1# Throwback Travel- New York: Midtown (day 1)

Back when I began this blog, I had only travelled to the USA for the first time a couple months before. At the time I was still figuring out what I wanted to write about and I only really covered the food and Florida Diseny Parks on this trip. Our travel stops included New York, Washington, Boston, New Orleans and Orlando (Disney). Since then I have written extensively about my travels to Europe, Japan, Singapore and Scandinavia. So I thought it was time to revisit my travel adventure in the USA, since I am planning to go back in the next couple of years. I have found so much family across different states, so my next trip will be focused on places like Connecticut, Detriot, Colorado, LA, Miami, Ohio etc. I would also love to revisit some of the cities I have already seen and do some of the things that I have missed.

Today I will start with our first stop, New York City. This was the place I was most excited to visit and was the perfect place to celebrate my 30th. We spent 7 days in New York and out itinerary was full to the brim with tourist attractions, shopping and yummy food experiences. As I mentioned, I only wrote about the food in New York, so you can read my previous posts Eating through NYC and review of By Chef Chloe restaurant.

Midtown

Marco, Octavia, Sally and I arrived on a warm summer afternoon in August. First thing we did was check into our hotel, without our suitcases. Since we had flown from Brisbane to LA to New York, there was some mixup and didn’t receive our suitcases until the next afternoon. We looked a little dishevled but were so excited to be in the most amazing city in the world.

We stayed at the SpringHill Suites, in Midtown Manhattan, which was quite a good location. Its a short walk from Bryant Park and 34th Street shopping strip and had a great view of the Empire State building. It is also within walking distance from Time Square and Central Park. As soon as we were finished checking in we set off to explore. We made our way towards Bryant Park and found the large streets to be pretty calm. I was expecting to feel like a sardine, but it really wasn’t that crowded.

Our first stop was the beautiful Bryant Park, which was just as I imagined a green space in New York would be. It is 38,860m square space between 40th and 42nd Street in the heart of Midown. On the day of our visit the lawn was closed, but there were plenty of chairs to sit and take in the greenery against the backdrop of sparkling towers and blue sky. Bryant Park hosts lively programs through out the year, including cultural events, classes, kids programs and winter activities. There is also plenty of food kiosks and cafes here. So matter what time of year you visit, its worth making a stop at Bryant Park.

We continued through Midtown, down 41st St and 7th Avenue towards Time Square. Now we were passing through bustling streets with flashy billboards that I was expecting. Along the way we met a friendly police man on horseback, which was very exciting for the kids.

Theater District

Eating in the US was a bit of a worry to me, as I was still breastfeeding at the time. So I tried to look for as many organic, minimally processed and GMO free food options that I could find. Marco’s biggest priority was finding the best American burger he could consume. So I was able to comprismise with this great little organic burger joint, which is only a short walk from Time Square, in the Midtown Theater District. Smokey Burger Organic offers organic, natural burgers, with gluten free, vegetarian, wild game and seafood options. Besides burgers, they also offer fried sides, salads, soups, shakes, sodas, juices, and smoothies.

I ordered the Young, Wild & Free Deluxe Burger which had a ground salmon patty, mango, citrus aioli, caramelized onion, lettuce, tomato. Marco and Sally had the Smokey Burger with ground double beef patties, yellow cheddar, chipotle sauce, caramelized onions, wild mushroom, lettuce, tomato. We also had a side of Sweet Potato Fries and Onion Rings. Everything was really delicious and satifying. The perfect meal for our first night in New York.

After dinner we checked out the famous pedetarian intersection, Time Square. It was so light up with bright billboards of products, brands and broadway show, and bustling with so many tourists. We were just so overwhelmed that we nearly missed the famous Red Stairs, which sits upon the TKTS ticket booth. In the heart of Time Square there are lots of costumed characters, who offer to take photos with you for a tip. They were a bit pushing and we only got photos with them because my mother-in-law happy agreed to get photos, thinking they were free.

Time Square is pretty amazing to see as a first time visiter, but as the days went on I found it to be a tourist vortex. It was very hard to get out of when you are passing through, because it was so crowded. Its extremelly touristy, but it also has plenty of entertainment, shopping, dining options, and of course Broadway. So any first-timer or tourist need to make a stop in Time Square and see at least one show on Broadway. We saw a few shows, which I will explain further in a future post.

