How I went to 11 marvellous countries, & taught the Germans about the Queen in 2015. If I can do it, so can you!

Original photo © Belén de Benito
Original photo © Belén de Benito

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!

My. What a year we’ve had.

2015 was fabulous for me and 2016 is going to be even more spectacular!

But first, let’s take a walk down memory lane of all the countries that I went to last year, and what I did. According to my WordPress annual report, over 69,000 people have read my blog in the last year from 171 countries. 69,000 people!! To think this little blog is but two (2) years old. Isn’t that brilliant?

The three (3) top countries were:

  1. USA – 13,000 readers.
  2. Germany – 10,000 readers.
  3. UK – 9,500 readers.

With the lovely Latvia right behind – 9,300 readers.

Amaaaazing!

Thank You!

Thank you so much for reading, making comment, and sticking with me. I love you all!

So let’s start with the country of my birth (England), and end with my new home-country (Germany). Here we go. Choose your poison….!

THE 11 COUNTRIES THAT I WENT TO LAST YEAR WERE:

  • England
  • Holland
  • The Czech Republic
  • Hungary
  • Lithuania
  • Latvia
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Poland
  • Spain
  • Germany

ENGLAND:

Oysters and stout on a wooden table outside a pub, England UK - ©VisitBritain Daniel Bosworth
Oysters and stout on a wooden table outside a pub, England UK –
©VisitBritain Daniel Bosworth

Last year I went to Bristol and I was extremely honoured to be invited as a guest of Visit Bristol. While I was there, I decided to drop into the city of Bath too but I haven’t actually written it about it yet, but you’ll get that post soon enough lol!

Not bad at all!

HOLLAND:

In the Red Light District, Amsterdam.
In the Red Light District, Amsterdam.
  • I have a great husband and every now and then I get a free weekend. It was January and I hadn’t been to Holland in nine (9) years so I decided to go on a solo weekend to Amsterdam and this is what I did: I went to a sex-show!!!

THE CZECH REPUBLIC:

"The Tall Young Gentleman" surrounded by teenaged girls at Rokytnice nad Jizerou!
“The Tall Young Gentleman” surrounded by teenaged girls at Rokytnice nad Jizerou!

Not only did I visit one of my favourite countries ever. But in 2015, I actually went twice!

And then I went to Prague.

In Prague reading something and looking all serious, but not completely serious!
In Prague reading something and looking all serious, but not completely serious!

What?

You haven’t yet been?

Incredible!

HUNGARY:

Chess players in the Széchenyi Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool - Budapest.
Chess players in the Széchenyi Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool – Budapest.

Hungary was on the map this year but for all the wrong reasons. Sadly, rather than the lovely goulash and paprika soup, it became far more known for the dismal handling of refugees running for their lives. Lest we forget, as far as the common man in Europe is concerned, #refugeesarewelcome.

THE BALTIC STATES:

A map of the Baltic Sea.
A map of the Baltic Sea.

I travel a lot and as much as I love travelling to my favourite regions of the world over and over again (Hello Tuscany!), one of the most interesting things about the Baltic Region is that I had never been there before so I decided to make a family trip out of it.

My husband gulped when I told him that not only were we going to the “other” Eastern Europe otherwise known as The Baltics, but we were going by long-distance coach-bus from country to country! I’m a determined woman and so with the part-sponsorship of an Estonian company called Lux Express, we went by road and back again!

LITHUANIA:

Vilnius B&B in Lithuania.

LATVIA:

Riga Black Balsam.

Twenty six thousand (26,000) views, hits and shares!

Absolutely Outstanding!

Thank you Latvia!!

ESTONIA:

Estonian Young Folk.
Estonian Young Folk.

FINLAND:

Helsinki Monument, Finland. @VisitFinland
Helsinki Monument, Finland.
@VisitFinland

POLAND:

Jesus in Warsaw.
Jesus in Warsaw.

For many people, Poland is an unknown country somewhere in an obscure part of Eastern Europe. If you do want to venture there, not to worry as I’ve been going there for almost twenty (20) years, so I’ve got tips to help you plan your way!

SPAIN:

Paella for lunch at TBEX in Lloret de Mar - Spain. Yum!
Paella for lunch at TBEX in Lloret de Mar – Spain.
Yum!

I love Spain and for the first time, I decided to attend the TBEX conference which is the holy grail of the travel blogging world and stands for Travel Blog Exchange.

I decided to stay closer to home and attend TBEX EUROPE. In previous years, the bloggers conference had been in Dublin and Athens but in 2015, it was in Costa Brava, Catalunya. In Lloret de Mar to be specific. Near the beach. Olé!

