A break of convenience in Helsinki.

Having managed to stretch my stomach and inflame my liver in 10 days of gluttony in England I headed to Manchester airport to catch a flight to Helsinki, Finland. When I booked my flights with Finnair I chose the option to take an extended layover in Helsinki. For no extra flight cost I planned to spend 4 days literally chilling in Finland’s historic capital. I wanted to visit Russia, or one of the hotter areas in South-East Asia but financial restrictions meant it wasn’t really feasible.

I landed in Helsinki mid-afternoon on Thursday and took the bus through the snowy suburbs to my hotel in Hakaniemi district. I splashed out a little and was pleased to find a lush, modern hotel room waiting for me. Feeling hung over from Wednesday nights exploits in Manchester and tired from waking up at 8am I headed to bed in what felt the most comfortable bed in the world after spending 5 nights on a couch in Manchester. 4 hours later I woke up, padded around the snowy streets surrounding the hotel and bought some delicious cheese, bread, cured meats and fruit to gorge on in my room. It was too late to do anything constructive and I just wanted to relax and plan out some activities for the next few days.

Friday morning brought me darkness. I woke-up at 9am, in-time to assault breakfast, and opened the curtains to pitch black. Being up by the roof of the world means short days, but I kind of like that. I don’t like being dazzled by light in the morning. Breakfast was epic. A buffet of treats and healthy to boot. The Pepsi sign on the building across the square kindly informed me of minus 8 outside so I loaded up on fuel anticipating that I would shiver most of it off throughout the day.

I had read up about Helsinki the previous night and there was a list of places I wanted to go. Planning for the cold I chose places to visit in local chunks. My first stop was the subway line to go down to Ruoholahti, the final stop going west and close to the Finnish Museum of Photography. I enjoy artistic photography, modern art and video. The photography museum seemed as good as any place to start in Helsinki’s myriad of galleries, museums and exhibitions related to Helsinki hosting the World Design Capital in 2012. I exited the cleanest subway line in the world and took the scenic route along a river/canal to the photography museum. I walked in but was told the museum wasn’t opening until 12 (30 mins away) so I looked for the sports museum that I thought was nearby but turned out to be a Holiday Inn as I had read they key incorrectly on my tourist map. 30 minutes later and body temperature 3 degrees lower than before I entered the museum. It turned out they were between exhibitions and renovations so I could only see two small exhibitions. One about self-portraits that was interesting and showed degrees of creativity and realism from amateur to professional displays and another on photography in print media that was a little disappointing. Feeling a little disappointed I headed into the central downtown area. I wandered around taking photos of the city centre and its impressive architecture and looking around the impressive Kamppi centre. In the Kamppi centre I chanced upon a deli-eatery called Picnic. I had an energy boosting smoothie and a bowl of Avocado Keitto. Keitto is simply soup but this soup was amazing and had the hidden bonus of sliced chicken breast lurking in the milky green depths. Delicious.

In the evening I jumped on one of Helsinki’s enchanting green trams and headed to the Hartwall Arena to watch a Finnish Ice Hockey game. Jokerit of Helsinki were playing Ilves in the SM-Liiga. The Hartwall Arena is a compact, modern arena and hosted an exciting 6-5 overtime win for the Jokers. The home fans went mental every time they scored abandoning an apparent Finnish reserve that I was beginning to observe in the general populace. Ice hockey is definitely a good night out.

On Saturday I duly stuffed my face at breakfast and went for a walk through a snowy park, watched some ducks making sterling efforts to stop ice forming on their small patch of open water that was left in the lake and arrived at the sports museum and olympic stadium. In keeping with Helsinki’s lazy museum keepers at the photography museum yesterday the sports museum didn’t open until midday. Thankfully, the olympic stadium was open. Avoiding the sandwich-boarded presidential election campaigners outside I went in and went up the olympic tower. At the top I got a fantastic, if not chilly, view of Helsinki. Below me in the stadium families were skating on an outdoor rink in the centre of the stadium’s pitch and snow shovellers were ingeniously clearing the stadium stands with shovels and what appeared to be an oversize snow gutter. The sport museum was interesting. I won’t be detrimental about Finland’s sporting achievements but the museum was small and they certainly made heroes of sportsmen the rest of the world would consider less than worthy of celebration. Sami Hyppia? Really?

After the sports museum I indulged myself at Kiasma- Helsinki’s Museum of Contemporary Art. They only had one exhibition on but it was pretty spectacular, shown over four floors and compromising all the mediums I could think of. “Thank you for the music” was an exhibition celebrating and utilising music. Some of it was profound and some of it was silly but it was definitely the most interesting thing I visited in Helsinki. I particularly enjoyed the work of an artist who had recreated objects that related to famous artists like a bench that fans had written messages on that overlooked the house where Kurt Cobain was found dead.  Definitely a place I would recommend (The art museum not kurt Cobains death place). In the evening I just relaxed at the hotel. The receptionist had offered to take me around some city nightspots but I was still tired from the UK and was treating Finland as more of a convalescence than a rave!

Sunday brought a dip in temperature if that was even possible and I unwisely chose to travel to Suomenlinna Island. Suomenlinna has a fortress built on it. I won’t bore you with history because frankly I didn’t care for it. I essentially went for two reasons. It looked awesome and I got to ride an ice breaking ferry across the Baltic Sea. On the island I walked around the fortress, saw a random U-boat, checked out the insanely large cannons and then got too cold and had to head back to the main land. The ice-breaking ferry was unnerving. I couldn’t get thoughts of the Titanic out of my head and was constantly planning escape routes across to all the tiny archipelago islands. I did some shopping, ate a make your own salad at the top of the Kamppi centre and failed miserably to find any bar showing the F.A. Cup fixtures.

Monday came around all too fast, although I think I had milked Helsinki of the things I found interest in. The trip to the airport was used to reflect on my trip to both the UK and Finland and I endured another 4 hours of reflection as I waited for my delayed plane back to Korea. . . . .


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