Saturday, 10 September 2016

A Husky Picnic in Lempäälä, Finland! (February 2015)

In the winter of 2015, we decided to try out several interesting outdoor activities - after all, we live in the Winter Wonderland that is Finland, and there are many things you can do here if you're willing to brave the cold weather. Many Finns and also people from quite far away tend to travel to Lapland in the winter to experience things like reindeer, the Northern Lights and husky rides and do downhill skiing. I've never been one of these people - I went to Lapland once when I was 10 and then again with Julcsi in 2013, that's it. I've gone downhill skiing twice in my life - I was 12 and yes, I fell off the lift that takes you up to the top of the hill. I used to be quite good at cross-country skiing and my dad has actually been a skiing instructor (is there anything he cannot do?!?) so we used to go skiing quite a lot, but I can't say I'm a huge fan of winter.

That being said, Finland does have a lot to offer in the winter, and we figured we'd want to give some things a go. Lapland is too far away, though, so we started looking into things to do here in the south and bumped right into Gegwen Getaways in Lempäälä, right next to Tampere! The place is owned by Erkki O. Mäkelä and he organises husky rides in the wintertime. Brilliant! My sister has twins who were four years old at the time, so we decided it might be fun to go with them as well as with my sister and her partner. Not long after, we had everything booked for a wintery Sunday with some huskies! Gegwen Getaways organise 2 km husky rides, mini husky safaris as well as so called husky picnics, which we opted for. A husky picnic includes a 1 km husky ride, time spent with the dogs, and pancakes in a teepee by the fire and for all this, you pay 25€/adult and 10€/child under the age of 12. They are organised every Sunday at 4 pm in the winter and take 2 to 3 hours. It was so, so lovely! It was a mega cold day when we went so no Lapland needed :D! We ended up being a group of approximately 12 and it took four rides to be ready with everyone's husky experience. Oh, and the husky place itself is in a pretty remote location so to get there, you will need a car. There is no public transport that would take you even close.

The dogs were so excited about going running! When they saw the owner start preparing the sleighs, they went wild and started barking, desperate to be the first ones to go!

You get a blanket for the ride because it can be quite nippy, and you also sit on a reindeer skin so your butt won't freeze off (well, it still might so be sure to wear enough clothes!). The owner made sure we were sitting comfortably in the sleigh and then off we went! He was also the musher, or the driver of the dog sled, so you don't need to worry about anything and can simply enjoy the experience. Once we set off, the dogs really went for it, which was so nice! They were truly excited and it felt like pulling our sledge was the best thing that ever happened to them :). Pulling things is clearly something they love doing! The 1 km ride felt a bit short so I wish we could've done more. The twins were also saying that they wanted to do it again, which obviously wasn't an option, so after our rides, we moved on to the teepee for some pancakes and tea/coffee/hot juice. I really enjoyed everything about this experience, and I have to say that it's really nice that something like this is available in the southern part of the country, too. I think these things should be advertised a lot more, though, because Tampere gets quite a few tourists these days and I'm sure they'd be into trying something as exotic as this, too.

Meeting some husky puppies :)!

Teepee time!

So yes, if you ever come to the Tampere area in the winter and want a Lappish experience, remember Gegwen Getaways!

My next post will be about Winter Magic at Moomin World in Naantali - definitely worth a read if anything :)!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Cruising to Serbia (July 2014)

One day we were walking by the river Tisza in Szeged when I spotted something I immediately knew I wanted to do: a one-day cruise to Serbia! YES PLEASE! You needed to sign up on a list of people who were interested in going, and if there was a big enough group, the trip would be on. We were told that at least 20 people would be needed but at the end of the day, we were a group of less than 10 and still got taken. So, at 7 am on the morning of July 26th 2014, we were ready to experience a new country. We would go to three different places: Kanjiža (or Magyarkanizsa in Hungarian), Subotica (or Szabadka) and Palić (Palics). All of these places have a Hungarian ethnic majority, which is the reason why they have Hungarian names as well. However, apparently there are conflicts between the two ethnic groups. I, as someone who speaks zero Serbian and limited Hungarian, didn't notice anything special, but apparently in some areas, it's wiser to not speak Hungarian, for example. Anyway, our itinerary first took us to Kanjiža by boat and there we met our Hungarian-speaking tour guide. She came to Subotica with us, too, while Palić was an unguided quick visit to see the holiday resort that it essentially is.

So yes, the boat trip to Serbia down the Tisza took two hours and it turned out we were travelling with quite colourful people! Our passports/ID cards were checked at both ends, and this caused the first problem as the safari-hat-wearing husband of a Hungarian grandma had in fact failed to pack his passport. He was grumbling to himself that he didn't understand why he couldn't just go anyway while his wife was telling him exactly how dumb he was. Eventually, someone offered to take him home to fetch the passport and they still made it back in time for the departure. It was really lovely to be on a river cruise! The weather was just about perfect and the trip is not too long so you don't even have time to get bored.

Once we arrived, our passports were checked again and I got a stamp in mine - Hungarians, on the other hand, have a special agreement with Serbia and they only need their ID card even if Serbia isn't an EU country. That also means no stamps for Julcsi :(. Anyway, Kanjiža is a small place with a bit less than 10 000 inhabitants, but we still got a guided tour there as well as a lovely Serbian lunch.

