Tag Archives: helsinki

Lounge Review: Finnair Lounge Schengen Helsinki Airport (HEL)

I wasn’t expecting much from the Finnair Schengen region lounge at Helsinki, but I was very pleasantly surprised by this lounge.

Entrance to the lounge

Entrance to the lounge

First, I loved the design of the lounge. It felt airy and open with lots of cool furniture and lighting fixtures. There were large windows, so there was natural light. The lounge was pretty busy, but there were plenty of seats still available.

Airy lounge

Airy lounge

Sizable lounge

Sizable lounge

Seating

Seating

Couches

More seating

More seating

More seating

Standing area

Standing area

Funky furniture

Funky furniture

Private work station

Private work station

View of apron

View of apron

The lounge had showers, which may be useful for anyone connecting from a long flight.

Shower

Shower

Soda and beer on tap

Soda and beer on tap

Wine

Wine

In terms of food, I wouldn’t say it was great, but it was there. There was soup and a hot option (of something that I could not identify), breads, salad, fruit salad, and cake. Everyone likes cake, right?

Fuit

Fuit

Salad

Salad

Soups

Soup

Hot food

Hot food

Cake

Cake

Going in, I was expecting something similar to US domestic lounges, but the Finnair Schengen region lounge at HEL is a step above. It’s just a cool-looking lounge, and there’s some food and showers.

In general, I think Helsinki is a pretty great airport with interesting lounges. It’s not super fancy or extravagant, but the airport and lounges are solid with great design and character. I’ll also note that even you’re connecting from a non-Schengen flight to Schengen flight, you can still use the non-Schengen lounges prior to passing through passport control, which is a great perk.

Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Helsinki

Costs:
$850 for airfare
$30 for public transportation
$160 for food and incidentals
44k points for two nights at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Helsinki (let’s say this was about $40, considering that the annual fee for the credit card is $75)
Total: $1080

(Tangible) Benefits:
26,812 American Airline miles (13,406 flown miles plus 100% bonus for being AA Platinum)
10,000 AA miles as a reward for passing the first elite rewards threshold (this was completely unintentional but a nice bonus)
4 500-mile upgrades
And of course, Executive Platinum status, which comes with 8 system-wide upgrades
Total: The miles are worth at least $550 to me; the 500-mile upgrades are mostly moot since I now have Executive Platinum status; Executive Platinum status is of unknown benefit, but even if I don’t fly AA at all next year, I can “trade” the 8 SWUs for at least $200 each (not that I’m saying that I would do this)

I’d never really gone on mileage runs prior to my trips to Shanghai and Helsinki (and I guess these weren’t “true” mileage runs since I did spend time on the ground, albeit relatively short times), but I’m glad that I went, even ignoring the benefit of hitting Executive Platinum status on AA. It was great to explore two new cities, and I’d love to return to both places (although I hope the next time I go to Finland it’s warmer, as the city felt pretty dead in November).

All told, the two mileage runs cost about $2300. In return, I reached Executive Platinum status and received just over 70,000 redeemable miles, which I value at over $1000. I’m excited to see the benefits of AA ExPlat, and I’ve already had a system-wide upgrade clear for a trip to Lima that I have planned in January.

Review: Almost@Home Lounge Helsinki Vantaa Airport (HEL)

The Almost@Home Lounge is located near Gate 32 in the non-Schengen area of Helsinki airport. It’s accessible via Priority Pass, and it’s one of the nicest Priority Pass lounges that I’ve been to.

Sign to the Almost@Home Lounge

Sign to the Almost@Home Lounge

When I checked in, the lounge agent was nice and welcoming, and she asked if I had ever been to the lounge. I told her that I hadn’t, and she explained the concept of the lounge, which is supposed to be like visiting someone’s home.

To the left of the entrance, there are some booths, workstations, and amenities focused toward younger travelers such as children’s books and a video game console.

Children's books and toys

Children’s books and toys

Games

Games

Work stations

Work stations

The food area was designed to look like someone’s kitchen, complete with kitchen appliances like a stand mixer and cutlery in drawers that you had to open. The food options were slightly better than the food options in either the Aspire lounge or the Finnair lounge, but perhaps only marginally so.

