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Travelblog Gone with the Wine Blog

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Finnish Customer Service Experience at Scandic Lappeenranta City

Paula Gaston

The blog has been quiet lately since we have been on the road. We drove from Kokkola to the Eastern Finland and spent some time at our friends summer house, visited Nightwish exihibition in Kitee, travelled to Russia and back, stayed the night in Porvoo. Before I tell you about those adventures, I wanted to address a thing I have come across many times during our trip to Finland; the curse of the Finnish perseverance in the customer service situations.

Those of you who follow my blog regularly know, that I don't like to write about negative things or complain. It will only make me feel bad and I'm sure the readers too. This thing is not very serious either, but I still wanted to write about it. I hope I haven't treated my customer this way. Or have I changed while living abroad and maybe forgotten the local way?

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A SERVICE EXPERIENCE IN SCANDIC LAPPEENRANTA

We arrived to our hotel late in the evening. We were all very tired after getting up 4 am., driving two and a half hours to Lappeenranta and travelling to Russia, Viaborg and back that day. So we were anxious to get into our room and get some sleep. We had some problems finding the parking lot for the Scandic Lappeenranta and when we finally found it, I hopped out of the car and went to the receptions to get a parking validation. Yes, I didn't even read the signs at the parking lot since I had checked multiple times while making a reservation, that there is free parking in this hotel. It even was one of the reasons I chose to this hotel from Booking.com.

The first thing the receptionist asked from me was: "What happened with the parking?" I guess I should have realised at that point, that parking really is a problem at this place. I told her that I hadn't even thought about it, I am here to find out where should I park and what to do. I quickly learned that there is only a handful of free parking spots at the parking lot, and that you have to arrive very early in order to get one. But that was not what was said in Booking.com, it clearly states: Free parking. According to the receptionist, there is free parking spots in the city public areas, so in that sense, the hotel does offer free parking to everyone. I was too tired to argue with her, and I figured that maybe in the morning I would understand this point of view better, so I left and headed to our room.

Next day we checked out from the hotel and I asked if the receptionist could write off the amount of the parking from our bill, since I went ahead and checked what my reservation details say. And again, it clearly said: Free parking. I was a little bit surprised that she decided to argue with me about what it says in Booking.com, and wanted to check it. Soon she told me that I was indeed right BUT... the she gave me a list of BUTS why she was still right even though she already admitted that I was actually the one who was correct. 

Receptionist: BUT we only have 30 parking spots and that is not enough for everyone.
Me: But the cutomer can't know that since that is not said in the reservation details.
Receptionist: BUT the rest will have to pay that 6€.
Me: Yes, but that is not mentioned at the details and even my confirmation states that there is a free parking.
Receptionist: BUT there is some free parking close by.
At this point I noticed that the small print somewhere mentioned: "Free public parking is possible close by. Reservations are not possible."  So it turned out that I hadn't read the fine print, I had only read the hotel details at the reservation page where they say that the parking is free. 
Me: Ok (laughing), well the customer will for sure got the impression that the parking is free from this.
Receptionist: BUT it used to say that the parking is 6€, who took that informations off from the page? We used to be a Cumulus hotel and it used to be there.
Me: Well, I don't know who.

I was very surprised that here I was, arguing with two different receptionist about the unclear parking info. No one was willing to write the amount off from our bill or had promised me that they will fix the details to Booking.com. They did apologise, but in the same sentence there were always explanations that made me feel like I was wrong. And maybe I was, but the details were not clear. In the U.S., at this point the receptionist would have apologized, given us a discount or in some other way made us feel like we are important to them. I wonder why it is so hard in Finland to give such a credit to a customer. It is often so difficult to us to let someone else feel like they might be right. I'm very willing to pay for the services I use, and I'm not running behind discounts or things like that, but I do think that very easily they could have had a happy customer if they wanted that. If they would have apologized and made an effort to fix the unclear information, I would have been perfectly fine with paying the parking fee. But arguing about it made me feel really irritated.  

