Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Now that we're home...

...everyone asks "how does it feel to be back?"

The answer? 

It sort of depends on the day. 

Today, Chicago Public School teachers are on their second day of a strike and while I fully support them and what this strike means to more than just Chicago teachers, I wish we were back in Helsinki.

What do I miss? 

There are lots of things I miss (and I few I don't).  But mostly, I miss a society that works efficiently on almost every level.  I miss (and envy) the Finnish cradle to grave social welfare system.

Today, I really missed being able to hop on a boat and head over to Suomennlinna (the old fort I've blogged about before) or Pihlajasaari (a little island beach we enjoyed several times this summer).  The kids are home (again) and my kids would love to roam the walls and tunnels of Suomennlinna.


changing rooms

I also miss Finnish playgrounds--our playgrounds seem so boring here and there are never that many children playing at the playground. I loved that the playgrounds were always full of people!

And we really miss being able to hang out at our favorite neighborhood park--playgrounds, boats, ice cream, cafes, rocks to climb, paths to walk...what more could you ask for?

kaivopuisto 2

I really, really, really miss the trams :(  They are so efficient. 

I live in a neighborhood where most of the homes were built in the 50s, so to say I miss the architecture in Helsinki--especially the neighborhood I lived in--is an understatement!

Sammy talks almost daily about the cruise ships. We would see them every day. He hopes to get back to Finland soon so we can take another trip!

viking line web

I'll tell you what I DON'T miss!

The Seagulls!

Little rocks EVERYWHERE! Little rocks that insert themselves inside your shoes and somehow...make their way into your bed at night!

Hanging clothes to dry! I'm loving my soft clothes and towels!

And, even though I LOVED my drying cabinet, I'm so happy to be reunited with my dishwasher!

And of course, I miss that clear deep blue sky that I noticed and LOVED on the first day I arrived in Helsinki.

Overall, I find myself missing life in Helsinki and the wonderful people we met more than I ever thought I would.  We were told that Finns are quiet and reserved and I would certainly agree. However, I met so many outgoing, welcoming, interesting, educated people--I truly hope we can return their hospitality very soon!

Thank you ALL for sharing in this journey with me.  Your comments have been so uplifting and I'm glad I could share a little bit of Finnish culture (from an expats eyes) with so many who will never have a chance to visit this charming country. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More in Russia

While my kids looked quite content with this Russian bear, in all honesty, I can't say that I loved Russia. 

russian bear

Actually, I'm not sure it really had anything to do with St. Petersburg itself. We were treated kindly, found it easy to get around, enjoyed the cheap beer

Russian beer bottle

and the cheap, but tasty food...

subway sign

(Well, we didn't enjoy Subway, but the stroganoff was pretty good!)

But our trip was definitely marred by a few days of rain.

st isaacs view 2

I had also heard more than a few stories about theft and taxi scams in St. Petersburg so my guard was always up. 

And finally, we were simply worn out from all that travelling about in June and July.

Well, maybe the kids weren't worn out, but I certainly was!

joey door

The city of St. Petersburg is incredibly beautiful.  I can only wonder how I would feel about the city if we would have had a few sunny, warm days!

st isaacs family

I think it's fair to say that this city is quite ornate

pink building

st isaacs 2

both inside and out.

line inside kazan cathedral

And maybe even sometimes, a bit over the top!

Kazan cathedral

I'm not implying that this building is over the top, but seriously, only the center part is usable space for worship...the rest is just columns!

We were all impressed by the city's canal system and were able to take a cold (but dry) canal tour in English.


under bridge

Our boat driver had the clearest, palest blue eyes set into this marvelously stereotypical Russian face. When the tour was over, I had 42 shots of him (I tried to catch him as he turned once in a while to check for boat traffic behind us), and about 8 shots of buildings on the canal. I never got my shot :(

boat driver

Since the prices for goods and services were considerably cheaper in Russia than in Finland, Sweden or Norway, we had a bit of fun choosing souvenirs.

nesting dolls 2

sams souveneir

Sam proudly wore his hat from the moment he bought it until a few days after returning to Helsinki!

I'll finish up soon with a few final thoughts about life in Helsinki and life back here in Chicago.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Still more...

YES, I still have more to post about our trip to Russia and our final days In Helsinki.  I also have a special post planned about my favorite and not so favorite things about life in Finland.  We are taking one more little trip and then I hope to get caught up over here!

Thanks for the inquiries--keep checking in for more!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Visiting Candy Land

Just a quick post...we leave Finland for Chicago tomorrow, but I still have a few more posts about our trip to St. Petersburg and our final days in Helsinki!   

While in St. Petersburg, we visited the Church of the Spilled Blood, or as the kids called it, "the blood church." It is also referred to as the Candy Land Church.

church of spilled blood full view

Too bad it was not a very nice day the day we visited! The photos don't show the beautiful colors of this church.

churchof spilled blood side

Personally, I think the inside of this church is far more beautiful than the outside!

mosaics inside

Every single "painting" that you see on the walls of this church is, in fact, not even a painting. They are all mosaics.

mosaic window light

The story of Jesus' life is recreated on the walls of this church with millions of tiny little stone tiles.

mosaic perspective

The effect is simply breathtaking.

mosaic dome

I loved to look up at the inside of those onion domes.

mosaic dark ceiling

mosaic column detail

Here is a closer look...

mosaic close up

It's sort of a shame to throw a post together for such an incredibly beautiful place, but...


mosaic 6

mosaic 7

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

St. Petersburg, Russia--The Hermitage

Do you know what the largest museum in the world is?

The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

hermitage cloudy

This is just the main building--the Winter Palace.

hermitage sunny 2

The museum owns over 3 million pieces of art and less than 1/3 of it is on display.

From floor

hermitage floor

to ceiling

hermitage gold room ceiling

this place drips with opulence.

hermitage gold hall 2

and a LOT of gold too! 
hermitage room

We were warned to pick one floor, or one period of art

hermitage painting

and just focus on that part of the museum.

Did we listen?

Did we attempt to see almost every one of the 1 million items on display?

hermitage lily painting

Did we succeed?

Did we almost die trying?

We did heed the advice to eat before entering!

hermitage hot dogs 2

Unfortunately, on this lovely summer day in St. Petersburg, we were not the only ones to have the idea to visit the largest museum in the world.

hermitage line

I don't know if you can get a feel for that line, but it is LONG. Like 1 1/2 hours waiting in line long. My kids were troopers.

See those people breezing by on the left side of the photo? They purchased their tickets on-line. (Smart.) I tried to do that before we left Helsinki, but I couldn't purchase youth tickets and I didn't want to pay more than I had to--foreigners already have to pay 4 TIMES what Russian Nationals pay to enter the museum!

Guess what?

Kids are FREE.


My advice (should you find yourself at the Hermitage Museum in the near future)?

1. Buy your tickets on-line before you go.
2. Eat before you go in.
3. Don't try to see it all.
4. Hold your childrens' hands.

Apparently, it is NOT cool to touch centuries old artifacts or artwork. 

It is also NOT cool to use a flash.

Also, if you are going to hand over your camera to your eldest child because you are on sensory overload and not feeling well, make sure you give him the sticker that indicates you paid to take photos inside, or said camera might possibly get confiscated.

generals quarters sunny

The General Staff Building sits in front of the Winter Palace. Together, the buuildings of the Hermitage complex form a large central plaza.