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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

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.

Filtering by Tag: Finland

Seaside Glass Villas and SnowExperience365 in Kemi, Finland

Paula Gaston

*Our trip was made possible by Experience365,
but as always, all opinions are my own.

Our summer in Finland is going great, and last week, like every summer, we decided to drive up to Kemi, Lapland. We usually visit some family there, cross the border to Sweden and do some shopping. This time however, we were also honoured to be guests at Experience365. We stayed a night in one of their glass villa by the ocean, and visited a year-around snowcastle. Many people know about the huge SnowCastle they built every winter, but the SnowExperience365 is totally new thing, and open even in the summer.

Seaside Glass Villas and SnowExperience365 in Kemi

Seaside Glass Villas and SnowExperience365 in Kemi

 

A NIGHT IN SEASIDE GLASS VILLA IN KEMI

The Seaside Glass Villas were opened at Kemi’s SnowCastle area in 2016. They are small, log cabins, which offer an exotic choice of accommodation over the normal hotel rooms. The villas have a glass ceiling, and two glass walls, so that the guests are able to enjoy the ocean view or the stars on the sky. Now at the summer time, it is of course the Midnight sun sun, but at the winter time you can see the Northern Lights if you are lucky. Next to the villas there is a caravan area for those who travel with RV’s.

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Seaside Glass Villa in Kemi, Finland

Seaside Glass Villa in Kemi, Finland

Even though the villas are quite small, they have everything you need. Even a small kitchen. Since everything is new, the villas are clean and nice. When I heard about the night in the villas, I was wondering weather there is a toilet or a shower in them, but I can now tell you, they have both. The warm water only lasts for 13 minutes though, but that was enough for both mine and my kids showers. There is also and A/C and a heather.

Because two walls are glass, there is a lot of light in the villa even when you close the curtains. They had left us eye masks. After the sun had turned away in the evening, we opened the curtains and was amazed by how beautiful the view was. So tranquil! We didn’t really have a reason to open the curtain in the ceiling since the sun was bright, but we of course wanted to see what it would look like open. And I wanted to take couple of photos for my blog. At that point, I started wondering how to ope it, since I couldn’t reach that high, and there was nothing in the villa that I could use as a help. I got some help for this from the reception. The curtains are opened with a special stick and you have to be very careful since the paper curtains can break easily. Maybe some other mechanism would be better since the whole reason to stay in a villa like this, is to look at the sky from the glass ceiling.

Villa from inside

Villa from inside

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Very close to the villas there is a public beach, frisbee golf course and a playground. However, we didn’t have time for them since a Tivoli was in town. Tivoli is a carnival that tours around the Finland and my kids had never been to one. After that we walked to a restaurant area by the coast and had dinner.

After a good sleep in a villa, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and headed to a breakfast in Lumihiutale restaurant. Lumihiutale is Finnish and means snow flake. The breakfast was set up nicely and we ate a balcony with a most amazing view to the ocean!

Lumihiutale restaurant with a beautiful view

Lumihiutale restaurant with a beautiful view

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SNOWEXPERIENCE 365; A YEAR AROUND SNOWCASTLE OF KEMI

SnowExperience 365 offers an inside space to play at the snow and ice with the -5C temperature (XXF). It is located in the main building at the area, and right next to the glass villas. Most of the space is taken by the beautiful ice restaurant, where the tables are made of ice and the chairs are covered by reindeer fur. There are ice sculptures, an ice castle and a fun ice slide. In order to slide on ice, you should dress warmly. Our kids got an overall, boots and a funny snowcastle hat from the reception to use inside. For adults they had some warm blankets.

SnowExperience space is not huge, so it doesn’t long to walk through it. However, our kids could have stayed there for hours just to do the slide. The same building also has a reception, souvenir shop, Day Spa, ice cream bar and a restaurant. When staying in one of the glass villas, you get to visit the SnowExperience for free. Otherwise you will have to purchase a ticket from the reception. At the winter time, there is also a huge SnowCastle outside on this area.

Main building

Main building

Entrance to SnowExperience and ice cream bar

Entrance to SnowExperience and ice cream bar

SnowExperience364 in Kemi, Finland

SnowExperience364 in Kemi, Finland

Ice restaurant in SnowExperience365

Ice restaurant in SnowExperience365

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We had a fun experience in a beautiful place! I really enjoyed the Seaside Glass Villa we stayed in, and I would love to come back at the winter time, when you can see some snow, ice and maybe even Northern Lights from the windows. But I think the kids enjoyed the most the SnowExperience! Maybe we will be able to return to Finland at the winter, and visit Kemi again.

