Monday, June 17, 2013

Spring, Northern Italy, Goto Restaurant

Flowers for sale at the Old Town square

Mother Nature keeps teasing us here in southwestern Finland. For a few days, it will be sunny -- and very warm! -- then, all of a sudden, it will be cold, windy and rainy. Midsummer is next Saturday, which is a two-day holiday here and a cause for big celebrations. Everything closes -- even the Alko (liquor store). You can bet there will be long lines there on Thursday! Hopefully, the weather will cooperate. I will admit that the long days and nights are much better than winter, when it's dark and depressing. The black-out shades have been in place for several months and taped to the wall, but sunlight still slips through. Officially, the sun "sets" right now around 11:15 p.m. and "rises" at 3:55 a.m. But it never gets totally dark.It usually wakes me up at 3 a.m.

Root vegetables for sale
It's already been warmer here this year than last summer, although we had some dreary weather this weekend. The only time I wore shorts last summer was when we went to Barcelona and London! This summer, we've actually had a few days where the temperature reached 80 degrees F.! That is unheard-of. The winter was milder this year as well. Even the locals comment on how much worse winter and summer were in 2012 compared to this year so far. We were at the company summer party this past weekend, and several of us were talking about how obsessed we are with the weather here. I think it's partly because the weather changes so quickly. One minute it's sunny and pleasant; the next, the wind blows in from the Sea of Bothnia and there's a 20-minute rain storm. Unlike the southern U.S., we rarely have thunderstorms here in Finland. But we have had a few in recent months.

The Doumo in Milan at night
I know the weather issues haven't been limited to Finland. I worry about everyone back home in the U.S. with all the severe weather. A tree fell on a friend's house during a recent storm -- thankfully, no one was hurt.

With better weather, more vendors are showing up in the Old Town square every day with fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables. The strawberries and blueberries finally have some taste, and you can get every root vegetable imaginable -- beets, carrots, turnips, onions, and many varieties of potatoes. The local tomatoes are still the hot-house variety, but we can get decent ones from Holland and Spain. I even got some peaches from Spain the other day that were edible. And of course, we've been getting some yummy asparagus, although most of it also comes from abroad, usually France. I've been steaming asparagus and putting it on salad almost every day.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan
Taking advantage of the season, my friend Marion and I visited northern Italy last week. We flew to Milan, toured the city, saw Da Vinci's breath-taking "Last Supper," visited the famous Doumo, ate some great food, drank just a little wine (!), and did a bit of shopping. We took a day trip to Lake Como, which included a boat ride to Bellagio. We saw lakeside homes belonging to Sophia Loren, George Clooney and Sir Richard Branson (his house is spectacular).

Next, we took the train from Milan to Santa Margherita Ligure. What a picturesque seaside town! We took the ferry to Portofino, which also is beautiful, although a bit touristy. I will say that Italians are some of my favorite people. Everyone seems to be happy all the time! And who wouldn't with all that good food, drink and scenery!

Milan train station
If you get the chance to travel in Europe, I highly recommend taking a train at least once. It is simple, affordable and stress-free. Also, I usually don't like organized tours, but a tour is such a good way to get acclimated to a new city. In the case of Milan and "The Last Supper," it's a perfect way to see a masterpiece that is very difficult to get tickets to. You have to book months in advance for a 15-minute visit with Da Vinci's second most famous painting (yes, the "Mona Lisa" is No. 1 -- although it is much smaller in person and is always crowded with camera-wielding tourists in front of it at the Louvre in Paris). You aren't allowed to take photos of "The Last Supper," which is probably a good thing, since it allows you to reflect more on the work, which Da VInci painted on the dining hall wall of the monastery of Santa Maria della Grazie church in Milan. "The Last Supper" depicts the reactions of the twelve Apostles when Jesus announces that one of them will betray him. The painting recently underwent a major renovation, and the colors are just as Da Vinci painted them in the late 15th century.
Santa Margherita Ligure

We also took an organized bus tour to Lake Como. Yes, we could have taken the train ourselves, then taken the ferry ride to Bellagio, but we would have missed all the great commentary by our enthusiastic guide. Plus, we never would have guessed which house was George's!

