Aloha from Hawaii

Yhdysvallat (USA) - 2.8.2018 08:59

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Greetings from paradise!

When I was a child I dreamed of going to Hawaii. But it was so far away from Finland, and so expensive. The Canary Islands or Thailand were usually the easier holiday destinations. I never thought one day I would go to Hawaii. But I did. We did! It was conveniently on the way from Sydney to Vancouver.

It was expensive, but totally worth it. We had such an amazing time!

We flew in to Honolulu, which is the capital of the “aloha” state on the island of Oahu. On our way we travelled back in time! That was so weird. We had already had breakfast that day in Sydney, but we had it again the same day in Honolulu. We were so tired when we arrived very early in the morning. The US customs wasn’t even open yet so we had to wait for the staff to come to work before we could enter their country. You hear all those rumors of how intimidating the immigration is at the US border, but we had none of that. The friendly man said aloha and didn’t ask further questions. I do believe the rumors though.. Anyways, we were so tired, too many crying babies on the flight. The Dreamliner was a nice plane in itself though, big windows and such a smooth landing we didn’t know if we had touched the ground. Maybe it was just not to wake anyone up so early.. although we figured people in Hawaii get up very early. Sunrises are beautiful. Back to being tired, the excellent news for us at the time of arriving to our hotel was not only that we got an upgrade because we’re on honeymoon, but also the fact that we could check in at 7am instead of 1pm! We had breakfast and crashed on the bed.

We woke again in the afternoon and felt like it was morning. Did some bikini shopping and got a local sim card, which is great since it works in Canada as well and we can pick up Uber rides because of the mobile data. We went to watch the sunset at Waikiki beach and had some fish tacos for dinner. Couldn’t believe how loud the people were in the restaurant. And the tipping culture. Still getting used to it. The same with your purchases being hit with the tax at the cashier and there you go suddenly spending 10% more than you thought. But it’s probably just my cultural stiffness.. The beauty of the nature and the island lifestyle make up for it all.

So we spent almost four days on Oahu, renting a car for one and a half days. Even though Honolulu is quite a big city, the Waikiki area was nice and walkable. There were plenty of shops and restaurants. The island offers much more though. We paid a brief visit to the historical Pearl Harbour, and visited also Dole pineapple plantation. We also hiked up the crater at Diamond Head (with hundreds of other people). Then drove to the North Shores along the west coast. The scenery changed dramatically from dry to lush and mountainous, and there were really nice beaches at the North Shores. We had excellent shrimps at Giovanni’s shrimp truck. I never thought truck food could really be any good but I have to say these were probably the most delicious 12 hot and spicy shrimps I’ve had in my life! We spent our afternoon on a beautiful and quiet beach that I had spotted from the map. There was even a natural ocean pool! Turtle Bay, but don’t tell too many people about it. There were nice beaches at Haleiwa and Waimea as well. But we continued to Lanikai where we stayed in an Airbnb. We had a tasty seafood dinner there and the next day woke up to watch the sunrise at the beach. We had to get up early anyway to return the rental car and catch our flight to the island of Maui.

We had originally booked our flights to the Big Island where we could have explored the volcano national park, but because of the volcanic activity the park is mainly closed, so we decided to go to Maui instead. And I’m happy we did, since Maui was epic!

We spent 7 days on Maui, which was a really good amount of time to explore the whole island. Rental car is a must. We had a nice Jeep, which good on some of the bumpy parts of the road to Hana. The rental company we used on Oahu and Maui is called Alamo. They had frequent shuttle buses from terminal to their office where we picked up and returned the rental cars. Their service was very good and fast. No issues, and returning the car was very easy.

We had an Airbnb for our stay in Maui. It was located in south Kihei, which I think was a perfect location. The beaches in Kihei are much nicer and less crowded than those in Lahaina, where many of the tourists tend to go. Also, Kihei had a lot of services available and was a good location to explore the island. We saw many sea turtles when snorkeling at the beaches in Kihei/Makena area. The water was so clean and clear. It was pristine. Like it was supposed to be, everywhere, before man polluted the waters. And the beaches were sandy, no trash anywhere! So pleasing. It’s such an isolated place. That comes with a cost too. We thought we save a lot living in an Airbnb and cooking ourselves, and then we were quite shocked about the prices in a grocery store. But that’s it, the logistics of getting food and goods to the islands is so expensive. A simple package of toast bread was 5$, a bit fancier bread was already 9$. Four cans of Maui brewing company’a beer was also 9$. Mmm, pineapple wheat beer for the hot summer’s days. It was so worth the money.

We had sunny weather throughout our stay there. It was between 30 and 35 degrees. We were able to work on our sun tans. The Airbnb had beach chairs and the works, so we really enjoyed comfortable staying on the beach. The first night, we went for an evening swim at sunset and I almost bumped into a massive sea turtle! We saw many of them the following days as well. Amazing creatures. The snorkeling from the shore was good, but we still paid for a snorkeling trip to Molokini crater, which is supposed to be one of the top 10 snorkeling spots in the world. It was good and colourful, yet I would say we saw more interesting stuff at Palawan in the Philippines.

Besides the ocean and snorkeling, another highlight was the road to Hana, which is basically going around the East part of the island. We went via the south side, so we started by going through the dry and windy. It was spectacular. We drove through lava fields and dry lands, which changed to tropical forest around the eastern bend. On our way we stopped to eat local fruit from farmers who had fell in love with the island and its lifestyle. I can see why. During the day we did almost a three hours hike on the Pipiwai trail, which starts from the ocean, following the river leading from the seven sacred pools all the way to a beautiful waterfall. The trail follows the river and goes through a bamboo forest. A wonderful experience! The bamboos make an almost instrumental sounds when clonking to each others in the wind. Pipiwai was the highlight on the road to Hana, but we saw many more waterfalls and pools along the road still. We also explored a cave on the black sand beach, which gets its colour from the lava rock. The evening we ended in a surfing town called Paia.

