23rd October 2021
Flew with Finnair. Landed at Helsinki around 12 40. Immigration checks were painless. By an hour we were out of the airport and on the train towards Helsinki central station. From there we got the tram number 4 to Katajonaka. Eurohostel was just a few steps across the tram stop. A no frills, clean hostel room with shared bathrooms on each floor and kitchens on two of them, this was a reasonable budget option for Helsinki.
We started exploring around 3 pm. Started with coffee, sandwiches, and cakes at Signora Delizia, a tiny café with a few sofas and lots of posters near the harbour and its many old red warehouses (many of which are restaurants now). The evening was clear and dry. We strolled to the market-place and through its market hall (we would see many of these in the days to come). We spent the rest of the evening exploring the architecture of the Krununhaka and Katajonaka areas. The buildings are ornate and heavy with art nouveau style. We walked past the Bank of Finland, House of the Estates, Kansallisarkisto (the national archives of Finland) Senate square with its Government palace. We looked into the brilliant white Helsinki Cathedral and the walked around the brick red and gold domed Russian Orthodox Upenski Cathedral. We watched sunset over the harbour, colours lighting up the buildings which light it and the Helsinki Wheel.
Dinner at Everest, a Nepali restaurant not far from the hostel was of poppadoms, momo, tandoori rotis, rice, chicken curry, yoghurt and salad.
The weather forecast was good, so we decided to go for a day trip out of Helsinki to the old capital town of Porvoo and planned to be back by late afternoon to take the ferry to Suomenlinna.
The bus number 848 takes one to Porvoo. We took our now familiar tram number 4 to the Hesperia Park stop where we got the 848. We bought tickets on the bus, around 10 euros per way I seem to remember. There was time to walk around the park before the bus arrived. The area has several buildings- the Finlandia Hall, the national library, the national museum of Finland, and the Parliament House. There is a lake in the park which was bordered by trees with autumn colours.
Arriving at Porvoo, the bus station had a small kiosk with free walking maps which showed a very straightforward circular walking route through the main scenic points. Porvoo cathedral, Porvoo town hall, the red warehouses which line the river, Porvoo ‘castle’, and the hills where older monuments once stood. Multicoloured wooden Scandic houses fill the small town. One notable building is the yellow ochre Runeberg’s home museum, past home of Finland’s national poet JL Runeberg.
We found a cosy looking coffee and cake shop where we stopped for the local delicacies of butter buns and cinnamon rolls with hot chocolate, before we took the bus back to Helsinki around 1:35.
Back at the marketplace we bought fish and chips for lunch before boarding the ferry to Suomenlinna, the island fortress. Suomenlinna is an interesting place, and easy to walk around by oneself. Here again we picked up a map at the information centre.
Back at Helsinki that evening, we decided to check out the West Terminal and the process for boarding, in advance of the next day.
Dinner was at Blinit, a Russian restaurant, with dumplings, soup and blini (pancakes) with fish roe and sour cream.
Tram number 4 into the centre and then change over to tram number 7 towards West Terminal. It was dark when the ship set off, the Helsinki city lights twinkling on the horizon. We sailed with Tallink Silja line which seemed to provide the best times for sailing at a reasonable price. We had booked online with the Direct Ferries website which was very convenient. We got a booking number with a PIN, not a ticket as such. It was like taking out a boarding pass with a PNR number at the ferry terminal. The Viking line would have been cheaper and even closer to our accommodation but the timings were not convenient. There is a lot to see in Tallinn and we took the timings which gave us full daylight hours.
We dozed off in the café for two hours before the day lightened, and Tallinn started coming into view.
This must be the easiest border crossing that we have gone through. We walked into Tallinn and in 15 minutes were in the old town centre, map in hand.
We wandered around taking in the gorgeous building and the vibes in the main Town Hall Square before joining a Free Walking tour at 11 00 am. We had a lovely guide who gave us both the history and her personal insights. Her grandmother was in a Siberian prison at one stage. Her father had fought in WW1 against the Russians and even now refuses to speak Russian. Catherine’s own mother is Russian though, she mentioned. There remain a handful of Russian speakers in the tiny country with its compact capital. We heard about Estonia’s two independence days- one from Sweden and the other from Russians. How their language was more akin to Hungarians rather than Latvian. Catherine also guided us to the two viewpoints in the town centre which give a fantastic vantage point over the old town centre- picture postcard.
