The Land of a Thousand Lakes

Hyvää Päivää (that means good day in Finnish!)!

I have been living in Finland for two months now on ERASMUS, and I wanted to experience life here fully sharing my thoughts on it. In the past few months I have jumped right into Finnish life and culture; skinny dipping in lakes at midnight, saunaing with friends, cycling in the snow, even attending a traditional Finnish student party – the sitfest. It’s been an interesting few months.

Now, you may be wondering (most people do) what on earth inspired me to choose Finland for ERASMUS, and to tell you the truth, I have asked myself the same question. My main reason was wanting something that was totally different from anything I’d experienced before. After 4 months working in Spain, I was used to the sun, sea and sand, and don’t get me wrong, I loved my life there and would go back in a heartbeat, but I wanted a different experience, so I chose Finland, a country that gets about four hours sunlight in the winter, and requires many layers of clothing most of the time. It was a big change.

Coming here I didn’t know what to expect. I probably should have done more research! I was expecting it to be freezing cold and dark as soon as I arrived but that didn’t come until late October! It was actually 20°C in September and the sun shone from 6 am till 8 pm just like in Ireland! I was surprised by how similar it looked to Ireland too. I traveled to Jyväskylä by train and we rode through fresh green fields full of cows that instantly reminded me of home. Honestly, I thought I’d be traveling through forests full of reindeer…have to admit I was slightly disappointed.

I was also surprised by how fluent everyone is in English, I thought the language barrier would be an issue but it wasn’t, and everyone I spoke to was so helpful. The train station was tricky as nothing was translated into English but everyone was happy to help. I decided to take a Finnish module though, because I think understanding some of the language gives you a deeper insight to the culture and a better understanding of the people, as well as just generally making daily life easier. It definitely helps to know what potato is in Finnish when doing my weekly shop (Peruna!)!

The biggest shock for me was how different university life is here. In Ireland, my life revolves around university, with around 20 hrs of classes a week, the rest of my time is spent in college at clubs or societies! I never had a free evening in Limerick, with Trampolining on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and volunteering on the committee of Out in UL (our LGBT society) on Mondays and Wednesdays (and every other day really!), I was constantly busy and that’s how I liked it! I love being busy, always having plans and being around my favourite people. Finland is the complete opposite! For the first couple of weeks I had 8 hours of classes a week, now I only have four, as well as two self study modules. I am never in college and there are no clubs or societies to get involved with! I found this really hard to adjust to at first as I’m not living in student accommodation I thought I’d struggle to meet other students, but I have the nicest housemates and I go to a lot of events hosted by the Erasmus Student Network! I also go to a fitness class nearly every evening, just so I’m not at home doing nothing all evening!

That brings me onto my next point, Fins are so active! No matter what the weather they are out running, walking, skating, or cycling. And every sports class I go to is packed. I love this aspect and it’s really motivating me to stay on top of my fitness game, something I’ve actually grown to love this year. My favourite classes I’ve tried here are definitely Body Combat and Zumba Strong, but I love that there is something for everyone, no matter what your fitness level is.

My favourite thing about Finland has to be the nature. Finland is 10% lakes and 69% forest, and no matter where you are there’s surely one of the two nearby. The cities aren’t very exciting, they’re quite small and constantly under construction, but take a stroll a few kilometers from the city centre and you’re surrounded by the most beautiful forests and lakes. I love going for a run around the lake on a Saturday morning, it’s a beautiful way to immerse yourself in the nature. Being surrounded by such beauty really makes me appreciate where I am and the opportunities I have.

One of the funnest, most Finnish things I’ve done was attend a Sitsit, a student party, hosted by leaders who provide rules that must be followed for the evening. These rules can be anything from no clapping, no sitting, even no talking out of turn. If you break any of these rules you face a punishment, and if you see someone break the rules you must tell the leaders. It was very strange to me but it was a lot of fun. I especially loved all the singing, but there was some really weird songs, and some of them were in Finnish so I had no idea what I was singing! But like any good party, it also involved lots of drinking, so that helped remove any inhibitions I was feeling!

