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Why haven’t you visited New Zealand?

I am here to prove you are missing out big time if you don’t have New Zealand as your next long-distance travel destination. Finns, forget about Thailand and Bali. NZ is the place to be – and Australia isn’t too bad of a place to stop over on the way either.

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“Never say goodbye, because saying goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting” (Peter Pan)

First though let’s be honest. Yes, it’s expensive to get there – but I am, among so many others, a living proof you can do it even with a student budget (and a few years’ of work + saving live crazy of course).. Secondly, it takes a hell of a lot of time to get there so you wanna stay for at least a couple of weeks. Preferably longer, especially if you are such a cheap-ass stingy person like me and rather travel for 42 hours and change planes five times just to save 300e. (Note, that 300e later paid for my sky diving adventure in Australia, so I gotta say it was totally worth the physically and mentally exhausting 42 hours. One way that is.). But, if you don’t go, you’ll regret it – so start saving up for your next big adventure!

Anyway, the top three things you probably know about New Zealand so far are:

1. Amazing nature.

Thanks to movies such as The Lord of the Rings, The Last Samurai, Whale Rider etc. I am pretty sure you have a pretty good idea of what an exotic beauty, blue sea and emerald green scenery awaits. Beach holiday, hiking or culture – it’s all there.

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I went on a quiet stroll on this beach, somewhere near the Bay of Islands maybe, two weeks before leaving for good in 2014

2. Sheep.

There’s a lot of them – enough actually to be frozen and shipped across the globe just to be sold in pretty much most supermarkets here in Finland… And I think during some English lesson in high school I learned that there are ten times more sheep in that country than people- though the truth is actually closer to six. Anyway when you get to NZ majority of the sheep are actually down south and people up north, or that’s how it seemed anyway, so you as foreigner end up more or less confused with the sheep shagger etc. jokes Aussies had been telling you about the Kiwis.

3. Wine? Rugby?

The third one is a little more difficult to come up with. I’d guess you’ve tried some excellent NZ wine? Or maybe you know rugby and the goosebump-raising, crowd-silencing war dance “Haka” the All Blacks do prior to the big games. Wow. Just wow. Google it.

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Me, Laura and her two brothers on Mt Taranaki, 2009

Anyway, recently my friends asked for advice re the Working Holiday visa and general life in New Zealand as they are heading over there later this year. And as so many great memories have now flooded my mind completely drowning out the important university assignment stuff that ought to be a priority over this silly daydreaming about going back to my second home once more, I decided to write down some key things here. Just thinking about the time spent in NZ makes me smile..

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Four hours. One fish. Still smiling.

So the top 3 things I hope you don’t miss out during your trip down under are:

Surprise surprise,

1. Amazing nature.

Yup you’ve seen photos, but in reality it’s even better. I loved the long scenic drives down the coast; having the bright blue water on the right and green hills and bushes filled with odd-looking plants on the left, with snow-topped mountains in the distance. Or the evergreen rain forests, gorges, waterfalls, and so on – hiking is definitely one of the must-do’s of your trip.

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We were camping by this stunning river, somewhere near Taupo

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Found this on the door one morning..

Why not conquer a mountain while you are there, climb to the top of Mt Taranaki for example? Or explore the Waitomo Caves and see the fascinating glowworms? Maybe even check out some wine regions? And it’s nice to know that as oppose to Australia, everything in the good old NZ is NOT trying to kill you so can feel pretty safe with all the wildlife and spiders and such.

Most of the time.

But forget about the daytime beauty. It’s is night when the magic happens.

Imagine. The sky gets filled with stars, with Milky Way showing it’s gorgeous form right above you as you get surrounded by a strange silence, wrapped in a comforting pitch-black cocoon with the stars forming a sparkling map of past and future, a place where you feel alone and small and insignificant, and empowered and alive and the ruler of the world all at the same time for that one moment when you just let go of everything else and be amazed how good it feels to be there. To feel fully free of constraints. To feel alive.

Please Google “New Zealand night sky” and see what I am talking about!

