Helsinki, Finland

Rain, rain and more rain!!!  For many hours every day and all night the rain pours down.  This has been Helsinki.  Until now the problem with the damp weather on this trip, was more drizzle and mist which hid some of the glorious scenery that we were in the middle of.  Here it is simply nonstop downpour.  In reality the rain has stopped occasionally but never for long enough that you would go without your raincoat.  You always know that you can get soaked any second.  If you have to be camping in the rain, doing it in our camper is certainly the way to go.  We have a fireplace, reasonable size kitchen and room to move around or simply vegetate.  I feel very sorry for the people in tents or in the small campers where they typically cook and eat outside.

Helsinki survived WWII fairly well.  Although 16,000 bombs were dropped on the city only 5% actually landed on the city.  As soon as the bombers were heard the city was blacked out and bright fires were lit on all the surrounding, uninhabited islands.  It seems to have worked.

Obviously we are not in Canada/US

Mike says that the sculpture above proves that we have left North America although we are no longer officially in Scandinavia.  Technically we have left Scandinavia but we are still in the Nordic countries.  It is a distinction that often isn’t made.  We are definitely in a country were the language is quite different.  We recognized more words when we were in Denmark, Norway and Sweden than we do here.  For example, for the entire trip so far “city centre” has been recognizable, typically it was “centrum” whereas in Finland it is keskusta.  Luckily for us, it turns out that Swedish is also one of the two national languages in Finland even though it is only the primary language for about 6% of the population.  This means that the traffic signs are all in Finnish and Swedish so we can still find the city centre!  Today we took the Metro.  It was quite confusing to see stops with two totally different names.  It was a while before we realized that they were the Finnish and Swedish name of the same town.  There was no similarity in some of the names at all.

We did take the bus tour of Helsinki and toured a few of their sights.  Many tourists attractions are closed down for the season.  We went to the main art gallery.  The art was mainly Finnish painters that we didn’t know much about but there were also some painters and sculptors that I recognized.  There is a cute exhibition on where, near a well-known Finnish painting they would have a similar painting done with Disney characters.  Kind of like replacing the Mona Lisa with Donald Duck.  The locals really seemed to appreciate this as they would recognize the real painting that was being imitated whereas Mike and I had to look to find the original and compare them.  Still a nice light idea for a more traditional art gallery.  The art gallery had a small concert hall.  It just so happened that on the day of our visit there was a concert by some of the Philharmonic Orchestra and it was included in our entrance ticket so we returned for it.  The concert was largely different quartets, with a few larger groups playing  a variety of music.  Most of it we quite enjoyed.  Two pieces we would have been much happier not to have had to sit and listen to.

We went to see their Rock Church.  There is a picture of the interior at the top of this article.  It is a round church that was built right into the rock with glass above the rock and a copper domed ceiling above that.  It is very simple without any of the art work we are used to and it is lovely.  I am not sure if it was the quiet music playing in the background or what but there was an air of peace inside the church.

Kiosks are sterns of working boats

Market Square in Helsinki is a major market near where the cruise ships come in.  From what I read there are more tents and kiosks during the summer months but it was still busy while we were here.  The market is along the edge of the water and it you look closely you will notice that all the kiosks on the water side are actually sterns of boats.  Apparently once a year for one week all these boats come in and set up in the market.  We were told that there were quite a few professional fishermen with the boats.  On some of the boats there were normal tourist kiosk type operators as well.  I had read about this and I think that there must be a few boats participating in the market in the summer although this was the main week for them.  It is always nice to stumble onto something like this.

We are camping in a free, small parking lot on a small sheltered bay.  As I sit here typing this I can see multiple water ski/waterboard jumps out my window.  They have a tow line above the jumps and I am watching someone in a wetsuit in the pouring rain go waterboarding and jumping.  Better him than me.  They have been doing this every evening.

An interesting statistic that we were given on our tour was that there are more saunas in Sweden than there are cars.  This averages to one per household.  Apparently even the word sauna that we use to is from the Finnish language.

