Inside Finland Travel

Porvoo, the perfect 1 day excursion in Finland

Many tourists I talked to this last summer who were visiting Helsinki for just a few hours during their cruises were asking me if during their visit to the Finnish capital, they would have time to visit Porvoo. Unfortunately no, Porvoo is not just a neighborhood more in Helsinki, but a city apart, in fact, the second oldest city in Finland after Turku, 50 Kms from Helsinki.


The good news is that for the visitors in Helsinki who have more than a few hours, Porvoo is very easy to reach. Or it can be also people under my case, who have lived in Finland for a few years and never had visited it before. One way or another, Porvoo is the perfect destination for 1 day excursion if you want to see something new or different from Helsinki.

Obviously the easiest way to go to Porvoo is by car, but if you want to use public transportation, it is also fast and comfortable. Unfortunately there is no train line linking Helsinki and Porvoo (only one special summer line from Heinola), but buses run very often from Kamppi station, where you can also buy the tickets at Matkahuolto office. If you buy a return ticket for the same day, there is no discount due to the short distance, but it is still affordable, and of course students can get discount if presenting their student cards. If you visit the area on summer time, other great option is to go by boat in an organized cruise from the capital´s harbour.

In fact, there are two kinds of buses that go to Porvoo. If you do not want to miss time, you can take the direct one that will be there in a bit more than 1 hour. The other option stops quite often, so it will take double the time, but it is also worthy if you want to enjoy the landscape between both cities during daylight.


While on summer time the streets of Porvoo are quite crowded with tourists, I visited there one Monday in autumn, so everything was quiet. I liked the atmosphere; Porvoo has a special charm with many quaint little streets that look like the landscape in a postcard and nice little boutiques, art galleries and second hand shops (that had very interesting items, but pricey).

A city with a nice bohemian touch

Porvoo is bilingual with one quarter of its citizens speaking Swedish, and you can really notice the little higher touch of sophistication in every corner around. For culture lovers, there are a few highlighted points that you cannot miss like the house-museum of the poet Runerberg. Besides, the colors of the autumn were giving the city special magical tones.

If you want to make a pause on your way, I recommend Café Pahtimo, a very cozy place with a great selection of beverages and cakes, just located in and old storage building by the river, so you can also enjoy a cigarette outside in the terrace with a great sight. The atmosphere of its 2 floors reminded me of Telakka in Tampere, one of my favorite places to hang around when I lived and studied there.

Visit Porvoo and discover one of the most special places in Finland, now even more magical while enjoying the amazing array of colors of the autumn season. You will not feel disappointed!

Photos: Antonio Diaz


Outside Finland Travel

Outside Finland: Visiting Vegas

For many people, having the chance to visit the city of Las Vegas in Nevada can be a once in a lifetime opportunity. With this in mind, here are a few tips on how you can make the most of your stay.

As with any holiday, it can be a good idea to plan your trip before you go. Research the area, and find out which attractions are nearby that might be of particular interest to you. This can help you to plan your time, as well as your budget, during you stay. You will also be able to better prioritise the activities which are available to you.

Many people who visit Las Vegas are keen to experience the casino scene for which the area is renowned. The Las Vegas strip, in particular, has become one of the most famous casino locations in the world, so it’s unsurprising that many visitors are keen to experience what this area has to offer. However, if you’re keen to get involved with the action, then it can be a good idea to brush up on your game skills before you do. If you don’t happen to live close to a casino, then you can always try playing online at sites like partypoker in order to perfect your playing techniques. You may also want to look into what each of Las Vegas top casinos has to offer, so that you can be sure to visit those which best cater for your personal preferences.

In addition, it can be a good idea not to simply get caught up in the casino culture of this area, unless that is the only reason for your visit. Why not book yourself into one of the great restaurants, or buy tickets for a show? Las Vegas is brands itself as ‘The Entertainment Capital of the World’, so make sure you don’t miss out on everything else this area has to offer.

Antonio's blog Blogs Outside Finland Travel

Visiting Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania

Taking advantage of the long Easter weekend (yes, miracle, Friday was a national holiday in Estonia. Not that you have many chances through the year of enjoying long week ends in Estonia…) I decided to visit Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and the only country in the Baltic-Scandinavian region where I had not been yet.

The trip was long, 4 hours by bus to Riga and another 4 from Riga to Vilnius, but worthy. My Finnish friend Ilkka flew from Helsinki to join me, and there we met at Old Town Hostel. I must say that the double room we had was excellent. Actually, one could feel like having a hotel room, because it was separated from the rest of the hostel, and we had our own key to go in and out whenever we wanted withouth disturbing anybody. The price was fair, so I reccommend it.


We wandered during the weekend mostly around the old town, so I cannot say much of the rest of the city. But I liked a lot what I saw there. The city is clean, the buildings are in good shape, and the atmosphere is charming. The nightlife was sadly quite dead, due to many people having escaped from the city for the holidays, but even though, we found a couple of bars where to have fun. We settled our operational base for the night especially at the University Pub. But during those days there, most probably there were more people going to church than to bars. And it is amazing the amount of churches you can find in a few square metres! In every corner there is a church in old Vilnius! Even if you are not a religious person, you cannot less than admire the special atmosphere that this gives to the city.

About Lithuanian people, I must say that in general they were pretty friendly, even better than expected. Girls actually smile you easily at the bars, and are very eager to have a conversation (I would say that maybe more friendly than Estonian girls, who usually give you the look of “do not disturb me foreigner, I prefer to talk with the local guy who looks like a retired boxer” when going out at night. But also Lithuanian guys (ok, those who are not 2 metres high and look like serial killers) were quite friendly, and we had the chance to chat with quite many of them while sharing some beers.


As a final remark, do not make the mistake to confuse Lithuanian language with Russian language (It happened to me once, sorry!!!). In Vilnius, only around 9% of the population is Russian speaker, and the local Lithuanians do not take very well the comparisons. In that sense, they are probably less welcoming than in the other Baltic capitals, where Russian speakers are more widely spread among the local population.

If you still have not visited Vilnius and are thinking about a possible weekend destination, do not think it twice. Prices are affordable, the city looks good and pretty safe, the people are friendly… and the women pretty ;)

Outside Finland Travel

River cruising: Egypt’s a Nile ahead

Cruising along the world’s longest river combines sun, culture, ancient moments and all on a comfortable floating hotel.

If the Nile didn’t exist then Egypt wouldn’t, not at least with its present population: currently 76 million and adding another 2 million mouths annually. Looking at the country’s current geography, it’s difficult to believe that seven millennia ago it was lush savannah roamed by lavish wildlife such as elephants, gazelles and lions before a climate change altered things drastically. Apart from the long ribbon of water and its adjacent green bands that snakes its way from sources in Ethiopia and Uganda, desert ochre is the primary colour nearly everywhere.

Nile Egypt

For all but the hardiest Egyptologist, a cruise from Luxor to Aswan is an intensive history lesson where knowledgeable guides deliver a bewildering series of facts, figures and background in a veritable flood. For example, Egypt is now an Arab republic, but most of what is on display was created and built by ancient Egyptians – a completely different people. Arabs immigrated just a few centuries after year zero, but the countries (there were two: upper and lower kingdoms) had already been overrun and ruled by Libyans, Nubians, Persians and Greco-Roman kings and pharaohs. Similarly, after the Arabs, came the Ottoman Turks, French and the British – all of whom absorbed to some degree local influences while leaving their own marks, sometimes literally in the form of carved graffiti defacing aged stone monuments.

The 360-odd riverboats that now sedately ply between the two cities of Luxor (Thebes in ancient times) and the beautiful metropolis of Aswan (where the British smartly based themselves for their 19th Century Sudan campaigns) are similar in design: up to five decks above the waterline with cabins and a restaurant, bar and reception to the sun deck with its pool and canopy-providing shade. Most are given 4- or 5-star status but that may not always match a traveller’s definition.

One thing is certain; the infamous health problems are as much a thing of the past as the itinerary. Food is washed and cooked in mineral water sparing the toilets the occupancy rates of yesteryear. And in addition to the inclusive excursions to see temples, tombs and towns, options cover hot air balloon sunrise rides, day-trips to Cairo plus sound and light shows. The latter two are not recommended: the Egyptian capital cannot be seen in hours and the shows lack any movement as the title implies.

Nearly all cruises start from Luxor, but before casting off, visits to the nearby Luxor and Karnak Temples are hors d’oeuvres as a taste of things to come. Both are fine examples of ‘Egyptian’ sites (as against those showing the Greek or Roman influences of the rulers of the day) of worship to their gods – the main trio being the great sun god Amun-Re, his wife Mut (Mistress of Heaven) and their son Khonsu (Moon God). Then it’s off to the Valleys of the Kings and Queens on the arid west bank of the river where royalty and nobility have their final resting places hacked out of rock and decorated with finely worked and coloured hieroglyphs, all by hand, and stocked with treasure for the afterlife. Taking in this plethora of superlatives taxes the perception, brain and memory. Fabulous sights such as the two 20-metre high Colossi of Memnon statues (remains of Amenhotep III’s temple), the Nobles Tombs and the Ramesseum appear as side shows compared with Queen Hatshepsut’s stunning temple at Deir al-Bahari. If possible, a visit the nearby artisans’ village, where the people who created these places lived and died reveals the lives of the craftsmen who created this exquisite ornateness. 

Messing about on the river

After setting sail, the sun deck is the place to watch local life pass by: for ornithologists alone, there is the eye-boggling spectacle of hoopoes, egrets, cormorants, herons and ibis flying, fishing, wading or just floating by on branches. Their colours and sounds are matched by local fishermen and riverbank villages complete with compulsory mosques. Mud-brick dwellings are not usually painted or decorated, but now some do so – for the foreign visitors a guide informs.

As the water and day drift by, it’s worth recalling that 95% of Egypt’s population now live by or on the river and its floodplain, which waters just 5% of its land. Until the High Dam was built, the annual autumn flood used to decide its economic fate: a good wash of Ethiopian mud and nutrients would feed the floodplain and ensure a bounteous harvest. ‘Nilometres’ measured its high point and thus formed the basis of that year’s taxes.

