Buffalo Wings in Helsinki Continues

A new buffalo wing experience awaited us in the American-Mexican style bar(smoking allowed - which is weird in Finland) called Texas. The wings there were actually quite ok, but still not the ultimate American style wings that one would expect. The wings come already marinated in sauce, but are far from being hot. I believe they also have a BBQ sauce, but that just destroys the Buffalo wing idea all together.

Newly discovered frozen marinated wings in a German type grocery store called Lidl might just be the ideal wings out there.

So far it has been impossible to find naked wings without a marinated in Finland. Actually, there is more marinated meat out here than anywhere else I have ever lived in. Only some stores can get you a good naked meat, so you can marinate it yourself.

You know you have been in Finland too long, when..

  1. Your nice Armani suit has a fluorescent thingie hanging off of it, so cars see you in the winter
  2. Glögi becomes your daily drink on Christmas and you no longer consider it an alcoholic drink
  3. You find yourself silently waiting for a green light to cross a street that has not seen a car in the last 5 minutes.
  4. The panic sets in when you are on a bike in a town with no or only 1m wide biking lanes
  5. When somebody asks you in a supermarket "do you want a pussi?", you no longer giggle or even find it a bit weird
  6. When someone comes late to a meeting, you automatically assume, they don´t care and are rude
  7. Gloves and warm hat becomes your best friend in preparation for winter already in October, when the weather is definitely not a glove weather yet
  8. You became lactose intolerant or at least don´t bother asking what milk to buy if you bring groceries to a friend.
  9. Attending a Christmas party in early November comes natural and does not strike you as weird.
  10. "Cash" is a word you have not used in a long time and your wallet has only plastic in it.
  11. You no longer question why stores are closed on Sunday
  12. You become annoyed when somebody speaks Swedish to you

Top 10 Things to Do When Moving to Finland

So, since your internet search got you all the way here, you must be thinking about moving to Finland or have already done so. Or you just have nothing else to do than reading my articles :). So, here it goes:

1.) Find a place to live such as an apartment or a house

2.) In order to rent a place you need to get a home insurance. This is not that expensive and will cost you about 200 euro/year. For this you can go to Pohjola

3.) Get internet service. Finland is more connected than most places on
earth :). This highly depends on where you live, but Welho seems to have good deals.

4.) Now, you need to get registered into the population registry and this is done at your local Maistraatti office. All you need is a passport and a couple of weeks later you will receive your social security number which is more important than your name in Finland.

5.) If you are in Helsinki, you might want to ask for a temporary SSN when in Maistraatti, so you can get a travel card right away. Travel cards are used on all public transports in Helsinki and you can either put money on the card or pre-pay monthly etc. etc.

6.) Once you have a job, you should register with the immigration police. This is called registering the right of stay in Finland. Fill in and sign the form "The Registration Information on a Foreigner". If you are an EU citizen you just need your passport, 40 euro, your contract and a lot of patience as it can take many hours waiting to get to actually drop your stuff of. Come at 8am to avoid long queues and do not come after 2pm as they will not serve you. It takes them about 2 months to get a decision on your application.

7.) Now you want to get paid right? So, get a bank account. You probably just need a passport and again your contract for this. Some banks to try are Osuuspankki and Nordea. By the way, the OP bank doesn't have the greatest English interface, but good service.

8.) After you have worked for a couple of weeks and if you are form the last EU countries to join the union, you should submit a form to the employment office to notify them of your employment. The office is located at Mikonkatu 7, 3rd floor (helsinki.kluuvi@mol.fi) and the form is here. However, be wary that nobody will have a clue what you are talking about as they have never seen this form, yet they will be nice and take it off your hands :).

9.) If you are working you don't want to have 60% tax taken out right? You need to apply for a tax card. This process is very simple. If you are in Helsinki, go to Vuorikatu 14, right in the metro station. More information can be found on the tax site.

10.) Last, but definitely not least, you will have to pay a visit to your local Kela office. Kela is a sort of social security in Finland. Find out more about Kela here.
Kela FPA

One site that is very helpful and has a lot of collected information is the Expats Finland page, so give it a shot. And if you are bringing your car with you, don't forget to visit the custom's site for official forms and regulations. You will be looking for a form which will tell you how to bring vehicle as part of removal goods.

Tervetuloa and good luck!

Buffalo Chicken Wing Hunt in Helsinki, Finland

After our initial Prague Buffalo wing hunt, which really wasn't all that successful, so needs to be repeated, we decided to attempt similar in Helsinki, Finland. Now, Finland is not known for its spicy food. Actually, Finnish people are not too keen on spicy stuff, but Helsinki is so international nowadays that it is not a problem to get some spiciness into your life.

Our first stop was the hip restaurant in the center (Kamppi) called Memphis. The chicken wings here weren't the real deal, however, the spicy dip that came with them was not bad at all. Otherwise, the wings were a bit too dry. The next place we went to was a typical American restaurant called Chico's. With that name, one would assume they would have great buffalo wings, however, big mistake. There was no sign of chicken wings on the menu and the burgers we ordered were little to be desired, so this is one is a no go.

Third try was the Southern Fried Chicken fast food joint in Kamppi again. Who else would know how to make some wings than this place. And it wasn't far from the truth. The chicken wings came already dipped in a spicy sauce which was not that bad for Finland, but it still left a bit more to be desired for the real Buffalo wings.