Talking about surfing. I had to try that, of course. No instructions, but after about one hour of surfing I was able to stand on the board and ride a wave, three times! It was nearly sensational, the feeling when the wave took over and the board picked up speed.

We did some cocktails (Mai tais), good food (ahi and poke), chilling and sitting by the pool as well, although our week was pretty active! Difficult to say which one was the most unforgettable experience, but surely the summit hike at Haleakala Red Hill was an amazing one! We drove, from practically sea level to 3,050m altitude. On the way we passed through different climates, until we were above the clouds. Once up there, we did a 3hr hike down and up the crater. The scenery was like from Mars. Volcano cinders, red dirt, black dirt, species that can’t be found anywhere else. Dramatic landscape, and then clouds hanging low below. We went quite far to the crater until there were no other people. There was no sound. It was beautiful. I ran a loop around a cinder, which was a mistake. In that altitude and scorching heat I lost my breath and was exhausted! And that was at the bottom of our trail. Now we needed to hike up all the way had come down. But it went well, we made it back to the top. In perfect time to witness the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen! We sat on our beach chairs on the summit above the clouds watching the sun paint the sky and the dancing clouds as the evening turned to night. Just to reveal the most amazing starry sky!

Waikiki beach My little mermaidHonolulu as seen from Diamond Head 

Trying the local dish, Poke! Really yummy, raw fish. Banana ice!My wife having so much fun in the Waikiki waves Submarine at Pearl HarbourWhipped pineapple  The best shrimps I've ever had - at Giovanni's shrimp truck

Did you know that coconut palm trees were not original to Hawaii Our secret beach on the island of O'ahu, with a natural ocean pool 

Dinner with my beautiful wife Sunrise 6am at Lanikai beach Sunset at our home beach in Maui

Makena beach   On the road to HanaThe south side of Maui was very dry and windy Black goat on the lava fieldsOn the road to Hana - stopping to eat a fruitplatter in a bamboo garden Sandals Waterfall on Pipiwai trail Measuring the size of this plant Looking that the tree is in healthy condition after all those tourists climbing on it Bamboo forest The last waterfall on our Pipiwai trail On our way back Seven sacred pools leading to the ocean Cave exploration The sand on this beach was black from the lava rock The beautiful Hakeakala crater from 3000m   Silver sword is a plant that can be found only here in the crater The hike up from the crater was strenuous  After the crater hike we sat down to watch the sun set Watching the clouds dance as the sun set No more t-shirts and shorts in 5 degrees weather! Teaching myself to surf at Kanapali beach Happy man after learning to catch a wave  Snorkeling in the Molokini crater   My wife got friendly with the sea turtles  Local dish, Ahi Local dish, fresh fish Mai tais on the last evening in Maui

Greetings from Australia

Australia - 26.7.2018 21:34

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Well actually we are already in Hawaii, but we have had too much fun to have the time to write. Now we are waiting for our flight from Honolulu to Maui so I’ll catch up with what’s been happening lately.

We had a wonderful time in Australia! It was just six days, but we loved it there in Down Under. It was their winter, but it doesn’t really look like winter when you talk about it with Finnish people. The weather was sunny and clear, around 20 degrees, except at the Blue Mountains where it was around 10 degrees, during the day. Nights were cold.

We stayed with my cousins in Sydney, and they made sure we had a great time, food and everything we wanted. They let us use their car to visit my friend Uncle-Peter (Piggy) in Katoomba, at the mountains. On our way we stopped at Featherdale wildlife park where we could feed kangaroos and pat koalas. I had already spent nine months in Australia in 2009 so I had seen many things before but for Deborah it was all wonderful and new! And she really didn’t want to leave Oz without seeing the iconic animals. A picture with a koala was high on the bucket list. And they had many koalas in the park, although they were all asleep. We found out that they sleep between 18 and 20 hours a day, and are most active during the night. So chances of having a nice picture with the fluffy package were slim. We did get (pay) a nice picture even though our friend was asleep. The roos instead were wide awake hopping around.

Lots of memories came back as I entered Peter’s home where I once stayed for a month. The garden was as wild as before, and the gardener hadn’t changed either. Happy as always. He showed us around his most inspirational spots: the three sisters and the anonymous cafe. In return I showed him around my secret lookout near the farm where I worked, and the Hargraves lookout over the Megalong valley. In return he explained us what Megalong meant. Apparently it’s not really megalong, it’s just an aboriginal word. We learned a lot of other history as well on that day. The day ended splendidly in Leura, where Uncle Piggy took us to an exquisite restaurant for dinner. Well done, mate!

The next day we went touring around Sydney with my aunt. We crossed the iconic Harbour bridge and learned about it in one of the pylons that held a museum about the bridge inside. On top of the pylon there is a great viewpoint looking at the bridge, the Opera house, and the city. That is well worth the visit, and I hadn’t done it before.

Sydney is a beautiful city, and the harbour area with the bridge and opera house look so good. Also, the sky is most often blue, sun is shining and making people smile. Besides, the harbour area has so many bays and nice gardens. We took a ferry from the harbour to Manly, which is by the sea. It’s a nice area with beautiful beaches. We hiked around it, altogether some 16km before going back to the city to eat with my uncle Rade. He had reserved a table in a really nice restaurant for us at revolving O bar overlooking the city. Second night in a row we were treated like royals.

