Category: Vacation experiences

In search of dreads in Tallinn, Estonia

On Saturday and Sunday, days 5 & 6 in Estonia, I was at my travel conference. My wife was having a little adventure you might find interesting. Here is part 1.

Guest entry by Mia Trotta

It all started in Espoo. We met my husband’s online friend and he had cool dreads. He said he was able to wash them normally but that they took a while to dry. I decided to get dreads in Tallinn, figuring it would be cheaper in Estonia than in Finland.

Our first morning in Tallinn I wandered around the city alone and asking various hairdressers if they did dreads. Most did not know the English word dreads. I gave up after a few hours and maybe 10 hairdressers.

The next day, my husband I were walking around Old Town. We stopped at a few hairdressers but no luck until some hairdresser who spoke very little English seemed to say OK. We set up a time for Saturday but I kept going back to confirm because I wasn’t sure we really had an appointment thanks to the language barrier and her not writing down my information or anything. The price, 200 euros, was more than I expected but less expensive than Finland or Korea. I would later learn that 100 went to the dreadmaster who did all the work and 100 went to the evil hairdresser who set everything up.

So on Saturday I went to the hairdresser. The owner called the dread master (a guy from Ghana with cool dreads). The dreads were supposed to take four hours. After eight hours I still had nothing resembling dreads. I would have to come back tomorrow. Except that was Sunday, a national holiday celebrating independence from the Soviet Union. So we decide to do the work in my hotel room since the hairdresser will be closed.

That night my husband and I went to the big concert, celebrating the 20th anniversary of independence.

I would have been uncomfortable along with the guy in the hotel room but there was another customer who wanted some braids so on Sunday at 12:30 I met the dread master, Ibra, and the other customer, Natalie in the hotel lobby.

Wrapping up our Vacation in Helsinki

Here is the conclusion of my last vacation. You can pick up the thread here if you’re just now joining us.

Tallinn day 8

Not much to do today but pack, have a cappuccino in a cafe we like (the Black Poodle in old town), and roll our luggage to the ferry terminal.

Helsinki day 4

We arrived in Helsinki (where we had started our vacation 20 or so days ago) at 4:30 or so. By the time we walked to the hotel, checked in, and showered it was probably around 6:00. We went for a walk. We ended up in a shopping mall that had a Dwok Mongolian Grill, 7.80 for noodles with chicken and shrimp. The food was tasty, kind of like lo mein in a Chinese restaurant in the US only with a lot more chicken and shrimp. The portion was big too making it an excellent value for Finland.

Otherwise not much to report. We were glad that we had booked a hotel on the opposite side of the city than where we stayed before because when we walked we saw different parts of Helsinki.

Helsinki day 5

We first hit a hair salon that carried Knotty Boy products because my wife’s new dreads (she got them in Estonia) were itching here and she’s not supposed to wash them for a few more days. Instead she woke me up at 3:00 AM to complain and then washed them anyway. So we got her some spray to relieve the itch.

Then we walked a ways to the Helsinki City Museum, which we chose because it’s free, for an interesting look at the city’s history. We then saw some interesting shops in the Helsinki Design District and had lunch in Bar Llamas, a Mexican themed place where I had the best chicken soup I’ve ever had in my life.

Then back to the hotel to grab towels and off to the beach. Hietaniemi beach is the busiest one we’ve seen so far in Finland. Interestingly, most of the people there were playing beach volleyball – there were very few people just hanging out on the beach. It was nice to have good beach weather and plenty of sun at 6:00 in the evening. The one or two people in the water looked cold enough that I was happy to lay in the sun for a bit and skip the swim.

Since the Helsinki Festival is going on we were able to find good live music no problem. Just look for “Art goes Kapakka” signs. We went to an Italian restaurant, Vespa, where a pizza and linguini set us back 40 euros. If it hadn’t been for the free music I’d have felt pretty ripped off. But the food was good and the music was good so no complaints. The group was Jazzpartout:

Delicious mix of gipsy swing, Musette waltz and chansons: Mika Huusari (harmonikka), Petri Krzywack and Kimmo Iltanen (guitars) and Matti Tegelman (double bass). The “harmonikka” looked like an accordion, not a harmonica if you were curious.

