LandLopers http://landlopers.com Fri, 05 Feb 2016 22:34:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 More Of My Favorite Sunny Beach Photoshttp://landlopers.com/2016/02/04/sunny-beach-photos http://landlopers.com/2016/02/04/sunny-beach-photos#respond Fri, 05 Feb 2016 04:55:02 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30796 This week the fake, self-imposed #FriFotos theme is RELAX, and I can think of no better place to lay back and decompress than on a beautiful sunny beach. Here then … Read More

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This week the fake, self-imposed #FriFotos theme is RELAX, and I can think of no better place to lay back and decompress than on a beautiful sunny beach. Here then are a few of my favorite seaside escapes I’ve discovered on my travels.

Queensland Australia

Queensland Australia

Eleuthera Bahamas

Eleuthera, Bahamas

Gozo, Malta

Gozo Malta

Kempinski Dead Sea Jordan

Dead Sea, Jordan

Golden Horn Brac Croatia

Brac, Croatia

Walker Bay, South Africa

South Africa

Monkey Mia, Australia

Monkey Mia, Australia

Aruba sunset

Aruba

Beach Curacao

Curacao

Stingray City Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman

Charlotte Amalie St Thomas

St Thomas

Ireland Cow

Ireland

Dock Cancun Mexico

Cancun, Mexico

Eleuthera

Bahamas

paradise

Bermuda

spain beach

Cadaques, Spain

Wailea Beach Villas

Maui

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Unpredictability Of Travel – Broken Elevators And Hard Dayshttp://landlopers.com/2016/02/03/unpredictability-travel-broken-elevators http://landlopers.com/2016/02/03/unpredictability-travel-broken-elevators#respond Thu, 04 Feb 2016 04:55:57 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30789 “Mr. Long? So sorry to trouble you at this hour, but your partner’s just called and he says he’s stuck inside an elevator at the airport.” That was my extremely … Read More

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Arlanda Airport Stockholm Sweden

“Mr. Long? So sorry to trouble you at this hour, but your partner’s just called and he says he’s stuck inside an elevator at the airport.” That was my extremely unlikely wake up call just a few days ago, a conversation that still feels as if it was plucked from a dream or, better said, a nightmare. But that simple introduction was just the start to what would be a very complicated and difficult travel day.

I was in Helsinki to attend a conference and since my 40th birthday abutted the dates, I thought it’d be a great idea to celebrate by visiting a couple of new cities alongside my partner. He loved the idea, so I cashed out some air miles and booked his flights. On the agenda were a couple of days in Helsinki and then a couple of days in Sweden. It’d be a quick trip for him, but we both knew that it’d be an enjoyable one and turns out we were right. It was a fun and different way to usher in a new decade of life and speaks to one of our favorite travel experiences – visiting new cities in Europe. Because the conference hosts covered my airfare, we were on separate flights and on the day of departure his flight left a few hours before mine. Although I felt guilty, I decided not to ride into the airport with him so I could get a few more hours of sleep. This may have been a very fateful decision.

It was 4:30am when he arrived to the Stockholm Arlanda Airport, barely half awake he told the cab driver his airline and got out when they arrived to the terminal. Unfortunately, the cabbie was wrong and instead of the terminal where KLM was located, he was in an entirely wrong part of the airport. Luckily Arlanda is somewhat easy to get around, so he hopped into the elevator that promised to be the easiest way to Terminal 2 and didn’t think any more about it as the doors closed. The problem is that they didn’t reopen for nearly an hour and a half.

Most frequent travelers would agree that arriving at 4:30am for a 6:30am flight is more than enough time to check in and get through security, unless of course you get stuck in an elevator. With the sides shaking and the elevator itself dropping a few inches every now and then, my partner frantically pressed the Help button and waited for help. The voice on the other end said they’d look into it and all my partner could do was to wait. And wait and wait some more. Many phone calls later, including frantic ones made to me and everyone else he could think of, still nothing was being done. Getting stuck in an elevator is bad enough, but the added stress of missing a flight is enough to drive anyone bonkers. Not only that, but many people are claustrophobic and the overall lack of concern for my partner’s well being by the airport authorities during this crisis is shocking to me. This could have been a medical emergency for many people; we’re just fortunate that wasn’t the case for us.

