Helsinki (Part 1)

It has been a while since the last time I wrote and posted a blog. I have been busy with the whole adult-ing life.

I have so many things to write and to share with everybody, but I don’t know where to start. My recent trip from Europe was full of memories, fun, eating, pictures, adventures, food and drinking! I made sure this time, I took a lot of pictures to share on my blog posts.

So let me start with Helsinki. The first stop of my trip.

Mid-air from Gatwick, London to Helsinki, Findland

My dear, Helsinki.

What do I know about you before my trip to visit you? Nothing. To be honest, when I travel I let the city, people and culture speak for itself. There is a sense adventure for me in knowing that I don’t have to research a whole lot more. I travel like I’m a local and see what most local residents love to see and do. If I am culturally shocked then I let it sink in and learn from it and accept whatever I learn. It’s a not big deal that I don’t really know a lot about you on my first day. I, eventually, did learned a whole about you after my last day in Helsinki which were eye opening to me and I am very grateful for the people whom have shown so much hospitality, love and shared what they love the most about their country and culture!

The first day of my arrival to Helsinki, I landed at the international airport, Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL).

While I was en route to this city, I booked my airbnb from London during my layover (I had 8-hour layover! Tell me next time to not book my flights with crazy amount of layover in between. I almost went crazy going around the airport in that crazy, long hours). I knew, on my first day I was not going to be able to explore the beautiful city because I would arrive supper late at night of Thursday, May 23, 2019, and I would not be able to leave the airport until 0100 (1:00 am, for all of you who are not used to using military time) of Friday. So, I booked a place close to the airport—a cheap place, just to sleep for the night. I was glad to find an airbnb which was located 15 minutes bus ride from the airport.

The host was very helpful in helping me to locate which bus to take to their house, was very attentive to my questions and in making sure I didn’t get lost en route to their place. I made it safe to their house without a problem. All thanks for my google map! It is very helpful when it comes to traveling, internationally.

Upon arrival, the house was very quite. Everybody in the house were long asleep except for me whom just arrived. By this time, I was beyond exhausted. I planned to take a shower to freshen up and sleep, but I advised against it to not disturbed other people who were asleep. I, literally did this, I took every piece of clothing that I was wearing and just jumped into the bed and before I knew it, I was deep asleep.

Fast forward to several hours later. I woke up from a loud commotion. Loud footsteps from the second floor. Loud stomping, irritated my sensitive ears specially when I’m sleeping or half-asleep. I easily woken myself up from the stimulus. It was only 8am of Friday. I decided to get up and take a shower; get rid of the airport smell and dirty feeling from traveling non-stop.

The first thing, I have noticed from the set-up of the bathroom was that, there was no barrier from the shower to the actual bathroom/toilet area. Every thing is set-up like an open floor plan—except it’s the bathroom! I have never seen such a thing before. I was suprised and it also made me smirk. (I saw something new for me on my first day in Helsinki!) There was a rubber mop parked next to the sink—between the sink and the shower. I sensed that I had to use it after shower to clean the water droplets that spread all over the bathroom. So, I did.

As soon after I freshen up, I walked to the nearest market which was only a block away from the house. Over there I bought my pastries and morning snacks before I jet-off to the hotel that I booked which was located 16 miles away.

On my way back to the house, I looked around the neighborhood and found out that each houses are not even separated by fences. The yards are inter-mingling with the other neighbors yard. There were lots of greens and flowers around and there was no sign of thrash around at all. This made me think of how Finnish are pro-environment and that this neighborhood is well kept.

Back at the house, the host was awake and she was making her breakfast. We chatted for almost 2 hours, getting to know each other and we laughed at how late I got to their place from the airport, and I told her my first experience with the ground transportation. She gave me pointers on what to do with my bus card to make sure I have enough credits for each transportation cost about 1.5 euro, and if I don’t have enough then its 4 euro per ride, which was even more expensive! I’m all about the experience and budgeting.

