Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Snow, ice and reindeer soup: A day in Helsinki

With five days in Tallinn, we had plenty of time to thoroughly explore the city and also take a day trip elsewhere. One of our already planned trips this year is to Finland, but as a result of various circumstances and a changed flight, we won't have much time in Helsinki. When we realised how easy it was to nip across from Estonia for the day, it was a done deal. We could enjoy a leisurely day strolling around the capital, and when we return this year, can really make the most of our time elsewhere in Finland.

Ferries connecting the two cities are numerous and frequent, and easily booked online through the websites of the providers. After comparing prices, we snagged a cheap return, and dragged ourselves out of bed just after 5am to walk to the ferry terminal, conveniently located less than 20 minutes away from Old Town. An easy self check in later, absolutely no passport checks involved, and we were settled in the on-board cafe for the duration of the two hour trip.

Helsinki was warmer than Tallinn (only -9!), but the wind howled along the streets and bit through my double layer of gloves. We aimed straight for a different part of the harbour, where we jumped on a much smaller ferry across to the connected islands of Suomenlinna, originally developed in the mid-18th century and full of fortress walls and sturdy cannons overlooking the city sitting just across the water. The ice was already beginning to creep out from the dock, and we bobbed past huge, thick ice sheets as we approached. The time of year meant that the museums and restaurants dotted around the islands were all closed for winter, but the desolate mood was very atmospheric, and we enjoyed wading through the thick snow to walls of icicles and shielding ourselves from the fierce wind. Luckily, the tourist information centre stays open year round, so we were able to warm through on our way back to the dock.

Returning to town, we spotted an indoor market, and with our stomachs leading the way, found ourselves crammed into a tiny stall, along with hordes of others, squashing on long benches for one of the best bowls of soup I've ever had the pleasure to taste. There were three choices, all steaming in huge pots behind the counter, accompanied by never-ending baskets of fresh, thick-cut bread on the tables. F chose the seafood option - a watery, flavoursome broth packed with fish and various crustaceans, whereas I opted for the reindeer; thick, creamy and delicious. Topped off with a slice of cake from one of the many bakery stalls, and we were set for the afternoon.

A walk through the centre eventually brought us to the national history museum, where an incredibly friendly ticket seller directed us on a route through Finland's past, from pre-historic to modern. The armoury was particularly interesting, and I was impressed with the detailed explanations, all in English.

A little more walking, and the sun was already hanging low in the sky. By the time we returned to the harbour, and to Tallinn, darkness had fallen, and we wished we'd had a little more time to see what else Helsinki has to offer. But we'll be back again soon, if only for a flying visit...


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