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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.

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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.

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King's Gate, on Suomenlinna.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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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Will We Ever Get to Travel Again?

Plane at Sunset _ Image Credit Oli Lynch via Flickr
Plane at sunset. Image credit Oli Lynch via Flickr.

By Ernest White II

Will we ever get to travel again?

The short answer: yes. People need to connect with people, and the hankering for adventure, for intrigue, for romance has only been exacerbated by mandatory lockdowns. And, despite warnings to the contrary, some people never stopped traveling in 2020. In 2021 and beyond, however, travel will be much different than what we were used to before the pandemic.

The days of weekend getaways, last-minute jaunts, and general get-up-and-go are long gone. Destinations, airline and cruise companies, restaurants, tour companies, independent tour guides, shops, hotels, and every sector you can think of in the travel industry are still reeling from the pandemic, and most won’t recover quickly, if ever. In fact, the United Nations World Tourism Organization estimated a loss of up to $1.2 trillion in international visitor spending in 2020, with some 120 million tourism jobs at risk. And with countries like Canada and the United Kingdom instituting new travel bans in the face of stronger variants of the virus, the travel landscape will remain a foreign one for most of us well into the next few years. 

But fear not: as vaccines are distributed throughout the world, and with enhanced testing and expanded safety protocols, travel will again be accessible and even enjoyable.

Proceeding with Caution

Many destinations have taken the lead in establishing “COVID-conscious zones” with strict protocols and procedures that allow tourism to continue, especially in places where international visitors account for much of the revenue and employment in a given area. 

Cabo San Lucas _ Image Credit Juan Garcia via Flickr
Cabo San Lucas. Image credit Juan Garcia via Flickr.

In Mexico, for instance, the Los Cabos Tourism Board worked in conjunction with the Baja California Sur state health department to ensure all service providers were clear on health and safety regulations, and that there was uniformity in enforcement to ensure that hotels, restaurants, and attractions in the beachside destination could remain open for business. Hotel and restaurant capacity has been capped at up to 50%, while COVID-19 testing facilities have been expanded and an English-language hotline has been established for travelers needing assistance, or to take the test required for re-entry into the United States and Canada. The area’s hotels and tour operators have also been generous with change policies and fee waivers, taking a customer-focused approach to the heightened uncertainties of travel during a pandemic.

Angkor Wat _ Cambodia _ Image Credit Anne and David via Flickr
Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Image credit Anne and David via Flickr.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Southeast Asian country of Cambodia is open to tourists from the U.S. but requires a $2,000 deposit upon arrival, which pays for a mandatory COVID-19 test and potential treatment should the test result be positive. In addition to a negative test taken no more than 72 hours prior to landing at the country’s main airport, visitors must pay for another test upon arrival, then quarantine for 14 days at a hotel officially designated by the Cambodian government. However strict these requirements may be, the country is still open for tourism, unlike two-thirds of the world’s nations.

The upside is that restrictions like Cambodia's tend to inspire more intentional, slower-paced travel than what many people were accustomed to prior to the pandemic, in addition to keeping the local population safe and the tourism economy afloat.

Go Before You Go

For those waiting for the green light to travel without tests, masks, and gallons of hand sanitizer, the options for armchair traveling have never been more diverse, particularly as immersive technologies have improved and expanded in the wake of the pandemic. The old standbys of international cuisines, foreign films, jaunty TV shows, and world music are still easily accessible ways of getting into a traveling mood, but new virtual experiences can bring would-be travelers into the action via their personal devices.

Shinjuku _ Tokyo _ Japan _ Image Credit sayo ts via Flickr
Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. Image credit sayo ts via Flickr.

Museums around the world—including the Louvre in Paris, the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, and the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City—have developed virtual tours of their galleries, offering views of permanent collections as well as temporary exhibitions. For virtual outdoor adventures, safari companies such as Tswalu and &Beyond Connections provide interactive and real-time safari experiences from the savannas of Southern and Central Africa. And if the thrill of the big city calls, tour companies such as Arigato Japan can pair viewers with local guides who offer multimedia tours of their happening ‘hoods in the heart of Tokyo.

