Finland: East Meets West

Helsinki

We awoke late again for our final day in Stockholm. We didn’t begin with much of a plan, we only knew that we had to be at the ferry terminal for 16:30 at the latest. We packed up our things and left them in the luggage storage at the hostel. Once we were ready, we met up with Ivan, Kevin and Mike, and headed out for a healthy kebab-based lunch; the Europeans do the kebab much better than it is done in England and could almost qualify for a proper meal. After eating our fill, Kevin suggested that we should head down to one of the park’s on the water to enjoy some of the Swedish sunshine. He had passed through a couple the previous day and knew where to head, so we followed him through the east side of the city.

Ivan, Dave, Chris, Mike

The weather was glorious and the afternoon was spent on the waterfront chilling out while surrounded by some of the distracting locals who took the opportunity to top up their tans. Sadly, our stay was cut short by our need to move on and we left our friends basking in the sun. We headed back to the hostel, grabbed our bags and made the four kilometer walk to the terminal in good time. We were on the boat by 16:30 and were directed to our shared cabin. Upon entering we found our first of a possible two cabin-mates. I couldn’t share the gentleman’s name with you as I don’t know it, but he was a Finn who lived in Stockholm and was returning to visit his brother. His broken-English and slurring Finnish gave us the immediate indication that he had perhaps had a drink and he kindly reinforced this assumption with the presentation of a can of gin and tonic each. We enjoyed the drinks together in a somewhat awkward moment before David and I headed to the upper decks to watch as we drifted through the archipelago. After enjoying the scenery for a few hours, we headed down to the buffet where we were to have our evening meal.

There was a vast array of dishes, from sea-food, cold meats, cheeses, salads, and some cooked dishes as well, we enjoyed an obscene amount of food. David did unfortunately attempt to mix half a plate of sea-food with half a plate of beef casserole and swiftly discovered why the two aren’t often found being served together as one dish.

We enjoyed a couple of drinks (alcohol free) by a large porthole where we met a more coherent Finn who asked us what we would be doing in Finland, to which we responded with what could we do in Finland. He gave us a couple of suggestions of sights to see, places to go and if we fancied one of the more interesting black metal bars; where we could find a good one. After this, David and I returned to our cabin with the intention of getting as much sleep as we could.

Fortunately, our cabin-mate was not in the room when we arrived and we quickly took advantage of this by getting our heads down straight away. However, our peace was short lived as our drunk friend stumbled in the early hours, chatting away to himself. He soon ended up in bed and it was assumed silence would ensure but alas! He continued to talk to himself, whether awake or asleep for the duration of the night. We eventually pulled ourselves out of bed to enjoy a breakfast before entering Helsinki harbour and leaving the boat. We took an unnecessarily long route to the hostel due to some poor decisions, the worst being to actually use the map as instructed, but by lunchtime we arrived at the Olympic Stadium where we found we would not be able to move into our room until 15:00. Having not enjoyed much sleep, and still suffering from the binge of Stockholm, we decided we would wait around the hostel until we could use the rooms.

Once we were able to put our things down, we continued our lengthy recovery until we decided we should probably find some dinner. The evening was spent walking around the central harbour area until we found a small restaurant near a shopping mall. After eating we went back to the hostel, it was getting fairly late and we were surprised to find how much difference an hour and the longitude can make to the length of a day.

Stadion Hostel

The next morning we awoke late, which was again a surprise due to how early it became light. We enjoyed a breakfast which now came with the added bonus of waffles and sausages, which meant that lunch was definitely not going to be required. We began with our own tour of the city, checking out the area around the Stadium before finding a theme park which we hoped to be abandoned but, much to our disappointment, was still fully operational. We then took a stroll around one of the cities many lakes, large but nothing compared to those of Hamburg. Along the shores we found the highlights of several abandoned houses and a memorial to the politicians who had voted in favour of nuclear power. Finding ourselves once more back in the city centre we headed to the two sky-line dominating structures; a Lutheran and Orthodox church. Both were impressive and much like the rest of the architecture had a far more Eastern feel to it than anywhere else we had been so far.

We attempted to walk down through the harbour parks, but the wind was too much for us and forced us to find a warming coffee. Once we had regained our strength we checked our some of the small streets and alleys trying to find the cooler areas of the city that we had enjoyed so much everywhere else. Without much luck we decided that once again, it was time for another coffee. After sitting around for quite some time, the lone barrister kindly informed us that she would like to go home but required us to leave before she would be able to shut up, so we headed back to the hostel.

For the first time we actually researched our dinner plans and headed towards an authentically themed Finnish restaurant where Reindeer was on the menu. We made our way to the restaurant and once seated, decided that it would also be necessary to sample some of the bear meat that was also available. This turned out to be one of the best and most expensive meals we had devoured at this stage. A starting platter offering bear salami, smoked salmon, egg butter pastry, wild boar jelly and game pate followed with a reindeer steak on smoked mashed potato with cranberry sauce. Following this feast we had no choice but to return to our hostel for a lie down, a twelve hour lie down.

The next morning was another late start, but we had already made plans to go to Sveaborg, the island fortress about a kilometer away from the Helsinki harbour. We headed into town as quickly as we could and caught the next boat across to the island. On disembarking we found the most penetrating of cold winds and decided it would be best to cover the outside attractions as soon as possible. The fortress is spread over several islands, and we went straight to the most Southern where the gun turrets, bunkers and munition stores were.

There were tunnels through hills, tunnels to nowhere and several remaining artillery. Had it not been for the biting cold wind we could have easily spent hours out there, but quickly headed for shelter. After a tepid cup of tea, we braved the elements once more, but on finding things had in fact got worse we made the unanimous decision to return to the mainland.

David had reminded me that before long we would have to find somewhere to watch the F.A. cup final, and due to the conditions outside we went into the first sports bar we found. Following the underwhelming performance we went to a restaurant for an early dinner and returned to the hostel in order to prepare what we were beginning to refer to as “the train challenge.”

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