From Italy we took our first long distance train to Zurich, Switzerland. When it comes to backpacking travel we’ve learned that trains, ships or bus is definitely the ideal because there are no additional fees for your packs and you have a lot more elbow room! Tip: if you’re riding the train there is usually an open storage area so you need to be swift when boarding so you can snag a spot. The overhead area is small.

Our host in Switzerland gave us excellent directions and we were able to find her home easily with public transit. So far, the only city we’ve used taxi service was in Budapest per the recommendation of our host. Let me just say, Europe has public transit down-pat and I’m in love! One of my favorite parts of working in D.C. was the public transportation and it’s a bit sad compared to everywhere we’ve been in Europe.

The home we stayed in this time was an old, 3-floor townhouse with squeaky stairs, cold wooden floors, a pull levy toilet (tank mounted above on the wall by the ceiling), cozy kitchen and quirky bathroom with a claw-foot tub on a raised platform. It by far has been the most charming house with all of its quirks and old world character. Marty would say “it’s an old house and you need a new one because this one has too much upkeep”, but for me, I loved finally staying in part of the old town rather than a newer apartment. Jolanda, her large dog and room mates were extremely hospitable and fun to chat with. The kitchen was probably my favorite yet, bold yellow, squeezed into a closet size room with a happy clutter of useful pieces surrounding you… and I think they had more hot tea choices than I do at home! I felt right at home as the small, very functional kitchens grow on me.

FYI: Switzerland is the most expensive country we’ve visited yet. Do a little research before you go… we popped out our first night to a U.S. style diner for an easy burger (it got great reviews on google) but I didn’t think to look at prices. Two burgers, two sodas and one fry later we left incredibly happy in the tummy but busting our budget for the entire day with a bill of 55€. We learned our lesson after that and were able to be more budget conscious, but I hadn’t done my research.

Speaking of food… street food is delicious and became our go-to after our first night flub. Brats, pretzels, pretzel sandwiches, fresh baked goods… the choices are never ending and readily available. We picked up fruit, sodas and chocolate in small markets rather than the designer street stores and were able to keep to our budget more easily. I loooooove street food and will try about anything, Europe has made me so very happy with all of the delicious food!

We spent time popping in and out of shops and quaint roads through Zurich, took the train to Luzern and enjoyed the fun art districts.

Our day to Luzern was really nice because the train was cozy and allowed us to see parts of the country we’d have otherwise missed. Unfortunately since we’re exploring during winter months the sun hid and it was a bit gray and cold. I may not have captured as many lovely pictures as I’d have liked, but we still enjoyed the medieval architecture and colorful town. The Chapel Bridge (Europe’s oldest covered bridge) was beautiful and we enjoyed walking through the dark, worn wood admiring its natural beauty. It has been through a serious fire in the past but the reconstruction is handsome and it yields inspiring views of the city lining the river. It’s really very breathtaking walking through so much history.

I’m beginning to be a little slack with photos, they’re on the DSL and most nights I’m exhausted and do not want to pull them off. Maybe I can remember to use my phone camera a little more frequently so I can share more pics. Maybe this week I’ll get to it and put some in here.

Until another time… XX

Charity & Marty

Benvenuti! Italiano! Milano! Grazie! Buongiorno! Ciao!

Frankly, when we arrived in Milan we weren’t impressed. We arrived at Central Station from Milan Malpensa airport (via train) and it was filthy. Signs were misleading or there weren’t enough of them to follow, local and military police kept a hawk-eye on everyone passing through and there were more panhandlers in one location than I believe I’ve ever seen. Reading about Italy and speaking to friends who have traveled in Italy we were on guard for pick-pocket geniuses so that only added to our unease. So I’ll just admit now that we were not excited.

Thankfully our host allowed us to drop off our bags early, so after riding a tram to the closest stop we were able to pop in, meet our host and drop bags. She shared a great book with us to help with sight seeing and we were off! Our first day was a long day due to traveling at 4am in the morning and lack of sleep the night before. It was after 10am before we were able to sit down and eat something and grab a cappuccino. Caffeine helped; it at least kicked us back into a near normal pace!

