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Home Changes That Are Both Functional and Easy on the Eye

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When it comes to interior design, form should always follow function and create a space that is equally efficient and appealing. This is why we highlighted in ‘That Finnish Lifestyle Is Hard to Beat’ how the place where form and function meet is important to Finns. Things must not only work well, but they must please the eye as well. With that in mind, let’s look at a few home changes you can make that are both functional and pleasing. And we don’t want to limit your options here, so we are going to look at trends from across the world to give you that bit of inspiration you might just need right now.

Furniture Design

Renowned the world over for their clean lines and muted, earthy colors, Finnish and Scandinavian spaces are both visually pleasing and highly functional. My Scandinavian Home founder Niki Brantmark points out that practicality is key when furniture is selected for both form and function. Sofas, for example, are made from natural materials, with clean design lines but also contain built-in storage and double up as a bed. By choosing highly functional pieces, homeowners can reduce the number of items they have, resulting in a less cluttered and more aesthetically pleasing living space. With space coming at a premium in U.S. apartments, fewer pieces with added functionality is definitely the trend to go with.

Home Heating

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In the UK, homeowners are switching to smaller combi-boilers, as they can reduce annual energy bills. Since these can be easily hidden in a cupboard, from an interior design perspective, they're a huge plus. UK homes rely on efficient central heating systems, which is why homeowners take good care of their boilers. Information on proper boiler care, like how to conduct regular preventative maintenance and pressure monitoring, amongst others, are available at sites like Reviews Gang from the UK. Apart from the regular maintenance and upkeep involved with boiler care, homeowners also buy damage protection to protect their investment; otherwise, it could cost them a lot if they have to repair or replace a faulty boiler. HomeServe recommends that British homeowners should take out a boiler insurance plan that covers any damage. As such, U.S. homeowners should look to replicate this by considering a switch to an energy-efficient combi-boiler, and getting insurance to cover any costly repairs or in the worst-case scenario having to replace an old boiler.

Kitchen Ideas

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Italian automotive designer Paolo Pininfarina also became famous for his contemporary and ultra-modern interior design ideas. Ergonomic functionality blends with creative kitchen décor that looks fresh and bright. Pininfarina’s designs offer functional storage, extra-deep contemporary kitchen cabinets, and large drawers, perfect for storing pots and pans. Additionally, shallow, extra-wide kitchen storage spaces are a perfect fit for cutlery. The way Italians use unique shades of reds, blues, and beiges also adds a pleasing aesthetic not found anywhere else in the world. U.S. homeowners designing or looking to renovate their kitchens who want a chic, ultra-clean look with ergonomic functionality should consider the latest Italian kitchen trends.

Bathroom Wet Rooms

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In Canada, the open-concept floor plan has been extended to bathrooms. In recent years, homes have incorporated a wet room, which includes a shower and bathtub, separated from the rest of the bathroom by a large pane of sectional glass. In essence, this creates a functional wet space, while making the bathroom seem bigger and more open than it actually is. It’s a great renovation idea for U.S. homeowners looking to undertake a full bathroom remodel. If you’re considering this design idea, also think about adding another Canadian favorite to your bathroom in the form of underfloor heating. Adding warmth to these areas will add greater comfort during the cold winter months and make your bathroom warm and cozy. 

What do you think of these design inspirations? Tell us in the comments!

Content provided by Sarah Harding.


Our Top 5 Travel Necessities

Suomenlinna
You can see a bit of the Infinity Neck Pillow here, draped over one shoulder in the 'down' position.

By Lisa Brunette

One of the reasons I decided to devote this whole week on the blog to Helsinki is that as a travel noob, I often felt overwhelmed when trying to find basic information online. A lot of travel blogs seem to cater to seasoned travelers, and since, as I reported on Monday, less than 5 percent of Americans travel overseas, that approach doesn't seem to make sense. I thought a more detailed, simplified breakdown would be more helpful. It also allowed me to give a deep dive on Helsinki, which I think is pretty rare, but I rather get to really know one place than go on a dizzying whirlwind tour of too many.

