• Norway

    Road trip to Lofoten – Solo traveler’s experiences and tips

    I have had this trip in my mind since last summer and now after obsessively checking the weather forecast and having my mom’s car to use, I decided this is my moment. I started my drive from Rovaniemi, Finland, knowing it will be a long 11h drive to reach my turning point in Lofoten Islands. I crossed the border to Sweden in Pello and drove across the Swedish Lapland making only one stop at picture beautiful Abisko. I already added the place to my bucket list, I really want to go back and do some hiking there. I crossed the border to Norway, and decided to stay the night in Narvik as it was getting late and I started feeling exhausted. Next morning, I continued driving towards Lofoten setting my destination to Festvågtind, the first hike I wanted to do. The landscape started changing and soon I had endless number of incredible mountains and fjords in front of my eyes. Instantly I fell in love with Lofoten.

    Fjord near Unstad, Lofoten

    When I planned the trip, I had in mind to stay on the road for a week if the weather stays good, and also visit Senja and Tromsø before driving back to Finland through Kilpisjärvi. However, after arriving to Lofoten I already knew I was going to stay there as long as possible deciding to visit Senja and Tromsø to another time.

    When visit Lofoten

    I visited Lofoten at the beginning of August and I was incredibly lucky when it comes to the weather: it was sunny or only partly cloudy every day! Nice +17ºC during the daytime and around +12ºC at night. When hiking you could easily manage with short sleeves but after stopping for a moment, I instantly had to put my jacket on. In general, the best time to visit Lofoten is from June to August. You can enjoy the midnight sun and go hiking during the night-time if you feel like it, or still in August you can go hiking quite late in the evening and still make it back to your tent before the sunset.

    Sunset at Ramberg Beach, Lofoten

    What to pack

    If you plan to go hiking number one thing is good shoes. Waterproof over-the-ankle boots with a lot of grip are definitely the type of shoes you should have with you. Also, water- and windproof outdoor jacket and pants are a must, because the weather in Lofoten can be unpredictable. Beanie and gloves are very recommended and a scarf to cover your neck. Remember to pack enough warm clothes especially if you are sleeping in a tent, layers are your friends. Norway is an expensive country, so I wanted to save some money and bought most of my food from Finland. Don’t forget the cleaning wipes, that was my shower during the days I wasn’t staying in camping. Power bank is a lifesaver when there is no electricity available.

    Money

    The currency in Norway is Norwegian Krone (NOK) and 1€ is around 10 NOK. I could pay everything with my card, so it is not necessary to have cash. If you want to get some, just withdraw a small amount as most probably you are not going to need it.

    Driving in Lofoten

    Important thing to keep in mind is that the roads are narrow and winding, going up and down with many bridges and tunnels, so don’t (actually you even can’t) drive too fast. In many points only one car fits to drive the road at a time so it means a lot of waiting. You mainly see Caravans on the road, which adds its own fun to your driving. They drive even slower than you do, and they are bigger than normal cars, which means it’s almost impossible to get past them in Lofoten roads. There are a lot of places where you can park your car along the road to have a break and admire the view. I decided not to do it as I figured I would never make it where I was heading. There are a good number of gas stations until the very end of Lofoten, so you won’t have to worry much where to fill up the tank. I had to pay in total around 180€ for the gas for the whole trip Rovaniemi – Å i Lofoten – Rovaniemi.

    Lofoten, Norway

    Where to stay in Lofoten

    Camping is for sure the most popular way of accommodating in Lofoten, and there are camping sites everywhere. I slept in a tent and most of the nights I stayed in camping areas to have things like shower and kitchen to use. All the campings I stayed in ended up being quite full at the end of the day so better to arrive earlier than later. The tents are set up right next to each other and you can easily be disturbed by your fellow campers snoring almost next to your ear. Another tricky thing was if you wake up in the middle of the night to go to pee, as all the strings from the tents form a huge minefield to get through without stumbling over someone’s tent. While driving I also saw a lot of signs of B&B places and if you are looking for a traditional experience you should stay over in “Rorbuer” which are red fishermen cabins built one end on land and other on poles in the water.

    Camping at Uttakleiv Beach, Lofoten

    Camping sites I stayed in and prices for a tent and one person:

    • Øyjord Camping (Narvik): 150 NOK (=15€) / night
    • Uttakleiv Beach: 200 NOK (=20€) / night, no shower or kitchen available. By the beach and direct hiking trail to Veggen. You’ll be literally camping with sheep.
    • Ramberg Gjestegård: 220 NOK (=22€) / night. Shower not included. You’ll have to pay 10 NOK (=1€) for little more than 2 minutes of water in the shower. Check beforehand you have enough 10 NOK coins!! I had only one (I thought I had more) and the water stopped running while I had my conditioner on my hair, and I was covered with soap from neck to toes. My only choice was to cover myself with a towel and go asking from people if anyone had change, so embarrassing! The location is beautiful by the beach and you can go hiking directly to Nubben or drive few minutes and go hiking to Volandstind.
    • Moskenes Camping: 210 NOK (=21€) / night. Next to the ferry terminal. Easy to visit Å and many hiking possibilities.

