This pandemic has certainly been a good reminder that life is short, life is capricious. Therefore, we have been more intentional about spending time and making memories with our loved ones over the past few years. Both our moms enjoy traveling but haven't been able to travel overseas over the past 2 years, so we decided to invite our moms to join us on our trips this year, and continue to make more memories together. =)
This 'Making Memories with Moms' journey started with a visit to Denmark and Finland with MIL, checking off the last 2 'main' Nordic countries on our travel list. My journey then continued with a 2nd visit to the Maldives, this time around with my mom. We are well aware that the pandemic ain't over yet, and with all things going on in the world now, we definitely do not take for granted the opportunity and ability to travel abroad these days.
25 Mar 2022 (Fri): Ivalo - Helsinki
After a quick 1.5 hour flight from Ivalo, we landed at Helsinki airport about 20 min ahead of schedule at 10.10am. There were a lot of Covid related signboards around the airport. I had initially planned to do a PCR test here for my travel to the Maldives but fortunately, Maldives removed the testing requirements for vaccinated tourists effective March 5th.
I originally booked the Holiday Inn near the airport for our 1-night stay in Helsinki but decided to cancel that reservation and booked the Hilton Helsinki Airport because this hotel was within walking distance (approx. 5 min) from the airport. Hubby and MIL had an early flight to catch the next morning so it was much more convenient to stay closer to the airport instead of having to take a shuttle to and from Holiday Inn.
I was hoping to get a suite upgrade with my Diamond status but no luck here. We were only upgraded to the Twin Executive Room. The bed was a lil' too small to fit 2 people.
First things first after checking in was for hubby and MIL to do their Rapid Antigen Test. The US still requires a negative test done within 1 day of departure to enter the US. We brought 6 eMed test kits that we bought in the US and was able to get the test done pretty easily with my laptop. Fortunately, both hubby and MIL tested negative so they're all clear to fly home the next day.
While waiting for MIL to do her test, we went to the Executive Lounge, which was located on the same floor, to get some drinks and snacks. I had access to the Executive Lounge as a Diamond member.
We headed back to the airport at 12.45pm to catch the train to Helsinki Railway Station.
Bought the one-way ticket from airport to the city at the kiosk for EUR4.10/pax. It was pretty easy and I was able to use my cc for contactless payment.
The train ride from airport to city center took about 30 minutes. It was clean and comfortable.
Arrived Helsinki Central Railway Station at 1.30pm.
Time to begin our self-planned walking tour around Helsinki city. It was forecasted to rain but luckily it was just cloudy. We probably wouldn't have walked as much if it was raining.
Quick photo stop at Amos Rex with domes and submarine windows.
Love the architecture of the buildings all around the city.
Uspenski Cathedral from many different angles, one of the main landmarks in Helsinki.
The interior of the cathedral looks pretty amazing too. Best of all, it's free to enter.
10 minutes walk from Upsenski Cathedral was the Senate Square and Helsinki Cathedral.
Helsinki Cathedral was built during the Russian Czarist Empire. This white building with its turquoise domes is probably the most photographed sight in the city center.
This cathedral is also free to enter. The interior is not as impressive as the Uspenski Cathedral in my opinion.
Next to the Helsinki Cathedral is the National Library of Finland. This library was first built in the Russian empire era. It was free to enter and I was impressed by the architecture.
More random buildings on our way back to the main railway station. The sky started clearing up which was good for photos.
Finnish National Theatre and around the Central Railway Station.
After finishing our sightseeing at 3.45pm, we had late lunch / early dinner at Restaurant Olivia, which was located in the railway station. Nice architecture and atmosphere.
We ordered the Pasta di manzo (beef sirloin, mushrooms), Ossobuco con risotto Milanese (slow braised veal shank with saffron risotto and gremolata), and Linguine al profumo di mare (linguine, scampi, zucchini, chili, cream, lemon).
Took the 4.55pm train back to the airport, and went to the lounge for complimentary happy hour to wrap up our trip.
26 Mar 2022 (Sat): Helsinki - Munich - Chicago - Huntsville
Started our day early at 3.30am as hubby and MIL's flight was scheduled to depart at 6.05am. Glad that the hotel offers early breakfast for guests who were departing before normal breakfast time.
Walked over to the airport at 4am and sent hubby and MIL off before walking back to the hotel myself. My flight was scheduled to depart at 4.30pm so I had some time to chill at the hotel before checking out.
The buffet breakfast spread at the hotel was quite impressive. Had some reindeer meatballs and smoked salmon to wrap up my Finland trip.
Went back to the hotel room and chilled for a few more hours. I requested for late checkout and walked over to the airport at 2.20pm.
