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Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Arto's and Sandra's outfit at the wedding.
Year 2020 has been unusual and affected the lives of everybody in many ways, including ours. Travelling is just one part of it but as it has been the main theme of this site for over 20 years it seems fitting to write about it also now. Some of our plans got cancelled but we still had several opportunities to get out and enjoy exploring new places as well as meeting family, friends and a few new people too. As the end of the year approaches and I haven't been active in writing during the year, what follows is a summary of the last 12 months packed in one article.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Wedding gifts, Vietnamese style.
Quite exactly a year ago, in December 2019 we spent two weeks in northern Vietnam, mostly in and around Hai Phong. Normally we avoid trips that far for environmental reasons unless we have a minimum of 2-3 months to spend in the destination — which reduces the frequency of such trips quite naturally. This time we made an exception as an old school friend of mine got married and invited us to his wedding. As it later turned out, it was the last chance of travelling to distant lands for quite a long time.

The couple was Finnish-Vietnamese but the ceremonies mostly followed the local traditions. They were colourful, joyful, at times kitschy and thoroughly documented by a two-man video- and photographer team. We also took plenty of photos but due to the request of the couple won't publish any shots of them here. The host family took excellent care of us and other Finnish guests, including a day trip together to the nearby famous Halong Bay. Simultaneously it was a chance to meet and chat with old friends some of which I hadn't seen for the last 20 years. We all stayed in the same hotel and in addition to the wedding spent some time walking around in the city together.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
A classic view of the Halong Bay, Vietnam
Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
We took our rental bike out to some pretty small roads.
During the second week Sandra and I headed out to the countryside, booked rooms in small guest houses and rented a small motorcycle for a few days. South-East Asia is for us an exotic but easygoing, tasty food and good mood destination. Vietnam was no exception to that and especially in the friendliness of the locals at the top end of the scale. What made the stay somewhat less enjoyable was the air pollution. Almost windstill days without rain made the otherwise postcard-like views constantly hazy and we both developed a light cough which healed again as soon as we left the country.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
High-rise buildings at the Dubai Marina at night.
On the way back to Germany we stopped for three days in Dubai where we would have anyway needed to change the plane. There we sent a few CouchSurfing requests and got invited to stay with an Indian architect, a perfect match in a city filled with modern high-rise buildings and plenty more coming up. With its huge shopping malls and theme-park like attractions Dubai wasn't really our world, but interesting to explore for a couple of days. Our friendly and generous host gave us some local insight to the life there.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Group photo on the rainy DAV hiking guide course.
After that came winter and spring with cancellations and lockdowns, for us of course including plenty of day hikes on the nearby Alps. In June we were able to join our already over half a year in advance booked one week volunteer hiking guide training of the German Alpine Club DAV. It was the very first course of the summer which actually took place. Despite the rainy weather we had a good time and learned a lot in the motivated and welcoming small group lead by two excellent instructors.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Christine at the mountain farm with one of the cows.
Right after the hiking guide course we took advantage of the reopening of EU borders and drove to northern Italy to spend a long weekend at a mountain farm. A friend of ours from Munich takes care of the cows there every summer for a few weeks. That farm doesn't generally offer accommodation for tourists (unlike some others which do) but she is allowed to invite her friends there. Cottage life and excellent raw milk, of course.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
A perfect camping spot on an uninhabitet island on Saimaa lake.
Cottage life continued in July in Finland by the lake Saimaa, where we stayed this time mainly at my aunt Pirkko's cottage. My father Timo had decided to have his old cottage taken down and a new one built, which wasn't ready yet. Due to the construction works and a few other tasks which had to be taken care of our yearly family visit wasn't as relaxing as usual. Still, we had some nice moments the highlight being a three day island-hopping tour using my father's small fishing boat. Even though the islands on Saimaa are very similar to each other it's always interesting to land on new ones where you haven't set your foot ever before and choose a spot to wild camp before it gets dark.

