Travel to Helsinki, Finland – Episode 532 Transcript

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transcript of Travel to Helsinki, Finland – Episode 532

Travel to Helsinki, Finland (podcast transcript)

Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 532. Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about rock churches and island fortresses, rhubarb, and lots and lots of lots of coffee as we go to Helsinki in Finland.

Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by RideGuru. RideGuru is the expedia of ride hailing services. They know which ridesharing company to call in over 70 countries so you don’t have to. Check out their service now or when you travel at ride.guru.

Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. Stay tuned later on when we’ll hear more about our sponsor and we’ll also hear about the two Amateur Traveler trips in 2017. But first, let’s talk about Helsinki. I’d like to welcome to the show Inna, from Finnish Family Travel Blog, who has come to talk to us about Helsinki. Inna, welcome to the show.

Inna: Thank you.

Chris: And this is an odd interview for me because I think it’s the first time that I’ve interviewed somebody while they’re keeping watch on their boat.

Inna: That’s true.

Chris: In the middle of the night, too, I should mention. We’re doing this about 3:00 a.m. Finnish time. But why should someone come to Helsinki?

Inna: Because there’s the sea, of course. That’s also the reason that I’m sitting here. So in Helsinki, the sea is around you all the time and you have the amazing opportunity to create a holiday with nature and the urban life.

Chris: Okay. When you talk about the sea, let’s focus on that first before we talk about other things to do in Helsinki. How can I, as someone who doesn’t have a boat in harbor, experience the sea of Finland? And when should I do that? When is the best time for me to come to Finland?

Inna: The summer time which means from mid-May until maybe end of September. This year, we have had extremely wonderful May and also now September with warm temperatures over 20 degrees. You can experience sea easily without your own boat in Helsinki because we have lots of islands here by the shore where you can take just a day cruise. And there is even like the public bus ticket is valid in the boat also.

Chris: I didn’t know that.

Inna: So you can easily just take like 20 minutes ride to Suomenlinna Island, which is one of the UNESCO Heritages as well. And also our very well-known Pokémon Go place where you can find lots of Pokémons nowadays. So there are lots of restaurants also on the islands and most of the restaurants, they have, of course, their own boats. And then naturally, it’s also opportunity to take a private boat or even hire a sailing boat for a day.

Chris: You say the restaurants have their own boats, you mean that would come and get me if I wanted to go to the restaurant?

Inna: Yes. Most of them they have like a shuttle service like every hour, or if you are a group, then they will also organize it by your schedule.

Chris: And that’s going to the main harbor area there in Helsinki?

Inna: Yeah. There are different spots where they leave. As soon as you get here, I’m sure your hotel will help you to find out the best way to find your own favorite island and the best destination of what you wanna discover from the seaside.

Chris: Interesting. And you mentioned coming there in the summer time, and the only time I have been there which was this summer time, I was there in July. And one of the things that I love about that area in Europe in the summer time is just the beautiful long days as one of those people who craves sunlight. The sun was going down I wanna say 10:00 at night or something like that.

Inna: The sun goes down after 10:00, but the light will not disappear during June and July. Even in Helsinki region, most of the nights, it’s light. So now in September, we are already getting dark hours. But of course when you go more up north, then there is…actually the sun is really shining until midnight.

Chris: Right. Excellent. So what else would you recommend for an itinerary when we’re in Helsinki? Where is the great place to base ourselves first of all?

Inna: I would recommend to stay in the city center because then you have a walking distance to everywhere. Helsinki is not a too big city, so you can easily walk from one place to another or you can take the tram, you can buy a one-day or a three-day ticket which is inclusive of all the trams and buses, and trains. And also a great opportunity is to take the bike. I myself, I bike everywhere here around. And with the bike, you can also see how green the city is. I myself, I’m living actually on an island which is just 10 minutes away from the city center. If you take the bike from the city center, you can make a nice let’s say 20 kilometers bike ride around Seurasaari-selkä which is one of the in-bays around here and you can take a look to different islands also which are connected with bridges to the city center. And you can get to look how the people are actually living not far away from the city center, but totally middle of the nature.

