Grandmafrica

I love weekends. I feel like a jerk for saying that. I’m essentially a housewife, but still look forward to the weekends even though most of my days are weekend-like. I think it’s the comfort that Matt is sleeping in bedroom while I’m puttering around the house (I’m an early riser), I hear people outside, and I know I have a fun day ahead of me versus running errands around the city and other housewifey things.

We have friends coming over for dinner tonight! They’ve never had Southern-style barbecue (!!!!), so I spent last night making a spicy-sweet sauce and marinating the ribs. I love hosting get-togethers, although I haven’t invited many people over yet because of our apartment. We found a furnished place and decided to go that route for our first year so we could explore the different areas of the city and figure out which neighborhood we truly loved, and not have to worry about buying everything right away. Moving to another country is stressful enough — there was no way I wanted to hunt around for furniture and arrange for delivery when we didn’t even have access to our Finnish bank accounts (or cell phones). It’s working out pretty well overall, but if I had to describe the decor in one word, it would be:

Grandmafrica.

The owner is a diplomat who is serving in Africa, and while the apartment itself is nice (washer and dryer!), the decor is…. interesting. It’s a cross between 70s-Grandma furniture, and African knick-knacks everywhere — we literally have tribal masks on the wall. We took down some stuff, but we’re waiting for our things from San Francisco to arrive later this month before we take everything down. I don’t like looking at empty walls, but I’m starting to get cranky looking at her things (or rather, my lack of things). I miss my pictures, my kitchen stuff, my decor! We bought the bare basics that weren’t supplied in the apartment to last us until our shipment comes in later this month, but I’m getting antsy. We can’t move any of her furniture out of the apartment and she’s using the apartment storage in the attic, so I’m going to have to get creative with configuration. Not to mention there is just so much stuff in here. I’m very grateful that we were able to rent a furnished place, but how many chairs does one person need? Answer: 12. I counted. We have them hidden all around the apartment: behind doors, in the bedroom, in a closet…. Our place is packed full of furniture and I’m ready to change it up.

Here is a small selection of things we have:

I was so proud of myself for finding the manual in English online. We had the hardcopy version in Finnish, Swedish, Spanish, German, and French. Yup.

I forgot to mention that there is a little NYC sprinkled around as well — we have a NY doormat as you walk in and coordinating curtains in the kitchen.

photo 1

I was so proud of myself for finding the manual in English online. We had the hardcopy version in Finnish, Swedish, Spanish, German, and French waiting for us. Yup.

Care for a parrot lamp?

Care for a parrot lamp?

A bit of Grandma in the kitchen....

A bit of Grandma in the kitchen….

...and a bit of Africa on the walls.

…and a bit of Africa on the walls.

How about another mask?

How about another mask?

On a happier note, have I mentioned how much I love having a washer AND dryer in the apartment? Such luxury! In San Francisco, we had to share three washers and three dryers among the 35 apartments in our building. At least one machine would be broken constantly, they were constantly eating our money (and were so expensive), other residents would hog all of the machine at one time, etc etc. Laundry days would put me into the worst moods, ever. My poor friend Ali had the knack of calling me as I was cursing at the machines all the time. I refused to move into an apartment here without both machines being in the unit. I do not like to share my laundry facilities.

So, yeah. This is my grandmafrican apartment. I know I shouldn’t complain about it too much (seriously, how many people have the opportunity to live in Finland?), but I miss our old apartment. I’m starting to feel a little depressed and frustrated when I walk around my new place. I keep telling myself it’s only for another few weeks until our shipment clears customs, then I can really sort through this place, rearrange to my heart’s content, and make this place truly ours until next spring when we move into a new place. I like having people over and I’ll be even happier to host when we have our stuff. Everything with the move was relatively smooth, so this if this is the biggest issue — I think we’re pretty lucky, right?

What was your biggest frustration in your last move?

Advertisements

What do I miss?

I love technology! Skype, Facetime, and Facebook have kept me in touch with all of my friends back home over these past two months and I usually chat with at least two people daily — it’s like we’re sitting right next to each other thanks to video calls. I’m not sure if I could have made this move 20 years ago, before the age of iEverythings and instant information. In many conversations (especially with those who’ve never left the US) , I’m inevitably asked, “what do you miss?”. This questions always makes me pause. Truthfully, it was pretty easy to adapt to Finland. We didn’t experience a lot of culture shock when we moved, largely thanks to our interconnectivity (is that even a word? the red squiggly is showing) and the fact that familiar brands are largely available.

