Lapland For Grown Ups – Part 2

Following on from Part 1 of our adventures, we pick up with day 2 which involved a trip to Santa Claus Village.  Now you might think this is no place for the over 10’s, but amongst the souvenir shops were nestled a huge Marimekko outlet store (Finnish design icons) and an Iittala store (specialists in Finnish tableware and cookware).  Liz was basically in Nordic interior design heaven.

Marimekko exterior

Marimekko

Marimekko2

Stepping over the official Arctic Circle Line, we ventured into Santa’s official post office to write a few postcards, and observed the young elves earnestly (and genuinely) sorting through the piles and piles of letters received from kids around the world.  You’d have to be a true Grinch not to be slightly charmed by the sight. And they’re not perfect – we rescued a stray letter that fell on the floor, so we reckon that puts us on the ‘nice’ list for this year.

Elf post

Santa Claus Village also surprised us with it’s eateries. No generic McReindeer Burgers to be had here – there was Santa’s Salmon Place, which rates very highly on Trip Advisor as the best food in Rovaniemi, and who could say no to salmon roasted over an open fire in a massive tipi?

Matti Korva

We also experienced the fantastical and wonderful world of Santamus (another Trip Advisor favourite restaurant), where we were shown exemplary Lappish hospitality by the owner Matti Korva.   Matt explained his journey from music professor to the creator and proprietor of this log cabin feasting venue. The interior is like stepping into a fairy-tale, complete with babbling stream, birdsong, open range cooking, a dessert boat and an on site traditional wood fired sauna (and no, we didn’t drink too much gloggi and imagine all of that…).  We were treated to a musical serenade on the kantele (traditional Finnish harp thing) and the saw (yes, a saw – he had a special case for it and everything).  Making a smooth segue from Mary’s Boy Child into Proud Mary, Matti admitted to a penchant for a bit of Tina Turner.  We exited the lantern-lined path still slightly stunned that such a place existed in the rather innocuous surroundings of a kid’s adventure park.

Santa village

lanterns

Aside from the more high-octane skiing and snow-mobiling opportunities, we also found time to stretch our legs and take in some of the picturesque snow dusted spruce, pine and birch woodland, albeit wrapped up nice and warm in snowsuits and boots.

Huddled under fur blankets, we also took a very leisurely reindeer ride through the forest at night-time.  With the Plough looming large above us, we noted what a romantic occasion it would make for a proposal, until the reindeer pulling the sleigh behind us became frustrated by our lax driving and nearly ran us into the trees in an enthusiastic overtaking manoevre.

reindeer sign

Reindeer3

After all the activity, good food and drink is a must and we made sure to explore the local offerings. Arctic Boulevard emerged as the star of the show. Kath indulged in some amazing reindeer steak – albeit slightly sheepishly after being at the reindeer park only hours before. The waitress reliably told us there were more reindeer than people in Lapland, so there was no need to feel guilty, though we couldn’t look them in the eye afterwards. Dessert involved artfully-presented lingonberry cake (the Finns are big on lingonberries) accompanied by sweet hay marshmallow and salted butterscotch ice cream, and a rhubarb and caramel conconcotion that would have had us licking our plates clean were they not massive slate slabs (tricky to wrangle).

Reindeer AB

Artic Boulevard

Obviously the trip had to conclude with a visit to see the big man himself, and on the final night we were taken to a remote location in the woods, fed Christmas fare by elves, and waited patiently (ish) for our big moment.   After arriving on (another) reindeer-pulled sleigh to the accompaniment of fireworks (no sneaking required here), he proceeded to invite the very excitied children in one by one.  The excitment reached fever pitch, and there were even nosebleeds and tears, before we got our turn.  Ever the pro, Santa pocketed Kath’s nephew’s letter, gave us some sage advice on reindeer driving (all in the rope action apparently), and didn’t seem phased that we had no children with us (except in utero).  We’ll have to leave him an extra splash of sherry out this year.

adults can love christmas too

As we waited for our departing flight the next morning, there was many a small, sad face and a few tears at leaving the elves and the Thomson crew behind.  We felt a mite teary too, and wished we had a little longer to mooch around Rovaniemi, explore the local wilderness and hang out with the lovely locals like our guide Laura.

So, much as we’re never usually happy to prove a child wrong, in this instance we were very happy to prove that Lapland should be a destination on everyone’s wish list.

