Wanderlust Au Naturel

Elina Wanderlust Cover

 

We’re all familiar with the stereotype of a young girl who goes travelling alone, oftentimes in Asia, and reports back home with Instagram photos of majestic mountaintops and awe-inspiring waterfalls. The captions include inspirational quotes and ooze strong, universal love for everything and everyone. The phenomenon of exceptional desire to explore is known by the term wanderlust, and this trend of discovering faraway lands and curious cultures has been strikingly visible in the western world for years. Sure, the urge to unearth what is new is a natural part of being human – the fact that in recent decades we have grown to know this trend of travelling is not telling us anything fresh about us people per se. We have wanted to see and conquer since ancient times, I daresay – but moving on from all the clichés, in this article, I am going to explore wanderlust itself.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

The biggest and most straightforward reason as to why travelling has become more and more popular during the age of airplanes, and beyond, is simply economic growth. The development from such small salaries that they only cover every-day necessities to plumper wallets and affordable plane tickets may have had its ups and downs along the way of hundreds of years. However, spending on amusement has been self-evident for decades now, mostly in the western  countries, to be exact.

Thus, we can easily argue that travelling has become mundane years ago, partly because of monetary reasons. Contrarily, backpacking in foreign forests and admiring our earth from thousands of metres above is not every-day life for each young high school graduate, who form the majority of wanderlust campaigners. Take me, for example. I grew up in a small town, or to tell the truth, some country roads’ worth outside of a very small town. My quotidian view was a tall pine forest, a couple of birds flying about the backyard, and a silent lake. It took a car ride to even step out of the land owned by my family and relatives. I lived there for some 15 years, and the same year I graduated from the local high school, I was off to southern Europe, alone. Having spent a year volunteering and travelling around France and a little bit of Italy, having met and said goodbye to people from all around the world, having sensed something very different from the pine of the past, I now claim to understand wanderlust.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

Discovering doesn’t always have to be cheesy and Instagram-captioned, it can also be silent and slow. Leaving family and Finland was hardly an easy step to take for the 19-year-old small town girl that I was, and during the first six months I didn’t encounter many #nofilter worth moments. It was mostly feeling helpless, homesick, lonely and tired from the constant combat with French and the French. I had a hard time learning how to do la bise and master the lengthy politeness poetry that was needed to act natural amongst the natives. It shocked a Northern newbie how every shop closed their doors at 7 pm, well before what would still be wonted working time in Scandinavia, the empire of efficiency. I struggled with being forced to take two hours for la sieste at lunch and then working late, while my inner self of the thousand lakes was crying for a faster pace.

This is a part of exploring a new culture that doesn’t always get exactly highlighted, but it still is a crucial part of the process. It is impossible to understand a different culture without trying to get accustomed to it, making mistakes and learning from them, and eventually, reaching that point where you feel comfortable within your brand-new home. For me, the process of fitting in peaked at around 7 months of living on French soil, and when it was the time to leave again, I had become so much of a stranger to my Nordic roots that I had to adjust again. When I, the grand, grown globetrotter, dragged my overweight valise again across the humble Helsinki-Vantaa airport, my family made sure to comment on my eccentric intonation and use of unnatural idioms in Finnish. Meanwhile, I had to gather all my strength to remember how Finns greet each other and, on my way back to life pre-wanders, to bury the idea of dropping by a boulangerie to purchase some Sunday croissants. Only after having been back in Finland for some three months, I felt at home again.

My French discoveries may not have always been Instagram worthy, but the sense of wanderlust I had been secretly growing inside of me for all my teenage years finally got satisfied.  I have come to learn to adjust; I have seen whole new types of trees, houses, manners, work ethics, coffee makers and dinner times; I have conquered a curious culture by adapting to it and learning from it – just for me. I travelled alone, and even though I made unforgettable friends along the way, it was still I who took the steps forward, who waited for the bus that was four hours late to go on a holiday on the coast by myself, who learnt which wine to order with a goat cheese salad in a Bordeaux restaurant, who found a way to an unseen place, who looked at it, and who remembered how to get back.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

Above all: the grass still smelled the same, the sky still looked the familiar shade of blue, the every-day life still felt as ordinary as ever. Only the details were switched around just a little, so that I had to either adjust them or myself. I commenced what became the most difficult journey that I have ever taken, but it also taught me the most about life that I could have ever learnt in one year. And now, I’m happy at home, though as a little changed version of myself.

