If you've been keeping up with the last couple of posts you have probably noticed each one isn't only a different city, but a different country. We're spending most of the summer months taking the train around Europe (which is incredibly easy) trying to hit as many places as we can. Occasionally when you’re moving around as much as we are you find yourself needing some down time & instead of doing a city "like a tourist" you're just looking to relax.
For us this time, I think that's what Helsinki was. Maybe we didn't do it enough justice in getting to know the city. It is lovely, but in what feels like typical Nordic fashion it rained half the time we were there & we were just looking to feel normal. So, after 2 weeks of racing nonstop we relaxed, checked out a local yoga studio & caught a showing of Wonder Woman (in English, Finnish subtitles). It was nice to feel normal for a bit.
We weren't boring the whole time, obviously we wanted to check out the city sites & learn a little history about it. Actually, first thing we did when we hopped off the ferry from Estonia was to search out the "Pub Tram" (see above pics). It runs on Saturday & Sundays during the summer & for 40 minutes will drive you along the tram route all over most of downtown Helsinki, letting you take in the sites while ordering wine, beers or sodas. We got a little bit lucky & had the back end to ourselves so we could chat up the bartender about things to do while we enjoyed the perfectly gorgeous evening sun (the sun wouldn't set until 10:45pm or later!).
We also tried to find some, uh, local cuisine & I'm still not really sure we did it in the right spot. While Zetor was recommended to us, I find it hard to imagine that's actually where locals go...it looked more like a "Texas Steakhouse" style place with several bars & a dance floor that I assume must get a little wilder later? Nevertheless, it appeared to offer what they advertise as "proper" Finnish dishes & I ended up with some pancake-like things with sour cream & mushroom sauce while Ben basically had a fried-up hash with meat, potatoes & egg. They weren't half bad & we both figured we could just enjoy more of it for an actual breakfast.
If it also feels like we just keep describing lots of different eating & drinking experiences in Europe, you are not wrong. We certainly are & thus have had to step up our running game...
Besides eating & drinking like locals, another must do in all our cities are the free walking tours which we've mentioned a million times before. Helsinki offers an almost 3-hour tour (no worries, break for coffee or a little shopping in the market is offered!) & it guides you around most of the old town squares & waterfront. Walking through the artisan shop streets there is a big focus on local designers & many pop up shops offer a place to display numerous "made in Helsinki" small businesses in one spot. Window shopping gave us (or me at least) lots of fun ideas for redecorating when we get home.
In the summer, the Cathedral of Helsinki opens a "Cafe Krypta" or crypt cafe serving coffee & pastries for different local causes. It is pretty nifty & you get a look at the beautiful crypt beneath the church. They also offer a daily prayer & quick verbal history on the church at 11am which was a pleasant surprise to sit in on.
One interesting tradition we learned about on the tour is, apparently, when Helsinki (or maybe the entire country I can’t remember?) wins a major hockey competition, residents strip down & celebrate nude around the Havis Amanda statue. During the last major win there were some naked people allegedly crawling up the President’s office...can you imagine someone trying to scale the White House or say, the Lincoln Memorial nude? That would be hilarious...not to mention the often freezing temps in Helsinki during hockey season...
On a nice day, it's worth a quick boat trip over to Suomenlinna, an old sea fortress popular today for its picnic spots. You can tour the military museum, walk through a retired submarine or the local island brewery, but be sure to go early! Though the ferries run until late in the evening, a lot of the sites & even the brewery close around 6pm.
Finally, no trip through Helsinki would be complete without a sauna experience & if you are looking for a rather unique one then the sauna car (pic above) on the seaside Ferris wheel may just be what you need. If you have ever met a Finn, you will soon realize that a sauna is a critical element to their lives – most have them in their homes!
After our couple of relaxing days, we were packed up again & boarding a train to head north. We have a long ride ahead of us but a chance to meet someone very special.... you’ll have to stay tuned for the next post to find out who!