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When I made my first trip to Rovaniemi many, many years ago, I quickly noticed the following scene:
If you couldn’t guess from the photo, you are looking at a row of slot machines. This is not an arcade, it’s not even a casino. This photo is from the local grocery store. And the scene is everywhere- either a group if 5-10 as above or single slot machines at local restaurants like Kotipizza (below)
The major company in Finland regulating slot machines is called Ray. Money earned from slot machines and other gambling under Ray (there are local casinos and online play opportunities as well) goes to support health and social welfare groups (more than 250 million euros in 2011 to approximately 800 groups). Even on their website they advertise Ray gambling as a way to support these organizations.
Personally I’ve never been a fan of gambling. BUT, when I’m waiting for pizza or folks to finish shopping at the grocery store, or even waiting for a flight at the airport, it really is a great way to pass the time. But don’t get too excited- this isn’t Vegas and payout aren’t the stuff of movies. I have turned a couple euros into over 20 before though
Here’s a photo of the exterior of a casino in the Sampokeskus shopping center
What is the experience like? We took a video of a recent play (below). It’s long but cycles through a few different games on one machine. You can see at the bottom of the screen in the video that English is a language option. This is new. I’m familiar with the Finnish language ones- made it more exciting- I really had the excuse that I had no idea what I was doing and therefore couldn’t be at fault for a loss. Those times are no more. You will be happy to know that Ray does its part in supporting responsible gambling though. They provide a link on their site to test if you have a problem. I couldn’t find an option for English on the page so I guess I’ll never know: Link to gambling problem support
Enjoy the video!
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone
I probably make a similar post every trip but it cannot be overstated how much Finns love their candy. The primary desire in Finland is salmiakki, a salty black licorice type NOT to be confused with black licorice (two different schools of candy). There are literally dozens of different types of tastes, consistencies and sizes of salmiakki. Also found in chocolates and liquer!
But even candy as a whole is a huge staple in Finland. Below is a photo from a nearby grocery store of the “irtokarkki” (piece candy)- where you pick and choose individual pieces. The pre- packed aisle is twice as big. You’ll find this site in all grocery stores, video rental stores, and any other place with space to sell. It’s heaven for me (I have a big sweet tooth
For anyone traveling to Finland at any point ever in the future there are a couple of things to be prepared for. ESPECIALLY if you have plans to visit family and/or friends or become an invited guest to a person’s home. Finns put a lot of emphasis on hospitality and the cultural norm involves providing guests a full plate of freshly baked goods with coffee or tea throughout the day (finland is the largest coffee consumption country in the world so opt for coffee if you can). Below is a photo of the type of spread of treats I’m referring to
It should be noted that this is for just out of bed, morning coffee for five people AND, when my partner’s mother wakes up it will no doubt be added to with cakes and cookies that I could not find this morning (I’m an early riser so do the best I can to put the pastry plate together.) this happens every morning. around the holidays, the spread is of course bigger than usual but it isn’t too far off from the norm. And like I said, somedays, the goodies will spread two, even three plates depending on the number of guests at the table. We sig, we talk, we read the paper. It’s a Finnish ritual. If a friend stops by your house one day in Finland it’s automatic to put on a cup of coffee, pull out the cakes and pastries you have on hand and serve them on a platter to have a chat.
For us younger types during work weeks, our coffee treats for us and a partner at home resemble more like a couple Oreos, sugar cookies, snicker doodles, doughnuts, muffins, just something sweet to enjoy with our coffee while we read the paper and prepare to start the day. We wake up early to be able to enjoy this morning ritual whenever possible.
Oh and in Finland, be prepared to drink at least three sometimes five cups of coffee a day! Maybe more…and turning someone down for coffee or at the minimum tea, puts a target on your back as being a little “strange.” You can probably get away with asking for tea. I can manage coffee and water nicely. And if you want to make good impression, try a couple pastries but know that you are by no means expected to eat them all- Finns just want to offer a wide variety to guests so at least one might draw interest
Oh and quick followup, I was right, second plate of pastries just added to the table (photo below)
Want to get a live shot of Rovaniemi at any time of the day? They have great webcams that refresh every 3-5 seconds. Not full streaming but good still images that can give you a glimpse of some of the main sights and people.
