vacation

A day in Helsinki

Woke up early with great anticipation for our walking tour of Helsinki. We were met promptly at the cathedral by our guide Ansie (forgive my Americanized spelling!). Ansie greeted each one of us in the group. According to Ansie, Helsinki does not get many tourists due to its physical location being far away from the rest of the European nation and its close proximity to Russia. (Www.walkingtourshelsinki.com)

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Our tour began promptly at noon from the Cathedral. Ansie said that as a whole, most Finns are not religious. 78% being Lutheran, 1% Russian orthodox, and 26% have separated from the church. Since most Finns do not support the church, 1.5% of each paycheck goes directly to the church. Some Finns have chosen to separate from the church by going online to separatechurch.com and declaring their separation.  By doing so, it allows them to keep the 1.5% on their check!!

One perk Finns do enjoy is the law that says an employee must receive 5 weeks vacation each year. They work approximately 6 hours per day allowing for time off for other activities as well as family time. It is mandatory to receive 2 days off per month.

Speaking of perks, the Finns are the originators of the sauna. There is one sauna for every two Finns. Not only is the sauna beneficial for ones health, it is also used for socialization aspects. It is not uncommon to visit the sauna, drink a beer or two, and talk. Ansie said the Finns love getting naked in the sauna and it is quite normal. He said it is one of the few places say a common person can be sitting across from a CEO or someone important, and yet when naked in the sauna you are their equal.

Speaking of naked, we visited a statue known as the naked lady!

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This statue is  a symbol of Helsinki. Back when Helsinki had a conservative government theirs statue was commissioned from an artist. However the government decided they did not want to pay for it after all. So the artist pointed the lady’s ass facing towards city hall!! Quite a clever artist!!

 

Russia and Finland share a 150km border between the 2 countries.  Russia takes care of the border. Ansie  said men only are required to serve , 6, 9, or 12 months in the Finnish army. This is determined by an aptitude test. Finns are very peaceful people and do not get involved in war. They are confident they can beat the Russians as they already have twice before.  Upon completion of your service, you are free to resume normal life. Some join the U.N. And go serve in the Peace Corp.

While eating lunch, I gave this further thought. In the U.S. We are always putting our nose in other countries business and fighting their battles. This creates great strain on the country and forces us to have allies as well as enemies. And let’s not forget the economical strain and resources it takes to manage an army and fight. My curiosity go the best of me so I struck up a conversation with a couple next to me. They explained that Finland continues to remain politically neutral and mind their own business. The woman said they are always conscious of “big brother” (Russia) watching them. For this reason they do not wish to makes friends with other countries because it does not put them in a favorable light with Russia. They depend on Russia for oil, wood, gas and electricity. The Fnns need Russia, but Russia does not no them for anything. As a matter of fact, the Finns are upset that The U.S. Is bringing troops to Finland next week for training. They feel this will put them in a bad light to Russia as if they were trying to become an ally, while they wish to remain neutral.  As this couple were leaving, the man said to me he had one piece of advice “never trust a Russian!”

At the close of my day, I felt knowledgable about the people and their beliefs. Finns are a very mild mannered, kind people and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit!

Next stop Reykjavik Iceland! Safe journey,

Debbie

 

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Categories: lodging, Travel, Uncategorized, vacation | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

United Airlines: The friendly skies??

  It’s the initial ascent. As the plane climbs higher, I cannot help but get lost in my thoughts about my present surroundings.  I look around to see who is seated immediately around me, and I am caught up in whether my seat mates are friendly and non-aggressive or not. I also wonder whether my airline is as friendly as they advertise themselves to be. 

United airlines slogan is “fly the friendly skies of United.” Just what makes an airline friendly or not?”  I chose United for this flight not because of their friendliness, but because they got me to my destination for the least expensive.  Flying “least expensive” however can be costly on United. I despise the current airline trend of charging for seats at the front of the plane and calling them “economy comfort” all the while charging  an arm and a leg for the same convenience we used to have in prior years.  Just how much did my comfort cost me? A whopping $59 one way. Friendly? I suspect not. I mean come on, at the very least you could give me priority boarding or an extra snack or something!! 

Carry on or checked? In this case, checked will cost you a minimum $25. Unless you have the United mileage plus card, then first bag is free. Carry on? Still free at this point, however I do not care for the multitude of announcements prior to boarding letting us know that there are insufficient overhead space to accommodate all bags. Another pet peave  of mine, charging for checked luggage  and now hassling us to check what we have now learned is a free inconvenience.  Friendly? Again I must give it a resounding NO!

We have reached our cruising altitude the pilot remarks.  Great! Free coffee! And out of United’s move to enhance guest experience following a profitable year, the airline now serves complimentary snacks! A delicious Stroopwaffel from Holland. In case you are not familiar with a Stroopwaffel, it is a crispy round wafer, filled with a rich, gooey caramel sauce. Tastes good with coffee or alone.  Friendly? Yes! A good choice on United.

