Last day in Helsinki – Barbecue and Island

We spent 9 day sin Helsinki and on our last day we decided to go to a another island that didn’t get good reviews on Travel Advisor.  When reading the negative one star comment we realized that the reason they didn’t like it was because it was “just a lot of walking” in the outdoors.  We hit the road running after that comment.  We didn’t need another museum, or exciting place to eat……we needed nature!  We found it.  Check out the photos below.  The island’s name was Seurasaari.

 

After a long morning walking on the island – we obviously had to have some Texas style barbecue to end the day.

 

The “B” was a great place for barbecue.  Not exactly Texas or southern barbecue, but pretty darn good.  The waiter proudly noted that the smoker came all the way from Texas, but it’s really from Tennessee. Close enough, as far as they’re concerned. — at the “B” restaurant.  Last photo is of our plates – Brisket and a Finnish-style APA on the left, pulled pork and Frisco Disco Citra IPA on the right.  All and all – a great way to end our trip to Helsinki!

Last day in Helsinki – Barbecue and Island

Old Market Hall by the Sea

Clay and I are staying at an AirBnb just north of downtown Helsinki.  We have a local market near us (Hakaniemi Market), but we much prefer the Old Market Hall by the sea even if we have to ride the Tram instead of being able to walk..  Oh, how I wish I had a market like one of these in Austin.  This is a photo of our favorite – the Old Market Hall

Food Hall

Lazy day on Wednesday, and we didn’t even leave our Airbnb until after 1:00PM. With only a light breakfast and starving – we decided to go to the Old Market Hall  and check out the famous soup stall we had read about. Only 3 soups on the daily menu and we knew before we went it would be the Bouillabaisse. We were not disappointed. After lunch we toured the Hall and I know if I lived in Helsinki I would be a regular.  Check out the photos of the food!

Old Market Hall by the Sea

Another Two Ride the Bus

Maggie and I are hardly novices to public transportation – far from it; we’re big believers and daily users, at home and when we’re on the road. We even got used to the old system in Austin, when bus service was unreliable, the routes changed numbers as they went through downtown, and many bus routes only ran every 45 minutes, even during peak times. The Austin system is much better now: breakdowns are rare, routes don’t change numbers, and the frequency of major routes is much higher.

Good mass transport systems are common in Europe, and the Scandinavians in particular have made public transportation a priority. The concept of loading everybody on the same vehicle, regardless of class, income or title fits in well with their spirit of egalitarianism. They put a lot of effort into making the system easy to use: trams or buses run often during peak hours, usually every 5-10 minutes, so unless you have a specific appointment, there’s no need to pay attention to the schedule – even if you miss a bus, the next one will be there soon. At every stop there’s an electronic sign, updated in real time, that shows when the next bus, tram or subway train will arrive. The systems run on time, almost always. Taking the tram, we’ve made some transfers from one line to another where the scheduled layover was just five or ten minutes, and never missed the connection.

The most difficult system we’ve dealt with is the one in Helsinki. Everything I’ve said about the frequency and reliability of the lines applies here, but it’s sometimes hard to figure out which line or what stop you need.

First of all, because Finland used to be part of Sweden, the stops are labeled in Finnish and Swedish – and since English is so common, a few of the major stops are also labeled in English. You might be looking for the stop that’s labeled Hakaniemi/Hagnäs, or Rautatientori/Järnvägstoget/Central Railway Station. Every bus and every tram car has a screen that flashes up the name of the next stop, but the names are flashed up in each language sequentially, so you’d better pay attention, or know the name of your stop in Finnish and Swedish.

Second, we’ve used the #2 and #3 tram line to get to a lot of places, but by riding the trams, we figured out that the #2 and #3 were really one line laid out in a figure 8, with the middle of the 8 being in front of the central train station; it was the #2 line on the upper left and lower right of the 8, and the #3 on the upper right and lower left. The line changed numbers at the top and bottom of the 8, so riding east at the bottom of the route on the #3, we looked up and the line had become the #2. Confused? It took a while to get used to, but it wasn’t so bad once we did. Except we didn’t figure it out until July 2nd, the day that the routes changed and the previous explanation no longer applied. The new #2 now stops at the park just down the hill from us, so it’s much closer. We don’t know what happens at the top and bottom of the route any more. That threw us into a tizzy for a couple of days, until we realized that we’re still using the old map.

Changes are understandable; routes need to be changed every so often to fit changes in population, and the time to do that is in the summer, when more commuters are on vacation. (A major change is in the works in Austin, so the system will be radically different when we get home.) Not a major problem to us vacationers. It’s just another problem to solve, something new to memorize. All of that keeps the brain pliable, which is a reason to travel in the first place.

Another Two Ride the Bus

Suomenlinna Island – Helsinki

You can not spend all your traveling days in the big city, so off we go to Suomenlinna Island.  Although it is a short 10 min. ferry ride from central Helsinki, it feels like you are a long way away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.   We deliberately waited until the weather prediction was perfect (60ish) and it was!  We then joined the locals on Suomenlinna Island, the site of a fort built in 1748 to defend Sweden from Russia.  Later it was captured by the Russians and used to defend against the British, then as a prison during the Finnish Civil War.  Finland’s history is pretty complicated, we’re just getting a handle on it now. All that fighting is done now, so the fort is a park and several historical museums.

