Vietnam Adventures: Ho Chi Minh City

I traveled to Vietnam in the end of 2018 to visit my family. They had moved to Ho Chi Minh City because of a job situation, and we planned to spend some familytime when my sister and I were able to fly to their new occasional home.

I had no expectations. Other than it’s gonna be warm! And warm it was, and humid!

I got some kind of a picture of the city of Ho Chi Minh (previously known as Saigon), but I got to experience only a fracture of it. The few days I spent in the metropolis (almost 13 million people living there!) left me with a curious attitude towards the historical city, and the country in general.

The first impression: there are scooters everywhere! And so much of them!

The second impression: people seem kind.

The third impression: it’s a city of contrasts: very poor/very fancy.

I got to walk around in couple of parts of the city and it was very versatile. In some corner there was a street food market, in some corner there was a chain hotel.

The city’s feeling was French and Asian. In a way that the buildings were very decorative that reminded of Paris for example, but the traffic with scooters and the humid weather with tropical plants put you right into the Southeast Asian “vibe”.

Ho Chi Minh City radiated appreciation of beauty and also some kind of a humbleness. It must come from the devastating near history with the Vietnam War. Without going too much to that topic, I can only say that it felt like there was a new time developing after tough times. To me that is always beautiful how humanity is able to rise from hard times.

Left photo: Notre Dam Cathedral of Saigon. It’s located in the Paris Square. Represents times when Vietnam was a French colony during 1880-1945 (wonder why it felt so French.. ;D). Right photo: Saigon station. Picture of Ho Tši Minh himself (former president of Vietnam).

The food was very colorful. What I remember best was the Vietnamese crepes, which were filled with all kinds of vegetables and yummy sauces. The fruit were also just from a different planet I was used to having in the cold north.

What I also will never ever forget, is the strenght of Vietnamese coffee. We were in for a treat when our familys’ friend kindly took me and my sister to their coffee place and introduced us to their traditional ways of drinking caffeine. Plainly, with a slow dripper (like in the photo) it was like hard liquor. I think I even got drunk from it (lol).

The other way we tasted it was as ice coffee. That was done by adding condensed milk and ice to the coffee. It was interesting! And much more pleasant for me. The beans most used in Vietnamese coffee is robusta, and that has a unique rosted flavour to it.

As we were in Ho Chi Minh for a short period of time, we wanted to go for an organized tourist trip with my sister to see Vietnam from a different view. We decided to hop on a tour bus one day that took us to a Buddhist temple and to a river tour at Mekong Delta.

This was the part in the Buddhist temple.

This was the part in the are of the Mekong Delta river. We learned that there are several “tribes” living in the river area in very primal circumstances. They make a living from tourism.

After our day trip, we were tired but happy to have seen such different ways of living.

We still had one day left in Ho Chi Minh before other plans, and my family took me to the famous market, Ben Thanh Market. It was full of food and other stuff! My focus was mainly in the colourful fruits and veggies. So pretty!

After seeing some city attractions, taking the tourist tour and visiting the Ben Thanh Market, it was time to pack up my belongies and start the next advernture in the “vacation island” of Vietnam: Phu Quoc.

See you there!

xx

Maija

Åland Adventures

I visited Åland a couple years ago for the first time and I fell in love with the place. The small island between Finland and Sweden charmed me with its carefree vibe and rustic beauty. Last year I traveled to Åland again and I was just as delighted. 

Me and my boyfriend spent our midsummer biking around the pretty island and sleeping in cute accommodations. 

We took a boat (Viking Line) from Stockholm to Mariehamn on a Friday morning. The trip took approximately 7 hours. After arrival we rented our rides for the weekend from a bike rental right opposite to the boat terminal. We strolled to Mariehamn’s cozy city center where we enjoyed ice creams and soon started our biking journey to our first destination. 

Our first adventure was to bike 20 kilometers to our first accommodation. It took us only about one and a half hours, which gave us lots of time to enjoy the surroundings of our first home for the night. We stayed in a guesthouse called Amalia. We had cows as our neighbours and fields as our yard.

In general, during our trip, we saw lots of cows, and I discovered that they are really calming animals. And curious. They really want to know what’s going on when you get closer to them! Animals are amazing.

