Tuesday, 3 May 2016

When in Helsinki

A few weeks ago, my sister and I were in Finland. Part of out city breaks, I asked if Helsinki could be our next destination after we had already been to Brussels, Berlin and Budapest. We spent 4 nights in our adorable cosy Air BnB apartment and 4 days navigating around the vast city as well as visiting another city, Tampere, on a day trip. I don't usually write about travelling or non film related events, but I felt that the recent adventure was worth mentioning on here.

One thing I did note was the lack of Finnish film and TV being advertised around the city. In fact the adverts I saw the most were for Lidel. I saw two posters for two different Finnish films, all the others were British or American. The only films that I could see being shown at the cinemas were also all British and American. I saw no adverts for TV shows or anything. I found this odd. Even the Finnish Cinema Institute didn't offer anything new. We even went past the Orion Cinema, which had been recommended on a site but only English language films were on there. I was slightly disappointed by this but not long after setting foot in the city and walking around, it was clear that art was what the 

Finnish loved.

Moving on from this film related-ness, we stayed in a very cosy flat in Kallio, which was apparently known as the 'hipster' district, even though I couldn't see why it was. The flat had a cute little balcony and was decorated like an artist's paradise. Beautifully open windows, stuffed bookcases, comfy sofa and yes, unusual art on display. It was perfect for our base.

I learnt on this trip that my sister likes to eat, where as if I have a coffee every now and then, I can get by with 2 meals a day. But we ended up either not having breakfast or just having a coffee when I woke up. I did miss my breakfast very much. Food aside, as we had various problems, mostly my fault as I had less money than my sister, we managed to get by and try a few things, I got to try Roberts Coffee where I didn't have to panic about nuts. My nuts and peanuts allergy is always a problem wherever I go which means I am excluded frequently from trying new things. Edible things.

Like everyone on a city break we intended to set out early each day but never really did. We took a tram to the harbour and bought the best buy of our trip, a travel ticket that covered buses, metro and trams for three day€16.  We admired the big white church then wandered over to the Food Market Hall which had lots of of little tiny cafes to choose from as well as a few crafty shops and slightly more glamorous eateries. As it was safer and they had a delicious looking pastry on show with raspberries, we went to Finland's Starbucks, Robert's Coffee. My sister wolfed down a Finnish cinnamon roll while I enjoyed my signature coffee, soya vanilla latte. We then battled through so other fellow annoying tourists to board a ferry to Suomenlinna. 

  The island of Suomenlinna is just one of the many islands that are a short distance from the city. But Suomenlinna has a sea fortress which was built in 1748 and was used by the Swedish and Finnish armies. As well as admiring the wonderful houses of the local residents, we, of course, walked along the edge and out to the sea view or lake view. My sister kept reminding me that it could be a lake we were looking at. I think the views speak for themselves.

Back in the harbour we explored more of the streets near the square in search of food as well as taking the view of another impressive church, that I referred to as the Addams Family Cathedral. After  we had eaten, we agreed to buy out tickets for the train to Tampere so we weren't rushing. After a good 20 minutes dithering at the machines which we didn't want to except a cheaper journey wasn't available, we went  to the incredibly posh ticket area and spoke to the very helpful Olga who booked us on the cheap train. We had a quiet evening, just a beer at the brilliantly decorated library pub which was right by our flat.

Tampere was a pleasant train journey, even if it was 2 hours. I had planned a route to and from the Art Museum and Moominvalley and a cute little cafe/crafty vintage shop, Forget Me Not. Firstly, the Moomin exhibition was amazing! We weren't allowed to take photos, which was annoying. Beautifully drawings lined the walls and we had the choice of a booklet which gave more detail to the drawings and models. All the models were made by Moomin creator, Tove Jansson's partner, Tuulikki Pietilä and they were beautiful. There was even a gigantic model of the Moomin house and book covers from around the globe showing how many languages the stories had been translated into to. I managed to sneak a photo with a statue of Moomin which I was so happy about. The rest of the art in the gallery was pretty poor though. My sister and I both noted that our parents (both artists) would have hated it. We think we inherited our snobbery from them. The musuem shop was also quite disappointing but we went to a better Moomin place in Helsinki. 