Chris: Excellent. And when I pick up my guide book for Helsinki, they’re gonna recommend a number of sites. What are the sites that you recommend for people who are coming to the city? And what are the ones you just would skip?

Inna: I myself I’m not a big fan of like sites, sites. I rather go just to the city and feel the vibe and try to meet some local people and just to sit in a cafe and see how the people are going around you. We have actually a pretty new magazine called “You Are Here Helsinki.” And they have also a website which they just opened I think like a month ago or something like that. And they are having wonderful recommendations about bars and sites. And this autumn actually is a great autumn in Finland to experience arts because we have many, many different international artist having the exhibition here in Helsinki now.

So if you are looking for art, we have, of course, different museums. We have our modern art museum, Kiasma. We have our classical art museum, Ateneum, or National Museum where you can find, of course, the Finnish side. Also an interesting thing for art lover is EMMA, which is the museum a little bit outside from the city center in Espoo. Because Helsinki region is actually three cities combined, Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa. And all those three cities are offering different activities and opportunities for tourists. An interesting possibility could be also to live in Espoo because it’s only like 15 minutes by bus from the city center. And I know that nowadays you can find pretty nice Airbnb apartments from Espoo where you can…for example, Tapiola region is wonderful. That’s an old garden city build in 1950s and they have been renewing it now lately, and there’s lots of beautiful gardens and locals, and they have also a nice city center where you have all the shops and coffees, and even in the winter, they have a skating rink there.

Actually, we are also having a…because in Finland and in Helsinki, that’s maybe the easiest metro in the world because there is only one line and now they are about to make it longer. And actually here, opposite of my harbor, they have now the new metro station. And this metro will now, for the first time, go also to Espoo. So it’s even easier to get from city center to the suburbs, also to the western parts of the city.

Chris: And you mentioned…actually, I went over it when you were talking about it. You talked about getting out to the island that’s a UNESCO World Heritage fortress. We didn’t actually see what was on the island.

Inna: It’s an old fortress. I don’t know if you visited that during your visit.

Chris: I did not know. Actually, I went out to Porvoo when I was in Helsinki, one of the proposed UNESCO World Heritage sites, the old City of Porvoo. But not, I didn’t spend quite as much time in Helsinki. I think we had a chance to get to the Lutheran Cathedral and the Orthodox Church whose name is the escaping me, the Uspenski Cathedral.

Inna: We call it Onion Cathedral.

Chris: Well, and I can see why, it’s got the onion domes. And both of those I thought were very interesting. “The Lutheran one being more interesting on the outside, the inside is rather plain and protestant,” says the Lutheran. But it stands up there in a prominent position downtown. We did not get…speaking of churches, we did not get to the church of the rock, the Rock Church.

Inna: Yeah. That’s a beautiful…yeah, the Rock Church. That’s what I just wanted to say that if you wanna visit only one church during your visit in Helsinki, you definitely should go to the Rock Church. It’s called Temppeliaukion kirkko. It’s very beautiful and unique of a kind.

Chris: And you will notice during this, I will try and get through the entire episode without speaking any word of Finnish because Finnish is a hard language. As you got to pronounce Finnish phrases, I don’t even know how to spell them sometimes, but not an easy language to learn either for those of us who didn’t grow up speaking it, but of course, so many Finn speak English. Not difficult to get by in English in Finland.

Inna: Yeah. In Finland, you can go everywhere and you can speak English. And I think that the most…biggest reason for that is we have subtitles in our movies and TV series. So all the kids already they know the most important phrases in English. And of course nowadays when I’m looking to my kids who are now 7 and 8, and 13, they are almost fluent in English even before they start to study it because the whole game business, they are speaking English every day.

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When I get back to Helsinki and have more time to explore it, what’s gonna surprise me about the city?

Inna: If you were only in the city, you should give the opportunity to the nature. So jump into the bus and take the 30 minutes ride to the Nuuksio National Park. It’s actually only 30 minutes and you will be in the wild forest where you have the most beautiful lakes and rocks and paths. And they just opened three years ago the Finnish Nature Centre, Haltia, where we actually visited last January with our Nordic Bloggers’ Experience which is a great travel bloggers program in January in Helsinki.