 

We Stayed in The Prison Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki

Paula Gaston

*Our trip was made possible by Hotel Katajanokka,
but as always, all opinions are my own.

As you know, we are currently visiting Finland for the summer, and last week we spent some time in the capital city, Helsinki. While we were there, we stayed at Hotel Katajanokka which was built in the old Helsinki County Prison building. So on our trip, we got to sleep inside a prison cell even though I think the cells used to look a lot different when the real prisoners were still there. Or what do you think?

Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki

Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki

SUPERIOR FAMILY ROOM AT HOTEL KATAJANOKKA

Our room was a Superior Family room on the fourth floor, and there was plenty of space for two adults and two kids. On the same floor, they used to keep the Finnish government leaders in 1945 who were detained for war-crimes trials. Also among those people was the president Risto Ryti. So quite a story! Now those prison cells have been renovated into upscale hotel rooms, where you can still see the history of the building and the city. Our room had a king bed and a fold-away sofa bed for two. And as a nice surprise, there was also a good selection of bath products and a big tub in our bathroom. Our kids are used to taking baths at home and enjoy playing in the water, so we found some use for these luxuries right away.

From our room we had a great view to Katajanokka harbor, and our kids loved watching the big ferries come and go. Every morning and every evening, we watched them load new passengers after offloading the old ones, and then slip away again. I think it would take us a long time to tire of this view.

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Our kids loved watching the ferries come and go

Our kids loved watching the ferries come and go

The names of the government leaders kept here

The names of the government leaders kept here

FROM GLOOMY PRISON TO LUXURY HOTEL

The hotel building is from the 19th century when they typically built all the county jails to look intimidating from the outside and depressing from the inside. Before here, there had already been two other prison buildings in the Katajanokka area. Helsinki County Prison was also used as a “remand prison” where the suspects were kept while waiting for trail. Finns gave this place the nick names Skatta and Nokka. Its most famous prisoners were the president Risto Ryti and his ministers, as I already mentioned earlier. They were all kept there at the end of the Second World War. War time was heavily present in Skatta’s history in other ways too. The building got damaged in bombings in 1942 and 1944.

The Helsinki County Prison was closed in 2002, and after renovations the Hotel Katajanokka opened in 2007. This old building which is protected, started a completely new life. Ever since 2016 it has been an independently owned Lifestyle-hotel, and it was just chosen for the Marriott International Tribute Portfolio as its first hotel in Finland. While staying at the Hotel Katajanokka, you should explore the surroundings and the building, as there is quite a lot to see. In the cellar for example, they have two old cells which are open to visit. The other one is a group cell which is really ascetic and dark, and the other one is an old isolation cell. Among the cells, there is also a prison chapel, a gym and some saunas for the guests.

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An old group cell

An old group cell

An isolation cell

An isolation cell

THE LINNANKELLARI RESTAURANT

On our first night in Helsinki, we had dinner at the hotel in the Linnankellari Restaurant. It is located in the cellar of the hotel, and has a very calm and quiet atmosphere. We stayed there quite a while. Their menu is not too deep, but we found something we liked right away. Like so often, I chose some fish while my husband went for the meat. But we always like to share the things we order, or at least taste each other’s dishes, so we end up eating many kinds of foods. The dessert menu had some classics prepared with a little twist, and we couldn’t resist trying some. My husband never passes the opportunity to order the Creme Brûlée, and I just had to try the Pavlova with fresh berries.

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The food was great and our waiter took such good care of us. The only thing we missed a bit was a kid’s menu which they didn’t have. Even though they were very helpful and the kitchen had some suggestions outside of the menu for kids, it is still a little bit easier for us moms if we get a written menu. At least for me, since I like to offer my kids some “real food”, and I’m secretly hoping that things like fries with chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches would not be the only items available on the kid’s lists. We do choose such food now and again, especially when travelling, but I always like to push some healthier sides for it at least. They did bring a fresh bowl of lettuce and tomatoes for the kids with the food at the Linnankellari which was great.

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They said SUMMER BREAKFAST IS MADE OF ICE CREAM

(Or so the sign said) and we believed them… ha ha. What a cute campaign! But of course, we ate something else first like delicious pancakes and fresh fruits. The best part of the breakfast was that it wasn’t like the usual hotel breakfast. Among the typical eggs, sausages and bacon, they also offered some oven-fresh meat pastry, banana smoothies and the most delicious oat meal. The oat meal was made in rice milk instead of water, which made it a little bit sweet. I loved it and will be trying it at home too! The morning coffee was drank from a steel cup just like in jail.

