A drizzly and cold Helsinki

After we’d boarded the plane, the pilot announced there would be an hour’s delay. We’d missed our slot. The passengers collectively groaned. Just as we’d accepted our fate, we were moving on the runway: the pilot said we’d been given another slot for take-off. We’d soon be flying to Helsinki, the capital of Finland, and my first trip abroad since my trip to East Asia this time last year.

This was my second time in Helsinki. The first time was in the 1980s. My only memory was going to a sauna and seeing the Sibelius monument. I visited when I was interrailing around Europe. Then, I arrived by train. I stayed for two days. I found some photos of my trip then:

Our flight was three hours and Finland was two hours ahead of the UK. We landed in the afternoon. It’s always good to arrive in daylight. It helps me navigate an unknown place. At Helsinki airport, we passed through passport control quickly and headed for the train to central Helsinki. The track was deep down, and we took several escalators, flanked by huge, cavernous walls.

When we stepped onto the platform, we felt the cold. Just as spring was appearing in the UK, the Finnish winter was winding down. The temperature was about 2°C. We’d worn extra layers in anticipation.

We got our one-way ticket to the town centre from a ticket machine, which accepted contactless payments, on the platform.

Some double-decker trains passed by. Ours was a single-decker but it had, curiously, a raised level accessed via a few steps. On the plane, we had seen Finland covered in white as we got closer to Helsinki. And on the train, we could see the snow around us as we passed through the outskirts of Helsinki. It was beginning to melt in some places.

When we got to central Helsinki station, there were several exits. It wasn’t clear where the trams were. I asked a woman waiting for someone about the trams and how we paid for tickets. She told us we could pay with the HSL app, which was new to us and which I downloaded. Whilst we waited for the app to install, I learnt her parents were Indian and Finnish. She talked me through the app registration process and told us that we could use the app to buy tram, train, bus, and metro tickets. Very handy.

We learnt later that our train ticket from the airport to the central station would have been valid for the tram to our accommodation since tickets were valid for 80 minutes after purchase for the zones they covered.

The ten-minute tram ride took us close to our accommodation. As I was looking at Google Maps, someone asked us if he could help. The Finns were very friendly! He pointed out the building we were looking for was across the square. It looked grand!

After settling in, we went to the nearest supermarket. It had a broad selection and we stocked up for a few days. We dropped off the food and went to the market hall opposite our flat for dinner.

The hall was filled with restaurants, some of them shut. We picked a cosy Portuguese restaurant, where a live jazz band played gently. The restaurant was busy, and we were lucky to get a table. The server was somewhat disorganised and after some delay took our order. He returned 10 minutes later to double-check he’d taken our order correctly (he hadn’t).

Helene ordered salmon soup, and I picked the roasted bean stew with rice. Twenty minutes later, the chef came with our food and gave Helene a salmon salad instead! The chef checked with the server, who’d got the order wrong despite taking it twice. The other chef, who we could see in the open plan area, said she’d make a salmon soup, but Helene said it was fine: she’d have the salad. Whilst eating, the salmon soup arrived! The female chef smiled at us. Helene switched to the soup but now she had two meals in front of her. A bit later, the server asked if we wanted to take the salad away and he packed it up for us. Helene could have it for lunch the following day. They didn’t charge us for the extra meal.

We listened to the music in the convivial atmosphere. After the band finished, we spoke with the pianist and the drummer. I told the drummer that I admired how his drumming was impactful but not loud, especially since we were sitting right next to the band! The drummer told me you needed considerable skill to drum gently yet fill the room. We then spoke about the history of jazz and got on to Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stone’s drummer. I’d seen a documentary about Charlie Watts when he died and learnt that jazz had influenced his drumming style. It turned out that the drummer was a fan of his.

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