Do you love the seaside? Do you love it when you wake up, you open your window, and you can hear the seagulls with their throaty, shrill calls, or if you are luckier, you’ll hear the sweet shriek of swallows? You wake up, you see the empty city streets, some old buildings (unfortunately Helsinki also has those ugly 60’s style boxes, that where built in the business boom to replace the older, apparently truly beautiful wooden apartment buildings), and when you go out to the uncrowded streets you can actually walk or bike to any direction and you ‘ll eventually hit the seaside. In the afternoons it gets a lot more crowded and you see the usual tourist buses everywhere in the centre, but the mornings are as if you were transported into the past, when everyone had access to the sea, and the city was made for strolling.
The brilliant thing about Helsinki really is its closeness to the sea; you can walk around Helsinki on the shore, and there won’t be any private beaches or gated areas. It’s a luxury which even I as a Finn began to appreciate only after living abroad. But the best part is yet to come: where to go when you’ve seen the sights, tried out the dishes and the crowd is beginning to wear on you? To the islands!
The Vallisaari in the above pic is right next to Suomenlinna which is the famous UNESCO Heritage Site. There’s nothing wrong with going to Suomenlinna, the ferry is right there on the Kauppatori Square and you can use your buspass to pay for the ride. It has a lovely Doll Museum, and a great, sawdust smelling Historical Museum. But if you want some privacy, and if you want to be adventurous, you should go further. Sure, there is also Lonna island, the mini island, between Suomenlinna and Kauppatori Square with summer jazz evening on Wednesdays and a yoga retreat in August, but Vallisaari is where you want if you want to have a picknick admiring Helsinki skyline, and lay in a flower meadow. The hobbit house below is actually an old cellar, used maybe to store food or ammunition back when Vallisaari was for military use.
And if you want to swim, enjoy the white sands, smell the pines, and find the most secluded restaurant in the middle of a forest, you should head for Pihlajasaari. It’s a good 15 mins there, from outside Café Carousel in Kaivopuisto (get the ferry tickets on board), and it is the fastest trip to an adventure you can get. Trust you to find the restaurant yourself!
More on Finland: Kalevala revisited
PS: If you want to know how life was born, and if you want to make your friends crack, get yourself Kalevala, the national epic saga of how the world was made and what then happened. The story is fascinatong, beautiful and cruel. You won’t understand a word even if you get the English version , as it is essentially a collection of poems meant to be read aloud (collectioning was done on foot by Elias Lönnrot in the 19th century) but getting the Finnish version and reading it aloud will make your friends crack, Finnish is a unique language!
Painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela: Kullervo parts for the war, the original picture by Kalevala, the Finnish national epic