Eventually my partner was rescued after a terrifying 75-minute ordeal, but he had missed his flight and in the process he also missed his connecting flight back home. It’s a terrible feeling to know immediately that your well-planned travel itinerary was destroyed in one fell swoop. And it’s even more bitter to understand that it’s no fault of your own. His airline, KLM, though did everything they could to help him out. They did find an alternate way home, but it added 9 hours to his travel day. Instead of arriving back home at 3pm, it was midnight before he finally touched down in Washington, DC. He had also paid for premium seats on his original flights and he lost those, and the money paid for them, on the new flights. Add in the stress and extra money spent throughout the course of the day, and stepping into that elevator had become a very costly affair. It was also intensely stressful and gut wrenching in every way imaginable.

Since he had some unexpected free time in the Stockholm Arlanda Airport, he decided to pursue the matter with airport authorities. Immediately they were defensive, a little too defensive, and right away washed their hands of the whole ordeal by saying they didn’t actually own the elevator. It sounds strange, but the elevator my partner had used was actually owned by Arlanda Express, the company that handles transfers from the airport. Even though the elevator is located in the airport and clearly had a sign saying it was how to reach the other terminal, they maintain it’s not their elevator. The airport official went on to say that they didn’t have any record of an elevator problem because no one had called their office. Implying to a stressed out and angry traveler that they’re lying probably wasn’t the best move, but my partner to his great credit kept his cool and said he had used the Help button but that the airport office wasn’t open at the time. It was a standoff, and my partner walked away with nothing except for a meal voucher.

KLM airplane

Who helped and who didn’t

My partner was booked with KLM and they mostly were great during this ordeal. They booked him onto another flight with no issues or extra fees. However, they also said that the upgrades he had purchased would be honored and that they had booked him in the comparable seats on his new flights with Delta. Turns out this never happened and he was stuck in horrible seats on all his flights. But the real villain here is Arlanda Airport. Even if what they say is true and they don’t own the elevator, they are ultimately responsible for everything that happens in their facility. They lacked the necessary means to alert emergency services from the elevator and they lacked the staff to assist in the emergency. What was worse though in my opinion was how they handled it. Recognizing a bad situation, they should have gone above and beyond to help out my partner, whether or not they felt culpable. Instead, they implied he was a liar. Not great customer service in my honest opinion.

Lessons learned

My partner ultimately blames himself. He got off at the wrong terminal and he chose to use the elevator. We both learned a lot from this experience, including being as aware as possible during all stages of the travel experience and to always expect the unexpected. His trip to Scandinavia was very short and I didn’t think he’d need travel insurance, so I didn’t take out a policy. I should’ve obviously as that’s the entire point of travel insurance, to protect us when we least expect it. The experience was not a positive one and we’re still both angry about it, but we’ll live. But it goes on to show just how unpredictable travel can be. Was this the worst thing in the world to have happen? No, but it WAS his single worst travel day ever, and he’s traveled extensively around the world. It was a hard and miserable experience to live through and he’s still exhausted by the more than 24 hours he spent traveling. It was also unnecessary. Had the airport been more attentive to the emergency, which could easily have become a major medical emergency, I wouldn’t be writing this post at all. But it’s all just a part of the travel experience. Most of it is great, but when things go bad, they go very bad.

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Treasury At Petra By Candlelighthttp://landlopers.com/2016/02/03/treasury-petra-candlelight http://landlopers.com/2016/02/03/treasury-petra-candlelight#respond Thu, 04 Feb 2016 04:50:00 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30787 The post Treasury At Petra By Candlelight appeared first on LandLopers.

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Petra night Jordan

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Four Must-Do Experiences in Finnish Laplandhttp://landlopers.com/2016/02/02/finnish-lapland http://landlopers.com/2016/02/02/finnish-lapland#respond Wed, 03 Feb 2016 04:55:01 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30783 The largest region of Finland is also its most rugged, wild and in my opinion the most interesting. Lapland is a sparsely populated Arctic playground known for reindeer, virgin forests … Read More

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The largest region of Finland is also its most rugged, wild and in my opinion the most interesting. Lapland is a sparsely populated Arctic playground known for reindeer, virgin forests and at least one famous resident. Spending a few days exploring this beautiful part of Finland in the middle of winter was a special travel experience in its own right, but these activities took that simple trip and transformed it into something special. Here are a few must-do experiences when you explore Finnish Lapland.