We stopped by another show but only caught the last song.

Helsinki day 6

Our last day in Helsinki was the last day of our vacation. It was pretty much just eat and get to the airport. We did have an hour or two in the morning where y wife went back to the hair shop to talk to the dreads master. Dreads in Helsinki = 42 euros an hour. My wife’s took 18 hours. Good thing she had them done in Estonia for 200 euros plus another 40 euros for the tip (though I certainly realize that’s not cheap either).

We visited a flea market and a building with some vendors selling antiques and then had some fun trying to find the bus to the airport from Helsinki Central Station. That place could really use some better signage.

We arrived at Incheon, had the dog hotel owner pick us up, got our furkids, and drove home. The dog hotel stuff worked out real well for us. We do have one additional dog as of today so next time it may be more complicated and expensive though.

Tallinn day 6 & Estonia day 7

Tallinn day 6

I spent the day at my educational travel conference. My wife was either going to meet me there or we were going to meet in the hotel when I finished. A few people from the conference were going to the prison Sharon wrote about a while back. I wanted to go but my wife wasn’t there. If we had phones I could have called her. From now on I think I’ll be renting phones or something when I travel.

Anyway, I skipped the prison cafe and went to the hotel. My wife wasn’t there (still getting her hair done but that’s a whole story in itself) so I could have gone to the prison. I took a nap instead and I do like naps so it wasn’t too bad.

That night I went to see Voice People or Voca People.

This concert was part of the Birgitta Festival so it was in the old ruins. The show was entertaining but after the show I spent a few minutes walking around the ruins – there were some old stairs you could walk down into a little 500-year-old room and you could walk or jump around on the old walls. It was cooler than the actual concert for me.

Estonia day 7

I wanted to do something outside of Tallinn on my last full day in Estonia. My first choice was bog walking where you walk on thick layers of moss in special shoes (so you don’t fall through). However, the tour operator was a fellow from the travel conference and he wasn’t charging me the normal price so when he said he had other customers that wanted to go see kayaking I was willing to settle. Interestingly, just a few days ago when blogging about Finland I mentioned I should Kayak more.

So I went kayaking for the third or fourth time in my life. We had 3, 3 person kayaks and each one had some dead weight (kids too young to paddle). I think in all we had 5 adults and 5 kids (2 kids shared a seat).

I’m not a big fan of kids but these ones were pretty OK and I still felt like I got some tranquility. Very good feeling since this can be hard to find in Seoul. Our little trip took 3.5 hours (well it took all day but the kayaking was 3.5 hours). I’d guess that 2 hours were spent paddling. This was hard work after a bit but the repetition and being alone in the water (just the 10 of us in our 3 kayaks) and the atmosphere made it relaxing in a way. The other 1.5 hours we spent walking around an island that we had all to ourselves.

There’s no real attraction there – it’s just an island with woods and sand and you have it all to yourself. Well, the 10 of us. That feeling of being kind of isolated is pretty rare for me so I appreciated it. There was some sharp grass – it looks innocent but I’m told if you grab it the wrong way you can cut your hand down to the bone. I walked through it a a few times I felt something sharp slice on my feet or toes. Each time I looked down expecting to see blood squirting out but I’m told you have to grab it with some pressure to really mess yourself up. There was also a sauna that can be rented from the National Park Service. I was surprised to see tables and chairs in there. I guess Estonians will spend most of the night eating and drinking in the sauna and then walk around the deserted island when they want a break. Sounds like an awesome way for 10 friends to spend some quality time together. If I could only get 8 people I like to visit Estonia with me…

Before the kayaking, Mart, our guide, showed us the oldest known graveyard in Estonia. I had never seen viking style graves before and they are kind of interesting stone jobs with built in flower pots. Poor description perhaps, but eventually I’ll show you the pictures.