THE SCANDIC LAPPEENRANTA ROOM AND BREAKFAST

Not only was I disappointed how they treated me, but we also weren't impressed by the quality of the hotel. Our room was dirty. I could see that the papers under the classes were re-used, the toilet was not properly washed and there was some dust in the room. The furniture was old and had some dirt spots on them, and the walls had many holes in it. Tiles in the shower had started to get brown. There was some paper in the room but when I needed to write down something, the pen was no where to be found. It was also quite warm in the room and there were no airconditioning. Instead, they had something I never want to see in a hotel; a small table fan. I especially don't want to see one when the room costs 158€ plus parking.

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In the morning I went downstairs to get a cup of coffee and was happy to see that the breakfast at least looked promising. But when we came back to eat, all the tables were dirty and full of dishes. I understand the busy hours in this business very well since I used to work in a hotel myself, so we were fine cleaning up a table for ourselves. But when I saw the high chair they had for kids, I was horrified. This was maybe the dirtiest high chair I have ever seen. It seemed like just the basic cleaning was missing in this hotel. 

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I liked very much an organic blueberry soup and the vegetable chips they had. Our daughter wanted to have some crepes but they had all gotten hard in the pot they were served. The typical Scandinavian breakfast fish and fruits were missing. There was some herring, and some pineapple and water melon which seemed old. Do you know how some fruits get when they get old or freeze? Mushy and dark. I didn't feel like eating it. So the foods they had were quite heavy but at least I found some fat free yogurt which went nicely with the blueberry soup. The staff was friendly and they were smiling all though I'm sure they had a busy morning. There is something good about every place! 

 

As you noticed, our visit to Scandic Lappeenranta was not the most successful one. But oh well, that happens! At least we only stayed for one night and the next day we headed towards new adventures! So stay tuned...

Tyynelä's Elves Work Hard Year Round in Finland

Paula Gaston

We have been spending time in my hometown of Kokkola in Finland. While we were there, we also visited Luoto, a nearby tiny municipality, to see a place called Tyynelän Tonttula (Tyynelä Elves). It is a fun place for a quick stop if you are passing by the area, or spending time either in Kokkola or Pietarsaari. Tyynelä is usually open in summer months and during Christmas time, so before going, make sure to check their website to ensure it is actually open. 

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Tyynelä Elves was started when an antique sales person, Eija Perkola realised that her 18th century farm house was missing an elf. Just like in Harry Potter, in Finnish folk tales, it is common for every house to have their own elf living either in the barn, sauna or attic. Eija was not able to find a ready elf that she liked, so she decided to make her own. The elf came out so nice that many of her friends wanted one too, and soon people started to buy elves from her. Later Eija opened the doors of her beautiful house to the public and started showcasing the elves in Luoto.

There are many old fashioned barns, an old windmill and a few farm houses on the Tyynelä yard. The other house has a cafeteria and another is for the elves. Both houses have been furnished with antique furniture, and especially the cafe was beautiful. The Cafe building also has a little elf shop where one can buy an elf or some other souvenirs. One can visit the barns to see what the elves are doing. One of them is a store, in another they are building toys, and still another is a chapel. One shed also showcases some old toys and antiques. 

 The cafeteria building

The cafeteria building

 The cafeteria from inside

The cafeteria from inside

 Chapel

Chapel

A new thing this year is the elf workshop where one can see how the elves are made. Each elf is hand painted and therefore unique. The elf master also sews clothes for elves and gives them a name. There are many sizes of elves; the biggest ones are human size. The most special of the elves are for sure the wedding elves, the Head Elf Topi and a singing elf. 

 The Elf Workshop

The Elf Workshop

 Wedding elves

Wedding elves

 A singing elf

A singing elf

 Head Elf Topi

Head Elf Topi

Tyynelä Tonttula is a great place to stop for a cup of coffee or with the kids. Our 6 year old seemed to fully enjoy the elves, even though one can not play with them. I on the other hand, enjoyed the summer day in my old home country.

