Tag Archives: travel

‘5 Things to do in Helsinki’

29 Jan

I like to talk about Finland, a lot. An awful lot. Recently I received an email from the international office at my home university asking if I would be a tour guide for a visiting colleague in May. Would I ever? I jumped at the chance, sending him a long email with all my recommended foods to try and how great Finland is and how much he’d love it. Actually, I may have overdone it, and as I’ve not heard back I assume that I’ve frightened him a little with my enthusiasm.

In a slightly more controlled manner I’ve written an article which gapyear.com have very kindly published, entitled ‘5 Things to do in Helsinki’. Even after only a handful of days spent there it was incredibly hard to pick only five, but I managed it and I’m really pleased with the finished result. Hopefully it will inspire a lot more people to visit and see the beauty that is Helsinki for themselves.

You can check it out here, let me know what you think and if you like it then please feel free to share it!

In other news, I’ve created a shiny new email account for all your questions and comments. Email me at finlandandback@hotmail.co.uk!

Hope you’re all having a great day!

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What’s Wrong With Finland?

15 Jan

Nothing. Nothing at all –  so why is so little known about it?

Before I came here, and when I returned to the UK for the winter break, I spoke to many people who said that they didn’t know much about Finland. Even I didn’t know that much before I arrived, and my research revealed little extra.

I consider Finland to be something of a hidden gem, a place of mystery and beauty – exotic, but not in a Thailand-is-exotic kind of way. Exotic in that the sky and water blend together on a sunny day, when they both turn to an incredible blue. Like in this picture taken at Hailuoto. If it hadn’t been for the direction of the tree growth I could have been upside-down and not known the difference.

In the winter the landscape reminds me of a gem – always beautiful, always glistening, no matter what you wear it with. Sun, blue skies, grey fog and cloud, or snow fall. It goes with everything and never fails to impress. Compare this photo with this and you’ll see what I mean. Imagine waking up to that every day.

Many think that outside of Helsinki there’s little to do, but I think these people are just looking in the wrong places. There’s plenty to do in Oulu – visiting the market hall, going to the Finnkino to watch a movie, catching up on your culture at the theatre or just taking a walk through the park and along the river’s dams. Even when it’s dark there are so many clubs to take part in, you’re spoilt for choice!

That said, the capital is still worth a visit and it’s nice to feel part of a busy city once in a while. Busy, did I say? Think London but taken down about a hundred notches. There are people going to work, sightseeing, shopping and just enjoying the air (which is still fresh and clean, even in the city), but an air of calm exudes the place. A twenty minute ferry from the market square will take you to the Suomenlinna Fortress, filled with grass and trees and sea views, the perfect way to relax on the weekend. There are art galleries and museums galore, the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum and the Finnish National Museum being my favourite to date.

Further north than Oulu there are national parks with opportunities for hiking or skiing, depending on the season, and plenty of chances to see the local wildlife. There’s Rovaniemi and the Santa Claus village (best visited in December) where there’s plenty of opportunities for husky sledding in winter – one of my favourite memories!

So, what’s wrong with Finland? Nothing. Perhaps it’s better to ask: what’s wrong with the people who aren’t visiting?

 

Tallinn

2 Dec

I arrived in Tallinn with a sickly stomach and feeling shattered. We hopped off the ferry and were greeted by graffiti and a grubby looking, torn about city. I remember saying: ‘I like it already’ and grinning and feeling much better as I plodded along the glass-splattered pavement into the city centre.

Sadly, this feeling was not to last.

Tallinn was a bizzaro, fake-feeling, tourist-populated city and sure it was pretty, but if you punched through the cardboard cut-out scenery all there was to see was guys with duffel-bags behind the scenes, blinking in the light.

The architecture was interesting, very medieval and quaint, and good to look at. The cobblestone pavements reminded me of my university city and I thought that this might bode well. But the streets felt claustrophobically narrow and uncomfortable after a while, as they seemed to have no regular pattern, and it was a relief to finally find our way through them and arrive at the hostel.

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This place was interestingly decorated, and I was incredibly pleased to find that tea and coffee were free. I was, however, disappointed to find a great cloud of flies hovering about the tin box. I made myself a cup to be polite but I didn’t drink more than a sip.  It’s was called the Alur hostel and it cost something like 16€ a night to stay. The weird thing about this place, apart from the slightly obnoxious, slightly spooky long-haired girl at the desk, was the fact that no lockers for our bags were mentioned but yet we found a couple of rows of them upstairs. We were early and ended up having to wait for our rooms because we didn’t just want to leave our stuff at the desk. Anyone else who goes should inquire and get back to me on this maybe I’m just paranoid but I got a bad vibe from the place.

