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

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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…

Xoxo,

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!

Löyly

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!

Xoxo,

Charity & Marty