Meet Santa Claus

It’s impossible to visit Rovaniemi, the de facto capital of Finnish Lapland, and not realize immediately that it is the hometown of Santa Claus. From the airport when you first arrive to even hotels bearing his name, this town is all about Santa. Literally straddling the Arctic Circle, Santa Claus Village is a 365-day Christmas extravaganza; a place where the holiday spirit is alive every day of the year. It all started with an unlikely visit by Eleanor Roosevelt, who visited Rovaniemi to see the progress of Marshall Plan projects. For her arrival a small cabin was built, a cabin that soon became the center of this tourist hotspot. And it is definitely touristy, no doubt there, but it’s also unexpectedly fun. Walking into the middle of the village, it was only 3:30pm but the winter sun had already begun to set and soon I found myself in the middle of the village, night having fallen and the sound of carols in the air. Christmas had already been over for a couple of weeks and while the rest of the world was dealing with the January doldrums, Santa Claus Village really did feel cheerful. I felt as if Christmas was just around the corner and that yuletide excitement came rushing back. Of course the focal point of any visit is meeting Santa Claus, who is always ready to greet new visitors. The visit with Santa is free of charge, but the photos taken come with a small fee. After chatting with Santa – everyone gets some alone time – head to one of the most popular post offices in the world, Santa Claus’ Main Post Office. This real post office on the Arctic Circle handles all of Santa’s worldwide mail traffic and since 1985, more than 17 million letters have been sent to the post office all addressed to Santa from nearly every corner of the world. It’s not everyday you can send a Santa Claus postmarked letter, so I sent a few postcards and thought about my experience in the Santa Claus Village. I’m not normally a fan of hokey tourist experiences, but this one was fun – a lot of fun actually and I quickly understood why hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to the Village every year. The Christmas spirit is a special feeling, and this is the only place in the world where it never ends.

Dog Sled Finland Lapland

Overnight Trek With Huskies

As the owner of Siberian Huskies and a dog lover in general, anytime I get to interact with new furry friends when I travel is something I not only enjoy, I crave it. So when I learned about the overnight husky trek with Bear Hill Husky in Rovaniemi, I knew I couldn’t say no. The only hindrance was the weather. Negative thirty is extreme even for northern Finland, so the overnight plans were scratched and in its place an afternoon was planned with the huskies; a change in plans that turned out to be even better than the original tour. Meeting with the sled dogs before the ride through the quiet woods surrounding Rovaniemi, I quickly fell in love with my new furry friends. Working dogs aren’t like our furry pets, they’re trained to do a job and all of these pups were buzzing with anticipation for the ride ahead. Taking off with a team of 6 into the heart of the virginal woods, not for the first time I thought just how special an experience riding with sled dogs really is. Almost immediately all other noises die away and the only sounds are the panting of the dogs and the sled itself as it skids along the snow and ice. It’s a communion of sorts between man and dog and offers an introduction to some of the most remote areas of Finland that would be impossible to experience otherwise. Although the all-day ride was scrapped, we still managed to do the overnight portion – a stay in a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere. No electricity or running water, it’s not my normal type of overnight accommodation, but the small wood-fired sauna and the amazing friendships I made more than made up for a lack of room service.

Get To Know Roveniemi – Arktikum Museum

Reminding me a lot of the small town featured in the TV show Northern Exposure, Rovaniemi is a quirky but fun place to spend a few days. Completely destroyed (almost) during WWII, the town has known its struggles throughout the years, but what they have created is honestly nothing sort of remarkable. Part of that comes from their good humor (the new city plan after the War was designed to look like a reindeer head) but also for their fierce love of Finnish Lapland, which can perhaps be best seen at the fantastic museum – Arktikum. An unusual design, its main feature is a long and narrow glass tube built into the ground, meant to represent the gateway to the north that has come to define the town. The museum itself is split into two sections, one dealing the culture and history of Arctic Lapland and the other sharing the science behind life in the Arctic, from the wildlife who call it home to the Northern Lights that are so common. I’m picky when it comes to museums, but the Arktikum was well curated, the information was interesting and the design of the building itself so unique that I couldn’t help but be drawn further in.

