ABBA in Sweden, dog sledding in Northern Finland and sneaky trip to Norway


Hej hej everyone!

We have just arrived in Berlin and will be here until 29 January. We have had an epic few weeks exploring more of Scandinavia and where the vikings lived. After Iceland, I really wanted to find more winter and to be honest, I really wanted to do dog sledding. We were told by the Icelanders that dog sledding is a Finnish thing to do in Lapland. So even though it was quite a trek to get to Finland, we decided to make our way there.

Stockholm, Sweden

We made a pit stop in Stockholm, Sweden for two days and one of those days was spent at the ABBA Museum! Oh yea!  Mom was a big fan of theirs, and so I was exposed to ABBA from a young age and had their tunes etched in memory. The museum only opened in 2013 and let me tell you, it is a lot of fun for ABBA fans and non ABBA fans! The museum is more than just reading about the band, it is like a mini game centre. There are all these interactive stations, which with you ticket, your results are recorded and posted on the ABBA museum website (accessible only to you with your ticket number).

Wooooo ABBA Museum!
Wooooo ABBA Museum!
DSC09995
Kev boogying with ABBA
Dancing with ABBA
Dancing with ABBA
'Mamma Mia!'
‘Mamma Mia!’
Singing with ABBA
Singing with ABBA
Sexy no?
Sexy no?

I had a blast, and I fell in love with all of the ABBA songs. As soon as we left the museum I got all their albums synced up on my Spotify playlist and geez, these guys wrote some really good songs!

Leppäjärvi and Enontekiö, Finland and sneaky drive to Kautokeino, Norway

Kev and I flew up to Kittilä, Finland to pick up our rental car and to drive two hours north to our Airbnb accommodation in the middle of nowhere. Their listing title was ‘Experience the Arctic Circle’. I know that I just wanted to get as north as possible because when are we ever going to get the chance to do this again? Kev was also very keen because it meant that we were going to have a better chance to see more northern lights! The drive was beautiful! It was snow, snow, snow everywhere! Blankets of white icing all over pine trees and large fells. It was quite a daunting drive for two Aussies who have only driven in Australia’s dry and warm conditions. Snow and ice was a new challenge.

Our hosts Elina and Gareth gave us the following tips:

1. Drive calmly and slowly (max speed 80km); and

2. If you see reindeer on the road, do not honk them, just slow down calmly and they will walk off.

Due to point one, Kev and I unanimously agreed that he should perhaps drive first.

Our beautiful introduction to Lapland, Finland
Our beautiful introduction to Lapland, Finland
Elina and Gareth's front yard.
Elina and Gareth’s front yard.

When we arrived to our Airbnb accommodation our hosts, Elina and Gareth were so open and welcoming. Kev and I were a bit wired from the travel, two hours of cautious driving and overwhelmed by the beauty around us. It was about 3.30pm and it was already looking like 7pm so luckily for us, Gareth had started preparing dinner for us. Reindeer! As always, I was a little worried about eating such a cute animal, especially since we did encounter a few on our drive down, but Gareth put my mind at ease explaining that all the locals eat reindeer and from what I could tell, they are the equivalent of cow/beef in Australia (as in people own herds of them).

We were also greeted by all three of Elina and Gareth’s dogs! They were all so adorable and I could not contain my happiness having a furry friend near by again.

Kev with Rolly and Saku, looking longingly for Elina to return home.
Kev with Rolly and Saku, looking longingly for Elina to return home.

Our week in Lapland was truly a unique experience. On our first day out to the town to get some food it was a chilly -36 degrees celsius. This was quite an unusual and exciting experience for me. It was like very trip out of the house was an adventure! We had to wear so many layers to keep warm, and when you opened the door to go outside, a gush of frost or mist would enter the house. It was as if you were walking out into a huge freezer, except that outside was a lot colder than the usual freezer! One time when Kev ducked in to the toilet, I waited outside and just jumped up and down to keep myself warm. When Kev walked out he asked me ‘Did you roll around in snow?‘ I was confused and told him that I was just standing there for the few minutes he was inside. He then took a photo to show me what amused him.

Within seconds, frost had started to form on my hair from my breath.
Within seconds, frost had started to form on my hair from my breath.

This extreme cold continued to amuse and surprise us. I could not help but giggle every time I walked out to feel the moisture on my nostrils freeze instantly. My nose would all of a sudden go ‘crusty’. Haha!

Husky Sledding

On our second day, we secured a spot on a 20km husky sledding tour of Lapland! I was so, so, so very excited. There was only Kev and myself and two Frenchmen who were on the tour. We all were able to have a go at driving the sled and man, was it an adventure! Elina and Gareth gave us extra layers of socks, leg warmers and gave us two mittens (woollen ones and leather ones). Kev was given a heavy wool sweater to wear under his down jacket. We also hired boots as the awesome Gore-Tex ones that we had were not warm enough. The day started at -36 but when we arrived at the Husky farm we were told that it was -38 degrees. When we stepped out of the car, I saw a puppy and gasped in excitement, however, that gasp was my first breath in, and I ended up coughing as the dry, icy air tightened my chest and throat. (This sensation amused me too).

Me and the husky puppy that made me lose my breath!
Me and the husky puppy that made me lose my breath!

Sledding was just dazzling! We were able to catch a little bit of sun when we were out there. Our tour guides were loving it, saying that only a week ago there was absolutely no sun for months!

