How to prepare for Finland in the Winter

For those warm-weather people out there that plan to head to cold climates in winter, here are some tips to help you get by. You might be thinking,’I’ll just take a warm coat and thick socks and I’ll be fine’. You’d be surprised about the little things that people from warmer climates just don’t think about when travelling in winter. This article will show you how to prepare for Finland in the winter. It’s also good for other winter wonderlands.

How to Prepare For Finland in the Winter – Gloves

Gloves are a must whenever you’re outside, of course! But what happens when you want to take photos? Your hands quickly become sore and numb when they’re exposed to sub-zero temperatures. You’re going to need two sets of gloves. I don’t mean to match with different outfits, I mean to wear at the same time!

K in Motion Travel Blog. How to Prepare for Finland in the Winter. Outer Gloves

Touch Gloves

Touch gloves are amazing. They allow you to use your phone as you would with bare hands. The problem is they don’t really offer much protection from the cold in places like Finland in the winter.

Our solution: wear touch gloves under your other gloves. That way, when you need to take a photo, you only need to take the top glove off. That means your hand still has some protection from the cold. This will definitely increase your comfort level!

K in Motion Travel Blog. How to Prepare for Finland in the Winter. Touch Gloves

While we’re on the subject of gloves, it’s an annoying fact that you will regularly need to take one or both gloves off. For several different reasons. But where do you put the gloves so they don’t get in your way? Or so you don’t accidentally drop them? You’d be surprised how often that last one occurs!

Our solution: join your gloves together with a piece of material to keep them in place when you need to take them off.

K in Motion Travel Blog. How to Prepare for Finland in the Winter. Gloves Attached to Each Other

That way, they’ll always be within easy reach and you’ll never lose them or drop them!

How to Prepare For Finland in the Winter – Let’s Heat Things Up!

So obviously you’re going to opt for layers and a warm coat but if you’re particularly susceptible to the cold, this may not be enough. If you think this will be the case, you might want to pick up a heated jacket before you go. They run on USB so you’ll also need to carry a power bank with you.

Unfortunately, there are some body parts that cannot be warmed by a jacket, specifically the hands and feet. Some people find that even with gloves, thick socks and cold weather shoes, their hands and feet still get cold. Like loss-of-feeling kind of cold. Hands can be warmed by putting them in your pockets, but what about your feet?

Our solution: put heat packs/toe warmers in your pockets and your shoes to keep your hands and feet nice and toasty.

Hot Water Bottle

Another suggestion for keeping yourself warm is using a hot water bottle. If you’re using a backpack, you can just stick it in there. It’ll keep your back warm and you could also put your hands between your back and bag if they start getting a little cold. If you’re not carrying a bag, pop the hot water bottle inside your coat before you zip it up. This will also keep your pockets warm.

K in Motion Travel Blog. How To Prepare For Finland in the Winter. Hot Water Bottle

Flask For Drinks

Do you love a cuppa to keep you warm on a cold day? You might want to take a flask of your favourite warm beverage with you when you go outside. While a nice cuppa will definitely warm you up when you’re out in the cold, it could create another problem. If you drink too much liquid, you’ll need to pee a lot.

K in Motion Travel Blog. How to Prepare for Finland in the Winter. Flask For Drinks

You might actually be surprised to know that if you carry water with you, it could end up freezing in the bottle. While this is not likely to happen during the day, it’s quite likely to occur when chasing Auroras at 1am. If you prefer your water as a liquid, then you might want to take a flask for your water too.

Your Electronics Have Feelings Too, You Know!

Unless your phone is a special, made-for-cold-temperatures one from the Finnish brand Nokia, it’s going to hate the cold too. Yes, this includes iPhones. In fact, they’re the first ones to die in sub-zero temperatures.

If a thermometer starts flashing on your phone, you’ll need to warm it up quickly! The best way to do this is to stick it in your pocket with the heat pack. But it’s likely that if you’re seeing the warning, the battery is already on it’s way to dying. So how can you prevent this from happening?

Our solution: keep your phone warm with heat packs and only take it out of your pocket for short amounts of time in sub-zero temperatures.

How to Prepare For Finland in Winter – Don’t Forget Your Sunglasses!

With what you’ve heard about Subarctic locations, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that you won’t see the sun much. Okay, that part might be true, but it doesn’t mean that things don’t get bright during the day. Snow is very white and even on overcast days can create quite a glare. If you are sensitive to light, then you’re going to need your sunglasses! For at least a few hours a day.

K in Motion Travel Blog. How To Prepare For Finland in the Winter. Sunglasses

Now wouldn’t it be handy if all this information was put together in a simple, quick-reference guide? Well, we thought of that too! Here’s a nice little graphic that we put together to show you how to prepare for Finland in the winter.

K in Motion Travel Blog. How to Prepare for Finland in the Winter Guide

Please feel free to save it for your next trip to a Subarctic region. We’ve even included a downloadable PDF version for you to keep on your phone for quick reference.

How to Prepare For Finland in the Winter

Other Things to Know About Finland

Just a couple more things to know about Finland and some other Subarctic regions. Everyone is expected to be honest and upstanding citizens in these areas. People will leave their bikes outside buildings unchained. They will leave their keys in the ignition of their cars when they are parked. They will leave their front doors to their houses unlocked. This means that you can travel the area with peace of mind.