Nile River

Pulling in to Edfa, horse-drawn caléches line up quayside in expectation. (Although the French were in Egypt a mere five years, before Nelson evicted them, it’s considered a Francophone country). Here, the Ptolemaic temple to the falcon god Horus (237-57BC) and many succeeding sites are constructions of Greco-Roman rulers who used local culture for their own purposes, but were bewitched too. The entrance and hypostyle hall architecture shows their influences in this well-preserved structure.

Next port of call down, Kom Ombo’s impressive approach at sunset would persuade anyone to get out a camera and burn an unforgettable memory. This temple is unusually dedicated to two idols: Haroeris (the good doctor) and Sobek (the crocodile god). The crushed stone used to colour the walls and columns remains vivid.  As the sun sets, the flora and fauna cast gentle curved outlines on the water as feluccas and fishermen draw dark shapes against the red glow on the horizon. The silence is serene. Dinner awaits. Could it be better? 

Aswan – dams, desert and delights

Early signs of nearing this city are the feluccas with their distinctive angular lateen sail. This southernmost city is a centre of the Nubian people. In pharaonic times, there existed Lower Egypt around the river mouth called the White Kingdom and Upper Egypt spreading out from Thebes named the Red Kingdom after the nearby stone. Nubia, with its dark-skinned people occupied an area that reaches far into north Sudan.

Smooth rock formations and outcrops, the First Cataract, dot the river and banks. The city’s business and residential buildings, hotels, mosques and shops perch on the east side. Two islands, Elephantine and Kitchener’s, serve different purposes as residential and recreational areas between the two banks. At night the west lights up to show the nobles’ cave graves of Qubbet al-Hawa.

Time here is precious as the list of places to visit would demand longer than is given, from the quarry where stone was hewn for temples and tombs down river to Abu Simbel. Not to mention the souk, dams, museums, Coptic cathedral and monastery, Old Cataract Hotel, Corniche, the Aga Khan’s tomb and local Nubian culture. Their straw coffee filter is just the tip of differentiation.

Nile River

To keep it simple, there’s the relocated Philae Temple, near the British-built Old Dam completed in 1902 after 13 years. This was dwarfed when the contentious High Dam was completed in 1970 reducing the threat of flood, storing precious water for dry years, supplying 65% of Egypt’s then power supply then and creating the world’s largest reservoir: Lake Nasser.

Conversely, the annual wash with its precious silt was halted causing farmers to use fertilisers for the first time, the extinction of several bird species and disrupting the environment along the river to its mouth. Locals claim the Nubian culture will never recover. While under construction, a massive international effort in the 1960s rescued the most precious pharaonic archaeological treasures.

Abu Simbel was one, located less than 100 metres from its original site, it was built by Ramesses II to glorify himself, his favourite wife Nefertari and celebrate his so-called victory at Kush and intimidate the local Nubians too as it was a public place, not reserved just for nobles or priests. This is born out by the immense statues outside the two temples, now located inside a man-made hillock.

Built in the 13th Century BC it was re-discovered in 1813 by a Swiss explorer, J L Burkardt, when sailing passed who unfortunately informed Givanni Belzoni. The Italian promptly went and looted it as soon as he could. Carvings with dates bear testimony to his avarice. But the grandeur could not be stolen. A cruise along the Nile forms indelible memories that will remain lifelong, as it is eternal.   

Egyptian idiosyncrasies

The British poet Shelley was inspired by the Ramesseum to pen his classic Ozymandias. Similarly, Agatha Christie appropriately wrote ‘Death on the Nile’ at Aswan’s Old Cataract Hotel. Alexandria was home and setting for Lawrence Durrell’s ‘The Alexandra Quartet’.

Due to its Francophone status, continental twin-pin plugs are standard.

Alcoholic beverages are not cheap in Egypt and on board are very expensive e.g. €5.50 for a half-litre can of local Sakkara lager.

Though the crew and guides are bought off by a tip paid in advance (GB£15), other Egyptians expect baksheesh off tourists. And bargaining is ubiquitous – with a third of the original asking price as normal.Government shops though are both cheap and hassle-free. Ask for their address.

Nile River

Quietly inquire if alcohol is for sale – just because it’s not on the menu doesn’t mean there’s none available. As alcoholic drinks are scarce and expensive, stock up at the airport on arrival where a good range of products are both available and illogically cheap. The local lager and aniseed brew are good; whiskey of doubtful quality and the wine may not be to your palate. ‘Egyptian champagne’ – karkadeh is a refreshing non-alcoholic concoction made from dried hibiscus flowers.

Smoking is an Egyptian way of life. Tobacco is consumed voraciously in cigarette form or via a water pipe (sashwa) and getting close to a local man (women are never seen smoking in public except in big cities) can form the impression there is national halitosis. Food is not spicy unless added. Tea and coffee are sweetened to the point of nausea – 5 teaspoons per small cup. And the coffee has a thick foundation at the bottom so don’t throw your head back and pour it down. Curiously, fish is rarely on the menu.

In Aswan, most tours call in at a perfume house where the essence oils for famous scents are produced. If it is a reputable approved establishment, it’s a bargain. You will be proudly informed that western products (that have different names here) are 90% alcohol and water which disappear quickly, whereas essence never evaporates. This is true and a small inexpensive bottle makes a great gift or souvenir. And it is impossible not to have at least one small stone carving or papyrus in your suitcase at the end.

Jewellery is another memento, but caveat vendor – choose your shop carefully. Herbs too and natural indigo are cheap and widely sold. Egyptian cotton is world famous, but expensive except from a state store. Buying and wearing the regional costume, a one-piece shoulder-to-toe    gallabaya is another must-have.

Lastly there are two schools on the origins of the words Egypt and Nubia. For the former, it either derives from the ancient word kemet meaning black soil – or if you prefer, black people as some claim.

Similarly, Nubia comes from the word nub meaning ‘land of gold’ for which it was renowned or the tribe Nuba that inhabited some of the kingdom then. Nubians were Christians for about a thousand years until the 15th Century too.

Outside Finland Travel

Seattle, Washington USA … an insider’s guide.

Text by Eric Remec

Seattle. The name conjures up some very specific images: Starbucks. Rain. Grunge. All these clichés certainly ring true but I want to try something a bit different and delve a little deeper into what makes Seattle such a cool city to visit. I find the best way to get a feel for a place is through its food. Whenever I’m traveling I steer clear of any tourist type places and try, as much as possible, to become a local.

In Rome, that means a breakfast of an espresso and pastry (while standing) in an Italian bar. In Spain, it’s ir de tapas (a form of bar-hopping) at night, sampling tapas and wine; In Kansas, USA, barbeque ribs in the town of Melvern (population 429). In this increasingly homogenized world, I think it is essential to celebrate what makes a place unique. A good rule to follow (in non-English speaking locales) is to listen to the languages being spoken by the patrons and avoid any place where the main language you hear is English. Well this rule obviously doesn’t work in Seattle so let me offer you, dear reader, an extremely biased list of some of my favorite places in the city.


In a city that has on average only 71 truly sunny days a year, it’s no surprise that coffee is such a big deal here. Well forget Starbucks. Go to Le Panier. Whenever I’m in Seattle, this is the place where I like to start my day. A French style café and bakery located in the heart of Pike Place Market, Le Panier has the feel of a Parisian bakery. Grab a newspaper, a cup of café maison, and a chocolate croissant and ease into your day. Spend an hour or so in a seat by the window and watch the world go by outside. Speaking of which, a great place to start and get a feel for the city is Pike Place Market, Seattle’s famous outdoor market. Reminiscent of Helsinki’s Kauppatori with its stalls of vendors, Pike Place Market is located on Seattle’s waterfront in Puget Sound. You can find everything from farm fresh produce, to seafood, to local crafts from the Pacific Northwest. As you can probably guess, seafood is big here: salmon (smoked and fresh), Dungeness crab, clams, and mussels. You can actually buy the seafood to take home and the merchants will pack your purchase in special ice packs which will keep it fresh for 24 to 48 hours.

Almost next door to the bakery Le Panier is Piroshky Piroshky, a Russian bakery specializing in (you guessed it) piroshki. Somewhat similar to the Finnish karjalanpiirakat, these handheld pies are stuffed with a variety of different fillings.You can find almost 30 different varieties in all at Piroshky Piroshky, including beefand onion, Bavarian sausage, and sweet dessert rolls. Be sure to visit Beecher’s Handmade Cheese shop, Seattle’s Artisan Cheesemaker also located in Pike Place Market. They actually make their own cheese on the premises and the large viewing window inside the shop offers a glimpse into the cheese making process. Grab a cup of their “World’s Best Mac and Cheese” made from penne pasta and their Flagship cheese for a soul warming lunch on a damp and cold Seattle day. If you find yourself with limited funds (and in this current economic climate, who doesn’t?), I suggest you take full advantage of the concept of Happy Hour in Seattle. Typically between the hours of 16:00 – 19:00, many bars and restaurants offer half-price specials on drinks and food. It offers an excellent chance to sample some of the fine things that Seattle has to offer on a limited budget. The Belltown section of the city has a host of bars and restaurants which offer Happy Hour Specials and is a good place to start the evening.

Bar Txori Pintxo

Spanish-style tapas bars are becoming fairly common in large cities across the U.S. but for a real authentic experience later in the evening, head over to Txori.  OK, technically this a pintxos bar modeled on the pintxos bars of San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain, but it’s the real deal. Chorizo sausage with shaved chocolate, anchovies with olives and Spanish peppers, jamón serrano on top of toasted bread with fresh tomato and garlic, … each of these bite sized appetizers (which average $3.00 to $4.00 a piece) will have you dreaming of summer nights on the Spanish coast. Along with pintxos, Txori also offers some excellent Basque-inspired cocktails. Try the azafrán; a blend of citron vodka, freshly squeezed orange juice, and a touch of saffron. Outstanding.

For a complete change of pace, check out the The Whisky Bar. Now, I do love a good dive bar and The Whisky Bar is a great dive bar. Located directly across the street from the historic Moore Theatre, The Whisky Bar has all the essential requisites of a good dive bar: cheap drinks, loud music, intimidating looking bartenders and an eccentric clientele. The noir-inspired paintings featuring scantily clad women with guns only add to the charm of the place. Where else can you sing along to Slayer, Elvis, Iron Maiden, and Johnny Cash blaring at top volume on the jukebox while slamming back $2.00 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon? Jacket and tie definitely not required and leave your credit card at home. Happy Hour runs from 12:00 (!!!) to 21:00 daily.