Let’s talk about cappuccino’s… umm… Italy, you are the BEST! No matter what anyone tells you, once you’ve drank your way through Italy via cappuccinos and lattes any other will be subpar. Sadly, it’s just a fact you have to accept. I know, because now we’re in Switzerland and yea… does not compare! (Plus they’re 3xs more expensive here in Switzerland). When you get tired of sight seeing in Italy you just pop into a cafe and order coffee (mornings are for cappuccinos, afternoon for espresso or lattes) and sit. Restaurants in Italy are slow and laid back, you don’t rush in and rush out— there is no rushing. And you know what? That’s ok, it’s nice to kickback and relax a bit without feeling like you have to scarf everything down and run out to give them a table back.

After spending a night at our host home we felt a little more refreshed and ready to explore Italy further. We decided to take it slow to give ourselves more recovery time. Traveling is amazing and exhausting all at the same time. I wouldn’t trade any of our experiences up to this point, but sometimes you just need to rest. We didn’t leave our host home until after lunch due to enjoying a lovely morning relaxing and reading. Sundays in Italy are even more relaxed than other days so we embraced the slow pace and explored. The buildings are beautiful and they draw you in with every turn. Balconies overflowing with flowers and greenery, soccer balls tucked in corners with other children’s toys. Some flats had their windows open and you could listen to their music wafting through or Italian chatter as friends toasted each other and enjoyed their time together. Families were out and about walking to restaurants or parks, kids were on their bikes following parents and often playing chase with each other. It was heart warming to see all of the families spending time together.

We forgot about afternoon riposo (or rest) so when we decided it was time to find food all of the restaurants were closed until 6:30/7pm (it was around 3:30pm when we felt like eating). As we walked around hoping for an open restaurant we ran into McDonalds… it was open, I was starving and getting “hangry” so we went in. They had multiple ordering kiosk which made it super easy to order and pay for your food (they bring it to your table). The menu is very different than the U.S. so we enjoyed trying it out! Now we know, when in a pinch, McDonalds! They even have a decent cappuccino, although I’d recommend getting them from cafe’s as it’s similar in price and much tastier.

Monday we rented a car, Fiat Panda, so we could drive to Lake Como. I won’t even go into the details of how frustrating it is to find places in Italy… Italy, if I had one request, it would be to take some tips from other countries Central Stations. Lol Let’s talk about getting out of Italy! Driving in Italy is intense, maddening and hilarious. Not only do you have to contend with drivers, but you have motorcycles/scooters that pass you in all directions (cutting across the wrong lanes, in and out of bike lanes, across sidewalks) and then you also have to watch for pedestrians that have the right-of-way at most intersections (except at large ones where they have traffic lights controlling all traffic). Being in the heart of Milan we knew it would be an adventure to get out. We’ve found that GoogleMaps frequently let us down and per online suggestions maybe try Waze next time. Besides being a typical downtown with a gazillion one way streets, it is also full of roundabouts. Marty drove and I helped with navigation. We quickly learned that if you don’t drive super aggressively you’ll either probably die or never get where you’re going. The little Fiat didn’t have a ton of pick-up so Marty would downshift frequently to keep up with traffic. There were little jolts here and there, but it was such a fun ride!

When we arrived in Como GoogleMaps was taking us to the lake… this is where it became incredibly amusing. There is an area surrounded by ancient walls in which Como Cathedral is located. Google decided to take us directly to the lake so next thing I know we’re inside the walls on tiny cobble stone, one-way streets that make the Fiat Panda feel huge while trying to avoid walking pedestrians and follow the blue arrows guiding us down open streets. We couldn’t help but laugh, we frequently got stuck because roads were closed or because there were delivery/work trucks parked in the middle of the one-way streets. After a bit of driving around following blue arrows we finally saw the primary road outside the walls and made a mad dash to get out. Whew… what an adventure! Eventually we found parking and then walked our way through the town within the walls to Lake Como. Lake Como, by the way, is a glacier lake and absolutely gorgeous! Glacier lakes have the best color and this one did not disappoint!

