Country #72 - Finland

The Snow

This morning my mom and I, unfortunately, had to say goodbye to Amsterdam after a perfect two days. It was a really early morning at that, as our flight from Amsterdam to Helsinki was at 7am. We took an Uber to the train station (because transit was not running yet) and then took a quick train to the airport. Now that we are in the Schengen Zone we didn’t have to go through immigration so the process at the airport was really simple. It wasn’t too long of a flight thank goodness, but we made a new friend on the flight! My mom chatted more than me but Ralph talked with us about lots of different things. Feel free to check out his blog (ralphslond.com)! You never know what kind of cool people you will meet on an airplane.

After we landed we took the train into Helsinki. It is super simple and is actually one of the first places that I that I travelled on my own when I studied abroad, so it definitely holds a special little place for me. I loved my last visit to Helsinki and was really looking forward to today! We were in the city in about twenty minutes and stored our luggage in the lockers in the Helsinki central train station. Our next stop was to eat lunch at a great little burger spot near the station called Friends & Brgrs. It was a great place to just look out at the city, which was especially interesting today because it was Finland’s 100th anniversary of Independence! We had no idea until we were leaving Amsterdam that today was so important in Finland, but hoped that it would make the day even more interesting!

After a filling lunch, we made our way to our first stop of the day, to try and find my mom a new memory card for her camera because hers had broken. We quickly found out, however, that 100 years of independence means that literally every store is closed. Restaurants and most tourist sites tended to be open though! Our first actual stop of the day, then, was the Kamppi Chapel of Silence. Kampii Chapel is a spiritual building (but not technically a church) that is open to everyone. The coolest part about it is that is just open for anyone to come in and sit and think, and it completely cuts off all outside noise from the busy square just right outside. It is also a really uniquely designed building, which makes sense when you learn that it was built as part of the World Design Capital program in 2012.

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After enjoying the silence we made our way to Kissima, Helsinki’s Modern Art Museum, and honestly one of the best modern art museums I’ve been to! What is so impressive is that both times I have been to Kissima it has been entirely different, but both times it has been incredibly innovative and insightful. This time was especially cool because the current exhibits focused on technology and art. If you ever find yourself in Helsinki this museum is a must see! What was also pretty funny was that while we were in the museum we saw a van accidentally run into a statue outside. I say run into, but it was more like a gentle tap. That gentle tap, though, caused a giant leak in the van, and as we progressed through the museum the scene outside progressed from the guy in the van realizing he screwed up to the police and a tow truck on the scene.

After Kissima we headed over towards Helsinki Cathedral, one of the most iconic spots in Helsinki. I love how giant and imposing the church is, but also how simple and beautiful it is! My visit this time stood in stark contrast to last – there was absolutely no one there when I visited last February, but this time there were crowds everywhere due to the adorable Christmas market! It was truly the perfect setting for a Christmas market, right in front of the incredible Helsinki Cathedral. The stalls were all very original and local which I really appreciated. We really enjoyed walking through all of them, and I was very excited to find that Regatta Café, one of my favorite stops on my last trip to Helsinki, had a stall as well! It is a cozy little café on the edge of a tiny pond out of the center of the city so we didn’t have enough time to see it today, but the stall was definitely a good way to make up for that! We had some tasty (and warm) hot chocolate and a great plum pastry as well.

Once we finished at the market we then walked over to the Market Square area which was filled with people for the Independence Day celebrations. There were one hundred Finnish flags set up which was really cool, and the area in general is a great one because it is right on the water. Our last stop of the day was to walk up Esplanadi, which is sort of Helsinki’s high street and was adorably decorated for Christmas. In fact, Helsinki killed it with the Christmas decorations. It felt like there were beautiful street decorations around every corner, and each street was unique. It was great! After walking down Esplanadi and passing by Stockmann department store to look at their great window decorations, we then headed back to the central station to get our bags and buy a few snacks.

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From the central station, we took the tram straight to the West Terminal, where our ferry/cruise (I’m still not quite sure what it would be classified as) was leaving from. We are taking the cruise from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, Russia, and then back again in two days. The exciting part about doing St. Petersburg this way is that we don’t need to get a Russian visa, which can be about $300. Taking this ferry (the Moby/SPL line) saved us cost and also was not too bad on time as both rides we would be sleeping overnight. We checked in and received our boarding card/room key, arrival card, and departure card. We then walked up to board the boat and headed to our room. It was tiny, but I’m glad we at least splurged to not have the beds right on top of one another! The room felt kind of like a hostel level accommodation, but we did have our own small bathroom at least, and the room was clean.

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We got settled in our tiny space before heading up to explore the boat. There were a few restaurants, a casino, lounge, sauna, movie theater, and a few other amenities. We decided to eat pizza and were able to watch as Helsinki faded away into the distance, as did my cell service. We were soon in the middle of absolute nowhere (technically the Gulf of Finland), and after we finished eating we headed back down to our room. We both fell asleep really early as it had been such a long day and we were exhausted. I’m hoping to get a good night’s sleep on the boat before we hit the ground running in St. Petersburg in the morning!

72 countries down, 125 to go.