The Layover Diaries: Helsinki


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Europe » Finland » Uusimaa » Helsinki
October 2nd 2022
Published: October 4th 2022
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Finnair’s New Business Class SeatFinnair’s New Business Class SeatFinnair’s New Business Class Seat

I got to experience this innovative new seat between Helsinki and Singapore. Unlike traditional lie flat Business Class products, this seat does not recline. Rather, it is set up like a sofa. When you want to sleep, you move the legrest - which is the seat's only mechanical part - up to form a contiguous flat surface, place your legs into a cubby hole, and slide the rest of your body down into a sleeping position. It was a bold move on their part. I did find the seat very comfortable.
When I look for flights for my visits to Singapore, in addition to searching for flights departing Honolulu, I often search for flights from Los Angeles because there are more connecting options between LAX and SIN, and the fares, even with a HNL-LAX return added, can be cheaper. This time, on a whim, I selected Business Class in my search parameters, and an intriguing and inexpensive (for Business Class) option popped up - LAX to SIN via Helsinki. I would have long layovers in both directions, but I didn't mind as I would have an opportunity to explore a new city. As an added bonus, I would get to try Finnair's unconventional new Business Class seat between Helsinki and Singapore. Even though it was a relatively cheap fare for Business Class, it was still a sizeable chunk of change, and so I thought over it for a few days before I took a deep breath and made the purchase.

The first layover, on September 17, was scheduled for eight hours between 4pm and midnight. The second layover on October 2 was a daytime connection from 6am to 4pm. As I only had limited daylight on my first layover, I decided
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I wondered if this was a sauna, or a funky store. It turned out to be a tourist information booth. On top of the booth is a public space where people can hang out on the sloping roof. I was impressed by the design thought put into something as mundane as a tourist information booth.
to utilize that layover to get the lay of the land first, and reserve a trip to Suomenlinna Fortress for my second layover.

On a side note, I have been wracking my brains to make up a joke about traveling between LAX, HEL, and SIN, but I haven't gotten any inspiration. I'm open to suggestions :-)

The First Layover




Due to a flight delay, my scheduled eight hour layover was reduced to seven hours. Despite this setback, I decided to stick with my original plan to take the train into Helsinki, and get a sense of the city during the three hours of daylight I still had left.

I landed in Helsinki around 4.30pm. After going through immigration, I deposited my larger backpack at a left baggage counter, withdrew some cash from an ATM, and then took three escalators deep underground to get to the train station. The design of the train station was quite awe inspiring. The long escalators into the train station were especially cool as they feature high concrete walls on three sides.

I hopped onto the train to Helsinki and arrived around 5.30pm. After exiting the station, I turned east and
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Helsinki Cathedral atop the steps at Senate Square.
made my way to the seafront in the hope of getting to the Old Market Hall before they closed at 6pm. En route, I tried to get a feel for the environment I was in. Apart from a general sense of orderliness, I was surprised to hear a fair bit of English spoken around me. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Helsinki was more multiracial than I expected for a European country that wasn't a colonial power.

To get to Old Market Hall, I first walked through a very cute park with several statues depicting various sea creatures spouting water. Alas, I arrived at the Old Market Hall just as they were shutting the front doors. I wandered around the seafront for bit, taking in the sights, and taking note of the location of the ferry to Suomenlinna. I was also impressed by the modern design elements around. A great example was a tourist information booth which was constructed from asymmetrical wood strips. From there, I headed towards the Allas Sea Pool. I briefly considered going there to partake in Finland’s sauna culture, but I balked about walking from the hot sauna into the chilly 14 degree
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Kamppi Chapel. If not for Atlas Obscura, I wouldn't have known what to make of this odd structure in a shopping area.
Celsius open air to dip myself in even more chilly sea water.

Looking around for my next sightseeing stop, my eye wandered to something bright and shiny: the golden domes of the Uspenski Cathedral perched atop a nearby hill. I made my way there, wandered the grounds, and noted the small crowd on the hillock awaiting the sunset. From there, I made my way over to the Senate Square, where I climbed the steps leading up to the Helsinki Cathedral. I hung out there to watch the sunset.

