A Weekend in Reykjavik


After the Golden Circle tour, we had two full days left to spend on a Reykjavik city break. Our guesthouse was located right next to Hallgrimskirkja. The church is massive and can be seen from nearly any part of the city – for someone who could get lost for a living, it was the perfect landmark orienteering-wise. We started the day by hopping on the elevator to the top of the church, and from there we could gawk at all the colourful houses of Reykjavik.


After our church visit, it was time to roam the streets of the city. My first impression of Reykjavik is a mish-mash of adorable wooden houses and tons of graffiti covering the walls. It also seems like a pretty laid-back city (even though they’ve deemed it necessary to specifically ban tractors on the roads during rush hours). A young man tending a hot dog stand tackled his grey day blues by singing out the tiny window of the stand, singing out so loud his voice echoed throughout the block. While my mum and I cursed the rain, a man in a suit closed his eyes, lifted his face up against the sky, and smiled at the raindrops bouncing off his cheeks to join the puddles on the ground.

As we reached the harbour, we started to wonder about the crowds of people, families and couples, all going in the same direction. We joined the march out of pure curiousity and soon found out that the local rescue services were holding some kind of an open doors event. We actually got to go on a free tour on the Coast Guard boat! They also had a cavalcade of different rescue vehicles in a neat row outside, including a gigantic 4×4 for the difficult inland terrain. It seems that car rental companies are scaring tourists about Iceland’s dangerous small roads for a good reason.


We finished off Saturday night at the Harpa concert hall, where we saw the amazing How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes. This hilarious one-man comedy show included not only stand up, but also a lot of props and video material, and the goal of the evening was to turn the audience into fresh, new Icelanders to help keep their tiny nation afloat. This show is pure gold and I can absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting Reykjavik! I dare you not to laugh for an entire hour at Bjarni Haukur Þórsson’s mercy. The concert hall in itself is also quite a sight.


On Sunday it was time for another soak, this time at the Laugardalslaug geothermal outdoor pool. This is another strongly recommended destination for Reykjavik visitors. The entrance fees are reasonable, under 1000 ISK, and for the price you get to enjoy a variety of different pools and other services. In addition to the “normal” sports pool, they also have a steam room, a seawater pool, a waterslide, and a bunch of smaller pools of different temperatures up to 44 degrees Celsius. All of the water is geothermally heated and the pools are open year-round. It seems swimming is one of Icelanders’ favourite hobbies, and what better way to catch up with friends and family than soaking in a warm tub of awesomeness.

Since we had already seen most of the must-sees on Saturday, on Sunday we could focus more on the details. I was charmed by the streamlined, bright red street lamps, geometric roundabout art, and sidewalks tiles that made them look like pixel art. Unfortunately I managed to destroy my memory card before I had the last day’s pictures safe on the computer. I lost them all, I cried, but what can you do. Fortunately the good memories of this trip will be much better stored on my brain than they were on the SD card.

Finally, here are a couple of Icelandic music videos. We kept hearing the first brainworm all the time on the car radio. The second video takes you to the streets and roofs of Reykjavik. The third video features a rapper riding through the suburbs on an icelandic horse. :D So heartwarming!

Around Belgium in Six Days: Romantic Bruges


We saved the best for last: Bruges is definitely worth all the hype it gets. Back at the wedding, when we mentioned our plan to finish our holiday in Bruges, the response was always the same: “Heh heh, so the lady wants to go to Bruges? *wink wink, nudge nudge*” In fact, the idea was Chef’s, and what a brilliant one it was. Bruges has a well-deserved reputation of being the perfect romantic destination for two. Ornate buildings, cobbled streets, beautiful canals crossing the city: you simply cannot get enough of leisurely strolls around town. Let the pictures speak for themselves!













Around Belgium in Six Days: Liège by Night

After Prague, another three weeks flew by at work. The last week of August, I got another chance to travel. This time it was with my fiancé Chef, whose best friend C was about to get married in Neufchâteau, Belgium. As Chef and I had a very limited budget and little time off work, our only shared vacation this year was planned around the wedding weekend. The cheapest AirBaltic flight from Helsinki to Brussels required a five-hour stopover in Latvia, but it wasn’t a problem. The whole Pokémon hype was still going strong, so we spent those extra hours happily chasing after pocket monsters around the beautiful parks in Riga.

