So when in Germany, do as the Germans do. Well, for me I could only follow this advice partially as I could barely join them in their good looking non-vegetarian meals, but I did try something that most tourists often shy away from - I went to sauna with my (unknown) German brethren.

What is the big deal about German sauna? There are saunas across the world, and I had already been to multiple ones in India. I actually quite like them as they are the prefect place to relax at the end of a long and tiring day, and apparently saunas also have health benefits. Things can't be any different in a German sauna as well, right? Well, I found out a hard way.

german nude naked sauna dresden
The relaxing area at the sauna in my hotel at Dresden

So one day when I was dead tired after walking the entire day in Dresden, I decided to do something relaxing. I would have ideally preferred a massage, but I was sure the price would be prohibitive (without even checking) so instead decided to do something free - German sauna. Looking back now, I really think I should have googled a little bit more about the etiquette of visiting a Sauna in Germany.

I was a guest at the Swissotel Dresden Am Scholss and decided to use the sauna there itself (it was free). I picked my bathrobe, towel and took the lift to the basement where the Sauna was located. I think I can now blame the beautiful receptionist who told me at least twice that I could use the sauna till 10 PM and that it was completely free for guests for this visit.

Unlike the spas of India, the saunas in Germany are more like do-it-yourself spaces. I saw absolutely no one and that made me a little nervous. I saw two rooms - one said Herr and the other said Damien on the door. Herr sounded like a version of the English word ‘her’ and Damien sounded like a versions of another word ‘dame’. Confusing, right? I was completely sure that they both can’t be for the womenfolk, but was there a clue that I was missing?

Taking a leap of faith, I decided to walk into the one named ‘Herr’ and was relieved to see urinals at the end of the room. Thank God I didn’t bump into a woman changing clothes - that would have been a bit awkward. I quickly undressed, tied the towel across my waist, wore the towel gown and went out of the changing room from the other side. The place was really huge from inside, and I could hear the sound of hissing steam from a corner. This room had showers on the right and left and straight ahead were two sauna rooms.

Being a typically prude Indian, I was kind of relieved to see an empty shower area. I quickly stripped down to my birthday suit and enjoyed a few minutes of warm shower. After a long day walking in the cold, this was a perfect way to relax. Once done, I decided to hit the sauna and let all my body pores open, and my skin to rejuvenate. There were again two saunas, and I decided to go into the one that came first on my right.

However, I was in for a rather big surprise. The sauna was near full with young men wearing...errr...nothing. I think I took a moment to actually confirm that what I saw was actually true. I had two options now - flee (more practical) or join in (ridiculous). Being the only guy in the room with a towel on his waist and standing at the door looking unsure, I soon found everyone's gaze fixed at me, which made my next step even more weird. By this time I had decided that I won't flee and within seconds took off my towel, placed it on the wooden benches and for the first time walked naked and confidently in a group of complete strangers. The only embarrassing part was that everyone was looking at me :)

I realized sometime later that no one really looks when people walk in, and maybe I became a star attraction because of my initial inhibitions. The sauna was really really hot and almost completely full. By this time I had realised that there were things that I didn't know about German sauna and decided to observe what others did so that I could follow them later. Of course being an Indian in a German sauna meant that I was unable to sit for long and decided to walk out with the guy sitting next to me. We exchanged small pleasantries and he soon walked under a shower, and took a cold shower! I had heard of people in Scandinavia doing it, but this was a surprise.

german nude naked sauna
A typical German sauna (Source: Wikipedia, photographer: Eugen Nosko)

Despite my best intentions of living the life of a local, I decided to skip the cold shower and took a lukewarm shower and then went to the second sauna room. I am not sure how this was different, but it seemed a bit more dry. A few minutes later it was time for another shower, but this time there was a bunch of older women as well. As it turned out, the sauna was not gender specific, but this time I was prepared and behaved as if this was a norm in my country as well.

As I ready to leave for the locker room, I saw some of my earlier companions, still walking in the buff, walking further deep into the sauna. The area looked much darker, and I could hear faint music playing somewhere far far away. I took my towel and decided to follow them. The short walk opened into a rather large room with relaxing chairs, falling water and cups of herb infused water. This was apparently the place to relax after sauna. I also took a recliner, and actually ended up taking a short nap.

