Finland

Helsinki: Touchdown

I arrived at Helsinki Vantaa Airport three days ago, accompanied by two suitcases, one fellow vet student and a mild sense of panic. This panic was obliterated by the inexplicable sight of a stuffed beaver surrounded by a faux meadow, on display as the centrepiece of the luggage belt. An excellent start to any adventure.

Feeling conspicuous as we dragged our three suitcases and four backpacks across to the train station, we managed to work out the route to our accommodation and buy our first public transport tickets without too much hassle. It was only at this point that we remembered that lots of Finns speak Swedish and that that was why ‘Helsingfors’ accompanied ‘Helsinki’ on almost every sign. We found ourselves wondering if Swedish might be easier to learn than Finnish, which we have been repeatedly assured is horrendously complex and likely to melt our brains if we try to study it. The only Finnish language-related knowledge I have is that Tolkien based one of his Elvish languages on it. Not especially useful.

It was easy enough to follow the instructions we’d been given and get the right train to the right station. It was less easy to find the bus stop when we needed to switch routes. Two unfortunate guys helped us carry our bags down some stairs, then up them, and then down again as we tried to decipher the layout of Pukinmäki station. We eventually worked out that we had to make our way to a petrol station to board our bus, which we did after seeking reassurance from the driver that we weren’t going to end up in Russia or similar.

It snowed throughout the above, by the way, but we were happy about it because our part of the UK hasn’t even managed a sprinkling of dandruff this year.

We had asked another student ahead of time to pick up our keys for us, and when we met him he told us that we were lucky it was only -1°C – he had arrived from Spain in January and nearly died. The sky was grey but the flakes were falling thick and we were cheerful, wrapped up in fluffy-hooded coats and eating chicken wraps bought in Gatwick; our last UK meal for 3 months.

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An important first Finnish purchase: Moomin tea. One of the flavours was blueberry muffin. It was as adorably good as it sounds.
Our apartments are expensive to rent but definitely less than London prices and, to be honest, enormous. I would need to invite everyone in my vet school year over for Twister in order to make full use of the floor space. As flights to Helsinki aren’t the cheapest, I may have to settle for taking up yoga. The decor is minimalist and practical but somehow creative, with lime green walls and huge lamps like a modern design company’s office, and it reminded me of how much I’m looking forward to exploring Finnish style.

Everyone has been nice to us so far, with the exception of one slightly grumpy woman in the supermarket (they have them in every country), but we have familiarised ourselves with the Finnish word for ‘arsehole’ (‘kusipää‘) just in case. We took our first trip into the centre of Helsinki on Saturday, which will be explored in another post, and after some rapid and excitable Googling have made a list of places we would like to visit whilst we’re here. First on the list is Suomenlinna, an old sea fortress built on six islands. Importantly, it has a brewery. How many UNESCO World Heritage sites feature the chance to taste your way through various ciders and beers? Not enough, in my humble student opinion.

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