It’s been a little quieter than usual around these parts lately, but for a very good reason. I know I’ve been holding out on you guys, but I’m excited to announce *drum roll please* I’m officially a homeowner! Ahhhh!
Let me rewind a little. I’ve been living in the same apartment for the past four and half years, but each year the rent has gone up a bit (including the additional monthly “pet rent”). After about two years, I started looking around at other places for rent in the area, but the big kicker was the non-refundable pet deposit that seemed to be tied to every property for rent, both apartment and townhouse/house. While I could live with the $300 I had to put down in 2012 when I moved in, by 2014, the going rate everywhere had gone up to $500 (non-refundable), which is absolutely crazy to me! I didn’t want to shell that out, so decided to stick it out a little longer since moving would be even more of a hassle.
In April 2016 when I renewed the lease again, I decided that would be the last time. And that it was. I started watching real estate sites to see what kind of houses were going up, how much they were, how long on the market, etc. in the fall, and by early January, began to officially go look at properties. And within a couple weeks, an offer was made and accepted! Next came the mortgage process, inspection, packing, and the move (along with lots of furniture assembly)!
It’s been quite the whirlwind. And of course, all of this happened in the middle of our busiest time of year at work AND in the midst of a huge surprise birthday party weekend my mom, sisters, and I had been planning for months for my dad’s 50th!
I can’t wait to share more with you on this BIG step in adulting! But for now, bear with me as I get settled into the new digs. I’m hoping to be back in full swing with regular programming here on Small Towns & City Lights soon!
This post is in partnership with the Levi Tourism Board.
I’m SO excited to share this post with you guys today, because it’s hands down the most incredible place I’ve EVER visited. And the time of year we visited (December) made it even more special. Levi, Finland is located north of the Arctic Circle, in a region called Lapland, which also happens to be where Santa calls home!
Day 1 // 12:15 – 2:30 p.m.
As we descended into Kittila Airport, we found ourselves in a true winter wonderland. We deplaned ON the tarmac (meaning straight on the runway – not into a gate leading to the inside of the airport), which was a pretty cool experience! Since we had our carry on bags we were able to bypass baggage claim and head straight for the charter bus, which would take us into the main town area.
Since check-in at our hotel, Levin Iglut, wasn’t until 4, we dropped our bags in the main resort area and decided to explore the base of the ski mountain, where several restaurants and shops were. We stopped in at a pizza place to fuel up, wandered through a small Christmas market, and even ended up picking up an extra fleece jacket and mittens because we certainly underestimated how cold it would be!
Day 1 // 3:30 – 9 p.m.
We couldn’t wait to check into our glass igloo hotel (read all about our stay here), so hopped in a cab to get there as soon as check-in time rolled around! Once we got into our igloo, it was time to relax for a bit, and take in the dark night sky, while waiting (hopefully) for the Northern Lights and enjoying some traditional Finnish Christmas treats we picked up in town.
Day 1 // 10 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.
Our first big excursion took place late in the evening, but was one we couldn’t wait for! We made our way back into town to meet our tour guide for the Snowcat Northern Lights excursion. Our guide drove us over to the ski mountain area, and we hopped into the Snowcat and began to make our way up the mountain, in search of the Aurora Borealis.
After driving around the mountain for a while and not seeing any more hints of green in the dark night sky, the group collectively decided to call it a night. And while we were bummed the lights hadn’t come out for us again (they’re never guaranteed, but the chances of seeing them in the winter are high), we still had a blast chatting with the Italian family of 4 also on the excursion and our hosts (who brought some delicious Finnish treats for us). Swapping cultural stories and just taking in the beautiful snow-filled scenery was wonderful!
But alas, just as the group piled back into the van to go back into town, a tiny streak of green appeared. And the hosts were kind enough to turn the car around (even though our excursion time had technically ended) and go back up the mountain to chase the lights. I tried to capture video and took SO many pictures, but nothing I did gave what we saw with our eyes any justice. The green streak grew across the sky and some pink/purple coloring appeared as the “lights” LITERALLY danced around in the sky. While it was totally freezing (we hopped out of the car to watch in awe), it was SO worth it, and one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed. It almost seemed like there was a special effects person controlling the sky – too amazing to even recount!
Day 2 // 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
We slept in a bit after our late night hunting for the Northern Lights (and wondering if they’d appear again above us in the igloo), and were surprised to wake up and see that it was around 9, because it seemed more like 6/7 with the lack of sunlight. Such a crazy adjustment!
After grabbing some breakfast in the main lodge, we wandered around the area for a bit, taking in the scenery. We absolutely loved how peaceful it was, and of course, all of the snow. It truly was a winter wonderland!