I think it was close to midnight when I came back to my room, completely refreshed and relaxed. Any guesses what I did after that? Well, I took my camera and my tripod and went out for a walk to capture Dresden in the night. Here's an image from that awkwardly memorable night!

A post shared by The Wanderer (@siddharthajoshi) on


Of course, I did a bit of research about German sauna after coming back and my experience was rather typical. In fact I read many accounts of non-Europeans getting a bit of a cultural shock when they walked in to a naked sauna, especially the ones where men and women share the same space. However, that's not a big deal, it's a part of the German tradition and that's all that matters. In fact I would recommend trying it out if you visit Germany because it will certainly be a new experience, and a very relaxing one also after you get over the initial inhibitions. Trust me being naked in the company of many other naked people in close proximity is also a bit liberating, you are just as nature created you and it feels great to be comfortable with that!

Tips for Sauna in Germany

However, to help you plan a visit to the sauna better, here are some useful tips:

1. Drink lots of water before you go to the sauna and also after it.
2. It's best to carry your own towel, bath-robes and slippers. These will typically be available in your hotel room. If not, be prepared to shell out a few euros.
3. There is space to hang the bath-robe outside the sauna room, and you can take the towel inside. Keep the towel under you on the wooden bench, else you might suffer from burns in your butts! Some saunas don't allow towels inside at all and you need to wet the seat with water before you sit on it.
4. It's not acceptable to wear anything at all. Be prepared to be naked with a bunch of other naked people. And frankly, what's the big deal!
5. The saunas can get crowded at times, and there is a chance that you will be in close physical contact with another person. It is OK.
6. The saunas are often mixed saunas, like the one I visited. If you are not at all OK with it, some saunas also have women's only day so ask for these details.
7. It's good to spend anything between 10-15 minutes inside a sauna. However, if you are not comfortable, leave early.
8. There is often an instruction sheet, though it might not always be in English. The info-graphics are easy to understand - so if you are confused, just look for this sheet.
9. Do how the Germans do - hot saunas, cold shower. Repeat.
10. It is not good etiquette to look at someone for too long, especially down there. Keep your eyes at eye level and make new friends :)

In the end all I can say is that saunas in Germany are a different experience, but once you get used to their peculiarity, you can really enjoy them. Do give it a try :)
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of Life” Samuel Johnson said it right! So, if you ever visit this beautiful city (and I suggest everyone must, once in a lifetime), here's something little to help you! Fortunately, London happened twice for me. And second time I was a guide and a trip planner for my family. Frankly speaking, it’s so easy to roam around London, that you won’t need a guide; all you need is Google map. That is it!

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Ah London!

Once I was done with my visa, I started searching what to see in London. I took help of itineraries available at all famous tour companies. I didn’t want to miss those points for sure! Once I was done jotting down places to see in London, I opened Google map and started searching which place on the list is nearby which one. This helped me to roughly decide, what all places I can visit in a day. Next, I didn’t know what mode of transportation is best to switch between the places, so, once again Google map helped me. I also decided what sequence I should follow on each day. Most of the times, I first decide to visit the place that is far from my host’s house and used to end near home.

I am writing this post to put everything in one place, so that it will be easier for you to plan your London trip. So, let’s get started!


City Maps

Alright! Before you get out of the airport, you need to pick up few Maps at the airport; following are the two maps you need to pick up,
1. London underground tube map.
2. The MAP

Also, make sure you check the weather, and put on your jacket before you exit the airport!

Get Connected

The first thing you want to do after leaving the airport Wifi zone is is to get a local SIM card. Lycamobile and Libara have cheaper calling rates to India (in case you want to make calls). I used Lycamobile. I had to spend around 15£ for data and calling, which was more than enough for 8 days.

Places to visit in London

Now let's get down to places to see in London. I have been to most of the ones listed below, apart from a few.