That bring us to the end of our first night in New York City. On day two we did the tourist buses and Finanical District, to see 9/11 Memorial.

Have you been to New York? What did you think of Midtown and Time Square?

Life update: Ancestry DNA

Its been a while since I’ve given an update on my life. Between motherhood, university internship and a bit of a rough patch, I haven’t had time to reflect much. I have now graduate from my Museum Studies program and finally have some time to catch my breathe and focus on writing a bit more.

So something I have been wanting to write about for a while was my Ancestry journey. For my birthday last July I bought a Ancestry DNA kit. Genealogy is something I’ve always been interested in, and I was curious how ethnically Italian I was. I am also a big believer in eating for your ethnicity. Since I got my results, I have been able to trace my family back several generations in various towns, uncover family secrets and found relatives all over the world.

DNA results

Before buying a DNA test, I did a bit of research on which company to go with. I found that Ancestry seemed to be the most accurate and have quite a large sample size.

After sending away my DNA to Ancestry, I received an email that my results where in. So when I logged in I was able to see my DNA story and DNA matches. My DNA story has changed since my initial results. The reason being is that your DNA doesn’t change, but the sample size and algorithm that is used to assess you DNA will change. Ancestry uses Autosomal DNA, which represents both one’s maternal and paternal segments of DNA. According to their website, their DNA test targets your most recent family history of the last 100 to 1000 years. You do your DNA with other companies that focus on paternal or maternal lines, called Y-DNA and mtDNA, which can focus on the last 10,000 to 50,000 years. However, when searching for relatives and using historical records to trace back family history, I think Autosomal DNA is sufficient.

As you can see below, that the majority of my DNA is Southern Italian. This was broke down further to idenity Calabria the place of origin, which you can’t see in this image. Caucasus was next, which is modern Persian empire. Then there is a touch of Middle Eastern and European Jewish. I was pretty astounded to find that 26% of my DNA came outside of Calabria. I wasn’t sure if this was because invaders had intermarried with the local population, or because a group of my ancestors resettled in Calabria at some point in the last 1000 years.

I was pretty excited about my results, which represented a crosssection of Mediterrean and Middle Eastern countries. There was no big suprises of rogue ethnicities in my family tree that I wasn’t aware of. Considering my grandparents are all Calabrese, I doubted it would be the case.

My results also put to bed a family legend on my mother’s side. My mother’s brother was told back in the 90s by a ‘genealogist’ that their surname, Gualtieri was of French origin. He sold him a family crest and told him that we descend from a French king named Gualtier. This king was apparently exiled and relocated to the south of Italy where he changed his name to ‘Gualtieri’, married into a poor family and lost the family wealth over generations. This was immeidately grasped by my mother, who had a conversation with an old Calabrese man years before in the cheese factory that she had worked in. He told her that her father family was orignally from the north of Italy and had came from France. Clearly none of this is true, otherwise I would have a trace of French or Northern Italian DNA, which is distinctive to Southern Italian DNA. Additionally, the surname Gualtieri is a common surname found in the area that her parents are from and originates from the Papal States. There is no known history of this story either, which lead me to believe it was a lie. A more plausable explanation for the story from the man in the cheese factory is that my mother’s had two great uncles, who immigrated to France and Piemonte. This man may have been from the same town and would have known them or her family.

Another, falsehood that I had be told growing up was that my father’s family is Greek. Their surname is Greco, which does mean ‘the Greek’. However, this surname origins from Tuscany and is one of the most popular surnames in Italy. My mother also believed that my grandfather’s family has a more Greek bodyshape, being long in the torso and short in the legs. My results show no Greek DNA. Additionally, I have been able to trace the Greco name back eight generations in the same town, which dispels this belief. It is possible that their town had originated from had Greek settlement in the distant past, as many towns in Calabria had. However, there is no reason why they would be more Greek my other ancestors.