Sunrise at midday while Husky sledding
Sunrise at midday while Husky sledding
View from the passenger.
View from the passenger.
Our beards getting frosty.
Our beards getting frosty.

Here’s a video of our husky experience bravely taken by Kev!

My scary moment in the extreme cold

When we switched over, and I was in the passenger seat, I wanted to take some quick photos. I remember the tour guide saying at the beginning of the tour ‘Do not take off your gloves during the ride.‘ Usually I listen to such instructions, but this was once in a lifetime, and I wasn’t going to have my hands out for long. So I took some photos and a short video on my camera. But within a minute my hand got so cold I didn’t realise it turned completely numb. Like real numb. Dead numb. I started to really freak out. I couldn’t feel the camera in my hand, couldn’t even feel where my hand was located. I tried to put the camera in my pocket, but felt nothing. I then just tucked the phone in my lap and tried putting my mitten on. No luck. I was jabbing my hand in and out of whatever was tucked under the blanket. If my finger had gotten caught on something while jabbing it, I wouldn’t have felt it. It was gone. With the wind in your face and in your ears while in a moving vehicle, I had to focus on looking at my lap under the covers to find the mitten. When I did, I just shoved my hand in there and started shaking my shoulders, arms, legs… everything and anything to try and get the blood moving in my hand. For a good 10 minutes I went quiet. I just prayed that my hand was ok and I was regretting not listening to the guide’s instructions. After a while, I started feeling ‘ice’ in my mitten. I was a really mystified. How did I get ice in my mitten? It made no sense? I kept pumping my hand and then I realised that the ‘ice’ in my mitten were in fact the tips of my fingers rubbing agains my palms. Soon after that, my whole hand started to burn as if it was on fire. It was so hot that I tried not to squirm in my sled. After that, my hand was swollen and sore for the rest of the day and for the day after. Lesson learnt.

Experiencing the arctic 

Sauna the Finnish way

We were 68 degrees North, 4 degrees higher than when we were in Reykjavik in Iceland!  After our Husky ride Gareth and Elina prepared their indoor sauna for us to use to defrost. OH MY GOD! I never understood the power of the sauna until that day.  We were warm enough throughout the day so that we could enjoy ourselves, but only when we sat in the heavy, heat of the sauna did we realise how cold we actually were. Everything felt so relaxed and we warmed up quickly. Once we were hot, we then made a quick dash through the laundry out to the backyard stark naked giggling and shrieking out swear words as our feet hit the snow and rolled around in the powdery stuff! When we returned back from the cold into the sauna, we had this cool tingle where all the snow made contact with our skin. It was a really invigorating sensation, and yes. It’s addictive. It is the Finnish way, and those Finnish are CRAZY! I can’t back down on a challenge, and doing an insane thing like rolling around in snow stark naked in -36 degrees, I can proudly say, I’ve done it!

Life is connected to nature

Seasons – The Finnish life style in the Lapland area is very closely connected to the seasons. This is something I quite liked about it. During the summer they pick wild berries, fish in the lakes and hunt the reindeer and freeze all of them for the winter. For the Finnish, these sub zero temperatures which are an adventure for me, is a walk in the park for them. It is normal to have layers upon layers. It is normal to have those cute knitted mittens, leg warmers and hats for men and women (in fact, they are the best kind of warm). A part of Finnish life is that in the winter, you must warm up your car by a cable a good 10 minutes before leaving. This small detail was something Kev and I never had to experience in Australia. Our rental car was pretty good for most days (not needing a cable to warm up like Elina and Gareth’s and most of the locals) but after the second day of -40 something, all three of our cars refused to turn on.

The sun –  this becomes very important to those guys who live in the arctic circle. When we were there, the sun would rise at 10.00am and then set at around 3.00pm. This made everyone more tired due to less sun, and it affected me heaps… however, Kev surprisingly was more awake than usual. Hrmm?

The quiet – I’ve never been to a place where I hear nothing but my breath or my insane voice in my head speak. It is so quiet that at times it is a little confronting. There’s no wind, breeze or any movement in the air. There are no birds, there are no rustling as everything is covered in a heavy coat of snow. It’s really something. The closest thing I can think of is going diving, but even then, you can still hear clicking and scratching from the crustaceans.

Relying on neighbours – because you’re in the middle of nowhere, with only 80 people in the village, who else can you turn to when you run out of food and your car is frozen? That’s the lifestyle for those who live in the arctic circle. Houses have enough distance to offer complete privacy, but everyone knows everyone and are happy to check in on you to make sure you’re ok. Here are some snaps of our arctic life:

It's so cold and dry up here, that the snow falls like glitter.
It’s so cold and dry up here, that the snow falls and twinkles like diamonds or glitter, and when you have a closer look, they really look like stars!
While Kev sits inside keeping warm, I'm out with Elina collecting wood for the fire.
While Kev sits inside keeping warm, I’m out with Elina collecting wood for the fire that keeps the house and water warm.
Experiencing the 'Blue moment' in Finland -  where everything is blue.
Experiencing the ‘Blue moment’ in Finland. During this moment everything is just blue.
Falling in love with Moomin. A popular Finnish cartoon.
Falling in love with Moomin. A popular Finnish cartoon. Kev bought me this mug because I kept on umming and ahhing about whether I should get one. Elina and Gareth had tons of these mugs at their place and I wanted to be able to experience the joy of drinking out of a Moomin mug.