Back here in Finland, my husband and I are preparing to return home to the U.S. in a few weeks, as our time here comes to a close. I have met with the packing company, we sold our car, found buyers for our bicycles, and I have started clearing out the pantry. I'll have some more thoughts on the move in a future post. We also are planning to visit Rome and Tuscany before returning to the U.S., so I'm excited to return to Italy so soon.
The Mediterranean Coast



 One new thing here in Rauma is the opening of Goto, a restaurant run by the 2012 winner of Finland's version of "Top Chef." I have to admit that I love "Top Chef" in the U.S., and I was impressed when I heard the winner, Teemu Laurell, chose Rauma to open his restaurant. Well, it turns out that Teemu was born in Rauma, and "Goto" means "home" in Finnish. Former ice hockey champions Janne Niskala and Petri Vehasen, along with former coach Timo Elon co-own the restaurant.

The menu has a lot of the typical Finnish items -- salmon, whitefish, pork, herring, but Teemu's dishes are creative with lots of sauces and garnishes to make them stand out. They use local products whenever possible. My husband had the whitefish, which as seared and served along two different sauces. It was served with tasty roasted cauliflower. I got the marbled filet of beef, which had a "cafe de Paris" sauce comprised of butter, mustard, garlic, shallots, a variety of other herbs and spices, along with minced sardines, which I never would have guessed. The desserts are unbelievable. How about marinated strawberries with milk mousse and strawberry ice cream? Or my choice, chocolate mousse, bits of brownie, roasted white chocolate and coffee ice cream?

Friday, May 3, 2013

What's new

Okay, I admit it -- I have been very, very slack about updating the blog. I blame it on Facebook -- it is so much easier just to post little snippets instead of writing entire blog posts. I didn't even join Facebook until a year ago -- I resisted as long as I could. But I do appreciate the ability to reconnect with people I haven't heard from in years thanks to FB.

Kukenhof Gardens, Holland
I also have been negligent in updating the blog, because I spent 3-1/2 months at home in the U.S. from early December to the end of March -- all because I just couldn't face spending another winter in Finland. The cold temperatures and the snow didn't bother me so much -- it was the dark days and the icy sidewalks that were so depressing -- and dangerous for me, as I had a few bad falls!  A visit with my doctor revealed I also had a Vitamin D deficiency -- yes, we all need some sunlight every day. I know many people here in Finland buy the special lights to help with that during the long winter months, but I was not one of those people. While I appreciate
many things about living temporarily in Europe -- making wonderful friends from different places, the ability to travel so easily throughout Europe -- living abroad certainly does make you appreciate life in the U.S. much more.

It also turned out to be a good thing I was home during the winter, as my daughter accepted a job offer in Atlanta in January, and I was so glad I could help her move there from Washington, as well as spend time visiting with my son in Raleigh and my family in Hickory, N.C.

And now, our time in Finland is rapidly drawing to a close. I have mixed feelings, as I do love the friends I have made here; I like the healthier lifestyle -- walking and biking everywhere, eating less fast food and processed food, and, of course, the travel opportunities. But moving back to the U.S. this summer will just be a new chapter in our ongoing adventure, wherever it takes us. In the meantime, I plan to squeeze in a few more trips -- back to Stockholm, although this time by cruise through the popular Aland Islands; an early June visit to northern Italy, and a final trip to Rome and Tuscany.

Many other expats also are being sent home or to other locations. We have been to a number of farewell parties, and it really makes me sad. I think this is just a sign of the times. People travel more for work than ever before, and our more mobile society is rapidly becoming the norm.
One of Amsterdam's many beautiful canals

I recently went to Amsterdam with a friend, primarily to see the tulips and other flowers at the Kukenhof gardens in Lisse. It was everything I hoped for -- the gardens are only open two months every year, and draw visitors from around the world. While in Amsterdam, we saw Anne Frank's house, took a boat ride through Amsterdam's famous canals, visited a wooden shoe-making factory, a cheese factory and even saw a stand-up comedy performance by Seth Meyers from "Saturday Night Live." Amsterdam has a bit of a reputation because of its lax drug laws and the Red Light District, but there is much to appreciate about the city, especially the fabulous art at the newly-renovated Rijksmuseum. I also loved the Van Gogh paintings which were temporarily housed at the Hermitage museum while the Van Gogh Museum completed its own renovations. We did walk through the Red Light District one evening (after a bottle of wine and a nice Italian dinner), and seeing the women advertising their "assets" in the store-front windows actually was very sad to me. But at least they do get health care, regulation and assistance.

