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Frosty Finnish Festivities and a Whole New Year

Dec 23rd - Jan 4th

snow -23 °C
View Big Trip 2009 on saresNcam's travel map.

December 23rd : Tallinn -> Helsinki –> Turku -> Nousiainen (Finland)
Had a bit of a time getting to the ferry terminal, it was a little farther away than the map led us to believe, and the path was covered in thick snow, but we got there eventually! Checked in and then boarded the big ship. I quite like travelling by sea. When I don't get sea sick, I find it a really soothing and exciting experience. There's a real sense of freedom being out in the middle of the ocean, and it feels much more secure than being in a plane hurtling kilometres above the earth at 800km/hr. Once we arrived in Helsinki port we waltzed through what looked like was supposed to be immigration and then walked to the bus stop. Caught the bus to the train station, where we missed the next train to Turku by 2minutes! We had to wait an hour for the next one, so we bought a sandwich and read for a while.
All aboard the train to Turku, we hopped on and settled in for the short journey, both excited to see Marise and Kimmo at the other end.
Once there, we saw a bouncing, excitable Kiwi and tall, calm Captain awaiting our arrival on the platforms. We shared hugs and hellos and made our way to the car. We drove back to Nousiainen (otherwise known to us as nausea island, thanks to the similar pronunciation) and had a very welcome sauna and shower, followed by a delicious dinner, wine and a relaxing evening talking on the couch. Kimmo had made some ice candles (like a frozen vase) which were dotted along the side of the driveway, so outside along the driveway they were twinkling away, creating a very romantic atmosphere. We both feel ready for a bit of a chill out here, where we don't have to rush and move on for another week or so.

December 24th : Nousiainen (*FINNISH CHRISTMAS*)
Today was the day for our first Finnish Christmas celebrations!
We had a slow rise this morning followed by showers and getting our bags sorted out. Had a quick call from home, and then hopped on Skype to see everyone at Mum and Dad's Christmas Eve party! It was so cool to see everyone back there, all looking so well. We chatted for a while, it was a laugh trying to sort out conversations with the delay, but it really made our day and made it feel more like a 'proper' Christmas seeing everyone.
After that, Marise served up a delicious feast for Christmas dinner, we indulged in lentil loaf, Finnish mashed potatoes and swedes.......lots of delicious food, food, food! Washed down with wine, wine, wine.....of course :D
We exchanged Christmas presents, Marise and Kimmo got us each really cool pairs of colourful woolen gloves. We gave Kimmo the traditional Finnish gift of woven woolen socks and Marise a cute Latvian ornament.
After gifts and dessert we played the 'after dinner mint game', which involves putting an 'After Eight' mint on you forehead, and then trying to get it into you mouth without using your hands. Relying purely on completely ridiculous facial convulsions, you must slide it down your nose, onto your cheek and then into your gob. It is incredibly entertaining, but surprisingly challenging! We all ending up with chocolate smeared smiley faces, and curled into our warm beds feeling full of food and festive spirit.

December 25th : Nousiainen
This morning was a slow start. The smell of fresh coffee was definitely a welcome one! After a Finnish version of Bubble n' Squeak for breakfast, we did a bit of a clean up and then dossed around. I called Nanny to say Merry Christmas to her and the family and we had a sauna.
We went for a short walk around the Nousiainen area with Kimmo. The fields look soft and fluffy under all the deep snow, the trees like those on a Christmas card (perfect timing)!
Marise and Kimmo went to pick up Kimmo's father and he came round for dinner and coffee later in the afternoon. We had a nice time chatting, eating and drinking, followed by a relaxed evening watching a movie.

December 26th : Nousiainen
Today was another chilled out one (keeping in the Christmas spirit!). We had a laid back day, pottered around a little bit, did some scrap booking and hung out with Marise and Kimmo.
Oliver, Kimmo's son, came to stay. It was really nice to see him, he has grown so much since last time and is now a English Extraordinaire! We spent some time together catching up, he showed us his new laptop he got for Xmas and then Kimmo's Mum and husband came round for dinner. We all had a nice night sharing food and learning more about the Finnish culture and customs. For example, when a Finn invites someone around for coffee, it is commonly expected that (above and beyond the coffee) there are 7 separate sweet foods on the table to go with it. Amazing!
We all watched a documentary on a recent history of Finnish Pop Music which was full of hilariously cheesy mullets, flared pants and vaseline-smeared-teethy-grins, all very entertaining, though our ideas of Finnish pop music will now forever be skewed.!

