Forgive me in advance. A lot of pictures in this entry.
Helsinki airport. Didn't see much of it this time, just got my bag. As far as I can tell I was the only passenger on the plane from Tallinn who actually was going to Helsinki. Everybody else transferred to other flights. Interesting. Not to mention it was kind of funny being the only person standing at this long baggage belt and 1 bag appears, looking quite lonely.
I got a Finnish Sim card from an R-kiosk shop. This time the clerk spoke flawless English as opposed to both shops of that type that I tried in Estonia. She explained to me how to put the SIM into the phone, how to unlock it, and where to find the train into the city. Maybe I was dull from jet lag but for me the train was not as obvious as it could have been. But nonetheless, I was able to find a ticket machine on the platform. And by dint of asking a policeman on the platform was able to hop right onto a train that had just pulled in that was going my way. Nice train, clean seats, fast, efficient. On the other hand, getting into the central train station, I had to drag my bags over seemingly miles of gravel littered platform and upon entering the main hall, I couldn't figure out where the taxis were. I'm not a stupid guy. I looked. I went out one entrance, couldn't see a taxi, anywhere, came back in and looked around some more. Couldn't find an information desk to ask either. Finally, I searched online and there was a reference to the taxis being outside the west entrance. I oriented myself, went out what I believed to be the west entrance, and sure enough there was indeed a taxi stand … with one taxi. And this guy was so switched on. He saw me coming, jumped out of his car, got the trunk open, put my bags in and whisked me off to the Lilla Roberts hotel. I had arrived in Helsinki.
Finland, right from the train from the airport, struck me favorably. True, it's winter, everything was gray and cold looking. But everything was clean, and neat. The town of Helsinki is a pleasing contrast between the old and the new. There were a lot of cobblestone streets. Crisscrossed with trams, modern buses, modern cars. But the traffic was not bad and it seems a relatively small town. Of course, I am comparing it to Bangkok or Manila. Those cities have populations that are two or three times greater than all of Finland. So, as the aunt said to the uncle, these things are relative.
I have to admit that I fell in love with the hotel Lilla Roberts as soon as I walked in. Beautiful Art Deco decor, and incredibly friendly front desk staff. They had a beautiful bar in the lobby of the hotel. One of the few bars I have just itched to go down and sit in. They walked me up to my room, and it was all decorated in black and white. See the pictures. I loved it. A quick shower in a wonderful bathroom to warm up and I decided to go out for a walk.
It was actually fairly warm. My entire visit in the Baltics I kept getting told by the locals that “Oh this weather is really nice. It's quite warm for this time of year. You should've been here two weeks ago when it was -20.” I shudder to think. I wandered around a grocery store, marveling at the huge array of beautiful foods (and goggling at their prices). I stopped by the hotel F6 that I was going to move to the following day. They too impressed me with their friendly desk staff and décor. I went to a restaurant at their recommendation called the Cock for lunch. Good lunch but the receipt made me smile (see picture).
I walked down to the Esplanade. This is a long park area in the center of town and close by the docks. I just enjoyed walking around and looking at the architecture. I found Helsinki to be a beautiful town. It has a lot of turn-of-the-century buildings, and everything is just so neat and clean.
I did get in trouble with the traffic. I am so used to walking through traffic in Bangkok and Manila. One simply assumes, and rightly, that cars will not stop for pedestrians. So, I started to cross the street. There was a Mercedes coming and another car behind it and I was planning quite automatically to walk towards Mercedes as it drove towards me and then as soon as it passed me I would cross behind it to get to the other side of the street before the next car came along. The Mercedes screeched to a halt. As did the car behind it. They actually stop for pedestrians here. I was quite embarrassed.
But as is usual during this trip I started to fade by four or five PM. I went back to the hotel, sat in their beautiful bar, and enjoyed an Irish coffee, one of the best Irish coffees I've ever tasted. I just relaxed, read my book and enjoyed sitting in a warm beautiful hotel bar watching people.
I also noticed that this hotel, I would have thought somewhat unusually for a hotel in Finland, that when I asked, they had no sauna. I thought saunas were everywhere in Finland, and I had been looking forward to utilizing them. And the next day, at the F6 hotel, no sauna either. They pointed me at a public sauna.
Unfortunately ☹, by the next day, I had come down with a low grade cold.
Fortunately, the F6 was a gorgeous hotel and put me in what I consider to be the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. So, when I huddled there most of the day, it was very comfortable. I noticed that the Lilla Roberts and the F6 hotel rooms both seemed very similar in turns of various electrical and plumbing fixtures. A casual conversation revealed that even though they are not owned by the same company, they shared the same architect.
I tried going out a little every day to explore but it was difficult walking through freezing cold when you know you aren’t feeling well.
But I really enjoyed Finland. I found the Finns so friendly. I am, as many of my friends know, an introvert. But I had no problem striking up perfectly amiable conversations with all sorts of people there. And it is a beautiful town. Expensive. Of that there is no doubt. But nonetheless I would return there (in the summer), and I plan to.
Some travel notes:
1. Apparently, Uber is not legal there, but there is an app called Helsinki Taksi that works very well.
2. I never took the trams, but if you can walk, Helsinki isn’t a very large town. I loved looking at all the shops on the streets. And there are small restaurants and coffee shops everywhere.
3. On the 8th floor of the Stockmanns department store (on the Esplanade) you can change money. Excellent rates. Best I saw. I like that department store.
4. The train is a very good way back and forth to the airport, but you can also (I think if you ask your hotel front desk) get a fixed rate (EUR40) taxi out to the airport as well. The train is EUR5, but I was exhausted and sick and I would have spent about EUR10 to get to the train station anyway.
5. It was so strange being in countries where one can drink the tap water 😀