2017 round up

Wow. 2017 is coming to an end.  Here’s the summary of my year:

  • Read 32 books. I cannot believe it but I’ve officially rediscovered my love of reading.  Next year, I’m going to beat this.
  • Started the year in Stockholm, Sweden.  It feels like it’s been years since I was there even though it was only 12 months.
  • Went to Thailand and saw my friends get married.
  • Hung out with elephants.
  • Went to Iceland and Finland in search of the Northern Lights.
  • Lived in LA.
  • Moved to Seattle.
  • Left my job and started a new one.
  • Spent 50% of my time in an airport, on an airplane, or a different city after moving to Seattle.
  • Went through my hardest breakup ever.
  • Rediscovered my love for San Francisco.
  • Dyed my hair pink.
  • Tried an absurd amount of new and delicious foods in various cities around the world.
  • Drove from LA to Seattle by myself for the first time.
  • Went to my 28th country.
  • Purchased real adult furniture instead of trying to make all my broken Ikea furniture work.
  • Went to CES 2017.
  • Consumed an absurd amount of goat cheese. Finding out Costco sold goat cheese was a downfall in all the best ways.
  • Got to reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in years.
  • Saw multiple friends get married and start the next chapters in their lives.

This is just a short summary of all the craziness that was 2017.  I’m so curious what 2018 has in store for me.

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The Northern Lights

As you are well aware, this entire adventure was based around chasing the Northern Lights.  I have wanted to see it since I was young and this was my actual chance to do it.  Or at least that’s what I was hoping.  The thing about the Northern Lights is that it is unpredictable and dependent on the weather.  You can’t really predict if you’re going to get good enough conditions and you can’t ever really guarantee that you’re going to see them. And now, as the times are changing, the lights are slowly fading and it’s going to eventually disappear.  The amount of time throughout the year that you’ll be able to see it gets shorter and shorter and at some point, they may no longer be visible.  Granted, that’ll be for many, many, many years.

We had missed our chance to see the lights while we were in Iceland due to the snow and poor weather so this was basically our last chance to finally see the lights on this trip.

As we lay in bed, we stared out into the sky from our igloo and waited. Deep down I was very concerned that this was going to be a failure and we wouldn’t see the lights but I wanted so badly for the lights to appear. As we waited, the night went on, the sky got a bit darker, we stared and stared.  Finally, we saw something faint in the distance that wasn’t the color of the sky but a light green.  To be honest, at first, we stared at it and thought that our eyes were playing tricks on us. But the light got brighter and then another light appeared.  It was almost like a faint green streak of light over the sky and it was moving.

We later found out that the people who went on the excursions actually saw the Northern Lights in full form from the lakes that they traveled out to.  We ran into a couple that had the photos and it was obvious that their view point was significantly better than our igloo but we definitely saw the lights from our beds.  As we sat there and stared, it was absolutely beautiful and breathtaking.  It’s not often you get to see something like that in real life and the pictures do not do it justice.  It’s definitely a wonderful experience and now I want to see it in perfect conditions.  I can officially check this off my bucket list but, my hunt continues to see it in full force.

We tried to stay awake for as long as possible so that we could maybe see it get brighter but eventually we passed out sometime after 130AM.  It was the perfect way to fall asleep.

Kakslauttanen at night

Once we got back to our igloo, we grabbed our swimsuits and made our way over to the sauna.  The saunas at the resort have towels and are available 24/7.  In addition, since the igloos don’t have actual showers, the sauna building also has all the showers for the entire resort. As I mentioned before, if you are someone who doesn’t like to shower in public, then this is probably not for you.  When you walk into the building, there are three rooms. You enter into the changing area where there are hooks and benches along with towels.  To the left of that room is a small one stall bathroom and then it leads over to the shower room which is laid out in the same way as locker room showers.  From there then you have the last room which is the sauna room.