December 27th : Nousiainen
The main event of today was going for a nordic walk with Marise. A popular Scandanavian activity, walking with poles makes it a bit easier to march through the snow and gives you more of an all over body exercise as you're using you arms as much as your legs. Taking the same route as the other day, we went through the farming properties and then back round to their house. The area has lots of rocky outcrops between the trees and looks really gorgeous under the twinkling snow. Last time we were here was in autumn, when it was dark and wet. I didn't really get to appreciate the beauty of the landscape in that kind of climate, but being here now, the natural surrounds are really stunning.
Side Note: The life here is fantastic. Marise and Kimmo live in a semi-rural town and regularly pick fresh mushrooms, berries etc. There is a free mans law, which basically means anyone can pick from the land (so long as it isn't a farm!), so people have their own favourite (and kept secret!) spots in the forests for collecting chantarelles and other goodies. Most families also have a summer house, where they can go on summer holidays, or on weekends, and there many people grow vegetables and salads. Marise and Maisa (Kimmo's auntie) regularly preserve things like cucumbers and make fresh fruit concentrates, chutneys and jams. I really love the idea of living off the land, and think that Finland seems to have a good blend of very advanced, smooth functioning modern life, along with strong traditional customs involving the earth and it's produce.
Once home I made some vego curries for us to munch on at will. The rest of the day was another subdued affair, we spent time with Oliver and the family and continued to recharge. We are greatly appreciating the immense hospitality and relaxing surrounds here at the Lehto's, it is so nice to recharge after a bit of backpacking!

December 28th : Nousiainen
Up early this morning, we hopped in the car with Marise and Kimmo, catching a lift to Turku for a day out. We said farewell to them at Kimmo's office and walked along the river to the town square. It was still dark (was about 8:30) and it was raining, making the once-white snow slushy and awful, so we went to find a place for a coffee and defrost while the sun took his time to poke his head up and bless the day.
Once it was light we walked round the market square for a while and looked in a few shops, grabbed a map from a hotel lobby then went to the tourist office. The lady was sad to tell us that unfortunately as it is a Monday, all the museums and galleries etc are closed, so there was not too much to do. We are getting picked up at 4pm so decided that we should find something to do which involved being inside out of the slushy weather.
We went to the old market hall, a nice place full of a variety of stalls selling everything from traditional Finnish foods, to an Iranian fabric shop and an Elvis collectibles stand. After finding a 'Suomi' sticker to add to the guitar we went to the famous traditional Finnish 5 star restaurant: Hesburger!! Ha! The only country in the world with it's own fastfood restaurant which sells more than Maccie Dees, Finns are proud of their popular burger joint. We relished the chips, vege burgers, warmth and grease with smiles on our faces. This is the first time we've eaten at a place like this since.....we were here last! We don't go for this sort of food often (unless it's falafel...which doesn't count) but, it's a 'cultural experience' so it's okay. Plus, it tastes great. I nabbed a fries bag to add to my scrap book and thanked the English-speaking waitress before walking to our next Finnish cultural stop – the cinema! :S
We opted for Avatar 3D which, as well as being 3 hours long and keeping us warm for that time, was absolutely fantastic. The Finnish subtitles made the alien language of the film a challenge to understand, but didn't take away from the experience or story.
It finished just in time for us to walk/slip/slide/splosh back to Kimmo's office where they were waiting in the car for us with Oliver. We shared the tales of our relevant days on the drive back to Nousiainen. Once there we ate the curries I made yesterday, hung out with Oliver and had saunas and showers before beddy-byes.

December 29th : Nousiainen
Today we set out to Turku with Marise and Oliver to explore the Turku Castle! Oliver was a fantastic guide, walking us through all the different rooms representative of different periods (medieval, renaissance) he translated the Finnish texts for us and told us stories of the Castle's history. Having survived through bombs during the war and the great Turku fire, the Castle is an important landmark in Turku and a very beautiful one too. After a walk around the castle we stopped at the cafe for a coffee and then headed back to the car. I took a couple of photos of the boys in the snow and we then drove into town where we picked Kimmo up from work. We said our farewells and dropped Oliver back to his Mum's house, then headed back to Nousiainen.
After dinner Cameron decided that he wanted a shot of tequila, and so a spontaneous night of drinking ensued! Further attempts at the 'after dinner mint game' proved than none of us had improved greatly, but we all relished the practise to eat more of them :) The night rolled into the morning and we slowly slipped into bed a bit after 3am.