But is it just me or does disaster follow me around like a bad smell? Firstly, my flight out from Berlin to Barcelona was delayed, and was so late coming in, that I had to stay at Barcelona Airport all night! And secondly, my return flight was also delayed, ten (10) hours behind schedule! Ten (10) hours!

I mean.

Come on!!

OTHER PARTS OF GERMANY:

Roman cohorts at the Varus Battle in Osnabrück. © Tourismusverband Osnabrücker Land e.V.
Roman cohorts at the Varus Battle in Osnabrück.
© Tourismusverband Osnabrücker Land e.V.
  • The most popular post about Germany is still actually the very first post, that I ever wrote on my blog. Isn’t that funny! The title was: Germany is Boring. Ooops! Yeah, I got insults and abuse for this post. Mainly from people who never read it.

Ah well, I’m famous now. Right. Right?!

MORE NEXT WEEK!

The Black Kilts and my British-German family! © Pascale Scerbo Sarro
The Black Kilts and my British-German family!
© Pascale Scerbo Sarro

Blogging is a lone game and a solo art and in 2015, many more experienced bloggers struggled to maintain momentum or to overcome exhaustion. I’m lucky. I have a family and I have a life. Most importantly, I’ve already found my home-base  – Berlin – and I’m extremely happy with where I am and who I am.

Thank you so much for your support everyone. 2015 was a lovely year. Here’s to the next. Bottoms up!

I'm a very happy British lifestyle, expat, travel blogger. Right here in the beautiful city of Berlin - © Pascale Scerbo Sarro
I’m a very happy British lifestyle, expat, travel blogger. Right here in the beautiful city of Berlin –
© Pascale Scerbo Sarro

This post is not sponsored and I can’t wait to hear from you!

If you have any questions about Berlin, Germany or anywhere in Europe, don’t be shy, I’m an expert! Go ahead and ask me!

I have so much to share with you so next week I will be writing about some of my travel destinations for 2016 with you.

It”s a New Year. Hip! Hip! Hurrah!

If you’re not in Berlin in January, then where the hell are you?

January is going to be splendid!

Watch this space!

We love my blog!

Where did you travel to last year? Any achievements that you would like to share?

If you like this post or if you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, look for me on Google+ or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

Please Share it! Tweet it! Or like it!

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Helsinki is the capital of Art Design so how was it that I went to Finland, and ended up with sushi!

A house in Helsinki, Finland. Not in Berlin!
A house in Helsinki, Finland.
Not in Berlin!

It’s fabulous living in the beautiful trendy city of Berlin!

Last week, I told you all about the fact that I had a production meeting with the rbb TV station. The rbb TV station is a big deal around here as not only is it a Berlin station, but it’s a regional one cutting across Berlin AND Brandenburg too! I was pretty cool about the invitation but all my friends were pretty excited.

And let me tell you, German production companies act pretty fast. I mean, the whole thing only started three (3) weeks ago.

Three (3) weeks ago!

I even had to turn an interview down as it was a live recording reporting The Queen coming into Berlin but it would have been in the morning, and it clashed with my teaching appointments! Yes, I know, but I’ve got to keep a clear head as teaching is my bread and butter LOL!

Anyway, I’m everyone’s darling at the moment and being asked to do loads of stuff at the moment, so I’m taking it all in my stride and trying to stay calm and collected.

I'm a very happy British lifestyle, expat, travel blogger. Right here in the beautiful city of Berlin - © Pascale Scerbo Sarro
I’m a very happy British lifestyle, expat, travel blogger. Right here in the beautiful city of Berlin –
© Pascale Scerbo Sarro

I completed the second day of shooting and this time around we went to the only Scottish pub in Berlin. It’s called Das Gift and one of the owners – Rachel is really lovely. We were filmed eating Scottish stuff such as haggis and black pudding, and generally chatting away. This time, I wasn’t as nervous as I was in the first filming and in fact, they started shooting as soon as they saw me walking round the corner! That put me in a bit of a fluster but perhaps they liked my stuff as I’ve also been invited to take part in the evening show. It’s called the rbb ‪#‎Abendschau‬ and it’s Live with a real well-known German moderator and everything!  I’m going to be on a panel of British experts. OMG!

There’s a week of programmes about The Queen in Berlin. The programmes that I’m going to be on are:

Filming at the Scottish pub - Das Gift - © Pascale Scerbo Sarro
Filming at the Scottish pub – Das Gift – © Pascale Scerbo Sarro
  • Die rbb Reporter: Berlin – very british – The documentary is going to be about “established” Brits in Berlin and the part about me will be as a British expat blogger about town. It will come out on 23.06.15 from 20:15 – 20:45 and on 24.06.15 from 15:30 – 16:00.
  • Die Queen in Berlin – This special broadcast will go out as the evening show of The Queen’s visit. I will be on the panel of British experts at the English Tea Garden (Tiergarten) on 24.06.15 from 20:15 – 21:00 and it will be LIVE. Gulp!
  • Die Reportage über die British Berliners: Sendung Briten in Berlin – is a radio interview on Inforadio about three (3) different types of British people living in the city, of which I am one and also, the only woman! It will go out on 23.06.15 at 09:45.
Wonderful British cheese, Scottish oatcake & English cider © Pascale Scerbo Sarro
Wonderful British cheese, Scottish oatcake & English cider
© Pascale Scerbo Sarro

The fantastic photos above are by Pascale Scerbo Sarro and you can also find him on his website. Thanks so much Pascale!

