Helsinki 2021: Part 1




Helsinki, 10.9.2:

Finnair has a crazy clean colour scheme, damn. All greys and whites. Hope that isn’t foreshadowing the neutrality of the nightlife. I can’t believe I’m 26 now. The wrong side of my twenties. If I keep going any further this way, I might have to grow up and get a mortgage. Ugh. Still, it was a nice day yesterday. Anikka made cinnamon rolls, and the whole family chipped in on a jumper and ankle socks. I never expected anything this year – I thought I’d be alone in Hong Kong after all. I love my new jumper, though. It's very Nordic. All I need now is a fishing boat and a penchant for salted liquorice. God, I hate the salted sweets they have in Sweden. Good job I’ve escaped them. Plane’s about to take off and it’s getting bumpy. I’ll be back.


 

There we go. Nice view over Skäne whilst I’m writing this. Sweden is so flat in this part of the country, it’s nuts. The clouds are small and numerous but end abruptly a third of the way towards the horizon. I wonder what Norway looks like today. The flight is only an hour and 20 minutes, so there’s not enough time for me to do much of anything except guess. But Sweden is so damn pretty from up here that I keep getting distracted. I wish I could drive around it. Stupid epilepsy forcing me to be more eco-friendly, I say as I fly once again. I wonder what sort of things I’ll get up to in Helsinki. What if I went all the way up to the north of the country after this? Olivia kept mentioning Iceland, but it could be cool to touch the Arctic Ocean. I guess we’ll have to see how far I can stretch this trip, or how much longer I can stay in the EU before my visa runs out. I can’t imagine I have more than a month left now, which means I’ll have to prioritise. Israel would be neat, but I don’t know if they’ve changed their policy on tourists yet. I think I’d like to see Paris again before the end. I’ve met too many people from there on this trip to not use it as an excuse to return. I’m sure I’ll figure it out by Monday.

In the meantime, I have about another hour to kill. Did you know that the free drinks they offer on Finnair are water and blueberry juice? I don’t know, something about that being the only deliberate colour choice on the whole plane adds to the sleek presentation of this place. The most subtle blue you could have to compliment the greyscale. I’m probably reading into it too much because I’m bored. Blue and silver is a great combination in any case. Ravenclaw all the way. Ravenclaw would be a high-end airline for sure. Etihad maybe, are they good? Hufflepuff is Ryanair. Cheap and cheerful with broad appeal. Gryffindor would be a standard airline like British Airways or Turkish Airlines. Slytherin deals with private jets. I need to get a decent Ravenclaw scarf. Honestly, the scarves are the best thing to come out of Harry Potter.



 

The clouds are so thick over Helsinki that it looks like snow.


 

First impressions: trees. So many trees. Massive train terminal at the airport looks like it could fit a nuke or have been used for secret underground flying. Train makes me wish we invested more in public transport in UK. Voiceover man on the train has the most well-spoken English accent. Finland is wacky.


 


11.9.21

What if my sleep schedule is hard-coded to 5:30-11am after Sofia, and now I’ll never sleep at a regular time again? 11pm last night Ilona and I went to bed because we were so tired, but then nope, sod you, Alex. Check the clock; it’s 5:30, not 8:30, nope never mind it’s 11 now! Stupid body.


Now I have to catch up on all the stuff from yesterday, but it’s almost lunch and we need to go out soon, so I have no time! I hate this.


 

Oh also, if you thought you’d be able to continue being up to date, then you’re either going to be ignoring Ilona for the rest of the night or writing at 500 words a minute. Bleh. Let’s start by finishing up yesterday.

Getting off the train at a pretty train station was a nice surprise, but the signposting for the Metro was a bit confusing. Forward, or right?


“Yes,” said the sign. So which way do I go?


“Yes,” said the sign again. There’s a big banner that says “M” but there’s also a sign suggesting I go to the right, so, what, is this the right place or not?


“Yes.” Didn’t matter much in the end since I navigated the underground shopping centre to find the tube, and two minutes later I was standing outside in the middle of a road and flanked by trams. Travelling around all these cities as I have, I’m starting to think that London is in fact the weird one for not having trams.

