After docking the trusty old ‘Viking’ ferry, it was time for me to explore my next stop, Helsinki. I battled like nothing else trying to navigate my big blue bag through the cobblestone streets and found myself repeatedly cursing my decision to switch from backpack to wheely suitcase.
It was all worth it in the end as I walked into a local market. A stall holder saw me struggling and I pulled up next to his stall as I was intrigued by his product. He looks at me with a beaming smile and literally yells at me ‘WELCOME TO FINLAND, THE HAPPIEST NATION ON EARTH!!!’ He then reduces his volume and says ‘It is true, we were named the happiest nation on earth by the UN!’ He was selling soap wrapped in wool felt. It acts as an exfoliant and dries quickly, only using half the amount of soap and doesn’t leave the cake soap mess! We had a great old chat and then I bought a bit of soap because I thought it was an awesome idea. Check out their Instagram below!
This was the start of a great stay in Helsinki. From business innovation to vegan food, I loved the sustainability vibe!
Ok, so there are just so many choices out there. I also came across a great app called Happy Cow, which shows Vegan and Vegetarian restaurants in the local neighbourhood. You can check it out and download it here!
Gold and Green Pulled Oats
To be honest, I didn’t eat out too much in Helsinki because it was super expensive! Instead, a waitress in the first cafe I went to told me about pulled oats. I found a local Finnish brand called Gold and Green in the supermarket. Not really knowing what I was doing, I just got some veggies and stirred them in with a tomato sauce. It tasted good, but I think my lack of experience cooking with vegan meat really showed! If you know what you’re doing, would highly recommend as the vegan meat was delish!
Fafa’s is a chain across Europe that does a range of delicious falafels. I ate there one day as a pitstop from the hail and rain outside. It was so yum and so filling! Also very expensive (about 15 Euro for a falafel bowl and a small side of sweet potato chips). I had the pesto and feta falafel bowl as recommended by the waitress and they did not skimp on the fetta so that was much appreciated!
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Sound on! With all the rain, hail and minimal shine that Helsinki has offered me, I truly feel like a survivor! As I was leaving an interview for an upcoming article a guy started speaking to me in Finnish. I had absolutely no idea what he was saying so I just smiled and kept walking. He looked at me strangely and then when I was about to head out the door I saw it was hailing down. To this date I still don’t know what he said to me, but I can only assume it was some kind of caution about the impending doom outside. I didn’t take his advice and ran to the nearest restaurant that looked like it had wifi. Boom! Fafa’s strikes again! This delicious combo was exactly the reward I needed to warm up and get focused for article writing!! Suck it hail! Laura:1 hail:0 😏 #helsinki #finland #planetbinsights #destinyschild #falafelthrowback #throwback #falafel #sweetpotatofries #delicous #vegetarian #vegetarianfinland #foodie #forkyeah #foodvibes #delish #vegolyf #haillyf #hail
Op Shops in Helsinki were great but a bit too expensive! I bought an old Zara top in good condition for 12 Euro which felt a bit much for something second hand. I bought that at a place called Fida and just down the road was a gorgeous vintage shop with a cute cafe inside as well, called Relove. There are a few around Helsinki and have a great vibe as well as an awesome rest area from the hard slog of op shopping.
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All of my favourite things in the one place. Food, coffee, second hand clothes and dogs!! Oh @relovelifestyle we love your style! They have a few locations in #helsinki so make sure you check them out! 💜 #recycledfashion #sustainablefashion #finnishfashion #relove #planetbinsights #climateaction #cafe #coffee #ecofashion #travel #traveltips #helsinkiofficial #visithelsinki #ecotravel #helsinki #finland #visitingfinland #thebestoffinland
These were slowly starting to make it onto the streets of Helsinki. I was chatting with someone after an interview and she asked ‘Oh you’ve just come from Stockholm? What was trending there? Usually, the trends move from Sweden to Finland. I said that the electric scooters were a big deal and that they might just be the thing to watch!
Helsinki also installed 5 solar park benches, which can be used for recharging electric bicycles and most importantly mobile devices! I didn’t have time to hunt one down but here is a picture and article with more details. These should be everywhere in Australia!
A Culture of Innovation
The Finnish Government are well known for delivering pilots and social experiments to test concepts that then feed into policy development. One of their more recent and high profile social experiments was testing the Universal Basic Income. I met with a researcher, Miska who discussed how they use experiments to drive social change (article here). I was really impressed with how the Government is willing to take risks by testing and learning by experiments. Instead of stressing about public opinion and creating a fear-driven political atmosphere, the Government are able to focus on how to maximise their impact. If only all Governments were like that..!
SITRA- A Finnish website to check out!
SITRA is a future-focused social innovation fund that was originally seeded by the Government and has also had business funding. They research, experiment and provide policy recommendations as well as thought leadership about some of the most interesting topics! You can check out some of their research about the circular economy, social reform and the data economy here.
THE Smart City
Helsinki is well known for sustainability. I interviewed Tiina Kähö, the Executive Director of Helsinki Metropolitan Smart and Clean Foundation about the work they are doing. Her role is to act as an orchestrator between public and private partners to increase efficiency and impact.
You can read the interview here.
They are also a partner in SynchroniCity, an EU funded project to explore the use of IoT to increase positive social and environmental outcomes. You can read my interview the Heini, from the Finland SynchroniCity team here.
I loved Helsinki and was so impressed at not just their action on social and environmental issues, but their culture of social innovation. Their government is leading in policy innovation, their startup community is thriving, there are strategic pilots happening everywhere. It is an exciting place to be! However, when travelling, many people stay in Tallinn and do either an overnight or day trip to Helsinki. The ferry only takes 2 hours and is about 30 Euros return. You probably only need 2 days there and if you do stay in Helsinki make sure you take a day trip to the archipelago (good website linkhere).