Moin moin ihr Lieben!
I settled into my flight from Stockholm to Helsinki expecting to be on board for about two hours, so you can imagine my surprise when after 30 minutes they made the announcement for all passengers to switch off their electronics and fold up their tray tables…a simple look at a map or a quick Google would’ve told me that Finland is GMT+2. My bad.
I had thought that Stockholm Arlanda was hectic, but I had no idea what Helsinki Vantaa had in store for me. It was utter chaos. People arriving, people departing, luggage and shopping all in the same long walkway. How people don’t have immediate breakdowns when they arrive there, I do not know, I was certainly on the verge.
Once through arrivals there’s a little tourist information area, where I asked about the bus service running to the city’s central station. I chose all of my hotels/hostels based on their proximity to the station to minimise the chances of me getting lost. This worked about 70% of the time.
Finnair City Bus runs a service between Vantaa and the city centre every 10-20 minutes, and a one way ticket costs €6.30, which you buy from the driver on board. It’s a straightforward 30 minute journey bringing you into the city via quite a scenic route, comprising the Olympic stadium.
A warning now to you and your suitcase, dear Reader/Traveller, Helsinki has a great number of cobblestoned streets, which are no friends of your suitcase’s wheels, as I found out on my slightly stressful way to the hotel.
Eventually finding it after going in completely the wrong direction, Hotel Finn is on Kalevankatu (‘katu’ translates directly as ‘street’, so it comes up a lot in the city), a street branching off from the main shopping district. It was on the sixth floor of a building and reachable via a very rickety and even more questionable lift, which was more like stepping into a wardrobe, but without the Narnia aspect. I’m fairly sure it wouldn’t pass safety standards in the UK, but I’m classing that death trap of a lift as part of the authentic Finnish experience!
Hotelli Finn (as it’s known in the local language) has a definite hostel vibe to it, being tucked away down a side street. It has 30 rooms and a very friendly Finnish receptionist!
My room was small but perfectly formed once more, with gorgeous fleur de lis wallpaper in a deep purple. Just like in Oslo, the bathroom floor was heated, but it was about half the size of the one I had in the Norwegian capital. The bathroom was so small, in fact, that when you drew the shower curtain it actually encompassed the sink in the shower area…I’m sure there’s a benefit in there somewhere.
The only issue with the hostel was the lack of soundproofing; you could hear absolutely everything, but again this isn’t unusual for hostels whatsoever, it’s kind of part and parcel of it all.
In terms if location, the street of Kalevankatu was ideal. It was right next to Lasipalatsi, which is where most trams can be picked up. On the other side of the street you find Stockmann, a huge department store which also houses Robert’s Coffee; a popular chain in the Finnish capital. It’s quite common to see their dark green paper cups being carried through Helsinki, and I joined the crowd on this one; they do a mean hot chocolate! Something a bit odd happened at this point though; I went into the cafe and there was an older man using the free computers and wifi they have there…to look up porn. In the middle of the coffee shop. There’s nothing I can really draw from that/nothing witty I can say.
Anyway, the hostel is a great location if you’re in Helsinki for shopping purposes. All the European stalwarts of Zara and H&M can be found there, in addition to a plethora of designer stores. Money is one thing of which the city is not short!
Despite the vast array of independent coffee shops available, I made my way to Helsinki’s Starbucks on Pohjoisesplanadi (which also houses an UGG store and Ben & Jerry’s), and the barista picked me out as a tourist straight away when I approached the counter with my new mug, complete with the city’s skyline adorning its sides. A mug with a mug, if you will.
This was when I went for my customary stroll around the streets to see what I could find, and I was certainly in luck! I was about to cross the road when I caught sight of the corner of a white building, and chancing my luck I went up the side street and was met by, arguably, Helsinki’s most famous attraction, its cathedral on Senatintori.
In the fading light it was absolutely beautiful and is quite imposing perched atop a great platform.
Walking up its steps it is even larger than you might imagine, and this is where I really learnt the perils of tourists taking photos of other tourists. Ok, not exactly perils, per se, but at least that if you want something done properly, you ought to do it yourself.
A lady approached me and asked if I could take a photo of her and her mother by the cathedral. Of course I said yes, and she then offered to return the favour.
Here is the result.
Yep, that dark blob at the bottom is in fact my head. Better luck next time!
I carried on with my stroll and found the beautiful red-brick Uspenski Orthodox Church (Uspenskin Katedraali), overlooking the beginnings of the Gulf of Finland.
You can’t miss it with its copper roofing and golden accents. After this I continued along the Gulf and headed back to the hotel, writing in the notes on my phone at this point, ‘people actually do Nordic walking here. It’s a thing!’ So now you know.
I started off by finding the city’s tourist office on Pohjoisesplanadi, which I had passed on Tuesday evening. As well as all the usual information you can find there, they also sold day travel tickets, and that came in at around €8.
The office isn’t too far from Kauppatori, the main market square, which borders the Baltic Sea to its south and Katajanokka to the east.