One of the most exciting moments so far was the first snowfall. I woke up one morning to my excited Portuguese housemate telling me to get up, and looked out the window and found that the world outside had transformed over night into a winter wonderland. A blanket of snow coated the ground and it fell in flurries from the sky like glitter. Frost sparkled on the ground and it made everything even more beautiful. We went out and played in it like children, taking photos, building snow men, and having impromptu snowball fights. It was so much fun! Unfortunately it only lasted a few days and when it melted, it left a dark, grey, miserable sludge in it’s wake.

I think that’s about all I have to say about Finland, it’s a beautiful country, with wonderful people, and it is a lovely place to live, but I have to admit, it is a little bit boring for me, when I’m used to being busy all the time. That being said, I am enjoying the relaxed atmosphere here, it is such a peaceful place to live and study, and I am loving the experience. The only thing I’m not enjoying is the price of alcohol (€8 for a small can of cider!!!)

I haven’t gotten a chance to explore the capital, Helsinki, yet, and I have a trip to visit Santa and the Reindeers in Lapland planned for the end of November, so there is lots of exploring left to do before I return home to Ireland for Christmas, and you can expect more blog posts to come!

Erasmus is an incredible opportunity and I would recommend it to anyone! It gives you the chance to explore and immerse yourself in a new culture which I think is so important to grow as a person. I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experiences on erasmus so far! If you’ve any questions I’d love to hear from you!

I’d love to know…If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose?

Orla xxx

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Travel Tips: Tallinn

Last weekend I took a trip to Tallinn, the charming capital of Estonia, and I instantly fell in love with it’s colourful cobblestone streets, medieval castles, Russian architecture and deep history! It’s such a quaint city, it almost felt like stepping back in time. Before I went, I didn’t know a lot about Tallinn, and it was difficult to find much online about things to do, but once I arrived it was like opening a treasure chest, and there wasn’t a dull moment! But if you’re anything like me, you probably like to plan in advance so here are my top tips for visiting Tallinn:

  • Weekend Getaway – Tallinn is a fabulous city for a romantic getaway, or a trip with friends! I went for 4 days which I felt was a bit too long, 2-3 nights would be perfect!
  • Walking Tours- I love doing free walking tours in new cities. It gives a great overview of the city, and you can take mental notes of places you want to go later. And another big plus is that you only have to pay what you think it’s worth, or however much you can afford so they’re accessible to everyone – especially broke students like myself! This is the one we did and it was so interesting, our guide was great and told us everything we needed to know about the city! https://www.traveller.ee/tour/tallinn-free-tour

  • Visit Museums- Museums are a great way to get a deeper understanding of the history of the city, and with everything from art museums, underground tunnels, and medieval towers, to KBG Prison cells and spy offices, there’s something for you whatever your interests may be!
  • Hostel Alur – This hostel beat my expectations, at only €37 for 3 nights, it had spacious rooms which were spotlessly clean, and a large common room. I think the best part was the awesome location, in the centre of the old town. If you’re looking for a cheap break away with friends, book out a room, you won’t be disappointed.
  • Get Lost- Forget Google maps, put your phone away, and just wander for a while, who knows what you might find? Every city has secret gems that you won’t find if you’re busy trying to get from A to B as quickly as possible!
  • Visit Maiasmokk – Maiasmokk is the oldest cafe in Estonia, and well worth trip to! It first opened it’s doors in 1864, and has been providing the city with great coffee and the best baked treats ever since! With everything from Pavlova to pastries, cake to croissants, you’ll be spoiled for choice and won’t be disappointed.
  • Nightlife- Now I have to say, I think it’s the people you are with that make for a good night more than the location, but I had a pretty good (cheap!) night out in Tallinn with some pretty great people! Route 33 was where we started our night (after some prinks in a park enjoying a light show). With some awesome shot deals (I may have had 5 too many…) And a DJ open to requests, we had a good start! We may have been the only ones on the dance floor, but we were rocking it! We then moved onto Shamrocks Irish Karaoke Bar and let me tell you, we were the stars of the show, much to the annoyance of the staff! And then, as most good night’s end, we went to McDonald’s! So clearly I don’t have many tips for nights out in Tallinn but the old town is full of bars and opportunities for a good night out!
  • Culture- Look around you, see what’s going on! While I was there, there was a market in the main square, and traditional songs and dances being performed on a stage in the centre. In the evenings there was a light show which made the city even more magical.
  • Toit’s- Okay so this is on the list because after days of struggling to find vegetarian food options I got the best vege burger with sweet potato fries for just €8.50! It was amazing and I would 100% recommend.
  • Churches- though only 17% of Estonians practice religion, Tallinn is full of beautiful churches. Some were converted to museums by the Russians, others were built by the Russians. My favourite was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Style Church. St. Olaf’s church was also worth the visit, with the best views in Tallinn and a spiral staircase all the way to the top, it was breathtaking!