The weather here in southwestern Finland hasn't welcomed spring just yet, but the forecast looks promising. I returned here April 1 hoping for warmer temperatures, but the chill and especially, the wind, have been quite annoying. We travel home next week to attend our son's university graduation, and I hope when we return to Finland, it will at least be warm enough to put away the down parka, scarves and gloves!

 Here is the link to the Amsterdam pictures. The beautiful flowers will brighten your day!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Issues and Istanbul

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul 
It's been awhile since I've written, but it's not because of a lack of things to say! It has been an interesting few months, to say the least, and I have a new "understanding" of government bureaucracy.

My Finnish residence permit expired in August. I had applied for a renewal last June, which I was told was plenty of time to get the new one. I made fall travel plans back to the U.S. for September, in order to get a decent price. August came and went, no permit. Calls and emails were not successful. I was told there was a big back-up in permit processing. Another expat wife who was in the same situation as me flew to the U.S. -- through Brussels -- and had no problem. So I left Finland in late September and encountered a big problem -- Passport Control in Frankfurt, Germany! to make a long story short, I was detained for an hour and a half -- almost missed my flight to Charlotte -- and was extremely upset. I should be grateful, though --  a man from Houston living in Hamburg also was detained for a permit issue and he missed his flight home -- and his two dogs were on the plane without him! I hope he eventually got another flight and his dogs were safe.

Anyway, I was eventually let go after the Franfurt border control police called Finland to make sure I had indeed applied for a renewal permit, and I ran to make my flight. After more calls, my permit was finally processed, my husband picked it up at the local police station and sent it to me by Express Mail. Guess what? It then -- for some unfathomable reason -- got held up in U.S. Customs in New York! More calls and emails. The Post Office said they couldn't track it until it was released from Customs. The Customs office told me they get thousands of packages every day and can't track individual items until they have been held for 45 days.

So my two-week visit to the U.S. turned into four weeks. I'm not complaining about that, because the weather at home was a heck of a lot better than the weather in Rauma, Finland! But I had to cancel flights, re-book, lost money in the process and was extremely stressed out. The permit eventually was released by Customs, and I made it back to Finland barely in time to make a long-planned trip to Istanbul with two of my expat friends.

Sasha, our hotel's resident cat
Now, to the postive stuff! I have to admit I was a little wary of going to Turkey, especially with all of the violence going on in neighboring Syria. But Istanbul is on the northern coast, and Syria is on the southern border, so we figured it was far enough away. There have been protests in Istanbul -- we witnessed three busloads of riot police one day waiting for a protest to start -- but nothing too bad. Plus, we stayed in the tourist areas, so we felt safe. Safe except for over-aggressive shop owners, some who even follow you trying to get you to buy their goods. That is really annoying. But I have to say we also met some wonderful people -- the staff at our hotel, two entertaining tour guides, some shop owners who were respectful and entertaining. It definitely is an interesting city!

My friends and I had a wonderful trip, visiting the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Spice Market, Grand Bazaar, Dolmabahce Palace, Topkapi Palace, and enjoying the view from the Galata Tower. We took a boat ride on the Bosphorus Strait and visited the Asian side of Istanbul. We had great meals, lovely walks around Sultanhamet (the old town), fun shopping. My friends tried the famous Turkish bath (offered at our hotel).