Saturday we slept in a bit, had another great breakfast with pancakes, and then went out with my aunt and uncle. They showed us around the southern side of Sydney. We went to visit the Gap which is notorious for suicides. But it’s a beautiful place actually. We continued to the famous Bondi beach where there is always a lot of people surfing, swimming and exercising. Even some were sun bathing! I went in the cool and clear sea to hit the waves, which is so much fun. But I couldn’t stay too long otherwise I would have turned blue. But it was definitely warmer water than in Hammerfest!

We walked from Bondi to Bronte along the coast and then to another beach (there are so many!) for tasty fish and chips. It looks like life there is good. In some ways it reminds me of Switzerland. It doesn’t have the mountains but it has the beaches and the sea. Both countries enjoy a good wine culture. People look good and relaxed. Lots of young families playing with their kids outside.

That evening we went to an evening service at Hillsong city church. The sermon by Joel A’bell was really a challenging one, about Him increasing in us, and us decreasing. Very good. We met a Finnish guy, Oskari, who had come there to a bible college and ended up staying and is now one of the youth pastors! He and his wife were excited about the Hillsong conference that had just ended a week ago. Would be excellent to get a chance to join some year!

After the church service we went to have dinner in Newtown, which is a very busy bar and restaurant district. We must have looked for parking for 20 minutes! After dinner we went to a restaurant called “The Last Course”. It was a dessert restaurant serving delicious last courses. A nice concept, I don’t know why it isn’t more popular.

On Sunday we drove down to Wollongong, about 1hr south of Sydney. We met there with the Forrests, whom we had met about a year ago in Switzerland when they were returning from their mission at MercyShips. My wife got to know them when they were serving together in Madagascar. They are a lovely family. The father, Dave, showed me his woodwork and I got him excited about making a “kuksa”, which is a carved wooden cup used by hikers in Finland. The Forrests took us to a wonderful picnic by the sea and up a hill for great views of the coast. In the water we saw many surfers and also dolphins. Dave is involved in a very inspiring ministry mentoring men about fatherhood. It’s a new ministry, which has had a very positive reception. I hope this kind ministry would go across the Australian borders to all around the world.

That Sunday evening we still made it to the evening service at the main Hillsong campus at Hills. It was another kind of church experience! Hillsong has 88 services in a week in Australia. This particular building held about 3,500 people and they have 4 services there on a Sunday. It’s amazing how many people have been reached through this church, which has become global. They sell so many CDs across the world every year that they keep getting the Australian grammy awards for their records sales, which are the best of any Australian band. But it’s more than just good music.

After the church we had a delicious farewell barbecue dinner with my family at their place, and even enjoyed a sauna and some local craft ciders from the Blue Mountains. Our visit to Australia was a very joyful one and we would have loved to stay longer. There were still people and many places we didn’t have time to see, that’ll be next time.

Family dinner with Kikka, Zac and Rade Feeding the friendly roos  Koala Scenery at Blue Mountains Uncle-Piggy and his three sisters! Anonymous coffee in Blackheath with synonymous company A nice message from the chef at the Silk's of Leura  The Opera House Manly Australian coast line Sydney Sydney Harbour bridge Fancy dinner with aunt and uncle at O bar in Sydney  With Kikka and Rade at the gap Ocean pools at Bondi  At the Last Course restaurant in Newtown Picnic lunch with the Forrests in Wollongong    At Hillsong church

 

 

Byebye Bangkok

Thaimaa - 17.7.2018 21:54

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We are now sitting at the gate waiting to board our plane from Bangkok to Singapore and then to Sydney, with handwritten boarding passes, which have already created amusement at the security check, passport control, and duty free. Nevertheless, we managed to board our 10th flight of the journey.

Once we returned from Krabi to Bangkok my dad had just arrived from Bhutan the same day. Bangkok is a great hub in Southeast Asia for many organizations. My dad is based there to work in a regional role with Fida International, and he seems to be traveling more than staying in Bangkok. I think he has now Been to about 70 countries, whereas I’ve unlocked a bit more than 50. Don’t know if I’ll ever reach 70!

As we knew that there will be quite much traveling ahead, we wanted to take it easy in Bangkok; eating REALLY well, going to the gym in the mornings, and playing boardgames for example.

Dad and Heather were around just for a couple of more days and then they flew to Finland for a holiday. As they were leaving, there was a beautiful fireworks show on the river just in front of us!

So we had the apartment for ourselves for a couple of days, nice! We continued eating well and going to gym and the pools, and even tried the sauna the last evening. On Sunday morning we went to the Life church in Siam. It was really good to be able to attend church, worship God and hear the word first time after leaving Switzerland. We met some nice people there and had lunch together. It was an international crowd of people working for different organizations, and somehow you feel like you know each other already.

After lunch we went to Chatuchak weekend market, which is so huge that you can easily spend a day there and still not see everything. It’s quite busy though so we were ready to leave after 3 hours. We found some nice little accessories and clothing. It’s good we have very limited space in our luggage so we avoid extra carefully buying anything unnecessary. In three hours we didn’t even get to the furniture, arts, or plants sections. Didn’t think we could fit any of those in though.

Sunday evening went along eating take away Thai food from our favorite kitchen around the corner and watching World Cup football just like on Saturday. Belgium was great and deserved their best ever World Cup result being third. We so hoped the petit Croatia would have conquered Les Bleus, but second place was a great achievement also.

Monday was the last evening and we decided to go check out the latest movie technology max 4D-hold your seats nose and breath- in your face-kick ass cinematography. The conclusion was that we still prefer the good old 2D movies. The Ant man was good though!

On the last day I still took advantage of the 3$ hair cut before saying good bye to our wonderful place in Bangkok. It was all so convenient and comfortable. Thank you. We have many reasons to come back.