After we had our rooms we headed into the city center and decided to use the last couple of hours of daylight by walking around the city. We saw so many souvenir shops that I lost count, a couple of churches and many, many Russian tour groups. No one in the shops seemed very pleased to see us or serve us and it was very disheartening whilst I was so tired. Everywhere we went seemed to lead to nowhere except more tourist shops and more dead ends. The next morning, in an attempt to enjoy the city on my own I went for my usual early morning walk. I was disappointed to find a dark, empty city, save for a few men in shadows who seemed to watch me a little too carefully. I was really scared and got spooked by a homeless guy watching me from the alcoves, so I headed back to the hostel as early as I could, stumbling through the winding streets.

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Despite my largely negative view of Tallinn there were some highlights though:

1. The Peppersack –  A great medieval restaurant, in which all the servers were dressed in medieval clothes. The place was huge inside and the food was really cheap – I think this was a gimmick used by the place which said that everything was 50% off, when I’m sure that the food was actually this cheap regularly, but anyway it tasted good. They had this incredible honey beer which tasted great, but sadly was only sold on the premises.

2. Draakon – Another medieval eating place, but this one was much smaller and darker, because it was mostly lit by candlelight. It gave it a great atmosphere – even if it was hard to see your money in the light. The pies were delicious an only 1€ and the drinks were only 2€. Great place to get breakfast before a long journey home. Be warned though, if you buy soup you have to sing for your spoon!

3. The viewing platforms – They gave the best view of the city – but don’t try the warm beer or glogi that they sell up there, it’s disgusting! It was nice to watch the sun set over the city, and I would have liked to catch the sunrise, but hey ho.

602558_10151270006599090_2060148392_nThese were the nicest pictures I took from the place, and I took them upon leaving the place. Kind of sums up my Tallinn experience. However, many people have loved their time their, so maybe it just depends. Perhaps its’s one of those things which everyone has to try.

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This concludes my Helsinki trip series as we spent a couple more hours in Helsinki while we waited for the train, time which I spent walking on my own through the city, then took the long seven hour journey back to Oulu.

I just got back from a week in Lapland too, so stay tuned!!

Also, thanks to all those who are following me, old and new followers! You guys are awesome =)

 

 

Suomenlinna Fortress

25 Nov

If I could choose an island to live on, this would rank high in my list of destinations. On a cold November morning we stepped off the boat and onto dry, crunchy leaves; proof that somewhere in Finland autumn still lingered on. The cold, wild wind sapped the moisture from our skin, despite the bright autumnal sun. The quite was permeated only by a tour group of Russians and the occasional tractor driving by.The island felts a million miles away from anything, but with the comfort of being only a twenty minute boat journey away from the capital.

Our arrival on the island

The boat costs only 5€ for a two way journey, and it’s free to enter the island. There’s a museum in the tourist information that costs 6€, but our little group was happy enough to take the opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise. Not much was open in winter anyway – for this reason I would suggest that if you plan to have lunch there you should take your own food, because the only restaurant was quite expensive. There is a cafe and convenience store, but we didn’t visit either so I couldn’t comment on the prices – my guess is that they’d be quite high though.

View from the ferry

A pleasantly autumnal day greeted us

Construction of the island began in 1748 and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991. The ferry to reach it is located just by the kauppatori (market square), not far from the city centre, and a big sign makes it easy to find. Once you land you’ll pass through a small tunnel and find a few little shops and a church on the other side. Further on there’s the tourist information and the museum, followed by more little shops and restaurants – all shut because of the season though.

So much blue, no wonder there is blue on the Finnish flag

Church bell

A grand memorial in the square

It’s a pleasant walk through the small village, passing a memorial stone, some old farm machinery and many, many cannons. I read that up to a thousand cannons can fit on the island at once – not bad for a small island.

Two of the many cannons

At the water’s edge it was beautiful – but freezing!

If you go in November make sure to wrap up warm, gloves, hat and all, because it’s bitterly cold right next to the ocean. If the weather’s good make sure to take advantage of it, because I wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip on a rainy day; everything is outside and there’s little change to get away from the weather. It’s a very beautiful island, but we spent maybe only two hours there – you could spend more if it was the summer though. A lonely beer bottle sat on one wall, a relic from the summer parties no doubt.