Two soups

Two soups

Lots of dessert

Lots of dessert

Salad

Salad

Wines

Wines

Breads

Breads

Coffee

Coffee

The main seating area is made to look like a living room.

Seating area

Seating area

All in all, this is perhaps my favorite Priority Pass lounge I’ve been to. It feels cozy and comforting, it never got too crowded, the food options are decent, and there are some interesting amenities like having a PlayStation.

Late Night Eating in Helsinki

My second and final day in Helsinki, I did something rather stupid and let myself fall asleep at 4pm. I was exhausted and jetlagged (I find it harder to travel east than west) and ended up sleeping for 8+ hours and thus woke up past midnight without having eaten dinner.

There is not much to do in Helsinki in November; there is not much to do in Helsinki on a Sunday; there is not much to do in Helsinki between the hours of midnight and 6am. Combine all three of those, and I felt like I was in a bit of a pickle, especially since I was getting hungry.

After doing a little bit of research online, I found just about the only two restaurants open at 1am on a Sunday night: 1) a random hamburger stand that was featured in the New York Times many years ago and is best known for serving something called the “Kannibal”; and 2) McDonald’s. I ended up going to both.

I’m sure that during the summer months, Jaskan Grilli is much more crowded, but in November, it was dead. I was heartened to see light inside of the little stand, although I’m sure that they don’t do much business during the winter months.

Jaskan Grilli

Jaskan Grilli

Approaching the stand, everything was in Finnish. And the woman working there didn’t speak much English besides “hamburger” and “hot dog”. And there wasn’t anyone around to ask for help. So I ended up communicating to her that she should just give me anything, and she ended up making me what I believe is the Jaskan hamburger, which is two patties, an egg, and a slice of cheddar in a roll, and slathering it in all of the sauces and condiments.

The vast menu

The vast menu

I'm pretty sure this is the Jaskan Hampurilainen aka Jaskan hamburger

I’m pretty sure this is the Jaskan Hampurilainen aka Jaskan hamburger (6 euro)

This was unlike any other hamburger I’ve eaten. I think that it’s quite rare to find a good burger outside of the US, but this was oddly tasty with the confusing number of sauces and components. I got rid of most of the cheese bits, but the meat patties themselves were a little lean but still flavorful, and some of the sauces were pretty darn delicious. The garlic sauce in particular was potent and tasty (I could still taste it after brushing my teeth twice).

After eating a burger, I naturally wanted fries, so I stopped by the McDonald’s in the Sokos mall that’s open 24 hours a day. Inside, most of the patrons appeared to be drunk Russian people, with all of the women ordering fries only and all of the men ordering at least 2 burgers.

The 24-hours McDonald's

The 24-hours McDonald’s

Russian tourists

Russian tourists

All in all, I didn’t have many options open late at night on a Sunday in Helsinki, but I was pretty satisfied after my trek to Jaskan Grilli and McDonald’s. I’m sure that Jaskan Grilli would be a great place to visit on a summer night when lots more people are around (and can help you order), but it’s definitely the epitome of greasy drunk food.

Dining Review: Luomo, Helsinki, Finland

Eating out in Helsinki is generally expensive, and I hate spending money on mediocre food, so I figured that I might as well just splurge a little bit and get significantly nicer food. One of my new year’s resolutions was to eat 12 new Michelin stars this year, and Helsinki features 5 starred restaurants, so I was in luck.

I ended up walking in to Luomo around 9:30pm, as I had passed out for a couple of hours after checking into my hotel and didn’t wake up until 9pm. I first tried to get a table at Olo, but they were full for the night (and completely booked about 3 weeks out when I started thinking about reservations). Luomo is located only a block away, and both are located right next to the market square.

The actual restaurant is located on the second floor of a building, so you need to walk up some stairs in a sterile hallway, but the restaurant itself features a minimalist decor.

Restaurant entrance

Restaurant entrance

You can order 3, 5, or 7 courses from the menu. 3 courses gets you one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert, while 5 courses gets you all three appetizers, one entree, and one dessert. I opted for all 7 courses, and it looked like all the tables around me did the same.

