I only decided to make the trip to Helsinki on a whim. Before going to Tallinn I had looked into the possibility of making the trip, but all the travel sites I looked at said that summer was the best time to make the crossing from Estonia, when I fast hydrofoil completes the journey in just 90 minutes. These craft cannot operate during the winter months, as they run the risk of running into ice flows with potentially disastrous results! I looked on the Viking Lines website and saw that conventional ferries take 3 hours to make the crossing, with a return ticket costing around £20. I decided to forget this idea, but before abandoning it completely, looked at a couple of websites describing the beer scene in Helsinki.
|Pack-ice on the approach to the Finnish coast|
I walked the other way into the by now empty departure hall and made a casual enquiry at the Viking Line booking office. I was surprised to learn that I could buy a return day ticket to Helsinki for the next day sailing at a cost of just EEK200 (around £12). The only hitch was that it involved catching the first sailing of the day out of Tallinn and the last one back from Helsinki. I had originally planed to visit Tartu, Estonia's second city and the home of the A. Le Coq Brewery, but had done little to arrange this. I therefore opted for the crossing to the Finnish capital instead, paid my money and checked what time I would need to be down at the port.
|Forts guarding the ice-bound approach to Helsinki harbour|
I had an early start the following morning; I had to check in at the port by 7.15am in order to make the 8 o'clock sailing. It had snowed quite heavily during the night, but even as I made my way on foot down to the harbour, there were gangs of people out clearing snow from the pavements. The buses and trams were all running and were full of people off to work. There were numerous gritters out and about all helping to keep the roads clear. In short there was none of the travel chaos that ensues in this country whenever we get a few snowflakes!
|Ferry terminal encased in ice|
For a capital city Helsinki is not especially large. On the contrary the city is quite compact and is easily covered on foot. Once I had left the ferry terminal it didn’t take me long to reach the centre, but on the way I paused for a while to take a look at Helsinki’s main cathedral. White-painted and built in an ornate Russian style, it was surprisingly quite plainly decorated on the inside.
I didn’t stay long and taking care to negotiate the steep, snow-covered steps leading back down to street level, I continued my journey into central Helsinki. On the way I passed some rather non-descript looking government buildings, before passing the city’s main railway station. I stopped to withdraw some Euros from an ATM, and then found a café just across from the side of the station. I popped inside for a welcome cup of coffee, and an even more welcome free refill. It was also good to be out of the cold for a while.
|Black Door pub, Helsinki|
I tried a couple of halves, well 25cl actually. At €3.50 each they were proof of the high price of liquor in Finland. The first beer as a dark, porter-style beer, whilst he second was a copper-red coloured Märzen. Both were good, but I decided not to stay for a third. Instead I set off to try and find the “One Pint Pub”, as mentioned in the Scoopergen article.
I trudged for what seemed like ages through thick snow and although the bright sunshine was most welcome, it couldn’t detract from the fact that it was bitterly cold. I got lost several times and took a couple of wrong turnings, but eventually found the pub in the middle of low-rise housing estate, close to the city’s commercial harbour. It was a good job the pub was open as I was bursting for a leak; the beer I’d consumed earlier combined with the arctic temperatures had proved a disastrous combination.
|Interior- Black Door|
Afterwards I decided to walk up to Finlandia Hall, but the way was blocked by various building works. On the way back I paused for a look at the statue of the Finnish wartime leader, Field Marshall Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, who masterminded the defence of Finland following the invasion by the Soviet Union during the Winter War of 1939 – 1940.
Mannerheim was a charismatic figure who successfully managed to keep both Hitler and Stalin at arms length, thereby avoiding Finland being drawn directly into the Second World War, although the Finns did fight against the Soviets between 1941 and 1944 in a bid to recover territory lost in the earlier conflict. The statue of him on horseback, located on Helsinki's Mannerheimintie, is a fitting tribute to a skilled general and clever politician who in 2004 was voted the greatest Finnish person of all time.
|Field Marshall Mannerheim|
I decided to make my way back to the ferry terminal, where I knew it would be warm. There was also a café there. Other passengers began arriving in dribs and drabs and by the time the ship had docked and was ready to board, there was quite a crowd.
The return voyage had none of the spectacular views of the outward journey. Our ship slipped out of Helsinki harbour virtually un-noticed, and soon we were back in the open waters of the Baltic. I treated myself to a meal in the restaurant on the way back, and afterwards sat in one of the comfortable chairs on the aft-deck and read my book. The sea was calm and the voyage uneventful and it wasn’t that long befog we could see the lights on the Estonian coast twinkling in the distance.
We docked at Tallinn shortly before midnight. Fortunately there was a bus waiting at the docks to take passengers back into the city centre. The driver kindly dropped me right outside my hotel and soon I was back in the warm and snuggled up in my nice warm bed.
So ended my first and so far, only trip to Finland, and its capital Helsinki. It had been a long day, but one packed with many memorable sights and pleasant memories. Next time though, I will make sure I visit in summer!