The Whisky Bar

Seattle is a city that tends to close up a bit early so if it’s late and you’re hungry you can always stop by the The Palace Kitchen which serves its full menu until 1:00 (am). One of  Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas’ many establishments, The Palace Kitchen is as much a bar as a restaurant and offers excellent food along with some interesting brews and cider on tap. For a late night bite, the Palace Burger Royale and the Dahlia Triple Coconut Cream Pie for dessert are a good bet.  Bars close at 2:00 here but if there is time, you might want to head back to the Belltown section of Seattle for a last bit of bar-hopping before calling it quits for the night and staggering back to your hotel room.

As we come to the end of this article, a special note to any Seattle residents and tourists that might have some issues with my imperfect listing of the “best” places in Seattle. I agree with you. It’s certainly not the last word on Seattle and in fact, it’s only a start. So to all the many deserving places I didn’t mention and to all the places I didn’t get a chance to visit: Salumi Artisan Cured Meats run by Armandino Batali (Italian American chef Mario Batali’s father), the Experience Music Project Museum, the entire Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square areas of Seattle, … my apologies.

They’re just more reasons to go back.

Outside Finland Travel

Lithuania overcomes historical hurdles

Being a small country boxed in by bigger more aggressive ones is the fate of the Baltic three. Especially problematic is being on a highway between two of the biggest powers on the continent: Russia and Germany, who of course have been in control of their smaller brethren for large chapters in their history book.

To make geo-political matters worse, even middleweight neighbours Poland and Ukraine have had not been shy about sticking their noses and armies into inferior-sized next-door nations when the opportunity arose. But perhaps some of this was history’s revenge for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania's episode as a regional power stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea in the 13th-15th centuries. Nowadays safe in the EU's bosom and NATO, the country can relax if not let down its guard.


Time has left its scars as well as beauty spots in present-day Lithuania. The capital Vilnius gleams with (heavily EU-funded) restored churches, buildings and sites. Subjectively the most attractive of the Baltic capitals, its predominantly Baroque Old Town is the biggest in the Baltics with a reconstructed Jewish Quarter that bore the brunt of the Nazi and Soviet takeovers. The efficiency of the former saw 80% of the Jewish population exterminated within months and 95% exterminated by defeat in 1945 out of a total of 265,000 in various gruesome ways. What was left of the area was bulldozed by Soviet liberators – including the badly damaged centuries-old Grand Synagogue and its library containing irreplaceable Zionist tomes and documents.

After 1945, a few thousand resistance fighters fought an unequal and ultimately hopeless contest that still lasted for 10 years against Soviet forces, before being ruthlessly extinguished. This is also catalogued there and can be seen at the rather exaggeratedly named Genocide Museum. Otherwise, and more accurately, called the KGB Museum, it is the only former headquarters of the feared Soviet secret police in the EU with a starkly frightening exhibition of the methods employed and lifestyle of an inmate complete with a spine-tingling execution cellar.

Much needed relief is provided by a fair walk up the main drag Gedimino Avenue which bears the name of a 14th-Century Lithuanian Grand Duke. At the end is the Cathedral Basilica and Bell Tower that was a cinema not too many years ago. Lithuanians are overwhelmingly Catholic and somehow the country's Soviet leadership did its utmost to ensure they remained a majority in their own land. So a remarkable 80% of the population is of Lithuanian stock. Some achievement considering it has been a market place for traders at this crossroads where peoples have for centuries come from all over to settle and prosper plus the deportations and Russian immigration that occurred elsewhere. By comparison only two-thirds of Estonia's and a half of Latvia's populations are made up of locals.

One such example of successful transplantation is the Kairemes (or Karaites) who were brought to Lithuania in 1397-8 when the great hero Grand Duke Vytautas returned from a campaign in Crimea, bringing 340 families with him. They are a Turkic people whose faith is based around the Old Testament and other scriptures but who deny no religion. Once numbering in the thousands, there are now just a few hundred mainly in Vilnius and Trakai, where the two remaining 'kanesa' or places of worship are.

Just 30km from Vilnius, Trakai and its old castle are a must-see. The town contains, like most of the country, churches of different religions: catholic of course, but also orthodox, a synagogue and the kanesa. A walk up the main street (not a Herculean task) takes you past the points of interest such as St John Nepomuk perched on top of a pole, who has a myth behind his omnipotence. Sculptures and statues accompanied by a legend are a Lithuanian feature with fact blurred by time.

The castle is almost entirely re-built after invading Cossacks in 1655 succeeded in doing what was intended to be nigh impossible. But it manages to resonate with history and the objects on display are fascinating – such as the, literally, pots of money dug up by archaeologists containing thousands of coins. But peak season crowds may be a stumbling block to see it all at your own pace. Set in an islet on Lake Galvės, the bridge back has a splendid view of the Kaireme  street, known as 'Small Town' with its wood houses fronted by three windows: one for God, one for Vytautas and one for the owner. Many now are restaurants (Kaireme are said to be a Jewish sect and so businesslike, but maybe it is a recipe for their survival) serving their cuisine and home-made brews which are just as popular with local as foreign visitors.


At the lakeside restaurant Kybynlar, meals start with a sort of pickled salad, followed by unleavened pastry pies containing lamb or chicken with herbs and vegetable similar to a pasty. These dishes are traditionally accompanied by krupnik, a herbal spirit drink with each restaurateur having his own formula. Now numbering around 250, possibly the EU's smallest minority has managed to retain their own language, just, religion (the kanesa is 50 metres away) and culture throughout tumultuous times, which is a testimony to their resilience and adaptability. For example, the guide of the Trakai kanesa, Michal Zajaczkowski, is a decorated Soviet war hero, former insurance man and publisher of the kanesa''s book and still sprightly at 86. Karaites/Kairemes are also known for attaining positions of high office way above their number. It now appears the EU and Lithuanian state may rescue them from the brink again.

Down the former Soviet Union's longest, straightest and flattest motorway is Kaunas, truncated Lithuania’s capital between world wars. This pleasant city, the most ethnic Lithuanian at 93%, on the confluence where the rivers Neris and Nemunas meet, had celebrity thrust on it as Vilnius had been purloined Poland at the time. Naturally there are churches and sculptures aplenty with tales and 'lucky tricks' to improve your life, especially in marriage matters. For a country with a long Roman Catholic tradition, there seems a lot of ways to get hitched by talking, thinking or whispering to a piece of moulded metal or carved stone – usually of an animal. Seems suspiciously superstitious and/or pagan to the outside observer…

Lithuanians appear to like to call it a day about 11pm. Thus the nightlife can seem subdued to a serious party animal. Holidays like Mothers' Day appear to be followed by 24 hours of penance for whatever joy was had – or sins committed. But Kaunas seems to have escaped the worst of the war and Soviet takeover by comparison, though its original castle, like the one in Vilnius is just a symbolic wall section and tower.

The nearby Franciscan monastery (which somehow remained active in Soviet times) church of St George encapsulates what nearly 40 years of Soviet occupation and atheism is capable of. It looks alike a rave party was held there (coincidentally it was a Soviet dance studio), but instead of leaving it as a memorial warning to future generations, millions are to be spent renovating it although only 12 monks remain, one of whom sits there every day as a silent sentinel.

The Curonian Spit over the channel from the country's only port, Klaipeda, is for the get-away-from-it-all set. A long finger of land emanating from nowadays Kaliningrad (formerly Danzig), it has an amazing variety of wildlife (but bereft of the social kind) and geography that goes from desert dunes to dense boggy forest. Plus it has a border with Russia halfway along which can be viewed from the nearby dune peak,  the Spit's highest point at 63m.  

It's always attracted holidaymakers, especially the German intelligentsia between the wars who set up their headquarters at the Hotel Hermann Blode. German Nobel Laureate, the writer Thomas Mann, after spending a summer there as a hotel guest, built a holiday home in typical style and spent three summers there 1930-1932. Now a museum, it has the local characteristic: all the window frames are painted blue in the belief that this keeps insects away in summer. The local cuisine includes crow meat, if ordered in advance for those with adventurous palates.


Apart from this ‘delicacy’, the Lithuanian recipe book contains a few surprises for those who have faced the daunting dishes of Slavic cooking. Cepilinai (Zeppelins) are the dumplings that many countries in the region so revere from the good old farmhouse days. Tastier than those produced in neighbouring countries, it still looks many mouthfuls too much and finishing one (never mind two which may stare up at you) should be seen as an achievement of heroic gourmand, if not gourmet, proportions.

The cold beetroot cream soup and hot potato is a type of north European gazpacho. Fish dishes too are on the lighter side, but meat, and Lithuanians are as carnivorous as anyone, may remain cloaked in heavyweight sauces surrounded by fried potatoes. But the joy of Lithuania is its beer. For the connoisseur the offering ranges from light to heavy in appearance, volume, calories and effect. But all seem to have the common characteristic of freshness, liveliness and taste. There’s even a ‘Beer Road’ tour for aficionados to go from one brewery to the next.

An international accolade came when Vilnius was designated European Capital of Culture 2009, one which the city fathers and state alike will spare no effort to make a huge spectacle to put their city and country on display. The people themselves will be as welcoming as they have historically been, who are remarkably accommodating to those who have rudely been in charge, but nowadays can breathe a little more freely.

Outside Finland Travel

Athens seductive off-season anarchy

Since the idea of the Olympics going home for the modern games centenary in 1996 was mooted, the Greek government started spending to update its infrastructure. However, the plan flopped as the games only took place in their historical home in 2004 – just as well, as Athens was no where near ready to host them eight years before.

The extra time was needed, as the Greek psyche (just one of many Greek words English purloined*) is not about unnecessary rush, which excludes the traffic of course. But the capital city appears to work sometimes in spite of its citizens. This is an attraction and one of many undersold by the hydra-headed promotional bodies.


The introduction however is one of serene efficiency. The new, hugely expensive airport is gleaming, AC-cool, spacious and quiet. Sleek trains, easily the quickest and cheapest mode, smoothly whisk passengers into the centre with each station announced in Greek and English aided by route maps above each door for the deaf. Paradise* compared to London.