Most fun, I think, was taking pictures of and feeding all the stray cats around Istanbul. Many hotels and shops "adopt" cats. Our hotel's resident cat was named Sasha, and she definitely ruled the front steps there. The Hagia Sophia even has a cat that lives inside the cathedral-turned-mosque-turned-museum. There are also stray dogs in Istanbul, and they are really sad-looking. The cats, however, mostly look well-fed and healthy. Perhaps they are just better at finding food (i.e., mice and scraps).
Inside the Hagia Sophia

We also couldn't get over just how big Istanbul really is. It's a city of 15 million people -- nine million live on the Asian, mostly residential side, and six million live on the European, more urban side. Traffic, of course, is horrendous, but the city is very beautiful, with so much history. I would definitely visit again.

Then, as we got to the airport to fly back to Finland, we were reminded once again of how volatile that part of the world is. Everyone who enters the airport immediately has to go through security, not just passengers. Then, after you check in, you have to go through passport control and security again. That didn't bother me one bit -- I definitely appreciate the safety measures.

And while I didn't appreciate being detained in Frankfurt for so long, and I didn't understand why it was a big deal since I was heading home to the U.S. -- where I am a citizen -- and I told the officers I would not try to re-enter Finland until my permit was sent to me -- I can certainly appreciate what the Passport Control agent told me: "I'm just doing my job." 

Living abroad is an adventure, and we can learn much from the negative as well as the positive experiences.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Berlin and Beyond

The Brandenburg Gate
This trip was very special, as I visited the small town that my father's ancestors came from. But more on that in a bit...

I went to Berlin with my co-expat friend Marion, who was born and raised in Germany, but has lived in the U.S. for many years and is married to a co-worker of Tom's here in Rauma. It is always great to visit a country with a "native," so to speak. For one thing, they know what to see and how to get around. And in small towns like we visited, the language skills are wonderful.
The Reichstag Dome

Fresh-baked and delicious!
I have always been a World War II buff, and Berlin has long been on my "must-see" list. I thought I was mainly interested in Hitler and the war, but I found that once there, I actually wanted to see and learn more about the after-effects of WWII -- the splitting up of Germany, the Cold War and the infamous Berlin Wall. This chapter in history was made even more interesting, since Marion was born in Leipzig (which at the time, was part of East Germany). Her family moved to West Germany a year after she was born, but they still had relatives in East Germany and East Berlin. I also bought a book on the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, so I could learn more about it, even though I also grew up during that time. Of course, I remember that Germany was divided, but at the time, I didn't know anyone who was personally affected by it.

We had wonderful weather, and we visited all the top sights: the Reichstag (where Parliament meets), the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the nearby museum, Charlottenburg Palace, the Berlin Cathedral, the Pergamon Museum (the Ishtar Gate is amazing), the Memorial to Murdered Jews, the TV Tower, Potsdamer Platz, and of course, the remaining bits of the Berlin Wall. We took the Hop-on, Hop-off bus ride and a boat ride on the River Spree. We shopped at central Europe's largest department store, KaDeWe.

The famous sign at Checkpoint Charlie
I was actually surprised at how much of the Berlin Wall still exists.The wall started out as a line of soldiers and barbed wire in August 1961, then progressed over the years to tall cement structures, topped with more wire. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum was full of information about the Wall and the Cold War: escape methods and attempts, the political situation (the U.S. government initially approved of the Wall, since that meant the Communists had no intentions of invading and taking over West Berlin -- they just wanted to stop the massive exodus of East Berliners into the West), the protests, how the citizens coped, etc. It was very impressive.
Remnants of the Berlin Wall

After Berlin, we rented a car and drove south, stopping in Leipzig, then heading to the town of Erfurt, where we spent two nights. The next day, we drove to Bad Langensalza, home of my ancestors. I couldn't have asked for a more picturesque town! We went to the Rathaus (town hall), where Marion talked to the archivist, who spoke only German. The archivist is going to search the written records and try to find out more about the ancestors before Andreas Hildebrand, who was born in 1598. His three sons emigrated to America in 1690. By the way, the prefix, "bad," is used as an official designation for a spa town. Sulfur springs were discovered in Langensalza in 1811, and salt and mineral water springs in 1996.

