The first place we stopped in Europe was Helsinki, Finland... I know, it's up there, right?
We weren't sure what to expect - but we were really charmed by this place.
The people are very friendly, the city is beautiful, and being so close to the Baltic Sea gives it a cozy feeling. We got pretty lucky with the weather... it only
poured rained on us the very first morning we were there.
The rainy morning gave me a little time to visit one of the coolest department stores I have ever been to... Stockmann! (It's a close second to Harrods, ladies!) They have a huge variety of items and unique areas of the store. They also have a massive grocery store at the bottom. The "S" in Stockmann has a unique logo to look like an escalator because they had the first ones in Finland. It's a historical place as well - and definitely worth a visit if you go to Helsinki.
They eat reindeer, I tried it! Wasn't too bad. We spent a lot of time in Esplanade Park and a beautiful restaurant that is at the end of it (next to the harbor). They had live music, festivals, and lots of reindeer souvenirs. The harbor offered lots of food options, and was a covered street fair everyday we were there.
One of the funny things we learned while we were there was the obsession the Fins have with saunas. (It's understandable with how cold that place gets!) We had several of them in our hotel, and on our tour we learned that they even have important government meetings in saunas sometimes. It was odd, but you can tell it's an important part of their culture. Of course, we got in one a few times while we were there :)
It's a great place to visit. We got the impression that they like tourists and have a lot of pride in their city. It's a special place and we are so glad we went.
Side streets off the main drag. We ate dinner here on our first night.
The very rainy first morning there. Stockmann is behind me.
Reindeer mania everywhere. Wasn't a fan of these skins, they freaked me out!
Loved all of the colorful buildings and flags.
The street fair vendors in the harbor.
A huge art exhibit went up in Senate Square and brought the crowds.
The Rock Church - built completely of rock - worth a visit if you go!
We thought it was odd that nothing happened early in the morning in Helsinki - none of the coffee shops opened earlier than 8am. This is a shot of our last morning there... it's only 7:30 or so and completely empty. But it was neat to see the city so raw.
If you are going to Helsinki or are thinking of going, let me know if you want some tips.
It was a great place to kick off our adventure.