Finland Lapland

Snowmobile Adventure Around Ranua

Rovaniemi may feel remote to some, but it’s the largest town in Lapland and this enormous region is dotted with far smaller villages and towns, like Ranua. An easy drive from Rovaniemi, Ranua is best known for its zoo, a wildlife park of arctic animal species that is the northernmost zoo in the world. I wasn’t there for the wildlife though; I was there for the snowmobile experience of a lifetime. As I wrote a few paragraphs above, temperatures approaching -30 are not to be taken lightly, and suiting up in what was 6 layers of clothes was just the start of my afternoon roaring across the frozen bogs and woodland trails surrounding Ranua. Once the snowmobiles started flying, the temperature felt more like -40 and even with all of those layers, my hands and feet were quickly freezing. It was all worth it though for the amazing scenery and untouched landscapes that make Finnish Lapland so very special. The sun isn’t out for long in the winter, and the late afternoon light (around 2pm) turned out to be the perfect condition for my first introduction to this part of the world. The experience was fun, sure, but it was also a special one. Turning off the impressive machines and just looking out across the frozen landscapes, I felt as if I was the last person in the world, an all too rare feeling.

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Inside Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatiahttp://landlopers.com/2016/02/02/photo-diocletian-split http://landlopers.com/2016/02/02/photo-diocletian-split#respond Wed, 03 Feb 2016 04:50:59 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30785 The post Inside Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia appeared first on LandLopers.

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Split Croatia

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No I Still Don’t Like Fish or Seafood – What I Wish People Understoodhttp://landlopers.com/2016/02/01/dont-like-fish http://landlopers.com/2016/02/01/dont-like-fish#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 04:55:38 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30779 As a frequent traveler, one of the biggest issues I deal with is what I eat. I am a very picky eater; a confirmed carnivore my love of vegetables is … Read More

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As a frequent traveler, one of the biggest issues I deal with is what I eat. I am a very picky eater; a confirmed carnivore my love of vegetables is weak at best and most notably, I don’t eat any fish or seafood. My fellow Americans may wonder why I phrase it that way, but I’ll get to that in a second. The point of this post is that even after years of writing about this issue I’m still faced with certain difficulties when I travel, and since I’ve heard from many people around the world who are just like me, I thought I’d write yet another post, this one a little more direct, in order to make my life and those like me a little bit easier when we travel the world.

Yes there are people who don’t like fish or seafood

As I have discovered, many people are shocked to the point that their mouth is literally agape when I tell them that I don’t like fish or seafood. I was just on a food tour and when a fellow participant heard me utter those words, her look made me feel like Quasimodo’s little brother. But we are here, we exist and as many emails from readers have shown me, there are a lot of us. The problem is that we are made to feel so bad about ourselves, that few of us come out as anti-pescatarians until we have to. Even then it’s said with an apology and a downward glance. But if I do anything in my life, I hope it’s to make others like me more accepted by the general fish-loving public.

Fish Taiwan

What we mean when we say we don’t like fish or seafood

It means we don’t like it, and this is where I get to that very specific phrasing “fish or seafood.” I was on a trip once and I had sent along my dietary requirement of No Seafood. Now, to an American that usually includes anything that was ever in the water, ever. Possible exceptions would include ducks or if a cow fell into a lake or something. But when translated, seafood in most other languages means fruits de mer, or delicacies like oysters, clams and so on. Fish is actually an entirely different category for them. I discovered this fun fact while on that aforementioned trip when my host proudly came out and said “So I heard you don’t like seafood – that’s fine!” (My heart jumps for joy) “Instead I have a beautiful whitefish for you!” (Heart sinks and I begin Googling the closest McDonald’s.) I learned a lot from that experience, including the importance of very specific language when speaking to people from other cultures but also to always use the phrasing “fish or seafood” when describing my hatred of all things watery.