Day 2 // 1 – 4 p.m.
The next big adventure on our schedule? Snowmobiling to a REINDEER FARM! As many of you know, I’m 110% obsessed with Christmas, so this was next-level excitement for me, being able to see reindeer in real life!
We were a bit concerned about not having extreme winter clothing, but were assured we’d be good to go with the gear the excursion company provided. When we arrived, we were already dressed in thermal leggings, jeans, an undershirt base layer, sweater, and winter coat. In addition to that, we were given a hefty (Michelin Man-style) suit to step into and zip up, thick boots, and a face mask to block the wind. We were good to go!
This excursion was family-friendly, so kids were able to be pulled in a sleigh behind our excursion leader’s snowmobile. My mom and I shared a snowmobile and switched off on the driving (me going out, her coming back) and it was quite the adventure! Neither of us had even driven (and I’d never been on a) snowmobile, so there was a bit of a learning curve, but all that was needed was a valid driver’s license. Our guide was incredibly helpful and looked out for us since occasionally we were trailing behind – those things are hard to maneuver!
After snowmobiling for a bit, we came across the cutest little cabin, which happened to be the reindeer farm! Here, the group stopped in to warm up and have some delicious treats and juice, while learning more about reindeer and life on the farm. My mom and I also opted to do a reindeer sled ride, which was SO cool! I wish we weren’t in our jumbo suits when we photographed this memory, but hey, I’m happy to have been able to experience it!
Day 2 // 4:30 – 7:30 p.m.
After our big afternoon, we popped into a cafe for some food and spent some time wandering around town one last time to pick up some souvenirs to bring home and to explore more of Levi’s resort area before heading back to spend some more time in our incredible glass dome igloo for one last night.
Day 3 // 8:30 – 11 a.m.
In terms of adventuring, day two was the end to our dream trip to Levi. But for anyone interested in traveling there (which I absolutely recommend!!), I wanted to include a note about the airport. While the Kittila Airport is small, we experienced it at full capacity when leaving. There were a few tour groups from the UK plus other visitors, so we were SO glad we got to the airport a little over 2 hours in advance, since the lines for the check-in counter and security were incredibly long. I’ve never seen an airport so packed!
We hated that our magnificent adventure in Levi had to end so soon. There’s just something so magical about the Lapland region of Finland, especially in December when the Christmas magic is in the air! I can’t wait to get out there again one day!
I’m all about horror/thriller movies, so when I saw the trailer for Get Out, I couldn’t wait to see it! Especially since the movie comes from the same production wheelhouse as The Visit, The Gift, and the Insidious series. And earlier this week, I was able to catch a screening!
If you haven’t seen the trailer or need a refresher, here’s a quick rundown of what Get Out is about (spoiler-free): After dating for several months, Rose (played by Allison Williams – Marnie on HBO’s Girls) brings her boyfriend Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet her family. But as they head from NYC to upstate New York, Chris wonders if her parents know he’s black and whether or not it will be an issue, unsure of what they might think about the two of them together. But when the couple arrive, Chris is welcomed with open arms, making him feel at ease… but not for long. Chris soon notices that the live-in handyman and housekeeper are very off, seemingly a little too chipper, acting robot-ish, and also seem to be in a strange daze. Of course things get a bit weirder from there, but I always strive to keep these reviews spoiler-free, so I’ll leave it at that!
The film is directed by comedian Jordan Peele, and had PLENTY of satire + hysterical moments, primarily in the role of Chris’ TSA agent friend, Rod Williams (played by Lil Rel Howery), who seriously makes the movie! I did some research after seeing the movie and also found out it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January! After attending a few years ago, this makes me even more excited, especially since not all Sundance movies make it out into the mainstream!
Just around 2 hours, Get Out is rated R and is categorized under the horror/thriller genre. But I’d reclassify it as a comedy, with some thriller moments, and major Stepford Wives vibes. If you’ve seen the movies I mentioned in the intro of this post, this is definitely less scary than those (if you need a reference mark). And believe it or not, but the film has a solid 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (as of today, pre-nationwide release). That’s crazy to me because nothing is EVER 100% on RT! Is the film’s cast and crew going in and submitting 5-star reviews?! I definitely wouldn’t give it that high of a rating!
So should you see Get Out? It’s kind of a loaded question. Was it funny? Yes. Will it make you jump? Yes (even when you know it’s coming). But there were clear political tones throughout and a big focus on the social issues of race and the power dynamics behind them. The film was definitely meant as a social commentary, but to me, every time those moments happened, it knocked the film down a few pegs for me.
