Europe

Europe, Finland, Travel

A Naked Asian In Finland – Taking Things Beyond Finnish Sauna


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One of the most notable Finnish tradition is the sauna experience. It is the norm to have one in every household, almost mandatory. Finnish people hop in the sauna before work, after work and whenever; like a ritual. Typically, you are seated butt to butt next to someone else (usually of the same gender and in a completely non-sexual way) and do not utter a single word throughout the sauna session. I think it makes sense that this is a large part of their culture due to the long cold winters, especially in the Finnish Lapland. I had the opportunity to experience different saunas throughout Finland and I found them addictive to a point (something about the intense sweating and the deep cleansing of my pores) where I wanted to go almost every other day. Luckily for me, most accommodations in Finland including the glass igloos in Lapland have saunas (both private and public).

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Photo credit: Julia Kivelä, Visit Finland

Going naked in the sauna (my experiences)

Being naked in the sauna feels different from going skinny dipping or walking in the wild since everyone around you are naked and in close proximity. There are some saunas in Helsinki (Allas Sea Pool and Löyly) which require all to wear a swimsuit if you enter the mixed gender room, otherwise strip away! Being with a group of other naked people, it felt almost primitive and ‘back to the beginning’ – we are created by God and born without clothes anyway. Everyone has a different heat tolerance level, making it difficult to determine how often to pour the water over the hot stones to steam up the sauna. I have came across where someone threw water onto the stones every 30 seconds, making the heat unbearable and I had to end my session prematurely.

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The hot stones in the sauna (Photo credit: Elina Sirparanta, Visit Finland)

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Photo credit: Eetu Ahanen, My Helsinki

My Löyly experience was one of the best sauna experiences especially jumping into the icy Baltic Sea right after sauna. It was a dip to cool down after the intense steam session, any time spent longer in the water felt like my hands and toes were freezing up.

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The top part of the photo with 2 stairs is where you take the Baltic dip! (Photo credit: Joel Pallaskorpi, My Helsinki)

Going naked in the nature and skinny dipping

Taking that aspect of nudity in Finland, I took a step further to experience being away from my own clothes. It is a huge taboo in Asia and whoever is naked in public would most likely end up at the police station for an act of indecency. In Singapore, it is a crime to be naked even in your private homes so long as your nakedness becomes visible to the public. Skinny dipping in Lake Menesjärvi was an idea that came to mind so as to try how it feels like being naked in the wild. I felt more comfortable after my naked sauna experiences. It felt liberating and surprisingly fun. Despite getting some curious onlookers, it was probably due to seeing an Asian rather than a Finn without clothes.

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Going in the lake with only the fishes in there – no other humans

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Here, it reminded me of the episodes of Man vs Wild series. I should have joined Bear Grylls on his adventure!

I am not a nudist by any means, neither do I walk around naked in the eyes of the public but this was truly an invigorating experience if you dare to give it a try. Would love to hear about your experiences! Have any of you tried going back to the beginning sans clothing?

Europe, Finland, Travel

Where To Go In Lapland? A Finnish Lapland Road Trip Itinerary


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Road trips in Lapland are almost unheard of compared to popular ones like on the Highway 1 in California, South Island of New Zealand or Icefields Parkway in Alberta. My experience has been absolutely perfect to the point where I thought: “why is no one else doing it?” Other than the five other cars we saw on the Lappish roads, I have only seen hordes of Chinese tourists on large tour buses – and that’s it!

Which Season is Best?

For a road trip, I recommend to do it outside of the winter period, which runs from November to April unless you have experience driving with icy road conditions.  Instead, do it in autumn because of the ‘ruska‘ scene which is truly therapeutic. To top it off, autumn is the best season to see the northern lights in comparison to winter because of the increase in geomagnetic activities during autumn and spring equinox. Alternatively, doing it in summer will bring you the midnight sun for plenty of outdoor activities but the downside is that there will not be an opportunity to see the northern lights. This itinerary is autumn-focused and authentically from my own experience.

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Northern lights caught right above us in Saariselka @ Northern Lights Village

The Route

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The road trip started in Rovaniemi going clockwise, clocking in 678km on google maps without any detours. Eventually, we finished the trip with 823km clocked and that includes detours and side trips along the way.

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Flights

Finnair and Norwegian are your safest bet because they have plenty of flights if you are connecting from other countries via Helsinki. So if you miss one, they should be able to put you on the next flight to Rovaniemi. For such flights within Finland, I recommend to book 3-6 months out to capture some good deals, at least from my own experience.

Car Rental

We went with Europcar for a 9-day rental with the smallest automatic car available at EUR245, and ended up with hybrid Toyota Yaris, which was a very fuel-efficient car for a couple and luggages! It was a relatively new car with about 17,000 km on the mileage meter. Cost of gasoline ranges from EUR 1.56 – 1.61 per litre for grade 95. We ended up spending a total of EUR 67.43 for 823km mileage clocked. An impressive fuel consumption of almost 20km/litre!

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Day 1: Rovaniemi

Fly or take the train into Rovaniemi. Collect the car at the airport and this will be the start and end point of your road trip. Drive up north to Levi and enjoy the ‘ruska’ sights along the way. Be mindful of reindeer crossing because they are often seen crossing, albeit slowly, the roads in Lapland.

