one week of unforgettables

can’t believe it’s only been a week in 2015 and i already had a few unforgettable moments!

i’m officially on a holiday from work, and right after new year’s eve we went on a cruise to Stockholm. yes, you read me right, cruise to Stockholm, again. for the past few years now we’ve been having this same kind of cruise at least twice a year. you would think that we would have seen it all.

well, actually, that was what i thought, too. until these two things happened on the cruise.

on the second night on the ship (on our way back to Helsinki), i was already asleep because we had been walking around Stockholm that whole day. my husband had warned everyone about this coming big sea storm that night, which would start once our ship hit the open sea. trying to avoid getting seasick, i thought i had better slept early.

in the middle of the night, my husband suddenly woke me up. i immediately panicked, thinking we had to evacuate the ship (like, if something got damaged from the storm or something), but my husband was just saying, “i think we can see Aurora”. my sleepy head tried to make sense of what he said… who the hell was Aurora, and what did i care about another woman?? it took me probably half a minute to realize that he meant the northern lights. THE aurora!

i quickly jumped out of the bed and went to our cabin’s window, which was looking right to the north of Finland. it was really unlike any other thing i’ve seen before, and it was so surreal (i did just got up from a deep sleep!). it was thin and sometimes became so invisible, but when it was visible, it was greenish/bluish and sometimes a bit dark yellowish. and there it danced in silence in front of us, so graceful and mysterious. ❤

of course this happened when none of us brought a better camera, and with our mobile phones/iPad we couldn’t capture the northern lights at all. so we just enjoyed it on the spot with our own eyes and since this is my first time of ever seeing the aurora, i know that i’ll always remember this.

after the dance show from the aurora, i went back to bed… and shortly after that, it was time for the second act of this drama: the big sea storm.

i mean, yeah, sure, i’ve been in sea storms before. the night before, we actually also encountered one, in which the waves were like 4-5 meters high. and let me tell you, that was nothing compared to what we had the second night!

our cabin was at the highest floor of the ship (11th floor), and the waves were so big that they came splashing on our window glass. during this kind of time, it helps to have a window in the cabin. even though it was almost pitch dark, luckily the moon was shining so bright we could still see the horizon. not that i got up from bed, though. the swaying of the ship was so much and so hard that lying down was my safest position, because i really had no intention to throw up from the seasick.

at one point i finally fell asleep again and thought i heard the ship’s horn. almost right away i felt the ship halting abruptly and heard my husband cursing… and then our cabin window crashed and i could hear the sea water coming in. i forced myself to get up, the ship was sinking! i did finally got up, and found that i just woke up from a nightmare. ugh.

luckily, the ship wasn’t sinking. unfortunately, the storm hadn’t passed yet, so back to swaying in bed i went!

the next day, as we finally arrived home, safe and sound, we checked both things from the internet: the northern lights (was it real?) and the sea storm (just how bad was it?).

the northern lights was real. 🙂 there was a strong solar wind that night that the northern lights was seen in the central Finland. we were in the south of Finland, but since we were at the sea, we could see all the way to the aurora which was on the central Finland. so, even though we had no pictures to prove it, the data showed that we weren’t hallucinating.

the sea storm was really quite bad, with 10 meters high of waves. 10 meters. that’s like higher than 3 floors of modern day apartments. and we survived it! 😀

so now i can proudly wear a t-shirt that says: “i was in a sea storm with waves of 10 m high. not only did i survive, but i also saw the northern lights!”

stowinter2015a

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calm before the storm. pics taken from the windows of our cabin, at around 2.30 pm Swedish time… waaay before we saw the northern lights and experienced the storm, of course.

yep, 2015 looks promising so far! 🙂

6 days, 5 nights, and 4 beds (short holiday, pt. 1)

last week my short summer holiday officially started! for this short holiday, i had 1,5 week off from work (the rest of the summer holiday is coming soon!). my husband had suggested that we did something different for this short holiday. instead of spending the time in just one holiday destination, we would be spending time in two destinations and also en route to these destinations. so our itinerary was: Helsinki-Riga-Stockholm-Helsinki, with flight first to Riga, and then cruise ship to Stockholm, and also cruise ship to Helsinki. the cruise ship means we would also spend the night on the ship.

i will write about the Riga & Stockholm experiences itself in separate posts, this is now just for the accommodations. 😉

anyway, everything went so smoothly from the beginning to the very end, even with rains and everything, and we even got more than we expected!

the plane we took to Riga was a propeller plane. i’ve never been in one before, and neither had my husband (except in simulators). it was an exciting ride, especially the taking off (very quick & swift) and landing. since it was a propeller plane, the sound in the plane was also not as loud as in jet planes.

we arrived in Riga at around 12 pm, and as we came to the hotel we were told that the check-in starts at around 3 pm. to kill the time, we went around the hotel to grab lunch and walk around the parks. when we came back to check-in, the receptionist had a pleasant surprise for us: the bathroom in our room had a jacuzzi! 😀 i don’t think all their rooms have one, so it was really a nice surprise. i’ve never even been in a jacuzzi before! 😀 we of course used it for both nights that we spent there, it was so relaxing, especially after a day of walking around in the rain.

