• 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

  • Lanzarote

    10+5 tips what to see and do in Lanzarote

    1. Timanfaya National Park
    The area of Timanfaya was created almost 300 years ago in volcanic eruptions and it’s the most breath-taking place in Lanzarote. The landscape differs completely from everything I’ve ever seen and to be honest at some moments I had no clue in which planet I was. I could imagine that similar landscapes might exist in Mars: rough, dry, rocky, all the shades of red, brown, black and grey. You have to pay 10€ for the entry and you cannot wonder around the park by yourself but take a bus ride and admire the landscape through the window.
    2. Cueva de los Verdes (“Green Cave”)
    Cueva de los Verdes was born after the eruption of Corona volcano when the lava was flowing through the “lava tube” over six kilometres to the ocean. This lava tube is one of the longest existing ones in the world. The cave was named after the family “Los Verdes” (“The Greens”) who owned the land where the cave is located and has nothing to do with the green colour. There are tickets sold only for guided tours for 9,50€. On the tour you walk 1 kilometre inside the cave while you will be explained how it was born and its history. Because of the great acoustics there are some concerts organized.
    3. Jameos del Agua
    Jameos del Agua belong to the same cave network than Cueva de los Verdes and it’s located only a short walk a way near the beach. Inside the cave there is an amazing restaurant where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or even make a reservation for the dinner (open for dinner only Saturdays and Tuesdays). At the end of the restaurant you can see where the lava tunnel continues its way towards the ocean. The cave is amazing with the pool of water where the rare, blind and tiny white grabs live. The place is also culture and art centre and the entry costs 9,50€.
    4. Cactus Garden
    Lanzarote is famous for its cactuses and the cactus garden is a really nice place to visit. You can find over 450 different species of cactus from five different continents. Entry fee 5,80€.
    5. El Golfo – Charco de los Clicos (“Green Lagoon”)
    The Green Lagoon is formed in the crater of an old volcano right next to a small fisherman village called El Golfo. The green colour comes from a type of algae that grows in the water. Contrast between the green water, black soil and blue ocean is quite unique and worth of seeing. Free entry.
    6. Los Hervideros (“Boiling Pots”)
    The caves known as Los Hervideros are constituted of two caverns separated by a natural pillar, shaped by lava and the ocean. The name translates to Boiling Pots coming from the moment when the waves hit the rocks with such power that the ocean seems like it’s boiling. The recommended time to visit is during the high tide or full moon. Free entry.
    7. Surfing
    Lanzarote is called the Hawaii of Europe because of the amazing surfing possibilities it offers all around the year. There are many windy beaches with daily red flag which means swimming is prohibited. If you are a beginner or even a bit more experienced, we recommend booking a surf lesson or course that many surf schools in the area offer. We booked a 1-day surf course from Calima Surf School at Famara beach. 2 surf lessons, wet suit, board and lunch were included in the price, which was 55€/person. The waves and currents were strong, lessons were great, and the wet suit kept the cold away. Every surf school has their own area at the beach were to arrange their lessons and at some point, it felt like there were too many people in the water at the same time, so you should be careful not to knock anyone with your board or to get hit by others. Couple of times we managed to stand up on the board and surf towards the shore!
    8. Papagayo beaches
    All beaches of Punta de Papagayo are in the south tip of the island in protected coast so here you can get away from the hustle and bustle of hotels, restaurants and masses of tourists. To reach Papagayo beaches you must ride a very bumpy and narrow road for some kilometres with a speed of 20-30km/h but when you get there the view is definitely worth it. The beaches are in their natural state with soft golden white sand and crystal clear emerald green water, surrounded by rocks. Personally, I love these kinds of beaches and that’s why we went there twice during our holiday. This is a perfect place to snorkel and the sunset is breath-taking!
    9. Sunday Market in Teguise
    The beautiful small town of Teguise located in the middle of Lanzarote comes to life every Sunday from 9:00 to 14:00 when the streets are filled with market stalls. From Teguise Sunday market you can find everything you can imagine from fashion and jewellery to souvenirs and food.
    10. Mirador del Río
    This view point is located at the north of the island more than 400 metres of altitude. It offers a view over El Río, the narrow stretch of the sea separating Lanzarote from La Graciosa, and you can see islands of La Graciosa, Alegranza and Montaña Blanca. The entrance is 4,75€ but if you want to save some money you can enjoy the same view just next to the Mirador del Río for free (like we did).
    +Gran Karting
    Many may not know that the biggest Go Karting race track in the Europe is in Lanzarote. On our last day we decided to give it a try from my mom´s suggestion. We drove around six laps, obviously my father and boyfriend bypassing me in the first curve, but my mother came to realize after first lap that karting wasn’t her type of sports and drove directly to the pit stop. Price 18€/person/8min.

    +La Graciosa
    The island of La Graciosa is located in the north really close to Lanzarote. La Graciosa has been maintained the best in its natural state comparing to other islands. You can take a ferry to from Órzola which goes every half an hour. Return journey costs around 20€. We were also tempted of the golden sandy beaches La Graciosa but we didn’t have enough time to visit there.