We both exchanged stories about travel and she shared that she met her husband while she was in her trip in Japan for one year. He was, too, living their for study/or work. Their love blossomed and fast forward to 3 years later— they are happily married, living in Finland and enjoying their married life together through hard ships and happiness—together. Her husband is from Korea. A Korean decent whom, by the sound of it too, misses his motherland, Korea, and for the lack of better work—the weather is better and living lifestyle compared to Findland. It was a breath of fresh air to met another inter-racial couples from different country because my boyfriend and I are not from the same country either, totally different background, culture and upbringing. Sometimes, we clash at things such as political views, and among other things. To be able to meet couples having the same issues, source of happiness like mine is worth saying, “I feel you, girl. I know what you mean!” Kind-of-thing. My new found comrade.

From our shared stories, and laughter—I offered to her to stay at my place for free if she ever visit my state in the U.S. and to give her a tour of my crazy, beloved city. We both chuckled at the idea.

I found a friend in my airbnb host.

Around noon, I packed all my clothes back in my hiking backpack. Googled search my next bus route to my hotel which was a total of 45 minute ride. I bid my farewell to my awesome host and wished her luck to her new business—letting rooms for travelers through airbnb. Also told her that maybe on my last night in Helsinki, I might have to let one of her rooms for my boyfriend and I. To save money. She bid me farewell and safe journey.

I got to the bus stop which was located right next to the market, the same market that I visited for my morning pastries—there I waited for my bus. Whilst waiting, there was another local Finnish man, waiting for the same bus that I was taking. We spoke for few minutes and he wished me good luck with my travels and gave me an advice—something along the line of, ‘If you need something or If you are lost, never hesitate to ask another Finnish person because no matter what we look or if we don’t speak much English with another stranger because we are shy. We are very helpful and friendly. I want you to have fun on your first time in Helsinki and come back again.’ It was one of the best advices that I have gotten during this trip.

I heed his advice for my travel. I love the couple of my experience the Finnish hospitality and how welcoming the Finnish people are. So much positivity emitting from people that I’ve encountered so far.

On my way to the hotel, I was enjoying my bus ride, looking at the infrastructure and architecture of each house and apartments, the vast green lands, the trees and plants that I had passed by. The smiling kids walking with their parents. The sky. Taking every piece of memory to my memory log book.

Then some thing happened…I missed my stop by a bus stop earlier…this had thrown me off my schedule and panick sets in… During this time, I did not have a lot of dollars exchanged to euro, so budget-wise, I am literally broke. I did not have enough cash to pay for my bus ride. While, I was being stuck at this said bus stop—I tried looking other routes and means of getting myself to the hotel, however, with the low money on my bus card—I ended up booking my ride with Uber (which was very convenient at that time, but I looked at it now, it was a very expensive ride!)

I told myself to never use the Uber ride because each ride was costly. My ride from this bus stop to my hotel was a total of 18 euro—a 16 minute ride.

The Uber ride was pleasant. The Uber driver was super friendly and taught me several pointers about Finland and Finnish people:

Finnish people love coffee. This is awesome, because I am an avid coffee lover myself. I am always out there browsing the map for new coffee shops and long it on my favorite coffee shop list.

They love sauna. I looked into it and its true to its story and history—Finnish love their sauna. They even have an organization whom its main purpose is to preserve the traditional native culture of sauna. These people are members of the Finnish Sauna Society. Cool stuffs!

They love being outdoors and emerge themselves in nature. To be honest, I never really experience this when I was there due to my limited amount of time. I, mostly, stayed in the inner city where the natural environments are concretes and buildings—not trees, plans, soil, and wild life.

Food are not as flavorful compared to other nation’s food. Truth be told, I, firsthand experienced this and the Uber driver whom I have chatted with is from France, whom has been living in Finland for over 15 years yet still think their food are “OK, but the whole country and people makes it worth living here.”

I thanked him for sharing bits of informations related to Finland. They were all helpful in understanding this country, a little bit, and to physically and mentally prepare myself for the awesome 4 day trip!

After a 16 minute Uber ride to the hotel, I finally arrived at my refuge. Hilton Hotel Kalastajatorpa was a heaven! The staffs are so friendly, the hotel room was neat and clean with a beautiful view of the lake, and close to town.

My body was still exhausted from the restless night. I checked-in and went to my room. First thing I did was to shower nap. I napped for one hour before I jumped out of my bed—panicking that I slept through out the day and night, and missed so many hours of exploring—thankfully, I was only asleep for one hour.

