Helsinki and its many islands

31 07 2016

Finland is known as the land of thousand islands and it is not hard to understand why when you step foot in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. The beautiful city sits on the peninsula in the Gulf of Finland, Helsinki is a coastal city consisting of many islands.  

It is rather sad to see that the typical package tours to “Scandinavia” or Nordic tours mostly cover Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and other cities in Norway but somehow Finland and its beautiful capital seems to be off the radar. All thanks to my fascination over “Santa Claus land” (Rovaniemi), I got a chance to stopover in Helsinki and was glad that I did. 

In the city center at Senate Square, you will not missed this magnificent white colour building with green dome towering over the surrounding square. This is Helsinki’s giant cathedral. There may be many cathedrals in Europe but I would say this neoclassical one is one of the nicest one in Nordic and a contrast to the Uspenski Cathedral nearby.


My favourite site in Helsinki is Sommerland, an island accessible via a short and scenic ferry ride from the harbour in the city center. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this tranquil island is pretty cool and beautiful to walk around. It was first constructed by the Swedes in 1748 as a defense against the Russians. For history lovers, you will enjoy being immersed in the history of how this little island changes hands and purposes from being a defense fort to a garrison when the Russians took over in 1808 to a park in 1918 when it became part of Finland.



For music and art lovers, do visit the Sibelius park and monument. The park is really beautiful even in Winter! The statute of Sibelius and the pipes was very unique. Apparently when it is windy, the monument will play a beautiful sound. Too bad I wasn’t lucky enough to hear it 😦

Right down by the harbor is the Central market where you can do lots of souvenir shopping and eat some local food.


There are also a lot of other museums in Helsinki which I didn’t have the time to visit.
Helsinki tips:

– You can get to/from Helsinki airport to the city centre (stops at train station) via the airport bus (Bus 65). It takes around an hour and you can get tickets either from the bus driver (in cash) or from the ticket machine at the bus stop (which takes cash or card). Cost is €5 which is much cheaper than train (and train is not much faster).

– Sign boards & tourist information booths are not that easily found. It will be better if you do some research on your own beforehand.

– Finland uses euros and most places accept credit cards.

– You can take a day trip to exotic Tallin in Estonia. A charming old town, Tallin seems to be a movie set transporting one back into time which I covered in a separate blog https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/tallinn-capital-of-estonia/

– If you are interested to visit “Santa Claus land” in the Finnish Lapland or just want to catch the Northern Lights, it is just a short flight from Helsinki. You can refer to my earlier blog https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2015/12/24/merry-christmas-all-year-round-rovaniemi/

– Ever want to visit Russia but was put off by Visa requirements? There is a way to get to Russia Visa free fro Helsinki on an overnight cruise to St Petersburg. Check out my blog https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2017/01/29/st-peterburg-chasing-my-ussr-dreams/



Food:

We know food in Nordic countries is not cheap but I would say compared to the other countries like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the pricing on average in Finland is slightly cheaper. Here are some of the decent price restaurants:

– If you want to try some Finnish cuisine, I will highly recommend Zetor where you can get some special Finnish fish (not sure the name but you can refer to the picture below), reindeer meat sausages and other Finnish delights. This is quite a hip restaurant somewhat like Hard Rock Cafe.

– Morrison’s which is located in the city center offers lovely set lunches and affordable dinner. Below is a simple set lunch of cheap and yummy grilled salmon.


– If you are tired of Finnish food, pop by Rosso an Italian restaurant which is highly popular with the locals. You can see that this is one of my favourite too 🙂


– For those on a tighter budget, Vapiano is also a good choice. It serves pizzas, pastas and other grills with a meal costing less than $15! I love the pastas there particularly when you have a good looking cute chef cooking that lol 😝

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Merry Christmas all year round – Rovaniemi

24 12 2015

It is Christmas again! On this Christmas eve, I will like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Christmas is my favourite holiday season. It is not just the season for Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus but many non-Christians are also celebrating this festival of giving. One of the most loved characters in the world is of course our dear Santa Claus. I still remember that as a young kid, I would pester my parents to take me to the shopping malls to meet Santa. Not surprisingly, I was not alone. When Santa appeared, all the kids will be rushing to gather around him, telling him that we have been good children and worthy of a present from him 🙂

Santa 1

It is well known that Santa’s hometown is very far north and rather inaccessible and hence the best place to see him is to visit his office in the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. So when I had the chance to take a little break, I decided to brave the cold weather and make my way all the way to Rovaniemi in Finland to fulfil my childhood Christmas fantasy. It is not really the most convenient places to visit as one would need to take a domestic flight from Helsinki up into the Arctic circle.