Things to note:

– Restaurants didn’t like catering to large groups so if there’s more than 8 I would suggest trying to book ahead or splitting up

– Splitting the bill was often an issue so have cash on you

– Avoid the centre of the old town when looking for restaurants because the restaurants there are more expensive and you can find some real gems when you step outside the centre.

So, I know after that you’ll definitely want to book your flights to Tallinn ASAP! So go explore this magical city for yourself, you won’t regret it!

– Orla xxx

10 Ways to Love Yourself This Valentine’s Day (and every day!)

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and there are lots of single Pringles like myself in the world, so I wanted to share some of my favourite self care tips with you! Because you don’t need someone else to love you in order to be happy, you need to love yourself first. That goes for all my happily in love friends too, I have learned that no matter how much someone else loves you, unless you love yourself first you’ll never truly be happy. So take some time for yourself this Valentine’s Day (or any day!) and look after your mind and body. You deserve it.

1. Chocolate. Admittedly I may love chocolate just a little too much, but it’s important to treat yourself to what you love from time to time. You don’t need something as trivial as Valentines day to get chocolates (or cry over not getting chocolates…). Buy yourself a bar of your favourite chocolate (Cadbury all the way!) and love yourself.

2. Exercise. Now I understand that exercise is something that a lot of people either love or hate. I have had a love hate relationship with it for the longest time, but if you need to clear your head or let out some frustrations, going out into the fresh air and going for a run, or a even just a walk with your dog, or a friend, or on your own with your favourite music playing can really boost your mood. You’ll get those endorphins pumping and being out in nature can be really relaxing.

3. Make Plans. We often isolate ourselves when we need people the most, so as not to burden others with our problems. If you’re not having the best time, maybe you’re going through a break-up, or you’ve lost your job, or failed an important assignment, or maybe you’re struggling with your mental health, whatever the case, try to make plans to do something. It’s important to get out of your room and out of your head for a bit. Doing something you enjoy and being with people who care about you and make you smile, even when you’re sad, can really help to put everything into perspective. And even if you’re in a good head space, we all lead such busy lives that our friendships are often taken for granted, so pick up the phone and call a friend, or meet up for coffee, life is all about balance and having a social life is important!

4. Have a Bath. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a shower girl all the way. I love the feeling of the hot water pelting against my skin, and the thought of lying in your own dirt for an hour rarely appeals to me (I am really selling this point, aren’t I…?). However, the feeling of soaking in a hot tub with a Lush bath bomb, a scented candle, a mug of tea, some chocolate and a good book is so relaxing, and can really put both your head and muscles at ease after a stressful week. It is time set aside just for you with no other responsibilities or interruptions, which is something that is so hard to find in today’s world. Just RELAX.

5. Bullet Journaling. This was a new years resolution of mine, to start a bullet journal. As girl who started diaries every year with great intentions and never stuck with them (because my life just wasn’t interesting enough!), I thought this would be a really fun and creative way to document my year. Unfortunately, I’m not artistically gifted and was swiftly disheartened by how plain and messy mine looked compared to the beautiful ones on Pinterest. Anyway… I got side tracked there…but Bullet Journals can be a really good way to organise and document your life and setting aside an hour a couple of times a week to add to your journal can be really therapeutic. You can make it whatever you want it to be, and make it as simple or elaborate as you want! If you are considering starting one here are some topics you could include:

  • Goals for 2018/Weekly Goals/Monthly Goals
  • Achievements
  • Books you’ve read
  • Things that scare you/make you anxious/sad
  • Things that make you smile
  • Favourite songs
  • Movies you watched
  • Places you’ve been
  • Lessons you learned

You can literally include anything you’d like to document! Make it your own.