Anyways, in Amalia we had a small room, just with beds. Everything else was shared with other travellers; toilets, showers and the kitchen. In the morning of Saturday we ate a fulfilling breakfast from their breakfast buffet and I found my new favourite drink; pasteurized apple juice, straight from the applegardens of Åland. It’s so good! ❤

After the breakfast, we continued our biking and headed to the harbour of Långnäs. As we approached the destination, we soon understood that during midsummer (and the weekend) the ferry schedules weren’t that vibrant. We had planned to spend the day island hopping and seeing Åland from the coast, but our plan changed as we discovered that we would have to wait the ferries for looong times. This meant that we would reach our second accommodation only quite late in the night. So, we made a choice to stay on the mainland and biked right back where we had just gotten from… 😀 A little detour and some extra kilometers didn’t luckily bother us. It was a beautiful midsummer day and we had a lot of time to bike towards the next accommodation with a new plan.

This turned out to be a nice option, as we stopped at my old favourite little cafe on the way, Brobacka. We had coffees and pastries. Rhubarb pie and Åland’s pancake. I stayed at Brobacka the last time I visited Åland with a friend, and it was so nice to stop by this time again. It is the coziest little B&B!

After our little fika (coffeepause), our route took us to a restaurant called Smakby, and to a medieval castle right next to it; Kastelholm. These are both popular tourist attractions which were so nice to see! And we got to taste probably the best ice cream on earth; Smakby’s home made old vanilla ice cream. Ridiculously amazing. Btw, Smakby is the “dream project” of the famous chef Michael Björklund, and their focus is on quality local produce. I have been wanting to go there for a long time, so this new “detour” we took was clearly a better route Universe had in store for us. 😉

After eating and enjoying the beautiful area of the old castle Kastelholm, we started our last part of biking that day and eventually arrived to our second home for the night, Stalldalen. This was a hotel close to a brewery called Stallhagen, where we went for a dinner that evening. These two were walking distance apart from each other. (But of course we biked there.) We ate good meals in the evening and had a little craft beer tasting as well. And for dessert, another rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream.

Came Sunday morning and we were spoiled with an amazing breakfast, homemade kombucha included! After the luxury, we hopped on our bikes and started our last day of biking and headed towards a beach which was recommended to us by the owner of the hotel we stayed in.

There we went on our bikes again, and arrived to a beautiful spot in the middle of solitude. We settled on smooth rocks and enjoyed the peaceful place. 

We still had around 20km to bike towards Mariehamn, so we decided not to relax for too long. It was time to jump on our rides again. We drove by cute villages and went from biking in the middle of forests to suddenly biking on Mariehamn’s airport streets. (Google maps isn’t always a friend. :D) Finally we found our way back to the city and rewarded ourselves with yet again tasty ice creams before handing the bikes back in and heading to the boat.

We ended up biking around 75 kilometers that weekend. In Åland the biking is quite pleasing because the roads are in good shape and it is not that hilly. Here is our route in total: Mariehamn to Amalia 20km, Amalia (with the detour) to Stalldalen 35km, and Stalldalen to Mariehamn 20km. In summary, we biked, we ate, we biked, we ate, we biked and we ate 😀 ❤

In the boat on our way back to Stockholm, tired but happy, I couldn’t help to think that Åland had a pretty special place in my heart.

Till the next time then, Åland!

Would love to hear your thoughts about Åland if you have any experiences?

I feel like that place is full of magic and it is full of food for the soul. 😉 ❤

xx

Maija

The Second Puberty (a.k.a. the spiritual awakening)

Recently I bumped into a really interesting video about THE spiritual awakening. I wanted to write about it here to reflect on my own journey with it. I find it awesome to be able to talk about this awakening process and its stages by actual names! It helps a lot, at least it helped me a lot.

Some time ago I came up with the term “second puberty” about the whole awakening process, because it truly feels like it. It’s also just as normal and different to all of us like puberty. The reason I wanted to reflect on this topic is that awakening is nothing special, really. It is maybe displayed like it. But it should be more widely talked about, so that maybe it could help a lot of people who go through sudden feelings and shifts in their being. We are growing and it is not always pleasant. Our brain is LITERALLY changing to shift perspective. And it’s something to talk about!