Updated DNA Results

About two months after I received my results, Ancestry did a massive update. Everybodies results had changed based on a new algorium. I was really surprised that my results had changed so much and now focused on two regions. I was now 73 % Calabrese and 27% Turkish/ Caucasian . I was confused how I had such a significant percentage of Turkish/Caucasian, but not surprised that I lost my Middle Eastern and European Jewish regions. However, when this conversation topic came up on a Calabrese Genealogy Facebook group, it was apparent that no matter how ‘Calabrese’ we were, we all had signigicant amounts of Turkish DNA. This is most likey due to the fact, that during the Middle Ages Ottoman pirates raided Calabria and other parts of Southern Italy. This birthed the italian expression “Mamma li turchi!”, meaning “Oh mom, the Turks!”. Nevertheless, I am proud of my DNA results and I imagine I had a doppleganger living 100 or 1000 years ago, living a very different life to mine.

Have you done a DNA test? What company did you use?

Where you surprised by your results?

Finnish Roadtrip: Olavinlinna Castle (day 5)

In the afternoon of our fifth day on our Finnish Roadtrip, we visited the Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna. This is a must-see attraction if you are visiting this town, as its one of the best-known sights in Finland. We had a really great time exploring and learninng the history of this medieval castle

Olavinlinna is an imposing medieval construction, which was built from 1475 by the Swedes. It was designed as a military base to protect the Savo Region from Russian attacks from the east. It is located on a rocky islet on the Kyrönsalmi strait. The castle was founded by the Danish-born knight, Erik Axelssonn Tott, under the name Sankt Olofsborg. This was to profit on the political tumoil of Ivan III’s conquest into the Novgorod Republic and thus laid claim to the Russian side of the border. It survived several sieges by the Russians, druing the First and Second Russian-Swedish wars. It was never captured by force but it was under Russian rule of Empress Elizabeth as a result of the Treaty of Åbo.

Olavinlinna holds several small exhibitions, which include the Castle Museum and Orthodox Museum. It also hosts the Savonlinna Opera Festival every year since 1912.

The Olavinnalinna Castle is open 7 days, from 11am until 4pm (earlier in summer season). The admission fee is 10 euro for adults, 5 euro for children (7-17yr) and there are discounted prices for students, pensioners, families and groups. Guided tours are included in the admission price and run throughout the day. We took the last guided tour that afternoon, so I will take you through everything we saw. I really recommend doing guided tours, especially if they are free. Even if you have little kids, they don’t have time to get bored, as the pace you move from each room is relatively quick. There are text panels through the different rooms in Finnish, Swedish, English and Russian. So I assume the guided tours would be available in just these languages.

Here is an introductory film made in the Olavinnnalina, to illustrate how life was in the castle. It’s a little long but it gives you a good glimpse into the past and what we saw on our visit.

We arrived from the Bridge and entered into the Watergate Bastion, which is where we bought our tickets and assembled for the guided tour. From there we moved through to the Courtyard in the Shelter of the Inner Bailey. This small courtyard was secured by the three towers that overlook it and the curtain wall between each. The northern wing was used living quarters, the eastern wing was used for festal and household rooms, the southern wing was the castle’s kitchen (demolished).

We then quickily moved through the small exhibition into the Central Hall. This is part of the Castle Households on two floors, which were the living quarters. Castle workers would have been paid in food and these accomodations. They were able to access this area through a central spiral staircase, as the northern wall would have been solid for defene purposes. The first floor would have housed the men-at-arms and the servants. The baliff’s arched residential rooms were found on the second floor. The large statue is the patron St Olaf, didn’t arrive to the castle until after 1911.

The Bell Tower (St Virgin’s Tower) was located on the highest point of the island, for best visible defence. The Storeroom was located in the first floor shelter of the Bell Tower. It was used for storage of food and clothes and was protected by a 3 metre thick stone wall. These items were collected as taxes from the nearby provinces or produced by the crown estate. It included dried grain, salted/smoked fish and meat, metal dishes, furs, hides and other textiles. The would have been a housekeeper in charge of the clothing and a scribe in change of the tax collection accounting.

Adjacent to the Bell Tower was the Church Tower (St Olaf’s Tower), which was probably part of the first fortification of the castle. This is evident by the arching technique and masonry, that would have been constructed by the 16 foreign masons during the 1470s. The stone was locally acquired, the mortar was made from sand from Kuhaslmi and the lime was made of lime kiln cape.