1.  Buckingham palace
2.  Queens Gallery
3.  Hyde park
4.  Marble Arch
5.  Madame Tussaud’s wax Museum
6.  Trafalgar square
7.  Oxford street
8.  Piccadilly circus
9.  Tower of London
10.  Tower Bridge
11.  The Shard*
12.  London eye
13.  London Aquarium
14.  Big ben
15.  St. Paul’s Cathedral*
16.  Science Museum
17.  British Museum
18.  Victoria and albert museum
19.  London zoo
20.  St. Paul’s Cathedral*
21.  Lord’s cricket ground*
22.  Wembley stadium*

Please don’t kill me but still there’s a lot, but I am ending it here

Note:
· Similarly colored places are nearby and can be covered in a day.
· I haven’t been to ‘*’ places, but you should go! ;)

I believe everything is worth watching, but you can always choose what you are most interested in.
For e.g. not everyone is a cricket fan so you may skip Lord’s or if you think museums are boring, you can definitely go somewhere else.

Ways of Transportation in London

I loved public transport in London; here are the ways you can travel in London:
1. Underground Tube
2. Taxi
3. Bus
4. Cycles
5. Hop on hop off buses, and last but not the least
6. Uber

For underground tube and bus, I suggest you take an Oyster card. You can get this one at any tube station or at any general stores. You take a weekly pass which costs around 39 pounds and is totally worth, you can use Oyster cards for underground tubes as well as for Buses. I only travelled by Tube and bus. But your weekly pass will be valid only for zone 1, 2 and 3. (Check the zones in ‘London underground tube map’). That means, to go to ‘Lord’s cricket ground’ and ‘Wembley stadium’ you need to top up your Oyster card, before you enter the station.

You can see the tube map here.

You need to tap the card before you enter at a tube station and tap it again at the exit to open the gate for you. In the buses you need to tap the card only while you enter. To check the bus numbers and timings, you can download an App called ‘London Bus’, it shall guide to catch the right buses.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Signs like this one are everywhere! 

How I traveled in London...

We used to leave from home early morning around 8 am. Since I was living away from the city center, it used to take time to reach to the desired place. Most of the attractions in London are located at the city center. Even if you live near city center, I would suggest you to leave your hotel/place early, so that you will have lesser rush at least at the first place you visit and that would help you to capture photographs much better.

I will tell you about the places I have been to in the order I have listed them above; starting off with Buckingham Palace, it is the place where Royal Family lives. People in hundreds of number gather outside Buckingham palace to see ‘the Change of Guard Ceremony’. The ceremony usually starts at 11:00 AM. Many times there is change in the timings of ceremony, so you would want to check the timings here. During this ceremony, you will see and meet people from all around the world (Many of them do not even speak English), but still it is fun to communicate. Make sure you take care of your valuables in the crowd. To get the best pictures and view of the ceremony, I would suggest reaching the place at 10:15 AM; otherwise you will be far behind in the crowd.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Royal Guards
travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Change of Guard ceremony

During particular months, some part of Buckingham is open to public, make sure to check before you go; you might just get lucky to go into the palace. Five minutes away from Buckingham palace, there is Queen’s gallery where you can see queen’s used jewellery and clothing. You can use Google map to find its location.

To reach:
Underground Line: Piccadilly/ Jubilee/ Victoria
Station: Green Park (walk to the palace and queen’s gallery)

Hyde Park is just the next underground station to Green Park; (If you decide to walk instead of taking a tube from Buckingham palace to Hyde Park; you will get to see the Marble Arch too.) Hyde Park is over 350 acres area, at the center of the city. You will see variety of plants, lakes and beautiful landscapes inside. If you are someone who loves nature, this is the place for you. If you visit during March you will see trees blooming with gorgeous pink flowers.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Cherry Blossom at Hyde Park

There are maps available at every corner of the park to keep you directed. You can use cycles to roam in this huge area or you can walk. If you have kids with you make sure you carry a buggy with you all the time because you will need to walk a lot in London. And walking is the best way to enjoy the city. There are many exits from the park, so check the map of the park before you exit.

To reach:
Underground Line: Piccadilly
Station: Hyde Park Corner

After coming out of the Hyde Park, get onto a bus (Number: 30 or 74) and get off at Baker’s Street and 2 minutes away is Madam Tussaud’s wax museum. You can check the Museum timings and prices on their website. If you are visiting this place on a weekend, it’s going to be crowded. More the crowd, more difficulty to take good pictures, just alerting ;)

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Sachin Tendulkar at Madam Tussaud's museum

Statues of sport legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Members of Royal family like Princess Diana and many others from the music industry, Bollywood, Hollywood, Politics, Marvel characters are displayed at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

We saw wax statues of famous people and legends all around the world and took pictures with them like they are our buddies! You can eat some delicious street food around the museum.