    One night I stayed at Kvalvika Beach and one night near Unstad Beach without any amenities but obviously with a beautiful view and for free. In total I spent around 78€ on accommodation for one week.

    What to see

    Haukland Beach, Lofoten

    Did you know beaches in Lofoten are one of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever seen! White sand, crystal clear turquoise water with rough mountains in the background. WOW. Check out Haukland Beach, Uttakleiv Beach, Ramberg Beach or Kvalvika Beach to mention a few. Maybe you even dare to go for a swim. Don’t miss picturesque fishing villages Hamnøy, Reine and Å. Drive until the very end of road E10 and go for a walk to see where Lofoten ends.

    Hiking in Lofoten

    Why I wanted to visit Lofoten was the beautiful landscapes and hiking possibilities. I ended up doing 8 hikes in 6 days and my body was craving for rest after. But all the hikes I did were AMAZING. It doesn’t matter which mountain you climb you’ll always get incredible view on top, always! Now important: Lofoten has its own standards for hikes. Before the trip I prepared a list of possible hikes I would like to do and already excluded all the hikes that said “difficult” or “steep”, so all of them were supposed to be easy or moderate level. After doing my first hike which was “moderate” I really understood that moderate for me or any other non-Norwegian person would mean difficult, and easy for me means moderate and if you want an easy hike just don’t leave the beach. For a person who grew up in a country that doesn’t have mountains a 2-hour hike uphill that mostly goes you using all your four limbs to keep going IS NOT EASY OR EVEN MODERATE in any way. Most of the hiking trails in Lofoten are not marked. You just see the path where many people have walked before, and you follow it. Some hikes in Lofoten are very popular and get crowded but there are also mountains where you might encounter only few other people on your way, and you’ll get the whole view for yourself when you reach the summit.

    Offersøykammen, Lofoten

    Hikes in Lofoten tend to be short day hikes, just going up a mountain and then getting back down but still it’s a good challenge for the body. I really like going up and pushing myself a little bit more every time but still I always hike at my own pace, stopping to catch my breath whenever I need it or take a sip of water. Then I continue along the trail like a train, keeping my eyes carefully on the ground not even noticing if the trail splits. So many times I had to turn back because I missed the intersection or took a wrong trail. Or somehow made it on top and then found the right trail I was supposed to go when getting back down. If the slope got a bit steeper a thought often crossed my mind, oh gosh how am I going to descend this part later, but after all I didn’t face any problems. Reaching the summit is the best feeling ever. Seeing the 360º view for the first time, feeling the adrenaline and just breathing, I really cherish those moments. On the top I always chose a quiet spot with a stunning view and drank a cup of tea and ate something, sometimes a sandwich, sometimes a cinnamon bun. I usually stay there at least for an hour just breathing, enjoying the view and obviously taking some photos (which really is a minor part).

    Like in Finland, everyone in Norway too enjoys a concept called everyman’s right or right to roam (allemannsretten), which gives you the right to access and passage through uncultivated land in the countryside for recreation (eg. camp overnight) and exercise. It’s based on respect towards landowners and if you are unsure what you can or cannot do, better to check it beforehand.

    Reinebringen, Lofoten

    Lofoten is a picture-perfect place (100% grammable) and one of the most beautiful destinations I’ve ever visited. It should be on everyone’s bucket list yes or yes! Have you ever visited Lofoten? If you have any tips to share leave a comment 🙂

    With love Sanna

  • Florida

    MIAMI – Where’s the party at?

    “I’m going to relax, enjoy the long beaches, sun and warm weather. I’ll book my hostel from Miami Beach so I can go for an early morning run every day at the sandy beach, have a breakfast and chill at the pool before tanning at the beach or getting to know other neighbourhoods. One day I wanna do a road trip to Key West.”

    Miami Beach, Florida

    Yeah no, not even close. First of all, if you are going to Miami at the end of June when it’s hurricane season, don’t expect the weather to be great because it’s not. There were many rainy days which kind of ruined my plans once and for all.

    So, my trip to Miami ended up being quite different than I expected but still it was a good one. I met really nice people, I went clubbing, I went more clubbing (because at the end it didn’t matter if you sleep the next day as it was gonna rain anyways) and finally I did the road trip to Key West!

