The Helsinki Apartment Hunt

Open on the HGTV House Hunters International logo. A couple walks down a snowy Helsinki promenade. Voiceover begins.

Megan and Mark have always wanted to live abroad. So when a transfer opportunity popped up with Mark’s job, they jumped at the chance. Now they’re trading their hotdish for pickled herring in Helsinki, Finland. Will things get heated in sauna-land? 

2AEC40E9-08FB-4124-83E5-6E2DB9B730D1

Bringing my HGTV Dreams to Life

Five days after landing in Finland, Mark and I met up with our girl Katariina again to do a little apartment hunting. FUN FACT. HGTV actually DID reach out about being on House Hunters International. I sent them an email back in September saying we were moving and then, two days after we arrived in Helsinki (…four months later) they replied!! Fast forward to now and I have yet to get any follow up, but WHAT! We were SO CLOSE to living our (read: MY) HGTV dreams.

Now for those of you who’ve been following along on my Instagram, you saw that I did my own little version of HHI the day of apartment hunting and I have to say, I got a lot of positive feedback. Those of you who followed along already got a taste of the process AND know which apartment we ended up going with, but I’m here to tell you the WHOLE story. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s start with THE REQUIREMENTS.

The Requirements

I love how on the real HHI, the two house hunters are almost always on different pages when it comes to things like budget and location. And then there’s this awkward compromise bit at the end where the couple almost always picks the over budget one in city center. And if you’re like me, you think, that doesn’t happen in real life! People can stick to budgets. Couples can be on the same page. Well HAHA! Joke’s on me because I’m here to tell you House Hunters gets it right.

In the weeks leading up to our move, Mark and I had been sending Kat listings that we liked, along with a list of nice-to-haves and areas. On the Instagram story, I only listed a couple “requirements” but in actuality we provided a bit more:

  • In the heart of the city
  • Furnished
  • 2 bedroom
  • Laundry (preferably in-unit)
  • At least 60m²
  • Sauna
  • Decent kitchen & bathroom

As far as budget goes, we were given a lump sum for housing and travel expenses through Mark’s company, and agreed that we should try and stick to that number so we could put our personal money toward weekend travel. Ah, the foreshadowing.

Turns out the amount of available housing in winter is pretty low, so we ended up expanding our search to include unfurnished options and 1 bedrooms. When the day came to actually go on house tours, we had five listings to visit–and boy did they run the gamut. Let’s get started, shall we?

Quiet Midcentury Modern

The first apartment we went to visit was by far my favorite on paper and in pictures. It was modern, stylish, furnished, had two bedrooms, and was UNDER BUDGET with utilities. You’re probably thinking, well this was a short episode. I’m here to say, it was not.

As we drove to the apartment’s location, technically only a 15-minute walk from the city center, it got noticeably quiet (which is saying A LOT since we’re already in the land where no one talks) AND slightly deserted-feeling. Granted it was in the middle of the day, so a lot of people were probably at work. And, I thought, maybe having a home away from the hubbub could be a nice thing. The area had the necessities–a small grocery store, a pub, and access to the tram line. This one was easily and definitely a contender–so we eagerly moved ON TO THE NEXT ONE.

The Spacious Swing and a Miss

You might notice that I said we had five showings set up but I only featured three on my Instagram. That’s because two of them were so unbelievably off-point that I didn’t even bother sharing. This was the first one. We had high hopes. The location was amazing. Multiple tram lines, lots of restaurants nearby, a GYM around the corner. But I’m here to tell you, nothing on the outside could’ve made up for the inside.

This home belonged to an older woman who lived there for decades and now that she had passed her family was looking to rent it out. Makes sense. However, I believe the family should’ve maybe considered I don’t know, updating a few things, or at least clearing it out a bit more? Five steps in and I was ready to move my three suitcases into that quiet midcentury modern.

There was random furniture everywhere. Two desks in one bedroom. So. Many. Curios. And for God’s sake the sauna was being used as a storage closet. COME ON PEOPLE. Set yourself up for rental success!

