We jumped on the bus outside the Renaissance and two stops later arrived at Heathrow Central. It was then just a short stroll along the travellators to Terminal 3. We were quickly checked in as for once there was no queue whatsoever. Security was the same, a minimal wait and straight through. We also realised it was our first time travelling from Terminal 3 not using Fast Track which carefully skips the bulk of duty free shops.
Not wanting to miss out on any bargains we had a quick browse in Duty Free before heading for the lounge.
Lounge: Club Aspire Lounge, LHR Terminal 3
Access: Free With Lounge Club
Whilst not as friendly or spacious as the Cathay Pacific Lounge we know and love, we spent a happy hour or so relaxing over coffees and a second breakfast which due to our flight time also ended up passing as lunch. The Club Aspire Lounge itself was nicely decorated though to me the tables all felt a little too close together so I’d have not wanted to be there when it was full. In addition quite a lot of the tables did not have power outlets.
I believe there may have been complimentary beer and wine but at 10am it was too early for anything other than champagne which was anything but free at around £8 per glass. There were also cocktails available for £4.99 but we did not feel the need to partake.
The food spread consisted of all your Great British breakfast favourites: scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, beans as well as pastries and bread rolls. There was also fresh fruit, a selection of yogurts and cereals as well as two bean to cup coffee machines.
Shortly before leaving for the gate I made myself a reasonably tasty breakfast roll filled with egg, bacon and sausages, topped off with brown sauce. It hit the spot and kept me filled up till dinner time. I also sneaked in a thank you message to a long forgotten friend J who helped give me the confidence to start this journey many years ago. We were secretly honouring her in spirit by passing through Helsinki (OK, she was from Tampere, but same country at least!)
Before long it was time to head to Gate 11, just a short walk away. About 5 minutes after sitting down boarding was called and with Groups 1-3 done in no time we were soon moving down the jet bridge with the rest of Group 4
Flight: BA794 London to Helsinki
Depart LHR: 11:25
Arrive HEL: 16:20
Seats: 14E and 14F Euro Traveller (Economy)
Aircraft: A320-200 G-EUYR – First Flight 2013
We were warmly welcomed aboard our British Airways flight to Helsinki. Today we were on an A320 which felt about 2/3rds full. There were 9 rows of Club Europe on the flight with a fair bit of that taken. The plane felt new and was relatively clean. Anne-So and I were lucky as we did not have a seat mate in our threesome.
We left on time and were soon up in the air on a pleasant sunny London day with just a few clouds for company. There was a buy on board run which a few people in front of us took part in, followed later by a duty free run. I spent the flight working on this Trip Report whilst Anne-So panicked me into thinking I’d gotten all my dates wrong when she sent her family a copy of our itinerary.
Before we knew it there were just 20 minutes to go till landing and we enjoyed the serene scenery of lakes and forests on our descent in to HEL.
We arrived around 15 minutes ahead of schedule and shortly after disembarked.
Helsinki airport was busier than we were expecting but we were soon through the crowds with the electronic immigration booths working their magic! Despite our hasty exit our bags had kept pace with us so there was just time to pay a quick visit to the birds and freshen up (If you’ve been to the toilets in HEL you’ll know what I mean).
Ticket machines for the train were easy to use with a simple “Helsinki” option to choose and cost €5 for the 30 minute journey. The train was spacious but not great for luggage as although the racks were large they were very high above the seats and floor level storage was poor. (Top tip that we did not realise, these tickets are also valid on local buses and trams)
We soon exited the station and despite the poor signage made our way to the tram stop. Tickets were easy enough to come by from the machine (not that we needed them), or would have been if that machine was working… (It was probably trying to tell us something) Anne-So headed across the street and at €2.50 each we were ready to roll. The tram was soon here and other than a nice drunken chap hurling what was most likely insults the trip was uneventful.
Hotel: Radisson Blu Seaside Hotel, Helsinki
Room Type: Standard
Status: Radisson Rewards Gold
On exiting the tram the Radisson was just across the road and could not be missed.
We were warmly welcomed at check in but no mention was made of my Gold status or our special occasion, despite it being in the booking.
