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I’ve just spent three nights in Helsinki, Finland for a work meeting. This is my first time visiting continental Europe. I’ve been to England twice (for work) but never to the continent. As I prepared for the meeting I took a look at where Finland is on Google Maps. I didn’t quite appreciate how far north it is in comparison with England. I recall watching a documentary on World War 2 and learning some history of Finland and its relationship with Sweden and Russia. Helsinki is in the south of Finland, can you imagine what it would be like if the capital was in Lapland. Being summer, the sun set well after 10.30 pm and it never really got completely dark. The sun rose before 4 am so I was grateful for curtains not that I was asleep after 3.30 am. The room I was in had a view of the water and the reflection of the low sun on the water produced a lot of glare that beamed straight into my room. The weather was very similar to Canberra at the same time. Early morning was <10 °C (I note Canberra was ‘enjoying’ some subzero mornings) and the maximum temperature was about 18 °C. It was like being in Canberra with extra sunlight. That’s not a good thing. Like Canberra, it was very dry. We all know how much I dislike the weather of Canberra. I don’t think I would like a Finnish winter. The cold dry darkness would be inhospitable and the snow would depress me.
I flew to Helsinki via Melbourne and Singapore. It was a pretty long trip. Because of the flights schedules I ended up with some time on the day of my arrival and the day of my departure to walk around a bit of the Helsinki CBD.
I’d been told that Finnish cuisine has a high seafood content and that I might also be able to try some reindeer. Regular readers will know my love of salmon. I wasn’t disappointed. I had salmon at least once every day in Helsinki and also became fond of pickled herring. I love whole baked salmon. It is just so moist and full of flavour. Whole baked salmon beats baked salmon fillets hands down. It would be great to bake a whole salmon but it would be hugely expensive and even I would have trouble eating a whole salmon at once. Friends and even my mother told me about rollmops but I never saw any. The best I could do was put a bit of gherkin between two pieces of pickled herring to make my own sort of rollmop. I don’t know that I could eat a lot of pickled herring in one sitting, but a few pieces for breakfast was really good especially with a poached egg and Hollandaise sauce.
I also got to try reindeer. It was cooked very nicely (medium rare) with a juniper sauce which offset the flavour of the reindeer nicely.
I also got to try some pike-perch which I assume is more perch than pike. It has a delightfully delicate white flesh which flaked really nicely.
Apart from proteins, I also drank my fill of lingonberry and blueberry juice. Who knew egg butter is a thing!
I was expecting the coffee to be good, but it was more akin to American and Canadian coffee.
Helsinki is a really nice city. I saw no homeless people and only a few people begging for money. The streets and buildings are all clean and I get an impression that Finnish people are very neat and tidy. I’m guessing the social welfare system is second to none and unemployment is minimal.
The city is about 150 years old, so it is about one and a half times older than Canberra. The buildings, especially the larger ones are beautiful. There are also some magnificent places of worship. They are quite architecturally beautiful.
The other revelation is the taxicabs. They are so clean and the drivers are friendly, neat, clean and they do not smell of really bad body odour. They also speak excellent English and know where they are going without referring to a GPS device and relying on a customer for directions. A trip from the airport to the CBD will set you back about €30.
While in Helsinki I stayed at the Hilton Strand Helsinki. This was the recommended hotel by the meeting organisers. I found it to be an excellent option. The staff are all friendly and helpful. The breakfast buffet was very good and the restaurant served very nice meals for lunch and dinner. I did not try room service because there is an associated €10 service charge. The Wi-Fi was fast and reliable with good upload capacity if you’re backing up files to a cloud service.
One the subject of currency, euros are quaint looking notes and the coins are nice and solid. I like them more than Australian coins.
As part of the meeting we spent one night socialising at the Design Museum which was really interesting. The Finns are very proud of their designers. A significant portion of the museum is currently dedicated to the designer of the ball chair, which in my opinion is a most uncomfortable and impractical chair. This designer, viz., Eero Aarnio, also developed a pony chair for children and the bubble lamp. Again I’m not sure why these designs are awarding winning. I prefer function over form especially when it comes to posture and maximising comfort and efficiency.
On another evening, meeting participants dined in a floating restaurant which isn’t a boat. This was quite nice and gave me an opportunity to meet new people. I learnt quite a lot about Holland, Denmark and Norway. The word is Scandinavia can be seen in two weeks with good planning.
So I shot a few photographs of food and some of the things I found interesting as I walked in the CBD.
Have you been to Helsinki? What did you think? If you haven’t, would you like to visit?