Monday, 21 May 2012


15th - 17th May 2012

Senate Square Helsinki
"Finland, Finland, the country where I quite want to be" ( c/o M Python ). The landscape en-route changed subtly on leaving Russia. Still lots of silver birch trees but the countryside houses looked much more prosperous and there were neat and cultivated fields. Not a lot of those seen, by me, in Russia. So arrived at Helsinki station by speedy Allegro train on the dot at 1355hrs (L)  

Left: A cheerful looking place with lots of greenery about. I got a city map at a very helpful tourist info office at the station. Most things seemed in easy walking distance. Not a particularly big city is Helsinki. Population 561,000;  about the size of Sheffield.

Right: Helsinki railway station. A pleasant enough looking place. Very efficient ticket office set-up as I experienced later.

Left: Entertainment on the street. This accordionist and his floozy were rather good. They played and sang jolly tunes. Finland is in the EU so they were probably from Romania.

Right: Difficult to capture on a photo, but one of the things I noticed was that a lot of the Helsinki citizens  were very well, indeed elegantly, dressed. I saw many business types both young and old, well groomed and with rather well fitting expensive looking suits and ties. I got the impression they take their appearance seriously.
Lots of eating 'al fresco'. It was cool outside, but probably a heat-wave by Finnish standards. The food and drink at these smart cafes was not cheap.

Left: Several well appointed and spacious streets with, in this case, a park down the centre. The streets all have their names written in Swedish as well as Finnish. I was told that Swedish is an official language here. I presume it comes from Finland's complicated history when they were once part of Sweden, then part of Russia and, during WW2, occupied, with the willing acceptance of the Finns ( to keep the Ruskies out ) by the Germans. I think they are safely independent why Swedish? Don't know.

Right: This one, Esplanaadi, had a bandstand on it. The 'youth' Big Band was belting out some good music a la Glen Miller. There was a decent sized audience too.

Left: For some reason there were several of these street-side stalls all selling the same stuff;  big strawberries, peas in pods and blue-ish berries of some kind ( are they mulberries? I noticed a lot of mulberry jam and wine in shops ). It must be the season for all these I suppose.

Right: ...and many 'Kioskis' like this picturesque little place selling ice creams and suchlike. There were so many 'kiosks' that I though the word might be Finnish in origin. After all, the Finns haven't exported too many words have they? I looked it up and, would you believe,  the origin of the word 'kiosk' is thought to be Persian.

Another observation. Most of the many statues of people I have seen, worldwide, have a bird sitting, and shitting, on their heads. If they are inland the bird tends to be a pigeon. If they are by the sea ( i.e. Helsinki ) the bird is a seagull, as per this one ( left )......Haven't a clue who the statue is of.

.....and this one, in Senate Square. Alexander 11 of Russia, I believe ( the Tsar who was assassinated ). How many famous Finns are there anyway? I remember Lasse Viren ( the runner ), Matti Something ( ski jumper ), Sibelius ( composer ), Mika Hakkinen and two Rosbergs ( F1 drivers ), Armi Kuusela ( Miss Universe 1952 ) and Santa Klaus. Can you think of any others? I'm sure there must be some more.
By the way, when they come to erect a statue of me I shall insist that it features me wearing a large wide-brimmed hat, or one of those Imperial German helmets with a spike on the top.

The main harbour is another pleasant area, just off the city centre. Several cruise liners were docked there and there are lots of ferries which call in on many routes around the Baltic. Left: This old lightship was tied up alongside and is a museum-cum-cafe. Some weird exhibits.

Right: Sitting on the side was this rather gruesome deep sea diver. Can't work it out.

Left: Spot the rat. Not too long spent in Helsinki, but long enough to get a feel for the place. It is quite expensive, as is all Scandinavia, but most civilised and the people I met seemed to be remarkably polite, cheerful and helpful. I expect their morale goes up as spring gets under way and the days, and nights,  become light.

Next stop up north, initially to the town of Rovaniemi which is 5 miles this side of the Arctic Circle. Another smart double-decker train.
Continuing in the vein of M Python "...You're so sadly neglected, and often ignored, a poor second to Belgium, when going abroad" etc. etc.

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