Crime rates are low, probably partly due to the biting cold. People are generally friendly and helpful. Like the librarian who wrote a note for us to help us get the bus ticket we wanted.

K in Motion Travel Blog. How to Prepare For Winter in Finland. Librarian's Note

Speaking of buses, everyone waves to the driver and says thank you as they alight from buses in Finland. If you want to fit in, you should do the same! :o)

This post was compiled in collaboration with Gimagery

—————————————————————————————————————————————

Are you ready to start planning your Finland trip? Click the picture you like to Pin It for later! :o)

K in Motion Travel Blog. How to Prepare for Finland in the Winter Pin 1 K in Motion Travel Blog. How to Prepare for Finland in the Winter Guide

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland

Everyone needs to see the Aurora Borealis once in their lives, right? So began the journey to Oulu, the southernmost city of northern Finland. Oulu is located in the subarctic region and it’s pretty close to the geographical centre of the country. That makes it a great city for Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland.

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland – Oulu

My photographer friend and I had started chasing the Aurora Borealis a few days earlier in Helsinki. After spending the day in the Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland, it was time for us to hop on a bus. Roughly two and a half hours later we were in the largest city in the Subarctic region of Finland; Oulu.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Cycling on a Snowed Over Footpath

We had prearranged a host in Oulu who was doing her second Master’s degree at the Oulu University. Our host, Anna, had lived in many different places in the world and had some interesting views on daily life in Finland. We had planned to meet her at the university, so from the bus station we need to get a local bus. We had considered walking, but even though it was only a couple of kilometres, the cold was getting too much for me. Oulu has a super modern fleet of buses. The cost of riding one reflects that. It’s €3.50 for a one zone ticket. That ticket lasts for as many rides as you like within that zone for 60 minutes, or 80 minutes for multiple zones.

Snow Everywhere!

We may have prematurely exited from the bus, but we were still in the general vicinity of the university. This meant we got to walk through some of the winter wonderland that is Oulu in Febrary.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Snowed Over Canal

The snow didn’t just cover the ground, it literally stopped watercourses from running too! Some creative soul had decided to put some lights on what would’ve been the banks of a canal. With all the white everywhere, a little bit of colour was quite a welcome sight.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Lights on Canal Bank

It wasn’t the only place in town where someone had decided to add some coloured lights.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Blue Lights in the City K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Blue Lights in the City Centre

But these ones changed a little bit. There’s nothing I like more than watching lights move. I mean, that is the whole reason I had tormented myself with a trip to Finland in the winter!

Oulu City Centre

We were getting quite used to seeing snow everywhere by this point. So when we encountered a paved area with no snow, we were a little perplexed.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Paved Are With No Snow

How could this small patch of ground between two other patches of ground that were snowed over be snow-free? We were so obviously confused by it that a lady walking past us stopped to tell us that the ground was heated. Well, that makes sense. But then we wondered why it was just that patch and not all the paved areas in the city centre.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Policeman Statue

It really was better not to think too much about that one, so we just kept walking and came across this guy. He is a monument to the Finnish Police. I didn’t see any police the whole time I was in Finland, so I can neither confirm nor deny if they look anything like this portly policeman.

Getting Around Oulu

As I mentioned earlier, the local bus services in Oulu are rather pricey. €3.50 for one zone and €5.80 for two zones. We worked out pretty quickly that things were going to get very expensive. We were staying in Martinniemi, a small village about 40 minutes out of Oulu. That meant we would need to spend €11.60 a day just to get to and from Martinniemi. That’s not including transport within the city.

We opted to get a multiple day ticket, which ended up being much cheaper than buying separate tickets. As you can see on the Oulu transport site. The only problem was, we couldn’t buy these tickets anywhere in Martinniemi. So we ended up having to purchase them through the Oulu Transport App (Oulu Joukkoliikenne).

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland – Day One

We had scoured over our maps for hours to choose a place that wasn’t too far away from where we were staying. It wasn’t that we minded walking but the cold was really affecting us. The place we chose was only 700 metres from where we were located. As we got closer we started to realise that even though the map had indicated there was a path to the spot we’d picked, it actually wasn’t accessible from where we were.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Tree Lined Street in Oulu

We had however, ended up in a huge open area with a perfect view of the sky to the north. A completely cloudy sky. There was no way we were seeing any lights that night, so we headed back home. It was only a minor setback. We still had two nights.

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland – Day Two

We got back to looking at our maps to find a better vantage point. But this time we were smart and decided to check out the suitability and accessibility of the place during the day.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Snowy Road in Martinniemi

On the way we saw an abandoned house. Our curiosity got the better of us and we went inside. As you would imagine, the house had been stripped bare and the inside was pretty much just snow and graffiti.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Snow and Graffiti in Abandoned House

But it did have a nice view of the outside world.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. View Out of Abandoned House

Once we finally made it to a tiny frozen-over marina we knew that we had chosen well this time. It was interesting to see all the small boats that would normally be docked there, dry-docked on stands near the car park. We noticed a few small cabins there too.

Walking on Water

Not long after we got there, a guy drove in and parked his car. He proceeded to get a gas bottle and a box out of the car boot. They were placed on a small plastic thing with a rope attached to it. He started pulling it along the snow covering what would be the water of the bay in the summer.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Man on the Frozen-Over Bay

From what we figured, he had a cabin on a nearby island. As the water was frozen solid, the only way to reach it was by walking.