Before leaving Como we headed to the funicular so we could ride above the city and gain a better view of Lake Como. This is the second funicular we’ve ridden since arriving in Europe and it’s the largest I’ve seen. It actually had 4 or 5 connected platforms with seating and the load it could carry was quite large. There were 2 funiculars running at this station, one going up and the other going down at the same time. The views were pretty phenomenal and after arriving at the top I dragged Marty up another 2km to the lighthouse. It was quite the climb and at moments I regretted it, but we finally made it! There were several other tourist traipsing up and down, it felt like we all made a little pact to survive this climb no matter what!

Finally it was time to return our little Fiat, Marty let drive it back into town and although slightly scary it was a blast. I think Marty might have gained a few more gray hairs from my driving, but hey, no accidents and we made it back in a timely manner! Hahaha

After doing some evening laundry at the laundromat we were packed up and ready to head to Switzerland by train the next day. Overall Milan was a lot of fun, maybe a few too many people for us, but we found beauty within and appreciate the opportunity to experience a different culture.

The view of our rooms entrance at our host house

Ci vediamo!

Charity & Marty

Dear Budapest: say my name say my name…

It’s been a busy week/weekend so I’m a bit behind on blogging. Actually, I began the blog a couple days ago but then the night snuck up on me so I fell asleep.

Our time in Budapest, Hungary was pretty awesome and we fell in love! Hungary wasn’t particularly on our list of countries to travel through on our month long excursion, but I couldn’t make decisions on where to go after Sweden so a last minute cheap flight to Budapest it was!

Our host, Romain, met us at the apartment Wednesday night to give us the run down and we settled in. On Thursday the morning light shown through the large windows in our apartment and I couldn’t wait to look out at the interior courtyard! Our apartment was a small studio on the top floor with bold red walls, high ceilings, tall windows and a red toilet. The red was actually invigorating and I kinda fell in love (red isn’t usually my color). The building was downtown with only a 5 minute walk to the heart of the city… the old buildings were amazing to look at and Marty would have to guide me to keep me from either walking into dog poop or walking out in front of a car. Haha

The last few weeks we’ve been honing our public transit skills and slowly we’re becoming quite accomplished. Budapest has a wonderful transit system and was definitely the easiest to figure out. The only struggle I still have is with buses… gah… they confuse me and make me nervous. I opted to try a bus routes in Budapest… but after about 10 minutes of walking around in circles trying to figure out where the heck the correct bus was Marty decided we’d just walk the rest of the way. Hello hills of Budapest!! Lordy, we didn’t realize we were hiking to the top of a small mountain until we were at the point of no return! Alas, we finally made it to the Matthias Church in the heart of Buda’a Castle District and it was magic! Marty did point out that if we had taken the bus we would have missed all of the cobblestone streets and gorgeous 19th-century houses. Truth. Back to the church…. the church was magnificent! The stone was beautifully carved with amazing statutes on top, the rooftop tiled with lovely colored tiles in patterns and you could see that there was gorgeous stain glass throughout. We haven’t been paying for museums up to this point (I usually pick a couple free ones that we can visit) but the Matthias Church was an exception. AND, the inside of the church was breathtaking! We tried to absorb all of the sights in the church… it was tough as it was an eye overload, but we were very happy we paid to go inside.

Food… oh man, we ate some amazing food while in Budapest; and if you’re looking for a city that you can really stretch your budget in– this is it! Budapest was by far the cheapest city we’ve spend time in so far (which seriously helped get us back on track considering Finland and Sweden were super expensive). There were some modern areas within the city (IKEA, bowling alley, big box stores) but most of our time was spent walking through old town admiring the beautiful building that have so much character! Owners and their dogs have seriously impressed us in Budapest– every dog was well mannered and most were not on leashes at all! It was kind of amazing watching the dogs and their owners walking down busy streets without any fear that their dog would 1. Run away 2. Annoy strangers 3. Not walk into the street (and get hit by a car).

