Helsinki is an interesting city. Not terribly unique, considering I have been to many European cities, but it has its way of imposing its will on the visitors. That is in spite of the fact that most locals I interacted with speak excellent English, certainly a welcome change from Dresden. However, despite the similarity in language with the Germans, the mindset did not seem German at all. Trains and trams were running late routinely, instructions were often vague, and worse, buses did not announce stops. The name of main train station seemed different depending on which tram or train you are coming by, and many of the other stop names were either too long or had too many vowels (and magically ones got added or subtracted overnight, I am sure), making them indistinguishable from each other!
So navigating all that, I finally find my hotel. I was slightly perplexed by the fact that the Finnish(?) word for elevator sounds suspiciously similar to the word for peeing in Bengali (well, with a million languages in the world, you will end up with such coincidences occasionally, like the Czech word for exit reminded me of an unmentionable sexual act in Bengali, but that does not stop one from noticing).
But the bigger surprise awaited me. At midnight, this is how the conversation went between my friend and me:
Me: You realize that this place is WEIRD?
Friend: Yes, its still not dark.
There you have it. At midnight, there was still light outside, like it is early evening. I have seen sun setting late in Paris and Geneva, but now I knew why Geography textbooks in high school mentioned these parts of the world as land of midnight sun. I dont think I ever saw complete darkness in my short stay there - and my friend says she did not either, inspite of staying up late a couple of nights. That is both good and bad when you are a tourist, good because you can start the day late and still have enough time to explore the places, however you miss out on the night pictures.
Few pretty churches and palatial structures adorn the city, the touristy part of it is remarkably small and walkable.
The most popular area is certainly the market square, an open air market adjacent to the waterfront. On a weekend morning, it was abuzz with people buying useless but tempting articles, and eating delicious meat pie and freshly fried fish. I bought a plateful of fried "vendage", and within minutes had to duck for cover from a bunch of mean looking seagulls hovering above - clearly having and eating your fish required some alert maneuvering.
Next was a short boat ride to Suomenlinna, a former sea fortress, mostly in ruins now. It was still nice to walk around the island, following what remained of the fortress wall, with canon carelessly lying around, and a distant view of the archipelago.
For the first couple of days, it seemed like Finnish food is like Canadian food, as in nothing is local. Eventually we did find interesting local eateries, and I added a new meat in my list, reindeer.
Olympic stadium and the tower was another popular attraction, however the stadium was all dug up. The infamous nude statue of Paavo Nurmi was right there, as advertised.
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia was only a couple of hours away, and I was not about pass this opportunity to visit a new country. The charming old city part maintains its distinctly medieval character, surrounded by crumbling walls and empty watch towers.The cobblestone streets and towering church towers made it a joy to walk around.
We had our lunch at this restaurant called Olde Hansa, which is old, and the the whole decor makes it look even older. The food was good, albeit a bit costly.
And then it was time to head back, by this huge ship! I have never been on a ship which resembled a hotel, a mall and a resort at the same time!
More Pictures here.