For the past two weeks, I’ve been out of the country traveling in Iceland and Finland with my mom and grandma. I suggested a ladies-only trip to Finland a year or two ago so my grandma, who is pure Fin, could see her roots, and so Mom and I could also be emerged in a piece of our heritage. My amazing mom planned and coordinated the entire trip, and now I can check one more item off my 30 Before 30 list!
(Be forewarned – this is a long post with many, many pictures!)
Originally, we wanted to travel to Finland and then hop over to Scotland to visit my dad’s brother Bill, his wife Alison, and my only two first cousins, Lynn and Roy. Unfortunately, this was not good timing for them as Bill recently had pretty major shoulder surgery and Lynn was diagnosed with breast cancer this year. The good news is that Lynn seems to be doing much better and Bill’s shoulder is healing, but it is understandable why they would not want out-of-town visitors during this time! We’ve held them in our thoughts the past few months and continue to send them positive, healing vibes.
Thus, my travel-savvy mom reconfigured our travel plans. To travel to Finland, we flew IcelandAir, which inevitably made a stop in Iceland. Rather than hop directly onto another plane enroute to Finland, we opted to stay two nights in Iceland. I must say that I am so very glad we did!
Iceland completely blew me away! I had no idea how amazing and beautiful it is! Beginning with the flight on IcelandAir, I knew there was something special about Iceland. Each seat had a helpful translation for common words and phrases, such as “Hello,” “Good Night,” and “Thank you.” Each passenger was offered a cozy fleece blanket and a pillow inscribed with an Icelandic lullabye. We toasted to a relaxing flight and the start of a fun journey!
Even the Iceland Airport is impressive! It is modern and tranquil and updated with the latest technology. I felt instantly at ease arriving in Iceland. To continue our peaceful mindset, our first stop straight from the airport was to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa fed by water output from the nearby geothermal power plant. It is completely safe and incredibly relaxing! Despite the chilly weather, and even a little rain, the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon kept us warm while rejuvenating our skin and our spirits. It was quite possibly the most relaxing start to a vacation I have ever had!
After a somewhat restless night trying to sleep while the sky was still light (the sun does not completely set in Iceland during the summer), we spent the next day touring the Golden Circle. We booked a tour with Iceland Horizons and I can honestly say this was the best and most informational tour I have ever been on – I would highly recommend Iceland Horizons if you plan to visit and are interested in a tour. The tour bus drove us around to four different locations around the island, with one extra special stop along the side of the road to photograph the famous Icelandic horses. Our tour guide David provided excellent information on the history of Iceland and the geological aspects of the island. I wish I would had taken notes!
The waterfall Gullfoss (above and below)
National park Þingvellir, marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (pictured above and the next few pictures below).
The next leg of our journey was a brief two nights in Helsinki, Finland. Our stay coincided with Finland’s Midsummer holiday on June 21st. It is customary for Fins to leave the city and head to their respective summer cottages along the shore for a relaxing holiday weekend. That means that many of the restaurants and businesses close for the weekend, and there is a mass exodus of people from the city. It was very interesting to walk around a nearly deserted city!
But we were able to find a few fun touristy things to do. My grandmother’s cousin’s son, Jari-Pekka, guided us around the city our first day and took us to the Finnish equivalent of Macy’s, named Stockmann. We bought groceries and my grandma shopped for souvenirs The next morning, we wandered around Kauppatori Market Square, enjoyed a delicious Finnish meal of salmon on rye bread, kaffi (coffee), and the best darn strawberries I have ever tasted!
Then we took a ferry to Suomenlinna Island and wandered around the medieval island all afternoon.
Mom and I also visited the Midsummer Festival, though we didn’t stay very late as we had a very early flight the next morning. It was interesting to see the history of the Fins and Midsummer. It seemed very similar to our Renaissance Festival here in Colorado, though with a Finnish flair!
The last leg of our journey was perhaps the most important to our heritage. We flew up to Oulu to meet many of my grandmother’s cousins and extended family. We stayed with Grandma’s cousin Eero and his wife Sirkka. They were incredible hosts and I can definitely say that we did not go hungry or without Finnish kaffi for very long! We spent the week meeting relatives and dining on delicious sweet treats and kaffi, and learning more and more about the Finnish culture and our family roots.
We spent several evenings enjoying the sauna, and I am hoping to convince Ian that we need to build a sauna of our very own in the backyard – to stay connected to my roots, of course!
We also visited the Arctic Circle and met Santa Claus! I hope to bring my nephew, and maybe even my future children, back to meet the real Santa Claus someday. 🙂
I was overwhelmed by the generosity of our relatives, and truly wish that I spoke even a lick of Suomi (Finnish) so I could have conversed with our many family members. It was so fun to learn about my grandmother’s family and come to understand some of our culture a little better.
I am still recovering from the trip (mostly having to adjust from jet lag!) and keep looking back over pictures from the trip to re-live each experience. What a wonderful opportunity for my grandma, mom, and myself, and what a truly once-in-a-lifetime journey through our family roots!