Driving to Kautokeino, Norway

When Gareth and Elina were able to get our car to start again, we decided to take a drive down the road. There was a Norwegian town that was a little over two hours down the street called Kautokeino. It was a small town, but it had a silversmith there which had an interesting studio. So with Kev’s encouragement (I had been too nervous to drive beforehand) I took the steering wheel and drove us across international borders! The driving wasn’t too bad once I got the hang of the left hand drive with changing gears with the right hand. The thing that was difficult was trying to keep on the right side of the street without going over the centre line as it was covered by snow, and in the afternoon on the way back, there was heavy fog making everything even more whiter. But it was ok. I completed the return trip! And while driving we came across heaps of reindeers! 

Driving a manual on the left hand side of the car and on the right hand side of the road is weird.
Driving a manual on the left hand side of the car and on the right hand side of the road is weird.
Reindeer!
Reindeer!
More reindeer!
More reindeer!
They saw me coming!
They saw us coming.
On the way home from Norway.
On the way home from Norway these guys just chilled on the road with us behind them.

Having a complete conversation in Finnish with…

Elina and Gareth’s dogs! Can you believe it? This was by far the coolest experience for me! Haha! By the 4th night at our Airbnb place, I was able to pick up a few cool Finnish words from hearing Elina and Gareth speak to their dogs Saku, Rolly and Myrsky.

One night when Myrsky (a beautiful Siberian Laikan x Bear Dog puppy, who is a reindeer killer… oh yes he is!) was inside, I surprised myself with this:

Me: Myrsky! Toole tan-ne!

Myrsky looks at me from the other side of the room, gets up and comes to me.

Me: Myrsky, Eestu!

Myrsky looks at me, processes what I’ve said and then sits.

Me: Hoover! Key-toss!!!! OH my god, the dog is teaching me Finnish!

praise him with pats, rubs, hugs and excited vibes as I can’t believe that I am talking Finnish to a dog and he understands me! It’s a friggin miracle! Myrsky just laps up my well deserved affection.

I learnt other ‘useful’ doggy words:

Toole tun-ne = Come here

Eestu = sit

Hoover = good

Key-toss = Thank you

Eh-men = Go

Eh-men, eh-men, eh-men = Go Go Go! (This sounds really cute saying out loud)

Oo-loss – Out

Damn, there were two other words, but after two days of leaving Finland, I’ve already forgotten them. However, I was pleased to have picked up something of this very foreign language. Even if it is doggy language. I am sure I can use them practically one day…

Before we left, Elina and Gareth treated Kev and I to a movie night with popcorn and the oldie Top Gun! It was such a wonderful last night, and we were able to take a ‘family photo’ to remember our time there!

Family photo! Rolly, Myrsky, Elina, Gareth, Saku, Kev and I all enjoying the popcorn!
Family photo! Rolly, Myrsky, Elina, Gareth, Saku, Kev and I all enjoying the popcorn!

We had such a wonderful experience in Finland because of Elina and Gareth, and if anyone wants to give living in the middle of nowhere in the arctic circle a go, please visit these guys! You can see their Airbnb listing here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2060177

Scandinavia

So Finland completes our Scandinavian trip. We have visited very country in Scandinavia which was a complete surprise because initially Kev and I had not even looked at any websites about Scandinavia. Looking back at what we have achieved amazes me and I am so happy that our travels have turned out the way they have. People may comment that our travel path is a little unusual jumping from Austria then up to Scandinavia, however, I like it like that. I like it that I have the freedom to choose where I want to go and when I want to go, even if it is a little unconventional, no one can take the experiences away from us.

On a final note, I have been inspired and I’ve written a bitter sweet song called Scandinavia. Have a look below!

P.S I had to sneak this photo in:

My own little reindeer to remind me of Finland. I've named him Myrski in memory of my favourite Reindeer-Killer-Pup.
My own little reindeer to remind me of Finland. I’ve named him Myrski (spelt with an ‘i’ instead of a ‘y’ because it’s smaller than the real Myrsky, in memory of my favourite Reindeer-Killer-Pup.

Our footprints: http://spiked.it/T4roueB , http://spiked.it/ykqMw89 , http://spiked.it/JmGKWL4 , http://spiked.it/W8i9ayc , http://spiked.it/pDtmy1g

Advertisements

Hopping to Iceland


Right now we’re taking a short stop in Stockholm before heading into the cold north in Finland and with a little extra time it’s time for a catch up post.

Back on the 26th of December we headed to the Innsbruk hbf at the early time of 7am, ready for a 15hour train trip to Copenhagen. The pain of the long transits are softened by three things. Firstly having a eurail pass it feels like you’re getting a bargain the more you travel by train (even if you are shattered from travel at least you felt like you made some money out of the trip). Secondly wifi access just makes passing time so easy. Thirdly seeing the countryside roll past and change.

One of the most impressive rail lines to see is supposed to be between Innsbruck and Munich. I say ‘supposed to be’ because when we left Innsbruck it was still very dark. And as we approached Munich a fog had descended. So we didn’t see much of this famous view at all. We travelled on, a little disheartened, but transit excitement was returned to us when we left Hamburg to Copenhagen. We hopped on a diesel train at Hamburg and started watching the King’s Speech just to pass the time on our last leg. About an hour in an announcement came on “In half an hour all passengers must disembark the carriage when the ferry crosses the channel”. We were tired, engrossed in the movie and just didn’t want to pay the notice any mind. So after 15 mins we heard a heavy *THUD*. We threw our eyes outside and saw that our train was getting on a BOAT! I don’t know why it was so exciting then, or now even, maybe it’s just having your ideas challenged of how trains stay on rails and do NOT board boats. I think if I was in a car getting on a Hercules aircraft or getting airlifted by a Chinook I’d have a seizure.  

