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Published: September 7th 2018
Day two was planned to be a whole different ball game, and the dawn til dusk rental car day had a planned itinerary worked into the mix. Leaving Tampere, and heading west, no planned stop-offs were worked into the mix between Tampere and the coastal town of Pori, most famed for being the location of the week-long annual jazz festival which jazz enthusiasts from all over the world flock to attend in their masses. It looked, on first glance, as if this was the only time Pori actually buzzes, as the town comes across as being liveable but really sleepy, with a few elements thrown in to make it worth the trek. Pori's cathedral is a highlight, as is the old town hall in all its architectural splendour, and the streets which sew together the urban fabric effectively make it a pleasant if not wholly essential town. Since a sudden downpour put paid to a casual city stroll, salvation appeared in the shape of Kirpputorikeskus Hyllymeri, an indoor flea market containing shelves and shelves of discounted goods, all seemingly thrown together without rhyme or reason, but all destined to combat Finland's high cost of living, and after the visit there, the
planned stop-off at Yyteri beach, reputedly Finland's finest, was eschewed in favour of heading back due east straight for Helvetinjärvi national park, located a short-ish drive north of Tampere. Stopping off en route at one of the numerous lakes for photo opportunities was a surefire way of both breaking up the journey and experiencing the freshness of the Finnish countryside, untouched, untainted and unspoilt, and a way of experiencing exactly what it is that makes Finland's lifestyle and environment seem so peerless. Helvetinjärvi national park is an enclave of lakeside, forested beauty, where a small-ish car park necessitates visitors to abandon their vehicles and make the rest of the trek on foot, where lakeside camping options seemingly come into their own, albeit in an area where any commercial trappings have given way to the forces of nature. Not being prepared to stick around for too prolonged a period for fear of the temptation to stone-skim across the lake creeping into the equation, this traveller then headed back south to the town of Nokia, where a planned visit to Finland's largest spa centre would have dictated the final leg of this journey. Sadly, the final destination was never reached, due to
satnav's radical decisions to guide the rental car down back alleys of residential estates and other such blind alleys to the outcome of a defeated driver insisting that the only safe option was heading back to Tampere, for fear of not making the rental car drop-off deadline. Two thumbs up for the experiences along the way though, this was classic rental car activity, and no messing....! Swiftly moving onto the next of the 2 day trips, and this time it involved a train ride to Helsinki, a city only previously visited in 1994 as a backpacker on an inter-rail tour of Europe. Starting off at the main station is a big strategy, as the location is central enough to begin a planned tour of the main sights. Passing by the University botanical gardens was followed up by a stroll along the harbourfront which led directly to Uspensky cathedral, in all its photogenic splendour. The harbrourfront area has a plethora of sights worth taking in, and the Helsinki eye is best viewed from the lido-style wooden elevated deck, which houses a couple of restaurants of note, along with two outdoor pools, and views of a moored battleship plus the marvel that
is the marketplace crafts stalls (Hakaniemi) all clustered together in a tourist-friendly fashion. A short hop from there lies Helsinki's main draw card, the city cathedral, with its white and pale green two-toned stately allure, destined to wow all visitors upon first glance, though its interior, it has to be stated, is no match for the arresting beauty of its exterior allure. From here, what appears to be the main commercial thoroughfare brings the visitor to the city's flagship department store Stockmann, the creation of a visiting German trader whose widescreen ambition for high retail standards has translated into a long-standing Helsinki commercial institution. Another of the city's chief reference points is known as the rock church, and the unique style in which it was constructed typifies Helsinki as a capital city in which conventions often give way to ideas and constructions of an other-worldly nature. The senate building, national theatre, Finlandia Hall and glut of city museums add to Helsinki's roster, and there is every last piece of evidence to suggest that in a nation of high standards, high cost of living and high ideals, a visitor cannot help but marvel at how well-kept the urban terrain remains when similar-sized cities the world over fall short of the mark due to the wear and tear of the city's fabric, a factor which appears not to have blighted the Finnish capital city one jot.
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