Like best friends  The River residents' boat serviceThe girls played Scrabble while the boys competed in Agricola   Shabu shabu Farewell fireworks Lunch after church  Trying out another local eatery Sticky toast Our favorite local kitchen  This is how we started most of our mornings Our handwritten boarding passes

Belgium lost and the weather changed

Thaimaa - 12.7.2018 14:52

It was quite disappointing, we stayed up to watch the semifinal until the wee hours. I really thought Belgium was going to be the champion this time. But no, France was better and they went to the World Cup final. (Now we hope Croatia will keep making history!)

Although it was quite dire to wake up for breakfast after a short night’s sleep, it was worth it since the sun started to break through the clouds and the sky was blue after a while! We headed to the beach, but it was still too early as the tide was high, so we waited. While Deb stayed to watch the climbers at the beach, I decided to make a sacrifice for the sake of nice pictures and climbed the still muddy trail (that was closed during the rain) to a viewpoint. Actually I really enjoyed it, and the views were definitely worth the sweat and mosquitoes (it’s remarkable what kind of a jungle can live on a lime stone). The sacrifice was just in the form of blue shoes turning terra-cotta red.

When the tide went out we were able to reach the nice part of the beach for some cool photos and video. People had been waiting for the beach weather and now they were arriving with boats from the nearby ports.

After the beach we went back to our hotel for lunch and I got ready for my afternoon activity, rock climbing! I’ve heard the Krabi area is some kind of a Mecca for rock climbers, and I understand why. The limestone formations are not only wonderful looking but also really nice features for rock climbing. The rock is really nice to climb; plenty of interesting features and good holds as well. I went top rope climbing with a group of different level climbers. A lot of great climbers there, many of which are Chinese actually. I was climbing and belaying also. The fun cost me some 30$ and offered me the gear and a couple of hours of climbing. I did six different routes which were quite different from each other. Some were with a bit more overhang and climbing over ledges, so heavier on the arms, whereas some were more acrobatic on the feet. The climbing pace was quite high and soon the group was tired already. I however, managed to climb all the routes in the section we went to. Perhaps the most difficult one was a 6a+ route that was also the highest one (maybe some 30m) and had a tricky section just at the top before the finish where the rock didn’t have much features anymore. It was a great sensation to reach the end of that one!

We went for a massage still before dinner, which did very good after the climbing. Dinner was a BBQ buffet accompanied with cultural performance shows. The fire dance almost set the place on fire. The weather has been constantly hot and humid in any case. Good that the rooms have AC and that we haven’t caught a cold, which we both are prone to. Also, we haven’t spent a day sick in bed because of a stomach bug or anything else *knock wood*. Apparently food poisoning and that stuff are quite common at Railay.. we ate lunch almost every day at Local Thai, which was good and the staff was friendly. The last day at Krabi we had some time to walk around the “island” in dry weather and discovered that walking all the way up the east Railay is more quiet and has a really nice restaurant/bar Tew Ley Bar with really nice views and a cool sea breeze. Also, the Great View Resort looked really nice although it’s about a 10′-15′ walk from the beach and restaurants of Railay.

We are happy that we had some sunshine, and could see how beautiful Railay is, the limestones are amazing. And I am so glad I was able to try rock climbing in this special spot! Now we are on our way back to Bangkok, looking forward to seeing Dad and Heather again!

Thai long boats The steep route up to the viewpointRailay  Time to try out rock climbing So many sweet holds in the rock   6a+ This was the climbing spot at Railay Looking gorgeous <3  The cool views and breeze at Tew Ley

Greetings from Thailand

Thaimaa - 9.7.2018 20:37

We have arrived well in Thailand and are getting used to the tropical sauna and the spicy curries. Our time here has been relaxing. We’ve been staying with my family in Bangkok, enjoy the resort lifestyle, and did one week of traveling to the jungles of the north in Chiang Mai and the beaches of the south in Krabi.

Bangkok alone has already been the great holiday. Great food at Heather’s kitchen, with amazing views of the city and the river full of life. Starting the mornings with a run at the gym and relaxing by the pools after breakfast (homemade Karelian pies!). Then playing boardgames(Agricola!) or shopping during the day and delicious dinners in the evenings.

In Chiang Mai we were the chefs for one evening when we took a Thai cooking class. The half day class started by going to the local food market to get to know the ingredients, after which we went to the home garden to learn about the different spices and vegetables. With pink aprons on we started cooking our first dishes, the stir fry. I had chosen the famous Pad Thai while Deb chose a local delicacy Hot Basil Chicken, so we could experiment both. First we prepared all the needed ingredients and then cooked the stir fry. Pad Thai was supposed to be a fairly complicated one to cook, but it turned out well! Next up were spring rolls, which Deb had previous experience of already, so she mastered making a neat looking tasty deep fried roll with crunchy vegetables. There were still two more dishes to make, the curry and the dessert. I made red curry while Deb made panang curry. We had to make the curry paste ourselves by crunching a ton of chilies, and then it was adjusted to the dish. My curry would have needed some more fish sauce to have enough salt, while Deb’s panang curry was delicious! Finally we learned how to prepare the famous mango sticky rice dessert, which was finalized with a pretty blue flower (that had also given the blue color for the rice). To do it again at home, we both received cook books at the end of our class. I would highly recommend this wonderful experience when in Thailand!

