Helsinki city center

boomer travel blogger

I was curious about Finland after reading that the country won double gold in the “World Happiness Report 2018.” What makes the Nordic people so happy, I wondered.

I was set on finding out about this high happiness quotient after landing in its capital city last fall for my first-ever visit to Helsinki. This time I was traveling courtesy of Collette Travel.*  I was blogger bound on their Northern Lights of Finland Tour which would take me first to Helsinki and then,

 

Helsinki city center

Helsinki city center is bright at night.

…drum roll please,

another drum roll please,

…a final drum roll please,

to the Arctic Circle in Lapland! Ooh, ooh, ooh, it’s time to tell you all about this fabulous trip that I was preparing and packing for last October.

Northern Lights of Finland Tour: Collette Travel; Ivalo airport; Lapland

I went to Lapland on a Northern Lights of Finland Tour.

The benefits of traveling on a Collette Explorations tour

Traveling solo — without my boyfriend L, or sister N, or BFF L — I was a bit anxious going so far without a familiar companion by my side. Now being on the other end, I am pleased to say I never felt truly alone. You see, here’s what’s special about an Explorations by Collette tour:

  • We were a small group of 10 (average Explorations tours have 15), so I was able to have unique adventures and get to know my fellow travelers. Most of my group when asked said they selected this particular tour because they wanted to see Lapland and see the Northern Lights. It was so nice to meet three other solo boomer women on my tour. We became good friends and often spent our free time together. (Boomer women are big travelers!)
Explorations by Collette Travel; Northern Lights of Finland Tour

There were 10 of us in our small group.

  • We had an American Tour Manager Chad along with local guides in each city. Chad acted as our Explorations LEAD (also known as liaison), working with the local guides to bridge the two cultures. He kept us on schedule and made the entire trip run smoothly. With Collette’s 100 years of travel experience, it was lovely to simply enjoy and not have to worry about any of the details, including things like transportation from the airport to the hotel.
Explorations by Collette Travel; Northern Lights of Finland Tour

Chad, pictured in yellow, was our American tour manager.

  • We had an opportunity to discover and learn about authentic local flavors and culture. From culinary meals at a Michelin-rated restaurant in Helsinki to igloo living in Lapland — it wasn’t just about a place to eat or a place to sleep, but about the experience as a whole.
glass igloos in Lapland

Staying overnight in a heated igloo in Lapland was memorable.

Getting settled in Helsinki

The Lilla Roberts Hotel captured my attention the minute I stepped though its doors. Although I would only be staying for two nights before leaving for Lapland, its art-deco decor won me over. The historic property dates back more than 100 years and originally housed a power plant and police station. The location is perfect too — a few blocks from the center of town, nearby the Design District, and within walking distance to the indoor and outdoor markets, restaurants and shops. I only wished I had arrived a day earlier so I would have had more time to explore Helsinki. (I definitely recommend an extra day or more when visiting Helsinki.) BTW, I felt very safe walking around downtown Helsinki at night.

Lila Roberts Hotel in Helsinki

The Lilla Roberts Hotel in Helsinki had art deco decor.

Lilla’s Krog Roba restaurant serves a spectacular breakfast buffet every morning. It was included with our tour on the weekend and was well worth it. On the menu were Scandinavian favorites like house malt bread, Karelian pasties, muesli, Nordic cheeses, and gravlax flavored with juniper berry. Ooh, ooh, ooh, I also tried sparkling mead, a Finnish beverage made with fermented honey, and a Sea Buckthorn shot, which provides a healthy dose of vitamin C, E, carotenoids, amino acids and dietary minerals.

Finnish beverages, mead, sea-buckthorn shot

Toasting with mead to my first time in Helsinki.

I heard dinners are really good at Krog Roba too. We couldn’t get a reservation for Saturday night. If you want to eat there I suggest you make reservations in advance, especially on a weekend. That goes for many other downtown restaurants as well.

Krog Roba buffet breakfast; Lilla Roberts' restaurant

The buffet breakfast at Krog Roba is the best.

A welcome dinner at Savotta

Tired from my long overnight flights, I took a brief nap and then met my new travel mates for a short walk to the Savotta restaurant for our welcome dinner. I was glad I dressed in layers with a down coat and warm hat. It can be chilly in Helsinki in October. The downtown is surrounded by water and gets cold winds off the Baltic.

The evening would bring my first taste of Finnish fare with traditional fish soup with dill butter. The soup was served in a  Finnish Kuksa wooden cup, the authentic way to consume a hot soup or beverage in Finland. My entree was glow fried salmon glazed with Finnish cut brandy and spiked honey with a side of tarragon potatoes and buttermilk tartar sauce. It was so good, so good, so good.

Finnish fish soup

Finnish fish soup is served in wooden mugs.

Others at my table ordered the Sea-Lapland lamb with vegetables which was braised for 10 hours. The lamb was served in a wooden Särä bowl. Dessert was a cake topped with cloudberries, a native Nordic amber-colored berry.

Savotta Restaurant entrees

Entrees at Savotta featured Nordic salmon and Lapland lamb.

Most of the ingredients that Savotta cooks with come from the thousands of Finnish lakes and forests. Everything tasted so fresh and wholesome. No wonder the Finnish people are so happy.

Happiness is found in salty licorice candy

“Salty licorice is very popular here. You can find it in the grocery store around the corner from the hotel at a less expensive price,” said Chad.

Being a fan of black licorice, I had to go exploring. Could this be the answer to happiness in Finland?

The candy aisle was filled with all kinds of salty licorice, called salmiakki in Finnish. I found milk chocolate laced with licorice, licorice breath mints, and licorice rolls. I bought a few varieties. My favorites were the breath mints.

salty licorice; Finnish salty licorice

Salty licorice is a favorite candy in Finland.

I had read The New York Times article, “The Saltier the Licorice, the Happier the Country. Just Look at Finland,” Now I was discovering for myself why the Finns smile a lot even though some months it is dark more hours than light.

According to Times journalist Mark Binelli,  “A 2017 study by the London-based market-research firm Euromonitor International ranked Finland fifth worldwide in per capita candy consumption. Three other salty-licorice countries, Sweden, the Netherlands and Norway, placed third, ninth and 10th. (The United States didn’t even crack the Top 10.)”

Referring back to the Happiness Report, Binelli says: ” Finns reported themselves happier than any other nationality on earth, and they were followed on the list by three Nordic neighbors: Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Americans, meanwhile, came in at a dismal 18th. Correlation does not mean causation, but come on, this is totally causation, right? All those salty-licorice countries clustered at the very top? Maybe it’s not so crazy to think about reported national happiness in relationship to something like a favorite national candy, because what is candy, after all, if not an elemental signifier of happiness and also something extraordinarily culturally specific and wrapped up in nostalgia and childhood memories and, by proxy, national identity?”

So there you have it. Do you like salty licorice? If you’re feeling down I suggest you try some salty licorice (of course you can find it on Amazon). Or better yet, book a Collette Explorations trip to Finland.

There’s more to come in my next post from the heart of Helsinki. Ooh, ooh, ooh and then I’ll be sharing all about my adventures leaning into Lapland.

Meantime, here’s some other ways to be “happy like a finn.”

Judi

P.S. In case you missed my earlier posts about my Explorations by Collette Travel trip you can find them here:

Preparing for an Adventure in Search of the Aurora Borealis
♥ It’s Time to Be Merry: Visiting Santa & His Reindeers In Lapland

*Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” Collette Travel provided me with a complimentary press trip on their Northern Lights of Finland Tour. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.