Anyway, for this last post in the series, I thought I'd share the top 5 travel necessities that have made the trips much easier for me. I highly recommend all of these products, and if you get them, please do so from the links below to help support this blog. Thank you.

They're all equally great, so this list is in no particular order.

Forest & Meadow's Jet Lag Formula

I suffer from terrible jet lag, as I've mentioned on the blog previously. When I flew to Copenhagen last year, I tried to adjust slowly a week ahead of time, by wearing a watch set to Copenhagen time and psyching myself out that it was actually that time. This is enormously difficult, as your body tends not to buy the ruse - 'What are you talking about? Go to bed NOW? It's totally daylight.' But my jet lag WAS mildly better on that trip, so the effort wasn't for nought. 

Still, I knew there had to be a better way, so I asked my herbalist, Amanda Jokerst of Forest & Meadow, if she could craft a formula to specifically counter the effects of jet lag. She's been helping me with a host of conditions due to Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), and I've been impressed by how much more helpful her "doctoring" has been for this issue than the years of frustration I've experienced via the Western medicine route. Amanda was intrigued by the request, and she came through valiantly, with a formula that gave me my mildest jet lag yet.

Jet lag formula

Amanda is offering all Cat in the Flock readers a 15 percent discount on the formula, so feel free to give it a try. All you have to do is email her at this link and mention Cat in the Flock. Soon she'll have an online store where you can purchase her array of organic herbal formulas. But for now, email will work.

Infinity Neck Pillow

I can't say enough good things about this neck pillow/scarf hybrid thingee. It's basically a möbius strip of fabric, like an infinity scarf but with some soft filling to give it a pillow-like feel. It has multiple uses. When you double-wrap it around your neck, it allows you to rest your head comfortably in any direction. I've experienced my best in-flight sleeping with this on. It also provides excellent lumbar support if you fold it once and place it between you and the plane seat.

It's an added layer of warmth both on the plane and off; I was really happy to have it on during the freak snow on Suomenlinna. Northern Europeans wrap enormous scarves around their necks, so wearing the Infinity Neck Pillow, you'll look like a local. It can seem a bit bulky during everyday wear if the weather's nice, but if you want to keep it with you without feeling like you're wearing a whiplash collar, just string it across your body. This way, it's rather stylish, and you'll totally fit in.

 Fochier Carryon Spinner Suitcase

I've never been one to invest in luggage - that's always seemed like something more for rich people, I guess. I used the same midsized bag I'd purchased in high school on my J.C. Penney discount for a couple of decades - until it literally fell apart during a trip in 2008. I found myself stranded at my sister's house without luggage, so I "splurged" on a wheelie bag at Target. That bag has kept both me AND my husband in luggage ever since, and we still use it.

But one bag isn't enough for both of us, so we have to supplement with backpacks or crossbody packs, and my scoliotic spine just isn't keen on traveling like a pack mule. Plus, I've noticed while traveling that people with spinner bags seem to be moving through airports like la-de-da, while my unidirectional wheelie bag is bulky and awkward. So, I splurged on this carryon spinner, and I haven't regretted it for a second.

The soft shell gives the bag sturdiness, the handle seems a bit stronger than the average, and the wheels stood up to Helsinki's cobblestone streets. There is a TSA lock, but I'm skeptical about how secure they are. I went for turquoise, my favorite color, but there's a wide range of hues from which to choose.

Mad Hippie Cleansing Oil

One of the annoying aspects of travel these days is the big dilemma of how to fit all one's toiletries into a plastic quart bag. Of course, you can't fit everything, so you have to pick and choose. Is it more important to have toothpaste, or facial cleanser? Can I find a travel-sized deodorant that doesn't make me smell like baby powder all day? These are the questions that try women's souls.

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But coming to the rescue is this incredible cleansing oil. Ostensibly, it's a facial cleanser. But I found it had other uses: I added it to my bath, and I massaged it into my cuticles and even my hair. The fact that it both cleans and moisturizes means that it earns its space in that quart bag. Mad Hippie, you're so sane!

