Being a touristy-tourist in Helsinki

View from the rocks on Suomenlinna.
View from the rocks on Suomenlinna.

My first day in Helsinki consisted of a lot of wandering around the city centre, seeing lovely things and dodging the sun. We then got on a ferry to Suomenlinna island (which is part of the regular transport network so included on my two day ticket (!)), had a picnic, and then sat on the rocks and stuck our feet in the Baltic sea and soaked up the sun while eating fresh Finnish raspberries. Then I had beer brewed on the island and went back to Carolina’s apartment and crashed for some happy, happy holiday sleep. It was a damn fine way to start a vacation.

The second day, I decided that the city bus tour Johanna had suggested was a pretty good plan. I’ve never done a bus tour of any city before, so I thought I ought to experience one. This wasn’t the usual hop-on-hop-off city tour either, this was a pricier 2-hour cruise in an air-conditioned coach with commentary in all sorts of languages and the clientele you’d expect on such an offering. I usually like to experience a city on foot and just discover things, and you can’t really do that on any kind of bus, particularly a big fancy one. However, it was hot and we’d spent the previous day walking for quite a while, so it turned out to be a really good way to get an overview of the city while relaxing and not sweating.

I know full well that for a lot of people, this kind of tour is what travel is. It’s the only way some folks will see cities, and then they’ll go back to their hotels and probably pay too much for everything they eat and drink and not catch little details like the carvings in the Pohjola Insurance building or try lots of crazy different Finnish candy from a salmiakki kiosk. And you know, I guess that’s ok. Not everyone sees the world the same way. Not everyone wants to get into the cracks. They’re still seeing a new place and learning about it. And I think it’s worthwhile for me to see the more touristy side of travel sometimes, even if only to better relate to how other people like to get around.

So I enjoyed the tour. It made two stops at two places I really wanted to see (the Sibelius monument and the Temppeliaukion kirkko), and for the rest of the time, it took a nice leisurely drive all over town with pretty varied commentary on not just the buildings and sights, but also the culture and history and social structure of Helsinki and Finland. They covered how healthcare and school works and what sorts of living arrangements people have, and there was a good sprinkle of anecdotal detail, like how Finnish UN troops have even been known to build saunas when posted in the desert because the Finnish LOVE their saunas.

There was also, of course, a bit of marketing for the tour company tossed in. And the English track was read by what sounded like a very polite older British gentleman. They were definitely playing to their core audience. Some of the phrasing and light humour was pretty amusing at times, mostly because I knew I was NOT the type of person it was aimed at.

Overall, it was a nice way to get out of the abnormal Nordic heatwave and do some leisure learning. Carolina came with me and she said even she learned some things she didn’t know about a place she’s lived all her life. And later in the day, after a trip up the Olympic Stadium tower, I did my more usual tour of the beers (and whisky!) of Finland with the help of Johanna and her work friends Maria and Esko, who steered me to all sorts of very good places, nearly got locked in a legendary Finnish rock club, and taught me a useful yet slightly ridiculous Finnish expression to use after an excellent meal. (Stay tuned, I will get it in writing.)

Eating and drinking
Restaurant Suomenlinnan Panimo
Feltbay Bar
Ravintola Ilves

On the kindle
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

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