I have landed in Helsinki from Amsterdam via Copenhagen at about 5 o’clock on a Friday evening. Caught the #615 bus into the city, -7 degrees Fahrenheit . My eyes are already tearing as I find my way from the bus stop to my hotel. My Maps2Go app is working flawlessly thankfully, as my whole body is starting to shake from the cold. I’ve learned to keep my iphone in an inner pocket, as these low temps have forced it to shut down on its own at times, leaving me without a map. Luckily my hotel (Hotel Arthur) is a only a few minutes walk from the Central Station as my fingers are already painfully cold, operating a touchscreen with gloves just doesn’t work.
Since its already dark and freezing out, I know I will limit my exploring to the area close to my hotel. As I walk the ice covered sidewalks I notice I am not the only one slipping and skidding as I walk, you definitely need super wide snow shovels. A dusting of snow atop the frozen crud on the cobbles has made walking a balancing act.
First thing I notice is that there is a handful of casinos in the area. Not like in the USA that are gigantic behemoths, but smaller scale night clubs or restaurants that offer gambling. I walk into a larger building complex (similar to a mall) to warm up and find a food court, everything buffet style. Seeing the prices and figuring it to be a good deal I opted to eat here at one offering middle eastern fare. I still don’t know exactly what I ate but it was “comfort” food and tasted delicious. I know , first night in Finland and I eat middle eastern cuisine?
Ready to sample some Finnish beers , I walked into some type of heavy metal music club, The PRKL Club. No posers here, dudes with facial tattoos are in the crowd. After a pint of Koff I determine my travel attire is not fitting in here and I venture outside again and come across a beer house, Oluthoune Kaisla. It’s Friday and the place is packed. It offers a huge menu of beers. Most I have never heard of and I stick to my plan of local beers and get a pint of lager and an IPA both Suomi. The people here to me look like a blend of western Russians and Scandinavians. A concoction of languages and dialects fill the room. Finland feels different than the rest of Scandinavia, why exactly I can’t put my finger on it. After a few pints I decide to call it a night and head back to my hotel . Never have I had to throw a winter hat on just to walk three blocks but the cold runs right through me. The heat is cranking back in my room thankfully and I thaw out for the night.
The next morning it has warmed up to single digits, not great but the sun is out and compared to the night before, I can walk around without getting the cold shakes.
I’m sure I could have seen much more had I been here more than 48 hours , nevertheless I am enjoying trekking Helsinki. I went down to the harbor and viewed the massive ferries docked at the pier. The entire harbor is frozen and I begin to wonder about my next day trip over the The Gulf of Finland. I stop into the terminal and I am assured by a ticket agent that the large ferries do indeed run despite the frozen conditions.
I spend the rest of the afternoon just exploring on foot and grabbing coffee at cafes when my face feels like it’s beginning to numb. English is spoken ( at least basics ) at every store, pub, restaurant and coffee shop I visit , making things easier on me. I never did experience any Finnish cuisine because every restaurant I came across specialized in an another countries fare. But I did have Finnish beer which to me was important. The prices are above average but not as expensive as Oslo & the beer was terrific.
The architecture in Helsinki is similar to other large Scandinavian capitols where you have a blend of old and new with the newer buildings being in the majority .
On my last night I met a Finnish couple at a pub ( Corner Bar ) who spoke English. They bought us shots, a drink called Fisu, which tasted like the cough drop Fishermans Friend. I’m not a shot drinker but I had to graciously accept their offering. As it turns out this used to be a homemade concocotion of Fishermans Friend crushed up finely and mixed with vodka but is now bottled and sold as such. Tasted perfect in subzero temperatures. Either way it was great to chat it up with some locals who were eager to tell me about life in Helsinki.
I’m sure I should have visited a museum or gallery, but I was more interested in just walking around despite the cold. Helsinki was for sure a friendly city that seems use to hosting English and Russian speaking visitors . If you ever have the chance to make it to this area of Scandinavia I recommend making a stop in Helsinki, I was long overdue to see this Scandinavian Capitol in the east. It may have been cold but the people are warm.