Plug Adapters

The first time you travel overseas, the fact that other cultures use different types of electrical plugs will kind of astound you. I devoted a whole blog post on the subject after my first trip abroad, to Barcelona. But now it's old hat for me, and I've got a great supply of adapter plugs to use when I go. Thankfully, my E/F type worked in Barcelona, Copenhagen, and Helsinki, so I've only ever had to have these. But definitely check out what the setup is in your destination land, because wherever you go, things could plug in differently.

I hope this roundup of travel aids is helpful to you. Safe and happy travels!

Other #HelsinkiWeek Posts:

That Finnish Lifestyle Is Hard to Beat

5 Cool Things to Do in Helsinki

Heading to Helsinki? Here's What You Need to Know

Thinking About Taking Your First Trip Overseas? Try Helsinki


That Finnish Lifestyle Is Hard to Beat

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By Lisa Brunette

We came back from Helsinki raving about what an awesome quality of life Finns have, and we'd like to give you a rundown of the three main areas that make it so. Finnish style is both Old World European and cutting-edge modern, and that's reflected in the cuisine, physical activity, and design.

Food

Notably scarce in Helsinki society: junk food and fast food. Once we left the airport, we really didn't see too many fast-food restaurants. There are a fair number of Starbucks cafes, which is not surprising, given the coffee-centric culture, and I don't know, maybe a Starbucks looks like a cool, exotic American place to get a coffee if you're a Finn. We avoided them, because why? 

There were also a handful of Subway restaurants, which bewildered us at first until I realized that Scandinavians are all about the sandwich, so to embrace a Subway footlong isn't beyond the pale. I did wonder if they eat it with a fork, though, as sandwiches are open-faced and consumed that way throughout Scandinavia. We went to a "Mexican" restaurant once during our stay, and our tacos came with a set of instructions for how to eat a taco (1. fold, 2. pick up with your hands, 3. eat). I figured that was due to the practice of eating open-faced sandwiches with a fork as well. The rice and beans were actually split peas and white rice, so there you go. Finnishized Mexican food.

There's a lot of soup in Finland, maybe because of the cool climate. We tried salmon soup three different ways during our stay, and the one at Story Cafe in the Old Market Hall was the best.

Salmon soup
A typical Finnish meal, with salmon soup, hearty bread, rhubarb crumble, and "overnight oats" also with rhubarb. They are big on rhubarb in Finland. Overnight oats is a grain porridge, a breakfast staple.

Back to my main point: Finns eat healthier than Americans. Probably not surprising, but the quality of the food is higher, too, with fewer processed food options and much, much less sugar and salt. They're big on bread and cereal; the national food is rye bread. But hold the usual overload of sugar and salt we Americans add to these foods. I find it interesting that the food cultures in European cities tend not to be gluten-phobic, as the U.S. is increasingly becoming. (A popular snack is Karelian pie, a rye pastry filled with rice porridge.) But neither is their bread processed with loads of fillers and chemicals and made from GMO wheat. Rather, bread is usually baked fresh, with just a few high-quality ingredients. Our hotel, for example, offered a daily brunch featuring sourdough rye baked early that morning. 

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Though the Finns like their meat, which ranges from bear to all manner of fish to reindeer, you CAN eat here as a vegetarian. Here's one of our favorite meals, from the veg restaurant Yes Yes Yes: Halloumi fries with pomegranate, arugula salad with hearts of palm, avocado-pistachio dip, and naan bread.

Meat and cheese are staples, too. Again, rather than dropping these items from their diets, Finns generally prefer to craft them from local ingredients, close to the source, rather than processing and adding preservatives and additives. I've noticed that I've been able to eat a much broader range of foods when I'm in Copenhagen, Barcelona, and Helsinki--all cultures that share this emphasis on high-quality, locally sourced food. (I've written about my experiences in Barcelona here.

Exercise

Finns are a lot less sedentary than Americans. Helsinki is a highly walkable city, with pedestrian-only streets common, along with plenty of walking and bike paths even on high-traffic streets. Beyond that, the Finns take great pride in their physical activities, with an active culture around swimming and using the sauna (Finns super-love to get naked and sweaty, and this is an occasion for a sandwich, too!) as well as a plethora of winter sport options. 