Back to being tourist, one day we took the metro to Hósök Tere (or Heroes’ Square) where there are iconic statues featuring Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian leaders. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was also the site of the first Millennium Underground (metro). Past Heroes’ Square in City Park there is a castle, Vajdahunyad Castle with beautiful architecture! We enjoyed strolling around the outside and then through the courtyard in the middle. It is a very romantic castle of stone and beautiful curves. During the winter months there is an iceskating ring beside the castle — it’s a very large and well maintained outdoor iceskating rink (we watched the Zamboni clean up the rink for evening iceskating). We came back in the evening to take pictures in the dark, as everything is prettier in the dark with the glow of lights surrounding it.

There was so much to do in Budapest and we quickly ran out of time to do it all, but we enjoyed using the public transit to get around while visiting what we could, as well visiting the Harley store and dealer! The people of Budapest are very kind, polite and ready to help when they see a tourist with the classic tourist face of confusion! Overall this has been our favorite city of the trip!

I’ll add pictures later, there are some on my facebook page if you’d like to look at them. Now we’re sitting on a train from Milano, Italy headed to Zurich, Switzerland for a few days before heading to Germany. Eeesh… time flies when you’re having fun! March is quickly approaching and I don’t think we’ll be ready to come back home yet!

Until next time,

Charity & Marty

Sweden it’s been real fun… but onward we go.

Today wraps up our tour of Scandinavia so we can explore more of the world. Sweden and Finland have been wonderful and it feels like there is much more to see; but we continue to move forward so we can explore other countries as well.

Sunday Brea headed back to the state and we headed towards Stockholm via the Viking Cruise line. It’s a cheap way to travel between the two countries and the locals use it as a party ship. The boat is huge and has lots to offer: restaurants, gambling, bars, dancing, a sauna room and most important, duty free shopping! Watching people shop was highly amusing’ but once you go through their market a few times you understand the savings. I booked us the cheapest room possible so we were deep down below deck… among the college students. They snickered behind our backs when we’d walk by and call us “the old people”. Lol We didn’t care, this is a tightly budgeted trip so you take what you can. Personally, I enjoyed the dinner buffet the most! It was fun sampling all of the fish plates and traditional cooking. Marty let me have my fun… let’s just say, I got my entire 35€ worth while Marty ate most of his from the dessert bar. Haha After an evening of eating and watching folks dance we conked out hard. When we docked the next morning we were in Stockholm ready to explore again!

Our host, Louise, was out of town when we arrived but she made sure we could find a key to her apartment and allowed us to stay the first day without her. She was pretty darn awesome! Neither Marty or myself have a lot of experience with public transportation so when I book a new place I request directions from the host. Louise went above and beyond by emailing me detailed instructions, plus a map and some local tips. The only slight issue we had after leaving the ship was finding the metro station. 10-15min walk later we found it and the information booth helped us figure out the cheapest travel options and we were on our way!

Like every other day it was a cloudy day with snow falling, which didn’t really make traipsing around outside very appealing so we crashed at our home and enjoyed a slow evening inside. Some days you just need to rest, what’s the point of seeing so much if you’re too tired to enjoy it?

Yesterday we spent the entire day in and out of museums, traveling by bus and metro, admiring beautiful architecture and people watching. We spent a few hours at the Maritime Museum learning about the evolution of ships; it was amazing. The museum offers free audio tours so we opted for this and it really made the tour worth while.

Swedish folks love a good hamburger, so for lunch we stopped into a Burger and BBQ joint to see if they really know what a good hamburger is… they passed with flying colors! It was deeeeelicious! We’ve mostly been shopping at the market and cooking food to stretch our budget, so it was a nice splurge.

My favorite area in Stockholm was Old Town; the old beauty still shines and it feels like you’re walking back in time as you traverse the cobblestone streets. We went back late in the evening so we could walk by streetlights and the shadows cast were even more beautiful than during daylight. We walked by the castle and observed the guards, took a few pictures and tried to grasp the magnitude of the building.