So, as certainly as is wanderlust a fundamental part of human nature, it doesn’t always equal what you see nowadays on glorious photos in social media. It takes a lot of effort to really explore, and most often than not, you will actually end up exploring yourself instead of a park, a city, or a mountain. One thing’s for sure: if you ever meet this magical motivation to go and see, the one that is known as wanderlust, you should listen to it. Instead of a foreign land, you might learn to conquer yourself. Now, if that is not a healthy hunger – wanting to grow as a person through learning to understand what is different – then what is?

Good Times – and Places – in Scotland

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We at BTSB looove Scotland! Check out Laura’s Scotland article from last year.

In March I took a semi-spontaneous trip to Scotland with a bunch of friends. We had decided to go in a fit of late night wanderlust after a night of some university partying about a month before. The great thing about it was that we actually ended up executing this plan, conceived after midnight and a few glasses of wine!

It was the first time in the land of the unicorns for all of us, and also our first time arranging our accommodation through Airbnb – which, by the way, worked out really well, in case you are considering it. We got our own apartment with all its comforts and amenities – for a really good price. The place was very nice and everything with the owner went smoothly.

Here are some of my favorite places and experiences from the trip.

 

Arthur’s Seat

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Arthur’s Seat is the highest point in Holyrood Park, just a short walk away from Edinburgh’s old town. If you like nature and are ready for a bit of a hike, this is a great way to do it without having to go out of your way to actually get to a place where you can hike.  Ultimately though, Arthur’s Seat is for anyone who likes nice views since it certainly boasts the best ones in Edinburgh. Reaching the top can get surprisingly sweaty and tough – you won’t realize how high it really is until you’re there climbing – but the result is worth it, as Arthur’s Seat overlooks the city, the sea and the highlands all at the same time. Highly recommended, this was one of my absolute favorite things about the whole trip.

 

The Elephant House

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What can a devoted Harry Potter –fan do? The Elephant House in Edinburgh is the café where J.K. Rowling wrote the first installment of the series – by hand. Nowadays the café doesn’t shy away from its fame acquired by a twist of fate, as the façade tells passers-by that they are walking past the “birth-place of Harry Potter”. Other than that, you can see the café’s Harry Potter history in the bathrooms, which are full of Potter-related inscriptions from fans all around the world. The café hasn’t abused its fame, though: the prices are reasonable, the food is good and the place hasn’t become a junkyard of Potter-memorabilia, but has rather retained its original spirit.

 

University of Edinburgh

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The University of Edinburgh has quite the variety of buildings; many of them are uglier than our own Porthania, and not really worth visiting. However, the Law School building of the university has the charm and feel of an old, traditional British university, with its brown stone, symmetrical features and a beautiful courtyard. It is worth visiting simply for the atmosphere – and the photos.

 

Calton Hill

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Arthur’s Seat didn’t take away our desire to climb some more! For a slightly less hardcore climb for nice views around the Edinburgh, go for Calton Hill. The ancient Greek style temples and buildings are a beautiful and quaint add to the backdrop that is the city. Here you are at the very center of everything: bagpipes can be heard from somewhere down below and the atmosphere couldn’t be more quintessentially Scottish. Calton Hill is one of the most well-known tourist attractions of Edinburgh – but it is not crowded and it is free!

 

Old Town Edinburgh

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The heart and soul of Edinburgh is the old town. We were lucky enough to have our apartment situated in the very center of it, which was great. Edinburgh is in general a very walkable city, and obviously old town is the most charming part of it. I loved just wandering around the streets – with a bagpipe player always somewhere to be heard – and exploring all the nooks and crannies, and the super narrow alleys that were always called “close” (e.g. “Advocate’s Close”). The old town also had an abundance of nice shops, bars and restaurants, but my favorite thing about it was simply the architecture and the general atmosphere.

