22/09/2016

10,000 Visitors - THANK YOU! + Newsplash


Hi guys!
Today is a special day for my blog: we just hit 10,000 visitors! Ten thousand clicks on my blog posts. That's a lot of people! I know I haven't always been the most active and consistent blogger, but seeing such a number in my blog statistics makes me immensely happy.

At first I was planning on doing something special to celebrate this tiny milestone of mine, but a few failed attempts and many abandoned ideas later I came to the solution of keeping this post brief. I tried to film a little video of myself saying thank you for all of you guys in person, but no one, I mean no one has ever bothered to tell me how hideous I sound on film. In other words, you just missed your chance to witness a real documentation of my Finnish-British-Canadian-French English accent blabbering away.

So no videos this time. Instead, I wanted to take this occasion to make a few exciting announcements. As a huge SEO and blog traffic nerd I'm highly aware of the main sources of traffic on my blog, and on the top sits who else but FACEBOOK. Realizing this, I gathered all of my courage and created a Facebook page for Terra Incognita. Shoosh! Go and like it HERE!


I'm still working on it, but in the future I'd really like it if I could stop flooding my personal facebook profile with my blog updates. I would like this page created specially for my blog to be the main platform to advertise new posts to my audience. A girl can dream, right?

Speaking of traffic: I've had a chance to do some amazing collaboration with multiple expat community websites during my time as a blogger. These websites have been a huge source of traffic to my humble little blog project here, which is why I'm now ruthlessly taking this space to thank EXPAT.COM for featuring me on their website on multiple occasions.

The support of others is of top-tier importance for any immigrant, which is why communities like these can turn out to be incredibly helpful when you're sad and alone in a new country, feeling helpless, sitting in your new apartment and eating pot noodles for a week straight since you were too scared to buy anything else from the grocery store.

The community on Expat.com Canada was fairly active, but the folk on the Ireland community still seem to be lost in the winds of the Emerald Isle. So all my fellow expats in Ireland, go and make friends there! Forum discussions, job boards and blog directories are waiting to be discovered. I regularly get messages from people asking for advice on things like immigration processes, housing and job search in Canada and Ireland, and I find it incredibly exciting to be able to help others battling with those same piles of forms and documents as I have in the past.

I actually have much bigger and more exciting news to share with you in the near future, but let's keep a bit of mystery for a little while longer. In the meantime I promise to have a more consistent and regular posting schedule - I have a million drafts in Work In Progress state at this very moment! Stay tuned for city guides for Toronto and Ottawa, my ultimate guide for a successful Long Distance Relationship and a lovely tour around my ancient, world-renown university, Trinity College Dublin....

What kind of posts would you like to read in the future? Suggestions, ideas, feedback warmly welcome! Let me know what you think in the comments below! 


Follow me!
  Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Bloglovin'

Share this PostPin ThisEmail This

10/09/2016

WHY I MOVED ABROAD


"You're from Finland? But isn't that like one of the best countries in the world? Why on earth would you move somewhere else?" You can't imagine how often I've heard this. I'm so used to explaining my current whereabouts it has become like a mantra created solely to make people understand my motives for emigration. So what pushed me to leave Finland and seek life elsewhere?


  THE MYTH BUSTER

The most common misconception coming with the question posed in the first sentence of this post is that somehow moving away from a country has something to do with personal hatred, disappointment or even a feeling of not belonging. My emigration from Finland somehow resonates back to people as "Finland, you failed me and we're done". Of course this can be the case, and it should be perfectly acceptable in itself - there surely are places where the state can't possibly offer its citizens the safety and economic stability they would need to establish a life there. However, as a citizen of a western welfare state with free internationally praised education, free universal healthcare system and number 5 on The World Happiness Index 2016 I can't argue that, in my situation, the reason for my emigration lies somewhere in there.