After the different restaurant dining, we decided to visit local supermarkets to see if we can make the spicy chicken wings we desire ourselves. Finland is actually known for having a lot of different already marinated meats available in the stores, so it didn't take long to find two different chicken wings packets soaking in delicious red spicy sauce. After about an hour in the oven, we were munching on probably the best wings we have had in a while. They weren't perfect, but were damn good. Especially if we can add some cayenne pepper and some Thai spicy chili sauce.

Our quest is of course not over yet, so stay tuned for more delicious spicy sticky wing stories.

Hang on now. Breaking news :). Just came across the finnish society of spicy sauces (in Finnish) and got the original Buffalo Wing Sauce from them, so will have to try it out. Will probably be the winner there.

Chinese English Courses

Most of us have heard the news about the massive English language efforts in China prior to the Olympics, how chinese taxi drivers had to go undergo and English course and the chinese government is even sponsoring the every day nation wide TV English lessons. In my mind, this is wonderful and I hope it is working as English is THE language to know (not French how it was perceived a few decades ago), but what I am about to show you are some examples, captured about a year prior to the ignition of the 2008 Olympic flame in the Bird's nest, of how neccessary the English courses are for the chinese population. Following are some signs we have had the pleasure to take pictures of during our wandering around the People's Republic of China.

To start you off nice an easy, here is an example of a pretty big and visible advertisement for an international arts school which was hanging in Xi'an on the train station (at least I think this is where it was - It was so long ago:).

The next item is one of a kind and the title of the following example is, I quote now "Touris Guide to Mingshan Scenic Area of Ghost City". Note the omission of a letter in the first word already. And under item 6 in the guide we find the following :).

Now we are getting to a bit more heavy stuff with a big poster advertising a tour to a wide audience (which is probably not English speaking to their benefit). See for yourselves.

The next sign, we saw in ChongQing, is even more prominent, but in this case, I might incline to a weathered condition where the connecting line might have just disappeared, but one never knows.

And finally, the most beautiful pearl at the end. Let's see if you can spot the real crab. Perhaps the Russian confused them :). We actually orded it and it was very very good.

Travel Budget for Around the World Trip

Some of you might wonder, how much a trip around the world can cost and how to even go about planning such a feat. Well, do not wonder anymore, you will find out more in a second.

Our budget for the trip was set to about 1000 euro per person for one month. Now remember, this was just the actual cost of a month while on the trip already. Before you embark on your journy, there are other expenses that one needs to take into account. Such expenses could be the flight tickets (if you are buying around the world ticket), visas, travel insurance, miscellaneous vaccinations (ouch:)) and necessary equipment if not owning it already. The flight tickets can be usually bought directly from one of the airline alliances such as Qantas in One World etc.. Don't forget to set up a frequent flier program to collect them miles :). We got ours from a travel agent Kilroy which was quite nice. For some visa information see our Visas section where you might find some information, but the price is minimal here, it is more just paperwork and waiting. Insurance usually comes to about 1000 euro/year, but the options here also depend on what country you are from. One of our insurances was from Allianz which has a good offer in a lot of countries. Start your vaccinations at least 4-6 months in advance, so you have enough time to get them all, for more info check out the Tropical Medicine Center.

Now back to the budget, as mentioned above the plan was 1000 euro/month/person, however, this didn't end up being our overall spend as we got hit hard a few times by costs for extra diving, van/car rental, organized tours etc. So, the overall spend became more around 1300 euro per month. However, that is not to say, it cannot be done cheaper if you stick to cheap hostels/campgrounds, do not take part in a lot of organized tours and don't succumb to activities such are bungee jumping, diving etc. :). It definitely can be done much cheaper and also much more expensive. Each continent is also quite different, the 1000 euro/month can be easily achieved in South East Asia and South America, but in Australia that would be difficult without buying a car and then selling it back. In New Zealand it is also possible to manage especially if one buys a car. The common rule is that if you stay over 2 months in a country, buy a car. :)

And here is a little grid which will give you a better understanding of the costs in each country and continent. Our goals was 33 euro per day per person, so you can make your own conclusion how we did here :).

Buffalo Chicken Wing Hunt in Prague

If you have ever visited the United States for a bit longer than just a couple of days, there is no way you could not come across the typical Anchor Bar spicy buffalo wings which are served almost in every restaurant (obviously some better some worse). Some restaurants even specialize only in this delicious treat from our feathered friends. It does not get much better than a big plate of the spiciest wings, fries and a good beer to flush it down with. The real wings are suppose to be marinated in a wonderful spicy sauce which gets your pores dripping with sweat and turns your nose into a leaking dam.

In the true sense of the chicken wing fashion, we decided to explore Prague's restaurant scene and see if the Czechs have mastered the art of the chicken wing. After a short search on the internet we found a few restaurants around the center (Wenceslas Square) which advertised spicy chicken wings on their menu. Equipped with empty stomachs, carefully selected chicken wing criteria (1.spice-level 2.meat 3.dips 4.price 5.service and other factors), the optimism that we will succeed in our mission and a few crowns, we embarked on the Chicken wing tour de Prague.

(Needless to say, this is once again one of those non-vegetarian posts. Viewer discretion is advised.)

