The Saunas of Finland

One more Finland post that I need to write. We flew back from Stockholm to Helsinki, and while in Helsinki, we took a municipal ferry to the island fortress-turned-park of Suomenlinna — Penelope, I think that's the right name, correct me if I'm wrong. It kind of looked like Middle Earth, and the kites whipping through the wind made it seem even more otherworldly. 

And on my last day in Finland, Penelope took me to a local institution that probably few Americans visit, a wood burning public sauna. The tradition is to hang out in the sauna, then take a dip in the freezing lake, then repeat two more times. I had been using the sauna in Penelope's apartment — almost all apartments and homes in Finland have saunas, how cool is that — so I thought I would be ready.

That was so, so wrong. The first time in the sauna, it was hot, but bearable. I could hang. Then I followed Penelope down the stairs into the lake. Mind you, it was 40 degrees outside. The water hit my calves and I thought, whoa, this isn't going to happen. This is freaking freezing! I tried to go back up the stairs but there was a steady stream of Finnish grandmothers heading down the stairs. Instead of continuing into the water, I aborted ship, sort of catapulted over the railing and scampered up the other side. The Finnish grandmas laughed.

This went on one more time, I sort of dunked myself in the water, but then for the third sauna trip, this evil guy poured bucket after bucket of water into the sauna. After a few seconds, a wall of heat slammed into us. My hair and ears felt like they were on fire, and the walls started closing in. I panicked. Gotta get out of here, but I felt like I might pass out. We were in the back of the sauna so we stumbled to the door. No one else flinched, mind you. Some people were wearing knit hats. That guy was definitely punking us.

Here's everyone just chilling outside in the 40 degree weather in between sauna and swimming sessions. The Finnish are a hardy lot, and I am in awe.

Here's the staircase into the lake, so you can get an idea of my predicament.

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Let's end my fabulous Scandinavian journey with Penelope and Ilmari with a photo of Marimekko, my happy place!!  

Stockholm Is The Most Magical Place

After our fun Finnish boat ride, we immediately navigated our way to Gro, a restaurant I had read about in Eater's totally on-point Stockholm Heatmap. We arrived to find a line out the door, and the queue of people waiting in the rain looked like they were from Brooklyn, but a much more attractive version of Brooklyn. This must be the place.

HIP!! Everyone ordered the very affordable special of the day, which made things so much easier for us. It was pork, potatoes, artichokes, and other veggies, and I wish I was eating this right now. Can't recommend this place enough! Even the gratis bread and butter was perfect, and I love how the butter was artfully smeared on a rock. I am going to get people "butter rocks" for wedding gifts now. Here's your butter rock, it's so cutting-edge. Hand wash only.

So we were only an hour into Stockholm and this was a home run. We focused more on sightseeing than food, but our final meal of the trip was Oaxen Slip bistro and that was so wonderful as well. The restaurant design was stunning too. That was also from the Eater list! Go Eater! Thanks for making me feel with it. 

I can't write enough good things about our hotel, Story Signalfabriken. The design was completely up our alley. We spent about 15 minutes photographing the hotel room like the design geeks that we are. This photo doesn't do it justice. Everything was just so! And what a deal at $130 a night. I almost ate that much in salmon at the dynamite free breakfast. With hand-squeezed strawberry orange juice!

European hotel breakfasts are so amazing. We went back for thirds and people around us just had a slice of toast. 

The details! Not only were the mugs perfectly unperfect, they had little tea lights under a trivet to keep the teapots warm. Genius. 

We got the 72-hour metro pass, and never waited longer than seven minutes for a train or bus. Gotta love the cave-like metro too.

This dog was absolutely everywhere! Many fun!

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Isn't this a beautiful place! Everyone goes on and on about Paris, and for good reason. But Stockholm really is special, at least from what I gathered from a 48-hour trip. More Americans should go there!

Also, we're always comparing ourselves to French women. I hate to break it to you, but Swedish women have our number too. "Where are all the frumpy moms?" Penelope and I kept asking ourselves. The women in Stockholm were impossibly glamorous, and just happened to be toting perfect toddlers in perfect city strollers. Lots of hot dads too. Just beautiful people in general. Maybe these put-together families have something to do with generous time off for parents? Just guessing. 

Stroller parking! So family-friendly. This was at the Nordiska Museet. 

This is one of the exhibits at the museum. Which of these is not like the other? Maybe an employee accidentally broke a historic horse and then had to improvise.

Here I am, posing with an exhibit about stripes. I got the memo. I only wear stripes. 

I went blonder for my Sweden/Finland trip, in hopes that people would think I was Swedish. I think it worked! When we went shopping, a few people spoke to us in Swedish but quickly realized their mistake when we just stared blankly, blinked, and then said one word: "English?" And then they would apologize to us for speaking their native language, which was so nice and unnecessary.