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Please let me introduce: Graeme, aka world’s best host dad and the bbq master of the family

2. Food.

Now I do admit NZ does not have the stereotypical stuff like what pizza is to Italy, sushi to Japan or tortillas and salsa for Mexico. But what is has is a wonderful melting pot of fresh produce, world-class wines (that don’t cost a fortune!) and some of the best seafood and meat available! There’s just something cozy about the Sunday dinner of roast lamb and three veggies. Not to forget fish n chips, or Chinese takeaway or any other fast foods enjoyed on Fridays by the beach – if it tastes good, does it really matter where the original recipe came from?

Paua jewellery is gorgeous, but why not taste the actual seafood? Or whitebait omelette? Maybe go to Rotorua and try the traditional hangi? For dessert there are so many puddings to choose from – but boysenberry, hokey pokey or rocky road ice cream, Pavlova, and maybe also Jaffas and pineapple lumps are among the things you do wanna try out yourself. ❤ And I gotta say, the beer and wine selection is pretty good, pretty good indeed. And I heard in the last couple of years they have started to get some decent local ciders as well 😉 I wouldn’t recommend trying to try drink a Kiwi under a table though…

3. Culture.

It’s seriously a laid-back, chilled, an informal and relaxing life they enjoy there. Yet everything works, things get done, and at the end of the day you can hang out with friends and have a beer while waiting for the bbq to heat up. In summer time life is great and the beaches are filled with people, in winter it’s cold and wet and quiet, quite like everywhere else. But they don’t usually get totally covered in snow in winter which is nice, and most of the time don’t need to pay attention if there’s a + or – when talking about the outdoor temperature. Little happy moments of life aye. By the way, you can actually get sunburnt in winter – I learned it the hard way! Sissel my dear friend, that’s a warning for you.

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WOMAD 2009

Nevertheless, with culture I also want to emphasize the arts – have you seen the amazing detail of Maori tattoos and carvings for example? Or read about the history? Don’t forget the music and the great local bands (check out music festivals such as WOMAD), or the abundance of different culture and sporting events – you need to check out the atmosphere of a proper rugby game at least!

 

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NZ is home to some pretty decent street art

Moreover, there are also the crazy tourist attractions and the adrenaline-spiking stuff like bungee jumping, skydiving and hang gliding among many others.. That country knows how to keep the tourists from getting bored!

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Queenstown – home to every adrenaline sport you need

So all in all, if you go there on a tourist visa or stay longer and complete a working holiday, I assure you there’s plenty to see and experience. And their tourism services are world class and the locals are super nice! Even though during my three years there I had plenty of ups and downs, a true culture shock many times over, all in all it was an amazing experience thanks to all the truly spectacular people I met ❤ One day I’ll be back.

So what are you waiting for, why aren’t you booking your flights already?

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Chasing the bubbles at Back Beach, New Plymouth

 

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Dublin, I miss you my darling

It is not that often that you go on a holiday, and walk out of the plane and feel like you arrived home.

Dublin. It is hard to say exactly what it is about the city that attracts, fascinates, compels me so strongly. The city is a bit run-down, old and dusty but has that cozy worn feel to it, like an old blanket with its colours having faded so long ago you can barely remember. There are short red brick houses lined up next to each other, stairs leading to the brightly-coloured doors in the suburbs and abundance of flowers bringing life to the otherwise quite modest surroundings. Everything you need is within a walking distance, the city is big and full of life yet the atmosphere is strangely relaxed, welcoming. Groups of people sit by the river sipping the gorgeous creations of the local breweries, the sun starts to slowly set as the office buildings release the weary workers from the day’s duties – people smile as they casually stroll past, it’s time to head off to the pub to socialize for a bit. I love and loved the atmosphere, the pub culture, the casual hanging out and chatting to strangers over a pint on a Monday evening. Monday. No one is out in Helsinki on a Monday.

Irish beef – y.u.m.m.y.!

I was lucky to have a dear friend having just moved to Dublin for there was someone familiar to spend the evenings with after exploring the city during the days. We would cook, chat, go on casual strolls around the neighbourhood and stop for a pint or two -or four- over the coming days with her wonderful friends.

As I was alone during the days, I would have one goal per day,

to go where I felt like, to follow the flow.