However! There are a few things I do miss that aren’t easily found here. I had lunch today with my friend Bhavana and as expats, we talked about the minor things we took for granted back home that we never really appreciated until now. Without further ado (and not including the obvious, like friends and family), here is my Miss List™:

 

pink-belly-thick-cut-hickory-smoked-bacon-10

‘Real’ bacon. I have a confession: I actually feel really bad about eating pork. Pigs are so smart, I almost equate them with dogs. My pork consumption has actually decreased since we’ve moved (not that you can tell by my Restaurant Day post), but it’s so delicious. I mainly eat chicken (and turkey when I can find it; I have a personal vendetta against them), but I miss bacon on my sandwiches. Granted, I haven’t ventured into specialty meat shops yet, but the pre-packaged stuff (I’ve only seen one brand in all of the stores) is a big disappointment. It’s thin, grainy, and generally pretty tasteless. I can see a ton of bacon and avocado tacos in my next US visit.

 

 

jif-peanut-butter

 

Jif peanut butter — CREAMY! We can actually find this, but it’s really expensive. It’s usually around $12+ for a small 8oz. container. There is Finnish peanut butter than is quite good (and a million times better for you, I’m sure), but it’s not as sweet as the American type. I use it in my baking but haven’t taken the plunge to buy it here. My resistance is quickly waning…. I kinda expect Matt to come home from work one day and see me in a peanut butter coma with empty containers piled around me. Yum. Sounds like my kind of party!

800px-Illinois_Target_Store

 

costco

Target. Like most middle-class, mid-20s American girls, I freaking love Target. One-stop shopping for 99% of my household needs, fresh foods excluded. Matt and I used to joke about Target Law: no matter what we went in there for (like tupperware), we have to spend at least $70 on random things we’ve picked up along the way — per the Law. I guess I can lump Costco in here, too. One-stop shop for food and household supplies to last months and months. A year’s supply of tampons for $30? How about a 40-pound bag of flour? Yes please, and I’ll take two. These two stores could probably be summed up in one word: Convenience. I have an America vs. Finland post coming up soon, so I’ll go deeper into this.

Anthropologie_pic

Anthropologie. I am such a sucker for their clothing and home decor! Luckily, there are several stores in London that I can hit while visiting, but I definitely miss having one within walking distance — although my wallet appreciates the separation. One month, my credit card statement listed Anthropologie six times in a row. Matt was…. concerned. Some of their stuff is hit-or-miss (especially for the price point), so I haven’t ordered anything since we’ve moved as I don’t want to deal with any potential returns. If they’d open a store in Helsinki, I’d be soooo happy.

dscn1169

Sticks of butter. In the US, most butter comes in 8-tablespoon sticks. In Finland, they come in either plastic tubs or big brick-like blocks that I cut and weigh out when I bake and cook. It’s not just the ease of American butter than I miss — Finnish butter smells like movie theater butter when melted and it really freaks me out (I hate buttered popcorn). The taste, color, and texture are way different than what I’m used to and reminds me more of margarine, which there is plenty of here. It’s petty, I know.

Believe it or not, those are the main things I miss about the US! There are a lot of minor things I miss (my brand of gum, favorite restaurants, driving, that sort of thing), but it’s been a pretty smooth transition so far. That being said, I fully expect to bring a suitcase full of American goodies back to Helsinki after the holidays in a few months — like the saying goes, there’s no place like home.

 


Photo credits:
Bacon: baconfreak.com; Jif: nathanmooneyham.blogspot.fi; Target: Wikipedia.com; Costco: fool.com; Anthropologie: Hphsmedia.com; Butter: thehungrymouse.com

Tallinn, Estonia

A few weeks ago, Matt and I decided to spend the day in Tallinn, Estonia. Tallinn is an old medieval city dating back to 1154 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site — it basically makes me salivate. It’s only 50 miles south of Helsinki and a 2.5-hour ferry ride (we took the Eckerö line), which made it a perfect day trip for us.