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Summer breakfast is made of ice cream. Porridge can be eaten at home. Yeah.

And did I mention the ice cream? The summer campaign in the Prime Hotels offers lower room prices and as much ice cream as you can eat at breakfast. And of course, all the kids were so excited! Especially when they got to scoop it out of the freezer and decorate by themselves. And I have to admit that I did try some myself too. Their campaign signs were hung from the ceiling with hand cuffs.

Breakfast is made of ice cream in the summer time

Breakfast is made of ice cream in the summer time

This is good to remember while getting some breakfast

This is good to remember while getting some breakfast

One great thing about the Hotel Katajanokka is the location. It is far from the traffic noise, but still close enough so you can walk right on to downtown. If you don’t want to walk, or you need to get there from further afield, the tram number 4 stops right in front of the hotel.

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I must honestly say, that this was one of the most pleasant hotel stays we have had. We really liked the fact that this place has such a story to tell, and the building was renovated with its history in mind. The prison atmosphere was still there even though the hotel is quite luxurious. The staff was friendly and we were well taken care of. A night in prison doesn’t sound so bad after all!

 

The Spells of the Nightless Night in Finland

Paula Gaston

Midsummer! The crown of the whole summer for the Finns, and the weekend that everyone is waiting for. So too the thousands of Finns living abroad who travel back to their birth country just for midsummer—Just like us this year, and last year too. It is not only because while living abroad the whole concept of the nightless night gets a whole new meaning, but also that is the time when most Finns are vacationing. While visiting Finland, we want to spend time with our family and friends.

There are also a number of traditions for celebrating midsummer in Finland, and they vary a bit around the country. We have always spent our midsummer weekends at our summer house by the Gulf of Bothnia. Birch trees were brought to both sides of the door as a decoration, and many delicious foods were prepared.

By living near the coast, we always had plenty of fish and sea food, but more so, midsummer is also all about barbequeing. My mom used to bake some donuts and strawberry cake. We almost always had some guests to help us eat it all. The sauna was heated up and in between visits, one would jump into the chilly ocean to cool off.

Here on the Swedish speaking coast you can always see some Swedish Midsummer poles.

Here on the Swedish speaking coast you can always see some Swedish Midsummer poles.

When I was younger, we also tried some Midsummer spells with some friends. They are a fun part of the midsummer traditions in Finland. There are so many of them, but at here are some known in the area where I am from:

THE BEST SPELLS OF THE FINNISH NIGHTLESS NIGHT

Out of many, many Midsummer spells, I remember the best this one, where you count the cuckoo calls. It was easy to do at our summer place, because you could here the cuckoo often. If you hear the cuckoo calling in the Midsummer night, you can count how many years it takes for you to meet your future spouse.

The most famous of the spells must be the one, where you have to find seven different flowers from seven different fields, and sleep with the flowers under your pillow during Midsummer night. During the night you will see your future spouse in your dreams. I think I tried this one too when I was younger, but I don’t remember having any dreams that night.

If you find a spring from the forest on Midsummer night and look into it naked, you will see your future spouse looking back from the water. This one might be harder to do, as it is not so easy to find natural springs in Finnish forests.

One of the funniest Midsummer spells must be the one where after going to sauna, you walk backwards until you hit a pile of fire wood. Then you check what kind of a log you hit. If it is a whole one, you will get married. If it is split in half, you will fall in love with a married man.

In the Finnish sauna people use a bundle of birch branches to help the blood circulate. You will gently pat yourself or your friend with this “saunavihta”. After going to sauna on midsummer night you can throw the saunavihta onto the roof of the sauna, and see which direction your future husband will arrive from. He will come from where the handle of the vihta is pointing to.

If you want good luck in marrying, you should find a field with morning dew on midsummer night and roll around in it naked.

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So there! Now everyone can try these spells and see if they work. Just remember that it has to be Midsummer night when the Sun is out all night! I’m glad that I am already married, so I don’t have to try these anymore. Instead, we have been enjoying the company of my family and friends, eating and recovering from the jet lag. We did visit some some friends at their summer place and did our Midsummer sauna and swim.

Have a lovely Midsummer everyone!

 

Greetings from Rovaniemi - Santa Claus Village in Finland

Paula Gaston

Last summer we visited both SantaPark and Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Finland. This was not our first visit to Santa Claus Village; we have been there multiple times; during summer, winter, even at fall. Every time, seeing Santa is equally exciting. The best photos however, are hands down the ones from winter time when the snow covers the trees and buildings. So I decided to use the winter photos in this post for that reason. It makes me feel more Chirstmasy here in California too!