I’m extremely excited to see where the next level will be.

For now though, let’s go back to Helsinki. In Finland.

Helsinki Monument, Finland. @VisitFinland
Helsinki Monument, Finland.
@VisitFinland

Last week, I gave you some tips as to how to navigate the city as a smart guide to Helsinki. Let’s now focus on the art design concept and the food.

I have to tell you that as far as art goes, Helsinki is pretty fancy, pretty trendy, pretty hipster, pretty artsy, pretty contemporary, and pretty dynamic. All in one go! In that wise, part of getting a feel of the city would also lie on where we wanted to stay.

I like to stay where all the action is, so we decided to stay at a hotel right slap and bang in the centre of Helsinki.

In the stylish Design District.

Design District Helsinki, Finland.
Design District Helsinki, Finland.

Yeah baby!

We wanted to be in an area full of design and antique shops, coupled with museums and galleries.

The Design District in Helsinki offers an ideal place to get to know Finnish design and to buy top-class Finnish design products in an area full of design and antique shops, fashion stores, museums, art galleries, restaurants, showrooms, design agencies, interesting names, classic items, and trendsetters.

To get a good feel of this we decided to stay for two (2) nights at the very artistically designed GLO Hotel Art.

The GLO Hotel Art Library.
The GLO Hotel Art Library.

Whenever we go on a family holiday, I like to mix things up a little in order to experience a wide variety of accommodation possibilities, to meet the locals, and to stretch our budget in a more comfortable way.

In that wise, I decided to make a booking at the exclusive, charming lifestyle GLO Hotel Art built around a century-old Art Nouveau castle.

The Art Glo 100 year old castle Hotel!
The Art Glo 100 year old castle Hotel!

So cool!

Our art design hotel was a unique lifestyle hotel located in the heart of the Helsinki Design District and had 171 rooms. When we arrived, they very nicely allowed us to check-in early.

Our Glo Comfort Twin Room in Helsinki, Finland.
Our Glo Comfort Twin Room in Helsinki, Finland.

Our room was a smart, sleek GLO Comfort Twin room but after the warmth and soft luxury furnishings of Hotel St. Petersbourg in Estonia, “The Tall Young Gentleman” was slightly disappointed by the minimalist chic.

Have I created a pre-teenaged monster or a boy who just knows what he likes?

As I’ve said many times before, as far as I’m concerned, the most important point for me when travelling is that location and attractiveness is key to a wonderful experience. Our comfort room had a large flat-screen TV, a reclining sofa with a side-top and a pouffe, as well as a desk and chair. There was also tea and coffee supplies, a kettle, free WiFi, a full buffet breakfast, and more fluffy slippers!

Hurrah!

The fluffly Lynx - please take me home!
The fluffly Lynx – please take me home!

The bathroom had dark glass walls and doors with a rainforest shower in the bathroom which was pretty neat! But again, “The Tall Young Gentleman” was upset because the bathroom door wouldn’t shut properly. The hotel was great and offered to change the room, but we were already settled in and just wanted to relax at the time. We were offered a complimentary drink on the house and I also mentioned that a fluffy Lynx had been left on the bed for Premium customers and could they take it away, as the retail price was €24 and my son was becoming extremely attached to it. They said he could keep it.

Phew!

At the Old Market Hall or Vanha Kauppahalli in Helsinki, Finland.
At the Old Market Hall or Vanha Kauppahalli in Helsinki, Finland.

The hotel was extremely large but very quiet. We met quite a lot of British and American couples and groups of Spanish teenaged school groups. It’s also very safe and secure as in order to get into the residential part of the property, you have to use an electronic card to open the doors throughout. It also had an Art Nouveau atmosphere as all over the hotel, you could see art decorations everywhere and snug red sofas!

Pretty neat!

All this for €123.00 per night in the Comfort Twin Room which for two (2) people would be €61.50 each and let me tell you, Helsinki isn’t your cheap destination. Hostels were sporting €100 per night for a double room.

Hostels!

I don’t think so daaaarling!