Finns are pretty wild about jooga (yoga). Apparently one of 12 undeniable proofs that you're married to a Finn is that you "yoga breathe in the passenger's seat." 

Jooga

We witnessed many Finns opting to take the stairs, which were more accessible than they are in America, where it seems in a lot of buildings they're only provided for emergency purposes. Our business associates, who've spent a good amount of time in the U.S., remarked that they always gain "at least 5 kilograms" when they travel to the States. They attributed it to the car-centric culture, types of food, and portion sizes. Which is not to say that Finns are New York-skinny; they're not. Finnish women, from what I've seen, look like healthy Midwesterners!

Exercise sort of blends in with the lifestyle, too, rather than being something designated as separate and requiring special clothing, a scheduled time slot, or a specific place to do it. Finns walk everywhere, and they walk fast, in regular clothes. Which doesn't mean they won't stop for a glass of wine in the middle of that activity.

Cafeursula

Design

Maybe it's not as direct a quality-of-life issue as food and exercise, but the place where form and function meet is definitely important to Finns. Things must not only work well, but they must please the eye as well. Conversely, if they're only pretty but not at all functional, Finns don't want any part of them, either.

Case in point: HVAC ductwork. The below circular art piece--I mean heating vent--is all over Helsinki. This one's from the aforementioned veg restaurant, Yes Yes Yes. 

Ductwork

What's remarkable about them besides how cool they look is that they seem to work a lot better than the ones we have here in the States. The little baffles circulate the air, rather than aggressively blowing it in one direction. You know that problem where you sit down and then have to move because the vent is spewing right in your eyes or making you too hot or too cold? Never happened to me in Finland.

Besides the HVAC, that triple-Yes restaurant was a triumph in fresh interior design, from the gorgeous patterned wallpaper to the simplicity of the retro pitchers and bright, happy colors.

Wallpaper

There's a love of domestic objects here, and a common theme of bright, uncluttered, natural interiors, with both an organic sensibility and clean lines. The natural world is a focus, whether that's how plants are displayed inside or in the design themes themselves, like the magical coffee mugs our hotel used, designed by Finnish firm Ittala

Ittala

I've shared my love of Finland here on the blog this past week, and I hope you'll experience it for yourself. Tomorrow, I'll list my top 5 travel accessories, and tell you about a very special discount, too!

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5 Cool Things to Do in Helsinki

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The Temppeliaukio Church, (The Rock).

By Lisa Brunette

We only had about three-and-a-half days to explore Helsinki around the time we'd scheduled for onsite work for Brunette Games. So we felt we'd barely scratched the surface. But I think we chose well, and that our trip was a good model for others to follow when visiting Helsinki for the first time. Here are the top 5.

5. Sinebrychoff Art Museum / Kunsthalle Helsinki

We put these two together as sort of polar opposites, for those looking for a Helsinki-specific art experience but open to both experimental/contemporary and a much more traditional style. I recommend bookending a day with these two and having lunch in between.

The Sinebrychoff Museum is part of the Finnish National Gallery and houses the country's largest collection of paintings by the Old Masters. The museum building was once the residence of the Sinebrychoff family, several generations of successful 19th century brewers. The home and its extensive art collection were donated to the state in 1921. The second floor is almost entirely a recreation of the family's apartment suite over the old brewery that had been housed downstairs. This part of the museum is free every day, and the Helsinki Card will get you into the rest for free as well.

Sinebrychoff ceiling

The Kunsthalle is on the opposite end of the artistic spectrum from the Sinebrychoff, as its focus is living artists with contemporary or even experimental expression. The Kunsthalle has no permanent collection of its own but is a lovely space for 5-7 special exhibitions and events annually. We toured the Young Artists show and were impressed that artists at such early stages of their careers were given the opportunity to showcase their work in such a grand hall. Notably, a recurrent theme across the art was a certain dark angst that seems to lie at the heart of Finnish culture, in opposition to the clean, friendly, safe quality of the lifestyle.

