At the end of February, I travelled to Denmark, Finland and Estonia. The main reason for the trip was for the Interaction 16 design conference that was held in Helsinki. Fortunately I was able to find a way to incorporate a 24 hour layover in Copenhagen as well as a day trip to Estonia during my 10 days abroad. In the last 8 months, I've visited 13 countries so being able to travel far was really exciting for me.
Copenhagen was love at first sight. What I really fell in love with was the design. Lately I've been really into Scandinavian home design and how minimal everything is. Even though I was only in the city for 24 hours, I was able to get a really good feel of the place. As a seasoned traveller, I knew how to pack my day in while meeting locals, eating traditional Danish foods, and still being able to enjoy the culture and newness of the place without feeling overwhelmed. My airbnb host in Copenhagen was the sweetest lady. She even lent me her spare bike so we could bike together Sunday morning to grab pastries for breakfast in Nyhavn where the infamous colourful houses sat by the water.
My first impression of Helsinki was very different than what I imagined. It was my first time in Finland so I didn't really have any idea what it'd be like. It turned out to be a lot more city-like than what I originally thought. Helsinki was a very safe and liberal city with locals everywhere. My hotel was smack in the middle of the shopping district (so tempting to shop!) and right across from the Fazer flagship store. During the few days before the conference, I explored Suomenlinna island, the Senate hall, City hall, Uspenski Cathedral, and the Rock church. etc. Suomenlinna is an old military fortress on an island just off the coast, which now is home to many residents as well as a few cafes and museums. The whole island is a UNESCO world heritage site and a really nice place to spend some solo exploring.
The pastries and food in Helsinki was definitely my type of comfort food — cinnamon rolls, salmon soup, mashed potatoes, meatballs, more salmon...all that good stuff. The food itself was I even got to try reindeer, roe deer, boar, and blood sausage. I didn't particularly like any of the new meats that I tried but figured I should try it since I wanted to live as locally and authentically as possible.
In the middle of the week, I took a day trip to Estonia which was really exciting! It was a very spontaneous last minute decision when I decided to cross the Baltic sea by myself to explore Tallinn, another UNESCO world heritage site. It was a small medieval town that felt like it was straight out of the movie Shrek. I loved how colourful and playful the doors and buildings were. During my time in Estonia, I met two girls from Japan who were also travelling from Helsinki. I spent my day exploring with them trying to hit all the viewpoints in Old Town. It was interesting hanging out with them because they knew very little english which made me wonder how often we miss opportunities to meet and bond with people due to language barriers. But regardless, we managed to understand each other thanks to Google Translate. Meeting people like these two girls were one of the reasons why I was so excited to travel alone; simply having an open mind and meeting people who lived life differently excited me. We ended our day with a very authentic meal at Konstan Molja - Very traditional food - basic, but really wholesome and authentic.
One of the coolest things I experienced in Helsinki was probably the traditional saunas (and the speakeasy 😜🍸). I was lucky enough to go to Yrjönkatu Swimming hall, Finland's oldest swimming pool + sauna with a few local designers that I met through a coworker. As part of the sauna tradition, you go naked (!!) in a 85c degree sauna where it's separated by gender. The swimming hall itself hasn't changed much since the 1920s so it really felt like I went back in time. After visiting the sauna, I experienced a very cool speakeasy called Chadwick and Trillby hidden in a empty street by the city hall. There were no signs or any indicators that there was a bar inside (which is the whole point of a speakeasy). There was however an old 1920s style phone which we used to 'call' to ask for a detective which is how we were let in. The inside of the speakeasy reminded me of the Great Gatsby movie; very ornate, decorative, and luxurious. At the end of the week, I finished my trip off with a fancy dinner at Chef & Sommelier; a one Michelin star restaurant. The food is Nordic and they focus on locavore ingredients. It was cool hearing Chef Sasu share with us where all the ingredients came from and how local everything was; some the garnishes were literally grown inside the restaurant!!
Overall, my trip was fantastic. It was especially nice travelling in the middle of Feb/March so that I got to break up my routine a little bit to feed my wanderlust soul.