Below are a few photos we took from the ferry, and then some beautiful landscape photos.  We wandered off the main path through the island, and caught beautiful sights that you would miss if you didn’t wander around.

 

There are six museums on the island, but true to our interests, we skipped several and focused on the ones of historical interest.  The Suomenlinna Museum had a short film charting the island’s past and runs every half an hour.  Well worth seeing, I might add!  It helped us get a better handle on Finish history.  Our favorite museums were the Manege of the Military Museum and the Vesikko submarine.  Below are a few photos from the museums we explored.

 

The first photo is of a uniform of the women’s auxiliary force from WWII. The Finns will tell you (repeatedly) that is NOT the Nazi swastika, it’s the Finnish swastika. Even though Finland fought on the German side in the war, the official story is that they were fighting against the Russians, not for Germany. The full story may never be known.   The submarine is a Finnish one built in the 1930s that served in WWII.  It has been fully restored, and yes it was very claustrophobic to me (Maggie).  Clay thought it must have been hot, noisy and smelly on the inside.   Only men were on board, women are too smart for that service I think.

If you find your self in Helsinki, I would recommend spending a day on the island.  We spend about 8 hrs on the island including hiking, eating at one of several cafes on the island, as well as exploring some of the museums.

Suomenlinna Island – Helsinki

Running Hot and Cold

The English language news website Finland Today reported that recently the weather in  Mäntsälä in southern Finland had “exceeded the definition of hot,” which in Finland is defined as 25ºC (77ºF). They’re not used to that. Last year, the Summer Solstice Festival in Rovaniemi in Northern Finland was interrupted by a snowstorm.

We may envy their cool summers, but they pay for it. Even as far “south” as Helsinki, in the summertime it never really gets dark at night; at 2 AM, it’s like twilight. Getting the kids to bed at a reasonable hour must be a real struggle. If it weren’t for sleep masks, Maggie and I wouldn’t have been to sleep yet. You can bet it’s the other way around in the winter. People tell us that in winter, it never gets fully light; they get a few hours of dim to moderate sunshine in the middle of the day, and then it’s night again.

Us simple folks from Austin aren’t used to this. Our weather is a different brand of crazy. In the springtime, we’re keeping a lookout for lightning, tornadoes and flash floods – sometimes on the same day – but hardly anybody worries about freezing to death at the ROT Rally in June. We define “hot” a whole different way. If we try to fry an egg on the sidewalk and it’s hard boiled by the time it hits the ground, it’s hot. In Finland, “hot” is when you leave the parka at home. In the summertime, Austinites avoid the sun at all costs. Here, people find a sunny spot and bask like lizards. They’re not so much tanning as building up a store of Vitamin D to last through the winter. While we’re shivering in our coats, they’re sending their kids out to play in shorts and T-shirts.

You have to give the Finns credit though – they’ve learned to thrive in a place where the sun barely rises all winter long. We would be suicidal; Finland is the fifth happiest country on earth. Maybe they’re nuts; maybe Finns, like Texans, have learned to brag about their bad weather; or maybe this is the weather us lily-white people are genetically adapted to, we’ve just convinced ourselves that the Sun Belt is where we belong. It’s hard to say, but they’re definitely on to something that we could learn from.

Running Hot and Cold

Food – we won’t starve after all

It is pretty obvious to most friends that Clay and I are not lacking in food.  One look could convince anyone of that noticeable fact.  We arrived in Helsinki with an impression that we should be worried about food prices.  Anyone that has been to Norway & Sweden would understand our concern.  We had read that Helsinki was expensive as well, but not nearly as outrageous in our personal opinion.

Staying at an Airbnb we were delighted to see that our host had left us a long list of suggested restaurants in our “not so touristy” suburb.  We learned from tour books and our host as well that the main meal of the day is lunch.  Lunch buffets are a tradition here, and in our local neighborhood we found the typical prices to be in the range of 8-12 Euros each.   Hurray for the Olmsteads.  We will not go hungry any time soon.

Our typical day in Helsinki consists of a breakfast at “home”, a large lunch at a local restaurant buffet, and a light dinner or late dessert at a local place or our apartment.  Today’s delightful dessert was at a place we spotted from our tram coming back from a visit to the Rock Church (covered in another paragraph).  We hopped off and were delighted to find Fika is celebrated in Finland as well as Sweden.  (Finland was once part of Sweden)  Princess cake is a Swedish specialty cake, and I am so happy that the tradition survived the Russian rule of Finland, from 1808 until 1917.  Guess the Finns like Princess Cake as well as Maggie.

Princiss Cake

Here we are, relaxing at our favorite place for coffee in the afternoon, the Early Bird. Great coffee almond croissants to die for (notice the clean plates). All served in an atmosphere that’s more comfortable than staying at home.

Helsinki-EarlyBirdCoffee

Yes, the food here is very good.  Typical Finnish meals – like in Austin, food consists of local fresh and natural ingredients.  East and West influences are everywhere!  Summer fresh foods include new potatoes, salmon, sausage, herring, strawberries, and blueberries.  Fresh fish – everywhere!  Fish soup everywhere especially salmon soup.  If coming to Helsinki check out local specialties and you can find reasonably priced food.  Trust me – you won’t go hungry if you plan ahead and avoid a lot of overpriced tourist restaurants.

Food – we won’t starve after all