A Travellerspoint blog

Finland

Helsinki...tick!

Days 25, 26 and 27 Finland

semi-overcast 12 °C

When planning our trip, the flight from St Petersburg to Budapest was via Helsinki. We'd heard great things about Finland so rather than spend 2 hours, we thought we'd spend 2 days. It was an opportunity to see Helsinki and for me to tick off another Olympic site (Helsinki in 1952).

Immediate impressions of Helsinki, and in contrast to where we've been so far, is that is a thoroughly modern western city. Exceptionally helpful and friendly airport bus to the city, walk to the hotel through a lovely park and check into the most expensive hotel we had so far on our trip. The room turned out to be the smallest on our trip, and we soon realised Helsinki is not cheap. We made a quick trip to the local supermarket, spending a small fortune, for some bread, meat and beers to chill out for the evening. Jen is working her way through the national liquors so, having enjoyed our Vodka from Siberia, time to try Finnish Vodka - her Vodka & Orange is delicious.
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We saw a funny souvenir T-shirt suggesting that Finnish Reindeers drink Finlandia and then wee out Absolut.

The 9 June (Day 26) was an early start with the weather back to a chilly 12 deg c and a short walk to a church on top of the nearby hill. This was followed by a walk through a beautiful park and lake to the Olympic Stadium. The ageing stadium is undergoing a total renovation but I still can add it to my list of Olympic cities visited.
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The entrance features a statue of one of the greatest Olympians, Paavo Nurmi - the Flying Finn. Debuting at the 1920 Olympics, he dominated middle and long distance running in the early 20th century. Nurmi set 22 official world records at distances between 1500 metres and 20 kilometres, and won nine gold and three silver medals in his twelve events in the Olympic Games. At his peak, Nurmi was undefeated at distances from 800 m upwards for 121 races. Throughout his 14-year career, he remained unbeaten in cross country events and the 10,000 m - absolute legend. I have fond memories of my Dad telling me about this amazing athlete.
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Again, given our short visit, HopOnHopOff bus is our mode of transport - and it about 4 x the cost of the same service in St Petersburg.
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We board from the Wintergarden

Helsinki and Finland is a relatively new country, having gained its own sovereignty in 1917. Sweden and Russia have fought over ownership of Finland for centuries. It was a part of Sweden from the 12th century until 1809, and then a Russian Grand Duchy until, following the Russian Revolution, the Finns declared independence on 6 December 1917. The Finns have a high regard for Tsar Alexander II of Russia (1855-1881 assassinated) who was also the Grand Duke of Finland. He made a number of reforms, giving Finland some freedoms and established judicial and legal structures, including abolition of capital punishment. An elaborate statute of Alexander II, erected in 1894 in the Senate Square features the Emperor giving a speech to the Parliament in 1863. Above the Square, leading up from an impressive staircase is Helsinki Cathedral flanked on either side by the Government Palace and the main building of the University of Helsinki.
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The city is a mixture of old and new buildings and has a modern feel - reminds me very much of Melbourne.

Finnish people are said to have a lot of "Sisu" which means guts and determination, particularly in spite of indomitable odds, with proud references in their history to holding out Soviet troops with an army 1/10th the size. They also love their saunas - apparently there are 3 million saunas in Finland, so with a population of 5.5 million, Finns boast that the entire population could be inside a sauna at the same time!

I speak Hungarian, and unfortunately, Hungarian is only spoken in Hungary, so not much use anywhere else in the World. However, before visiting Finland, I'd heard that Finnish and Hungarian have historical roots so are similar. I was therefore eager to hear the language and see if I could understand it. Unfortunately, I could not understand a word of it. Its a bit Scandinavian, and sounds a bit Hungarian. Its hard to describe, and my ears couldn't quite tune it in...as far as I could figure, it goes a bit like this...

Finland's geography meant large reserves of tar, which for many years was a large contributor to its economy. Finns love their tar and have a saying that "if tar, alcohol or sauna does not fix what ails you, then death is surely next".

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Around the main harbour there is a fantastic local market selling all manner of produce, souvenirs and food - even ice cream on a 10 degree day!
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The main thing that caught our attention at the market was the slabs of fresh whole salmon being cooked on BBQ style hot plates and the smell taking over the whole area. The decision was easy on where we were going to eat tonight.

We took one and a half hour harbour cruise. It was cold and windy but really interesting. The harbour has been a military port for pretty much the past 500 years, is a UNESCO national heritage area and was a Russian submarine port. It is also a port for the Northern Ocean Icebreakers - one aptly named "SISU".
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The Helsinki Zoo also occupied part of the coast line. We suspect everyone was tucked up warm inside.
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The voice over on the boat talked about the Finns loving going to the islands to swim and chill out on the beach. With the water temperature constantly below 18 deg, the weather in summertime at a max. of 20 deg and summer only lasting 2 months, I am thinking this is not quite the beach holiday place the we Aussie enjoy.
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We warm up after our boat trip with Coffee and feel like we could quite possibly be in Melbourne.
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The centre of town has Department Stores and I'm struck by the feeling that we're wandering down Burke Street or Collins Street.
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It is a beautiful city, and easy to get around.
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By this time we were getting hungry so back to the wharf and devoured some fresh cooked salmon and calamari.
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A stroll back to the hotel and we were pretty well satisfied with our Helsinki visit.

That this time of the year never really sets, sunset at 11pm, sunrise at 3am and a lingering twilight in between, just great for my sleeping habits!
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10 June (Day 27) we enjoyed a stroll around the park and the local historical market hall, Hakaniemi Market Hall that's been operating since 1917 and is still vibrant today - the smells were amazing, before back onto the airport bus and onto Helsinki airport. Helsinki airport is thoroughly modern with "chill out" pods and another area with funky couches and free wifi.
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We were pleased to be able to tick off Helsinki - great place, although expensive.

Arrival into Budapest was my chance to shine and to really immerse myself into speaking Hungarian, known to be one of the most hardest languages to speak. My cousin Marta met us at the apartment that she had set up for us which was located right in the heart of the tourist area. It was just your typical 200 year old place, 3 story block with a courtyard and a perfect feel that we could chill out in.
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After a welcome drink of Unicum, Marta took us to one of her favourite restaurants for dinner. And it was the Opening Night of European Cup - I'm looking forward to this! For the first time in 44 years, Hungary has qualified so the whole country is excited and we're in Europe for the tournament.

First impressions of Budapest aren't great. It seems to be a Boys Weekend kind of place. There were even guys blindfolded with ear plugs on the plane being taken to a surprise destination as part of their "Stag Weekend". On the weekends, it seems Budapest turns into one big night club, heaps of bars, drinking on the street, "Gentlemen's Clubs", "Thai Massage" places on every corner, men wearing dresses and wigs tackling cars - generally Boys Behaving Badly. Its as if Budapest town centre gets overrun by party goers on the weekend, it hides its grandeur and braces itself while the drunkards roam. Fortunately, once they leave over the course of Sunday and Monday, Beautiful Budapest shines once again with its architecture, romance, gourmet delights that I remember from my childhood and a place to soak up the atmosphere of one the most beautiful cities in the world. It is also a place that has a painful history and, whilst the scars are healing, there is still lingering sadness in places. My heart also knows that my parents endured the worst of times here, and made a fateful decision that they needed to leave.

But so far my Hungarian is holding up well!

Posted by tszeitli 14:02 Archived in Finland Tagged salmon olympics finland expensive cold modern tar Comments (3)

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