In other words, the whole affair becomes personal really fast. The two countries - your place of origin and the country of immigration - become binary opposites and are put to a position of confrontation, against one another. It's like a competition of one being better than the other. Emigration is easily taken as criticism towards your home country, which is why some Finns might get insulted from the idea of one of their own abandoning the ship and hopping the border. At the same time some locals of your new home country might find it odd you've decided to leave a place with so many virtues. "Do you think it gets any better than that in here?"


Emigration isn't criticism, not always. My emigration isn't. It's not criticism towards Finnish culture, Finnish society or the geographical area called Finland. I have no problem with the darkness, long winters, the cold, the silence of people. I never left because Finland, as a nation and as a culture, somehow failed me or disappointed me. I didn't pack my bags in anger and turn my back to it, I didn't leave as a rebellious protest accompanied with a fanfare as I boarded the plane.

As a kid I thought I would. Because yes, even at the age of 19 I still thought Finland was boring and life would surely get so much better somewhere relevant, like London or Paris. I cared much more about other people's "Finland, where's that?" than I cared about things that actually matter: economics, healthcare, safety. I honestly loathed people who would move abroad and then turn into "little Finnish wussies" missing things back home and trying to tell me how moving away makes you appreciate things in Finland. I didn't want to see or hear any of that because they proved me wrong - that moving abroad isn't magic, and secretly I still loved Finland. I was disappointed how so many expat Finns were not at all like me, who "totally wouldn't ever miss anything and I wouldn't care if I never got to speak Finnish again". And let's face it: this is probably what you expected to read from this post, right?

I was naive, and this naivety is in the core of the question at the top of this post. "Did you move away because you hate Finland?"


  UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

I moved away because, guys, there are things we can't learn by staying. Living abroad is like a bootcamp to surviving life: the daily struggles you face while travelling the world or immigrating to a new country are like kicks to your crotch, and with every kick you become a little stronger and a little less wimpy. In order to grow as a person you need to take hits, you need to struggle, because at those moments of anger, desperation and hopelessness you may face while being lost in the Australian bush you're face to face with your strongest possible self because you have no other choice.

That strength is something I want to train. I grew up shy, scared and almost mute. I was afraid of everything: people, house plants, loud noises, being alone. Eventually, as an adult, my life reached a state where I couldn't possibly go on the way I had, and after three years of hitting the lowest I have ever been I became angry at myself. I promised I would never be afraid like that again: afraid of disappointment, loss and confusion. I wanted to know how it feels to be normal, to be an extrovert who isn't afraid of taking the leap and sinking into the unknown.


So I moved to Leicester. By distancing myself from Finland and jumping into my first terra incognita, the land unknown, I gave myself a chance to explore my fears related to losing control - because let's face it, moving abroad can be a pain in the ass! As time went by and I kept facing one struggle after another (missing supporting documents, wrong forms, not knowing how to pay bills for god's sake) I became used to it, and I knew to expect it. Slow and steady I learned to handle disappointments and solve problems instead of sitting down and crying about it.

I moved abroad because I needed it - many of us do. I needed to face the people, speak foreign languages, fail and then try again. We all have our own life-changing moments, and one of mine is definitely that time I sat down to my seat on my British Airways flight with a one-way ticket to London, at 05.30am in the morning. I was heading to a life of uncertainty, unpredictability and discomfort. I had no idea what I was doing and that's exactly what I needed to do.


  CONCLUSION

Finland is ranked as one of the most equal countries (SOURCE) with one of the highest per capita incomes (SOURCE) in the world. Finland has incredible scores regarding freedom of speech and freedom of press (SOURCE). In this light, it might seem odd for foreigners that someone in the possession of a passport and citizenship to this Scandinavian shangri-la would voluntarily choose to move elsewhere and turn their back to all these international statistics.

I did because, despite Finland's many virtues, there's a whole world out there. There are places to be and people to meet, immigration forms to fill and trans-Siberian trains to catch. Emigration doesn't have to be criticism or trying to find greener grass from the other side of the fence: sometimes it's all about self exploration, leaping into the unknown and hunger for more life.

Will I ever move back? At this point in my life I have no clue. If I do, despite everything I've seen and done during the past three years, it will be the bravest thing I will ever have done.