The first restaurant we visited was called Amigos and was portrayed as a real Mexican joint. From the menu, one could tell that they were serious about the Mexican dishes, so I'd definitely go back to try some of the food from our latin brothers. However, since our focus were the spicy wings, we went right to the business and ordered a big plate to share with couple of Gambrinus beers along with a plate of fries. The waiting staff did not seem to be the most enthusiastic bunch, nevertheless, they did manage to get our order in and out quite fast (10 mins tops). The order was 12 wings for 99 Czech crowns which is about 8.25 crowns per chicken wing. Very reasonably priced for center of Prague. Well, if the price was good, the wings were lacking a bit. It is true that the wings themselves were very tasty and crispy, but they were not marinated in a sauce. Instead, it came with a separate spicy dip which was nothing more than a Tabasco sauce poured right out of the bottle, so obviously that does not constitute a good chicken wing experience. Furthermore, the fries were taken out a bit too early out of the pot, so weren't the crispiest. The wings did come with a blue cheese dressing which was actually made out of the real deal cheese, but was quite thin. The only thing that was quite well served were the carrots :).

Our second victim was an American western style restaurant called Buffalo Bills. This place really has some attitude and the decor is just great with the American country music playing in the background. Sets the mood just right for some wings. Since we were here for the wings, all the other distractions were secondary though. Buffalo Bills advertised 8 spicy wings for 136 Crowns called Annie Oakley's. This puts the price per wing at about 17 Czech crowns, about double from Amigos, so quite pricey. Nevertheless, we got some Corona and waited for our order. We did have to ask for extra blue cheese on a side as the wings were advertised with ranch dressing only. Long story short, the wings came out very quickly, so that was good, however, the spiciness would be at zero as they looked more like a BBQ or Jack Daniels sauce wings. After asking the waitress if these are really the spicy wings we ordered, the answer was a disappointing yes. The only thing that was right with these suckers was that they actually were marinated in a sauce and not served with the sauce on the side. The fries were very very good, but that was offset by the carrots which were quite tasteless and old. The waiters were nice and spoke English, so that was a plus.

After running into a couple of already closed restaurants which were advertising spicy wings, we found another Mexican place, called Czech-Mex. Our hopes were very low at this point. The wings we tried so far were so close, but yet so far from the original spicy buffalo wings. Czech-Mex had 16 spicy wings for 115 crowns which puts the price per wing at 8.25 Czech crowns, so the price was right. The wait time was not too bad either about 10-15 minutes and the waitresses pleasant. You can probably guess now though what the result is going to be :). Not wanting to break out of the pattern, we received good looking wings which were dry and the sauce was of course where else than on the side. Furthermore, the so called spicy sauce was nothing more than a few spoons taken straight out of a Sweet Chili sauce bottle. So spiciness very low. The fries was too thick and they did not even have the blue cheese dressing, so we decided to try tartar sauce on a side which was ok.

So, in conclusion of our first chicken wing escapade in Prague, Amigos was probably the closest as far as the true chicken wings go, however, still very very very far from the original stuff. Quite a disappointment so far, but we promise we will keep looking until the ultimate spicy buffalo chicken wing joint is found or established. If you know of some places that might qualify, even outside of Prague around Europe, PLEASE do let us know in the comments as we are wings crazy and want to satisfy the craving :).

Daytripping in Vienna

The great thing about central Europe is that you can just hop in a car and get to completely different surroundings in a couple of hours. After intensive days with online job hunting in Vyskov, we decided to break the routine and go to Vienna for a day.

Jawohl! Two hours driving and we were there. Parked the car and got out into a gorgeous sunny weather. We decided to start our action-packed day with the number one in most "top Viennese sights" -lists, the Schönbrunn palace.

After entering the gates, we spent the next two hours in awe, trying to find synonyms to "amazing". The palace and its gardens were indeed very impressive. After buying the ticket we got a free digital audioguide and were able to wander in the rooms at our own pace. There was plenty of information and really interesting details in the decor, so after our visit we were not wondering anymore why people were able to buy full-day tickets to the palace. Highly recommended.

Since we only had a day in Vienna, we then decided to move downtown to see some other sights. It soon became clear that Vienna is the home for an impressive amount of historical, massive and breathtakingly beautiful buildings. Get yourself a comfortable pair of shoes and tour the center - your esthetic eye will surely be impressed. We admired the glass windows of Votiv church, visited the St Stephen´s cathedral, saw the magnificent parliament building, Rathaus and Hofburg castle, stopping occasionally in the many parks to get a break from the heat.

Some ad hoc details: Plenty of biking and bike roads in this town. Also, I found it quite affordable compared to, say, Ireland or Nordic countries.

One day in Vienna was a scratch in the surface and left us hungry for more. On the next visit, we could visit the Belvedere palace and many others that we just walked by this time. Also, we did not eat Sacher-cake - unforgivable. We hope to come back here one day soon.

Hamina Tattoo

Have you ever wondered why would military regiment need an orchestra? Well, you might say, they used to have them for marching or to intimidate their oponent with the wild beat of drums in the past centuries. We all remember the red coats fighting the blue coats (If you don't, get a clue and watch "The Last of the Mohicans":)) However, the question still stands, why would our modern military need a musical group? What is the purpose of tax payers money going to some shmuck playing violin instead of him/her defending our country. If anybody has an explanation, I'd like to hear it, feel free to leave us a comment.