This morning we had quite the adventure trying to mail a package back to the states. Louise recommended a store close to the metro so we stopped in and the guy working was very helpful to find us a suitable box. We finished up all of the packaging information and he sent us over to the counter to pay … welllll… they only took Kronos and we only carry US, Euros or CC. With their assistance we went off in search of an ATM only to find that it was out of service; we looked around the ICA and even spoke with the checkout clerk, but no one could exchange for Kronos. We walked back to the packaging store to find out that there is another ATM… but it was hard to tell where with only hand directions and a language we didn’t fully understand. We went back out… hunted around and eventually found the ATM! YAY We pulled out 200 Kronos and proudly finished shipping our package. The gentleman at the counter seemed as relieved as we were at our success. We thanked him and proceeded to travel into town for the day.

After dropping off our backpacks in lockers at Central Station we continued exploring the city. All of the restaurants and stores have clean lines and are very soothing to walk into. It is all very modern, but feels warm. We really enjoyed relaxing with a cup of coffee on occasion while resting our feet from travel.

Now we are sitting at the airport waiting to catch our flight to Budapest. The flight has been delayed by 45 minutes so we’re sipping European beers and relaxing.

Until next time,

Marty & Charity

Arctic Circle Magic

We’ve had a couple solid days within the arctic circle and we’ve been enjoying the slow pace of no longer traveling from point A to point B. Our luxuries include sleeping in, cooking meals, plus marveling at the enormous amounts of snow…

Monday as we traveled north we stopped at an Arctic Zoo in Ranua; how can you skip visiting the northernmost zoo in the world? Once we had bundled up appropriately we took off for our 2hr self guided tour. There were many beautiful animals and the zoo seemed to allow plenty of space for the larger animals. I’m not a huge zoo fan, but there were rescued/rehabbed animals throughout and it seemed like a well maintained property. The owls were my favorite exhibits, they are so majestic! I loved watching them just glower at us while not being even slightly disturbed. Marty has a unique whistle he would use to get their attention, several other tourist appreciated his whistle and would ask him to do it again so they could take photos. Besides the owls my other favorite animal was the wolf (though it made me sad to see them captive). They were handsome as they made their rounds through paths along their perimeter, their natural strength radiated from them. At the polar bear enclosure they were just lounging in the snow, cuddling together. We enjoyed watching them for a bit… and then I felt like I needed a Coke. Lol Finally, we headed out to finish the journey to our cabin in Sweden.

Our host Benko and Lilly (she gave us an American name because it is easier for her guest to pronounce) have been wonderful!Benko greeted us our first night at the road because we were unable to find the cabin, he showed us in and gave us a brief overview of the house. Lilly visited us yesterday and took us on a tour of the property; they have many acres, multiple homes/buildings handed down through their family. Besides the sauna in our cabin they have another larger sauna a short walk from our cabin, as well as hut by the river where you can build fires to heat/cook and be close the the outdoors to watch for northern lights– called a Kota (grill hut). She even taught us a few Swedish words! Benko’s family is originally from Finland and one of the buildings (now a workout room) was his fathers that they moved from Finland to Sweden.

Our cabin is a bit older, it was Benko and Lilly’s first home here on the homestead. After Benko’s mother passed away they moved into the primary home and have begun renting out this one and another on the property. The cabins first floor is open concept (living room/kitchen), one bedroom, has wooden (very creaky) floors, a WC downstairs and a loft bedroom with the sauna/shower upstairs. All essentials are provided so it’s very comfortable. I believe our only complaint is that after having smart TV’s at the last few homes this one has basic cable, so there are only a few channels in English and the internet is weak… With only 7 hours of daylight we enjoy relaxing around the television in the evening. The cabin is also heated by a wood stove in the garage below our cabin; Lilly showed us how it worked yesterday as well her prized motorcycle. She enjoyed harassing us over our Harleys without a reverse while her Suzuki has it all; we truly enjoyed her company and getting to know her yesterday.

