Category Archives: Well- being

Where do you draw your energy from – the Sea, Rivers, Lakes, Forest or some place else?

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Sometimes I get stuck in a rut only noticing what is not in line with my ideal, which for instance would include both lakes/sea AND plentiful trees. Last week I’ve been able to start enjoying more of something that is important to me: the Forest! To me it’s both cleansing and soothing and helps me re-energise. Just nearby to my home I’ve found many locations where I wanted to linger and identified places that would be perfect for ‘mindfulness moments’, reminding myself to take a blanket with me the next time I go ( & maybe even a little picnic).

 

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I sensed something within me awakening – I felt something like a sensation of déjà vu, it felt comforting and familiar yet awe inspiring! The majestic, towering trees and the beauty of nature help put things into perspective. It’s comforting to rediscover the familiar peace I was often able to regain during moments of teenage angst on walks in the forests of my youth in Finland, but now instead locally in nearby German forests. This is something I couldn’t do easily in Cornwall, as the woods there are quite rare and small!

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Although not quite the sea, but rivers like the Rhine are actually huge; It is the second longest river in Central and Western Europe!

My old home in the south-west of England may have had the sea which I dearly love, but Germany has an abundance of lush forests with trickling streams and flowing rivers. Now that I feel like I’m moving towards a better work – life balance, I seem to have more ‘head-space’ to notice more of the lovely things my new home in Germany has to offer. I know that spending more time in nature is good for our well-being, so making time for this is crucial for me personally and due to too many demands on my time over the past few years I’ve neglected this. After all,  there is much research supporting the importance of spending time outside being crucial for all of us. In fact, Mind (a UK based mental health charity) state that ‘Ecotherapy should be recognised as a clinically valid treatment for mental distress’.

Being an expat…. part A) in the UK

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I started this blog with the aim to post about all the positive & interesting experiences I have in my new life here in Germany, as well as about the practicalities of creating yet another home. I don’t like to dwell on the negative, as it really doesn’t help me, nor would it be an uplifting read for anyone else. However, there is no denying that we have had several challenges with settling here… more than I’d anticipated. I had (and still have) positive expectation from our move from the UK to Germany. I think with my multicultural background I am quite adaptable and certainly found that our transition from the Finland to Britain went very well. However, there are a few major differences with our current move that have made it more difficult. Today’s post focuses on reasons why it was relatively easy to settle into our new life in England and the culture there. Next time I’ll discuss the same topics in relation to our move to Germany. Forgive me for being a bit wordy, but I’m using this blog as a way to clarify my thoughts and perhaps reach out to others in similar situations.

1) Language

When I moved to England I had a reasonable knowledge of the English language even though the last time I’d lived in an English speaking country was when I was a young girl. Finnish schools have English as a compulsory foreign language, so I learnt about basic grammar etc. One year prior to our move to England I had serendipitously enrolled and completed one year of a university degree on English language & literature (albeit at a Finnish university), which allowed me to develop my skills a bit further than those of a small child and luckily I had a few British lecturers. So although when I arrived in Britain I had the massive task of bringing myself up to the level of an adult English speaker, I could at least function on many practical levels.

2) Relocation

My husband’s previous employer had experience with relocating foreigners to the UK, so on a practical front we were VERY well supported. They even paid for our daughter’s extra English tuition to help her settle into the local primary school. Surprisingly they even supported us with some of the fees in buying our house, as well as paid for our hotel & meals for 2 months followed by another month in a holiday rental whilst we awaited for our house buying process to be completed!! We are very grateful to them for such amazing support.

3) Practical advice

I was much younger back when we moved to Cornwall (26) than now and my daughter had just turned 7, so there are natural opportunities to meet other mothers when dropping kids off at the school gates, as well as through arranging play dates. I met many very friendly Cornish ladies in this manner and had numerous invitations to have cups of tea. Also, I walked to and from school each morning and afternoon when we were still living at a lovely little local seaside hotel, which gave me a chance to walk together with parents living in the pretty little village of Charlestown. They were very supportive and friendly, patiently tolerating many silly questions about practical things such as buying groceries, doctors, dentists etc. So even before I started university I rarely felt lonely even though my husband travelled a great deal with his work (still does).