Let’s consider the flight crew for a moment. The pilots are always “friendly” as they tell us who they are and when we will arrive. I keep waiting for the pilot to give us a good monologue or even a joke here or there! Instead I take note of the rest of the crew. There were 4 flight attendants with an average age of 50+. I cannot comment on age since I am no 20 year old, however when did “seniority” turn into seniority? Lol. I can only hope that in case of emergency they can think straight and move faster than most.  As far as the friendly meter, I would have to give them a thumbs down in that department. Lack of smile, lack of conversing or even kindness left me feeling unappreciated. 

United’s Hemisphere magazine asserts that they are working hard to improve onboard experience throughout the cabin. How concerned are they for my comfort and enhanced experience when their in flight entertainment service comes with a price tag?  Another thumbs down to friendly skies in my opinion.

If United ever wants to attain a loyal audience and enhance our experience then United has a great deal of work to do. For myself, I will continue to fly other carriers who peak my interests with little perk and great service.

#unfriendlyskies.  #epicfail

Safe journeys,

Debbie

Categories: airplane service, airplane snacks, flying, Travel, vacation | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn?

Lodging 101

You are contemplating a vacation.  You have the location selected and now you must decide where you want to stay.  Ever realize how many options there is in our world today?

The choice used to be simple.  Some folks went camping, some stayed at motels, and some at hotels.  Today lodging has amplified into a conglomerate of multiple entities all vying for your vacation dollars.

The typical mainstays in the lodging business remain today.  Those range from campgrounds, to hostels, motels, and hotels.  This option is not as complicated as some think.  Campgrounds are an easy choice if one is looking for an inexpensive close to nature experience.  I for one am not a camper as I prefer to have a room with a view and minus the weather elements that camping requires.  Motels are not so plentiful today as larger hotels have been built to accommodate corporate events and convention business.  When choosing a hotel there are many features one needs to consider besides the price.  Some choose a close proximity to city center or where the most sightseeing will take place.  Others prefer a unique experience, such as an ice hotel.  Some like luxury experiences, others just prefer a clean room with a bed.

Having been in the travel industry a long time, I have  my own list of hotel requirements that suits my needs.  When I began searching for Helsinki lodging, my main requirement was to use my American Express points.  Further, I knew that I wanted to be city center and near transportation options as I prefer to get from the airport to town on my own accord utilizing public transportation.  My search continued by checking out Tripadvisor ratings and reviews and what previous guests experiences were.  I then narrowed down my choices and went to the membership page of each hotel to see how many points it would take to stay at each of the hotels.  The hotel I was looking at was a luxury property, city center, and part of the Starwood group to which I have a membership.  I looked at how many points it takes booking through AMEX and how many booking through Starwood.  In the end, the Starwood (SPG) had a better rate than AMEX.  I moved my points from AMEX to my Starwood account and booked directly with Starwood. Helsinki done!

One of my new favorite types of lodging is Airbnb (www.airbnb.com).  I have used Airbnb on a couple of occasions last year.  Airbnb is a very popular and less expensive alternative to hotels for the right person.  For one thing, one has to be an independent traveler.  By that I simply mean, one has to be willing to explore on one’s own.  In addition, there is no daily maid service, and one has to be open to living in someone else’s space.  My first experience in Copenhagen last year was a very good one.  I chose a 2-bedroom flat in a nice neighborhood approximately 20 minutes from the airport.  My biggest fear was arriving after dark and trying to find the place.  That fear was soon conquered as my host gave very implicit directions.  It was a breeze.  What I like most was my ability to get to know this little neighborhood and talk to the people who live there.  Further, I prefer to have a large space with a couple bedrooms, versus a small one-room hotel for a fraction of the cost.  And, I enjoy having my own kitchen to make coffee as I watch the world go by below.  Getting to know about the life of my host is very important to me.  Learning about other cultures and being able to experience life as a local versus as a hotel guest makes a huge difference!

This year, I decided to look again at an Airbnb flat in Reykjavik.  Having been there before, I knew approximately what area of town I wanted to be in.  I searched on http://www.airbnb.com for available properties and added a few to my ‘wish list.’  Contacting the host and asking questions gave me a great deal of knowledge in making my decision.  I prefer when the host is a good communicator.  And my choice in Reykjavik was soon made when my host responded quickly to my questions.  I will update you following my trip with all the details!

For my latter trip to Amsterdam, I chose similar lodging.  I chose a hotel close to the central train station in Amsterdam (again using my AMEX points) avowing me to come and go by train for my day trip down to Delft and The Hague.  I chose a 2-bedroom flat in central Amsterdam for 4 nights.  I have a wonderful host, Brett, and he has been offering to help with my travel planning or anything else I need.  His flat is on a canal and I look forward to living as a “Dutch” girl for a few nights!

Whatever type of lodging you choose, whether you are a conservative traveler and prefer to be on a tour, an independent traveler, or an adventurer, the choice is yours to make.  My choice is to be an explorer/adventurer and learn about life around the world, departing feeling enriched and fulfilled in my journey.

Safe journey,

Debbie

 

 

Categories: airbnb, hotels, lodging, motels, Travel, vacation | Leave a comment

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