Our ferry left relatively early (around 8.30am) on a Saturday, so I expected a quiet ride there. I was wrong! Now first, let me preface this by saying that if there is one thing I have learned since moving to Helsinki, it’s that Finns love to drink. Americans love to drink, too – Matt and I hit a bar every weekend on date night for a cocktail or glass of wine (and love ordering mimosas at brunch) – but there’s still a bit of a cultural difference surrounding it here. We see things like people stumbling home late on the weekends and open alcoholic drinks in the parks (ourselves included), but it’s usually not a big deal because drinking isn’t as much of an issue here as the US. In Finland, teenagers can start buying alcohol at 18 (only the “light” drinks; no more than 22% alcohol by volume) and can buy hard liquor at age 20, whereas the legal drinking age is 21 back home. I feel like because it’s not taboo here, there are a lot more adult conversations about it and a sort of unspoken etiquette to behave; I don’t see nearly as many obnoxious and loud drunks here as I did while living in downtown Orlando and in San Francisco (especially in the the Marina district). Basically, I am in favor of relaxed alcohol laws.

Which brings me to the actual ferry ride.

It’s 7am and you board the ferry — what do you want to drink? My choice is always caffeine. If I want a productive day, I need to drink a cup or two. It’s a leftover habit from my long and hectic work weeks in San Francisco, and while I’ve cut down on my caffeine consumption, it’s a habit I haven’t been able to shake completely (nor do I want to). I know that some people prefer light alcoholic drinks in the morning, especially for special occasions or a trip. In the US, this usually means some form of mimosa, bloody mary, or maybe a screwdriver. It’s not often that we have cultural shock in Finland, but that morning was one of them: liters of beer, hard liquor (martinis, straight whiskey/bourbon), and bottles of wine were poured freely at the many bars on board the ferry. If I didn’t know the time, I would have thought it was late on a weekend. There were drinking songs being shouted, bets being placed, and playful arguments over who would pay the tab. It seems like a small thing, but it was fascinating to me. I’ve been on a few cruises (including the infamous Carnival line to Mexico over spring break in college), but I have never seen people party so hard and so early. As I clutched my extra-large coffee cup, I could only watch the camaraderie, completely engrossed in the scene unfolding around me. A quick glance at a menu confirmed my suspicion: drinking at sea is cheap. Like a lot of things in Finland, alcohol is taxed pretty heavily and therefore very expensive (our weekly cocktails usually run 9-12, or roughly $12-17 each) and these were at least half what we see in Helsinki.

More on booze prices later.

We moved out to the main area and explored the ship a bit more and were pretty impressed with the on-board entertainment. Since the trip is so short, I didn’t expect much, but was wrong: There was a large cafe with great views, the aforementioned bars, a duty-free shop, karaoke and show stages, slot machines, a child play area, and much more. Passengers even have the option to book cabins. We opted not to but would consider it with children. I walked by a few open doors and they looked to be fairly spacious, a rarity as space in Europe is at a premium. After exploring, we headed down to breakfast. That was the worst part of the trip — it was just not good. There were both cold and hot stations, but the food was clearly low-quality. Someone even had the bright idea of chopping up days-old and rock-hard bread and sprinkling the barest amount of cinnamon on it and trying to pass it off as dessert. And edible. The hot station in particular was really bad: floppy bacon(?), sad karelian pastries, potatoes, eggs… all tasteless and covered in grease. If you take Eckerö, save your money and pack a snack to last until you reach shore.

The rest of the trip was fairly low-key. We stayed on the top decks where it was quieter and enjoyed the foggy waters.

Our ferry, the Finlandia.

Our ferry, the Finlandia.

This is the bigger stage reserved for performances.

This is the bigger stage reserved for performances.

Isn't Matt photogenic?

Isn’t Matt photogenic? I believe that’s Helsinki in the background.

It was really windy and cold. I think I'm wearing three layers under my rain jacket.

I am also very photogenic. It was really windy and cold. I think I’m wearing three layers under my rain jacket.

Our first glimpse of Tallinn.

Our first glimpse of Tallinn.

We didn't have a map so we decided to follow this until we reached Old Town, figuring that's probably its location.

We didn’t have a map so we decided to follow this until we reached Old Town, figuring that’s probably a reliable landmark.

Our gamble paid off and we reached Old Town in 10 minutes.

Our gamble paid off and we reached Old Town in 10 minutes.

We took this entrance into the old city.

We took this entrance into the old city.

Isn't this charming?

Isn’t this charming?

Old Town's largest period of activity dates back to the 13th-16th centuries. It doesn't look like much has changed since then.

Old Town’s largest period of activity dates back to the 13th-16th centuries. It doesn’t look like much has changed since then.

 

We didn’t make solid plans for this trip as we were only there for approximately 6 hours; we used this more of a “scouting” mission for future trips. It was a rainy day so we took the opportunity to duck into random cafes for hot beverages and light snacks whenever we saw an interesting place. Normally, I’d be dragging Matt into various museums and chatting his ear off, but this was a much more relaxed trip.

