Last year I enrolled to the Manchester Suomi school and started to learn Finnish twice a month. The class was mainly filed with English people with Finnish partners. I'd picked up one or two phrases from my partner and his family but still struggled with the language. I decided to try a new way of learning. Using post-it notes and a sharpie, I decided to label everyday household items to try and learn a few words around the house. So far, so good. I'm getting there and starting to remember words. I'm going to change the words every few weeks and try and expand my Finnish as much as possible. We're heading over to Helsinki in a week's time so hopefully I'll get to practice some of the words and phrases I've learnt.
So I've been visiting Finland for almost two years now and it's safe to say it's now my second home. I fell for the Scandinavian way of life as soon as I landed. Taking in a deep breath of fresh Finnish air as you step off the plane is an invigorating experience. While I'm still finding new places to visit in Finland, I spend most of my time between Espoo and Helsinki whenever I visit there. Over the last two years I've found many interesting places that are now regular stops when in town. I've decided to list my top 5 favourite things to do and will maybe add a second part to this post in the future.
1. Löyly Sauna
After spending a few days in Finland I quickly realised how important saunas (pronounced 'saow-na') are to the Finnish. Most, if not all, homes in Finland have a sauna and there are still a few public saunas left to experience. The first time I experienced Finnish sauna, the heat literally took my breath away! It was so hot! However, the more saunas I had, the more I came to appreciate them.
Last summer, I treated my partner and myself to a sauna at Löyly which is on the sea front in downtown Helsinki. Co-owned by the Finnish actor Jasper Pääkkönen, the architecture is a stunning wooden structure and really show the Finns have style. The sauna has 2 separate saunas as well as a bar/restaurant and an outdoor seating area where you can relax between saunas. This is also the place to take a post-sauna dip in the (usually freezing) sea, as is tradition in Finland.
The saunas are for both men and women so you stay clothed and can go into the saunas as often as you wish. The Finns love their saunas so expect them to pour plenty of water onto the sauna to increase the heat and release the loyly (Finnish for steam that rises from the sauna stove).
1. Pre-book and get a time slot, it gets very busy and booked up quickly.
2. We went in the summer but have also been when it's a bit cooler. A visit any time of year is enjoyable.
3. Remember bathing clothes are necessary so bring swimming shorts/bathing suit/bikini. Towels are provided.
4. There is a small store selling t-shirts, tote bags and other items. I'm not sure if they still use it there but the lingonberry shampoo in the showers is AMAZING.
5. Bar and restaurant are a bit pricey but a nice long drink by the sea is always a treat!
2. Coffee Shops
As much as I love a musta kahvi, the real reason I love the Helsinki coffee shops is the cinnamon rolls. They're delicious! The first coffee shop I visited in Helsinki one grey afternoon in January 2017 was Cafe Succes, which is a cute little place near the harbour. Another great, more modern coffee shop is Cafe Carousel a few minutes walk from Loyly on the water front. Both offer great coffee and cinnamon rolls as do most coffee shops in Helsinki, it's well worth trying as many places as you can, you'll soon discover you're own favourite.
Top tip: The cinnamon rolls are HUGE! Prepare to share!
3. Helsinki Design District
Helsinki has it's own design district where you can find a number of design shops, from fashion, home furnishings to book shops. Of course, there are galleries and exhibitions on in Helsinki all the time but you only have to keep your eyes open as there's no shortage of gorgeous design on the streets of Helsinki. Store fronts, tram-stop advertising and branding all showcase the Finnish design style. The best known Finnish design stores are Marimekko, Ittala and Arabia, all are beautiful. You'll see the Marimekko tote bags everywhere in Finland!
The interior design and architecture in Espoo and Helsinki are gorgeous. I've bought many books about Finnish interior design in some of the pop-up shops that are in Helsinki that offer the latest in design for the home.
Espoo Museum of Modern Art (EMMA) is the nearest art gallery when I'm staying in Espoo and has a great selection of Finnish art and design, housed in a great space, with a coffee shop and art store. You'll get to sit on one of the famous 1960's Finnish bowl chairs designed by Ero Aarmio in the lobby.
Top tip: Get one of the Design District maps from any of the stores in Helsinki and soak up the design!
4. Ice Hockey
The game was fast-paced and quite exciting. I didn't know the rules, but I could easily follow the game. A few fights broke out between players which was entertaining and the whole thing was a lot of fun. Since then, I've been to see the local Manchester team, Manchester Storm, play a few matched. It's not on the same level as in Finland in terms of production but is a new found interest.
Top tip: The game season is September through to April if you want to catch a game.
5. The tram
Last but not least, one of my favourite things to do in Helsinki is a tram ride. Public transport in Finland is easy and convenient, you just need a top-up card and you can use any of the public transport (bus, train, metro, tram) making getting around incredibly easy and convenient. The best way to see all of Helsinki is by tram is the tram lines run past all the major attractions.
Top tip: Depending on how long we're visiting, we either get a 7 day top-up or you can get a 24 hour top up if you're staying a shorter time. The HSL app is the easiest way to go and it's not too expensive to use public transport.
Now summer is over it means the leathers are hung up and the bike goes into hibernation until spring. After only a few weeks of autumnal weather, I'm already itching to get out on the bike again. Hopefully if the winter is mild I'll get to go for a few nice rides and break in my new Dainese one-piece suit for next year's riding season.