4) Social support networks

I started university ½ a year after we moved to the UK. This allowed me to gain immediate access to a social support network. Never mind that I was a foreigner, when people start university hardly anyone knows each other, so people are keen to establish friendships! Also, it obviously helps that people on the same course are likely to have some common interests and there were other foreign students around giving the university a multicultural vibe. I made some of my best friends at university 🙂

5) Countryside

When we moved to Cornwall, I was basically moving from a Nordic rural setting to a British one!! (See the above picture of the stunning St Michael’s Mount which was a local beauty spot we visited often.) I have come to realise that I really love the countryside and that is what I was mainly accustomed to during the years I spent living in both Finland as well as the US. My Finnish grandparent’s farm house was what I learnt to view as my home-base, probably because it was the one thing that remained the same and stable throughout my childhood’s many house moves. I think it became something of an idyll against which I compare everything else, probably because of many happy and secure memories from the times spent there. I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate the conveniences of city life; in fact in an ideal world I would have a country escape as well as a city pad. Unfortunately, flats here in Wiesbaden are too expensive to allow for a countryside get away at the moment (at least for us).

6) Local mentality

Again, I think I was lucky because many people in rural England tend to be quite friendly and chatty, which was my immediate experience in Cornwall. I know this could have been very different in other areas or big cities where people rarely take time to smile or say hello on the streets. As already mentioned above, at university I met many people who had ‘uprooted’ from elsewhere to study, so the general attitude was one of acceptance. I love British friendliness, such as the casual small-talk that takes place in coffee shops, grocery tills, post offices etc. Also, there tends to be a general attempt to be courteous and considerate in the way people communicate. People even apologise when YOU bump into them 😉 After 15 1/2 years that habit even caught on with me!!

Usually when I have difficulties I try to problem solve my way out of them. I think it’s helpful to understand what is making this transition more difficult than previous ones. Understanding puts a person in a better position to adjust what they can to make things easier and learn to accept what can’t be changed AND importantly celebrate what is good – and there is almost always something positive to be grateful for 🙂 I would love to hear from you about any initial struggles you’ve had as an Expat in whichever country you have moved to. What made transitioning easier for you and/or what made it difficult?

In part B) of this post I’ll speak more about my German experience! (Below picture is from Cologne)

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Our stay in idyllic Porvoo/Borgå in Finland

DSF_0279As promised I’m posting some of the photos I snapped whilst we were visiting my husband’s family in Porvoo. I always enjoy walking around the little old town centre and exploring the small boutiques, as well as soaking up the atmosphere of traditional Nordic wooden architecture and pastel colours punctuated by a few Scandinavian red buildings. The town was bustling in preparation for their yearly ‘Ostosten Yö’ event, which translates to ‘The Night of Shopping’! All the little boutiques, cafés and restaurants were open much later than usual and some music and entertainment was also provided to add to the happy vibe 🙂

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We had a delicious lunch at the seasonal summer restaurant ‘Johans’ http://www.restaurantjohans.fi which was on it’s final opening day before winter closure. The restaurant is mainly a large terrace overlooking the Porvoo River and a smaller indoor space with rustic seating inside an old river-barn type of building!! The picture immediately below was taken from their terrace. I’ve just noticed the sweet little birdhouse made from a birch log by my daughter’s head!

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After lunch we walked around town again shopping for handmade little treats such as organic soap and delicious chocolates from the tiny chocolate factory shop http://www.suklaatehdas.com !! We enjoyed the scenery of Porvoo River along which the old town is situated. Below you can see more of the old boat houses or river barns, which used to  function as temporary storage for goods brought over-seas such as exotic fruit, spices, wine and coffee. They are painted in the traditional nordic red paint known in Finnish as ‘punamulta’, which can be translated as red earth paint. This paint was and is still used to preserve wooden structures. Apparently the sheds in these pictures have been painted with red earth paint since the 1700’s! In fact the whole town was made as attractive as possible with freshly painted houses just before the visit of the Swedish king Gustav III who also reigned over Finland. (I’m sure they’ve been painted quite a few times since the 1700’s 😉 )

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We ended our afternoon with coffee’s and drinks at a little café enjoying Finnish ‘korvapuusti’, which is a traditional cinnamon roll including cardamom. Our daughter had Runeberg’s torte, which legend says were first created in Porvoo by Fredrika the wife of the Finnish national poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg. The torte is simple looking but very delicious and moistened with rum and flavored with almonds and raspberry jam. All were very yummy and enjoyed on the terrace in the pleasant afternoon sun. A lovely ending to a pleasant day 😀

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Greetings from Finland & Sweden!

Finally a quick hello after a long silence on my blog. Things have been tricky to say the least… So much so that as a family we have been carefully evaluating whether Germany is the right place for us to live at the moment or not. While there are many things I love about this country, we have had increasing difficulties over the past few months. No rash decisions will be made about whether we stay or not, but we did need to have a proper break from Germany and some nasty events that in all honesty are a little too close for comfort. That’s why we spent about 2 1/2 weeks on a road trip across Scandinavia and our beloved North!!!

