Monday, August 18, 2014

FINLAND: Back to the Lindroos Roots.

In Memory of Liisa Laksy...

Wanda and I visited Finland 32 years ago on our honeymoon. Our relatives, (from my fathers side of the family) were wonderful then, and now we have 4 generations of the nicest people you would ever want to meet. We have been trying to see Europe at the best of climate conditions and have continued in Finland with great weather (some new record heat, but not as noticeable living by the Baltic Sea). After 9 months of travel we needed some vacation recharge time.

Nearly everyone in Finland has a connection to a summer cottage or cabin. Liisa and Raimo, (my cousins) let us use their cottage near Turku off the Archipelago and Baltic Sea for a month, complete with sauna and the best view from an outhouse you could hope for.  We didn't have running water or plumbing, but we had electricity and a wonderful cabin/sauna built by Raimo. Our gratitude for the hospitality and kindness is endless.  Liisa/Raimo and coffee with assorted delicious treats will stay with us a long time, (maybe on our waists for too long as well :-)

I admire the Finns for their lifestyle. They are the original creators of enjoying the simple pleasures.
They build a sauna first, because you can cook, bathe and even sleep in the sauna. They understand that a quiet forest with berries & mushrooms is almost holy. To be able to eat fresh Pike, Salmon and other seafood, along with potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, bell peppers etc. all picked out of your garden is all you need. When you add great coffee and desserts followed by a sauna and then maybe some sausages and beer, life gets pretty good. You can drink water out of the tap and breathe air fresh and clean.

Here is the view from the outhouse  (Try not to imagine Richard sitting here)


We spent a month in Finland - a few days in Helsinki but mostly in the area of Turku and Pori where we were able to reconnect with the family of Toivo Lindroos (Richard's Dad).  Nephews Eric off for the summer (from teaching English in Shanghai) met up with us and had the courage to stay with us for the month, we saw Trevor for a week and daughter Renata for the last week.

This post is dedicated to the generosity of all the cousins from the families Laksy, Sippola and Rantala and their significant others!

Liisa and Raimo Laksy
Liisa's mother and Toivo were 1st cousins, which makes Liisa and Rich 2nd cousins.  Liisa and Raimo have 2 children Timo and Jari which make them 3rd cousins of Renata, Eric, and Trevor.
Liisa is our newest Swine and Dine member for feeding us delicious meals that surpassed the 2 minimum!  One of my favorite salads Liisa made was the Beet Salad or "Punajuurisalaatti" - diced up beets, carrots, potatoes, onions, apples and relish topped with sour cream, cream and vinegar.  Liisa said she remembers this salad from when she was a child.  So tasty!

We all learned how to be a proper host - and the difference between dessert and coffee.  Dessert comes after dinner which is usually big scoops of ice cream.  Coffee comes a little later and that is when the pastries, cakes, and cookies come out.  F.Y.I.  Finland is #1 in the world when it comes to coffee consumption per capita.  They drink on average 12.0/kg  (26.7 lbs) of coffee a year -  "Coffee Time" is an important ritual that we happily adopted!

As Richard mentioned, we stayed at Liisa's and Raimo's summer cottage where we were lucky to "Glamp-out" for a month. (Eric's term)
The Sauna (a Finnish word), has been  part of the  Finnish culture  for thousands of years  - just about every Finnish home today has a sauna  in it and one is always invited for a Sauna when visiting.  We were taught how to take a proper sauna- you can see Eric above getting the sauna started.  After the wood has been burning for 45 minutes, you are ready to start your sauna,  depending on your threshold, sit in the sauna and sweat out all those poisons,  when you can't stand it anymore - throw yourself in the Baltic Sea to cool off, sauna again, wash off ( we used the rain water runoff), then relax with beer and sausages.  I would give us an A+ for this lesson!  Since it didn't get dark until after midnight - we spent many an evening playing cards  (Hearts) where the loser had to do dishes and clean the out-house.