December 30th : Nousiainen
Not surprisingly we had a late rise this morning, Kimmo set off to work at 12pm and we rolled out of bed about that same time.
We did a bit of snow work and ploughed the snow from driveway and decking.
We have made the decision that from Scandanavia we will fly to Vietnam. We've been checking the flights, and the prices are climbing! We need to make an executive date decision soon. Before going back to Asia, we want to spend a week or so in Stockholm, Sweden.
In the afternoon we went to Mylly shops to get some ingredients for our NYE feast.
When we got home I prepared a veggie lasagne for NYE dinner tomorrow.
We then all ate dinner, relaxed in front of the TV and had an early night.
Had a nice surprise today, presents from Mum and Dad! As well as a hefty donation of funds in our account they sent me a necklace and bracelet and Cam a gadget for his headphones. We spoke to them on the phone to say thanks and Happy New Year.
Side Note:We are both so, SO lucky to have such generous parents, not only for both the Watsons' and Sandersons' generous financial contributions to our endeavours, but their support, enthusiasm and inspiration. There are not too many people who have a real friendship with their parents, and it is something we both really appreciate and cherish. Being away for such a long time helps you to learn what you really value, and who you really value in your life. I am learning now that our list of these is great, but our families are definitely sitting pretty at the top.

December 31st : Nousiainen -> Naantilli
Today we took a dive and actually bought our flights from Stockholm to Vietnam, before the prices go up anymore! We sent off all the required ID stuff and got that sorted before we packed the car ready to go to the summer house.
The drive to Naantili was absolutely beautiful. The pine trees stood tall and proud by the side of the road, bearing their heavy load of sparkling white snow. They looked as though the burden was too much to bear, all leaning and bowing under the weight. We drove over bridges of the archipelago, looking at the frozen, white sea beneath. It was really breathtaking.
Once we made it to the summer house we unpacked the car and set about snow ploughing paths to the cottage, little cottage, garage and outhouse, sweeping the deck, getting water from the well (deep below ground so it doesn't freeze), and getting wood for the sauna. Kimmo lit the sauna for it to warm up and then we all had some lunch.
A bit later on Cam and I went to sauna and decided to end 2009 by running naked from the sauna and diving head long into the powdery white -15c snow!
It was invigorating, to say the least! Post snow angel we galloped back into the sauna and did a few lölys (throwing water on the hot stones) then washed off with the water from the well and got changed. It is so cleansing and enlivening!
We had a nice dinner and some wine and then, a bit after 10 o'clock, walked to Maisa and Leksa's place (Kimmo's Auntie and Uncle). We had initially planned to walk across the ice of the frozen sea, but Kimmo wasn't positive that the ice would be thick enough for the entire journey across (there is a fairly strong current which prevents it from freezing). So, we walked along the road. The full moon was high in the sky and everything was illuminated in a silvery blue light thanks to the snow. When we got to Maisa and Leksa's they were down in a hut by the sea, with a roaring fire. Leksa had made a huge log 'candle' on the sea ice which looked absolutely stunning. We walked down there and had some champagne and then Kimmo and Leksa set off some rockets and fireworks.
We explained that usually this time we would be in the water, watching the fireworks in our bathers, not on the water wearing loads of layers in -17c, it was definitely a different New Years experience!
No one lost an eye thanks to the fireworks and before long it was the countdown to the New Year. We welcomed in 2010 huddled around the smokey fire in the wood hut, and Cam, Marise and I sung 'Auld Lang Syne'.
We drank some more champagne and wine and then gave in to the cold weather and our numb toes by going up into the house. We chatted and listened to some music then had a midnight feast of cheeses, bread and Maisa's preserves. Lovely! Chatted for a while about the world and then wandered back to the cottage in the still blue-light of the 4am moon.

