Finland- A Hidden Gem at the Top of the World July 11, 2012 Europe 2 Comments Finland- An amazing untouched world of its own tucked up at the top of this world we live in. Gorgeous view from one of the outdoor terrace bars in Finland around 9pm at night! So apparently according to Finnish legend, Santa Clause is from here, although based on my wikipedia search, (trustworthy source, I know!) each Scandinavian country claims his home is in a town in their country..so I don’t really know who to believe on this one! I did manage to track a hotel up at the very top of the country in the area they call lapland which is dedicated to Santa..so maybe that’s the Finnish way of roping the tourists into believing their side of the story! Helsinki, Finland- Terrace bars are packed during the summer months after work each evening Leaving my family and coming to join one of my friends, Jonathan, who I had met whilst on the exchange program earlier this year, I have truly been shown an amazing time in this country from a locals perspective. Night 1 in Helsinki- Jonathan took me straight to get an ice-cream! The serve sizes are HUGE in Finland, 1 scoop (the smallest) is at least 4 times the size of a small Italian gelato! Arriving just after the Finnish mid summer, I couldn’t have timed it more perfectly to maximise my time by getting days that only go dark close to 11pm, and have the sun rising again around 4.20am. After the day I had spent in Iceland and really enjoyed, I was expecting good things from this place..and lets just say, I was not let down! Helsinki, Finland- Picnic dinner on a pier- simple pleasures in life Helsinki, Finland- Crazy Finns making the most of their summer swimming in 17 degrees water at 9pm! Helsinki, Finland- Looking out at the surrounding islands. Helsinki, Finland- Jonathan my wonderful host with our simple healthy picnic dinner Spending evenings sitting out on the piers with a picnic or an ice-cream (yes, even here I managed to find frozen dairy desserts!) and looking out at the archipelago of islands that make up Finland, strolling through the amazing indoor and outdoor food markets Helsinki has to offer, making my way to two summer houses, both with very different feels, but beautiful nonetheless, being taken on mini tours through the smaller older style towns in the regions bordering Helsinki, venturing to some of the classy restaurants and lounges that the city has at its dispence, and even managing to fit in a row boat trip along side some more high speed boats to make my way from island to island, I can confidently say, I was treated like a princess in this country! Finland- Summer house number 1! Gorgeous relaxing view from the outdoor dining table at the summer house Finnish summer house- outdoor sauna house down by the water seemed to be a common theme! About to go for a boat ride- old school style! Great exercise (for the rower!) Tasty, quick and simple BBQ at the summer house Travelling Dietitian at Finnish summer house number 2- gorgeous! Healthy long lunch in Finland- fish, salad, fish, salad, fish, salad…you get the point! Thoroughly enjoyed! Summer house number 1- Salad served at the delicious healthy long lunch! Finnish summer houses- back to basics- toilets are outside pretty much as a hole in the ground with a fancy seat covering..oh wow! Jonathan about to enjoy a very tasty meal at one of the many lovely Helsinki restaurants Time to try Rudolph! Reindeer in Finland Another delicious omega 3 rich meal in Helsinki Cute gourmet food shop in one of the small towns outside Helsinki I stayed for 1 night Lots of boats docked on the weekend at the small towns outside Helsinki I was told that the problems around lifestyle diseases, including obesity, had been growing in the Finnish population, however the families that I met with, and the food I was shown, painted a totally different portrait of this to me. Walking into any supermarket or large food store you could always notice that the bread section was huge, and filled with at least 90% dark rye and grainy dense breads; The rice, pasta, noodles and cold cereal sections of the stores on the other hand were tiny, and the white bread was hardly visible. Helsinki, Finland- Stockmans- As usual, huge selection of darker rye and grainy breads Helsinki, Finland- Rye bread is everywhere The popular brand of packaged rye bread in Finland Fresh fish (with a huge selection of salmon), seafood, meats and poultry were always available, and arrays of fresh fruits and vegetables were for sale (it was interesting that outside each supermarket there was a market stand set up selling fresh berries.. You didn’t see me complaining about this!). Enough salmon options you think? Fresh sweet cherries and berries are always available in market stands set up around Helsinki Weekend market selling lots of berries at a small town just outside Helsinki They have a big store in the centre of the city called Stockmans which is very similar to one of the huge wholefood stores in America. I went there on my own knowing I would be spending a good portion of my afternoon looking through each and every isle, enjoying researching all the different products that were on sale, and looking at the claims that were being made on the packaging…I didn’t expect anyone to understand the weird thrill I get from this activity..hence me going on my own (as usual!). I guess it’s just one of the little things that makes me, me! Stockmans, Helsinki- Salads galore ‘ready to go’ Stockmans, Helsinki- Ready to go meals with lots of rye sandwiches with salmon and vegetables, or ready made salads with a protein source and some seeds and nuts! Stockmans, Helsinki- Ready to go nut mixes (the only packaged ‘snack’ food at the check out I found it interesting that there was a cholesterol lowing porridge by one of the brands that overseas makes cholesterol lowering margarines and yoghurts. I had never seen phytosterol enriched oats, and I actually thought that was a very suitable product to be fortified and would be quite a a good product for Australians. I also tracked down in a health food store a ‘muscle milk’ oats