To reach:
Bus station: Baker’s Street

If you want to visit city’s one of the most alive and vibrant place, it is Trafalgar Square.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
A living statue at Trafalgar Square 

The energy at this place is amazing. Many artists perform live here and it is a treat for eyes. Dancers, painters, speakers, beat boxers, Living statutes, musicians and lovely people off course! It was a completely different experience and I left the place with lifted spirits :)

To reach:
Underground Line: Piccadilly/ Northern
Station: Leicester Square (walk from the station to Trafalgar)

Oxford Street happens to be the best place to shop for the best brands in the world. There are many shops like H&M, ZARA, Topshop, Urban Outfitters, Nike, River Island, Marks & Spencer’s, Aldo, Adidas, Boots, Forever 21, French Connection and the list is endless! Fashion lovers can spend their entire day here and go crazy! There are many places to eat too! For e.g. McDonald’s!

To reach:
Underground Line: Northern/ Bakerloo
Station: Charing Cross (2 mins walk from the station)

Piccadilly Circus is called the Times Square of London; I visited the place to take good photographs. I saw wonderful pictures of this place on Instagram, so I had to visit this place.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Huge billboard at Piccadilly's Circus

Of course it has to be evening or night time to enjoy the beauty of this place. You can enjoy shopping at Boots and visit ‘Riplye’s believe it or not’.  There are many artist performing live at this place too!

To reach:
Underground Line: Bakerloo/ Piccadilly
Station: Piccadilly Circus (1 minute walk from the station)

Next on the list is, Tower of London! Tower of London happens to be the best place to know history of London. Have you heard about the jewel of Kohinoor? Well you have to see this precious diamond when you are in London! Unfortunately, I couldn’t take the picture because photography isn’t allowed in this section. You can watch all these jewels at the ‘Crown Jewel’ section at Tower of London.

You will also see some huge ravens in the gardens around; which are said to be the guardians of the tower. At the centre of the Tower of London is ‘White Tower’. The white Tower has Royal Armouries used by all British Emperors and soldiers.

To reach:
Underground Line: Circle\District
Station: Tower Hill station (Tower of London will be right in front of your eyes as you get out of the tube station, cross the road and you’ll be there)

As one enters the ticket area of Tower of London, you will see Thames River and the famous tower bridge; which is often mistaken for ‘London Bridge’. Actually, the next bridge to tower Bridge is the London Bridge. Let me put a picture of Tower Bridge here.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
The famous Tower Bridge of London

Take a walk to Tower Bridge after you exit from Tower of London. Don’t forget to sit and have some snacks at the edge of Thames. You can also eat at the restaurants nearby.  At the beginning of the Tower Bridge you will be attracted by sweet smell of caramel covered peanuts, I would recommend to taste them, because; number one, they are delicious. Number two, they cost only 4 to 5 pence. If you want to see the Tower Bridge opening, do check the dates and timings at Tower Bridge, because it's not always open. There are exhibitions held inside the two towers on the bridge, check for the on-going exhibition on the above given link.

You can visit ‘The Shard’ near Tower Bridge, which is one of the ways to get a magnificent view of the city. Another is, riding the ‘London Eye’! To go to London eye; take a walk for about 10 minutes to ‘London Bridge’ tube station from the end of Tower Bridge (Use your Google map or directions on the street) you can ask for directions to people on the street, because people in London are very sweet and helpful! Sometimes when I used to check my maps for directions, people used to come and help me out, without even asking them for help! More love to People of London! J So, once you get to the ‘London Bridge’ tube station, take Jubilee line and get down at Waterloo station and about after 7 minutes of walk, you will reach ‘The Coca Cola London Eye’.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
London Eye at night

Do taste the food at the stalls around London eye, enjoy the view of the fabulous city and get some brilliant picture for your Instagram! No doubt, the architecture all around the city is admirable! From the London eye you will see Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, Government offices and other bridges on the river of Thames.

I highly recommend taking a ride in ‘London eye River cruise’; the ticket counter is beside the London eye. River cruise was the best experience. There is a guide in the cruise who will tell you information about everything you see along the edge of river; plus cruise is the best way to capture the city.

