Saturday, June 30, 2012

Summer Cottages--Part 1

Summer cottages are an important part of Finnish life. Summer is short so you need to enjoy it while you can!

I was once told by a Finn that while the American dream is to have a summer cottage close to other people and lots of activity, the Finnish dream is to have a summer cottage where you can see water, but not your neighbors!

I don't know if that is true or not, but we have been fortunate to visit a couple of summer cottages with Finnish friends and the neighbors (and water) were definitely in view!

Our first trip was to the island of Satamasaari--about an hour boat ride from the center of Helsinki. The only way on and off the island is this boat.  There is one in the morning and one in the evening--that's all folks!

taxi boat

There are no cars on the island. In fact, there aren't even any bikes because you can walk around this island in about 10 - 15 minutes (or row around it in 20)!

island from afar

There are a total of 100 tiny little cottages on the island--and when I say tiny, I mean T-I-N-Y!

Satamasaari cottage green


Our destination for the day...

Sirkkus cottage

...isn't it cute?!

Here is Sirkku (the owner and Rob's colleague at the University). Make sure to take note of the sky blue chair in the foreground and the wineglasses. The wineglasses are on the table.

Sirkku and cottage

And here is the view from the couch! (Notice that sky blue chair?)

Sirkkus cottage inside

But just look at that view!

view from cottage

Obviously, there are no bathroom facilities in a one-room cottage, so everyone on the island shares the latrines.


They are composting toilets so there's no smell.  

Wash your hands before you go.

handwashing station

And, since there isn't any plumbing (or electricity), the kitchen is modest and run on solar power and gas.


Dishes are washed up in this outdoor sink with water that is hauled over from the communal well and stored in the white buckets.

outside sink

Sirkku cooked our dinner on this tiny little grill.  I should have included something in the photo to give a bit of perspective, but it's about the size of a sand bucket. 


Joey, Lily and Rob finished off the evening with a quick boat ride around the island.

boat ride

There is also a kids' area on the island with playground equipment and a trampoline.  I can't imagine hauling a trampoline to the island on that little boat.  The kids were having so much fun on the trampoline that we missed the shop boat!  It arrives every other day and sells almost anything you might need while at your cottage (milk, matches, bread, charcoal...).

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I swore I'd never do it...

I swore I would never go...there.

I'm not a big fan of places like that.

So I swore I would never go.

Then Rob went there--to that place--for a work-related meeting no less--and he said it was really "no big deal." 

And then a few days later, somebody on Facebook said that it was a good place to go for a great view of Helsinki--for just a few euros.

So one morning, when Rob was off at the University and I had 15 errands to do with three kids in tow and no car, I promised them we would go...there...just to go up the a reward for powering through our errands with happy, helpful spirits.

The only problem was, when planning our errands and their location along the tram line, it all worked out best if we went...there...first. Eventhough I SWORE I would NEVER go.

And that was the beginning of the demise of the rest of my well-planned day. From that point on, everything was turned upside down.

upside down ride

We walked in, you know, "just to go up the tower," and it turns out, Rob was wrong, very, very, VERY wrong. After his meeting there, he told me "there are only three or four attractions--it's really NO BIG DEAL" (his exact words).

ferris wheel 2

But to three little kids, it is a very, very, VERY big deal.

And immediately I was assaulted by begging and pleading and more begging and promises...oh the promises my children made.

So, I thought, forget the tower, I will let each child ride ONE ride.

sam dragon

But then there were all the discussions about how everyone wants to do something different and it's more fun to go together and then...yep...more promises.

And in the end, I was weak. I caved.

hip hop full

swings 2

And I think we might all be a bit better for it, because going to an amusement park on the spur of the moment is a totally different experience than a planned trip to the amusement park.

fun house

Even Rob left work a bit early to join us and try out THE. BEST. FUN. HOUSE. EVER. I'm not ashamed to say, I actually peed my pants a little bit I laughed so hard in there.

ferris wheel capsule

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The rest of the islands...