Winter romance

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Lapland For Grown Ups – Part 1

Lapland-for-grown-ups-Hello-Walls-Header

‘So why are you going to Lapland?’ asked the mum next to us on the plane. ‘Well, we’re here to write about why it’s not only a destination for kids’. ‘Lapland is just for kids’ objected her daughter, ‘it’s not for grown ups’.  Well, there was the gauntlet thrown.

Lapland has always sounded like an enchanted mystical far-away land, so when we pitched our idea of Lapland For Grown-Ups to Thomson Holidays back in June it seemed a surreal notion, and we were slightly stunned and incredibly exited to find out that they would be sending us to Rovaniemi in northern Finland.

Commute to work, Rovaniemi

Liz & Kath

Quick geography lesson for those who are as clueless as we were: Lapland spans an area in the Arctic Circle across northern Sweden, Norway and Finland (and a bit of Russia), and is traditionally inhabited by the Sami people (or Lapps). It’s pretty nippy there in winter (it can get down to -30C, so pack your thermals!) and the days are very short this time of year – about 2 and a half hours between sunrise and sunset, which made opportunities for daylight photography limited, but meant that we snapped some impressive skies.

Lapland forest

View from our hotel, Rovaniemi

Sunrise through the trees

Some friends were sceptical of our destination and thought we’d signed ourselves up for living in Santa’s grotto for 3 nights, but there’s a lot more to Lapland than Disneyland transplanted to the Arctic.

Yes, there were elves, but they were pretty darn cool Finnish elves, complete with skater style snow boots and not a jingle bell in site. There was also a very helpful beardy elf who sorted us out when we looked lost at the arrivals lounge. Every airport should have one.  And of course we got to meet Santa, but more about that later…

Elves Snowball fight

On our first day we were whisked off to try a range of winter activities. We tried our hand at snowmobiling, which is basically like quad biking but on skis and a whole lot less muddy. It’s quite an adrenaline buzz bombing through tree-lined paths.

Snowmobile adventure

Snowmobile adventure

If you fancy taking a back seat in proceedings, whipping around on a husky sled is equally fun (and if you do have sprogs with you, you can all get in on the action). Liz got close enough to the huskies to get some impressive pictures but they had a wild glint in their eye which suggested they weren’t the stomach rubbing kind…Husky riding

Our husky friend

Sledding down a massive hill on tea tray size bits of plastic was by far and away the most popular activity, and we spotted far more adults in the queue than kids.  It was great fun with just the two of us, but you could see a more competitive edge emerging with a larger group of thirty-somethings that were on our trip (Kath was at a bit of a disadvantage in our snowball fight, being 6 months pregnant).

Our friendly Gloggi server

Kettles simmering on an open fire in the snow

There were fires and warm, spiced berry juice on hand to help defrost between activities, and in a cosy tipi we came across Janna, who (being chummy with Santa), told us a few tales around his fire and reliably informed us about who was and wasn’t on the ‘nice’ list.  We also caught him one-on-one; he was a Rovaniemi local who was happy to chat about the recent Independence Day celebrations (a bit like the Oscars but with ballroom dancing and a massive buffet). Also, he wasn’t the least bit cynical about Christmas as he proudly told us about the Finnish Christmas traditions, which seem to involve a big ham and a booze-up on Christmas Eve – we could definitely subscribe to that.

Elf elder and storyteller, Yanna

Stories around the campfire

Between activities we had time to explore the town, and got ourselves down to the spectacular Artikum Museum, which houses exhibits about Lapland’s climate, geology and culture. It’s worth a visit for the building alone – a geometric structure half underground, as though in hibernation, with a tall glass corridor (‘The Gateway to the North’) that stretches out towards the Kemijoki river. It was our intention to take a stroll back one evening along the river as it’s apparently a good place to spot the Northern Lights but for some reason the prospect of a 1am jaunt in -9C didn’t appeal at the time…

The Artikum

Artickum timber exhibition

The Artikum promenade

For those who are as obsessed with design as we are, this part of the world is pretty pleasing. Be it interiors, architecture, fashion or art – just like their Scandi counterparts, the Nordic people seem to have an in built sense of taste. Needless to say both of us are now saving up for our second winter homes. More to come on the design front at a later date, but for now enjoy some of our dream home shots.

Next up:  Competitve reindeers, saw playing, and the Big Man himself….