Airport 1.jpg

The Christmas atmosphere started as soon as I landed in Rovaniemi. The whole airport is decorated with Christmas decorations and Santa Claus pictures and figurines can be seen at almost every corner. So you can imagine how Christmassy Santa Claus Village is. Apparently, this is THE PLACE where it is Christmas all year round! The little village has many beautiful buildings covered with Christmas lightings and snow.

ROvaniemi 3

My first stop is Santa’s office. I was quite surprised that there was a long queue to meet him and those in the line are not just kids but many adults! I guess that we all want to re-live our childhood dreams to see Santa. When it was my turn to meet Santa, an elf came forward to me and asked if I have been good, to which I reassured him lol.  He gave me the thumbs up then escorted me into Santa’s office which is a large festive studio with a photographer elf. Santa was sitting on his comfortable arm chair. He graciously offered the seat beside him and I never forget those few moments when we chatted and took some photos. It was as if he has some magical powers which can remove all my worries and enthralled me with happiness. No words can describe the feeling and you just need to experience it yourself J

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The other attractions in the Santa Claus Village are the Santa Post Office where you can send a letter to anywhere globally and the letter would carry the special Santa Claus stamp. There are also rides that one that take like reindeer rides, dog sledging, snowmobile and more.

 

Circle 1

Rovaniemi 5

Santa must have brought me luck. I did not know that there was an annual reindeer racing competition in Rovaniemi where reindeers will race against one another down a long snowy path pulling their owners in ski behind them to see who the fastest reindeer is to be pulling Santa’s sledge. I would say that the race was the most entertaining and unique one that I have ever seen, one that many others and I were willing to brave the really cold and windy weather.

Reindeer 2

Rovaniemi 1

I have seen travel shows featuring snow hotels where the whole hotel is made of ice and snow and thus took the opportunity to visit the Arctic Snow Hotel, about 45 minutes’ drive from Rovaniemi city centre. It was really fascinating and gorgeous to see the entire hotel (an igloo) made of ice with the rooms, the beds, tables, chairs and even cups crafted out from ice. There is a nice ice chapel in hotel and it will really be cool (literally and figuratively) to say “I do” here! Guess what, as I stood out of the ice hotel, the whole sky was lighted with the mysterious and enchanting northern lights!! This was my second time seeing the lights, the first being in Iceland. I did made a northern lights trip up to Tromso the year before but the weather was so bad that I did not sight anything. This time round, I was crossing my fingers on whether I would be lucky to see one but was pleasantly surprise to see an amazing show due to extraordinary solar activities! Was this the work of Santa and his elves? 😛

Lights 2

LIghts 3.jpg

My stay in the Lapland was short but I would say that it was one of the most magical and exhilarating experiences for me. Like many adults, my belief in Santa diminished as the years go by. But does it really matter whether Santa is real? He has brought and will surely continue to bring joyfulness to everyone who believes in him. Well, it is the spirit of Christmas that really matters. This is the season to be merry, to share and to bring joy to all those around us. Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho!!!

Tips:

  • December is the peak season so if you would like cheaper air fares and accommodation, do visit during the off-peak season such as February. There is still snow and it is cool to have Christmas again just two months after Christmas J
  • There is no charge to visit Santa Claus Village but you need to pay if you will like to do some activities (e.g. reindeer ride, dog sledging, etc).
  • It is free to meet Santa. Photos will be taken and if you want them, you need to buy. Purchase is optional.
  • To get to the Santa Claus Village, you can take bus number 8. Check out the bus schedule as it does not run frequently.
  • You should spend some time in Helsinki which I have blog separately https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/helsinki-and-its-many-islands/