Studying abroad is the perfect opportunity to travel. It is a rare time in your life where you have both the time and (while not all the money in the world) the ability to get cheap trips! In the past semester I have tried to take full advantage of this. You can see an earlier blog for info on my earlier trips to Riga and Tallinn but later in the semester I also travelled to St Petersburg and Lapland! Both trips were arranged through Aikamatkat Timetravels who arrange student package deal trips. However I also know those who have arranged it themselves at a similar cost so both are a possibility depending on dates available etc.
I enjoyed St Petersburg, as a city, much more than I though I would. It is much less ‘soviet’ than I had imagined and an very pretty city indeed! We travelled on an overnight ferry. In order to keep the trip cheap you’ll want to avoid the need for a visa and the only way to do so is to travel by ferry and stay a maximum of 72 hour. This gives you enough time to get a feel for the city though I would have loved to have spent more time there!
Coming from Helsinki (where everyone speaks English perfectly) it was a bit of a shock that very few people spoke any, but googling of a few phrases gets you by and the tour guides on the package tours are always happy to help.
Since Russia is famous for its ballet we thought it to be a must to see Swan Lake at the Hermitage Theatre this was a really fantastic night out and something to cross off the bucket list. We also saw beautiful landmarks such as the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood, Catherine’s Palace and Hermitage State Museum (the oldest museum in the world) and finished off the trip with a nighttime canal cruise and night out in St Petersburg. There are lots of nice bars and restaurants in St Petersburg and I would have loved to stay a few more days! All of the sightseeing was amazing – the city is full of beautiful buildings
If you are studying in Finland, Lapland is a must and Christmas time is the most perfect time to go. So many things on my bucket list were ticked off on that trip: meeting the real santa (makes you as excited as all the children in the room); seeing the northern lights; swimming in the arctic ocean; seeing the Fjords of Norway; and husky sledging. We also visited Rauna Zoo; met some Sami people and went on a reindeer sled ride; and went on a snow shoe walk.
We chose to visit Saariselkä but Aikamatkat Timetravels offer trips to a number of towns in Lapland. Saariselkä is a tourist town so there are some shops and bars in the town. We stayed in some lodges around 15 minute walk from the ‘centre’. The lodges themselves were lovely, they had their own saunas as well as good self catering facilities.
As I said, while we were there we were lucky enough to see the northern lights – one night our tour guide just knocked on our door and told us to get to the bus stop ASAP since they had been spotted just outside town, there was great excitement as we all rushed out and they were definitely worth it!
We took a day trip to Norway to the town of Bugøynes. Here we all had a sauna before running in to the freezing Arctic Ocean (and quickly running out again!) in the beautiful setting amongst the fjords and hills. We then headed to a lovely little cafe for some soup and to try some local cheese – all the locals were very welcoming and happy to tell us about the area and the history. A local woman told us that one shouldn’t wash for 3 days after swimming in the ocean to allow the nutrients to be absorbed – some took this advice more seriously than others!
As I said – if you do studying in Finland (or even nearby) be sure to visit lapland at some point – it truly is a magical place.
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