At the end of the day, this place was a.) not our style and b.) just way too big for us. There’s no way we would’ve used all that space. Or all those desks. After this one, I started to get a little nervous. Did we peak on #1?

Retro Reno

Whereas the first place was amazing on paper and in pictures, this next place was kind of the opposite. It was over budget, the photos didn’t have the furniture that would be included, and the kitchen was a bit dated. Also, the building was going through some renovation and as someone who would be doing a lot of working from home, I was nervous about that.

But as we toured it, we realized that although it was a bit dated, it was really well taken care of. The bathrooms had just been redone and it had full laundry (washer AND dryer). Yes, the appliances in the kitchen were a little old, but the dishwasher and microwave were new and the stove and fridge were in good condition. It wasn’t exactly my style but I did appreciate the character. And the location was sweet–a block away from the sea, a few restaurants nearby, and right next to a tram line.

 

This place had two bedrooms, would be furnished, and I must say, great closet systems. I could see us living there. After this one, I definitely started to feel a bit better, but now I was a little torn. Maybe the next two would help define a clear winner.

All White Everything

This next apartment wasn’t too far from the Retro Reno above, and was located in the Eira neighborhood aka the fancy ‘hood. The pictures looked promising and very white. And well, the apartment did not disappoint in the lack of color. The living room/dining room was roomy enough and the two bedrooms were fine, but the bathrooms and kitchen were TIGHT. I tried sitting down on both toilets and both times I hit my knees. I’m 5’3″. And Finns are giants, so I don’t know who built this place.

But the view was the main selling point of this place. Granted it was a snowy, gray day, but the Baltic Sea was right out our balcony! Come summer, we’d be smelling the salt air on the reg. On the other hand summer is only like two months long here, so we couldn’t give that feature TOO MUCH weight. Also, I shouldn’t judge a place by its owner, but sometimes you just get a vibe, a gut feeling, and the woman who owned this place (she showed it to us) was just giving me some weird anxiety that I was not feeling. This woman also owned the last apartment we saw so let’s just roll right on to that one!

Finland Flatiron

The last apartment was the other one that I didn’t even bother mentioning on Instagram because again, it just wasn’t our style, and whereas the other outlier was too big, this one was soooo small.

I only took one picture of the small second bedroom, but funny enough, the apartment is still available, so the other two photos I snagged from the listing. In addition to the weird vibes I was getting from the owner, this place also had an odor, that I’m sure could be remedied but nonetheless, didn’t do a great job selling it to us. So… this one was off the list.

Decisions, decisions

So, after touring all five places we told Katariina we’d take the night to think about it. Our immediate gut reactions were as follows:

Mark’s Top 3:

  1. All White Everything
  2. Quiet Midcentury
  3. Retro Reno

My Top 3:

  1. Quiet Midcentury
  2. Retro Reno
  3. All White Everything

Honestly, I was SHOCKED Mark ranked “All White Everything” first. I can’t remember his reasoning. And to be fair, my #1 and #2 were really tied. I was being super wishy-washy about which one I liked more, but since we both had “Quiet Midcentury” in our top two, we decided that’s the one we should go with.

ALAS, when Katariina called the owner to tell them we wanted to sign, a family that had viewed the place mere HOURS after us offered to sign a 2-year contract. We could not compete.

We were a bit bummed, but I took it as a sign that it was not meant to be and the powers were telling us to go with Retro Reno. I was not pumped about going over budget, but Mark did the math and we could actually swing it if we were smart about our return flights to the States. So that’s where we landed!

WINNER: RETRO RENO

It’s been almost a month since we moved in and honestly, I love the place. The furniture ended up being great–some of it is actually from artek, a kingpin in Finnish design. We actually have this table and these chairs as our dining set! We’ve adopted a few plants and have really started to settle in.

Perhaps one of the best things was when I did the walk-through with the owner. He was the sweetest old man, and came carrying a leather briefcase (so proper!) and a brand new bedspread that he wanted to make sure fit my style (it did). I also later found out that him and his wife had purchased the apartment to downsize from their large home in the suburbs, but his wife was currently in the hospital so they decided to rent it out until she became well again. MY HEART. If that doesn’t give you good vibes, what kind of curmudgeon are you?