On the plus side we had a room on a high floor with plenty of space, if not the greatest layout. The room featured a long, narrow corridor which led straight to the bed. Around the corner and to the right was a spacious living area with a separate bathroom and toilet. The room looked great but as always with the limited selection of Radisson properties we’ve stayed in it was just not quite right, little things like not having sufficient space for 2 suitcases, the large distance from the sink to the taps and an odd pillar in the middle of the room.
After settling in to our room and having a short rest we enjoyed a beautiful summer evening walk around Helsinki city centre passing both Helsinki Cathedral and Uspenski Cathedral, walking along the seafront and back along the esplanade. We really enjoyed ourselves and the weather was perfect for strolling.
We then returned to the hotel to freshen up before heading out for dinner.
We didn’t plan our stay in Helsinki with any great detail and chose to eat at Muru as it looked reliable and had decent reviews. According to their website they offered one option of 4 courses for €52 each. Yes, a little pricey but not crazy, especially as lots of the cheaper spots were closed due to a bank holiday. We were soon seated at the back of the restaurant and the staff were happy to speak to us in English. Service was largely warm with a degree of the famous Scandinavian bluntness throughout. On arrival it also turned out they had an a la carte menu (offered but not shown or priced) as well as wines by the glass (not priced) and a wine pairing not offered or priced.
We decided on the four courses which consisted of an arctic char starter, reindeer main, cheese course and a dessert of yogurt ice cream with rhubarb. We enjoyed a glass each of some red wine with our meal. The food was all beautifully cooked and presented but we both felt the price to quantity ratio was poor. The food was cooked in a modern French style and we knew in Paris or London the same thing would have been significantly cheaper. There were no extras like an amuse bouche, palate cleanser or chocolates. The portions were also a touch on the small side and I would have loved an extra cracker, slice of cheese or just a bigger piece of reindeer.
Anyway, if it were a third cheaper it would have been a memorable meal, but it wasn’t. We walked back to our room as the sun finally began to set. It had been a long day with an even longer one to follow.
The following morning we really felt the 2 hour time difference when trying to get up. The breakfast spread at the Radisson was pretty decent, not in an OTT champagne and chocolate fountain kind of way but consisted of a solid mix of local and international options, two kinds of filter coffee, juice on tap via an iPad plus all the usual fruit, carbs and cooked options. We definitely ate well that morning.
We checked out shortly after breakfast and left our bags with the front desk. As it was a gloriously sunny morning we strolled through the beautiful Hietaniemi Cemetery until we arrived at the small Hietaranta Beach where people were enjoying their free time playing volleyball and basketball. We then decided to walk towards the famous Rock Church. On our way over we were passed the Hietaniemi Crematorium where the most mournful funeral bells ringing out loud in the empty surrounds. It was important to remember that the joy of this adventure was also a memory of those lost too soon. It would have been Anne-So’s mum’s birthday that day and we were also mourning her late godfather whose generosity helped fund this trip.
We stood in silence for sometime taking it all in before continuing to the stunning Rock Church. Our initial impressions of the building were that we were about to enter a small and simplistic Bond villain’s hideout. However, once inside watching the play of light and shadows bring out all the different colours in the walls and ceiling was a sight to behold. Unfortunately our visit was initially spoilt by two tour groups in full on selfie mode. Whilst we may not all share the same or any religious beliefs there’s nothing wrong with trying to show a little respect for those that may when taking a few photos of a beautiful religious place. Hopefully we did not offend anyone with our photo taking during our trip.
We hung around the church enjoying the atmosphere once the groups had left and we were even treated to some live music. After leaving the Rock Church there was just time for a short walk around the perimeter for some selfies with a cherry blossom tree before we had to be on our way.
We then walked back to the main town centre area and its designer shops. On the way we took in a quick trip to the Old Market Hall by the harbour front where we got to view, but sadly not eat the culinary delights on display. It reminded us a lot of Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse but in a smaller and nicer building.
We then returned to the hotel to collect our bags with at least one of us in anticipation of close to 20 hours aboard the “World’s best business class”.