Are you planning to see Get Out this weekend? What are your thoughts on Hollywood bringing politics and social issues into the mix?
A few years ago I stumbled across some pretty incredible photos on Pinterest of glass igloos in Finland. WHAT. A. DREAM. I thought to myself. Finland hadn’t really been on my radar of places to visit, but who wouldn’t put a stay in a glass igloo on their bucket list?! So when I found myself planning a trip to Finland last year, I knew I had to make it happen. Let me tell you all about my once-in-a-lifetime stay in a glass igloo in Finland!
Golden Crown Levin Iglut is located outside of the nearby resort town, Levi. You will either need to rent a car or take a taxi to get there, as walking definitely isn’t an option (especially in winter). In order to get a good view of the Norther Lights (if you’re lucky enough to have them make an appearance), you need to be away from big lights. Hence, why the owners decided to build their spectacular igloos a 10-15 minute drive outside of town. Plus, it’s in such a quaint area, so you can really take in the scenery!
The Igloo (Room)
First I want to preface the room by saying when I say “igloo” I don’t mean literal ice igloo. This was a glass dome standalone room (igloo) WITH heating.
The igloo was essentially a studio room – the only door inside was the door to the bathroom. To the left of the entryway, there was a small kitchen complete with a fridge, stove, microwave, and teapot. There were also cabinets with plates and mugs for our use, and the coziest pair of slippers that we’d slip into every time we walked in, right after kicking our boots off!
To the right of the entryway, the bathroom. The door had a mirror on both sides which we found very helpful when it came to getting ready in the mornings! In terms of toiletries, there was an all-in-one shampoo/body wash dispenser in the shower, but no specific brand to name.
My favorite part of the room comes next. The bedroom/living room area with a glass dome that lets you look up at a wide view of the sky. Words cannot express how incredible this view was, especially at night when the stars were brighter than I’ve ever seen AND we were able to catch glimpses of the Northern Lights!
In European style, our bed was split down the middle (essentially two beds together) and had controls so we could each raise the bed up or down, to customize our individual comfort. This was a nice feature when we had some downtime for chatting or reading! Next to the bed, we also had a couch and small coffee table with chairs, so no matter where we wanted to lounge, we had a comfy place to be!
It’s also worth noting that there is NO Wi-Fi in the igloos. Usually that would be something to grumble about, but here, it was a really great thing. With a glass dome above you and the stars shining bright, THAT is where you need to focus your attention. Our room also had a radio with a couple CDs – one of Sami music (local to Finland) and the other Susan Boyle (which made me chuckle). The Sami music was kind of jazzy and had no lyrics. It was my favorite to put on anytime we were in the room. So calming!
Service + Amenities
A breakfast buffet was included in our stay and took place in the main building/reception area. We LOVED how cozy it was here. Plus, it was a great time to connect to Wi-Fi (only available in the main building) and catch up on things as we started our day. You can also arrange to dine in the hotel’s restaurant for dinner, if you don’t want to head back into town.
The Northern Lights
While it’s not guaranteed the Northern Lights will come out, we were fortunate to have them make an appearance during our stay. We were relaxing in our room getting ready for (ironically) our Northern Lights excursion, when we saw people from the other igloos in the igloo village coming outside. I turned the lights off in our igloo and saw a faint streak of green in the sky. Within moments I had thrown my boots and coat on and was out the door, my mom not too far behind me! We stood in awe for a few minutes as the tiny green streak in the sky grew bigger and started to stretch out above us. It was beyond incredible.
Tips for Planning Your Stay
There are two major things to keep in mind when planning your stay at Golden Crown Levin Iglut. First, if you’re hoping to see the Northern Lights, the best time of year to visit is September – April. Second, you MUST book in advance. I was looking in May for our December trip and found that most of the igloos had already been booked! Fortunately we were able to snag two nights toward the end of our trip and all worked out with our itinerary, but it was nearly half a year out!
Our stay at Levin Iglut was hands down the most incredible hotel and one of the best travel experiences all around my mom and I have ever had. I can’t recommend a stay in a glass igloo enough – it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
If you’re wanting to check a bucket list item off and stay here too, you can find out more on Golden Crown Levin Iglut’s website or follow along for the latest updates on Facebook.
Stay tuned for more on Levi, Finland next week!
I received a discounted rate for this stay. All opinions are my own.
As with any new city, I was very excited to visit Stockholm, but I must say, Sweden’s capital surpassed my expectations! Stockholm is rich in history, food, culture, and lots of great shops! Here’s how we spent 2 days in the city.