This nature center will give you a wonderful view to the whole Finland’s nature, and of course, they will also help you to find a suitable path for your day trip in Nuuksio National Park. They have also an exhibition you can really experience the different seasons of Finland. It’s amazing when you are standing in the exhibition hall and the all hall around you will change from autumn to winter, from winter to spring, from spring to summer and you can see the wide screens around you showing you how the nature will transform different seasons. And, of course, there are lots of information about animals and even if you are planning a longer trip let’s say to Lapland for the lapland holidays or to another national park in Finland, you will get all these information from this nature center.

Chris: Excellent. And speaking of other seasons, we talked about going in summer. What would you recommend differently if I were there for instance in winter?

Inna: I definitely recommend you to come in winter as well. And I think that the best time to experience Finland or Helsinki region in winter is either around Christmas and New Year when we have lots of lights and also some events. Like in the beginning of January, we have the light carnival. So even this big, wide Lutheran Church which you mentioned, they have a wonderful light outside of the church where you have the music and light. And because it’s so dark during that time, all the different kind of light installations around the city, they are really beautiful. And if you wanna be sure that you wanna experience the winter, that’s, of course, something that we cannot more guarantee here in Helsinki because the times are changing and the winters are not more every year. So winterly, how I will say.

Chris: Winterly, okay.

Inna: Yeah. But maybe February is my favorite month. Because in February, you already have this bright and sunny winter days because the days are already longer. But normally, the temperatures and the snow situation is still really like feeling the real winter. Sometimes, we have the winter from the beginning of November until the mid-April. But lately like past three years, the winter has been more or less January, February and then March already, more or less boring months without winter, but no hope for spring yet.

Chris: Okay. And do you have a favorite day, the one day of the year that you wouldn’t plan any travels, you’d have to be home in Helsinki?

Inna: Home in Finland, I would say, definitely mid-summer. But that’s normally one of those days that all the travelers also say that it’s so odd to be in Helsinki because no one is there. And that’s true because everybody are escaping to the countryside celebrating the midsummer. So if you happen to be in midsummer in Helsinki, you should definitely go to one of those islands around Helsinki because most of the people will escape to the islands. But one of those days that I would like to be in Helsinki every year is the 1st of May. Because that’s one of those wonderful celebration days where all the students and wanna be students are celebrating. The beginning of spring, we are having a big picnic in one of the big gardens, Kaivopuisto, which is the most beautiful garden in city center. There are thousands of people coming together, there are bands playing and very traditional, very fun and very community party.

Chris: Excellent. You mentioned connecting with the locals is one of the things that you like to do when you travel. When I travel or one of the listeners travels to Helsinki, what’s the best place for us to go to connect with locals or the best activity for us to do?

Inna: I think maybe to go to one of those coffee shops is fun thing. And now also this summer, we have been very lucky because you know that in Finland and in Helsinki, sauna is a very big thing for us.

Chris: I’ve wondered how far we would get into an episode on Finland before sauna came up.

Inna: And I’m very happy to tell you that during this summer, we have just opened two new very nice public saunas. And of them is called Löyly. And actually the whole area where Löyly is located it’s near to the city centre, it’s called Hernesaari. And they have opened lots of new restaurants and it’s kind of new area where the vibe is just growing. And Löyly is open every day throughout the year and you can just walk in or you can reserve your sauna experience from the website in advance which is a great thing to do especially during the summer months or weekends. And for €19, you get all towels and shampoos and everything, you just go there with your swimming suits. And they have two big saunas, one smoke sauna and one like normal sauna. And you have also the opportunity to swim in the sea. And the whole building is very, very beautiful and it’s all made from wood outside. And they have also a nice restaurant and amazing terrace just facing to the sea. So I highly recommend to experience your sauna experience in Löyly.

Chris: Excellent. And you mentioned coffee shops, and I think a lot of us who are listening don’t realize the attraction for coffee in Finland. I didn’t know that Finn’s drink, I wanna say more coffee than any other country.