Second Time Lucky?

When we returned that night there was a bitingly cold wind blowing. I grabbed my phone to check what the time was and saw a warning I had never seen before; a flashing thermometer. Then that was it. My phone that had over 50% charge an hour beforehand just died. Then my friend looked at his two phones and they both had the same problem. That, the wind and the cloud cover were signs for us to leave.

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland – Day 3

This was our final chance to see the lights. The Aurora app we had downloaded informed us that there was a great chance of spotting Auroral activity under clear conditions. This made us hopeful. Given the phone issues of the day before, we made sure to keep our phones out of the cold as much as possible.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Cabin at the Marina

We sheltered in this cabin for a bit after the wind got too much for us. We were surprised to find that it had electricity. It also had some kind of stove in the centre. We surmised that it must be for people to use if they get stuck at the marina due to bad weather.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Inside the Cabin at the Marina

Once we ventured back outside we realised that there was too much cloud cover to see anything. But there was definitely something going on behind that cloud cover.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Lights Behind Clouds

There were no buildings in that area that could be causing such bright lights, so it must have been the Auroras. Damn cloud cover!

Nallikari, the Place for Summer and Winter Activities in Oulu

Just before we made our way back to Helsinki on an overnight bus, we decided to see if we could get some kind of winter activity in before we left Oulu. Nallikari, which is a beach area in the summer, seemed to be the place to go.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Nallikari

According to the internet, they had all types of snow activities happening there. Except of course when we went. All of their normal activities had been halted for one reason or another. They told us we could come back in a few days but that wasn’t really going to work for us.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Nallikari Beach Shacks

We explored the area for a little bit. It was quite amusing to see beach shacks on snow. Although the coolest thing we did that day was stand on the sea. Well, what would have been the sea if it wasn’t frozen over.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Nallikari Beach Frozen Sea

I guess that meant it was time for a selfie with our host while people walked on the ‘sea’ in the background.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland. Selfie at Nallikari Beach

Just in case you’re wondering, that’s a look of pain on my face. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t feel my hand at that point. I’d had to take a glove off to unlock my phone so this picture could be taken.

The End?

We jumped on our night bus back to Helsinki not long after. Then flew out of Helsinki back to London where I was supposed to get a flight home 2 days later. That flight got cancelled and I was stuck in London for an extra two weeks. As if that wasn’t annoying enough, my host Anna messaged me with a picture of the lights just after we left. She’d seen them as she was getting off the bus near her house!

At least I can tick ‘visiting the Subarctic region in winter’ off my list, but the Aurora Borealis will have to wait for another time in another country.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

If you’ve enjoyed the rollercoaster ride of Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland, please feel free to share and click the picture you like to Pin It for later! :o)

Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland

If you’ve never heard of Kemi before, it’s way up north in Finnish Lapland. As you would imagine, it is covered in snow for roughly half the year. But there’s something special about this sleepy little Lapland town. It’s famous for constructing the world’s biggest snow fort every year. The Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland draws tourists from all over the world. As I found out when I heard more people speaking Cantonese and Mandarin than English while I was there.

Introduction to Finnish Lapland – Kemi

My photographer friend and I had taken an overnight bus from Helsinki to get to Kemi. The change between the two cities was quite stark. While Helsinki’s sky was perpetually overcast, there was very little snow. Kemi’s sky was still quite overcast, but the ground was white from snow cover. There were no roads and footpaths. Only snow. I suddenly saw an image in my head of me ending up on my butt because I’m totally inept at walking on snow. Luckily, I narrowly avoided hitting the ground by grabbing my friend and nearly making him fall. It just seemed like the right thing to do! As Canada, Kazakhstan and now Finland have taught me, walking on snow sucks.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Snow Everywhere

The snow made everything surprisingly bright, despite the overcast sky. I had always heard that Lapland region was perpetually dark in the winter, so I wasn’t expecting much daylight or brightness. I needed to wear my sunglasses because the glare from the snow was hurting my eyes! We had arrived at 10am and noticed a nearby food place. We thought we could go and grab some breakfast and use the WiFi, but it was closed. Okay, plan B, check at the supermarket across the road. Although the staff were really nice, they seemed quite clueless as to where stuff was in their town. They did advise us that most businesses wouldn’t open for another hour at least. Time for a walk then.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Snowed in Bikes

Walking Through Kemi

As you would expect of somewhere only 90 minutes shy of the Arctic Circle, the town of Kemi on Bothnian Bay near the Swedish border is rather small. Both in area and population. I don’t know if it was because of that or because of the cold, but there was almost no one around. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I saw many cars driving around. I did see quite a few parked cars with a substantial amount of snow on them though. You really couldn’t blame people if they wanted to hibernate at home for the whole winter. Given the daily subzero temperatures the town offered. It was hovering around -4°C when we were there. Yuck!

Lumi Visio/Snow Vision

The people that had ventured out had found an interesting way to keep themselves occupied.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Snow Sculpting in Kemi

We had stumbled upon some kind of snow carving competition in the centre of town. Note I said snow, not ice, carving. To be honest, this was somewhat of a novelty as I’d never seen anyone carving snow before. Given the copious amounts of snow around Kemi, it totally makes sense to turn it into art. But I did wonder how the huge blocks of compacted snow collected from the bay found their way to the centre of Kemi.