However, once out of this delivery tube, reality hits. At Omonia Square, one of the city’s compass points, there is a flashback to the old days. Run down, crumbling, littered with rubbish and people lounging around smoking or snoozing. The cacophony* of traffic noise is constant, with little notice paid to rules and regulations. Cars are parked anywhere and everywhere – including pedestrian crossings. Motorbikes do not feel the need to stop for red lights or pedestrians, so it's miraculous vehicles do. Helmets are obviously not compulsory, or if they are the law’s as fickle as its enforcement.

Attractively a city of few skyscrapers, but that’s probably more down to earthquakes than any vision of the authorities as architectural harmony appears not a priority. Styles from preceding decades rub shoulders with those from other centuries or even eras. A 1000-year-old Byzantine church, Kapnikarea, had swishy Ermou shopping street built around while modern hotels housed in classic buildings are surrounded by 1960s mass residential projects (Art Hotel Athens on Marni street).

But although this may grate the eye, the overall impression of Athens is still positive. By all means do the must-see sights: the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, the 1896 Olympics Panathinaiko Stadium, the re-built Roman Agora and Likavitos and Philapappou hills. The variety of religious places of worship reflects Athens history covering ancient to modern gods. Unfortunately a spiky network of scaffolding covers many as preservation projects seem destined to go for as long athey have existed.

And be warned: sightseeing in Athens is not for weak or faint-lunged. Despite the excellent cheap public transport (subway, suburban or light rail takes precedent over the trolley, bus and taxi for speed and reliability), the only way to the Acropolis, Philipappou and Likivitos hilltops is on foot. The funicular railway to the latter is often closed.

The rewards for hoofing it up these slopes are good to spectacular. The panorama from Likavitos fits the latter description not only to look down from Athens highest point, but also for the Ayios Georgios church atop and terrace cafés there after walking the wood-lined meandering way plus the open-air eponymous* (another Greek word) theatre.

At the top of Philipappou hill, after wandering on a circuitous cobbled road specially laid in the 1950s that passes the Pnyx, Ayios Demetrios church and Doras Startou theatre, there’s the disappointing 2nd century BC monument to Gaius Julius Antiochus known as Philippapos or ‘beloved grandchild’. But in late afternoon it is the spot to see the gentle sunset alight on the Acropolis and Piraeus port in the opposite direction.

Conveniently a return route goes through the suburbs of Makrigiani on Dionissou Areopagitou to the Plaka, the old city quarter, which is a magnet for tourists and all the cheap tat that goes with it. Saunter along Adrianou for a trip down kitsch lane. Around Monistaraki metro station, unfortunately a building site for the foreseeable future, Athenians gather en masse for Sunday’s antique market or to sit in the sun at the many cafés, bistros and restaurants doing what they love most: eating, drinking, talking and smoking – preferably all at once. Meals at tavernas around here are cheap as beer, ouzo and wine cost about €2.50 with meals at €2-9 for a plate of souvlaki or Greek salad.


Athens is not for the politically correct brigade, especially those who find the legal weed a threat to personal and public health or the global environment in general. As democracy* (Greek for 'rule of the people') was born here, it’s fitting that smoking is everywhere and the ubiquitous clouds around and stubs underfoot are evidence of widespread enthusiastic participation.

But in summer when cloaked in an industrial smog, it seems a spurious point anyway, which is why visiting there off-peak i.e. outside summer, is best. For the visitor who goes there in the 'winter' months, there's the magnetic combination of low tourists numbers, hotel rates, insects, balmy temperatures (about 20°C) covered by a gentle blue sky.

So it's only just that near the city are other attractions for the mildly adventurous. The small port of Rafina on the east coast has nothing to recommend it except outstanding seafood restaurants arranged in a small curve near its ‘dock’. It’s a good idea though if you write down your own ‘bill’ as the waiters can sometimes be so rushed and confused, they can ‘overcharge’ – accidentally of course!

In similar fashion, the destinations from Piraeus are like a panoply* (yep, another Greek one) of island jewels awaiting your choice. The nearest are in the Saronic Gulf, although you can voyage as far as Crete and farther if desired. Salamina, Aegina, Angistri, Hydra, Poros and Spetses can be reached by fast craft or ferry in just a few hours. In addition there is the 'Athens One Day Cruise' on classic cruise ships e.g. MV Giorgos, that stop at three islands in 12 hours.

Aegina and Poros offer different delights off-season. The former has the traditional busy semi-circle of cafes and shops overlooking the small harbour plus some splendid churches to visit. Poros, within 300m of the mainland town of Galatas, has a calm waterfront where vessels call in before continuing on in the narrow channel to other islands. Busy in summer, it’s charmingly deserted the rest of the year with its quaint whitewashed alleys, houses and clock tower. A hired bike ride to the 18th Century Zoodochos Pigi Holy Monastery and Love Bay in the opposite direction suffice to see most of what there is.

Rooms and flats are available for €30 a night, but nightlife is for those who like it on the quiet side. As in all of Greece, the obligatory market, square, cafés, small restaurants, bakeries and confectioneries are in place. Speed is not the essence of life and contrasts with the, albeit lovable, chaos* (a Greek word) of Athens. The early morning or evening voyage offers fabulous photo opportunities to and from Piraeus for romantics and enthusiasts alike.

It is strange but perhaps in keeping with the Greek persona* (Latin unfortunately) that the best attractions are oversold (such as the ancient sites), thus attracting the hordes, while others are under-promoted or ignored, such as Monastariki and outside Athens beauty spots. Oh well, a glass of ouzo, a plate of seafood and toasted bread sprinkled with olive oil will sort that out. Eventually. 

*English has absorbed many Greek words. However, it is not particularly well known that some have migrated to the modern vocabulary via Latin. Academy is a fine example. It was a suburb of Athens named after the hero Academos (or Ecademos) and was the location of one of the three celebrated gymnasiums (a Greek word often thought top be of Latin origin). Plato established his school of philosophy here, after being taught by Socrates, with Aristotle one of its graduates. In addition his platonic love was meant to be deep, though non-physical. It appears to be far more popular in theory than practice.

Outside Finland Travel

The fishy tales of Saaremaa, Muhu and Abruka

A peculiar, near eccentric choice of holiday destination, are three of the islands off Estonia’s western coast for a week or so. What do they have that the rest of this little country that acts as a museum for all of their conquerors and misrulers don’t? Nothing really – just much of the same with less crowds, crush and clamour. To make it crystal clear: if you’re looking for action of the loud, resort sort, close your eyes and throw a dart at the Mediterranean.

Occupying 6.5% of the country’s land area and home to 35,000, Saaremaa and its picture book capital Kuressaare are mainly a trip back in time, but with the present-day thrown in to make sure creature comforts are on tap – unless you really want to get away from all of that too.


Over the centuries, the islands have seen more changes of ‘ownership’ than the country itself. Germans, Danes, Swedes and Russians have been ‘in charge’ since 1227 when the Teutonic Knights finally suppressed rugged local resistance. Even Estonians have ruled here briefly. Between 1919-1940 and after 1991, the blue, white and black tricolour has flown from flagpoles.

History is very visible as all left their mark (or stain) on the architecture, society and cuisine. The Archbishop’s Castle in Arensburg, as Kuressaare was called until 1919, is the only untouched fortress left on the Baltic coast. So far away from pre-20th Century geo-political issues that it was never even attacked, never mind damaged. Until 1559, the West-Saare Bishopric’s seat was firmly placed here before the splendidly named Bishop Munchenhausen sold it to Denmark’s King Fredrik II.

It’s a must-see, such pristine obelisks are a global-scale rarity. This small solid 15th century edifice contains leftovers, exhibitions and the obligatory legend of a Catholic monk walled in after ‘dishonouring’ a local maiden. Despite this, his tomb is called ‘the cellar of the immured knight’. In one wing is an interesting museum to the alternating Nazi and Soviet occupations showing how invaders take liberties with local residents rights who were unlucky to be in a possibly strategic, but attractive place.

An example of this callousness is the statue and monument to those killed in the Estonian War of Independence (1918-1920) now to be seen on Kuressaare’s main street, the original was destroyed during Stalin’s period – Uncle Joe wasn’t so avuncular towards free spirits. But at least the Nazis and Soviet had a major battle at Tehumardi when the latter’s forces finally expelled the fascists from Estonia with over 1,000 casualties on both sides after 5 hours of close combat. For Estonians, victory by either side was still a defeat.

Kuressaare’s attractions are few: a couple of churches, the 17th Century town hall and a weighing house, a 100-year old Dutch windmill which is now a bar plus other watering holes, cafés, restaurants and hotels. Most are at their best in the summer sun. And it doesn’t take too long to see it all on foot. Kuressaare now markets itself mainly as a spa town with treatments for the aged and their ailments. Nice hotels tend to be occupied by stiff limbs and aching bodies, the sheer wear and tear of time. Their habit of wandering around silently in bathrobes gives the impression of a hospital or heaven’s waiting room, not an R&R place. But the ones that have a pool have an advantage.

Outside town there is Sõrve lighthouse (52m), piles of stones erected by passers-by at Tagaranna, a row of 5 windmills at Angla (4 apparently are local style that can be swivelled around to face the wind, the other a static, boring Dutch type), the meteorite crater at Kaali (which means cabbage, a name contrived by Estonian peasants after the German nobleman von Gahlen who owned the local manor until 1729), the Pangla cliff – and  that’s about it.

Saaremaa’s attractions are its sheer simplicity, quietness and slow pace. If you like hunting, there’s game aplenty to shoot: wild boar, wolf, beaver, elk, deer, ducks and other fowl, which also find their way into the local cuisine and hence onto your dinner plate. Ditto for fishing folk. Some antique shops have pretty good collections of yesteryear and Kuressaare market usually has yummy honey, berries and mushrooms, depending on the season. The island is well known for its dairy produce: local smoked cheese, dark bread and butter being a tasty combination and souvenir.


Muhu is called an island, but is joined to nearby Saaremaa by an old dyke that acts as an umbilical chord to its bigger sister, and is the link to the mainland via Kuivastu harbour. Ferries run almost continuously in high season. Here you may be shown a herring-bone panelled door, brightly painted, and be told you will see these all over the two islands – only not to see another! These islanders like to tell stories and are infamous for it.