Fish and Chips London UK

Yes I’ve tried that one dish you love more than life itself

The next part of the conversation that always happens after I first tell them I hate fish or seafood is, “But have you tried [insert amazing food you love here]? It’s important to say that my dislike of seafood isn’t out of disdain for you or a way to be a contrarian. I’m not trying to be a jerk; I just don’t like fish or seafood. Believe me, I want to. I see how you normal people all look when you bite into a lobster with clarified butter or a massive platter of fish and chips. I want to be like you, I want to enjoy shrimp, Mahi Mahi, oysters, all of it. I want to be there, believe me life would be far simpler. And indeed I have tried both fish and seafood in nearly every form, just in case there’s one form that it turns out I do like. But there isn’t and I don’t. Our tastes and likes in regards to food are largely dictated by genetics, not always by upbringing or cultural norms. I come from proud Mainer stock, people who love lobster more than there own children – and this is actually true. I was brought up around seafood lovers and yet here I am, hating fish and seafood as much as I do licorice or artichokes.

It’s ok that we exist

All of you fish and chip eating, shrimp buffet loving people need to give those of us who hate all of that a break. It is a constant struggle when I travel dealing with my fish issues. It’s not necessarily the hassle involved with finding something I can actually consume, I’ve been able to eat everywhere from remote towns in Taiwan to fishing villages along the coasts of Scandinavia. No, it’s not my ability to find something for dinner that bothers me, it’s the incessant nagging by other, seemingly well-intentioned, people who all but strap me down and force a Filet-O-Fish sandwich down my throat. We all have our little quirks, our idiosyncrasies in life so when you encounter someone who, like me, counts among them a fierce dislike of both fish and seafood do me a favor. Don’t say anything. And pass the Carpaccio.

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Inside The Golden Hall – Stockholm City Hallhttp://landlopers.com/2016/02/01/photo-golden-hall-stockholm http://landlopers.com/2016/02/01/photo-golden-hall-stockholm#respond Tue, 02 Feb 2016 04:50:07 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30777 The post Inside The Golden Hall – Stockholm City Hall appeared first on LandLopers.

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Stockholm Sweden City Hall

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My 6 Favorite Travel Experiences in Australia (So Far)http://landlopers.com/2016/01/31/travel-experiences-in-australia http://landlopers.com/2016/01/31/travel-experiences-in-australia#respond Mon, 01 Feb 2016 02:55:29 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30773 Over the course of three trips, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit every state on the mainland of Australia including the Northern Territory. All that is left is Tasmania, and … Read More

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Tropical North Queensland Australia
Over the course of three trips, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit every state on the mainland of Australia including the Northern Territory. All that is left is Tasmania, and I hope to get there soon. While there is so much more of this massive country for me to see, I thought I’d take a moment to share what my favorite travel experiences in Australia have been so far. One of my favorite destinations, Australia has so very much to offer from laid back beach time to some of the most hair raising adventures you could imagine. From my own personal point of view and my own travel style though, here are the travel experiences in Australia that I loved and think should be added to everyone’s Aussie bucket list.
In NO particular order (and I mean that)
Circular Quay, Sydney

1. Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, New South Wales

It’s no exaggeration to say that Circular Quay and the landmarks that surround it are amongst the most recognizable on the planet and from my own experience there’s no better way to see them than by taking on the legendary Harbour Bridge climb. Even considered a bucket list activity by Australians, the climb is one of those over the top (literally) activities that everyone really should experience at least once. Visitors ascend the mighty bridge in small groups, carefully harnessed to the steel rails at all times and from the top you’ll enjoy amazing views of Sydney’s famous landmarks. I’m not a fan of heights but not even I was bothered, that’s how well done the safety and overall experience really is. Treat yourself on your next trip to Sydney, you won’t regret it.
Whitehaven Beach Queensland Australia

2. Luxury getaway in Tropical Queensland

There is a lot to do in Queensland, from the tropical jungles of the north down to the urban oasis of Brisbane and the Gold Coast. If I could pick just one experience to do again though, it would be a luxury getaway in the state’s most famous tropical retreat, the Whitsundays. These small islands and inlets look like a scene plucked from French Polynesia and the luxury accommodations available are just as amazing. Choose from any of the high end options, spend some time on private beaches (called the best beaches in the world) with sugary white sand but also be sure to add in some active pursuits, like diving the Great Barrier Reef. No matter what you end up doing there, I find it hard to believe that anyone could walk away without a smile on their face and a secret personal promise to return.
Sharks Bay Western Australia