The competition, called Lumi Visio or Snow Vision is an annual event in Kemi. During the competition teams race against the clock to build a sculpture to a theme. I’m not entirley sure what the 2020 theme was but if I had to guess, I’d say cartoons.

As much as I wanted to stay and check out the sculptures for a bit longer, I found that, even with winter gloves and shoes, my hands and feet started to hurt after several minutes of no movement. Seriously, how do people live in these temperatures?

Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland

I got some feeling back in my extremities as a walked but wasn’t sure how much more of the cold I could take. That was why I was so happy to this sign. It meant the Snow Castle was near! Lumi Linna is Finnish for Snow Castle.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Snow Castle Sign

A team of architects and engineers spend months planning and building the castle using a different theme each year. Looks like the castle’s 25th year was ‘Igloo Style’. Even though the shape and size of the castle may be different each year, there are some things that are always included in the design. Like the Ice Bar and the chapel.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Kemi Snow Castle Chapel

I was told that people come from as far afield as Hong Kong to get married in that chapel. Being from Hong Kong, this sounds like an absolute crazy concept to me. Considering our winter temperatures rarely fall below 10°C and most Hong Kongers start wearing polar jackets when the temperature gets below 20°C. I guess they do it more for the gimmick factor.

Inside the Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland

After walking through a hallway from the entrance, you’ll find yourself at the Ice Bar. Of course they make the bar the first thing you come across and the lovely bar tender will definitely try to entice to grab a drink to warm up. But maybe the carvings on the wall above you will distract you enough to make you not care about having a drink.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Ice Bar K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Ice Bar Wall Carvings

As we walked further into the castle, there were a few different coloured caves with sculptures you could sit on and pose for photos. Unfortunately my camera just couldn’t deal with the green and blue lighting in those rooms. To be honest, my camera was having issues with the cold by this point. Clearly it’s a warm weather camera! Anyway, walking to the end brings you to what looks like a meeting room.

There was a dining alcove that split off from the main area. The ‘chairs’ were made of ice and covered with reindeer fur. I had to try one out and I didn’t freeze my butt off. So that was nice.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Dining Alcove

Rooms in the Kemi Snow Castle

As we were walking back out, I noticed a hallway off to the left that we hadn’t explored yet.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Hallway

Coming off that hallway were several rooms. Some just for sitting down and hanging out.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Sitting Room K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Shark Room

Then others for sleeping.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Dinosaur Sleeping Room K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Sleeping Room

As warm as that bedding looks, I could never see myself being able to sleep there. Especially seeing as the temperature inside the castle was colder than outside. Which was already bloody cold enough!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland. Snow Castle Temperature

Tourist Centre

Outside the castle there is a permanent building, called SnowCastle365, that acts as the reception for the castle hotel and glass cabins. It’s also the place to book other adventures, like reindeer sledding, snowmobiling and dining in an ice restaurant. I gave all of these a miss, because as you would expect, they were prohibitively expensive. There is also a cafe in that building as well as public amenities and some comfy couches to sit on before you head back out into the cold.

Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland – On to Oulu

Once we finally got up the courage to brave the cold, we headed back to the bus station to get the bus to Oulu. We were slightly perplexed when the bus hadn’t showed up five minutes past it’s departure time. We spoke to a local lady who was also waiting and she confirmed that we hadn’t missed the bus. She told us not to worry because it often runs late.

The bus ended up being about 15 minutes late and we were surprised that we recognised the driver. He was the same driver who had driven us from Oulu that morning. It was his second run back to Oulu that day.

Will we see the Aurora Borealis in Oulu? Stay tuned for the next installment

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

If you’ve had fun learning all about the Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland, please do us a favour by sharing it and click the picture you like to pin it for later! :o)

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi

Just a two and a half hour ferry ride from Tallinn in Estonia is the Finnish capital city of Helsinki. From there it’s easy to access one of the world’s coldest and most isolated regions. I may have mentioned before that I really hate the cold. Why had I spent a couple of weeks heading north into Finland in the middle of winter then? Two words: Aurora Borealis. I’m a sucker for pretty lights. So began a new adventure; chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi.

I wasn’t confident in my camera’s ability to capture scenes very well, so I made a friend who is a photographer take the trip with me. On the off chance that I would be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the spectacle that is the Aurora Borealis. We had gotten the 6 am ferry from Tallinn, which got us into Helsinki bright and early. Actually, not so bright really. It was still pretty dark by the time I got outside the terminal building at 8:30 am.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland Part One - Helsinki to Kemi. Port of Helsinki

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi. Wandering Helsinki

Not far from the port I got the first taste of what would be awaiting me in northern Finland. You know, that white stuff that covers the north for about half the year.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland Part One - Helsinki to Kemi. Snow in Helsinki

Luckily, that was all the snow I saw in Helsinki. In fact, the city seemed to be surprisingly free of it. I don’t know if this means that Helsinki doesn’t get as much snow as I had imagined. Or if they’re just really good at hiding it. Mind you, I’ve been in Canada in the winter and snow isn’t something that can easily be hidden. So I’m going to run with my first thought; Helsinki isn’t the winter wonderland I thought it would be.