 

breakfast was included in the room rate, but even if it wasn’t, there was a small bakery right across the street and a “Street Fries” booth right next to it. i managed to find 70 cents to try this bun (i didn’t quite catch the name, if you know what it is, do tell!).

bun it was a lot like kue soes of Indonesia, with somewhat hard texture on the outside and soft in the inside, and had a cream on the inside. instead of sweet cream like kue soes, this one had (probably) quark or something sour-ish, very good and refreshing! unfortunately i didn’t get to try the Street Fries, but they are basically potato fries (you can choose between Belgian fries and Home Style fries, which is slightly bigger cuts than French fries) eaten with dips. they have about a dozen different dip sauces and each costs only 50 cents, whereas the fries itself costs 1.40€ for a big-sized paper cone. yes, THAT CHEAP!

since we were going to depart from Riga by a cruise ship that leaves in the afternoon (around 5 pm), we needed to keep our hotel room for a bit longer than the usual time for check-outs. the hotel was fully booked when we were there, so we were advised to ask about late check-outs in the morning of our departure. we did, and were told that we got to keep the room till 2 pm for free of charge, but afterwards we needed to pay a small amount (forgot how much). so we decided to stay till 3 pm, it was nice enough for them to let us keep the room for 2 extra hours for free.

not long after we got back to our room after asking that, we got a phone call… it was the receptionist, telling us that we got to keep the room till 3 pm for free after all! 😀 another pleasant surprise from them!

at first, we were planning to walk to the harbour to board the ship, since it really wasn’t that far. but it was raining quite heavily when we checked out, so we decided to take a taxi instead. we were prepared to pay for this small comfort, but even in a small traffic jam the taxi ride only costed 4.40€! 😀

in the ship, our cabin was at the front part, so we could see where the ship was going.

there was a bowl of fresh fruits waiting for us, and the mini bar was jam packed full of all kinds of soda and liquor (which were all included in the cabin rate). i was so exhausted from our extensive walks around Riga for the past 3 days, so we ended up only taking a small stroll around the decks, the shop/supermarket, and ate dinner, and then headed back to our cabin. i fell asleep almost right away after shower, and didn’t wake up when (said my husband) the ship hit a bit of a storm that caused big waves & rocked our ship for a while.

breakfast was also included in the rate, so with new full energy the next morning, we arrived in Stockholm.

we had the same ‘problem’ again when we were going to check-in, since we arrived in the morning and the check-in time wasn’t until around 3 pm. and again, it was slightly raining that day. but, the show must go on. after leaving our stuffs at the hotel’s storage room, we went downtown to grab a bite & look around.

right away we noticed how ‘expensive’ it was to go around in Stockholm when staying at a hotel outside of the downtown area. we chose this hotel because it was so close to the harbour (and there was also nostalgic reasons for my husband), but everything we wanted to see was downtown, and also the restaurants we could go to were there. in Riga, everything seemed so close, and we practically got around everywhere by foot. we had no expenses at all for public transport, except for getting to the hotel from the airport and from the hotel to the harbour (and only because it was raining).

it was a nice standard room at the hotel, so Scandinavian with all the woods in the interior & furniture, and also the style was still kind of back in the 80’s. the interior of the whole hotel itself was clearly still in its 80’s. it was cute! we stayed at the standard room, so there wasn’t even any fridge in the room. the view was to the sea, so we could see the ships coming in and out of the harbour. it was a real nice experience!

other than slightly rainy, it was also kind of cold that day, so we only went out again once after checking in, just to get dinner. the next day promised to be warmer & sunnier, so we decided to do more exploring the next day instead.

the breakfast, as you guessed, was included in the room rate. it was Scandinavian style, and there was a place to eat the breakfast on the terrace. we almost did, until we saw the seagulls. i HATE seagulls. so we chose to eat indoor. right afterwards, we again asked for late check-out. it was possible for a small fee per hour, so we decided to keep the room till 4 pm. then, it was time to go to the old town (more on those later). when my feet couldn’t take it any longer, we went back to the hotel and checked-in to the last ship of our trip.

everything was fine when we checked-in, until we left the check-in booth and saw our key cards. the card always shows what room/class we’re staying at, and this time it said some class that was more expensive (like around 400€ more expensive… and luxurious) than what we paid for. thinking that there must be a mistake, we went back to the booth and asked them to check. the representative didn’t even hesitate when he answered that no, there hadn’t been any mistake… his boss told him earlier to upgrade our cabin class for some reason, free of charge. ❤

that was probably the best surprise of this whole trip! suddenly we were treated like VIPs, for God knows what reason. 😀 this particular ship we were going with was just recently renovated as well. some new stores were built, the tax free store got enlarged, and some cabins got retouched, including this cabin that we were just upgraded to.

we went on board, and as we entered our “VIP” area, we were greeted with our own “steward” (who served all the guests in this same class, not just us, LOL!) who called us by our last names and showed us our cabin. there was also a lounge just for the guests of this cabin class, with small bites to eat and stuffs. for free. the steward asked if we’d like to book any restaurants for dinner, as he would do it for free. gosh, it really felt different when we’re treated as VIPs! we told him we’d look around first, since we had no idea where to eat yet.

