Destination: Helsinki, Finland
Date: May 2013
Every time I’ve tried to post on social media my phone auto corrects Finland into Funland. This got me thinking…was Finland really that fun? I guess with the right crowd every destination is fun and so I’d say yes. However, if I compared Finland with some of the other countries I’ve encountered on this trip it really falls below par.
When we arrived in Helsinki we decided to do the Hop-On Hop-Off tour like we had done in Sweden the day before. I did love how close the port was to the city but still a taxi or bus ride was necessary just to get out of the dockyard. By taking the Hop-On Hop-Off tour we were right there ready to embark on our days adventure. I feel like I should also mention that when we disembarked the boat the weather was foggy and quite dismal. Our boat took an extra half hour to dock because the murky weather conditions. When we made our way to the busses a light mist was enveloping us and ruining any chances of having a good hair day.
Looking at the bus circle line there were a lot less stops than there were on the Sweden tour. This made total sense when we did our research. Conclusion to thus said research…there is a lot less to see or do in Helsinki.
The main attraction in Helsinki’s bus tour is the Rock Church. This church was built into the bedrock of Finland so it emerges out of the rock of this little peninsula nation. There is no charge to get in and see the stone walls of this church but there is a charge to use the water closet!
Moving on we decided to do some walking and see some of the tour stops ourselves. Since this city is so small it really is accessible by foot. If I was to ever do this city again I would definitely recommend just walking and not do the bus tour. We walked past Parliament, the Natural History Museum, down to the Forum Shopping Center area, bought a Hard Rock t-shirt from the restaurant, used their clean and free restrooms and ended over at Senate Square.
At Senate Square there is also the Cathedral. It is an iconic landmarks built during the Russian rule as a tribute to Czar Nicholas I. It was free to enter if you can make it up the steep steps that lead to the entrance. Inside there is a beautiful organ and music playing to set the stage of this old Finnish capital. I think the best part of walking up all of the stairs is to look out over the city with a birds eye view from the cathedral. Unfortunately it was still cloudy and a little dismal during this part of our day so the clear vistas of the water were not ours to see.
From here we continued our walk! We walked and walked and walked. I truly wonder if there is much we didn’t see because I really felt we had the locals experience. We saw the cleaning women on smoke breaks in the back alleys wearing their hats just as Cinderella does in her house cleaning days. We walked past the Royal Palace and almost missed it due to the barricade that separated it from the street due to massive construction that is going on there. We walked up to the Uspenski Cathedral but only saw the view since it was closed.
A little depressed with the dreary weather, the graffiti, and the not as clean streets as Copenhagen or Stockholm, we were ready for a break and a little lunch. Again we resorted to Trip Advisor to find the best restaurant and show us a side to Helsinki we were longing for. With a little mapping we found it and started our nineteen minute walk to our destination. On to Chef & Sommelier Restaurant. We were determined to find #1!
After walking almost two miles we finally found our destination. Unfortunately it was closed! We couldn’t believe the disappointment. Trip Advisor truly let us down by not listing the restaurants hours of operation. Instead of walking back we decide to take a local bus and found a bus stop. Soon with the help of an 11-year-old native we were on the right bus headed back into town and to the city center by the wharf.
Running out of time we decided on a forgettable restaurant downtown. I was a little disappointed in the food since they didn’t seem to half of what their menu listed in stock. I would have much rather gone across the street to Kamp Cafe but the menu pricing was so much more, so I was out voted. Little did we know that the menu shown on the street didn’t show the pricing of the ala carte items inside the restaurants cafe so we probably could have gone to Kamp Cafe like I would have liked. Oh well, we did get some nourishment, a clean bathroom, and some time off of our aching feet.
With only a short time left in our day we did a little shopping. Close to the wharf there was a small outdoor market going on with lots of food vendors, and craftsmen selling their goods. I bought some Christmas tree ornaments a woman with a full mustache had made out of twill branches. Anther woman was selling her hand made dolls that, as she showed me, are featured in many advertisements and travel guides for Helsinki. I considered buying one for Bella but with a $115 US price tag I decided to keep on looking.
By this time of day the sun had come out and the eastern block country feel that I had been feeling most of the day was quickly melted. The colors of the buildings seemed to come to life and make even the architecture look more appealing. I appreciated the bus ride we had with the locals because it was interesting to see how they dressed, listen to their conversation in Finnish, and realize how they all seemed to speak perfect English. When the sun came out the streets looked cleaner, the air fresher, and more like the Helsinki I had imagined in my mind….whatever that is.
I will say the shopping looked amazing in this tiny town. There were all sorts of great shopping stores that carried name brands like Furla, Tumi, Espirit, and local brands I’d never heard of but the store fronts looked enticing. I would have loved to spend some time without our travel group roaming the shopping district and seeing what was offered on this side of the world. So in all, I did have a delightful time in Helsinki. It may not have the charm of some of the other European cities, not as much to see, but it was a beautiful place that I would love to spend another few days exploring before I’d say I had my fill.
Safe and Happy Travels!