Anyway, beyond the plants, we’ve added a few touches from home–family photos and a Faribault blanket–and are in the hunt for some artwork for the walls. The construction is a lovely wake up call right now, but they’ve already started taking down some of the scaffolding so fingers crossed it won’t last too much longer (we were told end of February).

Living in the St. George was nice, but it feels oh so good to have our own place now. It was a wild roller coaster, but I’m happy where we landed. The most important feature: we have a second bedroom for guests so book your flights and head our way!

I’ll let you know if House Hunters ever calls back.

We Moved to Finland!

A little less than a month ago Mark and I moved to Helsinki, Finland. Thanks to an awesome ambassador program his company offers and he was selected for, we’ll be spending all of 2019 in this quirky northern city. A lot has happened since we hopped across the Atlantic on January 4th and while I’ll probably go back and write a couple posts about specific things, consider this a brief introduction.

IMG_4212

Nordic, but not Scandinavian

First, a little background on the place we’re calling home for the next year. Nestled between Russia to the East and Sweden to the West (with some water in between) Finland is Nordic, but not Scandinavian. While I considered the two interchangeable, they’re technically a bit different. Scandinavia is a collective term for Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, because of their shared linguistic roots. Nordic, however, goes on to include Finland and Iceland and a handful of islands and territories like Greenland and the Faroe Islands. It’s not really that big of a deal other than Finns don’t consider themselves Scandinavian and might look at you funny if you suggest they are.

Screen Shot 2019-02-04 at 10.19.10 AM

Helsinki is at the southern tip of Finland, on a peninsula, and includes 315 islands (!!) It was the 2012 World Design Capital and hosted the 1952 Summer Olympics, amongst other notable achievements that I have yet to find on Wikipedia. And while it does get cold, it doesn’t get AS cold as everyone thinks–right now, we’re hitting the coldest months and the average is 23° F. Coming from Minnesota, that’s downright temperate, almost tropical.

One thing it does do that takes some getting used to though: darkness. When we first got here, “daytime” was really just perpetual dusk. It sneakily messes with your brain convincing you it’s almost dinner time when in fact it is 2pm. Good news though is that the days will only get longer from here until we reach mid-June when we bask in almost 24-hour daylight. Currently searching for a comfortable sleep mask. If you have suggestions, let me know.

St. George Living

For the first two weeks, Mark and I lived at the St. George Hotel. And boy, did we LIVE. A super design-y hotel, the St. George is located in the heart of city center, and is decked out in the latest Finnish and Nordic design. I often saw staff giving tours of the hotel and you can even shop all of the furnishings on the Finnish Design Shop website. Among the amenities, the hotel had a cozy cafe that I spent quite a few days in working remotely. Here, I was able to sample quite a few Finnish pastries (spoiler alert: delicious) and get my ass kicked by Finnish coffee. It took Mark and I a week to figure out that enjoying a second cup any time after 2pm seriously messed with our sleep. Word to the wise: Finnish coffee is not here to mess around.

StGeorgeBakery

credit: Trip Advisor

While the whole hotel was beautiful, quite possibly my favorite part was the spa (read: SAUNA). There’s an estimated 2 million saunas in Finland (population 5 million) and we were super spoiled with this one.

StGeorgePool

The spa featured a sauna, steam room, and small pool (above) that we quickly acquainted ourselves with. Sauna, as an experience, is legit. It’s both relaxing and invigorating and I love how chill it is. Since this was a mixed gender sauna, bathing suits were required, but usually you go au naturale. You spend about 10 minutes in the dry heat of the sauna and then when you can’t take it anymore you go cool off in the pool. The St. George not only had this small pool to cool off in, they also had a cold tub, which looked like a one-person hot tub, but was absolutely frigid. Talk about a WAKE UP CALL. After cooling down for a bit, you rinse and repeat, usually up to four times. They also had a lounge you could visit in between sessions, with tea and fruit, that made the experience even more luxurious. There’s saunas all over Helsinki, plus we have one in our apartment building, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s done elsewhere.

