Breathtaking Scandinavia – Helsinki

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The first thing that caught my eyes as the plane came down from its soaring height were the little red houses scattered across tiny island, as if build and forgotten by its owners. Later I came to know that these quaint little houses in the middle of no-where were the summer cottages where the Finns rush-off to relax in the summer holidays – most probably to escape the hordes of tourist that flock to Finland in summers. After flying across green landscape dotted with pine trees our plane finally made a soft landing at the Helsinki airport. I don’t know whether it was the time we landed or is it generally the case, the entire airport only had Finn air planes of different sizes. 

De-Boarding our plane we started walking toward what we hoped was the exit. Reading the sign for directions was a problem; here English took a back seat. Fortunately the airport is too small to get lost. I know T3 is grand and all, but landing here seemed so homely and welcoming. Immigration was a brisk affair. A few questions about the purpose of our visit, travel duration and we were clear. I was travelling with my family; my Dad now a retired government servant had done all the planning, burning midnight oil, rummaging through endless websites and reviews. To cut a long story short, we were well prepared. We had found out the cheapest way to travel from the airport to our hotel was to take a shared taxi. Traveling to & fro from Gurgaon the thought of shared taxi brings to mind scary images of people packed like sardines and haggling for space. After waiting for 10 minutes we were escorted to our taxi by our driver – a Mercedes minivan. There were just 4 of us traveling. It’s Right Hand Drive in most countries of Europe; so it’s odd seeing you whizzing past on the wrong side of the road.

Helsinki has a character quite different from the other Scandinavian capitals, and in many ways is closer in mood (and certainly in looks) to the major cities of Eastern Europe. For years an outpost of the Russian empire, its very shape and style was originally modelled on its powerful neighbour’s former capital, St Petersburg. Yet throughout the twentieth century the city was also a showcase for independent Finland, much of its impressive architecture drawing inspiration from the dawning of Finnish nationalism and the rise of the republic.

Our hotel was an apartment- Hellsten Parliament. Walking in, the first room had a dining table, a kitchen, a television and a big sofa cum bed. This was to be my room. The adjoining room, smaller in size had twin beds & a study table. (A special mention about our hotel Hellsten Parliament. Great location and lovely large apartment rooms. Just be careful about the lifts. They don’t work most of the times). After resting for a while we took our maps and walked to Kamppi. Now imagine a Delhi map- waking two inches according to the map would mean at least half an hour of brisk paced walking. Here we were at our destination before any of us had warmed up. Kamppi was an open square buzzing with activity. People relaxed, enjoying the sun, sipping a cup of coffee while others rushed to catch the metro or a bus. Helsinki is a paradise for people who love to eat. The only reason we did not gain weight was due to the fact that we did a lot of walking. I went in July and everyone was lapping up all the sun they could in the few month of summer that Finland has. It’s also the time for fresh fruits (June onwards till end of August). Just look at the girl standing behind strawberries. Someone asked me if they were tomatoes. On the entire trip I’d become a fruit bat. Strawberries, peaches, plum, kiwis, passion fruit….

Spend a Day on Tram- The extensive tram network is the best way to cover all the corners of the city. We bought a day ticket which cost €7/person and allows you travel on all the public transport and it is valid for 24 hrs. Explore flea markets with their eclectic collection of items on sale. The city is full of parks. Toolonlahti is a nice walk along the bay. Kaivopuisto is beautiful park in the south of the city. One could spend hours enjoying the view of the sea with small yacht disappearing into the horizon.

Cityscapes- Visit the Helsinki Cathedral, probably the most prominent building and symbol of the city, Parliament of Finland, Central Helsinki, Helsinki Central railway station, Uspenski Orthodox cathedral and enjoy the views from Elaintarhanlahti.

Visit Poorvo- We took a bus from the underground of Kamppi to Poorvo – a small old town about an hour’s drive from Helsinki. It’s a tourist town with beautiful old part with delightful small houses & picturesque lanes. The river front is full of cafes and places to dine. From here take the road under the bridge to reach the rows of quaint red houses. This is actually the old town with its famous cathedral & the local chocolate factory manufacture Brunberg’s outlet.

I believe that women in Finland are tremendously happy, since I don’t think anyone eats at home. There are countless little restaurants throughout the city and I can honestly tell you that I never once saw them empty. Finns eat healthy. Lot of salads and ice-cream (I would put it down to the extremely hot summer that they were having) and minimum of fried food. And I’ve never seen a nation so crazy about running. The city is safe. I didn’t once see any problem related to law & order. 

Do make a visit to Finland and if are going give me a tinkle I would definitely go back again…

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