An incredible language and our trip to Suomi.
Finnish that is. Anybody who thinks German is a difficult tongue to learn, ought to try their luck at Finnish. Finnish is reportedly quite a logical language, but the logic of 15 cases escapes me. I had a hard enough time in my youth dealing with only the four cases in my native German.
I mention this because we were planning to spend a week in Helsinki. Usually when we travel to a foreign country we attempt to learn a few rudimentary words in the local language. You know like: thank you, please, good morning, can I have more coffee? However with Finnish I just gave up and hoped fervently that the Finns would have a good grasp of English! Thankfully they did. As one Finn said: “There are only 5 and 1/2 million of us. Who is going to learn Finnish?” As an aside, of those 5.5 million Finns, a quarter, or 1.5 million, make the Helsinki metropolitan area their home. Finland is a very young country. First it was part of Sweden, then part of Russia, winning independence only in 1917. For a short history click here.
So, why go to Finland? Well, InnoTrans 2018 in Berlin, Germany was coming up. We had gotten tickets for this huge, bi-annual rail industry show and were planning on spending the better part of a week in Berlin. Brad and I had been to Berlin many times and we have this quirky agreement: If we are going to a place we have been before, we will also go to a place we have never seen. So we picked Helsinki, only a two hour flight from Berlin.
So plans were made, tickets bought and rooms reserved.
There are no direct flights from Washington, DC to Helsinki. After much research it turned out that a United and Lufthansa combination with a Frankfurt connection would be the best option. Generally I try to avoid connecting at Frankfurt Airport like the plague. There are never enough gates for arriving flights, so passengers get bussed from the plane to the terminal. If it is raining while deplaning, by the time one gets on the bus you’re soaked. Immigration is a nightmare at Frankfurt. The Lufthansa Business Class Lounge is a disgrace. Not enough seats and a lot of the charging points for portable electronics did not work. Frankfurt Airport, just like London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Madrid Barajas among others, is just getting much too large for comfortable traveling.
In any event Lufthansa did get us to Helsinki on time, even though we left late, waiting for a slot to take off.
It’s about a two hour flight to Helsinki. The weather was good, so I could watch the world go by from 32000 feet.
Since we had entered the “Schengen Area” at Frankfurt Airport there were no formalities to go through at Helsinki Airport. Our luggage appeared on the baggage carousel lickety-split and within minutes we had found our driver and were on our way to the hotel.
Picking a hotel in a strange city is always a bit of a gamble. Notwithstanding TripAdvisor and other similar travel sites, one never knows for certain what the accommodations are really going to be like. However it emerged that we had made a good choice with the Klaus K Hotel Helsinki. The front desk staff was great, the room spacious as well as quiet and the location was ideal. Of course for me the ample Finnish themed breakfast buffet was the clincher.
We had been on the road, so to speak, about 18 hours. Predictably we were beyond tired: sort of running on auto pilot. Those overnight flights just kill me. I can not sleep on planes, Business Class or not. And quite frankly the new and much ballyhooed United Polaris Business Class was a bitter disappointment. I am not sure we even had dinner that first night in Helsinki, but I do remember hitting the sack very early.
Helsinki is not a huge place. As with most European cities the historic, downtown core is imminently walkable. The few attractions that would be of interest to visitors which are not located in the urban core are easily reached via a short ride on the tram, bus or underground. Also, as is the custom in most of Europe, almost all museums are closed on Mondays. We found that even quite a few restaurants are closed Sunday and Mondays. So it would behoove a visitor to check and plan accordingly. All the restaurants we patronized during our stay were very busy: even on days like Tuesday or Wednesday. Reservations are highly suggested.
Public transportation is not cheap. A single ticket bought on a Helsinki city bus from the driver is €3.20, that is about $3.75 at the time of this writing. (One can not buy a ticket on the trams) That fare is greatly reduced by using non cash payment methods like a pass or smart phone app, as well as the HSL Travel Card. The local transit operators website, HSL, has a wealth of information regarding tickets, operating times and destinations.
Brad and I used the Helsinki Card, which we had been able to purchase before leaving for Finland. It offers unlimited travel on the area network, plus significant discounts and even free entry to a lot of the museums and attractions. I highly recommend it!
Now some photographs:
More about trams and trains around Helsinki in the next blog.
All photographs by Brad Wing and Ralf Meier ©2018 (iPhone 7, iPhone X, Sony a6500)