So make sure you take your time and look around. I find that in steep price destinations, it pays to add up all the benefits such as breakfast, WiFi, transport, safety and location, and if it all fits together then just go for it and don’t worry too much about the initial cost LOL!

Helsinki river view. Finland.
Helsinki river view.
Finland.

And now onto a topic close to my brilliant heart. I give you:

FINNISH FOOD

Helsinki Hakaniemi Market @Elina Sirparanta @VisitFinland
Helsinki Hakaniemi Market
@Elina Sirparanta
@VisitFinland

Helsinki’s food culture is one of the most interesting in the Nordic countries, thanks to its unique location between East and West. It’s fun, innovative, easy-going, social, seasonal, fresh, local, natural, traditional yet modern, it’s exciting and continuously evolving.

Finnish food culture is also a unique and vibrant experience that reflects Finnish nature, society, history, identity and culture based on the use of its ingredient source from the land and the sea.

FINLAND FUN FACTS!

Isn't this monster full of fun?!
Isn’t this monster full of fun?!

Did you know that:

  • The first beers ever were introduced in Finland. In 1000BC!
  • 12 kg of coffee per year is consumed making Finland the number one (1) country for coffee consumption in the world!
  • Salmiakki – the salty liquorice – was first introduced in 1938 and became a popular sensation. I thought that I hadn’t had it before but actually I have. In Germany! It’s sour and explodes in your mouth. If you can stand it LOL!
  • The best way to discover local food culture and a traditional way of shopping and eating, is through the local market halls and street food.
  • Helsinki has a Restaurant Day where anyone in Helsinki can open a restaurant for a day. At home. At work. In the street. In the garden, courtyard, park or beach. Anywhere at all! It’s held four (4) times a year, every three (3) months. What a great idea. Shepherd’s pie anyone?!

 A BREAKFAST FIT FOR A NORDIC KING!

Wild, fresh strawberries fit for a Nordic king!
Wild, fresh strawberries fit for a Nordic king!

Finnish people are hearty eaters and that was reflected in the very generous buffet breakfast that we had at the GLO Hotel Art, which consisted of a combination of both Scandinavian and international delights.

Above, you can see a plate of freshly sliced salmon, a grillimakkara or sausage, slices of ham, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickled onions, lettuce, slices of baguette and a pat of butter.

Näkkileipä - a cracker version of rye bread and Finnish Crisp Crackers.
Näkkileipä – a cracker version of rye bread and Finnish Crisp Crackers.

We had the Näkkileipä above – a cracker version of rye bread and Finnish Crisp Crackers for breakfast. My half-Finnish-half-German girlfriend was pretty impressed, and delighted that we were served the real stuff!

It was dry and reminded me of my childhood LOL, but I liked it!

Ruisleipä – rye bread – made from sour dough in Helsinki, Finland.
Ruisleipä – rye bread – made from sour dough in Helsinki, Finland.
 We really had the opportunity to experience and taste a wide variety of Finnish bread such as Ruisleipä  which is a rye bread made from sour dough, and is very much a staple of a Finnish diet. I’m not a fan of very dark “rough” bread but taken in small doses, and smothered with melting butter and cheese or topped with a variety of sea-food, makes it quite palatable!
A bowl of mouthwatering porridge in Helsinki, Finland.
A bowl of mouthwatering porridge in Helsinki, Finland.

OMG! I have to tell you my most favourite breakfast dish in Finland was this deep-dish bowl of mouth-watering freshly made porridge. I couldn’t believe that I would find such a tasty item, so I overwhelmed it with brown sugar and fresh milk!

And I even had two helpings!

MAIN MEALS IN FINLAND

Delicious seafood & lobster!
Delicious seafood & lobster!

Typical Finnish food is such fare as:

  • Crayfish or “kraftskiva” otherwise known as fresh water lobster seen above!
  • Karjalanpiirakka or Karelian pies made with rye flour and filled with potatoes, rice or carrots.
  • Kalakukko – a type of Finnish pie filled with muikku, a small herring-like fish.
  • Korvapuusti or cinnamon buns.
  • Meatballs with reindeer meat.
  • “Töölööläinen” or veal toast with truffle potatoes.
  • Roasted fried cheese.
  • New potatoes with herring, fresh lake fish or fish roe and a sprinkling of dill.
  • Salmon soup with rye bread.
  • Toast Skagen also known as a shrimp sandwich.
Toast Skagen also known as a shrimp sandwich!
Toast Skagen also known as a shrimp sandwich!
  • Salmon with smoked eel and asparagus salad.
  • Finnish meatballs with cream sauce and mashed potatoes.
  • Finnish cheese with cranberry jam and home-made crisp bread.
  • Reikäleipa or “bread with a hole.”
  • Lingonberry or a Finnish tart berry used for jams and juices.
  • Cloudberry – an exquisite sharp tarty flavour and used for jams, juices, fruit pies and liqueurs.
Sushi in Helsinki was all we could afford!
Sushi in Helsinki was all we could afford!

