Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Jyväskylä, Finland

A few days ago I returned from 8 days of annual leave visiting my very good friends in Finland, Mij and Troy, for the mid-summer celebrations. The mid-summer festivities are almost a bigger deal to the Finns than Christmas, and for the two day public holiday most families will retreat from the city out to their summer houses which are typically positioned right against a lake with not a house or person in sight. So this is exactly what I did.

On my first night in Jyväskylä, Troy's Finnish Cousin Janne and his wife Maria invited us to their place for a truly heavenly BBQ grill dinner. Admittedly Janne is a published chef, but I don't think I have ever tasted vegetables so full of flavour, and this was the case with every meal during my visit - packed with such intense flavour I just wanted to cram my suitcase with fresh fruit and vegetables - and a few dozen sausages. With the sun still up I was a little embarrassed to be suppressing yawns after dinner over glasses of red wine, until I realised it was close to 11pm! I had been warned that it was 24hr sunlight at this time of year, but I thought it would be more like dim twilight!

The next day it was off to a place I had heard so much about, Troy's family's summer house. I can remember on a few occasions over morning tea at work, Mij showing us holiday photos of this little forest retreat and speaking so fondly of his memories there, so I was most eager to see it for myself. Just as I had suspected, there could be no photograph which could do this place an inch of justice. From the lusciously dense flowerbeds and patches of deep green grass to the cute winding path down to the sauna and clear lake water I could feel the immediate onset of holiday relaxation.

The outlook from the summer house with the children's cottage in the background

The fireplace inside was crackling and glowing with heat waiting to cook the sausages which we had skewered onto big iron forks. With a generous amount of mustard and some fresh Finnish bread to wrap our crispy sausages in we scoffed down our lunch quicker than you could say sauna - which is exactly what we did after a post-lunch walk. I wasn't completely confident that I was going to enjoy the Finnish sauna experience given my dislike of swimming in water anything colder than a tepid bath, but I was more than happy to give it a go. After the first round of the process (5 minutes of sitting in the intense sauna heat, swatting yourself with branches of birch leaves, then running outside along the jetty and jumping straight into the lake) I was completely converted. I also took my most memorable shower ever - out on the jetty looking out over the lake with just simply a big bucket of hot water, a scoop and soap. I had never felt so invigorated and full of energy, the only thing which stopped me from enjoying another round of sauna was when i burnt my leg on the searing heat of the stove inside. Thankfully we had some medicinal ingredients for cocktails on hand which came along with us for a midnight row boat excursion out on the big glassy lake.

Midnight delight - cocktails and shouting directions at our rower Troy, it was all class

It was such a wonderful holiday and I was so pleased to be Mij and Troy's first visitor since their big move to Finland. I miss them so much already and would love to visit again in winter for some more laughs, cocktails, drinks at the Helsinki frozen ice bar and more Moomin paraphernalia

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sailing in the Seychelles by the sea shore

A week before my rostered flight to the Seychelles I received an exciting text message, along with the rest of the crew, from our captain proposing that we hire a yacht and spend three of the four nights sailing around the islands of the Seychelles!

Of the 11 of us only one was an experienced skipper - our Irish captain Chris - so you can imagine the follies that took place over the course of four days and certainly the wrath of mother nature didn't help matters. Day one we set sail from the Seychelles marina just after lunchtime with ice cold eskys full of beer, champagne, wine and ginger beer for the Pimms!! Music immediately started filtering through speakers and toasts were made to smooth sailing as we each reserved a spot on the netted flooring at the front of the catamaran, breathing in the oncoming ocean breezes and the gentle sound of breaking waves from underneath. Then, as if someone had flicked the 'off' switch for clear skies, sun, fun and laughter it was clear we were heading directly into an impressive storm. After two hours of nauseous wave riding through grey skies and pelting rain we were jubilant sailors to be finally reaching a protected harbour for the night.

Our victory unfortunately was short lived. In order to make our way onto the mainland for dinner we had to rely on the small six-man inflatable dinghy to take us to the refuge of steady ground, however after watching Captain Chris yank on that motor chord with impressive gusto for ten minutes we started to face the realisation that we would not be walking on land that night. With limited food supplies and a diminishing stock of seasickness tablets I knew it was time to open up the sausages which I had bought along in my mini-esky bag. No longer were the crew mocking my domestic organisation, instead they were lining up to get their ration of two sausages and tomato sauce. The remainder of the trip proved to be much smoother - picking star fruit from island trees, meeting some lovely local people at dinner and as each pink sunset fell over it became customary to sit on the front deck to pop corks and marvel at the incredible view around us.

Living off the fat of the land with fellow Aussie Melanie, and those knock out sunsets!!

On our third afternoon six of us jumped into the waters for the final time, with our snorkels and flippers to check out the marine life and it wasn't long before we came across an extremely friendly and equally curious yellow turtle. We just could not believe our luck at not only finding a turtle, but to have him stay and swim with us! We formed a circle around our new friend and he casually inspected us each, looking directly into our eyes. He let us get so close we were able to touch his slippery mossy green back. It will be a moment I will never forget and if it's possible to get underwater goosebumps, I certainly had them!