Easy to Navigate City

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t bloody cold! Almost too much for my warm weather body to handle. But my only choice was to suck it up and walk. Helsinki is an amazingly walkable city. There are wide footpaths and cycle paths everywhere. The signage is also pretty great. I think it would be a pretty difficult city to get lost in.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland Part One - Helsinki to Kemi. Informational Signs in Helsinki

One thing I noticed while wandering around Helsinki, was that the Finns seem to have quite a sense of humour. Whether it’s a sign at the entrance of a fast food joint

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Finnish Humour

Or sculptures like this one, called Naughty Boy

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland Part One - Helsinki to Kemi. Naughty Boy

Speaking of sculptures, there was no shortage of them around the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Square near Kampi Bus Station

I guess it was a sign of the season that I saw some temporary ice sculptures too. Or half sculptures. It looked like one of them could’ve been Snoopy, but someone made a mistake while sculpting it. I mean, there’s no way it could’ve melted in that weather!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Ice Sculptures Outside Oodi

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi. Oodi in Kansalaistori Square

A well-known building in Helsinki is its central library or Oodi as it’s known locally. It’s located in Kansalaistori Square, which is right near the city centre. Oodi bills itself as “A meeting place, a house of reading and a diverse urban experience”. It certainly is an experience. It also seemed like the place to be on a dull winter’s day. We thought we’d go there for the warmth and WiFi. Everyone in Helsinki had the same idea, it seemed. It’s the most crowded library I’ve ever seen.

The outside of the building is striking, with a three storey glass facade. Each of the three floors of the building had different areas. The third floor had all the books, along with a children’s play area. We found a terraced area with powerpoints on the second floor. There were loads of people just hanging out there. A wander around the second floor allowed me to watch a 3D printer in action. Oodi had several 3D printers for public use. The geek in me was happy. Yes, this was definitely no ordinary library.

WiFi Everywhere

Oodi also had sewing and embroidery machines, studios and editing rooms, games, music and meeting rooms as well as a restaurant and a cinema! Of course, there was also WiFi available, as there is everywhere in Helsinki. You see, Finland decided back in 2010 that internet access was a right and should, therefore, be available to everyone. That means free WiFi is everywhere. You don’t have to go far to get connected in the city.

Quirks in the City

Helsinki is a beautiful and clean city that’s easy to navigate, but it does have it’s quirks. Firstly, I’m not sure if they get to see the sky in Winter there. It seemed to be perpetually overcast. Or dark. I only managed to get a few photos while it was light. Not because I was wandering around late at night but because it got dark at around 3 pm!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Helsinki Street

As much as they believe internet is a right in Helsinki, they don’t believe that relieving yourself is a right. If you want to use the toilets in many establishments, you have to make a purchase. All the toilets have security codes which are printed on the receipt you get after you pay. You’d wanna hope that you don’t end up in a huge line when you really need to go.

Another interesting concept in Helsinki is night prices at fast food places. If you want to get something to eat after 9 pm, the menu prices increase and the specials disappear. Even if the place is due to close at 10 pm, they’ll switch to night menu prices for their last hour of trading. And those prices will possibly continue for their first hour of trading the next day, depending on their opening time.

Also, it seems that a lot of things are Lactose and Gluten free. I even saw Lactose free sausages!
K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Laktisiton/Lactose Free Product K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Gluteeniton/Gluten Free Product

Crazy Prices

Some Northern European countries are well-known for their exorbitant prices for everyday items. While I was expecting Finland to be more expensive than the Baltic countries I had just come from, I wasn’t quite prepared for how much the prices did jump. Some things were more than twice the price! It was just as well that I’d run under budget in the Baltic countries.

The only other country I’ve come across in my travels that is more expensive is Norway. I figured that prices might get worse the further I headed into the north. With that in mind, I stocked up all the cheap(ish) non-perishable stuff I could get my hands on at the Kamppi Centre.

Interestingly, the Kamppi Centre was one of the biggest redevelopment projects and the largest construction site in Finnish history. It took four years to transform the area in downtown Helsinki into the hub that it is now. It has almost anything you could need, like a huge shopping centre with nightclubs, offices and residences as well as local and long-distance bus terminals.

Overnight Bus to Kemi from Kamppi

The buses that I took in the Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), especially in Vilnius were quite luxurious and had complimentary hot drinks. This was not so with the Finnish overnight bus that we were taking to Kemi in Finnish Lapland. It was the least comfortable of all coaches taken thus far, despite being comparatively more expensive. I had mistakenly assumed that things would get more luxurious in Finland. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

I stared out the window of the mostly empty bus as we made our way out of the city. For the first hour there was no snow to be seen. Then I watched the amount of snow slowly increase on the road, until about 2 hours out of Helsinki where everything as far as the eye could see was covered in several centimetres of snow. Including the road! I thought the bus driver might slow down at that point but he did not. As terrifying as it sounds to me, driving on snow is the only way you get anywhere in the winter in Finland.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Snow Covered Road on the Way to Kemi

Arriving in Lapland

I had actually managed to sleep a bit on the way, as the ride had been pretty smooth. We pulled into Oulu, the biggest city in Northern Finland at about 7 am. But that wasn’t the end of the journey. There we had to wait a short while for the bus that would take us onto Kemi in Lapland. That two hour journey continued on snowed over roads until we were finally in Kemi.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis -Helsinki to Kemi. Abandoned bike in Kemi

Follow the continuing adventure in Kemi

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

If you’ve liked ‘Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi’, please give it a share and click the picture you like to pin it for later! :o)

Free Things to do in Tallinn

Estonia’s capital Tallinn is one of the very few places in the world that effortlessly combines living history with modern living. It’s amazingly well preserved Old Town and its wonderfully modern infrastructure are sure to capture your heart. As if that wasn’t enough to make you fall in love, there is also a plethora of free things to do in Tallinn. Read on to discover what they are!