Allgäu and particularly our region around Füssen lives largely from tourism. Normally it's quite an international mix including a large number of Asians and Americans, all of whom couldn't come this season. On the other hand many Germans who would usually travel further away decided to spend their holidays here. Therefore the summer season was for the local hotels, guest houses and restaurants eventually not too bad. Bus tours were all cancelled but guided city walks in Füssen were allowed in small groups. Sandra joined the team in autumn 2019 so since then we're both official guides of the town.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Colours of a September morning on the Stubai Alps with Sandra and Ieva.
In September Ieva, a good friend of ours joined us for a two-week hike in the Austrian and Italian Alps. We were lucky to catch a period of bombastic weather and as the main holiday season was over managed to get sleeping places in the mountain huts along our planned route. Especially the Austrian huts were quite relaxed and enjoyable to stay in, despite the new policies. Huts on the German side of the border had to comply with much more complicated regulations - the Italian ones being somewhere in between.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Sulzenau glacier lake.
The main part of the hike was in the Stubai Alps, starting from near Innsbruck, including a lengthy detour towards the west and descending in Sterzing/Vipiteno, followed by a couple of days in the Pfunderer Alps at the end. One main advantage of this route was staying almost constantly over 2000 meters of altitude without the need to descend deep in the valleys. That not only saved effort but also helped to mentally disconnect from the daily life "down there" during the hike.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Huge straw rolls next to the Elbe river cycling route.
Particularly spectacular spots included the peak of the Rinnenspitze (3000 m), the Sulzenau glacier lake and a day trip from Nürnberger hut to Ferner lakes and Roter Grat (3096 m). One trend we noticed particularly on this hike was that huts are increasingly focused on offering tasty food, in some cases fancy three or four course dinner menus as well as breakfasts in buffet style. That makes hiking trips a bit pricier as they used to be (although simpler inexpensive meals are usually available too) but the meals tend to be good value and are an enjoyable way to end the day.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Cool rock formations and autumn colors at the Elbe Sandstone Mountains.
Our travel season ended in October with a one and a half week cycling tour starting from Berlin. We headed first towards Wittenberg, then followed the Elbe river, stopped for two days in the historical city of Dresden and finally booked a small holiday house for three nights at the foot of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. This time we unfortunately weren't as lucky with the weather: cloudy and rainy days with partly heavy headwinds. The last leg from Dresden towards the Czech border and the Elbe Sandstone Mountains with their fascinating rock formations was the most interesting part of the route. Due to the weather and Sandra catching a cold during the last two days we couldn't explore that area as much as we would have liked but will probably return some time in the future.

Traveling north for Christmas

Posted: 2012-12-17 02:14:02, Categories: Travel, Finland, Norway, Germany, Sweden, 376 words (permalink)

Our season's greetings card: Northern lights in Sarek. I'm traveling with Sandra to Northern Norway for the last two weeks of the year to join a gathering of other likeminded people. It will surely be a different Christmas than we've ever had before - non-commercial and without rush. We will celebrate the winter solstice with the sun remaining under the horizon all the day. The moon, stars and northern lights will be visible if we're lucky.

We wish all of you a merry end of the year, in whatever way you're celebrating it, and let the new year 2013 be full of happiness! The photo in our season's greetings card is from our summer and autumn trip to Finland and Sweden. We were hiking in the the Sarek national park in Swedish Lapland and set up our tent next to a small river in the wilderness, far away from trails and huts. Around half past ten in the evening the sky was illuminated by this beautiful arc of green light.

We spent also several weeks visiting family and friends in Finland. Mushroom and berry season was great so we ate plenty of chantarelles, blueberries and lingonberries, and also filled quite a few jars with them. At my father's summer cottage we spent a week renovating the sauna as a 65 year birthday surprise for him. We also had time to read a few books, but somehow didn't manage to update the blog. :-)

In the beginning of October we returned to Germany, in time for Sandra's best friend's wedding. October is usually a good time for outdoor activities in southern Germany and this year was no exception, many sunny days with blue sky. When not being outside we worked on a few more things in our flat and tried our best to get bureaucracy stuff done. It takes an amazingly long time after selling a business before bills and other letters from various directions finally stop coming.

During winter and/or spring 2013 we're planning a trip to South-East Asia, particularly to visit Sandra's father who is living in Thailand already since more than five years. But before that we'll see how we'll manage the cold above the polar circle. At least it's not only a camp - there should be some kind of heated building and maybe even a sauna.

