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Travel Diaries: A Few Days in Finland

April 29, 2020 12 comments

Oh, the things we take for granted. Let’s take travel, for example. It was so simple, easy, and basic. Get to the airport, get on the plane, eat, sleep, and magically appear in the whole new world, thousands of miles away from home. Nevermind all the travel hassles – they are really negligible next to the pleasure the travel delivers. And then, all of a sudden, this basic fundamental is no more. All thanks to the invisible enemy which takes no hostages, the travel is a thing of the past – at least at the moment. Of course, we will travel again, but for now, it is our memories we need to rely on.

Travel for me is associated with taking pictures. Pictures, in turn, require sharing – same as with wine, which I talk about because I really enjoy it and want to share my joy with people, I like to share my pictures with everyone – I got a proof of this obsession, scroll here. I like to share the pictures in a timely manner, somewhat close to the completion of the trip – when that is not happening, I don’t feel that it is a priority anymore – unless there is a compelling reason to do it even at a later point – like, for example, the one we are living through right now, where travel is no more, at least for the near future.

I visited Finland late last September for work. I only shared one post about that trip – a summary of my wine experiences in Finland. Now I would like to inundate you with non-wine pictures of that beautiful country.

My final destination in Finland was a little town called Kuopio, which is only accessible via the local flight from Helsinki, Finland’s capital. As I never been to Helsinki before, I set up my trip to have half a day to walk around the Helsinki. I stayed in the center of Helsinki in the hotel called Klaus K, which is a part of the Design Hotels and the only Marriott property in Helsinki – if you are ever in Helsinki, I highly recommend this hotel, especially if you can score a room on one of the top floors. I went to walk around the Helsinki and despite the gloomy weather, it was fun and colorful as you will see in the pictures below:

Take a look at these happy people – it is about 40F (4C) outside

Fresh berries, some just picked in the forest

And freshly picked mushrooms

My lunch at the market

This was taken by a trusted iPhone 7 and processed by SnapSeed. Doesn’t SnapSeed make everything look so much better?

The view from the 7th floor room’s balcony at Klaus K hotel

Early next morning, I took a flight to Kuopio with my colleagues. Looking from the plane, you can clearly see that Finland is a country of lakes. According to the information on the internet, if the lake is defined as a body of water larger than 500 square meters, there are 187,888 lakes in Finland. 55,000 of the lakes are at least 200 meters wide.

On the way to Kuopio

Once we arrived in Kuopio, a small city of about 120,000 inhabitants, coffee was the first order of business. If we can say that Americans like their coffee, then we have to say that Finns simply love their coffee. Good coffee can be found anywhere:

Next, we took an hour-long hike through the woods to the observation tower – I still can vividly remember the pleasure of walking through the forest which was very similar to the one I was accustomed to growing up as a kid – which is not surprising, as I grew up only about 500 miles down south from Kuopio.

Kuopio observation tower

Once we managed to the top, we were rewarded with the beautiful views and cold, dark, ultra-refreshing beer, brewed in that same town of Kuopio.

Mestari Stout Kuopio

While Finland offers a vast array of excellent restaurants, no matter where you are, the colleagues I was traveling with had a variety of the eating restrictions, so I had to just go with the flow – hence I don’t have any amazing food scenery to report. Here are just a couple of dishes I enjoyed:

The week flew by quickly as we were busy every day with the event we were attending. To get everyone a little break, we had a trip arranged to a special place – a famous sauna on the lake, one of the most famous in Finland. I’m sure you heard about the Finnish sauna, but you need to understand how important that is to the Finns. In this country of 5.3 million people, there are approximately 2 million saunas (!)

The proper Finnish sauna is not just a hot and dry room. The proper sauna is more of a ritual – you go to the super-hot sauna, you go out, you swim in the cold lake, return, have a beer, and repeat the sauna and the lake – from 3 to 5 times. Then you go and have dinner. I don’t have any pictures of sauna for you, but I have a bunch of pictures of the forest and the lake.

On Thursday, I took a flight back to Helsinki – it was really fun to fly with the sunset:

Flying over Finland with Sunset

Flying with sunset

I stayed overnight at the Hilton at Helsinki airport, as my flight was leaving at 6 am in the morning. I had dinner at the restaurant at the Hilton airport, and while the food was tasty, this was the smallest ever amount of food I had for 50+ euro (never mind also the worst service I pretty much ever had at any restaurant):

As was flying to Helsinki with the sunset, my 6 am flight to Munich coincided with the sunrise – an absolutely surreal experience:

Flying with sunrise

Flying with sunrise

Germany clearly lacks Finnish lakes:

Well, that’s about all there is to my story – except one more thing:

My one million miles flier prize

Yes, this glass of bubbly doesn’t look like anything special, but it was given to me together with the congratulatory words for reaching 1 million miles mark with United. United gives that status only after you actually fly, not spend, a million miles with them, so this was definitely a memorable moment.

My photo report is over.