We changed, grabbed some towels and went into the sauna.  We had been given instructions but left them at the igloo and so we weren’t entirely sure how to manage the sauna.  This isn’t one of those fancy new fangled saunas but rather one with super hot coals, a bucket of water, a ladle and some benches.  To be honest, we just ended up turning on the fire, sitting down, discussing what we needed to do with the bucket and the water and then just assuming that we could enjoy the sauna sans water.

After about 10 minutes, I couldn’t handle it anymore.  If you didn’t know, I cannot handle heat. I would much rather be cold than hot, especially because it’s much harder for me to cool down than it is for me to warm up.  Plus, I do not do well in the heat.  I get dehydrated super quickly and then light headed.  So when we hit 10 minutes, I had to give up and go back to the regular rooms to cool down. We turned off the heat for the coals and redressed and made our way back out to our igloo.

It’s said that most Finnish saunas usually have you soak in the heat and then jump in a cold lake then come back.  We had watched people do very similar things with the hot springs over in Iceland but I was not brave enough to attempt that.

As we settled into our igloo for the night, we prepared ourselves for the Northern Lights.  And by prepared, I mean, we laid down in our beds and crossed our fingers in hopes that we would see something.  The weather hadn’t been too impressive while we were there and there were definitely overcast skies the entire day so we were definitely concerned about our ability to actually see the northern lights during this trip so all we with us was luck.

Dinner at Kakslauttanen Resort

When it was finally time for dinner, we checked in with the restaurant and were seated right by the window.  The thing about the dinner at the resort is that you don’t really have options.  They do an appetizer which was a salad and then the entree which was either meat or vegetarian and then a dessert.  Other than that, the only thing you really get to choose would be your beverage.

We had our salad which wasn’t anything to write home about but then they came out with this delicious steak with a side of potatoes.  It wasn’t anything terribly complicated but it was very well done in terms of how it was cooked and the seasoning they used was absolutely wonderful.  After we finished off our dinner, we had our dessert which was by far my favorite thing.  It was a mint ice cream with a fruit topping that was absolutely delicious.

During this time, the staff was super friendly and were very attentive.  Since they only serve dinner at one time, everyone in the West Village had dinner at the same time.  Do to the fact that we had decided to go during non-peak season, we were there with just a few other people. It felt like a very intimate dinner that we were having while overlooking the snow covered village just outside of the window.  The restaurant itself feels very rustic and lodge-esque.  Everything was wood and there were antler chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.  It was super warm inside and the colors were calming and it feels like you’re at some sort of fancy ski chalet with the beautiful weather outside.

If you get a chance to check out the restaurant, I would highly recommend checking out their bar there.  They had a glass igloo attached where you can go sit there during the evening under the stars and enjoy some beverages.  There’s also a piano so I’m sure when there are more people there, they have some live music playing during the evening festivities.

When we were finally done with our meal, we caught the shuttle over to the east village and decided that we wanted to explore our current village before the sun went down.

What I love about the holidays

During this time of year I spend a lot of time reflecting on life. As someone who is incredibly sentimental, here’s what I love about the holidays:

  • Travel cause obviously.  I have to admit that I was concerned that in my new role, I wouldn’t be able to travel because the vacation and time off policies are drastically different than my previous roles but luckily, it’s still going to allow me to wander.
  • The festive lights. I love seeing all the holiday lights. I know that most people love seeing the Christmas lights but I love it because it warms up the cold nights quickly and is always so beautiful.
  • How quiet the city gets. The bus schedule changes slightly in support of the holidays. People disappear for a bit, the buildings get quieter, the streets seem less populated.
  • Peppermint Mochas.  100% everything peppermint.  I usually save all peppermint things for the holiday season and I very rarely consume it outside of the holidays.  As soon as Starbucks releases the peppermint mochas, I know it’s the holidays and it’s all I want in my life.
  • My glitter Christmas Trees.  I bought a gold and silver glitter Christmas tree that I’ve lugged from apartment to apartment.  And by lug, I mean, just packed away.  They’re only about a foot tall so they’re not anything too fancy. But I love seeing the glitter tree sitting out saying hello.
  • All the sweaters. I guess this comes around with the cold weather. I love dressing in oversized sweaters and fuzzy socks.  If I could live in a fuzzy blanket at all times, I would.
  • Cuties. The little oranges.  Yes, winter means that these are in season and I love buying them in bulk.  Usually I have to exercise self control when I eat them because otherwise, I would eat an entire bag on my own in one sitting. But honestly, cuties are by far one of my favorite foods in the winter.
  • Noodles and soup. I love noodles and I love soup.  I feel like I can justify eating it for every meal in the winter time.  When it’s 90 degrees outside, it’s hard to justify hot soup even if you’re craving it.
  • Boots and booties.  I love wearing these all the time.  My favorite other shoes would be ballet flats but boots and booties are just so practical and work for everything. Plus, they’re super comfortable and I feel like I can stomp through all the puddles without consequences.

It’s a strange list and to be honest, it’s probably more winter loves than holiday loves but I associate the two together. What do you love about the holidays?

West Village, Kakslauttanen Resort

Luckily the resort allows for people to travel between the two halves of the village via a van, it’s super easy to make your way between what each one has to offer. One thing to make sure of is that if you plan on eating dinner at a different village than where you are staying, you need to make sure you make a reservation with the reception desk so they can ensure that they are prepared for you.

We stopped by the reception desk, made our dinner reservation and then hopped on a shuttle over to the other village. We were dropped off at the other reception area and we just started walking.  When we had checked in, they had given us a map of both villages but I have to admit that they were not the best maps.  I think it was partially due to the fact that they had plans for expansion that were in work but already reflected on the actual map so it made a little confusing.

We started by heading on our way to Santa’s Cabin which was closed, then wandered around the rest of the resort stopping by a tipi that you can actually stay in, a reindeer farm where there were a few reindeer and then walking past a sauna and other buildings they had put up.  If you’re there over the holidays or tourist season, I’m sure that it would be very busy and everything would be open.  For us, we were there in the middle of the week and in the slow season so there wasn’t much going on.  We weren’t able to go into any of the extra buildings so we just had to walk through all the cold snow and wander past each building looking longingly in.

As we passed the reindeer farm, I wanted so badly to be best friends with the reindeer but I wasn’t sure how friendly they were and there was no one around so we watched them from a distance.  It’s crazy to think that reindeer are actually real, I know it sounds strange to say that but, it’s so cool.

The rest of the resort is super quite and definitely worth checking out. If you’re looking for a full day excursion of stuff to do, then this is probably not what you would choose to do because you’ll run out of things to do very quickly. But if you’re looking for immersing yourself in nature and having some peace and quiet, I would definitely recommend this. Being so far away from any city, the resort is peaceful and super quiet.  The air is the freshest I have ever experienced and it is super tranquil.  It was great to be there, especially because it was so far removed from everywhere else that we didn’t even have wifi in our igloos.

When we were done with the cold and the snow, we decided to go rest in the main lodge until dinner.  We settled into some couches by the reception desk and started enjoying some tea while we read our books.

Life in a glass igloo

As made our trek from the reception desk, we passed some full on snow igloos that were closed since it was later in the year.  But these are the fancy queen suite igloos that require you to sleep in actual sleep bags and, for me personally, it would be too cold. As we walked, we passed the sauna, a little bridge, some bathrooms (for the snow igloos) and then made our way to Igloo Lane.  We were the very last igloo on Igloo Lane and started walking down the little road to our home for the evening.  Imagine a row of houses in the suburbs but replace all the houses with glass igloos, snow and trees and that was what Igloo Lane looked like.