Sadly, we could only afford a variety of titbits at the food market this time around, and sushi!

Why sushi you might ask?

Well, because I love fish and it was the cheapest option.

I know.

Right!

Remember how I told you that we found a Japanese restaurant not far from where we were staying called Sushi-Ravintola Yamato. The evening buffet was just €13.70 each including non-alcoholic drinks and rather bizarrely, the cheapest way to nosh!

Salivate on this!

Sushi in helsinki, Finland.
Sushi in helsinki, Finland.

Just look at this delicious mould of rice and seaweed accompanied by a lettuce and prawn and cocktail sauce.

Hang onto your seat! There's more sushi!
Hang onto your seat. There’s more sushi!

Yum! Yum! Yum! Prawns, egg and seaweed. Nosh! Nosh!

Sushi in Helsinki, Finland.
Sushi in Helsinki, Finland.

My goodness! If sushi isn’t a dish of delicious goodness, I don’t know what is! I’m licking my fingers as we speak!

Japanese soup in Helsinki, Finland.
Japanese soup in Helsinki, Finland.

You all know what I think about soup. This one was pretty spicy but did the job!

A slice of swiss roll in Helsinki, Finland.
A slice of swiss roll in Helsinki, Finland.

This isn’t sushi but a slice of the yummy swiss roll that I had, filled with raspberry and vanilla swirls!

ANYTHING ELSE?

Yes, the prices can be ridiculously high but the museums are all reasonably priced or free of charge. You’ll need to do some research so as to get value for your money, but it’s not too difficult.

MY VERDICT:

Finland is an extremely modern country and is unique in its nature, water, traditions, the amount of light change, and its weather and temperature. As far as the language goes, citizens from every Nordic country pretty much speak extremely good English, Swedish, Russian and being European, other languages too!

I found Helsinki to be windy, modern, friendly, expensive, slighty quirky and clean!

WOULD I COME AGAIN?

Absolutely! And with more people LOL!

Hel Yeah!

Iso-Syöte_hytter - @VisitFinland
Iso-Syöte_hytter –
@VisitFinland

For more information about a charming lifestyle hotel, please contact: GLO Hotel Art.

For more information about Finland’s capital city, please contact Visit Helsinki.

This article isn’t sponsored and even though I got a little discount on the hotel, all opinions and the scrummy sushi that I quaffed, are my very own!

I have so much to share with you.

Stay tuned!

Next week, I’ll be writing about Britain and being The British Berliner. Oh marvellous!

The Northern Lights - @Miikka Niemi Flatlight Films
The Northern Lights –
@Miikka Niemi Flatlight Films

The Queen will be visiting Berlin from 23.06.15 – 26.06.15 and I will be doing a documentary, a radio interview and also as an expert panel of Brits, on a Live TV show!

The 23rd Lesbian and Gay City Festival is taking place between 20.06.15 – 21.06.15.

Fête de la Musique an open-air street music performance day, will take place all around Berlin, on 21.06.14.

Berlin’s Mardi Gras (the 36th) – CSD – Christopher Street Day Gay Pride festivity, will be on 27.06.15.

Strictly Stand Up English Comedy Night will be taking place at the Quatsch Comedy Club on 01.07.15.

I’ll be there. Will you?

As usual, you can also follow me via daily tweets and pictures on Twitter & FB!

If you’re not in Berlin, you’re missing the fun.

June is amazing & The Queen’s coming!

Watch this space!

The back of me - © Pascale Scerbo Sarro
The back of me –
© Pascale Scerbo Sarro

Have you ever been to Helskini? What do you think of Art Design? Sushi or Reindeer Meatballs?

See you in Berlin.

If you like this post or if you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, look for me on Google+ or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

Please Share it! Tweet it! Or like it!

The smart guide to travelling to Helsinki.

Reindeer in Finland.
Reindeer in Finland.

Wow!

I cannot underestimate how being a British person in Berlin is a marvellous thing.

Last week, I was practically everywhere!

Remember when I told you that I met a producer from the rbb TV station, and how they saw my blog and the film interview with Travel Massive,  that you can also find on my Writing & Film page! Anyway, they weren’t joking and last Tuesday, we actually started filming!

German people don’t mess around LOL!

Never in my dreams had I been expecting this so I speedily put out an appeal for a voluntary PA on my Facebook page, and a professional photographer that I had met at the Berlin Music Video Awards – Pascale Scerbo Sarro – offered to take official photographs. Before you knew it, I was strolling down the street and the cameras were strolling with me. I wanted to watch a cultural production at the English Theatre Berlin, and they came along and watched it with me!