Churches

Don’t worry, you don’t need to be religious for this one. In fact, less than 20% of the Estonian population identifies as religious. So you may find it surprising that the city has so many churches and cathedrals. These churches and cathedrals cover several religious denominations. Some of them have even switched between denominations at different periods in time.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Tallinn. St Simeon and St Anna the Prophets Church K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Tallinn. Church of Bishop St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker

Religion aside, these buildings cover many different architectural styles and all have immaculate interiors. Some may look rather small and unassuming from the outside but inside are ridiculously ornate. Some, like St Olaf’s and St Mary’s have an entrance fee, whereas others like St John’s are free to enter. Either way, it’s still free to admire and take photos from the outside. The Visit Tallinn website has more information about entry fees and opening hours for churches in Tallinn.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Tallinn. St Paul and St Peter's Cathedral K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Tallinn. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Free Things to do in Tallinn – Old Town

The Tallinn Old town is one of the world’s most well preserved medieval towns, which makes it an absolute treat for the senses. As soon as you step onto its cobbled streets, you really do feel like you’ve walked into another century.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Tallinn. Old City Stone Wall K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Tallinn. Old Town Street

While wandering around the town, there are many things to discover. Like St Catherine’s Passage, Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) and the Danish King’s Garden, just to name a few. The town also contains Europe’s oldest pharmacy, Raeapteek (Town Hall Pharmacy). It was run by the same family for 330 years!

Vabaduse väljak/Freedom Square

At the south end of the Old Town is a public square with monuments to Estonian independence struggles and victories. The open-air Freedom Square is a local gathering place and has been the site for celebrations and demonstrations.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Tallinn. Independence War Victory Column at Freedom Square K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Tallinn. St John's Church at Freedom Square

It’s a great place to visit during the day but at night it comes alive. Flashing lights have been installed on poles in the square and the victory monument gets lit up as well.

Free Things to do in Tallinn – Harjumägi/Harju Gate Hill and Toompea Hill

Harjumägi/Harju Gate Hill lies right behind the victory monument of Freedom Square and offers a great view over modern Tallinn.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Tallinn. Harjumägi/Harju Gate Hill at night

If you continue walking away from the square, you’ll hit Toompea Hill. It forms the northern border of the Old Town and is home to the Toompea Castle. The Castle is now used by the Estonian parliament.

City Parks and Gardens

Although Tallinn is a fairly small city, it is packed with green spaces! A lot of them are small sculptured gardens, like Tammsaare Park, where people mainly sit around admiring trees. Others however are important gathering places with monuments and historical remnants. There are also walking trails and lookouts. Probably the most interesting part of some of these parks is how they came to be.

Commandant’s Garden (Komandandi Aed) and Governor’s Garden (Kuberneri Aed)

In between Harjumägi/Harju Gate Hill and Toompea Hill are two small gardens. Commandants Garden was named for the house on its corner where the Commander-in-chief used to live.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Tallinn. Komadandi/Commandant's Garden

The Governer’s Garden is beside Toompea Castle and used to be joined with the Castle Gardens until they were destroyed.

Two Parks in One: Linda’s Hill (Lindamäe Park) and Deer’s Park (Hirvepark)

These two parks are historical heavyweights in Tallinn. They are located within the same city block on the embankment of the former Rootsi/Swedish bastion. Linda’s Hill gets its name from A Weizenberg’s sculpture, called Linda, in the north of the park. Memorial ceremonies for Soviet repression victims have historically always taken place near the sculpture. It also has 250 year old trees.

Deer’s Park was the site of the first organised demonstrations against the communist party in 1987. Those demonstrations sparked anti-soviet sentiment and independence protests. A chain of events that eventually led to Estonian independence is 1991.

Police Garden Park (Politseiaia)

The Police Garden Park was previously known as the Military Vegetable Garden. As you can guess, it was used to grow vegetables for the police. It now contains walkways, fountains, a skate park and giant, people-size clay pots.

Photo by Madis Veltman
Children’s Park (Falgi Park)

This park was created in the mid-nineteenth century by filling in a pond with sand and planting some trees. It was bombed then refurbished in the mid-twentieth century as a garden with the ‘Circle For the Flowing Water’ fountain and children’s playgrounds.

Sneli Park/Toompark

The biggest of Tallinn’s inner-city parks, known as Sneli Park or Toompark, creates the northern border of the old town. It was once a fortification for the city and the park’s Sneli Pond is all that remains of the moat that used to protect the city. This park also contains the Kohtuosta, Patkuli and Piiskapi viewing platforms. These platforms offer great views over the city and the Baltic Sea.

