Two Aussies, Happy in Helsinki…
Another glorious summer’s day in Helsinki and we were lucky enough to be here to enjoy it. We spent our day getting to know Helsinki better, wandering the streets and soaking up the vibe of the place. Our verdict: Helsinki is great! Very relaxed, but quite stylish and funky at the same time. People are friendly and laid back, the streets are green and clean, traffic flows with no honking of horns or near-death experiences (ahhh – memories of Russia)… it’s just lovely. There are lots of cafes, restaurants and bars in our neighbourhood, and due to the long hours of sunlight everyone is out and about until well into the night, creating a generally festive air.
Everyone speaks flawless English, with many TV shows actually being in English with Finnish subtitles (thank goodness – apparently Finnish is the THE hardest language for native English speakers to learn – it is completely unrelated to other Nordic languages and is more closely related to Hungarian than any other modern language). Best of all though: we can drink the water in Finland! It’s amazing how something so simple can have such an impact on your day – not being able to drink tap water in Russia meant we always had to make sure we had enough to last us the day before going out, and it certainly made things more expensive. Clean, fresh water is the simplest of life’s necessities and we’re so lucky back in Aus to have it on tap.
Neither of us knew much about Finland (or Suomi as Finns call their own country) before coming here – it was just a matter of convenience: the train from St Petersburg stopped here, and it was on the way to Sweden, so we thought “Why not check it out?!”. It’s been great to learn a bit more about this sparsely populated land of lakes, reindeer and pine trees (with a total population of just over 5 million people, Finland is the 8th largest country in Europe but the most sparsely populated with just 8 people per square kilometre). We learnt today that, from early in the 12th century until 1806, Finland was a part of Sweden. It then became an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire, until the Russian Revolution in 1917 when it became an independent republic. This mixture of historical influences is evident is some of the architecture; for example, Helsinki has both a Russian Orthodox Cathedral and a Lutheran Cathedral. Both lovely, but very different.
According to a 2011 Newsweek magazine article, “Finland is the best country in the world”! With a per capitaincome of just over $50,000AUD, Finland is one of the world’s wealthiest nations in the world,with one of the highest quality of life ratings. It has the best educational system in Europe and has recently been ranked as one of the world’s most peaceful and economically competitive countries. Sounds a lot like home really, just VERY cold! The most severe winter days in Finland can see the temperature fall down to −45°C, with winters lasting for about 200 days with permanent snow cover from about mid-October to early May. Summers are quite short, only 2 or 3 months, but can still see maximum daily temperatures above 25°C during heat waves. Yikes! Lovely now, not so sure about any other time of year!
We woke nice and early this morning (what do you expect when the sun is up before 4:00am?) and took ourselves on a walking tour of Helsinki for a few hours. Along the way we took heaps of photos of the cityscape, especially the 19th century buildings and harbour-front areas. Helsinki became the capital of Finland in 1812 and, after a devastating fire early in the 19th century, was rebuilt along similar lines as St Petersburg. The result is a lovely, distinctly European city built along the shores of the Baltic Sea with cobbled and tree-lined streets.
After our early morning stroll we had breakfast and then caught the ferry across to the Suomenlinna Islands. This cluster of 4 small islands is only about 15 minutes by ferry from Helsinki harbour and is a popular weekend picnic and swimming spot for Helsinki-ites. There used to be a fortress on the island, a defensive measure built originally in 1748 by the Swedes and then used by the Russians; today the remnants of the fortress have been preserved, with some sections converted into cafes and restaurants and others left to be gradually worn away by the wind, rain and sea spray. We spent a few hours happily strolling around the islands, watching the locals swimming (crazy Northerners – don’t they realise how COLD the water is?!) and enjoying a picnic of our own (we found a supermarket and have discovered a way to feed ourselves for less than 20 EUROs – Finland is expensive and finding food at a reasonable price is tough).
For dinner we went out to a little Italian restaurant and enjoyed a very non-Finnish meal of pizza and salad. Tomorrow night we’ll have to go out and try some of the amazing fish or reindeer dishes we’ve seen advertised everywhere, but for now we’re fed, bathed and definitely ready for bed – despite the sunshine pouring through the window! Huomenna tavataan (translation = until tomorrow) blog fans!