Of course, we had good beer and food on the trip. All the German beers I tried were excellent; I ordered only pilsners, because I'm not a dark beer fan. I had sausages and sauerkraut, too. Marion had schnitzel, which I tried. Two weird things: Our bread in our hotel restaurant in Erfurt was served with a tiny pot of bacon lard to spread on it (I did not care for this at all!). The other thing that appalled me was at the Reichstag Restaurant, where we stopped for coffee and dessert after our night-time tour of the building. On the dinner menu was this item: marinated, braised horse. I know a lot of cultures eat horse meat, but this is the first time I have ever seen it on a menu. No, I did not try it, and I never will.

Bad Langensalza -- the town dates to 932 A.D.
Germany is a beautiful country, and Germans are some of the nicest, most helpful people you will ever meet. I've been to Frankfurt, Munich, many German small towns, and now Berlin, and I recommend any of them as a vacation destination. I hope all of you get the chance to visit sometime.

Here is the link to the pictures. I swear I tried to delete a lot of them, but I just couldn't get rid of too many!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Girona and Barcelona

The worst thing about taking weekend trips is that the weekend is never long enough! But I have to admit, the weekend trips we can take here are pretty amazing. This past weekend, we visited Girona and Barcelona, Spain, and I didn't want to leave!

Ryanair, the low-cost airline based in Dublin, flies from Turku (an hour south of where we live in Rauma) to Girona, which is an hour north of Barcelona. Since we arrived late Friday night, I decided to stay overnight in Girona. I'm really glad we did, because Girona is a beautiful medieval city with one of the most well-preserved Jewish quarters in Europe. Girona has a busy history, having been attacked 25 times and captured at least seven times. Today, Girona is a quiet oasis with a huge square filled with outdoor cafes, and a lovely river lined with pastel-colored homes reminiscent of similar landscapes in Lyon and Copenhagen.

La Boqueria Market
After spending the morning strolling around the Jewish quarter and the Old Town and exploring the magnificent cathedral, we took the train to Barcelona, which provided a nice look at the Catalan countryside. We were lucky that one of the train stops in Barcelona was a short walk from our hotel on the famous Passeig de Gracia street.

I like old hotels with lots of character, but I also like modern conveniences. Our choice, the Hotel SixtyTwo (named for its address at 62 Passeig de Gracia), wasn't spectacular on the outside, but the inside was definitely a 21st-century showpiece. Everything in the room operated with buttons, including the black-out shade. The bathroom was huge by European standards, with separate rooms for the toilet, shower and even a bathtub! Americans take bathtubs for granted, but they are luxuries in Europe! Plus, we had a small balcony with great views over the city.

Anyway, we walked around a bit, "ooh'ed and aah'ed" at everything we saw, and tried to get into the Picasso museum, but the line was too long. We were quite surprised at just how packed with people Barcelona was. I know summer is tourist season, but Barcelona seemed even more crowded than London or Paris. The weather was another jolt for us, even though we knew it would be hot, especially coming from chilly Finland. It was 32 degrees C. (about 90 degrees F.) and sunny the entire weekend. I loved it! We haven't had a real summer, and I have been craving sunshine and warmth.

We had  a "Cava and Tapas" walking tour scheduled at 5 p.m. I'm so glad we did this, because it was tons of fun and we met some great people from Houston, Honolulu, Toronto (by way of South Africa and Holland), and Australia. Our guide, Sophie, was excellent, and she took us to the famous Boqueria Market and to three restaurants to sample different tapas and Spanish wines. We had so much fun that we stayed at the last restaurant with our new friends way past the time the tour ended!
Inside La Sagrada Familia

The next day was devoted to seeing as much as possible as we could cram in. We had tickets on the Hop-on, Hop-Off bus tour, which I recommend taking in any new city. These bus tours provide recorded commentary and give you a great overview of a city. You can exit at any stop or just stay on for the ride.