While relaxing most of the day yesterday we made a large pot of taco soup to keep us warm this week, heated the kettle throughout the day for hot tea or hot chocolate, read or watched movies on laptops/iPad and dozed off and on. Last night we went down to the hut by the river and built a large fire to relax around. There are beautiful reindeer pelts to sit on, moose antlers over the door that Lilly shot for food one year, and a few windows to watch for northern lights through. The Kota (grill hut) is very cozy, but we found it more difficult to keep warm than we imagined. Per Lilly’s advice we started the fire several hours before we planned to sit down there, and went back and forth for a few hours stoking the fire. Benko provided lots of wood for us to burn so we kept stoking it for heat, the wood is very dry and burns quickly! The design of the hut keeps the smoke flowing out so there was not even a slight scent on you when you leave, we loved the design! While sitting around the fire staying warm we watched a downloaded move on the iPad and passed around a jug of hot chocolate. Finally our bums wore out so we headed back to the cabin around midnight. Clouds rolled in and snow had been falling for a few hours so the northern lights remained illusive.

Early this morning there was a break in the clouds and I saw very slight movement from the northern lights. Per the app and website I follow for tracking they were decently strong in our area but the clouds proved to be an issue. I stared for a while trying to make sense of what I was seeing (at 4am you’re not sure if your eyes are working or not) and finally ran to wake up Marty. By then the clouds had begun shifting again and he wasn’t able to to see much.

Today we are looking forward to snowshoeing and Nordic skiing around the property. They have a loop route with a moose stand we can climb for better views. Benko told us about their moose and reindeer when we first arrived and stated that they are afraid of humans and run (and that they were not like our moose in the U.S.)… after learning more from Lilly we now understand they run because she HUNTS! They also have a sweet dog who’s name translates to “Cougar”, she hunts with Lilly and was injured in a hunt last year. There was a 12-14in stick kicked into her by an angry mother moose after Lilly shot the smaller moose for food. After 2 different vet visits, antibiotics and 2 surgeries Cougar is now doing well and has a battle wound to prove her ferocity!

The magic of the snow is catching, Marty and Brea are beginning to see my addition and wonder to it. As the snow fell gently last night it began erasing all of our foot prints and impressions recently made on the paths. The new snow glistened in the light and made everything sparkle. You can actually see the distinct difference of each snowflake when you look closely so we all marveled at them for a bit. Brea and I each enjoyed jumping into snow drifts or off of the shoveled paths… the snow is waist deep and fluffy! Since it is so dry here the snow doesn’t pack well like at home so snowballs are nonexistent and we haven’t seen any snowmen. Lol


Marty & Charity

Farewell Lapland… we are sad to leave!

It’s our last day inside the arctic circle and we’re dragging our heals. Laundry is drying in the sauna, the washing machine is grinding away on the last load, the kitchen is slowly being packed away and our packing cubes are filling back up. This week has been pure magic and we’re sad to leave the far north, but excited for new adventures.

Yesterday we drove about an hour away to a populated tourist area and joined a snowmobile excursion that took us to a reindeer farm. The snowmobile ride was a lot of fun, each leg was about 16k through snowy forest where you rarely saw any other traffic. As we approached the reindeer farm the trail went from two-way traffic to a single track through the woods… it was pure magic! Loads of snow draped itself across trees, rocks, streams… it mounded and melted together seamlessly making it look completely fake. As we drove through the last part of the trail it had more switchbacks and low hanging trees we had to dunk under to continue on. The snowmobiles drove fairly easily but were a little more challenging to drive than I had imagined. Definitely along the lines of a large fwd four-wheeler. During one stop where our guide allowed everyone to take a break and capture photos he stopped to speak with us. Marty jokingly complained about the speed of the snowmobile (it was pokey, we were both at full throttle most of the ride up to that point) and our guide laughed and said there were different programs. We talked about motorcycles and four-wheeling for a bit and then he turned our snowmobiles up… lets just say the rest of the trip was 10xs more fun!!