Liz's dream home 1

Liz's dream home 2 copy

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Christmas Comes Early at Hello Walls

You may have noticed a common theme in our most recent posts. Christmas is indeed creeping closer and winter has definitely arrived but the real reason we’ve been starting the seasonal countdown early this year is that, thanks to the folks over at Thomson Holidays, we’re jetting of to Lapland today! Just the two of us – and yes, we’re going to be meeting Santa and no, we don’t have any kids…

Earlier in the year we went to a gathering of like-minded bloggers (Blogtacular) at the impressive venue of The Royal Institution, London.  Among the Georgian grandeur and the lofty scientific alumni, the Thomson crew landed the interior of a Boeing 737 and invited us to roll up and pitch our dream destination to them.

Thomson at Blogtacular Hello Walls

Blogtacular 2015 Official Photos by Piers MacDonald. Thanks to Mollie Makes.

With Liz being a fan of all things Scandi/Nordic, Kath being averse to any climate warmer than Yorkshire, and both of us Christmas-lovers (albeit mostly for the food), we plumped for Lapland – under the guise of convincing the Thomson chaps that it’s not just a place for kids.

Having been friends for twenty-*cough* years but never having visited Santa together, we concocted a joint Christmas wishlist.  We were shocked and delighted when Nicky + Christian from Thomson (pictured above) chose to make it a reality by sending us to Rovaniemi, Finland (the Official Hometown of Santa Claus™).

 

Hello-Walls-Thomson-Santa-Latter-Lapland

 

Dear Santa, this Christmas we would like to:

1. Visit your Lapland home and elbow some kids out of the way in the Grotto queue
2. Watch you turn on the northern lights for us
3. Go on a husky ride and shout ‘MUSH’ in a Yorkshire accent
4. Smash up the karaoke in the bar at the Levi Ice Gallery
5. Gorge on Finnish tapas at the Arctic Boulevard restaurant in Rovaniemi
6. Venture into the wilderness for some ice fishing …
7 …. and then defrost with some glögi
8. Cure ourselves in a real Finnish smoke sauna
9. Have a legitimate reason to force our other halves to wear their Christmas jumpers in public

 

Keep your eyes peeled for reports back on our snowy adventures and encounters with Santa and his entourage…

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Mix Tape: Music For A Winter’s Night

 

Original image ‘Retkinia’ by Kamil Porembiński

 

A selection of the finest winter songs to keep you company on long, chilly evenings

1. Valley Winter Song by Fountains Of Wayne
2. Winter by Tori Amos
3. Winter Is All Over You by First Aid Kit
4. I Smell Winter by The Housemartins
5. White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes
6. Calling and Not Calling My Ex by Okkervil River
7. Set The Fire To The Third Bar by Snow Patrol Feat. Martha Wainwright
8. Goodbye England (Covered In Snow) by Laura Marling
9. Footprints In The Snow by Robert Earl Keen
10. Frozen Man by The Albion Christmas Band
11. Cold Coming by Thea Gilmore
12. A Long December by Counting Crows
13. Winter Song by Colourmusic

 

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Etsy Picks: Christmas Cards

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Our pick of this years Crimbo Cards. Head over to Etsy to view the full festive collection…

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Etsy Picks: Office Chic

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Head back to the office in style after the summer holidays with our selection of Etsy picks (see the full treasury over here on Etsy)

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Homemade Weddings: A Magical, Musical Marriage…

Hello Walls: Homemade Weddings, the Bride and Groom

Mr & Mrs Parkes-Nield on their wedding day.

Back in 2012, in the middle of the Far Out Stage at Greenman Festival, South Wales, Sophie and Chris were awaiting Adam Buxton’s arrival on stage when the interval music began to play. LCD Soundsytem’s ‘Someone Great’ travelled through the speakers…and Chris chose this moment to propose to Sophie. The photo is probably a bit of a giveaway but yes, she said yes.

They’re a musical couple – Sophie, a folk fanatic and violin player, and Chris, a singer-songwriter and accomplished guitarist. They met back in 2006 when Sophie answered Chis’ ad for a violinist to join the band, Air Cav*. So of course when it came to planning for the big day, music was naturally a key component.

I’ve known Sophie for a number of years now and was privileged enough to be invited along to the wedding (I may have also been responsible for designing the wedding invitations so that probably left her with no choice but to invite me – perk of the job, I say.)

 

Homemade weddings folky invite graphic design

Homemade weddings folky invite CD case

The musical thread was established as early as the invitation, in the guise of a CD, landed on the doorstep with lyrics from folk song ‘Searching for Dams’ on the front – “We join our hands in wedding bands and married we shall be.”

