helsinki is numero uno

I’ve wrote a number of these updates since I started blogging about travel from numerous types of transport. Many planes, buses, taxis and ships have seen me scrawl (or type) down my thoughts and feelings whilst on the move. For me it’s the perfect time to get my ideas and opinions into print as simply a lot of travel between places is just a means to get somewhere else as opposed to be over analysed; a perfect time to kill a bit of time if you will.

Besides, a lot of time when not travelling between places is spent visiting sites, walking and exploring side streets and socialising in bars and restaurants. The travel bit between two places is often the only chance I get to write something when away as the last thing anyone wants to do is miss out on a night or afternoon drinking or exploring just to write a blog.

Today’s blog is brought to you from a café on a Tallink ferry, crossing the Baltic Sea between Finland and Estonia! This is the kind of trip that would usually be perfect to blog from, but seeing as the ferry is four of five times the size I expected and the ship is breaking through massive chunks of ice that are big enough to ruin Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet’s romantic escapades, I’m trying to take this journey in as best I can from over the top of the laptop.

It’s a cool place to blog from – sat on a stool, I can see the chunks of ice break from underneath the side of the ship whilst the missus sups on a Kopparberg cider next to me. Happy days indeed – and a happy two days we have had in Helsinki, the under sung capital city of Finland.

Whenever I tell people who don’t overly travel of where I am going there is always a pretty negative response. ‘Oh India, you don’t want to be going back there you’ll get a runny tummy’…’Oh Thailand, mind out for those lady boys’….’Oh South Africa, make sure you get a taxi everywhere, place is full of robbers’ The standard response when I told people I was going on a Baltic double header in early February was an even more obvious one than the above. ‘Oh Finland, why would you go there, it’s gonna’ be freezing’

Well yes, there has been snow. It hasn’t been flip flop weather, for sure. But that is what a coat, scarf and gloves are for. In all fairness we might have got a tad lucky – a few weeks ago my iphone app told me to expect -20c in Helsinki. Things have warmed up and yesterday afternoon we got to the dizzy heights of 1c…the locals were stripping the layers off, not quite Hawaiian shirt weather but no worse than an English winters day.

Anyway, enough of boring weather updates. Helsinki has impressed me greatly. It’s not a city full of obvious landmark history (or at least if it does it doesn’t shout about it) and its touristy sites can be ticked off in a matter of hours. But that doesn’t make it a dull city – in fact, far from it. If I am honest it has never been a city that I have longed to visit, like an Amsterdam or a Rome. But in a way the low expectation of the place has made for a cracking couple of days.

We’ve had clichéd romantic(ish) strolls through the snow covered parks, marvellous grub in Café Engel opposite the city’s landmark cathedral Senate Square and even located a bar in the Kallio district that served pints of our new favourite beer, Karhu, for 3 Euros.

And what a great bar it was. Ravintola Linja was stumbled upon thanks to a fifteen minute heated argument with the idiots at Santander who yet again decided to make me feel like a crook for daring to withdraw cash outside of the UK. Anyone would I’m Christopher Columbus, discovering ATMs the world over that I need to give my vital statistics over the phone before I can withdraw my money. Anyway, after hanging up on the unhelpful idiot we happened to be outside a tiny bar that had all the hallmarks of being a classic.

It was dark, dingy, housed about four tables and several locals who instantly made us feel extremely welcome.

The man holding court was an ex-marathon runner called Jari. He was a lovely chap, had the gift of the gab about him and even bought us all a round of drinks because Martin had bought him one. Jari managed to get the other dozen booze-hounds involved and out two groups were soon bantering. The one Finish woman, called Christie asked us politely ‘Is Emmerdale a real place, I watch it all the time’!! She then went on to exclaim her love for ‘Heartbeat’…..clearly Finnish TV isn’t up too much if these are her favourite shows! There was also an old couple at the end of the bar, the chap we nicknamed Willie (or pervy Willie after his wandering hands during a team photo) because Jari did not know his name and started shouting at him ‘Wille, Willie!’ At the time we thought this must have been his name, but it turned out Jari was just giving him some grief for not sharing his name!

