Over Christmas and New Year, I spent my days leaping in and out of saunas like a lemon into a G&T in Scandinavia. My first dip was in the Allas Sea Pools on Helsinki’s waterfront.
Dashing from the sauna to the outdoor pools is an exercise in fortitude when there’s a stiff wind coming in off the Baltic Sea, and you’re clad in nothing but wet swimmers. I then worked up to dashing out of the sauna and rolling in the snow, further north in Oulanka National Park. And finally, in Stockholm, cooled off by leaping into a lake at Hellesgarten, on the Stockholm archipelago.
Never have I been so clean. I also learned a few tricks and faux pas – for a start, you can ditch the swimmers inside the sauna, though most people slip on swimmers to go into the pools or snow.
I took the chance to chat with Maia Söderlund, of Allas Sea Pool, for the fine print on sauna etiquette.
Breakfast buffets, I’ve had a few in this job. But this morning’s buffet at the Lapland Hotels Bulevardi, in Helsinki, was one of the best.
I’m currently in the Finnish capital, about to head even further north to Kuusamo, on the border of Russia and Lapland, which is why I chose to stay in this new hotel in Helsinki – to warm up to the Lappish way of life.
It was a mix of the stylish, handmade ceramics by Anu Pentik, the moody setting with its reindeer pelts and the exciting food – much of it drawn from Lapland, where the group is dominant – that makes it an absolute standout.
Top of the list was the most humble dish, an exceptional organic oatmeal porridge, slow cooked in the oven for three hours: I’m not usually a salty porridge girl, but with cherry jam and a swish of Lappish honey, it sung to me.
I couldn’t eat it all, I had to leave space for the spruce sprout smoothie and the sea buckthorn smoothie, the warm smoked salmon and the ice-cellar pickled salmon. Then the smoked reindeer and oyster mushroom omelette, a little of the reindeer blood sausage with lingonberry jam, cloudberries, blackberries, blueberries from Muonio, lingonberry pie and smoked cheeses from Kuusamo (where we head tomorrow). It took a while.
Small Girl tested the mini cinnamon rolls (korvapuusti) and hot chocolate, and declared them perfect.
The chef on the breakfast shift admitted that Lappish cuisine is protein-heavy. “Hearty,” was his diplomatic word for the array of meats, fish, cheeses and cakes that lined the buffet.
The devastating news is that because we are leaving so early tomorrow, we will miss breakfast, which rolls in until 1pm on Sundays.
No wonder Finns are so happy.
Author John Brierley spends every spring and autumn following in the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims making their way to the medieval cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in far western Spain. He has been walking the Camino de Santiago for 25 years.
When he is not walking, he is at home, writing and playing with his grandchildren. John has written dozens of guides for pilgrims from all walks of life, who plan to walk some of the than 80,000 kilometres of authenticated and waymarked routes that lead to , on which every nation on Earth has set foot.
But it’s not about counting your steps, monitoring your heart beat, he says.
“To experience the Camino directly, you have to listen to your heart,” says John. “Listen well; it might only come as a whisper. But beware! If you have truly heard the call, you have become infected by a disease which will become fatal to your limited ego identity.”
I interviewed John for my The Knowledge column in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning and The Age newspapers, and his passion is infectious. I do believe that was his aim: to get me on the route.
“Our troubled world is crying out for solutions to the war and injustices that are raging everywhere we look,” he told me in our interview while he was in Australia recently. “But we have been looking for answers in the wrong direction. We have been looking out, not in.”
“The Camino asks us to step out of our comfort zone and to take some risks.The solutions we seek can only be found in the stillness of our own hearts and minds. ”
“That is the incredible gift of the Camino – it provides time in the silence of nature to empty out our outworn belief systems and allows time new insights to arise in the spaciousness of higher Mind.”
Swapping Australia’s Bellarine Peninsula for Paris for a decade or so, writer and actor Jayne Tuttle knows all the tricks about getting along with Parisians.
Speak French first, kiss left to right and back again, don’t go off piste with restaurant menus and forget the flanny (that’s flannelette, or lumberjack shirt, if you’re playing along out of Australia).
“Stand your ground when queuing,” she advises. “Somewhere along the line, ‘Ooh, I didn’t see you!’ became a fun game for Parisians and they play it especially with tourists, cutting in at any chance they get. Earn their respect by being aware.”
