Once a Year – Trip to Tallinn

When I started to plan writing about my weekend trip to Tallinn I remember right away that Marjo has written about Tallinn as well. Of course I checked Marjo’s writing – it was written about a year ago. That is actually a good timespan – I would recommend yearly trip to Tallinn for every Helsinkian.  You see, Tallinn is a charming little town which is not far away and it is very reachable (2-3 hours by ferry) – so a perfect place to spend mini-holiday.

This time I was traveling with my family. We took ferry Friday afternoon and stayed two nights in Airbnb-flat in Tallinn old town next to old stone wall. There was a window in the roof of the apartment (we had top floor) with a church tower view. Very lovely! First evening we wondered around narrow streets of Tallinn old town and had a dinner in lovely Italian La Bottega. I recommend that place very much – customers were both locals and tourists and food was high quality and delicious. This place is also perfect for “more demanding” taste.

Saturday we wondered around Kalamaja district. This “hipster” area is very close to old town (less than 2 kilometers walk) but it has very different feeling – in Kalamaha you find old industrial buildings, lovely wooden houses (some a bit run down), great little shops as well as wonderful murals.

We had lunch in F-Hoone (situated in Kalamaja district) which is great place when you are not in hurry and don’t want white tablecloth. Food is tasty and fun and the whole place is very cool and relaxed. You should make a table reservation even for lunch to ensure you have a table – place is very popular among locals. I would guess the building is old factory – brick building has high ceilings and big lovely windows.

After Kalamaja and F-Hoone we headed to Tallinn Maritime Museum. Strong recommendation for that – you can visit old submarine and many other things. Unfortunately for some reason(???) I didn’t take any pictures there. Sorry for that. In the evening we had dinner in Vegan Restoran V. Even we are not vegans, we loved the place (net page doesn’t look promising but place is great!) . It is tiny restaurant in old town and offers many delicious options for dinner. Place has “Old town feeling and candels”. It is also very cheap.

Once again we had a great time in Tallinn – I believe that everyone deserves mini holiday now and then. For Helsinkians Tallinn is easy place to visit and you can find always new places to see. Or just enjoy great food and beautiful buildings. If you are tourist and in Helsinki for more than 3 days, you should consider spending one day in Tallinn. It works very well for day trips as well as for overnight. Just google best ferry times for you.

Anna

ps. On Sunday we had breakfast in MaiasMokk – recommend to visit there as well!

 

Islands on Helsinki archipelago: Isosaari

 

Suomenlinna Fortress must be one of the most well known islands on Helsinki archipelago. However, during the past couple of years some of the islands that used to belong to Finnish Army have been opened to the public. Anna wrote about Lonna last year and this summer we got yet another interesting island to visit when Isosaari island was opened.

Isosaari island situated about 4 kilometers from Helsinki center and it takes about 30-40 minutes to get there on a boat. The boat costs 15 € and it leaves from Helsinki Market Square (or Kauppatori) next to Suomenlinna fortress ferries. During the summer (until 14 August) you can get there from Tuesday to Sunday and until 3 September during the weekend on Saturdays and Sundays. Mondays are reserved for golfers so if you are into the game I recommend trying out the peculiar 9 hole golf course that’s built on Isosaari.

Like I mentioned, Isosaari (or Mjölö in Swedish) used to be a military island and some of my friends have actually served their military service (or at least some part of it) on the island. There are still marks of that era such as an old shooting range and barracks. The old Officer’s Club has been re-opened serving light snacks, hamburgers, fish soup and beverages for visitors.

isosaari_restaurant

On a warm day you can also bring your own picnic basket or spend the day on the beach swimming. or even spend the night in your own tent on the camping area. There’s also a couple of saunas you can rent out for a larger group or just enjoy the public sauna that’s warm from 10 AM to 6 PM every day (during summer season). Just be prepared that it’s a public sauna for both men and women.

However, my favorite thing about this island is the beautiful nature and tranquility on the island. Even though it’s situated quite close to Helsinki mainland, the island is very quiet and peaceful. I think Isosaari is worth the day-trip: a bit of nature during the day and then heading back to the center for a nice glass of wine at Kauppatori at Allas Sea Pool for example.