3. Monkey Mia and Shark Bay, Western Australia

From one coast to the other, what Western Australia lacks in those Tahitian-like scenes, it more than makes up for in privacy and natural offerings. Base yourself at Monkey Mia, a coastal resort that at times may seem a little hokey, but is actually a lot of fun. From there you can visit the Shark Bay UNESCO World Heritage region, a massive and fairly isolated natural retreat with scenes so striking they look as if they’re from another planet. The bright red ochre sand meets the deep blue sea in a contrast of colors the likes of which I’ve never seen before. For something a little different, also be sure to drive down to Hamelin Pool, home of the stromatolites – the oldest life form on the planet and the only place on the earth accessible enough for people to visit these prehistoric creatures. If that doesn’t convince you about the uniqueness of Australia, nothing will.
Kangaroo Island Australia

4. Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Taking the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Adelaide (which would be #7 on this list) I got off the train and boarded a plane with one goal in sight – Kangaroo Island. Known as a living zoo, this island is home to scores of native Australian species from kangaroos to koalas and a few other animals with names hard to pronounce, but still undeniably cute. Be sure to enlist the help of the foremost tour operator on the island, Exceptional Kangaroo Island, who will give you high end, personal service around the island fine tuning the schedule to your interests. If you love wildlife, this is one of the best places to experience the special animals of Australia in their natural habitats.
Melbourne, Australia

5. Getting to know Melbourne, Victoria

I fell in love with Melbourne almost right away, something that rarely happens to me. I’m not sure why, but there’s just something special about this metropolitan hub that speaks to me in a way that not only other cities in Australia don’t, but few others around the world can even manage. There’s a lot to do here, from fascinating museums to food tours and of course the nightlife. To really feel like a local though, seek out the nearest laneway, order a flat white and just people watch for a few hours. I think you’ll soon fall under the city’s spell just as I did.
Uluru Australia

6. Drive to Uluru, Northern Territory

No list of Australian experiences would be complete without adding one of its most famous sights, Uluru or as most Americans still call it, Ayers Rock. I’m not sure why this massive rock in the middle of the country’s Red Centre speaks to so many of us, but it does. It’s a siren call that demands answering. Sure, you can fly there but why not get to know the Red Centre properly by driving around it? Start in Alice Springs and rent the appropriate off-road or 4×4 vehicle and then start your epic journey along the shifting red sands of the Red Centre Way. There are sights along the way, and even places to spend the night, like at Kings Canyon known for its luxury hotel and epic hikes. It’s a fun way to reach Uluru and is one of those fantastic instances where getting there really is part of the fun.
These are just a few of the many travel experiences in Australia that I’ve loved and I know I’ll be adding many more to the list as my own understanding and appreciation of the country continues to grow.

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Early Sunset in Finnish Laplandhttp://landlopers.com/2016/01/31/early-sunset-in-finnish-lapland http://landlopers.com/2016/01/31/early-sunset-in-finnish-lapland#respond Mon, 01 Feb 2016 02:50:53 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30771 The post Early Sunset in Finnish Lapland appeared first on LandLopers.

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Finland

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Instagramming My Way Around Finland & Estoniahttp://landlopers.com/2016/01/28/instagramming-finland-estonia http://landlopers.com/2016/01/28/instagramming-finland-estonia#comments Fri, 29 Jan 2016 02:55:50 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30760 The first way I share stories from the places I visit is through social media and lately Instagram has been my favorite platform. Using a single image along with a … Read More

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The first way I share stories from the places I visit is through social media and lately Instagram has been my favorite platform. Using a single image along with a short story, my goal is to make these countries, regions and cities come alive as if you were traveling alongside me. My most recent trip took me to two countries I hadn’t visited before: Finland and Estonia. The travel experiences were fun, exciting and educational and the overall trip was so positive, I wanted to share those photos and stories that I shared on Instagram with you here as well.