We also saw Estonia’s largest natural waterfall and had some other sights pointed out to us along the way including Estonia’s oldest church and Mart’s elementary school.

During the trip we also heard some stories about Soviet times when Estonians weren’t allowed to own boats or even allowed to swim out too far into the ocean for fear they might escape. Mart’s wife had a home near the ocean and it was difficult to even receive guests because Estonians needed special permission papers to go to a town near the sea. They even had to smuggle her aunt in by hiding her under some stuff in the car so they could have a family visit.

It was an interesting day and we were pretty wiped. Taking the bus back to Tallinn was pretty tough but we wanted to save Mart the drive. Public transportation is not always easy in Estonia but Mart eventually figured out what bus we wanted. Funnily in the end, he may have saved some gas but probably not much time because one bus left early and then he had to spend about 30 minutes with us showing us the area around the bus stop and figuring out which bus we ought to take back to Tallinn.

We had just enough energy for one last dinner so we went back to Olde Hansa for some almond chicken (3 little smoked and maybe baked chicken legs in almond sauce) and smoked-grilled salmon. As usual the food was good and different from what we’ll be eating when we get back home.

Tallinn days 4 & 5 ending with the main event

Tallinn day 4

Friday I spent going to museums. First was Kadriorg Palace, which was billed as a must-see in my little Tallinn museum brochure. It’s nice but not must-see. We spent an hour or less there but we skipped the gardens because it was raining. It’s kind of interesting because it’s an art museum in a palace but you don’t see much in the way of palace furniture or anything. Some of the art was pretty good though and the palace was still nice inside, of course.

Next up was the nearby KUMU Estonian Art Museum. What a great museum – I wasn’t interested in everything but there’s a lot of stuff so everyone can find something they like. In addition to some of the more modern stuff, I learned that I like the art of Konrad Magi.

Then we went back to old town and had lunch at Pepper Sack. Like Olde Hansa this is a medieval-themed restaurant. But they’re not as good as Olde Hansa. Part of it is atmosphere – they sell soda while Olde Hansa does not for example. Also the rice at Pepper Sack is just plain old rice while the Olde Hansa Rice is brown and somehow medieval looking.

Next was the Town Hall Museum. I’d say I spent about 15 minutes there. If you’re walking by with a Tallinn card you may as well get your free ticket and check it out. Otherwise I don’t think I’d bother. Next we walked to the Dominican Monastery Museum which was worth another 15 minutes. Again, without the Tallinn card I wouldn’t bother.

Then we used the Tallinn card o get half price entrance to a couple of towers and a section of the city wall that connects them. That was pretty fun, climbing up the old spiral stairs, checking out the views, and walking on the old city wall.

At 6:00 I headed to Tallinn University to check in with the Educational Travel conference. We had fun snacking and chatting for a couple of hours before going out for our anniversary dinner and then on to a cafe for desert.

At the restaurant, we actually had to switch from a mostly empty room to the crowded outdoor area because of a group of people who were too loud and annoying for us. They were the only other people in a pretty big dining area but we couldn’t stand them so we moved outside where it was far more crowded but maybe a little less noisy. As he was bringing us to the new table the waiter said, “I’m sorry. These Finnish tourists….”

We found this particularly funny because a Finn in Espoo told us that the biggest danger in Tallinn is drunken Finns and Tallinn generally has a reputation for being a place where Finns go to let loose.

Tallinn day 5

Not much to report early in the day as I spent the morning and afternoon at my conference. I am learning quite a bit and eventually I’ll share some of what I’ve been able to process here on the blog.

At night we had the conference dinner in Beer House in Tallinn’s old town. I was going to write a bad review about the place because it’s noisy and the food is only OK but then they picked me to participate in a little dance thing with the girls wearing traditional Estonian clothes and that was a lot of fun. If you want to talk I don’t recommend it but if you want to get drunk and dance, it should be good.