Sandra and me on the Pallas fells. During the first week of July Sandra and I did a one week hike in the Pallas-Yllästunturi national park. We enjoyed peaceful, broad views while walking on the higher fells and beautiful mysterious looking trees on the lower peaks. Valleys in between were lush and full of flowers, but well defended by the Finnish air force: clouds of mosquitoes.

The Hetta-Pallas trail is the oldest marked hiking trail in Finland and therefore easy to access by public transport. A night train from Helsinki carried us to Rovaniemi, from where we continued by bus to Hetta. A local shopkeeper was already waiting to take us over the Ounasjärvi lake to the point where the trail started.

On the first evening we had a short walk through forest to the Pyhäkero wilderness hut. To our surprise there was nobody else so we had the whole place for just the two of us. We cooked rice and vegetables for dinner and watched how the late evening sun was casting a warm orange glow on the buildings and trees. Then we laid out our sleeping bags and were looking forwards to a quiet night after a long day of traveling.

Bzzzt. Whack. Bzzzzzzt. There weren't a large number of mosquitoes around but enough to make it difficult to sleep. We were not sure if they were coming through the chimney, narrow holes around the door or somewhere else. Nevertheless, every time we thought we'd got rid of them a few more appeared. A lesson learned for the following nights: cook in the huts but set up the tent outside to have a good rest. An alternative would be to carry a mosquito net and use it inside the huts.

After Pyhäkero the trail climbed above the treeline and a light wind kept most of the insects away. It was cloudy but we saw dozens of kilometers in every direction over the fells, forests and lakes in the mostly uninhabited land. The most common sound was "beep", which a bird called kapustarinta (in Finnish) was singing while sharing the trail with us.

Hannukero is almost exactly half way on the 55 km trail from Hetta to Pallas and therefore the most popular place to stop. It was almost like a small village with several buildings, including both a free and reservation hut (pay in advance to get a key) with two rooms each, toilets, wood storage, fire places and even a sauna. The place looked like being designed for a hundred hikers but this time there were less than ten. The sauna was great, first time for both of us to enjoy a sauna in the middle of a hike. We stayed awake long enough to see the midnight sun before going to sleep — this time in our tent.

In early morning we first thought it was raining. That seemed odd because the sun was shining at the same time. A quick look outside solved the puzzle: the sound wasn't coming from the rain drops but instead hundreds of mosquitoes flying back and forth between the inner and outer tent. However, they didn't get inside so we quickly got used to the sound and it didn't bother us any more.

The section between Hannukuru and Pallas nature center went over the highest fells of the region, rising to about 800 m of altitude. The scenery showed its best when approaching Taivaskero, the highest point. The peak itself was too large and flat to have a great view towards any direction.

The popular part of the trail ended at the Pallas hotel and nature center. Popular in this case meant that we saw perhaps 50 people in total during three days. Summer was clearly not high season: most visitors come either in early autumn, or in late March or April which are the best months for cross country skiing.

We continued hiking still further towards Ylläs which is at the southern end of the park. The trail became smaller, more forested and less traveled: we met only two other hikers in three days. There were less open views but many interesting small details: gorgeous old spruces and twisted birches, wild orchids and cute, cozy wilderness huts waiting for the occasional wanderer. Our favourite was the "porokämppä" Mustavaara hut, which also reindeer herders are still using. Quite many birches were broken at a height of 1-1.5 meters and it seemed to have happened fairly recently. We were wondering if it was due to unusual snow conditions last winter or some other weather phenomena.

The air force became stronger during the Pallas-Ylläs part of the trail. Sun brought horseflies out and shades were well populated with mosquitoes. A cap with mosquito net, clothes and a bit of repellent kept most of them away but always a few found their way through. I didn't mind too much but it was difficult for Sandra whose skin was reacting more strongly on the bites than mine. In a way we were lucky of not having any midges, tiny flies whose bites are more painful than regular mosquito stings. However, the sheer number of mosquitoes made it impossible to sit outdoors and enjoy relaxing breaks except in places with enough wind.

We decided to end our hike at Äkässaivo lake about 15 km north of Ylläs. My aunt Pirkko came to pick us up and we enjoyed sauna at her home in Kolari, 40 km further south. It was actually already second time this year we visited her: we had been also cross country skiing in the Ylläs area just before Easter. After one and a half days and several delicious meals cooked by her we took a train back south to sunny, hot Helsinki.