 

-Marjo

Day trip from Helsinki to Porvoo – strong recommendation

Strong recommendation for day trip from Helsinki to Porvoo, a second oldest city in Finland. Porvoo has beautiful old town with narrow streets and picturesque wooden houses. Just perfect place to stroll around and enjoy feeling of old times. Many small shops around offering handicrafts, antiquities, cloths and toys. Also many pretty and tasty coffees shops, restaurants and bars. There is also a church to visit – old cathedral build in 15th century. Town is so lovely, I got marred there years ago and  I always have this really special feeling when visiting!

A week ago I once again visited this lovely town. This time we had lunch in Fryysarinranta – lovely restaurant by the river. We enjoyed fresh summer buffet with different kind of fish and salads. I strongly recommend to taste their fish soup. In Fryysarinranta you can sit on a terrace by the river or inside in old wooden house (middle picture above from there). I also visited Cafe Paahtimo – I had glass of wine in their lovely terrace by the river.

I also recommend you to try Restaurant Meat District – newish restaurant in old lovely building in center of old town. There are many lovely places around and easily found when walking around old town.

 

How to get to Porvoo? Well, Porvoo is situated 50 kilometers from Helsinki and it is easily reachable by car, bus or even bike or boat. Buses to Porvoo leave in Helsinki from Kamppi terminal and it takes around one hour. Check bus schedule here. If you want to bike, it is good to know that there is biking path for most of the way. However, maybe 15-20 kilometers there is no special biking path but that part is easy and safe to bike as well. Finest way to travel is to take boat Runeberg. Boat takes 3.5 hours and you can enjoy Finnish archipelago while traveling. Finest day you’ll have if you take boat in the morning, then stay in Porvoo as long as you please and in the evening take bus back to Helsinki. Porvoo is a small town so no need to stay over for longer time – day is enough.

Anna

ps. There is maybe cutest toy store ever in Porvoo. It is called Riimikko (sign in below picture). Very strong recommendation! You can find Muumi postcards there as well as shown picture below.

Direct flight to Helsinki from Singapore or Hong Kong

Finnair flies daily from Singapore and Hong Kong to Helsinki and it has become a convenient flight to get to Europe. These direct flights take 11,5 hours from Singapore to Helsinki and 10,5 hours from Hong Kong to Helsinki.

The flights offer a nice experience to Finland. The new A350s are comfy to travel and the night flight helps you to get to the new time zone. If you fancy the most pleasant travel option, book yourself to business class. You’ll have a full flat bed, a curated selection of wines and food and a wi-fi!

Finns are proud of their design heritage and the nice thing at Finnair flights is that Iittala products and Marimekko prints are part of the experience. For a homesick Finn – or any design enthusiast – it’s just nice to travel in pretty environment.

As a last tip. Check the ceiling of the plane and maybe you catch some virtual northern lights too.

 

 

What to do at Helsinki-Vantaa airport

Many people know Helsinki-Vantaa airport through their transferring flights to Europe. In case you are not planning to stay couple of days in Helsinki, there are some nice options to spend your transfer time also at the airport.

If you need some sleep, pop into one of the go sleep tubes at gate 31. Take your ear plugs and pillow with you. Tubes are free from 6am to 10pm. Other times you pay an hourly rate.

Helsinki-Vantaa airport is not too bad for a quick shopping either.

  • Moomin shop, get some Moomin stuff from terminal 2, around gates 26-27: Sun-Fri 5-23 and Sat 5-19.30
  • Book Swap, how nice is this! Finished the paperback over flight? Bring it here, recycle and choose another one for the connecting flight. Terminal 2, gate 31 – Kainuu lounge (open for everyone 24h)
  • Marimekko, get some famous prints to your home at terminal 2, gate 27, Sun-Fri 5-23 and Sat 5-19.30
  • Iittala store, Finns like their tableware and glass items. Grab some classics at terminal 2, gate 28, Sun-Fri 5-23 and Sat 5-19.30
  • Alepa, this small every day grocery shop can be accessed through the arrival hall. Check what to buy in grocery stores and grab some Finnish goodies with you. Terminal 2, arrivals hall 2B. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

And the last but not least – Sauna

Every Finnish home and apartment building has its own, so why not the airport.
Situated between gates 36 and 37. It’s a unisex sauna and everyone whears a towel. It’s free for business class customers and other customers pay 48 euros. You can pay at the lounge reception or book in advance through Finnair’s website.

helsinki_airport

Helsinki-Vantaa airport

sleep_at_helsinki_airport

Time to have a nap.