At the reindeer farm we met the owner, Hannu, and he taught us about how they raise their reindeer; essentially it’s like raising cows in the U.S. around the Midwest where you have free range government land. The reindeer are raised for their meet and furs but they only sell them twice a year. The reindeer each have an owner and a unique snip in their ears– the farmers will not give you a distinct number of how many heads they own because it’s essentially their currency and it’s like sharing how much is in your bank account.

Our host, Hannu, welcomed us into a traditional teepee with a warm fire inside where we enjoyed learning from the owner about the Sami people– who are the only indigenous people in Scandinavia. Their best known means of livelihood is semi-nomadic reindeer herding and in some areas they are the only people allowed to raise reindeer. Each and every reindeer have an owner and they cannot be hunted unlike moose in the area. It was nice to learn briefly about the Sami history, how they raise their reindeer (foods they eat, herding for auction, etc), drinking a hot berry juice our host and his wife make as well as a cloudberry pastry.

After speaking with Hannu for a bit we were loaded into reindeer sleighs, covered with furs and taken on a loop around the farm. The reindeer were beautiful and of course all you want to do is go pet them, unfortunately they do not like to be petted and we were asked not to. I likened them to cats… they wanted to be in your space on their terms, but as soon as you showed interested they dismissed you. LOL After sitting still for so long I was freezing and ready to head back, thankfully our snowmobiles had heated grips and the engine heat radiated where your feet sat. It was a fun ride back to our starting point.

Today we’ve spent the day traipsing in and out taking snowshoes out or Nordic skiing. Benko and Lilly have such beautiful land and we have loved exploring different areas and of course photographing it. Benko came around this morning to stoke the house fire so their dog visited us for a bit, it was 27 degrees Fahrenheit this morning– quite warm here so everyone had an extra pep in their step.

The snow is so deep it’s almost comical, no matter how many times we’ve fallen into drifts by accident or on purpose we explode with giant belly laughs. Laughter makes everything better no matter the cause! From running outside between sauna sessions and having our own “polar bear plunge” in 4 foot deep snow, jumping off paths just to see how deep you fall in to loss of control on Nordic skies we have landing in our fair share of deep snow this week and it’s hilarious each and every time.

Bedtime… we have a long 12 hour drive back to the capital, Helsinki, in the morning. Until next time…


Marty & Charity

Oulu for the night…

Night number 2… or 3 if you consider our flight from Charlotte included an overnight leg to England before our connection to Helsinki, Finland.

Saturday, when we finally ended our travels in Helsinki it was 3pm EET while only 8am EST… it was a bit odd adjusting to the time zone after sleeping on planes and rushing between connections filling water bottles, quick meals and bathroom breaks. After jumping in our rental car (manual) we headed to our Airbnb to settle in. The city was as snow/ice covered winter wonderland, just what I’ve been jonesing for! The evening light was quickly fading but we easily found our rental and settled in a bit.

Maria, our host was incredibly helpful the last week providing tips for me before our arrival, the first place we went after settling in was the budget market called Lidl… it’s a bit like Aldi, but prices were higher than home. Thank God for Google translate because we needed it for a few packages where pictures didn’t quite cut it. We chuckled at our one, (albeit over-flowing) bag of groceries that set us back 49 euros, but hey, we have to eat, right?

Perk of the night was an evening at Löyly, a Finnish public sauna. As much as we’d all have liked to crawl into bed at 6pm and try to recover from the travel, we bucked up and made it to our appointments. After several sauna sessions, cooling off and relaxing Marty and I bit the bullet and went to dip in the sea after our last steam. Brrrrr!! We only made it in waist deep, fearing we would slip off the icy stairs and end up plunging all the way in, we dipped, popped out, and scurried back to the smoke sauna to warm up… finally, heading home. It was very relaxing and we all felt much better! Brea fell asleep in the back seat of the car and doesn’t remember the drive back, it was that good! After quick showers, laundry started and small bites we all crashed for the night enjoying the beauty of good, exhausted sleep!


