Friday, March 13, 2015

A weekend in Helsinki, Finland

I went to Helsinki for the weekend of March 5-8, 2018. It was the first time traveling on my own, and while I realized that it's nice to be able to plan everything and get to do what you want and not accommodate other people, by the end of the trip, I was ready to be back in Uppsala with my friends. There are a lot of places in the world that I would not feel comfortable traveling to by myself, but within Scandinavia it is perfectly safe and fine to do so.

My flight was Thursday at 6:40 AM so I woke up early and took the bus to the airport. The flight is only an hour long, but because of the time change it is actually two hours. I couldn't check in to my hostel until 16:00 and I got to the city center at 10 am, so I walked around the city. It was cold, but sunny. I found the Helsinki Cathedral, bathed in sunlight. It was as beautiful as all the pictures of it. I sat on the steps and took in the beauty of it, the sun, and the view. I walked across the street to Cafe Engel where I ate the prettiest breakfast of my life, and sat and read a book for a few hours. 

I also found the Uspenski Cathedral, which is the Russian Orthodox church, as compared to Lutheran. Both churches were beautiful, but I preferred the white one. I also went to St. Henry's church and walked past the Dutch church, but the inside was closed. I walked through a couple of the parks, including the Kaivopuisto park. It was along the water, across from the sea fortress, and it was beautiful. I went there during sunset and watched little kids and people climb on the rocks. I sat on the dock and took it all in. It was when I was there that I was happiest in Helsinki. 

I stayed in a hostel in an Olympic Stadium about a 30 minute walk from central station called the Stadion Hostel. This was my first time staying in a hostel, and I didn't mind it, although it's nicer to have your own room. It's with Hostelling International, which is a pretty reputable hostel chain around Europe. 

On day 2, I woke up early with hopes of going to the sea fortress, but I missed the ferry and then didn't have cash to buy a ticket for the next one. I looked around at the market square which sells food and clothes every day, and there are boats that double as restaurants with lunch specials. I walked to the Kallio district, where I went to the last wood burning sauna in Finland. If you google the place, you get pictures of men in towels sitting outside smoking. That was the very image I arrived too. Sauna is perfectly normal thing for Finns, but I didn't see much point in it. You're sitting naked in a hot room, when you can't bear it you go and rinse off, and repeat. I also went to the Kallio church, which I think was my favorite of them all. It's a solemn gray building, but if you go you can listen to the organ music of the composer Sibelius. 

I ate dinner at Cella's that serves traditional Finnish food. I ordered an appetizer, salmon soup, and strawberry cider. Dinner is the most expensive meal, always in any Scandinavian country, but  I got a lot for my money at this place and would recommend it. It was a nice respite from the rain, since it rained all day. I loved the salmon soup and am going to see if I can find a recipe for it. 

On Day 3, I made it to the sea fortress, Seaumonlinnea. It's a 20 minute ferry ride to the island, but it was my favorite day in Helsinki. I climbed on old rocks and took a billion photos of the sun over the water. I also tripped on a rock and sprained my foot, which was bad. I went to the King's Gate and the cannons and to the naval academy and learned about the history in the museum. I spent the whole day out there. 

I was supposed to leave early in the morning on Sunday. I didn't, because of the Norwegian airline strikes. So I went and saw the Sibelius monument which is made out of steel and has a beautiful design on it, and to the Church of the Rock, which is literally a church made out of rock. In my opinion, it was the least impressive church I saw, despite its architectural beauty. I hung out in a coffee shop and read my book. Then I stayed in a hotel at the airport that the airline paid for. Even though all I wanted was to go home, I made the best of it and ate Finnish chocolate, drank tea, and took a bath.

The next morning I went home to Uppsala. 

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