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“Exotic” Travel in Helsinki

September 12th, 2008

If you are a savvy traveler and you know that there is more to Europe than London, Paris and Rome why not including one of the more exotic European capitals in your next trip in Europe? Helsinki – the capital of Finland - will definitely have a top ranking on this list.

There is a lot to explore although the city is only a fraction of the size of Paris or Berlin. Luckily most of Helsinki’s people speak English very well otherwise you would have problems. Unlike a trip to France or Germany you will not be able to pick up a few catchy phrases from a guide book during your flight time. Street names and words with seven “i”s will make you look into your guidebook or on the map the same number of times before you memorize the words. This makes a taxi ride as exotic as in Japan so you better point on the map or on the street name in a book. Otherwise it may happen you land in a totally different neighbourhood. Speaking of taxis: the basic starting fare when you board a taxi at Helsinki’s Vantaa airport is EUR 6.80 (and you are not gone any mile for this)…

The number of typical sightseeing targets (think: mum is standing with hanging arms in front of Eiffel Tower) in Helsinki is not high. That does not mean you cannot spend 4 or 5 days for a visit. It’s more about the full picture of Helsinki and Finland: what are the people like, what are their habits, what is the fashion, what are they interested in, where do they go for their weekend, what is the food like…

Hotel Kämp

Hotel Kamp

So while you visit you may include classic spots like the Senate Square with its neo-classical Cathedral; Esplanade Park with elegant shops and the posh Hotel Kämp; the “Rock” church with modern architecture, quarried out of the natural bedrock with excellent acoustics for concerts; the orthodox church with its golden cupolas showing the Russian impact of former times.

Helsinki

During a summer trip you can enjoy long days and a 20 minute ferry ride to Suomenlinna, an island with a maritime fortress and beautiful views of other sides of the city at the sea.

Suomenlinna

If you travel in winter time you should not miss a visit to your hotel’s sauna (you do not need to stay in a spa hotel to have that) or much better: to Yrjönkatu, an amazingly restored swimming hall from the 1920s.

A cheap and fun way to see different neighbourhoods is to jump on a tram. One of the most interesting neighbourhoods you will see then is the Design District with many shops, galleries, design hotel Klaus K and the Design Forum Finland showing most of the country’s big names in design and art. You will find all the classic top-class brands and trend-setting young designers for objects and furniture.

Klaus K

But one of my favourite things to do in Helsinki is: checking out restaurants ! I do not speak of traditional so-called-typical Finnish food like elk. Not that it’s bad but admit it: it is rather to show off next time when your friends compare what exotic meat everybody ate on his trips than to enjoy a fantastic dinner. There has been a development in Helsinki’s restaurant scene that brings very creative chefs from all around the world into this city’s kitchens. The food is very fresh and of high quality, the meals are creative and restaurants offer various atmospheres. Try “Sasso”, a Tuscan restaurant with fantastic food and an exceptional wine list. The service is outstanding and you can dare to ask for details of a wine and you will get the full story including who created the label on the bottle. Similar situation at “Fishmarket” , situated below “Sasso” in the same building and has the same owner but different approach and style. Despite its location in a cellar it is very bright and crisp in style. The fish is a well. Both restaurants can be found at the end of Esplanade street towards the port.

Another favourite is “Mecca”, a cool lounge/club goes restaurant goes club. The atmosphere is as you would expect it from a stylish club. Regular guests match this style – without the attitude you know from New York or Paris.

Mecca

Mecca

For another Mediterranean top restaurant I recommend “La Cucina”

La Cocina

with Catalonian and Basque cuisine. Located at the Palace Hotel’s second floor directly at the port. The restaurant welcomes guests with dark black and red design, stylish, modern but cozy. They offer pintxos (tapas) and main dishes of great variety and combinations. Fantastic dark blood coloured red match perfectly. I had my best deserts at this restaurant (chocolate varieties with sea salt) and would not fly Helsinki if I knew this restaurant was closed during that time (almost…).