We Will Travel Again

How It Is To Be A Wine Lover in Finland

September 29, 2019 6 comments

How it is to be a wine lover in Finland? I have to honestly tell you – I have no idea.

Okay, I have a very limited idea, based on my first trip to Finland and about a week spent in Helsinki and Kuopio.

So yes, keep that in mind – as I don’t live here, my whole claim for expertise is simply a fresh eye of a passionate wine lover, who treats wines stores as toy (candy) stores – one of my indulgences when traveling solo – I can spend an unlimited amount of time in the wine store, slowly walking from the shelf to a shelf.

As I spent half a day in Helsinki, staying in the downtown area, the small-ish wine store was my first find. At first sight, I thought that the prices in Helsinki were higher than in Kuopio, but I’m not sure this is correct as alcohol sales in Finland are government-controlled. I saw beer and a few types of wine in the supermarkets, but if you want to buy wine or liquor, you have to head over to Alko, state-owned stores.

In the downtown Helsinki store, French Champagne seemed to be quite expensive – at least 1.5 times or some even double of what you would typically pay in the USA. However, Spanish, Italian, Californian, and even Australian wines were priced rather reasonably, especially taking into account the current exchange rate for euro. That ’06 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva at €37 looked like a steal to me:

Somehow, the Australian wines attracted my attention first (maybe it is my subconscious trying to compensate for the years of neglect, or maybe it is related to happily drinking Shiraz just a few weeks ago). It was not easy to make a choice – but I settled for the 2015 Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz Clare Valley. One of the reason was that Jim Barry McRae Wood is one of my most favorite Shiraz wines of all times. I like the wines from the Clare Valley, they are usually lean and focused – and 2015 was giving at least some age for it.

The wine didn’t disappoint at all. Dark fruit, blackberries and a touch of blueberry, subtle pepper note, perfectly firm texture – delicious wine all in all. And let’s not forget the view…

The next morning I flew to Kuopio, a small town up north from Helsinki. Before we talk about wine, we need to talk about a beer. We had a bit of free time on Sunday after arrival to Kuopio, and we took a nice hike to the observation tower. There, in addition to the beautiful nature views, I also found a delicious local beer. I generally prefer dark beers, such as stouts and porters, so I just pointed to the darkest bottle I saw on the display. That was a lucky strike, as Iso-Kalan Mestari Stout from Kuopio (we could see from the top the brewery buildings where it was produced) was just superb – yes, don’t forget that it is a wine drinker talking about beer – but this beer had a perfect balance of malt, dark chocolate, and coffee – had to slow myself down not to gulp it all in an instance.

As a small town (118,000 people live there), Kuopio probably serves as the best proof that Finns love the wines. The wine store which I found in the mall at the market square, was a complete standout. Just gobs and gobs of a great finds, with Champagne section, almost pushing me to ask if this house is for rent 🙂 I was happy to see Rosé, Bordeaux selection looked simply excellent, and some of the unique finds, such as Chinese Changyu looked ultra attractive too – if I would’ve stayed there for longer, that bottle wouldn’t escape my attention.

Once again, the Australian section looked mysteriously attractive. First, I saw the words “second pass” on the label of Australian Shiraz. Reading the back label confirmed that yes, it is by design similar to Valpolicella Ripasso, and that there is also a Shiraz made in Amarone style. Looking up one shelf, I was happy to see the words “Dried Grape Shiraz” – here we go, the Amarone-style Shiraz itself. Of course, I had to buy it.

The 2015 Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz Nugan Estate South Australia was delicious from the get-go. The wine is made in Amarone style, with the grapes drying out for a few months before they are pressed into the wine. The wine opened up with a touch of the dried fruit on the nose, dense and powerful on the palate, with the dark fruit medley and again a touch of dried fruit, full-bodied and smooth, with a long playful finish. In a blind tasting, Amarone would be definitely one of my strong guessing options. While it was good on the first day, it became literally amazing on the 3rd day with the last sip of blueberries, blueberry compote, sweet oak, and long finish.

Right next to the Australian wine section in the store there were Austrian wines. The label with octopus instantly attracted my attention. The wine name was also intriguing – Beck Ink. Back label was suggesting that this is a “natural” wine – of course, this was the next wine I had to try.

2017 Beck Ink Austria (12% ABV, 80% Zweigelt, 20% St. Laurent) opened up with the punch of acidity. The first sip literally had the level of acidity which can make you cringe. There was a hint of underripe raspberries coming with it as well. As the wine was opening up, a little gaminess showed up, the acidity softened, letting more of dark berries to come into a play. The wine had a medium body and smooth, playful texture – if anything, it was really reminiscent of a very good Beaujolais Cru. While craving food, I kept adding from the bottle into the glass until I realized that it was already late – and I almost finished the bottle.

There you go, my friends. Based on what I saw, the wine is well regarded in Finland, and the wine lovers there have a very reasonable choice at very reasonable prices. Have fun peering through those pictures 🙂 Cheers!

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