 

Helsinki_airport_sauna

Helsinki Airport sauna. Picture by Finavia.

Helsinki City Bikes and new bike stations in 2017

Helsinki_City_Bikes_Hietalahti

After a long wait we finally got ourselves a new city bike system a year ago in May! Helsinki used to have an old city bike system  but it was closed in 2010 due to constant vandalism. In other words, the bikes got lost and broken all the time since there was no system to track down who actually was using the bike and where. Similar to shopping charts, you could just borrow the bikes from the bicycle stand with some coins.

Fortunately a year ago, the new and much improved Helsinki City Bike system started and a lot had changed in 6-7 years. The bikes were no longer green – greens seems to be reserved for trams in Helsinki public transport. Today the bikes are yellow and much stronger with little baskets in the front. The height of the saddle is easily adjustable and the bikes have automatic lights, too.

I used the city bikes the entire season last year (from May to the end of October) and last year I cycled about 90 kilometers. That’s not a huge amount of kilometers but considering that I was away for the entire July and all of my trips have been less than 30 minutes long (most of them under 1 kilometer, too) I think the bikes are my favorite and most used public transport method for the summer They served me extremely well in the city center where using other means of public transportation isn’t convenient. Biking saved up a bit of time and got me to work in less than 10 minutes – a walk that would normally take me about 15 minutes (but in the morning every minute matters…). For longer rides I still used my own bike but all my adhoc trips seemd to be all done by city bikes.

Helsinki public transport has pretty good instructions on how to register and use the bikes on their site but here they are in a nutshell:

 

 

Register: Choose the most convenient time for usage: 1 day (5 €), 1 week (10 €) or the entire season (25 €) which ends on 31 October. For the registration you need your credit card details.

Collect: After registration you will receive a cyclist ID and a pin code that you need for collecting the bike. All the bike stands are marked in Helsinki public transport’s map. There are also other services such as Kaupunkifillarit.fi that use open source data to show the availability of the bikes on each bike station.

Ride and Return: First 30 minutes is for free and after that you need to pay extra for each beginning 30 minutes. 5 hours is the maximum time you’re allowed to use a bike at a time (after that you’ll get a 80 € fine) so I would recommend returning the bike every now and then and picking up a new one if you want to save up some money.

Since the city bikes have been a huge success last summer, City of Helsinki decided to expand the bike network  much further from the city center, all the way to Lauttasaari, Etelä-Haaga and Käpylä. Starting from May 2 until October 31, there will be 140 bike stations and 1400 bikes available this summer, which sounds good to me!

 

 

 

Weekend getaway to Tallinn

 

 

Even though our summer holidays are already over we felt like continuing our vacation a bit longer and decided to travel across Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, Estonia. The journey only takes about  1,5 – 3 hours, depending on which ferry you decide to go with. Linda Line is probably the fastest one (only 1h 40 min) but also at least Eckerö Line and Tallink Silja takes you there in 2-3 hours.

This time we decided to go with Tallink Silja, since the ferry leaves quite close to where we live and 2 hours of travel sounded better than 3. The tickets for two people were only 48 € (24 € per person!) – an absolute bargain and cheaper than travelling to Tampere! Prices might vary from day to day though, depending on the time and month. Also you might consider staying there for a night, too. Hotels and spas are quite modern and well situated in the center of Tallinn and reasonably priced as well.

I’ve visited Tallinn quite often so this time we didn’t really have an agenda for the day, we just spent the day walking in Old Town and light shopping which is a good way to spend an afternoon. If you have the time you might want to visit Tallinna Teletorn, Tallinn’s TV tower or Balloon Tallinn to get a god view over the city and maybe on a good weather all the way to Helsinki.