Day 1 // 1:30 – 2:30 p.m.
This day technically started in Copenhagen, where we hopped on a 5-hour train direct to Stockholm! By the time we actually pulled into the Stockholm train station, the sun was already starting to go down (which happens around 2 p.m. in winter) so we hustled over to our hotel to check in and drop our things.
Arriving at Stockholm’s Central train station, we were literally steps away from our hotel, which made it incredibly easy from a (non) transportation perspective!
Day 1 // 2:45 – 7 p.m.
The first thing we wanted to check out after dropping our bags was Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s Old Town! In the midst of wandering, we ducked into a cafe for a pastry + cappuccino and to plan out the rest of our evening since the weather was starting to take a turn (rain, rain, go away).
In Gamla Stan, we located the Nobel Peace Prize Museum (unfortunately it had just closed for the day), a cute Christmas market, and lots of fantastic little shops to duck into!
For dinner, we found a quaint restaurant that seemed like a popular locals spot, and were excited to finally try a dish with Swedish meatballs that wasn’t at IKEA! This was the real deal and oh so good!
Day 1 // 7:30 – 9:30 p.m.
Despite the on/off rain, we opted to stick with our original plan of joining a Ghost Walk in Gamla Stan after dinner. The spooky stories are always fun to hear, but the tour also featured a lot of history and fun tidbits about the Old Town area, so it was definitely worth it to us! Plus, our tour guide was a hoot and a half, dressed in old timey clothes and carrying a lantern around. Gamla Stan is one of the oldest preserved “Old Town” areas in all of Europe (fortunately it remained out of harms way during the wars), so you better believe there was a lot of ground to cover!
Day 2 // 9:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
After fueling up at our hotel’s delicious breakfast buffet, we were off to Gamla Stan (again) for our free city walking tour. Since there is a separate walking tour for the Old Town area, we didn’t spend long here and quickly started making our way over to Parliament, The Royal Palace, Opera House and many other major city sights.
One of the coolest sights? A statue of Margaretha Krook, one of Sweden’s most beloved actresses of the 20th century. It’s said that Krook didn’t want a statue made, since statues are usually cold and unapproachable. So to honor her, the statue was designed to be heated year-round! Visiting in winter, we definitely appreciated that! Everyone was clamoring to stand next to the statue!
My favorite part was learning about the origins of “Stockholm Syndrome” and seeing the location where it all took place! In case you’re not familiar with the story, bank robbers took some hostages and the hostages ended up bonding with their captors while holed up and defended them once they got out! Even crazier, the hostages ended up marrying their captors! Wild!
Day 2 // 1:30 – 5 p.m.
Next up for us was some lunch! We popped into a cafe that had a medieval-era cellar (but obviously spruced up) for a couple sandwiches + dessert and enjoyed being the only ones in the downstairs area with the cozy Christmas decorations!
Then we hailed an Uber (I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to have this service in Europe and work just like it does in the US) over to the museum side of town, where our first stop was the Vasa Museum. This had been on the top of my list of things to see in Stockholm and there are no words to describe seeing the Vasa ship in person. The ship set sail in Stockholm in 1628 and sank before it even left the harbor. 300+ years later, the ship was located and was still in tact. AFTER 300 YEARS! Of course some restoration needed to be done, but it’s completely mind-blowing that something so big and so old could still be around in the shape it is!
Day 2 // 5:15 – 7 p.m.
We were so relieved that the last museum + big attraction on our list was open a little later, because it was definitely something we had to see before leaving. The ABBA Museum! Hands down one of the biggest and most influential groups in pop music, ABBA originated in Sweden and is clearly a group the country still holds near and dear to their hearts. And I must say, I really liked ABBA pre-visit, but post-visit I’ve downloaded even more songs and have a new appreciation for the group! The museum had several interactive exhibits too – we had a BLAST singing and dancing our way through it!
Day 2 // 7:15 – 9:30 p.m.
We hadn’t thought ahead to dinner but by the time we got out of the ABBA museum we were starving, so we pulled up our trusty TripAdvisor app to see what had good reviews nearby and settled on Jamie Oliver’s restaurant. Ironically, my Timehop pointed out that exactly 2 years prior, we had visited Jamie Oliver’s London restaurant. How crazy! To me, you can never go wrong with a pasta dish!
After dinner we thought we needed to do some serious walking, and followed Stockholm’s Path of Light, where we could see beautiful Christmas light displays as we made our way back toward the hotel. So, so beautiful!
And we couldn’t end our time in Stockholm with one last stop for dessert, so we popped into a popular Scandinavian coffee house chain for some blueberry pie!