Again, following Catherine’s advice and our map, we walked to the covered market which is near the railway station and found Uzbek food- soup and pilaf.
Back in the old town again, we walked through the remaining highlights marking out on the map. We finished with coffee with goat cheese puff and yoghurt pastry at Samsa Family Bakers. Both the lunch and coffee places checked our Covid passes before letting us in, just the paper records. They did not scan any QR codes.
Then we walked to Koddriogi palace before taking the ferry back to Helsinki. This time our documents were checked thoroughly.
We had bought bread and smoked salmon at a supermarket to have in the kitchen this night as we knew that we were going to be late and tired. We booked a slot in Loyly for the next day for a sauna experience.
This would be one of our loveliest days in the trip, a bit paradoxical- our best day in a Helsinki trip was a day out in Estonia! But apparently this is a very Helsinki thing to do, a day trip to Tallinn. The spires of the old town stand out in memory, and the onion ring domes on the gorgeous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
26th October 2021
This day we decided to explore Helsinki as widely as we could on a day ticket on trams and buses.
Kampii and the Church of Silence, the Amos Rex and Kampii Mall.
Then to Frierickgarten, Church in the Rock.
Tram2/1 to Toolo, Sibelius monument, park and Regetta Café with its deep red wood structure, greedy sparrows. More coffee, with cinnamon buns and almond croissant
Bus 25 back to Kampii and then the 21 to Lautasaari. Buts 104 to Gadvik, 111 to Mattby and then the Metro to Hagnas. Lunch in the market (Hakeneimi Saluhall) meat and rice pastry and cinnamon roll and coffee. All through our journeys (and the bus trip to Porvoo) we were struck at the amount of wooded areas, with tall pine trees. In the right time of autumn, Finland would be a beautiful rusty gold. We had missed it by a few weeks, but hints of the colours remained.
Then tram C6 to the design district and a free entry to the Design museum after 4 pm on Tuesdays.
Out by 5 pm and tram number 5 via Hesperia park to Kampii. We had another stroll before we returned around the national Library, music hall, Finlandia, museum, and parliament. Coffee at Espresso House with chocolate muffins before we boarded the tram number 6 to Loyly.
Loyly stands out even as you get off the tram, a modern wooden structure with intersecting arches. We checked in and were handed towels, soap and shampoo and keys to a locker. My husband and I entered separate shower and change areas for men and women and emerged in the common area after changing.
There are two sauna rooms you can enter in turns. A ramp outside leads right into the Baltic sea. It was dark and the waves were choppy. The water was freezing but I decided to take the famous dip that so many reviews had talked about. I am not a strong swimmer and I must say that it was more than slightly frightening as I took the rungs down to the sea and dipped my head under the water. The sea swirled around in strong currents but I held on to the rails, not letting go at all. After that first dip, and back to the sauna, it became an addictive routine. A few minutes in the sauna, lounging on the benches, someone swishing a few ladles of water on to the bucket of coals as the steam tingled on the skin and then back to the sea for a quick dip and then repeat….
For ones not keen on the sea, there are cooling showers in the common area and one cold bucket which gives a mighty splash when pulled. Not bad at all…..
Back to Lautasaari and then the tram number 4 back to Katajonaka, with dinner at Everest again.
With one more full day left in Helsinki, we filled in our UK passenger locator forms and planned a trip to Turku the day after.
27th October 2021
We took the bus at 10:15 am from Kampii to Turku where we saw the cathedral and the Castle. Wish we had more time in the castle. We could have spent half a day there easily but had to rush in around 2 hours.
Back in Helsinki centre we had burgers at ‘Social Burger Point’, (Oakwood and Keto burgers) for our last dinner.
28th October 2021
Final day. We had a slow leisurely beginning and the day turned out to be brilliantly sunny to begin with. We walked around market halls, found artisan shops and a second-hand market. We bought a kuska and Moomin cups for souvenirs. I got a miniature bucket and ladle from the second hand shop. We had a Finnish buffet at Konsta Moolja (salad, pea and ham soup, chicken, fish and egg salad, finished with coffee and pancakes with cranberry sauce) and then it was a smooth journey back to the airport for our evening flight.