
Give up and spend the rest of the day wearing a slanket and hugging a water bottle.

Oh the joys of rural life in Finland.