 

Necropolis

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Our daytrip to Glasgow included a visit to Necropolis, the old cemetery adjacent to the Glasgow Cathedral (which was beautiful itself). Necropolis is situated on a hill overlooking the city, and has a variety of interesting old graves. Quite memorable among the graveyards I’ve visited, Necropolis was very green and pretty already in March, and made for a nice day walk in a peaceful environment high up over the city.

 

Drygate

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There are no words of enough praise for Drygate, our accidental find upon coming down from Necropolis. This brewery houses a restaurant of the same name, selling craft beer (that even our beer-haters liked) straight from the adjacent room. And the food is heavenly; you get ciabattas and burgers with different fillings on the side for you to assemble yourself. The sides were clearly well thought out, since all of us had a flavor combination that just made our taste buds sing.  And on top of it all – the prices were very student-friendly, and the atmosphere rad. If you’re in Glasgow, Drygate is a must.

 

Buchanan Street

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Buchanan Street is the main pedestrian shopping street of Glasgow. It houses all the chain stores, malls and cafés you’d possibly want to stop by, plus all kinds of cute speciality stores, like the place that had all kinds of papers, notebooks, calendars and maps you could wish for. For some stellar Scottish retail therapy and true big city vibes, this bustling street is the place to go! (Also worth checking out is the nearby Argyle Street – a store specifically dedicated to American candy, anyone?)

All photos by Eveliina Kammonen.

Istanbul: at the Heart of the Ottoman Empire

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Istanbul is the city for lovers of culture, beautiful architecture, ottoman art, and gorgeous nature, and I wanted to share the summery fabulosity that I encountered on this, my second, visit to the largest city in Turkey. The city boasts both vivacious nightlife and peaceful religious sites that take your breath away with their beauty.

Blue Mosque Topkapi

Any visit to Istanbul is not worth it without a look into the famous sights of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia that face each other in the Sultanahmet. At the mosque you can marvel at the architecture and golden details of the artwork on the walls.

Another must-see location is the Topkapi palace, the luxurious former home of the Ottoman sultans, that will transport you to the ancient days of the Ottoman Empire and easily takes up at least three or four hours of your vacation with its four courtyards, several smaller buildings, and a harem residence.

Topkapi's grounds

Stray cats and Bosporus sceneryFor once it’s nice to see a country that really takes care of the stray cats: every restaurant owner seemed to have a whole pack of cats that they would caringly feed. Just pay attention that you get fed too because sometimes the dinner would mysteriously take over an hour to find its way to your table.

Rumelin and a fishing village

A breezy cruise on the Bosphorus really brightens up the trip. A cheap cruise with the locals is naturally preferable to the ones offered by money-grubbing travel companies. A day cruise will take you all the way to the confluence of the strait and the Black Sea and you’ll even have a chance to climb a mountain to charming Yoros castle ruins during a lunch stop at a little village of Anadolu Kavagi that has the best fish in town.

A welcoming sign, German fountain and a fish market

Istanbul is one of those cities that only gets more beautiful by night: all the sights (and even some fountains) are lit up with different colored lights and many of the restaurants have inviting lanterns hanging from the ceiling in the terrace areas.

If you’re in the mood for fresh fish, you can head to the fish market that is easily spotted due to the massive amounts of birds circling above it. You might even see a stork lounging about.The Grand Bazaar

If fish is not your thing, you can find an assortment of local candies like Turkish delights or spices at any of the bazaars, like The Grand Bazaar or the Spice Market (also called the Egyptian Bazaar). Remember to haggle (even though the prices are quite cheap as it is) and you’ll most likely end up with so many souvenirs you’ll end up paying extra fees for luggage on your flight home.

Istanbul is a wonderful and affordable holiday location that has a completely exotic feel while still being fairly close to Finland. Just beware of taxi scams on your trip!