Anywho, today's post will take us to our good ol' brothers up north, the mighty Finns. It is there, in a quite small and tranquile city of Hamina, almost by the Russian border and about 200 km from St. Petersburg, where each year get together military wind orchestras and perform for entire week in and around the city with the main concert taking place in the local Bastion. This even carries a good sounding name Hamina Tattoo. I have to say, I have never seen anything like it. This years Hamina Tattoo had orchestras from Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, Lithuania, Hungary and of course mother Russia. The orchestras put on daily concerts in the city park or by the harbor called TervaSaari (which in translation means "Tar Island" hehe). These concerts are usually about 1-2 hours long, so just right.

There were a few highlights at this year's Hamina Tattoo that I thought were quite cool. First would have to be the Swedish Mounted Band of the Royal Guards which performed on horses. Can you imagine playing a trumpet while trying to control a horse, dressed in thick military dress in 25 degree heat? No thank you, but they were impressive. Second, would have to be he final concert at the Bastion where all the bands go one after another and perform musical numbers with marching, dancing and whatever they want to throw into the mix. It was very very impressive what these guys can do. Last, I'd have to mention the Russian orchestra. This year it was the Central Band of Leningrad Military District which was accompanied by the 165th Honorary Rifle Company. The soldiers would move with utmoust precission as one would expect of the Russian colossus. I also do not think it was just a nice thought to bring the rifle company, mother Russia like to show that she still can be the boss :). Well, that is it for the Hamina Tattoo experience. If you are in that area next year, I suggest you spend a day in Hamina and listen to the tunes. It was very nice.

One day in Zurich

The city with the best standard of living in the world, Zurich in Switzerland. This picturesque city is situated on the north side of the Zurich lake which with its glacier water creates an unforgetable visit. The airport is quite close and for 12 CHF one is able to buy a 24 hour ticket for trains and trams in the city. The trip to the city takes about 15 minutes in a fancy two story train which goes to the main train station. From there, one can basically walk everywhere.

I would suggest the route along the river Limmat, right by the Bahnhof Quai. The river is so crystal clear, makes you stop in awe. Quite a difference from some rivers like the Liffey in Dublin. I guess the main difference is that Limmat is probably being fed by a glacier. Limmat is crossed by many smaller or bigger bridges and along the route you will be able to observe the City Hall, St. Peter's church and other beautifully architected buildings. Once you pass the outdoor swimming hall, the lake is in your sight. There daily cruises leave to explore the sights along the large Zurich lake. If you turn right and go along the bank of the lake, you will end up in a small park where you can catch a glimps at a water fountain and the babysitters walking along with many small children decorated with orange fluorescent outfits.

From the lake take one of the smaller roads to the right and you will find out how tranquile can Zurich be. Literally, not that much traffic once of the main road and the houses are quite nice. Make your way pass the Enge train station until you arrive to Bederstrasse where a big business park is located. Many companies have their buildings amongst the biggest ones you will find Google's European engineering center. Now it is just a matter of crossing the railroad tracks and walking along the Sihl river towards the botanical gardens and the local swimming hall. In the small canal you can notice the kayak polo area, quite interesting sport to watch.

If you are into some posh love, why don't you browse down to the Sihl Mall where a shopping spree can begin. And the Japanese sushi restaurant on the mall square can be quite nice ending touch to your busy Zurich afternoon. Right before you decide to head back to the airport, why not visit the National Swiss Museum which is situated right behind the main train station. If you do not feel like going back home yet, why not catch a quick train for another day in Bern or Geneva and let me know how it was :).

Closing note at the end. Did you know that Switzerland allowed women to vote only in 1979. So, before you are all excited about moving to Switzerland with your family, make sure you study upon how the system works there as I believe the title "best standard of living" might not take into account sex equality and other vital spices in our todays society.

Attractions close to Prague

I won't bore you with anymore Moravian culture, however, will tell you a bit more what is there to do in close vicinity of Prague. About 50km from Prague is a smaller city called Pribram. Historically, Pribram was a mining town with vast woods in Brdy hills. However, nowadays it has a lot more to offer. Find out more about its history here.

You can start by taking a bus from metro station Andel in Prague to Pribram. Some of the buses stop in a picturesque small town of Dobris which has a wonderful small chateau with picturesque garden which is worth the visit. You can either make stop in Dobris first or on the way back. Once in Pribram, you have several choices. First, if you are a music lover, you will more than likely want to visit the nearby memorial and museum of Antonin Dvorak, the famous Czech composer. His memorial is situated in a nearby village called Vysoka u Pribrame where you can get with one of the local buses at the main bus station.

Second choice and one of the most popular ones is to visit the Holly Mountain which has been overseeing the happenings in Pribram over 300 years now. There are basically two ways to get up there, either follow the regular road or take the Holy Mountain steps which are located in the Dlouha street. The steps are not the easiest to find, but if you ask, everyone in that area will show you where to go. After you have explored the church, you can decend back to the main shopping street and grab a cheap bite to eat in one of the local joints.

If you are still hungry for some more information about this region, why not pop into the Mining Museum where you will find out what it was like in the early years. And finally, after all the walking and sweating, you can relax and cool off your brain in the Aquapark before you head back to the mother Prague.

The Moravian capital - Brno

As mentioned in my previous post, the world outside of Prague is usually off limits to every day tourist, however, little do they know that it takes about 2.5 hours on a direct bus to explore the Moravian metropolis, Brno. There are tons of buses that go every day from the Florenc bus station where you can get with the local subway system. I believe that Czech Airlines also run a bus directly form the airport to Brno. One of the best companies is the Student Agenecy and they do have a shuttle from the airport as well. If I may give you an advice, it is very easy to get from the Ruzyne airport with public transport for about 1 euro, just hop on a bus 100 and go to the end station. There hop on the subway in the station Zlicin and you have access to everywhere. No reason to dish out money for taxies or shuttles.