A famous Muhu spot is Padäste Manor, a luxury boutique hotel rightly famous for its style and dining – and one of the Thompson Twins stayed there once upon a time, if you remember that trio. Liiva in the island’s centre is a cute little village with a church, antique-and-handicraft shop and a good eatery in the former dairy. Koguva village on the west coast is a combination open museum and working village farm. Birth and final resting place of Estonia’s famous writer, diehard communist Juhan Smuul, who drank himself to death there after failing with a hat-trick of wives. An English-speaking guide, who looks like the archetypical Estonian, will point out his statue, which has a story in itself, of course.

Lastly there is Abruka. The logic of going there is difficult to put a finger on. I was told that tourists go to get away from it all. They must be very satisfied at fulfilling their aim so exquisitely. A small boat runs a cheap subsidised service from Roomassaare harbour, not far from Kurressaare. There you can be met by the owner of the then only ‘accommodation’ on this pimple in the sea (30 residents), in a smelly, bouncy, old Soviet army lorry to be taken to his campsite.

He has an inexhaustible store of stories, luckily only in Estonian. So if you do understand some, my advice is to not tell him, otherwise the short journey will take even longer as he will stop every 50 metres to revive some folklore to you. The rude little huts in his garden barely count as shelter: gaps between the roof and walls do not look capable of keeping out rain, cold and the summer clouds of mosquitoes.

What you don’t take with you must be bought from the camp ‘shop’, facilities are okay but not en suite. However, it’s ridiculously cheap (outside Tallinn generally is), which may be its only attraction. It appears he never throws anything away either. So for auto enthusiasts, there are vehicles that you may never see, or have seen, again. But the piles of empty plastic buckets of preservatives and tyres and other rubbish are just an eyesore.


The good news is that a hostel was built last summer and will be open for business in 2008 with the island’s only bar, airtight accommodation and a shop of sorts. This competition may blow away the aforementioned host without the most, but if you really want to get away from everything, no.

nsurprisingly, walking is the most popular pastime with the local graveyard (containing victims of resistance to and Soviet repression plus the Estonia sinking), the hill where residents were gathered for deportation by Stalin, a beach and the world’s smallest public library on the itinerary.

So why Saaremaa, Muhu and Abruka? For what they haven’t got, not for what they have. The simple life can be the good life. And they must have the world’s best collection of aromatic juniper forests, from which culinary tools are assiduously carved. Plus the home-made prize-winning beer at Kaali (Saaremaa has a beer-making competition every year), Pilnla is unique. Disappointingly, the beer bearing the name Saaremaa is actually brewed in Tartu in south-east Estonia.
The town council of Kuressaare has even invested in a golf course that opens in 2008 with foreign tourists specifically targeted. Golfers may be less than impressed to find out it’s built on a former refuse heap, but the green fees will be at the lower end of the scale.

But why go all the way to a place off the beaten track, if not to walk that path? The hunting lodges and campsites are comfortable, cheap and friendly with the ‘saun’ ubiquitous and obligatory. So do what the locals do, take it slowly, sweat it out, take a cold beer and vodka, watch the sun go down – or come up! 

Recommended places:
Hotel Arensburg, Kuressaarre, Saaremaa (
Jurna Hunting Lodge (
Liiva Restoran, Liiva, Muhu
Kaali Tavern (   

Outside Finland Travel

Turkey’s glittering Aegean jewels

In the south east of the country that has one foot in Europe and the rest of its body in Asia, lies a peninsular that has history and memorable panoramas in equal measure. The Anatolian coastline here is dotted with coves and bays, sites of picture-book villages, resort towns and property
development. Seek and you will find a your spot.

History lessons

Let’s call this whole area Bodrum after its main town. However, it’s immediately apparent that it doesn’t look traditionally Turkish. That’s because it isn’t – it’s been part of various empires since the 13th Century BC and was called Halikarnossos for centuries. Claims to fame are the birthplace of Hedorotos (‘Father of History’) and site of one of the original Seven Wonders of the World: the 3,000-year old last resting place of King Mausolus (from where the word mausoleum derives). This was ruined after a 1303 earthquake, but still worth seeing for history buffs.

Myndos Gate

From the Amphitheatre cut in the hillside, a Greco-Roman joint venture, there’s a magnificent view of the town, dominated by the 15th Century St Peter’s Castle built by The Knights of St John – sacrilegiously using stone from the mausoleum. This early example of recycling has proved durable, acting as a bastion of Christianity against heathen hordes and a testament to its German architect Heinrich Hegelholt.

The fortress contains the English, Spanish, French and Italian towers constructed and occupied by noble chevaliers from those countries witnessed by the 265 coats of arms carved in stone. Pious and devout they may have been, but still unwelcome occupiers and were driven out by Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in 1523. A French battleship bombarded the castle in 1915 believing there was artillery inside. The damage was repaired by 1963 illustrating how time stretches here.

It’s home to the Underwater Archeology Museum with exhibits of Bronze Age ships, cargoes, seafarers’ lives – and a video for those who prefer a compact glimpse. Of interest to female visitors is the nearby hall containing the model of Carian Queen Ada with copies of her, her clothes and restored
jewellery of finely worked gold.

Although historical sites abound, let’s finish with the Myndos Gate – the last remnant of the ancient city’s outer wall through which a triumphant Alexander the Great entered in 334BC. However, he was so ragged off by the stiff resistance, he ordered the city to be sacked, but spared the citizens
(and the Mausoleum) in a typical Alexandrian act.

Holidays, rest & relaxation

Enough of the past, most visitors nowadays go to lie and fry in the sun, of which there’s no shortage and/or enjoy the waterspouts. Offshore is a yachting (sailors can admire the local wooden yachts or gulat) and wind surfers’ paradise: the wind blows strongly and continuously, speeding craft and surfers alike over the water – and providing beach bums with a cool breeze.

Nearly half of holidaymakers reside in ‘all-inclusive’ hotels which have their own beachfront, boats and other playthings. This eliminates money changing hands and the local habit of hassling passers-by to eat at their restaurant and haggling prices. But convenience dulls the adventurous spirit, so it’s a choice that should be weighed carefully.

Experience gave the impression that the in-your-face marketing is less annoying than elsewhere in this country where it’s a way of life. For the bargain hunter and incurable dealer, a 30-minute negotiation (or hours sometimes) is ensured in a carpet shop or at a textile market where famous brand knock-offs can be had for around €10.

So what is there after a hard day’s lolling around on the beach or doing something in the sea? Hiring a car widens the options or taking a taxi (after setting the fare first) to visit one of the little waterfront gems like Bitez, Gümüslük, Gündogan and Ortakent-Yahşi or the bigger spots Yalikavak, Gümbet and Turgutreis.

A dinner at one of these places nearby or overlooking the water watching the sunset is guaranteed to raise the romantic temperature or chill-out the stressed. The area boasts of its seafood (not cheap), lamb dishes
(cheaper) as well as fresh local fruit and vegetables (cheap and tasty). Once again the Greek influence is noticeable: hors d’oeuvres-type entrées, ‘meze’ dishes, feature chickpeas, aubergine, tomatoes and onions stewed or diced together with the region’s silky light olive oil.

A local speciality, kabak çiçeği dolmasi, combines unique appearance with taste. Its exoticness comes from the use of unusual ingredients; courgette flowers stuffed with rice, nuts and herbs.


And the drinks list must start with a raki – the Turkish aniseed aperitif that hits the spot even if you don’t know where that is. After a couple, you won’t care anyway. With a meal the local reds are a mixed lot: from rough to ready, but light on the wallet at least, if not the palate. Turkish beer is an acquired taste, which I didn’t. Two will do.

If you are young or think you are, the nightlife can match the local wildlife. But if this includes clubbing, be prepared to cough up wads of notes. The main club in Bodrum takes its name from its Greek predecessor and it is obviously intended for noble patricians to hob-nob together as the prices appear (minimum €13 and up for anything) designed to keep the plebs out.

The door gorillas are ably supported by airport security equipment, which made me think who goes there and with what purpose in mind. A local waterside watering hole will serve much the same purpose without waking the dead and looking like a tacky unfinished film set.


What to bring back from your trip can take some of the pleasure away from a trip. After all, if someone wants something, they can always go there themselves. Every town, but thankfully not the smaller spots, has markets and shops heaving with tat, claptrap and useless ‘objets d’arts’. Buy at your peril, as some of it may not last the journey back to the hotel, never mind home.

Textiles are a cheap memento and kids’ stuff especially as the little darling won’t be able to fit in it for long. For the discerning, pistachios are a must, the local herbs, honey and halva too. The olive oil comes in airport baggage-handler-proof metal drums and bars of olive soap with amazing skincare
claims are ideal as ladies’ gifts. Just potato cooked in the oil tasted exquisite and all soap cleans if not cures.

Cross-border travel

Much of the southern and western coastline overlooks islands, of which many are Greek. The one within touching distance twinkling the most lights off the south coast is Kos. Tensions between the two old rivals have lessened to the point that day-trips between Bodrum and Kos towns are possible by small ship or fast hydrofoil taking 20-60 minutes.

It operates on an exchange system: as it is usually for a day, Turkish operators provide the service one day and their Greek colleagues the next. This alternating system seems to work perfectly, but those travelling by slow ferry appeared more barbecued than the cooler-lookers on the faster mode.

So the options before travel are many: which resort and what lifestyle you want. Whether to rummage round Greek, Roman, Persian and other civilizations sites or lounge around or be active on, in or under the Med.
All-inclusive, B&B or a mixture? The alternatives are there:

Outside Finland Travel

The cradle of Estonian culture

Estonia, for both Finnish and foreigners staying or visiting temporarily Finland, has become one of the favourite destinations due to its geographical closeness and the cheap prices of their products, especially alcohol, tobacco and food. But Estonia is not only Tallinn. Discover Tartu, the second biggest city in the country and  the cradle of Estonian culture.

It is almost a compulsory visit to take a walk around the old city of Tallinn, and when the weather is good and warm, Pärnu on the west coast becomes the favourite summer destination, due to its long sandy beaches and spa resources. But I am going to focus this article on revealing you the mysteries and secrets of Tartu, the second biggest Estonian city, the cultural and academic cradle of the country, with one of the oldest Universities founded in Europe.