which I hadn’t seen before, which was basically a small portable tub of oats fortified with protein powder, I thought that was quite a good option too for people on the go. Cholesterol lowering porridge with phytosterols Muscle milk- oats with protein powder- would definitely hit the spot The main claim that seemed to be EVERYWHERE (and I noticed if from day one) was “low lactose” or “lactose free”. It was on products that back in Australia and America you wouldn’t even think to place this claim on i.e on a loaf of bread. I was totally confused by this so decided to speak with some Finnish people about it. I was told that a very large percentage of their population have lactose intolerance, however it doesn’t appear to be genetic, but rather environmental, because many find that when they consume the dairy products from other European countries further south, their lactose intolerance symptoms go away…I found that very interesting! They thought it may have something to do with the food processing, and apparently a range of new milks and dairy products were being produced to try and match this growing demand in the country. Dairy products with claims in Finland Street vendors are not set up in Helsinki like in America or some of the other European countries, however the side stores (similar to a 7/11) have amazing options for people on the go (at least I thought so!). I was able to find at every side store enough options that were high in protein, fibre, or low GI, that I would be happy enough to purchase if I was in a rush or on a road trip somewhere. Protein bars were always available at the side stores in Helsinki One of the many high protein milks available at the side stores in Helsinki There were formulated milks and protein bars, different varieties of mixed nuts, and even sandwiches in the fridge that were appropriately portion sized and made on rye bread with a protein source and some vegetables (..that looked appealing to eat..now that’s a big call for side store food). Coffee cup sizes in Finland- notice how much smaller they are then in the USA Snack food at the side store in Helsinki, Finland Having been on many road trips throughout the beginning of the year with my ‘family’ of exchange students in America, and only having the options from the fast food venues and a few cereal/health food bars that were readily available from the mini marts along the highways, it was refreshing for me to be able to purchase some small rye bread rolls and reduced fat cheese to make a sandwich on the way home from one of the summer houses when Jonathan and I were driving home one evening. Old town where many retired Swedish speaking Finns live on the way home from one of the summer houses Old town where many Swedish speaking Finns live once retired outside of Helsinki From an architectural and town planning perspective, I actually thought Helsinki had a vibe very similar to Melbourne, in that there were trams all throughout the city centre, and it was very green, with parks and trees lined everywhere. The buildings were a mixture of old European styles, together with modern developments, and the streets were kept very clean which is always more inviting. Park in the middle of the city that was always packed with locals and tourists! I managed to even have the pleasure of getting a group of Jonathans friends together one evening for a picnic here, not a bad way to spend a summer night if you ask me! Parks behind the main streets in Helsinki Feeling at home as the trams pass me by in Helsinki in a similar fashion to Melbourne Helsinki city centre Busy streets in Helsinki city centre You could see that the Finnish people really liked to make the most of their summer holidays (I am guessing the dark winter months would feel very different!), with the parks being filled with young professionals and students out and about after work and university from 4pm until at least 10pm. There was also more bike riders then I have ever seen in my life in the one city. People appeared to even be riding to the terrace cafes and bars in the evenings, which is certainly a different cultural norm to many other places in the world! All the bikes parked on the side of the terrace bar in Helsinki one evening Overall I really enjoyed my time in Finland, a part of the world that hopefully maintains its peaceful nature and natural beauty for years to come. I particularly liked that everyone was able to speak English, especially after a month in Italy, France and Spain where communication appeared to be a bit more of a problem for me! I certainly could return to this part of the world (and heading up north to see Santas home and the northern lights during winter doesn’t seem too unappealing- and this coming from a sun loving girl!). Now thats going to be healthy fresh fish, you just know it! Healthy dinner is ready to be served at the market Market food in Helsinki- fresh as always! I want to thank Jonathan in particular, as well as all of his family and friends who went above and beyond their call of duty over the past week to make me feel welcome and show me an authentic Swedish speaking Finn experience. Jonathans mothers dog who is the same breed as my little Riley back home- I couldn’t have been more excited when I got this surprise if I tried! Another simple pleasure in life: Jonathans mother helping me understand Finnish recipes written in Swedish in a cook book at the summer house- I actually started to get the hang of it after a while! I truly enjoyed every minute and won’t forget anything or anyone. …And so the journey continues, Back to NYC to see what the next leg of this trip will bring my way, As always, the updates will be sure to continue, For now, The Travelling Dietitian x Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window) Related 2 Responses Heidi - Apples Under My Bed August 20, 2012 Awesome post, Karz. Would love to visit Finland one day! Heidi xo Log in to Reply Travelling Dietitian August 22, 2012 Thanks Heids! Yes I’m sure you and Ben would have a ball there, it’s seriously divine! Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.