Ferry to Suomenlinna

Happier Times in Lahti and Helsinki

After a lonely week in Saint Petersburg, I was happy to travel to Helsinki. There were several reasons for it: I would see one of my best friends, Tiia, I had never been to Finland before and I’d be back in Europe. I had an amazing time in Russia (especially in Moscow), but I was still looking forward to wandering around European cities again. I was even happy to be able to use euros again (until I was asked to pay six euros for a mug of hot cocoa).

During the first two hours on the train, I was asked several questions, first by Russian and then by Finnish officials. They looked at my passport and visa and asked me about my luggage and whether I was carrying any cigarettes, alcohol or dangerous objects. And then all of a sudden the train stopped in Lahti, the city where Tiia lives. Our plan was that I would travel to Helsinki and then take another train to Lahti. Neither of us had any idea that the train would stop in her city, but we were happy to meet earlier, even though some money was lost.

Ferry to Suomenlinna


Anyone who has ever spent weeks or months at a time in a hostel will be familiar with the wonderful feeling of staying at a normal flat or house again. Tiia’s apartment, which we had to ourselves, was luxury, as was spending time with her, her dog and her cat. It felt like home, even if I’d never seen the place before.

Lahti is a city with a population of 120,000, located a hundred kilometres north of the capital. It lies next to lake Vesijärvi and has a port. It’s most famous for the ski jumping competitions that take place here. We spent the first day taking a walk around the neighbourhood. Tiia lives right next to lake Vesijärvi, which was frozen, and people were walking and skating on it. We finished the evening with rice porridge, a traditional Finnish Christmas dish, wine and Fleabag.

Frozen Vesijärvi
The frozen Vesijärvi lake in Lahti.

The next day, we visited the beautiful lake Kiikunlähde with Tiia’s brother and dog in the morning and took a walk around the centre of the town in the afternoon. The town itself is nothing special, but the lakes and forests surrounding it make up for that, as do the cute cafes and the port. Walking on the frozen lake is like taking a shortcut, but it’s also an adventure. We were scared the ice would crack every time we heard a noise.

girl in Lahti
Visiting Kiikunlähde, the lake which never freezes, near Lahti.


On the third day of my arrival, we took a train to Helsinki. We stayed in the Cheap Sleep Hostel, which is in Kallio, meaning “cliff” in Finnish. Kallio is a chic neighbourhood full of cool bars, second-hand shops and vegan restaurants. The hostel was huge, full of international guests, clean and offered free breakfast. It’s one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in and also quite affordable (for Northern Europe).

The first day was rainy, and we spent it walking around the centre and having overpriced coffee (10 euros for an Irish coffee, hello). We spent the evening in Tenho Restobar where we met Tiia’s friend, listened to a jazz concert and drank some more overpriced drinks.


An eventful day

The next morning, we joined a Free Walking Tour, which was very informative. We found out a lot about the history of the city and managed to see the main tourist attractions. We visited the harbour, the Helsinki Cathedral and the covered market in the harbour. After a tasty vegan lunch near the coast, we also had traditional Finnish cinnamon buns with another friend of Tiia’s.

Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral

In the afternoon, we took a ferry to Suomenlinna, an inhabited sea fortress built on eight islands, about four kilometres away from the city centre. It’s no wonder that Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World Heritage site; its buildings, paths and views of the sea are like a scene straight out of a fairytale. It’s easy to walk from island to island by crossing small bridges; the distance seems smaller than it actually is. Consequently, we ended up running back to the port in an attempt to catch the ferry. We managed to board it right before it departed, seriously questioning the level of our fitness.

That evening we returned to Helsinki’s harbour once again to visit the Allas Sea Pool: a complex with saunas and outdoor pools. It was only my second time in a sauna (the first time I felt like I was slowly suffocating). The experience was very positive this time, though. We decided to wear swimming suits, even though about half of the visitors were naked. They have separate saunas for men and women. We kept switching between the sauna and the outdoor pool, taking mandatory showers in between. Towards the end, we also checked out the sea pool and decided to take a dip in it. The water was freezing cold (2 degrees Celsius to be precise), but the rush of adrenaline was well worth it!

outdoor pool
The outdoor pool in Helsinki.

Until we travel again, at least we can write.

Writing this blog post was reminiscent of the days when we took travel for granted and when it was ridiculously easy to cross borders. I hope with all my heart that these days will return, rather sooner than later. But until they do, I’m happy with the memory of my last trip. My stay in Finland was great for many reasons: reasonably nice weather, good accommodation, great company and the perfect balance between exploring, chilling and adventure.

vegan cinnamon bun
A vegan cinnamon bun and some coffee.

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