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Walking on water

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. 

-John Burroughs

Clare and I walked on water today. It was frozen, but that’s besides the point. We walked all the way to an island in the middle of the lake and it was exhilarating because, even though we were told it could hold a car, we were also a bit unsure  of how smart we were being.

But we’re here to tell the tale!

Today’s hike was a little slick and you had to be careful of your footing. No falls, though!

What I’m loving most about the Finnish countryside is that, for the most part, you live off of what is available. Granted, there is a small grocery store nearby for items like milk, cheese and bread,  but our water comes from the well; the firewood is stockpiled in the summer from the surrounding woods;  blueberries and strawberries are starting to grow everywhere and they’re yours for the picking in the summer. With that ease of access comes a different sort of serenity than I’m used to. We eat well, sleep well and enjoy our surroundings.

In other words, I highly recommend Finland!

Fires are a constant source of heat.

The constant fires require a constant supply of wood.

I love the door handles here. They're all unique.

The pine forests grow alongside the birch forests.

Footprints in the snow.

Silhouettes.

Venturing out onto the frozen lake!

I was hoping to see a fish looking back at us.

Looking back to shore.

Resiliency: the reeds grow despite the thick ice.

Angels in the snow, on the lake.

Making our way to the island. No turning back!

Outhouse lovin'.

A man of the woods.

The ice didn't crack! We made it!

Red rocks and lichens.

Right where she left it.

More stored boats.

The forgotten exoskeleton of some critter.

Bows of boats.

A contrast: greenery in the snow.

Green logs.

The green eyes of Pat the cat. We're unsure of his/her gender, but he/she is very loving.

In the U.S. we also refer to it as slush, sleet, flurries, packing snow, blizzards, sledding snow…ultimately, it’s all snow. The same can be said for Finland, although I have a feeling there are lots more terms. Today, for example, the snow we hiked in was called kantohanki, because it had a hard enough surface to support our weight.

Most of the time! When it didn’t, it offered a good laugh. We stumbled a lot, and I was the only one to truly fall. In my defense, it was well into our hike and it was probably better to just let myself fall rather than fight it and possibly wind up injured.

I’ve been learning a lot about Finnish culture and I’m enjoying it. Especially in the countryside, they’re very resourceful. Nature is also very respected, and I respect that.

Here are some pictures from today’s hike around the nearby lake…off to the sauna now!

This birch branch was hung between two trees and had nails along it that are used to untangle fishing nets and see what was caught.

The nails up close, along with the feathered bark of the birch.

Branches are useful in many different ways.

The traces of a branch left in the deep snow.

A tranquil spot in the woods.

The cage in the foreground is dropped just off shore to lure fish in that are then trapped.

An elk footprint amidst pine needles.

Shadows on the lake. The surface is solid enough to support a car right now.

A smoke sauna, which was used before chimneys were added.

A boat in storage for the season.

An underground cellar; good for storage, as nothing freezes.

Shadows of the birch trees. Birch need clean air to grow; I'm inhaling LOTS of clean air!

Moss is covering the many rocks and boulders left behind from the glaciers. This particular moss requires a lack of pollution and is eaten by reindeer.

This rock-covering looked like mini roses to me.

A view of the sky after I tripped in the deep snow. It was a good resting place.

For those of you who don’t keep up with the news, haven’t gone outside, or were sleeping through the winter here’s what happened: we barely had one.

While my hometown of Cleveland is experiencing 60 degree weather this week, I’ll be enjoying the weather they never had. Don’t laugh! Most people complain about the four seasons and claim to be happy that we avoided most of the snow. I admit that I enjoyed spending my lunch breaks walking around in the spring/summer weather we have had, but it wasn’t until I landed in Finland that I was reminded of what we missed.

Icicles in the sunlight.

Skinny birch trees abound.

Moonlight approaches.

Bicycle.

Hibernation.

Leaving the city behind.

Skyline of trees.

I’m thrilled to be surrounded by so much wildlife. The mixture of white birch trees and evergreens is crisp and scenic. I particularly like them because they’re very narrow and you find them everywhere–even surrounding the large cities. There’s a law that when the trees are cut down they must be replaced. There’s also a law that allows people to hike on each other’s property as long as they are not hunting or causing damage; I will be taking advantage of that!

Hei hei! (Bye!)

…in a Vaporetto (water bus).

Contrary to what the posh British woman sitting next to us on the ride to Venice thought, I was thankful that there was no bridge built to connect the islands of Venice to Italy’s land mass. That’s why Venice is sought after by travelers.

It might not seem like the city had an impact on me, considering I’ve waited more than two months to write about it, but I have a hard time believing I was ever there. Two days in Venice was a gift, but also a bit of a tease.

Our arrival to Venice had the potential to ruin our take on the city, what with the sloshing and steady stream of rain. After wandering aimlessly down alleyways in search of our B&B, we made the right turn and stood outside the door like drowned rats.

But clothes dry and it was nothing a hot shower and quick nap couldn’t fix. By the time we emerged to see where we were, the rain had stopped and we bustled through the narrow streets, glancing into the high-end fashion stores and browsing the local shops. A delicious dinner of pasta, wine and chocolate mousse was a great way to end the night.