Spiritual awakening, or just awakening, is not something fuzzy, only-for-some-people, it is a part of the human evolution. Some of us just go through it younger and some of us older. We are now living the times where it is possible on a collective level to develop spiritually. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a good example of this evolution (more about it here).

Self-actualization (the highest stage in the hierarchy of needs) is ultimately the spiritual awakening. What it simply means is that we as humans become aware of ourselves, our behaviour and our individual needs. We no longer seek approval from the expectations of society for example, but we start to seek internal balance. We simply start serving our souls instead of our egos (if this sounds weird spiritual hoo-haa, I get it! But, I truly recommend researching more about the topics of the human psyche, ego, awareness, etc. It is such an interesting world!). And, you can always just stay tuned for posts later on covering those topics! ❤ They are coming, I promise! 😉

Anyway, for now, let’s get back to the topic: awakening.

Christina Lopes, The Heart Alchemist, lists 6 stages in the spiritual awakening (here), and I will use them as a base here too, because I found her stages very helpful. The explanations are my own reflections and experiences of those stages.

The wake-up! You kinda just wake up. This can happen slowly or just like that. I started to realize that hold on, there is more to life than the external world we are born into. There has to be! We are not just ment to be robots that go to work, struggle, and die. What happened to me was that I for example didn’t really want to party anymore, I started to be interested in terms like soul and universe and I just felt different. I got curious about self-development.

The Bliss. You start to see life trough lenses of bliss. You get glimpses of bliss, connection and happiness. I started to understand that everything is connected. I wanted to spread positive vibes only and I remember being amazed by how everyone else seems not to understand the beauty of life. Like all we have is this moment! Can’t you see!

The Dark Night. After the bliss times, you are eventually going to face some darker times. This is the time where I started to go through my baggage. From childhood until the current life. It can be heavy. But we have to face the things we haven’t yet so that we can free ourselves. It can feel like the shittiest time of your life, but it is necessary for growth. Maybe you feel like you’re depressed, anxious, loosing it. Or maybe you are growing. You can look at hard times from many perspectives, but ultimately they are in your life to bring clarity and to free you from yourself. I personally felt like wtf, what did I do wrong here? Where did the happiness days go? I was blaming myself about feeling shitty, but now I understand that it was a part of this journey. Of course you need to dive deep for a while. And the more you resist it (like I did by blaming myself), the longer that period is lasting.

The Void. The Void is here to give us a breather. It is the time where we are probably loosing our identities, just feeling like we are completely lost in life. It is the time where you have gotten out of the dark times, but you’re still just feeling very weird about life. Like what is this really all about? Does anything matter? Or does everything matter? I have personally felt so much frustration in this phase. And resistance. This is the time to calm down and give yourself time. Patience.

The Groundedness. You start feeling peace in yourself. You are more accepting and you have more empathy not only for others but for yourself, too. You are more mature. You are coming out of the “second puberty”. You are more emotionally stable and you can handle the highs and the lows of life with strength and understanding. You are grateful.

The Purpose. You are finding deep meaning in yourself which leads to meaningful work in the world. You are finding the things you like, are skilled at and are motivated towards. How cool! You realize you being alive has a purpose and you want to share that. No matter what you do as your work, you are enjoying it to the fullest and finding meaning and joy. You have deep roots in yourself and your light shines not only for you but for others as well. You are basically a perfect human being. Ha! Nope that’s not true. It is just that, you truly realize to take full responsibility of your life and handle things with calmness and joy.

What a ride, huh?

Maybe I am in the midst of the stage 3, 4 and 5. Definitely experiencing all of these stages anyway every now and then. They don’t go linearily. But, as I grow, the line seems to go like this:

 

So there are dips, but the resilience from the other stages is there to continue the growth again. This whole experience is really personal and not everyone may even go through these stages. Some of us also feel these stages more deeply, and for some it can be very light. So again, like a puberty! I felt puberty heavily anyway!

This was my reflection on the “spiritual” awakening, or the “second puberty”. Would be great to know if you are going through it, too. I really liked the whole concept of the stages. It’s a nice tool to reflect with. And, if you want a deeper take on this, I highly recommend the video from Christina Lopes. She is amazing!

 

xx Maija

Once upon a time there was a voice that got a bit too loud… My journey with the inner critic

Five years ago when I moved to Helsinki and started studying, something happened. 