Mark and I have a friend coming to visit in a couple weeks (first visitor!) and we’re planning on going to Allas Sea Pool–one of Helsinki’s saunas located right on the Baltic, where you DO take a dip in the sea to cool down. Stay tuned!

All in all, the St. George Hotel was a great place to stay as we were getting our bearings in our new home. I will say though, after two weeks in a hotel room, I was getting stir crazy and so, so ready to have our own place. That process definitely deserves its own blog post, so until then here’s what else we did in our first month.

Registering, Banking, & Transport, Oh My

This isn’t exactly the sexiest thing to talk about but since it did take a lot of our time, I felt like it would be cool to share. It’s not all coffee and sauna over here!

First, let me start this section off by thanking Mark’s company for providing us with a liaison to help us navigate the registration process here in Finland. If you’ve ever moved abroad or moved to the U.S. from another country on your own, I salute you, because holy cow is there a lot to take care of. Everything needs to be done in a certain order and you need to leave enough time between each matter for things to be processed. For example, in order to get an apartment, we needed a Finnish bank account. And in order to get a Finnish bank account, you need to have the Finnish version of a social security number and have your tax situation in order. Thankfully, our lady, Katariina, had us covered.

She helped us apply for social security and healthcare (Finland is regularly ranked at the top for healthcare in the world!) and figure out what tax percentage to apply for–SUPER important, because if you don’t apply you’re automatically taxed at 60 PERCENT. This is how Finland has nice things.

Katariina also helped us get metro cards, and showed us how to refill them and use them on the trams. And with the amount of snow Helsinki’s had this winter, you best believe I’ll be taking advantage of that tram system.

One more thing Katariina helped us with: banking. Everything here is done electronically so it’s important to get a bank account setup ASAP. For example, for things like utilities, all you do is give the company your address and Finland ID and they set up a direct link with your bank account. To pay rent, you send money from your account to your landlord’s account. No checks. No typing in your number on an online portal. Very direct and efficient. As most Finnish things and people are.

Once we got everything in order we were able to really immerse ourselves in the city for a few days. And while I can’t cover everything right now, I can provide a quick first impression.

Helsinki: First Impression

Helsinki is interestingly and oddly cool. It gives you some traditional European vibes but then hits you with some Finnish design flair that makes you go, “OK, I see you Helsinki.” It’s small in comparison to other European cities, but its location right on the Baltic with hundreds of little islands is second to none, which I feel will be even more enjoyable come summer.

IMG_4187

In our first few weeks here, Mark and I did a LOT of walking. A lot of people say the trams are the best “almost free tour bus” in Helsinki, but since we wanted to learn the streets and whatnot we hoofed it.

It doesn’t take long to fall in love with this little city. The buildings are gorgeous, oh so colorful, and quite varied from traditional to modern. Our neighboring apartment building across the street is bright pink and it makes me smile every morning. If you can’t have sun, at least have colorful facades to look at.

 

Beyond scoping out the architecture in our first few weeks, we also visited a few market halls, the Design Museum, Oodi, the central library, and were able to check out the Lux festival, an annual light show that winds through the Töölö and Kamppi neighborhoods.

IMG_4404

Oodi: Helsinki’s Central Library

It’s been a whirlwind of a month here so far, and this post is only a morsel of everything we’ve done. Stay tuned for the blog posts I mentioned above and ones that cover our trip to Copenhagen, exploring Kallio, and maybe even some helpful ones like, “What I packed and wished I would have packed.” Of course it took me a month to write this one, so who knows when the next one will be. Until then, moi moi!

