From start to Finnish
Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
42Trip End Ongoing
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First impressions of Helsinki: Grey soviet style architecture and crazy traffic (people, bikes, buses, trams, taxis and cars… everywhere!).
We booked into possibly the strangest reception free hotel ever, we got an email with our room number and a pin code and arrived to a grey looking tower block and fumbled our way to our room. Much to our delight after the shoe boxes we have been staying in in Paris and Amsterdam we finally have enough room to throw our backpacks on the floor and we can walk around, result. We also have a fridge and a kettle, it is crazy how small luxuries like a cup of tea in bed are already such a treat.
Helsinki seems to be something of a maze of streets, we managed to use our best navigation skills to get back to the train station in the hope that we might find the tourist information centre or at the very least a map, but no, the tourist information centre closed at 4 and there was not a free city map in sight. Off we trotted to the nearest hotel and collected a fine sample of fliers and maps to plan our stay.
Enroute back to our hotel we walked through a little park which is at the back of the 'Old Church' a temporary wooden church which was built when the main church was being refurbished but they decided to keep it. The Park is actually scattered with the odd tombstone and a selection of very fine trees. As we walked through we noticed that the trees seemed to have been decorated. Here we learned about ‘Knit & Tag’. Knit & Tag is like environmentally friendly graffiti, basically you knit, crochet, sew and make pom-poms (or do anything you like with fabric) and then wrap them around the trees. It looked stunning, I particularly liked the cardigan that someone made for a tree?!
Our first day we decided to arm ourselves with Helsinki cards to get free trams, a free bus tour and entry to various museums and our first stop was to be a free ferry to Suomenlinna Sea Fortress. Off we went to find the tram to the ferry terminal and after a few minutes we were on our way,,,,, or were we? Seemingly you need a degree in navigation to work the tram system in Helsinki as very quickly we found ourselves on the other side of the city heading in the complete opposite direction of everything that we had planned. Off we hopped at the next stop and reformulated a plan, to go to the Temppeliaukio Church. This church was actually carved into the rock and forms a stunning circular church with a glass and copper wire roof so that you can see the sky. A really stunning modern and very special church. On our way out of the church we met some very interesting characters, a small furry man and a reindeer, brilliant. After our tram diversion we thought we deserved a coffee and a cake so found a lovely little café and had a Finnish speciality which is a butter and cinnamon bun, don’t ask what it was called it had a lot of K’s and V’s in it though and tasted amazing.
In our plight to find the pretty bit of Helsinki we headed to the port, and were struck with more square dull buildings, a lot of huge cruise ships and some market stalls selling deep fried fish and reindeer balls (as in reindeer meat shaped balls!)
Having resisted the delights on offer at the food market we headed back towards our hotel in the hope we might stumble upon a restaurant for dinner, we found a lovely Finnish restaurant which not only required you to remortgage your house for a three course meal, it also tested whether you would get a visit from santa this year as pretty much the whole menu consisted of various parts of reindeer :o(
Luckily we then found a Nepalese Restaurant, which proudly advertised its status ‘as seen on Trip Advisor’ so we decided to give it a try. What a treat, the first real spice we have found since leaving Jersey. Stunning curry served with all the accompaniments for €15 each, a very welcome treat. We had to laugh about the prison style trays that it was served on though!
So day two was destined to be full of all the tours and activities that we didn’t manage on the first day, so armed with our tickets for our bus tour we set off. Finally we managed to get a grasp of the strange street layout and found our bus stop. On with our headphones and before we knew it we were being whisked around the streets of Helsinki. A favourite game that we have invented having become pro’s at bus tours is to switch the language on each others headphones as soon as either one of us is distracted looking out the window. Tim gets the prize for listening for a good minute in German whilst excitedly pointing out the Olympic Stadium to me before he realised. Little things for little minds, heh heh
Next stop the long awaited Suomenlinna Sea Fortress. We hopped on the ferry to the fortress which took about 15 minutes and after a massive downpour the sun was out again so we enjoyed the sun and the views on the deck. On arrival we followed the crowds and were quite surprised that it was really a little island that people live on, rather than just a tourist attraction like we are used to at home. We foolishly followed a sign to the open prison assuming it was a tourist museum, but no it is a prison, about turn! The main attraction on the island that Tim was keen to see was a submarine that you can go on. I had read that some of the attractions are only open in the summer, but as it was the first week of September I thought there would still be some things open. No. In Finland summer is June, July and August and after that the entire population seemingly go into hibernation for the Winter (this was like a repeat of the Salzburg card – note to self do not buy city cards out of season!). Tim was not happy. I tried to cheer him up with a nice lunch but his choice of a meat pie turned out to be a donut with meat and potatoes inside, yet again Tim was not impressed
So after a very full day it was back on the boat and back to pack ready for our next trip, the St Peters Line ferry to St Petersburg. 14 hours through the night across the Baltic Sea.
Our last morning in Helsinki and we had a lie in before being booted out of our room at 12, as there is no reception to ring and kick you out seemingly the TV takes control, we had a 15 minute warning to get out and then bang on 12 the TV turned off. Right off we go. So we found our way to the ferry terminal and were actually quite surprised at just how huge our ferry is. I think we can safely say this is our mini intro to the world of cruise ships. We had 3 hours before we could check in so we put our luggage into storage for the afternoon and had a wonder around the harbour. Much to our surprise we found a computer mega store which was a bit like B&Q for computers and electronics which entertained us for a while, then we followed the lift to the sightseeing platform to see if we could get a good view of our boat. Unfortunately it was directly under where we were so not the best view but we did get a look at the helipad, cool. This shopping centre was all a bit odd as it had a MIG fighter jet on the roof and also claimed to have a Games Console Museum inside. We had to investigate and true to its word it was like a tour of Games consoles through the ages along with a PS3 car game and an old school Atari to play and a few random giant characters to pose with. This actually entertained both of more than we expected, perhaps our required entertainment levels are decreasing; I think this may be called the Finland Winter Effect!
As in am typing this we are sat in our cabin on the boat, but you are going to have to wait for the St Petersburg blog to hear what this ‘cruise ship’ has on offer…. Watch this space.