Arrived Qatar's check-in counter around 2.30pm and the line was quite long. The line moved pretty slow and there was a separate desk where the airline staff checked the documents of each passengers to make sure we have all the documents needed for our respective destination. It was around 3pm when I reached the document check desk. I presented my CDC vaccination card, hotel reservation, and the QR code for the traveler health declaration that I had completed on the IMUGA portal.
Everything was good until I got to the check-in counter and was told that my ticket from Doha to Male was showing as 'refunded' in Qatar's system. I was surprised because I had been checking my flight tickets on both American Airlines (where I booked my tickets) and also used the record locator to check my flight itinerary on Qatar and they all looked fine. My flight was supposed to be Helsinki - Doha - Male, and I had no idea what happened to the 2nd leg of my flight. The Qatar staff told me that I have to contact American Airlines to sort it out. At this point, it was 3.20pm and the staff told me that they are closing check-in soon.
I called AA immediately and after waiting for a few minutes, I was able to get in touch with a customer service agent who helped to look into the issue. As I was on the phone waiting for the AA person to sort out the issue, I also asked the Qatar staff to try to hold the check-in for me. I even asked if he could check me in for my Helsinki-Doha flight first while I sort out my Doha-Male ticket since there wasn't any issue with that ticket, but the guy wouldn't let me check-in coz I didn't meet the Doha entry requirements. I was furious at that point as I was about to miss my flight. By the time AA sorted out the issue and reissued my ticket (at no extra cost) at around 3.50pm, it was already too late to check in and the Qatar staff told me to rebook my flight for the next day. Dang it!
Fortunately, I was still on the phone with AA and saw that there was award tickets available for the flight on the next day, so I asked the AA agent to change my tickets to the next day. I was glad that she was able to help make the change at no extra cost. I'd have to spend one extra night in Helsinki and lose about 1.5 days in the Maldives due to this change, but my bigger concern was that I was supposed to meet mom at Male airport as we were scheduled to arrive Maldives around the same time. We had planned to go through immigration and get on the seaplane to the resort together. P.S. This was mom's first time ever traveling alone so I was more worried about her than myself. So on top of the frustration of missing my flight, there were few more things I had to sort out.
First of all, I had to book a hotel in Helsinki for the night. I knew there's a Holiday Inn close to the airport with free shuttle and I could use my IHG points to book it so that was the first thing I did. It was snowing as I walked over to the bus stop to wait for the shuttle bus but I had already packed all my winter clothes for hubby to take back so I was obviously under-dressed. Fortunately, the shuttle bus didn't take too long to come. A lil' consolation for my bad day was a complimentary upgrade to the Executive Room.
After checking in, I started emailing and calling Le Meridien Maldives to inform them about the change in my arrival time, and also asked them to help mom with her arrival as I will be arriving late. The resort manager, Haroon, was super nice and offered to make an exception not to take any deposit or pre-authorization from mom during the check-in and registration process, and to wait until I arrive at the resort to do this. I contacted mom after she arrived at Colombo airport to let her know about the change in plan and the arrival arrangements in Maldives. With all the different time zones and time changes, I had to write down all our arrival and departure times to make sure everything goes smoothly. I also had to resubmit my Traveler Health Declaration again and double triple checked my flights to make sure there wouldn't be any more issue the next day.
27 Mar 2022 (Sun): Helsinki - Doha
Learnt my lesson from the day before, I took the 12pm hotel shuttle and arrived at the airport at 12.10pm, 5 hours before my scheduled departure. The airline check-in counter didn't open until 3 hours before the flight so I had to wait a bit. While waiting for my flight, I received an email from Le Meridien Maldives notifying me that there's a chance I may not make it for the last seaplane transfer and may not arrive to the resort in the same day. That means I may have to 'waste' another night in Male. My flight was scheduled to arrive Male at 3.50pm, and I was asked to change my arrival flight to arrive Male at or before 3pm in order to arrange the seaplane transfer on the same day. C'mon, not another curveball please.
I checked AA and saw that there was a flight from Doha - Male that would arrive Male much earlier at 7.50am but there was only business class award available. I called AA and contemplated switching to this business class flight but when the customer agent said that they'd have to cancel my existing flight before rebooking the business class flight, I decided not to proceed to avoid messing up my existing economy flight. But somehow, the AA agent did something that resulted in a duplicate booking so I had to get on another call with AA again to fix my ticket. Too much 'excitement' I didn't need. Fortunately, I was able to fix my ticket and managed to check-in for my flight. Pheww!! I thought about stopping by the Aspire lounge before going to my gate but glad I didn't because I didn't realize that I still had to go through passport control to get to my boarding gate, which was quite a walk away from the lounge. Certainly don't want and don't need to risk missing another flight...lol!!
That's all for my 'exciting' 3D2N adventure in Helsinki. Stay tuned to my next post to find out if I made it in time for my seaplane transfer to Le Meridien Maldives.