Anna heading back to the train inside of the ferry

The boat ride was a short 40 minutes and we arrived soon after in Copenhagen. In our three days of Copenhagen the best thing was meeting the people. Not to say that people aren’t friendly in other countries but the Danes take it one step further. We were approached multiple times for strangers making sure we weren’t lost or just wanting to share a bit of Danish history with us.

One time we were just staring at a small building in the middle of a plaza and a store keeper started walking towards us. I thought he was going to start trying to sell us something we didn’t need and wanted to get away but he opened up by asking “Do you know what that building is?” while pointing to the small building we were looking at. “No” we replied. After hearing that he started explaining that it was an old telephone booth setup by a King in the past so the people had access to communication. Then after that brief history lesson he wished us a good day and for us to enjoy our stay in Copenhagen. We were left surprised but pleased by the encounter and I could see how this was the happiest country on earth if everyone was so nice to each other.

We left Copenhagen happy and full from the delicious food (the Danish pasty comes from here for a reason).

Prettiest graveyard you’ll ever see. Also home to Hans Christian Anderson.
Anna waves goodbye to Ariel.
Its alright big guy. I know everyone goes to see the mermaid but that doesn’t mean you’re not special.
Nothin’ like some brain couches for the living room.
Groed. Porridge so good we went there…thrice.

After Copenhagen we hopped onto an afternoon flight to London for a whirlwind of being tourists, festivities, and a jam session with our host. We spent new years eve with a mass of people from Perth which for me was strangely comforting. I’ve never met these people before in my life but after a while it was nice to listen to a familiar accent and having a break in conversation about differences in culture. 

NYE Orphans From Perth on the way from dinner to the countdown.
We had to see a show!
Anna and our Airbnb host Kelvin jamming under a bridge in Camden. The less musically talented stand around and take pictures.

We stepped through London and Copenhagen quickly as our main goal was the get to Iceland and see the Aurora Borealis or the Northern lights. cue *oooooooo* noises. I first heard about Aurora Borealis as an eight year old when we visited relatives in America. My uncle explained to me that it was a group of lights that show up in the sky when sun flares collide with the magnetic field.I don’t remember how I responded but I remembered those words and the eagerness of wanting to see them then. Fast forward 20 years and now I have the opportunity to see them for myself 🙂

We scheduled arriving in Iceland around new year because that’s during the new moon, during the peak of the 27 day solar activity cycle and it was forecast for clear skies. When these 3 conditions occur you should have a good opportunity to see the lights. So when we arrived we immediately booked a tour for the following night. We would ride a four wheeler which would take us out of the light pollution of the city and into the dark cold and clear skies of the countryside.

The following night we were picked up from our hotel and met our guide Mike who took us and our fellow aurora hunters out of the city. On our drive out Mike enlightened us on some Icelandic landmarks, culture (they actually have 12 days of Christmas here! They start on Christmas day and then go crazy with fireworks on the 12th day) and some background on the auroras (from what I understand fast moving particles ejected out of the sun that get caught in Earth’s magnetic field and the slow down of these particles creates the soft glowy lights we know as auroras). Then he tasked us with our job for the next four hours. Sit and stare out the window and shout out if you see green stuff. I looked back at Anna and told her ‘This is just like spotting sharks again’ and memories of how fun that was made the anticipation of lights all the more greater.

We were going to spend the night travelling ahead of the clouds going from dark spot to dark spot to hope to see some lights. At our first stop we saw no lights but I did get some nice pictures of the night sky.

Nothing like snow capped mountains and night skies.

After 15 minutes of watching and waiting in the cold wind the group grew tired of this location and we hopped back into the car to warm up. Then after a 20 minute drive we caught up with another group and our guide decided to go off road to where they were. Unfortunately after getting 2 meters off the road we got bogged. Then our guide tried to accelerate out of the ditch which just dug us further in.

Anna demonstrating how under we are

We spent the next 15 minutes waiting around as our driver and the other car discussed how to get us  . The plan ended up being the other car dragging us back onto the road while two “volunteers” stand in the middle of the dark highway with small flashing lights to warn on coming traffic. And for the large part this worked. Unfortunately in the process of getting us out the other car went down the other side of the road embankment which was then too steep to drive up. There was a lot of face palming. Normally I wouldn’t been as calm about the wasted time but it was an amusing sort of calamity and also we had a guarantee that if we didn’t see it on our tour out we could book another tour again for free.

The other car trying to accelerate up the snowy slope to get back on the road. In the end the car had to be emptied to get out.

The misfortune turned out to be the highlight of the night because we didn’t see any auroras that night. We spent the rest of the time driving to several spots and just shots of the night sky. Which I had a lot of fun doing despite the numbing cold.

A ghostly me and the car
Black volcanic sand beach with chunks of ice debris

Although I was a little sad that we didn’t get to see the lights I still enjoyed the eventful night. After getting back we rebooked our free tour and two days later we were out again. We followed the same routine and we were out on the road. Although I was still enjoying it I could see myself getting tired of the hunt should we fail again.