Anyway, so now you are probably asking me why the hell would I want to sit on a bus to go see Brno. Well, I tell you why, because you can. :). As I said, Brno is the capital city of Moravia and it even though it is not as achitecturaly phenomenal like Prague, it has its own. Above Brno, there is a Spilberk castle which became famous as a prison during the 30 year war and today you can visit its catacombs and get a great panoramic view of the town.

Close to the train and bus stops there is a St. Peter and Paul cathedral overlooking the city. You cannot miss its two pointy towers on the Petrov hill. The view from the towers is just spectacular and inside the cathedral you can wander around exploring the catholic church's wealth or sometimes local exhibits with different motifs.

Brno has recently become a lot more internationalized, so you might not be the only foreigner walking in the streets, but do not assume that everyone will speak English. A good Czech phrasebook is always handy. If you are a musically talented individual, Brno has one of the best music school in Europe and a quite large number of cultural institutions are active here as well. So why not study in Brno at the Janacek Academy of Music and Arts. Also, if you made it all the way this far, why not take a trip to Vienna, Austria or Bratislava, Slovakia which are only about 2 hours away.

Czech Republic and its treasures

Well, our planned travels have ended, however, that does not stop us from exploring more of the world out there which is just waiting to be discovered. In our next adventure, we embark on a short visit to the picturesque Czech Republic. To tell you the truth, not very many tourist ever make it out of Prague which is due to a couple of fundamental reasons. First, the language ain't the easiest to grasp and the locals with their non-english speaking majority do not help much in that extent (Please stop dubbing your movies). Second, there are just so many things to see in Prague (Prague Castle, Old Town, Jewish quarter, Charles bridge etc. etc.). Most of the Praguocites do not realize how much they are missing by just sticking to this one metropolis. Forget France and its chateaux on the river Loire. Czech Republic is much cheaper (still), people are friendlier and the castles and chateaus are quite exquisite as well. There are literally houndreds of these spread all over the country.

One of the most visited and the closest to Prague is the renown Karlstejn, the retreat home to Charles IV. The trip there is quite simple, via a 40 minute train ride and then about 30 min walk up a beautiful little town with its food and crafts stall. The castle itself has English tours, but to tell you the truth is much cooler to look at from outside than to actually visit inside. It all depends what you like and how many castles you have visited before. If you are a virgin in castle hoping, Karlstejn can offer a quick and easy start.

I am more of a hunting trophy freak, so this won't do it for me. If you are similar and need more decoration in the castles themselves, you can try the Orlik chateau which belongs to the Schwarzenberg family. The Czech prime minister is the proud father of his son Jan, who currently owns this exquisite site. Orlik sits on a cliff above the Vltava river and before the Orlik dam was build, it was about 60m about the water level. Its halways are full of miscellaneous weapons and hunting trophies which add the chateau wonderful decor.

Near Orlik sits another Schwarzenberg castle called Zvikov. It is even possible to take a boat ride from Orlik to Zvikov or vice versa. Zvikov offers self guided tour with a quide written in English and is full of exhibits from the times of castle's prosperity. Zvikov is for sure one of the nicest places out there and with its georgeous view over the Vltava river provides a great retreat for every day tourists.

To get to Orlik or Zvikov, you can take a bus, but you will have to transfer in one of the bigger cities. You can check out the bus or train schedules here.

Back to the beginning

Here we are again, back on the European soil. Thousands of miles and 50 books later, and 10 kilos lighter:)

Last friday we flew to Helsinki, where the whole adventure started 8 months ago. My family took good care of us scruffy travelers - picked us up from the airport, cooked a great meal and heated the sauna. As I petted the dog everything felt a bit unreal - is it true that our days with diarrhea really are over?

Libor flew to Czech Republic on sunday and ever since we both have been concentrating on our native cuisines, which we often missed during the travels. Slowly we are also moving on to job hunting and decisions on where we might live in the future. Any suggestions?

Earlier I thought that we would be able to summarize the trip into one intellectual sentence that would make violins play and mothers cry. However, it doesn't seem that we have thoroughly changed or that we have learned something dramatically life-altering, so let's forget about intellectual sentences. It was great and we are happy we went.

If you are interested in doing something similar yourself, we are happy to answer any questions you might have. Just shoot us an email.

Thanks for reading the blog:) Over and out.

Wondering Around Buenos Aires

As our trip was inevitably nearing the end, for the last few days we chose to stay in Buenos Aires and explore this big metropolis. Our first stop was the Museum of modern latinamerican art in Recoleta, better known in Buenos Aires as MALBA. As the name suggests, the museum is very modern insideout, however, looking at some of the paintings or pieces of art, as someone would call them, I can´t keep myself from wondering what goes on in the heads of some of the so called ¨artists¨. Some of the works look like a 2 year old could do a better job if he/she took a stab at it and others have the constant resemblance of something found on a garbage pile. If this is where our art is going, we are in deep shit.:). If anything else, you get a good laugh at the museum, so I´d recommend it.

Weekends in Buenos Aires belong to local fairs and the always entertaining street performers. On Saturday, there is an intriguing arts and crafts fair right in front of the famous Recoleta cemetery. On Sunday, there is a unique arts and antique fair on the Defense street in San Telmo where you can make your day by munching down on some great empañadas off the street sellers and flushing them with cool liter of Quilmes.