For views of downtown Rovaniemi select Lordi Aukio and Rovakatu for two separate views.
To view the ski slopes check out Ounasvaara.
Below are the views you will see during winter time. These were grabbed from the web a couple days ago at full “sun up”. If you are viewing these in the early morning or evening during winter you’ll see much darker photos as the sun as either set or yet to rise. During the summer you will always see sunlight!
Lordi Aukio, Dec 24th, 2011
Rovakatu, Dec 24th, 2011
Ounasvaara, Dec 24th, 2011
Two Harbors, MN
Holy Cow! Don’t walk to this place, run, drive fast, really, really fast. Pies, burgers. It’s incredible!! After a day of hiking at Split Rock Lighthouse (review coming soon). We made a stop at Betty’s Pies just down the road to grab some food to take back to the cabin and watch some NCAA basketball. We went simple getting a 1/2 pound Bison burger (with bacon) and french fries to split and stacked on a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie. First, we must talk about the service. Some of the nicest people ever. We obviously had no idea what to order or how to order and it was most likely evident that we looked out of place. But a man handed us a menu, let us sit at the counter and give us plenty of time to look over the very large menu with many options. And, to top it off, they threw in an extra slice of pie- which was a good thing because it was sooo good, neither of us wanted to share. And, as it turns out, those of you too far to visit Northern Minnesota, Betty’s Pies has opened in White Bear Lake (address below) so you can get it whenever you want at greater convenience. Seriously, it’s a must!! Enjoy, we sure did!
NEW Location: Betty’s Pies
700 Wildwood Road
St Paul, MN 55115-1852
Name: Grand Superior Lodge on Lake Superior
Location: 20 minutes north of Two Harbors, MN (Google Map)
Review: An easy 4 out of 5 starts! Amazing location right on Lake Superior. Amazing accommodations. Free parking. Not too far from the Twin Cities, just three hours north. Restaurant right on site (Splashing Rock Restaurant) though this is part of why I give only four stars- review pending. For a great place to just unwind and hang out, I love this place. Rates in the “winter months” are quite affordable and there are benefits to staying 2+ nights or staying midweek. We stayed for four days and three nights and were given a $75 gift card for the restaurant. Pretty cool deal. I think one of the coolest thing is all the different room options. Many places are flat rates for all the same room types. Here, you get what you pay for and can choose what you want.
We stayed in a one of the new cabins in what is referred to as the guest room. A perfect arrangement for two people. Full bath, queen size bed, wet bar including mini fridge, microwave, sink, toaster, coffee pot, utensils and silver ware for two. In room flat screen TV with DVD player and Dish Satellite TV. Within our cabin you could also stay in a similar room with a full deck and view of Lake Superior as well as an in room Jacuzzi tub. Or, if you have a larger group, the downstairs unit has a living room, full kitchen and bedroom. And that’s just one side of one building. There are MANY cabins throughout the resort. Read and see more about the room types on the website and view the different rates for each season. Enjoy the additional photos below.
Oh…and I think this qualifies as a brand new city to stay the night. Granted I’ve been to Duluth but this is an hour north, never been there, stayed three nights! I’m counting it. One more city to go to reach my 2010 Goal of visiting two new cities!
It’s official! On Tuesday, Feb. 9th Google Street view was released for Finland. You can now search for addresses in Finland and by clicking ‘street view’ zoom into street level to see your search results as if you were walking down the street. I’ve noticed in most places (all so far) that the street views are from Spring/Summer/Fall (having seen any snow in places ) But it’s pretty cool. Same objections are likely to rise up regarding privacy concerns for people who live in those areas (in the U.S. and pretty much every country other country that has street views it’s happened) but for travelers it really is a valuable tool.
Last weekend, my boyfriend treated me to my first experience at a Minneapolis treasure called Al’s Breakfast. As an American, breakfast is more than a meal, it’s an experience. It’s a bonding time between family and friends, it’s an experience to be enjoyed and relished, it’s oh so very good on so many levels. Pancakes, waffles, omelets, bacon, sausage, hash browns…how about coffee (something that resonates with all you Finn readers out there I’m sure ) Traveling to Minneapolis in the future? A current resident? You MUST get to Al’s.