While the way we travel won’t ever be the same, the human desire to connect with each other and explore our home planet remains.

Editor's note: Ernest is too modest to mention it, but another way you can get your travel on from the safety of your couch is by watching his travel docu-series, which airs on both PBS and Create TV.

Ernest White II is a storyteller, explorer, executive producer, and host of television travel docu-series FLY BROTHER with Ernest White II, currently airing in the United States on Public Television Stations and Create TV nationwide. He is also founder and CEO of Presidio Pictures, a new film, television, and digital media studio centering BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and senior/elder narratives. Ernest’s writing includes fiction, literary essay, and travel narrative, having been featured in Time Out London, USA Today, Getaway, Ebony, The Manifest-Station, Sinking City, Lakeview Journal, Matador Network, National Geographic Traveler’s Brazil and Bradt’s Tajikistan guidebooks, and at TravelChannel.com. He is also senior editor at Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, former assistant editor at Time Out São Paulo, and founding editor of digital men’s magazine Abernathy.

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'Cat in the Flock' Featured on Shoutout Miami!

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By Lisa Brunette

Though I call the Midwest my home and the Pacific Northwest my second home, my writing chops were forged during the two years I attended graduate school for an MFA in creative writing at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida. That tropical locale made its mark on me in more ways than one. When I close my eyes and travel back to the Miami of my memories twenty years ago, I'm awash in sensations: the flash of shocking royal blue as a flock of wild macaws flies overhead; the salty scent of the sea breezes, carrying hints of spicy aromas from Caribbean flora; the staccato rhythms of samba, salsa, and Cuban rhumba blasting from open cabana bars and car windows.

My second novel, Framed and Burning, is set in Miami, and if pushed to say so, I think it's my best of the series. It captures the light and dark sides of Miami's culture, the authentic and the plastic, the natural and unnatural.

So it's a terrific honor to have Shoutout Miami publish a full feature on Cat in the Flock - as well as my day job biz, Brunette Games: "Meet Lisa Brunette: Novelist, Blogger, and Game Storyteller." The feature is part of a series on "Thinking through the first steps of starting a business." Those featured in the series with me include an art dealer, a fitness coach, an interior designer, and more.

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Miami keeps wanting to claim me.

Three years ago, I was the subject of another Miami-themed feature story, this time in VoyageMIA, "Conversations with the Inspiring Lisa Brunette." It's been instructive to compare where I was then to where I am now. Brunette Games has grown from a solo act to a team of 10 (five writers, five voice actors), and Cat in the Flock has fully morphed into a lifestyle blog with seven authors writing at a rate of one article per week.

One thing that hasn't changed: I can still manage the inversion pose that tops the VoyageMIA piece (also below), only these days I give Anthony's back a break and use my FeetUp yoga prop instead.

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From back in our acroyoga days.

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Cat in the Flock's Top 5 Posts of 2020. No. 1 Is for the Birds!

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Milkweed seed pod on a rose bush.

By Lisa Brunette

Two-oh-two-oh was a surprising year for Cat in the Flock, as between the extensive lockdowns and social distancing measures and our decision to forgo social media, Anthony and I found ourselves with more time to write. While our day jobs at Brunette Games never ceased, as its already established remote-work structure allowed us to continue working without fail, we saw family and friends less often, and most interesting activities outside the home were either canceled outright or made less attractive due to the requirement to wear masks and social distance. So, we opted to stay in. We published more on this blog in 2020 than anticipated, with a total of 52 posts, or an average of one per week!

What's most exciting about the past year at Cat in the Flock is that I saw the blog grow beyond me. The responsibility for those 52 posts was shared across 7 different authors. Notably, Anthony joined the fray, and his write-up on our bamboo squash tunnel was one of the most popular of the year. Besides the Anthony-and-Lisa duo here at Cat in the Flock, we also published posts from a former wildlife biologist, two award-winning travel writers, an acupuncturist, and a certified herbalist. One of these also made the top five.

