Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, now a city in Finland, was originally part of Sweden, then part of Russia. After the Russian Civil War during World War 1, it became an independent country of loyalists to the Czar as the communist elements were not able to secure a stronghold with any success despite 20 years of trying. During World War II, Russia did take a certain amount of land from Finland and kept it, but since then the border has been stable.

Very Scandinavian and old-school Russian, Finns are laid back and quite introverted as a people. They are polite, but not what I would call personable. The city is intensely clean and well-kept. As winter was approaching as I arrived, there were not a lot of outdoor activities.

The Arrival

I landed at Helsinki International Airport in the morning. I had a 6 hour layover, and after the comfortable business class flight from JFK, I was well rested and had already planned on going into the city.

I proceeded through the easiest, calmest customs entry I have ever been to before searching a while for the bag storage (it's in the basement), and the lockers were credit card enabled. Awesome, because I forgot to bring Euros this trip (major lapse for me). I walked farther down the airport to the underground train station. Ticket machine takes a credit card! (Only Visa/Master Card, no Amex). I waited for a train and then 24 minutes later was in the heart of the city.

The City

It was already past business rush hour, so the city was expectedly quiet. While it was a bit chilly, it wasn't really cold for November. There were not a lot of people milling about. The open-air cafes were closed, and most regular businesses had not opened yet. I had the city to myself! I walked around the harbor and business area a little.
The City Hall
The City Hall
I was meandering, hunting European-only Pokemon (don't judge me!) and then walked down to the south shore of the city where there are some old military forts and islands in the sea. Even here with the breeze off the Baltic Sea (my first time to see and touch it), it wasn't really cold.
I then almost randomly but vaguely north, walked back into the city. Not once did I see a building over seven stories tall. I sauntered through neighborhoods and shopping districts. Everything is Neoclassical for the architectural style. I expected there to be more Russian influence, but I was wrong.
Ok, not all Neoclassical
This led me into the arts district, where there are some world-class museums and the famous Helsinki Music Hall.
Then it was time for me to make my regular pilgrimage to the Hard Rock Cafe for another set of pins for the oldest daughter. The main shopping district was understated, but it did have a massive department store with all kinds of crazy-expensive, highly-taxed clothing.
Great home store
And back to the train station and the airport to shower, change, rest and continue on the next leg of my journey to Bangkok!

Summary

The city feels old, but not ancient. Very calm, although in the summer - especially around solstice - things are a bit more active. Tourism is a big deal, prices are a tad high on shopping. Lots of Europe has a consumption tax on "non-essentials" like fashion clothing and electronics. Introverted people, at least until you get a few drinks in them, so a bar or nightclub there will be fun.

Safe, respectful, reasonable prices over all, great public transportation, easy routes to neighboring countries by land, air and sea (those are quite cost effective). Picturesque but not in your face. Also they are still very proud that for years they kicked Russia's butt in the 1939 winter war, so you'll never lose points trash-talking their neighbor to the east.



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