Jayne has just published her new book, Paris or Die: A Memoir (Hardie Grant Travel, $32.99) and has moved back to Australia. Because good things come in threes, she is also the new co-owner of The Bookshop at Queenscliff, west of Melbourne.
And to read more about Jayne, go to jaynetuttle.com
It’s the prettiest town in Kosovo, and the centre of Prizren is its Shatërvan square. Its cobbled streets are lined with cafes, snow-tipped mountains send snowmelt rushing down the river through the town’s centre, a Byzantine-era fortress keeps a watchful eye over all: what’s not to love?
If you’re venturing into the Balkans, my advice is to skip staying in little Kosovo’s rather drab, earnest capital, Pristina, and instead make Prizren your base from which to do day trips – to the vineyards, to the mountains, to the capital city.
DISCLAIMER: I travelled as a guest of Intrepid Travel.
Sydney music administrator Mikaela Atkins-Blake moved to Scotland…and fell in love with a piper. A cliche, she freely admits, but she now calls Glasgow home. This week, she is the Expert Expat in my weekly column in the Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers.
Click here for Mikaela’s tips on where to eat and what to do in her adopted hometown.
I love a good ‘how to pack’ story, I really do. I love those one-pagers in glossy magazines that have a shirt, hat, watch, book and other pieces of travel euphemia scattered about the page, organised into geographic locations:
waterproof pants and binoculars for Antarctica.
Foldable sun hat and cats-eye sunglasses for southern Italy.
Cigarette pants, black loafers and reusable coffee cup for Melbourne.
They may be cliched, but for me, they encapsulate a destination.
I chatted to uber-packer Cathy Perry, who tells me you really can pack for two weeks with just hand luggage (ok, maybe not for Antarctica). She talks up the trans-seasonal trench coat, the joy of pairing fashion runners with dresses and the rules on getting organised.
Check out my interview with Cathy, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Sunday Age’s Traveller section.
It’s been dubbed the project of the decade and also the new Sydney Opera House. Finally, the Elbphilharmonie, in Hamburg, Germany, has opened to the public, six years late and 10 times the original budget – but who’s counting?
Hamburg’s new concert hall (it’s been nicknamed the Elphie – if that makes it easier to remember) has got it all: public plazas, rooftop views and even a Westin hotel tucked in there, which seems to have been lost in all the astonishment about its cutting-edge architecture.
I’ve visited Stockholm as a freewheeling adult, and also as a parent toting tots in midwinter (“Why?” I hear you ask. Trust me, I was asking myself the same question one deep, cold November. But family and the Northern Lights were calling. Both were in good form.)
Anyway, should you find yourself in a similar position of travelling in Stockholm with the brood in tow, there are plenty of fun free and pricey options, many gathered on the city island of Djurgården, including Junibacken, which celebrates Nordic writers of children’s fiction including the beloved Pippi Longstocking, Groner Lund fun park and the absolutely unmissable Skansen.
I took the 3-year-old to Skansen on the last visit, and while she slept blissfully in the hired pram, I spotted rare Arctic animals, chatted about Sami culture with Swedish guides and watched old-school weaving. When she awoke, she rode fat ponies and mainlined traditional Christmas pastries. Win-win all round.
You can read my top six Stockholm adventures for kids’ here.
Big thanks to the man about the house for dragging me to Camp Nou, headquarters of Barcelona Football Club, to see his club in action. My story on the passion and the fashion of the beautiful game was published in the Sydney Morning Herald this weekend. (For the record, I did get him to visit Sagrada Familia.)
Forget Michelin stars, and Gaudi who? There’s only one reason to visit Barcelona.
The message is clear. “I only want to go to Barcelona to see Barcelona Football Club play,” says the husband, shelving any ideals of visiting Sagrada Familia or eating at world-famous restaurants.
We’re staying at one of the best addresses in town – the new suites in the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona – and the entrance is a dramatic catwalk up from street level. The lobby is sleek and hushed, the staff as polished as only five-star staff can be. Yet in Barcelona, football transcends gender and poshness.
In Barcelona, football certainly appeals to shoppers: the city’s new-town grids and old-city lanes conspire to walk me into one of dozens of official FC Barcelona boutiques selling balls and caps, water bottles and pencil cases. A genuine FC Barcelona shirt will set you back €80 ($124), even though it’s a sweaty 100 per cent nylon and manufactured in Vietnam or Bangladesh.
To read more about kicking off in Barcelona, click here.