Here is another short post about what we did in Helsinki, Finland.
Finland was not in our original itinerary. However, our ticket from America to Poland was cheaper by stopping through Helsinki. Plus our good friends Noora, a native Finnish girl and Alex, an all American boy, were already in Helsinki at the same time. So a two day layover in Helsinki just made sense.
As usual, on our first day we walked around the city. This is the best ways to get the "vibe". You can go to museums, admire the new and old architecture and be a tourist. You will see what people look like, what they eat and what they wear. Every city has a unique sound and smell. So if Helsinki had a smell, it would be fresh lake water in a birch forest, and the sound would be the Finnish language, which sounds like a mythical melody. Helsinki is the biggest city in Finland yet it feels rural and small compared to other capitals. People in general were also very calm and polite.
Summers are short and moderate in temperatures in Finland, so whenever the sun is out, people are out too. It is kind of funny seeing people spreading out on city benches, grass at the parks and rocks. Yes, Finnish people are obsessed with sitting on large rocks in parks, at the beach, wherever they can find them, they sit on them.
After a few hours of walking around the town, we stopped at "Sandro" for lunch. Sandro is really great Moroccan fusion cuisine with many healthy options. They have an all you can eat buffet for about 12 euros (with meat) or 10 euros (vegan) including coffee and refreshing mint tea. We highly recommend this place. We left "Sandro" happy and stuffed.
Here is link to Sandro's restaurant:
Another recommendation for vegans/vegetarians when visiting Finland is "Soi, Soi". This place has a amazing food. When you are craving something substantial, this place is the bomb. Plus we got to hang out with the one of the owners of this place and he is very lovely.
Picnic at Suomenlinna Island
The highlight of our trip was a visit to Suomenlinna ( Sveaborg) island. This island used to be a sea fortress build to protect from Russian expansion. Nowadays, people live and work there year around. There is a school, post office and grocery store on the island. A lot of people go there to sunbathe and swim so definitely bring your swim suit.
It's a short, 15 minute ferry ride, from the city center (Market Square).The tickets are 5 Euros for adults (round trip) and it is definitely worth the money. Many people like to take a picnic there. Either bring some food with you or just get it a the local store. They have cold beer!!
You can spend the whole day on the island, especially in the summer because it doesn't get dark till 1-ish am. The last ferry from Suomenlinna back to the city leaves at 2am.
The Finnish Sauna
We couldn't leave Finland without the sauna experience. It would be like going to Octoberfest and all you get is a Coca Cola. After all, Finnish people invented sauna.
The sauna to Finnish people is more that just sweating in a hot room. It's a cultural and bonding experience. Most of the Finnish houses have saunas and if you go to Finland it is most likely that your Finnish friends will invite you to join them. Finnish people believe that the sauna is good for almost everything and everybody. If you have a cold, arthritis, breathing problems or you need to relax etc, the sauna will make it better.
After a long day of drinking beers, bbq'ing and loving life, the sauna sounded amazing.
Here is what you need to prepare yourself:
Before you enter the sauna you first take a cold shower. Then butt naked, you go to the sauna and join the rest of your friends who are also butt naked. It's a faux pas to wear a bikini or a towel in the sauna. Everybody is naked! If you feel uncomfortable in the beginning, we guarantee that after your second and third beer you will be cool with the whole thing. If you still feel uncomfortable, just keep drinking.
Thank you to all our friends (new and old) who made this trip so fun for us. Noora and Alex thank you for showing us the local's perspective on Finland.
Also specials thanks to Ana Šuligoj' and Monday Mou who let us crash in their cool, artsy apartment. Teemu, you are such a kind and beautiful person. Thank you for driving us to the airport at 6 am!