Gap Year Days 334 – 336
As we were looking at the flights and accomodation we had booked for Helsinki a couple of days before we travelled there we noticed a discrepancy. The flight was meant to be on the 12th of March, but for some reason the paperwork was saying the 13th! How was that possible?? The flights were with Norwegian, so there was little to no chance that we would be able to change the flights. Instead we booked an extra night of accomodation in Stockholm and flew to Helsinki a day late. This would only give us one full day in the city, and we would have to make the most of it!
Of course, once things start to go wrong the tend to snowball. We had emailed our accommodation letting them know that we would be arriving a day late, but even though we could see the email in our sent items, they did not receive it. They had tried to call us, but I didn’t have that SIM card in my phone at the time, so of course they didn’t get hold of us. When we didn’t show, they cancelled our booking! Fair enough, I would have done the same, but it meant that when we did turn up, they were not expecting us!
Some quick reorganising and the apartment people found a room for us. It wasn’t exactly what we had booked, but at least we had a roof over our heads. And best of all, sitting in the corner of the bathroom was one of those amazing machines that wash clothes! Yes, I was getting excited over a washing machine again!
I was also excited to have our own kitchen, so we put on a load of washing and hit the supermarket for afternoon tea and breakfast supplies. I wanted to cook dinner in too, but Simon had already worked out there was a Hard Rock Cafe in Helsinki, and it was only about 900m away. We were walking there for dinner, even if it was minus 5 out!
As we went out the next morning it was bitterly cold. There was a cold wind that went straight through me, even with all my layers on. Simon had put together an itinerary of mostly museums because it really was too cold to be outside for more than about 20-30 minutes at a time.
Our first stop was the natural history museum, Luomus. We unfortunately timed our arrival with the visits of hundreds of school kids of all ages on excursions. At first I was a bit disappointed with the lack of English signs (we had been so spoilt in Norway and Sweden) but I saw a sign encouraging the use of the free wifi to download an audioguide in various languages. From then on we happily wandered amongst the bones and stuffed animals to learn about the history of Finland and what animals they have here today. There was also a section focusing on conservation and extinction.
We ended up spending a good two hours there, and as we left, I realised I had forgotten my phone cord to recharge it on the go. Since my phone was now gps, camera, and translator, and I had just been using it for two hours as an audioguide, I knew I would not get through a whole day without recharging. We therefore popped back to our apartment, grabbing lunch while we were there.
On the way to our next museum we took a small detour to Temppeliaukio Church, otherwise known as the Rock Church. The church was built in the 1960s and has been half carved out of the bedrock. From outside it looks more like a bomb shelter, but once inside it is light and airy. I was really surprised. I normally like how churchs/temples/mosques look, but this one had a lovely feel to it too. I was really glad we stopped past for a quick look.
We ventured out again, and the cold immediately hit me. It was so cold that as soon as I took my gloves off to photograph the front of the church, my fingers were immediately in pain. Luckily it wasn’t far to the next museum, the National Museum of Finland.
Now I have to say Finland do museums well. This could have been another boring look-at-everything-through-glass museum, but it wasn’t. Sure there were some parts like that, but many other areas were interactive, or the displays moved or there was video and sound. From the moment we walked in we knew it would be different, as the bullet holes in the front doors are not the usual museum welcome.
In a couple of places there were virtual reality goggles to put on and look around with, in another a photo booth took your photo and put it on a wall with all the presidents of Finland – which, incidentally, also weren’t photos, but digital images. Simon had to second guess himself as he was sure the eyes were following him. They actually were!
I also liked that they didn’t only focus on history, there were displays right up to 2017. The financial issues of the 1990s weren’t left out either. There were also some uniquely Finnish areas, with sauna seating set up to watch a video on the tradition of saunas for the local people.
As we left the museum I decided I needed to put on my big girl pants and brave the weather for a little longer. We went for a walk around the area. Mostly it ended up being time to play in the snow – we still haven’t lost our fascination! We did walk past a few other places we thought might be worth a visit, but nothing appealed to us. When I couldn’t cope any longer, we retreated to a nearby coffee shop to warm up and ponder our next move.
As it was nearing 5pm, we inevitably discussed dinner. We had previously noted down a few traditional Finnish restaurants, and I went through looking where each was on the list in comparison to our apartment and where we were. We eventually decided on Konstan Möljä, which had an all you can eat buffet for €20 every night. This was the perfect way to be able to try a little bit of lots of different traditional foods. Except, once we had walked all the way there in deteriorating weather, this night they were fully booked out for a private function!
Now it was after six, freezing cold and I had no wifi to search for an alternative place, so we made for the supermarket near our apartment and bought the makings of a delicious pasta dish, with some salted caramel cheesecakes for dessert!
In the morning we had an early check out, and went to a nearby coffee shop to waste some time before heading to the ferry terminal to meet our ride across the sea. The sun was shining today, and as always when there is snow, ice and blue skies, I was blown away by how pretty everything was.
Even on the ferry trip itself, I was mesmorized by the ice floating by in the sea. The areas that were covered in small pieces of ice reminded me of times I have seen huge amounts of jellyfish floating around in the Port River at home. The bigger ice sheets made us imagine the next one could have a polar bear sitting on it. I’m sure most people on the boat barely noticed the ice as it is just common place for them, but I had a great couple of hours.
Not only was the ice interesting, but this ferry was huge! Where we happened to sit was actually a Burger King! Yes, there was a Burger King on the ferry! There was also a whole shopping centre and supermarket. This is a whole different level of ferry to the ones that I am most familiar with – those that go back and forth across Sydney Harbour!
Our visit to Helsinki was so short and sweet. The weather didn’t help. Or should I say my inability to cope with the weather didn’t help! As with all the other Scandinavian countries, I really want to come back here, but probably in summer.
Wifi was easy to come by in the airport and ferry terminal, restaurants and our apartment – even the Temppeliaukio Church had free wifi. I was surprised to find the National Museum of Finland did not have wifi, as every other Scandinavian museum or attraction we had been to did have it. It wasn’t as issue, just surprising. Wifi everywhere was speedy and reliable.
While definitely cheaper than Norway and Sweden, this is still not exactly a budget location. Meals at restaurants were around €20 each ($32AUD/$25USD) and a latte was around €4 ($6.30AUD/$5USD). Supermarkets were getting a bit cheaper too, and I recommend this for meals if you have access to a kitchen.
Single trip tickes on the trains, trams and buses cost us €5 each time we used them. Day passes were available at the ticket machine in the airport, but since we knew we would not be needing much publc transport we didn’t purchase them. The prices looked reasonable though from €9 for one day to €36 for seven days.
Citykoti Downtown Apartments
Office: Malminkatu 38, Eteläinen Suurpiiri, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
€50 ($79AUD/$62USD) per night for studio apartment
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.