Ranua Lapland Finland

Snowmobiling around Ranua, Finland

I started my trip in Finnish Lapland, the northernmost region of the country. On the first day I joined some friends in a snowmobile adventure through the forests and frozen bogs around Ranua on a day when the high temperature was around -25 degrees Celsius. “But it’s a dry -25,” my guide reassured me as I suited up in 5 layers of clothes. This is the part of the temperature scales where C and F converge, so everyone should have a pretty good idea of just how very cold it was. Actually, with the wind rushing past me on the snowmobile the feeling was much more like -40, but at that point it doesn’t really matter. That’s part of the beauty of this part of Finland though – it’s why people visit, to experience the beauty of winter in one of its purest forms. Rushing along frozen bogs and virgin forests covered with a new layer of snow was just as beautiful as I had hoped it would be. With nothing manmade for kilometers in any direction, it’s as close as you can get to understanding the natural soul of this country in the perfect season. I’ve never seen a country embrace winter like Finland, but everyone I’ve met here loves it. Not only do they love it, they take pride in it. They know it’s cold, but they also know that with those temperatures comes some very special moments, like the one I had sitting out in the middle of nowhere just listening to the sound of my own breath and not much else. Looking all around me I was stunned that I was in such a remarkable place, surely one of the most purely gorgeous landscapes anywhere in the world, even if you can only see it a few hours a day. This time of year the sun isn’t out for long, but once it is the forests and frozen lakes erupt in crystalline brilliance. Who knew there could be so much color in such a seemingly barren place?

Finland

Bear Hill Husky, Roveniemi Finland

As the owner of three Siberian Huskies it’s always with mixed feelings that I approach dog sled experiences. On the one hand I love being around dogs almost more than anything else but part of me worries about whether or not the experience is an ethical one. With dog sledding the only real way to know is by visiting and almost right away I knew that Valentijne Beets’ company Bear Hill Husky was the real deal – no one cares THAT much about their dogs if they don’t treat them well.  Located right outside of Roveniemi, Bear Hill has dozens of Alaskan Huskies in their kennel and it was 5 of these hard working dogs that took me out into the chilly woods of Finnish Lapland.  I love dog sledding because of how quiet it is. Mushing through the snow, the dogs clearly love running more than anything else and the only noise is their fierce panting. It’s a beautiful way to be a part of nature without loud motors or anything else around. It’s also one of the best ways to experience the amazing landscapes in northern Finland without leaving a trace.

Roveniemi Finland

Finnish Lapland

I’m a city guy. I live in a city, I like exploring cities when I travel and I feel most comfortable in them. They just make sense. But whenever I travel I also feel the call of natural landscapes in a way that I don’t at home. I think that’s one reason why I’ve so enjoyed spending some time in very north, very rural Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland. As rural an area as you’re likely to find anywhere in the world, a scant 180,000 people call this massive, 38,009 square mile region home. It’s a special place that captures the imaginations not only of Finns, but of people from around the world. It’s the official home of Santa Claus, plenty of reindeer, the indigenous Sami people and more outdoor activities than most people are able to do in a week. It’s untamed, unspoiled and to me endlessly fascinating. Life is different up here, a little less complicated and infinitely more beautiful. Winters are cold, no doubt there, but that’s part of the draw. You can experience winter here in a way you just can’t anywhere else. Over the last few days I’ve met Santa (he’s around 364 days a year), rode with huskies, went snowmobiling over frozen bogs and met many kind hearted and good natured people. I didn’t know much about Rovaniemi before first arriving, but in just a few short days it’s captured my heart. I love when that happens and believe me, it’s well worth a few extra layers of clothes to capture that feeling only if very briefly.

Ranua Finland

Ranua, Finland

While in Lapland, I did something completely different from my normal style of travel. I spent the night in a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere Finnish Lapland with no electricity or running water. For a luxury traveler who usually cares about the thread count of my sheets, this was a major break from the norm. But you know what? It was amazing. When we arrived to the cabin it was -25 and dropping fast. My host started the fire right away and immediately I began to wonder, “What now?” As a guy who lives online it’s hard to imagine an evening without electricity or WiFi and I had no idea how we’d pass the time. I needn’t have worried though, I was to be indoctrinated into the proud Finnish tradition of a proper, wood fired sauna. If you’ve never tried the wood version of sauna you’re missing out and more than just a way to warm up, it was an entire cultural experience. Preparing for it, enjoying it, chatting with friends during it and cooling off by stepping outside in -30 degrees – it was all amazing and all made me fall in love with Finland even more. After a hearty venison stew, we went to bed and I enjoyed one of the most peaceful nights I’ve ever had. Active travel is great but sometimes it’s equally important to step back, disconnect and remember in the first place what makes travel so very special.

