‘Why have you come to Finland?’
If we were asked once we were asked a dozen times. Finland doesn’t expect tourists it seems. Not summer tourists. Which is a shame because it has a lot to offer the discerning traveller who can afford to pay £3.50 for a coffee.
Yes, it is eye wateringly expensive at the best of times but post the Brexit vote and the collapse of the pound on the foreign exchange markets it is a drain on the GDP of most nations, let alone a pensioner.
Still, it has many upsides, starting with its capital city Helsinki.
Plus one is the relatively low rise nature of the city scape. With the exception of the really rather stunning cathedrals, most buildings squat at under 8 floors. Scale counts and while the likes of New York or similarly vertiginous cities have their place, mostly in the appointment books of physiotherapists post holiday as they manipulate twisted necks, I rather enjoy compact cities.
Plus two is the water and there’s a lot of it. Helsinki is on the Baltic, it is fed by rivers and the calm blue creates a serene atmosphere to counterpoint the bustle of city life.
Plus three are the old market halls – the Kappahalle – all of which are like logcabin-delis with their fresh food and confection and consumables.
Helsinki, believe it or not is a Olympic city from 1952 and the Olympic Park is a feature with its statue of Paavo Nurmi still running extraordinary distances.
Beyond that the cathedrals are worth a visit. Stunning actually.
The white masterpiece is Lutheran, which surprises since I thought they abhorred ostentation. Meah, what do I know about organised religions.
They persuaded the over-tithed locals to stump up for some wondrous buildings, that’s for sure.
As ever, with the Vet in tow, we ate well. The Finns are big on slow roasted everything and licorice , which you’d think, in combination would be as appealing as marmite yogurt. But it can be done and enjoyed. Sort of.
Best of all was our hotel, which isn’t something I often say.
The Art Glo was a curio, a former school building whose interior designer had a stuffed animal fixation.
The dining room is a gem, even if the breakfasts regularly disappointed – why do continental Europeans insist on hard boiled eggs, cold meat and bread made with tar?
Is bacon so difficult?
And don’t get me onto the tea. Perlease. It’s called black tea because it’s meant to have a colour. If I wanted scented milk, I’d ask for it.
Anyhoo, while I chuntered about bloody Napoleon and his influence I studied the carvings and wondered at the nightmares the sculptor suffered from.
You can use it as a base to got to Tallinn too, which the kids did but which we’d done before.
We caught a bus to Turku, the old Swedish capital.
Quaint with an extraordinary set of wooden shacks that are all that remained following a major 19th century fire.
These house the original crafts which you can watch being pursued in traditional fashion. Worth the visit alone I’d say.
Go to Helsinki. I like a place with a weather vane that depicts a sperm fertilizing an egg. Shows character. Chutzpah. Just dont be surprised if your hosts are surprised.