So, the Holy Days!
Deciding where to spend them in the first place was quite the difficult decision…my options were: Go to Cuba with my parents and sister, or go to Finland/Belgium/Ireland with three of my best friends that I rarely get to see. I knew I couldn’t go wrong in my decision, and ultimately chose the latter, as I would get to add two places to my countries-visited list, and spend quality time with the type of friends you might as well consider family.
As expected, Finland turned out to be one of the best places someone could go for Christmas–Santa Claus is from there, after all. We baked ginger bread cookies; did a White Elephant gift exchange; stuffed our faces with salmon, ham, vegetable mashes (turnip?), herring, potatoes, gravy, beet salad, breads, cheeses, desserts, the list goes on; played games; and even met Santa when he came around my friend’s home to distribute presents to all the kiddies.
Christmas was spent in Pori (pop.85,256), a city on the Western coast of Finland, about 3 hours outside of Helsinki, where the majority of my friend’s family lives. On the 28th of December, we made our way into the capital, where we stayed in a charming Airbnb…that to our surprise, didn’t have wifi. The millennial inside me cringed a little that I would have to find Wi-Fi elsewhere to post my Instagrams, but ultimately, staying somewhere with no Wi-Fi is definitely for the best–forcing you out of the place, and into town.
We walked. Saw a bunch of Lutheran churches, one of which is carved out of the landscape’s natural rock. Sang Hey There Delilah in a popular karaoke bar. (Helsinki is the capital of karaoke, fun fact) And of course, ate lots of good food and drank lots of Finnish beer. One of the nights, we found ourselves meeting our waiter from one of the most hip restaurants in town (an absolutely delectable Moroccan restaurant) at one of the most hipster bars I’d been to in a while. We walked in, took a whiff of the staunchy air, looked around at the septum-pierced, dread-locked clientele, and knew we were in for a weird night.
And a weird night was had.
The next day we moved on to Belgium. This was especially fun for me because I got to practice my français. A bit rusty, to be sure, but nonetheless effective when ordering various amounts of fresh seafood to be cooked to our preference for dinner that first night. I’d heard from various people that Brussels wasn’t really that special, and thus I went into this segment of the trip with lower expectations. I’m not sure if I just have low standards, or if everyone I’d talked to had extremely high standards, but if I were to describe Brussels in three words I’d say: Ornate, Festive, and….Cold. The buildings in the center were auspicious: luxurious, gold-plated, and enormous. A marvel to be awed at whilst enjoying a cup of hot Glühwein.
Despite very much enjoying Brussels, we decided to dedicate one of our days in Belgium in Bruges. Highly-recommend to anyone hoping to get a taste of a charming, medieval, smaller-town feel. The numerous brasseries are the perfect hide-out if you happen to go in the bitter-cold like we did. But I’d also recommend being sure to just get lost in this little town, regardless of the weather. Taking a moment to stop and just observe the reflections on the canals will leave you stunned. Example:
Our New Year celebration was enjoyable–though I must say it was nothing out of this world. We weren’t sure where to go, and ended up in the line of a club, simply because we figured if there was a line, it would be a good time. We found out it was a gay club when the guys behind us in the cue asked if my best friend and I were lesbians…it was a funny start to a dance-packed and smoke-filled entrance to the new year.
As one could imagine, the next day was spent in the classic misery of the day-after-a-good-night feels. Only to be fixed with a taste of home; we found an adorable bagel shop nearby, though a bit wary to have a Belgium bagel, I must admit, it ended up being the best bagel I’ve ever had…fresh guac, cream cheese, sprouts, flavor-full tomatoes. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
Ireland, the last leg of the trip, was the one I was sure I was not really going to remember as well–what with its lively drinking culture. What ended up happening though, was much, much better. I stayed with a dear friend, ate classic Irish foods: sausage, rashers, eggs, potatoes, steak, etc., watched more movies in two days than I had in the last few months, and got a taste of Guinness at the Storehouse! We passed the first few days of 2017 in a relaxing and rejuvenating style, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.
All in all, my tri-country holiday vacation proved to be worth skipping on sunshine and live-music in Cuba. But next year….I might be seeking it.