I feel that if Sydney had an elder long lost Scandinavian relative, it’d be Helsinki.
Just replace the sunshine with darkness, the searing heat with the chilling cold and transport yourself from the bottom of the world all the way to the top. (Ok, so if I’m to say Helsinki is like a relative, I mean it more like a very distant cousin..)
I was there around 3 weeks ago during my travels in Finland. I had no idea what to expect, but I was surprised to find that despite the obvious differences, there were a few things that reminded me of home.
(1) Alcohol is quite regulated
Getting your hands on alcohol in Australia is relatively difficult compared to other countries as it’s heavily licenced. Visitors may be surprised to find that the local takeaway shop, 7/11 or grocery store is unlikely to have any, and the bottle-o’s usually close at some absurdly early hour (everyone’s probably been at a house party and faced this predicament).
In Finland, not just Helsinki, liquor is only sold through 1 national monopoly – the suitably named “Alko” shop. Grocery stores may sell low-strength beers and ciders, but for spirits and wines, the Alko is the place to be.
(2) “This train has been cancelled”
I don’t know how frequently this happens in Helsinki, but it did happen to me when I was waiting for the train to the airport for my departing flight. That moment definitely reminded me of being home in Sydney, where our public transport is constantly plagued with problems. I always felt sorry for the tourists stuck waiting for a train on the airport line whenever the system was down, but to have now experienced it first hand, I can definitely say it’s a stressful feeling.
In saying that, the public transport in Helsinki is still miles ahead of Sydney’s! (I’m looking at you Cityrail/Shittyfail). If going from the airport to the city centre, the Finnair bus is a really comfortable hassle-free option (the train line recently opened in July this year, but still requires a shuttle bus to get between the station and the airport).
(3) There’s some pretty innovative architecture
Among other things, Sydney has the Opera House (some Vietnamese call it the Nha So/Clam House lol) which is a pretty quirky design. Around roughly the same era came the Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki – a church directly built into rock. I was fortunate enough to be there while a pianist and soloist were rehearsing and the acoustics were amazing!
(4) Both places have hosted the Olympics
I didn’t have a chance to visit any of the venues in Helsinki – I wonder if tourists in Sydney go to visit any of ours?
(5) There’s an amusement park in the city
Linannmaki Theme Park in Helsinki, Luna Park in Sydney. I gave this a miss but I’m told it’s one of the places to visit when in town!
I need to try wrap this up as the sun is looking glorious today in Paris and I’m itching to get out to the Notre Dame to climb the towers! But a few more things I wanted to note from my time in Helsinki:
May seem gruff on the exterior (maybe because it’s pretty damn cold and gloomy) but they are so lovely! I know I’ve definitely left with some new friends. Speaking from my personal experience, the reservation is mostly put down to shyness – go for a beer (the one with the Bear is the most popular I think) and break through that and you’ll find they are really nice and friendly!
I also learnt that Finnish genes have some Asian roots …. now I’m no scientist, but that would be something interesting to read up about one day.
Sorry Santa, but reindeer is DELICIOUS. Steak. Medium Rare. Enough said.
A general comment about Finland – Blueberry is the “thing” here. Blueberry juice, blueberry jam, blueberry liquor, blueberry wine .. a paradise for BB lovers like myself!
Maksalaatikko is also a really yummy dish! It’s like a liver casserole (I know, it doesn’t sound appetising but trust me here) – topped with some lingonberry jam, it’s a wonderful comfort dish for the cold weather!
OTHER GENERAL COMMENTS
- Suomenlinna Island, a UNESCO heritage listed naval base, is worth a visit, though it’d probably be much more enjoyable in Summer. Was really struggling with the cold that afternoon/evening, but we had a lot of fun walking through the island, exploring caves and tunnels, and enjoying the scenery. It’s only a short ferry ride from Helsinki too, so it can easily be done in 1/2-1 day.
- Wifi is generous here. I passed 4 hours in the airport on free and unlimited high speed internet and didn’t really have problems finding free wifi when out and about!
- You’ll see that at a minimum things will generally be written in 2 languages – Finnish and Swedish. Train stations will literally have 2 names … something I found really confusing until I was told about the whole bilingual thing. On some signboards, I found things written in Finnish, Swedish, Russian and English!
So that is my Helsinki experience in a nutshell. Despite the cold and dark (which is something that normally gets me down), I had an awesome time thanks to the hospitality of my Airbnb host and now friend, Ariella and her cute little dog Osmo. I couldn’t be more grateful for them welcoming me into their lives and showing me an amazing time!