A "Warm" Welcome

"Tervetuloa Suomeen! Welcome to Finland!"

While the folks in Helsinki-Vantaa airport did not explicitly shower these phrases into my ears as I exited the jetway, I felt the welcoming vibes in my head.

Hearing what was almost dead silence at the airport on a Saturday morning was quite meditative for me as I was unsure what I should be expecting. 

So marked my beginning in Finland.

I will break this post into two parts; the first part is about my brief time spent with local Finn Jukka, and the second part is about my exploration of Finland with my friend Magnus.

Jukka welcomes me at the airport. Shows me around his local neighborhood. Helps me set-up my cell phone.

I am lucky to have a connection to Finland through my friend in California, Hanna. Through her, I was able to connect with Jukka of Espoo. Jukka was there to promptly greet me as I exited baggage claim with my luggage. 

We had some time to kill before the cell phone store opened up, so Jukka drove me around his town while we got to know to know each other. We continued our conversations over a breakfast at a waterfront café in Espoo. Quite an excellent view of the water.

Waterfront view from dock in Espoo

Jukka and Hanna were able to make necessary preparations to facilitate the opening of a Finnish phone line for me. I was quite happy to receive what has been quality cell phone service and unlimited reliable data for a nominal 25 USD per month. It was useful to have a working phone to be able to keep in touch with the folks back home through WhatsApp and for navigation during the trip up north to Lapland.

After our cell phone detour, Jukka dropped me off in Helsinki, where I would be meeting my friend Magnus. Forget jet lag. Forget sleep (for now). Time to explore.

The Duke Basketball buddies reunite - this time not in North Carolina or California, but on the steps of iconic Helsinki Cathedral. Over the course of six days we continued our adventures from Helsinki to Lapland and back.

Picture right in front of Helsinki Cathedral

I greeted Magnus on the footsteps of Helsinki Cathedral.

Our first activity planned in Helsinki was a city walking tour, which I discovered after doing some brief online research. Walking tours have become the first things to do on my to-do lists in new cities, as you get local perspective and history behind all the significant sites across the city. Some of my favorite clicks below.

Views from the top floor of Hotel Torni, which at one point was the tallest building in Finland

Cool looking buildings on a Helsinki side street

Russian influenced Uspenski Cathedral

One view of Helsinki Harbor

Chilling at Allas Park after sessions of Swimming & Hot Sauna

Helsinki Day 2 was a relaxation day. We purchased an all-day pass to a Public Pool and Sauna. According to Jukka it was opened recently and was worth checking out.

It was here that I had my first Finnish Sauna experience. It was hot! I was impressed with the ability of others to withstand the heat for long periods of time. It is a skill I need to work on. Another skill I need to work on is getting used to swimming in cold waters. As Magnus can attest, this skill improved slightly over the course of our trip.

On Day 3, we took a short flight up to Lapland, where we then rented a car and enjoyed the scenic drives to national parks and lakes. Lots of reindeers on the way, including some awaiting us at our first hotel.

Herd of Reindeer awaiting us at Luosto

At the national parks we went on hikes. One particular memorable experience was the Ancient Forest Hike at Pyhä-Luosto National Park. It was a 14 km (~9 mi) hike up a rocky fell, through forests and swamps.

While the hike was not necessarily a walk in the park, the biggest challenge came from not listening to Hanna's wise words "Adi, make sure you buy OFF! mosquito repellent before you go!" Well, she was right and I was wrong not to listen. The numerous bites I received on this hike reminded me of the bites I experienced during my childhood summers in South India. I did not take before-hike and after-hike pictures of my face, arms and legs, but let's just say the moral of the story is: when your Finnish friend tells you to buy mosquito repellent, make sure you listen! I have no excuse as to why I forgot.

Day 4 of our trip took us up further north to Lake Inari, where we first went rowing in the lake. Water was very calm and made for a pleasant journey.

Conquering the waters of Lake Inari

Our next stop was to the museum of the Sàmi peoples, an indigenous group residing in the Northern parts of Finland. It is good to see that the old cultures of the country are still preserved and showcased.

A Glimpse into a Sàmi Home

That was our last main activity in Lapland before we returned to Helsinki. Magnus caught a morning flight to Germany the following morning.

That was a lot of information - I tried to keep it as short as I could. It was a productive week, and I would like to thank Hanna, Jukka and Magnus for making it a success.

The upcoming week I will be staying in Espoo, which is a 20 minute bus ride away from the capital city. Will provide an update next weekend.

Moi Moi! Bye Bye!