A country easy to reach

Travelling by sea, overall when it is still not frozen, is even easier due to the many different ferry companies that offer their services between Helsinki and Tallinn, the Estonian capital. Usually the trip takes 3 hours in one of the normal huge ferries. It is an experience recommended to go through once in a life at least. There you can see people gambling, flirting, getting drunk, singing karaoke…it is like a
small world itself. But I recognize that it can also be annoying and boring, especially if you travel during week ends, being surrounded by drunkards who do not allow you even to read a book in peace.

When the weather is warm, you have the option to pay a bit more and use the services of the fast boats lines, that take around 1, 5 or 2 hours to do the same trip. In any case, all the companies are located in a small geographical area around Katajanokka in Helsinki, so it is easy for you to compare prices and schedules, and decide what the best option is.

You can go to Tartu by train or by bus. I personally prefer taking the bus, since there are many
different ones available at any time of the day, so you usually do not have to wait much long at the bus station. Trip takes around 2 hours 45 minutes, and although Estonian road network has still a lot to improve, the buses are relatively comfortable and you can usually buy some refreshment there while
travelling. For those of you who own an international student card, there are always big discounts in all the transportation around Estonia, so have your card always close when purchasing a ticket.  If moving around Tallinn by taxi, watch out since the taxi drivers, as in any other big city in the world, cheat quite often about the fare. A good option is to agree the price in advance. A ride from the terminal to the bus station would not cost more than 75 Estonian crowns. If you want to stay a bit in the centre before heading to Tartu, and need some food, I advice you to taste the delicious Russian soup “seljanka” in a pub called St. Patrick. Yeah…they prepare one of the best Russian soups in an Irish pub!

If you are beer lover, stop by The House of Beer, where they produce their own tasty one. Watch out when eating and drinking in Tallinn, because prices are not how they used to be years ago and it can happen that you end up paying almost as much as in Finland.
Last time I was in Tallinn I paid 4, 5 euro for a big orange juice in one jazz club. Even beer was a bit cheaper… Outrageous!


A charming city with a long academic history

Tartu University was founded in 1632 and undoubtedly nowadays student life makes the city turn around. You have the clearest example in the statue on the fountain that decorates the main square (Raekoja Plats) where the City Hall is located. There you can see 2 young students melt in one long kiss while an umbrella protects them from the rain. As an English friend of mine told me, “there is no better symbol than Kissing Students Statue to define this city”. Just in one corner of the City Hall you can also find easily the Tourist Information Office, where they can answer your questions and help you to plan your stay and excursions.

When finding accommodation, you have prices for all the pockets. From the reasonable cheap hostel located at the same building that the student dormitory in Raatuse Street (where most of the foreign students live) to the last and trendy Hotel Dorpat Spa that was open less than one month ago close to the bus station.

Moving around the city centre is easy, since distances are short, so you can easily walk to do shopping, to eat outside or clubbing. Other feature that amazes me in Estonia is the high variety of products that you can find in the supermarkets, much more extensive and better than in Finland. Quality of food and drinks is usually good wherever you buy, but if you want to play safe and have a bit more of different imported products, you can always go to Kaubamaja supermarket, the big grey (and many say “ugly”) new building that dominates the centre of Tartu, although prices there will be higher than in other spots of the town.


The mother of the town is a river

River Emajõgi (meaning “mother river”) crosses all over Tartu and you can enjoy a bath on summer on both sides of its banks while watching people fishing from the bridges that link both sides of the city. Another great option is to go trekking or cycling to Jänese Matkarada, a path wrothy to explore in the left side of the river with curious wooden statues spattered all along the way.

Rüütli is the name of the main pedestrian street that starts from the Main Square, and it is excellent to stop by the terraces and have refreshment. Another nice spot to explore in Tartu is Toomemägi (Toome Hill). There is located the Dome Church, whose ruins are being rebuilt, and houses the Tartu University History Museum. Take a look also at the Old Observatory and the Devil and Angel bridges. And when you are tired of sightseeing and cultural life, Tartu has one of its strongest points in the great amount of places to go out, have a drink and party. Nevertheless, this is a student town! Prices are still low compared to Tallinn, and the atmosphere is more relaxed. I recognize I like beer, so for beer lovers as me, again a good advice is to taste the excellent house beer (maja õlu) in Püssirohu kelder (Gun Powder Cellar), a quaint old gun powder storage turned into a tavern. There are karaoke nights there quite often, but the quality of the singers usually makes you go for the beer with renewed strengths…

Other good place to eat and drink is the Irish Pub Wilde, with another excellent house beer, although you can also give a try to the national beer brands: Saku and A le Coq (no, it is not French…) which quality is honestly much better than the Finnish ones. Also Czech beers are usually easy to find and quite affordable. Suudlevad Tudengid Bar (Kissing Students) in the Main Square or Maailm in Rüütli are other good choices when your stomach calls for something to chew.

My advice for you about Estonian delicacies is to taste while having a coffee the delicious “pirukad”, filled with mushroom or meat, and also give a try to the hot black bread with garlic sauce, yummy! And if you prefer Russian cuisine, Rasputin restaurant is an excellent option.

Tartu is quite a secure city and Estonians are in general calm and honest people. By own experience, I can say that I have not had any problems while staying there. But obviously, a bit of common sense, overall when being outside late at night, is always recommended. You will see that you can find people from the private security company “Falck” controlling everywhere, from buses to clubs, but in general you should not have to receive any disgusting surprise if paying a bit of attention to the places where you move. If you are a party animal, there is quite a huge offer of big clubs to satisfy you: Maasikas and Illusion clubs are new ones opened during last year, apart from Tallin Club (my favourite one), Pattaya (decorated as if you just have stepped inside
the jungle) or Atlantis, latest one being maybe the most popular
in the city, due to its excellent location close to the river at the other side of Raekoja Plats. And when the clubs close, for the bravest ones there is a "legendary" bar to gather together until the end of the night: Zavood.

And the most important feature of Tartu: it has a lot of charming. So if you are looking for a bit different destination, far from the hordes of Finnish visitors in search of booze in Tallinn, my advice is, go for some days and discover all what Tartu
can offer you!

Raatuse Bridge

It has become a kind of tradition in Tartu to cross the bridge that links Raatuse street and Raekoja Plats walking on the arch that elevates over it. We do not recommend the activity, since falling from there
can send you most probably direct to the grave, but still you can see, especially at nigh time, some drunk shadows tempting their luck.

Where can you find the citizens of Tartu at week end? Sleeping with hangover until late? Watching TV? In most of the cases, no. Go to the storages and shops in the outskirts of the town and you will find the answer. Estonians are kinds of work alcoholic who always think about the next thing to fix at their own houses. And there is always something to fix! So after the normal work hours, it is time to do some “remontti” (“or as our friend Markku from Finland would call them: “remons”).

Photos: Antonio Diaz

Outside Finland Travel

Soviet ‘delights’ in Latvia

For under-25s, the Soviet Union is something older generations talk about and those that were a part of it don’t want to remember or prefer obliteration of its existence. This has led, unfortunately, to souvenirs of the ’Evil Empire’ as President Reagan once dubbed it, being really and/or
psychologically air bushed from sight.

Some samples are still around – and have been turned into tourist attractions by enterprising people. Two are in Latvia, one north of Riga, the other in the southern city of Liepāja. Let us journey for an hour first northwards to Skaļupes near Cēsis. In a tranquil setting stands the rehabilitation centre Līgatne. It is however just, literally, a cover for something very serious.

Karostas Cietums

After walking down innocuous stairs 9m underground is the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic’s bunker nicknamed ’The Hotel’. It was built (then SUR4m/€7m) to act as a safe haven behind 2.5m thick concrete for the top 250 communist party officials in case of nuclear attack. Its main purpose in those circumstances was to act as a command and control centre in response. Each soviet republic had one.

Its background began with the Latvian CCP Central Committee’s 1968 decision to build it, but it was not operational until 1982. Despite Soviet planning’s legendary reputation, reality was less impressive: much of the plan remained on the drawing board. Small, but fatal, mistakes are noticeable to the untrained eye.

For instance, beds were to be installed later or brought down from the sanatorium, which was exclusive to elite party apparatchiks. Remember, nuclear strikes were known then to have a 4-minute warning. A missile base to hit back nearby was never started, there was a food store – but it was empty, and although the plan was for the chosen few to be safe and secure for 3 months, inadequate fuel supplies made this unlikely.

With so many to shelter, it is a warren of rooms and corridor connections with all the trappings needed for survival from offices, dining, power, air conditioning, etc. It was so secret that it only opened to the
public in 2003. Now this untouched showcase is an exhibition of cold war mentality.

At 2,000 square metres in area, it’s big, but the first impression is the cold, stark, sterile atmosphere (3 star compared to the next Soviet relic). All power for the facility would be generated by two T-54 tank diesel engines for the array of Soviet ’state-of-the-art’ communications rooms: secure telecommunications with its equivalent in the Kremlin, possible surviving units in the country and internally, all monitored of course.

Obsolete gadgets such as typewriters, telex, teletype machines and telephones using a fixed-line are stacked together. As outside might not exist anymore, it had to be self-contained and self-sufficient especially regarding air purification and oxygen generation, which needed power.

Everything was done in the socialist way: eating together in the less-than-gourmet canteen, the ’games room’ is decorated with Communist Party paraphernalia – Comrade Lenin stares at you in every bunker room – as you groove to the latest approved tracks (I noticed ’Stars on 45’ in the vinyl pile) on a record player. For nostalgic visitors or blue-eyed innocents, a real
meal of the times can be served up if booked in advance.

There are map rooms containing detailed charts that show possible destruction lines that atomic shockwaves would cause if Riga got a direct hit, instructions on what to wear if you went outside (what for is a mystery), how to cleanse late arrivals (!) and so on.

Other planning gaps are all too obvious: where were dead bodies to be put if someone died? There was no refrigeration unit and no method to expel decaying corpses. Like most Soviet reality, it was based on self-preservation. The guide calmly informs its real purpose was to hide from the population after a conventional attack. Because 9 metres is insufficient to withstand a thermo-nuclear blast – it had to be 15 at least!

A night to remember

The city of Liepāja near Lithuania has been home to Russian/Soviet Baltic fleets for over a century. Czarist stubbornness was equal to Soviet inflexibility: the port was dredged and a canal built despite a perfectly natural harbour located up the coast in Ventspils.


