After getting the morning train from Roskilde, Denmark, we managed to grab an hour in Copenhagen before our flight to Helsinki. Another smash and grab, like our lunchtime in Hamburg, only this time the weather smiled on our travels.
Not quite believing our luck with the weather after the last few days we had, the four of us walked down the busy laneway-like streets off the Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square) that Mads back in Roskilde had warned us not to bother with since, according to him, with all of their brand names and tourist traps you could be anywhere. I suppose he was right, but they sure didn’t look like anywhere in Australia, or even Asia, to us, so they suited us fine. In any case, we only had an hour before we had to get back to the train station, and then the airport – not nearly enough time to get to the trendy neighborhoods like Vesterbro and Nørrebro that the tourist centre was promoting heavily with all its ‘Know your ‘bro‘ stuff.
During the month I Interrailled around Europe I came to Copenhagen and headed straight for the hippie, druggy quarter of Christiania because that was the cool thing to do, I guess. Now I go straight to the places people like me, people with teenagers and an intermittently sore back, go to. Like Lagkagehuset, the pastry shop on the main tourist strip. You can get gooey Kanelsnegl there, which are Danish pastries (what else?) with swirls of iced sugar up top. I’m much happier now.
While researching this trip back at home, I was surprised to find that Finland isn’t actually considered part of Scandinavia – that honour is only extended to the troika of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Never knew that. Which meant our flight to Helsinki after lunch took us out of Scandinavia, after all of three days. We fished the baggie of euros out of our backpack again.
Helsinki’s Central train station, one of the BBC’s most beautiful railway stations in the world, was hewn out of Finnish red granite in the Art Nouveau style. It has a splendid copper-topped clock tower and a signature pair of stern-faced giants on either side of the entrance portentously holding globe lights, which gives the traveler the impression they’ve just arrived into quite a serious city. We weren’t going to be here long enough to get serious about it, sadly – just two nights and we’d be gone.
This city of clanging tram bells and squawking seagulls seems to be a dual-language place, which caused us great confusion on arrival. The street we were looking for was called either Errikinkatu or Eriksgatan depending on whether you were consulting Google Maps or the Airbnb app. The actual street signage was in both Swedish and Finnish. The information maps you see around the city centre all say ‘Olet tässä – Du är här – You are here’, which is a neat indication of how similar Swedish (the middle bit) is to English, and how different Finnish is.
Once we’d settled in, we set up our portable speaker in our apartment and kept the greatest hits of Jean Sibelius on the turntable, so to speak, just to get us in the mood. I’ve found that there’s a mismatch in a lot of places you end up in as a tourist – restaurants, tourist offices, shops – between the musical heritage of the country or city you want to see and hear and the music the people who work there have chosen to play the day you walk in. (One exception has been Mexico, which seemed to be more comfortable in its own musical skin, so to speak.) That’s perfectly understandable; when I ran the gallery in Clifden with my brother I’m sure the American tourists who paid good money to come to Ireland were appalled to hear Brazilian Tropicalia or Thelonius Monk coming out of our stereo. We were just never into, ourselves, what our punters probably expected to hear. Anyway, we figure that if we want to hear Finnish music while in Finland, at least music that’s particular to Finland, not a bunch of whiny Finnish rappers keepin’ it real, then we’re probably going to have to play it ourselves.
It was all over too soon, but our fondest memories of Helsinki are of strolling around the impressive Senate Square, with its even more impressive alabaster-white, green-domed cathedral on top, all the while dodging seagulls and Asian tourist groups. Near there, the harbour area was fun, but very crowded. The thing about Helsinki, though, is that it quietens down very quickly just a few streets from there.
I’d tried a few local delicacies in Denmark – the closest I got here was the lohikeitto (salmon soup) I had in the Hietadahti Market Hall, which I had with an Original Lapland Lager. It felt familiar, like I could have been in the Renvyle Inn.
On our last morning, we packed up our speaker and suitcases and made our way back to the train station, past the giants, and climbed up into the bullet-like ‘Adagio’ train that would take us out of the EU, along the Gulf of Finland, and over the border into Russia. I’d keep my eye out for reindeer along the way. The only specimen I’d seen thus far was on my pizza at Pizzabar Broo the night we arrived in Helsinki.