Hello dear readers!
I’m throwing a quick one-two your way! I finished off part one of the Helsinki story but given that took a while for me to publish and I had complaints of ending the prior post on a cliffhanger I thought I’d best not do so again! So here’s an immediate follow up to part one!
This one is a story as old as time. We’ve all heard that fable of Jason having a fair few drinks on his travels and suffering the consequences, right? I guess that’s the general synopsis of part two but let’s expand on that shall we?
By all accounts I’d had quite a relaxed time in Helsinki so far. My Finland-tinted glasses meant that although I’d not really done anything of note, Helsinki was so far faultless in my eyes. How could you not love charming Helsinki?
Nevertheless I’d only really explored it by day so far and I’m rarely content leaving a destination without experiencing its nightlife. I’m not opposed to taking a day-trip somewhere but you certainly see a different side to places after dark and it’s the one criticism I’d have of anyone suggesting a daytrip is sufficient anywhere.
Some places come to life after dark and although I was already smitten with Finland, I was hoping Helsinki could do the same. I hadn’t really done anything Saturday night so I was keen to go out on Sunday and find somewhere to get a beer, have a nice evening and maybe even make friends (have someone take pity on me!).
I was optimistic for the night ahead, less so about the latter. I’m quite an introverted person and going to a country where the population has a stereotype of being quite reserved is not the greatest combination. Go to somewhere like the USA solo and it’s impossible to not make friends, particularly as a Brit – they love us over there. Finland though? The jury was out.
I searched for a few options on Google before settling on a bar with a scattering of food options and encouraging reviews. I made the short walk from my hotel over to this bar but unfortunately it didn’t live up to any expectation and was a bit of a disappointment.
I wasn’t sure if this was a “go to the bar” or “take a seat” kind of joint and with little guidance on arrival I figured I’d just head on up to the bar and get a drink and yet I found nobody actually at the bar. I scanned the room but with the exception of a few young lads playing pool, there was nobody to be seen. A couple of minutes later one of the lads started heading in my direction.
Well, beyond me I suppose. If you were worried about something untowards about to happen, fear not dear readers. Nothing quite that sinister! My inconvenient arrival however had sadly caused the pool game to take a break (ha! No pun intended!) in order for one of the lads to pour me a pint before returning back to his friends immediately after.
Perhaps it was just a bad night but “employee hangout” wasn’t really the vibe I was looking for. Nor anyone in Helsinki for that matter as the bar was otherwise dead. Admittedly it was a Sunday night, reviews do suggest it’s a good place to spend an evening and perhaps there was a Michelin-star chef twiddling their thumbs in the back somewhere but I’d already made up my mind that this would be nothing more than a “one and move on” kind of stop.
“Give us a few minutes to finish our game and the loser will go whip you up something in the kitchen..”
I finished my drink and hoped to have more luck at bar number two – the “Brewster Bar” in the Kallio neighbourhood. I was staying on the outskirts of Kallio, Google suggesting this was actually “Helsinki’s coolest neighbourhood” or “hipster district” so I had hoped it’d be a good base for my stay.
The Brewster Bar was much more in the style of what I was looking for, albeit sadly lacking a food menu. From memory I think there might have been some bar snacks but I figured this might have to be a “one and move on” kind of stop for completely contrasting reasons because I was also pretty keen to get some proper food somewhere.
The vibe and atmosphere was really nice though. Enough of a buzz about the place without being crowded. They had music playing through the speakers but not loudly enough to disturb the rest of the room which appeared to be full of mostly young locals enjoying themselves. There was a good selection of beers too so I ordered some sort of Finnish beer and found myself a prime seat to do some people-watching.
Without suggesting I’m one of the “cool kids” (Mum, I’m cool, right?), it’s probably bars such as this that do give Kallio that hipster vibe to it and yet I felt much more comfortable here. It’s somewhere I knew would probably be a frequent hangout spot for me if I was a local too. I finished my drink and pondered whether I should get another beer or move on. As it was, the decision was taken out of my hands.
I’d picked a seat with a fairly central seat, ideal for people-watching but seemingly also being watched. I stuck out like a sort thumb and had gained the attention of a local, Jussi, who was curious of the unfamiliar face in one of his regular haunts. He introduced himself in Finnish before engaging in conversation in English – I had made a friend! See, I am cool!
I had no intention of abandoning my new friend so I grabbed us a beer each from the bar. We had a nice chat, I was particularly interested in learning more about Helsinki and Finland and we got to know each other a little better until our glasses were empty again.
