Our trip started with a great flight to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific. Overnight flight but we were served a tasty meal, and there was a great selection of movies and TV shows to watch to try and help me drift off to sleep.

I’d forgotten how huge Hong Kong Airport was, however we easily found the Qantas lounge where we able to relax with a coffee and some snacks before boarding our flight to Helsinki. Perhaps the lounge was quiet or perhaps it was particularly large that made it feel quiet. Either way it was very nice!

Stepping into the business class cabin of Finnair made me quite excited about spending the next 10 hours on a plane. We flew on an A350 which is the newest of Finnair’s fleet, and it was sleek, modern, and well designed. Waiting for us was a lovely amenity kit, with Lóccitane products, slippers, and a pair of noise cancelling Bose headphones which worked better than the $300 pair I had bought 2 days earlier !

The seat was very comfortable, and completely adjustable at the touch of a button to a recline, a lie flat position, or anything in between. A large HD screen was easily controlled either by touch or with a remote to navigate through a fantastic selection of movies, TV shows, music and other entertainment. After a few drinks, a delicious 3 course meal, and a couple of movies I was ready for a sleep and for possibly the first time in my life I was able to get a decent sleep on a plane. I woke about 90 minutes out from Helsinki to another meal service and the time flew by (pun intended) before we landed.

Finland…

We didn’t see much of Helsinki Airport on arrival as it was a very quick walk to immigration and collecting our baggage before a few hours of guided orientation tour of Helsinki by car. This is a great way to get your bearings and to get a taste of a city, to see what areas you might like to explore more; although if you have the time I would recommend perhaps doing it after a night’s sleep.

We checked into the Lilla Roberts Hotel, which is a beautiful 4 star property converted from an old police station. A perfect balance of character and class in a great location, and fantastic service to boot. I would highly recommend this hotel.

Most of us were pretty exhausted, so we stayed local and went to a “tapas” restaurant just around the corner, although it was tapas with a difference. Everything was either traditional Finnish food or creative twists on Finnish food. I was a little hesitant about some of the dishes but gave everything a go, and everything I ate was delicious. The next morning breakfast at Hotel Lilla Roberts was very impressive. A lot of Finnish dishes but also your bacon, eggs and pastries for those after a more “American” style buffet breakfast.

A short 10 minute drive to the ferry terminal and we began our journey to Estonia. The ferry terminal in Helsinki is very new, so new in fact there are still works going on around it, but it is not only very efficient but very beautiful. Once aboard our “ferry”, I realized this was more like a cruise ship than a ferry. We were treated to the business class lounge, which is equivalent to any business class airline lounge I’ve seen, complete with a large selection of food and drink, and many areas to relax, work, or watch some sport on some large screen TV’s.  I took a stroll around the ferry to see the various bars, restaurants, relaxing areas and a pretty large department store as well! The Silja Tallink lines have many ships in their fleet, and service Helsinki, Stockholm, Tallinn, Riga, Turku, and the Áland Islands. It’s a great way to see some different countries in the region at a very affordable price.

On arrival in Tallinn, we were transferred to the Old Town where we had a walking sightseeing tour and were told a lot of information about a very beautiful little city. Cobblestone streets, beautiful old buildings – some more than 600 years old, and an almost complete lack of cars, take you not just to a different city, but it feels like you’re in another time as well. A very similar feel to Prague, but this place certainly has enough character of its own.

As beautiful as Tallinn was, our journey continued to a place called Kau Manor, about 45 minutes drive out of Tallinn centre. This place is filled to the brim with art (all original pieces), and history, and I must admit some fairly obscure pieces too. The grounds are so peaceful, and just being there makes you feel like you are in another world.

Our dinner at their in-house restaurant, Eight Legs (with an Octopus styled chandelier and light fittings around the room), was an exquisite fine dining experience, paired with beautiful wines and friendly yet unnoticeable (in a good way) service was a very memorable experience.

There is a heated pool and a large modern sauna in the sleeping quarters, which have an almost eery character, and the rooms were somewhat basic but very clean and full of character. It was certainly a different experience to one I’ve encountered in a lot of hotel stays, and if you’re into art, history, and things just a little bit left of centre, this place ticks a lot of boxes!

The next morning after being served another fantastic meal (breakfast made to order with a large selection of dishes), we checked out the nearby lake, where you can go for a hike, a swim, a ride on little bike-boats, or a floating sauna, before heading back to Tallinn to explore the city a little more.

Our lunch today was hosted by Hotel Schlössle in their restaurant, Stenhus Restaurant. Stenhus is in the basement of the hotel, which has all the original walls from around 600 years ago, and just being there is quite special, but once again, the food was sensational (I’m starting to sense a theme here with the food). The hotel is also wonderful! It has recently been refurbished and blends modern amenities and décor with the original design of the building, and is a great location just off the old town square as well. Would highly recommend this one for a few days in Tallinn.

After a ferry back to Helsinki we spent the night at Clarion hotel, with modern clean rooms and a lovely sky bar on the top floor. This hotel somehow received building permits more than double the height of any other building in Helsinki, so it stands out, and the views from the sky bar are amazing. Breakfast was great and it’s very reasonably priced, while only being around 15 minutes out from the city centre.

Some free time to explore Helsinki, wandering through the markets by the water, checking out some shopping, or just sitting on top of the Allas Sea Pool building with a beer, watching the world go by, are some of the many ways to pass some time.