Here are some photos from the upper deck during our 11 hour boat cruise across the Baltic Sea and the beautiful archipelago between Stockholm and Turku/Åbo.

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It’s quite amazing how these gigantic ships negotiate the thousands of isles off the shores of Sweden and Finland!! There are quite a few rocky patches that we passed in close proximity. Nonetheless, we felt perfectly relaxed and happy as the weather was gorgeous and sunny with only little waves (unlike some of my past less positive experiences when I’ve crossed the sea in a winter storm).

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During the cruise across we happily spent a few hours having our own little ‘crayfish party’, or rather a massive starter of fresh Swedish crayfish and smoked Norwegian prawns. All were lovely and fresh followed by delicious glow-fried trout 🙂 Our attentive waiting staff coped beautifully (although were possibly amused) with our peculiar mixture of Finnish-English-Swedish speech at the table! It was so lovely to have had enough seafood during the past couple of weeks to hopefully keep us satisfied for a while, as fish just isn’t all that fabulous or fresh in our landlocked German location.

That’s it for today, but I will post some more about our visits to Porvoo & Stockholm soon!! Another update about our German situation is also due soon once I gather my thoughts a bit more…

Longing for lakes or the sea…

My yearning for water has intensified with the recent stifling heat we’ve been experiencing!! As I’ve almost always lived near the sea or at least a very large lake, I feel I need to start researching swimming options nearby. There is nothing better than plunging yourself into cool refreshing water to make scorching weather more tolerable 🙂 I know there are plenty of swimming pools and spas here locally, but the thought of them probably becoming over-crowded the minute it’s very warm just isn’t that appealing to me. At least it’s very lush and green in the Wiesbaden area and walking in the woods does cool you down a bit!!

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The only lake I’ve been to so far whilst living in Germany is Lake Constance, which is the country’s largest lake. It was very beautiful, but as we spent Christmas there it was the wrong time of year for swimming!! At the time, however, I thought it would be lovely to visit again in the summer. Below you can see some pics I snapped when it was chilly, now I think it just looks refreshing!!! I can imagine how gorgeous this area is in the summer 🙂

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I’ve also heard that Lake Alpsee by Neuschwanstein castle is very scenic! I wonder if it might be good for swimming as well… If anyone out there has been, I’d love to hear of your experience. I’ve also seen pictures and heard good things about Lake Müritz, Königssee & Titesee. The closest lake I know of, Mummelsee, is still quite a long 2 1/2 hour drive from Wiesbaden and I believe it is rather small, so I suspect it gets packed on balmy weather 😦 Would love to hear of pretty and peaceful lakes that are a shorter drive to Wiesbaden (near Frankfurt)!!!

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konigsee4 The above photos of Königssee are from the website: http://www.bayern.by/koenigssee

For now I’m trying to cool down with fans, ice water, cool showers and by closing all the shutters on the windows to block out the intense sun. To think I initially hated the look of window shutters here in Germany, which are usually not like the pretty wooden shutters on French houses ; they are actually very functional and do serve their purpose. Now I’m so grateful I didn’t have them removed, as our builder talked us out of it!!!!

A list of my 10 favourite things about where I live in Germany to overcome a bout of homesickness…

I woke up the other morning missing the sea and feeling a bit more homesick than usual… I’ve always lived a maximum of 15 mins from the seaside! Obviously in Cornwall it was actually difficult to get very far from the sea as we were surrounded by it. Whereas, in Finland we lived in the Turku area, then for a short while in Kemi and Vaasa, which are all on the coastline of Finland. Even when I lived in the US, our home was only a few minutes away from Lake Michigan, which is HUGE and doesn’t really feel like a lake at all. So apart from a year when I lived in Santa Fe (New Mexico is beautiful in it’s own way), I’ve always resided near a large body of water! So life here in beautiful but land-locked Wiesbaden differs a lot from what I’m accustomed to, as the only way to get a dose of waterside surrounds are to walk/cycle along the Rhine. This in itself is also really pleasant, but not quite the same thing as a beach.

So homesickness motivated me to continue with my theme (inspired by the everyday life challenge) of taking notice and being grateful for what I have. So I decided that rather than complaining about what I’m lacking, I’ll create a list of ten things I really like about Germany and where I live! It actually did make me feel much happier 🙂

1)   Even though I live in a city with a population of 273,000 (plus approximately 19,000 US citizens due to the military base) everything is really clean & tidy and I feel the buildings in Wiesbaden are especially well maintained. I am aware that larger cities like Berlin and Cologne are not quite as super clean as Wiesbaden, but they still aren’t too bad in my opinion. I think Germans just generally appreciate orderliness!