Another day in Chiang Mai we spent taking care of rescued elephants. The elephants were rescued from logging, tourist trekking or other activity where the elephants are being ill-treated, drugged, punished, controlled by fear, and don’t live the life elephants should. The way Elephant Nature Reserve rescues these elephants is simply to buy them from their previous owner and take care of them. Our guide told us that the price of an elephant can be from 35,000$ to 150,000$ depending on the gender, age and health of the elephant. And they eat an enormous amount of food every day, so keeping them must not be cheap either, plus all the medicine and rehab needed to get the elephants back to a good health. So we spent a day in the jungle taking care of three female elephants in their 40’s. We fed them a lot of watermelons and pumpkins. Apparently that’s how you make friends with elephants. Then they were happy to go for a couple of hours hike with us in the jungle. It’s impressive how the gigantic animal can walk so smoothly, and even manage narrow paths and steep muddy hills. Once in the forest we kept of feeding them with bananas and rice balls we made. The bananas they grabbed with their trunks but the rice balls we could feed to their mouths. After this we were so dirty that we took a bath with the elephants in the river, and that’s how our day ended with the elephants, giving them a bath. They are such cute and calm animals, very adorable. Huge, yet not scary.

We were in Chiang Mai altogether more or less 4 days, which was enough time to do some activities and also explore the old town. The food there is great! Also lots of temples, but we enjoyed rather spending our time with a good foot massage, Deb took a manicure and pedicure, and then together we had two hour full body massages by ex women prisoners. A long massage like that still cost less than a meal in Europe. Also, lots of things were for sale at the busy Night Bazaar, which was nice to visit since it was so bustling with life compared to the more quiet old town of Chiang Mai.

Transportation in Chiang Mai was convenient with Grab, a local version of the Uber app. We had bought a local sim when we arrived, which was really easy, and made it possible to use the phone with data. It was also useful for finding recommended restaurants when in town. Otherwise, it’s also possible to just jump on Red Trucks that take you to a certain direction for about 1$. There are also lots of bicycles for rent, and even motorbikes, but the traffic looked too busy for an enjoyable ride, and apparently the rental companies try to scam the tourists there, so better just rent bikes once in a smaller town.

From CM we took a 2 hour flight to Krabi, but arrived when it was getting dark so arriving at our final destination at Railay beach was interesting since we still needed a bus and a boat to get there. In CM it got dark quite a bit later than in Krabi, it’s a long country! Fortunately there was still a boat from Ao Nammao beach to Railay after 19:30. We arrived to our honeymoon hotel safe and sound, and were happy to get and upgrade to our room as we arrived.

It’s the monsoon season, so weather at Railay has been more or less (mostly more) rainy, all the time. Therefore we haven’t been able to enjoy the beach and work on our tans much, nor go rock climbing, but we have eaten and rested well, recharged our batteries by reading books, playing games and watching movies. We still have almost two full days here before we head back to Bangkok, so let’s hope we get some dry weather still. But now, to watch Belgium-France! Even though the game starts here at 1am, we must watch and support the Reds!

Family time in Bangkok with Dad and Heather Father-Son time Some more Father-Son time Views of Bangkok and the river, scary high up! Some say, the best pool in Bangkok..?   Our hotel room in Chiang Mai was very nicely prepared Making your own curry paste is HARD work Thai cooking class Pad Thai à la Lauri Mango with sticky rice Preparing the apero for the elephants  Feeding the trunks  Happy! The elephant looks amusing too Gentle touch of a lady Taking the elephants for a walk ...and then for a bath  Eating out in Chian Mai (Ginger & Kafe) Enjoying good treatments in CM   Not a wedding photo Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai Womens' massage center (ex prisoners) in Chiang Mai The weather in Krabi at the moment Dreaming in a cafe on a rainy day Rainy day activities   No matter the weather, food is good!  At Railay beach  Hard to smile when you have salt in the eyes.. ;)  

 

1 day in Kiev

Ukraina - 1.7.2018 19:20

At first I was wondering why we needed to go through passport control when leaving Brussels in the morning. Even when we arrived in Ukraine I happily kept my mobile data on. I knew they didn’t use the Euro but not every EU country does anyway. Wait a second, we had to go through passport control again and this time we got our passports stamped. Hey, Ukraine isn’t part of the EU? I found out while enjoying my mobile data, which was soon turned off.

It was rather easy to get to down town Kiev from the airport. The tourist info at the airport was very friendly, as were other people we met while in Ukraine. We took the skybuss from the airport to Kharviska (or something) for 2€ and then a metro to Zoloty Vorota for 30cents. All in all it took about an hour and the busses and metros are frequent.

In Kiev we saw a mixture of old and new, local and international. There are some really trendy cafes run by young local people. We had an amazing breakfast at the Blue Cup, where staff was very friendly and spoke English. Common to a previously Soviet country, there are impressive monuments and buildings around. We visited them at the Maidan square where there is the monument of independence. That is also the place where a well known demonstration took place in 2013, where the people protested the president from moving politically closer to Russia than the EU. Since, the president was changed and Ukraine is taking steps towards becoming an EU member.

Perhaps the most impressive in Kiev were the numerous big churches. We visited the nice and shiny bright blue St Michael’s church, St Andrew’s church in front of which they were filming an episode of Ukrainien Masterchef, and the iconic St Sophia’s Cathedral and its Bell tower.

Kiev and its people were nice, and definitely worth the visit if you have a long stop over. Especially the food and service we had in the couple of cafes we stayed was really good, and put us on a good mood!

St Michael  Master Chef at St Andrew  St Sophia Golden Gates  Maidan 

Last days before the take off to the World Tour

Before and after Paris we also had good times in around Belgium and the Netherlands. This included our fourth wedding celebration (civil and church wedding parties in Switzerland, party in Finland and now in Belgium), not the celebration of our fourth wedding but the fourth celebration of our wedding..! We entertained a crowd of some 30+ people with a grande dessert buffet, photoshoot, videoshows, there was even a great speech, and we did some dancing too. It was a fun event and at least by now I have the approval of my wife’s friends and family, I hope, since I met most of them this time.

