If there’s one thing I love, it’s a good massage. Or facial, or pedicure, or just about any other form of pampering you can imagine. Except for Thai massages. Those aren’t pampering. Those are torture. A few years ago however, my love for massage was overthrown for a love of something bigger, something badder, something… steamy. The sauna.
In 2008, I had a unique opportunity to visit two friends of mine who live in the only place that’s colder than Canada (okay, not the only, but certainly one of): Finland. The three of us met while on exchange in Toulouse, France and bonded after realizing we all had French dictionaries propped front and center on our desks. At the end of 6 months, it was clear, we were destined to be friends for life.
After nearly 2 years of not seeing each other, I decided to make Finland the first stop of my European travels. I was coming in from India and was ecstatic for some quality time spent in formidable company. I arrived just in time for white nights, which meant no matter the time of day, the sun was out and the sky was simply stunning.
“Kuopio? Where is Kuopio?” Last spring, I was invited to Finland for a friend’s wedding in Kuopio, a city I knew only to be the home of the same dear Finnish friend of mine with whom I’d spent a semester abroad and kept in close touch ever since. Jumping for joy at the prospect of a return trip to Finland, a country I’ve grown to love, I sat down immediately and googled the location of my soon-to-be-planned trip. As it turns out, Kuopio is located in Northern Savonia, about 4 hours from Helsinki and is, apparently, the 8th biggest city in the country.
Having heard all about the quaint attraction of Kuopio from my friend, I was excited to have the opportunity to pay the city a long overdue visit, working it into a journey that included a stopover in Stockholm and Helsinki and continued with an epic 3 day adventure in St.Petersburg. As we pulled into the Sokos Hotel, our accommodation for two nights stay in Kuopio, the sun had set and we were all headed for a good night’s sleep before the festivities began. Waking up early Saturday morning for a quick run before my long-time friend said her “I dos”, I was shocked to be greeted by one of the most serene starts to the day I’d had in a while:
So, I just got back from a three week adventure to Sweden, Finland and Russia and after ripping apart my bank for leaving me high and dry overseas, I have to admit – I should have made the call. Here’s what happened.
As I was emptied my purse in preparation for the trip, I stood contemplating which credit card to take with me overseas. You see, my husband and I are lucky enough to have a German account from which we can withdraw money from any bank machine around the world. So, the easiest way for me to pay for things while traveling – and avoid massive charges on my Canadian credit card – is to take out money and just pay cash. That being said, I always take my Canadian card with me in case I run out of moolah and need to use the plastic.
Making payments prior to take-off
Since I was heading to Russia, where I had no idea how easy it was to get things done on the ground, I decided I should plan a little further ahead than normal. My itinerary had me flying into Stockholm, traveling onward to Helsinki and Kuopio, and then onto St.Petersburg for four days of discovery before heading home.
First of all, since the Russian visa application for Canadians (and Europeans) demands an invitation letter from the hotel for every applicant, we had to make our reservations months in advance. We reserved four nights in a three star hotel called History Hotel on the English Embankment (review of what is possibly the worst hotel in St.Petersburg, to follow) through St.Petersburg.com (mixed feelings about this site, you’ll find out why later). I made two separate reservations, since 4 of us were staying for 3 days, and only 3 were staying for the 4th. To make sure that we had the best possible “Russian” experience, we also booked tickets to see Swan Lake at the Hermitage! Needless to say, costs were adding up, but given the fact that I had made the purchases on the Canadian side of the ocean, I was sure there would be no problem with the order. Continue reading “Credit card catastrophe: Why it’s important to inform the bank when you travel abroad”→