All of our most popular articles share gardening as a theme, and with the combination of our own passions for the subject and a surge in interest due to stay-at-home mandates, it's not surprising to see why. Here are the top five posts judging by total number of page views, starting with fifth on the list and working our way to the top.

No. 5 - Native Plants As the Stars of the Show

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Quercus shumardii, or native Shumard oak, in fall color.

The very first post of 2020 was also our fifth most-viewed: Garden Stars of the Year: How to Win with Native Plants. It's basically a native plant gardening 'how to,' with suggestions for how to go about populating your garden with plants that have evolved to your geographic location's unique ecosystem rather than filling it with a lot of exotics. What can we say? We're still drinking the native plant Kool-Aid. Exotics are harder to care for, and they don't feed native pollinators, birds, or animals anywhere near as well as the plants our native fauna have evolved to consume. To us, going native is a no-brainer.

No. 4 - More Mushroom Mania

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Image courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.

If you hadn't noticed, we're a bit obsessed with mushrooms here at Cat in the Flock, and our fourth most popular post reflects that. "Mushrooms Become Less Mysterious - with the Right Field Guide" is pretty much a love letter to both our stellar Missouri Department of Conservation and the mushroom guide it publishes, Missouri's Wild Mushrooms, by fellow St. Louis writer Maxine Stone. If you're anywhere in the Midwest, I highly recommend the guide.

New to the whole mushroom foraging idea? Check out this great piece by guest blogger Ellen King Rice that breaks down everything you need to know. And for funsies, you might also read our further account of mushroom foraging right here in the back 40 for the delicious and plentiful 'shroom known as reddening lepiota.

No. 3 - Farmer Bob's Jam

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Bob Frause in the garden. Photo by Sue Frause.

Over Sue Frause's long, award-winning career as a travel and lifestyle feature writer, she's amassed quite a following, which partly explains the popularity of the post coming in at the No. 3 spot, On Whidbey Island with 'Farmer Bob' and His Inspiration Garden. But I also think that asking a travel writer who's written about places hither and yon to turn inward toward her own backyard yielded just a truly wonderful piece about gardening, family, and what it means to call a place home. She mentioned to me how surprised she was by the response, and I believe her readers were hungry for this self-made profile.

The Frause's Whidbey Island garden is a very special place, just perfect for our regular 'inspiration garden' feature. It's inspired me ever since I had the pleasure of staying there back in 2008, and it continues to remind me of what's possible. 

No. 2 - Long Live the Squash Tunnel!

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Anthony and the freshly made bamboo tunnel.

As I mentioned above, Anthony's bamboo squash tunnel piece received quite a bit of attention, boosting it to second place for the year. It's possible that in a gardening-focused time of high unemployment, the prospect of a free bamboo tunnel for veggies was too strong to resist. 

Tragically, the squash tunnel fell victim to one of our dramatic Midwestern summer storms, but for a time, the arch anchored the garden, supporting cucumbers and, of course, squash, as well as providing birds with an interesting place to roost. Besides, it just looked so cool.

No. 1 - This One's for the Birds

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A surprise search-engine darling for us this year is Easy DIY Bird Baths for Your Stay-at-Home Pleasure. It regularly brings in readers in the same vein as the squash tunnel piece, as a highly thrifty way to get out in the garden and do something ecologically minded. 

I think what consistently puts this one ahead is that it's about a good, original idea: to use leftover tempered glass pot lids as reservoirs for bird baths. I've never seen anyone do this before, and it's surprising because it works so well. I still have four variations of them in the garden this winter, and the birds continue to use them on a daily basis. They're easy to clean and care for, and the tempered glass ensures they stand up to the extremes of winter and summer weather.