 

We saw this walking around....

We saw this walking around….

along with a lot of graffiti.

…along with a lot of graffiti.

This is Kiek in de Kök -- Matt insisted that we see this. Apparently its title is an ongoing Reddit joke.

This is Kiek in de Kök — Matt insisted that we see this. Apparently its title is an ongoing Reddit joke.

It dates back to 1475 and is now a museum.

It dates back to 1475 and is now a museum.

Lunch included a beer flight.

Lunch included a beer flight. I know, a British pub while in Tallinn? I couldn’t find “local” food with a tempting menu!

Old Town's city square where you can eat, drink, and shop to your heart's content.

Old Town’s city square where you can eat, drink, and shop to your heart’s content.

I can't remember all of the churches in Europe. Just most of them.

I can’t remember all of the churches in Europe. Just most of them.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is in the background.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is in the background.

Seriously, how pretty this this?

Seriously, how pretty is this?

Matt takes a picture of me taking a picture. How meta.

Matt takes a picture of me taking a picture. How meta.

 

We spent most of our time in Old Town. We walked through the modern part of Tallinn after lunch for some shopping, but didn’t end up having much luck. We were hoping to visit the KGB museum, but didn’t think we’d have enough time to do that and run an errand most of our fellow passengers had also come to do: get booze. As I mentioned above, alcohol is heavily taxed and expensive in Finland. Matt and I used to buy our booze at Costco (those savings, yo) and are used to being able to shop around in general for better pricing. In Finland, grocery stores sell beer, cider, and some wine; hard liquor is only sold at Alko. That’s right, ONE store. This is apparently the norm for Nordic countries, and I think it’s ridiculous. Alko is government-owned and the selection is pretty much the same between all stores, including pricing. I saw Tallinn as a choose-your-own-boozeventure, and the Finns definitely take the opportunity to stock up on their alcohol at a much, much, cheaper rate. We brought Matt’s backpack to carry what we wanted and were definitely the odd ones out. People literally bring suitcases with them and load up as much as they can carry. The import laws are pretty lax, and it’s very hard to reach the maximum allowed before you have to start paying duty.

We wandered around four (four!) different stores to price shop before buying what we wanted, including my coveted Four Roses bourbon. There is a liquor store on Finlandia, but it was totally packed and neither one of us wanted to deal with the crowds. Clearly, we cannot hang with the local population and should never challenge anyone to a drinking contest.

 

This couple walked out of a liquor store near the port.

This couple walked out of a liquor store near the port.

Apparently, a lot of engaged couples will supply their wedding reception with alcohol from Tallinn.

A lot of engaged couples will supply their wedding reception with alcohol from Tallinn.

 

Overall, it was a fun day. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a must-see destination, but it makes for a great trip if you have an extra day in Helsinki (or you’re passing through on a cruise). Chances are most visitors will stick to Old Town, so make sure you take a moment to fully enjoy the surroundings and stop to admire its breathtaking views. Tallinn has a rich history and most buildings will have placards detailing their importance or function throughout the years. I enjoyed reading them all, and would like to explore more of the city proper on my next trip. 

Part of what’s really striking about a place like Tallinn is just the weight of time. There were tombstones in some of the churches that had dates over 1,000 years old. It’s astonishing to think about what lives were like back then, and to be able to look at a part of them in between pastries and drinks. It’s a great thing to experience anywhere, and I’m glad I have the opportunity to do it in just a few hours of travel. I’m looking forward to visiting again with friends (especially with better weather)!

 

 

Quick Note

Follow my blog with Bloglovin’!

Hi guys (mom) — here’s a quick mention that I’m on Bloglovin’ now. I received a few questions asking if I’d join soooo here I am. 🙂

I swear I’m posting Estonia this week! I have a photography class in a few hours and spent yesterday roaming the city after the week of rain.

Upcoming events:

  • Our awesome friends Nathan and Gillian will be visiting us from SF (but we’ve known them since Orlando) in just over a week!
  • We’re going to St Petersburg, Russia! NG wanted to go and it’s on my bucket list, so the timing was literally perfect.
  • BALLET! I’m fairly certain we’ll be seeing Swan Lake (Nathan and Matt are thrilled).
  • We may be taking a weekend to Stockholm soon.
  • I’m already planning my escape from the cold winter — it looks like I’ll be in Orlando for over a month at the end of this year! I can’t wait to see my friends and family.
  • I’ll be checking out more graduate schools over the upcoming months. Life decisions are hard!