Top tip: Try to get the front seat on the upper deck for best viewing experience

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Tower Bridge from river cruise

To reach:
Underground Line: Jubilee
Station: Waterloo

London Museums

Did I tell you about the museums yet? If you are museum lover, you will love this city even more! There are several free and spectacular museums in London. Here are three museums I visited. I am putting some photographs and their locations here.


British Museum


travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Egyptian section at the British Museum
To reach:
Underground Line: Piccadilly
Station: Russell Square (walking distance from station, direction boards shall guide you! )

Science Museum
Movie at imax theatre inside the museum is a must watch, don’t miss it!

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
A vintage plane at the Science Museum
To reach:
Underground Line: Piccadilly/Circle/District
Station: South Kensington

Victoria & Albert Museum
Victoria & Albert Museum happens to be just two minutes away from science museum. Take underground way near the entrance of science museum, walk towards South Kensington station and you will find the entrance of the V&A museum right in the underground way!

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I have been to London twice, still I feel it is still not enough and surely, I am not done with London yet! I may have brought some pieces of London through words and pictures, but I cannot bring the cold, the winds, the smells, those smiles and conversation with strangers and feelings being fellow humans than being just foreigners and so many other feelings I cannot even put into words. That is the reason I recommend to go out there and collect experiences of lifetime!

Comment below if you find this post useful or if you enjoyed the photographs or you have more tips to give! Also make sure to share it with another wanderer, till then much love and power to you!

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This is a guest post by Chitra Takle, a Mumbai based blogger and Assistant Professor in an engineering college. She loves photography, art and collecting experiences around the world and making people smile. She shares her personal experiences, recommend books, lifestyle tips and monthly favorites on my blog, Chitra Takle. She have been to countries like France, Switzerland, Italy, London, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. She also supports One Love!

You can follow her adventures here:


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If you also have a story to share and would like it to be publication here, please read more: Submit guest post.

http://chitratakle.blogspot.in/
Do you live in India and dream of a trip to the land of Northern Lights, Finland? Do you also think that the trip will be exorbitantly expensive and you won't ever be able to afford it in your lifetime? Well, if the answer to any of the above questions is a YES, you have come to just the right place. Here's a guide to help you plan a picture perfect trip to Finland, with the most reasonable budget. Not only that, I will also try and make sure that you can live a few typically Finnish moments while you are in the country and come back with a lifetime of cherished memories.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Northern Lights by Markus Kiili
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Morning in Lapland

Why visit Finland?

However, first thing first - why visit Finland at all? 

Located right at the top of Europe, Finland is not on the radar of too many Indians. And the only reason for that is the fact that we just don't know enough about it.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Oulanka National Park by Julia Kivela

Here are a TEN reasons why you must plan your next vacation in the dreamland called Finland!

1. Home to the oldest inhabitants of Europe - Sami
2. Home to Santa Claus - you can meet him and make a personal wish!
3. Land of midnight sun - the country where the sun literally doesn't set in summers
4. The most unique sauna experiences in the home of sauna!
5. Get up, close and personal with the reindeer (and eat one too)!
6. Get healthy with the largest variety of berries in the world!
7. Explore the design capital of the world - Helsinki!
8. Relax and rejuvenate
9. Get adventurous in winters - skiing, snow mobile, snow shoeing, kayaking and much much more!
10. Finally, witness the Northern Lights in winters!


If you still not convinced, listen to Lonely Planet then :) Finland has been called one among the TOP three countries to visit in 2017. Read more here.

Regions of Finland

Now that I have convinced you about making a trip to Finland, let's look a bit more closely at the regions of the country.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Oulanka National Park in winters by Hannes Becker

However, let's start with the shape first. The first time I saw the map of the country, I thought I was looking at an image of a dancing lady, and guess what I was bang on with my observation. The country is linear in shape with a distinct north and south. On the East it has border with Sweden, North is Norway and West is the biggest border with Russia.

Overall, the country is divided into four distinct regions - Lapland, Coast and Archipelago, Lakeland and Helsinki.