    Miami Beach, Florida

    I stayed at Generator Hostel in Miami Beach for five nights and I can warmly recommend this hostel. It was clean, nice interior design, quiet dorms, it has its own restaurant and at the patio the pool and the bar invite people to get social with each other. 8-bed female dorm cost around 20 USD/night, no breakfast included. Otherwise Miami is pretty expensive city. Like in LA the public transportation basically doesn’t exist so easiest way to get around is by Über or Lyft (remember to download both applications to your phone before your trip). I bought a prepaid SIM card with 10 GB of internet and it cost me 40 USD which I considered really expensive. Then again it is just so much easier to have the internet than be dependent on where you can find a WiFi to get your Uber. Eating out is also quite costly and going out, well let’s just say this is when your dollars start to fly.

    Hostel Generator, Miami

    Miami never sleeps. It’s a city of endless parties 24/7. You’ll run out of money before you even notice as all the entries and drinks are expensive. Obviously, it is better to be female and get invited to parties for free.

    I cannot believe I’m really writing this but here are my recommendations where to party in Miami:

    Club Space is the most famous of all, entries there cost around 100 USD and besides that the tickets end up being sold out. I got to know a girl from my hostel who has the ability to talk her way in any place and situation, so she managed to talk us in during a sold-out night and even wanted to invite me paying my 100 bucks entry. (Love you Karolina!) The party continues until 11 am and I’m telling you, you’re going to keep on partying under the sunrise so don’t forget to bring your sunglasses! I managed to last until 8.30 am.

    Story is kind of a typical night club. During the night I was there the DJ was Don Diablo and the next night French Montana was performing. It has a big dancefloor and reserved tables levelling up to give you a perfect view of the club. Great party.

    Liv is a nightclub inside of a fancy hotel in Miami Beach and it’s in 2 levels. From the upper floor you’ll get the view to the dancefloor. The music was quite typical commercial one.

    E11even is a club I didn’t actually go to but many people told me this is one of the big ones and the party goes on 24 hours every day of the week. Whoa.

    Bodega is a hip hop club and offers different kind of vibes than the previous ones. Is not as fancy or big but I ended up going there twice.

    Miami is a very spread out city so there are many places recommended to visit during your stay.

    South Beach is living up to its fame. This part of Miami is very touristic as it is full of beach resorts like the entire Miami Beach. It is the heart of the nightlife and parties and full of people showing off while tanning at the beach or going out. Also recognized because of its Art Deco District.

    Wynwood is an artsy neighbourhood full of colourful street art and enormous murals at the Wynwood Walls. Also filled with contemporary art galleries and many bars (more affordable ones) and restaurants. Definitely worth to visit as it is something totally different from Miami Beach.

    Brickell is the fancy financial district in Miami. You can find newly built skyscrapers, city’s best rooftops and cocktails from this area. Also home to a luxury mall called Brickell City Centre.

    Brickell, financial district in Miami, Florida

    Fort Lauderdale is actually another city located 45 km to the north from Miami. It is known for its beaches, art and events. I would have liked to visit but unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time. I was also told that if you want to do some surfing this is the place to do it.

    Road trip to Key West was the only thing I really really wanted to do when in Miami. I gathered a group of people from my hostel, we rented a car for one day and headed to Key West early in the morning. Almost 4-hour ride through the scenic Florida Keys was a nice experience and Key West at the end of all was the cherry on top of the cake. Sadly, there was awfully a lot of seaweed at the beaches in Key West but we managed to find a clean one at Fort Zachary. I loved the idyllic colourful houses and the laidback small town summer vibes. I would recommend staying there over night as one day road trip is after all only few hours spent at the island. We headed back to Miami around 6 pm to return the car.

    Key West, Florida

    My conclusion is that Miami was a great experience but I think for me seeing it once is enough.

    Fort Zachary, Key West, Florida

    With love, Sanna

  • Sri Lanka

    Hikkaduwa – beach life and turtles

    On our first day when walking at the beach for the first time we saw something unforgettable! Tiny little turtle babies had been hatched, dug out of the sand and they were crawling towards the ocean. It was an incredible moment and gathered other admirers too. There was a sea turtle hatchery and rescue center on the beach, which ensures that the eggs hatch and do not get eaten by predators. They give protection to newly hatched baby turtles for the first days of their life to gain strength for the challenges to come. They also take care of injured turtles.

    Baby turtle in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

    Turtles are endangered animals. Only a few of all hatched baby turtles survive until adulthood and we could say that the human is the biggest threat to them. The reasons behind the decrease in turtle population are the fishing nets (turtles get caught in the nets, unable to come to the surface to breathe and finally suffocate), the destruction of coral reefs and sea-grass beds (turtles can’t find enough food), the plastic rubbish in the sea (the turtles are mistaken to eat plastic bags, thinking they are jellyfish) and many animals eat turtle eggs, including humans. Global warming is also bad for turtles because if the temperatures are higher that normal when the female lays the eggs to the beach, only female turtles are born. Healthy turtle population also helps to take care of the beaches and the shore waters. As we already mentioned turtles eat jellyfish, which naturally keeps the jellyfish population low.

    Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

    We were told that turtles often come to eat near the coastline in the early mornings and it would be possible to see even many of them at once  around the coral reef. So, one morning, we decided to wake up at five and go looking for them. We were on the beach at six o’clock and we saw many turtles in the water, they were huge! People from the turtle rescue center brought us seaweed to feed to the turtles. We were able to see these wonderful animals really close, but like other marine animals, turtles should not be touched.

    In this kind of places, it is important to act responsible for the nature and corals. For example, there is a huge difference which kind of sunscreen to use. Chemical sunscreens contain oxybenzone and octinoxate chemicals which destroy coral’s nutrients and therefore undermine the living conditions of fish and other species. Most probably these substances are not very healthy for us either. The sunscreens dissolves into the water from the people who use them every time they go for a swim. Which sunscreens are coral friendly then? There are several brands, we used products from Avéne.

    Hikkaduwa coral reef, Sri Lanka
    Sunrise in Hikkaduwa beach

    The beaches of Hikkaduwa are long, wide and very clean. There are opportunities for water activities such as surfing, jet skiing, snorkeling and boat trips. Hikkaduwa Beach is a smaller beach where the most people seemed to be. The turtle hatchery and rescue center, and the Hikkaduwa coral reef are located on the very same beach. However, our favorite was Narigama Beach, which had the largest selection of restaurants and sunbeds, as well as surfboard rental points. The sunbeds were in front of the restaurants and could be used all day without any extra charge if you ordered something from the restaurant. In the evenings, the beach was a perfect place to enjoy the sunset.

    Feeling the ocean, Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

    Sanna tried surfing three times renting a board for an hour at a time for 500 rs. (2,5€). Jenna was also planning to surf, but on the first day when Jenna helped Sanna to catch a wave, the rope of the surfboard twisted around Jenna’s hand and pulled it with force. The rest of the holiday Jenna was curing her hand, blue and swollen from elbow to wrist (don’t try this at home). The waves were sometimes too much for a beginner and the saltwater rinse was guaranteed for all possible cavities. Sand also seemed to be found in every body part possible even days later. However, surfing is fun and there were even some moments of success, not forgetting that surfing is really doing sports! After an hour the feeling was often like you had run a marathon, and the body was  beautifully bruised from the right side.

    Surfing in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

    In Hikkaduwa we stayed at a guest house, Star Holiday Resort, which was hosted by a local family. The guest house cost all together about 350€ for five people for four nights. It was clean but there wasn’t any soap! Rooms were equipped with an air conditioning and mosquito net. In addition, there was a big swimming pool, a couple of sunbeds and the breakfast was small, including an omelet, bread, juice and coffee or tea. The location of the guest house was good and it was only a walking distance away from the central street and the beach. Right next to the guest house, there was a great restaurant, the White Lotus Restaurant, which offered traditional Sri Lankan food with good price. In general, the price level in restaurants in Hikkaduwa was lower and dish sizes were bigger compared to many other places we visited in Sri Lanka.

    Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

    From Hikkaduwa we also made a day trip to Galle, where the Dutch fortress is located. To say few words about the history of Sri Lanka, it has been under Portuguese, Dutch and British rule, and became independent in 1948. We traveled from Hikkaduwa to Galle by train, the journey took about half an hour and the ticket cost 100 rs (0.50 €). We walked from the Galle train station to the fortress and inside the walls, the first tuk-tuk driver we saw started selling us a tour where we would stop at all the main attractions. Tour cost 1000 rs (5 €) / 3 people and it felt an attractive option instead of walking in the burning sun and +35ºC, so we decided to take the ride. We stopped at several places in the old town and the most beautiful of them was the lighthouse of Galle. At the end of the tour, the driver took us to a spice garden and  a wood workshop outside the old town. In the Spice Garden, we received informative guidance of herbs and spices which grow in Sri Lanka and the health benefits of them. To be honest it was really interesting information but in the end they just tried to sell local products with really high price! Later our tuk-tuk driver took us to the local shopping area in the city center. We ate lunch at a curry buffet and headed back to Hikkaduwa. The rest of the days we enjoyed the beach life and later continued our trip to Mirissa.

    Galle old town

    With love Sanna & Jenna

  • Sri Lanka

    Traveling to Sri Lanka: what to know and how to prepare

    The endless beaches, the foamy waves, the salty breath of the ocean is like a warm bath. We feel the heat of the sun while lying under the palm trees. Surfers are chasing the waves one after another, street dogs are looking for shelter under the sunbeds, as well as food and little bit of love. The variety of the nature has surprised us. The green mountains, waterfalls, tea plantations, narrow meandering roads and animals of the inland create a whole new perspective on the island. The traffic is madness, horns are honking and cows are walking along the road. When sitting at the back of tuk-tuk while driving along the road the wind catches your hair. The locals greet us, children wave their hands and you can hear a song echoing from the temples.