Until next time!

 

 

Weekend Shenanigans

It was my intention to post about my recent Estonia trip last week, but I spent the majority of that Sunday in the emergency vet with Lupin, and my Monday morning at his regular vet. He’s totally fine now (thanks to the excellent care he received!), but the rest of the week was stressful as I was watching him like a hawk for signs of another urinary blockage. Here’s your PSA for the day: If your cat is straining outside of the litter box, you should call the vet.

The weather was so nice (HOT!) this weekend, so we tried to take advantage of it as much as possible. By taking advantage of, I mean checking out the build-your-own Magnum pop-up in Vanha Ylioppilastalo, at the corner of Aleksanterinkatu and Mannerheimintie. Ice cream wasn’t part of my weekly diet in San Francisco, but this hot weather makes me want to eat it constantly. I am a native Floridian and a military brat — I’ve spent most of my life in hot and humid climates, but San Francisco weather has spoiled me. Anything above 70F makes me want to climb in my freezer and nap. Luckily (for me), Helsinki seems to have an ice cream fetish; there are several stands throughout the city and every age group chows down on it.

Which brings me to my new favorite thing in Helsinki.

Matt and I traveled a bit north to find Indian food on Friday night. On the way there, I spotted big MAGNUM banners in front of Vanha Ylioppilastalo. I’ve never tried Magnum ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s and I have an ongoing agreement), but I felt like this was the universe telling me to broaden my ice cream horizons. They were closed by the time we finished up with dinner, but I made it a priority for Saturday.

A quick photo of Maharaja -- it's supposed to be the best Indian in Helsinki (according to TripAdvisor). We ordered chicken tikka masala and dal makhani to share; it was pretty good, although my mother-in-law's dal is better!

A quick photo of Maharaja — it’s supposed to be the best Indian in Helsinki (according to TripAdvisor). We ordered chicken tikka masala and dal makhani to share; it was pretty good, although my mother-in-law’s dal is better!

This caught my eye on Friday -- there's a bigger banner around the corner to the left.

This caught my eye on Friday — there’s a bigger banner around the corner to the left.

Even the statue is getting into it.

Even the statue is getting into it.

I told you Finns love balloons.

I told you Finns love balloons.

Fancy branding.

Fancy branding.

They were very generous to provide instructions in English.

They were very generous to provide instructions in English. I did share it on Facebook, so all steps were followed.

They listed the toppings you can choose from -- I still don't know what tutti frutti is supposed to taste like. It's rainbow in my book.

They listed the toppings you can choose from — I still don’t know what tutti frutti is supposed to taste like. It’s rainbow in my book.

There were plenty of toppings to choose from.

There were plenty to choose from.

Toppings from the other side.

Toppings from the other side.

Matt's bar is coming together. We had the choice between milk or white chocolate shell; we chose correctly. On a side note, I have a very similar marble pastry board. Keep your fingers crossed that it makes it to Helsinki in one piece.

Matt’s bar is coming together. We had the choice between milk or white chocolate shell; we both chose milk. On a side note, I have a very similar marble pastry board. Keep your fingers crossed that it makes it to Helsinki in one piece.

Magic is happening!

Magic is happening!

The final products! Matt has marshmallows, dired strawberries/blueberries (they gave him an extra topping), and silver pearls.

The final products! Matt has marshmallows, dried strawberries/blueberries (they were nice and gave him an extra topping), and silvery nut mix.

Matt is having a love affair. I understand.

Matt is having a love affair. I understand.

Mine was clearly the superior one: gold flakes, rainbow sprinkles, and dark chocolate flakes.

Mine was clearly the superior one: gold flakes, rainbow sprinkles, and dark chocolate flakes. White chocolate was drizzled on both of them.

Our shame.

Our shame. Wait, who am I kidding? I have no shame.

This delicious pop-up will be here for another few weeks. (Un)fortunately, it’s a route that I walk by pretty frequently so I may need to exercise a tiny bit of restraint.

Sunday turned into another beautiful day. We decided to pack a quick lunch and head over to Meilahden Arboretum to check out the gardens, but made a split-second decision on the way to picnic at Hakasalmenpuisto instead. The view from the tram was stunning; the lake called to us so we hopped off and quickly crossed the street.

I'm beginning to think the 4 tram is magical -- I discover something new nearly every time I'm on it (including Magnum).

