Last September I took myself to Helsinki to meet a girl I'd met online, with whom I bonded over our similar sarcoma diagnoses. She was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma about 2 years ago, we were of a similar age, and the more I followed her online the more similarities I noticed about us! I now consider Danna one of my best friends, and that trip to Helsinki was by far one of my favourite holidays ever. In this blog I want to tell you about some of the amazing things we did over the week, and why I think Finland is an amazing country.
Big White Church
One of the 'must-see' attractions in the Helsinki city centre is the Big White Church. As Danna calls it. Apparently it's really the Helsinki Cathedral, and it is stunning, especially with the sun shining on it, however my personal highlight of the Cathedral was the massive Panda we met outside.
One of my evenings was spent with Danna, one of her Finnish friends, and his airbnb guest, in a free, public sauna by the sea, called 'Sompa Sauna'. Saunas were literally invented in Finland and can be found everywhere. When we arrived, to a place that looked like the edge of nowhere, in an uber whose driver didn't seem to know where he was going, in the dark, you suddenly see some warmly lit huts and fairy lights, and as you get closer - lots of naked men wandering around! Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I did not brave the nude, but I did brave jumping into the freezing cold sea in the dark! Seeing the moon, and a slightly lit Helsinki in the distance, whilst floating in the Baltic sea, with a bunch of people I barely knew, was such an incredible experience. After about 30 seconds we swiftly made our way back into the sauna to *swiftly* heat ourselves up.
Danna and I then visited the more made-up sauna in the centre of Helsinki, Allas Sea Pool. A stunning setting, with a warmed swimming pool as well as just the sea, and a few extra saunas, including mixed and separate genders. After a few rounds of sauna-pool-sauna-pool we got dressed, and sat on a terrace, drank some wine as we watched the sun go down and just chatted the night away as we got progressively more tipsy... A perfect perfect evening.
Now, I may not have all the names of all the amazing places we ate, but if you do find yourself in Finland you must go for a buffet at least once - it's not only delicious, healthy, but also cheap! Finnish people (and actually every Scandinavian/Nordic country I've been to) eat so healthily - lots of fish, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and it suited me quite nicely. The place in the left photo was called Rupla, particularly great because you get smoothies and desserts included in the price. The one on the right was called Onda, and in terms of the food was probably my favourite (think warming stews and curry). Menus change daily, so you never get the same thing twice!
A holiday, or city break, for me would never be complete without one or two views. I feel that every city has their iconic viewpoint - be it a tower, a church, or just a hill. What's got to be my favourite was the view from the top floor toilet of Torni hotel/tower. They have a rooftop bar too but the toilet stole the show.
Helsinki Library (Oodi)
Hear me out - I know visiting a library sounds a bit odd for a holiday, but this is the most amazing/coolest library I have ever seen, and is also just a really cool building altogether. We only ended up visiting the library because all the museums we intended on going to were closed, but it turned out to be a highlight of my visit! The architecture of the building is amazing - a wooden facade with glass structures, and the interior is just as impressive as the outside. The library even has games rooms you can book as well as a 3D cutter area. We had a lot of fun following their robot librarian around, carrying books from one area to another, as well as spinning around in the egg chairs, and soaking up the rays on the gorgeous terrace.
Now this may sound random, but we took a little trip to Tallinn, Estonia, for a night, and if you have the time this is something I would definitely recommend. We spent the majority of our time in the gorgeous Old Town, which reminded me very much of Stockholm's Old Town. We also spent a lot of time eating and drinking. Tallinn is a lot cheaper than Helsinki, so needless to say we made (too much) the most of the cheaper alcohol, having particular fun in a bar called Labor, based on the concept of a chemistry lab, that included shots named 'poison' and 'chemo'. As a pair of cancer patients, we rather enjoyed ourselves.
I have so many other highlights from my time in Helsinki, but now I just want to list some of the things that are just great about Finland. Over the last couple of years I have developed a real love of the Nordic culture, and honestly would happily live there if it wasn't so cold!!
70% of Finland is forest. Just. Yes. It also has 188,000 lakes, and water everywhere, which I love.
It is home to Father Christmas.
Finnish/nordic design, architecture and general aesthetic is just so good to look at, and so comforting to be around.
Finland has 3 million saunas - going to a sauna is so ingrained in Finnish culture, which is literally tailored to relaxation, socialising, health, and available to everybody.
The country is extremely safe, with very low crime rates.
The current Prime Minister is a woman, and the youngest serving PM in the world! The current government is a coalition of five parties, all led by women. Sanna Marin's main policies focus on climate change, equality and social welfare. Wowzas.
Amazing coffee shops, as Finnish people drink the most coffee per person than anywhere else in the world. I forgot to mention above that if you do visit, please try and enjoy a coffee outside, with a blanket, by the water. So so nice!
Amazing childcare and parenting laws - mothers get almost a whole year of maternity leave, and fathers are about the get the same. Parents carrying a buggy get free use of public transport.
They have one of the best education systems in the world.
After all of that, I very well may move to Finland!
I hope you've enjoyed this blog, a bit of a different one for a change. I'm going to take the weekend off blogging, as am working all weekend and am quite busy over the next few days, but I will hopefully be back with another blog on Monday!
If you want to follow Danna online (she is amazing), I will tag her below. She has unfortunately relapsed, and is currently waiting to hear about what treatment she's going to have. I'm sure she'd appreciate your follows and love.
Thanks for reading, and as always would love to hear what you thought of the blog.