scandinavia adventure // finland


this final and much-anticipated week of our trip is hard to put into words. bear with me as i do my best. i have been staring for far too long at this computer screen. hopefully if i just start typing the words will gradually begin to flow from my heart to my mind to my fingertips... hopefully. you know how from time to time - especially in times of great difficulty - you try to picture yourself in the new world? maybe even humming to yourself - "just see yourself... just see me too... just see us all in a world that is new..." - to evoke the peaceful mental images? i have been doing a lot of that lately. however, recently for one full week we didn't have to meditate to bring these pictures to mind, they were reality - right in front of our very eyes. sure there was still pain and suffering around us but for that one week in helsinki our brothers and sisters created the closest version of paradise we can experience in todays world. and for that we will always be grateful. we had a glimpse into the future. how cool is that? "american," "finnish," "swedish," "russian," and many more gathered together in unity and in love. one experience i remember was walking with a russian sister along a tree-lined pathway, i said something and she just smiled. realizing she spoke as much english as i spoke russian i starting singing a kingdom song. her eyes lit up as she began to sing along with me. turns out we spoke the same language after all. we experienced this again and again throughout the week. i have known for many years now that nothing is like being in the truth - nowhere else can you find it. but this week solidified this fact in my heart : the truth is absolutely priceless and our brotherhood is the most precious gift from jehovah. finland is beautiful - the land of lakes - there is water and green everywhere, even just outside helsinki. helsinki itself is a clean, laid back city with a modern edge. we loved being there. but hands-down the most beautiful part of finland will forever be our friends there. we love you all - please come see us in california!
^ our service day ^ we were assigned to work with a pioneer couple around our age. we were given an invitation presentation in finnish and the congregation provided a wonderful lunch and program for the delegates! the night before we attended the touching "evening program" where there was not a dry eye in the audience. bethel reserved the savoy theater in downtown helsinki for four nights. local brothers and sisters for over a year tirelessly worked on this production - planning, organizing and practicing to execute orchestral music, children and adult chorus music, live local finnish folk music, a ballet, interviews and a full-length drama featuring the history of the truth in finland. afterward we enjoyed time together with light refreshments. one of the most incredible nights of our lives in the truth. 
^ finnish branch tour ^ bethel hosted four hour tours for all the delegates the week of the convention. we appreciate their hard work in going above and beyond with every special detail, including stations set up in every department to explain the work there as well as a delicious meal and live music.
^ our wilderness tour ^ this is a big deal by the way because fins LOVE their sauna. there are more saunas in finland than cars. and on this day we were able to see why they love it so much. we hiked in the forest with our guides leading the way - stumbling across little special treats around each corner - such as sisters singing kingdom songs a cappella, homemade reindeer soup to be enjoyed around a campfire, and cloudberry liquor tasting. after our hike we went to a wilderness center to learn about finlands wildlife then to a large open area for a meal and activities as we waited for our turn to use the sauna. at the sauna we went in the ice cold lake first, then sauna, lake, sauna... repeat. such a blast!
^ our convention site ^ convention take two! even better the second time around! we had five languages : finnish, swedish, russian, english and finnish sign language. perfect three days.
^ esplanade park ^ being together all day for three days wasn't enough so we gathered at the downtown park to mix, mingle and of course... sing more kingdom songs. different languages groups singing in unison the same words with the same melody brought tears to the eyes of all and turned the heads of passerby. being with our russian brothers was such a highlight - seeing their strength, faith, courage and integrity will be something we will never forget.
^ the medieval town of porvoo ^ our last tour was of this quaint town. our guides took us on a walking tour to see all of the sites and then we went on a cruise through the archipelago en route back to helsinki. on the cruise we had a buffet with local seafood and a band to play live music. 

so thats it for our time in paradise... this post doesn't and truly can't do justice to the events of the week. we eagerly await the day when we will not have to find a quiet place to imagine the new world... when we will never have to say goodbye to it. we can't wait for the time when jehovahs promises are fulfilled in entirety and we will all have times like these repeated on a grand scale, forever.

