I have spent the last two days exploring Helsinki. It’s been a bit slower than some of my trips, but it was exactly the speed it seems I needed to travel right now. Recognizing when you need a slow trip and when you need an active action packed trip is an important skill for a serial traveler to have. Otherwise you’ll just burn yourself out.
Though it was leisurely, it certainly wasn’t boring. I started off yesterday with a brisk walk to the historic center of town. Passing my first “tourist shop” I stopped in to have a look around and was delightfully surprised by what I saw. Finland has had a great idea! They put hand made crafts in their tourist shops. All those little hand made bags, jewelery, and funky clothes that tourists and hippies love to buy are now what tourists are forced to buy if they want to get “chintzy” souvenirs. Ok, so I did see a “magnet, bottle opener, flags and socks” kiosk a little later, but at least the majority of the shops were filled with these hand made goodies.
I spent the rest of the day taking in the main sights and getting a feel for the town, which really is beautiful. I wasn’t mislead when I claimed it was clean and green. It is! And you can even drink the water! Their tap water is more delicious than many bottled brands I’ve tried over the years, which made me all the gladder to have my reusable water bottle with me.
I lunched on smoked salmon and a reindeer sausage at a dock-side tent market, tried some linden berries, and picked up a cinnamon pastry from the Old Market House. Market Houses are great, they are usually long buildings filled with little specialty vendors selling specific things like breads, pastries, cheeses, meats, fishes, etc. You get the picture.
After lunch I bought a round trip ferry ticket to Suomenlinna Island and Sea Fortress. There was a hostel I wanted to check out there, as an option for an extra night in Helsinki, and I heard the island was pretty too.
Pretty is an understatement. It was EXTREMELY PRETTY. But it wasn’t beautiful. Beautiful landscapes are natural and wild and chaotic. This was a naval fortress so no blade of grass wasn’t consciously planted, but where the landscapers did decide to plant was well done. The buildings were adorable and quaint. The trails were well kept, and the rocky beaches and bluffs (at least, those not adjacent to a rocky wall) were just secluded enough to let a traveler think they stumbled upon a real find. Sadly the hostel was booked full for the next night, so I couldn’t stay, but I spent most of the four hours I had left hatching plans and schemes of how and when I would get back too the island and how long I could stay. I’ve decided that I’m giving myself two years to write a full length novel, and if I haven’t done it by then than I’m moving to this beautiful peaceful manicured little homestead and staying until the book is written. I am definitely adding this place to my list of 1001 places I think you should visit. I recommend planning a ghost hunters tour. Between the hidden glens, and dark military tunnels, this island was seething with unseen energies.
Anyway, after this very pleasant day full of walking I realized another very important thing on the boat ride back to Helsinki. Pack what you know. What I mean is this. On my Mediterranean trip last winter I packed things I thought would be a good example for other travelers: comfortable flats (chucks) and a good day bag full of zippers, pockets, and clips, newly bought from Sears for the trip. The Chucks were alright…until I lost toe nails after a long day hike in Goreme, Turkey. The bag was terrible! It split a side seam less than three days into my trip. This time I knew better. I packed things I use daily, things that have seen hard use and held up just fine, things that I was comfortable in and knew I could rely on. I packed my Medieval Moccasin shoes, closed toe high tops to be exact, and my Moresca satchel.
On my walk back to the hostel I was at loose ends. I was still pretty full from my Finnish Feast, but I wasn’t ready to go home yet. Luckily, I happened to pass by a bar I remembered being mentioned in a visitors guide provided by the hostel. The bar was called Storyville, and was the “best jazz bar in town.” And it was really pretty great. I enjoyed an amazing cider called Crowmoor that isn’t in the States yet and really should be because it was amazing. Did I mention it was great? I don’t want to be cliché and say it actually tasted like fresh sweet apples but, aw hell. It tasted like fresh sweet apples! It didn’t have that sugary tartness that promises hangovers to come the way most other ciders do. The band, yes there was a live band, wasn’t too bad either. Though I arrived to an instrumental version of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prision. “Its a small world after all.”
Dinner that night was a travel favorite of mine: warm soup, hard bread, and strong cheese from the market. This time it was carrot soup, a dark rye bread, and Prima Donna cheese. And a few more ciders. Aparently they love cider in Finland, because there were at least a half a dozen different brands. I might have picked up one of each to conduct a serious taste review. All in the name of travel research of course. I’ve been having a couple each night. There have been some wins and some misses. I’ll let you know the final results when I’m done.
A few minutes (well, the internet was slow so it was more like an hour and a half) spent planning the next few days, and I was ready for bed. And that was all yesterday.
Today I had plans to visit the open-air museum on another island nearby, but it was grey, cold, and raining intermittently; so I decided to check out the Finland National Museum instead. I’ll be honest, I’m pretty partial to a good history museum every once in a while. I always find something to inspire me creatively, and I learn a few cool new facts. This time my design idea was inspired by cave man wall paintings. I really like the thick white strokes and simple animal shapes. I think I’d like to experiment with painting white shapes and patterns on leather fairy clothes. My favorite fact? In the 1390′s there was a band of pirates who roved the Baltics called The Vitalians, or “The Victual Brotherhood.” I like that. I think it is a great name for a traveling foodie’s website, or a secret group of extremely severe food critics.
Anyway, by the time I was done with the museum it had cleared up outside, so I took a stroll back down to the docks, this time to buy a ferry ticket for tomorrow. I’ll be leaving Helsinki to spend a couple of days in Tallinn, Estonia. From there I’ll take the bus to St. Petersburg. In addition to adding another country to the trip, planning this little excursion in has saved me tons of money. Rather than a 150 Euro train ticket from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, and 46 Euro for two more nights at the hostel; I’ll be paying 33 Euro for a ferry ride, 17 Euro for two nights in a hostel, and 25 Euro for a bus ride. That’s almost 200 Euro plus food to stay in expensive Helsinki vs. less than 80 Euro plus food to stay in inexpensive Estonia. Yay!!
Ticket in hand, I felt that my brief yet wonderful time in Helsinki was coming to an end. I knew there was only one more thing I had to do…SAUNA!! I try to sample a country’s spa and relaxation customs whenever possible. In addition to keeping me stress free while traveling, it is a really fun way to get to know a new country. So far I’ve tried Turkish Baths, Swedish Saunas, Korean Spas, Chinese Massage, and now Finnish Saunas. I think that soon I should dedicate an entire post to spa days, but since this post is entirely too long already, I’ll just keep you in suspense.
PS- I’m sorry there are no pictures yet. The internet is very slow here.