There you have it. I'm not sure we'll be able to keep up the once-per-week pace in 2021, especially since Cat in the Flock still doesn't earn any income for us. On that note, if you're a fan of our content, consider popping a few into our tip jar - and tell your friends about us. The more the merrier in this flock!

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Around the World with Ernest and Friends - 'Fly Brother' Airs on Public TV, Create TV

Ernest
Ernest White II in Mongolia.

 

Editor's note: You know it's a thrill when a friend makes it to the big time. I've known Ernest White since the two of us were in grad school together for creative writing, both trying to turn our lives into art. We've stayed in touch ever since - across multiple time zones, career changes, and major life events. I've loved watching him evolve from writer to multimedia storyteller. I'm over-the-moon excited to bring you this announcement about his debut public TV series, Fly Brother. Here's Ernest.

By Ernest White II

It may seem odd to launch a new travel television program in a year when travelers are grounded with canceled and postponed plans to traipse around the planet. For my TV debut, the timing may not have been perfect, but it did give a new sense of meaning to my work. 

Fly Brother with Ernest White II is a new travel docu-series available in the United States on Public Television Stations and Create TV nationwide. The show follows my travels around the globe meeting with real-life friends and getting a local’s perspective as they show me around their home cities. In each episode, I visit their favorite hotels, restaurants, social haunts, and more. Throughout the season, we see festivities, food, and fun, but also the friendship that proves the whole world is our tribe.

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Ernest and friends Michael Childress and Ana Ayala.

Season one takes viewers to Brazil, Canada, Georgia, Namibia, Sweden, Ethiopia, India, Tajikistan, South Africa, Colombia, and Morocco. My friends and I chase sunsets in Cape Town, twirl to the samba beats of São Paulo, explore the jazzy side of Stockholm, and much more. As the world begins to reopen to tourism, I'm also making plans to (safely) film a second season filled with even more unique experiences. 

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In the Northern Flatlands of Namibia.

Beyond allowing viewers to ease the pangs of wanderlust, the show focuses on the power of connection and friendship through travel. As a gay, Black American man, I left the U.S. for a decade in search of adventure and community. I've circumnavigated the globe six times, befriending people of all walks of life along the way. It was during those travels that I realized that everyone—myself included—wants the same things in life: to be seen, empowered, and loved. It’s my life mission to express this love and sense of community through storytelling. As the world reckons with its problematic past and present, making an effort to build a better future, this unique message of interconnectedness is needed now more than ever.

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Hong Kong.

The series first started airing on Public Television Stations this past spring and then made its national cable debut on Create TV in August. The show airs on Mondays at 10:30 a.m., 5:30 p.m., and 10:30 p.m. EDT. But don’t worry if you’ve already missed out on a few episodes. Create TV will re-air each episode of season one October 19th, so you can be a part of all the fun from the beginning, starting with one of my favorite cities and my former home for several years: São Paulo, Brazil. 

Sao Paulo by Rodrigo Soldon
São Paulo. Image credit: Rodrigo Soldon via Flickr.

For more information on the show, including how you can catch the latest episode in your area, sign up for the Flight List at flybrother.net

About Ernest White II

Ernest is a storyteller, explorer, executive producer, and host of television travel docu-series FLY BROTHER with Ernest White II, currently airing in the United States on Public Television Stations and Create TV nationwide. He is also founder and CEO of Presidio Pictures, a new film, television, and digital media studio centering BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and senior/elder narratives. Ernest’s writing includes fiction, literary essay, and travel narrative, having been featured in Time Out London, USA Today, Getaway, Ebony, The Manifest-Station, Sinking City, Lakeview Journal, Matador Network, National Geographic Traveler’s Brazil and Bradt’s Tajikistan guidebooks, and at TravelChannel.com. He is also senior editor at Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, former assistant editor at Time Out São Paulo, and founding editor of digital men’s magazine Abernathy.

ErnestWhiteII_headshot-590x590

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Our Top 5 Travel Necessities

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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, but we do not receive anything in exchange for posting the links to them here. 

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:

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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