4. Waterfront Walk

It's not an official tourist designation or anything, but our business clients recommended that we simply walk along the Helsinki waterfront, and it proved to be the perfect way to spend our last day there. We started at Kauppatori. There you can walk across the Bridge of Love, a wide bridge festooned with padlocks bearing the names of lovers, a common phenomenon in many European cities.

Bridge of love2

The Old Market Hall is worth at least a walkthrough with its stalls of local food and gifts. From there, we followed the perimeter of Helsinki along the waterfront past cruise ships, sculpture, architectural wowzers on nearby islands, and stopped for a glass of wine at a picturesque cafe called Ursula's.

The whole southern tip of Helsinki has been devoted to parkland, and the view across the water over massive rocky outcroppings is something you shouldn't miss. This is a full afternoon's walk, but don't rush it. We saw Finns on bicycles, a man walking his cat, and a young boy zoom by on hoverboard. 

Pano waterfront

3. Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna is an island off Helsinki that is only accessible by ferry. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the island is home to an 18th century fortress and several museums and restaurants. The fortress, which dates back to Sweden's 600 years' rule of Finland, boasts 100 cannons and four miles of stone walls. We wandered the fort, which reminded us a bit of Fort Casey on Whidbey Island, though of course much older, and tried to imagine a Swedish king stepping through King's Gate at the island's far end.

Kingsgate
King's Gate, on Suomenlinna.

Cannon

The island is fascinating, with an impressive drydock, Suomenlinna Church, and the quiet habitation of its 800 residents. One cafe worker remarked to me, "I hardly ever leave the island; I have everything I need here." There's a long waiting list for people who wish to move to Suomenlinna.

Drydock
Suomenlinna drydock, one of the oldest operating drydocks in Europe.

The weather ranged from sunny to fluffy snowflakes to overcast and sleeting during our day trip there, so we were glad we were prepared. Still, we took refuge at the Suomenlinna Toy Museum & Cafe, which was both cozy and chilling, and not just because of the snow.

Creepygnome

Sadly, the Suomenlinna Church is now devoid of its original onion domes, as designed by the Russians when they held the fort. When Finland began to assert itself after becoming independent from Russian rule, down came the domes. But at least Suomenlinna boasts some fine examples of Finland's characteristic Mid-Century Modern design elements in the chandelier and other features.

Suomenlinna church
Suomenlinna Church.

You can catch the Suomenlinna ferry from Kauppatori, and fare is free with the Helsinki Card.

2. The Rock (Temppeliaukio) Church

Let's carve out a rock and set a church down inside it, they said. And the idea took hold, so they did.

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Called "the most interesting church in Helsinki" in our guidebook, the Rock for me is probably the most interesting church anywhere. It came about as winner of a design competition in 1961. The dome was constructed out of one continuous copper strip coiled into the dome shape, with windows to let in natural light. The light radiates around the dome, throwing deep purple reflections from the pew fabrics onto the copper panels of the gallery. 

Rockpurplecopper

The acoustics are well known for their excellence. We stumbled onto a children's band's dress rehearsal when we went, and the sound filled the space with a copper-like clarity.

This is a popular destination, so the guidebooks recommend an afternoon or evening visit in summer. We had no problem getting in mid-morning during the first week of May.

1. National Museum of Finland

National Museum

I know, you're probably wondering how we could put a history museum in the top spot, but this place blew us away. We actually went back for a second visit after getting only a glimpse before closing time the first day. Maybe it's because as Americans, our nation is just so dang new, relatively speaking, so we were totally transfixed by Medieval housewares and church artifacts from the 16th century.

National Museum2

But most of all, we couldn't get enough of the prehistory exhibit. It traces back the Finnish people some 10,000 years, giving a startlingly vivid picture of life in the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages. It's not often I feel called to read every bit of text in an exhibit gallery, but this one, I did. We lingered a long time during our second visit, drinking in the experience of getting to touch a Stone Age offering rock and gaze upon the impressive gilded burial costume of a Bronze Age woman chieftain.

Offeringrock
It's believed that people left gifts for their spirits on this rock, and the water that collected in its impressions was thought to hold magical properties.

This certainly isn't everything Helsinki has to offer, but it's a good list. Take your time for a deep dive in one area of interest, like we did with the history aspect, rather than pressuring yourself to see and do everything. I guarantee you'll have a much better time.