Just off the coast is Suomenlinna, an 18th-century sea fortress and nature area with centuries-old artillery and defensive walls, spread across 6 linked islands.  About 800 people still live on this island.  It is possibly the main tourist attraction here.  Mike and I wandered around (in the damp) for an afternoon.  Because we were out of season we didn’t get the official English tour which would have been nice.  We have been using that app I mentioned previously with the audio walking tour of Helsinki.  As long as it is open on your phone it monitors where you are.  As soon as you get near a site of interest it starts telling you about the history and giving you interesting facts.  We just leave our bluetooth headsets on our heads as we wander around and sometimes we start hearing a tour guide.  I think the app is great.

On our last night in Sweden we met a retired couple from Australia.  They live in their home on the Gold Coast in Australia for 3 months of the year and then rent out their house and travel, typically in their RV, for the other 9 months.  For the last few years they have been touring the US and now they have shipped their camper to Europe and are touring here.

Finland is proud of their record of women’s rights.  After New Zealand and Australia, Finland was the third nation to allow women to vote. In 1907, Finland was the first nation to allow women to vote and to run for election.  What isn’t mentioned as often is that Finland still struggles with violence against women.  According to the internet, Finland appears as the second most violent country for women in the European Union. Each year, in Finland, up to twenty women are killed by their husbands or ex-husbands.  Job discrimination and wage parity are still issues here as well.

Mike and I brought our RV and car from Stockholm to Helsinki via a ferry/cruise ship.  The ship holds 2800 people and 500+ vehicles.  It is a cruise ship but do people really take a cruise just for one or two nights?  There are half a dozen restaurants, a pub, an evening show, some trapeze artists that we missed and more.   Unlike a normal cruise, your food is not included, and they know that they have a captive audience.  I really don’t think that cruises are my type of vacation.

From Helsinki you can travel to St. Petersburg without a visa as long as you are only on the ground in St. Petersburg for a maximum of 72 hours.  I certainly couldn’t resist this although they say the weather in St. Petersburg is basically the same as in Helsinki which Mike and I are not looking forward to.  We will be on the cruise ship/ferry for one night each way and will spend three nights in St. Petersburg.  Russia is very sticky about the 72 hour limit.  Although the cruise ship is scheduled to arrive in St. Petersburg at 9am we can’t disembark until the afternoon.  We have to be back on board by lunch three days later even though the boat doesn’t leave until the evening.  This is to ensure we don’t overstay the 72 hours.  A city bus tour is included in our ticket and transportation to and from the cruise boat.  We are looking forward to seeing St. Petersburg and its spires and the Hermitage.  We are not looking forward to more rain.  There is so much to see and so little time that we have booked a personal tour guide for 2 days which will include at least 2-3 hours each day at the Hermitage.  I am going to have to get up earlier than I like to even try and fit everything in. We have also downloaded the audio walking tours for St. Petersburg onto our phones.  We have booked a Russian music night of folk music and traditional dancing followed by a dinner.  This will be after 2 ½ days of touring so we expect to be exhausted.  I thought about trying to book a ballet but I figured that if they made the theatre too dark Mike and I would fall asleep.  This show starts a little earlier and sounds more lively.  It takes place in one of the palaces.  I will let you know what it is like when we head back home (i.e. to our RV which will remain in Helsinki).

We don’t really know what we will be doing when we get back to Helsinki.  We know that we have a flight out of Hamburg to Toronto 5 weeks later.  Unless the weather changes dramatically over the next week I think that we will just leave Finland and probably take the ferry to Gdansk, Poland.  Instead of heading to Hamburg we might start our journey south and see how far we get.  The flights from one city to another in Europe are not very expensive so we can get to Hamburg quite easily.  We need to find somewhere to stay where we can securely store the RV and camper for two-three months and can catch a plane to Hamburg.  We might only get as far as Vienna or Budapest, or, if the weather stays poor we could get all the way to Croatia where we want to spend some time next year.  We have no idea but luckily it seems that there are many options.

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