The next day after the wedding celebration we were invited by Deb’s Pakistani friends for a brunch. I love these people. I met them at Christmas too. They are so warm and welcoming, I almost feel part of their family too. We had a great breakfast together and the whole big family was there. After the breakfast we continued to a huge playground/open air museum in Bokrijk where we enjoyed the swings and climbing like we were children again. But we went there for Deb’s goddaughter, right. It was also good fun trying out old school toys and games and see the typical life style of the people living there from the 17th century.

Another highlight was to go and watch the World Cup game between Belgium and England. I had never been to an outdoor event where hundreds of people are gathered like that to watch a game and support their team, it was a great atmosphere, and even better since Belgium won! We went there together with Deb’s (and now mine too, hehe) friends Gio, Aliya and Sharon.

We also did a one day visit to nearby Maastricht in Holland. It was a nice lively town with the Maas river running through it. They had turned an old church into a book store because they had too many churches in that area. It was an interesting concept but I wasn’t used to it. Crossing the border from Belgium to Holland was simple. I didn’t even see a border but the road signs were different so that’s how we knew.

Time in Belgium flew by! We had a really nice time there with Deb’s family, they took such good care of us. We were able to relax by going to the movies twice, barbecuing, watching football and sleeping well!

Now, however, the intercontinental travel begins. We will head out to Thailand after spending a stop over day in Kiev first. We’ll keep you posted!

Finally, here’s a video Deb made of our time in and around Belgium: https://vimeo.com/278255784

Password: 1205

 The crew of the fourth wedding party Meet Gio, the dance choreographer Arisha, Deb's Goddaughter Swinging with Arisha Bokrijk Belgium-England, 1-0! RailbikingBeertasting at Leffe BBQ   Farewell breakfast in Hasselt

2 days in Paris

Ranska - 29.6.2018 16:25

I was positively surprised! I had never visited Paris before, neither other big cities in general, but Paris I really liked for the two days we spent there. I think I prefer it over London as well. I was surprised how much space there was in the city, big parks and squares, lots of places to sit down and people-watch. There was so much life, we just enjoyed sitting outside on a café terrace and seeing what was going around. Or we could take a seat in one of the beautiful parks and sit by a fountain. In the era of hypermarkets, I enjoyed the numerous little stores everywhere. And there was a lot of art on display as well.

Going to Paris was convenient, just a one hour train ride from Brussels. I was impressed by the smooth train ride even in 300km/h! Trains are a great way of transportation, but there are often strikes as well, which makes it a bit unreliable, at least when comparing to Finland or Switzerland. We were lucky since the strike in France was a day after our trip and the strike in Belgium was two days after we came back.

My wife had made an excellent itinerary for our 2-day-visit. At first we went up to Sacré Coeur, which is a beautiful church on top of a hill. We went all the way up to the dome of the church, from where we could see the whole city, including the Eiffel tower. One thing that made it such a memorable time was also the weather, which was sunny and hot both days.

From Sacré Coeur we continued to the artsy market place of Place du Tertre at Montmart, where many artist make and display their work. We had our first Paris café experience at the Deux Moulins café, known from the French movie Amélie. We moved around Paris by foot and metro. During the 2 days we walked more than 50,000 steps!

After the coffee we took a metro to Concorde, from where we walked to see Champs-Elysées and the Arc of Triumph. The symmetric straight line from the Arc continues all the way to the Louvre, and walking to Louvre we went through Garden of Tuileries, which had nice fountains and lots of green areas. We didn’t go into Louvre because of the large crowds, but it looked nice from the outside as well. However, in the garden of Tuileries we went into the Claude Monet (Orangerie) museum, which was interesting and didn’t take too long, just less than an hour, and didn’t have so many visitors.

Our next stop was at Notre Dame, but we didn’t go in because of the long queue. We continued to walk around and had a nice coffee at Odette, nearby Notre Dame. Some of the tips for our visit were from our colleagues at Medair who had either lived or visited Paris before. We managed to see a lot and avoid losing time in big tourist crowds. From Notre Dame we walked along the river to the Lovers’ Bridge. The bridge used to be filled with locks, completely, but for some reason the locks had been removed (maybe it became too heavy!) and the bridge sides were made from glass now so it wasn’t possible to put locks on it anymore. But it was a nice place to look at the river and the river boats. The island on which the Notre Dame is located also looked nice from the bridge, as the two rivers that went around it became one again.

We continued to another park, called the Garden of Luxembourg, in which the Palace of Luxembourg, now the meeting place for the French Senate, is located. It was beautiful, big and open, and many people were jogging around the garden, sun-bathing on the benches or playing with small boats in the fountain. Then we headed to Trocadero to watch the sunset on the Eiffel tower. It was a great view from Trocadero to see the tower, and a beautiful park in itself too with big fountains. We went to eat in a nearby restaurant, L’italien, that was on a small street. There were only locals at the restaurant and even us they asked if we lived in the suburb (since they hadn’t seen us before I guess). It was nice practicing our French with the friendly waiter. The food and service was excellent, and not too pricey. After eating well, we went back to Trocadero to watch the light show at Eiffel tower, which is every hour at night. Very romantic…

The next day we had solely reserved for visiting Versailles. Deb had been a couple of times in Paris already before, but she had never visited the palace. It was well worth the visit, although it took the whole day. We were lucky that we had booked tickets online beforehand and arrived a bit before they opened at 9am, since the queues soon became very long. We were told some wait even 3 or 4 hours to get in. We were lucky to be one of the first ones to enter and got nice pictures of the palace without too much crowds. It’s an amazing place, and hard to believe that one guy and his family would have owned something like that..! The interior of the palace is lavish, very detailed, and it’s huge: 2,300 rooms! The art inside is like in the Vatican museum! There are also a couple of more buildings which were for other members of the family, guards and so on, and even those are impressive. And all the land and roads that connects everything together is vast! The garden of Versailles is impressive with its fine cut grass, plants, statues and numerous fountains. It’s really an unbelievable place, and makes me think if there is anyone nowadays that could have such an impressive empire. No wonder the French people didn’t like how their tax money was used to support the lifestyle of their king, and thus the French robbed most of the palace in the French Revolution. For example, the throne of the king is not there anymore..

