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Long route home Our trip all the way home, trying to catch no planes and stay on the ground like civilised people. It's taking us via India all the way to Europe from Japan, the furthest of the Far East...

To Hell and back

FINLAND | Sunday, 28 November 2010 | Views [779]

[Dear patient and dedicated readers, I am sorry. Oli was left alone  in Helsinki and this is what happened. Personally, I think a pun fest is preferable to jumping in ice pools, joining the Hells Angels or sustaining headbang related whiplash, you may or may not agree. Em]

It's official!  Hell(sinki) has frozen over.  As we step off our luxurious ferry, we're walking across compacted snow.  There's a wonderfully chocolate-box quality to Helsinki in this weather.  We've had a lovely cruise across the Baltic, playing cards (aces high), sipping cocktails and watching a dance show.  A taster of Finland is given by the dancers incorporating Children Of Bodum into their act.  Even the night rain is a treat - reminding us how lucky we are to be inside when it's so cold outside.  Helsinki is small and very well organised so a ten-minute stroll brings us to the hotel.  Not our hotel, mind, but Mum's.  It's a bit of a surprise, as they've come out to meet us in Finland.  It's great to see her and David, and makes for a lovely start for our return to Europe.  

Of course, culture isn't finn on the ground and there's plenty in the way of museums.  Ateneum functions as a national gallery but it's absurdly expensive and they aren't even displaying Rodin.  Kiiasma is much the better bet, showcasing both modern Nordic-Baltic art and a touring YBA set.  The star attraction is the building itself, a dazzling wraparound curve that allows unfettered access for all.  That's typical of Finnish building - no vulgar displays of power or architecture of aggression.  Even the ministry of defence is open and free.  This philosophy carries even to the cathedrals.  They might have faith no more but the finns have elegant places of worship still to worship the lordi.  The deco-esque Olympic stadium is elegant and austere still, with its tall tower stretching up into the sky.  Deco is a key reason for Mum visiting Helsinki and we all stroll around for as long as we can manage in the bitter cold, pointing at one nice building after another.  The Sibelius monument is elegant and perfectly set, as is the nearby Church in the Rock.  We're especially delighted to find that the latter has a free concert rehearsal going on so we stop and listen for a while until our toes have regained feeling.

With the cold november rain and iced earth, it's really the weather for sitting inside and ruminating upon things rather than stomping about from place to place which suits us very well indeed.  With so much to catch up on we've got lots to talk about over many pots of coffee and half-litres of beer.  Like all things in Finland, eating out is very expensive but you get what you pay for with generous portions of tasty if rather basic fare.  The highlight was Troika, a charming little cottage of a restaurant serving exceptional Russian food.  Even the water's good, slightly metallic,a strange taste but otherwise OK, certainly not poison.  Bakeries served up caraway and cardomom flavoured bread products, to a Finn t'roll must taste that way or it's no good.  Trams appear to be free, simply stroll on and no-one checks.  It's not at all clear whether we're breaking the law or not.

England might be the home of Heavy Metal but nowhere is the genre celebrated more than Helsinki.  Even chavesque bars are banging out speed metal and there's a plethora of metal bars.  Rock and metal seem to have transcended from alternative to the mainstream.  A succession of bars and people is a fine way to drink the night away.  In true Nordic style everyone is both friendly and slightly deranged.  It's absolute mayhem for much of the night, especially at Bar PKRL (a naughty word in Suomi).  Everyone speaks English with aplomb, although one extremely drunk girl is convinced that I can speak Suomi and keeps trying to test me.  Her twisted sister blew me a kiss but she was a real iron maiden and so I had to breakout of there.  It's really quite strange to be in late bars where half the people are dressed up properly and the other half are in sensible sweaters.  In the mornings it feels like the angel of death has come for me but a few painkillers later and I've recharged my battery.  My Finnfriend Michael looked after me well the first time I was here so it's nice to see him again.  His roots are from Karelia, which is really cold - he told me about when your eyelashes freeze together at -40!  

The hostel is very well organised, there's a system of a down payment before logging onto the internet but it turns out to be non-existent in reality.  The rooms are well equipped with ac/dc power points.  Getting the laundry done is about the only hard thing to do.  The dryer seems to be permanently out of order so after a quick rage against the machine and without the right tool from Halfords it's time to give up, let the hammer fall from our hands and hang up the clothes in the room.

Well, how many metal/rock puns can you count?  There's a russian doll for the winner!


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