 
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A DATE WITH SANTA

The main thing in Santa’s Village is of course meeting Santa. The very best thing about visiting Rovaniemi in the summer time is that there are less people, and no lines to meet Santa Claus. Right before Christmas on the other hand, the line was TWO HOURS long! Meeting Santa in his office is free of charge, but they do sell a photo package after the encounter. On our first visit we did purchase the package. The photos were good quality and there were several of them with all of us or just Santa with our baby. The package also included some general photos of Santa’s Village and a video. Meeting Santa was rather pleasant. We didn’t feel rushed at all, even though the line behind us was long. So we did manage to give our Christmas list to Santa, and right before Christmas day!

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CROSSING THE ARCTIC CIRCLE AND PETTING REINDEER

Santa Claus Village is located right on top of the Arctic Circle at latitude 66°33′45.9″. So one can literally jump over the Arctic Circle line while visiting Santa. From the north of the line one can experience a phenomena called Polar night (kaamos in Finnish), when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon at all. At the longest the Polar night lasts for 52 days, depending on what part of Lapland one is in. And what a shock it was when we drove further on to Lapland! I felt like I couldn’t get over my jet lag at all, I just wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep.

If visiting Finland during the summer, there is the opposite phenomena to Polar night. It is called Polar day, or Midnight Sun as we Finns like to call it. During that time the sun doesn’t go down at all. It is a very special time, and big celebrations occur around the country on the longest day of the year.

After crossing the Arctic Circle, one should head behind the buildings at Santa’s Village and go meet the reindeer. They are fairly calm and docile animals who often let people pet them. We even got to take a photo with one of them. While driving around Finnish Lapland, one can sometimes see hundreds of reindeer as they herd freely around the northern parts of Finland.

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SANTA CLAUS Village MAIN POST OFFICE AND SOUVENIR SHOPPING

The holiday season is fairly busy at Santa’s Village. The stores are full of people from all over the world and one can hear all kinds of different languages. One of the busiest places is also Santa’s Main Post Office where one can buy some post cards and mail them from the Arctic Circle. Santa has his own special stamps and a postmark. Some people even stamp their passports with this special Arctic Circle stamp. We also sent some post cards to our family in the USA. They think that Santa lives at the North Pole so we had to send some to prove to them that he really lives in Finland!

There are many, many souvenir stores in Santa Claus Village, and one very small grocery store with a very limited selection. I love all the Lappish things and always like to buy something to take home, but I have to say that if you visit anywhere else in Lapland or even in downtown Rovaniemi, you will find most of these same things way cheaper. Same goes with eating. The food in Santa Claus Village is very expensive and we weren’t super impressed with the quality.

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STAYING THE NIGHT in SANTA CLAUS HOLIDAY VILLAGE

In recent years Rovaniemi has gotten many new and nice hotels, and some accommodations a little more unique too. Last summer we did not stay the night there, but on our first visit we stayed the night in Santa Claus Holiday Village. It is located behind Santa’s Village, so not far at all. We were two families traveling together, so we booked two rooms. In each cottage there are two rooms which share the same main door but are in other ways separate. So it was perfect for us. Both families had their own rooms, but we could knock on each other’s door when we wanted to hang out. Each room had it’s own kitchenette and a sauna. As you know, we Finns love to warm up in our saunas before showering. We were desperately trying to see the Northern Lights, since my husband had never seen them. So we went out a few times before bedtime to look, but we were not in luck! He is starting to think they don’t exist!

The visit to Santa Claus Village is a great memory and particularly special for kids. Santa’s Village is actually very close to SantaPark, and I definitely recommend visiting them both. SantaPark is a little more pricey, but is worth it! You can read about our visit to SantaPark from here.

TIPS FOR VISITING SANTA CLAUS VILLAGE IN ROVANIEMI, FINLAND

  • Consider visiting off season since it is less crowded, cheaper and equally beautiful

  • Downtown Rovaniemi has many nice restaurants, shops and hotels.

  • The local delicacy is reindeer stew which is served with mashed potatoes and lingonberries. A local dessert special is oven baked warm cheese with cloudberries. There are many other foods to choose from, and many international chains as well. Vegetarian food is not difficult to find and gluten free food is served in almost any restaurant.