Have you moved abroad? Why? Share your story in the comments below!


Follow me!
  Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Bloglovin'

Share this PostPin ThisEmail This

05/09/2016

MY QUÉBEC: 3X3 PLACES TO SEE, EAT AND ENJOY


Québec City is many things: the oldest city of North America, the capital of the only French-speaking province of Canada, and my old hometown. There are tons of things to discover in this l'Accent d'Amerique, but there's nothing quite like a local's take on exploring the city. In this post you can discover my 9 shortlisted hotspots for an authentic Melissa's Québec experience!

The 400-year-old Québec City is the capital of the province of Québec, but doesn't exactly give you this urban metropolis vibe as one would expect from a capital city (in other words: if you're into skyscrapers, head to MONTRÉAL). Some even dare to describe my dear Canadian headquarters as boring; sure, Québec can be a hard bite to swallow with its ca. 500 000 inhabitants if you're used to tightly packed cities like New York or London. As a European heading to Québec City you'll also need to be aware of certain attributes typical for most North American cities: the distances between destinations can grow huge. Be ready to rent a car if you fancy a trip outside the city!

No matter what they say, I adore Québec. It took me a while to fall in love with this Francophoneland and its somewhat temperamental people, Québec being fundamentally different to any other city I had ever lived in. But once it hits, there's no way out. Once you come to terms with the occasionally confusing transportation system (no train, no tram, only RTCBUS), settle to walking long distances or give up and decide to rent a car, the city can be a total bliss.

I divided my Québec experience into three colour coded categories:
- 3 attractions to see in RED
- 3 restaurants to eat in GREEN
- 3 locations to stroll around and relax in BLUE.
Click the map underneath to observe our oncoming tour up close. Allons-y!

Click to enlarge! / Map from Google Maps

3 PLACES TO SEE...

1. LA TERRASSE ⎮ PIERRE-DUGUA-DE-MONS


La Terrasse Dufferin, or just "La Terrasse" for locals, is one of my favourite areas of Québec. To put it simply, La Terrasse is a wooden walking promenade attached to the side of the Château de Frontenac hotel (my article about the hotel HERE) in Old Québec. It's a perfect location to stroll around with ice cream or cold drinks while admiring the gorgeous St. Lawrence river or the Petit Champlain district just down the edge. During winter the city also builds a sledge slide on the terrace.

Better than the terrace itself is the hill right next to it. The view you get from climbing on the Terrasse Pierre-Dugua-De-Mons is absolutely breathtaking. It's no more than 100 metres climb at most, and the little balcony to admire the view is located right next to La Citadelle military school. I've climbed on this spot so many times I swear I could draw the silhouette of the mountains in the horizon by heart... The view is especially magnificent during the night, when the hotel Frontenac is lighted.

This is where I fell in love with Québec, and I hope you will too!




2. CHUTES-MONTMORENCY WATERFALLS


Québec, as Canada in general, is all about outdoors and breathtaking nature. The Montmorency Falls are fairly easily accessible with a 30-minute bus drive on bus 800, and is the perfect getaway from your city holiday. It's the spot where I've dragged all my friends and family members who came to visit me, and for a reason: there isn't an easier way to demonstrate just how stunning and close to Canadians' everyday life the local nature can be.

The Montmorency Falls rise to an impressive height of 84 metres. It's possible to admire the falls from multiple angles: there are various viewpoints and paths on both sides, and even a tension bridge to cross the water from up close and personal. (Not for the faint-hearted!) If you fancy a physical contact, it's even possible to climb the stairs all the way down to the bottom of the falls and get soaked by the mist.

Admission to see the falls is free, but parking costs 12 dollars. Multiple other activities are also available on the site, such as via ferrata and rock climbing.




