I had been asked many times before arriving to Finland:
What are my expectations?
What will it be like?
Why are you going to Helsinki?
On ground here in Helsinki, I've also been asked similarly:
What did I think Helsinki would be like?
Was it what I expected it to be?
To be honest, nothing, nada, zip — I had no expectations. I did basic research as far as most of my travels go. I educated myself to facts like how to use the metro, what was on offer, and if most places took visa, but I hardly read any articles about what people liked or disliked about Helsinki — I really just wanted to show up and find out for myself.
And after spending three days here, I am so content that I didn't "expect" or "anticipate" what my time in Helsinki would be like. I've been pleasantly surprised by everything I've encountered. I feel like I'm traveling for myself, and getting to see a city through no filter.
What I've been surprised by so far......
The people...The first full day was my introduction to the Finnish. I met a Finnish girl in a cafe and she was traveling back home to Helsinki to visit her family. She was spending the day on her own, and I offered for her to come hang out with me while I went around for the afternoon. She graciously spent almost the entire day with me, translating Finnish words, letting me butcher her name, and taught me so much of the culture and way of life here in Finland. She told me that the Finnish are quick to trust. She gave the example of leaving your bag at a table in a coffee shop while you go to the restroom, etc. — it shows that you're willing to be vulnerable, and they trust that quality in others.
The food...The ingredients are extremely unique, and the opportunity for dining has been blowing my mind. You have old-world restaurants that honor the history of Finland, and then in contrast you have new restaurants that take these same ingredients and present them in entirely fresh ways. Both are incredible. Some ingredients I've come to love in 36 hours are white fish, lingonberries, and a variety of pastries. Also to note, the coffee culture. On average, 4-5 cups are drank here in Helsinki, so my inner coffee addict is adoring the opportunity for great cafes.
The art...I did a radio interview on Wednesday this week with the largest Helsinki Radio station called Radio Helsinki alongside the director of Helsinki Art Museum (hear the full interview via this link). I had visited the Helsinki Art Museum that morning to see the newly open Ai WeiWei exhibit, and fell in love immediately with the art scene in Helsinki. She shared how Helsinki has an extensive art community that spans from design to Finnish history, and culture to architecture. There is truly something for everyone, and an opportunity to be immersed in arts is incredible.
The history...If you've met a Finnish person, you know immediately how proud they are of their country. It's a beautiful thing to be proud of your country, to take pride in the work that your people create, and to share that passion with others. The history is rooted in Helsinki through immersive experiences like classic dining in one of the oldest buildings, walking through the National Museum of Finland to see where the country comes from, and a boat ride to Suomenlinna (sea fortress) that was built in 1748 during Swedish reign.
The design...Design is everywhere you look. It's in the architecture, it's in the textiles, and it's found in every nook and cranny in Helsinki. It's mesmerizing, it's inviting, and each style is different in a particular way. My first taste of architecture design was at the Temppeliaukio Church (or "Rock Church"). It's a church that has been completely excavated out of a rock, with some of the natural rock showing inside, and lined with copper. My second taste of design was textiles via the famed Marimekko. The bright, colorful patterns are a Finnish institution, and can be found just about everywhere.
I'm really excited to continue my journey of finding out what the secret of Helsink is here with Visit Helsinki. This opportunity of #HelsinkiSecret Residences has offered an opportunity to be immersed right in the heart of the city, something I am thankful for. Stay tuned for the full guide on Helsinki.
Travel well, travel often. Xx
+ I was invited as a guest of Visit Helsinki, as always, all opinions are own.