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Four destinations for a very special Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and if you fancy getting away to celebrate this year, you should know that there is romanticism beyond Paris and Venice! If you don't believe us, read on and discover the most romantic destinations for Valentine's Day.

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Travel to Santa Claus home

But, what and where is Lapland? This is a tough question. This territory, above the Artic circle is divided between Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. However, officially Lapland is where the Sami live. Generally, people refers to Lapland in Finland or Sweden, neither Norway or Russia refer to their territory under this name, and usually Lapland (or Laponian region) is the name used to the union of the Swedish and Finnish areas.

For the matter of this post, we should go to the north of Finland, in the Finnish Lapland. The capital is Rovaniemi, an iconic place in which the line of the Artic circle passes across. This is an area to start wild adventures, among thick forests and wooden houses (mökki) there is the highest mountain in the country, some of its fjords and one of the best places in Finland to see Northern lights and enjoy the amazing view of the sun at midnight.

This area is known for being Santa Claus hometown (Santa in Finnish is Joulupukki). The translation is quite confusing: “Joulu” means Christmas, all right, but “pukki” means, literally, deer or goat. Years ago, people was afraid of him and nobody knows when, eventually, he became the charming elder he is now. The tradition of Joulupukki is from the beginning of the 19th century, even most of the Finnish tradition was lost after the story of Santa Claus was Americanized.

Thousands of letters are sent to the postal code of this town with tones of Christmas whises. They are collected and arranged by Santa’s hard-working assistants, the elfs. Attention! The address is: Santa Claus, 96930 Polar Circle, Finland. When Santa Claus gets to people’s houses he asks "Onkos täällä kilttejä lapsia?" (There are well-behaved kids here?), and kids should answer a convincing yes to receive the gifts.

It’s not only Santa Claus who makes Rovaniemi one of the most visited places in Finland. Around his figure and Christmas traditions, Santa Claus village was built, about 8 kilometers northeast from Rovaniemi. This is a theme park to do some shopping, participate in gifts workshops or simply enjoy a great variety of activities.

You can also visit Joulukka, the place where elves prepare the trip for Santa Claus. You will find out how elves live, you’ll be able to help them bake ginger cookies with Christmas decoration and they will guide you to meet Santa Clause.

Do you want to see what is Santa Claus doing right now? Easy! Santa is so updated on new technologies and he has cameras streaming live his daily work. One camera is outside the office and the other is inside to watch how he gets ready for this special day.

A good option to go from Helsinki to Rovaniemi is taking the high-speed train, which takes only 10 hours. You’ll feel like the main character in the animation movie “Polar Express” who takes this train on Christmas Eve to meet Santa.

But, besides the visit to the land of Santa Clause, there are many other things to do while you are in Helsinki for your winter trip.

Even Finnish people use the sauna all the year, the contrast with the freezing cold outside is the best way to enjoy a hot sauna to get over the cold. Or, for those looking for unforgettable experiences, you should try avantouinti. What is that? There a clubs in Finland to practice ice swimming. They make a hole in the ice of a lake (the hole is called ‘avanto’) and they get in the freezing water after the sauna. They state it has beneficial effects for your health but be careful or you’ll get a cold.

The winter in Finland is the greatest time to take stunning nature photos. The snowy landscapes are unforgettable memories from your trip and the whole country is covered in white most of the winder. Take advantage to the opportunity of practicing winter sports too. Skiing or skating over iced lakes is such a unique experience.

Pictures by Tarja Ryhannen

A place well worth discovering! Check out our flights here.

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Moscow In Red

On 8 December 1991, Boris Yeltsin, Leonid Kravchuk and Stanislav Shushkevich signed the so-called Belavezha Accords. Established in 1922 after the February Revolution, the treaty was endorsed by the presidents of the Russian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and the Belarusian SSR, thereby marking the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Twenty-five years after the demise of the Communist utopia, the capital of the now extinguished “Red Empire”, of Bunker 42 in the Garden of Fallen Monuments, still hides corners evocative of its former proletarian grandeur.

Bunker 42

Bunker 42 still lies in the heart of Moscow, alongside the Taganskaya metro station, in building 11 at 5 Kotelnicheski Street, 65 metres underground. Once guarded and maintained by a contingent of over 600 soldiers and officials, Bunker 42 was an ultra-high-security shelter for top-level party members in the event of a nuclear war. It now forms part of the State Central Museum of the Armed Forces. Visitors can tour the endless secret tunnels and see for themselves what was then a sophisticated network of communications, and even venture into Stalin’s study.

The White House of Russia

A privileged witness to the end of the Soviet Union, the White House of Russia was the Communists’ answer to their American counterpart. Designed by Dmitry Chechulin and Pavel Shteller, building work got under way in 1965, but the edifice was not completed until 1981. It then became the seat of the legislative power of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR, effectively the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Federation, until 1991. With his back to its entrance, Boris Yeltsin faced down the Soviet tanks that had rebelled against the then president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, an act which marked the beginning of the end of the Communist regime.

