Tag Archives: helsinki

Theatre posters in Helsinki

How to spend an afternoon in Helsinki.

Subtitle: on the cheap.

Subtitle 2: assuming it’s sunny. If it’s rainy/cold/snowy, you’re on your own.

  1. Go to the train station. Admire the late Art Nouveau-early Art Deco architecture and the way it manages to be solid, with its granite exterior and heavy doors against the winter cold, but also elegant. Meander past the platforms and note how the long distance departures board lists St Petersburg as a destination. Realise you wish you were about to board a train to St Petersburg, then on to Moscow, then across Siberia, then then then…
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  2. But you have a commitment to be at the office on Monday and don’t even have a Russian visa, so walk past the ticket office and head to the open air markets in Hakaniemi instead. Buy a punnet of strawberries from a stall with Marimekko fabrics hung over the tent walls as decoration. Wander around the market hall. If you were staying closer, you’d buy fresh fish and tea and rye bread. Instead, buy a postcard from a stall upstairs.
  3. Your strawberries need eating before they get squashed in your bag. Find a spot to sit in Kaisaniemi botanical gardens. Watch people go by — young couples enjoying the sunshine, groups of teenagers, parents walking with their small children scooting on balance bikes. Try to remember if you have see any children in this city who aren’t blonde. (You have, it’s just confirmation bias you’re experiencing.)
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  4. Wander to the waterfront and sit there for a while. It’s mid-afternoon and the sun is out and those plans you had this morning of taking yourself on a self-guided architecture walk around the city are rapidly losing imminence in the face of blue skies, fresh air and the sea gently lapping against the harbour wall.
  5. Ok fine you probably should go and see something else in the city seeing as you have limited time here. Walk towards the main harbour. Admire the cathedral. Don’t go in, because there’s a wedding on and it’s closed to visitors. Admire the steps out the front, instead. Just like in Italy, the cathedral steps are a gathering place for tourists tired on their feet and teenagers looking for somewhere free to hang out, but unlike any cathedral steps you’ve seen in Italy, these are more like a staircase. Realize how steep they are are when you get vertigo trying to walk down them.
    They were really steep!
  6. Down at the harbour, feel vaguely smug for having gone to the Hakaniemi markets rather than the tourist markets. Have a look at the market hall, though, ostensibly to check out the architecture. While there, give into temptation and get a coffee and brownie at Story. Don’t think about how Finnish coffee-and-cake prices compare to the rest of the world, focus instead on how the brownie is dark and slightly spicy and very good.
  7. Walk up the hill to the park Kaivopuisto. Sit on a rocky outcrop and look down to the sea and the islands. Listen to the seagulls. Stay as long as you like.

Postscript: I never did see inside the cathedral — the middle of summer is wedding season, obviously! If you’re less interested in sitting in the sun and people watching than I am, you could always hop on the city ferry to Suomenlinna (5 euro each way) as a substitute for some of my sitting around. Also, that architecture walk I linked in point 4 looks good, even if I never got around to doing it because sitting in the sun was too nice.

Shore near Espoo, Finland

Enjoying the evening light in Finland

July was a busy month for me, with a week-long work conference to kick the month off, then 3 separate friends visiting over the course of two weeks, before jumping on a plane for some more work travel. It was an exciting month, seeing people I hadn’t seen for months or even years, spending time in the south of Italy, being a tourist at home in Turin, trying to wrap my head around some new (to me) physics, lots of meals in restaurants and relatively few nights at home.

In contrast to all that, Finland has been trees and rocks and water and evening light. I’ve been here for two weeks now, for work, and every day I’ve had to remind myself that I’m not on holidays, and I really do need to go to the office. Partly it’s the feeling of quiet here that’s (paradoxically) distracting me — if you’re going to be productive, isn’t that synonymous with being busy?

I’m staying just outside of Helsinki proper, on the shores of an inlet surrounded by reeds. In the evenings I sometimes go for a walk on the gravel path through the birch trees, following the edge of the water. A couple of weeks ago on a grey Sunday afternoon, I followed the path all the way to the top of the inlet, where a herd of cows graze near the water. The trees muffled the sound of the nearby motorway and I felt like I’d left the city entirely.

Sometimes I walk in the other direction, down to the edge of the open sea, which is protected by islands and calm like a lake. There are always midges, and sometimes when the water is very still I can hear fishes jumping up to catch a midge that has ventured too close to the surface. I’ve never seen the fishes, only the ripples as they dive back down.

flowers

PS: If you think I have become a person at one with nature, I should also say I have spent many evenings using the fast internet in my accommodation to frantically skim-read blogs and news sites and videos. My latest game is “how cheap can I get a flight to Perth for Christmas, plus an interesting stopover on the way?” Question for readers — is it possible to have a nice time in Bali if you aren’t interested in drinking or surfing???