But it was a different night and we had a different guide, Gilly. After leaving the city, it wasn’t long till he excitedly shouted “Hey I think I see a lttle green over there” he pulled over into a brightly lit carpark and pulled out a tripod and camera for a long exposure shot over the mountains. The rest of us muttered quietly wondering why were taken to a bright car park when we could drive further out. But in just 20 seconds a shot was taken and our concerns were dashed. There faintly in the image of gilly’s camera was the faint green haze of an aurora! The first time I saw an aurora since my uncle mentioned it to me 20 years ago. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted more. Gilly said that it was a 0.2 on a scale of 0-9 so it was very weak. Then he ushered us into the car and drove off determinedly. We drove on roads for half an hour and then spent another half and hour off road. On the way he told us we were going to his “favourite viewing spot because nobody else will be there, getting in the way of your shot and having pointless flashes going off”.

So when we stopped Anna pulled out her camera and took a shot. There it was. Excited I set my own camera and took my own shots. We were at that site for maybe over an hour braving the cold but for such a rare experience on the other side of the world we were going to make the most of it. So that’s it for the aurora hunt for now. I’m ecstatic that I finally got to see one and now I’m hoping I can get a few more glimpses of them before I return home. I’ll leave you with picture and a time lapse I put together.

Double aurorabow!
Double aurorabow!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4b2Qj0UE9ow

Buongiorno Italy!


Hooray! We have finally made it to Italy!

Even though this is my third time to Europe, this is my first time to Italy! Such a surprise though, given that ever since I was really young I loved pasta and my parents would always say “You should marry an Italian!”

Anyways, things have been a bit hectic and so I haven’t had the chance to blog about our time in Naples or Rome. We are currently in the beautiful city of Florence, however, I will try and keep this post about Naples and Rome and will cover Florence in the future. We are intending to stay in Florence until Friday 6 December 2013 (so there will be ample time to blog more!).

My idea of how Italy would be before arriving to this country looked a bit like this – pasta and pizza every day, men with slick hair and people talking with their hands.

Let me be the first to tell you, that Italy is exactly like this, but better! From my current experience in Italy, I found that Italians make fantastic pasta and pizza. They taste completely different to the pasta and pizza in Australia, a lot simpler, but you can taste each ingredient used. Also, good quality pasta and pizza does not leave you feeling bloated and heavy.

A typical first course meal in a local Roman restaurant called 'Da Enzo' - Rigatoni and Cacio e pepe with red wine.
A typical first course meal in a local Roman restaurant called ‘Da Enzo’ – Rigatoni and Cacio e pepe with red wine.

Italian men, they aren’t as slicked hair as I had thought, but the men and women do dress really well here. Talking with their hands. This is something the Italians most certainly do, however, I noticed that they talk not with just their hands, but with all of their being. This I really love! I can really relate to them as I do feel like I express my thoughts and feelings with my hands, body and energy and they do it straight back to me! I may not be able to speak Italian well, but so far, I’ve been able to make myself be understood.

Naples, Italy

Our first stop in Italy was actually the second last port of call on our cruise. We arrived in Naples and we disembarked our ship to take a tour of Pompeii! Pompeii is a wonderful place! Different to the other ancient cities that we had visited as this city was clearly different in the feel of the buildings and design of the cities. This was clearly a ‘Roman’ city. Little things like streets being built with these speed-bump-like obstacles which only permitted the standard Roman chariot, which was very cool. Foreigners who did not have the standard Roman chariot could rent one! Our tour guide made a joke about Avis first appearing in Italy.

Here’s some photos of our day:

Entry into the city of Pompeii
Entry into the city of Pompeii
Side street in Pompeii
Side street in Pompeii
Kevin and a wall fresco of a bull
Kevin and a wall fresco of a bull
Fiery deer fresco
Fiery deer fresco
Flying goat…lion…?
Flying goat…lion…?
The McDonalds of Pompeii - a fast food joint.
The McDonalds of Pompeii – a fast food joint.
An eerie figure..
An eerie figure..

Roma, Italy

Ah Rome. I couldn’t believe that we arrived in Rome when we did. There was that feeling of disbelief, that I was in one of the most famous cities in Europe. I’m going to keep my post in Rome about my overall experience and will let Kev post about what we saw and what did there.

Rome for me was about two things, which I have mentioned briefly above – the people and the food.

After holding out on the pizza and pasta that was readily available on the cruise (and being a pasta lover, it was very difficult for me to do so especially when there was a pasta station with a chef who would cook your pasta there and then!), I was ready and eager to dig into the local food. We ended up staying in an apartment that we found though Airbnb in the area of Trastevere. We met Mario and his dog Guapo and I knew instantly that this was going to be an awesome stay. Mario’s place was simple, but warm. There were three other groups staying at the apartment and Mario really opened his heart to all, allowing us to feel welcomed and not shy to chat with each other. He really encouraged all to get to know each other and within hours, I know I felt like I was at home.

Mario helped us with directions, local knowledge of where to eat and what places to avoid. Insider tip, the Italians eat from 7pm onwards. This is a small adjustment for us as we normally eat at 6pm. Any restaurant that is open earlier than that is apparently ‘not good’. When we told Mario that we had already eaten dinner one night, his eyes almost fell out of his head and he protested ‘No no no no! That means you did not eat at a good place!’ After that, he insisted that we eat with him. I protested politely as I knew Kev and I were stuffed. Well I knew that I was.  However, regardless of me saying I wanted ‘nothing’, we ended up at the dinner table having second dinner, that being home made pasta by Mario.

