Sunday, October 11, 2015

Christmas in Helsinki

Traveling at Christmas is equal parts beautiful and aggravating. Cities are decked out in twinkling lights, festive markets, and fantastic window displays. But many shops and restaurants that would otherwise be on the to-see/to-do list are closed. So you need a plan, and great friends, and a comfortable home-base. And I had all of those while in Helsinki at Christmas two years back.

After our ferry returned us from Estonia we took a quick cab to the Hotel Kamp, a gorgeous Starwood property located right on the beautiful Esplanade Park. We had a few rounds of very nice and very spendy cocktails and snacks in the hotel bar and then headed up to our connecting rooms for Trivial Pursuit and night caps.

The next morning was Christmas Eve, traditionally the day that most Europeans celebrate, so we had very limited options on what to do. You just need to do your research in advance and then also use your concierge for updated info.

We started with a breakfast at Stockmann's Department store which has a lovely cafe serving delicious pastries, egg dishes, espressos, etc. We then walked down to the harbor and caught a mainly pedestrian ferry (mainly as it can fit two cars at a time) to the island fortress of Suomenlinna.

The island is very interesting for strolling around. There are wooden buildings dating back to the habitation of the island, an amazing lighthouse, little villages with shops and cafes (closed for the holidays), and even a submarine!

It was cold and a bit drizzly so after our walk we headed back to the mainland and had a very good lunch at Sunn. By the time we finished the sun had set (after 3pm) and Senate Square, directly across the street, was lit up beautifully.

I had heard about a tradition that happens on Christmas Eve at the big main cemetery, with people lighting candles on all the gravestones, kind of like how we do the paper bag lanterns right? Only a bit more heartfelt and inspirational. We took a cab, it isn't terribly far but it isn't close either, and asked the driver to wait for us as it was raining and there aren't a lot of cabs queued up at cemeteries. There were stands selling candles and people lit them both for their own families but also for gravestones that had no-one to care for them anymore. It was quite moving to me; the serenity and beauty of the flickering candlelight, the solemness of the actions, the act of remembering and being remembered. I'd say that would always be a good Christmas present to receive.
as it was dark & rainy I couldn't capture how pretty it was
That evening we had dinner at the well known Kynsilaukka (which is the old Finnish word for garlic) Restaurant. Everything, and I mean everything, had garlic in it. Including my martini! Even though it all sounds a bit hokey but it was very good (all the food, not just my martini). Sadly I read it is now closed.

Back at the hotel we had our own Christmas celebration. Forest and Thibault handed out gifts as our official elves. We had drinks and played the very holiday-ish game of Cards Against Humanity. We had sweets of traditional Finnish candies that housekeeping had left for us. And to all a good night.

On Christmas morning we all had a special holiday breakfast at the hotel. They had a huge buffet, champagne, etc. and the guests were all dressed up for church (I assume). We headed back to our rooms after filling up and spent a decadent day all piled in one room watching movies.

On our way to dinner that night we decided to take the #3 tram which went around a part of town we hadn't been to. Trams are a lovely way to see the sights! We excited near Senate Square which was again beautifully decorated, and made our way to Savotta for dinner.

The restaurant is made to resemble a traditional logging village, again another hokey theme, but our food was absolutely excellent!

We wrapped up Christmas with martinis and Trivial Pursuit back at the Kamp Hotel.

What are you doing for Christmas?

Helsinki photos here

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