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2)   Healthcare here in Germany is generally very good and so it should be, as the national health insurance contributions are much higher than in the UK. I’ve worked in the NHS for many years and I’m sad to say that no matter how much internal ‘tightening-up’ of budgets takes place, the funding shortage is not going to be resolved. I think the only way England can hope to realistically improve the NHS is by increasing NI contributions or directing more tax money towards healthcare rather than other things.

3)   The forests here are substantial and not just little woods! In Cornwall I used to miss the forests of Finland very badly at times. (I’m trying to remind myself about this each time I miss the sea 😉 ) I find walking in the woods not just enjoyable, but therapeutic and de-stressing. There’s quite a lot of research out there now evidencing how important it is to be in nature, as regularly as possible. This of course doesn’t need to be the woods it can be the seaside, fields & meadows, a park or a garden! Forests just played a big role in my life when growing up; even as a teenager when I was struggling emotionally with something I’d go for a walk in the woods near my house and usually came back feeling better.Image

4)   This may sound silly, but I’m so excited about having wild blueberries and mushrooms again. These were a regular part of our diet in Finland and I often craved them when I lived in the UK! Now in the autumn I can treat myself to many delicious meals with porcinis, chanterelles, truffles etc. and I also freeze berries and mushrooms to eat outside of their season.

5)   This part of Germany has an amazing wine culture. In fact Wiesbaden has the largest Wine festival in all of Germany every summer 🙂 It only takes 10-15 minutes to drive to the closest vineyards from Wiesbaden, where you can take walks surrounded by vines overlooking the Rhein river!!ImageThis is the nearby Schloss Vollrads vineyard and country estate.

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6)   Delicious food and and great cultural experiences! I think many people elsewhere in Europe underestimate the German food experience. I adore the traditional farmers markets most cities have 2-3 times a week. The fruit and vegetables are wonderfully fresh and Germans are very clued up on seasonal eating. Some of the best berries I’ve ever tasted have been here in Germany (can’t wait for strawberry season to kick into full swing)! Also, Germans really know how to prepare their meat properly and portions are usually generous. Furthermore, this region has some fantastic restaurants from various other food cultures, which I’m gradually exploring. See more about eateries and food at http://www.eatingwiesbaden.com – a great food blog run by a British expat! Further cultural delights can be enjoyed by taking walks on the leafy streets of Wiesbaden, lined with lovely buildings and villas. I love the Art Neouveau architecture of this town, as I’ve almost always lived in historical houses, so I feel more at home in this town than I might somewhere completely post-war/postmodern! I should also add that this town has a fantastic theatre, orchestra and ballet.ImageImage

7)   The climate is amazing in comparison to what we usually had in Cornwall and it’s better than Finland as well! OK so Cornwall may be more moderate on average, whereas Hessen (the county where I now live) fluctuates much more, however, it’s fabulous to have a long warm summer and cold enough winters to sometimes get snow. I know many Americans living here may disagree, as some are from the permanently warm southern states. I, however, love the clearly defined change of seasons. It’s what I’m accustomed to while I grew up in Finland and as a little girl in Wisconsin. However, it’s also a blessing that it never gets as unbearably cold here as it does in Finland during winters!

8)   Germany not only has beautiful forests, but also proper mountains for skiing and other winter sport and as a bonus the Swiss Alps are not much further if higher altitudes are required!! I don’t live in the mountainous area of Germany, but it’s not a long drive! We are not lacking in gorgeous scenary here either though, as we have the rivers and lot’s of scenic areas of hills and valleys. In fact I can see the Taunus hills from my windows!

ImageThese photos were, however, taken near Zürich which is only about 4 hours by car from us. This is quicker than it used to take us to drive from Cornwall to London!!

Image9)   Christmas markets and Christmas in general is fantastic in Germany! Even when we still lived in the UK, my daughter and I accompanied B. on his business travels here several times during Christmas market season. They are just so atmospheric with lovely crafts and food to buy, as well as Glühwein of course!!

ImageImage10) Last but not least, the location of Wiesbaden is very handy for travelling to many other European countries. So visit’s to France, Switzerland or Italy only take a few hours by car! It used to take me just as long to drive from Truro in Cornwall to my daughter’s university in Sussex, as it does to drive for a holiday to Lake Como in Northern Italy from Wiesbaden 🙂

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