 

The Old Town is filled with small cafés and restaurants and some of them are quite touristic. However, some of the best restaurants in Tallinn in my opinion are situated in Old Town, so dig in a bit further from the Old Town’s Town Hall square and you’ll find some excellent choices. This time we decided to have an early dinner at Leib Resto ja Aed which serves seasonal and fresh Estonian food including local mushrooms, berries, fish, meat and vegetables. Atmosphere was quite easy-going but still stylish and service was very quick and professional. A dinner for two with aperitifs, 3 course meal, bottle of wine and beer, coffee and avec was about 160 € which I think is very affordable if compared to Helsinki’s prices.

 

A very nice weekend getaway even on a rainy day!

-Marjo

Helsinki city bikes

President castle Helsinki

Lately I have been writing a lot about “best things” in Helsinki. This writing is somehow the same theme… You see, one of the best ways to explore town is biking. And since I’ve had some great experiences bicycling around foreign towns like Singapore and Nice I want to tell for you dear readers how to bicycle easily in Helsinki. Cycling is quite easy in Helsinki – not great town for bicycling like Copenhagen – but pretty good anyway. There are many bicycle paths but you have to be prepared to bike also on streets with cars. I wrote last autumn about getting around in Helsinki – some tips there as well.

For tourist there is always a problem to think were to hire a bike. This problem is solved in Helsinki – there are city bikes all over the downtown – around 50 locations to pick a bike. One of the locations is in front of President Castle which is shown on a picture above. You can buy daily, weekly or yearly pass for bikes. Pass covers up to 30 minutes of biking per time. This 30 minutes time is enough to bike from one station to another (since stations are very close to each other). After 30 minutes there will be additional charge for biking longer time. After 5 hours there is a penalty of 80 euros so don’t use bike for more than 5 hours! Since the pricing is like this, there are almost always some bikes at the stations. You find bike stations for example from Railway Station, Kauppatori and Hietaniemen tori (which has also this great flea market I wrote last autumn).

You find more information about city bikes here – there you find English information about renting process, map of all stations as well as how many bikes there are right now in every station.

Pleasant moments exploring Helsinki with city bike,

Anna

 

 

 

 

Weekend Getaway: Copenhagen

Sometimes, as much as we’re fond of her, we want to get away from Helsinki. Like this past weekend, when we chose beautiful Copenhagen, to visit friends who’ve moved there.

We’d booked a super-central flat through AirBnB for six. Bit of a posh location, easily within walking distance from the center of the action. With some early-bird flight tickets, the weekend ended up being more than reasonably priced, too.

Friday: Snowfall

Tuborg_julebryg_hat.jpgWe’d chosen to arrive on the day when the snow falls. On other words, J-dag, the first Friday in November, when Tuborg’s Julebryg Christmas brew is launched in all bars at 20:59. That means it’s definitely a party all around, with plenty of commercial silliness, cheap drinks and liters upon liters of dark Christmas beer. Imagine a Nordic St. Patrick’s, in blue instead of green.

Tuborg_julebryg.jpgIn 2016, it’ll be  4 November. If you’re going, remember to stock up on Santa hats, beanies, bunny ears, capes, bow ties, t-shirts, stewardess’ skirts and more. Bunny ears especially seemed to attract attention, right to the point of people offering to buy them off your head . If you fancy making a quick buck 200 DKK seemed to be the going rate.

Saturday: Foodfest

Sparvejen.jpgTo regain our strength we went for lunch at one of our all-time Copenhagen favorites — Sporvejen – that offers some of the best burgers in all of CPH, along with some quality craft beers. What makes the place special, apart from the food, is the lovely service and the absolutely lovely décor.

IMG_9997For anyone from Helsinki, trams are a key symbol of our city, and although CPH did away with theirs decades ago, this one has survived. The place feels like you stepped into a tram that’s parked inside a building. Inside, it’s small tables and a near-intact tram interior, complete with old tram seats and old-time advertising. Outside there’s tables for bigger groups, with heat-lamps and blankets, so you can enjoy your meal outdoors too. Sporvejen’s very kid-friendly, as well, so if you’re travelling with kids, make sure to look them up on Gråbrødretorv, right off of Strøget.

The rest of the day we spent shopping and sightseeing around, Nyhavn, the Round Tower (Rundetaarn) etc. before heading for dinner at the Australian-themed Tight.