Self Love: A Valentine’s Day Playlist for Bad Bitches

If there’s a group that deserves a Valentine’s Day playlist it’s bad bitches. TBH, I’d rather celebrate Valentine’s Day dancing with my girlfriends than sitting at a restaurant with my husband (love you boo) so next Wednesday you’ll find me at Flip Phone’s Feeling Myself Party at First Ave. Why wait until 2/14, though? Start channeling your inner bad bitch with the playlist below.

feelingmyself

When in doubt, ask WWB&ND?

Planning a Theme Party for Twenty-Somethings: Harry Potter Style

This birthday party was two years in the making. Actually, it was more like two years of good intentions followed by a week of making it happen. My best friend is probably the only person who loves Harry Potter as much as I do. So, when it came time to celebrate her 28th birthday, I already knew what I was going to do because I had initially planned to do it on her 27th birthday.

Considering that the first Harry Potter novel was published way back in 1997 and the first movie was released in 2001, hosting a Harry Potter-themed birthday party for a 28-year-old is not weird at all. We GREW UP with Harry and the crew. We knew what house we wanted to be in before we knew what our first jobs would be.

When you search “Harry Potter party” on the Internet, however, most results are strictly targeted toward kids and are SOOOO over-the-top/time- and money-consuming. Oh, you got custom wands and sewed new robes for all the kids? That’s cool, but I’m not about make robes that might end up with throw-up on them at the end of the night.

Nope, planning a theme party for twenty-somethings is not the same as planning a theme party for kids.

When it comes to planning a themed-party for twenty-somethings you want it to be themed enough for guests to get into it but not so in-depth that your time or money is wasted.

On that note however, unlike kids, your friends know when something looks like shit. So how do you find the right balance? I mean, you don’t want it to feel half-assed, but you also don’t want to be weeping over construction paper or your bank account at 2am. Here’s how I generally do it:

  1. Commit to a budget. Whether it’s $20 or $100 or whatever, the budget determines just how much you can DO in general but also how much you can DIY vs. just buy outright. A budget also encourages you to get creative. With the HP party I got VERY lucky in the decor department, but my budget also forced me to not buy/do too much. Which gets me to the next point:
  2. Devote ONE night (or 3-4 hours total) to DIY shit. DIY is all fine and dandy until you find yourself knee-deep in hot glue at 11pm with not a completed thing in sight. By putting a time limit on the DIY stuff you not only stay motivated to get it done, but you also limit the amount of DIY you commit to.
  3. Buy with future parties in mind (if you want more parties.) I am ANTI buying-specific-themed-items mainly because their ability to be reused is v. low. AND due to trademark shit, officially themed stuff can be stupid-expensive. Using things like remove-able labels, kraft paper, and household items not only saves money (in the short and long run) it can also make the party more charming.

With those three things in mind, check out a few pics from Lauren’s Harry Potter Birthday:

ss015

Okay, so the above picture is from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. But below is the cake I made for the party:

HarryCake

Some people change out Harry for the actual birthday boy/girl’s name, but nah, we have integrity at PTY!

Platform9

Ok, so I can’t take credit for this insane Platform 9 3/4 backdrop. A coworker made it for her kids (bless her) BUT I did ask to borrow it, and there’s a lesson right there: stalk coworkers’ Instagrams to see what theme parties they’ve thrown for their kids and BOOM swoop in and seize it.

Snitches

Guys, these things were a hit. I was honestly surprised but apparently my friends are secret superfans of Ferrero Rochiers and/or thought this was super clever. Either way, I’ll take it. I wish I took more pictures, because there were a lot of fun things like:

  • A fat lady on the front door
  • Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom
  • Floating candles made from battery-operated tea lights, paper, and fishing line
  • A “potions” box full of shots
  • And a cauldron for the Butterbeer
  • For the birthday girl, I created a special invitation, direct from Hogwarts:

HogwartsBackHogwartsFront

Also, dafont.com has a pretty sweet font called Lumos that is perfect for anything Harry Potter related. It’s what I used for the invites as well as labels for other party items.

And there you have it, a twenty-something theme party in the books. We had enough booze, no robes, no throw-up, but enough Harry Potter to make everyone–but especially the birthday girl–happy.

See ya later, party animals.

XX