What shall we do in Helsinki?
Making our way back home from the Baltics after a week in Aland, a visit to Moominworld and a stumble around Turku involved changing ferries in Helsinki. Seemed a great opportunity to do a little sightseeing in the Finnish capital. At least that’s what we thought, until we checked the ferry times and location of the ferry terminal.
A whole day to explore..
“What shall we do in Helstinky?”
“What do you want to do?”
We were excited about our day ahead in the Finnish capital. En route from Mariehamn to Rostock in Germany, we had a full eight hours ahead of us in this modern Scandanavian city. We savoured a day without pedalling, and the chance to take in sights, eat some good food and see some of the cultural gems that a week on the islands couldn’t offer. We all had ideas about where we wanted to go. Matt had his eye on the science museum, Stuart suggested modern art. Hannah was interested in whichever option had the shortest cycle ride attached. Cameron thought an open top bus followed by some fast food might be fun, and I liked the idea of just hanging out where it was all happening.
Landing in the fish market
Our arrival in Helsinki was glorious, with the ferry landing right in the centre of the centre of the city, where we powered into the harbour alongside cruise ships, fishing boats, yachts and the hulking ferries. As we disembarked from ours, we wondered where our next ferry would depart from; we couldn’t see any signs for Tallink. But we put the logistics on hold for later. We didn’t want to cloud our sunny day with worries about ferry terminals. The harbourside was waiting for us in all its hustle and bustle and after just a few hundred metres of pedalling we were immersed in the heart of a busy trading arena.
The daily fish market was just getting into its stride. Boats selling the morning’s catch lined the wharf alongside stalls selling salmon from Lapland and huge vats of freshly made paella. The smell of smoked fish was almost overpowering. Wall to wall stalls also lined the quay selling strong coffee and the local speciality of donuts filled with mince, egg and rice . Huge signs everywhere warned tourists and locals not to feed birds. A fruit market intermingled with the fish, the dark blue of the blueberries contrasting with the deep red of overripe strawberries being sold off for two Euro’s for a plastic bag full.
Mermaids, reggae and strawberrys
I offered to buy Hannah her own bag of strawberries and she was overjoyed. “Really, can I have my own? Just for me?” She sat happily pulling the stalks off them and pushing them into her mouth as the gulls waited patiently for her to give in and send some their way. “Are my teeth red?” she asked pointing to a jaw and chin running with strawberry puree. In front of us, near the mermaid statue that our guidebook described as a symbol of the city, a busker amused himself in the sunshine with a drum, singing loudly, “I love reggae, music, reggae music ” I started to feel I was in the Carribean, and closed my eyes, enjoying the sounds and smells and sunshine living of Helsinki.
But Matthew was captain for the day. And he was aware that the clock was ticking. He shuffled us back onto the bikes and directed us to take him to Tourist Information. “I have three questions to ask them,” he briefed us. “Which museums are in this city? Are any of them good for kids? And where does the ferry go from?” The last question turned out to be the crucial one. He came out with a frown. “The ferry goes from a port twenty five kilometres out of town. I think we might have to start riding now!”
We haven’t got much time
We did a complete reassessment of our day. It was now almost midday and we had only a couple of hours to visit a museum or take in a sight before we had to make for the port. So now the negotiation began about museums. Matthew was still keen on the science museum. It was attraction number 21 on the tourist map and it looked like it was located in a building near the station. We circled the station three times. There was no science museum. We then realised that number 21 on the map was a station platform with trains taking tourists out to the science museum which was actually situated in a far flung part of the Helsinki suburbs. We started to argue about our next course of action. Matthew was stumped as to what to do next. Cameron was hungry. Hannah was tired and grumpy.
A woman dressed in white came up to us. She was wearing a blue velvet wizards hat with embroidered gold stars.
“You look like you need some sleep,” she said.
“You’re not kidding. We only had six hours last night,” I replied.
“Then come and lie down,” she said, leading me by the hand to the centre of a square, where other women dressed in white were tucking people up into white beds laid out on the pavement.
A white marquee was set up to provide shade and in it was a three piece string trio, again all dressed in white. The three female members played soft music as businessmen and tourists drifted off to sleep in the little white beds in the sunshine. The woman in the wizards hat explained this was a temporary art installation and we were invited to be part of it.
No time to relax
Oh the injustice of it! On any other day I’d be right there. If we’d managed to preserve our full day in Helsinki I’d already have my head on that pillow. It wasn’t fair. We were the tired ones in this city. Had any of those businessmen stood in the cold at midnight last night as a ferry to Helsinki slowly unloaded its cargo? Had any of them still been tucking the kids into bunks in a cramped cabin at one in the morning? Had any of them been tipped out of the cabin in the early hours so a cleaner could come in and the ferry could dock ? We were definitely the best candidates for this job, yet we couldn’t rest our weary heads because we had to get to a museum and cycle 25 kilometres and get back on a ferry. The woman in the wizard hat was beginning to lose interest and went to massage someone else’s head. In my head I did mental calculations about miles and rotations of the pedals. But it was no good, whatever way I looked at it, we had to cycle 25 kilometres out if the city. It was Matthew, the captain for the day, who moved us on.
“Cameron is hungry. We need to get him some lunch. And then go to the art museum because it’s unique to Helsinki. You can sleep in a bed anytime Mum.”
The guys on the triplet started to pedal away and I took one last lingering look at relaxation.
By the time we fed the kids it was too late to go to a museum. It was time to go for the ferry. We cycled through suburbia. It was not unique to Helsinki.
A struggle to the port
Stuart’s chain kept working loose and jamming. Every few kilometres we were forced to stop. It was windy too. We pushed on for three hours, slowly approaching the port. There were no signs to help us. With only two kilometres to go, this began to worry us. Only one kilometre to go and I began to panic. We were supposed to get on a thirty hour ferry to Rostock in about an hour. It wasn’t exactly a short hop and didn’t run every day. What if it wasn’t here, as tourist information had advised, but at some other port? As Stuart’s chain jammed again I searched in vain for Tallink signs.
We were at check-in before the first sign appeared. It said Tallink check-in.
“Wheel your bikes to lane 13 and a car will pick you up and take you to the boat,” said the attendant.
There seemed to be no boat for miles. But after half an hour the car appeared, followed by a man on a tractor. The car driver indicated we should follow him, and then all the cars and lorries got into line behind us. The tractor drove off somewhere else, and we set off in a slow procession; probably made slower than normal because the procession contained us. A few metres along the road, the chain jammed again on Stuart’s bike. I veered away from the cars and they all sped up behind the main car, who hadn’t noticed we had peeled off. It took five minutes to mend the chain and we were alone on the approach to the ferry. There was still no sign of a boat.
“Which way now,” I panicked, once the chain had been fixed. Luckily, the tractor appeared.
We all chug, chugged to the ferry, with the tractor now behind us, pointing when we were to turn right or left.
“It’s another twenty five kilometres away!” puffed Stuart, praying his chain wouldn’t break again.
The boat appeared. The cars were all on. A man in a yellow jacket signalled we should climb a steep ramp. My chain jammed. Stuart was already off his bike in case his jammed too. We limped on; five tourists who had enjoyed a lovely day’s relaxing in Helsinki, but were now more than ready to sleep.