Wednesday, July 08, 2009

birthday weekend in Finland

two weekends ago, Eric invited Sam and I to Finland to celebrate his sister Toini's birthday. (she is actually the same age as Sam and I) after much debating about whether or not to use Sam's one-entry Schengen visa which we had saved for a trip in case we didn't have the money to go to Africa this summer, we finally decided to take the plunge and trust in God's provision for our much hoped-for trip to Namibia. (and God has totally rewarded that leap!) We came to a decision Friday night and left Saturday morning on the train to Lahti. around noon we arrived, with Eric meeting us at the train station, along with Dima, Toini's husband. back at their house, the party was already in motion, inside and outside the house, despite the darkening rain clouds overhead. 40+ Russian natives, most of whom had emmigrated to Finland after the fall of the Soviet Union. Champagne and strawberries, rum, wine, etc, in hand - there was lots of chatting, several children running around chasing each other - typical party atmosphere, midday. soon after we arrived, the main attraction began - salsa lessons. the funniest thing, however, was that when Sam and I arrived, since no one at the party knew us, they all thought that WE were the dance instructors! the real instructors were an older couple who did their instruction in Finnish, though i have found that when doing something like dance or exercise, understanding directions is really not nearly so important. you watch, and soon you've got it. all the women had been directed to wear skirts with flounce since they "flow" and add that extra something to any Latin dance. The guys mostly watched, however a few brave souls sis join in either after enough drinks, or when given enough convincing, or in Sam's case, when given no choice. (might i add, that when i tried to coerce him, he wouldn't budge, but when outside pressure was applied, it was only a matter of time. so there was dancing, then there was FOOD! followed by coffee, more drinks, then out came the vodka, there was grilling of meat, singing of national anthems, lots of Russian people who had earlier been shy to use their English, now emboldened and chatting up a storm with us. finally at around 1am, there was karaoke. by 2, Sam and I were ready for some shut-eye. We climbed up into the low ceiling-ed attic loft where we would sleep, and we drifted off to the sounds of the partying below. the next day was a fine, sunny day and there was much of the same, only more low key. we passed the time sunbathing, reading, and picnic-ing in the glorious fresh air. The evening of Day 2 concluded with sauna and the Brazil vs. USA football match, which was surprisingly close. Eric and I supported the underdogs - (USA, of course). Sam and Pasha (Eric's teenage son) went with the odds and rooted for Brazil. Props to team USA, even though in the end, they lost. another night's sleep (a bit earlier and quieter this time) and then it was up early the next morning to catch the train home. Back to dirty city air and traffic noises...but home nonetheless.

Finland. June 27-29, 2009
Eric's sister, Toini, lives in Lahti, Finland - about 4 hours from here by train. Sam and I were invited with Eric to celebrate her birthday.

Sorry, but that's where the photos end.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

a weekend in the country take two

last weekend we were invited back to the country for a second fitness weekend. for this one we were prepared, having a better idea of what was in store for us. we went armed with clothes for numerous hard workouts and a bag of food to help sustain us despite the terrible cafeteria food. poor Eric had injured his leg (he pulled a ligament) playing football/soccer earlier in the week, so he unfortunately would have to sit out for most of the activity. we met up with Eric, Lusha, Arthur, and the rest of the group at Eric's gym Friday evening around 11:00pm, and we set off after detouring a bit due to open bridges and a quick stop at a cafe for some java. we headed out of the city in the everlasting dusky summer light. These "White Nights" were our companion throughout our trip and we arrived around 2am in the same twilight as when we left 3 hours earlier.

getting ready to sweat

Sam and I settled in to our room and while Sam joined the others for drinks i opted for a hot shower, something i haven't been able to do at my own house for several weeks. It was wonderful and I was again reminded of how much i take the little things for granted. bedtime came around 3am and i dreaded the knock on the door the next morning which i knew would inevitably come at 8am sharp. This time however, Sam felt less inclined to drag himself out of bed for morning calisthenics, and i was perfectly happy to go along with that. instead we took our time getting up and getting ready and arrived bright-eyed and clean at breakfast at 9am. the same old bland food greeted us at breakfast, but we ate our fill, knowing that we'd need to have those carbs and calories in order to keep up with Max and Olga, the entirely too energetic fitness instructors. an hour of downtime for digesting later, we met outside in the field for exercise stations: elastic bands for squats, curls, biceps and triceps, abdominal crunches, yoga "plank" positions, name it, we did it. here's Max instructing us on what to do. (yes, you can literally SEE his muscles through his shirt. yikes.)

next was lunch, and after that, an awesome time off-road cycling through the countryside (and even a bit through the forest). this was definitely much more fun than the failed attempt at a scavenger hunt which took place in the afternoon of the first day last time. the scenery was beautiful and the weather absolutely perfect for a long ride. i don't know how many kilometers we rode that day, but we were gone for several hours - up and down hills, through mud and tall grass, past loggers and wide open fields with tall grass and wild flowers. lovely.

we refueled at dinner in the cafeteria like usual, but this time we had a plan. Eric and Max had gone into town and bought shaslik (shiskabobs) of pork, fresh vegetables, pickles and garlic, lavash, and of course alcohol (this is Russia, after all). we had some down time after the cafeteria dinner and people relaxed, showered or went to the pool (NOT ME!). Sam and I played ping pong and a game of billiards. so around 10pm we had our REAL dinner. Sam was drafted to do the grilling (he always loves a good Braai!) and we all gathered outside huddled around the fire enjoying wonderfully grilled shashlik and all the fixings. there was lots of chatting - Englilsh and Russian - good stories and tons of laughter. and the local dogs enjoyed our feast as much as we did - the scored some good handouts. i must note that all the shashlik were pork because that is all the local store had in stock. Lusha is Muslim and for her, eating pork is "haram" (a sin) and so she ate veggies and bread and had to forgo the shashlik, much to her disappointment. Arthur, who Lusha is not forcing to follow Muslim tradition was allowed to make his own choice. halfway through the evening he had been given a small chunk of pork and whether for a religious choice, or because he just didn't want it, he decided he wanted to give it to the dog, who was looking on. but before he gave it, he made sure to ask his mom, "is it a sin for a dog to eat pork?" such a thoughtful young guy. we assured him that it was ok, so the dog got a tasty treat.

the next day we enjoyed hitting the volleyball around before being beat into shape by Olga and her aerobic kickboxing class.

the second afternoon it was our turn to use the saunas. the enjoyment of sweating everything out together, followed by a dip in an icy jacuzzi is hard to explain, but it was again, the perfect close to a very active weekend.

no pool naxis, no crying, no utter confusion about trying to complete the smallest task...all in all, a very good second weekend in the country.