Region 1: Finnish Lapland

The northernmost part of the country is Lapland and is possibly also the best place to witness the Northern Lights in winters. The snow covered landscape is ethereal and I have personally never seen anything more enigmatic ever in my life. However, it's not just the lights which should bring you here, the region has much more to offer. If you do visit the region, don't miss out on trying cross-country skiing. Another strongly recommended activity is the snow mobile, the best mode of transportation in the mountains, apart from the Reindeer.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Morning sky
planning travel finland from India tips guide
A herd of reindeer
planning travel finland from India tips guide
A Sami woman by Arto Liiti

If you want to relax more, you can do the reindeer safari in the night. The husky safari is faster and a bit more adventurous.

Coming to the key interest now - Northern Lights. Northern Lights are typically visible in the winter months of November to March, though it's impossible to predict 100% in advance if you will actually get to see the lights on any particular day. Many consider January as the best month, and perhaps the best day within the month is the full-moon night when the clouds are generally not around. Though its impossible to plan in advance, do look for days when the days are cold and cloudless - both the perfect conditions to witness the Northern Lights.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Exploring Northern Lights
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Glorious night sky in Lapland
planning travel finland from India tips guide
The hut by Miikka Niemi

You will usually need to head out of the town to see the lights, but sometimes they can be seen even from your hotel window. It's best to take the reindeer safari in the night, go to the forest, make a small fire and wait for the lights to appear with a cup of hot coffee in hand.

During the summer months, the region changes completely and its literally a beautiful green land with flowers, berries, grass and pristine blue water bodies. Summers are usually not the most popular travel months, so many places are shut then, and the ones which are open are cheaper.

How to reach Lapland?
Saariselkä is connected by flights to Helsinki with the Ivalo airport. The flight is about 1.5 hours long and the road journey from Ivalo to Saariselkä is about half an hour.

Where to stay in Finnish Lapland?
Lapland is a big region and the biggest city here is called Rovaniemi. However, I would recommend going further up north to a town called Saariselkä . 

I stayed at the Holiday Club resort at Saariselkä which is now a part of the Club Mahindra. The resort has everything you need - well heated rooms, its own waterworld, sauna, restaurant (Rakka) and some very helpful staff.

How to book safaris?
I worked with a group called Joiku Kotsamo Safaris. here are all the details, and you can reach out to them in advance to make bookings. Timo is a friendly guy who loves to give hugs, and is ever willing to tell more about the Sami culture of Lapland as well.

Timo Palonoja
Master of Experiences
+358 400 398 935

Joiku Kotsamo Safaris
Saariselantie 7
FIN - 99830 SAARISELKA
email: joikukotsamo@saariselka.fi
Safari booking: +358 400 138 911


Region 2: Lakeland

Lakeland is the largest lake district of Europe, and the largest lake of Finland, Lake Saimaa, is also located here. Spread over hundreds of kilometers, the lakes can be navigated for as far as 400 km on a boat in the summers. However, in winters, the lakes are completely frozen and the face of the region changes completely.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
A woman at Lake Saimaa by Eeva Making
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Ice skating on the frozen lake by Mikko Nikkinen
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Lakeland by Asko Kuittinen
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Some more winter fun on the lake :)

The lake is great for kayaking and swimming in summers, and for cross-country skiing and ice-lake-fishing in winters.

Here's a short video of my time there :)



How to reach Lakeland?
The best way to reach Saimaa lake coast is by road from Helsinki. It takes about 4-5 hours in a car/ bus and the journey is simply beautiful. Stop by at the historical medieval town of Porvoo and have a cup of coffee before starting out once again towards the lake.

Where to stay in Lakeland?
I stayed at the Holiday Club resort on the banks of Lake Saimaa, and I must admit that I was completely bowled over by the property. It's huge and spread over such a large area that you can keep exploring it for at least half a day. The forests are right next to the property, and I had such a great time walking there and getting lost for a short while.


Region 3: Helsinki and around

Often known as the design capital of the world, Helsinki is a modern and fairly recent capital city by European standards. Known to much of the world as the home of iconic Finnish brand, Nokia, the city is now a hub for design and architecture. Full of lovely cafes and restaurants serving world cuisine, the city exemplifies Scandinavian life.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Helsinki Cathedral 
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Helsinki Technical College 

A trip to Helsinki would be incomplete to some of the most iconic buildings here like the Helsinki Cathedral at the Senate square, the Orthodox church and the Rock church. The only city in the Finland to have trams, the city is extremely well connected, though it's best to explore it on foot.

