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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The Front Doors of Axbridge: Delightfully Different

 

The Front Doors of Axbridge

The front doors of Axbridge: delightfully different

Axbridge is a small town in Somerset, it’s a pretty charming place – all the houses are tightly packed together but none of them alike either in period or size. They do all have one thing in common though – a beautiful front door. Of course they’re still pretty varied but all equally delightful. When me and Kath visited last year (for our fauxglasto weekend) we couldn’t resist going out for a wander, camera in hand, to document the scene.

From the Medieval studded door of the butchers, to the baby blue gateway hiding the secret garden, to the understated elegance of April Cottage’s entrance peering from behind the chrysanthemums. Each one has it’s own appeal.

It was also what spurred me on to finally invest in my own front door and I’m pretty confident my Manchester house could now stand proud among it’s Southern Axbridge counterparts.

 

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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

IMG_4161

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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Argentinians Do Cider In Style

 

You may have noticed that I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently – Liz was nobly holding down the fort while I was gallivanting around South America last month, soaking up as much sunshine as possible before resigning myself to the dark days of winter in this part of the hemisphere.

I spent a good chunk of time in Argentina, which is obviously famous for its red wine and Quilmes beer, but I was pleasently surprised to find a few bars stocking local cider.

One of my favourites was in the San Telmo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires – a historic bar called La Poesia that had been once frequented by the great and the good of Argentinian bohemian and literary society (the tables have little brass plaques noting the famous patrons that wrote there) .  The ‘sidra’ on the menu was about £4 for a bottle, which I thought was fairly reasonable.  It wasn’t until an ice bucket arrived on the table that I realised I’d ordered a full 750ml wine size bottle!  Not only that but the waitress wrapped it in in a cotton napkin and proceded to pour it champagne-style.

It was a sweet, light, easy drinking cider – a little too on the sweet side for my preference, but that was probably for the best as I had to rope my other half (a non-cider drinker)  into helping me tackle it.  Although it wasn’t the best cider I’ve ever had, I was chuffed to see cider getting the star treatment from the Argentinians.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so glamorous drinking cider – UK bars should take note!

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Air BnB: Best of Boston

This time last year I was preparing for an epic 3 week jaunt around New England.  The trip was planned around the spectacular fall colours, and the even more spectacular New England food specialities (lobster, pies, maple syrup, apple cider – it seemed rude not to make the effort to try them all).

Boston was one of the highlights of the trip, but unbeknownst to us, we had scheduled to be there at the same time as the annual regatta, which meant that hotel and B&B prices were sky high.  Luckily Air BnB came to the rescue, otherwise we might have had to resort to a hostel to afford a four night stay. We found a reasonable little studio flat in the beautiful, historic Beacon Hill neighbourhood- perfect for exploring the city.

Like Berlin, there are some stunningly stylish (and reasonable) pads on offer in Boston,  and Bostonians seem to be particularly skilled in bringing to life the heritage of their properties without resorting to chintz.  Here’s a run down of my top six favourites:

Interior of Boston apartment in Back Bay

1. Back Bay Studio Loft – you can rent the whole of this incredible apartment in the Back Bay neighbourhood, which is just next door to Beacon Hill.  The owner of this apartment has quite the eye for vintage furniture and quirky prints and wall hangings – a treat for any lovers of vintage design.

Boston airbnb 4 Beacon Street Getaway in Brookline

2. Beacon Street Getaway In Brookline – Check out the radiator!  And that floor!  And I bet that poster would get Liz’s nerdy, typography loving heart a-beating.  This room rental in a Brookline apartment makes for a very reasonable accommodation option, and gets rave reviews from the Air BnB community.

Living room area in Cambridge apartment

3. Cute Cambridge House – It probably isn’t up there in most travellers’ priorities, but I do like the colours in this apartment – the heather grey of the walls, and emerald upholstered chair.  It’s also in the very funky Cambridge area (home of Harvard and MIT – so plenty of culture, bars and restaurants).  You can rent the entire place, and it even has a little outside deck and yard  – one of the best value for money finds.

Boston airbnb 3 Gateway in historic charlestown

4. Getaway in Historic Charlestown – this 1st floor apartment has attracted 69, 5-star reviews and counting.  It features some beautiful antique furniture pieces within the 19th century wooden framed home, with it’s huge sash windows which fill the place with light.  It’s a little slice of history in the quite neighbourhood of Charlestown, which features famous historic sites like the Bunker Hill Monument.

Boston airbnb 5 Adorable 1BR in heart of Back Bay

6.  Adorable 1B R in the heart of Back Bay – There are textiles galore in this one bedroom flat in the Back Bay area. If I stayed here I’d be tempted to leave with a pillow or two…. As with no. 1, it’s in a great location, and though it’s a new listing, all the reviews so far are glowingly positive.