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Heading to Helsinki? Here's What You Need to Know

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Flying over vast stretches of arctic landscape is just one of the many lovely perks of a trip to Finland.

By Lisa Brunette

Helsinki, as we mentioned previously, is a great way to initiate your new overseas traveling habit. But there are 5 things you need to know ahead of time, rather than just winging it.

Language. You can totally get by with English, and no one will bat an eye. But why not try out a few Finnish phrases? Here's an easy one for you: Hei. It means hello, so that should be a cinch, right? It sounds a bit different, though, more like the American "hey." You can also say hello by saying moi. (The Finns pronounce each letter distinctly, so it's more like "mow-ee.") Here's another one you can pick up and master: kiitos. It means thank you, and when you say that to your Finnish friends, they'll appreciate it. Since most Americans don't learn other languages (75% are English-only), saying just these two words might feel to you like bricks in the mouth, but do it anyway. Soon you'll be shouting Kiitos! like it's the best word you ever heard, like my husband did. One shop clerk said she thought he was Finnish, but maybe she just wanted him to buy something.

Reindeermenu
There's a lot of English to be read in Helsinki, but don't limit yourself to your home language.

2. Money. Before you go, call your bank and find out what their foreign transaction fee is. This will likely be a percentage. If it's high, try another card. We called around and found that our business credit card would charge 3 percent, but the ATM card linked to our business would incur a minimal fee. Amazon Prime assesses no fee whatsoever (...and that's another reason why the Zon is taking over the world). Also, here's a tip: Finns don't really tip. It's customary to round up the bill, but the big 10-20 percent tips we're used to in the States will only just make you super popular with service staff. Trust us on this; we experienced it first-hand.

3. Helsinki Card. Get one. This is sort of an "all-access" pass that you can use to gain free admission to museums and attractions, as well as discounts at restaurants. It's definitely worth the price, and the sole drawback is that it's good for only 72 hours. We had a weekend plus an extra day and a half to explore, but these were broken up by onsite work days in between, so we didn't get to take advantage of it as much as we would've liked. (They have a card reader system that activates it the first time you use it.) But even so, we still got our money's worth on the museum entrance fees alone, and then we leveraged it for 20% off our restaurant bill twice. I was worried the restaurants included would be too touristy, or international chains, and there is a Hard Rock Cafe on the list, but we went with Savotta, a superb Finnish-themed restaurant (I had the reindeer) and Samrat, where you can eat Indian food that for me was in the top 10 I've had anywhere. By the way, you will see the Finnish world ravintola in signs all over Finland. It's the Finnish word for restaurant (the more you know).

Sinebrychoff museum
A peek inside the reconstructed apartment from a wealthy 19th estate at the Sinebrychoff Museum, one of many museums you have free or discounted access to with the Helsinki Card.

4. Weather. Helsinki is the northernmost big city in Europe, and that's something to consider. This is a place where the sidewalks are heated to keep from having to shovel them through long winter months. I understand that tourists flock there during the one-and-a-half months of true "summer" weather. But don't let that stop you from going at other times, when you're more likely to experience it like a local. You can avoid the crowds and enjoy lower prices during off-season as well. We went in May and had both days of lovely weather and not, which is fine. We got snowed on while out on an island off Helsinki, but we were prepared, and now we have a good story to tell! No matter what, pack so you can dress in layers, as even summers can be cool. In this way it reminds me of Seattle or even the northern Midwestern states in the U.S.

Helsinkirain
Who says you can't have fun in the rain?

5. Transportation. The train system in Helsinki is ridiculously good, especially considering you can just walk across the city if you have to. We took the HSL into the city once we landed, which was easy to figure out from the kiosk at the airport. 

There you have it; it's really as simple as that. Get yourself some salmon soup, say yes to the salty licorice, and try not to have a heart attack when you see the alcohol tax itemized on your bill. And remember, Yksi kieli ei ikinä riitä (one language is never enough)!

Check back on the blog tomorrow for 5 Cool Things to Do in Helsinki.

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