Another place we paid a visit was the local Planetario in Palermo. The night sky show is very good, however, I wouldn´t recommend it if you are not very proficient in the Spanish language. We couldn´t make much out of the commentary:). The Holocaust museum in Recoleta is on the other hand very well documented with a guide written in English. It is the only museum of this sort in South America and it gives its visitors a good view in to the life of Jewish communities during the war and also how it affected Argentina. There are also on display the falsified documents of Adolf Eichmann who was one of the mastermind in the Jewish extermination during the world war. He was luckily captured by the Israeli folks after living normal life in Argentina for a few years and put to trial and hanged.

During our stay in Argentina we couldn´t escape the famous Parillada in one of the local restaurants. The meat lovers special consists of pretty much anything and everything that can be harvested from cows starting from glands, kidneys, blood sausages to tender steaks. Though Jenni started off as being very hungry and interested, it slowly dwindled out as she explored the grill. Thus salad became the food of choice. However, I have to say that the tripe was probably the least favorite, but the glands were a very pleasant surprise especially if dipped into the hot chimichurri sauce. Well that is about it from our travels, tomorrow we are off back to Europe to attempt to reunite with the everyday hussle and bussle of life.

Ibera Wetlands aka A Guide to Colonia Carlos Pellegrini

Esteros del Ibera is a stretch of wetlands and marshes in the Corrientes province which is not yet visited by many tourists as the transportation options are not very straight forward. The best access place to the wetlands is from a small town called Colonia Carlos Pellegrini (only about 400 inhabitants) which can be accessed from two different bigger cities, Posadas on the north coming from Puerto Iguazu and Mercedes coming probably from Buenos Aires. Before I get into that though, I wanna tell you why you should visit.

If you are a nature lover or just like the peacefulness of countryside without the hussle and bussle of big cities and many people, this is the place for you. The animal life in the wetlands ranges from plentiful cayman crocodiles, capybaras, swamp deer to many, many, many species of birds. It is just a paradise at your fingertips out there. The many posadas or hospodajes (your accommodation options - about 20 of them) arrange for day or night boat trips to the lake and its marshes, horseback riding and trekking trips and probably other ones as well. So, once you book your accommodation and transport you can sort everything else once you get there.

There are luxurious posadas and also the most rudimentary hospodajes in Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, so you have plenty to choose from. We stayed in a mid level price range posada called Ypa Sapukai where the owner Claudia, speakes fluent English, so booking and arranging transport is not a problem. You can choose from half board (breakfest + dinner) or full board options to begin with. Beware though, there is not much cell phone coverage, so you either might get lucky and your phone works or it doesn´t (like ours). Well, if you don´t have a tri band phone, it will not work anyway :). We did manage to find an internet place as Ypa Sapukai´s was broken at that time, at Hugo Boccalantro´s house (just go to the tourist office and ask for a map, his house is on it).

Now about how to get to this place. To and from Posadas there is supposedly one sort of transport that goes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but you definitely have to have the hotel in Colonia Carlos Pellegrini book it for you (I was told it was 90 pesos per person). The other option is to take a private transport in 4x4 vehicle which is around 550 pesos per car. We unfortunately had to opt in for that one which put a hole in our pockets, however, was very fast (2.75hrs) and the driver waited for us at the bus station when our bus arrived. I asked him what was the longest time he drove from Posadas to Pellegrini and he implied that in a heavy rain it took him once 7 hours (ouch).

From Mercedes there is a bus in the afternoon around 2pm, I think . To Mercedes there is a bus in the morning between 3:30-4am and in the afternoon between 4-5pm (about 25 pesos per person). The trip takes between 3-4 hours, but can be longer or might not be happening at all if the rain is heavy. In that case, you might want to arrange for a private 4wd vehicle for 300 pesos with your accommodation manager.

Bus from Buenos Aires gets into Mercedes at about 6am and on the way back it leaves back for Buenos Aires at 9pm and 11pm I think. The companies to check for times are Fletcha bus, San Cristobal and San Jose. Trip costs between 85-100 pesos depending on the luxury.

Well now, what are you waiting for. You don´t have an excuse not to go now:).

Iguazu falls

We were in danger of getting too used to the city life, so we decided to hit the road towards north. For us it meant subtropical climate, Iguazu waterfalls and Iberá wetlands.

It was time for a nightbus again, but in Argentina it´s pure luxury again. A warm meal and an English movie made the 17 hour experience quite pleasant and we found ourselves in the town of Puerto Iguazu in no time. The air was warm and humid again, so hello shorts, mosquitos and deodorant!

After a nice meal and a good night´s sleep, we started off to the main attraction in the area, Iguazu falls. Statistics: Bigger than Niagara Falls and featuring in the new Indiana Jones movie. Consists of 275 falls along 2,7 km of the Iguazu River. Some of the individual falls are up to 82 metres in height, though the majority are about 64 metres. The most breathtaking of the falls is 150m-wide Garganta del diablo (devil's throat), with an impressive drop of over 80 meters. It's quite a feeling to stand by a thing like that, the thundering sound of water and the sheer mass of it makes it quite overwhelming.

