Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Helsinki, Finland - November 2017

All Pictures at the Bottom

While planning a trip to Japan, I stumbled upon a special with Finnair. You can fly business class for free as long as you spent a minimum of 8 hours in Helsinki.

Apparently, Finnair is trying to become a hub airline between North American, Europe, and Asia. This make sense since flying north from Helsinki gets you to Asia in short order. Helsinki to Tokyo in less than 8 hours. The biggest issue Finnair is facing is improving its reputation. It is not known as a top-notch international business class airline. Right now they can barely give their business class seats away, thus the special.

The city of Helsinki is helping by subsidizing this promotion. Their thought is if they can get more people passing through Helsinki airport (HEL) more people will visit and spend money in Helsinki.
That is the reason for the eight-hour layover. The Helsinki airport is very close to the center of Helsinki and many of the Helsinki attractions. This makes it easy to do a quick day tour during an eight-hour layover.

I booked our first flight New York (JFK) to HEL arriving HEL at 8:50 AM our next flight HEL to Tokyo (NRT) departing HEL at 5:00 PM. This gave us a layover of eight hours ten minutes. This was perfect with ten minutes to spare. For free tickets, it is worth flying out of JFK.

We decided to use public transportation to get to JFK. First, we took New Jersey Transit to New York, Penn Station. Once at Penn Station we took the Long Island Railroad (LIR) to the JFK airport train. The JFK airport train drops you right at your terminal.

A long but stress-free way to get to JFK.

As we arrived at Penn Station we noticed a young lady departing the train looking a little lost. Margarite asked if she needed help. This young lady explained she was trying to get to the JFK airport and needed to take the LIR to the airport train. She seemed very nervous and explained this was her first trip flying overseas. In fact, it would be her first time out of the country.

We told her we were also heading to JFK airport and she could follow us. We made introductions and learned her name was Finnegan.

I jokingly said, ”As long as you have your passport and credit cards nothing bad can happen.” A look of fear and panic cane across Finnegan’s face. We asked what was wrong? My joke made her realize she had left her purse, which held her passport and credit cards, on the New Jersey Transit train.

Luckily for Finnegan Penn Station is the last stop for New Jersey Transit Trains. The three of us rushed back to the train. It had only been ten minutes, but it is New York so you never know how long an unattended purse might stick around. Finnegan remembered her train car number because it happened to be the date of her birthday. At first, she thought her luck ran out, her purse was not on her seat, but then she noticed it lying under the seat just in front of where she was sitting.

All was now fine, crisis averted.

We learned that Finnegan was also going to Helsinki and then on to Tokyo. She had recently broken up from a long-term relationship and needed to get away. Finnegan had found an unbelievable deal
on Finnair. If you flew economy with an eight-hour layover, they paid you two thousand Euros.

I had a friend Catherine Malngrey who lives in Helsinki. While her main profession is in the hospitality business focusing on food and beverage. She also is a registered and licensed tour guide. I had arranged to have Catherine pick us up at the airport and give us a nice overview tour of Helsinki. Since this had already been arranged we asked Finnegan if she would like to join us. She quickly agreed.

Catherine is a very cool person with a vast background. She speaks 14 different languages, a culinary goddess, world-class clothing designer, as well as a licensed/registered tour guide. I highly recommend Catherine as a tour guide if you find yourself with extra time in Helsinki. You can reach her via text, call, or what’s app at +358 40 1566944.

Our flight arrived 30 minutes early, Catherine was waiting for us. We jumped into her car and headed
to the center of Helsinki. This was about a 30-minute drive. As we drove Catherine gave us a high-level overview of the history of Finland. The history of Russia having control over Finland, then Sweden, before Finland finally got its independence.

Helsinki is made up of many islands on the Baltic Sea. Over the years land (fill) has been added to the some of the islands creating a larger and larger main section of the city. We visited three churches. The Helsinki Cathedral which is the Evangelical Luthera Cathedral, the Uspenski Cathedral is an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, and the Temppeliaukio Church - Rock Church. All three were beautiful churches, though the rock church was unique from a design standpoint. It was carved out of a granite hillside. Truly a Rock Church.

We stopped at an indoor market, there were many different vendors most focused on local foods. We sampled six different kinds of salmon, each had a distinct flavor.

Back at the main square, Catherine explained how much of the architecture resembles Berlin, Germany. At the time Helsinki was being developed as an urban center Germany was admired as a place with great architecture. Thus the influence.

Paris had great influence on the layout and design of the city. You can see the French influence in many of the statues and monuments. Paris was the center of culture during the period of Helsinki’s development. Much of this culture is mimicked in Helsinki.

It was now coming up on three o’clock. I was getting a little nervous about our 5 o’clock flight. The ladies did not seem to care. I voiced my concern and Catherine assured us we could get to the airport at 4:30 to catch a 5 o’clock flight.

After a few stops some local craft shops and high-end retailers, one of which Catherine bought Margarite a beautiful orange coffee mug, we were off to the airport. Finnegan immediately fell asleep
in the back seat of the car. It was like someone turned a light switch off.

Once back at the airport I attempted to wake Finnegan. I say attempted because it took me three tries. As we entered the airport Finnegan started looking for her passport as we lined up for security. The look on her face was the same look of panic we had seen just 19 hours earlier at Penn Station when Finnegan realized she had left her passport back on the train.

Clearly, as Finnegan searched her bag she had no idea where her passport was. Margarite and I had no worries. We knew the passport was somewhere on Finnegan’s person. She had it when we left the airport some 6 plus hours earlier and Finnegan had not pulled it out while we were on tour.

After a dazed (no sleep in 30 plus hours) Finnegan emptied every pocket and section of her purse, her passport and boarding pass appeared.

Off to Tokyo, we go. Margarite and I along with our new friend Finnegan.



Helsinki, Finland Nov 2017

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