La Cucina

I did not expect the great food and sophisticated interest for architecture and design before I came to Helsinki for the first time. Be surprised if you are going.

carsteng Destinations, Travel, Travel Guide ,

“Exotic” Travel in Helsinki

June 23rd, 2008

If you are a savvy traveller and you know that there is more to Europe than London, Paris and Rome why not including one of the more exotic European capitals in your next trip in Europe? Helsinki – the capital of Finland - will definitely have a top ranking on this list.

 

 

There is a lot to explore although the city is only a fraction of the size of Paris or Berlin.

Luckily most of Helsinki’s people speak English very well otherwise you would have problems. Unlike a trip to France or Germany you will not be able to pick up a few catchy phrases from a guide book during your flight time. Street names and words with seven “i”s will make you look into your guidebook or on the map the same number of times before you memorize the words. This makes a taxi ride as exotic as in Japan so you better point on the map or on the street name in a book. Otherwise it may happen you land in a totally different neighbourhood. Speaking of taxis: the basic starting fare when you board a taxi at Helsinki’s Vantaa airport is EUR 6.80 (and you are not gone any mile for this)….

 

 

The number of typical sightseeing targets (think: mum is standing with hanging arms in front of Eiffel Tower) in Helsinki is not high. That does not mean you cannot spend 4 or 5 days for a visit. It’s more about the full picture of Helsinki and Finland: what are the people like, what are their habits, what is the fashion, what are they interested in, where do they go for their weekend, what is the food like…

 

Hotel Kämp

Hotel Kamp

So while you visit you may include classic spots like the Senate Square with its neo-classical Cathedral; Esplanade Park with elegant shops and the posh Hotel Kämp; the “Rock” church with modern architecture, quarried out of the natural bedrock with excellent acoustics for concerts; the orthodox church with its golden cupolas showing the Russian impact of former times.

Helsinki

During a summer trip you can enjoy long days and a 20 minute ferry ride to Suomenlinna, an island with a maritime fortress and beautiful views of other sides of the city at the sea.

 

 

 

Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna

If you travel in winter time you should not miss a visit to your hotel’s sauna (you do not need to stay in a spa hotel to have that) or much better: to Yrjönkatu, an amazingly restored swimming hall from the 1920s.

 

A cheap and fun way to see different neighbourhoods is to jump on a tram. One of the most interesting neighbourhoods you will see then is the Design District with many shops, galleries, design hotel Klaus K and the Design Forum Finland showing most of the country’s big names in design and art. You will find all the classic top-class brands and trend-setting young designers for objects and furniture.

 

 

Hotel Klaus K

Klaus K

 

But one of my favourite things to do in Helsinki is: checking out restaurants ! I do not speak of traditional so-called-typical Finnish food like elk. Not that it’s bad but admit it: it is rather to show off next time when your friends compare what exotic meat everybody ate on his trips than to enjoy a fantastic dinner. There has been a development in Helsinki’s restaurant scene that brings very creative chefs from all around the world into this city’s kitchens. The food is very fresh and of high quality, the meals are creative and restaurants offer various atmospheres. Try “Sasso”, a Tuscan restaurant with fantastic food and an exceptional wine list. The service is outstanding and you can dare to ask for details of a wine and you will get the full story including who created the label on the bottle. Similar situation at “Fishmarket” , situated below “Sasso” in the same building and has the same owner but different approach and style. Despite its location in a cellar it is very bright and crisp in style. The fish is a well. Both restaurants can be found at the end of Esplanade street towards the port.

Another favourite is “Mecca”, a cool lounge/club goes restaurant goes club. The atmosphere is as you would expect it from a stylish club. Regular guests match this style – without the attitude you know from New York or Paris.

 

Mecca

Mecca

For another Mediterranean top restaurant I recommend “La Cucina” - with Catalonian and Basque cuisine. Located at the Palace Hotel’s second floor directly at the port. The restaurant welcomes guests with dark black and red design, stylish, modern but cozy. They offer pintxos (tapas) and main dishes of great variety and combinations. Fantastic dark blood coloured red match perfectly. I had my best deserts at this restaurant (chocolate varieties with sea salt) and would not fly Helsinki if I knew this restaurant was closed during that time (almost…).