Then it was time to go to the Song Festival Grounds for the main event, Tallin’s free concert celebrating Estonia’s 20th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union. It was, of course, extremely crowded, but it was a well-behaved crowd. There were some chants I couldn’t understand and then we saw Sinead O’Connor. We didn’t like her music much and left during her show. That means we missed a speech by the president of Iceland and some fireworks. I don’t feel like I missed anything though: I still feel like I saw something historically significant.

Thanks to the city giving my wife and I press passes, we were able to stand in a special little area and take some great pictures that I’ll soon be sharing with you.

Tallinn days 2 & 3: good and old

Tallinn day 2

Today the report will be fairly short but I will eventually share some pictures. Basically we walked around old town, entered a few churches, and stumbled on some nice views. It kind of sounds like we didn’t do anything but we were happy just wandering around. And we did go to the top of the Kiek in de Kok tower / museum. We skipped most of the museum stuff on crime and punishment in medieval times but the views from the tower were quite nice.

We also walked by the cleanup from a speech by the Dalai Lama. Would have been interesting to see him talk but apparently it wasn’t heavily advertised and in any case, we didn’t know about it until after the fact.

We did go back to Olde Hansa for lunch. This time I had dark beer with herbs and smoked fillet mignon. Again, the food was different and good.

Basically Tallinn’s old town is beautiful but there are a few funny things going on in there. One guy tried to sell us some Stalin pins that he had hidden in his coat. A woman holding some coupons for Hesburger asked us if we ever ate there (I assume she wanted to sell the coupons), some guy tried to sell us a CD of traditional music (and let me know that while he had no problem with Korea there are some problems with American culture), and just outside old town we saw a young boy begging.

Tallinn day 3

Today I started off with the 11:30 AM English tour of the Sokos Hotel KGB Museum. It was the story of the hotel and a look at some relics from life during the USSR’s rule of Estonia – pretty interesting.

Then we went looking for the 2011 Capitol of Culture office. Even with an address it wasn’t easy to find but once we got there they hooked us up with some information a Tallinn VIP card, and tickets to the Birgitta Festival.

We also saw a couple of street performers dressed in lots of feathers and wearing face paint performing Peruvian songs. I’m no expert but they looked and sounded pretty authentic to me. Street performers are normal here but that was still unexpected.

Lunch was in the mall attached to the Sokos Hotel Viru at “Viru Magic Buffee.” This place was more for locals than tourists and was pretty interesting. It was more of a cafeteria than a buffet – you pick out what you want and pay by the item. My wife’s vegetable wok was pretty cheap. You put as many veggies (and noodles) as you can into a bowl and the chef cooks it in a wok for you. 3.90 euro but if you add meat it’s 6.90. My chicken fillet was 7.90 and was alright. A poppy seed roll covered in chocolate was 1 euro and not quite as good as it looked.

At 6:00 we went to the malls atrium for a modern dance performance. I saw some good modern dance when I was in college. This one was a guy sitting in a chair, falling off, and then sitting on the floor. I almost fell asleep standing up, which I’ve never done before in my life.

That night, I went to the Birgitta festival and had no trouble staying awake for Antonin Dvorák’s opera, Rusalka performed in the ruins of a 15th century convent. Thank you to Sharon for pointing it out to me back in May. I think the last opera I saw was over 10 years ago with my grandfather who is no longer with us so this brought back some memories.

Espoo days 5&6 to Tallinn day 1

Espoo day 5

Today they predicted rain so we didn’t go to Kaitalampi Lake, a tourist attraction in Espoo (in a national park I think). It’s supposed ot be pretty and have great trails and be good for picking berries and mushrooms. But in the mud that doesn’t sound like so much fun so we went back to Sello shopping center.

It wasn’t a very exciting day but we did say hello to Kimmo who was playing games in his excavator thing and check out two huge supermarkets right across from each other. And we had some more Finnish Chinese food, a mediocre lunch buffet for euro 8.50.