    +Day trip to Fuerteventura
    From Playa Blanca in the southern part of Lanzarote you can catch a ferry to Corralejo, Fuerteventura if you get bored staying only in Lanzarote. The island seems completely different from Lanzarote with its long sandy beaches one after another.

    +Visit wine yard
    The volcanic rich soil of Lanzarote is a good base for the grapes, but the strong winds keep the circumstances hard. That’s why they have developed a special way of growing the grapes in Lanzarote: Grape-growers dig holes and build stone walls to protect their grapes. Specially in the area of La Geria there are many wine yards/wineries to visit.

    +Arrecife
    The “capital” of Lanzarote is often ignored by tourists. If you want have better shopping possibilities head to Arrecife. Have a walk by the beach, admire the view and stop for a lunch.

    With love, Sanna

  • Lanzarote

    Lanzarote: Why visit a tourist trap?

    Why Lanzarote? I had never been there before and to be honest I hadn’t even been interested of going there as Canary Islands are known to be a “tourist trap” (seeing image in my mind of masses of retired Scandinavians red as tomatoes, socks in their sandals, equipped by ridiculous hats and fanny packs) until my boyfriend started talking to me about how I would absolutely love it and he made me do some research. Around the same time, it came up that my mom wanted to celebrate her 50th birthday somewhere near the beach and so we started to plan this trip. First, we were thinking to go Andalusia but at the end of October you never now how the weather would be so after all we ended up searching flights to Canary Islands. We booked the return flights from Madrid to Lanzarote last May with around 120€/person (for me, my parents and my boyfriend). It was my mother’s responsibility to look for accommodation and she booked very spacious apartment with terrace for us from Puerto del Carmen. My parents arrived at Madrid from Lapland couple days before our trip and this was actually my dad`s first time traveling to the south.

    Lanzarote is the most eastern island of Canary Islands and fourth in size. Around 140 000 people live there. Temperature is above +20ºC all around the year and during the nights temperature drops only few degrees. It rarely rains there but of course the day after our arrival it was raining the whole day so much that the water even started entering into our apartment. Couple of days it was also super windy which seems to be typical in Lanzarote. Canary Islands get most of their income from tourism so in that sense it’s true that it’s a tourist trap. Also, Puerto del Carmen is a very touristic zone full of hotels and apartments, but it also means there are a lot of restaurants, cafes, little shops and supermarkets in walking distance like Eurospar, Hiperdino and Lidl.

    When we arrived at Lanzarote, we rented a car (a Seat Leon big enough for max 5 people with a decent sized trunk for the luggage) from the airport which I had booked the day before. Renting a car is a very good choice for people who don’t only want to be chilling on the nearest beach but actively explore the island. I chose to get the car from CiCar (Canary Island Car) which is a local car rental firm and had the best offer: car rent 6 days + 2 hours, all-inclusive insurance, insurance for the driver, unlimited kilometres and additional driver. Also, for families the offer included safety seats for the kids and all for 117€. During the six days we almost used all the gasoline (the tank was full when we got the car) so filling the tank cost 45€ extra and the total cost of the car was 162€. Driving around in a new place for almost a week didn’t leave me much time to enjoy the views but for sure helped to gain some driving experience. It takes only one hour to travel through the whole island from north to south.

    Personally, I’m not a fan of masses of tourists and I tend to avoid organized tours but if you want to enter to some of the Lanzarote’s most famous attractions you just have to tolerate it. You should be prepared to pay around 10€/visit but in the ticket sales points there are some package offers that may benefit you. If you want to visit many places, I really recommend doing some planning in which part of the island are they located and visit the places near each other on the same day. Check also the post 10+5 tips to Lanzaote . Lanzarote is part of Spain, so locals speak Spanish but also very good English. Currency is obviously euro and prices are normal or even some situations lower like gasoline.

    The nature and landscape seem really dry and tough so there are not many products cultivated in Lanzarote. Typical local products are jewellery made from lava stones, products made from cactus and aloe vera, wine, small platanos (Canarian bananas) and Papas Arrugadas con mojo (“wrinkled potatoes” =boiled potatoes eaten with different spicy sauces). We tasted some cactus marmalade which was nice and cactus liquor which tasted a bit like cranberry.

    Lanzarote is full of different kind of beaches but because of the weather conditions we didn’t visit that many. There are long sandy beaches mainly located in the most famous tourist areas, there are big and small rocky beaches, natural pools, black beaches, super windy beaches for surf and basically everything between. You can also do almost all kinds of water activities you can imagine: surf, dive, snorkel, rent a boat, drive a water jet ski, go dolphin or whale safari, wind surf etc. You shouldn’t expect a “warm bath” in the waves of Atlantic Ocean but at the end the water wasn’t as cold as than I expected and we went to swim on the warmest day.

    Lanzarote surprised me positively with its extraordinary landscape and possibilities to do and experience many different things. You could spend there easily two weeks and the six days we were there passed by way too fast.