Menu for the night

Menu for the night

To start, I received 4 amuse bouches that were different plays on things found in the market square located nearby. First was a meat pie ice cream served with ketchup, then a cup of “coffee” made out of black olive puree, next a spoon of yogurt with leek made to look like bird poop, and finally a taste of herring and fennel. This was both the best and worst dish of the night: while I loved the playfulness and fanciful nature of these bites, none was actually very tasty.

Amuse bouches

Amuse bouches

The first official course was a medley of different mushrooms and preparations. It was rich, earthy, and flavorful, with contrasting textures from the various kinds of mushrooms and thick foam that made the “porridge”. It was served with a brioche studded with mushrooms. This course was crazy delicious, and one of my favorite dishes of the nice. As an aside, the butter was well salted and served at room temperature and thus easily spreadable, two things that I always appreciate.

Forest mushroom porridge

Forest mushroom porridge

The next course was a lobster tartare served with pieces of lobster and various purees. To me, this dish was good, but a couple of the purees were a little too acrid and pungent, so the balance was off.

Lobster and rose

Lobster and rose

The third course and final appetizer (although all appetizers were pretty large portions) was duck marinated in anise served with pumpkin. I think it was supposed to be a soup, but it was a little confusing because they didn’t pour very much liquid into my bowl, and the liquid that they did pour wasn’t hot. I’m not sure if the temperature was intentional, but the pumpkin/licorice/duck combo worked well together. This course was accompanied by a sage roll.

Duck, pumpkin, and licorice

Duck, pumpkin, and licorice

The first entree of smoked whitefish was served with a little bit of showmanship. The course was brought covered by a glass shell to hold in the smoke, and then the shell was removed to uncover the fish and release the smoke. While the dish was competently executed and cooked well, the fish was not particularly memorable except for the presentation.

Smoked whitefish

Smoked whitefish

Next up was an intermezzo of dried apple, apple jelly, and apple ice.

Intermezzo of apple ice

Intermezzo of apple ice

For the second main course, I had lamb served with artichoke puree, cous cous, citron, and a rosemary focaccia. At this point, I was quite full of savory foods as the portions were much larger than I expected, so I couldn’t finish the plate, but I again couldn’t find fault with the execution of the lamb although it was not particularly memorable.

Lamb "Marrakesh"

Lamb “Marrakesh”

Before dessert came a pre-dessert of sweetgrass panna cotta with dried berry powders. This was one of my favorite things of the night as there was a great contrast between the delicate flavor of the panna cotta and the bold tartness of the dried berries. This dish also felt extremely Nordic and local, which I enjoyed.

Pre-dessert: sweetgrass panna cotta

Pre-dessert: sweetgrass panna cotta

Dessert #1 was a deconstructed carrot cake of carrot puree, carrot foam, marinated carrots, carrot cake crumble, cream cheese foam, and cream cheese ice cream. This was fun, playful, and had a nice carrot flavor, but there were probably 2 too many components on the plate.

Deconstructed carrot cake

Deconstructed carrot cake

The second dessert was a chocolate cake with a molten chocolate chai ganache on the inside, chocolate sauce, chai ice cream, and chai crumbles. The balance of textures was great, with the cake, the liquid filling, the ice cream, and the chai crumbles which had a chew to them. This dish wasn’t overly chocolatey but still incredibly rich and decadent.

Chai and chocolate

Chai and chocolate

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this meal and thoroughly enjoyed it. The service was competent (although sometimes hard to understand, particularly near the ends of descriptions of dishes when they would just seem to sort of trail off and their accents would seem to get thicker), and the pacing was deliberate (my meal took about 2.5 hours). The food was extremely well executed, with a couple of memorable dishes, and the food was a good combination of Nordic cuisine with a touch of molecular gastronomy. At 85 euro for 7 courses, I also think that this is a relatively good deal for this kind and quality of food (also considering the relative expensiveness of Finland and that 85 euro is inclusive of tax and gratuity).