The wedding took place in June 2014 at Bo Peep Farm in Banbury, Oxfordshire (they skipped 2013 due to Sophie’s irrational aversion to odd numbers). A beautiful venue, the ceremony was held onsite in Dovecote Barn – an impressive 18th Century conversion, and then the revelry continued as we moved onto a neighbouring field – 15 acres of land to do with what they wished. A marquee was erected and straw bales were scattered and similar to Kath’s wedding at York Maze, guests could camp over, saving them the expense of a hotel – this time the bride and groom joined in the camping fun too, albeit in a slightly more comfortable ‘Emperor Bell Tent’. Being a thrifty Yorkshire lass I was more than happy to pitch up  – but boy I wish I hadn’t had those last few ciders…tent plus early morning sunshine is not great for hangovers.

 

Hello Walls: Homemade Weddings Honeymoon Tent

It was an absolute blast – they’re such a great couple and I feel honoured to be able to feature their day as part of our Homemade Weddings series, sharing with you some of the personal touches that made it such a genuine and complete day.

 

Hello Walls homemade weddings. Bunting and Guitar card case

Preparations began right away in advance as Sophie started to hand sew 150 metres of bunting, a mighty task for which friends and family members were roped in to help with. Floral fabrics in blues, pinks and purple hues, the decorations were bound for the edges of the marquee where the reception was held – a simple way of creating a celebratory and welcoming feel to the space.

Sophie recalls “I really did go bunting mad. Pinking shears and thread lived permanently at the foot of my sofa as I made reams of the stuff for almost two years straight. I was pretty pleased to finally finish.”

All the effort was worth it as it’s still in use today – a length of it now draped across the fencing of the front garden of their new house together. The rest is loaned out, upon request, for various occasions including a 1st Birthday party, mine and Sophie’s 30th birthday celebrations and, most recently, for the hen party of one of her bridesmaids. It also made its way to Wales, back to the Green Man Festival and decorated our communal gazebo.

 

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Etsy Picks: Sweetheart of the Rodeo

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Giddy-up on over to Etsy to see the full collection of picks

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Hola Walls! Buenos Aires Street Art Tour

Street mural of tortoise with ammunition on shell

For a blog called Hello Walls we don’t talk about walls very often.  That would perhaps get a bit niche after a while though I suppose, but these particular walls are pretty darn special.  I  discovered them during my trip to Argentina and Chilelast November when we opted onto a walking tour with Buenos Aires Street Art.

A German, ex-scientist-turned-street artist took us round several residential neighbourhoods to the north west of the city centre.  He introduced our little group to a whole new international community of street artist and muralists.

Buenos Aires Street Art - mural of female head

The city attracts worldwide renowned street artists like Italian, ‘Blu‘, Argentinian artist Martín Ron, and Australian Fintan Magee.

Buenos Aires Street mural of disembodied head against a sky by Martin Ron

We learnt about the etiquette of street art in Buenos Aires.  For example, you should always ask before painting someone’s house wall.  However if you want street art on your house but don’t volunteer to pay, you shouldn’t expect to get a say in the artist’s subject (the peacock mural below was supposed to be a tiger but the owner didn’t cough up…).

Buenos Aires Street Art - Peacock Mural

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There’s also a big difference between street art and graffiti art, and the two do not like to be confused with one another.  There’s a mutual respect in some quarters, but occasionally lines get crossed (see exhibit A below).

Buenos Aires Street Art Tour - Mural of Bull Fighting

I learnt a lot about the intricacies of street art; the different nozzles used, the techniques for shading and texture, and different styles and methods.

I draw like a five year old, and am immensly impressed with anyone who can sketch a half decent human figures, never mind paint one 20 feet high.  I therefore definitely have an appreciation for the amount of effort that goes into planning and executing these murals and the talent behind each art work.

It’s a shame that Banksy’s the only one that’s crossed over into common popular culture in the UK – hopefully word will spread, and they’ll become more valued (although hopefully not to the extent that people chip them off the walls to sell to private bidders).

Buenos Aires Street art of woman with chicken slung on back

The Buenos Aires Street Art Tours run a few times a week and cost a bargainous US$20 (about £13).  I’d wager that’s better value than a number of more ‘traditional’ art galleries, plus you get a healthy walk in the mix.  Apparently there are more of these cropping up in different cities globally, including London, so I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled when I’m next on my travels.

Buenos Aires Street Art - outstretched hand

Buenos Aires Street Art - Mural of a head by Blu

What do you think?  Would you go on a street art tour, or would you prefer to spend time in an art gallery if you had the choice?  Would you ever want one on the side of your house?

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Etsy Picks: Woven Magic

woven items choseny by Hello Walls

Head over to Esty to see the complete woven themed collection.

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