Essentially Al’s is a diner type cafe that seats 14 people at a time along a single straight counter. While you wait to eat, you stand approximately one and a half feet behind the current diners and…wait. Sound awkward, well, to stand and wait, it can feel that way, especially your first time. But once you sit down at the counter, you get it. The whole place is really about 7 feet wide, leaving about 3 feet for the customer side. This is part of the experience (check the video for a better understanding of this) You come in, sit down, eat and leave, enjoying the fast service and AMAZING food. Couple of words of advice- keep your party to 3 or less OR, be prepared to eat amongst strangers or after or before the rest of your group unless you are the very first people in line before it opens and can grab the number of seats needed.
In terms of ordering, I had the Winter Special which includes scrambled eggs with fresh spinach, feta, tomatoes, scallions and toast. I also had one of their pumpkin pancakes to celebrate fall- holy cow, talk about YUM!!! You can view the entire Al’s Breakfast menu here on Urban Spoon.
Also, for a full experience, below are photos and a video of the inside of Al’s. If you’re local, go immediately. If you’re outside Minnesota- Al’s is reason enough to make a visit!
Video from Inside Al’s
Photos on the Flickr Feed:
Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown
413 14th Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN
We fly out from Rovaniemi, Finland early tomorrow morning (Tuesday) so I’m getting in a few last posts before I continue from the U.S. (so many things that require a little more time such as Santa Claus Village and other local places that I want to post in their completed form so they have to wait.) You’ll notice by looking at my YouTube Feed or Flickr Feed that I’ve posted photos on some of these things, I just haven’t gotten around to writing about them…but in a week or two I’ll get to it all). As one of my final posts from Rovaniemi (sniff..) I wanted to round out my posting about gifts and souvenirs FROM Finland. I’ve posted about gifts to bring to Finland, gifts Finnish people might give so I figured I would round things out with gifts to bring for yourself and others when traveling away from Finland.
For me, this is my sixth time to Finland so I get to be really selfish and bring mostly stuff for myself- since I’ve brought souvenirs for just about everyone I know at this point. Souvenirs from Finland include about four things- especially since we know we’re always coming back- kind of changes your mind set when you aren’t questioning how long it will be to obtain that unique thing on a visit in the unknown future. These things include: Rye Bread or Ruis Leipä in Finnish, Candy (karkkia), Chocolate (suklaata), coffee (kahvia), and Golden Cap cider (ciideriä). I guess that comes out to five things, huh? Some might say chocolate is candy but to me the categories are a little different when you’re talking about Fazer chocolate- deserves it’s own mention. Why these five items? Easy answer- they are some of the best pieces of Finland and you can’t get them in the U.S., well, some you can such as Fazer chocolate from FinnStyle in Minneapolis, MN when it’s in stock but everything else you typically need to ship FROM Finland. We’ve done that but the shipping charges can get a little crazy.
To understand the significance of each of these items you really have to taste them for yourself but I will provide my opinion. The candy and chocolate might not excite people as it does me but I have a HUGE sweet tooth and Finnish candy is a amazing. True Finns will talk non stop about Salmiakki and it’s hard to find a bag of candy without Salmiakki- it’s as Finnish as candy gets. Kind of like black licorice on the lighter end but it can also be really strong- you really have to taste it to understand what I’m talking about and it comes in so many different forms. There is a good post on Wikipedia about Salmiakki and readers might find interesting. In the photo below you can see two bags on the left- the one on top is black licorice the one on the left is full of different forms of salmiakki. The huge bag on the right is all fruity!!! We’re about to head to City Market to buy more- the idea is to get as much as possible to last for months- these bags would last through February at best so we’ve gots tons more to buy!
Chocolate or suklaata? Don’t be afraid, but we got a little crazy with Fazer chocolate and liquer filled chocolates this year between gifts and our own purchases. BUT, like the candy, it will all be gone before summer because we just LOVE it!