Next we came to the Chapel, which is located on the third floor of the Church Tower (St Olaf’s Tower). There remains some fragments of medieval lime paintings on the chapel walls and ceiling. On the walls there are twelve cross for each apolstle. This church as been Catholic, Luthern and Orthodox at different times. So today it change be used by any of these religions for religious purposes including weddings.

Next we walked down a long thin hallway until we came to the Outer Wall of the Courtyard. From here we could see one of the towers and the different materials that were used to construct it. From here, there would have been men stationed with longbows and crossbows. The longbow was made of pliable wood and the string from plant fibres or animal tendons. The arrows were made of wood and iron. It could shoot arrows 120 metres and six per minute. The crossbow was alot slower weapon to operate and could only shoot one arrow per minute. However, these arrows could shoot 360 metres.

We took a spiral staircase down to the highest floor in the Bell Tower. This was a bit difficult to maneuvre since they were built uneven to slow down a potential intruder. The Tower Room would have been occupied by defended during a siege, since it has a broad area to fire from. It would have been cold and damp place to reside. These rooms had a fireplace, wall closest, toilet, and benches. The small recesses in the walls would have been covered with thin parchment made of sheepskin, to allow some light and shelter from the wind. Light would of mostly been givenn from candles and the fireplace,which would of made this space quite smokey. Also visted the the residential rooms, which had leaded glass windows, by the end of the 16th centuryand heat-preserving stoves by the end of the 17th century. These rooms were lined with skis annd colourful textiles. Its a bit hard to imagine how opulent they would have been, but the guide painted a picture in our head.

At the very top was the the Lookout Storey, where we were able to see from the Outer Wall of the Courtyard.

Next we went down to the Medieval Armory, still in the Bell Tower. This was the important defence junction within the inner bailey. This is where weapons were held, such as longbows, crossbows, harquebuses, gun barrels and projectiles.

Next we walked through a well lite and darken Defence Passage. There were great views from beyond the outer walls of the castle.

The last spaces we were taken too was a large banquet hall and a room which had a model of the castle. This gives a good depiction of a birds eye view of the castle, which is hard to gauge when your inside it.

Before we left we had a bit of fun in the castle’s playroom. Here you can try on outfits armor, weld a sword and have a fake medieval feast. This was really great to relax and let our daughter touch everything without worrying she was going to break something priceless.

Well thats the end of my tour of the Olavinlinna Castle. My next post were will be our last stop on this Finnish Roadtrip and for this Nordic Adventure.

Finnish Roadtrip: Kuopio to Salonlinna (day 5)

On our fifth day of our Finnish road trip we travelled from Kuopio to Salonlinna. We didn’t get to see much of Kuopio due to the Midsummer holiday, but we were able to visit the Puijo Tower. In Savonalinna, we made a scenic trip to a crepe house, visited the Olavinlinna Castle and had dinner on the water. So it was a pretty good day.

Kuopio

This morning we walked down to the Kuopio town centre. We were hoping that cafes and shops would be open. I really wanted to have breakfast at Trube Cafe, which is inside the Apaja Shopping Center. It has been around since 1913 and they sell baked Finnish baked goods and served their coffee in Moomin mugs. Unfortuately everything was closed, except a few food stalls. Since we didn’t have cash we decided to do breakfast elsewhere.

Before leaving we went past the Kuopio Cathedral. The building was built in 1806-15 and is a stone Neoclassical-style construction. Since there was a service I wasn’t able to take photos inside. The interior is quite plan and is mostly white walls with touches of gold Empire features.

Luckily, the Puijo Tower was open today and they have a cafe, so that was our next stop. This observation tower is located on the top of Puijo hill and is one of Finland’s oldest tourist attractions, visited by over 80,000 tourists per year. The original tower was build back in 1856, standing 16m high and was made of wood. The second tower was build in 1906, standing at 24m tall and was made of stone. The current tower was built in 1963 and is now 75m tall. It gives an unobstructive 360 degree view of Kuopio and beyond and thus is a symbol for the city of Kuopio. During the WW2 the Women’s Voluntary Defence Corps of Kuopio were able to carry out air survelliance from the Puijo tower.

