Towering cow sculptures made from cars scattered throughout Finland

If you’ve been penning a list detailing your reasons to visit Finland, here’s another brick for that rationalization wall: cow sculptures. Miina Äkkijyrkkä is a Finnish sculptor who previously spent time studying dairy farming. Now she constructs gigantic sculptures depicting cows, but she builds these artsy towers with a unique material–cars. Based in Helsinki, Miina travels all over the country to source her old cars from scattered dealers. On her website, she includes cow photography. It appears as though this artist does, indeed, create straight from the heart, as she should. At first read, this might all seem a little ridiculous to you. But even if it is ridiculous in your books, her art is simply magnificent–innovative and, of course, huge. When I finally make it to Finland, which I’m hoping will be sooner than later, I’m going to seek out these multicolored, metal cow structures.


Experience Winter Ice Swimming in Finland

10 unique experiential hotels from around the world

A trend in the travel world that is becoming increasingly popular is the “experiential” hotel. Many travelers are no longer looking for a basic room in a premier location, but instead for an experience that will allow them to get to know an (often remote) area, or at least have their hotel be something they’ll never forget. From staying in mines in the deepest hotel suite in the world to getting in touch with nature in a tree-top accommodation, these ten unique hotels are must-stays for the experiential traveler.

SnowHotel in Finland is an experiential hotel made entirely of snow and ice The SnowHotel
Location: Ylläsjärvi. Finland

This hotel is an experiential property located in the Snow Village, a compound of snow and ice making a restaurant, bar, lobbies, sculptures, walls, slides, and, of course, the SnowHotel. Stay overnight in a room made completely of snow and enjoy the illuminated ice art that surrounds you. Rooms range from double igloo rooms to “furnished” ice suites.

The Sala Silvermine
Location: Sala, Sweden

The Sala Silvermine is not for the claustrophobic. Stay in the deepest hotel suite on Earth. Once you arrive, you will be given a guided tour of the mine, once Sweden’s largest producer of silver, which is 155 meters underground. After the tour, guests are given a goodie basket of fruit, biscuits, cheese, chocolate, and wine, which can be a romantic touch in the dim, candle-lit room. Prepare to rough it a little as the toilets are located 50 meters from the room, while the showers are above ground in the hostel.

Safari Land Tree Top Hotel in IndiaSafari Land Farm and Guest House Resort
Location: Tamilnadu, India

Often called the Tree House Resort, Safari Land will really get you in touch with nature. Safari Land is specifically designed with wilderness lovers, bird watchers, and environmentally conscious. Guests will stay in tree houses perched above 4,000 feet high hills. Look down and you will see a tranquil stream pouring down the hill. Look forward and your view will be of the Blue Mountains in India. And for those who want to have a rustic experience but still enjoy some comforts of home, electricity, toilets, and hot water are available.

La Balade des Gnomes
Location: Heyd Nr Durbuy, Wallonia, Belgium

La Balade des Gnomes is an experiential hotel for those who have a big imagination. With a fairy-tale theme in mind, the rooms are extremely detailed and over-the-top. Sleep in a boat under twinkling lights while floating in a swimming pool or opt for the enormous Trojan Horse Suite where you will literally be staying inside a trojan horse.

Palacio de Sal
Location: Uyuni,Bolivia

Those with high sodium levels, beware! The Palacio de Sal is, exactly as the name states, made entirely out of salt. Not only are the walls, ceilings, and floors made out of salt, but also the furniture. And, it doesn’t stop there. Salt artwork and a salt golf-course are also part of the experience.

Controversy Tram Inn
Location: Hoogwoud, Netherlands

Guests of the Controversy Tram Inn can experience sleeping in a railcar converted into a 5-room Bed and Breakfast, each with a unique theme. A double bed, shower, sink, and toilet are also included. Next to the experiential hotel live the owners, Frank and Irma Appel, who also live like their guests, sleeping in a London double-decker bus in their living room and eating in a kitchen that is now a French Van.

Diver at Jules Undersea Lodge in FloridaJules Undersea Lodge
Location: Key Largo, Florida

Imagine having to dive underwater to get to your room? If you stay at Jules Undersea Lodge, this becomes a reality, as guests dive 21 feet to get to this completely submerged experiential hotel. Meals and luggage are handled in waterproof suitcases, and the food is actually hot. Each room holds a 42-inch round window so that guests can check out the many species of sea life swimming in the lagoon. If you’re into diving, the hotel provides unlimited tanks for their guests to explore the sea.

Propeller Island City Lodge
Location: Berlin, Germany

With rooms designed by German artist Lars Stroschen, staying here is like sleeping in a giant work of art, with upside-down rooms and flying beds. Everything you find in the Propeller Island City Lodge is custom-made and one-of-a-kind. Rooms range from mild to extreme and have the ability to alter your sense of reality. Be prepared for surprises everywhere you turn.

Wigwam experiential hotel in Holbrook, ArizonaWigwam Motel
Location: Holbrook, Arizona

The Wigwam Motel is one of the last standing Wigwam hotels left from a 1950’s chain. In 2002, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Guests have the opportunity to stay in one of 14 authentic-looking teepees. Making the stay more experiential is the fact that it is located in close proximity to a number of Native American Reservations. Unlike Indian-style teepees, however, guests at Wigwam can enjoy double-beds and air-conditioning.