Oh I am terribly behind! I have several weeks worth of photos to edit and post--we have been busy! At this rate, I will be posting photos about our Finnish experience after we have returned home.

joey wheel

Let's get back on is a quick look at the rest of our trip to the Aland Islands.

I really fell in love with the vegetation on the islands. In particular, the sedums were in full bloom and they were magnificent. These photos don't even come close to capturing their beauty.


The forest floor was covered with blooming sedum.


forest floor sedums

Wildflowers were blooming everywhere.

purple flowers

There were also slugs everywhere...yuk.


Even the rain couldn't dampen the beauty of this quiet island.

fishing shanties water 2

shack plus anchor

fishing shanties

lily and sam on rocks

The best way to warm up after a walk in the rain? Grilli and s'mores!


Before we got back on the boat to return to mainland Finland, we checked out an old sailing vessel.


sam wheel 2

Then we boarded the boat for the five hour journey back to Turku for the last leg of our trip.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Midsummer Eve

Alanders take their Midsummer celebration quite seriously.

There is the Midsummer Pole...

midsummer raising pole

midsummer decor

(Notice all of those little birch leaves tied onto the wires of the pole!)

...and little girls in dresses wearing floral crowns

midsummer girl on dad

midsummer girls dance

...and singing and dancing

midsummer rockin

(even a foreigner can do it!)

midsummer reynolds dance

...and let's not forget that even at midnight, it's still quite light out!

Rob at midnight

That's a lot to celebrate! Juhannusta!

midsummer crown

To learn more about Midsummer celebrations in Finland, click here.

To learn more about Aland, click here.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


As I mentioned in my last post, the Aland Archipelago is located between Sweden and Finland.

It is nothing short of amazing to move through the archipelago, from one tiny island to another on an impossibly quiet ship that seems to outsize many of the islands themselves.

Aland archipelago

Silja boat

Our rental cottage was located just outside the town of Mariehamn in a quiet little spot next to the sea. Given all of our reservations were made blindly, on-line, I was pleasantly surprised.

Aland cottage

What a view!

Aland cottage view

Aland cottage beach lily

As is customary in Finland, Aland and Sweden, the sauna was located next to the sea so that you can cool off after your sweat (THAT'S an understatement!) in the sea water.

Aland cottage sauna

Our rooms were small but comfortable (the kids pushed their beds together!)

Aland cottage kids bed

Friday, June 22, 2012

Train Travel to Turku

We have become big fans of train travel during our time here in Finland. Finland's trains are clean, comfortable, convenient, and fast but NOT CHEAP!

We spent a lovely Midsummer holiday weekend on the Aland Islands. The islands are located in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland and you can only get there by boat or airplane. So the first leg of our Midsummer holiday was a 2 hour train trip from Helsinki to Turku--one of Finland's oldest cities located on the western coast.

Helsinki's Central Railway Station is one of my favorite buildings here.

central railway station 2

Love the dudes holding the white globes!

central railway station

For this particular trip, we scored the family car!

family car 2

There is no extra charge for this car and it allows the kids to move around a little bit and make more noise than we would allow if we were sitting with the other passengers.

family car

Plus, just a short flight of stairs away is a play area for kids! Finns know how to treat families right!

We only had a few evening hours to enjoy Turku on the way to the Islands--I had planned to explore the city a bit more in depth on the way back to Helsinki. Unfortunatley, museums and such are closed on Mondays in Turku AND it was raining...but more on that later.

Wednesday night, we went to the Turku Cathedral.

Turku Church

We've seen a lot of churches on our travels, but none of them have been very ornate--nothing like the churches in Western Europe. However, this one came quite close!

Turku church organ view

Turku Church inside

Turku church altar

In several of the churches, I've seen boats suspended from the ceiling. I finally asked what the boat symbolizes. According to the church guide, when sailors encountered really bad weather or other dangerous situations (such as running out of fresh water on the boat), they would make a promise to God that if they were spared death, upon their return, they would hang a model of their boat in their church.

Turku Church boat

Turku Church steeple

Next stop...Mariehamn, Aland Islands!