The falls are situatued by the border of Brazil and Argentina, so you can visit the falls from both sides. The Brazilian side shows you a panoramic view of the falls, and on the Argentinian side you get closer to the falls. So it´s all a matter of choosing really. Since getting to the Brazilian side required some level of hassle, with taxis and extra fees, we decided to stick to Argentina. Though it's hard to say if we missed something vital, we were very happy with the Argentinian side and managed to spend the whole day in the area. The sun was shining as well, so it was really a great experience.

Besides the views, the area around the falls is full of colourful animals, like birds, butterflies and reptiles. Rarely you can also see some seriously big snakes and pumas. We walked many of the trails and found the place simply stunning.

Ode to a steak

Vegetarians might feel some discomfort while reading this post.

Our final destination was Argentina, the promised land of beef and red wine. We had heard so many legendary stories about the local steaks that our expectations were certainly set very high. After settling in our hostel in San Telmo district, we headed for a local restaurant to empirically test the steak theory. And for the love of god, every mouth-watering story is true! So tender, so moist and no unidentifiable stuff left between your teeth. The steak was so good that it needs a 2 minute silence to honor it, and maybe a national holiday just to celebrate its existence. Or at least a love poem, or a song! This place is truly a culinary heaven; in addition to steaks, the red wine is simply brilliant and a small jug in a restaurant costs about one euro.

We spent our first days in the capital Buenos Aires, which deviates a bit from our previous latin American destinations. Close connections to Europe means that people are more mixed and the fair hair and skin are not such strange things anymore. People often speak English or French, and some areas look and feel like Paris.

In the early days we sure walked a lot and eventually found our way to the Recoleta cemetary, which has many famous tombs, such as Evita´s. Quite a unique place, the tombs were huge, decorated with marble statues, and the area was built like a small town with little alleys. Evita´s tomb was easy to find, just followed the crowds and the flowers. It is interesting to note that as a character, Eva Peron is both admired and hated. Don't let the musicals and Madonna's history knowledge fool you, this lady also abused her power and you are sure to start a fierce conversation with the locals if you ask questions about her.

We also booked tickets to a tango show called "Señor Tango". I had previously thought that I knew how to dance tango, but I was wrong. This footwork was totally something else. Legs swinging everywhere...shiny hairgel...painful faces and the sound of the accordeon. And then something strange happened: An older gentleman, looking like something between Jack Nicholson and Nacho Libre, walks on stage and the ladies start crying and - oh yes - screaming. I felt like it was 1992 again and I was in a boyband concert. This man is called Fernando Soler and the picture on the right might or might not make you go hysterical. You decide. Neither Libor nor I shed a tear.

But that wasn´t the strangest thing yet. The show had been a pretty classy thing to watch, until about an hour into the program lights went out and some kind of a strange nearly-striptease thing started. So all of a sudden, this dressed-to-the-nines audience was glancing at a bunch of ladies in tiny lace underwear, sticking their butt cheeks into the audience while the saxophones played some raunchy tunes. This was the point where I ordered more red wine and reflected on the unfair questions in life. So to summarize: The male audience got a dozen half-naked ladies and us ladies got a Nacho Libre. Seriously.


Lima, city of millions of taxis, can show you many faces in a very small area. This town has everything from rich quarters with business centers to poor slums where tourists dare not to venture out. Most visitors stay in the part called Miraflores which is fairly safe and has a feeling of any other bigger city. We decided to stay in Miraflores House, which turned out to be a very comfortable and safe hostel with a funny talkative owner, Francis.

As we have found out many times on our trip, the world is really small. We ended up meeting a Swedish couple we met at our tour of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. We celebrated our get together with a couple of games of bowling and some litres of Cristal beer. Well, we ain't bowlers, so the Swedes won, however, Jenni didn't mind as she was content with the Finnish hockey team beating Sweden in this years world champs.

There are plenty of museums in Lima which can satisfy a variety of tastes, however, we decided we had had enough of the Inca ceramics and history and not being big art lovers either, we skipped the museum scene. Instead, we got on a local green bus 73A which took us almost directly to the main square (Plaza Mayor). The same day we were there, the euro-latinamerican summit about global warming was in town, so the streets were buzzing with cops and barricades to prevent cars from entering the center. We managed to sneak a peak at a Lima Cathedral where the supposed remains of Francisco Pizzaro are found. After that we headed to the San Franciscan monastery and its catacombs to explore the local Spanish influence. We continued our tour to the San Martin square with a statue of Saint Martin on his horse and then took a crowded green bus back to Miraflores. It is interesting that already a few streets over from Plaza Mayor there are poorer areas of the town where it is not recommended for tourists to venture out. Very weird contrast.

The next day we wanted to get out of Lima, so booked a tour with Mira Bus agency to the ruins of Pachacamac. The Pachacamac culture was in this area way before Incas, however, the Incas then took over the Pachacamac keep once their reign began. Well, it really wasn't all that exciting. Except a few walls from mud bricks, there is really not much else to see than rubble and sand along with a nearby fallen-apart village. The tour ended at the Temple of the Sun which was one of the only ruins that had a few intact walls. I'd say that unless one is really interested in architecture, skipping this attraction is really not a sin.

On our final day we visited the Park of Love (Pargue del Amor) and took a look at the surfer dudes catching some waves under the smoggy cloudy sky. To be a bit positive about Lima, I'd have to give it props for the cuisine here. We managed to eat very well and if one goes off the beaten track, the prices are very very cheap, starting at one euro per full meal with soup and drink. One can eat anything imaginable from normal chicken to chicken hearts or stomachs.:) Next stop Argentina.

