Finland. Fin. Land. Finfreakinland. Finland!!!!! I’m still in disbelief as I type this. When the incredible Zapwater Communications team asked me to document the new Finnair Stopover Program, I knew it was an experience I couldn't turn down. The program gives passengers flying to destinations in Europe or Asia the opportunity to spend up to five(!) days in Finland for a discounted rate. I can assure you, it was absolutely magical.
But first, I had to get there. Sunday morning, after going over my meticulous packing list for the ninth time, I called a car and headed to O'Hare with plenty of time to spare
Moments after leaving my house for the airport, I realized I forgot my camera charger. I asked my to turn around and somehow the ride got canceled. Unfortunately, he was quick to kick me to the curb because other calls were coming in so I quickly had to get another ride. After the charger was received, I was forced to wait in standstill traffic for nearly an hour getting me to the airport one hour before my flight which was too late to check-in. After much pleading, I thankfully was able to get my ticket but was immediately struck with the security line from hell. Praise living in the midwest because each and every kind individual let me by in line. I arrived at the gate right as my group was boarding.
As I walked on the plane, I was told to turn left (wait, don't you mean right?) and to my disbelief, immediately was handed a glass of champagne. That has surely never happened before. Who knew in Business Class, they come around with wine and snacks on the reg? And a give you a dopp kit with slippers followed by a three course meal? And fully reclining seats with sound canceling headphones? And a window in the bathroom? Okay I'm done...it was a cherished 8 hours to say the least.
We arrived in Helsinki Monday morning, and checked in at the gorgeous Hotel St George. It was the opening night for the hotel, so we had the privilege of being the very first guests to stay the night.
After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we headed out to have a delicious lunch at a little pizza parlor called Putte's. After filling our bellies, we walked off the calories touring the city with Happy Guide Helsinki. It was 75 degrees, sunny and gorgeous, the perfect weather for our first day of sightseeing. Picking one spot as a favorite overall is impossible, but I pretty much fell head over heels the moment I walked into the Helsinki Cathedral. The elegant drama of the space totally blew me away, and I loved how central to the city the cathedral was.
The next day My Helsinki gave us a tour of the captivating Marimekko print and textile factory. As soon as we stepped inside we were met with absolutely stunning designs. The factory was filled with the wonderful, heady smell of paint and fabric. Seeing the intricate prints come to life right before our eyes was incredibly inspiring. After our factory tour, we headed to Löyly, a delightful spa located right on the edge of the Baltic Sea. One thing I learned on the trip is that the Finnish sure love their saunas. ot only in the winter but also in the summer so it was such a treat to get the authentic sauna experience. Fun fact, there are more saunas than cars in Finland!
Later that evening, we enjoyed a delicious 6-course meal at one of the best restaurants in Helsinki called Chapter. Their drinks were almost too beautiful to drink...almost...
After spending two nights in Helsinki, we headed to our second destination through Finnair's Stopover Program. My group had the privilege of heading north to the capital of Lapland called Rovaniemi. Not only is Rovaniemi the capital, it's also the home of SANTA CLAUS! That's right, the official Saint Nicholas. And his reindeer. I asked if Santa ever got a day off if he's sick and Salla, our Visit Rovaniemi tour guide, said no, Santa's never sick. So he must be the real deal!
The next morning, we walked to the Arktikum Museum and learned about the fascinating history and culture of Lapland. Learning about the Northern Lights and Arctic Sun was so interesting. In June, the sun never sets in the Arctic Circle. There is complete 24-hours of daylight. We visited in May so around midnight the sun dropped slightly, but there was never complete darkness. Starting in December is when Polar Night creeps into Lapland. This is when there is complete darkness for 24-hours...dear lord I think I would need to do a temporary leave of absence. But it was incredibly surreal to never see the sun completely set.
After our time at the museum, we were kindly welcomed into the home of Mrs. Irene and Mr. Ari Kangasniemi. This is a power duo the say the least. They are about the craftiest people I've ever met. From reindeer antler chandeliers (no harm to reindeer, they shed their antlers naturally!) to drums to jewelry to salt and pepper shakers—they make it all. Their "simple" way of living was eye-opening. I say "simple" because they referred to it as such but American ways would beg to differ...
After a delicious home-cooked meal from Irene and Ari, we headed to a remote wilderness lake for some floating. And certrainly not your typical type of float. This was surely an experience. We got into head-to-toe gear meant for Arctic rescue missions and dipped in the frigid lake. The suits filled with air as we bopped around the water's surface laughing hysterically. After floating, we enjoyed warm blueberry juice by a wood-burning fire. It was so lovely, thank you Safartica!
Our final day in Rovaniemi was wonderfully laid-back. After lunch at Hostel Café Koti, we headed to the Arctic Tree House Hotel for some exploring. Each room is it's own individual pod looking out onto the beautiful landscape of Lapland. I can only imagine how gorgeous it is to stay here in the winter time waking up to snow-covered trees. Lastly, we stopped by the Arctic Forest Spa for another wonderful sauna experience. This was definitely a highlight of the trip for me and one of the most relaxing experiences I've had in a long time. I think I may need to invest in a sauna for my next home...
We caught our flight back to Helsinki early the next morning and had about a six-hour layover so thank god for Finnair's glorious lounge. Free food and drinks makes hanging out in the airport a lot less painful.
From start to Finnish (couldn't help it), this trip was a dream. From the people, the places, the food, the culture—Finland now holds such a special place in my heart. I am so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to travel to this Arctic land and cannot thank Finnair, Visit Finland, Visit Rovaniemi, and Zapwater enough. Now do yourself a favor, and go pay Santa and his reindeer a visit.