After the museum, we thought we could just cut across the road to the sea view. We were wrong. After a long walk and crossing a motorway we encountered an closed amusement park. I was very tired at this point but my sister wanted to walk further. We walked round the 'The Navigator' type planetarium building and admired some more amazing views through the trees. We could have ventured further but unfortunately I got the time wrong and hurried us back to the city.

Back in Helsinki, my sister finally got to have a big main meal. It was an awesome place that was affordable and delicious, Cafe No.9. Afterwards we headed back to the flat to get ready for out night at Navy Jerry's. With music from the 50's and 60's and the bar covered in navel and nautical memorabilia, we had a great time. There was no menu so I asked the bartender for something with ginger beer and my sister wanted something pink and fluffy. The bartender delivered. But after 2 pricey cocktails and the bar getting very crowded we called it a night and caught the tram back. 

Sunday was said to be rain so we thought we'd just ride the trams around town. We got to have some delicious brunch and wander around the streets. I saw the Orion Cinema, but it was closed. We took shelter in a shopping center and found The Moomin Shop. It was one of the most spectacular sights. I was so happy to be there then wanted to bu everything. Even my sister got excited and bought some cute glasses. I picked up various bits and pieces and wishes I bought more.

Later than day we dashed to the a Helsinki art museum, HAM to be precise, after I I saw one poster for a Tove Jansson exhibition. It only had a few pieces of her work but I got to see the gigantic murals, a party scene and a pastoral scene. They were beautiful. I'm so glad I got to see them in person. All that art made us hungry so we went back to Cafe No.9 for more delicious food. 


Monday, seeing as everything was closed, we had breakfast at the cafe below our flat and then packed. We stopped off at the supermarket to pick up tea and sweets to bring back then packed up and said our farewells to Bear Park.

Overall the experience of Helsinki was great fun. I loved it but I don't feel the need to return. I'm so happy I got to see the Moomin exhibition and I got to see the city, but when I venture back to Scandinavia again, I will have to be quite wealthy.

Things We Learnt & Tips for a Helsinki trip, if you're thinking of going:

-Everyone speaks perfect English. We found out that most people in Finland can speak at least 4 languages. A friendly guy in a supermarket told us that he spoke Finnish, Swedish, English and German and that their cleaner spoke 6 languages.

-Everything is closed on Sundays and Mondays. If you are thinking of going, make of these days your leaving travel day.
-It's very expensive. The Finnish are heavily taxed on everything so prepare in advance what you want to spend your money on.
-Alcohol is a rare commodity. You can buy in bars, cafes and restaurants but you can't buy it in supermarkets after 9pm and you can't buy it all on Sundays. You can also only buy beer and cider in supermarkets. If you want wine or spirits you need to seek out special shops. Lots of Finnish go on a booze cruise to Estonia and pick up tons of drinks on the cheap and haul it back to Helsinki.
-Free is good. Lots of sight seeing can be done for free, just wondering around the streets admiring the amazing buildings and views is part of experiencing the city.

-Everything is closed on Sundays and Mondays. If you are thinking of going, make of these days your leaving travel day.

-Don't bother visiting the West Docks. We made this mistake, there is literally nothing to see, just a building site and gigantic ferries.
-Visit the Tourits office. Its a small thing but they have lots of maps you can pick up, plus its right by the harbour to go to the island with the sea fortress.
-Visit the islands. All you pay for is the ferry ticket and you can admire the amazing views (until it gets too cold of course) for free. 
-The Moomin shop is like dream. Its inside the massive shopping centre which is actually quite handy to wonder around in if its raining outside.
-Moominvalley re-opening. If, like me, you are a big Moomin fan, the Moomin exhibition is closing in Oct 2016 - May 2017 as a bigger and better one is opening up elsewhere. 
-Take a day trip outside the city. We went to Tampere but there are lots of places you could go for the day just to see a bit more of Finland.
-The Airport is confusing. When you're leaving, don't panic, just keep going through all the gates it tells you to, don't think you have no time and buy any old sandwich to eat on the plane as in the next section, there is always somewhere better or you have more choice.

This is indeed an epic post so hopefully you will be inspired to visit Helsinki.


  1. Cool pics boo :) the Moomin teas we brought back are great, we had some yesterday, all the biscuits are gone :( X

  2. The Roobios (?) tea was really good too! You can have some teabags if you want boo. I still have my biscuits :) saving them x