This was not the only instance where we were treated to home made Italian pasta. Mario insisted that we join him on three occasions. One occasion he asked me ‘So Anna, having nothing again tonight?’ ‘Uh… yes…’ I smiled while I started to regret eating dinner again. ‘OK. I will consider that in the amount of pasta I make. Is Kevin having nothing too?!’ ( 🙂 Big Love! He looked after us so well). Once Mario started dinner, me and Guapo would stand next to Mario has he worked his magic around the kitchen. Me hungry to learn how to cook pasta the Italian way; Guapo hungry to eat anything that fell on the floor. I had mentioned to Mario that we wanted to take cooking lessons and learn how to make pasta, he recommended us a place, but after the second night there Mario said ‘Since you guys are nice, how would you like me to teach you how to make pasta? You got to be ready to do a lot of work.’  I was ecstatic and told him I was up for it and that I was sure Kev would be up for it. Mario asked the other groups if they would like to join us, however, only Martina and Dan from Vienna were keen.

Martina and Dan were a wonderfully fun couple that Kev and I got to know during our time at Mario’s place. The first day we met them we spent the night chatting at the dinner table about where we were from (us from Australia, Dan from Berlin but now currently living with Martina in Vienna), cultural idiosyncracies and just randoms stuff. Mario joined us and offered us some grappa (to which we all politely declined), however, as the conversation took off, Mario stealthily poured us all a glass of grappa anyways! Some of the interesting things I learnt that night were:

1. US/English speaking movies that are shown in Europe either are dubbed or subtitled. If they are dubbed, the American or English speaking actor has his/her own voice over actor! The example given to us was that the voice over actor for Tom Hanks will always be the voice over for Tom Hanks. So Europeans can recognise his voice over and associate it with Tom Hanks. However, the voice over actor for Tom Hanks is also the voice over for Bruce Willis and Gerard Depardieu! We were told that it can get quite confusing.

2. Sandra Bullock can speak flawless German. She has a flawless accent and both Martina and Dan were amazed at how well she can speak. I kid you not, she sounds awesome. It blew my mind when we YouTubed it. I really loved her before but she just got awesomer!

3. When we continued to chat about English speaking actors who can speak German, Diane Kruger and Michael Fassbender came up. I love both actors, and both of them were in the movie Inglorious Bastards. Funnily, Dan referred us to the scene where Michael Fassbender’s character gives away his ID when he orders ‘three drinks’. Dan wanted to know whether it was true that we signal three with our hands using our index, middle and ring fingers! Kev and I laughed so hard because we have always wanted to know whether it was really true that Germans used their thumb, pointer and middle fingers to signal three. As you can tell, our conversation confirmed this tiny, but facinating cultural difference which would not have been picked up by either of us, but for Quentin Tarintino’s film. The scene which I refer to can be found here.

The next day, Martina and Dan had planned to go to the Colosseum, whereas Kev and I were tossing up between there and the Vatican. Kev and I left a lot later than them but decided to go to the ancient ruins instead of the Vatican because the weather was good. By good luck, we bumped into Martina and Dan around 2pm on the bottom floor of the Colosseum! We all were starving and had pretty much finished exploring. Kev and I suggested that we try a trattoria that Mario recommended. A Trattoria which was the ‘typical’ Roman soccer fanatic type – loud, lively, slightly gruff but not intending to be rude, and with great pasta and pizza. Martina and Dan liked the sound of that and agreed to join us. We had a great time there watching the locals talk and eat.

Outside the colosseum.
Outside the colosseum.
Awesome foursome selfie of Dan and Martina, Kev and I.
Awesome foursome selfie of Dan and Martina, Kev and I.

All this bonding naturally made cooking pasta together with Mario and Guapo really fun and comfortable! This night was by far the best night in Europe so far! Mario filled the kitchen with life, fun and energy! I could’t help but relish in the positive vibes that bounced from the walls. The tiny kitchen was cozy for five people and a dog to fit in, but it worked!

Pasta is SOOOOOO FUN!
Pasta is SOOOOOO FUN! Eating and making! I can’t contain myself! GAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!
Mario, our host showing us how the Italians do it.
Mario, our host showing us how the Italians do it.
1453494_650283101696639_607133426_n
Mario said you only need one person to do this. Us rookies needed three.
Look at our looooong pasta!
Look at our looooong pasta!
Mario cooking our pasta al dente.
Mario cooking our pasta al dente.
Serving up our meal.
Serving up our meal.
YUM!
YUM! This was the BEST pasta ever!

On Martina and Dan’s last night in Rome, we all went to their favourite Bar, Antico Caffe Del Moro, for some final drinks!

Dan, Kev, Me, Martina and Mario.
Dan, Kev, Me, Martina and Mario at Antico Caffe Del Moro

It was sad to see them go. It was always nice bumping into them in the kitchen, dining room, our hallway chats or in between the rush for the bathroom. We didn’t get to see them off, however, when Kev and I returned from the Vatican, we saw this napkin note which was slid under our door:

LOVE :)
LOVE 🙂

Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of the other lovely people that we met at Mario’s place. We met two German sisters who left on the same day as Martina and Dan, Nathan and Hillary from New Orleans and Alicia from Seattle. Everyone was so nice and friendly! And, after Mario’s insistence over the time of our stay, on our last night in Rome, I brought out my ukulele to play some tunes. Luckily I had a few glasses of wine to calm the nerves of playing and singing for a small group of people who I just met. But it was a BAG full of fun! Most of them knew the songs I could play (Alicia is a karaoke queen!!!). Mario then asked me to play an Italian song, to which I was unable to do so as I didn’t know the song well enough to play just by looking at the chords. I felt super bad because of all people, I would have loved to have obliged him given that he had looked after us so well. By the end of our ukulele-singing-YouTubing-bonding session, we all were smiling and we decided to call it a night at 1.30am. What a night! Now I am determined to learn one Italian song before I leave this country!

