Helsinki #1: Just a Quickie

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February 3rd 2019
Published: February 14th 2019
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Lunar/Chinese New Year means the opportunity to get out of China for a bit. I wouldn't have minded travelling in China, but probably left it too late to any train tickets and decent accommodation. Flights within Asia were almost as expensive as those to Europe and there wasn't really anywhere in Asia that I really had my heart set on visiting. Europe on the other hand, there were quite a few places I fancied. Finnair had a direct flight to Helsinki that left and arrived at a decent time, so I bit the bullet and got the credit card out. The flight was fine and only took about 8 hours. The food was a bit hit and miss, but the cabin crew were lovely. Walking through the airport was like a ghost town, I was unsure if I was even going the right way as there was no one about. I was just walking through random corridors in the airport. Finally, I hit immigration and the millions of people queuing there. The smart gates made entry into Finland easy, it'll be shit when Britain leaves the EU and we lose all these privileges. A quick pit stop at the supermarket in the airport to break my 100 euro note, cheers Bank of China for having no small denominations of notes, and I headed down to the train. There were a few attendants around to help me use the machine to buy a ticket to the city. The machine was a bit confusing for me as you don't select the station you want, but the type of ticket. I probably would have gotten the wrong one if left to my own devices. The ticket was 5 euros. I have to get used to how expensive public transportation is in Europe again, I have it too good in China. The train to the city took about thirty minutes and I loved looking out of the window and seeing all the snow. Everywhere was covered with the stuff, it looked awesome. I have missed snow.

From the station, it was a quick ten minute walk to my hostel, or it would have been if I hadn't of gotten lost. Places don't seem to provide written instructions anymore and just expect you to google map it, which would be fine, if I didn't have a Chinese phone, which blocks Google Maps. Luckily I was only one street away in the wrong direction. The hostel was really nice; clean, quiet and friendly staff. The kitchen area was really nice, with a big old fashioned stove/heater, which wasn't in use but very pretty. After a little downtime, I headed out to take a walk around the city. The area where I was staying was just outside of the city centre. I loved the old looking buildings and there seemed to be lots of little park around. They were covered with snow, so I would like to come back, when it's warmer to see what they looked like. The area where I was staying was pretty quiet, it is a Sunday evening and lots of place in Europe have that sleepy Sunday feel to them. However, as I headed along what seemed to be the main street (or one of them) in the city centre, there were a lot more people around. There were some lovely lights and due to the snow, the place had a really Christmassy feeling, I was finally getting in the Christmas spirit, two months too late. This seemed to be the main shopping area with quite a few shop and restaurants. Although it was busier, it still looked pretty quiet, especially the restaurants. I suppose it was still a bit too early for dinner for most people. There was quite a lot of snow and ice on the ground and I was walking super slow so that I didn't face plant the pavement. That would not be a good start to my holiday. Some people were walking super fast, I wish I had their lack of fear. I got to a point where the main street seemed to peter out a bit, so after doing a loop around the block, I headed back the way I had came.

I decided to go along a random street that I had passed earlier when making my way to the hostel. At first, the street seemed pretty boring, just more shops and restaurants, but I persevered and it became more interesting. I came to Helsinki Cathedral, which was all lit up and looked beautiful. The cathedral was built between 1830 and 1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. Finland had been under Russian rule from 1809 until 1917. The cathedral was originally known as St Nicholas' Church during that time. It was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel. The people who worship there belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. There were a few people about and some were climbing the steps to the cathedral. I was feeling too lazy, so just had a little walk around the square. Senate Square and the surrounding area is the oldest part of central Helsinki. It is a real mix of government building, places of worship and education, and commercial properties. There was a statue in front of the cathedral, which was interesting to look at. The statue is of Emperor Alexander II and it was built in 1894 to commemorate his re-establishment of the Diet of Finland. It was sculpted by Walter Runeberg. Alexander II is high on a pedestal above other figures which depict people representing law, culture, and peasants. It was a symbol of quiet resistance during the Russification of Finland. After independence, demands were made to remove the statue and to replace it with one of Mannerheim, a Finnish military leader and statesman. However, nothing came of these suggestions. I do think it is a bit weird to still have a statue up of your oppressors, but at the same time, it keep the memories of the past alive, which is important.

I took a walk further along the street. The building here were all cutely painted in what I presume to be the traditional style. I wandered up and down a few of the side streets, too. The whole area was really pretty. I came across a poster in the window of a closed down shop that contained the recipe for the perfect Finnish Christmas, that was really cute and it was nice to find out a little more about the country's traditions by reading it. I was feeling tired, so decided to head back to my hostel. As I walking along the main street, a huge dump of snow fell from the roof building right in front of me. I got the shock of my life. I was so glad it hadn't landed on me as I think it would have knocked me out. It happened again on the smaller side street that my hostel was located on, but I was a bit further away from it and it scared a small group of people instead. Back at the hostel, it was time to relax and have an early night.

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