OMG! Don't I just look like a city babe © Pascale Scerbo Sarro
OMG! Don’t I just look like a city babe
© Pascale Scerbo Sarro

It was a little strange having a camera and a huge fluffy microphone thing hanging around, but I soon got used to it LOL!

The next day, I went to meet the editor of the rbb Inforadio station. I thought we were going to talk about future projects, it turned out that she had her microphone and recording device with her, so we did an interview right there and then!

We continue filming the documentary next week at a Scottish pub called Das Gift and on the first day that Queen Elizabeth actually arrives Berlin on June 23rd, I will also be participating in a Live TV show and drinking tea at The English Garden!

I might even have some haggis!

I couldn’t be more pleased!

All the rbb TV team are here! © Pascale Scerbo Sarro
All the rbb TV team are here!
© Pascale Scerbo Sarro

I’ll let you know when the programmes go out next week. They did actually tell me, but in all the excitement, I forgot!

For now, it’s time to go back to the last destination on our Spring trip to the Baltics.

Yep, to Helsinki. In Finland!

Here we go!

Finland.

I’ve spoken at length about the three Baltics States that we previously went to, but if you’re landing here for this first time, here’s the info:

Lithuania: I survived a 26 hour coach-bus adventure and I didn’t die and we had a pig’s ear in Lithuania and it was chewy!

Latvia: Gosh! Riga in Latvia is gorgeous: 10 reasons to go there right now and the magic drink of Latvia is Balsam and I drank it!

Estonia: How I went to Tallinn in Estonia, a Medieval Old Town surrounded by Danish Castles. How utterly charming and a simple guide to Estonian food and Russian beer!

Pick your poison on the Lux Express!
Pick your poison on the Lux Express!

We travelled to the Baltics by coach-bus and via our part-sponsor – Lux Express. My German husband – The Music Producer – panicked a bit at the thought but I have to tell you that it really wasn’t that bad at all.

From Berlin to Vilnius in Lithuania, we travelled with the Simple Express part of the company and it was just like any other coach-bus journey but with nifty individual flat screens and personal entertainment! From Vilnius onwards however, we travelled exclusively via Lux Express and the journey was rather impressive. I couldn’t believe how coach-bus journeys had changed and that so many people were also doing the Baltic Route. In fact, we met a French fellow in Vilnius and met him again in Riga. It was that popular!

I mean, with nice clean wide seats, free WiFi, individual flat screens for films and shows, free headphones which you helped yourself to, and free hot drinks like tea, coffee and hot chocolate, I’m thinking, yes please!

Travelling to Finland was another kettle of fish because this time around we travelled to Helsinki by mini-cruise and we sailed across to Finland, on a sponsorship deal with TALLINK SLJA LINE.

WHY GO TO FINLAND?

Wooden houses in Finland.
Wooden houses in Finland.

I’ve said it before, living in Berlin means that Continental Europe is right on your doorstep. Basically, if you’re an expat living in Europe and you don’t use the opportunities to check out the neighbouring countries, then you’re a fool!

There. I said it.

A fool!

I decided to go to Finland because it wasn’t far from Estonia and once we were going to be in the region anyway, I thought well, why not?

So many people know of Finland, Lapland, reindeer, and Father Christmas, but how many people have really been there?

Have you?

I didn’t think so!

Finland, is not really a Baltic country but a Nordic one. It’s often lumped together with the Baltic States because of the relative ease and physical closeness. In reality, Finland is bordered by Sweden, Norway, and Russia!

Ice Church. @VisitFinland
Ice Church.
@VisitFinland

Finland is full of interesting contrast such as the Midnight Sun and days full of darkness in Winter. Over two-thirds of the world’s people who experience the Midnight Sun, actually live in Finland itself!

In fact, in the most Northern part of Finland, the sunlight can be present for a consecutive number of over 70 days!

In land mass, Finland is the 8th largest country in Europe but with one of the lowest populations. It has just 5.4 million people, 37 national parks, 70% of the country covered with trees, and 15.8 inhabitants per every km2.

Wow!

Helsinki Central Railway Station. @VisitFinland.
Helsinki Central Railway Station.
@VisitFinland.

Here’s some history:

The country’s official name is the Republic of Finland also known as Finland, Suomi or Suomen Tasavalta.

Finland was once part of Sweden and as a result of this, the official language in Finland is both Swedish and Finnish! 91% speak Finnish, 54% speak Swedish and 1,700 indigenous people who live in Northern Lapland, speak Sámi. Finland was also a part of the Russian Empire and briefly became an independent republic in 1917 until WWII. It joined the UN in 1955, became a neutral nation, joined the EU in 1995, and has the Euro as its official currency.

