Our Helsinki home

I’ve teased with the flat we stayed in during our holiday in Helsinki and here it is! We decided to try an Air Bnb property because 1) it was cheaper than most hotels 2) we didn’t want to stay in a hostel 3) it was cheap!

I was totally surprised by the quality of accommodation on the site, I’m not sure what I was expecting! We emailed the owners of a few of our favourite flats and waited for them to get back to us. Our number one choice was Sofia’s flat in Kallio, and we got it!!

I can’t tell you the number of times I looked longingly though the pictures on the site before we left, ‘It can’t be that super cool!’ I thought. But oh it was!! We arrived in Helsinki at 11.15pm and were at the apartment by 12pm. Sofia met us despite the late arrival time and had even made a plate of cookies prior to our arrival (which we demolished!) and the flat was simply incredible.

So clean and stylish; the aesthetic was well thought through with a really fluid design. We 'oohed and ached', cooing over all the books, trinkets and beautiful unique items Sofia had collected. We told ourselves we were going to go to bed as soon as we arrived but stayed awake for hours just walking around the flat! Sofia had also left us a list of events going on in the area, restaurant recommendations and a list of bars and clubs in the area - a really thoughtful touch.

Enough of the writing, here’s the photos I took. I can’t thank Sofia enough for having us to stay, we couldn’t have had a better host or stayed in a better flat!

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Into the blue

I left off my last post before we went for our dinner on Saturday night. Before we left the UK we decided, as actual grown up adults who worked hard for our trip, we should save some money and go somewhere a little fancy one night. I own many books on the what and where to eat, and one restaurant they all pointed to was OLO. Their website describes the experience as a ‘gastronomic journey’ which is quite right; it’s all about the best ingredients and clean, modern flavors. We opted for the shorter tasting menu, The Path, which comprised of several rounds of ‘nibbles’, five courses (one of which included grated frozen salmon!!), two deserts and tea with after dinner treats. What I haven’t mentioned was the Michelin star; an attribute you’d assume would rack up an expensive bill. However, for all the food we paid just 59 € (£46!!) including wine, water and a few extras we both paid just under £70 which for Scandinavian Michelin star restaurant is more than reasonable in my eyes!!

After our late Friday night out in Kallio we needed an early night after dinner, ready for Sunday.

We were both unsure what would be open on the Sunday so headed down to the harbor side with the idea of hopping on a boat tour around the archipelago. To our surprise there was a brilliant market on the waterside - crafts, flowers, souvenirs and food. I bought some amazing wooden crafts (who doesn’t need wooden crafts!) and we had a fantastic lunch of salmon and reindeer, real cooking by the wonderful girls at Café Emma – the cheapest and by far best looking food by the water.

What I haven’t mentioned was the amazing transport across Helsinki; we paid just 20€ for a four day pass. It is a system based on trust, as the Finnish are actively opposed to skipping payment, there are no gates and a minimal presence of guards or inspectors. When you pay it includes buses (airport transfers!), trams, metro and to our delight the boats! We merrily skipped onto the public ferry for a dreamy trip over to Suomenlinna. The Island chain is a sea fortress built over six islands and a UNESCO World Heritage site; we lay on the docks, mooched around the boat yards and took in the fresh sea air for a few hours until hunger beckoned. Our last full afternoon was spent eating ice cream, visiting the incredible cathedral and buying fresh food for dinner at the flat.

Trips like these, without itinerary, strict timings or organized venues, make for a very easy life. It was the perfect four days of learning and eating – my two favourite pastimes.

Our final morning was spent nipping in and out of vintage stores in the rain (I picked up some amazing cook wear) and brunching at the award winning Sandro; a real must if you like African food. The style is ‘Modern African fusion’ featuring raw organic food and exquisite vegetarian dishes and it’s located in the Kallio area.

That’s all I have to tell you on my trip. I couldn’t recommend a city like Helsinki more for a fun quick trip to Europe. I’ll be going on a few more European adventures this next year including InterRailing in the spring. If any of you have any recommendations please let me know on Twitter or here.

Until tomorrow, when I have the great apartment reveal!

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HEL Yeh

In spring I was walking between offices with my friend from work, both wanderlust-ing about how much we wanted to get away at the end of summer…

‘Oooh to a city!’ we said.
‘What about Budapest?’ ‘Nooo too done’ we exclaimed.
‘Prague?’ ‘Oh I’ve been…’.