Our overcast view of Venice, arriving from the airport. Still beautiful.

Walking through the alleys; it's very easy to get lost.

A door into the water.

Reflections in the restaurant window.

Masks galore!

Gondola artwork.

We woke up the next morning to hear our host, fittingly named Michelangelo, talking excitedly in Italian. A quick glance out our small window revealed that the sun was out. We spent the day hanging with pigeons (or, rather, them hanging on us) and walking around to see what we could see. We also took a Vaporetto to Murano island, but I’ll post those pictures later.

A loyal companion...or is he the artist?

A less typical Venetian boat.

And a more typical Venetian boat.

Pigeons are everywhere in St. Mark's Square.

Entryway to St. Mark's Basilica.

Columns in St. Mark's Square.

Pink glass.

Gondolas.

A unifying force

“Music does bring people together. It allows us to experience the same emotions. People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit. No matter what language we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves: We are the same.” 

― John Denver

A common experience that I had in the various countries I visited was the presence of music. It came in different languages, genres and deliveries, but every time it served as a unifying force.

Dodi dancers

I wrote about the boat ride that I took in a previous post and briefly mentioned the singers who welcomed us when we reached the halfway point. Inhabitants of the small island, they sang and danced in an effort to collect donations. I wondered if they would do so otherwise, but they truly seemed to be enjoying themselves.

And it was contagious, as several boat riders danced alongside them.

Sing-alongs at Sacre Couer

An Italian man named Youri performed on the steps of the Sacre Couer on my sister’s first night in Paris. We had ventured over to see the Basilica and, after hearing him sing Rupert Wainwright’s “Hallelujah” on key, decided to join the crowd. We did not, however, give in to the men peddling Heinekens for 5 euros a piece, despite their persistence.

Here’s Youri singing “Hallelujah” while another man provides an entirely different form of entertainment (and I’m not talking about the man who appears to be performing magic tricks next to the singer):

The Basilica is situated atop a hill in Montmarte and is the only hill where you can properly view the city of Paris. So, as the sun set, we had a beautiful view to accompany the music. At one point Youri paused and told the crowd that we were all very lucky to be visiting Paris and asked our origins. Brazil, Spain, Italy, U.S., Canada: many different nationalities were all sitting together singing.

Given the chaos taking place all over the world, whether it has to do with finances, regimes or famine, I found solace in the moment. Hopefully you can capture some of it with these two videos of the crowd singing “Imagine” and “Let it be” together. Don’t mind my sister and me singing along/laughing!

Familiar tunes in Deutschland

The first family member I visited in Germany was my cousin, the director of several choirs in his hometown. I went with him to two of the choir practices and was surprised to find them singing American songs. ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ was followed by ‘Uptown Girl’ and then ‘Since U Been Gone’.

I sat watching and singing quietly, tapping my foot along to the familiar tunes. The German accents added to the moment and the happiness that the individuals felt in singing was contagious.

“…there is music in the air, music all around us, the world is full of it and you simply take as much as you require.”

–  Sir Edward William Elgar

The end of my 3 month trip took part in Germany with a visit to my family. Wrapping it all up there was fitting because Germany was the first foreign country I traveled to; first at age one and then in July 2009 for a month with my Omi.

Had I not gone on that trip two years ago, I can say for certain that I would not have been able to go to Ghana. In applying for the scholarship to report abroad, the committee sought out students who had experience abroad. I am so thankful for my family for many reasons, this being one of them.

Now that I’m back home I find it hard to believe that the three-month trip even happened. Was I really in Ghana last month? I keep seeing pictures of the Eiffel Tower in picture frames for sale and try to determine where the photographer stood to capture it.

Thankfully I will be continuing to travel this spring when I venture to Finland with one of my best friends. So excited for the opportunity!

But, back to Germany, here’s a glimpse into my week of rushing from one city to the next:

Cologne Cathedral: construction began in 1248 and lasted until 1880.

It is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe.

The Cathedral's two largest spires help you to orient yourself while in Cologne.

Fall in process.

The Seilbahn Burg (cable car) connects Schloss Burg in Solingen, Germany to the town below and offers great views.

The cable car.

Germany's largest bench--made from one tree and measuring almost 73 feet--is at Schloss Burg. I sat on it!

I love the flower boxes.

Steinhuder Meer, the largest lake in Northwestern Germany.

Sunrise at the Minden train station, on my way to see more family.

Tag, you’re it!

I miss taking random videos of animals in Ghana. In this particular one, I was watching the chickens frolic outside my house and decided that others should enjoy it, too. Hope you do. In other news: I’m back home in the U.S. of A! That doesn’t mean this blog is coming to an end, though.

One big thing that traveling made me realize was how much of my own country I have yet to see. I’d meet people and tell them I’m from the States and they’d say, ‘Oh I’ve been to NYC, DC, Chicago, etc.’ and I’d shock them when I responded, ‘Oh really? I’ve never been.’ Granted, many people don’t realize the massive size of the country and the cost of travel. Regardless, I have some upcoming trips in mind to Chicago and Dallas and will be blogging about those.

Plus, I’ve got numerous anecdotes and pictures that I have not yet shared on here and will be doing so. For now, here’s the chicken video. Sorry for the wind.

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