Review: Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Helsinki Finland

The first redemption that I made with the Club Carlson points acquired from my credit card sign-up bonus (or rather, using my friend’s Club Carlson points since mine didn’t post quickly enough, but that’s another story) was at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel in Helsinki. For 44k points, I got a 2-night redemption, since the second night was free with my credit card.

The hotel is located very centrally, just steps away from the main train station in the city center. To get there, I took an airport bus that was 4.50 euro each way and took me straight to the train station.

Outside of the hotel

Outside of the hotel

Given that my flight arrived relatively early, by the time I got to the hotel, it was only around 10:00am, and they said that they were completely sold out and couldn’t offer me early check-in. But instead of telling me when they might be able to offer me a room, they told me to come back at 3pm and no earlier (3pm is the official check-in time). When I asked if they could offer me something earlier than 3pm due to my Gold status with Club Carlson, they said that they couldn’t. Throughout my stay, it seemed like having Gold status did nothing.

Check-in area

Check-in area

After exploring Helsinki for a couple of hours, I got back to the hotel at 2pm and the check-in agent at that time was happy to give me a room. But again, there was no acknowledgement of status, no welcome amenity, no upgrade, etc.

Hallway

Hallway

The bedroom itself was ample for just myself. The bed was large and comfortable, although the covers are only twin-sized, so they have two sets on the bed, which I found a little strange. I enjoyed the lounger in the room, as well as the numerous lighting options.

Nice bed, but oddly split into two

Nice bed, but oddly split into two

Seating area in the room

Seating area in the room

Smallish bathroom, but completely adequate

Smallish bathroom, but completely adequate

Breakfast is offered complimentary to all guests. It’s a buffet with a wide variety of hot and cold options, including some local specialities like karelian pasties with egg butter, herring, and elk pate, and an omelet station. Many things were labeled as gluten-free or lactose-free, which I found helpful. In general, I found the food to be good for a buffet, in particular the pancakes and the karelian pasties, which I had never had before.

DSC03778 DSC03780 DSC03781 DSC03782

Buffet features items like elk pate and herring

Buffet features items like elk pate and herring

DSC03784

Interesting pancakes and karelian pasties

Interesting pancakes and karelian pasties

Like any good Finnish hotel, this hotel had a sauna. There were separate saunas for men and women, and the men’s sauna had a changing area, a conference table, and showers located outside of the sauna. I used the sauna twice during my stay and only encountered one other person using the facilities in that time.

Conference room in the sauna?

Conference room in the sauna?

Sauna

Sauna

Overall, the room and bed were comfortable, breakfast was tasty, and the location was killer. There was essentially no recognition of elite status, though. But for 44k Club Carlson points for 2 nights, I would definitely stay there again.

Planning a Mileage Run to Helsinki

I have my second and final mileage run to get to American Airlines Executive Platinum status coming up this weekend (leaving less than 3 days after coming back from my round-the-world trip). I’m headed to Helsinki, flying AA to JFK and then Finnair to HEL. My ticket was ~$850, and the routing provides about 13,400 EQMs.

To be honest, I haven’t spent much time researching what I should do in Helsinki. I’m staying at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel, as I finally got my US Bank Club Carlson credit card three weeks after my supposedly “instant approval” (my sign-up bonus points won’t show up in time, so I got a friend status match to Club Carlson elite status so that he could transfer the necessary points to me so I could book my room). Because I have the credit card, the last night on award stays is free, so it was only 44k Club Carlson points for two nights at the hotel.

I’ve been looking at places to eat, and Helsinki has some restaurants that I’m really interested in trying (e.g. Olo, Luomo), but I didn’t want to make a reservation for Saturday night in case I’m severely jetlagged and not in the mood to eat a multi-course feast. I also was somewhat shortsighted in booking my trip to overlap on a Sunday, as it seems like most restaurants are closed on Sundays. Does anyone have any suggestions on good places to eat, particularly places to eat on Sundays, or have any experience walking in without reservations to some of the nicer restaurants in Helsinki?

I am also looking for suggestions on things to do. I’ll probably try to hit up a sauna (in the same spirit as my trips to a Turkish bath and getting a Chinese massage) and Market Square, and a friend recommended taking a tour of Suomenlinna. Any things in Helsinki that I shouldn’t miss?