Three and a half hours after leaving St Petersburg I was back in a wholly European country for the first time in 11 months, landing in Helsinki station. I might have chosen one of the most expensive countries possible, but luckily I happened to meet an accommodating young Finnish gentlemen in Lake Toba back at Christmas.
(I’m very grateful to people who grant me free sofas, so even if you’ve previously asked me to smell your mouldy finger, you still get identified as a gentleman)
When I announced my itinerary on Facebook one of my friends helpfully told me that Helsinki was dull, so I asked Petri if he was going to prove him wrong. His response was ‘Errr… yeah, he’s probably right’. Hopefully that just means Finns are modest. I have to say on day one that didn’t bother me much as I hadn’t slept much before having to get up at 5 to catch my train, so once we got to Petri’s apartment I more or less fell straight to sleep.
After I was back in the land of the living we headed into the town centre with a couple of his friends to go out drinking in Kallio, the
red light district cheap drinking district. Cheap drinking in Helsinki means that your pints only cost the bargain price of €4.50, so it’s a good thing I’m a lightweight.
Important cultural note: Finnish for cheers is ‘keppis’, which conveniently sounds like everyone is instructing you to get pissed, which we did our best to obey.
The next day, feeling surprisingly perky (or at least I was), we headed out for the sea fortress of Suomenlinna, set on a couple of islands in the harbour.
It was built in the 1750s, and still has people living there, but doesn’t have much of a successful history as a military base – back in the 1800s, the Russians invaded by land so the soldiers on the island were stuck watching Helsinki being taken over and just decided ‘Ahh, bugger it, we may as well give up’, without firing a single gun.
It’s a pretty (and most importantly, free) place to walk around – the northern half looks like a little country town and the southern half is all hobbit houses and massive guns looking out to sea.
Bit windy this day – we were feeling cold and increasingly tired by this point so we headed back and ended the visit in style with plentiful gin and tonic, homemade macaroni cheese and The Big Lebowski.
Next stop Estonia, where the Finns go for their cheap booze cruises! (Hopefully this means my wallet can recover from €5 bus tickets)