Inna: Yeah. I think so.

Chris: Or one of the top two. There’s some debate about it. But I think definitely in the running for the most coffee consumed.

Inna: That’s true, that’s true. In Finland, coffee is part of the culture and actually we just had this year also in our Nordic Bloggers’ Experience, we had even an entire slot about the Finnish coffee culture. Because it’s so evident that if you kind of not offer coffee to your guest, it’s kind of rude. So in Finland, coffee is everywhere and to sit in a coffee shop, I think that it’s kind of like quality of everyday life that you can offer yourself some time just to relax, sit down and enjoy a really good coffee. There in California, now, we have a Finnish guy called Kalle Freese who is actually one of the top 10 baristas in the world. And he has now developed an instant coffee which is high quality. So that’s something that hopefully soon the whole world will know how good the coffee from Finland is.

Chris: And when we talk about good, and I’m not a coffee drinker so I need some help here. My understanding is that Finnish coffee is in strength closer to American coffee than, for instance, espresso that I’d get in Italy, it’s not really a strong coffee because you’re drinking so much of it.

Inna: The normal coffee, it’s more or less close to the American coffee. But I would say that in Finland also, the new coffee culture, especially the new coffee shops and also this instant coffee, what Kalle Freese is now developing, it’s more the espresso style. So the quality of the coffee nowadays in Finland is coming from the special roasteries which are located also here in Helsinki. So the roasting of the coffee is very important part of the process and also the origin of the coffee. So in Finland, we are more and more talking about from where the coffee is actually coming from and how are the conditions in those countries that the coffee is coming from.

Chris: Okay. Ethically as well as flavor.

Inna: Yes.

Chris: Okay. Excellent. If I wanna learn more about Finland while I’m there, because that’s the kind of guy I am, are there any particular experiences or museums or something that you would recommend?

Inna: I would definitely recommend you to experience some music. Because I would say that for Finns, music is part of not only the culture, but also part of the identity. Like our big master has been…Sibelius, who has been like our national composer and they are organizing different kind of like, I think, short tours to Sibelius. Also in our new music hall, we have a wonderful national opera with high quality international well-known stars and of course the Finlandia Hall with different kind of concerts. But not only that, I would say also the urban music. For example, the Flow Festival organized always in the second week of August is to create experience to find out how the festival life looks like in Finland. And of course we have also many other festivals during the summer around music, but experiencing Helsinki and meeting the locals, I would say this Flow Festival is a great opportunity to do that. And in August, we also have the Helsinki festival weeks. And during this time, we have lots of different arts, lots of different music, concerts, theater, circus, street art. We have, it’s called “Art Goes to the Bars.” We have a night of choirs, we have night of arts. So maybe if I should choose one of the months of summer to come to Helsinki as a tourist, I would some in August because there is so much going on.

Chris: Interesting.

Inna: And then if you are planning to stay in Finland for a longer time and experience the night of midnight sun, then I would come in the end of June or beginning of July.

Chris: Excellent. You mentioned very early on going out to one of the islands or the restaurants that have boats, are there particular restaurants or are there particular dishes we should try when we’re in Helsinki?

Inna: There are lots of wonderful restaurants in Helsinki, and that’s also something that has changed a lot during the past, I think, 10, 15 years. So the quality of the restaurants in Helsinki in general has raised a lot. And you can get wonderful tasting menus with five courses like around €60, €70 euros, which I think is a good quality for your money.

Chris: Well, and at that level, do you have one or two restaurants that you would say if that’s what I wanna spend you should go here?

Inna: I think that one of the places I have to recommend is Gaijin. It’s located in Bulevardi in the same building with the Klaus K Design Hotel.

Chris: Okay. And that Gaijin, like the Japanese word for a foreigner?

Inna: Yes.

Chris: Okay.