All-Russia Exhibition Centre

Presided over by a Vostok R-7 8K72 rocket, what is now a convention centre and amusement park was one of Moscow’s main tourist draws during the Communist era. Built in 1939 as an Agricultural Exhibition, it was gradually transformed into a huge park intended to exalt and glorify the economic, scientific and technological achievements of the various republics making up the Soviet Union.

Stolovaya 57

There are a number of restaurants that relive Soviet cuisine 25 years on. Two classics from that period have survived in the iconic GUM galleries – Festivalnioye Café and Stolovaya 57. Then there are hangouts like Detir Ayka (25 Nikitski Boulevard), featuring a Communist menu with such delicacies as stewed fruit, soups and semolina porridge, washed down with shots of vodka or GlavPivTorg. The locale is housed in the former Transport Ministry building which, apart from providing Communist-style cuisine, features a vast library with the complete works of such illustrious figures as Marx, Engels and Lenin.

The Seven Sisters

These high-rises plot one of the most characteristic flourishes on the Moscow skyline –

Moscow State University, Hotel Ukraina, Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Apartments, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Kudrinskaya Square Building, the Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya Hotel, and the Red Gates Administrative Building. The seven buildings in Russian Baroque and Gothic style would have been eight, had the construction of the originally planned Palace of the Soviets come to fruition. The Seven Sisters were built in the 1940s and 1950s to commemorate the 8th centenary of the founding of Moscow.

Lenin’s Mausoleum

The embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin is kept in Red Square, the site of formidable, solemn Red Army parades. Built on the orders of the Soviet State in 1924 following the death of the father of the Revolution, his tomb was designed by the architect Alexey Shchusev, who was inspired by the Pyramid of Zoser and that of Cyrus the Great in Pasargad. Despite Boris Yeltsin’s attempt at having it closed down, Lenin’s Mausoleum is still open to the public free-of-charge on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Moscow Metro

It provides the best way of moving about the Russian capital on account of its exceptionally low price and high frequency of trains – one every 40 seconds at peak hours. Over and above its efficiency, the Moscow underground is an authentic, highly impressive work of art. Inaugurated in 1935, the first line linked the Sokolniki and Kievskaya stations. For its grandeur and its enduring aesthetic sublimation, it is a veritable palace of the proletariat.

FSB Museum

Officially dubbed the FSB Museum (FSB stands for Federal Security Service), it has nevertheless been known locally as the KGB Museum ever since it opened in 1989. Located in the former seat of the Committee for State Security (KGB) in Lubyanka Square, the exhibition features gadgets associated with espionage that seem to have leaped out of the television series,The Americans,including explosive devices, cameras concealed in beer cans, etc. The FSB Museum transports visitors back to the days of the Cold War and the atmosphere of double agents infiltrated in enemy territory.

Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines

Soviet youths also spent their time playing with gaming machines, although they were of course all Soviet-made and extremely expensive, costing from 2,500 to 4,000 rubles. Espoused by three nostalgics for Communist arcade machines, the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines brings together such gems from that era as mini-skittles, machines for killing aliens (with a capitalist ideology, I would imagine) and the popular shaibu-shaibu ice-hockey game. A whole journey back in time, before which you need to first change thirty rubles into three of the old Soviet kopeks. The collection keeps growing.

Sculpture Park in Krymsky Val

Colossal statues of the Communist leaders were one of the most characteristic sights in squares and parks in Soviet cities. These massive effigies gradually disappeared from the urban environment with the fall of the USSR in 1991. The endless collection of sculptures eventually found safe haven in the statue park of the Krymsky Val Museum. The catalogue runs into over 700 statues sculpted in stone or bronze, prominent being that of Felix Dzerzhinsky, a monument in honour of the revolutionary of the same name who was the first director of the Cheka. Needless to say, there are several imperial effigies of Lenin and Stalin, oblivious to the passage of time.

Come and discover the surviving vestiges of Communist Moscow – book your Vueling here.

Text by Oriol Rodríguez for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

Images by Kirill Vinokurov, Dennis Jarvis, David Orban, Rob, Jason Eppink, Helena Volkova

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Discover Kiev, host city of the 2018 Champions League Final

The Champions League Final will take place in Kiev on 26 May. It is the first time it will be held in the Ukraine and the second time it is hosted by an Eastern European country, after the 2008 final in Moscow.

Ukraine is not a touristy country and not many people know it well, so this event will give us the chance to learn a bit more about its history and discover the sights in the capital (there are quite a few!). We would like to propose a weekend break in Kiev, a city full of monuments, markets, churches, and, of course, football!

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