Venturing Into the Unknown… Helsinki!

Helsinki cathedral

The third part of mine and my friend’s Scandi Adventure in June 2014 took us to Finland: home to Moomins, Lordi and Nokia.

I had no idea what to expect of Finland. I didn’t know anyone who’d visited the country before, so it was quite exciting as essentially, I was venturing into the unknown!

The Morning After the Night Before

We arrived in Finland on a Monday morning, having set sail from Stockholm the night before on the party boat. There was LOTS of vodka, LOTS of singing (we have the videos to prove it!) and LOTS of selfies.

Drunken boat selfie

My friend and I in happier times… aka the night before!

We were feeling pretty rough the morning after, and awoke in our bunkbeds at 8am as an alarm went off, notifying us we had now docked and needed to get off the boat.

Sitting up in bed, I felt queasy. On the floor below lay a pile of clothes… along with the remnants of last night’s vodka, if I’m putting it politely!

It was painful tearing myself out of my bed, and my friend felt exactly the same way. We got ready and packed as quickly as we could, given our delicate conditions, then had a cup of tea on the boat (how terribly British!), before heading off into Helsinki.

The sun may have been shining and the morning lovely, but we really weren’t feeling it. We were using hastily screenshot maps on our phones whilst dragging our cases behind us, trying to find the train station.

Helsinki harbour

After several wrong turns, we gave up and hailed a taxi. The journey only took five minutes, and as we handed over our Euros, the driver pretended he didn’t have any change. We couldn’t be bothered to argue, so let him drive off. Dropping our luggage off in the storage facility of the station, we half-heartedly set off exploring Helsinki.

Firstly, we wandered into nearby Kampii shopping centre, where they had quite a big Bjorn Borg store. Naturally, we each bought an amazing pair of pants – mine were blue and yellow with ‘Sverige’ emblazoned on the back, and a tiny Swedish flag stitched onto it.

We were slowly recovering from our hangovers, and decided the only way to feel better was by going to McDonalds for something to eat (no shame).

Once we’d filled up on a chicken wrap and chips, we hung out in the sun people watching until 3pm slowly rolled by, and we could go check in to our hotel (Omena Hotel Lönnrotinkatu). Once we’d unpacked, we took our clothes from the night before and searched for the nearest laundrette (it was an emergency).

Now my friend and I don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to navigating our way around on public transport, and Finnish is a language that really confuses me (it’s all of the vowels!). As a Swedish speaker, you’d have thought I would have realised by this point that the tram stops were in both Finnish AND Swedish. However, I was still recovering from the night before, so overlooked this.

We managed to get the right tram number, but unfortunately it was going the wrong way, and we ended up back at the ferry terminal where we’d arrived earlier on in the morning.

Eventually, we got on the right tram in the right direction, located the laundrette, put our laundry in the machine… and then realised they only accepted the exact change.

Frustrating us way more than it should have done, we then had to go and find a shop to get some change.

By the time we’d sorted out in laundry, our first day in Helsinki was coming to end; and we were already over it. We were tired, angry, ill, and still hungover – not a good combination when travelling! We had dinner at a quiet Italian restaurant, then went back to the hotel.

Fun at the Fair

Our plan for the second day consisted of us sussing out Helsinki’s shopping scene. We’d been into the Kampii the day before, but there was still Forum and Kluuvi to check out. We were full of hope as both shopping centres looked rather grand from the outside.

The inside gave a different story though, as half the units were empty. Rather than it taking the whole day to look around as we’d planned, it actually took us a mere two hours.

Helsinki streets

Feeling dejected, we rethought of our plans. We’d planned to spend our last day in Helsinki at Linnanmäki, a nearby theme park. However, with the afternoon stretching ahead of us, we decided to spend the day there instead.

We caught tram 3 out to Linnanmäki, which coincidentally drove us past the laundrette we visited the day before. In less than ten minutes, we were standing outside the front gates of the theme park.

Some really kind man coming out of the theme park gave us his wristband, so we went halvers on a second one, which cost €39.