Most people associate Barcelona and Catalonia with Picasso, Dali and Miro, but the most famous native son is Modernist architect/artist Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi lived from 1852 to 1926, and his work is seen all over Barcelona. Gaudi was a Modernist, very religious and very imaginative. His work reflects nature, light, use of non-traditional materials, mosaics, curves, and new techniques. His buildings are true works of art, and many are deservedly UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We visited his most famous projects: Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, Park Guell, and of course, La Sagrada Familia, the cathedral which is the most famous landmark in Barcelona, and which has been in construction since 1882. Gaudi worked on the project until his death in 1926, even living at the site the last year or so of his life. (Gaudi was struck by a tram, and because he was dressed like a beggar with no identification papers, he did not receive proper hospital care; by the time his identity was discovered, it was too late, and he died.)

Bench at Park Guell
La Sagrada Familia is fascinating, because it is being built entirely with donations and proceeds from ticket sales. That is why it is taking so long! Gaudi's detailed plans are being followed to this day, and latest estimates state that the cathedral will be completed between 2026 and 2028. Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church in 2010. But as Gaudi once said, "My client is in no hurry," referring to God.

In the afternoon, while on the bus tour, we visited Gaudi's Park Guell, which is 50 acres on top of a mountain. There are magnificent views, more great Gaudi masterpieces and way too many hills to walk up and down! On the way back to the bus, though, we had a Coca Cola Light and a bowl of fresh fruit, which was refreshing. Later, we stopped at the coast to see the beach, and also to visit the casino. There was a European Poker Tour event going on at the casino, and we watched a bit of the goings-on.  we

Seafood Paella
Our last night in Barcelona, we had a nice dinner, and I finally got some seafood paella, which was wonderful. Tom had sea bass, which was also good. The next day, we took the airport bus back to Girona, during which our bus driver practiced his karaoke the entire trip, singing or whistling to every song on the radio.

And, naturally, when we got back to Rauma, it was 10 degrees C. (50 degrees F.), which was depressing. I think summer is over in Finland, although I don't think it was every really here! No worries, though -- there are more trips to plan! And I definitely want to return to Spain -- I sure wish Tom's employer would built a power plant there...

Here are the links to all the pictures:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Stockholm -- City That I Love

Stockholm -- one of my favorite cities

This is my submission for the '3 Things in the City' I Love contest by Velvet Escape, Traveldudes and

 Ask people to name their favorite city -- or the city they would most like to visit -- and many likely will say New York, London, Paris or Rome. After all, the world's capitals have much to offer, and I agree that visits to those places are wonderful.

But after living as an expat American in Finland for almost a year, I have had the opportunity to visit lesser-known cities -- cities that are just as beautiful, historic and fun -- but maybe not on everyone's list of "must-sees." Places like Helsinki, Finland; Tallinn, Estonia; Stockholm, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark; Brussels, Belgium, and St. Petersburg, Russia.

One of my favorite places is Stockholm, a city I certainly never would have visited if I wasn't living in Finland. It's probably best-known as the setting for the late author Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy and the home of IKEA and the pop group ABBA, but Stockholm is much more. Stockholm is exotic, yet accessible. It has a rich history, but it also has developed into a 21st-century leader in culture, technology and environmental issues.

The city known as the "Venice of the North" lies on a range of islands connected by bridges and canals. The city's origins date at least to 1252, and it has survived sieges, famine, plague and recession. Today, Sweden is ruled by a democratic parliament headed by the prime minister and a ceremonial king, Gustav XIV.

While a trip to Stockholm deserves at least a week, there are three things every visitor should see:
Gamla Stan

1. Gamla Stan -- Narrow cobblestone streets and colorful medieval buildings are a photographer's dream in Stockholm's Old Town. Set on an island, Gamla Stan is home to the Royal Palace, the Alfred Nobel Museum, a pretty town square with a bloody history, and a 700-year-old cathedral. Wander along the streets, stopping for a rest at one of the many cafes and restaurants. Shop in stores specializing in Scandinavian crafts or any of the myriad of tacky souvenir stalls.

Walking tours are a good way to enjoy Gamla Stan; the tourist office at Vasagatan 14 or at Arlanda Airport can help. Also check the official tourist website at

The Nobel Museum looks fairly mundane on first glance, but take the free guided tour (tours are offered throughout the day in different languages), and it becomes an intriguing history lesson of the greatest achievements of our time. For more information, visit

Don't miss a visit to the Royal Palace, especially the State Apartments and Royal Treasury. There is also the always-popular Changing of the Guard ceremony. Check for times and information.