There lies a city-within-a-city, the naval base that was home to up to 30,000, but behind a wall. Karosta was an autonomous urban area occupying a third of Liepaja’s land. Originally named ‘Port of Alexander III’ after its modest originator, during Latvia’s brief inter-war independence, locals cynically labelled it ‘Kar Osta’ or ‘War Port’.

Worth a visit in itself, it’s just a short bus ride from Liepaja centre. Inside are Russian Empire red brick buildings and Soviet concrete blocks. Also self-sufficient with its own infrastructure of entertainment, education, libraries, shops that a captive population needs – even its own
internal post! The landmark St Nicholas Cathedral, now restored back to tits original purpose, served as a storeroom in Soviet times.

But it is the military prison that slams home the message. Built in 1900 it has contained a variety of forces miscreants throughout its 97-year history. Russian, Latvian, German and Soviet prisoners have been sentenced and punished here – sometimes by firing squad. Underneath the nearby pines there is more than earth. Nobody ever escaped.

Nowadays ‘Karostas Cietums’ is an award-winning tourist attraction and venue of a popular Latvian reality television show. Groups are frogmarched two abreast around the facility after a thorough dressing-down by guards, most of whom worked here in what they still proudly call ‘the good old days’. Backtalk, marching out of step, sloppy posture are all met with a sour expression, barking rebuke and ‘punishment’ for the offender(s).

Cells had little light, air or heating, the walls acted as inmates’ de facto calendars, prisoners slept on wood pallets in 2m x 3m crammed side-by side with a narrow gutter for those who couldn’t hold nature back. With only 30 minutes in the morning for all ablutions for a cell of 6-7, this was
understandable. Guards would wake up prisoners every hour if they wished. Mealtimes were silent and frugal.

During the 45-minute tour, every opportunity is taken to give you that spine-tingling feel, like being locked in a dark cell with shock treatment (I’m unable to say to keep the surprise element). For the adventurous (or foolhardy) you can stay the night in a cell with only cold water and a Soviet toilet for
luxury. If you’re really radical, you can order the ‘special treatment’ during the night.

These two leftovers from a bygone era are a unique chance to experience what it was Soviet Union was like. You may smile, but it was no joke to those had to endure it.

Outside Finland Travel

Stylish Stockholm

Only hop, skip and a boat ride away from old Helsinki is the capital of Sweden and the home of 1,7 million of hip and trendy people. Stockholm is easy to get to, but hard to forget. Who wouldn’t fall in love with the beautiful old part of the city and the creative and contemporary cosmopolitan atmosphere of Stockholm?

Sweden and Finland have love and hate relationship. It is because of our long history together and apart, but nowadays it is all about competing in everything, for example in music and ice hockey. Some of you may remember that we just bit Sweden  in both sports this year! We
Finns have to admit though that there are lot of great Swedish things; like Absolut Vodka, ABBA and Pippi Longstocking.


The weather in Stockholm is same we have in Helsinki, but sometimes just a hint warmer. After all it is to south from here! When visiting the city in winter, it is a cool and trendy, but cold city to hang out. That is why I recommend you to go right now, when the air is warm and nights are light.

Bridges and boutiques of Stockholm

The whole area of  Stockholm is build on 14
islands and the city itself on 7 islands, so almost everywhere you go you will be surrounded by water. The most spectacular part of the city is the Old Town with its old and beautiful buildings. The Royal family lives there as well.

For obvious reason there are lot of bridges and if you take a walk instead of taxi from the ferry to the city central you will discover some of these beautiful waterways. Especially walk in the old town, called Gamla Stan, is worth of doing. What the heck, you may even see the king and his family, if you stalk long enough on the corner of the Royal Palace. If you get tired of shopping or chasing the princesses of Sweden, you can relax in one of the many parks of the city.

Stockholm is very vivid and cosmopolitan city, mostly because more than 15% of its population are
immigrants or other expatriates. There are lot of cosy cafes, restaurants with all kind of menus and bouncy night clubs, like Café Opera that has been the exclusive party central of Stockholm
for 25 years now. But it is one to mention, there are lot of other great clubs in the city and many of them don’t close until 5.

Swedes know design and fashion. For some reason they always look good and show up wearing the right clothes in every occasion. So, when in Sweden, do as the Swedes do! Best shopping street in Stockholm is drottninggatan. But there are more places to buy your little piece of Sweden than the crowded shopping street and malls. Pop in one of those boutiques in the narrow alleys of the old city or in Östermalm, the art and antique district. The prices are pretty much the same as in Finland.
It hasn’t been longer than a decade, when we Finnish Fashionistas use to make trips to Stockholm
just to buy clothes and accessories. But today we can go there and just enjoy the atmosphere instead of purchasing everything we see, because we finally have H&M and Nilson in Finland too.

Attractive attractions

Those who cannot get enough of culture should check out the House of Culture, Kulturhuset in Swedish, where the galleries, stages, shops and restaurants keep you satisfied for hours! Also Vasamuseet and Moderna Museet are worth of seeing. One of the things not to miss, if you walk in the old city, is the Stockholm’s Cathedral.

If you are more into sports and activities than old culture, you may want to see Globen, the sport and entertainment arena, which has a unique shape: it’s a massive ball! You also may want to go to Eriksdalsbadet which is Stockholm’s largest aquatic Centre with a 50-metre pool, adventure bats, spa and gym. The outdoor pool is open during summer.

If you stay for longer and with kids, you may want to do a day trip to the zoo, called Kolmården. The zoo is one of Sweden’s most popular tourist destinations and only 90 minutes south of Stockholm. I was there when I was a kid and believe me: that’s a great adventure for little ones!

The love boats

when you can fly to Stockholm in an hour, I suggest you to take the over night ferry to get there. It is
experience of its own. You can have massage or facial, have a nice dinner and drink colourful cocktails on the deck while watching the sunset. These ships are known internationally as love boats. So who knows, you may even meet the Mr. Right or if not, there are plenty of Mr. Right Nows on board! If it happens
that you drink too many GTs, “The It Drink” in Nordic, you really should try your best and get up early and go to the deck to see the most beautiful summer view of the archipelago of Sweden. The countless islands look amazing in the morning light.

If you are planning to take the ferry I strongly recommend you to stay in Stockholm few days in between, because the partying is usually so severe that you maybe thankful to have one day to recover from it and then have enough time and energy to discover the city. Too many people don’t even leave the boat on
their trip and that is a pity, because they miss out a lot! By the way: you can
also get off on the Åland on your way to Stockholm.


Åland Islands belong to Finland, but people living on them speak Swedish and that would be soft descending to the Swedish world and great way to see something new.

After all of these years that I have been exploring Stockholm,
I still don’t know what it is that makes it so much more glamorous than Helsinki. Maybe it is the certain self-confidence and style Swedes have? Or maybe it is just because the grass always seems to be greener on the other side?


more information

to Stockholm

cabin for 4 people starting from 110e


from Helsinki
starting from 110e

Metro map

click Stockholm.
Here you can find metro maps in every city on the globe!)

Inside Finland Travel

Crazy Finnish summer

The Finnish summer is light, especially at the beginning: all the leaves on the trees are light green, the air is warm, but not yet the water. The whole landscape looks untouched. Then comes July: hot and long days with melting ice cream. At the end of August, the sun is still hot, but the colours have changed: the trees are all deep green. Maybe you will see the first yellow leaf. But even if there are signs of the next season, we still usually have an Indian summer. 

The Midsummer holiday, Juhannus, is the year's shortest night and most important occasion for drunkenness and revelry. It is time to escape the city. Most of Finns go to their summer cottages in the countryside and have bonfires (called kokko) by the lake. If this doesn’t appeal to you, there are lots of festivals, where you can find loud music, new friends and bonfires too. A lot of Finns start their summer holidays on Midsummer Day and after that much partying, a few days off would do some good for pretty much anyone.  

Finnish Summer

Juhannus used to be more serious affair than it is in these days. During pagan times, midsummer was a very potent night for rituals, which concerned future marriages and fortune. Many of these rituals were made naked. Will o wisps (ghostly lights sometimes seen at night or twilight that hover over damp ground in still air, often over bogs) were believed to be seen on midsummer night, marking treasure. 

I also remember one midsummer ritual that I used to do when I was a kid: I collected seven different kinds of flowers and ran around our well. I slept with the flowers under my pillow and hoped to see the man of my life in my dreams. And I remember how disappointed I always was the next morning when I couldn’t remember my dreams!  

Summer happenings 

There are lot of festivals and smaller summer happenings going on every week all around the country. Music festivals are especially popular here, and Finnish artists hardly have time to take their own holidays! Whatever kind of music you like, there will be a festival where you will hear your very favourite tunes. Just pick your melody. For example, you can hear rock in Turku, jazz in Pori and tango in Seinäjoki. 

In addition to music festivals there are other happenings for everyone. Do you like sailing? Then sail to Kotka in July. Are you big fan of eating small herrings? Visit the Fish Market in Turku. 

Do you think that Finns and their ways are odd sometimes? You are right and if you like that weirdness, you will love the Finnish summer, because Finland is an empire of weird summer happenings. The top 5 strangest happenings to mention are: the wife carrying competition, football played in a swamp, the mosquito killing competition, and the contests for who can sit in sauna or on top of an ant’s nest for longest!

Already internationally known, wife carrying is the sport of carrying woman; a wife usually. Several types of carrying are allowed: piggyback, fireman's lift, or Estonian-style (the wife hangs upside-down with her legs around the husband's shoulders, holding onto his waist). The major wife-carrying competition is held in Sonkajärvi, where the prize is the wife's weight in beer! Yes, that is really something to see!



Summer in the city 

Are you too busy to leave the city this summer? Don’t worry; there is lots going on in the city as well! There are hundreds of terraces, great beaches and islands to visit: all just right here, in the heart of Helsinki! 

Suomenlinna is an island in front of Helsinki. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a very popular picnic site among tourists and the locals. The ferry that leaves from Kauppatori will take you there in only 15 minutes. There are other islands to visit as well: Uunisaari, Korkeasaari (the zoo) and Seurasaari. Or you can visit another lovely town, Porvoo, from Helsinki by boat as well. The most popular beach in Helsinki is Hietaranta, where you can see all the white Finns burning themselves all summer long. Other good beaches are in Munkkiniemi and on most of the islands mentioned above. 


