We’ll miss Finland for many reasons, though we may never master pronunciation of any of its language. Double vowels abound, and to add confusion many west coast places speak Swedish as their first language, even though they’re in Finland.
But first, a flying visit to Helsinki.
We drive through the middle of Helsinki with no hold ups, just a few traffic lights (often the lights are horizontal at big junctions, Formula 1 style).
On the island of Mustikkamaa we settle into yet another ideal spot. We’re on a huge waterfront car park that must have been laid out with vans in mind, there are deep parking spaces that even ArchieVan at 7 metres long can just about fit into. Tall trees provide shade so that Polly can be cool in the van too. The sports ground up the hill has showers (cold, but that’s a good thing today) and loos that are open to all.
The whole island is a park, with cars allowed onto the first 500m or so only.
Dotted all around the island are little beaches.
And there’s a large communal smallholding project.
It was rented by workers’ association in the 50s, and finally bought for the people of Helsinki by the council.
A footbridge takes you towards Helsinki.
Another bridge crosses to the island of Korkesaari, which is entirely given over to the city zoo.
And all of this joy is within walking distance of the city centre.
Mummy. When will Helsinki be finished?
Cranes litter the skyline, in particular to the east of the city where whole new residential areas are springing up. On the opposite bank to us there’s just rubble on the satellite view, probably two years old. But now hundreds of good looking low-rise apartments house a growing young population, with metro, parkland, bars and retail all in place.
In town new business districts have recently been created too, generously spaced by swathes of green and with the summer sunshine it all looks swell.
I’d like to spend a week here and get to know the town well. This time we have just two nights, one full day.
A cycle tour for speed.
Cities should be explored on foot.
You can stop when you like.
It’s easy to look up when your eye is drawn skyward.
And you can visit as many bars as your wallet allows.
We didn’t have time for that today and so we hit the streets on our bikes.
Bish, bash, bosh.
The Market Square.
The Presidential Palace.
The cathedral – with a mini Military Tattoo. As we arrived the Royal Marines Band were marching onto the parade ground, nice and warm in their royal blue woollen uniforms, with tiger skins for the drum corps.
They were brilliant!
Esplanade Park. Lined by super expensive brand flagship stores.
Marshall Mannerheim (well, he wasn’t there, but his statue represents him well).
Finlandia-Talo. My man Alvar Aalto’s concert hall. Nice to see the same design of door handles as on his churches and museum.
The Olympic Stadium (currently under a huge restoration project).
The Sibelius Monument.
Then finally our favourite, the Temppeliaukion Kirkko. A modern church hewn from the rock. This beautiful 60s church has wonderful light that changes through the day, as does any, but it’s so much more dramatic from above. The roof is a simple dome from the outside, but inside it’s a woven ceiling of copper tape. 24 kms of copper tape! With bare natural rock walls, copper and raw concrete, this is a surprisingly comfortable church. The acoustics are fine too.
A welcome beer in a warehouse bar.
Then back to a cool van and a snoozing Polly. Probably her favourite day.
Ekenas and Torku.
Before getting to the capital we rested (well, I rested, I was knackered) at Ekenas. A woodland path led from the beautiful campsite onto an island, and from there an old wooden bridge took me across to another island, where the virgin forests occasionally opened to views of the sea, and more islands, followed by still more islands. Getting lost at sea must be easy here in perfect weather, let alone the fog.
Near Turku we camped at one of my favourite spots in Finland. This was an island called Ruissalo. It was 100 metres to the beach (with huge ocean going ferries occasionally filling the view), it had a great café, and it was only a few miles on the bike to the vibrant city of Turku, full of life on its riverbanks.
On the island there were few houses, all were old, and had their own water frontages, none though was modest! On an evening walk Polly and I saw more chandeliers than we’ve seen in a long time, yet the houses all had a delightful shamble nature.
Tom Jones should have been singing there that night, but the poor chap was feeling a bit peaky and had to cancel.
So yes, we’ll miss Finland.
We’ll miss the crazy language.
We’ll miss the quiet people. They don’t even use their horns (or cycle bells, though I wish they would).
We’ll miss their meekness. They must find Britain a pushy place (and probably run scared from Italy).
We’ll miss the rockers, and the huge American cars.
We’ll miss the pristine lakes, with a warm water swim never more than a short drive away.
The easy cycling on fantastic facilities (even cycle flyovers), but never get used to the mingling with pedestrians.
And the incredible feeling of safety – you’re more likely to see young women out running, or taking a late evening swim here as you are men. What a wonderful thing.
It’s expensive, but if you go to Norway first then nothing seems that bad. We did once get a beer for under a fiver in Finland, and that was in the capital.
From what I understand Soumi (Finland)industrialised in the 1950s largely to help pay war reparations to the Soviets. And yet all I can find out about is how the Soviets repeatedly invaded, bombed and generally messed with its old colony. It may be a case of history being written by the winners, but it does all seem rather harsh.
Nonetheless this is still a largely agrarian country. It’s more than a third bigger than Britain, yet has a population of only 5.5 million – it’s a wonder we saw anyone at all!
Estonia here we come.