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A trip round the Baltic. Helsinki, Finland

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The Baltic -- Helsinki

Helsinki, capital of the land of forests and lakes. The water here should be good.

“Smell that,” she says. Good grief, the water stinks of chlorine. Perhaps we have to go out and scoop our own from a lake, or do the EU regulations claim that fresh pure water has to be poisoned with chemicals?

Apparently that is not a rhetorical question. I live not very far from a spa village in Portugal where people come to take the waters. Sadly, the regulations insist that the water is loaded with chemicals “to make it safe”. The sooner the EU in its present form implodes, the better. I wonder what will happen to us first, poisoned by chemicals in the water or poisoned by bureaucracy?

The approach to Helsinki by ferry is rather like a reverse picture of the land, which, as you probably know, is pot-holed with lakes. The sea is festooned with lumps of land. Some are real islands, head to toe in forest. Some are outcrops of rock, and some are just blobs a couple of inches above the water. Some, intriguingly, look like submarines that have just surfaced.

The ferry was stuffed with Finns coming back from a shopping spree in Tallin. Apparently, one case of Coca Cola brought back pays for the trip. The passengers were loaded.

The port area of Helsinki is being redeveloped and so it looks a mess. There is a statue of some guy in the nude pissing under a building. Not quite the welcome I expected.

Helsinki seems to be a bit of everything all jumbled up, but stretching into woodland very quickly. Sadly, the weather is atrocious: drizzle, followed by grey clouds and dull colours, followed by more drizzle. This place is clearly an acquired taste.

Trying to get out of here is also rather strange. A flight to St Petersburg apparently takes 1 hour 50 minutes. However, to get a cheaper flight I find it takes five hours, which sounds odd until I see that the plane goes to Riga first. Thinking that it would be cheaper still to get on at Riga, I check the flights from there to St Petersburg. Apparently the only flights listed take about fifteen hours and involve an overnight stay in Moscow. So that Helsinki plane only lands to offload passengers, not to take on any. Strange!

I refuse to be daunted. I check the flights from Tallin. They take over three hours because the flight goes to Helsinki first where we have to get a connection to St Petersburg. Hold on, where did that connection come from? Surely not the flight that cost twice as much as the round trip from Tallin? Something’s a bit screwy here. How the heck can I do a longer trip, involving two planes, that costs half the price of one leg of that journey?

Actually I have more imminent problems. I am looking at the menu. A bowl of asparagus soup in Helsinki costs €12. Strueth! Perhaps I need to go back to Tallin.

I was expecting Helsinki to be a city festooned with ultra modern buildings. I suppose it all depends on where you go, but I started with the train station, which was designed by an architect I thought I rather liked; Eero Saarinen. It must have been an early work. Even the doors are inadequate. It’s really difficult getting in and out during rush hour.

We walked around for a while, but the street names didn’t correspond with anything on our city map, which was odd, and we gave up after traversing a whole clutch of squares and wide streets. The buildings are square, and rather dull. Think Croydon.

We did a bunk back to our hotel which was to one side of Central Park. That is the really nice thing about Helsinki; everywhere are trees; in the squares, along the streets, and the parks are really large areas of woodland with cycle tracks. We picked some baby raspberries, and under the trees were masses of blueberries.

Pet cemetary in Central Park, Helsinki

One rather sweet discovery was a pet cemetery at one end of the wood. Also, I note that Helsinki Day is the same as my birthday. There is also a quaint custom called Cleaning Day, when folks clear out stuff they dont want, and set up markets to sell. 28 May and 27 August.

Pet cemetery, Central Park, Helsinki

Pet cemetery, Central Park, Helsinki

…to be continued


< < < Part 3

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