At first the blonde was a little shocking because it felt so different, but I love it and it seems like it's always been that way. Thanks, Stefeny at Fringe!!!

The Vasa Museum is a must-see. It's absolutely mind-blogging to see this gigantic, perfectly-preserved ship and the story of how it was recovered is fascinating. 

We barely explored this park. I wish we could've ridden bikes and toured, but the weather was cold and rainy. So instead...shopping!

Shopping in Sweden was so incredibly fun, maybe because I didn't have a firm grasp on how much anything cost with the currency exchange. I didn't have know how expensive everything was, and the world was my oyster. Note: I was heading for a rude awakening.

Pictured above, you'll see DesignTorget, or Design Target as we charmingly called it. Neons, stripes, everything was so modern and lovable!

The only store I loved more was NK Stockholm, the most amazing department store I've ever been to. Look at this home section!! I could've lived there. In the Women's department, it was like stores-within-stores, with a whole section for Swedish designers. We spent several hours just worshipfully walking the halls of NK, not buying anything. And everyone was so nice to us, even though we were obviously gawking tourists.

So the next day, I was like, I gotta buy something here. Anything. And I found this teal espresso set with stripes and polka dot. It was a tray, a bowl, and two small cups, and it was an explosion of cuteness. It didn't have a price tag, but hey, I'm on vacation. I deserve it.

So the lady rang it up, and like a dummy, I swiped my credit card. And then Penelope started laughing. "Adele," she whispered. "Did you mean to spend $600 on that? Just wondering." Oh. MY. No, I did not. That never even entered into the realm of possibility. I can't spend $600 on several small bowls, this just is not an option in my life. But the lady was already wrapping them up in gift paper, very carefully.

My mind grinded to a halt and two options floated into view: accept defeat and just get the stupidly expensive bowls to avoid embarrassment, or suck up your pride and tell the lady you've made a horrible mistake and you'll be needing to return right here at the checkout. I decided I would never see her again but the credit card bill would linger on, so I said, "Actually I just want the tray." But that was still $200. So I said, "Actually, I just want this small notebook. Yes, this notebook right here is all I will be purchasing, good day." For the record, the notebook was $20.

So shopping in Stockholm is so, so world-class, with prices to match. I also bought this Swedish perfume, Byredo "Pulp." The scent is intense, like you hate it at first, but then you love it. It's intensely fruity and a little bit sinister. To quote J-Law in American Hustle: "It's like, perfumey, but there's also something, rotten. And I know that sounds crazy, but I can't get enough of it." 

We wondered where Swedish women shopped, and the answer is COS. I have never been in a busier store. Wonder if New Yorkers will feel the same way! 

I think we went to every Acne store in Stockholm to gape at Pistol Boots. They are stunning, and really every cool girl in Stockholm seems to wear them! We saw so many pairs on the subway and just walking around. I promised Penelope I would buy them soon, and she promised me she would buy Byredo. It's our shopping pact. 

I think the Pistol boots are way more timeless than these beauties. Or maybe they are for forever. We hung out at the Acne store and the hip shop girls almost convinced me to buy this insane swan sweater. It was so ugly it was chic. Maybe? Not so practical when I got home to D.C. and it was 90 degrees. Anyway, I resisted, and good thing because it turned out to be $370 U.S. dollars. 

Cruising From Helsinki to Stockholm: Duty-Free Shopping and Tap Dancing

Penelope says that cruising to neighboring countries is a huge thing in Finland. In fact, some people take a cruise before they host a party, just so they can stock up on liquor at the duty-free store. She suggested we take a 16-hour, overnight ferry to Stockholm and I was so in. But since I was only in Europe for 9 days, we took an absurdly cheap, absurdly fast flight back from our Stockholm adventure. The cruise-flight combo worked out great. And I got the whole ferry experience. 

We drove to Helsinki and set sail!

Our cabin was tiny but perfect for one night. The sofa flipped down to become a bed and a bed flipped down on the other side. 

I wish I had taken more photos of the boat. I think this "youth lounge" was an attempt to prevent underage drinking, but it was totally empty. 

Besides the expansive duty-free shop, the main attraction was the nightclub. We walked in and Penelope said, "Ohh, karoake!" But no, that off-key warbling was the band. I grew to love them. They really knew their way around a Pitbull song. Finns seem like a quiet lot, but they really lose their inhibitions on the dance floor. 

And at midnight, there was a tap dance show. I started off on the skeptical side, but these kids' enthusiasm won me over. A Finnish tap dance crew dancing their hearts out to Pharrell's "Happy"? Or Michael Jackson's "Beat It" while wearing Lakers jerseys? I am glad I witnessed this. Talk about life-affirming. There's a lot about life I don't know, but I think if part of your time on earth included tap-dancing on a Finnish ferry, it would be a life well-lived.