    Dalawella beach, Sri Lanka

    As a group of friends, we’ve been dreaming to travel together somewhere to Asia for years now and finally it happened. Our first choice was Bali but as it’s rainy season in March we started searching for alternatives. We were thinking the paradise islands Maldives or Seychelles, but we agreed wanting to do more during our 2-week vacay than just chill at the beach. At the end we decided to book a trip to Sri Lanka which appeared to be a perfect choice! Sri Lanka is a rising destination and listed as number one country to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet.

    Sunset at Hikkaduwa beach, Sri Lanka

    It is a good idea to pay attention to some practical things before you go on a trip. When traveling to Sri Lanka, the passport must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip and the ETA visa application must be made in advance. You can do the ETA application online and the approval will be sent to your e-mail. ETA costs 40€ and is valid 30 days after arriving to Sri Lanka.

    It is good to check your vaccines before you go. You can find all the info you need from your doctor or from Internet. Besides your basic vaccines you are recommended to be vaccinated against hepatitis and influenza. If you are going to stay in rural areas/jungle more than 2 weeks you are also recommended to be vaccinated against typhoid fever and Japanese encephalitis. We had all our basic vaccines already updated but some of us had to get vaccinated against hepatitis and typhoid fever. Mosquitos transmit many diseases in Sri Lanka so it’s important to take good mosquito repellent and long-sleeved clothes with you.

    Currency used in Sri Lanka is Sri Lankan rupee (LKR), and 200 rs. equals around 1€. When arriving to Sri Lanka you cannot have with you more than 20 000 rs. (~100€). So to get more cash you can either bring euros or dollars with you and exchange them in Sri Lanka or the easiest option is to withdraw the local currency from ATMs. Only problem we faced regarding to money was that we got big bills and many places didn’t have exchange money to give back. Especially when paying for tuk-tuk you should have small bills and pay the exact amount to the driver. If you want to be connected throughout your travel and not being dependent on free Wi-Fi (which usually didn’t work even at your hotel) we recommend buying a local SIM card. We bought Dialog SIM card from the airport which included some minutes for calls, some text messages and 8GB Internet (4GB day time and 4GB night time) for 1300 rs. (~6,5€). A reload to get 14GB more Internet cost less than 1000 rs. (~5€).

    Coconut Tree Hill in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

    Jenna and the boys had a night flight from Helsinki to Colombo via London. The idea of first flying backwards couple of hours and after that long flight from London to Colombo didn’t sound the best one at the beginning, but actually being able to have a good night sleep at the plane was perfect. The first flight was with British Airways and the second with Sri Lankan Airways. In total the travel time was 17 hours and our return to home was with same airlines and routes. The tickets cost 500€/person including 30 kg of checked baggage. Sri Lankan Airways was a great airline, all the flights were on time, service was friendly, warm dishes were served twice per flight with drinks, the plane was spacious, and everyone had a screen attached to the seat in front of them to watch movies or play games. Also, the checked baggage found their way to us on time. We booked a ride from the airport to our hotel in advance and our driver was waiting us at the airport on our arrival. The drive from Colombo airport to Hikkaduwa took us around 2 hours and cost 10 000 rs. (~50€).

    Hikkaduwa beach, Sri Lanka

    The other part of the group, Sanna and Adrián, had their flight with Qatar Airways from Madrid to Colombo via Doha. The flight took off at 10 p.m. and arrived in Colombo the next day in the afternoon. The Qatar Airways tickets weren’t the cheapest option, 630€/person (30kg checked baggage included) but guaranteed some peace of mind for doing a trip so big for the first time. The service on board was impeccable, food delicious, entertaining system versatile, transfer in Doha super easy and everything on schedule. We were a little worried about our checked baggage making it on time as the stop in Doha was less than 2 hours, but no problems occurred. Only thing Sanna had in her mind was the delicious food and when she could get some more of it.

    After arriving to Colombo, we exchanged some money at the airport, bought a local SIM card and started looking for a ride to Hikkaduwa. We could have taken the train (cheapest option) but would have arrived after midnight. Instead we met 2 Swedish guys at the airport who were heading to the same direction and we decided to share a van with them, the negotiated price ended up being 9000 rs. (~45€). The Colombo area was under a lot of traffic at the evening and our trip to Hikkaduwa took 3 hours. Our new Swedish friends were more than prepared for a long drive and they opened a bottle of rum, which ended up being almost empty at the end of the drive. Finally, when getting to the hotel where the Finnish branch was already waiting for us, the reunion was cheerful, and we decided to go out and celebrate.

    Sunrise on top of the Little Adam’s Peak

    The itinerary:

    • Hikkaduwa 4 nights
    • Mirissa 3 nights
    • Tissamaharama 1 night
    • Ella 3 nights
    • Kandy 3 nights
    • Negombo 2 nights

    We ended up with this travel plan after reading several blogs in advance and trying to consider all the wishes of every travel companion. We booked all our accommodations before the trip and Safari in Yala National Park, but otherwise the plans were made along the travel. Our accommodations varied a lot from guest houses to five-star luxury hotels and the total accommodation cost for 2 weeks was around 400€ / person. Minimum requirements for each accommodation were air conditioning, swimming pool and breakfast.