“One more or shall we move on..?”
I’d found myself a Finnish tour guide! Better yet, the best kind of tour guide! I had myself a beer buddy!
Google isn’t the worst tool to use on your travels but its no substitute for an actual local to show you around and take you to the best local pubs / bars. We headed onwards and Jussi took us to this small little bar, I couldn’t tell you where it is nor what the name of it was but we settled in for a nice cold beer which was delivered in an icy kind of glass to keep it cold. Jussi seemed to know the barman (owner?) pretty well and so we hung around chatting to him for a little while.
From there we moved onwards to another bar – this one called the Pub Heinähattu which I only know because Google are efficient stalkers and tracked the exact location using my photo from the bar. This was another cosy bar that I really liked and was also dog-friendly so every so often this little dog would run over and join us for a quick cuddle before doing the rounds again.
Things from there are a little blurry. I don’t feel like we had that many beers and yet I think we were both quite drunk, not eating obviously hadn’t helped on my part.
We exchanged contact details, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I don’t actually know what the time was when we left. It felt fairly late but it was also really quite light out in relation to how late it actually felt – the daylight at that time of year is quite distorting and yet I was near-ready for bed.
I don’t know what the Finnish equivalent is to grabbing a kebab after a night out but I still hadn’t eaten and I didn’t really know what or where would be open at this time of the night. However I’d passed a nearby 24 hours McDonalds and I figured that’d do the trick for tonight – some chicken nuggets to soak up the beer!
I took the slow walk back to my hotel, munching on my nuggets, and although they were good I still felt a bit peckish. I came to the drunken conclusion that I needed more food and ordered myself a pizza, from England naturally.
A few minutes later my blushes had been somewhat spared and I’d received a phonecall stating they weren’t able to complete my order – “no problem mate, I’m not in England anyway..” before I promptly crashed for the next however many hours.
Alright, it probably wasn’t anything that abrupt but something must have woken me from my slumber. My plan was to wake up at a good hour and catch the ferry over to Suomenlinna Fortress. The reality was I had awoken at a time that mimicked something around midday, I was leaving in a few hours and in no way ready to even depart my bed at this point. I wasn’t hungover or even feeling rough really, I’d slept it all off but I needed a little time to wake up. Certainly more than the 10 or 15 minutes I had to get myself checked out and out of the hotel.
With a little shame I phoned down to reception and asked if a late checkout would be possible and to Hilton’s credit they obliged – pushing back checkout to 1pm which gave me time to wash up, throw my things together and not have to rush myself out of the hotel.
Suomenlinna though, damn! Did I still have enough time to make a ferry trip there and back? Maybe..
However would it be worthwhile? Probably not. I was really keen to visit. It was one of the attractions / landmarks I was particularly excited to explore but I also didn’t want to go for the sake of it. From what I’d read it’s somewhere you could easily make a day-long trip out of and I didn’t want to rush there and back for such little time. Next time Finland, next time..
I accepted that my morning was a write off. Truth be told I accepted that my afternoon was a write off too and so what? In my heart I knew that Helsinki and Finland was never going to be a one-time visit. Without any real logic, I adored this city. I knew I’d be back someday and that was enough for me to know I didn’t need to rush around Helsinki with my final few hours.
I left my hotel, crossed the water, and wandered back towards Helsinki’s cathedral square. I don’t think I could ever tire of looking up at that cathedral and needed at least one last glimpse before saying goodbye to the city.
Having missed any hope of breakfast I figured my first stop of the day should probably be some lunch and stumbled upon a nearby restaurant that did the trick. In hindsight this was a mistake and an oversight on my part. There was nothing wrong with the restaurant I stumbled in to, nor the food that I enjoyed but I was then a bit too full for my next stop.
After a nice lunch I decided I’d walk on down to market square which is situated just down by the harbour where the ferries whisk you off to islands such as Suomenlinna or even the likes of Tallinn in Estonia which is a must for a future visit to Finland.
Anyway market square is full of, you guessed it, little market stalls selling bits and pieces including a few food stalls selling delicacies such as meatballs. More specifically reindeer meatballs! I was tempted to give them a try but I had only just eaten and was far too full for anything else. It was foolish in hindsight and I should have just grabbed my lunch here rather than go to whatever restaurant.
Skipping the reindeer meatballs on this occasion, I had a look through some of the other stalls before picking up some postcards to take home with me. Further along the road was Uspenski’s cathedral, a sauna by the water and Helsinki’s ferris wheel which I’d inexplicably missed when in the area yesterday.
