It’s been a while since I’ve posted about travel. Life — as it happens — got in the way. But I finally got my wings back and I feel enriched in a way that I haven’t in some time. In my twenties, I launched into travel after heartbreak and in my thirties, it would appear that it’s been revived by love. Go ahead barf away (I won’t lie, typing that made me gag a little.) But it’s true nonetheless. Anyway on to the good stuff.
Finland. We landed in Helsinki in the dead of the night, grabbed a shuttle to a nearby hotel to crash and then picked up our rental car and headed up north. I was hellbent on seeing the Northern Lights and if that meant driving 12 hours to the Lapland then that’s what we were going to do. Finland in September is lush with Autumn colors. The roads are well maintained but mostly two-lane and you can drive for miles and miles and only see one or two other cars.
We stopped in Tampere for lunch and through the blog of an expat American living in Finland, found Kauppahalli, this fantastic marketplace with a wide variety of things to taste. If you’re traveling in a large group or are a foodie this is the place to go. Walk around and you’ll find bread shops, jam shops (get the cloudberry jam), famous fish soups, meats, desserts, and souvenirs.
From Tampere, we drove to Oulu, Finland. Oulu is a small town on the western border of Finland which touches the Baltic Sea. Great for walking around, the area is surrounded by tiny islands that are connected by bridges. If you’re into food there’s also a fantastic restaurant Sokeri-Jussin Kievari restaurant known for their karelian pie, salmon soup, bread cheese Leipajuusto (cream and cloudberry jam), homemade cloudberry ice cream, compote. The cloudberry ice cream alone is worth a visit.
Also, look out for these fantastic walking signs everywhere on the streets. Love it.
On your way out of Oulu, to stop and stretch your legs during the long drive, you’ll want to stop at Cafe & Bar 21 in Rovaniemi, Finland. The hot chocolate and waffle desserts are amazing. They also have this super creative vibe that makes you want to pull out your laptop and tell a story.
Once we finished writing, drinking and stuffing our faces (just kidding we didn’t write, but we thought really hard about doing it.) We made our way up to Kakslauttenan.
The entire Northern area above Noway, Sweden, and Finland is called the Lapland and it’s known for being one of the best places to spot the Northern Lights.
Since this was our honeymoon we splurged and got a cabin with an igloo attached. An oasis in the Arctic. Equipped with our own sauna, fireplace, kitchen, living room, and incline beds inside the igloo sipped hot chocolate and waited for the Northern Lights to show up. We waited and waited some more and then realized the darn clouds were just not going to go away, so we went to eat came back, started a fire and looked up just in time to catch a faint glimpse of some green in the sky. Once we caught a glimpse it became an obsession which I’ll talk more about when I get to Iceland.
The great thing about having this cabin for two days was that there was hardly a need to leave it. We went on a hike but the weather wasn’t cooperating, we fed some reindeer at the reindeer farm on the property and then we were forced to do something we hardly ever do. Relax. At first, it was hard, we’d sit and then talk about what we should do next but then I crawled under the covers to get warm and became a bear in the dead of winter — hibernating.
Relaxed and ready for more sightseeing we booked it back down to the port of Helsinki and made our way to Tallinn, Estonia.
When we booked our trip to Finland we started asking friends who had been for suggestions on where to go and three out of the three people we asked told us to go Tallinn. Weird. We’re asking you about Finland and you’re telling us to go to another country? Humm…
Just a two and a half hour boat ride from Helsinki to Tallinn we disembarked from the boat and immediately understood why everyone told us to visit.
A town that modern and medieval it’s a mixture I’ve never seen before.
The town is 100% walkable. So much so, that I would say a car is more of a hindrance than an asset. Here a few highlights:
The St. Petersbourg Hotel. This 700-year-old hotel looks simple from the outside, but it’s full of decadent art and design on the inside. Also, their customer service is top notch making it worth the higher priced rooms.
For places to eat, there is the famous Pegasus (shown above) which has one of the best chai tea’s I’ve ever had and this snack plate with crispbread, and meat, fish, and vegetable paté’s was phenomenal. Also if you’re looking for a more traditional meal Olde Hansa is a must. The servers are dressed in traditional costume and the whole atmosphere is like being transported back in time.
And then, before you go you MUST MUST MUST visit this bakery, KALAMAJA PAGARIKODA, in the Northwest part of town. You can the smell the fresh pastries as you walk up the block. They’re served warm and just melt in your mouth.
Old town is small so you don’t need a map. If you decide to stay at the St. Petersbourg, just orient yourself from there and wander. You won’t get lost and you’ll find lots of cool little gems hidden along the way.
And to cap off the trip, we spent some time in Suomenlinna. A Unesco World Heritage site, the fortress was built in 1747. The island is built almost entirely of stone. There are long pathways where you can wander around the island but the most interesting thing was these tunnels which run so deep that even the during the day it’s pitch black inside. We went in the evening and most everything was closed, so I would recommend doing this during the day.
End cap: The fish in Finland is amazing every time. You can’t go wrong. Their coffee however is hit or miss (mostly miss) but their hot chocolate is superb. Always get the hot chocolate.