Pictured are the 4 generations of Liisa and Raimo's family.  Timo and Jari are their two sons.  The middle pictures are with Timo at his summer cottage.  Pictured bottom left are Jari and Eija at their summer cottage and one of Timo's 3 daughters- Julia and her son Vaino are pictured at the family's costume store with Eric and Renata bottom right - where is Ulla? 

We visted Tuuli Virtanen and Pauli Rajala and their daughter Riita.  Top right are 3 generations with Tuuli's father Veijo sitting.  If I have this right, Tuuli's grandmother and Liisa's mother Ellen and Toivo  (Rich's dad) were cousins.  (Sorry all if I'm messing up the family tree - suffice it to say everyone in the pics are cousins in some way).  Pauli and Tuuli were wonderful tour guides and we spent time with them visiting the sites around Turku.  Tuuli is the historian in the family, and we spent time going over the family tree and in old cemeteries looking at old headstones (top left).

The Rantala Clan nearly all live in the Nittyma forest of Pori.  Aira and Matti Rantala held a party in our honor so we could all reconnect with the family.  Pictured at the top left is Aira with a Ham, middle top is Aira and Matti, and Matti's two sisters Terttu and Sirkka.  The 3rd row of pictures are the grandchildren Jenna and Roope sitting between Eric and Trevor,  Matti's brother Samuli and his wife Leena.  Eila (a cousin) and Matti bottom were gracious enough to give up their home to us while we were in Pori.

The table of food was unbelievable - Salmon 3 ways, beef, salads.  Of course one does not leave without tasting all the pastries created by Aira!

One of my memories from 30 years ago was visiting Matti and Aira's bakery and the sampling of everything they baked - 30 years later they came out of retirement for us and they can still can bake!  (Where did this picture come from???)

Tuula and Arto spent time with us in the US - so it's only been about 20 years since we have seen them! 
 They thought it important we taste all the local delicacies that included Rice Pies or "Karjalanpiirakka" topped with a mixture of hard boiled eggs and butter.  Tuula's mother Aira baked all the pastries from meat pies to cream pies and cookies.  Arto made Salmiakki Koskenkorva - Finnish Vodaka and Salmiakki licorice (smash up the candy and pour into the bottle shake and let stand).  I love licorice so I was left with the bottle and the candy to make my own.

Fried Makrilli or Mackerel is found as one of the street foods in Finland that I fell in love with.

Tuula and Juha Rantala (left side of table- children of Aira and Matti Rantala) and Juha's wife Minna (next to Rich)  We went to a beer festival - beer from all over the world came and competed - Best overall beer winner came from Tampere Finland.  Rich stole the shirt off the winner's back, he said he needed a souvenir from Finland.  "Kippis"!!

Top picture with Tuula and the Lindroos gang is Paivi Parkkinen (a cousin who found Richard on Facebook) with her family bottom left.

We didn't want to bother the family the entire month we were in Finland - so we gave them a break every once in a while - one day we took a bike ride through the Archipelagos.  I would have more pictures of the beautiful scenery- but it was tough to bike and take pictures....

...and we had plenty of time to party at night.

We cannot thank our Finland Family enough for their hospitality!  Hopefully, it is not another 30 years when we get back to visit!  
We all had a FINN-TASTIC time!!!

I think we can let the family get back to their normal life and move on to Stockholm Sweden, where Renata will dock for the next year!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Song of Norway cha-ching$$$

Trolls play a big part in Norwegian folklore. They are ugly, messy  and nasty creatures that live in caves and forests and will turn to stone if sunlight hits them.
(The Troll is on your left)

Norway, home of  my great-grandparents is God's adventure-land amusement park.  Beautiful landscape and incredible fjords with majestic train travels over visual wonders, and when you go to eat you pay prices that make you think you are at the concessions line at Disneyland. WOW, this place is expensive.  We began our stay in Bergen, a seaside village that gives you a feeling of old world small town charm.  We stayed in historic renovated wooden clad apartments from the 1800's.