I then found Cafe Esplanad, a haven for pastry lovers, on Pohjoisesplanadi , and settled in for a hot chocolate and something else sweet.
Did no one ever tell you that holiday calories don’t count? It’s true, that. One more thing in Cafe Esplanad’s favour was its brilliant wifi; a lot of places offer it but it’s not always especially good, and for a tourist it’s useful to know!
I then made my way to my first attraction of the day, but the way there took me through Helsinki’s Design District. The area is full of independent boutiques and I’d say ‘quirky’ is a good way to describe it!
After heading up Fredrikinkatu I found what I was looking for, Temppeliaukio Church on Lutherinkatu, or, more simply, the Rock Church, which is built into bedrock and is a little eerie inside.
After lighting a candle in the church I managed to find my way to Parliament on Mannerheimintie, which overlooks Lasipalatsi.
It was then from here that I began the first of my tram tours. There are a number of rickety green and yellow trams going through the city, with number 4 being known as the architectural tour, and number 2 as the sightseeing tour.
I began with number 4 from Lasipalatsi, and it took me through Aleksanterinkatu full of buskers and colour into Senatintori with the city’s cathedral.
This is also where you can find a great discount souvenir shop if you’re after snow globes/T-shirts/key rings/all of the above. From here we swung past Uspenski Orthodox Church and onto Kaupiaankatu, where the more residential areas begin. It then loops back and heads out of the city centre, and I hopped off tram 4 at the opera (Ooppera. No, not a typo.)
I popped inside to have a look and was met by a few strange stares as I came in. I asked a staff member if it was possible for me to have a look around and she said yes, but I’d have to be quick as they were about to start their ‘seniors’ dance‘, which would explain some of the stares I got! I had a quicker-than-usual glance around before anybody could pull me into a waltz (which I imagine would’ve been tough work in snow boots) and then headed for the tram stop again, this time picking up the number 2 line.
We headed out in the direction of the Olympic stadium, and looped back down again. It’s definitely worth knowing that line 2 becomes line 3 when you get out to he furthest part, and then line 2 again when coming into the city centre. One of the best parts of tram 2’s course is heading round the south part of Helsinki. It crosses through the districts of Kaartinkaupunki, Kaivopuisto and Ullanlinna, which would all be great places to look for hotels. As most of the rest of the city, it is beautiful, with even more coloured building facades and little green areas. It also borders the sea, which makes for quite the tranquil tram experience.
I got off again close to Kalevankatu and grabbed a hot chocolate from Robert’s Coffee in Stockmann’s and had a wander for a little longer before calling it a day and heading back to Hotel Finn.
Everything was going so well in the run-up to my departure; I checked out at 8am and made it to the airport with the Finnair City Bus from platform 30 of the bus stop at the central station.
I breezed through check-in and security and had a leisurely breakfast at the terminal. It was all going so well. So well, dear Reader. And then I got a text. I knew I’d have 35 minutes at Copenhagen airport to make my connecting flight to Hamburg, but I reckoned that was enough time (they wouldn’t have sold me the flight otherwise), so I wasn’t too concerned.
But this surprise text from Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) told me my flight from Helsinki to Copenhagen was delayed by 25 minutes. It probably would help at this point to tell you that I have anxiety; it’s been dormant fairly recently but rewind a few months and my time was peppered with anxiety attacks, which is exactly what happened sitting at Gate 12 of Helsinki airport. There was no one around to ask about anything, and I spent the one hour and twenty minute flight to Denmark having a mild anxiety episode about missing my connecting flight; the next one would have been a 4 hour wait, and I knew that I didn’t have enough money to tide me over for that time.
I pestered the air hostess about whether they’d heard anything about our onward flights and the structure of Copenhagen airport and if she reckoned I’d make it (thank you so much to her for being so patient and kind to me!) with the ten minutes we had. She was very positive about it, but I’m sure that’s part of the job description. Upon landing I power walked from gate B6 to A4, an eight minute walk apparently, and made it with a few minutes to spare, totally out of breath but relieved that I didn’t have to wait for the next plane. But just FYI, don’t ever try to run in snow boots. It just won’t work. Trust me.
I was the picture of flustered relief by the time we landed in Hamburg in gorgeous weather, hoping that my suitcase had arrived in one piece. Well, I didn’t know if it had, but it became clear pretty swiftly that one thing about my case was for sure: it was still in Copenhagen.
I surprised myself by not freaking out at all, I think I was just relieved to make it back home. I had my keys, phone and I knew there was milk in the fridge for a greatly desired cuppa, and the rest didn’t matter for the moment.
They delivered my case later that evening and everything was intact. The perfect end to a wonderful trip!
*I also wrote in my notes: ‘Some of the worst drivers I’ve ever come across. Compete disregard for pedestrian crossings’. You’ve been warned.
I don’t even know where to begin. Have you seen the spelling?! Again, the English spoken here was great but I found Finnish to be the most complex of the languages I came across on my trip.
Desire to learn the language: 4/10
Chances of that happening: -12/10