Sunday morning began lazily, I enjoyed waking up before Marty and Brea to enjoy my hot tea and porridge. After everyone got moving and the car was packed up we looked around the historic district admiring the Russian influence in areas and finally headed north. We have northern lights to see after all!

Morning view into the neighbors yard over my hot tea

Seven hours later we arrived to our next Airbnb in the countryside right outside of Oulu. We luckily caught a glimpse of northern lights along the way, but they were not very strong so we continued driving. Upon arrival at our remote and beautiful cabin, we were greeted by the owners, given the run down on how the cabin functioned with the wood fire heat and they were on their way. The home is picturesque, surrounded by snow laden forest, shoveled walks and the stars in full view. After quickly settling in we went to enjoy another sauna session; our host Jussi started the fire for us so the sauna was hot and ready upon arrival. I’m now begging Marty to allow us to put a sauna in at home; it’s so relaxing and rejuvenating! After sitting in the steam for a while we’d all run out to the deck and “cool down”, just to run back to the sauna for another round. Needless to say… enjoyable evening!

Dinner was toasted sandwiches, coke, hot tea and a bit of chocolate while watching Despicable Me 3. It was a nice cozy evening relaxing together. I ran outside on occasion to check the skies for northern lights but alas, no additional sighting at the cabin.

My hot tea is caffeinated (forgot to pick up a nighttime tea) so Marty and I are lounging and watching a bit more tv before calling it a night. Tomorrow we drive the rest of the way to the arctic circle where, fingers crossed, we will see a spectacular show of northern lights!

Hyvää yötä,

Charity & Marty

North on E75North on E75... duskChasing lights outside OuluOur sweet cabin in the countryThe perfect winter wonderland view from the front porchThe perfect winter wonderland view from the front porch

Finland, here we come!

Hello 2018, what a year you are going to be! 2017 was a whirlwind of travel for me and a serious health scare for Marty, but we survived and are excited for the opportunity to continue our life journey together.

Short recap of 2017 — I took on a beast of a contract that helped me grow in my career and also allowed me to meet some awesome new folks; but was a bit of a bear. Thankfully it finished in December and as new opportunities present I look forward to finding another challenge. Marty had a stroke back in May which caught us all off guard and made us realize our mortality. Thankfully, he has mostly recovered and has no significant side affects. As we wake each morning we thank the Lord for another chance to enjoy this life we’ve been given. When your mortality slaps you in the face you begin to remember what life should be about — love, family, friends and pure joy. Martys daughter Brea was married to her best friend in November and we are happy to welcome not only another family member to our circle, but his entire sweet family. It’s been one heck of a year with the ups and downs, but at the end of the year we snuggled up close to each other with our 4-legged kiddos and thanked God for another year and wonderful memories that trump all of the tough times.

This year we are excited to embark on a month long exploration in Europe! LIFE IS TOO SHORT! Last year I kept promising we’d do something epic when I finished my busy contract, so, here we go! First stop, Finland!! I’ve dreamed of seeing the Northern Lights so Marty and I and his daughter Brea are off to hopefully see them and play in the snow. We’re excited to have Brea join us for the first leg of our trip in Finland and Sweden. Here we come reindeer!!

When we start looking for our next adventure we mostly start by seeing how far my travel points get us or what flights are cheapest to our top destinations. After seeing pictures from a friends trip we randomly decided to see how many points it would take us to fly to Iceland… it wasn’t bad, the points will stretch really far. There, how simple was that? After an awesome trip to Utah before Christmas and a natural hot spring we’re also excited to visit new countries and enjoy their winters (something we don’t really get in N.C.).

As our trip progresses I hope to keep family and friends update via this blog, so if you’re interested, check back and see what’s going on! Also, follow my instagram @memoriesnotstuff if you want the journey through pictures.

Peace out USA, we’ll see you again soon, but we’re excited to explore new countries and meet new folks along the way!


Charity & Marty