BURTON FAMILY - WORLDWIDE TRIPS travel blog


I know most people shop in Iceland but I just thought we'd try Finland to be contrary, a land I have somehow failed to land in before. So let's start with the stereotype Finns: a hard-drinking lot. Well I noted on the breakfast menu that among the chargeable extras, omelette, smoothies etc you can also request a glass of Pinot Grigio, but not until 09:00. And certainly all the bars are crammed during their long light evenings with young but well-behaved drinkers, often quaffing a bottle of champagne between two. Perhaps the shortness of summer and the harshness of winter encourages the citizens to make the most of cafe life, though the dedication to mobile phones is ubiquitous in every cafe and restaurant. On a three hour boat trip into the Baltic archipelago, many of the passengers were drinking brandies from 10 in the morning onwards, and a request for a cup of tea at 4 pm got us funny looks, perhaps because it was more bother for the staff than pouring a drink. We attracted another funny look for paying the bill with banknotes and coins because credit cards are universally the preferred method of payment, even for two 3 euro coffees.

But the language, and that inscrutable language understood by the few million Finns and allegedly by Hungarians though that has not been my experience. Words tend to look long, like some German words but this seems to be because letters of the alphabet often arrive in pairs, sometimes three pairs to a word. Take the word: syyskuussa (September); yy uu ss, or antiikki (antique); looks like a rooky typist on his or her first day on an unfamiliar keyboard.

Overall restaurants turned out to be rather disappointingly similar and unimaginative: chicken, burgers, steaks and salmon (very little other fish). Oh yes, there was usually a reindeer option, i.e. reindeer-burgers, but not everywhere. However there was a nice touch at breakfast from a nation committed to technology: touching an image of a breakfast juice on an iPad screen results in a flow of the selected item from the adjacent tap into your glass. Very nifty.

Visitors seemed to be mainly American and Japanese, perhaps off the cruise ships which dock right in the centre of the city, and quite a few Russians from nearby St Petersburg, a few other Europeans but not many Anglos.

The city is a delight to get around because it is not large, traffic is light and drivers unfailingly stop for pedestrians. The architecture comprise fine Art Nouveau buildings but also some grim-looking tenement blocks reminiscent of East Berlin, as was, at its worst. The best parts of the city could be mistaken for St Petersburg which is why Warren Beatty filmed 'Reds' here when Russia was off limits for western filmmakers in 1981.

The city's topography is interesting revealing the fact that it is built on numerous islands linked together. This means that roads dip and rise as they link one 'Island' to another, giving an overall impression of driving on San Fransisco streets but not quite so steep.

Helsinki is probably not a good destination for hard-drinking sailor types who normally crack open a tinny or G and T once the sun is over the yardarm because that doesn't occur till well after 10 pm and daylight persists for the rest of the evening during summer months.

All in all an unusual city break, especially if you take into account the most erotic exhibits on show in the Kiasma museum of contemporary art. We were warned at reception: for those of a sensitive disposition, you may wish to miss these exhibits. Mmm. Don't bring a pack lunch. An exhibition by the avantgarde Finnish artist Ismo Kajander, however, made up for this, very dada.



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