Fantastic Finland: A short break in Helsinki

The green-domed Helsinki Cathedral is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 06 March 2020

Fantastic Finland: A short break in Helsinki

  • Warm hospitality more than makes up for the winter chill in the Finnish capital

DUBAI: Before our press tour departed for Helsinki, we received a note reminding us that temperatures could drop to deep sub-zero levels, and were strongly advised to pack appropriate clothing for the three-day trip. So — lugging suitcases brimming with winter gear — I joined a crew of six who endured 11 hours aboard a Finnair flight (including a one-hour stop at the Red Sea resort city of Hurghada in Egypt for refueling).

Finland has a reputation for being dull and expensive, at least compared to its neighbors, and the freezing air that blasted my face on the way to the hotel didn’t improve my initial expectations of the capital city.

In a very short time, however, my preconceptions about Helsinki were turned on their head. It is actually a very tourist-friendly place, made even more pleasant by the warm and hospitable nature of the Finns and their ever-present smiles.

Kamppi Chapel, located in a corner of Narinkkatori Square. (Shutterstock)

It was a bonus that winter in Helsinki this year was actually not as bad as expected (at least during our January visit), with the mercury shuttling between 2°C and -3°C, and the regular January snowfall many locals were looking forward to arrived, lightly, on our final day.

“Helsinki is experiencing a heat wave,” Severi Keinälä, Finland’s commissioner general for Expo 2020 Dubai, quipped to Arab News during a dinner for journalists at a showpiece event for Finland’s education system.

Sadly, my time in the city was short, and free time was limited to the evenings after work, so I had to make do with night-time jaunts around tourist spots that were within walking distance of the hotel. That meant no chance to meet Santa Claus or to see the spectacular Northern Lights in the country’s Lapland region.

For bibliophiles, the Helsinki Central Library Oodi is a great place. (Shutterstock)

First on my must-see list was Kamppi Chapel, located in a corner of Narinkkatori Square just a few steps from the hotel. Also known as the Chapel of Silence, it was designed by architects Mikko Summanen, Niko Sirola and Kimmo Lintula to be a sanctuary amid the hustle and bustle of the city center.

Beside the church sits Amos Rex, a subterranean privately-funded art museum whose concrete domes and a circa-1936 chimney-cum-clock tower dominate the site of what used to be a bus station. It houses mostly 20th-century works from Amos Anderson’s personal collection and is well worth a visit for art lovers.

Even though I was limited to post-work activities, downtown Helsinki still had plenty to offer late into the night. It was a hive of activity, with people dining, shopping, thronging around the beautiful Central Station — which boasts monumental granite walls, and a clock tower and statues around its main entrance — or jumping on one of the city’s ubiquitous trams.

In the library’s open-plan reading room in the upper floor, visitors can sit in executive chairs and read. (Shutterstock)

For bibliophiles, the Helsinki Central Library Oodi is a great place. The layout and atmosphere were very different to what I expected — a beautiful open space and a stark contrast to my memories of strict librarians back home ready to pounce on visitors for making the slightest noise.

In its open-plan reading room in the upper floor, visitors can sit in executive chairs and read, or just marvel at the Finnish parliament building through the library’s high glass walls.

The green-domed Helsinki Cathedral is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. From the top of its steps in the Senate Square, the 19th-century church overlooks a statue of Tsar Alexander II — and a row of luxury retail stores.

Downtown Helsinki has plenty to offer late into the night. (Shutterstock)

Uspenski Cathedral, on the harbor-side, has a well-lit façade that casts an imposing presence from a distance at night. Built in 1868, the orthodox church’s golden cupolas and red-brick frontage remind visitors of Russia’s influence on Finland’s history.

There’s a French influence too, at least in Helsinki’s own version of Paris’ Bridge of Love on the way to Uspenski Cathedral. Like the famous French version, it is adorned with numerous padlocks, many with names engraved on them.

We did manage to squeeze in a daytime excursion too, to the city of Porvoo, about 30-minutes away from Helsinki. Its old town is a delight, with an abundance of charming 17th-century houses crowding the cobbled streets and crowned by the hilltop 15th-century cathedral.

The city of Porvoo is about 30-minutes away from Helsinki. (Shutterstock)

On our final evening, our gracious hosts treated us to dinner at Helsinki’s renowned Lasipalatsi restaurant. We savored roasted Jerusalem artichoke with truffle yoghurt for starters, and grapefruit with roasted white chocolate and avocado for dessert.

For mains, the carnivores among us feasted on roast reindeer with rye and cloudberries  — an authentically Finnish finale to our trip.

And don’t worry, Rudolph remains alive and well.

Missing your salon? How to care for your hair while you #StayHome

We speak to a hair expert on the dos and don’ts of at-home hair care. (File/Instagram)
Updated 30 March 2020

Missing your salon? How to care for your hair while you #StayHome

DUBAI: As salon-goers face the closure of spas, salons and barbershops, we speak to Haneen Odeh, founder of UAE’s Snob salon for her take on the dos and don’ts of at-home hair care.

Many men and women who rely on salon visits to keep their lengths healthy could be left wondering what to do between now and their next visit to a professional hair stylist. But just as important is what not to do (read: DIY trim job) to avoid ruining your hair and having to impose your own personal period of self-isolation once the pandemic is over due to a ruined haircut you tried to pull off in the bathroom mirror.

Don’t bleach your own hair
“For those who usually go to the salon to dye their lengths blonde, roots may be starting to show now. And while it might be tempting, I would strongly urge to not bleach your own roots. Lightening dark hair is a very complex multi-step process that requires years of experience and professional grade products only available at salons. Bleaching your hair incorrectly might result in burning and damaging your hair. Instead, opt for a root spray such as the L'Oreal Paris Magic Root Cover Up Concealer Spray. Otherwise, you can always conceal your dark roots with a headband or try wrapping your hair up with a scarf.” 

Do deep conditioning treatments
“Use this time to nourish your hair with a deep conditioning treatment. A lot of people simply apply it in the shower on wet hair for a few minutes and call it a day, but that way means that your lengths aren’t getting the full benefits of the product. Think of hair like a sponge, when it’s wet, it’s already full of water and cannot absorb anything more. So to make sure the product is fully absorbed into your locks, towel dry your hair after shampooing and then apply the treatment. Leave it on for 15-20 minutes and then rinse. You’ll see a huge difference.” May we suggest The Let It Go Circle hair mask from Davines, which is designed to boost hydration and revitalize dry and brittle strands?  

Don’t pick up the scissors
“When you’re bored, it might be tempting to pick up the scissors but, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t trim your own bangs or make any big changes to your hair cut on your own. It will inevitably go wrong and you will end up paying more to get it fixed in the long run. Try out some new hairstyles instead. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube so experiment a little and get your hair professionally cut once it’s safe to do so.”

 Don’t over wash
“The more you wash your strands, the more you strip the scalp of its natural oils, and that in turn makes the scalp produce even more oil, which causes you to wash your hair more often — and the cycle goes on and on. Now is the perfect opportunity to give your lengths a break and cut down on the washing. Your hair might get oily, but once the adjustment period is over, you will notice that it will require less frequent washing.”

Do try scalp treatments
“Too often, we pay attention to the lengths of our hair and give our scalp no attention. But caring for your scalp improves the overall health of your tresses, stimulates hair growth and gets rid of dandruff due to product buildup. Scalp treatments range from serums to salt scrubs, so pick a product that suits your hair needs. Le Labo's basil-scented Scrub Shampoo uses black sea salt and menthol to clear away dirt and cool scalps down.”