6. Clean your room. It’s true what they say, a tidy room is the key to a tidy mind! I’m terrible at keeping my room tidy, and when I come in after a bad day it just stresses me out even more when my room is untidy. In my head I’m like “my room is a mess, my life is a mess, what am I gonna do???” (Yes I am a major drama queen!). When everything is in it’s places it’s so much easier to focus, so put on some music, and clear your space, it’ll help clear your head too!

7. Cook. As a student, I know it’s often so much easier to live off pasta, pot noodles and pizza, but setting time aside once a week to make a healthy, tasty, home cooked meal, can make a huge difference to your mind and body. I find cooking to be a great form of stress relief, because you’re chopping veg and letting out all your frustrations on the poor defenceless carrots. It also provides a great sense of achievement when you make something that tastes great, and it nourishes your body and provides the nutrients it needs to function healthily, which is so important for a healthy mind.

8. Learn something new. This is a great way to take some time for yourself and challenge your mind or body. Take up a new exercise class, or an art class, or a cooking class. You could learn a new instrument, or a new song on an instrument you already play. Read a book or an article about something you don’t know much about. Download Duolingo and start learning a new language. The list of new things you could learn is endless. Choose something that interests you. Learning something new is great because it provides a challenge and a sense of achievement and self improvement!

9. Read a book. I have always loved reading. I was that kid who rarely left the house without a book, I even bought one to the the kiddy disco in the GAA complex when I was like ten (there’s a reason i was never the popular kid!). Reading is a brilliant way to escape to a different world for a while and forget the stresses of the real world temporarily. It can also open your eyes to important social issues and challenge your perspective of the world. So what do you think? Is some quiet time with a hot mug of tea and a good book long over due? I think so!

10. Meditation. Meditation is something I’ve tried briefly but have found it’s not really for me, however, may people swear that it is the key to a happy mind. It gives you the opportunity to completely relax and escape the world and clear your mind of all the worry and stress that has accumulated over the course of the day, ready to start the next day with a clean slate and a clear mind.

Well that was longer than expected, but taking time to look after yourself and show your mind and body some TLC is important, and I hope you take some time out of your day to show yourself some love and kindness. We do so much for other people, we often forget to do nice things for ourselves. What’s your favourite self care tip?

~Orla xox ~

Gym Fear

So I finally did it.  This morning I went and bought a monthly membership to my local gym!  This is something I’ve wanted to do for the longest time, but every time I considered it before I somehow managed to talk myself out of it.  But not this time, and now I’ve paid the money I know it will keep me motivated until I move to Barcelona next month!

My trepidation over going to the gym stemmed from my embedded fear of what other people think of me, which is something I’ve always been conscious of.  However, moving away to university and becoming more comfortable and confident in who I am has definitely helped me get over a lot of this anxiety of what other people think of me.  Basically I just don’t care anymore (or at least I try not to!).

When you see people going to the gym on Instagram or fitness blogs it’s usually really fit, slim girls, looking absolutely flawless, and muscular, often tattooed men, lifting weights, dripping in sweat, drinking raw eggs.  The thought of going to the gym was really intimidating to me because I never felt like I’d fit in in that sort of environment and I was scared people would judge me for trying, which was stupid, obviously, the only one thinking these things was me.  Why would anyone judge me for doing something to improve myself?

When I got to the gym, I was pretty surprised to find that it wasn’t full of drop dead gorgeous people getting hot and sweaty, it was really quiet and the only people there besides me was an Asian lady lifting weights and an older woman walking on the treadmill.  I felt kind of silly for building it up into this big, scary thing in my head.  No one cared that I had no idea what I was doing, or that I wasn’t a size 8, we were all just there to improve ourselves and no one acknowledged me other than the Asian lady who wished me a good workout when she was leaving!  It was a really chill environment and I can’t wait to go back and get better and hopefully figure out how the machines work and what weights I should use and how many reps I should be doing because, honestly, right now I’ve no idea what I should be doing!  If anyone has any advice for a complete beginner I’d greatly appreciate it!