Day one: a book + beer + beautiful weather

The aim was to talk to strangers – much easier than I could ever have expected as people mistook me for a local thanks to my reddish hair and fair complexion. The aim was to get lost, to wander around the smallest of alleys, to stop to listen to the street musicians and watch the people going past. To smile ’till my jaw hurt, to absorb the international vibe to the fullest, to smile and politely nod when understanding nothing of the charming (and often drunk) Irish men who came to talk to me.

After three days of soup and sandwiches, I needed something else for lunch.

I admired countless pictures at photo exhibitions and corner galleries, black and white war images and portraits of the unknown heroes stirring some feelings deep within, I stopped by museums, admired the architecture. Shopped till I dropped – the vintage shops have some true gems in them, then grabbed some lunch and read a book in the park surrounded by tourists and locals enjoying their lunch breaks in the sun. I felt like I belonged, I felt comfortable even casually strolling through supermarkets for everything reminded of my beloved New Zealand – even got my friend hooked on hot cross buns and the sweet sultana scones. Heh, even the thought of that place makes me smile, now, two months after being back in Helsinki – yet another place in this world I call home.

It is crazy to admit I was in Dublin for only five days, but felt truly sad to leave. Maybe I’ll try suss out an internship there, or at least go for a longer visit and not miss out on the Whiskey Friday.

Dublin my darling, I will be back.

Thursday night – a pint, or four, and dancing ’till we could no more. Brilliant, the perfect ending to a wonderful holiday.

Ps. Isabel, thank you for letting me stay at your place. You are awesome ❤

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Risk & Reward in Life

“Hang gliding in Queenstown, 09”

How averse people are to risk is individual. Some are adrenaline junkies jumping off planes or gamble their money in hope for a better future, while others take it easy, chill n considerately float through life, slow and steady. I’m somewhere in the middle, it depends on the day.

I was first introduced to the concept of risk and reward during finance classes, you know the higher the risk the higher the reward etc., but with no money for financial investment I wanted to approach the topic from a wider perspective – how taking risks has pushed me into a life I once only dreamed of. And at 22 that’s quite a statement to make.

“Smiling with Stephanie before the 14 000ft skydive, Australia -14”

I’m guessing living by a quote “you only regret the things you didn’t do” sounds a bit cheesy, but I swear by it. If you’ve read any of my previous posts you might have noticed how passionate I am about travelling – all thanks to my parents and the encouraging home I grew up in. From an ever-so-annoying wild child to quiet and reserved teen to the open-minded young woman I am today, I couldn’t have experienced the things I have without being supported to taking risks one after another and hoping for a positive outcome. I’ve been lucky, it has paid off.

– take a risk, leave

– take a risk, trust

– take a risk, invest

Those are the three most important things that come into my mind when thinking of Risk & Reward in Life.

“Yard Swing @ The Spirit of Adventure -09”

By taking a risk and leaving, jumping into the unknown several times alone, I’ve learned so much about myself. I have opened up, been forced to learn the art of small talk, learned to read the map and the people around me to figure out who to trust – to look after myself. When you are thrown into a new culture, or even find yourself studying in a new city, you have to adapt to the culture & life around you – immerse yourself in it, become an active member for the best reward.

Trust it’s all going to be okay, take calculated risks to start with and then just go with the flow. I love planning, but don’t really think how all my crazy ideas fit together in the long run. If I like something, I change my life accordingly as soon as possible. If I decide something (realistic) I’ll get it done no matter what, work two jobs to get the money for the next adventure etc and then just head off to explore the world, oh mum has probably got a few grey hairs because of me and my crazy ideas! Stubborn, yes; Stupid, sometimes; Smiling, always! A positive attitude will get you far.

“Hitchiking with my friend Micke, NZ -14”

And not saying no unless the situation makes you scared and too uncomfortable has also proven a great guideline – it’s addictive not knowing what’s about to happen, the best stories start with a “yes let’s do it”. Trust people, be careful also but don’t let the risks to stop you from being young and having fun.

“My sailor’s passport after a summer job cooking on a small cruise ship, -14”

And last but not least take a risk, invest in future. Invest in yourself. I have had quite a few jobs and have done my best to leave a positive impact on people around me, and been allright at school to ensure there’s always a plan Z to fall back on if all else fails. I know I am super lucky to have a supportive family and good friends always there to help me out, but first I want to try out my wings and see how close to the sun I can get without falling.