You can get around the falls by following these wooden paths attached to the rocky wall. Walking all the way to the other side of the falls also offers you a beautiful skyline of Québec City:


EXTRA TIP! Did you rent a car to go and see these falls? An easy way to extend your excursion to the wonderful landscapes around Québec City would be to cross the bridge right across the highway from these falls, and head to the Île d'Orleans, a rural island right on the side of the city. You can drive around the island in an hour or so while stopping by local food producers (black currant wine is a must!) and admiring the endless fields of corn growing along the road. Île d'Orleans is also the locals' hotspot for picking apples in autumn!


3. QUÉBEC OBSERVATORY


Québec is a gorgeous city seen from street level, so why not check it out from a bird's eye view? Québec's Observatory offers you a truly tremendous perspective on the capital: you'll have a 360-degree landscape opening in front of your eyes all the way to the mountains on the horizon. If you ever felt like Québec is a small city, you might want to think again after seeing how far the outskirts of the city can stretch. The observatory reaches a whopping 221 metres and is located on the 31st floor.

The below picture presents some very quebecish features: a protest in front of the parliament building (the square with a grey roof on the bottom-right), the ongoing construction for the Red Bull Crashed Ice skating race even when there's no snow in sight, the fortified part of Old Québec standing on the edge of Cap-Diamant hill, looking over the vast St. Lawrence river. This is the picture that makes me let out a deep sigh and daydream of my days in Canada. Sigh!

Website: OBSERVATOIRE DE LA CAPITALE
14$ for adults, 11$ for students. Children 12 and under for free.






3 PLACES TO EAT...

4. TORA-YA RAMEN


I have eaten in countless restaurants in Québec, but Tora-Ya Ramen is my absolute favourite. The restaurant being close to my old workplace, I've spent hours upon hours savouring through their menu from ramen to desserts and bottles of sake. Their portions are big and fairly cheap (ca. 13 dollars per bowl). This place is incredibly popular though, so make sure to arrive right after their opening time, 5pm. 15 minutes later you'll have to be ready to queue for a table, as the place is really small and the space is limited.

Their main specialty is obviously bowls of ramen in different styles (Tokyo/Sapporo), but Tora-Ya Ramen also serves other Japanese dishes. I recommend you try the Kimchi Ramen if you're anything like me and want to taste everything at once (photo below). And don't get scared: the staff will greet you in Japanese when you step in! After that French or English will do just fine.

Website: TORA-YA RAMEN



5. HOSAKA-YA SUSHI


Yes, I have a thing for Asian food. Sushi chains are easy to find in Québec (Sushi Shop, Yuzu Sushi), but after ramming through most of them, the small Hosaka-Ya sushi remains my number one. The restaurant is so tiny you might miss it the first time you walk past it, and it's hard to stuff in if there's even a slight queue to the counter. It's all part of the charm!

The sushi is of excellent quality and definitely worth the wait. I often rely on the chef's combinations, as I'm really bad at choosing.

Website: HOSAKA-YA SUSHI


6. PLANÈTE POUTINE


My number 6 hotspot is, at the latest, the spot on my list where every quebecer reading this will turn to look at me and say: "Really, Mel? Planète Poutine?" However, I think you haven't properly experienced Québec before you've tried one of their special culinary gems. Poutine is a fast-food dish distinctive to French Canadians: french fries, soft cheese (goes by the name "squeak squeak") and brown beef gravy. You won't have hard time finding restaurants serving poutine in Québec, as there are multiple chains all around the city - Chez Ashton and Poutineville to name a few.


I picked this Planète Poutine in Sainte-Foy district specifically for their large selection of poutines in different styles, good quality and personal attachment (I used to live within walking distance). Poutine is the kind of food every quebecer desires while being drunk, hangover or just plain lazy, and this specific Planète Poutine restaurant was my destination whenever I suffered from any of the aforementioned states. My own personal favourite from their menu is the Chop Chop poutine with sour cream and spicy sauce.


Beware of portions sizes when ordering poutine: you might think "it's just french fries", but one bowl of this delicacy will surely be ale to fill even the hungriest man. I would never order anything more than XS or S-sized poutines. My small Chop Chop photographed below!