That night we packed and I went for a swim. I had the pool all to myself again but the sauna was full (only room for 4) so instead of waiting for my turn I just gave up.

Espoo day 6 to Tallinn day 1

After breakfast we finished packing and checked out. We explained that we were not 100% satisfied and that we did not want to pay as per the 100% satisfaction guaranteed signs they have all over. The manager insisted that the guarantee didn’t apply to cases like ours – it was more for big things that could not be fixed like someone missing a flight because they didn’t get a wake-up call.

The policy says that if they don’t fix the situation the stay is free. The first night when we waited 40 minutes for an extra blanket because my wife was cold doesn’t count because the situation was fixed. I said leaving a guest cold for 40 minutes and forcing her husband to keep getting up to track down staff to get the blanket is not really satisfactory. And the problem with the staff not knowing any local attractions was never really resolved.

I asked if the 100% satisfaction guarantee was a lie and he said, “yes,” which was either a slip of the tongue or a Freudian slip. Anyway, while polite the manager did say that our complaints were too small and that the hotel couldn’t afford to give us a 5 night stay for free.

I kind of agreed with the second part and there were some days where nothing serious went wrong. I ended up paying for 3 out of 5 nights. I think this was fair but it does make me question the sincerity of the Radisson Blu 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Anyway, we got on the ferry to Tallinn. Funny, how big this ship is considering it’s a 2 hour ride. It’s not as big as Liberty of the Seas or even the Norwegian Pearl but it has 9 floors, a few restaurant / snack bar things, a supermarket, and a perfume shop (duty free chocolate, alcohol, and perfume is big here). There are even cabins but who wants a cabin for a 2 hour cruise?

That evening we walked around Tallinn’s old town. We really like the old stone stuff. We went to a restaurant called Olde Hansa. It’s obviously for tourists but they promised medieval style food and I like medieval stuff. Kind of like the viking food I had in Finland, I have no way of knowing if the food is authentic or not. All I know is that the food was different and good. I had smoked-grilled salmon with big white beans in cream sauce, pickled vegetables, and hazelnut rice. The main meal and the three sides were new experiences and they all tasted good.

Then we walked around some more before stopping in a cool-looking cafe for cappuccino. Tallinn is a bit more crowded than Finland and the old town at least is a bit more touristy but it’s also really cool.

Espoo days 3 & 4: people and music

Espoo day 3 – some interesting Finns

After breakfast I talked to one of the hotel’s managers while my wife got ready for her tanning session. We then went outside to lay in the sun. Well I laid in the sun for a few minutes and then started writing.

Then we went to Sello shopping mall where we met a guy I know from a grunge rock message board, who happens to live in Espoo. You never know what’s going to happen when you meet someone from the web but we had a lot of fun drinking Finnish beer while talking about music and life in Finland.

Interestingly, the mall closes early on Sunday so at 6:00 we were on our way out of the mall when we ran into Kimmo. Kimmo has been living in a little excavator parked in the mall for 74 days or so. Each day he’s allowed out of the excavator for 30 minutes – this is the time he gets each day to go to the bathroom. When we talked to him at 6:00, he had used up 2 of his 30 minutes after having gone to the bathroom once so far. He likes saving his free time for night when the mall is totally empty except for him.

If you’re wondering why he’s doing this, it’s a competition. They started with 6 contestants but are now down to 4 and whichever person lives in the excavator longest wins the excavator valued at 30,000 euros. “The competition could go on forever,” Kimmo told me. “I might die here.”

Then we walked around looking for a place to eat and settled on Carlito’s, an American Italian food chain attached to the GLO hotel chain. My wife thought her fried goat cheese salad was OK but I quite liked my linguini and meatballs.

I think that was about it for day 3. I did swim a bit but the hotel pool isn’t big so a couple of adults and a couple of kids (the kids were the worst as they managed to block most of the possible swim lanes) made it not really fun.

