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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: Lappeenranta

The Giant Sand Castle of Lappeenranta, Finland

Paula Gaston

Last time we sailed to Russia form Finland to visit the city of Vyborg. Our ferry returned to Lappeenranta so late, that we decided to stay the night. I wrote about our stay at the Scandic Lappeenranta City earlier, and it was not our best hotel experience. The next morning before leaving the town we wanted to see the Giant Sand Castle they have by the harbour.

 

FINLAND’S BIGGEST SAND CASTLE

The first time they built this sand castle was in 2004. This is the 15th time it was built, and it took a total of 3 million kilograms of sand. There are usually many sculptors from different countries helping with the castle, and each year it has a different theme. When the castle is done, some wood glue and water mixture is sprayed on it, to keep the sand from weathering. This way it holds up on even in a storm. This year the castle showcased some historically important places or events from around the world. From Finland for example, they chose to show the medieval castles. An addition to Finnish castles, they added the Vyborg castle which we just had visited in Russia. It used to be a Finnish castle after all.

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France

France

Every sand castle should have a chapel, don’t you think?

Every sand castle should have a chapel, don’t you think?

The locks of the Saimaa Canal that we just saw the previous day

The locks of the Saimaa Canal that we just saw the previous day

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There was also a lot to do around the castle for those who were not so interested in sand art. There were many activities for kids from painting to carnival rides, and we did end up getting a ticket for our little one to ride a train. She had so much fun!

ATOMS AND HYDROGENS FOR LUNCH

Sounds bizarre, right? So what are the hydrogens and atoms aka vety and atomi? They are especially a thing from Lappeenranta, so of course we had to try them out. And there is no better place to do that than the market place by the harbor where little kiosks sell them. The pastries are made out of a traditional Finnish meat pastry but they come with different fillings. Atomi has either boiled egg or ham in it, and vety has both. In addition to that, people traditionally eat them with ketchup, mustard, onion and relish, based your liking. These pastries have been sold in Lappeenranta since the 1960’s and they sell over a million of them every year. Based on the local story, a sales person from the market square; Taimi Laakko used to give her kids meat pastries with boiled eggs in them, and then started selling them. During that time people talked a lot about atomic bombs, so they named the pastry after that. Later came the other version with ham. Mmm!

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And they were delicious! You should absolutely give it try if you are ever in Lappeenranta!

STEAM BOAT REGATTA

We also got to enjoy the steam boat regatta which happened to be on the same day as we were hanging out at the market square. Regatta is a racing event for boats. We saw the old steam boats arriving, and people were even able to board them to look around. They later left and headed to the city of Savonlinna.

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Lappeenranta seemed like a really nice small town with a lot of activities. Finally it was time for us to move on…

We Sailed to Russia from Finland through the Saimaa Canal

Paula Gaston

On our summer holiday we mostly drove around Finland, but we did a short trip to Russia also. We sailed to Vyborg via the Saimaa Canal. And even though it was raining cats and dogs in the morning, the day turned out to be quite nice and sunny. A trip to Vyborg was an interesting adventure through history and today's life at the same time. 

SAILING ON SAIMAA CANAL 

We hopped on the MS Carelia in the morning in Lappeenranta, and headed towards Vyborg. Even just the trip through the canal was pretty interesting for me since I have never travelled in a canal like this. The Saimaa Canal was opened in 1856 and it is quite unique since Finland has a 50 year lease with Russia for this area. There is no such thing anywhere else in the world. The canal has a total of 8 locks, with three of them in Finland and 5 on the Russian side. The border crossing is in Lake Nuijamaa. Even though the canal is only 40 kilometres long, it still takes five hours or even more to get to Vyborg. Ships can't go very fast in the canal and a couple times we had to wait for other ships that were in the locks to get out. Our trip back home to Finland was a little faster. 

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The drop down from the highest lock is 12.4 meters and the canal is 6 meters in depth at it's maximum.

The views in the Saimaa canal on a beautiful day are rather nice. In both directions one gets to see how the locks work and to see some huge Russian mansions close to Vyborg. From time to time one can also spot part of the old canal going next to this new and bigger one. We also saw some floating islands which can change their location. Some of them are still held in place by the roots of the plants growing on them. Very fascinating phenomenon! There is also a historical spot close to old Tuohimäki lock that is worth seeing. There is golden text on the rocks which was made to greet the emperors when they passed by. It says Nikolai I and Aleksander II both in Finnish and Russian. The text was made by the sculptor I.A. Deneis. Too bad I missed the photo opportunity there. 

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MS CARELIA

Cruises on the MS Carelia are sold through Saimaatravel, and it has 200 seats. There are two restaurants: one offers lunch and dinner, and the other is more like a cafe type restaurant with a full alcohol license. At the top of the ship one can enjoy the outdoors on the sun deck. We booked a table in the restaurant when we left Finland, and we ended up sitting at the same place for the whole trip to Russia. Usually they have two servings, but since our table had not been sold for the second serving, we got to keep it. It was nice to have a spot where we could all gather up even though we did spend a lot of time outside as well. The food on the ship was great and I can recommend booking either lunch or dinner. The lunch was served as a buffet and came with salad, bread, beverages, coffee and desert. The main course was fish and beef. Kids also got an ice cream cone. When sailing back from Russia we were not so hungry, so we ended up just ordering a soup. Even that was delicious and kept us going all through the rest of the trip. They offered salmon soup with bread. Coffee and cookies for desert. 

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There was also a small play room for kids on the ferry, which was nice, since the cruise hostess told us that there was a record breaking amount of kids on our trip. It still didn't seem like a huge amount though, so I guess the Vyborg cruise isn't the first choice for families. Our hostess for the cruise took really good care of us during our trip, and told us funny stories from history. She had a great personality and really seemed to enjoy her work. We all loved her! On our way back home there was a bingo game for kids and a colouring contest. As a program for adults, they had a one man band. We were happy to have some kind of activities on our way back since we had already seen the views from the ferry on our way to Vyborg. At the very end of our cruise we got to enjoy a beautiful sunset and we stayed on the deck for a while.

The duty free store on the ship sells some souvenirs, candy and beverages and they can also change your euros into rubles. 

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A VISA FREE DAY IN VYBORG

When you take a visa-free cruise to Russia, you can only stay on shore for 72 hours. We did the similar cruise to St. Petersburg a few years ago. We used the visa-free cruise since my husband and kids travel with American passports and getting visas for them while in Finland was complicated and costly. Before arriving in Vyborg, the hostess of the ship did a little info event at the cafe. She told us about the customs formalities, and how to exit the boat. Since the visa-free trip requires some kind of organised program in Vyborg, and we hadn't booked the bus tour, we were given a coffee voucher to the Round Tower.

I highly recommend going to this info session and getting all the tips from the hostess. She warned us that with American passports we might end up in a secondary interview at the border but said not to worry. We were pleasantly surprised that we were not asked anything when entering the country. The hostess also hands out some customs forms and shows you how to fill them out. Each person needs to have their own form. When we got back to the ship, our bags went through a screening and our passports were stamped. When booking the trip we were told that we have approximately three hours in Vyborg which was not the case for us. Since our boat docked late, we only had less than two hours. This was the only down side of the trip and they should inform more clearly when booking this trip, that this might happen. If we would do this again, we would definitely stay the night and come back to the ferry the next day. Other than that, the trip was very well organised.

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More about our day in Vyborg coming soon so stay tuned!

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...