If you plan to shop in Finland, Helsinki is the city to do it in. From all the major European fashion brands, to the local Finnish brands, the city has them all. A word of caution though - things are usually more expensive here than many other parts of Europe, so if you plan to travel elsewhere, you can shop later as well.

There are numerous Indian restaurants in the city like Samrat, Maharaja, India House and Gandi. I had lunch at Maharaja, and the food was fairly decent - less of spice, and good on taste!

Where to stay?
Helsinki is full of hotels, and you can easily find one for your own budget too. Airbnb is big here and I would recommend staying with a local to get the true vibe of the city.


Region 4: Coast and Archipelago

This is perhaps the least explored and the most beautiful part of the country. Unfortunately, I could not visit it on my trip to Finland, but it's certainly going to be a part of my itinerary whenever I visit the country next.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Boats by Ann-Britt Pada
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Archipelago by Jaakko Salo

The region is filled with historical sites, harbor towns, lighthouses and maritime culture for about 1000 kilometers of coastline.

Be a Finn in Finland!

To me a visit to a new country with completely different culture is a bit of a waste if you don't experience the local culture, and Finland is no exception. There are so many things which are so curiously Finnish, that you can't come back without trying them out. Here are some :)

Visit a Sauna
The concept of sauna was invented by the Finns and they are very proud of it as well. Many homes and apartment buildings have their own sauna, and this is true for most hotels as well. Saunas are places where people visit not just to clean up, but also to catch up with each other, share stories, relax and meditate. However, there is something which some of us might not be very comfortable with - a typical Finnish sauna is also a nude sauna, which means not even a shred of clothing is allowed. However, I recommend that you get over this bit quickly on your trip to Finland and then you will be able to enjoy the most Finnish thing to do in Finland! If I can do it, so can anyone else :)

planning travel finland from India tips guide
A Finnish Sauna
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Inside a sauna by Matti Koutonen

Oh, and be prepared to jump into icy cold water right after a hot sauna. After all, this is what Finns do :)

Eat like a Finn
The food is unique in the country, and it's absolutely worth going out of your comfort zone to try it out. As a vegetarian my options were limited, but if you do eat meat, try out the Reindeer meat, both in Helsinki and Lapland.

Finland is also the country of berries, with cloud-berry an integral part of it's cuisine. If you like drinking, try the Lapponia cloud-berry liqueur as well as the local beer. Even winters are full of berries, though not the fresh ones. Berries are used in main course, desserts and even as medicines by the Sami. Some berries have also shown great healing powers for patients who are undergoing chemotherapy.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Finnish berries by Riitta Weijola/ Vestavalo


Dress like a Finn
Now this is essential, and you can't possibly survive the winters if you are not dressed like one. With temperatures plunging to -30 degree Celsius in the winters, it's essential to be prepared. Check out this link (How to dress in Finland) to know more about how to dress for different temperatures in winters. The key to survival is a rather simple concept of layering - wear as many layers as you can, preferable in the order suggested above. Here's another popular video which I used to know more about the winter essentials. The page is in Finnish, but the video has no words and is easy to understand.

Summers are much warmer, and even Lapland can see pleasant temperatures like 30 degree Celsius. Actually for Finns, that's way too warm :)

Love nature!
Finland is a country for lovers of nature, and with most of the country covered in forests, the best way to explore it would be through hikes and treks in it's forests. It would be great to take a Finn along who knows the area well, so that you can't get lost all alone!

There are numerous national parks, and the most popular ones being Oulanka National Park, Pallas-Yllästunturi, Koli and Urho Kekkonen National Park. The good news is that access to all national parks is free to people of all nationalities, though it might be restricted in some areas in specific seasons, for instance during the nesting season.

Read more: National Parks of Finland 

Budget for Finland

Here's an approximate idea of what a day could be like in Finland during the travel season, i.e. winters. Please do bear in mind that Finland is an expensive country and usually it's tough to backpack during winters. Having said that, it's not impossible either.

From my experience of spending time in Finland, for mid-level travel, the costs could look like this:
Stay: € 75-100
Food & drinks: € 50
Activities: € 75 (depends on what you do though - in Helsinki it would be much less)
Souvenirs: € 25 in each region (though it's up to you)

As per Lonely Planet, this is what your budget could look like:

Budget travel: € 120
Midrange travel: € 120 to 250
Top-end travel: € 250 upwards

If you travel in the cities, you can off-set a part of your accommodation cost by Couchsurfing (I do it often, especially when I travel alone), and by eating food from supermarkets. 