There were many little doors that led into buildings built into the ground – I’m not sure what most were but the restaurants on the far side were built like this too

There’s very little sun here in Oulu this week and looking at these pictures is making me miss it even more. But hey ho, there’s always next week =) I’ll be in Lapland so I may not be updating regularly,but I’ll try. Hope you’ve had a good weekend!

 

Review: Eurohostel

14 Nov

Being the first hostel experience of mine I was slightly worried about this aspect of the journey. I’ve heard so many horror stories about hostels that I was really expecting this to be an awful experience.

It was 7.45 when we arrived at the Eurohostel, I was groggy from a lack of sleep and I just wanted to throw my stuff down and get a cup of coffee. It was pretty easy to get to the hostel from the train station – about a half hour walk, which was nice at sunrise.

I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the hostel, finding a clean, large, well-lit reception area which was connected to a restaurant/lounge area. There was a row of telephones and lockers on one wall, and the other was home to a range of touristy leaflets and gifts. The menu for the restaurant looked kind of expensive for our budget and I just bought some rolls from the market square (which we really good!) instead.

 

Terrible picture but give me a break, I hadn’t really slept. That’s the main entrance and on the right is the restaurant. Behind me is the reception desk.

The girl at the desk looked of a similar age and was incredibly perky and welcoming, especially for that time of the morning. They had rooms for us already in the day (but if they hadn’t we could have locked our stuff up in the lockers easily) and she arranged a room for us for the second night too. They originally hadn’t had room but I asked out of interest and something had become available since our booking. My friend wasn’t sure that she wanted to stay there and whilst we were debating/arguing about this the girl intervened and said that she would reserve a room and if we didn’t want to stay we could let her know by the next morning and she would cancel it. I couldn’t imagine a hotel doing that!

Our room was huge and had a tv, a desk, two beds and a giant wardrobe – all for 23 €, towels included. Even the view was good for a hostel! I wish I had taken more pictures, because I really like this hostel.

 

View from the hostel

The bathroom was pretty clean, although it only had two toilets for a whole corridor it wasn’t busy whilst we were there so there wasn’t any waiting. The showers are a bit weird and a bit open – the doors are made of opaque glass which cover from your neck to your knees and have a nice big gap down the middle. I showered super early so no one else was around, but you can use your towel to cover it.

The second night we had a bigger room because two friends were joining us. It looked a little like this:

It was easy to get to town from the hostel – it was about a fifteen minute walk, past the port and through the market square. There was a k market just five minutes away too, for snacks and the suchlike. As it was 24 hour access we could come and go as we liked, so it was pretty much perfect. I slept great both nights, and will be heading back there for my next stopover in Helsinki (potentially all of my stopovers actually).

So, to conclude.

Pros:

– Clean, spacious, comfortable and CHEAP (23€ per night with student discount)

– Within walking distance of a supermarket and the city centre

– Super friendly staff

– 24 hour access, so no lock out

Cons:

– Slightly public showers

– Only two toilets per gender per floor

– Bit of a walk back from the bars etc in town

– Expensive food

Overall rating: 7.5/10

 

 

56: Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow…

26 Oct

So I haven’t got much to say about this week except that, as week’s go, it was bad. Perhaps my worst since I’ve been here in Oulu.

However, after a couple of days of watching Gilmore Girls, eating chocolate and generally being very soft on myself I was cheered up by the snow! It’s like it came just for me (at least that’s what I’m telling myself!)

 

 

 

 

 

52: Phew!

22 Oct

Okay, okay, okay, I am a BAD blogger. It has been nearly two weeks since my last blog, BUT I have an excuse.

Largely my time has been taken up with classes, lunching, essays and studying at home! I have managed to have a little fun too though.

Here’s what I’ve been up to, in pictures =)

A trip to Oulanka National Park, two days of hiking, delicious Finnish food and fun with my classmates. It was a great experience and I got to spend a lot of time with people who I have classes with daily but never get the chance to chat to. It’s a very beautiful place that I would highly recommend to everyone!

Oulanka was followed by a trip to Pannukakkutalo for some yummy yummy pancakes =) I had reindeer and smoke cheese for dinner and banana and caramel for dessert. Delicious!

The weather turned from this….

…. to this, within the space of a weekend.

I also met my kummi mother for a trip to the local art gallery which was great (although I forgot my camera so I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures!) and the cake was amazing!

This weekend I went to a very international pop quiz at my friend’s apartment, where I spent some time with friends and made a couple of new ones. Yesterday I tried macaroni casserole at my Finnish friend’s house, it was great!

Now I have to face a ton of essays (I’m currently working on five, with another three or so to follow) but it’s autumn break this week so hopefully I will have more time to write.

Hei hei!

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