    Fishermen at Dalawella beach, Sri Lanka

    We did short trips from place to another with tuk-tuks and longer trips with van where all 5 of us could fit perfectly with all the luggage. Tuk-tuk trips generally cost around 300 rs. (~ 1.5 €) depending on the length of the trip. As a rule, it is good to try to get a little off from the price suggested by the driver and if you are not satisfied with the price, the best way is to say no thank you and go to the next tuk-tuk (because there are many of them just waiting for you), works every time. One tuk-tuk can take up to 3 people but we were told it’s not that strict at night time and once we were 6 people plus the driver in a small tuk-tuk.

    The van and the driver usually cost around 10,000 rs. (~ 50 €) regardless of the trip or travel time for one day. The price is good to be negotiated with the driver in advance and be sure to go through what is included in the price. Before the trip, we read a lot of comments about scams, but we did not come across any. However, drivers may suggest visiting places which differ slightly from the route agreed earlier, and if you are interested you should ask if there is an extra cost to avoid misunderstandings later. Drivers may also ask for a partial payment in advance, but we never agreed to the payment until after the trip. At its best, drivers are excellent local guides who share tips and help you with a smiling face.

    It is also possible to rent a scooter or a tuk-tuk, but as the traffic is quite impossible, we decided not the take that opportunity. We often covered our eyes while sitting at the back of the van or tuk-tuk as it was pretty scary. In Sri Lanka they drive on the left side like in UK and the roads were narrow, only one lane for one direction, and the same lane was used by buses, trucks, cars, tuk-tuks, mopeds, bikes, pedestrians, cows and dogs, you can only imagine. Train is a cheap option to move around from one place to another and the timetables are easily available online, the different thing is if the trains will be on time.

    Train ride from Ella to Kandy / Tuk tuk in Galle

    The nature on the island is very varied. The coastline around the island is like a never-ending beach and there is coral reef near the beaches in many places, although they are still recovering from the 2004 tsunami. The vegetation is dense as well as green and different comparing the coast and the inland. The island is a great place to spot several species of animals like elephants, bats, turtles, whales, dolphins, crocodiles, leopards and monkeys.  As you go inland, the landscape suddenly turns mountainous, and the green hills charm you with their tea plantations and slightly fresher temperatures. The sunrise was at 6 a.m. and sunset about 12 hours later at 6 p.m.

    Monkeys in Ella

    Sri Lankan people are really friendly, happy and chatty people. The island is big and has 22 million inhabitants, but it still felt like everyone knew each other. Every time seeing the locals, they warmly greeted us, smile was answered with even a bigger smile and especially the children were interested in us. Whenever there was a school bus passing us, the bus windows were full of happy faces, you could hear screams of joy and dozens of hands waving at us.

    Green market in Galle, Sri Lanka

    The most popular food in Sri Lanka is curry with rice. It is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it is eaten by hand. Another traditional food is roti, which is bread made from wheat flour and coconut and served with various fillings / side dishes. Other traditional dishes are kottu, which is cooked with vegetables and meat / seafood on the grill, and devilled foods that were spicy meat-and-vegetable sauces and served with rice. Exotic fruits and freshly squeezed juices are also popular. Coconut is much used in cooking and the taste of local fresh vegetables and fruits is just pure joy. Food is often quite spicy and sometimes it was eaten with tears and sometimes we asked even more chili.

    Hygiene in Sri Lanka is slightly better than in other South / Southeast Asian countries, and the tap water is basically clean even though it is not recommended for drinking (drink bottled water). We survived the trip without any big stomach problems without using any disinfectants and we literally ate everything. However, it is recommended wash your hands well especially before eating. In general, the cost of food was 300-500 rs. (~ 2 €) for meal and a drink about 200 rs. (~ 1€). In Sri Lanka the use of alcohol is not common, and it is not sold in grocery stores or even in many restaurants. Like Finland, Sri Lanka has a “wine shop” where you can buy beer, wine and stronger alcohols. Beer in the restaurant cost about 400 rs. (~ 2 €), wine is expensive because it’s imported from elsewhere, wine glass in restaurant cost about 800 rs. (~ 4€).

    Sunset at Dalawella beach, Sri Lanka

    Our trip to Sri Lanka was an amazing adventure and we can warmly recommend this destination to anyone who is looking for a bit different, not that touristic experience. We are going to write more blog posts about each place we stayed in, so if you are interested in hearing more stories from magical Sri Lanka, stay tuned! For more info we also recommend to check out Instagram account where we posted daily journal from our trip.