We walked up to our igloo and unlocked the door.  Warning, if you are tall, getting through this door will be a bit more on the difficult side.  The entrance to the igloos are definitely very small.  As we entered into our igloo, we entered probably the smallest living space we could have been staying in but it was absolutely adorable. Right when you enter, there is a storage cabinet on the left where they have extra pillows and blankets and immediately to the right is the entrance to your bathroom door. Right after that leads into the living area and it has two beds and the room opens up to the world. You have minimal privacy in these igloos so if you’re not close with the person you’re traveling with, then be prepared.

Due to the shape of the igloo, the bathroom isn’t 100% enclosed. It houses only a toilet and a tiny sink and the wall separating the bathroom from the rest of the igloo doesn’t fit the ceiling of the igloo.  Luckily, they have frosted the glass on the bathroom portion there so you have some privacy.  In the living area itself, you have a small curtain that covers the entire bottom fourth of the igloo and that is it.  The two beds are twin beds that you can leave separated or push together and they come fully equipped with electric blankets to allow for extra warmth.  These are key if you get cold very easily because you’re living in a glass igloo and you don’t get to control the temperature in the igloo itself.  The team at the resort actually controls the temperature in all the igloos so you will need to be prepared for that.

As we settled into our igloo, we were in awe of the view that we had.  Since we were on the edge of the lane, we only had one neighbor that we could actually see and the other side was just the forest. And we were on a hill so we were able to look out over the tops of the forest which was breathtaking.

Finally, we were settled in our igloo and we decided we wanted to go check out the rest of the resort so we headed over to the reception desk to catch the van over to the other half of the resort.

Unfinished Business

Have you ever felt like there was something you wish you had seen all the way through? Whether it’s a project, a goal, a job, or even a TV show?

I’ve thought a lot lately about this and to be honest, as a person who consistently says I don’t have any regrets and that’s the way I want to live my life, I think I have something that is close to a regret. As you know, I used to work at a startup down in LA and it’s on the verge of officially going under. Or not, still to be determined. But it’s in a bad place and all the people who made this place amazing left. That being said, I don’t regret leaving when I did. I left before many of my friends and I think I would have jumped at any opportunity had I waited longer. But I was lucky enough to have options when I left. Along those lines, I don’t regret going to that company, I don’t regret the new job I have and I don’t regret the decisions I made.

But I am sad about leaving that company and I often find myself reflecting on that experience and thinking about the people I met. The group of people I got to work with can be described as the dream team. I’m sure everyone has those jobs where you get to join a team and work with absolutely amazing people. You enjoy the work, knowing it’s not perfect, and you’re blessed with working with amazing people even if they aren’t perfect. I had that.

I had a team that I adored the instant I joined. We spent 12 hours a day together, we suffered through some crazy drama from the company, we celebrated birthdays/green cards/parties/crazy work environments together. It was us against the world and it was a group of 50 people who could relate to the statement of work and were people you could always rely on them. When I look back on the job and the team, I look back fondly. And to be honest, I miss it so much. I am at a point now where the idea of joining another team will never live up to the dream team I was a part of.

And for that, there is a part of me that looks back on that job and I’m sad. I’m sad because we couldn’t make it work and I couldn’t work with that great team for longer. I am sad because it could have been amazing, it could have been awesome. And now it’s done. It’s gone and the chances of being with all of those people in the same place again is slim to none. We’ve dispersed around the world and to various industries.

Away suitcase – favorite travel items of 2017

I officially tested out my new Away suitcase and I have to say that I am quite pleased with having a new suitcase to travel with.  As you know, I have usually used a backpack and to be 100% honest, I will continue to use it.  But when I do need a suitcase, the one that I had previously was flimsy and didn’t move well through airports.  Plus it’s been well loved and a little damaged over the last few years of increased travel.

Now that I’ve had a chance to test out my new suitcase, I have a list of products  that I want to share as my favorite travel items. I’m sure I’ve spoken about these a few times, but here it goes:

World’s Best Travel Jacket: It holds up to it’s name for sure. I wrote a full post about this jacket awhile ago and it still holds true that I love this jacket so much.  I got the bomber jacket and it’s been great for all the cold weather trips I’ve had.