On the first level you can find a tourist shop, where you can buy tickets to visit the tower. It costs about 6 euros for an adult or 4 euro for a student. You can take the lift up to the first observation platform, which is enclosed and has a cafe area. Here they sell a selection of pastarie, snacks and drinks. We got some Puolukka-vaniljapulla (lingon-berry vanilla scroll), Feta-tomaattihyrrä (tomato feta scoll) and some filtered coffees. They were not the best pastries but they weren’t too bad either.

After satisfying our hunger we walked around the observation deck. Every few metres there are photographic panels of the different viewing perspectives. These panels have markers which give context to the different locations you can see from that point of view. We were also able to go up to another viewing platform which is outside. These views were even more spectacular without the glass. However, it was pretty cold and windy so we couldn’t stay too long.

Adjacent to Puijo tower is the Hotelli Puijon Maja and a few text panels. These panels are in Finnish and English and describe different aspects of the Puijo ridge.

Now it was time to drive for us to drive to Savonalinna. This took about two hours by car, taking us from Northern Savonia into Southern Savonia. If you have more time you can make a stop to the Monastery of Valamo, which would add another hour to your trip. It is the only remaining Orthodox monastary and is believed to be about 800 years old.

Savonalinna

Savonalinna is located in southest Finland and it’s name means Castle of Savonia. That is because the Olivinalinna Castle, which was built when the city was founded in 1639. This 15th century castle is the main tourist attract for the town and the reason we had to visit. They also offer a range of summer and winter activities, local handicrafts, shopping and restaurants. So there are more then one reason to visit Savonalina.

When we arrived we first had to check into our Airbnb. This accomodation was a small summer cottage on farm land. Our hosts were a young hip Finnish couple with some beautiful dogs. They were very friendly and helpful and lived just behind the small house. As for the accomodation it wasn’t stylish as others, but it was comfortable, clean and had a lovely view of the green clearing. It gave us a taste of what it would be like staying in a typical summer house during the Midsummer holiday.

By now we were getting pretty hungry again and luckily the next stop on my itinery was open today. Lettukahvila Kalliolinna is located on Sulosarri island and they serve sweet and savoury crepes, icecream and coffee. To get there we drove as close as we could to the walking trail, which took us to a bridge that we walked over. Its not a long walk and its quite lovely and scenic.

Lettukahvila Kalliolinna is in a small summer house, which was built in 1899 for Saint Olaf`s sanatoriums guests. The menu offers crepes with a large list of sweet or savoury toppings to add. Since we were unsure what to chose we went with a few of the suggested combinations. After ordering we first sat inside admirig the artworks, but once there was a table available outside we moved. It was so pretty out there and the perfect place to relax with someone delicious.

So the crepes we ordered were the Pesto and feta cheese with artichoke, Salted peanuts with carmel sauce and whipped cream; and the Smetana (sour cream) with pickles and honey. It’s hard to chose the best because they were all pretty yummy. The two sweet tooths prefered the sweeter options, but I also love a savoury crepe.

After lunch we made our way to the Olavinlinna Castle, to do the castle tour. I will do a dedicated post for this visit, since we covered alot of ground there.

For dinner we headed to Savonlinna Market Square, where there were quite a few restaurants open and food stands. Some of the ones on my list included Restaurant Muikkuterassi, Ravintola Majakka and Kalastajan Koju.

I really had my heart set on going to Kalastajan Koju, which I read offers fresh seafood caught by the owner at an affordable price. I just had a little trouble finding it because according to Google maps it was located in the adjacent building to where I found it. The menu offered a variety of dishes with muikku fish, as well as salmon, perch, soup and sausages. Since I had eaten vendace at the night before, which is similar to muikku, I wanted to try the something different. I was yet to try Elk in Finland, so tonight was the night. I ordered the Bratwurst and Elk Sausage with Potato and Salad, as well as the Fish, chips coleslaw and remoulade annd a couple of local ciders. The food was simple, but flavoursome and delicious. The ciders were also pretty great.

The last thing we did attempt to see was the Savonlinna Cathedral. However, it was closed when we got there. With such a bright sky we forgot how late it was. This churhc was designed by A.H. Dahlstrom in 1858. It was damaged in 1940, by air raids, but has been reconstructed. It is a relatively plain church, but you can see the interior here.

