So the blog of my big summer is finally here, or at least the start! During this summer, my boyfriend and I decided to take one month break abroad. Once you move from your own country and then get together with a person from yet another nationality, where to move next is such a hard topic. I am Portuguese, my boyfriend Italian and we live in the Netherlands for four years and a half. We loved this period of our life, but we feel that is time for a change. Where to go next or what to do is still not clear. Since we couldn't solve this part, we decided to put together our savings and take a month off to Thailand and Cambodia. We realised that we are still young and we already live with so many responsibilities by starting our independent life abroad that we needed to stop for a moment and enjoy life, doing the things we love the most while opening our horizons for the future.
Long story short, my boyfriend just decided to find flights and book the tickets! I was a bit nervous, but in reality, if he didn't do this crazy thing, we would be still dreaming and planning behind our computer. If you are young, student and well, money is an issue, obviously is not easy to take spontaneous decisions all the time. However, what worked for us, apart from saving for almost a year, was to book things throughout 5 months and paying slowly in advance all the stuff we could. First the flights, then the Airbnb accommodation (this one was easy because we had a coupon with 35 euros discount!), and then we started with some domestic flights in between Thailand and Cambodia and when we were actually there we just had food, some hotels and normal daily living expenses to pay for. We also found really cheap tickets for Thailand with Finnair and we were super satisfied with the service. When booking our tickets we also decided to make a 3 days stopover in Helsinki and is about that days that this post is all about!
We arrived at the airport and we only needed 5 euros to arrive in Helsinki city centre in a 45 minutes train ride. We started by finding our Airbnb and we were really happy to discover that was close to the centre and exactly what we needed for a few nights in the city. After a small conversation with our host, she told us that dinner time was almost gone (at 16:00) and if we wanted to try the Market we needed to run. Well, that's what we did. We started our walk in the city and went through Esplanadi Park until the Market Square. There you can find a lot of food stands and we quickly got our dinner: meatballs, sausages and salmon. Tip of advice, always choose fish over meat. The salmon was absolutely delicious!
After eating and enjoying a moment near the water, we walked until the Helsinki Cathedral and streets around this area. Helsinki is a unique city and was fun to start to discover it. After, we stopped at a cafe/bar found on our way home. it was called “Why join the navy when you can be a pirate” and had a really creative atmosphere. We drank some expensive beers (and I though Netherlands was expensive....) and enjoyed the nice vibe of the place.
I was always proud of my planning and travel skills, but truth be told, my boyfriend is simply the best in it. He researches so much and always find the best plan to see absolutely everything in the time frame available. With a full plan in our hands, we started our second day by looking for a brunch place. A lot of places were closed because it was Sunday but we still managed to find an amazing solution. I am kind of a plant obsessed, so our breakfast place was a great choice for me. Andante Coffee Shop is a cute place where we had nice croissants for breakfast, surrounded by plants and a vintage decor!
After having our relaxing breakfast, we started our visit by walking towards the Design Museum, passing also by St. John's Church, right in front of it. I am a graphic designer and visiting this museum was mandatory for me, but in this case, I would say is mandatory for everybody! It is fantastic to see how much they incorporated good design in their lives, plus the influence they have on the history of design. The museum is affordable, fun and informative. Did you know that the Finish are responsible for the game of "Snake" in Nokia phones as well as the more recent success "Angry Birds"?
Another must do while in Helsinki is visiting one of the many saunas, an essential part of Finnish culture and identity. After talking with some locals and doing some research, we decided to go for Löyly. As mentioned on their website "public saunas used to be common in bigger cities but now that most new apartments have sauna of their own, public saunas have decreased dramatically in number. As a sense of community is becoming a more and more important part of new urban culture, many new public saunas are being planned."
If we were still not convinced of going there by the amazing architecture of the place and the possibility to jump right into the Baltic Sea, we discovered that the co-owner is Jasper Pääkkönen, actor in the serie Vikings, which we were completely obsessed for. When we arrived there, we were very lucky to get a place in, since most of the people had reservation. The price was yet another surprise, 20 euros for 2 hours. Quite cheap for what we were expecting of such luxurious setting. Before our appointment, we had some hours to kill so we just relaxed nearby, in a very nice restaurant called Birgitta. We ate burgers and bread with salmon and enjoyed the sun.
This sauna was for both men and women and you must dress appropriately. If you forgot your bathing suit, you can rent it there. There were two different saunas, smoke and steam. Two hours is really the perfect time for enjoying the experience and this sauna gives you so many options of how to do it. Inside they have an internal lounge with fireplaces and cold water to drink, showers and other relaxing spots, while outside there are chairs and direct access to the sea! Another great aspect of this sauna was the fact that was full of Finish, so we could really experience it beyond the touristic scene.
After the sauna, we were feeling extremely relaxed and decide to quietly take a walk back to the centre. The city is incredibly easy to walk even though the distances seemed far on the map. We did a little break in a food stand at Kompassitori square and we finally tried the famous salmon soup! I am usually not a big fan of salmon, but, suddenly, I was in love. Our walk continued through Kaivopuisto Park until we were back in the centre and stopped at Uspenski Cathedral. Unfortunately, we couldn't see it inside but was still worth it to appreciate the outside of the building. The "Flying Dutch", a boat with restaurant/bar and live music marked the end of our long walk.
In the morning of our last day, we took our few hours left in the city and use it to visit the "Temppeliaukion Kirkko". The church was designed by the architects and brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and built directly into the solid rock. How impressive is that has such a modern feeling and was opened in 1969? It has a small entering fee and is quite overcrowded. If you can find a time with fewer people, I believe it would benefit your experience. After this visit, we took our luggage and, heading back to the station, stopped in the "Kamppi Chapel". You can easily miss it between the other city buildings but is worth to stop for a bit. It's from 2012 and called "the silence chappel", beautiful and peaceful inside and with no entry fee.
Maybe we could have done other things in the city, but I really enjoyed this pit stop before our long travel! Unfortunately, I didn't have time or space in my luggage to explore the vintage and design scene, but definitely will do it next time.
Stay tuned since the next blogs will be about Thailand and Cambodia!