IMG_2186Son rows the boat, mom looks for Magikarp

At the Brussels airport, we immediately noticed how this year’s terrorist attacks had had a major impact on security policies. Three years ago, when I first visited Belgium, I hadn’t noticed anything special about the arrangements, but this time there were guards and metal detectors at every corner. Somehow we managed to steer away from the “official” route leading to the correct train platform and ended up in a queue of people trying to enter the airport. Stressed out and already running late, we figured we would never catch our connecting train if we had to go through yet another security check. A friendly guard let us jump over the fence when he heard the situation and, thanks to him, we got to the train just in time. Either the the massive security operations were just for show to give people a sense of safety or we both seemed 100% harmless. I would probably put my money on the former.

At the actual railway station it became clear that there had been no need for rush. First, our connecting train was only supposed to be a couple minutes late, but then the bonus minutes really started piling up. Finally, 45 minutes behind schedule, we were on our way to Liège.


Our welcome to Liège was luxurious. C and his future wife B had already travelled to the village of Neufchâteau well in advance for their wedding and left us their apartment (and car!) to use. Their friendly neighbour gave us the keys and encouraged us to knock on her door if we needed anything. We hadn’t discussed the specifics with C, so at first, we were looking for an inflatable mattress or something similar for sleeping arrangements. However, a peek at the master bedroom revealed that, in addition to the apartment and car, the “good” bed had also been reserved to us. Gotta love Belgians! <3


After a long day of travelling, I would have been ready to collapse into bed immediately, but hunger drove us back to the city centre. An unusual heat wave lingered above Belgium, and Liége by night felt almost Mediterranean. Deux spritz, s’il vous plaît. I managed to order us drinks without using a word of English, despite the fact that I had painfully pushed my way through spring semester French with the lowest grade possible. 100 hours of study truly paid off, here!






Long Weekend in Prague, Day 3: Old Town Square & John Lennon Wall


On Monday, we had already started to run out of steam a little, but fortunately many of the “must-sees” had already been ticked off the list. We kicked off the day by saying hello to the adorable baby hippo napping in the photo above, but the rest of the zoo visit was kept short. Once again, we ended up wandering around the city before our return flight in the evening.



Travelling with Redds has always been smooth. However, when we were trying to get to the Old Town Square, feeling hot and hungry, “guided” by a deplorable map full of ads, we both came extremely close to losing our temper. There’s always a first, I suppose! These photos don’t do any justice to the stunning buildings around the square at all. In the end, we both agreed that the impressive sights were completely worth the brief stint of frustration.


The previous night, we had already caught a glimpse of the John Lennon wall by the Charles Bridge. On Monday, we wanted to see the wall better in daylight. Lennon-related texts and images first started to appear on the wall in the 80s, right after he was murdered. At first, the local authorities tried to keep the wall clear of graffiti, but eventually they gave up and graffiti took over. Over the years, the messages have evolved to encompass a more general philosophy of love and peace. The wall keeps on transforming, as new art slowly covers the old.



What better way to end a trip than heeding advice from an organic collection of wisdom and inspiration. As a cherry on top, I also got to squeeze the adorable Mole back at the airport. Try to guess which one of the dozens of drool stains is mine!


(Trick question: all of them!)

Long Weekend in Prague, Day 2: Crowds, Treats & Jazz


Our second day began in a very touristy manner as we followed the crowds to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. Long before the giant Gothic cathedral opened its doors, queues had started to form around the building. While some might find joint sweating a delightful group activity, Redds and I are no such people. We didn’t even try to catch a glimpse of the interiors, but instead settled for a stroll around the outdoor spaces.

IMG_2049Illuminati strikes again! Can you spot the Pokéball pattern on the windows?


I almost felt sorry for these newlyweds who were trying to finish their photoshoot in front of the cathedral. In the crowds, it was nearly impossible to take a photo without accidentally (or purposefully) getting photobombed by a sunburnt tourist. This paparazzi photo of mine also had to be heavily cropped to exclude random onlookers.

IMG_2057S is for Sanni (and also for Sloth)

IMG_0176Hello MTV, welcome to my crib!

Outside the castle, I found a pretty decent Sloth Palace. The compact, down-to-earth habitat with its serious hipster vibes found its way to my heart. The pompous S-Manor in the first picture? I’ll keep that in mind as a backup plan.




