Well well well, what can I say that justifies how awesome Helsinki is? It is seriously up there as one my favourite cities in the world. Nothing will ever pass New York though.
Upon arrival it was absolutely bucketing down with rain which wasn’t the greatest first impression but it is always good to start with low expectations as it can only go up from there. At least the rain tested out the waterproof jacket and it passed the test. Unfortunately my jeans and shoes didn’t.
Given the rain once I got off the airport bus, I decided against finding my way to hostel by tram. I was wet enough so jumped in the first taxi I could. If nothing else it gave me a brief orientation to the city. Finally arriving at the Eurohostel after all those flights, all I wanted was a sleep but no, check in was not available until 2pm. There was only one thing left to do and that was head back out in the rain and go and see things.
One of the first places I visited was the market square down by the docks where all the sightseeing cruises take off from. Today wasn’t the day to be cruising so just wandered around the square looking at all the souvenirs, taking in the smells of the freshly cooked food before taking my first sample of traditional Finnish food. Yes, reindeer meatballs! Would you expect anything less from me? I doubt it. Very much like venison so all good there. Ended up having a meal of Chicken & Salmon Paella and whilst it may sound an odd combination, it worked beautifully. No doubt i’ll be back for more over the coming days.
From there I checked out the Russian Orthodox church was was stunning on the inside with all the gold touches then to the much more sedate Helsinki Cathedral. Its a pure white building and elevated on top of many stairs. Yes, I did a Rocky impersonation when I got to the top. Whilst the Orthodox church was stunning on the inside, this was was quite plain and simple in comparison. The most impressive feature were the organ pipes. Surprisingly there was no leadlight in this cathedral.
One of the first thing I saw here was the most unusual fashion statement for women and that was the lace up Gum Boots. Never thought the good old ‘Welly’ could be laced up, but there I was, proven wrong again. I did see some in a shop later on and the mens pair retails for about $250. No I didn’t buy them as for some reason, I didn’t think they would be necessary in little old Adelaide.
By now jet lag was starting to kick in as well as being somewhat soaked so went back to hostel, checked in and crashed. Was only meant to nap for a couple of hours from 4pm. Those couple of hours stretched to 6am. Oops! If nothing else, I had a wonderful sleep and felt fantastic the next morning.
The next day I woke to beautiful blue skies and thought there would be no better opportunity to head out to Suomenlinna Sea Fortress which is a UNESCO listed site. The cruise to get out there took about 25 mins but due to me being up early I virtually had the whole island to myself for about an hour. It is a surreal feeling to have this place to yourself. There are people who live out there but they were no where to be seen. Its nice to experience total peace and quiet to relax and gather ones thoughts. The island itself it a connected group of 5 islands which in WWI was much sought after place by the Russians, the Finnish and the British and French. Luckily the later was about to help the Finnish take control of the area back from the Russians. It is known as the Gibraltar of the North and the fort walls are still in place. Spent about 5 hours here just taking it all in and soaking in some much needed sun.
After that headed back to the Market Square for more paella (I siad I would be back) before jumping on the tram to the Helsinki Olympic Stadium. Well that was the plan except I missed the tram stop and went all the way to the terminus, going though the university district of the city, before making my way back in and working out where I should have gotten off.
As most of you are aware the 1952 Summer Olympics were held here. Well the Olympic Stadium looks as though it has not been touched since then. Still has that ‘lovely’ 1950’s look about it. Due to there being a European World Cup Qualifying match there this week, one could not enter the stadium to have a real look inside.
The Finnish Museum of Sport was open and me being a sporting fanatic had to go and have a look. I was most impressed with the Olympic Collection where I got to see medals from various games (1908, 1936, 1952, 1956, 1972 & 2000). Also got to see a collection of torches and almost shuddered when I saw the mascot from the Sydney Olympics. Remember Sid, Ollie & Millie? I didn’t think so. If you are like me, there is only one true mascot from Sydney. The famous fat arsed wombat called Fatso!
All up it had been a pretty long day, so ventured my way back to the hostel and decided to eat in the hostel restaurant and have some ‘Rudolph’. That is reindeer pizza. Let’s be honest, its not like I am going to get an opportunity like that in Australia so I couldn’t let it go. Loved that the pizza came with cherry tomatoes just to make it look like Rudolph, well in an abstract pizza sort of way. Also took the opportunity to sample some Finnish wheat beer which was really good, expensive but nonetheless good!
The next day and half was dedicated to museums and galleries to make the most of the Helsinki card I purchased. I did get my moneys worth from it and saw the Contemporary Museum of Art, The National Museum of Finland, Ateneum Gallery, Mannerheim Museum and finally the Military Museum. Could I be museumed out already? Possibly, but we will know more as the trip progresses. Out of all of the museums I visited I did enjoy the Contemporary Museum of Art as its main exhibition was about the genocide in Central Africa that was extremely moving and confronting. I know it had nothing to do with Finland but it was an amazing exhibition.
That night I wandered around the city centre and observed some of the oddest buskers I have seen since I rode the Paris Metro back in 2007. Obviously the instrument of choice here is the piano accordion. I thought theses were all destroyed. Once again I was wrong. Looks like they were collected up from all over the world and delivered here for buskers to enjoy. Also went and relaxed down at the Port of Helsinki which was just what I needed. Watching the old time boats, with the sails up was a pleasant way to end my touring time in Helsinki.
Tonight I meet up with the group I will be travelling to Berlin with. I hope there are a few English language first speakers on the tour as it would be nice to meet some people who are easier to communicate with. Most people in the Hostel were from Europe and where there as they were cruising somewhere else and it was conveniently located to the ferry terminals.
On a final note, the Finnish people are some of the quietest, most polite and respectful people I have come across in my travels. Even during busy times of the day, where there are lots of people, you never hear them. Its hard to believe that Lordi (the death metal band that won Eurovision a few years back) came from here. Yeah, I got in a Eurovision reference.
Next stop is Tallinn in Estonia after I meet the group tonight…..