Kadrioru Park

The Kadrioru Park was constructed by orders from a Russian Tsar in the 18th century. It’s design elements span three centuries. Aside from cultural monuments, canals, fountains and ponds, it is home to not just one, but three museums. KUMU (the Estonian Art Museum), Mikkeli Museum and the Kadriorg Art Museum. The later is housed within the Kadriorg Palace, a centerpiece of the park.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Tallinn. Kadrioru Park

Kalamaja Park

This park can be found in the historical, yet hip Kalamaja area. It used to be the Kalamaja Cemetery but it got a make-over in the 60s. That’s when it became the park that it is today, a tree-lined, relaxing area with children’s playgrounds and an historic bell tower.

Free things to do in Tallinn – Kalamaja

Kalamaja means ‘Fish House’ in Estonian, so can you guess where this area is, right? On the waterfront of course! The former working-class area is now pretty much hipster-ville. The old factories now house museums, cafes and bakeries. So many bakeries. Kalamaja is known for its pastries.

Aside from food, the Kalamaja district is known for its cute and colourful wooden houses which were originally built to house factory workers in the 19th century. It’s also known for its lively culture and nightlife. The area contains bars, restaurants and even a brewery that attracts locals and visitors from around the city.

The Port of Tallinn or Tallinna Sadam is part of the Kalamaja district. One of Tallinn’s premier fresh produce markets, Sadama Turg, is located there. Kalamaja is also home to the neo-gothic Kalju Baptist Church and its own park, Kalamaja Park (mentioned above).

Tallinn Card

So this one isn’t free, but purchasing it gives you free entry to many attractions, like churches and museums that normally charge entry fees. It also lets you use all public transport in the city for free. If you are staying for more than a few days and really really want to see some museums, it may be worth it. If you’re thinking of getting it for free transport, it may not be worth it. Tallinn is a small and very walkable city. You can explore everything mentioned above easily on foot. Tallinn is a very pleasant city to walk around.

Related Post – Tallinn

———————————————————————————————————————————————-

If you’ve found this list of free things to do in Tallinn useful, please tell your mates and click the picture you like to Pin it for later! :o)

Discover Old and New Tallinn

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Komandandi Garden Above Freedom Square

Strangely, the further north I went into the Baltics, the less comfortable the intercity coaches became. At least they were fairly empty which allowed me to stretch out on every ride. This time I had travelled from the Latvian capital of Riga to the Estonian capital of Tallinn. Now it was time to discover old and new Tallinn.

As I exited the bus, I saw ‘Tallinna Bussijaam’ written on the top of the building. While I presume that this is Estonian for bus station, ‘bussijaam’ is also very close to the Cantonese for bus stop. Aren’t languages fun?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Tallinna Bussijaam

I had decided to walk the 4 kilometres from the bus station to my accommodation near the old town. I’d already been sitting down for several hours so a bit of physical activity was in order. I’m not sure if it was because I was finally acclimatising to the northern European winter weather but Tallinn didn’t seem to feel as cold as Vilnius and Riga had.

Discover Old and New Tallinn – Finding the Old Town

As I do in many places I visit, I’d decided to head straight for the old town. It’s no secret that I love old towns but the old town in Tallinn is particularly special. It’s one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe. This was probably a huge factor leading to its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. First Taste of the Old Town

When approaching from the west or the south, Vabaduse väljak or Freedom Square marks the beginning of the Old Town. The Independence War Victory Column can be seen looking over the open-air square.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Freedom Square Independence War Victory Colomn

If you follow the small set of stairs up to behind the column, you can look back over the square from the Komandandi Garden and see St John’s Church. Actually, if you’re feeling lazy you could take the ramp to the left of the stairs. But seeing as there are less than 50 stairs, it has to be the easiest climb to a viewpoint that I’ve ever encountered!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. St John's Church at Freedom Square

The ratio of effort to awesomeness-of-view factor here is pretty low. Stepping even further into the garden will give you a view over a lot of the new city. You’ve really got to love low-rise cities!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. City View from Komandandi Garden

Freedom Square at Night

It’s also worth revisiting the square at night. The whole area gets lit up and has a completely different feel.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and New Tallinn. St John's Church in Freedom Square at Night

Even some of the trees in the area get to shine at night.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and New Tallinn. Trees With Lights near Freedom Square at Night

Discover Old and New Tallinn – Toompea Castle and Russian Orthodox Church

The Komandandi garden and its viewing area are on Toompea Hill. An historic castle, Toompea Castle (Toompea loss in Estonian) sits behind the garden. The Castle has been standing since the 9th century! It currently houses the Estonian Parliament.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. City Wall Near Toompea Castle
City Wall Near Toompea Castle

Right next to that is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Aleksander Nevski Katedraal). It quite obviously stands out in the area, as a Russian style building.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral

The building was left to rot during the USSR rule over the area, but since Estonian independence in 1991, it has been lovingly restored and looked after.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and New Tallinn. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral at Night

It actually forms quite a stark contrast to some of the other buildings of the old town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral From the Old Town

Walking Around The Old Town

As mentioned before, the Tallinn Old Town is one of the most well-preserved in the world. So it is literally like stepping into another century.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Centre of the Old Town

The first things to capture your attention are the cobbled streets and stone walls.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Stone Wall in Old Town

Locals have definitely capitalised on the old-world feel of the town. This has ensured that the Tallinn Old Town is the most touristy of all the Baltic old towns. That’s really saying something considering I was there in winter. I would guess winter is not the high tourist season in the Baltics.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Touristy Centre of the Old Town