So we settled on Helsinki.

I’ve been to other parts of Finland and Scandinavia over the years but never Helsinki. I’m not sure what it was that drew us there, all I knew was that it has a fantastic design scene and was a pretty brilliant place all round. We stayed in an air bnb flat (more on the flat in a few days) and flew with Norwegian. Two of the most brilliant travel experiences I have had in some time if I’m totally honest! Give them both a look if you’re travelling anytime soon.

It’s taken me a few days to think about how to write this post (actually did a massive spider diagram to collate my thoughts. Note: spiders diagrams are the WORST way to collate thoughts!). I have decided to tackle this as an ‘eat, shop, educate’ ensemble and split my post into two to ensure no one falls asleep going through the vast amount of photos! The pictures will go with the post and you will be forced to enjoy it no matter how long and ramble-y it all gets. Now let’s begin.

Culture

Ateneum Art Museum
The very first thing we did on arrive in the city was visit the Tove Jansson exhibition at Ateneum Art Museum. Two magical floors detailing her younger life, sketches, lovers, family and everything in between, right up to and including her creation of the Moomins and their eventual success. I’m assuming as I type this you’re all of a similar age to me hence will know who the Moomins are. If not my description is ‘super cute white hippos who live in a lighthouse, the stories have strange sinister undertones to a plot that always ends happily’. Long winded yes, but have you come to expect anything less!

Rock church
The Rock Church is quite literally what it says on the tin. A church made from rock… In Finnish it goes by Temppeliaukio Church (a pound to anybody who can pronounce that!). There was a period where I was under the illusion that the church was a Rock Music venue as opposed to the usual choir and gospel – very wrong was I. The interior was excavated and built directly out of solid rock and is bathed in a magical natural light which enters through the skylight surrounding the enormous center copper dome. No photos will ever quite do justice to the splendor of the church and if you’re ever in the area this shouldn’t go a miss.

Kiasma
My favourite of the gallery we visited was Kiasma (weirdly, Finnish for chiasma, which is related to genetics?). This gallery exhibits the contemporary art collection from the Finnish National Gallery. The building is a marvel alone with a vast atrium towering over you all in white. The Alfredo Jaar exhibition ‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’ was one of the best installations I’ve seen. Ever. It was the most tangible, accessible contemporary art exhibitions I’ve been to as the main subject is human and social morals. It was based on responsibility and fate and our role in global happenings. My friend and I easily spoke for hours about it.

Shopping and Style

We spent the majority of our shopping time in the ‘design district’; a cluster of creative businesses and independent stores which plays a large role in boosting the cities reputation as a design hub. My two very favourite shops were Pino and Peroba. The perfect range of ‘modern eclectic’ which suited me to the ground. The design is somewhat simple but oozes exuberance in its minimalism - If you understood that sentence then ten Kate points to you!

Arkadia International bookshop is the shop of dreams if you love books. You enter thinking it’s just a small bookshop selling British classics. Then you descend to the basement into rooms upon rooms, lined with shelves upon shelves of boxes filled with books. From Japanese fiction to WW1 reference books. Travel, food, design, stories, truths, there was a book (or five) on any topic you could conceive. The best part, most are un-priced and they tell you how much they cost at the end. ‘How is that a good thing?’ You may wonder, well my three books (all travel books for an adventure next year) came to just ten euros!

Food
Our first real meal was ‘Finnish pizza’ at Skiffer; the thinnest, crispiest base shrouded in cheese, anchovies and…fish. At lunch they only offer two pizzas which worked perfectly for us. A fantastic little place that was relatively inexpensive considering how infamously famous Scandinavia is for high prices!

If you’re looking for a real Scandi experience you must go to Tori on Punavuorenkatu 2 and buy the meatballs. This was recommended to us by our host and heck, I’m glad we went. We shared a plate of mash and meatballs in brandy gravy as we were going out for a big dinner but I’m certain we both could have eaten one each! To make it even more special a church owns the building, and if you’re that way inclined you can eat outside in the courtyard.

I think that’s enough for today, there’s enough text there to count as an essay I’m sure. More on our ‘SO SO SO Scani-lous’ trip tomorrow.

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