If you’ve visited theme parks in the UK (think the likes of Thorpe Park and Alton Towers), you’ll know that you usually have to queue for ages to get on rides, as there’s so many people. The first time I went on the Saw ride at Thorpe Park, I spent two and a half hours in the queue!

It was a complete contrast at Linnanmäki, where you’d queue five minutes max for a ride. We went on a few rides as we built up the courage to go on the biggest one: Ukko. You were sent high up into the sky at a ninety degree angle, and then left hanging upside down. The worst part was there was no over-the-head safety harness – the only thing holding you in was a seat belt and a rail. My rail was a little bit slack, so it felt like I was going to fall right out of it!

Didn’t stop us from going back on it though.

We must have gone on at least twenty rides, stopping only to get some candyfloss (one of my favourite sweet treats).

After three or so hours, we were done. The amount of times we’d been bashed about and spun around was making us feel physically sick. It was such a fun day!

Helsinki beach

As we were still feeling pretty full from the candyfloss, we decided to skip dinner. With the weather getting colder, we changed into warm clothing and went to visit the beach.

To get to Hietaranta Beach, you had to venture through a really creepy cemetery. The beach itself was quite small, but it was a nice way to end the day.

Moomin Hunting

Day three in Finland was earmarked in our diaries as the day we went to Tampere to go Moomin Hunting (we had high hopes, what with the Moomin Museum!).

I won’t go into too much detail, as I’m going to write a separate article on Tampere, but when I got there, I was pretty shocked. In Helsinki, there’s a combination of Western and Eastern influenced architecture, but Tampere felt quite cold and communist. It felt like I’d stepped into the suburbs of Tallinn, Vilnius or some other Eastern European city, but without the charm. It was a far cry from the other Scandinavian cities I’d been to.

If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t like Tampere. By the afternoon, time was dragging as we’d run out of stuff to do and waited to catch our train home.

That night, after weeks of waiting and having the date pushed back; I found out that I had gained a 2.1 in my degree: BSc(Hons) Management & Marketing of Fashion Textiles from the University of Manchester. It was a proud moment, and what made it cooler was that I was sat in a hotel room in central Helsinki when I found out.

Uspenski Cathedral

Moomin Cupcakes Everywhere!

Day four was our final full day in Finland, and for this, we’d planned a day of tourism. We started off on Pohjoiseplanadi (the main shopping street), visiting the tourist shops. Veering off, we visited Helsinki cathedral which was beautiful (and very Eastern inspired) and Uspenski Cathedral.

In our Helsinki guidebook, we’d read about a porridge place on Pohjoiseplanadi where apparently all these Finnish celebrities hung out (not that I’d know who they were, unless it was Lordi or Krista Siegfrids) and ate porridge.

We’d decided to go there for lunch, and were both really craving porridge. But could we find this place? No!

Moomin cupcakes

To our good fortune however, we stumbled across the amazing Karl Fazer café and each had the best chocolate cupcake ever, complete with a paper Moomin for decoration. Amazing!

Dinner was served at a Chinese restaurant and we spent the rest of the evening packing our cases.

Onwards to Russia

Our ferry was due to set sail at around 5pm to St Petersburg. However, we’d done everything there was to do in Helsinki, and were pretty bored of the city; so headed over to the harbour in the morning.

We’d gotten excited as on Google Street Maps it had shown a shopping centre nearby, but on closer inspection, it was just a block of offices.

We boarded the ship as soon as it docked – a good few hours early. The excitement of going to Russia was really starting to build.

Helsinki views

I really wasn’t a fan of Helsinki. Perhaps I was missing something, but there didn’t seem much to do there, and I found it lacked the charm of other Scandinavian cities like Oslo and Gothenburg.

The only reason I’d visit Helsinki again is to get visa free travel to Russia (in which case, I’d make sure to stock up on Moomin cupcakes at the Karl Fazer café!).

Unfortunately, I seem to have lost all of my original pictures of  Finland (all I have are the compressed images on Facebook, sadly). And I was SO looking forward to sharing my theme park selfies with you all! As such, the majority of pictures have been sourced via Pixabay on Creative Commons (with the exception of the party boat. the beach, the pink building and those delicious looking Moomin cupcakes!)

Elle Pollicott

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