To balance mine and Nick's differing preferred travel styles we often have to come up with some compromises. If left to my own devices I'd fly everywhere in economy and Nick, for various reasons that do make total sense, would fly everywhere business class. As we'd prefer to sit together on flights we compromise and take shorter flights in economy and then either use points to upgrade or find fun and interesting ways to make business class happen without breaking the bank. This time around we found a good deal with Finnair but our flight had to originate outside the UK to make it work. We slept at Gatwick airport so that we'd be able to catch the 6am flight to Stockholm where the business class fun would begin. We actually hung out at Stockholm Arlanda for ages but lounge access made that fun rather than a tediouous and boring ordeal - there were beanbags! And wifi! And free crackers! After catching our flight to Helsinki we spent 36 hours there on layover and then caught our onward flight to Bangkok. It was a fun journey for sure and my favourite bonus (okay, getting a flat seat is pretty okay too) was getting to explore Helsinki. I've always wanted to visit Finland and Helsinki seemed like a great place to start. It must've made a great impression as I've been talking non-stop ever since about spending some time exploring the Nordic countries in the not too distant future.
We arrived pretty late and pretty hungry so after navigating our way through the shiny new still-in-construction airport and purchasing a couple of two day HSL rail passes, which are valid on all forms of local transport including trams and ferries, we were on our way.
I'd scoped out dining options in-between the central station and Eurohostel, our chosen place to crash during our Northern adventure, and come up pretty lacking as it was after 6pm when we arrived. It seems like in Finland, just like in the UK, a lot of places close super early. Our best bet seemed to be a stop at K Supermarket followed by a bed picnic and as soon as we stumbled upon the Wheaty section I knew we'd hit the jackpot. Soon we had bread, tofu, faux meat slices and cream cheese for dinner, juices, yoghurts and a snack bar for hostel breakfasting and, the most exciting thing ever, Delicatoboll's!
I tried Delicatobolls years and years ago at Ikea and then one day the blue boxed treats were gone and in their place were spheres with the same name but different ingredients. The new ones were very un-vegan and I'd resigned myself to never eating them again thinking that the new had replaced the old for good. Needless to say this box of oaty, chocolatey, coconutty delicacies didn't last long and another box was purchased before we left town.
The next morning after catching up on the sleep we missed at the world's coldest airport terminal (If you're reading this Gatwick South, turn down the damned air con!) we headed to Cafe Kokko hoping that they'd have vegan cake, matcha lattes or hot chocolate. I was left feeling like we hit the jackpot because when I asked which cakes were vegan I was met with the best response ever - "They all are". I think the look on my face said it all and we selected a Snickers Cake Slice and a Mint Chocolate Brownie to go with our soya milk hot chocolates.
Cafe Kokko share their space with Roomage, a vintage interiors shop, which means that the interior of this place is both gorgeous and ever changing and that sometimes you look like an idiot when you pick a table that's for sale not for seating because you can't read the signs! Once we were settled at an appropriate table I was excited to see a real life copy of the Humans of New York book, it's even more fun in print than it is online, and it made an enjoyable read whilst we happily warmed up and enjoyed some of the most delicious cakes I've ever eaten. I feel like I have to add a little warning in here that Cafe Kokko is on the pricy side, I travelled to Finland with a full awareness that it was gonna be pricy, the average cost of a pint of beer hovers around €7, but I wasn't expecting our relatively restrained order to come out at €25! It was worth it, the cakes really were that good and I adored the cosy atmosphere, but wow, I felt glad we weren't stopping for a week because neither our SE Asia suitable clothes or budget could've hacked it.
After spending just the right amount of time cozied up in the cafe we headed for HAM, the Helsinki Art Museum, where I'd read that there was currently an Ai Weiwei exhibit. I'm a fan of his art and activism but have missed out on almost every showing of his work due to my constantly being in the wrong country at the wrong time... This is also how I recently managed to miss out on seeing L7 live by about 10 hours but I don't wanna talk about that!
It was great to see his work in the flesh as it were and I also enjoyed checking out the rest of the exhibits in this small, popcorn-scented (there's a movie theatre in the building), museum. Even the bathrooms are gorgeous and I took a moment to selfie it up with my shiny new camera. I'm so excited to be branching out from my iPhone 4S, hopefully soon you'll notice a bigger difference in the quality of my photographs as I master aperture and ISO!
After a walk in Esplanadinpuisto park one afternoon we took a little detour to the Aikatalo branch of eco-store Ekolo which is 100% vegan despite the other stores in the chain only being vegetarian. Cool, huh?
I was impressed by Ekolo's huge range of vegan meats and cheeses as well as their body care products and organic veggies. I was also pleased to see plenty of my favourite chocolate brands making an appearance but I was most excited when I discovered a small selection of pastries to take away which included apple filled doughnuts - my favourite!
Sen Chay was our location of choice for dinner that evening, despite having Asia in our sights we knew that Vietnam wasn't going to be on the cards this time around so, with that in mind, we figured that this might be the best chance we'd get to order some of our favourite dishes.
It was a toss up between the three soups available but I chose the Banh Da because it had both faux pork and tofu - I hate having to choose between proteins, gimme all of them.
It was unsurprisingly not as amazing as the bowls of Pho or the steaming hot pots we devoured on the streets and pavement cafes of Vietnam but this came as no surprise. The more I travel the more I realise that food is best when and where it's grown so a rich tomato based stock or stew is just inherently going to be better in Vietman (or even Albania) where tomatoes grow naturally than in northern Europe where they're at best greenhouse grown and at worst shipped halfway around the world after being blasted with chemicals to turn them red en-route. (Have you read Tomatoland? It opened my eyes to some of the terrible things we feel the need to put the little red orbs, and the farmworkers who pick them, through) That said this was hearty, filling, and more importantly, warming meal and at €8.50 each it was also a whole world cheaper than the majority of options available which, after those hot chocolates earlier, we were sincerely grateful for.
One wonderful and kinda free thing to do in Helsinki is to ride the small ferry over to Suomenlinna, an inhabited sea fortress built across six islands just 20 minutes away from mainland Helsinki. Due to it being minus 2˚C and having a plane to catch we just rode the ferry there and back for warmth and to check out the view but in early autumn, late spring or summer I'd highly recommend hopping off and checking out Suomenlinna, it's a UNESCO World Heritage site where locals go to picnic when the weather's nice and it looked really pretty. The HSL ferries leave the east side of the market square one to four times an hour - check the schedule here - and you can board with your regular HSL ticket.
One tram and then a speedy train later and we were safely beck at the airport and ready to envelop ourselves in the muggy, sultry, warmth of Bangkok - more on that soon. As you can tell I loved this stopover and I'll definitely be back. Have you been to Helsinki? What did I miss that I absolutely have to check out next time?