Helsinki reflects the character of its residents: it is clean, modest, subtle, unassuming, stylish and organised. Litter and graffiti are rare, the main cathedral is tasteful and simple compared with the gaudy overkill of Southern Europe, trendy design shops abound, public transport is in good condition and operates on schedule. And apart from the odd drunk staggering about, the locals appear to be very well-behaved - this struck me particularly at street crosssings, where I was amused to find people congregating, obediently waiting for the 'green man' to appear, even when there was not a hint of traffic in sight. None of the 'run when you can' approach which I am more used to, so I had to restrain myself!
Despite being the capital, it is very small and doesn't require too much time to cover so there was no rush on my second day, and we kicked off by visiting the old and charming Cafe Ekberg, a local institution I was told, for a huge leisurely buffet breakfast - Paivi knows how to show a
visitor a good time! Suitably fortified, we wandered the cobbled streets, admiring the range of architecture, as trams hummed past us, and then we browsed through the central market, close to the waterfront. There were wonderful colour contrasts in the piles of fresh fruit and veg, gleaming in the bright morning sun, and I saw mounds of berries I had never encountered before, including
the beautifully named 'cloudberry', which I sampled in ice-cream form... mmmm! After grimacing at reindeer horns and skins, admiring the traditional woolly hats, examing the wooden cups from Lapland and declining to taste the small fired fish, we moved on to explore the two cathedrals before boarding the ferry to the nearby historic fortified island of Suomnelina, for a walk and a lazy beer-and-strawberry picnic.
And before we knew it it was dinner time again and we were back in the heart of the city to join Paivi's friend Kaarina for a good girlie chat over pasta and wine, later adjourning to a rooftop bar with fabulous views over the city, now lighting up as the sky faded from pink to ink. Three single girls, with a few drinks taken, and in raucous humour.. we could have really done some damage! But with a 5.30 alarm tomorrow, ready for the train to St Petersburg, it really wasn't an option. (But maybe in Amsterdam next year, girls, to further discuss 'spicy curries'!)