I’m beginning to think the 4 tram is magical — I discover something new nearly every time I’m on it (including Magnum).

We lived a few blocks away from Lake Eola in Orlando -- views like these make me feel nostalgic.

We lived a few blocks away from Lake Eola in Orlando — views like these make me feel nostalgic.

One of the first things we saw was a dance troupe performing. I have zero rhythm and admire anyone willing to dance in public.

One of the first things we saw was a dance troupe performing. I have zero rhythm and admire anyone willing to dance in public.

I didn't realize how pale I am until this picture. I practically bathe in sunscreen every day before leaving the house. Sunscreen is your friend, people!

I didn’t realize how pale I am until this picture. I practically bathe in sunscreen every day before leaving the house. Sunscreen is your friend, people!

We walked up a small hill to get away from the crowds.

We walked up a small hill to get away from the crowds.

The view above.

The view above.

Our impromptu picnic -- we had an obscene amount of cheese in the fridge we needed to get rid of (not pictured: blue cheese brie, aka cambozola). I promise we eat vegetables.

Our impromptu picnic — we had an obscene amount of cheese in the fridge we needed to get rid of (not pictured: blue cheese brie, aka cambozola). I promise we eat vegetables.

Matt's long drink tasted like adult Sprite.

Matt’s long drink tasted like adult Sprite.

Dandelions were everywhere.

Dandelions were everywhere.

Dandelion puff-balls also make me feel nostalgic. My cousins in NC and I would blow on these during our childhood summers.

Dandelion puff-balls also make me feel nostalgic. My cousins in NC and I would blow on these during our childhood summers.

Have I mentioned my moose bag? I bought it on a whim on Restaurant Day a few weeks ago so I wouldn't have to carry around my camera and and other random things. I'm pretty sure people judge me when I tote this around the city, but I'm okay with that.

Have I mentioned my moose bag? I bought it on a whim on Restaurant Day a few weeks ago so I wouldn’t have to carry around my camera and and other random things. I’m pretty sure people judge me when I tote this around the city, but I’m okay with that. My current daily Kate Spade bag holds my wallet, phone, and keys only — the rest of my nice handbags are somewhere in a shipping container. I love my moose bag.

The slightest hint of humidity sends my hair in every direction but down. I'm also in desperate need of a haircut.

The slightest hint of humidity sends my hair in every direction but down. I’m also in desperate need of a haircut.

After lounging around eating and reading, we decided to pack up and take a stroll around the lake. It’s fairly large with both walking and biking paths for people to enjoy. One of the things I love about Helsinki is how green the city is. We live in the center (near Senate Square) and Hakasalmenpuisto was maybe 10 minutes away by tram — how great is that? It was fairly quiet, even with the amount of people there. There are so many places like this in the immediate area, so it’s no wonder why Finns spend so much time outside in the summer.

People were swimming in the lake. The native Floridian in me immediately started  scanning the water and shore for alligators before I remembered where I live now.

People were swimming in the lake. The native Floridian in me immediately started scanning the water and shore for alligators before I remembered where I live now.

I wish I had birdseed to feed them.

I wish I had birdseed to feed them.

There were random Victorian-esque houses along the path.

There were random Victorian-esque houses along the path.

I have no idea if these are privately owned or some sort of rental.

I have no idea if these are privately owned or some sort of rental.

This one has boarded/broken windows, and a collapsing desk. I'd love to purchase something like this and restore it.

This one has boarded/broken windows, and a collapsing deck. I’d love to purchase something like this and restore it.

Finland and I share a love of cafes. This one is nestled among the houses. Unfortunately, seating was almost non-existent, so we didn't stop.

Finland and I share a love of cafes. This one is nestled among the houses. Unfortunately, seating was almost non-existent, so we didn’t stop.

Here's another cafe on the opposite shore. There was also a restaurant, but we were too full of cheese.

Here’s another cafe on the opposite shore. There was also a restaurant, but we were too full of cheese.

You can see the Helsinki Cathedral in the distance.

You can see the Helsinki Cathedral in the distance.

Matt insisted on more ice cream before we left. It's a sickness in our household.

Matt insisted on more ice cream before we left. It’s a sickness in our household.

One final shot of the foliage.

One final shot of the foliage.

I would highly recommend anyone visiting Helsinki to visit this (or any park) during their trip.

