Though only a few days, my time in Helsinki was one that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. The freedom I felt while exploring the world's happiest country has a way of leaving a lasting impact on anyone who visits...
When I stepped off of the Line P train that brought me from Helsinki Airport to Helsinki Central Station, I slowly emerged into the freezing temperatures of the city. As well-versed as I was in similar climates (being born and raised in Toronto, Canada), I had never been brave enough to travel abroad during the winter months. Instead, I’d opt to fill the days of spring, summer, and autumn with adventures before returning to the safety of my central heating as soon as temperatures became too chilly.
This was an entirely new type of journey for me, and I couldn’t have been more excited about it. Little did I know, my experience as part of the #MyHelsinkiResidence campaign would serve to open up my eyes to the thrills of exploring new areas in colder climates. It was the first trip that led me to the freeing notion that every location can be unearthed in a new light, depending on the season, the weather, even the particular events occurring throughout the days of your visit.
Though only a few days, my time in Helsinki was one that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. From eating food so rich in flavour that it nearly brought me to tears, utterly enrapturing myself in the history of the city’s art galleries and museums, leaping into icy seawater before thawing in a public sauna, and then ending the evening with a walk along old and new city streets to admire the incredible architecture that Helsinki has to offer… each and every second in this city was freeing. It was unwinding. It was perfection.
To be welcomed into Finland without question was perhaps the most beautiful thing of all. I felt like I, too, was a local. Walking into a small shop and being greeted with a friendly “Hei!” and a warm smile as I paid for my handmade souvenirs with a “Kiitos.” Walking along the shoreline of the Gulf of Finland with a hot chocolate clasped between my gloved hands, my VAI-KØ beanie warming my head against the crisp wind rolling in off the water. Hearing the casual chatter of passerby flood my ears with the unique, intriguing Finnish language. All of these simple things made me feel like I was at home.
Now, nearly two years after that initial visit to this picturesque Nordic city and amid a global pandemic, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on that incredible trip. Particularly now, after seeing that Finland is the world’s happiest country for the third year running (according to the UN World Happiness Report) and seeing their latest Helsinki Freedom campaign. In these months where it seems as if we have no freedom — at least, not the freedom to travel, for both our and others’ safety — we actually have the opportunity to become the freest versions of ourselves.
With that trip to Helsinki meaning so much to me, travelling to one of the top cities for quality of life and happiness, it unsurprisingly made a lasting impact on who I have since become. While I appreciated my freedoms before this, Helsinki inspired me to cherish them. As a result, you could say that it made me feel that I could authentically be the very best version of myself. Still to this day, I talk about the locals’ kindness, about the easy access to nature, about the food and architecture and saunas. This idyllic life that seems to offer genuine happiness without the need to compromise anything.
I find myself thinking about how I can adopt a more Finnish perspective in my life. I strive to balance my career as a freelancer with my personal blogs, travels, and creative writing. My friends, my family, my partner. To continue educating myself, be it through short courses or free podcasts intended for continued learning. To reconnect with nature, whether it’s a walk through my neighbourhood or a drive up north to go kayaking for an afternoon. Isn’t that what we all want to strive for? What we should all work towards implementing in our own lives, regardless of where we live?
The Helsinki Freedom that resonates so profoundly in this city is not one that is exclusive to the Finnish. It’s a sense of gratitude, of self-love, and celebration of life that each one of us can and should work towards achieving for ourselves. We’ll thank ourselves for it.
So, tell me… What does freedom mean to you?
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