  • When visiting during the winter, bring warm clothing since the temperatures can vary anything form 0C to around -30C. Use layers under your outer clothes. Don’t forget your hat, scarf, gloves and warm socks inside the shoes, especially for kids! Many Finns use wool socks (villasukka) to keep their toes warm inside the shoes and they are sold in most stores. They also might have wool gloves (lapanen) on top of their gloves.

  • Be prepared for the darkness if you visit during the winter. The few hours of light during the day looks more like dusk.

  • If you want to experience the Midnight Sun, the best time for it is in June. Nightless night is celebrated on the third weekend of June.

  • When visiting during the summer, be prepared to meet the local air force: mosquitos!

  • The best time to see the fall colours is September and early October

 

Finding the Christmas Spirit in Rovaniemi SantaPark, Finland

Paula Gaston

The time has now come to move on to a more Christmassy topic in this blog. Last summer we visited Rovaniemi in Finland, and we went to see Santa Claus in SantaPark Arctic World. And it was quite an experience! In my opinion SantaPark is a small piece of America in Finland. It was well made, well designed and entertaining. The entrance fee was a little bit pricey, but it was worth it. And I would go again if I get a chance.

SantaPark is inside a cavern which was quarried into the bedrock, 50 metres underground. To get into the park, one must walk through a long walkway where different kinds of elf shadows are reflected on the walls and noises echo in the air. It was very exciting, if a little bit scary for the kids. But we did make it to the entrance and got our tickets. SantaPark was first opened in 1998, and it is open from June to the first week of August, and from November to the beginning of January. Even while visiting in the summer time, we found the Christmas feeling again quickly at the park. And in the chilly, dark cavern, we totally forgot that it was warm and sunny outside.

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CHRISTMAS MAGIC SHOW AND THE ELF SCHOOL

When purchasing the tickets one should definitely check the schedule for the day in order to know what is going on. We happened to arrive right when the elves were starting their Christmas Magic Show on the main stage, so we stayed and watched it first. The show was a lot of fun and very entertaining. these elves of SantaPark are quite the acrobats, I would say! When the show ended, they walked in front of the stage to greet and pose for photos with the kids.

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Right after the show ended there was an announcement that the Elf School was starting soon, so we headed there next. The Elf School was kind of cute, but pretty long. Even so, the kids seemed to enjoy it a lot. There were two elves who ran it; one spoke Finnish and the other English. The elves told us about their lives and duties, then we sang and at the end everyone got a diploma and an elf hat. I guess I graduated then, since I also got myself an Elf School diploma! Woohoo!

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DOUBLE TROUBLE on the MAGIC TRAIN

The only real ride in SantaPark is the Magic Train which takes people into a snowy forest to see its animals, and then on to the elf workshop. The ride is not very long and will work well for smaller kids. Since there were no lines to the train while we visited, we rode it twice. It actually reminded me of Disneyland rides which are always well made. I wish that real train trips would be this much fun!

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UNDERCROSSING OF THE ARCTIC CIRCLE AND MEETING THE ICE PRINCESS AND SANTA

SantaPark is said to be the only place in the world where instead of cross over the Arctic Circle, one can cross beneath it. One cool thing to do after that is to visit the Ice Princess in the Ice Gallery. Before going in, one can bundle up with a long white coat which is much needed. At least I was really chilly since I was dressed for the summer weather. The gallery is full of ice sculptures and there is also an ice bar. We didn’t stay very long, since it was so cold there, but we did talk a little bit with the Ice Princess and took a couple photos with her.

After that we went to meet the star of the park; Santa Claus. He was sitting in his office waiting for kids to come see him. Meeting Santa is always exciting, and the kids are able to tell him their wishes already during the summer. He promised he would come all the way to California to visit us! And of course we got our picture together with Santa. We did not purchase the photo package they were selling, but Santa Claus didn’t seem to mind that we took few pictures ourselves.

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The Ice Princess…

The Ice Princess…

Another princess that is about to turn into ice soon…

Another princess that is about to turn into ice soon…

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The last thing we did before leaving was a visit to the Elf’s Workshop. I loved it that they actually had this old fashioned arts and crafts corner where kids were able to make Christmas ornaments. It actually seemed to be the only place that was a little bit crowded there. We painted some elves and we nailed them on the wall of the workshop room. It was all part of the activity. We also got some elves to take home with us.

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This time we didn’t eat at SantaPark, but we did have some coffee and local pastries. While we adults were still sitting there and sipping our coffee, the kids ran upstairs to the Angry Birds Activity Park. Then it was time to say our goodbyes to the elves and start waiting for the return of Christmas. And here it is again, it came faster than we thought!

If you would like to read about Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, you can find the post from here.