I considered going up the ferris wheel but thought better of it. “Maybe next time” seemingly the motto of this entire trip. I was a little conscious of time and figured there wasn’t long enough left in Helsinki for me to do anything particularly exciting.
On the way down to Market Square I’d passed a brewery which ironically I’d considered for food the previous evening. The only reason I didn’t come this way was because I’d considered it too far away to walk (it seemingly wasn’t) and and figured I’d make that my last stop of my trip. Time for one beer before making my slow return to Helsinki’s airport.
It was a nice little place, very quiet but you’d expect that on a Monday afternoon. I was glad that I’d popped in for one. Like many a trip I sat there wondering how I could possibly delay the inevitable. Ridiculously I was returning to England for less than 24 hours as on Tuesday evening I’d be boarding a bus heading for Amsterdam. So it didn’t even really feel like I was going home but nevertheless there was a big part of me not ready to leave Finland just yet.
Just one more night, one more hour, one more beer..
I reluctantly left and started the slow walk back to the train station. Glorious blue skies still hovering above me and “rush-hour” commuters beginning to fill the roads and streets of the city on their way home from work.
I arrived at the main square outside the station from a new direction and stumbled upon a sign reading “My Helsinki” which is undoubtedly one of those “for the gram” type signs but perfectly summed up how I felt about this place – my Helsinki.
I’d loved Finland for as long as I could remember but now I really loved Finland. From an outsider’s perspective there wasn’t really anything special about this trip. Removing the Finland-tinted specs (“NEVER! “) I don’t know where Helsinki would truly rank as a destination but I connected with it instantly and it was apparent that this trip was more overdue than I’d ever really appreciated.
I bought my train ticket back to the airport and waved goodbye to the sunshine of Helsinki. There were no nursery rhymes for the return journey and instead a train full of people heading home but somehow that was equally satisfying and magic in its own way – surrounded by citizens of my second home. A home I’d only visited the once but a place I easily felt at home nonetheless.
Back at the airport I made sure to make good on a promise to bring home Finnish goodies. I’d been encouraged to bring home ‘Fazer’ chocolate and salty liquorice which brought back nostalgia of trips past for my dad and those my grandmother had made whilst still here with us. I couldn’t recall having tried either but easily found some within the airport to take home with me.
I also stumbled upon a little Moomin store and was keen to take something home as a personal memento. I’m typically not a souvenir kind of collector but this trip more than most I wanted something to mark my first trip to Finland – a Moomin mug did the trick!
From there I was keen to grab some dinner before getting the late night flight back to England. The airport felt deserted, I’m sure it wasn’t but again feelings of “this is such a lovely airport” ran through me. A farcry from the hellish airports of England such as Stansted which I frequent but loathe in equal measure.
Despite being an international airport, Helsinki’s had a calmness to it and unsurprisingly I had a number of tables to choose from at the restaurant I’d decided upon – “sit anywhere you like..”
Feeling a bit more peckish by this point I looked at the reindeer burger on the menu and was tempted to order it but also considered that if ‘Reindeer’ didn’t quite agree with me it could be an uncomfortable flight home. I settled for an ordinary, expensive burger and chalked the reindeer down as a “maybe next time..” experience. Rudolph would at the very least make it to this coming Christmas.
and that was that. The long overdue visit to Finland was done and dusted. I’d longed to visit the home country of my grandma and now I could finally (or Finn-ally, ha ha!) say that I had!
In the days leading up to this trip it really hit me that I was visiting this mythical land and I was SO nervous ahead of this adventure. Nobody really talks about what happens when your dream destination doesn’t live up to expectation. Maybe it’s actually best you don’t visit and leave the dream intact? Fortunately that wasn’t a problem here.
I’d loved Finland my whole life and left the country loving it even more than I thought imaginable. Going back one day is inevitable. “Next time” to see more than just Helsinki too. I’ve barely scratched the surface with the country and I’m itching for more. I haven’t entirely ruled out returning in 2023.
Take me to Turku and Tampere, Oulu and Kuopio, Lappenranta and Lapland. Take me across the water to Tallinn or across the border to St Petersburg (maybe not too soon on that one..).
I’m guilty of romanticising many places that I’ve visited but I make no apologies for doing so with Finland. It was a special trip, immediately followed by another special trip to Amsterdam and so a week that will take some topping in my lifetime.
Finland was the start of a magical few days, Amsterdam was an unbelievable experience and two weeks later I’d be on my way to Dublin!
Or would I?
More on that next time! Stay tuned!