*** By way of update (04/12/2013) Mario has sent me a short video clip which he created for our ukulele night! You can meet Guapo, Alicia, Nathan and Hillary here! 🙂

I should be Italian

As mentioned earlier, my parents always thought that I was secretly Italian, or that I should marry an Italian. While exploring Rome, we stumbled across some confirmations that I really do belong here:

My street!
My street!
Actually, it's Anna everywhere in Rome!
Actually, it’s Anna everywhere in Rome!

Our footprint: http://spiked.it/PbduoT2

Is-tan-bul


12 days in Istanbul flew by so very quickly. We are currently in the middle of our 12 day cruise and are in Mamaris, Turkey. The internet has been scarce so there hasn’t been ample opportunity to post. Anyways, since we have found the net, here’s the last post for Istanbul.  A lot that has happened, so I will try to keep this post as succinct as possible.

HA!

The must see trio – Topkapi Palace, Underground Cistern, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia 

These are the typical tourist destinations, and don’t really need my commentary on how wonderful they are!

At Topkapi Palace
At Topkapi Palace

IMG_1871

IMG_1861

Underground Cistern
Underground Cistern
Kev with Medusa in the underground cistern
Kev with Medusa in the underground cistern
In the Hagia Sophia
In the Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia mosaics
Hagia Sophia mosaics
The cheesy Turkish photo shot of Saltan and Saltana
The cheesy Turkish photo shot of Saltan and Saltana
Outside the Blue Mosque with Turkish ice-cream
Outside the Blue Mosque with Turkish ice-cream

Turkish Baths

This is a MUST DO peeps! Definitely something to do when you are in Turkey! I have always been quite conscious of my body, and so when I heard that you were to expect to be topless when having a Turkish bath, I was a little nervous. But within minutes of entering the ‘Hamami’, my nerves were replaced with confusion and that overwhelming feeling of curiosity and excitement.

Men and women are separated in the Hamami (this was very reassuring for me). Once I was given my little package (containing a small washcloth, black undies and a token for the traditional bath and for a massage) I was directed to go upstairs to change. The area where you change and where you can rest and have a drink. The first thing I saw were women relaxing with their friends topless. Their indifference and comfort in their own skins definitely made me less shy.

I got undressed and was ushered to the bath area which was a large marble room with a high dome with holes and stars cut out for ventilation. The bath was a sauna. There was this round, raised marble platform in the middle of the bath where I saw women laying on top of towels and resting. One of the wash ladies unwrapped the towel that was around me, laid it on the marble platform and motioned for me to lay on it. So I did.

As I slowly grew comfortable under the heavy damp heat of the sauna, I stared out into the dome above me and started imagining how it would be in these ancient baths back in the day. Suddenly, warm water was splashed onto me like a heavy slap. It shocked me, but then I realised this was part of the bathing experience. The wash lady then walked off to get another bucket full of warm water.

So, after allowing me to lay in the room for a bit, she then started scrubbing me with this rough towel. She scrubbed pretty much everything, which was surprisingly relaxing it felt really clean. She then soaped and washed me. I couldn’t help but imagine that I was Daenerys from Game of Thrones. Tee hee.

Entry to Hamami
Entry to Hamami
Getting ready for a bath
Getting ready for a bath

Evil Eyes

Ok, there are these blue cartoon-looking eyes everywhere in Turkey. They are keychains, necklaces, pendants, wall decorations, towel patterns etc. In our apartment, our landlord had a towel hanger with this eye on it. We asked him what they were and he explained that these blue eyes were ‘The Evil Eye’ which the Turks believe are a sign of protection. They kind of freaked me out, but after hearing that they are for protection, I began to warm up to them.

Later, we found out that the eye is supposed to represent the mirror which Perseus used to show Medusa to turn her to stone.

Evil eyes, however you want it.
Evil eyes, however you want it.

Cats

Now, I wasn’t a big cat person. Not that I didn’t like them, but mainly because I am a BIG dog person and I never had a cat. Turkey is THE country for cats. There are stray cats everywhere and they are so adorable! I couldn’t help but fall in love with them and want to pat them! They are so affectionate too! I have a theory that it is because a lot of them are stray cats and do not have a home or people to pat them whenever they want, so any attention is savoured. They purr and meow so sweetly. They definitely have helped me feel less sad when I think about my dog Coco (Big cuddles being sent your way Coco!).

Me and the cutest kitten
Me and the cutest kitten
This kitten was adorable!
This kitten was adorable! I wanted to take it in my pocket!
Kev being sprung by a cat.
Kev being sprung by a cat.

Is-tan-bul song

After writing the song for the MWSRP, I became a little inspired to try writing other songs on my ukulele if it came to me. As in the Maldives, I woke up early in Istanbul and was unable to fall asleep again. As frustrating as this is (especially being unable to go for a morning run due to it being completely dark and I didn’t want to kill my ankles on the cobbled street) it was the perfect time for a song to come to mind.

So I wrote this short fun song which I post below.

