Visiting Helsinki? Here’s the Perfect Itinerary

Visiting Helsinki? Here's the Perfect Itinerary

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is a coastal city with a rich maritime heritage and is characterised by its Jugend-style architecture. It was named the World Design Capital in 2012 as a recognition of the city's use of design to boost its social, cultural, environmental and economic development. Even amidst urban success, the Finnish capital still preserves much of its green spaces, which occupy over a third of the city. Beyond the city's coastline lies over 300 islands, which make for an ideal getaway from the buzz of the city. 

When you are in Helsinki, be sure to check out the architecture and green spaces within the city and should time permit, explore the islands beyond its shores. Here are some attractions not to be missed when you are in the Finnish capital. 

1. Sibelius Monument

Lovers of classical music should not miss out this landmark! This monument was built to honour the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1927) and is situated in the Sibelius Park. It was sculpted by Eila Hiltunen, the winner of a two-stage national competition held between 1961-1962 by the Sibelius Society to create a monument for the composer. As a work of abstract art comprised of approximately 600 stainless steel pipes, the design of this monument is said to capture the very essence of Sibelius's compositions though this has been subject to intense debate. Check out the Sibelius Monument to decide whether it befits the composer! 

2. Hietahlahti Market Hall

When the Old Market Hall was undergoing renovations, its vendors were housed at Hietahlahti Market Hall. While renovations at the Old Market Hall has since been completed, some vendors decided not to relocate and chose to operate from the Hietahlahti Market Hall. Once a hall selling antiques, the Hietahlahti Market Hall has transformed into a food hall selling a great variety of fresh produce and also houses several eateries, making it an ideal place for people to have a meal. During the summer months, Finland's biggest outdoor flea market, the Hietsu Flea Market, is operational and situated just beside the Hietahlahti Market Hall. 

3. Esplanadi Park

Located at the heart of Helsinki, the Esplanadi Park is fondly termed 'Espa' by locals. During the summer season, the locals would head to this park to spend a leisurely afternoon under the sun or even have a picnic while enjoying performances by street musicians. The Marimekko Fashion Show and Jazz-Espa concerts are held at the park's outdoor stage annually during the warmer months too, contributing to the park's vibrancy. Surrounding the park are rows of cafes and shops so there is plenty to do if you are within the vicinity.  

4. Temppeliaukio Kirkko

Also known as the 'rock church', Temppeliaukio Kirkko is literally built into a rock. This church is a place of worship for the Taivallahti congregation and is also a popular venue for concerts due to its superior acoustics as well as weddings. On sunny days, the church will be naturally lit by the sunlight that shines through its glass window panes. This major attraction may have been the subject of controversy in the 1960s, given the exorbitant costs involved in construction and dire state of world affairs then but since it opened in 1969, public opinion changed and the church has generally been well-received. 

5. Hietaniemi Cemetery 

While some of us may find cemeteries morbid, they are an oasis of calm in a bustling city for the Finns. The Hietaniemi Cemetery is situated close to the coastline and is the location of Finnish state funeral services. There is a section of the cemetery that houses the graves of those soldiers who lost their lives during the wars against Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Locals do not only come here to visit the graves of relatives who perished in wars as well as that of famous Finns, but also take long walks on leisurely days. 

6. Helsinki Central Railway Station

The Helsinki Central railway station is both a transport hub and one of the best examples of Jugend-style architecture in the city, making it an ideal photo stop during your time in Helsinki. Designed by Eliel Saarinen in 1909, this railway station opened in 1919 and is among the most beautiful railway stations in the world today. Its exterior is largely made of Finnish granite and notable features of this station are the two pairs of statues holding the spherical lamps and the clock tower. 

7. Suomenlinna

Comprised of six islands, this Finnish fortress is a UNESCO world heritage that is located just ten minutes away by ferry from Helsinki. It was constructed by in 1700s and was owned by the Swedish and later the Russians until 1917, when Finland gained independence, that the Finnish finally gained ownership of the fortress. It was renamed Seomenlinna ('Finnish Castle') and is an ideal getaway for both locals and visitors seeking a respite from the city. You may join a guided walking tour when you are in the fortress. Do wear comfortable footwear as there are many cobbled pavements around the islands.

8. Home-dining Experience

Apart from visiting different attractions in Helsinki, get to some of the people who live in this city! You may do so by booking a home-dining experience with our friendly host Chris, who will prepare a delightful 3-course meal for you! The dining menu can be customised to suit your dietary needs or preferences so the dining experience is indeed personal!  

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The Most Romantic Things to Do in Venice

The Most Romantic Things to Do in Venice

Venice is one of the most romantic cities in the world. If you are to spend your honeymoon, or even just a vacation there with your loved ones, you should consider yourself very lucky! Here are some of the activities that you can do with your romantic partner- let us know if you have any recommendations in the comments below!

1. A ride on the Gondola on the Grand Canal

While a Gondola ride may sound like a very touristy thing to do in Venice, it is still inevitably one of the most romantic things that you can do with your partner and definitely something to tick off the bucket list. Breeze down the river and enjoy the sights in this two-person romantic capsule. One of the more popular paths to take is the route from Barcino Orseolo, through the more scenic smaller waterways and then arriving at the Grand Canal.

2. Watch the sunset

Be sure to catch the sunset in Venice if you are there for a romantic getaway. The golden hues of the sunset can transform Venice into a perfect backdrop for a proposal, an early dinner or just a cuddling sesson with your other half. Catch the sunset from Giardini Pubblici in Castello ot from the park at Sant'Elena. Even better, kill two birds with one stone by watching the sunset while on your gondola ride.