The daylight hours now are wonderful now. The sun rises around 4:15am and it doesn’t set until 10:30pm. We spend a lot of our evenings going on walks, trying to soak up as much sunshine as we can until the fall (and subsequent darkness) rolls in.

If the weekend was a taste of summer, today was a throwback; the weather did an complete about-face and it’s been cold (30/40sF) and rainy. Still, the weather in infinitely better than what it was when we arrived last month. I was going to pack away my winter coat this week, but today makes me hesitate. I love rainstorms, though. I’m really excited about having thunder and lightning again (SF didn’t have them; FL is apparently the lightning capital of North America). Am I weird for loving them?

I still went for a run this morning. I was totally soaked within minutes.

I went for a run this morning and was totally soaked within minutes.

Lupin was very helpful as I was writing this.

Lupin was very helpful as I was writing this.

Up next: My trip to Estonia!

How is your summer going so far?

Restaurant Day Helsinki

I am a foodie. I love to try new restaurants and cuisines and experiment in the kitchen — although those experiments tend to end poorly. One of the things I dislike about Helsinki is that dining out is expensive.  Since moving here, Matt and I have gone from eating out several times a week to maybe once a week (excluding a quick cafe lunch on the weekends). It’s very easy to find amazing and relatively inexpensive food in the Bay Area, and so we’ve gotten spoiled over the years. It was nothing to take a quick BART ride to the Mission for Mexican, a bus to North Beach for Italian, or head slightly south to San Carlos for fantastic Indian. We’ve been able to find good food in Helsinki, but practically have to sign off our first-born (yet-to-exist) child in the process.

However, that changed with one day. Okay, maybe it’s more accurate to say for one day.

Helsinki is the founder city of Restaurant Day, a world-wide event that happens four times a year. On these magical days, ANYONE can open their open their own restaurant for the day, sans licensing and red tape. This past Saturday, we were able to attend for the first time and didn’t leave disappointed. There was every sort of cuisine imaginable from American hamburgers to Ethiopian gambian akara, and everything in between.

We have made some lovely friends here; expats from India who love food just as much as we do and were thrilled for the opportunity to participate in another Restaurant Day (they were here for the first event of the year). We started early and made our first rounds at the Esplanadi in the city center before moving on to other locations. The Esplanadi is a beautiful park located near the Port of Helsinki where tourists and locals alike spend time enjoying the good weather, street performers, and musicians. Luckily, the weather cooperated — it went from raining most of last week to a warm and sunny day. It doesn’t feel quite like summer, although I think it’s safe to say spring is finally here!

Everyone is heading over to gorge themselves -- I approve.

Everyone is heading over to gorge themselves. I approve.

The Esplanadi at the beginning -- these crowds are nothing compared to what they became.

The Esplanadi at the beginning — these crowds are nothing compared to what they became.

Our first stop: pad thai for 5 euro. BARGAIN!

Our first stop: pad thai for 5 euro. BARGAIN!

DSC_1190

Finns love their balloons.

Finns love their balloons.

DSC_1204

They also love their sweets…

DSC_1203

DSC_1202

DSC_1199

DSC_1213

DSC_1206

No seriously, they love their sweets. I should take photos of the candy aisle in the grocery stores.

DSC_1205

DSC_1207

The Brazilian food was excellent.

DSC_1208

We hit the Brazilian place twice. Here, Matt is showing off salad, beef, and farofa. Later, we went back for chicken hearts. Did I mention we like trying new things? This wasn’t my first time eating chicken hearts, and it won’t be the last. 10/10, would eat again.

DSC_1227

DSC_1228

I love the smell of meat grilling.

DSC_1226

I even found jambalaya! I would preferred it to be a little spicier, but it was well-seasoned compared to what we normally find here.

DSC_1221

DSC_1232

These guys know what they're doing. I consumed an unhealthy amount of pork on Saturday, but seriously debating getting a second sandwich from them. I hope they open a restaurant or food truck at some point.

These guys know what they’re doing. I hope they open a restaurant or food truck at some point — this was probably my favorite stand.

 

DSC_1220

More pork — 2 Chicks & 1 Pig. I love you, ladies.

photo(2)

photo(3)

You are now banned from r/pyongyang.

photo(4)

photo(6)

photo(7)

photo(8)

DSC_1237

We needed to take a break and rest our stomachs. Not pictured: cactus-flavored drink.

DSC_1234

DSC_1214

We were entertained by live jazz music.

DSC_1231

Surprisingly, Senate Square didn't receive a lot of action.