Pushing through crowds gets tiresome, and there is nothing worse than a hangry sloth. For lunch, I tried the goulash served in bread, which was delicious. As an added bonus, a wild Hare Krishna group appeared out of nowhere, drumming and dancing, and provided us with entertainment as they passed us by several times.

For dessert, we sampled the local specialty, trdelník pastry, which is made by wrapping dough around a stick to bake it, and covering it with some kind of a sugar mix as a final touch. Redds had hers with ice-cream filling, while mine was served with a generous coating of Nutella. Delicious, once again!


The rest of the evening was dedicated to a dinner cruise on river Vltava. We snagged a table on the upper deck of the Jazz Boat (reservation in advance recommended). An amazing live band played jazz in the closed space downstairs. We got the best of both worlds: we could hear the music well from the speakers placed on the deck, and we also had unobstructed views over the water and the city. A three-course dinner with wine and snacks completed the experience. I would be quite okay with this kind of life on a more permanent basis.




The beautiful city lights guided our way back to the hotel. Unfortunately, we had to learn the hard way that leaning on the decorative fences around the river probably isn’t the greatest idea: giant spiders are forever waiting by their intricate webs, ready to strike en masse from the shadows. Ooooofff!




Long Weekend in Prague, Day 1: Petřín Hill & City Tour

Despite the fact I had barely even managed to recover from the coupon trip, in early August it was already time for another mini-getaway. Since most of my nearest and dearest are scattered around Finland and the rest of the world, it usually takes some extra time and effort to arrange a rendezvous. (Poor souls still fail to realize the true potential of Turku as a place of residence.) This time, my friend Redds and I had two options: a camping trip to Nuuksio National Park or a weekend in a random European city. We chose the latter, no contest, and ended up in Prague.

Neither one of us tired slaves to the wage had bothered to make any plans for our three-day trip, but at least we had managed to book a hotel room in advance. We arrived at the Prague airport late Friday evening and immediately marched up to an ATM to get some cash to last us the whole weekend. While fumbling around with the machine, it quickly dawned on us that we had no clue of the exchange rates. The ATM, apparently geared towards the wealthier folk, gave us a handy list of round withdrawal sums to choose from. From those, Redds gravitated towards 40,000 CZK which she was almost quite absolutely positive corresponded to ~160 EUR. Beep, beep, boop! As the old saying goes, never trust a friend with your decimals. The machine announced it was about to annihilate my account and spit out 1600 euros worth of shiny Czech money. Fortunately, it was still possible to cancel the transaction, since I ended up having real trouble with spending over a hundred euro on anything.

Although my unwavering trust in Redds’s expertise had already begun to waver just a tiny little bit, I still let her lead us to our hotel, which to her credit she did splendidly. Anyone familiar with my magnificent sense of direction (or lack thereof) knows it’s best if I just follow quietly. The bus connections from the airport to various parts of the city are pretty good. However, the queue to the only ticket machine accepting chip cards was frustratingly long, since each tourist took their sweet time gawking at all the different options. Protip: Take an NFC card with you and you’ll be able to use the other two ticket machines with nonexistent queues.

IMG_2075Akcent Hotel: Spacious room with nice decor and giant balcony overlooking the city. We approve!

A night well slept and a breakfast buffet thoroughly devoured helped us power through the first actual day of our holiday. The three things I noticed immediately while wandering around the city were:

  1. Architecture. I could admire the ornate buildings forever.
  2. The heat! My face already began to melt after a few hours outdoors.
  3. Tourists everywhere. And I do mean everywhere.

As my Absolute Best Friend* Andrew so eloquently put: “Prague is not just tourist central, it’s tourist parade, tourist galore, tourist bosom, the bullseye of tourists.” I have been to some other big European cities before, but nowhere else has it ever been nearly as crowded as it was in Prague. It was impossible to fight the masses, so we had to join them.

*Happy now?

IMG_1912Endless queue to the Petřín funicular…

IMG_1913…or maximum glute workout on the stairs?

Our first destination was Petřín Hill, the bullseye of parks. The three-day public transportation tickets we had bought at the airport would have allowed us to take the funicular to the top of the hill. However, a mere glance at the queue leading to the funicular suddenly made the stairs look irresistible. It only took us about 20 minutes to sweat up the hill, whereas queueing probably would have taken at least twice as long. Mad props to the genius who had thought to sell ice-cream next to the queue!


