Finland 2014: Helsinki

Helsinki is a jewel. I think I’d forgotten that.

I drove up to Gatwick last night with no problems other than the realisation that my snow boots are much heavier than they look and surprisingly tiring to drive in. Got safely to my pod.

This morning I checked in using the self-service – checking in at a screen is normal, self-service bag drop – and getting to shoot my own bag with a laser gun! – is still very much a novelty, as was breakfast overlooking… well, nothing more exciting really than a road.

Flight went ok. We followed the M25 along the south of London so if you looked across to the left of the plane you could see the skyscrapers in the centre. That Shard is very hard to spot from that distance. It’s hard to make any of them out properly but the Walkie-Talkie is relatively easy to see. The Shard is just a needle and almost invisible.

Once I’d landed at Helsinki, I did a little bus trip out to a suburb called Tikkurila before going into the city centre. I was dropped at the main station – the front is covered in scaffolding but the figures with their globes are left uncoverd – and I walked down to my “hotel” via Stockmann, the main shopping street and the big white cathedral because apparently my memory of Helsinki’s geography is pretty good.

Not something I can say about the hotel. As I was shown my room, I was asked “Have you stayed here before?” I said no politely but thinking “No one has ever or will ever say yes to that because no one in their right mind will come back here”. If I was planning to stay a few days in Helsinki, I think I’d probably be looking for somewhere to move to tomorrow. It’s on the fifth floor of a slightly creepy building with a 1920s style cage lift that scares me and my room is… on the basic side of just about functional. Separate shower and toilets out in the main corridor but on the bright side, there is a kitchen. I am eating bread and butter on my bed rather than actually use it although it looks like the best room in the whole building. And it has wifi.

I went into Helsinki in search of said bread, via the red cathedral on the seafront, a purple ferris wheel that’s sprung up in the last six years and a pack of concrete turtles (the point at which I said out loud “Helsinki, you’ve got cute!”). I went into Stockmann, which has set out an entire Christmas floor which isn’t open until Sunday, into the bookshop to look wistfully at English-language books – it remains my favourite bookshop in the entire world apart from possibly Waterstones at Piccadilly Circus. And finally I found a supermarket near the station, although I seem to have gone in completely the wrong door and missed most of the bakery section.

I’m taking the train up to Rovaniemi tomorrow so there didn’t seem much point in getting more food than will last me tonight and tomorrow.

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