Peru Uncovered

In Peru we decided to make an exception from our do-it-yourself traveling, so we booked a 9-day tour with Gap Adventures. After seven months it was indeed nice to let someone else arrange transportations and make decisions on which restaurant to eat and which sights to see. Also, it had been a loooooong time since we have slept in such good beds.

Apart from the coastal line, the wonders of Peru are situated high up in the Andean mountains. Our group of 12 first landed in Juliaca, after which a bus took us to Puno, a town by the shores of Lake Titicaca at 3800 meters above sea level. There were no planned activities for the first day, as most people usually suffer from altitude sickness. We were just recommended to spend the first day resting and drinking coca tea. It was a strange feeling indeed, as if being drunk, exhausted and hungover at the same time. Generally speaking, it´s impossible to predict how the body responds to altitude and a good physical condition doesn´t mean anything over here. In our case, I only had mild symptoms and got over it pretty quickly, but Libor was completely out of it. After dinner he fainted on the restaurant floor and once we got back to the hotel he started being sick. However, after some rest and several cups of coca tea, the bearded man was smiling again.

From Puno we did a full-day tour to Lake Titicaca and its Islands. First we stopped at Taquile island, where we stopped at a handicraft market and had lunch. The weather was gorgeous and our group still dizzy, but it was very beautiful and interesting. Textiles are probably the number one souvenir people buy from Peru and the ladies over here sure know what they are doing.

After Taquile we sailed to Uros Islands, which actually float close to Puno harbour. The islands are made from straw-like Totora plant, which are tied together to form small floating reeds. What a fascinating place, one felt like a little bird in a nest! Originally the idea of the islands was that they were easy to defend and move in case of attacks. Nowadays the islands are still inhabited and are visited by every tourist group in the region.

From Puno we took a bus to Cusco, which was the main city in the Incan times. The bus journey through the mountains was amazing, let me tell you that there is no lack of breathtaking scenery in this country! In Cusco we visited many historical sites both in and outside of the city, such as the Sacred Valley and Qorikancha Temple. We also visited the village of Caca Ccullo, where the local women sell handicrafts while the men are working as Gap Adventures porters on the Inca Trail. Strange detail: As we were listening to the techniques the women use in their handicrafts, the village lamas decided to have some kind of a sex orgy in the middle of the town square. Soon everyone had turned around and were snapping pictures of lama porn.

Then became THE day, the promised highlight, Machu Picchu. The day earlier we had taken the train to a dirty little town called Aguas Calientes so we could reach Machu Picchu in the early hours. The entrance to Machu Picchu is a half-an-hour busride and one heart attack away from town, as the mountain is reached through a relatively narrow and steep road. But it sure was unbelievable. The Spanish conquistadores never found the place, which is why it is so well preserved. But even without the ruins it is a wonderful place and one could spend quite a few hours wondering in the area. Libor also climbed a steep mountain called Waynapicchu, which is reached through narrow stone steps. Since my knees were already shaking of fear even before I had taken the first step towards that direction, I took it as a sign of going for breakfast instead.

La Serena, Valparaiso and Casablanca

Our first destination after San Pedro de Atacama was a very relaxed small city of La Serena. Right after disembarking from the bus we were approached by a local who insisted we go and stay with at his mom's house (Maria's casa). He sounded legitimate and the hostel is also listed in the Lonely Planet, so we decided to give it a go, especially since it was close to the bus stop. The family that owns the house is very nice and right of the bat told us where we should go for some cheap, but good food. Well, we didn't hesitate a second and took their advice and went for the local Menu del dia deal in the restaurant Los Pinos. If I tell you the truth, it wasn't far from perfect, very very good. Unfortunately, we didn't have great weather in La Serena, so we just took a short stroll around the beach and visited Plaza de Armas which is a square in every city. I'd definitely recommend to stop in this city on the way to or from the North of Chile.

From La Serena, we headed to a much bigger city Valparaiso which with its hilly scenery and colorful buildings reminds a bit of San Francisco. The situation from La Serena's bus stop repeated itself and we scored a great accommodation deal with very nice local folks. This seems to be the standard for how the locals travel and it gives a great insight into the living ways of the people. We had only one full day in Valparaiso, so we spent it browsing around the city and also took an old funicular up one of the hills (Cerro Concepcion) from where there is a pretty good view on the harbour and also some nice restaurants. However, we learned from San Pedro and didn't succumb to the great smells of food here, but rather made our way down towards the plaza Victoria where the restaurants seemed to have good deals on Menu del dia.

Our last stop before Santiago was a smaller cozy town of Casablanca where one of my college buddies (Jaime) has family, so we had to give it a go and pay them a visit.It turned out to be one of the best days we had in Chile. First we met his uncle Enrique at his cafe called Willys where we enjoyed one of the Chile´s brews and then Enrique´s wife Ximena offered to take us to a local vineyard called Casas del Bosque. Here we tasted about 8 different kinds of Chilean wine which Jenni confirmed to be very very very good and we also found out that the vineyard exports to Finland. After that we visited Jaime´s grandma, had a great lunch and then checked out their house which was quite nice. We definitely saw how the locals live here and most importantly, how hospitable they are. The communication between us was difficult at times, however, our Latin American dictionary came in handy. After our visit we got on the Tur Bus again and headed back to Santiago were we prepared for our trip to Peru.