I was in a new environment. I had moved into a new apartment by myself and I had started studying in a new school. I kinda started over, but I just didn’t know how. Eventually, I found myself completely lost. 

The thing is. When you have lived most of your life in your own shadows; not really connected with yourself mentally or emotionally, it is quite a journey to start finding out who you really are. 

And this was the journey I was about to take on. 

My first years of studying went on in a blur. I was living my life from an autopilot. I managed to complete my tasks and from the surface pull it all together, but in the middle of my third year, I couldn’t handle myself anymore. 

I started to get panic attacks and in the beginning of 2017, I fell into a hole. A hole of fear, anxiety and depression. From there I didn’t know what to do. I was in this zone where nothing really mattered. I felt so weird feeling so down. I mean, everything was on a way “okay”. But inside, I felt that I really wasn’t okay. I had lost my fire. 

Fortunately I knew myself well enough that the zone I was in was something I didn’t want to stay in. So I reached out for help. I saw a psychiatric who prescribed me medicine for anxiety. I took that medicine for three months and as a quick fix, it helped me to get out of the hole for a while.  

But what helped me more was a change. I was moving to Amsterdam to study as an exchange student for five months. The change helped me to get some clarity in my head. 

During my exchange I started to question everything. For example partying and drinking alcohol. I was often the one who didn’t show up to gatherings or had something else when there would have been a chance to go to a pub crawl or meet other exchange students. I wasn’t interested in getting waisted. 

Fading out from social events in general brought me to a slightly lonely place, but there I wanted to stay. I felt that it was necessary for me to get to know myself better, and in a new city it was from time to time somewhat fruitful. 

Having adventurous experiences and time for myself weren’t unfortunately enough to lift me from the hole back to light. Because after returning back home, I fell into the darkness again. This time though, I didn’t want to get the quick fix. 

Instead, I started to question myself. My behavior. Why did I do things certain way, why did I live my life the way I did. I was in agony to find out what the hell to do with myself. With this life. 

I reached out to find answers from the external stuff. This was something I did a lot. I searched for external changes that would change me from the inside. I though that if I just had something interesting to do, I would feel alive again. But that’s not the whole story. What I know now is that everything starts from the inside.

In spring 2018 I started psychotherapy. I went to talk to a therapist once a week. I was actually very eager to do this. I learned that I am a person who needs reflection a lot and I was happy to get some tools to understand myself from a deeper level. The therapy sessions helped me to open up my mind. I got new perspectives and reasons for my inner storms. 

And after some time, I started to realize that the reason behind my darkness was a really critical self-talker.

This talker inside of me ruined everything for me because I believed it. 

I believed that all those fears and insecurities it pointed out were true. I believed that I was actually that negative self-talker. And sadly in some ways that made me hate myself. 

And because I was suffering so much, I couldn’t see the love around me. 

The good thing is, when I started to understand myself, I could start noticing that critic inside of me. That it was just a conditioned voice. And that it was not me.

This opened up a whole new world. I started to realize that I wasn’t broken or a bad person. I just had listened to the critic for a bit too long. The shame, the fears, the sadness, the beliefs of being faulty or just in general, bad. 

I also understood that being aware of that critic was only half of the story. Practice is needed to make anything habitual. So I needed to change the pattern from believing my anxiety to start understanding it and then letting it go. 

Now, instead of listening to that critical voice inside of my head, I am learning to become more compassionate towards it. And what I really am learning is, is to become more compassionate towards myself. 

With compassion I am slowly feeling the fire again. And it feels awesome. It’s like my fire is now getting more oxygen to burn instead of the water that I have been drowning it with.

Some occasional water spills still occur. But now there is more oxygen to prevent the water from shutting the fire completely down.

Now.

Looking back, I understand. I understand that I was afraid of myself. I was so stuck in my head that I became my own enemy.

And that is okay. I clearly needed the wake up call from the identification with the inner critic. 

So in many ways I am grateful for the anxiety I have been faced with. It has now started to find ways out and oh boy how much I have learnt from this journey! 

I am grateful for the inner critic for teaching me that everything starts from the inside. And that when we are suffering, there’s actually nothing to be afraid of. That suffering is just a wake up call to learn necessary lessons on the journey towards ourselves. 

xx

Maija