Then we woke up and we were in Stockholm!

Finland! I Went to Finland!

One of my best friends from high school moved with her Finnish husband to Tampere last year, and it was only a matter of time before I got out to visit. So early in May, I flew out to Helsinki, and all I had to do was figure out how to get on the bus for the 1.5-hour drive to Tampere. No problem, right?

Until I got to the airport and there was no employee around to ask about the bus. I asked a few people, some who didn't speak English, some who gave me conflicting directions, possibly because I butchered the pronunciation of Tampere. A bus pulled up that read "Tampere" so I just got on it, hoping for the best.  The bus went on a seemingly interminable journey, stopping at bus stops that were in the middle of nowhere (see below). Someone would scamper out of the woods from God knows where and we'd continue on our way. 

I kept drifting in and out of sleep because of jetlag. Was that my bus stop? I rode the bus to the end of the line and then considered my options. Thank goodness Penelope showed up! So happy to see her. I wasn't sure what I would do next if I was in the wrong town. 

While on the bus, I looked at the street signs and wondered how Penelope is learning Finnish. It looks so different than English. I am so impressed that she is tackling the language and can communicate, go to the grocery store, meet people, etc. I think I might just give up. 

The first few days, we explored Tampere. Here it goes!

I made Penelope buy this bread. McEnnedy American Way!! The Statue of Liberty! The bread was terrible though.

I had big plans about buying everyone I know these homoerotic Finnish stamps (you have to click on the link), but they weren't out at the post office yet. Drat! Had to buy these chocolate mints instead, as seen in Bon Appetit. 

Squirrels!

Squirrels!

Tour of the town! McDonalds has a prime spot! Speaking of...

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A burger with tortilla chips and sour cream? McDonald's, you are holding out on us in the States.

We had pastries instead! Delicious!

We ate donuts too. They were cardamom-flavored and light and airy. They were from the sister location of this spot.

This is a burrito truck in Finland. 

I enjoy taking photos of interesting shop names. Exhibit A. 

Exhibit B. Or should I say D. 

It was so fun to tour around with a local. I'm betting I wouldn't have gone to this cool public library if I was by myself. 

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The library is shaped like a turkey! Here is an aerial view. Penelope wasn't quite sure why. 

I had read that all mothers in Finland receive a box of baby supplies, thanks to the generous welfare state. And here's what's in the box. Those are some cute baby clothes. Who needs a baby shower? 

Tampere seems like such a livable, pleasant spot! We walked around the park and stumbled upon a dog class. And the coolest playground ever.

See, trampolines! This is the most air I got. The rest of the photos look like I am standing still. In my defense, you try jumping on a trampoline in ankle boots with a heel.

We also drove to the Ittala glassworks factory, where the famous Finnish brand produces Aalto vases, Kastehelmi bowls, and more. We walked through the museum, but unfortunately the factory itself was closed to visitors that day.

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The factory store was wonderful. I spent a long time deciding what to get and wishing I could fill my suitcase with glassware. 

Ultimately, I went with the salmon pink vase! It was cheaper because it's a factory second. As Joe said, we could spend our whole lives trying to figure out what exactly makes it a factory second, looks perfect to me.

Charleston Eating Tour, Spring 2014

I didn't do any planning for my five-day trip to Charleston with friends. I just showed up at the airport, and let our friend who was born and raised in Charleston show us around. Actually, I take it back. That was a plan and the best plan I could've made. I didn't take as many photos as I could've but, here's what we got up to!

Hominy Grill  Brunch, Charleston Nasty Biscuit = demolished

Hominy Grill Brunch, Charleston Nasty Biscuit = demolished

Hominy Grill bloody mary is a must.

Hominy Grill bloody mary is a must.

Gigantic bowl of kale at  Bull Street Gourmet Market.  Yuppies wished it, and it was so.

Gigantic bowl of kale at Bull Street Gourmet Market. Yuppies wished it, and it was so.

Cocktail dotted with little gelatin pearls, just waiting to be sucked up the metal straw. I really want metal straws for my kitchen, for no discernible reason. And check out the mirror on the table.

Cocktail dotted with little gelatin pearls, just waiting to be sucked up the metal straw. I really want metal straws for my kitchen, for no discernible reason. And check out the mirror on the table.

Dinner in the gorgeous private dining room at McCrady's Restaurant. Four courses for $65 feels like a bargain here, the duck was easily the best I've ever tried. I was insanely spoiled, because the next night we went out at FIG. Nine vegetable salad is where it's at! We also got a cocktail at the very cozy bar at Husk. See? Spoiled!