We came back to Paris, rested our feet, and enjoyed some more people-watching at the cafés. Then soon we were back in Belgium.

I would consider visiting Paris again, perhaps during a different season next time!

At the top of Sacré Coeur View of Paris from Sacré Coeur Sacré Coeur Café  Face twister candy! Champs-Elysées Louvre Notre Dame  At Odette Jardin de Luxembourg  Paris, baby!  à L'italien  Versailles Versailles Hall of Mirrors Resting feet at Versailles Thalys bullet train Brussels - Paris

Greetings from Belgium

Belgia, Ranska - 22.6.2018 16:27

Where the beer is strong and the chocolate is dark. There were bras hanging from the window. In black, yellow, and red. We are in Belgium! It’s the football World Cup, and you can see it on the streets. Lots of houses have put something with the country’s colors out on display.

We are staying here with Deb’s parents. Enjoying the good life of not having to worry about cooking or cleaning. So far the time here has been filled with many administrative tasks in the bank and seeing the doctor and dentist. It’s becoming the ultimate health check. Firstly, because Switzerland health care has been too expensive, and secondly because we are going to live in the wild starting from September. Yes, we have just signed the contract with Medair to work in the Democratic Republic of Congo! It’s very exciting and we are looking forward to the mission.

I was able to visit Brussels for the first time when we met there with my friend Joonas who is working in the Finnish Embassy for the summer. I really like the city, its old buildings, historical and beautiful monuments and lively streets. Of course, great beer everywhere as well. I’ve taken a challenge to try as many different beers here as I can. But I think I have to come again, since there are more than 3,000 of them.

We went to Atomium, which is a landmark in the area. It was built for the ’58 World Expo that was held in Brussels. It’s an impressive structure, and must have felt like something from the future when it was built. 40 Million people came to visit it in the World Expo.

Belgium was a significant battle ground in the First World War. We learned more about it in the World War museum in Ypres, which was destroyed but then rebuilt after the war. Just to be bombed again in the Second World War. That’s hard to understand. How come people allow such destruction and suffering, especially so soon after the First World War, which would not have been forgotten about by then. We watched the remembrance ceremony in Ypres, held by the British every day at 8pm. I was surprised by the amount of people, there were busloads of them. We also visited another memoire in a park, where they have built a touching monument for the 600,000 people who died in the area. On our way to Dunkirk we also stopped at a remarkable cemetery at Tyne, where 12,000 soldiers were buried. I was impressed and happy to see that those killed in the war are being honored in such a way. I don’t really know if we have something similar in Finland regarding our war with Russia.. museums and monuments, I mean. My experience and understanding of the war became more concrete after this visit, and it will be interesting to visit the Second World War museum in Pearl Harbor!

We still have more than a week here before we head out to Thailand. We are going to meet with more friends, try more beers, watch more football, and even visit Paris, which will be the first visit for me in the French capital! Right now, I’m looking forward to going to the movies tonight, and throwing a wedding party tomorrow for the friends and family from Belgium who were not able to attend our wedding in Switzerland!

Welcome lunch in Leuven with Marieta and Jeff Be welcome to BrusselsAtomium Looking for MagritteGood! The famous monument of Brussels - Manneken PissFor equality Dans la grande placeHandsome guy. Joonas looks good too ;) Artisanal beers in Delirium Cafe with Joonas Lunch in Ypres  Memorial for the 600,000 killed in Belgium during WWI Bluff perspectives One evening in Ypres Mmm... mussels, they were so fresh, so delicious! Trying out the Ypres rally podium Memorial for those in Tyne  World War II, Dunkirk Just like in the movie England was still too far a swim

Greetings from the North

Norja, Suomi - 17.6.2018 12:14

Our time in the North has been very memorable; we have met with lovely people and seen beautiful scenery. Our batteries have been recharged in the midnight sun – it’s incredible how awake you feel when it’s always bright outside!

Let me tell a couple of stories of our travels above the Arctic Circle after we left Seinäjoki, where we met with the big family from my mum’s side. By the way, it seems like updating the blog is remaining my responsibility, while my wife is editing our video material. You can find the link and password to a nice video of our Scandinavia tour at the end of this post.

So, after a 6 hours train ride from Seinäjoki to Rovaniemi, which Deb used for editing videos, we arrived and, as usual, my grandpa was there to meet us at the train station. It was a joyful reunion, and even though Deb doesn’t speak Finnish and my grandparents don’t speak English they get well along, communicating by expressions and gestures. It’s always a relaxing time when we go to our grandparents. They take such good care making sure we put on at least a couple of kgs before we leave! My grandma had made the delicious cloudberry cake she usually makes when we visit. We told them about our wedding and showed pictures and videos of it. As they couldn’t come to Switzerland, we also showed them videos of our life over there so they could see the environment we have been living in.