I’d read up about a bar called the ‘Karaoke Restroom’ that was a converted public toilet. We tracked it down thanks to the friendly tram driver and took our place at one of the few tables next to the bar. After Martin opened with a bit of U2 I plucked up the courage and sung out a little bit of Kasabian’s ‘Shoot the Runner’! Before we knew it all four of us were competing with the locals who were happy belting out Eurovision-style numbers, fresh with cheesy snow laden music videos playing in the background to accompany the lyrics.

As Naomi took on her first solo of the evening, a Norah Jones number, the sparsely populated bar suddenly came alive with a group of noisy, tipsy and keen-for-karaoke middle aged women out for a Saturday night birthday session. One even described the missus as having a ‘voice like an angel’…..think she’d been on the Kahru! Naomi sounded excellent, far better than anyone else on show but between lines she’d announce off the microphone to me ‘this is embarrassing’ then sing a perfect line before again saying ‘can’t believe I’m doing this’ etc etc!

Martin soon serenaded the birthday girl, Outii, with his version of Maggie May, changing the words to ‘Wake up Outii’ naturally….

The night finished with me and Mum taking the floor with the local birthday group, trying to join in with the arm gestures that accompanied one Finish number. It was a top Saturday night out spent entirely with ‘real’ local people, just like the Linja bar in the afternoon.

Sunday morning saw me and Naomi take the responsibility of sourcing ferry tickets to Tallinn. After getting dropped off at the last stop on the tram route, our driver pointed out a grey building in the distance saying that’s where we need to go. Stepping off the tram it became clear this wasn’t a popular tram stop. There were no footsteps in the snow to be seen other than the ones we’d created – this wasn’t going to be an easy trek in my ever dampening sports trainers (yes I know, what an idiot not bringing walking boots but the trainers were fine in the UK snow the other week)

We set off through a building site, naturally covered in the white stuff. The pavements were somewhat sleety, making walking in trainers a pretty unpleasant experience. Anyway, Naomi kept my spirits up by making light of the situation and after a miserable trek we located the West Terminal, correct tram stop and all, and purchased tickets for the four of us to get to Tallinn.

After feasting upon meatballs and mash in our new favourite Café Engel we set off on another stroll towards the other harbour to take a few touristy snaps. This lasted nothing more than a fifteen minute break in the cathedral, where the democratic decision was soon taken to taxi it back up to Kallio and find another little bar. Sometimes you can take photos for photos sake, and this was certainly one of those early afternoons.

We got lucky again finding a cracking little gasto-bar with an amazing selection of beers called Sivukirjasto. The woman that owned it was extremely friendly, letting us sample several alternative options to the Kahru beer when it ran out early on during our six hour(!)stay. Yes, the weather was cold and a tad grim outside, but the elongated stay might have been down to the groups competitive side during a marathon session of ‘Uno’…..the eventual undisputed champion turned out to be the old dear – perhaps it had something to do with Me, Naomi and Martin all hitting the booze on arrival whereas Mum didn’t hit the vino until later.

Ironically the title of the previous blog was ‘itchy feet’ The stay at Sivukirjasto will be remembered for some as ‘smelly feet’ as I placed my wet trainers and socks on the radiator on the other side of the bar to dry out….

Bare feet in a bar in Helsinki in the middle of winter losing a game of Uno to my Mum?

Now there’s something I never thought I’d say!









1 Response to “helsinki is numero uno”

  1. February 14, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Some may query the wisdom of going on holiday with your step-son and his girlfriend, but not us! We had a stonking time, no arguments about where to go or what to do, we studiously avoided obvious “tourist hot-spots” and relied on wandering up back-streets and following our intuition. We enjoyed Helsinki enormously but the highlight was the Old Town section of Tallinn which Hereford rich will enlighten us with shortly…….

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