Finland, Helsinki

I have to admit I’ve never met anyone who has visited Helsinki before and therefore had no idea what to expect. Campsites were a bit sparse but there was a huge purpose built one just a few kilometres from the city centre which became our base for a week. One thing we’ve learnt since we’ve been on the road is that traveling isn’t all a staged Instagram photo world and with two teenagers, two vehicles and a bulldog it is important to have access to the normal world through decent campsites that provide you with a laundrette, good WiFi, big showers…….

In addition to this we took the boys to Linnanmäki Amusement Park for the day. With its rollercoasters and log flume there’s nothing uniquely Finnish or memorable about it at all but we simply wanted to give the boys a fun day out to just be kids and enjoy themselves.

We ended up spending a week in Helsinki, way more time than we had expected but we soon realised that Helsinki has loads to offer.

A great day spent at Suomenlinna, an 18th century sea fortress just a short ferry ride away from the city. It was nice to stroll around the islands and enjoy a picnic, fortunately it wasn’t busy the day we visited and since dogs are free on the ferry, Lester had a day out too !

Helsinki turned out to be surprisingly very cool. During our time there we experienced all different weather which has a big impact on how you see a place. On one of the sunnier days we visited the zoo. It’s not the biggest zoo in the world but it is a cool place. It’s an island zoo, which in itself was different from any other zoo I’ve visited before.

We had a look around the Rock church…it is exactly what it says on the tin…a church built into a rock.

A ‘must do’ in Helsinki would be to take a trip out to the Fazer factory for the tour and outlet experience. The chocolate is amazing – we picked up a couple of bars to see us through !

Finally, Jon and I discovered this gorgeous restaurant right near the harbour called Kappeli. Steeped in history this restaurant is wonderful. We visited it a couple of times first for coffee then for the legendary Salmon soup.

A seriously good looking city, which has a little something for everyone.

Unless you fly it’s not an easy place to get to, but trust me it is well worth a visit. Anywhere that makes heart shaped rye bread is definitely worth a visit in my book 💙

Hyvästi Suomi 🇫🇮 Kiitos 💙

Finland, Turku

We have spent a whole week in Finland relaxing and enjoying the many walking trails near our campsite just outside a town called Säkylä.

Säkylä is a small town about 60km north of Turku, there are a couple of supermarkets, a grilli (Finnish BBQ fast food take away) and an all important Alko, which is the state run alcohol shop where you can buy wine and any other alcoholic beverages with an alcohol content above 5%.

We had learnt from other blogs that rather than looking for tourist attractions we should try experiences to really appreciate Finland. The first was to enjoy the indoor BBQ experience, such a simple concept and total genius!

The quintessentially Finnish experience and top of my ‘must do whilst in Finland’ list would be to take a sauna. It is not just a wonderfully warming and relaxing experience but a necessity in a country like this where the weather can be so cold and harsh in winter. We realised that this was such an effective way of thawing out, especially if you have been working outside the whole day in the snow. We hadn’t been working outside in the snow all day obviously but we enjoyed it all the same. The campsite had wooden cabins with private saunas which was perfect and was easy enough to light it by ourselves too.

So having grilled like a local, warmed up like a local and eaten like a local we were ready to head out to the city of Turku and what better way to experience something truly Finnish than to go to an ice hockey game. By chance it was the play offs between Turku and Helsinki. So, tickets booked we were ready for the Friday night match in Turku.

We started our day in Turku with brilliant sunshine it was fantastic and we went straight to the city square to stroll around the market place.

Finland has surprised me in that it’s not quite Scandinavian and not quite Eastern European but a mix of the two with a slight Russian influence. I had been expecting it to be more Scandinavian although I’m not quite sure why. The language sounds very different and the feel of the place is very unique. It has been interesting moving east and seeing and hearing the subtle differences in language and Finland has taken it just a step further from Norway and Sweden.

The food is quite different too, much to Jon’s annoyance as soon as we arrive in a new country (or city) I have to check out the supermarket. It’s my favourite thing to do, it teaches you so much about a place, what foods are available, is there an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, what kind of meats are on offer and I found in Finland they eat grilled meats so the meats in the supermarket tend to be thinly sliced and some are marinated, ready to pop on the grill. In the Netherlands it was all about the cooked sliced meats, cheeses and antipasto ingredients like olives and pickles. In France it was very much cheese and meats and baguettes. Germany was very heavy on the sausages, Norway wasn’t so focused on fresh fruit and vegetables but had a big variety of salami and convenience foods, there wasn’t a huge selection of products either. Whereas in Sweden there was a good variety of every product, about 60 cold meats and salad condiments. The price of foods is also a big give away as to the cost of living. Also, what is most noticeable in the Scandinavian countries is the lack of alcohol in the supermarkets. You have to buy wine and spirits from state run stores with very strict operating hours and set prices.

The bakery section (my heaven)…the breads and baked goods fascinate me, each country we have visited so far has a very different offering of bread and baked treats. As we have moved further north east the breads have become darker and darker. I have become addicted to all things rye. The dark rye bread rolls are delicious filled with thin slices of ham and cheese salad and the flavoured rye crisps are so good. My absolute favourite thing to eat are these Karelian pies. They are really good, small but filling little pies with a rye crust and a salty rice filling. You can get different toppings and the rye content in the pie crust varies.

The Finns are super proud of their chocolate too, the most famous brand here being Fazer, I have to say it is superb. It’s so creamy, smooth and decadently rich. We’ve been sampling all the delicious Fazer goodies, mostly wafers covered in chocolate with various fillings. All very tasty especially the Kismet Omar with a toffee cream filling.

We had a coffee at the Karl Fazer café before heading to the castle. The coffees were average but what we really enjoyed were the truffle filled chocolates that accompanied them.

Turku castle is beautiful, it sits on a hill looking out over the docks where the Viking ferry’s arrive and depart. Today was a great day to visit it as it was crowned by the sunlight.

The castle grounds made a perfect picnic spot.

Next on our list was the boat museum. Jon and the boys were really excited about this, however, boats aren’t really my thing (my actual words were “I’d rather eat my own foot than go to a boat museum”) so I opted for a chilled glass of white and some time in the sun just watching the world go by.

Finally we found a great spot on the east bank of the river Aura to enjoy some pre game dinner. A relatively new restaurant housed inside a freighter boat serving street food, pitas stuffed full of grilled meats and vegetables and juicy chicken skewers. There is also a bar on board too.

Then to the Gatorade Centre for the game. I have to be honest none of us knew what was going on, we’ve never been to an ice hockey match before and are unlikely to ever go again but it was a fun night. We were cheering for Turku, simply because we had spent the day exploring the city so we felt a slight affinity to the team.

A great end to a great day, kiitos Turku you were a real treat.

Next let’s see what Helsinki has to offer……