2008 European Adventure: Finland

20 October

In retrospect, we probably should have just paid more to fly directly from Frankfurt to Helsinki, but flying out of Hahn did get us to Trier, Beilstein, and Burg Eltz so I guess that compensated for the hassle.

Thanks to the navigation thing in the rental minivan we made it to Hahn airport for our Ryanair flight to Tampere, Finland easily enough. The airport is pretty funny because it’s in the middle of the German countryside. We speculated that Ryanair has such good on-time and lost-baggage stats because they use tiny airports where they’ve got a lot of control. We paid extra for priority seating so we got to sit together even though the plane was completely full.

The baggage claim area in Tampere was pretty crazy – the conveyor just spewed bags out into where people were standing – but we managed to collect them all and get on the bus to town. We should have caught a cab or bus to our hotel, but we leaned into the wind and rain and marched from the train station to Omenahotelli.


I picked Omenahotelli because it was inexpensive compared to all the other options in Tampere. The rooms were small and spartan, pretty much as we expected. Even though I told them to eat a big lunch in Trier, the crew was hungry when we arrived at the hotel. So, we set off into the blustery night to see if food could be found in Tampere after 9 pm. We peeked into a Viking-themed place just down the street and were certain it was closing when a Viking-garbed woman hailed us and led us to a table in back. Crazy concept, but the food was actually pretty good – I had a braised lamb neck and some Finnish beer.

Nancy and Cassie

21 October

We woke up early the next morning due to our travel companions’ jet lag and headed to the town market to look for breakfast. We found coffee easily (Finns apparently drink the most coffee per capita) and got some snacks for breakfast and for the train. We collected our bags from the hotel and marched back to the train station. So, all we saw of Tampere was on the street leading from the train station to our hotel. Fortunately, that’s the main drag and contains most of the important bits.

A nice lady at the ticketing place at the train station sold us group tickets, saving us a few euros. On the way back we learned that senior citizens get a huge break though, so we actually paid a couple of euros more than we could have. The train ride was probably as pretty as the trip from Prague to Nuremberg, but we all kept noting how much the Finnish countryside looks like Alaska.

Nancy and Cassie

It was another longish walk from the Helsinki train station to our hotel – no wonder Nancy’s knee was in rough shape by the time we made it back to Germany… We had reserved a big apartment for our time in Helsinki, a nice change from the hotel in Tampere. We dropped off our bags and went in search of lunch, ending up just down the street at Kuu, where I had a delicious brisket patty thing with port sauce…and beer.

There’s a convenient tram line that runs through the main parts of town in a big figure 8, so we hopped on that and rode it around Töölönlahti bay downtown and had some coffee at Kämp Galleria, a big mall place. I found a Moomin shop there and picked up a couple of things. We got a little lost but found our way to the tourist information place to get some transit cards. The tourist information place is just across the street from Helsinki Cathedral, a huge Evangelical Lutheran cathedral.

Helsinki Cathedral

We rode the rest of the figure 8 tourist tram route back to the hotel. We found dinner just down the street at Ku Kuu, apparently a sister restaurant to Kuu. Since I didn’t expect anyone else so, I ordered the herring, plus a cheese plate just in case. The herring turned out to be very good, a lot like mackerel sashimi.

22 October

We tried out the hotel’s breakfast, served in Coma, the restaurant next door. It was pretty much the same breakfast we’d enjoyed in Prague and Trier – coffee, cheese, breads, and so on. On the way to Hakaniemi market we noticed that our transportation cards were for children, so after doing some shopping we headed back to the tourist information place. They replaced our cards and we got some information about Porvoo, Suomenlinna, and stuff to do in Helsinki. We did a bunch of shopping – Mandi and I got some strange-but-practical wrist warmer things that I wore most of the rest of our time in Finland.