After sunset, I made my way through the fading light towards to check out two Atlas Obscura sights. The first was the Pohjola Insurance Building, which features an old stone façade with gargoyles and ogres from Finnish folklore. I then walked westwards past the train station, and I headed towards the Kamppi Chapel, a cool looking asymmetrical wooden structure located very conspicuously within a shopping area. Per Atlas Obscura, it isn’t really a chapel; it serves as a quiet space in the middle of a commercial district. Unfortunately, it had closed for the day, so I could not go inside. Nearby, I stumbled across the exterior of the Amos Rex Museum, which looks
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One of the three escalators bringing passengers deep underground to the train station.
like white mounds. I enjoyed watching people gingerly pick their way up and down the sloping roof.

I wandered around for a bit more, but it was already well past sunset and I don’t fancy wandering around a strange city in the dark, so I made my way to the train station and back to Vantaa Airport.

The Second Layover




I landed in a dark and cold Helsinki in the wee hours of the morning on October 2nd. After disembarking, I went through the now familiar routine: immigration and customs, bag storage, and then onto the train. Once in Helsinki, I made my way eastwards towards the pier for the Suomenlinna ferry. I arrived at the pier at 8.30am to find that the first ferry on Sundays was at 9.00am. The nearby street market wasn’t yet in full swing. I approached one vendor who happened to already be open, purchased a slice of rye with smoked salmon, and waited for the ferry.

The ferry arrived promptly just before 9.00am, and I boarded it along with around eight other people. The ferry ride took about 15 minutes, during which I stood on the open air deck and
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The train station in the city. I thought the two statues holding the globes were quite striking.
enjoyed the refreshing crisp morning air. En route, the ferry offered great views of the Helsinki skyline and a smattering of small islands. Suomenlinna Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It comprises of eight islands, five of which are connected by bridges. Suomenlinna, also known as Sveaborg, has been occupied by three countries: Sweden began constructing the fortifications in 1748 to protect itself against Russia. Russia gained control of the site in 1808 and expanded it. When Finland became independent following World War I, they gained control of the site. It became a UNESCO listed site in 1991. The islands are inhabited.

The ferry deposited us at a jetty in front of a large pink building with a clock tower. This building houses the tourist information office. However, nothing was open because it was Sunday. I was a tad disappointed because I wanted to pick up a map and brochure so that I would at least know what I was looking at. Nevertheless, I figured out from the maps on the signboards that there is a recommended walking route of just under 2km each way leading past museums, cafes, and eventually to a feature in the fortress wall
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View of Helsinki as the ferry departed.
called King's Gate. On the signboards, the walking route was highlighted in blue. I started out in the most obvious direction and walked past some wooden houses. I saw shops, cafes, and even a hostel. I think the hostel was open, but nothing else was. Just past the houses was a church which was initially built as an orthodox church by the Russians, but it was turned into a Lutheran church when the Finns took over.

After the church, though, I got confused by the signposts because each of them pointed to multiple landmarks in different directions. I got disoriented twice and landed up in residential areas, both times I beat a quick retreat as I didn't want to disturb anyone. After the second time I walked in the wrong direction, I went back to the signboards and thought a little more critically about what I was doing. The walking route was in blue on the map, and I looked at the signposts and saw that most directional signs were in brown but some were painted blue. Duh. I was supposed to follow the blue directional signs.

The blue walking route takes visitors to two of the islands.
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This pink clock tower was the first structure I saw after the ferry docked. The tourist information counter was in there, but it was closed.
I had already seen the first two sights, and so I set out in the direction of the other sights once I figured out I was supposed to follow the blue signs. Not long after, I saw the first of the fortress walls. The trees were starting to show their fall colors and it was pretty and atmospheric. Following the blue route, I soon crossed the bridge to the second island. The first major sight I saw was a pretty courtyard with a unique tomb featuring a representation of the deceased's armor. Soon after, I encountered the main fortress itself. Within the fortress walls, there were small hillocks. Rooms had been built into some of the hillocks, but the doors were all locked and I couldn't figure out what they had been used for. In some ways, the interior of the fortress resembled a hobbit village. There were also cannons and lookout posts. Finally, I reached the end point pf the blue route, which is King's Gate. Unfortunately, I could only walk underneath an arch; the rest of the King's Gate, including stone steps that went downwards past the arch, was cordoned off. I imagine it would have looked quite
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Cannons
grand from the other direction since this presumably was where dignitaries were greeted. Just then, a saw a huge ferry the size of a cruise ship. Presumably it was a ferry from Tallinn (Estonia) across the Baltic. It looked as if it was heading for the channel between the island I was on and one of the other islands in the chain. My jaw dropped as it came closer and closer, and then it sailed between the two islands. I could not believe that this narrow strait was deep enough for a ship that size. I regained my composure and waved at the passengers on the ferry. Many of them waved back.