In summertime the place to party is Kaivohuone, where you can fine the trendiest people in town and a very large terrace, big dance floor, and on Wednesday nights, the pool is open too! One of the biggest terraces is on Mikonkatu and is a combination of several bars’ terraces. You will find the best views on the terraces on top of the tallest buildings in Helsinki, such as Torni and Palace. 

Northern lightness 

If you get sick of city life, I strongly recommend you to take a hike! Literally! Lapland is well known for its ski resorts, but it is a unique place to visit in summertime as well. The landscape and wildlife are well worth seeing. You can do different kind of activities: river rafting, fishing, hiking and hunting. And what makes Lapland such a magical place to visit is the white light around the clock: the sun doesn’t set at all. At its longest, the nightless night in the north can last up to three months.

Aurora Borealis

When you leave the city and its noises you will discover the real Finland: its lakes, forests and peace. The best way to travel is slowly and by bike, although public transportation is good in Finland as well. There are too many nice places all over the country to mention here, so the best you can do is to explore as much of it as possible and find your own favourite spot.

Outside Finland Travel

Dreaming about the Dominican Republic

There is more than just great wind and surfing on the island of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic was the first European settlement in the New World, founded by Columbus in the early 1600s. Nowadays, the Caribbean is a popular destination for all kinds of travellers, including sailors from all over the world. And no wonder: turquoise water, islands with green hills and endless beaches make it a perfect destination for anyone seeking tranquillity. 

First of all, relax: this is the Caribbean – it is not like there are important churches and statues on almost every corner, like in Europe. You even have to walk slower! If you really want to do some sightseeing, then visit the home of Columbus in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican
Republic. That's pretty much all the cultural stuff you can do. As regards the indigenous people, the Tainos, they were almost completely exterminated by the diseases from Europe and the hard work given to them by the Europeans in the 1600s. Sadly, all that is left of the old Dominican culture is some cave paintings created by the Tainos.

Dominican Republic

Today’s Dominican culture is mainly on the streets: the language, food, dance and colourful art. Like dancing? The music is either Bachata or Merengue and it's everywhere: in bars, taxis and beauty salons. And no one minds if you dance on the street – or anywhere for that matter!

Most of the Dominican are descent of European, African and Taino(pre-Columbian indigenous) people. Usually they have black hair, but skin colour varies from very pale to very dark. It is easy to get along with the locals, especially if you know a few words of Spanish. They are very friendly and
relaxed. In fact sometimes they are so relaxed that if they were any more laid back, they would be asleep!

After the siesta, it is time for some fiesta! Dominican rum is very good and excellent for Cuba Libres and Rum Punches! You can also make a drink called “Poco Loco”. Making it is easy: take
a coconut, drill a small hole in it and add some rum! Dominican cigars are also very well known around the world. Some people say that they are even better than Cuban ones.

The food is simple but very delicious in the Dominican Republic. The most famous dish is named after the white-red-blue coloured Dominican flag: it is one part rice, one part beans and one part
meat or chicken. I used to start my day with the “Plato de Frutas”, meaning a plate full of fresh fruit and a cup of Dominican coffee, which is one of the best coffees I have ever tasted!

The local money is called the Dominican Peso, and the locals don’t have much of it. The gap between rich and poor is enormous and corruption is blossoming. Everything is much cheaper than
in Europe, so tipping should play a big part when paying your bills at restaurants, clubs and cafes. If you are smart, you will tip every time you are getting service, as many Dominicans don't get
any salary besides tips!


Outside or inside of the walls

Depending on what you want your holiday to be you should consider where to stay. You can choose to stay at the many-starred all-inclusive resorts or at the smaller hotels. The resorts are for honeymooners and lazy tourists. Everything is made easy for your vacation: eat as much as you like and get smashed on the free drinks by the swimming pool – even the people you meet in the bar are selected for you as no outsiders are allowed within the resort’s walls! It doesn’t sound too tempting, does it? Happily I can report that there is another option: pick a normal hotel and try a different restaurant every night instead of having that same old buffet-dinner at the resort.

Dominican Republic

The weather in the Caribbean is either really nice or totally terrible. The hurricane season is in autumn followed by the wet season: after all, it is the tropics and the plants need their water, so it rains a lot! In April the skies clear and it’s the sunny Caribbean summer again!

Trippin’in the Caribbean

 I used to work for a travel agency in the Dominican Republic, so I am an expert when it comes to excursions there. The most amazing is the whale watching trip. This is only available from mid-January to mid-March, when the giants come near to the shore to make love and give birth.

If you long for luxury, then the trip to Saona Island is for you. You can take a small plane from Puerto Plata to the South East coast of the country. From there the speedboat takes you to the beach, where the sand is whiter than snow! Food and drink is included and you won’t have any worries: just chill out on the hot beach holding an ice-cold drink in your hand!

Catamaran Sailing is another splendid way to spend the day. And so is a daytrip to Gayo Paraiso, which is a sand island with two sheds: one is a bar and the other is the place where you can rent snorkelling gear. You can take the speedboat to the island and on the way make a quick stop to find some massive orange starfish

If you want to see other sea life other than starfish, I recommend diving or snorkelling. There isn’t much in the way of big fish but what you will see is very cute: seahorses, rays and eels. You won’t find Nemo around there, but go and look for Emma: she is this tiny seahorse that I once rescued from the mouth of a fish!

If you want some action, you can always rent a four-wheeler, take a tour on a monster truck or ride a horse to the waterfalls, where you can dip into freezing cold but refreshing water. River rafting is also another way to get your daily dose of adrenaline.

Me and my friends used to have drinks on the beach every night and we always toasted the same thing: instead of saying “cheers”, we said “for another day in paradise!” – and that is what life in the Dominican Republic is all about!

Outside Finland Travel

Under the Thai sun!

Are you tired of waiting for spring to begin?

The earliest months of the year in Finland are the coldest ones and the social life is much quieter than in the summer. That’s a given, but did you know that in Thailand the warm season is turning into a hot one in March? So, why don’t you have a break from the cold and head to sunny Thailand?
Take a preview of the sun this year!

Thailand is perfect for everyone: for backpackers, beach bums, families and hippies with flowers in their hair, as well as for burned-out business people, who just want to forget the real world filled with stock exchange prices and all that. Spend a week, or months, exploring vivid Thai culture. You won’t get bored in Thailand: just chill out on the beach, check out the glorious temples, do some scuba diving or trekking. And whatever you decide to do, it won’t be too expensive!



Thrilling Thailand

There are plenty of things to do if you like outdoor activities. For trekking there are good places near to Chiang Maj, in northern Thailand. As a part of the trip you can also do some river rafting and if you don’t feel like hiking, there is always some friendly elephant who would like to carry you! For
those interested in climbing, Railey beach is the place to be.

Do you remember how it feels to walk barefoot on the beach? There are countless numbers of beaches to do that in Thailand: crowded ones and quiet ones. You just have to pick your favourite beach. Mine is Ko Phi Phi Leh, which is a deserted beach: no houses, just sand and palm trees! The island is also known from the movie called “The Beach”.

When the sun sets and kids go to bed, the beaches turn into big party zones. The most popular travellers’ beach party, the Full Moon Party, is arranged on Koh Phangan island. The party is so famous that I suggest you book your accommodation in advance unless you want to sleep on the beach (but
in case you do, you won't be the only one!). But don’t worry if the moon is not
full while you are in Thailand, because the restless travellers party pretty much every night!

If diving is your thing or you have always wanted to try it, there are several great places to do that, like Koh Tao, the Similan islands, Phi Phi and Koh Chang. You can see a lot of colourful life under the surface: sharks, turtles and even massive manta rays! Imagine this: you are diving and suddenly it gets dark. You think that it is an unexpected eclipse of the sun. You look up and what you see is a big school of these friendly giants, manta rays, swimming on top of and all around you. It looks like they are flying. It is a sight that will take your breath away.

After the deep blue, it's back to dry land and noisy Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. The
shining temples all over the country are amazing and there are lot of them in Bangkok. A few worthy of mention: Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, where you can find the most revered Buddha image in the country. In addition to sightseeing, take time to explore those smaller side lanes. Who knows, you may even see a glimpse of the everyday life of the locals!

From Buddhism to materialism: shopping in the capital of Thailand is a dizzy experience. Three letters: MBK. If you say this word to the taxi driver, he will take you to the MBK mall and you don’t have any worries how to spend the rest of the day. The mall is not small at all! I spent two days there
and covered only small part of it. The infinite amount of the stuff that is on sale is overwhelming! I have to warn you though – they have a big problem with piracy in Asia, so it is up to your own judgement
what you buy.

Thai food

There are lot of food markets around Bangkok where the food is very cheap and fresh, but if you want to see something different, go to the floating market. It is a nice day trip outside of Bangkok and you can buy sweet and fresh fruits and souvenirs from the boats.


Thai transportation

Thailand is a paradise on earth, but a bit far away from Scandinavia. You will need at least a few weeks off, a passport and open mind. Basically before leaving Finland you only need to buy the flight tickets, starting from 700 euros. You can get a room when you get there. I paid around 3 to 5 euros a night, sharing the room
with my friend. Of course, the luxury room costs much more, as always. Eating out is cheap too and Thai food is amazingly good!

It is easy to get around in the cities: you can take taxi, bus or tuk tuk (the traditional vehicle which is like a mix of a motorcycle and a cart.). Some tuk tuk drivers may sometimes be a little bit
cheeky, so negotiate about the price before you step into the vehicle. You can also rent a scooter, but please be careful: the traffic on that side of the globe is not as safe as here. Been there, done that: I had a motorcycle accident in Thailand. Luckily I survived! So, the safest solution is to take a bus or a train. The connections between the cities are well organized. But do remember that it is not Finland; vehicles may not be on time, buses may break down and weird things happen when you least expect them to, but after all, that is part of the adventure!

After the holiday you will reminisce about those lazy days chatting with locals on the streets, the taste of fresh pineapple in your mouth and those sunsets you watched while lying in a hammock on the beach. And even a short trip to Thailand will make you happy for a long time!

Thailand is such a lovely and lively place, that one article is just scratching the surface. Thus I say: Go there, discover it and you will fall for it!