While I was eating carefully-sourced, expertly prepared meals from critically acclaimed restaurants, I checked in to see what Joe as eating for dinner. "Wyngz," he texted back. That's right, wings with a Y and a Z. I think they are legally required to be spelled that way, as they are a "chicken food product". In fact, they includes the proviso: "does not contain wing meat." 

The library ladder at Edmund's Oast 

The library ladder at Edmund's Oast 

Edmund's Oast brewpub was more casual, but just as great. It's located in a giant hall with a vaulted ceiling and meat hanging from the ceiling, sort of like a hipster Medieval Times. 

The Japanese cabbage pancake is the stuff dreams are made of.

The Japanese cabbage pancake is the stuff dreams are made of.

Asian-Southern fusion sounds a little terrifying, but Xiao Bao Biscuit is delicious. The decor is perfectly undone, and this might be the first place I'd go if I went back.

Best cat EVER!!!

Best cat EVER!!!

Besides the food, one of the highlights of my trip was meeting this cat. I want one!!! It's my friend's friend's cat and it is mesmerizing. I screamed when I saw it. "What the hell is that?" This is a flattering photo, because you can't tell that the kitty is a little chubby. I thought, wow, that's what my fat cat looked like without her fur. Weird! I did some reading and Sphynx Cats are supposed to have a pot belly, it's part of the breed standard. Even weirder!

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Animal interlude! Look at this turtle, being all cute.

We stayed in a friend's apartment in the best location ever, right on the main drag, King Street. So charming! For high-end shopping, Hampden is quite spectacular. I had never heard of Elle Sasson before browsing Hampden, and I wish I had places to go in her whimsical-meets-tropical designs.

I brought my running clothes and went for a jog one afternoon. I didn't want to bring my cellphone, so I went with just a key. But there was a key code you had to enter to get into the apartment, so as I ran, I repeated the string of numbers. 5-3-8-9, I chanted in my head. 5-3-8-9, 5-3-8-9. But as I rounded the corner to our block, things started to go awry. 5-3-9-8. 5-8-3-9. Or was it 9-8-5-3? I had no idea. And no phone to call any of my friends, and no options really. Vacation panic! Amazingly, someone opened the door and let me in after 15 minutes. I never saw anyone in that small apartment building before or after that.

Here are some photos from Farm Bar, a Kinfolk-ready coffee bar and restaurant in a trailer near the train tracks. The Reston-born owner actually did host Kinfolk for a dinner at her farm!

My travel companions looking like rockstars!

My travel companions looking like rockstars!

Sums up our Charleston trip!

I Ate a Cronut! Also Racked DC Launched!

Long blogging pause, but big news! I tried a cronut! And I am the editor of Racked DC, which is so incredibly exciting. Way more exciting than the cronut. But the cronut almost got more likes on Facebook than Racked DC did, so I definitely have my work cut out for me. If you could like Racked DC on Facebook and follow on Twitter, that would be the most amazing thing! I promise to make it worth your while. It's going to be so fun. There is much happening retail-wise in Washington, we should all be proud of our city.

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Here are three of my favorite stories to write so far: a profile of the amazingly creative director behind M29 LIFESTYLE in Georgetown, watching the bizarre spectacle that unfolded as shoppers practically mugged Target employees for Phillip Lim purses on launch day in Columbia Heights, and mapping out the best places to acquire a new handbag in Washington. 

OK, now it's cronut time. So I went to NYC last weekend and all I wanted to do was eat a cronut. The hype got me. But I guess I didn't want it enough, because we never got around to standing in line. So I figured my cronut moment would never happen. But then miraculously on the last day of my trip, deus ex machina, a cronut in a box arrived at Debie's door. It was good, yes. And beautiful. But honestly, normal donuts are so good I don't think that this is an improvement. It is just a delicious variation on the tried and true.

So I did wait in a massive line for Mighty Quinn's bbq, waiting more than an hour. But I have no idea why there was a line because it was cafeteria style. It was pretty great though, I recommend going no bun on the pulled pork and the baked beans had too much meat, too little beans.

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Taim roasted red pepper falafel will haunt my dreams, so delicious. 

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Ramen from an unidentified ramen shop, I got greedy with two eggs and couldn't come close to finishing this.  

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The Kate Spade Saturday shop is a cute little universe that I would like to inhabit. 

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I was lucky to go up to New York for the Racked Awards  and we ate lunch at the very gorgeous ABC Kitchen. They can make popcorn on an ice cream sundae look elegant. Anna Wintour and Vera Wang happened to be on a lunch date here! I thought I saw Anna, but then thought better of it. Don't be such a tourist, I said to myself. But it was her.

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The coveted Golden Turbans at the Racked Awards, with a very cool band. Great party!

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I regret that I did not get my fortune read by Roxanne. Another day!