HELSINKI

Helsinki Monument, Finland. @VisitFinland
Helsinki Monument, Finland.
@VisitFinland

I would like to go to Lapland one of these days, but for this journey, we went to the very cultural city of Helsinki which is the capital, and also has a 100 km long shoreline and around 300 islands!

Helsinki as the capital of Finland, was founded in 1550 and has a little over half a million people living there. It’s a modern European city famous for its culture, design, high technology, and its own unique cultural space. It is traditional but modern and is internationally renowned for its strong Finnish design, bold and innovative culinary suave, and it’s hip urban nuances, in a backdrop of sea and forest!

HOW DO I GET THERE?

Sailing away! Photo @AS Tallink Grupp
Sailing away!
Photo @AS Tallink Grupp

You can of course fly.  There is an international airport in Helsinki called Helsinki-Vantaa Airport serving all the major airlines. You can also take the train if you’re coming from Russia. Trains tend to come from ex-USSR States but no-one really recommends them as they’re far too old, far too slow and far too unreliable.

Pretty much everyone we met was travelling by ship, and so were we!

We crossed the sea with the help of a sponsorship deal from TALLINK SLJA LINE. In fact, the E-commerce Manger offered us a complimentary sailing to Sweden but on this trip, I had already fixed the itinerary and moreover, I wanted to travel mainly overland. However, watch this space for a future visit to Sweden, Finland, Latvia, and Estonia!

It’s going to be quite a trip!

Thank you so much!

Cruising to Helsinki, Finland.

TALLINK is an Estonian shipping company currently operating Baltic Sea cruise ferries and ships from Estonia to Finland, Sweden, Latvia and Germany. They are part of the AS Tallink Grupp and is a leading provider of high quality mini-cruise and passenger transport services in the Baltic Sea Region. We booked to sail with them from Estonia to Finland and back to Estonia.

There are a variety of various fares and ferries, but many travellers and tourists, as well as Estonian and Finnish people, regularly take day trips across the water, as the ships travel from Tallinn to Helsinki, from Stockholm to Helsinki, or from Stockholm to the Aland Islands in Finland. We wanted to spend a little longer and decided to spend 2 nights in Helsinki.

It was such a shame that we didn’t have the time to nip into St. Petersburg too as there is a legal way that you can go to Russia for 24 or 72 hours visa-free, as long as you arrive by ship, and pre-organise your hotel or sight-seeing activities!

The next time I’m in Finland or Estonia, I’m going to do just that, as I’m desperate to go to Russia. Even for a day but hopefully, for much longer LOL!

Tallinn-Helsinki mini cruise.

If you’re travelling from Tallinn then most likely you would be sailing with either the Tallink M/S Star or the M/S Superstar cruises across the Baltic Sea.

It’s really quite convenient as there are 6 daily departures and you can travel from either Tallinn or Helsinki in just two (2) hours.

All year round!

I recommend checking in at least one (1) hour prior to setting off, as there’s a small off licence, lobby and “bar.” Considering the amount of tourists drinking beer and snacks at 09:20, you would be in good company as refreshments, ranged from €1.20 a piece!

We took the 10:30 cruises out on a Wednesday morning and the cruise itself was nice and clean and similar to those crossing Calais and Dover. From Tallinn, the cruise was not crowded at all and pretty quiet. There were no kids or people rushing about and 80% of the passengers were elderly Japanese tourists.

There were also lots of small sofas and tables to read, write and relax on. WiFi was free and  worked very well, and the WiFi connection code was under the bar code of your ticket, so don’t lose it!  However, I searched and walked around for quite some time trying to find a power outlet to plug in my laptop. There were hardly any at all!

Comfort Class - I bet they had power outlets here LOL! @AS Tallink Grupp
Comfort Class – I bet they had power outlets here LOL! @AS Tallink Grupp

The cruise had plenty of cafes and restaurants and prices were very reasonable. They also had a mini-game room for big and little kids. Places are free-seating so you can choose where and how you spend your time while sailing.

There is a comfort class ticket which included a light buffet, non-alcoholic drinks, newspapers and power outlets! Sadly, our ticket was “Star” rather than “Comfort” but for a two hour ride manageable and not really worth the surcharge.

Myself on the M/S Star Tallink mini cruise from Tallinn to Helsinki.
It was rather windy…!

There were cabins on deck and surprisingly, we had the best weather in Finland, as everywhere else had either snow or rain!

The sunroof was brilliant for taking photos and the backdrop of the sea, and there were loads of friendly people helping each other to take photos, with not a selfie-stick in sight LOL!

The return cruise from Helsinki to Tallinn was super crowded with many day-trippers and lots of children. I guess it was because it was a Friday so take note.

So now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty:

The Smart Guide to Travelling to Helsinki.