Espoo Finland

Espoo, FInland

I was in Helsinki to attend a conference and as such, didn’t spend much time outside of meetings. On the last day though I spent the afternoon doing something that combines two things Finns really love – nature and design.  Maybe because the country is blessed so many great natural escapes, but all of the locals I’ve met have been obsessed with the outdoors and getting back to nature. And just because you live in a big city like Helsinki that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the outdoors, which is how I found myself in Nuuksio National Park and the remarkable Finnish Nature Center Haltia in Espoo. Haltia is a new kind center that brings the highlights of Finnish nature under one roof. More than just learn about nature though, Haltia’s position in one of Finland’s 39 national parks means there’s plenty of things to do, even in the winter. After spending a couple hours hiking through snowy forests and over frozen lakes, the warm embrace of Haltia was the perfect way to warm up. 
It’s hard to talk about Finland and not mention amazing design. Known for its simplicity and functionality, Finland has excelled in creating everything from chairs to entire buildings that are unlike anything else in the world. Haltia’s design is inspired by the nature surrounding it, the wooden building sits overlooking a beautiful lake and is meant to look like a duck in its nest. Espoo and Nuuksio National Park is an easy 30 minutes from Helsinki and I definitely recommend it when you visit.

Tallinn Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

I got up early so I could take the 2 1/2 hour ferry ride from Helsinki to Tallinn in Estonia, a city I’ve wanted to see in person for a long time. In what is a rarity for European cities, Tallinn has never been razed which means visitors today can see a colorful and remarkably well preserved medieval city, which is also why the Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s that color which appealed to me the most, the bright buildings contrasted against the snow and ice of a very cold winter’s day. It’s one of Tallinn’s defining features and made me want to learn even more about this Baltic city.

Tallinn Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

My adventures in Estonia were brief, just a couple of days but I did manage to get out of the main city of Tallinn and visit some rural spots in Estonia from manors to snowy seaside beaches. Returning back into Tallinn though it was in the middle of a snowstorm, transforming an already gorgeous city into something right out of a fairy tale. Bundling up in the now-normal boots, gloves and thermals, I grabbed my camera and went walking through Tallinn’s amazing Old Town, nearly empty and completely silent – sounds muffled by the newly fallen snow.  The colorful buildings and picture-perfect scenes make it easy to forget that Estonia isn’t a country lost in time, it’s modern, exciting and one of the most e-friendly countries in the world. Almost immediately after it gained independence in 1991, the country started the hard work of transforming itself into a modern country that’s better run than most in the world. Ultra-high-speed 4G mobile covers basically the whole country, WiFi is almost always free and is considered a human right, Skype had its start here and everyone does almost everything online, from telecommuting to voting and nearly every other aspect of modern life you can think of. But for many of us, those are just nice perks that complement the urban appeal of Tallinn itself, which I was thrilled to experience during a wonderfully snowy night. It was a perfect travel moment and one of those nights that while they may completely unplanned, they make trips the special experiences that we remember for the rest of our lives.

Baltic Sea Finland Estonia

Baltic Sea Between Finland & Estonia

You can get to Tallinn in a variety of different ways, but one of the most popular is by ferry. The trip between Helsinki and Tallinn is a very easy two and a half hours and the experience was so much more fun and even luxurious than I thought it would be. Sailing with Eckerö Line on their massive ship the M/S Finlandia, this wasn’t your average ferry, it was a cruise ship in almost every sense of the word. Bars, restaurants, bands and lounges, the ship itself was the perfect and one of the most comfortable ways to get between these two Nordic capitals.

In the winter though the trip is made a little extra special by the stunning views along the way, even sea ice that at times can be quite thick. Built like a polar ice-cutter, the Finlandia sliced through these small chunks of ice with ease, creating visual masterpieces in the process. While it was chilly, it was also fun standing out on the top deck watching one city vanish and another one appear on the horizon. The ferry ride was as much a part of the Tallinn experience as all of those brightly colored buildings I loved, and is another great example of never knowing where or when you’ll find beauty in this world.

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