Away suitcase: There are many new suitcases out there that have charger capabilities and all the new fancy pockets for everything.  I personally love the durability of the suitcase and the agility of it when I’m moving around the airport.  Plus the color options are pretty awesome.

Allpa Travel Pack (Cotopaxi): I won’t get to travel with this bag for a bit but based off what I’ve seen and experienced so far, this may be the new replacement of my trust mint green backpack.

Hanover Backpack: I actually use this bag on a regular basis for work as my laptop bag but I love traveling with it, especially for work. It’s simple, durable and super comfortable.  Plus the insert on the inside is removable and has plenty of pockets for everything you need.

Tieks: I love my Tieks and I will always love my Tieks.  They’re foldable and great for traveling with.  I would highly recommend breaking them in before you bring them on a trip with you because they’re a little rough to break in but they are fantastic and durable.

Rothys: If you don’t want to waste time breaking in the shoes, check out Rothys.  These are made out of recycled plastic and took me zero time to break in.  The first time I wore them, I wore them for a full day at work.  They are washable and super comfortable.  Unfortunately they don’t fold but they are super lightweight and are super easy to pack.

Allbirds: I know… Everyone has Allbirds.  But honestly, they’re amazing.  I love them and they are so comfortable.  They are worth every penny and I love that they are machine washable (this may be a trend for me)

Uniqlo Down Jacket: There’s also a vest that’s just as awesome.  These jackets and vests pack into a small bag and are great for being packable and taking up minimal space.

Vim Jacket: I love using exercise gear as my travel stuff because it’s meant to keep you warm while being lightweight. I love this jacket and it provides the ability to pack into its own pocket and it’s a great rain jacket.

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort

If you check out the website for Kakslauttanen, it says that the best way to get to the resort is to drive or take a shuttle.  There are some taxis and local buses but because this area is relatively unpopulated, they are few and far between.  What is usually a 30 minute journey could take you significantly longer and cost you significantly more (in the case of a taxi).  We had opted in for the Kakslauttanen Shuttle which was 27 EUROS per person.  Expensive for sure, but totally worth it.  We got into our shuttle with a few other families going to the same place and made our way out to the resort.

The drive to Kakslauttanen is wonderful because it’s just a two lane road and the woods.  There are a few clearings where you can look out into the snow covered land but the amount of buildings that you see and even the amount of cars that you will see are minimal if any.  Ivalo is actually 10 minutes north of the airport and Kakslauttanen is about 30 minutes south of the airport. If you plan on flying up to the resort, Ivalo airport is going to be the closest airport you can fly to and I believe it is the most northern airport in Finland.

We arrived at the resort and that’s where we were dropped off.

Kakslauttanen is actually broken up into two villages, East Village and West Village.  East Village is the older and original part of the resort, plus it is significantly smaller than the West Village. We were dropped off in East Village and there we checked with the front desk.  We received information regarding what entertainment was available, tours, and basic need to know regarding what was available at the resort.

Since we were so far north, the entertainment options were not many and the food options were limited.  All three meals at the resort itself are limited for when it is available and you have to make reservations for dinner to ensure that they have food available.  Plus it is a set three course menu.  As part of the reservation, you need to decide which village you want to eat at and let them know a few hours in advance. Along with that, there is only wifi in the main reception houses at each village so while you’re in your accommodations, you will not have access to the internet (unless you’re paying for data). For the glass igloos, there are half bathrooms in each one which means just a toilet and a sink.  If you want to shower, you need to go to the saunas located close by. In addition, the reception desk controls the temperature of all the igloos so you will not have any control over the temperature in your room. Lastly, you’ll get an map of what’s available at each village so that you can wander.  And, if you want to purchase any expeditions, you can go through the front desk.

After getting our little debrief on the resort, we picked up our bags and started making the trek to Igloo Lane.  Yes, it was a trek and yes, we were staying on Igloo Lane.