The entrance fee to Tyynelän Tonttula is 7€ for adults and 3€ for kids (2018). We happened to visit on the kids day when all children were free.

If you want to see more of the Tyynelä Elves, check out my Instagram profile @paulagaston.  You can find some videos under the Highlights on the front page.

A Day at the Tankar, Kokkola's Lighthouse Island in Finland

Paula Gaston

After the storm on Midsummer weekend, on Sunday morning the sky was bright blue and the sun was warming up the day. We decided that it would be a perfect summer day to spend at sea, and go visit the Island of Tankar which is on the Gulf of Bothnia by my hometown Kokkola. I have visited this pretty island a few times before, but my husband had never been there and we hoped he would get to go there on this trip. So we bought tickets and rushed to MS Jenny, the boat which leaves from Meripuisto in Kokkola. 

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Tankar island was formed on land that rose from the sea and is located about 17 kilometres from the mainland. In the beginning it was known as Klippan, but after that was named as Tankokari which later was shortened to Tankar. The island soon became a base for both fishermen and seal hunters in the 16th century, and little fishing cottages were raised on the island. The distinctive mark of the island, the red and white lighthouse, was built in 1889.

The trip to Tankar on the MS Jenny takes about an hour and half. We enjoyed the summer day on deck, but they also have a restaurant and inside deck for those who want to stay warm. The route to Tankar goes along the coastline of Kokkola, so people on the boat can see the many summer houses and beaches. The boat stays in Tankar for two hours, which we felt was a little bit too short a visit. We had planned to have lunch in Cafe Tankar which took a lot of our time on the island. The time we had left was spent walking on the nature trail and seeing the buildings that are on it, but it would have been nice to just sit for a while to enjoy the view and chill. But I do recommend the tasty food package that they offer at the cafe. It came with some salmon soup, bread and butter, coffee and desert pie. It was delicious!

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Every now and then they bring along a lighthouse guide to the island who lets visitors into the lighthouse. We didn't go up to the lighthouse this time but I have visited there before. Climbing all the way up might have been a little too challenging with the baby and my husband felt like we should enjoy the nature trail instead, since the time was limited. However, we did visit a little church they have, and The Sealing Museum. The Tankar Church looks a lot like fishermen's cottages on the island and it can hold up to 100 people. It was built in 1754 so that the fishermen on the island wouldn't have to go to Kokkola for Sunday service. Today, it is a popular wedding church for smaller weddings. The Sealing Museum is showcasing some fishing gear and a sealing vessel from 1928. 

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Our day at the Tankar island was lovely! On a beautiful day like this, I can absolutely recommend a visit to Tankar to everyone visiting Kokkola!

 

Midsummer and the Nightless Night in Finland

Paula Gaston

After many years, we are back in Finland for Midsummer celebrations and the nightless night. The weather wasn't co-operating with us in the beginning, but we were jet lagged anyway, so we were OK with that. Finally the winds and the rain stopped on Saturday, so we headed out to meet some of our friends at their summer house, and started to get into some midsummer spirit. 

TRADITIONS OF MIDSUMMER

Midsummer (Juhannus) is celebrated in Finland on the week of summer solstice. The celebrations will start on Friday, and for many, this means the start of a summer vacation. This weekend people will enjoy the nightless nights at their summer houses which are usually located by lakes or the sea. The sun will stay up all night, so if the weather is good, Finns will sit outside eating and drinking even in the night time. The celebrations will continue through the weekend and most businesses will be closed. 

Traditionally, Finns decorate their summer cottages by putting up branches from birch trees by the door way. In some Swedish speaking areas a midsummer pole, or a maypole, might be built in the village. Another way to use birch trees at midsummer is in the saunas. Saunas are an important element of midsummer and every summer house in Finland has one. Traditionally people will dip into the lake or the sea in between the sauna session, and sauna vihta made out of birch branches is used to stimulate the skin in the heat. 

