Christmas in Finland

While definitely cold, Finland is a great place to visit from mid December to mid January.  Besides the chance to see the Northern Lights, there are several other neat things to do to enjoy the winter season.  Read on to find out what some of those activities are.

(Courtesy of Magnetic North Travel)

In December, head up to Rovaniemi in Lapland to see Santa and the reindeer in Santa Claus Village.  This is also the home to the Santa Claus Post Office.  500,000 letters are delivered here year round from all around the world; and Santa answers them.  From there head to Helsinki to celebrate Christmas in style with a lot of holiday spirit.  The lights, the shops, and the decorations are amazing!

In January, there are other activities to be done.  You can sail on an ice breaker boat, swim in the sea while wearing a full dry survival suit, and go snowshoeing.  In Helsinki you can go ice fishing, kick sledding, and ice skating; meanwhile in Lapland you can go husky dog sledding, ice fishing, skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.

There are several accommodation options when staying in Finland.  There are conventional hotels, ice hotels that utilize glass, and igloos.  (But prepare for it to be cool inside igloos as they are kept a little below freezing so that the igloos won't melt.)

As you can see there is so much fun to be had in Finland during wintertime.  Just make sure to pack appropriately with thermal socks, mittens, hats, ski boots, goggles, ski suits, and body warmers.  Winter attire is sold there but it is often better to buy clothing before heading over.

Let me know if you go to Finland and do any of these activities.

Marianne

Aurora Borealis--Where and When

(Courtesy of the Northern Lights Centre in Canada)

The Aurora Borealis is so magnificent.  No photo can do it justice.  So where, and when, can you go to see the Northern Lights?  Read on to find out more.

The Northern Lights are best seen during the winter and spring (so make sure you dress warm), when the days are shorter.  Best time to go is usually between December and April.  There is more period of dark and the skies are generally clearer (less cloudy on average during this time frame).  They are best seen out away from city limits and around the new moon.  If activity is high, you will be able to see the Aurora Borealis for 30 minutes every couple of hours.  Just make sure to keep tabs on the aurora forecast.  You can go here for the forecast for Alaska.

So now that you know when to go; do you know where all you can go to see them?

As mentioned above, Alaska is a great place to go to see them.  If you go to Alaska, head north from Fairbanks to see them best.  You can see them anywhere between the western coast and Canada.

You can also see them in Canada.  Anywhere between James Bay and the western edge of Canada is in the aurora zone.  Yellowknife, Whitehorse, and Churchill are good spots in Canada; if you go to Churchill you might also see some polar bears.

Iceland is an interesting spot to go to see them too.  If you go to Iceland, just make sure you set aside several days; cloudy skies prevent the Northern Lights from being seen, and Iceland is known for its frequent cloudy skies.  Those who don't plan enough time tend to leave without having seen them.

Finland, Norway, and Sweden also have locations where the Aurora Borealis can be seen.  In Norway, Tromso is a good location to view them.  Sweden has the #1 spot on the planet to see them.  In Sweden, head to Abisko National Park to see this spectacular display.  Abisko is known for the view because it has the least amount of precipitation, and therefore cloudy skies, of all the locations in the aurora zone.

There is the skinny on the Northern Lights.  If you go view them, shoot me an email at blackhamtours@gmail.com and let me know.

Marianne

Top Ten Things to do in Belgium

Belgium is home to medieval cities, cathedrals, palaces, abbeys, forests, and many historical sites.  Brugge and Ghent have been preserved over the centuries, and are beautiful to visit.  Brussels and Antwerp have a more modern feel.  Brussels has art deco architecture and grand squares to enjoy, while Antwerp has stores that appeal to luxury shoppers.

I have compiled a list of the top ten things to do while in Belgium.

(Courtesy of Shutterstock)

  1. Royal Palace of Brussels is the official palace of the king and the queen, although they live in the Royal Palace of Laeken just outside of Brussels.  The palace is along Paleizenplein, and close by Brussels Park.  Items belonging to Napoleon, King Louis Phillipe, Leopold I, and Leopold II are in the Royal Palace.  During the summer the palace opens to visitors, who are allowed to view select rooms.
  2. Grand Place is a city square in central Brussels.  It is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and many historical events have happened here.
  3. Atomium is an iconic structure and a symbol of Brussels.
  4. Gravensteen is an amazing castle in Ghent.  You won't want to miss seeing this.
  5. Groeningemuseum is a museum in Bruges.  It is located on the site of the medieval Eekhout Abbey.  This museum includes Renaissance, Baroque, as well as modern masterpieces.
  6. Basilica of the Holy Blood is a Roman Catholic basilica located in Bruges.  It was built in the 12th century and is amazing to behold.
  7. Museum Mayer van den Bergh is located in Antwerp.  It features the collection of the late art collector Fritz Mayer van den Bergh.  The museum includes Renaissance and Gothic pieces from Belgium and the Netherlands.  Artists showcased here include Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Master Heinrich of Constanch, and Pieter Huys.
  8. Museum aan de Stroom is the largest museum in Antwerp.  It is on the banks of the Scheldt River and features postmodern art deco architecture.
  9. Pairi Daiza is a zoo and botanical garden in Brugelette.  It has some unique exhibits.  Algoa Bay has seals and penguins; and La Terre du Froid has reindeer, raccoons, and a train museum.  Pandas on loan from China can also be seen here.  A steam train takes patrons around the zoo and provides wonderful views of the exhibits and the zoo's large lakes.
  10. Zeebrugge is a village on the Belgian coast.  It is along the North Sea.  This seaside village has quaint cafes and beautiful beaches.