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Published: August 30th 2017
Geo: 60.1608, 24.9525
Helsinki. The only reason we are here is because flights to Tallinn were too long (19 hours!!) and/or too expensive. I think it's fair to say that our, well my, expectations weren't especially high. However, I was pleasantly surprised and, not for the first time, had to eat my words.
We landed and took the cheap and convenient public bus to the centre of town. After spinning in circles for a few minutes, we realised that we were right next to the train station and near the tram stop needed to get to the hostel. A 15 minute tram ride later and we had arrived. The hostel was set in a huge red-brick style building 300m from one of the main ferry terminals. We had booked a double room which, with it's heavy door, and thick painted walls, reminded us of a prison cell. The highlight was undoubtedly the bird noises that played everytime you went into the bathroom. A perfect accompaniment to that morning shower. Our first night here was spent walking around Helsinki in the tropical -8oC temperatures before settling on the largest kebab for dinner. The sub-zero temperatures and snow covered everything definitely added to Helsinki's charm and character; making everything feel very wintery and Christmassy.
We were leaving on the 16:30 ferry to Tallinn the following day so decided to leave our luggage at the lockers in the train station (€4 bargain!) and take a boat to the island of Suomenlinna, a six island, sea fortress UNESCO site, about 15 mins from Helsinki. The fortress was constructed in 1748 as protection against the Russian expansionism. The fortress surrendered to the Russians on 3rd May 1808 thereby paving the way for the Russian occupation of Finland in 1809. Today, the island has nearly 900 inhabitants, a minimum security prison, a naval base, many museums and the last surviving Finish submarine. According to Wikipedia, the island has over 700,000 visitors in summer who use its beaches as picnic spots; although in winter it is distinctly less popular and we were two of a handful of people on the island.
We took a 1.1km walk to the other side of the island to where the main fortifications are. The views back across Helsinki and out to see were magnificent and supported by the many canons, battlements and munition storage bunkers that were easily explorable, despite being under inches of snow. The hilly landscape, small church and beautiful architecture definitely makes this island worth exploring.
After this we headed back to Helsinki and the train station for lunch and bags. We booked the hostel before the ferry tickets came on sale and when looking at ferries, the company that sailed out of the port nearest the hostel were much more expensive than the other companies. So we therefore decided to leave from another port and make our way there by tram. Easy enough, so we thought. However, we got on the tram going in the opposite direction, realised this about 45 mins later, it would have taken 45 mins to get back to the station and then another 15 mins to the right port. We didn't have this long. We then tried to get a train and this failed too. So then we ended up in a taxi back across Helsinki trying to reach the right port. We succeeded, checked in, walked the 800 metres to the ferry, and eventually found a space in the bar area with chocolate, beer and football.
Once we arrived in Tallinn, we walked the 15 mins to the old town and found our hostel. All was going well. We then arrived and found that they were not expecting us and had no record of our booking. As this was the period between Christmas and New Year, it had disaster written all over it! Luckily the people in the hostel had a room for us but we would have to move rooms on NYE and pay more for it - something we were not happy with. Turns out Agoda had cancelled the booking and not told us - how's that for customer service! The room, however, was quaint, clean and right in the old town - perfect for our little break!
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