How to travel to Finland?

The best way to reach Finland would be through it's capital city Helsinki. Finnair has a direct flight to Helsinki from Delhi and within 7 hours you can be in Finland. The city is also well connected from all major European cities. If you are coming from Estonia or Sweden, you can also come by a ferry ride.

If you are planning to fly into Europe later, you can also take a long layover without any additional costs. The StopOver can be anywhere between 5 hours to 5 days, which is usually enough to explore the highlights of Finland. Read more here - StopOver.

Visa for Finland

Finland is part of the Schengen countries, and as an Indian you would need to apply for visa. The visa would then be valid for all the other 26 countries which are a part of it.

The visa application is simple and you can see all the details here - Finland Visa for Indians.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Snowstorm 

Practical tips:

SIM card: I took a local SIM immediately after reaching Finland for data. The card was only 7.50 Euros and had unlimited data for a week. The easiest way to buy it would be from R Kioski, something like the 7/11 of Finland.
Public Transport: Public transport is excellent in Helsinki, but not in other cities. You might have to rent a car or travel with an agency. Unfortunately there is no Uber in Finland.
Food: Vegetarian food is available easily everywhere, but be open to live on salad meals sometimes. Coffee shops are also all over the place. All the tap water (unless indicated) is potable, so carry a bottle with you and refill it when you travel. DON'T buy bottled water.
Tipping: You usually don't have to tip in Finland, but its good etiquette to round off a bill in a restaurant or for your taxi.
Safety: Finland is extremely safe, both in the cities as well as the countryside. Your enemy could be weather, though. Be prepared for the worst.
Driving: Indian driving licence should work in Finland, but drive only if you are comfortable with it. Renting a car is easy though.
Electrical outlets: Only chargers with two round prongs will work. My charger didn't work and I had to use an adaptor. Check this link to know if your charger will work.
Language: There are three official languages in Finland - Finnish, Swedish and Sami. However, almost everyone will speak basic English. The younger generations are especially good at it.

Finland with Club Mahindra

Mahindra Holidays is the largest leisure family vacations player in India, providing holidays primarily through vacation ownership memberships. The company aims to create unique and magical experiences for its members that help them bond with each other and create lifelong memories. Not only are these experiences available to the 211000 members when they visit a wide network of 77 resorts (46 Club Mahindra and 31 Holiday Club Resorts in Finland, Sweden and Spain), but also in cities of their residence through interesting member engagement programmes called ‘Heart 2 Heart’ and Experience Zone.

Taking this philosophy forward, the company acquired Holiday Club Resorts Oy, Finland, and opened up yet another beautiful and exotic destination for Indian tourists, this time in the international arena. With this acquisition, Mahindra Holidays is now the world’s largest vacation ownership company, outside of US. While the Europe as a travel destination has been well travelled by tourists from across the country, Finland remains a mystical destination that has intrigued many travelers. Given its picturesque locales and unique attractions, the destination offers Indian travelers a distinguished experience.

All Club Mahindra members now have access to this magical land through their membership. They can book their holiday at any of the Holiday Club Resorts by either calling on the reservation numbers or by sending an email to the registered email id. Members have the assurance of exceptional standards in hospitality that has come to be synonymous with the Club Mahindra brand.

But how does it work out cost-wise if you travel with or without Club Mahindra?

For Club Mahindra members travelling to Finland the accommodation cost per day per person in low season is anywhere between 28 euros to 90 Euros depending on the size of accommodation booked (Spa Hotels or Villas). This includes accommodation and breakfast for an individual. During peak season this cost ranges from 38 to 130 euros.

For non-members this cost ranges from 40 euros to 150 euros per person for various accommodations sizes in low season and starts from 60 euros per person in peak seasons.

Read more here: Finland with Club Mahindra 

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Disclaimers:
1. I was in Finland on invitation of Club Mahindra. All views expressed are my own and based on my personal experiences/ conversations in the the country.
2. All the images used have been provided by Visit Finland and have been used with permission. Wherever available, the name of the photographer is also mentioned. 
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