Espoo day 4 – problems and luck

My wife was looking forward to biking to the beach and after breakfast we saw 2 bikes out in the parking so thought we were good to go. However, when we went to sign them out we were told one had a flat tire and that the hotel had no maintenance people working on Sunday.

We asked the front desk guy to recommend a good local beach we could get to without bikes and without too much trouble but he said he couldn’t recommend anything because he doesn’t live in Espoo.

We noticed that this was kind of a recurring theme – the hotel staff didn’t seem to know any nearby attractions or how to get to the ones we dug up. They were helpful looking up directions for us but we would end up waiting while they did it. We’ve stayed in a lot of hotels and never noticed anything like this before.

So my wife pointed at the 100% satisfaction guarantee sign and said we’re not happy. Not sure if I mentioned but we’d had a few other issues as well including bad directions to the hotel and long waits for things like extra blankets or towels.

We talked or argued for a bit but couldn’t really resolve anything. We walked away saying we wouldn’t be paying for our stay. Then I had to go back to get more directions.

Then we decided not to go to any of the places we had gotten directions for. Instead we went to the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum because they have a beach for my wife and museum stuff for me. That worked out pretty well with my wife splitting time between the beach and the museum and me spending most of my time in the museum.

And as it turned out, the price of admission (the trails around the island and the beach are free but the museum buildings are 6 euros (all buildings included) included several free concerts. That’s not the norm; I just got lucky. I liked the traditional Finnish songs but really loved this performance inside an old wooden farmhouse by Suunta.

These 3 performers mix traditional Finnish music with crazy modern stuff. I was thinking of a Finnish John Cage as I listened. More importantly, I was thinking this is awesome and I’m happy.

On the way out I even got to help one of the workers close up an old building. They use logs to complete the fence instead of any sort of gate and one of the logs had gotten jammed. No big deal but I’ve never helped close up a museum before.

That night the hotel was empty and I had the pool and the sauna all to myself so I enjoyed that. I also typed up a letter listing the various things that had gone wrong during our stay.

Rauma day 3 to Espoo days 1 & 2

Rauma day 3 to Espoo day 1

Breakfast at the hotel, walk to the bus station, bus to Turku, walk to the train station, train to Helsinki, bust to the Radisson Blu Espoo. All in all a fairly boring day but we are starting to dislike Finnish buses. On our trip to Rauma the driver missed a few turns – the locals were laughing and told us it’s rare. On the way back to Turku, the toilet on the bus was locked and the driver said she didn’t know why / couldn’t open it.

Anyway, our plan for Espoo is to relax. We’ve been doing a ton of walking and my wife had her fall a few days ago so it’s time to take it easy and Espoo is, apparently, a popular spot for Finns to take it easy. Our hotel, the Raddison Blu Espoo was a pretty sweet deal at 67.50 euros a night including the pool, the spa, and breakfast. At our hotel in Helsinki the sauna was 20 euros, there was no pool, and the price was about double.

So we had some excitement getting our bus from Helsinki Central train station. When I asked the hotel for the name of the bus stop, they gave me the address instead. We missed our stop, the driver spoke zero English, and my wife ended up yelling from the middle of the bus, “Where’s Onaranta 2? Where’s Radisson Blu?” Someone on the bus said we had passed our stop so we got of, backtracked a bit, and found the hotel.

After checking in we stole some fruit from some conference people near our room and had a litle snack. My wife unpacked. I relaxed. We learned that the hotel has no gym but for 10 euros you can visit one next door. $15 for one visit – I pay $50 a month for my boxing gym in Seoul. I used to pay $30 / month for a small weight lifting gym near my house. I can use my university gym for free.

And the pool was closed for cleaning but should reopen the following day.

Then we signed out the hotel bikes, rode around for a bit, and stopped at a supermarket . I bought a tuna fish sandwich and some snacks, including a Finnish rice pie with pumpkin and a piece of bread with tomato sauce and vegetables in it (that was a pleasant surprise since I bought it for its looks and didn’t know what it would contain). My wife got what we thought was skim milk. Now we think it might be 0% fat buttermilk. Not delicious.