Inna: The other recommendation I could give is one of the islands, it’s called Gula Villan meaning yellow villa. It’s on an island, Iso Vasikkasaari, it’s on Espoo side. But you can also go there with the…so you don’t have to have a private boat. And it’s a very beautiful island, you have a football court, you can do a nature walk, and then they have this very beautiful restaurant in an old yellow wooden villa there. And you can just spend your afternoon having a drink on the terrace and then the chefs are serving you an amazing meal. You can get fresh fish caught by the local fishermen, and of course, they do a nice barbecue as well. So that’s one of my favorite places where I try to go at least once in every summer.

Chris: And then if we’re in a more of a backpackers’ budget and that’s way out of our price range, any sort of simple local places that you would recommend?

Inna: I think that for this range, you have lots to choose from. Of course, in general, Helsinki is not the most cheapest city in the world. But I would say that, for example, we have a nice new kind of pizzarias. One which comes to my mind right now is Putte’s Pizzaria which is right in the city centre and they serve even pizza from reindeer meat.

Chris: Interesting. Okay. Well, and I remember seeing reindeer meat. I mean, that’s not that unusual. We saw reindeer meat sausages in the market, in the Metro Square there, and we saw reindeer meat sandwiches. So reindeer meat is more common there than it is where I live strangely enough.

Inna: Yeah, that’s true. But then also, maybe you should try Street Gastro, and that’s also something that has changed the restaurant life. In Finland, we have this so called Restaurant Day, I think three years in a row. And it’s organized like I think three times a year or even four times a year. And this means that everybody can open a restaurant for a day, thousands of restaurants around the city. And that’s also something that you should check if you are planning your trip to Helsinki. It’s a wonderful experience to come over during a Restaurant Day if you can choose…

Chris: It’s done in a particular time of year or…?

Inna: I think they organize like always in August and November, and in March, and then I think in May.

Chris: That sounds like a lot of fun.

Inna: So like four times a year. Yeah. And it’s always like I think a Sunday, and then you can really get a good street food. And for example, this Street Gastro has started during like one Restaurant Day and then they have developed it to a real good concept with easy and affordable test food concept.

Chris: Excellent. You were talking about Finnish food and it just reminded me…I mean, I have to indulge myself here as my show, tell a story. I only know one word of Finnish and I knew that because we had a Finnish exchange student, Marakatsantavaree [SP], who was in my hometown when I was in high school. And my best friend actually invented his own holidays at one point, August 17th, was, “Hop When Someone Says Rhubarb Day,” and she taught us how to say rhubarb in Finnish, raparperi. Years later, 20, 30 years later, I was in Tanzania and there was somebody who I was talking to who was a Finnish-American and he was proud of his Finnish heritage and he said, “Do you know what vegetable Finland gave to the world?” And I thought, “Well, I only know one word of Finnish, it happens to be a vegetable.” And so I answered him the correct answer in Finnish, raparperi, that rhubarb comes from Finland. And the look on his face was priceless. One of those useless facts that’s knocking around in my head.

Inna: When you come to Finland especially if you’re here in the beginning of the summer, May, June, even July, you can get wonderful rhubarb pies in all the coffee shops or with locals. And also talking about locals, I think they have now this new concept that you can dine with locals also here in Helsinki. You can book your dinner table from a home of a Helsinkian people, and also you can go I think jogging with locals. So there are different like types of new business where you can jump into a local’s life and that way experience a little bit more than…

Chris: And how would I connect with one of those programs?

Inna: From the reception of your hotels, most of them know about these programs. I don’t think that there is like one website for everybody.

Chris: One warning you would give, one thing I should know before I come to Helsinki. Safety probably is not as much an issue in Helsinki as some other places we talk about.

Inna: No. I think that’s one of the reasons that Helsinki is rising among these tourist. Helsinki and the whole Finland is very safe place to go and to live. Last week, we had some bloggers from Australia and Italy here and they visited my home, and they were just saying that, “Is your bike there just without a lock?” Or, “Are you just leaving your door open when you go for a walk?” And for us, it’s so natural that sometimes we forget to appreciate that. But when you come to Helsinki, maybe it’s good to know that even though we speak English and we understand, the Finnish nature is rather a little bit reserved, I would say yes. So for example, if you were coming to a conference being a keynote speaking and looking for lots questions after you speak, don’t be disappointed if there will be not dozens of questions from the audience because that’s just the nature of Finnish people. And maybe sometimes you can feel that also as a tourist, so the first feeling can be so that we are not so lively or open to discussions or small talk.