Bergen has very nice museums.  We went to one on Maritime history, Viking history, along with beautiful displays of the timeline of Bergen, Art museums with a wonderful display of  Edvard Munch, (who along with Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Greig are Norway's celebrated Artists).  There is a stunning funicular ride and a charming reconstructed historic village.  All in all very nice, but as "foodies" when you have to fork over $22 for seafood chowder, $25 for a BLT,  OR, a single can of  local beer (in a grocery store) is $5, you know your time here is limited.

From Bergen we took a 7 hour dazzling scenic train ride into Oslo.  A train ride not to miss! . We spent 2 nights in Oslo before heading to Finland

Channeling  Ibsen

Edvard Munch "The Scream" aka " Grocery store horrors"


Surrounded by wild natural beauty  (and I'm not talking about my Norwegian husband)
and jaw-dropping scenery is the only way to describe Norway.   The midnight sun means I have 24 hours a day to enjoy the stunning landscape and as Cory Hart says "I wear my sunglasses at night..."

If you are Norwegian, you know what Lefsa is (like a potato tortilla).  Rich's first meal was at the airport concession stand - it was a meal because that rolled potato pancake was $10e, our lunch budget.  I have a feeling we will be losing some weight on this trip.

A restored historic neighborhood in Bergen - we stayed in a timber-clad house.

Views of Bergen Harbor, very picturesque.  In one of the pictures above you can see "The Bryggen" , a UNESCO collection of wooden merchant buildings lining the side of Bergen's harbour.  You can spend the day walking all over the city and there are a number of trails across the mountaintop to walk.  We took the Funicular to the top of  Mount Floyen,  enjoyed the views of the city and hiked back down to the city.  Whew....

Richard Leif's original birth name was Leif Eric,  named after Leif Ericsson a famous Viking in Norway.  I can see the ancestral resemblance...

Fjords of Norway outside of Bergen.   The majestic Sognefjord is pictured and is the largest fjord in Norway, one feels dwarfed when looking up at this great Norwegian scenery.  We took a 10 hour round-trip boat cruise out of Bergen and went in and out of the fjords stopping at islands and ending at Flan before returning to Bergen.

An abundance of seafood available in Norwegian waters, Norwegian cuisine also includes game from the mountainous wilderness such as duck. goose, moose, and reindeer.   We ate a wonderful Smoked Norwegian Salmon Cesar Salad.  Why does Norwegian Salmon taste so good??  We were told "fish grow more slowly in cold water and their flesh develops a firmer structure with more flavor than fish in warmer waters".   Reker is eating shrimp Norwegian style - peel yourself and pile high on white bread, squeezed alioli sauce and lemon - yum.  Lefse of course would not be missed by Richard.  Open-faced sandwiches are a tradition in the country- above are shrimp and herring.
 Bottom left - street food in Norway - $10 hot dogs - worth every Euro.  Bottom right is "Torrfisk" unsalted dried fish - cod is the common fish dried.

We had only 2 days in Oslo - so the highlights of this short stay:
  Frogner Park - the biggest park in central Oslo and home to The Vigeland Sculpture Arrangement, which features 212 bronze and granite sculptures of men, women, and children portrayed in various stages of life.  The Monolith, a 14 meter tall granite structure took 14 years to carve- 121 figures struggling to reach the top.

 We are not architects, but I am amazed at the skyline in this city.   To me, I am in an outdoor modern art museum - the architecture here are works of art.  The Oslo Opera House is worth the trip to visit without going inside.

We made it to Oslo to celebrate one of the many summer festivals in Norway.  Pictured is the Kystkulturfestival.  A Maritime Festival where hundreds of historic ships and traditional boats from Norway sail along the entire Norwegian coast and land in Oslo to party.
You can see Richard wanting to be part of the festivities!

Our 8 days in Norway was quick - 

Off to Toivo's people in Finland!!