Up next is coffee or kahvia. Nothing to say other than the taste is just unique and Finns love their coffee- similar to the British and tea. Served all day, everyday for every occasion! We prefer the Paulig coffee but there are tons of different varieties.
And then there is the Rye Bread- a Finnish specialty that you can’t get ANYWHERE in the U.S. unless you make it or order it, just ask any Finn, they miss it terribly when away from Finland. I hate to suck it up and admit my fault but…I must admit that I have made a complete 180 degree flip on my stance of Finnish rye bread. The first time I tried it I felt like I was eating card board. Like actual card board. Not like rice cakes or similar taste that you think might be card board but you can eat it. No, this was terrible at first (and second and third bite) for five years I completely rejected it- so very unFinnish of me. BUT, this past summer in the U.S. I hit a health kick and switched from wheat bread to Wasa Crackers. Difficult at first- also in the card board family but I adjusted. And wouldn’t you know it, after 5 months of Wasa crackers, rye bread began tasting oh so very good. And it is ridiculously healthy being 100% rye! I LOVE it, can’t get enough of it, will fight my boyfriend for it. Guess I became one step closer to becoming Finnish though I know I have a LOT to make up for with my negative comments over the year. We’re taking back five bags to keep in the freezer and pull out once a week or so. We’ll ride it out as long as we can and then long for our next trip to Finland to stock up again. Or, I might try to make it if desperation sets in mid summer!
And the cider? Well, my previous post will do this justice. Read my “Ode to Finnish Cider (Golden Cap)”
And that’s it, 14 hours and we’re off to Helsinki- maybe a post or two left and then back to Minneapolis. It’s been fun!
We’re in our last few days in Rovaniemi which means our last meals. Thankfully, last meals are (typically) represented by the best of the best foods. In our case on this trip that includes Reindeer stew (or sauteed reindeer, no official name for reindeer over mashed potatoes) as well as blueberry pie! I’ve posted MANY times on reindeer stew but this was the first time I caught all the action from the very beginning, well almost, the VERY beginning includes hunting down the reindeer and that doesn’t sound like something I would find all that appealing. There is a mixture of photos and video from the process of making reindeer stew, enjoy!
First, the reindeer pieces are cut from the large hunk of reindeer slab. Here, they keep the huge slab frozen and cut off pieces from the semi-frozen mound as they need it so it can continue to stay in the freezer. One huge slab can serve about 30 or so people. Here are photos of the slab, the knife used and a little video of cutting these raw pieces of reindeer.
After the reindeer is cut, or at the same time if two people are making the reindeer- the entire bowl is filled with reindeer first so you can imagine that cutting from a frozen piece might take a while. Bacon is cut into pieces and added to the pot to cook before adding the reindeer. In the grocery store, the bacon is called “American” bacon
Then, after the bacon has had time to cook and the flavor is brought out, the reindeer is added and they are mixed together with pepper and seasoning. Below are photos of adding the reindeer and the pot simmering. Why a wooden spoon rather than metal? No idea, but that is actually the norm I see with lots of cooking here. I would never call myself a chef or a cook so I’m not sure of what else one might use.
Once the reindeer and bacon and spices have had time to cook- a good 30 minutes or so (could be more, could be less, I went out for a quick run in the middle so actual timing I’m not sure of 100%), but anyways, it is now time for the secret ingredient- beer. NOTE- this is not a “standard” recipe and you will most likely find many households who don’t cook it this way, but this is an ingredient my boyfriend’s mother uses and not only does it seem to do the trick, might contribute to why I feel it is the best reindeer EVER. Anyone who cooks with wine or other alcohol knows that the actual alcohol cooks away and it is the flavor that is valued in the recipe. Regular old Lapin Kulta beer is the brand.
And that’s it, about an hour to cook and simmer with all the ingredients and you’re done! Below is the finished product- tastes as good (or better) as it looks- or if you think it doesn’t look good, oh boy does it look 100% better then. It’s really amazing and a must for ANYONE traveling to Finland (or any other place in the world where you can get reindeer! I will so miss this until the next time we make it back to Finland.