I walked up the hill I was told to walk up to find a yellow building with the number 21 attached. I reached the top and found a cream building that said 28. On the way to the right address instead, I experienced a weird mix of smells and visuals. First, I passed a lady with an eye-patch, and two gentlemen who were quite obviously conducting a drug deal on a bench opposite a child and his dad. Secondly, I caught a whiff of woodsmoke in the otherwise surprisingly fresh air. It at once felt homely, yet quite obviously not homely, if that makes any sense. Not many drug deals at family barbeques back home. It doesn’t make much sense, does it? It made more sense in my head.



Moving on, I made it to the building, as is clear from the fact I’m writing this in Ilona’s kitchen right now, and after a quick climb up four flights of stairs, I was greeted by one of my very best friends whom I haven’t seen in far too long. I hugged Ilona hard, and we shared a quick back-and-forth before entering what I would generously call a flat. Why generously? Well, an optimist would say it is a space-saving arrangement, and efficient combination of bedroom, kitchen, wardrobe and workspace all within lunging distance. A Pessimist would consider the bathroom to be a broom cupboard, more fit for a hoover than a toilet/shower/bidet. If you close the door, then it becomes awfully claustrophobic, but somehow keeping the door open seems anti-social. The shape of the main (and only) room is roughly a pentagon. Putting my two bags down almost blocked the way back out, so limited is the space. The oven was just slightly bigger than the microwave, but the stove still managed to have twice as many burners as the massive hostel in Copenhagen did. One of the cupboards was (is) literally stuffed with teas. The decorations are necessarily limited but include three pot plants and several pictures. Around the room I spied the cards I sent as part of our letter-writing stint a few months back. All over the place are little touches that personalise what might be considered an insanely small space, whose landlord is taking the piss when it comes to rent cost. Somehow, she’s made it feel more homely than it deserves, even if I am sleeping next to the oven.


I still had much time left before I discovered where I’d be sleeping, however. For now, I was just happy to sit down for a cup of tea with Ilona and share one of the two cinnamon rolls I’d saved for us. In the meantime, she handed me her own birthday present along with a birthday card! It was absolutely wonderful! (“It was absolutely awful,” Ilona joked when I read this last part out loud); a new notebook with an imprint of a dolphin on the leather cover. It’s the same one that she’s used in the past, so she knew it was good. I love it already, she’s the best.


Hold on, quick break in the narrative: Ilona wants you all to know that the “Finnish unemployment office sucks ass!”


Is that it, anything else? “No, no, I’ve already written about it at length in my journal. It sounds much punchier in Finnish.” This is in reference to the conversation we had during the aforementioned tea session where she explained to me the intricacies of the Finnish bureaucracy. She’s been screwed over badly by them, so I hope it works out for her.


After tea, and before it got too late in the day, we decided it would be a nice idea to see some of Helsinki, as it was an awful long way to go to drink some tea otherwise. I was taken down to the harbour to be shown the choicest of landmarks. On the way, I decided it would be a good idea to invest in a jacket whilst I’m here and decided that my white jumper still stunk of the miscellaneous fluid from Copenhagen club. So, I was cold and smelly the whole way down the hill to the harbour.



I can’t say that Helsinki has much of a skyline. All the buildings are broadly the same shape and height (save the churches, which I’ll come to). However, Helsinki does have a rather impressive pile of coal just off to the side of a bridge we used to cross the seawater. A large power plant dominates the skyline in that specific direction too, which I suppose counts. Other than that, perhaps the most significant landmarks we passed were the icebreakers next to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I’d had them pointed out to me by Ilona when we were still on the opposite side of the water. At that point, they’d been juxtaposed against the old wooden sloops isolated in their own corner of the harbour. Now however, I could see all of six of them in all their majesty. Icebreakers are big chunky metal boys; and apparently, they’re almost all produced in Finland. No other country makes them, practically, according to Ilona.


Oh wow, it’s almost midnight. Ilona can’t go to sleep properly until I do since we’re sharing such a small space. I’ll finish this up tomorrow. It’s meant to be raining a lot, so maybe I’ll have more time to write than I’ll need.

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