Spend the next 2 nights at Levi Iglut (recommended) or other accommodations in Levi.

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Premium Igloo at Levin Iglut, with a clear view of the valley

Day 2: Levi

You can consider going on a day hike and/or horse-riding if the weather permits. There are a few supermarket outlets nearby in the main town of Levi if you are looking to get some groceries. During September, the sky becomes completely dark after 11pm and this is your best chance to go aurora hunting. If you are staying at Levin Iglut, you have the luxury of turning off your igloo’s lights and simply lay back, and enjoy the beautiful lights just above your heads! It is located on high ground and has an unobstructed view of the valley.

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The northern lights danced across the skies, and we watched it from the comfort of our temperature controlled igloo

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Try their 3-course dinner at Restaurant Aurora Sky for a great feel of Finnish cuisine

Day 3 and 4: Inari

Continue up north towards Inari. You can choose to go by route 955 which is a semi-dirt road or you can choose to head backwards to Kittila and instead, take the highway E75. Although a slightly  bumpy ride, we passed by some beautiful farmhouses and residences, which were located quite a fair distance from each other, making it a pretty scenic drive. Choose to stay near a lake to get double auroras; both on the water and the actual one in the sky. Lake Menesjärvi is a good choice and it is close to Lemmenjoki National Park. Visit Ravadas Falls via a river boat trip and finish it with a hike to a nearby cabin. The boat trip was a good scenic experience, at some point it felt like a scene from National Geographic. Feel free to pick the berries in Lapland, namely blueberries and lingonberry. Lingonberry is native to boreal forest and Arctic tundra throughout the Northern Hemisphere from Eurasia to North America. Located further inside the national park, there is a reindeer farm run by a Sami family. It is a great way to explore learn more about the Sami history and culture.

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Ravadas Falls 

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Free berries for all!

In Inari city centre, check out Sajos which is a Sami cultural and administrative centre, Siida the Sami Museum and Pielpajärvi Wilderness Church if you have time for a hike.

Spend 2 nights at Hotel Korpikartano (recommended) or other accommodations in Inari.

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Lake Menesjärvi right next to Hotel Korpikartano

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Enjoy in the comfortable home-like lounge of Hotel Korpikartano

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Day 5 and 6: Saariselka

Drive down south via the E75 and head to Saariselka. It is a resort village that springs into life when winter comes, another good place to learn about the Sami culture due to it being located far north in Lapland. There is a good husky safari called Extreme Huskies and you should definitely check it out if you are looking for some fun with the dogs. Check out the gold mining town at Tankavaara and watching the northern lights by the lake at Nellim (very close to the old Russian border).

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Husky sledding (autumn version) with Extreme Huskies

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Spend 2 nights at Northern Lights Village or other accommodations in Saariselka. I highly recommend Northern Lights Village because of their expertise in the winter experience such as husky sledding and northern lights hunting. The famous Kakslauttanen igloos and resort are located nearby too.

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On a clear night in Saariseka, the lights were dancing for a good 2-3 hours!

Day 7 and 8: Rovaniemi

Continue south back to Rovaniemi, it is about a 2-3 hrs scenic drive. I recommend to spend about a minimum of 2 full days here, with your time divided between Rovaniemi city centre and Santa Claus village. There are plenty to do in Santa Claus village, be sure to visit both the Husky and Reindeer park. If you are looking for activities, Bearhill Husky is a good place to check out their kernel tour in autumn and Beyond Artic runs photography tours (not just northern lights). Don’t leave without meeting Santa Claus and crossing the Artic Circle line!

Santa can be found inside this building!

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Husky Park at Santa Claus Village

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Take a walk and feed Santa Claus’s reindeer!

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Join the kernel tour with Bearhill Husky, you get plenty of chances to play with the dogs

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In the city centre, check out ArtikumKorundi and Pilke for the history and artsy aspects of Rovaniemi and Lapland. There are also nice restaurants in the city centre, check out Pure Burger, Pure Pizza and Torikeidas (kebab) as recommended by my Finnish friend.

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Spend 2 nights at Santa’s Igloo Artic Circle or other accommodations in Santa Claus Village or Rovaniemi. Airbnbs are plentiful in Rovaniemi.

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Santa Igloos’s Artic Circle

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Northern Lights experience outside Santa’s Igloo Artic Circle

Road trip in Lapland is not just a wonderful experience, it is a magical one. Feel free to share your ideas or alternatives to the itinerary!

Europe, Greece, Photography, Travel

This Is Unbelievable! Wedding Photoshoot In Santorini For $1000


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Santorini is one of the most romantic places in the world to have your wedding photoshoot at. Contrary to popular belief, it can also be one of the world’s greatest bargain for a wedding photoshoot. Our impromptu trip because of a great flight deal gave us the perfect opportunity to consider this beautiful Greek island as the perfect destination for our pre-wedding shoot. Read about my Santorini travel guide here.