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In some parts of Finland they will also burn juhannuskokko, a bonfires which are built by the lake side. According to old beliefs, the fires will keep away all the bad spirits. People used to think that the nightless nights will make spirits restless so that they will start to wander around. It was also believed that by celebrating loudly (which included heavy drinking) the spirits would stay away. 

MIDSUMMER MAGIC

Over time there have been many beliefs and traditions practiced during midsummer nights. In most of the old folk magic rituals, young maidens can do different things to divine their future, or ensure they get married and are fertile. There are many different ways to do the rituals, but in some of the most popular ones, the maid must collect seven different flowers from seven different fields and then put them under the pillow for the night. During the night, the future husband will appear in the maiden's dream. To ensure yourself good luck in marriage, you can go out in the midsummer night, find a field with some morning mist, and roll around on it naked. Much of the magic includes nudity or is somehow connected with sauna culture. 

If you can hear the cuckoo in the midsummer night, you can count how many years it will take to find a spouse from it. If there is no cuckooing at all, the spouse will be found in the same year.

in addition to luck with finding a spouse or fertility, there are also some magics that will predict success in future crops.

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This midsummer we didn't do any magical rites. We sat with our friends talking and laughing, eating well and drinking some wine. Of course we also sat in the sauna at midnight and dipped into the chilly ocean water. It was such a great midsummer and it felt good to be back in Finland after such a long time. 

What All Can Go Wrong Before Our Trip

Paula Gaston

That long awaited day is here! Tomorrow we start our journey from Silicon Valley to Europe... at least I hope so! But like many times, things haven't gone so smoothly. When you travel with kids there are so many things that can go wrong, but that is not the only thing threatening our trip. Well what else can there be? 

 Photo: Pixabay

Photo: Pixabay

KIDS GETTING SICK

Oh well, this is the classic case. A day before we are supposed to leave, our daughter wakes up with a tummy ache and starts going to the bathroom every five minutes. Maybe a bladder infection? All I can do is to reach out on my phone and call the doctor, but the timing couldn't be better. Today we were supposed to pack, do some last minute shopping, and other things. But let's try to stay positive; We would rather take a bladder infection than stomach flu or something that would prevent us from flying. 

FINNISH SUMMER WEATHER

The Finnish weather is showing us its best side. Part of May, and the beginning of June have been beautiful in Finland, warmer than California in fact. But the headline in the newspaper went something like this: "Everything you don't want in midsummer weather". So we are expecting thunder, heavy rains and cold weather. On Wednesday we are taking a smaller plane to get to my hometown, and of course for that day they predict high winds. Yay! Oh well, is there anything good in this? The midsummer weekend we are probably still jet lagged, so we are happy just to spend time with family and friends, not matter if it's indoors or outdoors. Maybe later we will get to enjoy some sun. 

WORK STRESS

The weekend goes really fast when you are trying to prepare yourself for a longer trip. We have done some last minute shopping and cleaning. My husband has stressed out about work, since it is not very common to take this long of a vacation in the U.S. He will come home before us though. And that's how it often is, the last days at work before vacations are super busy when you are trying to make sure everything is taken care of. Anything positive in this? Well, maybe he can finally relax when we get to Europe and let loose. And it's always good to remember that the family is most important! 

AIRPORT STRIKE

In last week's Finish news it was expected that the airport workers would strike. Then the strike was moved from last week to this Tuesday (our travel day) and then to Thursday. Even though the strike would have started on Thursday, some airlines might start cancelling flights as early as Tuesday. Great! I find it difficult to say anything positive about this, for us anyway. How about some excitement on our trip?

 Finnish news article about Finnair's possible flight cancellations

Finnish news article about Finnair's possible flight cancellations

So here are a few things to get you on high blood pressure meds before a trip. Let's hope everything goes well after all, and our vacation will be a successful one! Finland here we come!