I was quite nervous filming it as it was in front of the Blue Mosque with tourists, tour guides, locals and Bosporus Cruise salesmen everywhere. It is guaranteed that when you walk around this area you will experience the exact conversation three to four times:

Bosporus Cruise Salesman (Salesman): Hello, hello! Where you from?

Me: Australia

Salesman: AU-stra-lien?! G’Day Mate!

Me: Haha, hiiiii.

Salesman: Brisbane? Sydney?

Me (while walking away): Perth!

Salesman: Want Bosporus Cruise, give you special price. Usually 20 Euros, I give you for 18.

Me: No thank you… (now briskly walking away).

So when I was recording Is-tan-bul on the benches outside the Blue Mosque, and saw a salesman approach me, I was a little weary. But when he arrived the cheesy charming attitude was not there. Instead I got:

Salesman:  You? Play? (shyly smiles as he points to my ukulele).

Me: Ah, a little. I am not good, just beginner.

Salesman (sits down across from me) Can I?

Me: You play? Of course!

The salesman took my ukulele and started plucking the strings. To me, he clearly knew his way around a stringed instrument, but he had this baffled amused look on his face when he realised the ukulele was different to the instrument he was used to. I was so fortunate that Kev ninja’ed a video of the experience! See below!

We spent a long time talking about music and he was amazed at how small the ukulele was. He had never seen one before. He kept saying that he was used to a bigger instrument but he loved the sound of the ukulele. I said to him ‘I picked it up because it sounds happy.’ He burst out with excitement ‘YES! Happy!’. I loved how in this experience I got to see a glimpse of the person behind the salesman. After that, other salesmen came over to listen to our conversation. It was nice to see them joke and interact with each other instead of hounding us to purchase a ticket for a Bosporus Cruise tour.

Looking back now, I realised that it wasn’t too much of a surprise that he was quite good on my ukulele. In Taksim, every second store was a music store selling guitars, violins, ukuleles, Turkish guitars, pianos, drums, you name it! Also, there were numerous talented musicians playing in the streets! It seems that the Turks are clearly musicians!

So, which store do you want to hop in?
So, which store do you want to hop in?

Our footprint: http://spiked.it/CuMDys9

Goodbye MWSRP!


Kev and I have landed in Istanbul 3 days earlier than initially planned to avoid any Maldives visa issues. We were to stay 32 days in the Maldives, however, the tourist visa is for 30 days and after discussion with the MWSRP team on the options available to us – chance it and just stay for the two days (and risk a fine of $600 each); attempt to gain an extension for the visa (which was very troublesome); or buy a return ticket from Male to Colombo, Sri Lanka (only an hour flight one way) so that our 30 days is reset; the best option that eventuated was to pay a fee of $90 per person to Turkish Airlines and change our flights.

In the first week, Katie and Alissa proposed that if we were comfortable enough, the volunteers could do a little presentation of photos or of anything regarding their best moments on the program. Sure enough, I automatically thought of collecting photos. However, I found that over the month, I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked. But that was ok, as in the first and second week of the program, I wrote a song on my ukulele about searching for whale sharks.

It just came to me on a morning ride on the Dhoni. I remember sitting outside at the front and for some reason all these words came to me. Things like ‘ink blue’ and ‘tear drop’. Words that Katie had used to describe what to look for in the water. For some reason those words stuck and then when I wrote then down, the rest of the song just came.

The chorus tune also came to me on the Dhoni ride. After that, whenever I was out on the Dhoni or in the water searching for WS I played around with the tune. So here’s the finished product! I recorded it on our last day in crazy hot weather. So please bare with my mistakes here and there!

Here are some more photos from my camera:
Chris, Me and Kev. The koolest kats in town.
Chris, Me and Kev. The koolest kats in town.
The volunteer postcard shot. Thanks for the shot Fernando.
The volunteer postcard shot. Thanks for the shot Fernando.
Me and whale shark. Photo credit: Chris Hunter
Me and whale shark. Photo credit: Chris Hunter
Kev and I with a whale shark. Photo credit: Chris Hunter
Kev and I with a whale shark. Photo credit: Chris Hunter

A game of guess who with all the random photos of watches, hands and other limbs

Watch photo #1
Photo #1
Photo #2
Photo #2
Photo #3
Photo #3
Photo #4
Photo #4
Photo #5
Photo #5

Random photos here and there:

Photo from my first free dive session
Photo from my first free dive session
Measuring the length of the whale shark
Measuring the length of the whale shark
So friendly!
So friendly!
The amazing tea Alissa gave me for my stomach!
The amazing tea Alissa gave me for my stomach!
The pole that I would use to practice my free diving.
The pole that I would use to practice my free diving.
Cool looking fish.
Cool looking fish.
Another interesting fish... pipe fish?
Another interesting fish… pipe fish?
Amean getting in on the spotting action!
Amean getting in on the spotting action!
Fetched the current measuring device!
Fetched the current measuring device!
Last sunrise on Mandhoo.
Last sunrise on Mandhoo.
Whale shark found on the flight out of Male!
Whale shark found on the flight out of Male!
Closest I'll get to lasering the claspers.
The closest I’ll get to lasering the claspers.

So that ends our chapter in the Maldives. Until next time! Thanks again MWSRP. I can’t thank you guys enough for such a wonderful, eye-opening experience. Missing you guys, the water and the whale sharks already. Please keep in touch!!!!

=)

Oh! And if you wanna find out what kool kat Chris is up to in his travels, do check out his blog at :http://eachandeverymoment.blogspot.com

Our footprint: http://spiked.it/ceDPpYE