The Vasa

2. Vasa Museum -- I'll be honest -- if a friend hadn't told me to visit this 17th century warship, I probably would have skipped it. Thank goodness I listened to my friend, because the Vasa is one of the most fascinating sights I've ever encountered in years of travel!

The Vasa sank 20 minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628. It sat at the bottom of Stockholm's harbor until it was rediscovered in 1956. Raised in 1961, a museum was built around the remarkably-preserved wooden behemoth and has become one of Sweden's top tourist attractions.

There is an interesting free film (shown throughout the day in different languages) that helps the visitor appreciate the massive undertaking to salvage the ship and the exhaustive restoration work. The museum also offers guided tours in different languages that are included in the admission fee.

It is remarkable that 95 percent of the Vasa's wood is original. The intricate carvings along the ship are works of art. The ship was so well-preserved, because the water in which it sank does not contain the wood-destroying saltwater clam that is prevalent in the oceans.

The Vasa has an excellent website. Even if you don't get to visit this marvel, you can read all about it at


3. Skansen -- I was really torn between selecting Skansen, a boat tour of the harbor or the Nordic Museum for my third choice. If you have more time, I recommend all of them! But a trip to Skansen, Europe's first open-air museum, is a trip back in time and fun for the entire family.

Opened in 1891, Skansen is a huge park filled with 150 original buildings -- farmhouses, schools, windmills, homes, village halls, mills, etc. -- that have been transported there from all over Sweden. It is a wonderful mix of architectural styles and culture that truly embraces the term "living history." The best part of the park is the costumed employees who will tell you everything you want to know. I particularly enjoyed talking with the "school marms" in the 1910-era schoolhouse. One room of the house was devoted to the school, while the other half was set aside for the teacher's living quarters.

Besides the buildings, Skansen offers a variety of events, such as the opportunity to help out with farm chores, learn traditional dances, or watch glassblowers at work.
The lemurs at Skansen's Zoo

The other major component of Skansen is the zoo. There are bears, moose, elk, spiders (yuck!), snakes (double yuck!), boar, seals, you name it, in both indoor and outdoor enclosures. My absolute favorite animals were the lemurs, who hung out on the walkways, the little ones piled on top of their mothers, while a zoo employee stood nearby to make sure visitors didn't get too close. 

I spent over two hours at Skansen, and you could easily enjoy an entire day there. For information, visit the website at

Of course, there is much more to see and do in Stockholm. There are great restaurants, shops, food halls, museums, parks and more. Just writing this makes me want to go back (and fortunately, I am returning very soon!). I hope you get to visit soon, too!

Modern Stockholm


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer in Rauma

I just got back from a 2-1/2 hour bike ride, and I started thinking that after that gloomy blog post of a few weeks ago, I really should point out the positives of living here in rural Finland.

Naturally, after having a visitor from the U.S., going on the fun girls' trip to Tallinn, Estonia, and enjoying good times at the most recent expat dinner in town, my mood has improved, along with the weather. And I'm always hard at work planning the next trip: Tom and I are going to Barcelona in August, which we both are looking forward to.

Anyway, you probably didn't know that Heaven is right here in Rauma. Yes, Heaven. I have to give credit to my friend Sara, because she found Heaven first. And she told me how to get to Heaven (insert jokes here).

Heaven in Rauma actually turned out to be a restaurant and karaoke bar, but so what?!

There are tons of bike trails in Rauma, which is great:

We have beautiful scenery, everywhere you look:

I found the ducks' summer hangout, which made me very happy. I have been worried about them, because they haven't shown up at the canal in town after the long winter:


We have clay tennis courts (which Tom and I have played on) and a nice golf course (which we have not played on, but I keep talking about taking lessons):

We have wonderful cafes and a daily market in the Old Town Square:

And because of all the French expats living here, we have wonderful fresh French bread (crusty on the outside, soft on the inside) and croissants:

Which may totally negate all the calories I burned during that bike ride, but who can resist fresh bread?

Living here isn't so bad after all!