January 1st **2010** : Naantilli
After the late night/early morning, we all slept til about 12pm! When we stirred awake, still astounded that it is now twenty ten, we went to have breakfast in the cottage and read for a bit. While we did this, Kimmo drilled/sawed a hole through 40cm of ice into the sea, for us to do 'Avante'.
'Avante' (or, ice swimming) is when one has a sauna for a little while, then walks naked (except for woolen socks) through the snow to the frozen sea then climbs down a ladder through a hole in the ice to plunge into the 3c water below. One then (heart skipping a beat) climbs back up the ladder and nimbly makes their way back to the sauna as fast as possible to defrost.
We did this in the afternoon when it was dark and it was an exceptionally refreshing way to bring in 2010!! Marise and Kimmo then followed and we all felt very much alive.
For dinner we had the vege lasagne I had made and then had a fairly early night.

January 2nd : Naantilli -> Nousiainen
This morning Marise woke us to say that Kimmo had to go to Estonia to salvage a ship which had run aground! She dropped him to go and get a ferry and we then packed up the summer house and made our way back to Nousiainen. On the way we stopped at Maisa and Leksa's to say goodbye and thank you. They gave us a huge jar of Maisa's pickled kurkku (cucumbers) which we have been devouring regularly.
Once home we packed stuff away, did dishes and got organised, then checked emails (flight all confirmed). I then worked on the journal which I seem to be constantly perpetually catching up and forever remaining weeks behind.....

January 3rd : Nousiainen
Last night was -23.2c! Coldest so far!
Kimmo came back from Estonia in the small hours as the salvaging contract in Estonia had gone to a Russian company. Once awake Cam and I set about cleaning the bathrooms and sauna as a small help to M&K. I really enjoyed doing it! It's funny, the things you miss when you're travelling are often the boring, routine chores and things which seem to weigh you down at home. A little bit of normality and routine can be really refreshing sometimes :)
After that I did some more catching up on the journal, checked out places to stay in Stockholm, sent some Couchsurfing requests and then did more journal typing.
Before heading to bed I gave Marise a neck and shoulder massage. I felt a bit out of touch, I can't wait to start my course when we get home later this year!
Side Note: I am so excited and inspired to study to become a qualified Remedial Masseuse. To touch someone in pain, be it physical or psychological, is a very primitive and effective healing instinct. Apart from the obvious and sometimes immediate physical benefits of massage, overcoming our conditioned inhibitions in order to give or receive touch has some profound psychological benefits too. I really would like to use it to aid people who are injured, rehabilitating or otherwise in pain, not just as a relaxation activity (although that's important too). I feel like it will be really rewarding and would like to bring something positive (even if it is just for the period of time the massage takes) to people who need it. Meeting so many different people on the road and sharing stories with them, hearing hundreds of individuals from very varied countries and walks of life talk about their take on life, has helped me to establish more of an idea of what I want out of mine. I feel invigorated and excited about the possibilities that lay ahead of me. I am beginning to see now, despite the cringe-worthy cliché, that really anything is possible if you put your mind to it. If you think that one person cannot make a difference in the big wide world, just think of the effect one tiny mosquito has in a big room.
Cam and I have plans to work together in doing more in the community, we're getting in contact through the net with independent organisations through whom we can do some volunteer work in Indonesia, Central Aus and at home in Adelaide and are feeling really inspired to be more proactive in our lives and really try to share more with others. Be it our time, knowledge, creativity or funds, we want to be more active in positively connecting with people around us. Without being at home it is difficult to get in and hands on, and I suppose it sounds very wishy washy at the moment. But this is something we have definitely taken from our experiences of nearly 10 months on the road, and something we really want to continue to live by. When applied usefully and practically, the old adage of 'spreading the love' is a pretty good one to live by :)

January 4th : Nousiainen
Marise and Kimmo back to work early today. We were up about 10, and decided against going into Turku on the bus as it's a Monday and all the museums etc are closed again. M&K very kindly got us our tickets for the ferry tomorrow night. Kimmo has organised, through the ship's captain, for us to have a nice sleeper cabin for the journey to Sweden :D
So, we did some snow work and then set about getting packed. I got some sauces prepared for dinner tonight and we generally organised ourselves. Went for a nice long walk, the sun was quite bright and made us feel perkier and alive! It looks really beautiful (though a bit painful on the eyes!) when the sun is shining down on the white, white snow.
In the evening Marise's friend Jade came around for dinner with her husband Jan and daughter Minea. I made another vegie lasagne to eat, which went down well. We had a really nice evening eating, drinking wine and chatting about life here in Finland. A lovely last night here!

Posted by saresNcam 22:47 Archived in Finland Tagged backpacking

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