    With love, Sanna

  • Germany

    Bavaria road trip: Munich, Neuschwanstein and Füssen

    What more Bavaria can offer you than the city life in Munich and Oktoberfest? ALPS, castles, small beautiful alpine villages with flowers, pumpkins on the road, lakes and stunning landscapes. While visiting Munich we also recommend to go a bit further to enjoy the beautiful Bavarian views.

    On the first day we made a road trip to Neuschwanstein Castle. In the morning we woke up at 6 o’clock and were packed in the rental car ready to go already at 7 o’clock. Jenna was driving, Sanna navigating and boys were sleeping in the backseat. It took some time until Jenna got used to the German driving style while other cars drove past on winding roads. On our way we saw so many cute little alpine villages and we did our best not to stop by in each of them. When we approached the destination we were impressed of the view: the most beautiful castle we have ever seen in front of the Alps. Another super cute thing was that there were many pumpkin selling points along the way where you could crab a pumpkin with you and pay it by putting the money into a small box.

    The ride to the castle took about 2 hours as the place is almost at the Austrian border. We arrived at 9 o’clock to the small village called Hohenschwangau, where you could buy tickets to the castle. There are many parking lots for people arriving by car and because we arrived so early we had no problem parking the car. The parking fee was € 6 per day. We rushed to the ticket center, but there were only a few other tourists before us. On the castle website they recommend you to buy tickets at least 3 days in advance (not possible to buy online later) and because we noticed that too late we couldn’t buy tickets online. We got the tickets from the ticket center for the tour starting at 10:05. The tickets cost 13€ per person and the students got a one euro discount! From the ticket center it took about half an hour to walk uphill to the castle. Before our guided tour started we walked about 15 minutes to the Marienbrücke Bridge, which has breathtaking views to the castle.

    Neuschwanstein Castle was built between 1868 and 1892 by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The King admired Wagner’s opera performances and built the castle for himself to be able to live there “a fairytale life”. The king’s favorite bird was a swan and that’s why you can spot swan inspired decoration in many parts of the castle. Also, the name of the castle literally means a New Swanstone Castle. The king lived in the castle for six months before he was found drowned in the lake. The castle was opened to the paying visitors just few weeks after his death to fund the completion of it’s construction as at that point only 16 of the 200 rooms in the castle were ready.

    Visiting the Neuschwanstein Castle is a dream come true for all the little and grown up princesses including these two nearly thirty-year-old ones. After all, the castle was also used as a model for the Walt Disney Sleeping Beauty Castle. The interiors of the castle weren’t as impressive as we expected and unfortunately it was forbidden to take photos.

    In Hohenschwangau village there is also beautiful lake called Alpsee with crystal clear turquoise water. There were many swans swimming in the lake which you could imagine been swimming there also when the king lived. The lake was like from a fairytale and definitely worth to see. After visiting in the castle and the lake we decided to continue our journey to Füssen, a nearby city full of colourful houses. We found a lunch spot and decided to eat currywurst while there was a street musician playing nice music next to us.

    After the lunch we drove back to Munich and returned the car to the main railway station. We rented the car from Hertz at the airport after arriving to Munich. The 24h car rental price including additional insurance was 100€. The fuel costs were 36€ so the total cost of the car was 36€ per person. Our Airbnb hosts also recommended to visit Herrenchiemsee Castle, which is located on the largest island of Chiemsee lake and it is said to be like a small Versailles. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to see it but we’ll keep this recommendation in mind for the future trips.

    In Munich, we spent our time mostly in the Oktoberfest area and the city center around the Marienplatz. (If you want to know more about Oktoberfest, read our previous post Octoberfest 2018  ) In Marienplatz, you’ll find the Neues Rathaus (the new town hall), which is a Gothic style building and well known landmark in Munich. As we both have an eye for aesthetic things we really loved the Bavarian way of decorating the buildings with flowers, it’s so pretty! Right next to the Rathaus there is also a white Hirmer’s clothing store for men which was just gorgeous in it’s flower dress. In Marienplatz Square, you will also find Cafe Rischart, which has a long glass vetrine full of delicious sweet buns, salty pies and cakes. Here you can also find fresh pretzels, which are definitely worth of tasting.

    The famous Viktualienmarkt marketplace is right next to Marienplatz. There you will find German delicacies and you really should have a lunch as there are many options to choose from. The smell of fresh vegetables, flowers and spices on the market was charming.

    Getting around in Munich was easy because of the wide train and metro networks (S-Bahn and U-Bahn). We were 4 people so we bought a 72h group ticket for all zones which is meant for groups up to 5 people. The ticket cost 73€ in total so the cost per person was about 6€ / day. The group ticket will always be cheaper to buy when there are two or more passengers.

    German and especially Bavarian food is quite heavy (meat and sausages) and fills your stomach quickly so be careful not to order too much. If you are looking for a traditional German place to eat in the city center we can recommend a restaurant called Augustiner am Dom.

    Bavaria is truly a beautiful area and we think renting a car allows you to explore it more widely and your vacation is not limited only to the big city’s hustle and bustle. Finally we can say that we were positively surprised at how much Bavaria has to offer!

     

    With love, Sanna & Jenna