Friday, September 09, 2016

Finnish Surprise - Summer in Finland

Everyone in my department looked at me weird and laughed when I told them I'm going to spend my summer holiday in Finland - not a typical European summer vacation AT ALL! Just when people head to the south for warmth, I'm the rebel who heads to the North. Afterall, what better time to visit the North than in the warmer months of summer. Plus, my Finnish friends were enticing me with the summer lake cottage. Was really looking forward to this trip as the last time I met Mikko and Hanna they were newly weds travelling around S.E.A 3 years ago! Now they have a cute little girl.
Summer cottage by the lake
A good start to the wonderful week - landed in Helsinki with the sun shining bright and feeling overdressed in my jeans and sweater. Then it was off to the summer lake cottage where we spent the weekend with Mikko's mum and her husband. It was a lovely weekend we had - lovely weather, food and people. The kind of experience you don't get as a visiting tourist. I fished my first fish (a really small one), went for a spin in the lake and had my Finnish sauna experience! Which means sauna - then jump into the lake - back to sauna. Not forgetting the beer! I can't even remember how many different types of beers I've had in a week! Food was fantastic - home cooked and prepared in a very Finnish way.

Super small fish I caught


Hot tub in nature!

These people and the little one
A little background about Finnish/Finland - they invented the wife-carrying competition (no idea why), Nokia is Finnish and a really good phone (too bad they tanked now), sauna is an essential in almost everyone's apartment/home, Naked run also comes from Finland!!!

Aulanko viewpoint
After a great weekend, we head back towards the city. I spent a day in Hameenlinna basically just relaxing and visiting nature. The town is really really small with nothing much going on - not even a hostel there. I booked myself into the only affordable AirBnB (about €46/night) and rented a bicycle from one of the hotel (€10/day) to explore the really tiny town. The castle is one of the main highlights and they do offer an English guided tour which unfortunately I missed (think it starts at 1030am). It's also good to explore on your own as they provide a map and some written history. It's a small and quite rundown castle (€9 entrance). A quick ride through the town and I went on to Aulang National Park. This park is really beautiful. With the bike it's possible to follow the road into the park - there are some elevation in many parts so not entirely smooth sailing. The highlight is the viewpoint - where you see fantastic view of the whole park. I took my bike on a spin in the trail - not recommended if you have no experience and with that city bike really not the best idea. A couple hours later, I was done with the city and went back to rest. The next day back to Helsinki with the train. Do use this website (click HERE) to check for all kinds of trains and buses within Finland - they are great source of information and also has discounts for certain timings if you book early!

My trip to Helsinki began with a short ferry ride to Suomenlinna (€5 per ride) The ferry departs quite regularly so don't have to worry! The small island is amazing and really beautiful. Suggest to spend about 1.5-2h there. They have a guided tour at certain times (check the website costs €11 per pax) but I preferred to explore on my own. The most scenic area is at King's gate where you see the surrounding waters and the fortress. Try the beer at the local brewery right at the visitor center!

Back in Helsinki I spent some time taking in the sights of Helsinki - the market, the churches and walking along the streets. I recommend the rock church - it's an underground church that looks like a lump of rock from the outside. It's really beautiful inside and so does not look like a church from outside. This day was spent mainly just walking and walking - public transport though not overly expensive is not cheap either within Helsinki - a single tram ride costs about €2 and up.
More of my Finnish experience follows after I spent 3 days in Tallinn (up on another separate post). Took the bus (€5 discounted fare from the website link I shared above) to Porvoo in bad weather - raining whole morning when I was there. Didn't get to fully enjoy the experience due to weather but the town has a nice vibe - calm, charming and quiet. Once back in Helsinki, I took a walk to Kaivopuisto area to enjoy the nice sea breeze. Also took a walk to the newly opened public spa - you can see people half clothed coming out from the sauna and sitting outside cooling off. It was a lovely walk and great weather.
Mikko gave me a ride in his ultra cool motorbike to the city where I explored the hippy town of Kallio - surprisingly on a sat afternoon of great weather the place was pretty quiet.

Salmon fish soup

Fried fish - a finnish meal

My last night - BBQ
And herein ends my trip to Finland - good memories and good fun! Mikko and Hanna were great hosts and gave me lots of tips to exploring Helsinki and insights into Finnish life.
Cheers to a great week!

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