Thursday, 12 February 2015

This is the Road to Hel...sinki

Sorry, I can't resist a song title and this is a great song by Chris Rea. And surprisingly, in all sorts of ways, Helsinki was a great trip!

First of all, I didn't know I was going until a few days before but my beloved had unwisely (or wisely as it turns out) arranged a business meeting in Helsinki on my birthday and as I am now ok to travel again, having been locked almost exclusively in Burton Leonard for the last seven months, he, sensibly and to avoid a diplomatic incident of Biblical proportions, invited me along. So, dog parked at the O'Kidneys for the duration we set off to Helsinki on my birthday eve.

We were flying Finnair from Manchester and before we were even airborne, I discovered that Finnish bears no similarity to any language I had heard before - apart from Elvish. The only word I recognised was 'shopping' which is obviously universally understood. Having left a green and brown world in Yorkshire, we arrived in a monochrome world in Helsinki. Apart from a few beautiful old buildings painted in pastel shades (think St Petersburg which is, after all, only 150 miles away) everything is white, grey or black. Snow piled high at the side of the road and stunning silver birches with their bare branches laden with snow and frost. The temperature doesn't creep above freezing this time of year.

Hotel Kamp was lovely and luxurious and fortuitously not like camping at all. Outside on the street the Finns are dressed in monochrome but inside it was very ornate and apart from the chizz of wifi being charged for (outrageous in my view) the rest was marvellously decadent.

The morning of my birthday was solo sightseeing as my beloved was talking about carbon neutral stuff with Finnish guys which, if I'm honest, is as incomprehensible in English as it would be in Finnish. So I set off to view the two cathedrals of Helsinki via the harbour. Now here's a thing... it is a port, this is the sea but people are walking on it, it doesn't smell like sea and there are no seagulls. Yes, the sea is frozen, as are the sightseeing boats, fishing boats, tall ships and cruisers. Only the ferry makes its way along a narrow tract of water to the other islands. I did consider a trip but thought it might make meeting my beloved easier if we were at least on the same landmass. Fishermen take their camping stools, fishing rods and enormous cork screws on to the ice and fish - with some success. It's all most surprising.

The two cathedrals - there's the one the Russians built which is on top of a steep hill in very un-Finnish red brick with immense amounts of gold leaf inside and the Lutheran one built by the Finns which couldn't be more different. Seemingly, the Russians built their's first (because this city has been occupied by the Russians on more than one occasion). And then the Finns found a higher hill and built their beautiful white Lutheran cathedral so that it stood above the Russian one. There's no question that the Lutheran one is far more beautiful - inside and out - and the minimalist, stark, pale blue interior lit by the glass dome and candles is stunning. I listened to an organ recital (yes me!) whilst I was in the cathedral which was unfortunately disturbed by a group of Japanese tourists who got themselves right in front of the altar, took selfies and stamped out. Off, I imagine, to take selfies of themselves in front of other landmarks to prove they had been there. Bizarre.

I, and later, we, did lots of walking, stopping for hot chocolate and general indulging ourselves. I wanted to buy a reindeer skin rug - no, he said - and although there is the biggest selection of headgear here, I did not want to buy another hat. Not least because in the marvellously well-lit hotel bathroom mirror, my hair looks fabulous. Very short, grey but nonetheless fab!

The other fascination was the love locks. I remembered seeing these on one of the bridges over the Liffey in Dublin but it is such a romantic sight. Had we been able to find a padlock shop we would have added our own. I think they clear the bridges every few years so folks would have been mighty impressed if they had seen our's with our wedding date in 1984. There were a few love lock bridges near the harbour and I couldn't help but wonder how many romantic locks would lead to marriage.

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