I bought a day pass from the hotel and went off to explore the little city, one bus stop at a time.

The closest bus stop to the hotel was conveniently located only a block away! I was so happy. This was Friday, May 24, 2019, the weather—it was overcasted, showery rain every few minutes—added to being tired, the weather was not too conducive for exploring the city, but this never stopped my adventure side to “just do it.”

I took Tram 4 to take me all the way to my first destination. My first stop was to the busiest spot of the city—the shopping center by the Stockmann and its surrounding area. Here are some pictures that I have taken during this adventure:

I did not take many pictures as I thought I would, rather, I explored the city and tried to fully emerge myself in this new experience that I was entitled to.

There is nothing fancy or artistic about this city (sorry to be blunt.) The architecture is nothing compared to Paris. The food is nothing compared to other counties food and delicacies. But one thing I have noticed about is that the Finnish people are a bunch of the happy people I have seen or met in my 26 years of life.

I have never seen a grumpy old man or lady. I have never seen sad, or moody people walking in the streets. But I was greeted with smiles, laughter, and happy faces plastered all over the city. It was truly a change of scenery for me. It made me wonder though, “what makes them happy?” The million dollar question to ask a Finnish person. Because when you live in a country that is driven by capitalism, this sure is something abnormal, new, weird to have or even just the thought of it is astonishing.

Here’s a related article about this. Congrats, Finland. You ranked first again this year!

Finnish are very helpful, very loving, loves to party, and value their family and culture the most. I could go into more details why Finland is the number one country as the happiest country in the world, however, that’s for another time.

As I took myself out for a walk around the shopping center/business center area. I checked out several places as I have listed below.

  1. Stockmann.
  2. Forum.
  3. Helsinki Central Station.
  4. Old Church Park.

The first two places are both shopping centers. I wanted to check it out and compared it to the American shopping mall. As expected, there is nothing unique about this place really except for the limited amount of bathroom stalls! The one thing I don’t like about European countries is their small bathrooms and the inconvenient locations for them.

For someone who drinks a lot of coffee, beer, and water—the limited amount of toilets available for public is one of the inconvenient part of my travels.

One of my favorite spot to go and see was the central station. I wish this set-up was more prominent in our American culture, but truth be told, its not. We are not much into public ground transportation. NYC is one of the top city that promote public transportation and their grand central station is a spot to be awed upon. I love it there. I could definitely just get lost in those tunnels all day long and I would not mind at all.

The Central Station is a hustle-bustle of a building. There a lot of people lounging, waiting for their next bus or train ride to their next destination. There are plenty of stores that offers food, drinks and souvenirs for everybody to enjoy!

At this station, I stopped at this convenience store, R-kioski, and bought a ham sandwich. I was famished! I chose this place because I want the easy, cheap access for a big meal while I continued my foot-adventure in this inner city.

Helsinki is a small town for me instead of a city. Compared to my hometown of a city, the population is composed of 2.3 million while Helsinki is only about 630,000. In sense, it is a big town. Later on in my foot-adventure—boredom sets in and I was sleepy again. Hence, I went back to my hotel room to rest.

Around 2100, the night is still, sort of, bright outside even though the weather is rainy. I took myself out again on another train ride to the inner town. This time I explored the little area of Hesperian Esplanadi and Tennispalatsi—where I chanced upon this beautiful tree. This was everywhere in Helsinki! It’s so beautiful. If you know the name of this tree, please let me know! I’m curious.

Then, I walked around the area some more. I was on a mission to cover as much streets and area in one day! So that the next day, I will know my way around without the use of google map. 🙂

Then, it started pouring really hard. To mix cold and rain is no bueno. This was my cue to take shelter and then go home.

I ended my first mini-adventure for the day with a Guinness—from this Irish pub called Kaivopihan Dubliner. Cool spot in the middle of a busy part of town. Nice ambience and very conducive to drinking beer all night long !

This picture sums up my trip in Helsinki to be honest. More to write on my next post! Part 2 of my Helsinki trip and more shocking, new things I have learned about Finnish people and their culture.

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