3. Take a stroll in the evening

Stroll along the Lagoon or wander along the streets or piazzas in the evening after the crowd has receded. The night will transform Venice into a magical kingdom. The shimmering reflection of light from the water, music playing from Piazza San Marco and the tranquil atmosphere are the reasons why Venice is one of the most romantic cities in the world. Waltz or slow dance to the music at Piazza San Marco by the river to end your night.

4. The Stone Heart at Sotoportego dei Preti

Venice is a city full of stories, histories and legends. This stone heart is a result of an old Venetian love story between a fisherman and a mermaid whom he caught during one of his fishing trips. The two fell in love, got married and had three kids. However, the mermaid was cursed and would turn into a viscious sea serpent once every week. She died but rose from the dead and still returned everyday to clean and cook for her husband. However, not knowing that the sea serpent was his wife, he killed her. The stone heart is a symbol of their eternal love at their love nest. Couples come here to touch the stone in hopes of blessings for eternal love whereas singles come here to find the love of their life.

5.  Enjoy a private dinner on a rooftop

Nothing kills the romance more than a crowded restaurant filled with buzzing tourists. You will feel like you are sharing your special moment with a hundred outsiders. Even worse, you might be asked to share a table with someone else. This will not happen if you have a dining experience with Walter at his private rooftop. As a professional chef, the dishes prepared by him display the long and rich history of Venice. You can have the choice of customizing your menu as he will prepare dishes based on what is fresh in the market. Do tell him that you want a romantic experience and he will decorate accordingly. 


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Our Favourite Things to Do in Brussels

Our Favourite Things to Do in Brussels

Brussels is home to the headquarters of numerous regional and international institutions, notably that of the European Union. But that is not all that the Belgian capital is known for. The city is also known for its art noveau architecture, museums, not to mention its gastronomical delights. Think chocolate, beer, waffles and fries!

As you indulge your tastebuds in Brussels, be sure to work off those calories and visit these attractions!

1. Grand Place and Town Hall

The iconic Grand Place is one of the most famous town squares in the world and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. It is characterised by a mix of Baroque, Gothic and Louis XIV architecture styles and many buildings in the Grand Place were once merchant guilds. One of the most notable buildings in the square is the Town Hall, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture that houses tapestries, paintings and sculptures from the 16th to 18th centuries. No matter which time of the year you visit the Grand Place, the square will always be bustling with activity. 

2. Notre Dame du Sablon

This Catholic church is one of the most well-known examples of Brabant-Gothic architecture. It has two baroque chapels which are adorned with funeral symbols in white marble and is known for its coloured and glass-stained windows that illuminate the the interior of the church. During the 15th and 16th centuries, monarchs and aristocrats attended this church and up till 1784, the Notre Dame du Sablon was the burial site of well-off Belgians. If you are visiting this church on the weekend, you may drop by the nearby market selling antiques, books and other knick knacks. 

3. EU Headquarters

Brussels is at the heart of the Europe and the headquarters of the European Union is where member states hold major discussions and make some of the most important decisions for the region. When there are no political meetings or major events held, visitors will be able to enter the compound. There are guided tours available which last an hour.  

4. Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate

Discover the world of chocolate as you learn about the history of cocoa beans and how they are transformed into a treat well-loved by many. Upon entering this small museum, you will be greeted with the sweet aroma of chocolate and get to sample warm melted chocolate for free! You can also watch a demonstration held in the kitchen of the chocolatier, where you will witness how chocolate goes from liquid to solid form and gets moulded into different shapes and sizes and there will be more chocolate to go around! Chocolate lovers will not want to miss this!

5. Royal Palace

The Royal Palace is the official home of Belgium's monarchy and the site of state receptions and court ceremonies. Every summer, the Palace opens its doors to the public where visitors will be allowed to explore its majestic rooms, some of which were decorated by Belgian artists. Near to the Palace is Parc de Bruxelles, a large public park where you may enjoy a quiet and leisurely walk after visiting the Palace.

6. Royal Museum of Fine Arts

If you are interested in works by Belgian and Flemish artists, be sure to head to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. The collection of artwork at this museum come from a range of time periods, with the earliest dating back to the 15th century. The Musee Magritte Museum, an exhibition solely dedicated to works by the Belgian surrealist artist, occupies one wing in the museum. Magritte is among the most famous painters in the world and his works depict the everyday existence of people and the things around them. His collection of works is not to be missed with a visit to the museum. 

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5 Delicious Dairy-free Dessert Recipes

5 Delicious Dairy-free Dessert Recipes

Those with lactose intolerance or who suffer allergies when consuming dairy products will typically embark on a dairy-free diet. But dietary adjustments do not mean that sweet treats have to be foregone! Desserts can be made with dairy substitutes and still taste as good as those made with dairy! (Actually, most foodies will not even be able to tell the difference!)

Here are some dairy-free dessert recipes to follow!

1. Strawberry cheesecake

You can have your slice of strawberry cheesecake and eat it too…Even if you have dairy allergies or are lactose intolerant. There is not a trace of dairy in this cheesecake so you can put your worries aside and get down to the serious business of eating it.

2. Brownies

Love chocolate? Indulge in some chocolatey goodness with this fudgy brownie, which can even be made vegan. Meaning more brownie for everyone! (or for you)  

3. Coconut sponge cake

If you are craving some simple yet comforting sponge cake, try out this coconut delight!

4. Blueberry muffin

Amazing muffins that use dairy-free milk, such as soy milk, almond milk, oat milk and rice milk. A great blueberry muffin recipe to check out!

5. Lemon curd tart

Fancy a dairy free dessert with a burst of citrus flavours? This lemon curd tart is the answer to both that question and also to what I'll be having tonight. Yum.

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