Next I will take you on a tour of Olavinlinna Castle and to my last stop in Porvoo.

Finnish Roadtrip: Jyväskylä to Kuopio (day 4)

On day four of our Finnish roadtrip we began our morning Jyväskylä and make our way to Kuopio. Despite the national holiday we were able to see many beautiful parks, as well as a wonderful wildlife park. We did have a little bit of rainy weather, but overall it was quite a beautiful day to be outdoors.

Jyväskylä

This morning we walked though town to again find everything closed. I was actually planning for us to have breakfast at the vegan cafe, Beans and More, which looks amazing. Thank god the Espresso House was open. We had so far stayed clear of this generic coffee house, prefering boutique coffee shops. However, it was such a lovely site to see this hip coffee chain open for business.

The Espresso House is actually the largest coffee chain in the the Nordic coutries of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. It is very similar to a Starbucks, but the coffee is much better and the food is far better quality. The fridges were stocked with fresh salads, juices, bircher museli, sandwiches, pastaries, cakes, muffins and powerballs.

For breakfast I had a oat milk coffee and O and I shared a ham and cheese croisant and a chia seed and fruit pot. The coffee was pretty good and the food was nice for a quick bite.

After breakfast we had a walk around town to make sure everything was shut. I was planning to do some shopping on Kauppakatu on the pedestrian street. If your visiting on a regular day, check out these tips on Shopping in Jyväskylä.

So after we packed our bags and we made one last stop in Jyväskylä. Puutarhurin taivas or the gardener’s sky, is a installation that overlooks the Jyväsjärvi lake. It was made by the Finnish sculpturer, Pekka Jylhä. It represents a cultivated carrot and pays homage to all Finnish home farmers, who enjoy gardening, tracking growth, harvesting and consuming their produce. The watering can represents man’s attitude for care. Adjacent to the sculture there is a text panel, which is in Finnish unfortunately. It is quite a serene, quiet place which is nice to take children and some family photos.

On our way to Kuopio we had to meet our Airbnb host at Jari-Pekka Hankasalmi. She was actually hiring our her apartment for the Midsummer holiday, while she was at a summer house with friends. This traffic station has cafe, shop and a variety of fastfood dining options. It also has tractor and grassy area for kids to play. It was actually surprising to see so many people inside considering we had hardly seen anyone this morning. While we were there we found a filer for another zoo, which we would pass by on our way to Kuopio. Luckily it was open today, so we could take out daughter for some animal fun.

Kuopion Elainpuisto Zoo

Kuopion Elainpuiston Zoo is only an hour from Jari-Pekka and another 20 minutes from the centre of Kuopio. It is one of several wildlife parks in Kuopio. These are perfect for young families and animal lover alike.

Kuopio Elainpuisto Zoo is a family friendly wildlife park, which features traditional farmhouse animals. Many of the animals live permanently in the zoo and others visit to graze during the summer season. So you will probably see different animals when you visit. So its a great place to interact with happy animals, have a picnic or a nice meal in the cafe in this beautiful natural setting. There is also a small playground and lots of grassy areas for kids to run around.

Kuopio Elainpuisto Zoo is open most of the year. The ticket price is per adult is 10 euro and 8 euro for children between 2-12 years. It has a small cafe for lunch or snacks and a store with merchandise.

The zoo has has a duck pond with quite a few geese. I was glad to see them behind an enclosures becuase they can be a little agressive. They also had an array of birds in the Bird Garden. These included Silkie chickens, Golden pheasant Guinea fowl, turkeys, peacocks, and ducks .

Probably O’s favourite enclosure was the cat house. Shes a bit of a cat lover. She also loved the bunnies too, but she couldn’t annoy them too much as they were safe in their enclosure.

There were only a couple small cows and one large highland bull. He was gorgeous and very friendly to anyone who wanted to give him some long juicy grass.

O’s second favourite animals were the ponies, who were absolutely adorable. They do bite, so we had to be carefully not to get too close to them.

The horses were definetley more gentle and just as friendly. There was even one that looked a bit like Spirit.

There was a mother and baby donkey, which were my favourite. Very friendly and also very smelly.