Hakaniemi Market Hall

We had lunch at the same place where we’d had coffee the day before at Kämp Galleria, a sort of salad buffet dessert cafe affair. We caught the tram back to a stop around our hotel then set off on a march through Hietaniemi Cemetery. We got a little lost and a little cold, so on the way back it was easier to talk Mandi into going to Ku Kuu again – she has some sort of crazy rule about not going to the same restaurant twice while traveling. I had liver with mushrooms, maybe not as interesting as herring but still very good.

23 October

We decided to go to Porvoo over Turku for some reason, but I think both are good day trips from Helsinki. We’d seen a lot of old stone and brick stuff though, so Porvoo’s wooden buildings were an interesting contrast.

We had breakfast downstairs again, which was pretty crowded even though I don’t think the hotel was very full – maybe we all just wanted to eat at the same time. We caught the tram to Kampii bus station, like a big mall with a bus station underneath it, to find a bus to Porvoo. Porvoo is a little old Finnish town a little east of Helsinki. There’s a river right through the middle of town, with a lot of historic wooden buildings on one side of the river and some interesting urban development on the other side of the river.

Porvoo bridge

It was drizzly when we arrived so we went in search of tea and coffee right away, finding some at cozy Cafe Fanny near the museum, which was being renovated when we were there. We walked a loop from the downstream pedestrian bridge to the old bridge upstream, so we got some nice views of the red storage houses along the river. We hiked up the hill to the cathedral on the wet cobblestones, finding more old wooden houses and some nice views of the town and the river. Worn out, we carefully walked downhill on the cobblestones to find the worst lunch of the trip. It wasn’t really that bad, but I chose to have the liver patties that everyone else in the place was eating, but I don’t eat ketchup or gravy or lingonberry jelly or whatever they’d used to make the patties palatable. So, they weren’t very good, but it was probably my own fault. Fortified, we did a bunch of shopping, had some tea, and caught the bus back to Helsinki.

Cassie and Nancy

We caught the tram back to the hotel for a break then went looking for the Sibelius monument and dinner. It was too dark for good photos without a tripod – I always leave my tripods at home and later wish I had one… We had dinner at an understaffed tapas place called Bar Teos. The highlight of the meal was a dish of marinated little fish.

24 October

While at the tourist information place I’d noticed a flier for a Japanese wood block print exhibit at the Ateneum, a big art museum, so that was our first stop after breakfast Friday. The block print exhibit included a whole bunch of Hokusai and Hiroshige prints, with a great “how it’s done” display at the end. On top of that, there was an exhibit of Japanese photography in the years after World War II, an awesome light display in the dome area, and a bunch of other stuff.

Culturally fortified, we headed down to the market to get some snacks before catching the ferry to Suomenlinna, a huge sea fortress. We knew it was a little cold and windy in Helsinki, but I don’t think any of us realized just how windy it would be on the islands. My notes say we nearly froze to death, but I think I was exaggerating a little. Our tour guide had trouble making herself heard over the wind, but she managed to make the history of the place come alive for us without losing her voice. We found a cafe to warm up and caught the ferry back to Helsinki.

On Suomenlinna

We walked all the way back to the hotel from the ferry. Again, it’s no wonder Nancy’s knee was bothering her by the time we got back to Germany. Mandi found a fancy place for our last dinner in Helsinki. We caught the tram and managed to get off only a couple of stops past the restaurant. I think we were looking for “authentic” Finnish cuisine, but the place happened to be doing a funky Turkish thing that was plenty tasty. The best dish was probably an octopus appetizer, but my lamb shank was pretty good too.

25 October

We had our last breakfast at the hotel and headed for the train station. Cassie joined me at the ticketing place, where we enjoyed one of those crazy “take a number” queues. The lady at the counter recognized Cassie as a senior citizen so we got a better deal on the tickets back to Tampere than we did on the way down. I was a little confused in Tampere about the bus to the airport, but we eventually got to the airport and on our way back to Hahn.

Next stops: Breidel, Beilstein, Burg Eltz, and Aachen.

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By isaac

I like cats. he/him