Helsinki

Our first stop on our break back in Europe was Helsinki, home to my lovely wife. Finland, somewhat on the edge of Europe and mostly famous for ice hockey and heavy metal bands (plus the late Nokia mobile phone brand, R.I.P.) is certainly not known as the number one tourist destination. In fact, whenever we tell people that Natalia is from Finland they tend to respond “we’ve been to Sweden, but we never made it to Finland”. But for me the “land of swamps” (as they call it themselves) has some unique unpretentious beauty. I might be a bit biased though – on the one hand since it strongly reminds me of my own home in the North of Germany, and well, because it brought forth my wife on the other hand.

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Regardless, Finland certainly has a number of things going, the beautiful nature and very liveable cities, for instance. And when I write “cities” there really is only Helsinki. Finland’s capital doesn’t have the longest of histories, but it certainly has some very nice spots – and the only market square known to me directly by the sea.

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Helsinki Cathedral (better know as the White Church) in its elegant simplicity is one of my favourite churches around the world – but that might just be my Protestant mind speaking. Overlooking Senate Square it stands at the heart of the city.

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If you are more into rich decoration, Uspenski Cathedral (aka the Red Church), its Orthodox counterpart might be more to your taste.

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But above all, Helsinki’s location by the sea along countless bays and surrounded by lush forest puts your soul at rest. No matter where you are in Helsinki you won’t be too far away from the nature.

The best way to enjoy the Finnish countryside is in one of the typical summer houses or mökki. Virtually every Finnish family has one, and once you made it past the somewhat shy and introvert nature of Finnish people and became friends, don’t be surprised if you’re invited to come along for a weekend trip. The quintessential experience is of course sauna – Natalia keeps telling me that the only real way to bond with a Finn is to sweat together naked with a cold beer in your hand!

Finnish food is certainly no haute cuisine, but once you’ve tasted the hearty rye bread you won’t ever settle for less. One of my favourite variations is karjalanpiirakka – and if only for the pride I take in being able to pronounce this (more or less). Another Finnish speciality is salmiakki – salty liquorice. I’ll admit it’s a bit of an acquired taste – most people not familiar with it will question the sanity of any person who’d consume it voluntarily. We’re, however, both addicted to it, and there’s plenty of options to enjoy your fix of salmiakki – in addition to the regular candy you can find it in vodka, chocolate, ice cream, and even crisps…

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Last but not least, Finland has the most amazing Internet connection ever. With transmission rates completely off the charts and unlimited 4G mobile data from as little as EUR0.89 a day there’s virtually (pun intended) no reason to leave your home – which will come in handy if you find yourself in Finland outside the two weeks of summer per year…