A very short 30 minute drive to Lake Tuusula, and after checking in to Hotel Krapi, we got on some bicycles provided by the hotel and toured around the lake, visiting some museums, and admired the scenery along the way. A stop for a glass of champagne followed by a traditional smoke sauna was another highlight of the trip. It was hotter than most saunas I’ve experienced, but the 2-3 degree water of the lake cooled us down pretty quickly. So quickly, it was hard to stay in for more than about a minute! Very refreshing though. Dinner that night at the hotel was another feast of Finnish food (buffet style) with many different types of smoked or pickled fish, all once again delicious! Then a relatively early night for an early start for our flight to Lapland! Suffice to say, Hotel Krapi, was anything but crappy.

Lapland…

The next morning was a very early start for a 7am flight to Ivalo (Lapland). About an hour on the road along beautiful countryside took us to Inari where we met a traditional reindeer herding family. This was a very memorable experience, not just because of the exquisite, untouched landscape that surrounded us, but meeting a Sami family and seeing what a great respect they have for the environment and each other. We cruised up the Lemmenjoki river, on glassy water, with lush green mountains either side and hints of Autumn colour. After spending some time by a picturesque waterfall, we took a short stroll to a campsite, where the reindeer soup was almost ready. Our guide, Nils-Haiki, told us stories of his family and the Sami people, and we were lucky enough to hear him Yoik a couple of times. For those unaware – Yoiking is singing, a little like yodeling; and it tells stories of the land, the people, animals, whatever someone wants to make up a Yoik about. Yes, the reindeer stew was delicious, and after a leisurely boat trip back to the house it was time to head back to the hotel for some dinner before getting ready for our river cruise to look for lights!

Around 9.30pm we boarded a fishing boat, and started heading up the river. Although quite late, the light in the sky still felt like dusk, and the setting sun took a long time to finally disappear. We sat on the boat, inside mostly as it was cold, but stepping out from time to time to look up at the sky in the hope of seeing some of that magical light. It was a good 90 minutes or so in before we finally saw something in the sky. At first it looks like a cloud, but when the cloud starts changing shape and turning green, you know it’s not a cloud! Although it was small I still remember the awe and excitement I felt, knowing what I was witnessing.

We cruise for another hour or so, and saw some more lights, but they were few and far between and nothing that was really bright or large. As the experts told us, you never know what you may get when searching for the Aurora Borealis, and we were grateful to have seen what we did.

After getting back to the jetty by the hotel, most of the group went to bed, except for myself and Devin, who decided to stay up in the hope of catching more of this wondrous phenomena. After a couple of hours of slowly going numb with cold, and almost packing it in a couple of times, something started changing in the sky. At first the sky started filling with clouds, or what looked like clouds, but before too long they started turning that luminescent green you normally only see in photos. The green got stronger and the lights were dancing all over the sky (well at least about 70% of it). It’s impossible to try and explain, but the way the lights danced in the sky, changing colours, swirling around each other, and it was absolutely mind blowing. There was so much of it going I didn’t know where to look as every time you turned your head there was something spectacular happening somewhere else! It was all over after maybe 5 minutes, but we were left buzzing with the most incredible high I think I’ve experienced (short of the birth of children). This was not just a visually spectacular experience, but an emotional one that I can still remember like it was yesterday; and I dare say I’ll always have that memory with that clarity.

The next day, despite only sleeping a couple of hours, I was absolutely buzzing still. You couldn’t take the smile away from my face, and although I felt bad for those that missed it, it was impossible not to launch into a description full of intensity about what we had seen when asked about it. We had the best salmon soup I’ve ever eaten at a ski resort (even though there was no snow we were there to check it out for when there is snow) and toured a few hotels around Inari.

Our next stop for our final night in Finland was the gorgeous Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. This place is huge, and has soooo much to offer, from Husky/Snowmobile/Horse/Reindeer safaris, to cross country skiing, ice fishing safaris, and of course aurora hunting. Oh, and I should definitely mention how incredible the food here was. Absolutely amazing!

We were lucky enough to get a tour of the resort, along with a horse safari to take us out to a spot to hunt for aurora one more time. Although we didn’t see any while out, it was still a great experience being in the wilderness telling stories and drinking some hot juice, whilst hoping for some magic in the sky.

We were also very lucky to be staying in one of the cabins here. They are a large log cabin, with 6 beds, a kitchen, bathroom, and sauna. Oh, and it also has a glass igloo on the northern side with a couple of beds underneath, so you can lay in bed and start up at the lights. Around 10pm on this night, another fantastic display started, this time a little different to the night before, but lasting much longer! The backdrop of log cabins and forest scenery also added to the beauty of this spectacle. After 10 minutes of spotting them outside, I retired to my bed under the glass dome to see the last of the lights and drift off to sleep. To lie in bed and stare up at the sky with that going on, was yet another highlight of this trip, and what a way to finish.

Just like that it was time to go home. We faced a long journey ahead, but today everyone was on a high from the lights we’d seen the night before, and we were all pinching ourselves about just how lucky we were to be on such a sensational trip. The business class lounge in Helsinki was great, and helped pass a couple of hours there, not to mention business class on the A350 back to Hong Kong as well.

To Sum It Up….

Getting there… Finnair have great aircraft, good connections and fares that you can do so much with into Europe, the Americas, Asia, everywhere! You can fly around the world for as much you sometimes pay to just get to just Europe or USA.

I must say a huge thank you to 50 Degrees North and Finnair. If you are going to travel anywhere in the Nordic or arctic region, you must check out 50 Degrees North! They know the areas inside out, they know the language, they know the people, and they sure do know how to put a great itinerary together.

What are you waiting for… tick off that bucket list item today!