the cabin was just as big as our previous hotel rooms, there was a bathtub in the bathroom (usually in the ships, there are only showers), lots of drawers and closets for us to store our stuffs, a TV room, and we could also sit on the window to watch the sea. there was fresh bowl of fruits again waiting for us, a bowl of candies, and everything in the fridge was once again included in the rate. it even had a blu-ray/dvd player. between me & my husband, this was the biggest cabin we’ve ever stayed at on a ship. he had never stayed at this kind of luxurious cabin, and me? i didn’t even know this kind of cabins existed, LOL.

though we had a view to the sea again from our cabin, since the weather was kind of good & warm we decided to see the departure from the sun deck. we got to see our hotel room that we just left minutes ago, and said goodbye to Stockholm. then, it was time to decide where to eat.

after choosing the restaurant we thought would be best, we first asked them directly what time we could get a place to dine there. they said since we didn’t book it earlier, the earliest time we could get was at 8 pm… and it was only 6.30 pm at the time. gaaak, i could die in hunger!

so we went to seek our steward, and told him we would like to eat at this particular restaurant and was told that the earliest we could get was at 8 pm. could he possibly get seats for us earlier? he most certainly could.

with a small phone call, he got us seats for right there and then. 😀 that, ladies and gents, is how amazing (and sad) a VIP treatment is.

we went back to the restaurant, and the same usher who told us earlier that we could get a place there at 8 pm was now telling us how there were always some “reserved places” for certain conditions. i guess that means for VIPs like us, ahem.

it was very good food, but we didn’t stay for dessert… because we had the lounge at our disposal, with all kinds of small bites for FREE. 😀 yay!

since our cabin was so comfy, we again mostly stayed in there. we watched the sunset while eating our desserts (we were allowed to bring the foods from the lounge to our own cabins) and just relaxed on our last part of the holiday trip.

the breakfast on the next morning was also a bit special. when we booked for the cabin, the breakfast was also included, but it was at a “normal” buffet restaurant. now, since we got upgraded, we got a special breakfast at a… well, let’s just say, a more posh restaurant. 😀 at first, we were slightly worried if the selection wasn’t as big as the normal buffet restaurant, but we needed not to get worried. there was of course less amount of food, but there was also only a few of people who could eat there for breakfast (yep, only the VIPs). right away, we got a glass of champagne (for breakfast???? apparently so!), and on the table there was a small menu of warm breakfast that we could choose one from, and they would then prepare it for us. we ordered ours, and while waiting for it to be prepared, we took the food from the small buffet. there was a (probably) duck liver pâté, omelette rolls with fish roes, fish roes with smetana to be eaten with toast breads, all kinds of sausages and cheese… and there were even carrot cakes. ahh… it really was the perfect way to end our trip.

so here are a few tips i can give you for this kind of holiday trip:

1. always check the time for check-ins at the hotel you are going to stay at. if they have it at 3 pm and you’re arriving way earlier, ask if they have a safe storage room where you can leave your bags while you walk around. be prepared for small discomforts like having to carry around your bags for a few hours, but most of the hotels do have safe storage rooms.

2. this trip is certainly more special to me than just going to places with planes. you get to experience everything slowly and enjoy the process & view of getting to one place from another. but it can also be tiring, especially since this means you have to pack and unpack everyday. bring as small bag as possible, with minimum clothes (i chose to bring dresses as they were easier to put on and i didn’t have to worry at all about mix & matching them!). a foldable shopping bag is a good problem solver for me, it didn’t take any space at all and if i had to carry around maps, umbrella, drink bottle, and other stuffs, i could just unfold the bag and put everything–including my usual purse–in it.

3. if possible, bring as small cash as you could. it’s always easy to get carried away and forget to protect your bag from thieves and also to stop yourself from spending too much. having no cash might not seem like a big deal (there’s always credit cards and ATMs, right?), but it does help when you’re in the midst of the euphoria of buying something at a market with no credit card accepted and have to walk away to the nearest ATM… the walk there clears your head a bit and you will hopefully decide not to buy the thing after all. 🙂 plus, if you carry cash to different countries with different currencies, you will end up always losing a bit of your money when you exchange them.

4. find hotels nearest to the attractions you want to visit. it might be that some hotels have cheaper rates somewhere further away, and you would think that it saves money that way, when it doesn’t. you could end up spending just as much anyway for the public transport, plus all the extra effort & time to take those public transports.

5. on a short holiday like this, having an itinerary is good, so you will know where to go to, etc. but avoid making a minute by minute or even hourly schedule, as you will then be too stressed about keeping up with the schedule rather than enjoy your time there. not having a too strict itinerary also gives you a chance to be pleasantly surprised by things you didn’t expect to see or find just around the corner.

that’s all for now! i’m not that good in giving tips, and i guess these are things most of you already know anyway. :p all in all, i must say i thoroughly enjoyed this holiday, and wouldn’t mind doing a similar kind of trip in the future.

coming up next are the Riga & Stockholm experiences! 🙂 and happy Midsummer to you all!