    With love Sanna & Jenna

  • Lapland

    Lapland: Winter Wonderland

    It’s crispy -27ºC, the sun peeks from the horizon giving the sky a beautiful pink colour, snow crunches under the shoes, hair is covered with the white frost, everything around us is white and quiet, it’s polar night time. We are at the Arctic Circle, where the arctic region begins. In practice, it means that during the winter season the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon (and in the summer you can enjoy the midnight sun). Rovaniemi is located at the northern Arctic Circle and the border can be crossed, for example, in Santa Claus Village. We want to share our local tips on what to do in Lapland during the polar nights season.

    Spot the Northern Lights

    The Northern lights (Aurora Borealis) are an amazing light show consisting of varying figures of different colors in the night sky. The Northern Lights are caused when electrically charged solar particles hit the Earth’s atmosphere and they are seen around the magnetic poles of northern and southern hemispheres. The most powerful northern lights are usually caused by the great eruptions in the sun’s corona. The human eye sees the Northern Lights usually  in green or greenish yellow, but they can also be seen in shades of blue and red. It is possible to spot the Northern Lights from the end of August until the beginning of April, but the best time to see them is during the dark autumn nights and early spring. The two conditions for you to be able to see the Northern Lights are darkness and clear sky. Low temperatures (and we really mean LOW) often mean clear sky, so the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights increases. Those who are looking for the Auroras should head to darkest possible areas away from the city lights. The best time to spot the Northern Lights is around midnight and they might last only for few minutes or if you are lucky you get to enjoy the show through the whole night.

    Every Aurora spotter’s best friend is the Aurora alert, which tells a real-time forecast of the appearance of the Northern Lights. You can check the situation online or download the app on your phone. Many hotels in Lapland have Aurora alerts of their own, meaning somebody actually comes to wake you up in the middle of the night when the Northern Lights are visible (if you want of course). The best places in Finland to spot the Northern Lights are Utsjoki, Kilpisjärvi, Inari-Saariselkä, Levi, Ylläs, Luosto and Rovaniemi. Above all, luck is the most important thing needed to see the Northern Lights. This time on our holiday in Lapland we didn’t see any Auroras, what a pity. However, we enjoyed the incredible light of the full moon in the middle of the winter landscape, which is also a really beautiful experience. So don’t get angry to your tour operator or host if the Northern Lights don’t appear in the sky during your trip to Lapland, they can’t do anything about it.

    Enjoy the snowy forest

    Going for a walk to a snowy forest is definitely the best! There are forests everywhere in Lapland, so finding them is easy. When moving in the woods, you should have good shoes, because your feet might sink up till your knee (or even more) to the snow and snow enters in your shoes making your feet wet and cold. Forests, especially nearby city, are safe and the animals you can bump into are rabbits, reindeers and squirrels, which are harmless. If you feel like trying the forest therapy we can recommend you to go for example Syvänvaara Observation Tower or Ounasvaara Nature Trail, which are both near Rovaniemi. You will find the Syvänvaara Observation Tower when you go up hill at Rakas Restaurant. Views are great from the viewing tower towards the city. Ounasvaara Nature Trail can be found at Ounasvaara. The forest is also the best place to admire the stars or the Northern Lights at the sky in the evening or at night, as there are no citylights disturbing the visibility. However, it is good to remember that the darkness comes quite early so it is important know the route back from the forest. Fortunately, nowadays, all most everyone has a torch in their smartphones.

    A trip to Laavu

    Laavu is a place (usually in the forest) where you can stop for a while, make a fire and have a lunch break. It’s half covered, made from wood and you can find them almost from any place where people like to go to forest. You can sit down to admire the flames of the fire, warm up, grill the sausages, prepare your own coffee and enjoy the winter day. There are several Laavus in Rovaniemi, but two easy ones to reach are, for example, the Laavu of Kirkonjyrhämä almost in the city centre and the Laavu of Ounasvaara Observation Tower. From Laavu you can find the firewood, but remember to take your own matches or a lighter for the fire. When you light up the fire, you are also responsible for putting it out if there won’t be any people staying after you leave. Also remember to clean up your trashes, we really want to keep the nature clean.

    Winter sports

    Lapland offers the best opportunities to try a variety of winter activities such as ice skating, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing or driving a snowmobile. Just in the centre of Rovaniemi in the Lordi Square (Lordinaukio) you will find a small skating rink, where you can also rent the skates. In Rovaniemi you can try cross-country skiing and downhill skiing at Ounasvaara where you can rent skiing equipments or snowboard. You can also to rent snowshoes and go for a walk in the snowy forest. However, if any of these sports doesn’t inspire you, we still recommend you to visit Ounasvaara and buy a ski pass for the seat lift, which safely takes you to admire the scenery. There are several ski resorts in Lapland: Ylläs, Levi, Pyhä, Luosto, Pallas, Ollos, Saariselkä, Suomu and Salla. Snowmobiling opportunities are organized by several safari companies, so you should explore the offers and choose the most interesting one.

