Finland.."I'd just love a can of Bear!"
If you have ever woken up one morning and thought: "I’d just love a can of Bear", then Helsinki is the place to come”. I’m not sure of the demand for tinned/canned Bear (or Reindeer), but I assume there is some, as its for sale here.
We flew to Helsinki from London via Dusseldorf on BA and then Finnair. We took the Finnair bus from the airport to the city centre, and it was only a 50 metre walk to our hotel. We arrived at about 10.30pm and it wasn’t dark till well after 11pm. Very nice. Monday was forecast for 18.5 hours of sunshine..and we were not let down.
On Monday, we walked to the Kauppatori (Market Square) area on the waterfront and took a ferry to Suomenlinna.
Suomenlinna is an island fortress about a 20 minute ferry ride from downtown; it is one of the most popular places to visit around Helsinki. It dates from 1748 when Finland was part of Sweden; and after the Finnish Russian War it was in Russian hands as a naval base from 1808 (when Finland was incorporated in the Russian Empire), until 1918 when it was annexed by Finland from Finland’s independence. We walked about 6km around the island looking at the various fortifications, buildings, museums, a restored WW2 Finnish Submarine and anything else that took our interest.
It was a very pleasant few hours, after which we returned to the Kauppatori area for lunch. Here there are numerous food outlets in tents serving mainly fish based dishes...a lot of Salmon and Lapland white fish. We went for a 3 fish platter to share; it included Salmon, a Baltic white fish, and a lot of Lapland small fish, together with vegetables. All very tasty..after which we wandered around the stalls selling fruit and bought a pack of mixed berries for dessert.
The Berries and fruit here are excellent; black currants, red currants, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and many types of other berries that we haven’t seen before. Plenty of apricots and stone-fuit as well.
It’s great to be somewhere where the food is amazing & the vast majority of folks look fit, healthy & happy. (After Wales, its a welcome change.)
We later wandered the downtown and Esplanadi park area..very pleasant & civilised; lots of outdoor terrace cafes and grassed areas. Helsinki is named as the cleanest and greenest world capital; it probably is..lots of water & shoreline, parks and trees everywhere, great trams for public transport, and easily walkable.
Dinner time; we went to the Hard Rock cafe. Never the cheapest, but always reliable..I chose the local legendary burger, which was a 2 pattie burger; one of beef and one of Reindeer, while Heather had a Texas burger. Reindeer is pretty much like venison....most folks would probably feel better if it was called venison or something else as opposed to taking a mouthful and thinking you are eating Rudolph!
We also stopped by a local brewery “Bryggeri” for a couple of beers.The locally produced Pils was excellent.
Tuesday 26th July; we took an Intercity Train from Helsinki to Tampere, about 200km north, for the day. This Train trip is on the list of the top 100 train journeys in the world, so we put it on our list..and it was a bargain Euro 9.90 each way or about NZ$16 for 1 .5 hour trip..much of it at about 180 km/hr in a modern double-decker train with free Wifi! It’s definitely a great way of seeing the forest, lake and farmland landscape of Finland. Large areas of farmland with cereal crops such as wheat, oats and spelt, and vast areas of dense deciduous Silver Birch forest mixed with conifer. Beautiful.
Tampere is a nice city; about 300,000 population but seems bigger. It is located between two lakes, Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi and two lakes differ in level by about 18 metres. There are rapids and waterfalls linking them that have been a source for generating electricity.
We wandered the downtown area, and given our burger feast of the previous night, had a really nice chicken salad for lunch!
The Kauppahalli (Market Hall) in Tampere was a real treat. Butchers, Vegetables, Fruits and Berries, Cheese, Cakes, Bakers and other goodies. Nice place to stop for a nibble and coffee.
A little tired by the time we got back to Helsinki and about 6pm, we ate at a Iguana Cafe & Bar quite nearby our hotel; nice Tex/Mex food and pizza, with a good selection of local and imported beer.
Wednesday 27th July; during the morning we went to the Hakaniemen Kauppahalli which is the large inner city market hall about 1km from our hotel. The usual goodies; fruit of all types, breads, cheese, vegetables.
We then strolled back through the Kaisaniemi botanic gardens; unfortunately they are under refurbishment but it was still a very pretty place with all the plants and trees clearly name labelled.
Mid afternoon, we took the 'canal cruise' sightseeing boat that does a 1 hour 30 minute round trip cruise so that you see the many coastlines and Islands of Helsinki,and takes you through a narrow canal linking two of the islands.
I'm often a bit wary of these organised sightseeing trips, but this one was excellent and quite good value for €24 each or about NZ$38. The coastlines and islands are truly amazing; it was well worth it. There are many Summer homes on the islands, with a mix of private and publicly owned and many for rental. I cant imagine many better places to spend a few days or weeks over summer. We also sailed close by Helsinki's fleet of 4 large icebreakers that keep the shipping channels open during the Winter.
Dinner was at the Zetor Tractor restaurant; themed for farmers and the Czech Republics Zetor tractor brand.( With a menu in 20 languages..not a bad effort.)
For starters we had Mini blinis served with rainbow trout roe, mushroom salad, mousse of smoked reindeer, red onion and sour cream.
Then for mains Heather had Filled Pork minute steak filled with bacon, onion and Koskenlaskija cheese, served with honeyroasted root vegetables and country potatoes.
And I had Chicken Orimattila style; a combination of roasted chicken and bacon served with grilled squeaky cheese, country potatoes, red wine sauce and beetroot bake.
I also tried Finlands defacto national drink; the Gin Long Drink which was quite nice with ice in a 500ml glass.In 1952 Finland had a strict state controlled alcohol policy, but the summer Olympics meant something had to change. So the Government allowed the national alcoholic beverage retailing monopoly to introduce two brands of pre-mixed, bottled, ready-to-consume long drinks. One of these was the Gin Long Drink (gin with grapefruit) manufactured by Hartwall...and its still made and being consumed 65 years later.
Everything was extraordinarily delicious, and we left Zetor happiness filled!
Well Helsinki.... I wish we could stay longer; you are one of the best cities I've ever been to. Parks, water,islands,easy to get around,great food, friendly people...and a bit expensive, but that's ok!
I'm not going to come back mid Winter and be disappointed..I'm happy to remember the short time that we enjoyed in Summer.