We then went to the sauna which was kind of interesting but I’ll take a Korean style sauna or jimjilbang any day. Here we have just the hot room (the men’s one has room for 4 people). When I entered the three guys already there started laughing, hopefully because I hit my head on the low ceiling as I climbed the stairs and sat down.

Finally we watched an episode of House and then went to bed. My wife was a bit cold so I had to go ask the front desk to do something. 23 is the max temperature so I asked for an extra blanket and watched a show about some Irish cops. 40 minutes later tha show ended and still no blanket so I went back out and got that taken care of. Then bed.

Espoo day 2 – cycling and relaxing

Today, our first full day in Espoo, was the first day that really felt like a vacation.

My wife got back from her jog at 6:30 and we went to breakfast. She talked about the mongoose-looking thing that was hopping around on two legs. It had a short tail and was pretty big – maybe 50-70 cm tall she says. Any clue what it might have been?

After breakfast, I wanted to nap but my wife forced me to go on a bike ride. We rode to a beach I can’t pronounce: Munkkiniemi. The dark clouds and chilly air (I could see my breath) didn’t discourage her but the rain storm when we got to the beach did. When it stopped, we rode back to the hotel, stopping for a few minutes at some open air museum that has its own beach and some old buildings that we didn’t pay (or have time) to enter.

Despite the poor beach weather, it was a fun bike ride and we did manage a quick picnic on the beach before the rain started. It was far too cold for me to swim but two old ladies were in the water and there was a lifeguard on duty.

Some of you may remember that I was impressed by the space in Helsinki. Well it’s even less crowded in Espoo. It may have been partly because of the weather but we saw a handful of people on the beach, two swimming in the water, and one rowing. If I were looking for a peaceful place to kayak, Finland would be way up high on the list. Sadly, kayaking is something I talk about doing way more than I actually do it.

We got the bikes back exactly on time (4 hour maximum) and then I finally got my nap. Then we went just outside the hotel to the water so my wife could tan (and I could write this). It was peaceful except for the construction noise coming from next to the hotel.

Then we signed out the bikes again (the hotel has only 4 but the demand hasn’t been terrible) and rode to the Tapiola shopping center. We found a few sales and bought some clothes, but more interestingly, we found a Loving Hut.

Loving Hut is a vegan franchise that has spread all over the world. Each one has different food though – really what they have in common is the name and the vegan food. And according to them “cooking with love.” I think there may be a religious thing in common too but I haven’t really investigated that.

We’ve been to a few in Seoul so when we say signs for one in Finland we figured we’d better try it. The sign was in Finnish but even when translated by a friendly local the directions were horrible. We asked about 10 people before someone had heard of the place, more of a hut than any Loving Hut I’ve been to – just a little trailer with some outdoor tables. The food wasn’t cheap but it was good. The owner is Chinese and the food is vegan Chinese I’d say.

Then we rode back to the hotel where I fooled around on the internet for a bit before going to bed.

All in all it was a good day. We were active, we relaxed, we saw some of Espoo. What really made it good was riding bikes. Finland isn’t crowded so cycling is much more relaxing here than it was in Tokyo. I was reminded of how much fun I had riding my bike as a kid. Plus the bikes helped us cover more ground than and take a break from walking.

Rauma day 2 – the nursing home

In the morning we walked around old Rauma and visited a few shops that we had seen but that had been closed the night before. We went to one pet store that was pretty fun. It was small but there were piles of stuff so they had a lot – you just had to search for it. The owner told us she didn’t carry dog clothes but after some digging, I found a pair of doggy sweaters marked 5 euros each that will fit our tiny dogs. We think they would normally be $30 or more. We also found some rain coats and a winter coat for the rescue we found in July. That was 10 euros but seems to be comparable in quality to one we paid a lot more for in Paris.