The Town Hall.

The Orthodox church.

Random buildings.

Some type of Orthodox procession (correct me if I'm wrong, I have no idea what they were doing!).

The Catholic church.

The library.

Another possibility for Cifrapalota, the house with green windows from a Hungarian children's song. If you read my entry on Kecskemét, you'll understand what I'm talking about.

The statue of a gypsy woman.

Narodni Park, leading to Banja Kanjiža (a spa).

The Serbian lunch was sooooo good! Obviously, I was pretty much lost in translation as everyone else was either Hungarian or Serbian, but I would say that based on the experience, Hungarian and Serbian cuisine are pretty similar. For example, both countries have the same dessert above - chestnut purée with whipped cream. Heavenly!

By this point, a couple of things were happening. First of all, Bence (a 40-something historian from the archives travelling with his elderly mother who was trying to relive her childhood summers in Serbia and failing) was complaining that he was very thirsty and needed lots of drinks but since we got one free drink with our meal, he wanted to make sure the free drink would be his beer and NOT his water. He thought it would be a good idea to make sure all the waiters and waitresses knew not to charge him for his one beer. In the meanwhile, his mother was complaining that there was no time to go swimming and when she was a child, they always, ALWAYS, went swimming in Serbia. So while everyone else was eating, Bence's mum decided to strip down to her swimsuit and plunge right into the river. She then finished her meal wrapped into her towel, complaining that she had wanted to swim a lot more than this.

And of course things were happening to me, too. Keys, locks, anyone? Yes, I went to the toilet, and since the queue for the ladies' one was longer than long, I decided to pop into the men's one. And lock the door. With a key. Yes, A BIG MISTAKE. Do you still remember what happened to me in Miskolctapolca? How Tamás the B&B owner needed to release us from our room after I'd locked us in and broken the key into the lock? This was kind of that, only now I was in a men's toilet alone and without a phone, too. I tried to bang the door and scream for help but no one could hear me. I could hear all the women going into the toilet next to my prison and then returning to the table, which was far away from the toilets. Behind the toilet seat, there was a mini little window and I was already planning to squeeze myself out through that one when Julcsi, my savior, came to my rescue and arranged for someone to take the key from me through the mini window, then let me out through the actual door. The person in question said "danke" to me - German being a language I've never studied in my whole life. Should clearly have studied it while I had the chance - scheisse! Once I was out, I made a vow that I would never lock another door in these countries ever again and so far I've managed to keep it. I mean, it's way worse to be locked in than have a couple of grandmas (or in this case grandpas) burst in while you're at it!

So. Now that I got that story off my shoulders, we can move on. We left Kanjiža and went to Subotica by minibus. Subotica is a bigger place with around 100 000 inhabitants and a more equal balance between Serbian and Hungarian ethnic groups. There, we had another guided tour and got the chance to visit a Pionir chocolate shop - Serbian chocolate is SO good! Subotica is really pretty with lots of lovely coffee shops and pedestrian streets, and lots of secessionist buildings. You could easily spend more time there than what we had!

The Town Hall.

If you walk across this square without looking back and make a wish, your wish will come true.

The Town Hall again.

One of the many fountains in Subotica.

Late Baroque Catholic Cathedral of St. Theresa of Avila. It's a popular place to get married and it's completely cracked from many places - looks like it'll fall apart any moment!

The Square of the Victims of Fascism.

Me crossing the square.

The Pionir chocolate shop in the corner.

Julcsi with our chocolate :).
Elderflower Fanta <3!
From Subotica, we continued with the minibus to Palić, which is pretty much a holiday resort, quite popular especially among the locals. It's just around 8 km from Subotica so really practical in terms of its location. We had a very brief stop there - just enough to buy a fridge magnet. Here's a glimpse of the place for you anyway:

We went back to Szeged by minibus, and oh my God, the queue at the border was insane!! It was so hot in the car, too, and we had to wait for ages to get to the Hungarian side! We were in the same minibus with Bence and his mum, and they got into a proper fight. It was really quite amusing! Bence was sitting on the right, looking out of the window with his back turned and complaining to his mum, while Bence's mum was sitting on the left, also looking out of the window with her back turned and complaining to Bence :D :D. Bence was thirsty, hungry and needed to pee (yes, he was 40+ years old) while his mum wished her sister hadn't cancelled the trip so that she wouldn't have needed to travel with Bence, and ps: she didn't get to swim enough so it was a sucky trip.
The queue going into Serbia - we had the same experience going into Hungary!

What we bought!
Despite the long queues at the border, we made it back even ahead of time, just a few minutes before 6 pm. We had an absolutely lovely day and I definitely recommend this experience to everyone! Unfortunately, there is no way I can let you know how exactly to end up on this cruise, but just wander around the harbour in Szeged and you will bump into signs if the cruise is still on. I think it's a summer thing anyway and even then only if you're lucky enough to have some people to cruise with you, but yes, do it if you can!

Next up, I have some Finland-related things, namely a husky-ride in Lempäälä, Moomin World in Naantali as well as the huge Snow Castle in Kemi. Stay tuned :)!

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