I don’t think you can achieve your dreams without taking a risk every now and then, and am definitely one of those people with that small spark in them just waiting to burst into a huge flame when the right opportunity comes. Do you have the courage to dream big? If so, make small changes, see what comes up, invest in yourself through education AND experiences.

For me, higher risks have yielded the higher return. I can look back with not too many regrets, multiple mistakes were made for sure but regrets, well not so many. And most importantly because of the successful risk-taking of the past I can look into the future with a positive and trusting outlook – the past has been good so the future is simply going to be amazing.

“May Day Celebrations in Finland, the photo is thanks to ViktorVelinov Photography”

Cheers,

Laura

The not-so-fun times of travelling alone – Bangkok & Singapore

Travelling alone can be fun and exciting. Or lonely, sad and purely boring – depending on where you are. But that’s exactly why travelling is so cool, memorable and addictive. The good times feel absolutely amazing when you have just had the worst day of your life, anything from freaking out and thinking you lost your passport to turning out looking like a lobster after a day of snorkeling… Damn, the white skin of mine peels quite nicely.

I’m normally a nice, calm and more or less lovely person (I’d like to think so anyway) but at times the travel fatigue turns this little angel into a devil with steam bursting out like of a pressure cooker. Hunger mixed with the drenching humidity and having been awake for a good day or two caused me to regress to a toddler and throw a nice little tantrum in Little India, Singapore. Throwing my 30kg backpack down, kicking it and swearing in Finnish felt somehow deeply satisfying. I must have looked nuts. I cannot emphasis enough on how sad it was to come to the realization that a) i’m alone and no one is gonna help me b) it’s getting late and I have no money to pay for a taxi and most importantly c) why the hell did I ever imagine I’d be able to carry that much?! After a deep breath I lifted my backpack, pretty much crawled to the hostel 3km away and oh, slept like a baby that night.

"One can only smile when you walk in Little India" Singapore, 2014

“One can only smile when you walk in Little India”
Singapore, 2014

The feeling when you first walk out of a plane, smell the air, get through the customs and head off to the new exciting place is exhilarating – it’s time for another adventure! But sometimes travelling alone can be a little scary as well, especially for a tiny blond girl like me.

I don’t usually get lost. But when I do, I lose the track of time exploring and rather worry about finding a nice meal than think on how to get to the hostel eventually. Got my priorities right huh? Well Bangkok was a bit of an adventure for me.

Second night in Bangkok, woops, I’ve missed the last train and surprise surprise, don’t have enough money for taxi. I couldn’t catch the bus either because the hostel was situated in the middle of the protest areas and thus filled with roadblocks (this was back in Feb 2014). I figured a 1,5km walk to the hostel wasn’t too bad. I was wrong.

After the first 300m I started getting a bit nervous, there were small groups of men hanging nearby and I could’ve sworn some people had walked right behind me the whole way. I was probably worrying over nothing but by this stage I had sussed out if I remembered any karate moves, how fast I could potentially run, and if jumping onto the road and yelling would make some nice motorist to give me a ride. No cars around.

I was freaking out and then an angel in the shape of a 60-year-old local man pulled up in his scooter and asked if I needed a ride. Oh yes please! I jumped behind him onto the scooter and off we went.

I have never felt that free in my life than in that evening, sitting behind the small old man, driving 60 something kmh with my hair flying in the wind. The cool evening air was caressing me, the first stars looking down, I smiled. I was happy, right there in that moment, I felt fully alive.

We did a bit of a detour and managed to squeeze through the roadblock. He took me straight in front of the hostel and I couldn’t thank him enough. I gave him all the money I had on me, maybe three times the normal fare (still not enough for a taxi), said goodbye and watched him drive off.

From then on, I caught the tuk tuk. And made sure I’d had enough money to pay for it, though as it turned out the next day, cash wasn’t what the driver wanted… Will tell you more about it later.

"Silom MRT Roadblock" Bangkok, 2014

“Silom MRT Roadblock”
Bangkok, 2014