We also went back to the pet supply store we were at yesterday and picked up a rain coat for Eagle, who we rescued 6 years ago. The owner had one rain coat on sale and a bunch of choices at full price. We don’t like full price.

Anyway, at noon we started heading over to some place where they had a free concert listed on the Rauma festival information book. We were surprised not to see any signs or anything but we eventually found it, a very nice nursing home. People in the audience were nearly all senior citizens – in fact they started removing the chairs around us to make it a wheelchair section. My wife was feeling weird but I was happy to be having an interesting travel experience until I saw the performers – little kids.

We left, though someone seemed upset by our decision: “What’s the problem.”

“We’re just leaving. No problem.”

We walked back to old Rauma and cafe Sali on the market square. They had a real performance, alto with piano accompaniment singing (I guess) some Schubert songs and others. These two were professional musicians and the food was reasonable. The coffee wasn’t great according to my wife but they did offer free refills. We caught the second half of that performance assuming they started on time since we were all the way on the other side of town for the free concert that really needed to be better described in the festival booklet.

After lunch we walked some more and talked to a few locals. At one shop, a ceramics shop shared by 14 hobbyists, we asked if we were visiting during Rauma’s busy season (because it wasn’t busy at all). Summer season is indeed busy season, in winter the store opens Saturday only but in summer it’s open daily. At the Kirsti house / museum (basically two small homes – one decorated early 1900s style and one decorated 1960s style) we were told the museum, which is only open in summer, gets around 20 visits a day.

As you can see, Rauma is not a crazily crowded tourist spot.

Eventually we had walked every street in Old Rauma at least twice so we explored new Rauma a bit and then headed back to the hotel where we had dinner, exercised (no gym so just pushups in the room), and packed.

Rauma day 1

We arrived in Rauma at 12:40 and found our hotel by 1:00. The hotel people couldn’t give us directions so we had to ask about 10 people on the way. Finnish people seem to enjoy giving directions though.

We checked in and then started walking around the old town, about 600 wooden homes and stores that make up a UNESCO World Heritage site. We liked Rauma immediately. Somehow the wooden houses here are just more charming than the scene in Turku or Naantali. And that, somehow, cured our cheapness.

The first thing we did was eat. I finally tried reindeer, specifically creamy reindeer soup. The cream was so thick I pictured it clogging my arteries as I ate. The reindeer meat was nothing special, minced and kind of greasy. Plus hard to taste in the thickest cream in the world. It also came with what I think was blood bread.

Interestingly, the shopping here is much better than in Naantali where a few stores tried to rip off tourists. Here in Rauma there are a fair number of interesting stores and the sale items are sometimes pretty good. I got a dress shirt made in Finland for 15 euros (down from 90 which I’d never pay but it’s certainly nicer than a $20 shirt) and a pair of pants made in Germany (or maybe made somewhere from German fabric) for another 15 euros. The shirt fit well except the neck was a bit tight. They moved the button over a bit and the fit was perfect. No extra charge.

We also found a few pet stores. We got a dog carrier that rests on your chest and wraps around your back, a life vest for 1-5 kilogram dogs, and a leash / choke collar all in one thing. Each one was about 15 euros (the first two were on sale from 30). And my wife got a really interesting scarf / necklace thing made of recycled cloth designed by a woman from Turku. That was not on sale and 80 euros. My wife thought she could make one herself but when I asked her how many hours it would take, she decided to buy it. She did talk them down to 75.

I had sworn to have a light dinner (a leftover sandwich and a protein shake) but my wife wanted to try Finnish Chinese food tonight so vegetarian chop suey and white rice for me. It was pretty good as was my wife’s shrimp in chili sauce. I was pleasantly surprised because I had low expectations.

By now we’ve seen pretty much all of the old town and some of the new town but shops close early, stores and even most restaurants and cafes are closed by 6:00. So even though we’ve seen the area we haven’t seen all the shops. Plus we have a free concert tomorrow afternoon so I don’t think we’ll run out of things to do. And if we do run out of stuff to do, I still would like to catch up on sleep.