While this town board is cute, it’s definitely heading towards cheesy. The cheesiest thing about this old town was all the locals dressed up in medieval clothes. At first, I thought it was rather endearing. Then they just seemed to be everywhere and it started to feel too gimmicky. Especially as many of them were just trying to get you into their establishment.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Stone Tunnel in the Old Town

That doesn’t mean that the town was without charm. In fact, it was quite lovely walking through the cobbled streets and admiring the buildings. Once you get away from the centre of the town, the gimmicky stuff disappears.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Cobbled Street of the Old Town

The Old Town becomes even more appealing at night.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and New Tallinn. Old Town at Night

Churches and Religious Diversity of the Old Town

There are quite a few churches and cathedrals representing different religious denominations throughout the Old Town. The aformentioned Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Lutheran St John’s Church are two of them. Then there’s the Baptist St Olaf’s Church and the Roman Catholic St Peter and St Paul Cathedral near the centre of town. To name just a few.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. St Paul and St Peter's Cathedral

All have amazing interiors showcasing different ornate styles. Some even have towers you can climb to get a view over the old town. Visiting them is, of course, restricted during services. To find out more about the churches of the old town, go to the Visit Tallinn website.

Viru Gate

One of the most important and prominent features of the old city is the Viru Gate. This 14th century gate was once a major defensive feature of Reval. That’s Tallinn’s historical name, used until 1918.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Viru Gates in the Old Town

The Viru Gate essentially represents the start and the end of the Old Town, depending on which side of the gate you stand. From inside the gate, you can look out onto modern Tallinn and the markets just outside the gate.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and New Tallinn. Viru Gate Looking Out to Modern Tallinn

Discover Old and New Tallinn – Modern Tallinn

Beyond the walls of the Old Town is a vibrant, modern Baltic city. The transport options in the city are amazing. With modern buses and trams running regularly.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Modern Tram

There are also quite a few green spots around the city. Although, they’re more like grey spots in the winter.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Kadrioru Park

I would assume that the Kadrioru Park, pictured above, would be lovely and green in Summer and Spring. A walk through this park will bring you to the Kadriorg Palace (Kadrioru loss) which contains the Kadriorg Art Museum.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Kadriorg Palace

Behind the palace are some gardens, which I’m sure look lovely in summer and spring. In winter they are a work in progress.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover Old and New Tallinn. Kadriorg Palace Garden

Discover Old and New Tallin – The Port Area

Perhaps one of the most surprisingly happening areas in Tallinn is the port area. Although everything is quite spread out, there are several waterside restaurants and pubs dotted throughout the area. There’s also a local fresh produce market, Sadama Turg or Harbour Market, at Terminal C.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and new Tallinn. Nautica Centre at Tallinn Port

In front of the port area there’s a decent size shopping centre called Nautica. It has around 60 shops, including a cinema, cafes, restaurants, bars and a mini golf course!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and New Tallinn. Patterned Building

Something else that caught my attention when leaving the port area was this building. So much so that I just had to stop and stare for a while.

Ferry to Helsinki

I was told by a ticket lady at Terminal B that there were only two options for sailing to Helsinki. Viking Line and Tallink. They also happened to be quite expensive for a two hour ferry ride. So I walked to Terminal A where I found out that there was in fact a third company, Eckeroline, with ferries serving the route. They were much cheaper too! It’s best to purchase the tickets online as the ticket offices at the port seem to have very short opening hours.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover old and new Tallinn. Terminal A at Tallinn Port

The ferry ride was comfortable enough and there was free WiFi onboard.

Stay tuned as the adventure continues into Finland

Final Thoughts

The northernmost Baltic country of Estonia has a lot to offer, both scenically and historically. I think the only thing left to say is, if you get the chance visit Estonia!

Check out this list of Free Things to do in Tallinn

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

If you would like to discover the old and new Tallinn for yourself, click on the picture you like to Pin It for later! :o)

Free Things to do in Riga

The Latvian capital city of Riga has a lot to offer budget travellers. This list of fun and free things to do in Riga will really help you experience the city’s nature and history without spending a penny!

Walk Along the Pilsētas Kanāls/City Canal

Located in the heart of Riga, the Pilsētas Kanāls canal is leftover from medieval times. The moat was once for protection from invaders, but now its location at the centre of the city makes it popular with visitors. Many of those visitors will pay €18 for a 1 hour ride down the canal in a small boat. But you can take it all in at a slower pace, by walking along the banks of the canal!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Riga. City Canal

The canal runs for 4 kilometres and is flanked by parks, memorials and Vecriga or Old Riga. Each bank of the canal offers a different experience. You can access the east bank from the Riga Central Market and follow it to Kronvalda Park. You’ll pass through quite a few of the city’s green spaces and see a lot of pieces of history. Perhaps the most interesting place to see some history is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. It’s right near the canal and entry is free.

The west bank will also take you through some green spaces with monuments. Then you can take a detour into Vecriga/Old Riga and literally walk into history.

Free Things to do in Riga – Discover the Cobbled Streets of Vecriga

Vecriga/Old Riga was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997 and it is Riga’s historical centre. The best thing about Vecriga is that it’s made for pedestrians, which makes it lovely to walk around. Upon entering Old Riga, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into another century. It’s jam-packed with historical buildings.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Riga. Vecriga