Moving to Memmingen

Posted: 2010-06-26 14:56:59, Categories: Travel, Finland, Germany, 337 words (permalink)

The center of Memmingen photographed from the St. Martin church tower. At the end of July I will be moving to Memmingen, Germany to live together with my girlfriend Sandra. I'm planning to stay there until the end of the year and after that we'll see what to do.

Memmingen is a town of about 40000 inhabitants in Bavaria, Southern Germany. It's the smallest place where I've lived this far in my life - all the others were cities with at least a few hundred thousand inhabitants. The closest big city is Munich about 100 km to the east. The Alps in the south are only about 60 km away which is great for hiking.

More important change than the location is that this will be the first time for me to live together with a partner. I've shared rooms and apartments with other students during my student years, but this is of course different. We've been meeting each other for more than a year now but I'm curious to see how the relationship will change when we'll be living under the same roof.

Renting out my apartment in Helsinki was surprisingly easy. I posted an announcement on a web forum and one hour later an old friend of mine answered that he needs temporary housing for his small family because their apartment will have pipe renovation. That's a good deal for both of us: I can leave most of my stuff inside and they can move into an apartment which is already furnished and has all kitchenware + other stuff needed for daily living in place.

I've been discussing with my employer about possibilities of working remotely from Germany. At the time of writing this it's still unsure whether it'll work out but I'm not too worried about it. Whatever the end result will be I'm sure it'll have more good than bad sides in it.

I will probably write more about my life in Memmingen in the autumn. However, before that I will have summer holidays, including a sailing trip, Rainbow Gathering in Finland, hiking and some cycling as well.

Winter camping in Helsinki archipelago

Posted: 2010-02-27 10:18:30, Categories: Travel, Finland, Helsinki, 557 words (permalink)

Tent in the snow on Käärmeluodot. We've had a beautiful winter in Helsinki this year. Lots of snow everywhere, trees covered in frost, icicles hanging from buildings, ski tracks on the frozen sea leading to nearby islands. The photo on the right is from a weekend camping trip and I compiled a Winter 2010 in Helsinki photo gallery.

The ground got covered by snow already in December and temperature has stayed below zero continously for two months now. In the city snow tends to get dirty but almost every week we've seen new, fresh, lightweight snowflakes falling down and making everything white again. Some people are complaining it's already too much but I think it has been an amazing winter.

Streets are lined with snow walls and some parking places have been converted to more than two meter high piles of snow. Cycling to work has been tricky and required extra time on some mornings, but usually by afternoon also the main bikeways have been cleared already. Smaller streets have seen snow tractors less regularly, but overall the city street maintenance has done a good job. Perhaps a little surprisingly, railways have had the biggest difficulties to cope with the snow: many trains have been cancelled and others have been late.

Sandra was here for one week and brought also her skis so we could go cross-country skiing together. We packed our backpacks full of warm clothes and food and headed out on the sea. After crossing Laajalahti bay from Munkkiniemi to Lauttasaari we continued about one kilometer further south to Käärmeluodot, a group of three small uninhabited islands which belong to the city of Helsinki. There's no regular ferry route even in the summer so the islands are only accessible by canoe or small boat. Camping is allowed.

I had actually never been on Käärmeluodot, but I knew from the outdoor map that there would be some basic facilities. Two of the islands had a cooking shelter and one of them was in use also during winter time, with free firewood provided by the city. A couple of other skiers were having a break and there was even a fire ready when we arrived.

However, it didn't take long until we were alone — only 5 km from city center and 1 km from densely populated Lauttasaari — but far away from city life. We cooked salmon and potatoes on the fire for dinner and set up our tent nearby. Later at night the wind became stronger and it started snowing again. The city disappeared behind a white wall and it felt almost like being in the wilderness. Our tent was well secured so we didn't have anything to worry about. I have winter pegs which are designed to hold the tent stable in the snow — the tiny summer pegs which normally come with tents are good for summer but useless in winter conditions.

On the following day we had breakfast and skied back. Part of the way it wasn't really skiing but rather walking with skis through the new snow. This time we took a different route towards Lehtisaari. There was some water on the ice near the shore and we had to make a small detour to avoid getting our feet wet. After that we felt we'd had enough exercise and took a bus for the last five kilometers home.

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