By this time, I had spent almost two hours exploring. I decided to make my way back to the jetty. As I was walking back, I saw large groups of people heading towards me. I guess the later ferries had many more passengers. But, none of the cafes or shops were open. I got to the jetty just as the ferry was docking, and I made my way back to Helsinki.

When I got back to the pier, I saw that the street market was in
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The huge Baltic ferry making its way between the two islands. I was stunned that this huge ship could ply through this narrow strait.
full swing, and that a large crowd of people were browsing through the shops and restaurants. I wandered around the street stalls as well as some boats that had set up shop. The majority were selling various forms of fresh and preserved seafood. I then walked through the Old Market Hall and looked at the food items on offer, which were pretty much the same as the open air market. Finally, I went back to the pier, purchased a meal of salmon, potatoes, and vegetables, and ate heartily. Once sated, I made my way back to the train station and to the airport where I retired to the Finnair lounge for refreshments and a shower before my next long haul flight to Los Angeles. At the lounge, I was stunned to bump into a coworker. He too had discovered that Finnair offered inexpensive fares in their premium cabins.



This was a fun little diversion and a welcome change from my usual stopovers in Tokyo. The flights between SIN and HEL (there must be a joke in there somewhere; maybe I'm trying too hard to come up with something witty) were two hours longer than usual because they had
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Fall colors juxtaposed against the fortress walls.
to avoid Russian and Ukrainian airspace. On the outbound, this meant I had 30 hours of flying and two layovers totaling 10 hours. On the return, counting the leg from Cambodia and an overnight stop in Los Angeles, it was 32 hours of flying and three layovers totaling 24 hours. This was a time consuming journey, but I'll gladly do it again for the right price.


Additional photos below
Photos: 61, Displayed: 30


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The train station in central Helsinki. I was especially struck by the two statues holding the globes on either side of the entrance,
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To get to the seafront, I walked through a cute little park with fountains of sea creatures squirting water.
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Another fountain in the park.
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Old Market Hall. I got there just as they were shutting these doors. I did go in there on my second layover, though.
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Old Market Hall
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Another perspective on the tourist information booth.
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Allas Sea Pool. I chickened out of partaking in this experience.
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Allas Sea Pool
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Uspenski Cathedral
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Uspenski Cathedral


4th October 2022

Credit Due to You!
Wow, I give you a lot of credit for venturing out of the airport during your layovers! You certainly saw and experienced quite a bit of the city between both layovers. It's been quite a few years since I visited Helsinki for a day as a port call, but I do recall ambling around the area at the waterfront, the long park near by, having lunch there and doing a tiny bit of shopping. Unfortunately I did not see the Suomenlinna Fortress but thankfully visited the Uspenski Cathedral, and a few other places you saw. Thanks for sharing your interesting photos and descriptions of what you were able to see --- I probably wouldn't even be able to understand the train schedule there!
4th October 2022

Thanks!
Thanks for complimenting my labeling of photos. Thanks to computers and mobile devices, many of us nowadays are visual learners, so the people who take the time to label their photos are the ones who get my clicks!
7th October 2022

Business Class
We've never flown business class but it is on our bucket list. If the price was right I'd go to Helsinki also. Looks like you made the best of your short visit.
7th October 2022

Do it!
The trouble with flying premium classes - especially the ones with lie flat seats - is that you’ll never want to fly economy class again! But, you have to try it at least once :-)
13th November 2022

Helsinki and Layovers
Gosh, I would never have thought of looking to travel to Singapore from Hawaii by going eastwards! It looks like you bagged some good deals, but they were some seriously long flights and layovers! Well done on being able to do so many long journey legs, and great to hear you were able to take advantage of your times in Helsinki. I love the city's architecture in your photos, and I have a feeling the underground hillocks in the fortress would have been where they would have stored ammunition. English fortresses have these, so in case there was an accident and they caught fire, the exploding damage would be limited being underground. Nice to see you have seen some more insouciant birds, and I've also tried and failed to make a joke out of the SIN to HEL flight - there must be one, surely!
13th November 2022

Taking The Long Way
Hi Alex. I would not have done this trip in Economy Class… just thinking about it makes my back hurt LOL. I really enjoyed Helsinki and this was a fun introduction to a new country.

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