Surprisingly, Senate Square didn’t receive a lot of action.

We ended the day with some all-American Ben & Jerry's. Ice cream should be its own food group. Along with carbs. I love carbs.

We ended the day with some all-American Ben & Jerry’s. Ice cream should be its own food group. Along with carbs. I love carbs.

We met up with some of Matt’s co-workers later in the afternoon and ended up sharing most of the food we bought throughout the day. It was a smart decision. There is no way we would have been able to try nearly as many things otherwise. Not only that, but we were able to introduce different foods to each other that we may not have tried on our own, or didn’t know existed. (Our Finnish friends introduced us to mämmi around Easter. They are not fans, but we liked it!) Food is so much more than nourishment; it’s a cultural element that should be shared amongst friends, family, and even foes. It brings people together and improves the human spirit.

We ate so much more than what is pictured. After a while, I had to stop taking photos and focus on the fun. As much as I enjoyed it, I’m glad it’s once every few months, or else I think I’d have a permanent belly ache. With very few exceptions, I enjoyed what we tried and it was reasonably priced (bonus!). The next day is August 17 — I encourage everyone to check their city for participation and enjoy the day!

My first trip as an expat — London!

I adore London. Wait, that’s an understatement. I love it so much — the history, the people, the food (yes, seriously)…. Matt and I took our first London trip back in December 2010 and I’ve been (more) smitten ever since. I’ve been researching graduate schools in London since being a freshman in college. It was another thing that I always thought would be out of reach. Well, funny where life takes you, eh? Shortly after Matt accepted his job offer, I got a notification that one of the schools I follow was having an Open Day shortly after our target move date. I took that as divine intervention (ha) and booked my flight, leaving two weeks to the day after we landed in Helsinki.

I was nervous. I have plenty of experience traveling on my own in the US — my parents divorced when I was young and have been taking flights on my own for most of my life. London was my first trip alone to a huge city and foreign country. I took many screenshots of my travel details, tube directions, and Airbnb information so I wouldn’t have to rely on WiFi. It’s London: everyone speaks English, but I am an over-planner and hate talking to strangers.

After a very rough start with my Airbnb room (and having my awesome husband find me a great hotel), all of my worries and concerns left. How can you not have a great time in such a magical city?

National History Museum

King's College

Princess Diana

Armor

Rockingham Mantua

British Museum

South Kensington

Trafalgar Square

National Gallery

Kengsington Gardens

Kengsington Palace

Kengsington Palace

This is Queen Victoria's wedding dress -- how amazing is this?

Queen Victoria wore this to the opening to the Great Exhibition (1851).

Murray Arbeid gown, worn by Princess Diana to the Phantom of the Opera premiere (1986).

Murray Arbeid gown, worn by Princess Diana to the Phantom of the Opera premiere (1986).

Carl Toms dress and turban, worn by Princess Margaret in Mustique (1976).

Carl Toms dress and turban, worn by Princess Margaret in Mustique (1976).

Hardy Amies gown worn by Queen Elizabeth to a formal dinner held at the German Embassy in London (1957/8).

Hardy Amies gown worn by Queen Elizabeth to a formal dinner held at the German Embassy in London (1957/8).

Kengsington Gardens

Kengsington Gardens

Fancy Toilets

I want these for my apartment.

Kengsington Gardens

Kengsington Gardens

National History Museum

Harrods

My hotel was in South Kensington — it’s a great area with easy access to some of the best museums in the world, along with various parks, restaurants, and shopping.

London is a city I will never grow bored of and will always happily go when given the chance. When Matt and I were there a few years ago, we were lucky enough to be there for an entire week and spent 12-14 hours each day running from attraction to attraction. We were lucky enough to experience various palaces (including Hampton Court and Buckingham), Abbey Road, several museums, the Tower, and a West End show. However, we ended up utterly exhausted at the end of each day and so I wanted to take it a little slower this trip.

When I wasn’t involved in school, I prioritized what to see based on my last trip. Kensington Palace had several exhibits I wanted to see: Queen Victoria, George II, along with Fashion Rules (clothing belonging to Princess Diana, HM Queen Elizabeth, and Princess Margaret). I also stopped by the V&A, National Portrait Gallery, and British Museum. One of the many things I love about London is that access to most of these museums are FREE and rely on donations only. You’ll have to pay for the special exhibits, but they are always worth the cost.

I wish I were there longer — four days is NOT enough (especially when devoting a good chunk to school activities). I can’t wait for my next visit!