EXTRA TIP! Fancy something more classically Canadian? Try one of these restaurants:
RESTAURANT AUX ANCIENS CANADIENS
RESTAURANT LA BUCHE
RESTAURANT 1640
All three serve classic Canadian food: game, maple syrup and fat. Yum!


3 PLACES TO ENJOY...

7. QUARTIER PETIT CHAMPLAIN


When it's time to think of your crew back home and shop for souvenirs, you want to head to the Petit Champlain district. Québec just doesn't get any cuter than this! Just down the hill from La Terrasse and Frontenac you get to sink into this picturesque little labyrinth of alleys and craft shops. Whatever souvenir to bring home you desire, they will have it in Petit Champlain. That funny miniature moose warning sign? They have it. Plaid-printed overalls? They have it. Keychains made from caribou antlers? They have it. An apron with a print of a naked female body with marijuana leaves covering all critical parts? They. Have. It.



It doesn't matter if you visit Petit Champlain during summer or winter: the atmosphere is different, but the charm stays the same. The district also has a solution in case all the shopping has worn you out and climbing back to the upper city feels impossible. You can hop on the Funiculaire, a little elevator that brings you up and down to La Terrasse (seen in pictures below). The entrance to the elevator is inside a little convenience store, and with 2 dollars you'll get a pretty nice last glimpse of the Petit Champlain district from above.




EXTRA TIP! Since you're down there, why not take this whole Québec thing a step further and go see it from the other side of St. Lawrence river? You can hop into a FERRY from the Old Port (upper right corner in the above picture) and cross the river to Lévis, Québec's friendly rival city. Just between us: quebecers like to say the best thing about Lévis is the stunning view they get of Québec... In my opinion the best thing to do in Lévis is to visit the original CHOCOLATS FAVORIS, an amazing ice cream parlour where they dip your cone to whatever chocolate you choose.


8. PLAINS OF ABRAHAM


Because Québec wouldn't be a serious historical city without a real battle field, right? Originally the site of the battle where the British empire beat the French in 1759, the field is now converted into a national park (designed by the same man who designed Central Park in New York!). This park is a perfect location for any picnic, Sunday stroll or even a music concert - the annual Festival d'été de Québec takes place on the Plains.

I used to come here during summer to study French under the trees, sneakily listening to passers-by's discussions to see if I'm able to catch a word or two. Later on I started jogging there too - once I got lost and ended up wandering around the plains for solid 2 hours before finding my way back home. Can't recommend that!

P.S. You must be wondering who this Abraham guy was. It happens that he was just an everyman who used to keep his cows on the plains, practically a no man's land as it was, so locals started to call the plains "the plains of Abraham".



EXTRA TIP! Looking for a place to have a night out? A street called Grande Allée is your spot. Located just next to the Plains, Grande Allée is home to a wide range of bars, bistros and nightclubs. There's something for everyone: LES 3 BRASSEURS for beer tasting, L'ATELIER for fancy cocktails, and nightclubs like MAURICE and DAGOBERT if you really feel like losing yourself.



9. 3RD AVENUE ⎮ LA CITÉ-LIMOILOU

I've been dragged back and forth this avenue so many times there was no way I wouldn't include it in my personal Québec exploration list. Limoilou is a funny little district north of city centre: the streets are only named by numbers, so getting lost is practically impossible if you know the number of the street you're heading to. There are rues and avenues though, so make sure to check which one it is that you're trying to find!

The 3rd Avenue of Limoilou is one of the main streets of Old Limoilou, pulsating with life and community culture. Small restaurants, breweries and specialized grocery stores surely have something for everyone's taste. During summer they bring out an old yellow piano, available for the public to play. 3rd Avenue also frequently hosts small community music concerts, when the street turns into a tiny festival area.

My favourite sushi place Hosaka-Ya, mentioned as the 5th hotspot on this list, is also located on the 3rd Avenue.


Have you ever been to Québec? Is there something you would have added to the list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

GET THIS POST AS A GPS-GUIDED TOUR


Follow me!
  Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Bloglovin'

Share this PostPin ThisEmail This