While it is more common for Asians to have their photoshoot dubbed as a ‘pre-wedding photoshoot’, Western couples tend to call it their ‘engagement photoshoot’. With the internet revolution and our relationship with Google, bargains can be found with ease. I have heard of pre-wedding photoshoots in Japan or Korea costing in excess of SGD5000 and SGD2000 respectively, which I find overpriced. Wedding photography packages available in Santorini have quotations between the range of EUR3000 – EUR5000 from various agencies. Independent freelance photographers that are not based in Santorini will usually request to be covered for their flights and accommodation on top of their service fees. On a side note, they are usually based in Europe, which makes the cost of flights manageable.

As always, I believe that good things do not always have to come with a hefty price tag, so the hunt for an affordable yet high-quality photoshoot at an exotic location began.

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Photo credits: Eva Rendl

Tips to getting a good deal

  • Engage someone local

This means that your photographer should ideally live near to where you want your shoot to take place. In this case, he/she needs to live in Santorini. Some of these photographers do not stay on the island throughout the year, so do plan ahead of time and consult them prior especially if you choose to go during off-peak months. Engaging a local photographer means that you do not need to cover their transportation and accommodation cost. We were blessed that our photographer kindly offered to drive us to each of our photoshoot locations.

  • Go direct

Cut out the middleman and you will save yourself hundreds. If you are ready to take up the challenge, engage someone directly. Agencies are commercialised, and most of the time it is all about the money. They have running costs to pay so you can’t really blame them for charging higher prices but you can certainly avoid them by going straight to the source. Generally, freelance photographers are able to charge a lower price because they do not have overhead costs like rental and the hiring of staff. Included in the price you pay is purely their service and talent.

  • Do not be afraid to ask for discounts from freelance photographers

If you genuinely wish to engage your photographer for their services, try asking if they can offer you a better rate. If you are traveling during off-peak seasons, you have greater bargaining power. This has been personally tried and tested. The usual discount is between 10-20%. On the other hand, one potential drawback of traveling during off-peak months is that your photographer may travel out of Santorini for other assignments since, traditionally, more travelers visit the island during the summer and hence there will be fewer requests for photographers outside of summer.

  • It is not about the price all the time

Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that your photos must appeal to you since you will be looking back on these moments decades on, so be sure to look through your photographers’ portfolio with much care. The composure and editing styles are some areas to focus on. Although price may be a big factor in your decision, it is pertinent to choose someone whom you feel comfortable with in your initial conversations and not completely place your focus on getting the biggest bang for your buck. Something else to consider is the number of edited or non-edited photos you will be receiving as this varies largely from photographer to photographer. Moreover, the number of locations and the option to split the photography session into day and night to capture different looks were crucial in our decision.

  • Do not take up photoshoot packages

Numerous couples we have encountered have mentioned that their pre-wedding shoot was part of the actual wedding day photoshoot package. The fact is that all photographers have their different specialities. The requirements of a destination wedding photoshoot (i.e Santorini) might be totally different from an actual day photoshoot, which is usually in a hotel or restaurant. Trust me, being a photographer myself, experience in the outdoors and the ability to compose a shot nicely with regard to larger surroundings play a big part in deciding how your photos turn out.

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Photo credits: Eva Rendl

So what makes up the $1000?

We were flying to Athens and onwards to Santorini anyway. Adding flights and accommodation on top of that would not be a fair judgement because we need to compare apple to apple. Most wedding photoshoot packages exclude the cost of your air tickets and accommodation. Click here you are interested in how much it costs to have a vacation in Santorini.

  • 3 hours of photography services at two locations (Oia and Imerovigli) – EUR 500
  • Hair styling (for the bride-to-be, we did a quick Google search and walked in to one of the local salons) – EUR 80
  • Dress and accessories –  SGD 150 (most guys will already own a suit)
  • Make-up – DIY

Using an exchange rate of EUR1 to SGD1.6 (exchange rate as of Nov 2017), we are looking at SGD1078 for the photoshoot. That’s it. Now you must be wondering: then why are photoshoot packages so expensive? To name a few reasons – rental of multiple gowns, make-up artist, hair styling, transportation in between shoots and up-sell bundles.

If you are not fussed about having multiple outfit changes and your bride-to-be has practiced her make-up skills (hint: YouTube videos), or simply because you have always dreamed of the postcard-worthy blue domes adorning your pre-wedding photos, then doing your wedding photography this way is an excellent choice to consider.

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A good job done, I reckon

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It may get uncomfortable in heels as there will be some climbing up and down steep stairs 

Things to note

The price paid is purely for the photoshoot only, excluding transportation, make up artist/assistant to tag-along and carry your change of outfits. Consider the time of the year. The weather will likely be very hot and humid during summer, which can be slightly torturous if you are in full suit. Not to mention time may be of the essence since there will be hoards of tourists, so these things must be taken into consideration before deciding on the time of travel. Note for the ladies, you may want to consider bringing a pair of sneakers to change in between shooting locations as there are heaps of tiny steps in Santorini.

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Photo credits: Eva Rendl

Looking to plan a Santorini photoshoot? You can fill up the following form or drop me an email @ themoreitravel@gmail.com for an exclusive discount code with Eva.