So if there is something you’ve been putting off because of what other people may think of you, it’s time to stop procrastinating and start living.  If you really want something, it shouldn’t matter what other people will think or say, and your fears are most likely irrational.  Us humans are inherently self centred, and I think we convince ourselves that other people think and talk about us a lot more than they actually do.  In reality, they are probably too busy thinking about themselves to worry about what you look like on the elliptical (I’m sure you look great)!

sean kell

 

Book Review: Turtles All The Way Down


Rating: 4.5/5

Turtles All The Way Down is the latest, highly anticipated Young Adult novel from John Green, author of best selling novels The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns.  After reading all of Green’s previous novels, I was excited to get my hands on this, so I treated myself after Christmas.  I love the intriguing way Green explores adolescence, and his multifaceted characters and plot lines never fail to grip the attention, and the heart of the reader.

I rated this 4.5/5 because it was a brilliant story, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, however, I felt some of the secondary characters such as Noah and Michael needed more development.

Turtles All The Way down is a gripping story that explores the intricacies of teen relationships in all their forms; first love, childhood friendships, contrasting family dynamics and, most interestingly, a teens difficult relationship with herself.  

Aza is pulled into a compelling mystery when her best friend Daisy suggests they investigate the disappearance of a wanted billionaire in hopes of being awarded the $100,000 reward, but things become complicated when Aza begins to fall for her childhood friend, David, the son of the billionaire fugitive.  As they rekindle their friendship David gives Aza $10,000 to put an end to the investigation and to ensure she liked him for him and wasn’t just using him as a means of getting the reward. Daisy starts dating Michael, their close friend, and loses interest in the mystery, but Aza struggles to let it go.

Aza suffers from anxiety and OCD which impact her daily life and her relationships hugely, and I found John Green’s portrayal of her character to be realistic and insightful.  Her mental illness prevents her getting close to people as her anxiety causes intrusive thoughts which cause her to over analyse everything and go into inescapable thought spirals.  This puts a strain on her relationship with Daisy, who sometimes sees her as a burden, and with David, because she is uncomfortable with intimacy as her fear of bacteria causes her anxiety to rocket. When it comes to mental illness, everyone has different experiences and deals with things differently, but I think it’s important that authors such as John Green are writing about people with mental health issues as ordinary people with ordinary lives, despite their illness.  In my opinion, the most important thing about this book is that it is not a book about a girl with a mental illness, it’s about friendships, mystery and adventure, Aza’s mental illness is just a small part of the plot, it doesn’t consume it.

I think it’s clear to see that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was one of the best books I’ve read in ages!  I couldn’t put it down, and it’s the kind of book I would reread in the future, because there is a lot going on below the surface.  It has quite a philosophical aspect to it, which I personally enjoyed.  David introduced a lot of interesting ideas about individualism and existence in his poetry, which I found thought provoking and insightful. I loved this book from start to finish and would recommend it to anyone.

If anyone has any suggestion on what books I should read/review next, I’d love you to leave me a comment.

New Year, New Me…

Yes, I’m back! I thought I should stick to my annual new year’s resolution to rekindle my blog (or start a new one!), though I fail every time so who knows how long this will last, I don’t hold high hopes to be honest, and I won’t make any promises! I have an eventful year of adventures ahead, and I plan to live it one day at a time, because I worry too much about the future.  Last year was an amazing year of love, loss, new adventures, and new pain, and I plan to use all the lessons I learned last year to make this year the best year yet!

Lesson #1:  Trust your star sign! I never held much faith in horoscopes or star signs, and I don’t know much about them, but I do know that reading/trusting my horoscope would have saved me a lot of heartache last year.   Recently my horoscopes seem to know me better than I know myself.

Lesson #2:  Love yourself.  This year is the first year in a long time that I am refusing to put ‘Lose Weight’ on my list of new years resolutions.  This is something that is ingrained in us from childhood, that we have to be thin and it should always be the end goal because when you lose weight you’ll be happy.  Well last year I finally realised that that’s not true.  I lost nearly 3 stone last year, but I’m no happier, or confident with my body now as I was before, and I understand now that this is because I place too much of my happiness on other people’s love, and loving other people.  I’ve never loved myself, so this year I’m going to try harder.  I’m going to exercise because it’s good for me, I’m going to be healthy and be kind to my body, and treat myself too, everything in moderation.  2018 is the year I learn to love myself.