Life at grandparents is simple and stressless. My grandpa had lost a tooth so he took his teeth for repair. However, time flew by as he was singing songs to us, without his upper teeth, that he forgot to pick up his teeth from the dentist before they closed. But he just laughed about it and said that “well, I think I will just eat porridge for breakfast tomorrow!”. He’s so funny. They had moved to a new apartment, which was really nice and just around the corner from Eetu and Paula, friends I met while studying in Helsinki. They had since moved to study and work in Rovaniemi, together with their Lapland dog, Milli. We went to visit them and spent a nice evening catching up, eating pizza, and playing board games! It was really nice seeing them again!

Although Rovaniemi is already at the Arctic Circle you can still drive much further north. So we did. Deb’s friend, Lise, from Mercy Ships lives in Hammerfest, so my grandpa offered us his car to drive and visit her in the northernmost town, which was still 650km further north from Rovaniemi. As we didn’t have so much time before going back to Helsinki, and we wanted to still spend more time with my grandparents, we could only spend one night in Hammerfest. But we did it anyway, 9hrs of driving there on Tuesday, and 9hrs of driving back on Wednesday. The good thing is that the sun doesn’t set for couple of months so it’s bright all the time, which makes driving that much less tiring and less dangerous. Those roads in Lapland are great, empty, wide open and straight! The only danger there are reindeer, and the police if they catch you enjoying the empty roads a bit too much. However, we didn’t experience problems with either of them. Hammerfest is the last ice free port on the coast, so they have built a big gas production facility over there. Apparently there are hundreds of kilometers of pipes from the station going to the gas sources in the arctic sea. And the vessel transporting the gas to its destinations is worth millions. We saw the station and the ship, as we hiked up some of the mountains in Hammerfest.

It’s a very barren environment, so far up north that there are no trees growing. So that makes you think it’s cold. A couple of weeks ago it was +25, and when we visited it was a solid +4 degrees. The weather up there is unpredictable; we saw sun, rain, hail, snow, and rainbows all in one hour. It’s quite a harsh environment, but it’s pretty as well. It’s so remote! They have a small airport but it’s not uncommon that flights are cancelled due to difficult weather conditions. Sometimes the only way to escape the island is by boat, as the roads can be blocked by avalanche. Lise has been living there for a couple of years, working in the hospital. Besides the people working at Statoil, the others are mainly the hospital staff, in the town of 10k habitants. If you take into account the number of reindeer living on the island, I think the population may be doubled.

My dare in Hammerfest was to swim in the sea, the ice cold sea. I’ve never seen sea water so clear. It’s not that I was too hot because of the sunshine, but it was just one of those things on the bucket list, ice bucket list.. I did it just in the beginning of our way back to Rovaniemi, so I was definitely awake for the drive! It wasn’t really swimming, it was more like panicking in the water. Also, as my grandpa said, the beaches up there are not so good. So it was basically just a rocky shore and I tried not to hurt myself while dipping into the freezing salt water. My watch showed the water to be +8 degrees, but it still didn’t feel warmer than the air that was a stable +4.

The drive back to Rovaniemi was beautiful. On our way to Hammerfest we drove through Ivalo and saw the big lake Inari. We arrived to the sea sooner and those views were nice, but I still preferred our way back on the west side through Alta and Enontekiö. The scenery changed a lot, we went through plains with no trees, along beautiful rivers, and then reached the tree line but still stayed high up from where we could see the forests and river down in the valley. Then drove in the valley next to beautiful mountain lakes and through narrow gorges. The forest became thicker but remained still very low, as the growth season in the north is short. Gradually the forest became taller and more variable, as we reached the border of Finland again.

For the last couple of days in Lapland we went with my grandparents to their cottage, which is quite remote, in the woods, by a lake. That’s a place where you can hear no sound. It’s quite amazing to be so deep in nature. There we stayed one night, watched the World Cup, piled some wood outside to dry for the next season and filled the shed with firewood for this season, helped my grandparents to put the jetty on the water for swimming, warmed up the sauna and went swimming. Then the next day it was time to say goodbye to my grandparents, as we flew back to Helsinki.

As we arrived in Helsinki, we went to my sister’s place to help her build a sofa bed she had bought. (making good use of her brother being in town..) She made dinner for us so it was a fair trade, hehe! The next day we met with my friends Kalle, Ida, Joonas, and Pauliina at Kippis Festival in Helsinki. It was a beautiful sunny day to enjoy live music, artisanal beers and burgers, and great seeing good friends! From the festival we went to Shotti Baari to play some shot roulette, a game that sounded so fun I had to try it and take others with me to this small and shady bar. We raised the bar, quite literally, and went next to the terrace on top of Torni, from where you have nice views over Helsinki in the sun set. I got to try the world’s best gin, Napue, from Finland. It looked very arctic with ice cubes, rosemary, and cranberries. On the terrace I happened to meet my friend Petri, whom I’ve known the longest, for over 20 years now! So it was a happy coincidence. That whole evening was a very nice ending for our time in Finland.

From this link you can watch the video of our tour in Scandinavia: https://vimeo.com/275492299

Password: 1205

Now, the time has come to move on to the next destination, Belgium, here we come!

 

Our wheels to Rovaniemi With Ukki Cloudberry cake Visiting Eetu, Paula and Milli On the road 18hrs in two days  Norway, baby! With Lise in Hammerfest View of Hammerfest Apero Polar bear beware!Last kiss? Cold cold cold!I am Thor! Back to Finland Ukki can still chop wood in his old days, but we helped him pile them. Nice little activities at the cottage. Wood for the winter With Mummi and Ukki Karelia stew Standing on the successfully installed jetty on the lake  The old poet Our next destination! See you again! My sister's apartment got new furniture! Summer princess At Kippis Festival with Ida, Kalle and Joonas Good times in Helsinki Shot roulette Found this Teddy Bear on top of Helsinki Quality drinks See you next time in Congo?