  • If you’re short on cash, or pushed for time, just take the day-return cruise instead.
  • Finland isn’t really a budget destination so if you’re looking for the lovely treasures of Lithuania or Latvia, then you’re probably in the wrong country!
  • Hostels might not always be the cheapest option in Helsinki and depending on the season, you might actually be better off in a small hotel or B&B after all!
  • If you want to spend a bit of time in Helsinki, then remember, there’s no such thing as “cheap!” Finland is not your typical Baltic State but is Nordic, and with that comes Nordic prices!

At the Old Market Hall or Vanha Kauppahalli in Helsinki, Finland.

  • If you’re making your own meals there are supermarkets aplenty and we were able to buy small snacks and drinks to make our own sandwiches without breaking the bank. Roughly, €9.00 each.
  • Helsinki is famous for it’s culture, and strong Finnish modern design. Take advantage of the Art, Fashion & Design Districts, and marvel at everything you see.
  • Helsinki is quite small in the grand scheme of things and has an efficient public transport system. I recommend using the tram or walking as much as possible.
At the Finnish Museum of Natural History in Helsinki, Finland.
At the Finnish Museum of Natural History in Helsinki, Finland.
  • The museums are fantastic and are reasonably priced such as the Finnish Museum of Natural History. We were so excited that we didn’t know where to start, and had a brilliant time there. Highly recommended and we only paid €5.00 each!
  • The exhibition Mad about Helsinki at the Helsinki City Museum was really interesting and absolutely free.
  • We arrived during the week and weren’t able to join the free walking tour that takes place every weekend but if you’re in Helsinki on either Saturday or Sunday, contact them here.

Art Nouveau in Helsinki, Finland.

  • Helsinki isn’t Riga but it has a pretty impressive Art Nouveau history of it’s own!
  • Free WiFi pretty much everywhere in the city centre.
  • Watch out for taxi prices especially if you’ve just come from the Baltic States. We took a taxi back to the ferry for what was pretty much a four (4) minute ride and to say that the €20.00 surchage shocked me was an under-statement. I was in fact quite horrified, especially as we had walked around there the night before and it had taken us just ten (10) minutes! Why was I so lazy? Why?!

Design District Helsinki, Finland.

  • For fantastic local food go to the Old Market Hall or the Vanha Kauppahalli where you can buy such fare as cheese, seafood, vegetables, fruit and cake and which has been serving customers since 1889!
  • Restaurant prices are ridiculous as they are so high and with a growing lad….Gulp! I had visions of us starving to death! I discovered however, another way to get around this and still have the option of dining out. We ate sushi! Yep! We found that this was rather bizarrely, the cheapest option. We found a Japanese restaurant in the hip Design District where we were staying called Sushi-Ravintola Yamato. The food was fresh and interesting and the staff were lovely and friendly. The evening buffet was just €13.70 each including non-alcoholic drinks. We were stuffed and delighted!
  • Eat as much fish and seafood as you can manage. It’s Finland after all and we’re extremely close to the sea LOL!
Helsinki Hakaniemi Market @Elina Sirparanta
Helsinki Hakaniemi Market @Elina Sirparanta

That’s all this week but there’s just so much that I want to share with you about Helsinki, so next week I’ll be telling you about the Art Design District and how we tried and tested Helsinki’s food culture.

Food Helsinki?

Hel Yeah!!

For more information about mini-cruises around the Baltic Sea, please contact: TALLINK SLJA LINE.

For more information about coach-bus transport in the Baltic States, please contact Lux Express.

For more information about Finland’s capital city, please contact Visit Helsinki.

This article is part-sponsored by Lux Express and TALLINK SLJA LINE but all opinions and the delightful sushi we thoroughly enjoyed, are my very own!

Stay tuned!

A Finland stamp.

The Queen will be visiting Berlin from 23.06.15 – 26.06.15 and I will be doing a documentary, a radio interview and also as an expert panel of Brits on a Live TV show!

I’ll be at the Discover New Artists (DNA) event which is a forum to discover new local and international artists in Berlin, both musically and visually, on 11.06.15.

The 23rd Lesbian and Gay City Festival is taking place between 20.06.15 – 21.06.15.

Fête de la Musique an open-air street music performance day, will take place all around Berlin, on 21.06.14.

Berlin’s Mardi Gras (the 36th) – CSD – Christopher Street Day Gay Pride festivity, will be on 27.06.15.

I’ll be there. Will you?

As usual, you can also follow me via daily tweets and pictures on Twitter & FB!

If you’re not in Berlin, where the hell are you?

June is thrilling & the Queen’s coming!

Watch this space!

@VisitFinland
@VisitFinland

Have you ever had been to Finland? Do you think these tips about being smart in Helsinki are useful? Are you a fan of sushi?

See you in Berlin.

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