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Best of Airbnb: Berlin

I only discovered the awesomeness of Airbnb after we’d already planned our holiday to Berlin last year, so I missed out on the opportunity to stay in one of the stunningly stylish apartments on offer.

We stayed in the Michelberger Hotel, which is both stunning and weird –  the website is a good reflection of the creative bonkers-ness of the place (it has the Big Lebowski running on a constant loop in all the lifts and silently on every corridor).  I’d highly recommend it (and its associated bar/cafe space), but if you’re looking for an Airbnb experience, then these six are a taster of the many impressive spaces available.

1. Stylish lodge in the heart of Kreuz – this apartment boasts some beautiful artwork and prints and some very enviable furniture – I love the vintage desk and stools.

Bedroom of apartment

 

2. – Beautiful 2 BD, Prenzlauer Berg – this is a light, bright apartment with some bold colour highlights and a beautiful balcony with fantastic views over the city.

Two views of the apartment living room area

 

3. Three Bedroom Apartment at Humann Place - I’m a little bit in love with the kitchen here.  The light, the  combination of the wooden surfaces and white tiles, the low shelving and vintage ceramics.  If I stayed in this apartment I’m not sure I’d venture much further to be honest, though it would be a shame as it’s located in the beautiful gentrified Prenzlauer Berg area (note: it has a 4 night minumum stay).

Galley kitchen

[3 more apartments under the cut…] Read More

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Glastonbury Weekend: Accommodation Shortlist

Liz and I down in Somerset this weekend, renting a house with the group friends we would have been going to Glastonbury with, had the ticket gods not thwarted our plans this year (boo!)

Lack of tickets wasn’t going to stop us enjoying the festivities though (even if not there in person), so I set about trawling Air BnB and similar sites for a place for the eight of us to stay for the weekend. We were looking for somewhere in the countryside-ish, with a bit of outdoor space where we could watch the coverage and sit around and eat / drink (and where Liz and others can feed me bourbon and fried goods to console me when Dolly Parton plays).

The place we found is incredible (it’s even been featured in Homes & Gardens magazine) – we’ll be reporting back on it next week. However it was a tough decision, as there were some amazing properties in the running.  Here are the others on our short list that would be ideal for a summer break with a group of friends/ family:

dining area in church property

1. Converted medieval church in Rishangles, Suffolk

You won’t be short of things do do at this stunning property – it comes complete with an Aga, grand piano, log burner inside and chimnea outside, table football table and outdoor games.

 

Living area of the hovering house

2. The ‘Hovering House’ – Brecon Beacons National Park

The most architecturally impressive of the properties we looked at – it actually floats above the forest floor.  And in a beautiful part of the world to boot.

 

picture inside the summerhouse

3. Idyllic rural cottage in Saxmundum, Suffolk

A chocolate box cottage with summer house, hammocks and sun loungers in the settings of a gorgeous garden.  It’s a ideal property for a summer getaway.

 

Living room of property

4. Mid-century Modern Retreat, Ashford-in-the Water, Derbyshire

A treat for design enthusiasts (if we’d have booked this one I’m not they’d have been able to get rid of Liz….).  Also note the fact that it has a games room with pool and table football.

 

The outside of the boathouse

5. Horton Lodge Boathouse, Staffordshire

I found this on a site called Skye’s cottages, and it caught my eye as this lovely house has balcony overlooking a lake, a games room, and small private beach with rowing boat and Canadian canoe(!)  More than enough to keep everyone occupied (though not advisable to try out the canoe / rowing boat after a few drinks….)

 

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Venice: 10 Foodie / Artsy Highlights

Venice rooftops4

Do you remember the post where I sang the praises of Air BnB?  Well they came out on top again on our visit to Venice last month.

Above was the view from the little studio apartment we stayed in, in Venice. It’s so bizarre to be in a city and have an uninterrupted vista over the rooftops of old buildings. In most cities you at least see a peek of some unfortunate 1960’s concrete monstrosity, but Venice is like a city suspended in time (and logic).

I was fascinated by the practicalities of everyday life there, and staying in a building with other local (and very friendly) residents really brought it home. There are no dustbin lorries (refuse trucks) for example, so all rubbish has to be collected daily, hand carted though the streets and then transferred onto barges to be whisked away to the mainland. Deliveries to shops and restaurants all have to be offloaded off the boats and carried up the narrow windy streets and alleyways, and we even wandered past the hospital which had a fleet of water ambulances outside (not sure I’d fancy one of those collecting me if I were ill though!)

The pay off to all that effort from the locals is obviously the famous picture-perfect bridges, canals and car free streets, which didn’t disappoint.  We spent hours exploring and did a standard amount of the ‘big name’ tourist sights, but the best bits were the random back street wanderings and smaller exhibitions / concerts.

10 of the best under the cut… Read More

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