Chris: Before we wrap up with our last four questions, what else should we know before we come to Helsinki?

Inna: You should prepare for all kind of weather. Even if you are coming in the summer, it can rain anytime of the year. The nights are always cooler than like for us when we go to the Mediterranean, for example, the biggest difference for us is that also during the dark times, it’s warm. Because in Finland, normally, we don’t have like warm nights. So you should always have at least something warm to wear and to be prepared also for the rain. If you come to Helsinki, don’t go only to the sites and to the art museums, and to the restaurants, go also at least to the central park or to Nuuksio National Park or to the islands or the sea shore so that you can really feel the true nature of Helsinki and Finland.

Chris: Excellent. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Helsinki.”

Inna: I would say the sauna. We have lots of public saunas where you have like women side and men side separated, and you just go there. I think the nature and the feeling of those evenings, the atmosphere of those sauna evenings is really special. Actually if you wanna see a nice video about the Finnish sauna culture, one of my YouTuber friends, Timo Wilderness has just made a nice video about the public saunas in Helsinki.

Chris: Okay, we’ll put a link to that in the show notes so that people can check that out. You’re standing in the prettiest spot in or around Helsinki, I’ll give you around, where are you standing and what are you looking at?

Inna: I have to be honest to my home space which is Lauttasaari. Lauttasaari is an island just 10 minutes from the Helsinki city center, and when you go to the southernmost point of this island, there is a wonderful rock going to the sea. And you sit on the rock and you watch the sun going down to the sea. That’s the most beautiful view that I can imagine. And this is available to all the people coming to Helsinki. You just have to take the bike or the bus to Lauttasaari and soon the metro, and then you can walk by the shore. It’s 10 kilometers if you walk around the island and there is a nice walking way by the shore on every spot.

Chris: Excellent. Finish this thought, “You really now you’re really in Helsinki when…” What?

Inna: When you are experiencing the nature, the art, the culture and the high quality food during one single day.

Chris: Okay. And if you have to summarize Helsinki in three words, what three words would you use?

Inna: Sea, smile, nature.

Chris: Excellent. Our guest, again, has been Inna from the Finnish Family Travel Blog. Inna, do you have any post that you’ve written about Helsinki that we should particularly underline and send people to?

Inna: Yes, youareherehelsinki.com.

Chris: Excellent. And we should also say that if you’re interested in doing any marketing or social media marketing in the area and does that as well, and your company name there is?

Inna: Innastus.

Chris: Excellent. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well. Inna, thanks so much for coming on the Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your love for your own hometown of Helsinki.

Inna: Thank you, Chris, for inviting me. And welcome to Helsinki and for you also during the winter time.

Chris: In news of the community, as I mentioned, we’re doing two different Amateur Traveler trips in next year, 2017. There will be a trip to Japan in the first part of June. I’ll be putting up the details on that in a couple days here. First, I’ll be announcing it on the Amateur Traveler Trips Group with the final numbers for the price. Looks like it’s gonna be more expensive, a little more than $2,000 for that trip. And you can join the Amateur Traveler private Facebook group, amateurtraveler.com/trips, to be the first person in line for those. We’ve opened up the trip, November 4th for India and that’s so much less expensive trip as well. So check out, that is already on the website under the Book Travel tab.

With that, we’re gonna end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, send an e-mail to host at amateurtraveler.com or better yet leave a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com. You can follow me on Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram, or talk to me in the Amateur Traveler Trips Group. The transcript of this episode is sponsored by JayWay Travel, experts in Eastern European travel who I thank for their continued support. And as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

Travel to Helsinki, Finland (podcast transcript)

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by Chris Christensen

I am the host of the Amateur Traveler. The Amateur Traveler is an online travel show that focuses primarily on travel destinations and what are the best places to travel to. It includes both a weekly audio podcast, a video podcast, and a blog.



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