The Boot Bed ‘n’ Breakfast
Location: Tasman, New Zealand

Remember the childhood nursery rhyme The Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoe? Well picture that, but a lot more luxurious. This giant boot is located on 6 acres of gardens, courtyards, and well-manicured property. With private outdoor seating, a spiral wooden staircase, a cozy fireplace, and fresh flowers in rooms made for two, it is easy to see why the Boot Bed ‘n’ Breakfast is the perfect romantic experience for couples. Still, if you’re single and still want to see what it’s like to sleep in a giant shoe, make the trip anyway.

Brand Finland, Finnair, and Blue Wings

brand finland

Finland is widely recognized for having an amazing brand, which draws substance from several sources: its educational system, its technological strengths, its tradition of modern design and architecture, its physical environment (forests, water, and the extreme north), and distinctive cultural experiences like sauna.

In light of Finland’s high performance across several broad categories of evaluation (education and income, among others) it’s perhaps no huge leap of logic that the country would also operate a strong national brand, though clearly there are many powerful and exciting countries that don’t have well considered or promoted national brands.

The Finnish brand centers on clarity, transparency, innovation, and direct communication. There is also a strongly physical element of the brand, which references the actual territory of the country, making sure that the essentially unruly, wild nature of the land itself is not ignored.

It’s fair to say that the brand is pretty successful. Helsinki pops up on all sorts of most-livable cities lists in part for its strong infrastructure and facilities but also in part because there is an unyielding buzz about Finland.

Also very helpful for the promotion of the brand is Finnair itself, an airline viewed as strongly innovative for capturing lucrative Northern Europe-Asia air routes. (Currently, Finnair flies to 11 destinations in Asia; they’ll add their 12th, to Chongqing, in May.)

Finnair’s Blue Wings in-flight magazine lines up with Finland’s national brand in some very obvious ways. There is a directness to its graphics. A detailed diagram of Helsinki’s Vantaa Airport, for example, is easily the most helpful example of its type I’ve ever seen.

There’s also a Finland in Figures page with a ton of information organized in a very straightforward, simple manner: export and import figures; population; area; government details; economic structure; monthly temperatures and precipitation figures for Helsinki, a comparative GDP table, and some notes on working life. There’s also a column by Alexander Stubb, a Finnish politician who has served as Foreign Minister. Throughout, there are stories on things that dovetail with the Brand Finland: design, nature, technology, and organic restaurants.

It’s a satisfying read and it’s also a reminder of how badly so many in-flight magazines miss the boat. A lack of a sense of direction and haphazardly outsourced editorial does not produce a compelling in-flight magazine. Self-awareness, focus, and innovative articles do.

Arktikum: Finland’s extraordinary Arctic museum

arktikum finland

Rovaniemi is one of the world’s most northerly cities. Located just a few kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, it is the biggest city in Finland at its latitude, with a population of 60,000. There are bigger cities at more northerly latitudes in Norway and Russia, to be sure, but Rovaniemi is indisputably pretty far north, all things considered.

Rovaniemi lures visitors in with the promise of proximity to Santa Claus. In fact, the city bills itself as Santa’s hometown. A big draw is the Santa Claus Village shopping center, built around an Arctic Circle marking, which boasts a Santa Claus in residence 365 days of the year. During the run-up to Christmas, charter flights from around Europe ferry in tourists interested in seeing Santa in his natural geographical habitat. Under feet of snow, Santa Claus Village is now doubt charming. In the off-season, however, before snow has fallen, the shopping center seems misplaced.

Rovaniemi is also home to the Arktikum, an excellent museum that surveys Arctic life. The two permanent exhibits, one titled The Arctic in Change and the other called Northern Ways, are both very good. All sorts of subjects are covered within these two exhibits: climate change, cooperation between the Arctic nations, the evolution of cultural life in Finnish Lapland and the material culture of the Sami people.The museum is notable for its depth and its scope. Itls exciting to gain a deeper impression of this remote and inhospitable region from the toasty confines of this museum. Its architecture, which include a 172-meter long glass-ceilinged atrium that affords views of the sky and the surrounding area, is also extraordinary.

arktikum finland

Admission to the Arktikum is €12 for adults. A combination ticket that also allows access to the Korundi House of Culture is €15. Additionally on offer is a combination ticket (also €15) that offers access to Arktikum plus the Pilke Science Centre, which focuses on northern forests. Kids 7-15 pay €5 for a single ticket and €6 for a combination ticket.

Visa-free travel by the numbers

visa-free travel

Visa-free travel is easy travel. Procuring visas takes time, energy, and money, and is beyond debate a pain for frequent travelers. The erection of visa barriers responds to a number of factors, though it can be said without too many qualifications that the citizens of rich countries tend to have a much easier time accessing the world visa-free than do the citizens of poor countries.

The Henley Visa Restrictions Index Global Ranking 2011, excerpted in the Economist last week, was just published by Henley & Partners, an international law firm specializing in “international residence and citizenship planning.” Henley & Partners divide the world into 223 countries and territories.

And who gets to travel with few visa restrictions? The best citizenships for visa-free travel belong to nationals of Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, at 173 apiece. On their Nordic heels is Germany at 172 and a mess of countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, United Kingdom) at 171. The United States isn’t too far down the list, tied in fifth place with Ireland at 169. The US comes in ahead of Switzerland (167), Canada (164), New Zealand (166), and Australia (166).

Some of the least lucky countries, according to the Henley Visa Restrictions Index survey: India (53), China (40), Iran (36), Lebanon (33), and Afghanistan (24).

[Image: Flickr | megoizzy]