La Cocina

 

La Cucina

I did not expect the great food and sophisticated interest for architecture and design before I came to Helsinki for the first time. Be surprised if you are going.

carsteng Destinations, Travel, Travel Guide , , , , ,

Castle Hotel in Germany

May 6th, 2008

The following is an insider tip on traveling through Germany’s history. I already stayed at this small castle hotel twice which stands out from the crowd of other similar hotels mainly because of its casual atmosphere in a yet sophisticated environment: Lütgenhof Castle in Dassow, close to the German shore at the Baltic Sea, an hour east of Hamburg.

Luetgenholf

So if you want to see more than the major German cities and willing to see the countryside and some historical sites but you are allergic to flocks of scuffling Japanese tourists in Neuschwanstein castle (think Cinderella Castle at Disney World) then this might be a less spectacular but more personal alternative. You can spend time on a quiet piece of land with a small river next to the building and a nature-sanctuary around it. You can go to rough beaches, other mansions and little castles, small villages or towns like Wismar with farmer’s markets, cafés, shops and old churches or to Lübeck with its picturesque Old Town which is a world heritage site.

Lütgenhof was built in 1839 and extended over the years in a neo-classical style by an aristocratic family. After WWII it made its way through the decades and became a children’s home then a school and then barracks for the boarder guards as it was in 1961 suddenly located directly on a borderline between East and West-Germany! Luckily the company Jägermeister bought it after the reunification of Germany and redeveloped and renovated with care.

Luetgenhof

Today it offers 23 rooms and suites equipped with no thrilling features (small simple TV, no internet access) but in a reserved and comfortable style: high quality materials, fine linen, fresh, bright, no frills.

You will see precious furniture with a slight modern accent in the public rooms without the typical baroque castle arrangements. This is a fact which in combination with the attentive but casual service helps to feel very comfortable – no matter if you drive up in Jaguar or on a touring bike.

There is a small gourmet restaurant in a hall with an impressive wooden coffered ceiling and a view over reed fields where you can enjoy fine dining. Guests interested in running or cycling will have the choice between countless tours and may complete the day in the hotel’s bio sauna or on the terrace with a local beer.

Altogether an excellent place to relax in a historic, natural, fine and comfortable surrounding, supported by grown up, professional and personal hotel service.

carsteng Destinations, Hotels, Travel ,

Fette Sau!

February 28th, 2008

You can certainly satisfy your appetite in millions of restaurants in New York City so why paddle over from your Manhattan accommodation to Williamsburg (Brooklyn)?

BECAUSE…you need to visit Williamsburg once anyway and it is even more fun at night as this neighbourhood is full of cool bars, cafés, restaurants, speakeasies and clubs - which are not frequented too much by tourists from Idaho or Germany. If you don’t want to pay big dollars on Four Seasons or Jean Georges and fancy a cheap chain diner then there is a real alternative: Fette Sau (means fat pig).

The closest subway station is probably Metropolitan/Lorimer on the L line. Go on Metropilitan opposite direction of subway, pass under the highway and find a driveway equipped with picnic tables on the left hand side, close to Havemeyer Street. You’ve arrived! This joint is a former garage and still kept its industrial style. Not big, but cozy.

They offer earthy, greasy but solid pork, beef and lamb through a self-service butcher’s counter which is paid by weight. The staff puts your meat directly on a sheet of paper on your tray. You can choose from a few sides that are not overwhelming but you have at least something to chew on besides your meat (potato salad and such). You are probably terrified when you see black pieces of meat coming from the smoke apparatus which is the heart of this place. You’ll find a changing variety of ribs, leg of lamb, belly of pork, steak and pastrami. Accompanied by one of the local brewed beers and a shot of digestif, bourbon or whiskey from the über-equipped bar and you will be happy (not you, veggies and vegans!) There is a handful of different home-made and creative sauces for your meal as well. The meat is greasy, tender and aromatic. Their staff is nice and folks around you may be students, young families from the neighbourhood and some southerners who swear on this unpretentious cuisine.

Fette Sau

Those who do not flinch from eating at Fetta Sau earned an interesting experience away from the Times Square pack and can call themselves “hip”. Find your way back to by continuing further in direction of the East River with a final visit to a chic watering-hole in Wiliamsburg before boarding the L-train back to “civilized“ Manhattan.

carsteng Dining Reviews, Travel