Tight_copenhagen.jpgThe place proved to be pretty nice. The envy-inducing Flank steak as well as mussels proved to be the best mains. The burger wasn’t really up to its rep, especially after Sporvejen. In the evening we also did a quick hop over to the hipper Østerbro neighborhood before returning to the city.

Lazy Sunday 
Fiskebar_food.jpgOn Sunday, we headed west, to Copenhagen’s very own meat-packing district — Kødbyen — as hip as its NY namesake and a brilliant brunch at Kødbyens Fiskebar. Oysters for starters, followed by mussels and more. Tasty, super-fresh. Definitely worth a visit if you’re around.

IMG_0306.JPGIMG_0315.JPGWe followed that with a beer-tasting at the neighboring Warpigs craft beer and bbq bar with some Mikkeller and 3 Floyds beers. It’d be easy to spend the whole day in Kødbyen, especially if you come on a street-food Sunday (we didn’t). If you’re feeling peckish, Warpigs has the most protein-rich Bloody Mary we’ve ever seen. (Hint, it comes in a stein, with bratwurst, pork, pickles and more.)

To finish the day, we had some going-away smørrebrøds and did some last minute shopping back in the City.

Then it was down to the metro, and 20 minutes later we were at the Airport. Convenient, fast and back in Helsinki by midnight. Not bad for a weekend getaway.

So, whether you do as locals do and head for the countryside or choose to go abroad to another Nordic or Baltic Capital, or even St. Pete for that matter, you’re continuing a local tradition. Helsinki is well connected.

Find all places on Foursquare/Swarm
Heidi’s Bier Bar
Tørst Bar
Sporvejen
Tight
Cafe Bopa

Kødbyen
Kødbyens Fiskebar
Warpigs

 

Weekend trip for cottage


Sunset

Sunset

I have been quiet for a while – first I had a very busy week at work and right after that – early in Friday afternoon – I escaped Helsinki and headed towards countryside. I spent a lovely weekend with friends in very picturesque summer cottage and this is what I am going to write now. But before my stories of Finnish cottage life I have to tell why the writing is a week late – on Sunday I flew to Italy to spend a week there with my family and closest relatives (and didn’t take my computer with me).

Hiking in forest

Hiking in forest

Almost all Finns have some close to them (family or good friends) who own “summer cottage” (mökki in Finnish). Some people spend all their summers at the cottage – some like me visit cottage now and then but not too often. Some cottages are like homes – having dishwasher, fancy bathrooms etc. However, many Finns want to go to summer cottage and escape the hectic life and for them that means living without electricity, fridge or other facilities. If you get the invitation, I recommend you to find out in advance what kind of cottage you are visiting. Even you have visited somebody’s fancy home and you know the person is well off, it doesn’t necessarily tell anything about how well the cottage is equipped. I also always recommend to give some praises of one’s cottage – quite often people have very strong emotional bond for the place.

Most summer cottages are by the lake or sea – part of cottage living is swimming, fishing and admiring the nature. I think in every summer cottage there is a sauna and it is tradition to warm sauna every night. Since it was pretty chilly during my visit, sauna was great in the evenings. My friends swam in the lake after heating up in sauna (even it was freezing at nights…) but I didn’t, too cold for me! However, I enjoyed so much admiring the stars (in the middle of forest you can really see the stars well!) when cooling off the heat in darkness. And I had fun watching my friends swimming in cold water.

view from dock

view from dock

Besides sauna, we cooked delicious food, hiked in the forest, admired migratory birds (lots of them, I guess they had some kind of gathering before flying to south far away from soon wintery Finland) and played tennis. Tennis court is not a “must be” in summer cottage like sauna, but luckily there was one in this cottage. I must to admit – admiring the lake view at the same time than playing tennis is awesome!

Since most of the cottages are in the countryside, normally you need a car to reach one. However this time we took a bus from Helsinki and had a good 5 kilometers walk to cottage both ways from the bus stop. Sun was shining so we really enjoyed the walk. And I have to say – after admiring quiet Finnish cottage life it was just fantastic fly to hectic Rome and explore something totally different!

Anna