By Faris AlMussallam
It’s that time of year again when everybody begins to scramble within one question on their mind, “Where will I travel this summer?” For sure, you could stick to the usual suspects – London, Paris, Barcelona, Mykonos, and Dubai. But why not try something new? Isn’t the whole point of travel to explore more of this planet we live on? Why join the masses when you can visit a new city without compromising on having a good time.
This year, I suggest you head to Helsinki, the capital city of Finland. Although not a part of Scandinavia, it still shares much with its Nordic neighbors – long summer days, mild temperatures, great food, friendly people, culturally-rich with a twist of quirkiness that is only found within that band of countries.
Getting to Helsinki is much easier than you think, with one-stop options to suit all budgets through Doha, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and London.
Where to stay
My personal recommendation is the spacious and comfortable Klaus K hotel, which boasts a central location on Bulevardi, and puts you within walking distance of virtually any place you’d want to visit in the city. I also have to comment that the breakfast buffet was of a very high standard, with lots of hearty healthy options to help kick-start your day!
Finland, as a country, has made countless contributions to the art and design scene, with famous names such as Marimekko and Iittala. Another famous name that seems to have slipped from the minds of mainstream audiences is Nokia – the mobile brand that revolutionized how we interact with our mobiles, made them into brand status symbols, and by default rendered them extensions of our personalities.
Kiasma – My first stop on the art trail in Helsinki was the Museum of Contemporary Art – also known as Kiasma. Kiasma is the Finnish word for chiasma (a point at which paired chromosomes remain in contact during the first metaphase of meiosis, and at which crossing over and exchange of genetic material occur between the strands, to get technical), and is a nod to the building’s basic architectural design.
Amos Anderson Museum – The Amos Anderson Museum in Helsinki isn’t one you’d find easily, but nonetheless, I consider this place a hidden gem. The museum houses a bunch of quirky art pieces, and it’s that quirkiness that unites the displays, as you’d be hard pressed to find a common theme among the pieces. This is the kind of place that has paintings and sculptures that cause you to have a conversation with your travel buddy (or yourself, if you’re a solo traveler like me) on what art is, what qualities each piece has to elevate it to the threshold of art, and even the simple question, “Why is this here?”
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Where to eat
Olo – When one thinks of Finland, one rarely thinks of the high-end gastronomy. Olo, Finnish for the word “feeling”, offers a culinary journey that incited feelings of astonishment, wonder, curiosity, and the feeling of tasting deliciousness – whatever that word is. Everything on the menu comes from fresh ingredients, served straight from farm/barn to your plate and incorporates some very innovative dishes, such as a salad bowl which had edible flowers. Another dish to order is chicken liver with blueberry shaped into the form of an egg, and placed in hay, accompanied by a chicken skin cracker.
One of my favorite places to visit whenever I travel are places of worship. It gives one a sense of humility, as well as appreciation for the diverse ways people from around the world soothe their souls.
Kamppi Chapel (Chapel of Silence) – The Chapel of Silence is located in a busy commercial area, and almost looks like something extra-terrestrial. Smooth lines made of honey-colored wood envelop the chapel, and without any signs or indicators of what this is, it’s almost as if the peculiar design invites passers-by to come check out the place. Once you’re in, the same minimalism is reflected in the interior, and the lack of any edges or decor almost force you to into silence to observe and take in the silence.
Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church) – The second church I visited in Finland was Rock Church. And no, the name isn’t an allusion to any style of music, but rather a nod to the fact that it was built INTO a rock. I was excited to visit this place the most, as a lot of the “architecture” is left to nature, which I believe is a genius idea, as it leaves one to ponder nature’s majesty. Although Rock Church is certainly bigger than the Chapel of Silence, it still stuns you into silence once you walk in!