Lesson #3: Make time for what makes you happy.  I love reading, I love blogging, I love playing guitar, I love cooking and walking my dog and going out with friends and travelling, but I spent too much of my free time last year binge watching tv shows and making excuses.  I’m done with that this year, there are 24 hours in a day, and though when I’m working 9 to 5 in Barcelona I may not have time for everything everyday, I’m going to try to dedicate 1hr a day to actively doing something that makes me happy.

So, this was a very stereotypical and unoriginal blog post and for that I apologise, hopefully there will be more original ideas to come, some healthy recipes,  pictures from my adventures, book reviews…who knows what else, I’ll figure it out as I go!

I hope everyone has a wonderful new year full of incredible opportunities and that you stick to all of your resolutions and are happy and healthy!

~Orla xox~

 

10 Things I Learned Working as a Waitress

So, I finally handed in my notice as I’m going back to university in a week (and I cannot wait!) and I have to say, it has been a long, exhausting summer, but I’ve learned a lot and it was a great experience.  When I was starting my first job as a waitress I searched the internet for any help I could get because I had no idea what to expect and it was difficult to find anything, so here is what I’ve learned over the last 3 months:

  1. Naps are important to maintain mental stability.
  2. How to fake smile like a pro (I got “Oh look it’s the Smiley One” daily)
  3. Carrying 4 plates isn’t as impossible as it looks (practice makes perfect).
  4. Team work is SO important
  5. A good attitude is equally as important as your skills.
  6. Don’t focus on one negative person, be that a customer, or a manager. Try to focus on all the positive people around you.
  7. The customer may be annoying, but they are ALWAYS right, so listen to their questions and do what you can for them
  8. Organised chaos can be fun with the right people
  9. If you don’t know how to do something, just ask someone *cough* broken washing machine *cough*
  10.  Make plans and enjoy your days off even if you’re exhausted because it’s so isolating if you don’t.

Rekindling My Motivation

I’ve been struggling to find motivation recently.  When I finished University for the summer I had plans to do so much; make plans with friends that I hadn’t seen in a while, dedicate time to my blog, read the books for my English modules to get ahead for next semester because I read none of the texts for the last module, I even wanted to study an online TEFL course, none of which I did.  Instead I am struggling to balance working full time as a waitress, working split shifts from as early as 5:30 am to 11:30 at night, with eating and sleeping and functioning as a human being, lucky if I get to spend one day with my girlfriend. I barely even see my family and I live with them.

Despite working full time, I feel so unproductive.  In college I studied, I volunteered, I was a member of the trampolining club, and it was so easy to balance everything.  But now I’m home I’m not even motivated to get out of bed until I’m yelled at.  I feel trapped in such a small town when I’m used to the freedom of the city and it’s stifling all of my inspiration.  I guess it’s easy to blame the universe, but perhaps I’m just lazy.  I know I should be living my life while I’m young, not napping between shifts, letting the world pass me by, and this blog is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, so hopefully it will motivate me in other aspects of my life.  I want to read books, visit new places, try new things, learn to cook more than rice and pasta, listen to new music, improve my skills, maybe even start actually exercising (though that one may be pushing myself a bit too far…), and hopefully I’ll use this blog to review new books and music, talk about the places I go, the recipes I try, the skills I improve…and hopefully my motivation will last for more than just a day (stay tuned to find out…).  Yesterday I decided I wanted to learn embroidery, but one look at the complex Wikihow swiftly changed my mind, but we shall see.

Something I’ve learned is motivation must come from within, you can’t live your life for anyone else, you have to do things for you.  Do what makes you happy, what makes you feel good, and don’t be afraid to try new things, or worry about how you’ll be perceived. Everyone has bad days where you just don’t feel like doing anything, take every day as it comes, it’s never too late to do that thing you’ve been putting off for months, the only thing holding you back is yourself.  No one else knows that you meant to paint your fence last year, so do it tomorrow, or do it today.  Do what makes you happy and let no one stand in your way.

~ Orla xox ~