    Go sledding and play with the snow

    For this, you need a downhill (but not on the road!) and sliding gear for example sled, slider or even a durable plastic bag filled with snow. Sleds and sliders are sold at local supermarkets pretty cheap. Also ask your host for the sliding gear (whether you are in a hotel, cottage or Airbnb), probably they have some. Fun and free snow games are definitely worth a try! It is traditional to build snowmen or snow castles and to make snow angels. So, lie on your back on the snow, swing your hands and feet up and down in the ground and finally get up to admire your own snow angel!

    Go to sauna and roll in the snow (or go to a hole in the ice!)

    There are two types of saunas: electric sauna and wood sauna. Today, most saunas are electrically heated, but if you have the opportunity to visit a traditional fire and wood heated sauna, you must try it! Warm up well throwing the water to the sauna stove creating the steam (löyly), and go outside to refresh in the cold weather, and if you dare roll naked in the snow. Then head quickly back to sauna to warm up again. It is really good for your blood circulation! The bravest go to swim in a frozen lake where you can enter through the hole in the ice. In Rovaniemi you can do that right next to the city center on the other side of the river next to the Restaurant Valdemari

    Visit Santa Claus Village

    The Santa Claus Village is located in Rovaniemi, about 8 km from the city centre. From Santa Claus Village you can find real Santa Claus, and it is possible to visit him in his office and take a photo with him every day of the year! In Santa Claus Village you can also meet the Santa’s Reindeer and enjoy the reindeer rides. If you like dogs head to Husky Park and hop on a husky ride! Don’t forget to visit the ice bar, slide the icehill, get some souvenirs or the most important: enjoy the Christmas Spirit. The Arctic Circle runs through Santa Claus Village, so this is the best place to cross it, the line is clearly marked with blue light. One more tip: The new Moomin Snow Castle has also been opened this year, go and check it out!

    Visit Arktikum

    Arktikum is a science center and museum that brings the northern nature, culture and history close to you. See, experience and enjoy Arctic stories in experiential exhibitions. Arktikum is located in Rovaniemi within walking distance from the city centre. Tickets: adults 13 €, seniors / unemployed / students 9 €, children (7-15 years) 6 €, children under 7 years free and family ticket 30 € (2 adults and 2 children aged 7-15 years).

    Taste the Northern flavours

    Traditional Lappish delicacies are reindeer meat, fish, bread called rieska, berries (blueberries, lingonberries, cloudberries, raspberries) and bread cheese. Reindeer is traditionally offered as a sautéed reindeer served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. Dried reindeer meat is also popular. The iconic fish dish of Lapland is salmon soup. Also, smoked or salted salmon is delicious! For dessert, the bread cheese with cloudberries or cloudberry jam is just mouth-watering! Lappish delicacies can be enjoyed in several restaurants. Other option is to buy them from local supermarkets to eat right away or to take back home with you.


    Clothing

    So how do you survive in a fair minus twenty degrees (Celsius) in outdoors? The answer is to put layers on top of layers. If you are going to move a lot or sweat, we recommend that you wear a technical underwear that transfers the moisture away from your skin while keeping you warm. Depending on the amount of minus degrees, wear another layer of warm thermal clothing, such as a sweater or fleece under your outdoor clothing. It is also good to put socks on top of each other, wool bottom socks and wool socks (loyal friends of every Finn). Thick and warm outdoor clothes are also important, not forgetting the warm winter boots. It is good to put a neck warmer or scarf on your neck (for example, a tube scarf is very handy and can also be pulled higher if needed to protect your chin and cheeks). Beanie on your head, and good mittens on your hands (thick mittens are better than gloves because the fingers keep each other warmer together), and you can even put the thinner mittens under your thicker mittens if your fingers get cold easily. Don’t forget to put on the reflector for cars to see you when it’s dark, it’s really important for your safety!

    How to travel to Lapland?

    The easiest way to get to Lapland is by plane. Flights are organized from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, Kittilä and Ivalo. If you book your flight early (like six months earlier), you can get cheaper flights. Other possibilities for traveling to Rovaniemi are by train where you can book either a seat or a bed. A bed in a sleeping cabin is more expensive option but very comfortable as the journey takes about 12 hours! In this case, the train runs at night, allowing you to enjoy your trip by sleeping comfortably in a bed. If you are traveling alone, you can book one bed from sleeping cabin. In this case you may get an unknown traveler companion of same sex with you in the same cabin. Traveling by bus is also an option and Onnibus is most probably the cheapest choice (if you are able to sit on the bus for almost 12 hours, with few stops). Car hire and self-driving are of course possible. If you are traveling to Lapland during the high season, i.e. during Christmas or Easter, you should book your tickets well in advance. Especially at Christmas time there are many tourists visiting Santa Claus and many Finns going back home to spend Christmas with their families.

    With love Sanna & Jenna