On top of the hill we figured out where all the waves of tourists were heading. We joined them and climbed all 299 stairs to the top of the Petřín Tower, aka the Eiffel of Prague. The views over the city were pretty decent from up there.


IMG_1925 IMG_1932Wouldn’t have been my first idea

Back down on solid ground, we took a little fries & cider themed break in a most idyllic environment: right next to a row of portable toilets. All the other benches were obviously taken. Our daily queueing quota had already been exceeded on the way up to the tower, so we skipped the rest of the main attractions, mirror labyrinth and whatnot, but stayed a while longer to wander around the parks and rose gardens.




The simple joy of chasing down giant bubbles is always the same, no matter where you go. Our best find, though, were the bountiful fruit trees with tons of free snacks up for grabs. We also came across the worst kind of tourism ever: groups of dumb-dumbs on Segways. Those two-wheeled devils kept trying to run us over at every chance. People evolved to have legs for a reason, so use them, damn it!


After a successful escape from the most hazardous Segway zones, we allowed ourselves a brief moment of comatose on the tram. Then it was high time to brave the crowds in search for food. I wish I could say the crowds disappeared towards the end of the day, but it didn’t happen until very late at night. However, with our bellies full of food we kept on pushing on, wandering by the river, around the city centre and the old town.




The more you see of Prague the easier it gets to understand why approximately every tourist on this fine Earth wants to be there for the same summer weekend. The city is absolutely packed with sights. Personally, I like the way old and new architecture is merged there. It is impossible to avoid a healthy dose of art, and anywhere you look, you’re bound to spot an interesting statue or two. The actual city centre is still relatively compact in size and easy to navigate. Public transport works like a charm, food and drink are plentiful and cheap, and the weather warms the body and soul of even the weariest of Northeners. As a bonus, all the most important sights and buildings are beautifully lit at night. How could you not enjoy all that?


Coupon Vacation in Eastern Finland: In the Hustle and Bustle of Joensuu


On our way from Koli to Joensuu, we had a brief pit stop at the ABC Kontiolahti gas station. Our next coupon got us two à la carte meals for the price of one. The food was nothing to write home about, but the discount made me feel all warm inside. In all fairness, it could have been the heartburn, too.


Travel educates: the clocks of Hotel Cumulus taught us that the good people of Joensuu live in two different time zones. This time we opted for a cheap Airbnb stay instead of hotel accommodation, though. After setting up camp, it was time to take advantage of the next two coupons, which were effectively 10€ gift cards to the Sokos department store and the S-market grocery store.



Conveniently, the coupons allowed us to get all the essentials for free: breakfast for the following morning, hand cream for my dry sloth paws, and a pair of tights for M to replace the pair she had just broken that same day.

While shopping at Sokos, we were approached by a joyful couple of local gentlemen. They invited us to join them for beers by the water, since there were enough warm cans for us all in the plastic bags they were carrying. We politely declined the offer and they took it admirably well. We left feeling great about their hospitality.


Next up, we did a quick tour of the best sights the city has to offer. I channelled my inner Chinese tourist the best I could and dug up the good ol’ peace signs. My favourite thing in the city turned out to be a curious totem pole by a park.




During our tour, we ran into the charming gentlemen again, but still declined their repeated offers for beer and good company. We were more hungry than thirsty, so our next destination was the Spanish restaurant Torero. Naturally, we had a 50% off coupon for it.




A selection of tapas and a local specialty, blueberry pie with blueberry-buttermilk ice-cream, kept me full for the rest of the evening. Monday night in Joensuu seemed about as dead as a dodo, so we skipped the bars and pubs entirely and went hunting for sunset.





The perfect viewing spot evaded us, but somehow we ended up at the spooky ruins of a festival. We thought the guard would shoo us off, but instead he gave us tips on where to admire the sunset. There was that wonderful dialect again, love it! I suppose technically we could claim to have been to Ilosaari(rock), if we just strategically failed to mention we got there a few days too late.


Hashtag-thebestweekendofthesummer. Our last travel day was pretty much spent driving back to Jyväskylä. We did stop for a car wash on our way out of the city, though, because we had a coupon for that too. From all the coupons, we only left two unused: one free ticket to Nallerock (wrong weekend for us) and a free blood pressure reading (ignorance is bliss). I’m quite proud of our achievement, really.

Coupon savings of the day: ~90€

Coupon savings of the whole vacation: ~270€