scandinavian adventure // sailing the baltic


from iceland we flew to helsinki to meet up with my parents. thankfully we had a little down time for much needed study, tv-watching and laundry. once my parents arrived from california we made our way to the harbor to begin our baltic expedition. we boarded the princess anatasia (check out st peter line for details) and explored our home for the next four nights. st peter line is a russian ferry line that transports people and cargo throughout the baltic area. we sailed helsinki - helsinki roundtrip with stops in stockholm, tallinn and st. petersburg. our room was teeny-teeny-tiny with twin beds, a teenier-tinier bathroom (but at least it was ours!) and no window. eeeek. on the bright side, there was an information desk, duty free shop, and of course restaurants & bars. the price was absolutely unbeatable (at first we thought it was a joke) and as long as we didn't think of anastasia as a cruise ship we were golden. i would recommend st. peter line to anyone on a budget (and up for an adventure).
first stop and favorite stop : stockholm, sweden. i could have zigzagged through gamla stan's quaint alleyways for days. we took our time exploring the city and even stopped for pika (AKA swedish coffee break) at this cute place. btw, cardamom cake = life. learn more about fika here. after more meanderings, photo shoots, bakery stops and window-shopping we had the best beer of our trip here. GO THERE if you are in stockholm. highly recommend. the highlight of the day was our anniversary dinner gifted by my parents which consisted of traditional swedish meatballs. AMAZING. complete with boiled potatoes and lingonberry jam. many thanks to mom & dad for the most delicious meal of the trip. 
next stop : tallinn, estonia. our weather was wet and windy but nothing a pint of must nunn couldn't cure. we wandered lower town, wandered upper town (for red rooftop views) and then... wandered some more. the cramped and crooked medieval streets were very storybook / fairytale -esque, especially in the rain. we stopped to dry off and eat some giant savory crepes at this local haunt in between all the wanderings. wandering works up an appetite. ;)

last stop : st. petersburg, russia. after waiting in some long immigration lines we were bused to st. isaacs square. my main goals for the day? the state hermitage museum and CAVIAR. both were realized, both magnificent. the hermitage's leading structure - the winter palace - steals the show but the museum also houses an enviable collection of dutch art which happens to be my absolute favorite. we needed days but only had hours so we moved quickly through the corridors soaking in as much culture as possible. from there we hit the streets - the main drag of nevsky prospect - for souvenir shopping and our fanciest meal of the trip. (the waiter wore white gloves... need i say more!?) my dining experience included a delicious fish entree (pictured below) and of course my beloved caviar  (pictured on instagram) with a splash of ice cold vodka on the side. all-in-all russia was a huge success. some of the most amazing memories seem to be made in the most utterly foreign places that push us completely out of our element. russia was just that. the next day though brought a change of pace. it brought a week of comfort and familiarity yet excitement and unexpected surprises. one of the best weeks of our lives.
final part of our scandinavian adventure to be cont.

scandinavian adventure // iceland (part two)


our next days route was from vik to höfn. the black sand beach, reynisfjara, in vik was right across from our airbnb. along with the basalt columns there are a variety of seabirds nesting in the grassy cliffs - including the puffin. over half of the worlds population of puffin come to iceland to breed during the summer months. it was freezing and windy and we couldn't get a good photo of them but *soaring excitement levels* nonetheless. the following stops were : vatnajökullfjallsárlónjökulsárlón (#glaciersarecool #nopunintended) and the hoffell hot pots (i HIGHLY recommend these - they are just west of höfn and not far off ring road). we arrived in höfn for the night which we came to find out is the langoustine capital of the world - sooooo langoustine pizza! yes please!
our early start to day five began with spotting a herd of reindeer (minor freak - out moment) while they were feeding on a hillside just off the road. after a blurry photo shoot (due to our shameful lack of a zoom lens) we continued our journey up the coast through the eastern fjords where we stumbled upon a lakeside northern shoveller nesting ground (photo of their intricate fuzzy nest below) and through snowy mountains where we stopped off to drink glacial water from a stream. the highland stretch was so desolate (with no cell service) that i was admittedly relieved each few and far between time that we saw another car pass by. other humans! we wound down to the town of egilsstadir for a much needed rest. soon we were back to the road again up to our home away from home for the night. northern iceland was unlike anything we had seen thus far. 

our day six in the north was a day with no driving. yay for daniel! we spent the whole day in the sunshine-filled lake mývatn area whose clear blue skies and bright green rolling hills conjured images of the south of france rather than iceland. the geothermal and seismic activity in this area is intense. the landscapes vary from barren and desert-like to cultivated grassy pastures to areas where the earth had shook so violently that it was torn apart. steam and the smell of sulfur wafts through the air. this natural phenomena has been harnessed to create nature baths where we spent most of our day soaking, sun-bathing and unwinding. we even got sunburned! (i would love a sticker that says "i got sunburned in iceland" but alas never saw one. side business?? maybe one day.) digressions aside though - it was perfect, not crowded or very touristy. for a comparison to the blue lagoon click here. the drive from there to akureyri (the northern capital) was stunning - including the spectacular goðafoss. other sights to see in the area are : krafla cratermud pots and dettifoss.
 from our hostel in akureyri we drove southward over four hours toward reykjavik. the sun was gleaming and there wasn't a cloud in sight. the road trip south was an easy ride including ice cream pit stops with scenes of little cottages and horses galloping in the fields. daniel pulled over a few times for me to get yet more photos and videos of horses and colts to add to my growing collection *grin emoji* - he was such a good sport. we reached reykjavik and our expedition came full circle when we met some friends at kex where our trip began. we spent our remaining hours strolling through the city's sunny night, watching ecstatic football fans cheer over icelands victorious game that day. our red-eye flight from keflavik to helsinki followed at 1am. that meant goodbye (for now) to iceland. day and night my mind still drifts to this unearthly land. musings of its singular beauty and our adventures here will stay with me forever. 


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