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2:27pm on Monday, 13th July, 2015:

Helsinki Vignette


We docked in Helsinki today. It has a very walkable centre, meaning we had plenty of time to see all three of its tourist attractions (except for the one that was shut). We decided against going to its most-visited building, on the grounds that railway stations aren't inherently interesting,

Here are some examples of what caught my eye on our tour of the city.

They try to jolly up the dock where the cruise ships come in:

They don't succeed.

I like these little fellas:

I think they're to stop people from driving where they shouldn't go.

Something for everyone in the market:

Mmm, knives...

Don't shoplift here!

If you do, they put your head on display as a warning to others.

They take the reindeer to pieces to get reindeer skins:

Then they put them back together to make smaller, deader reindeer.

This is about the best shot 'I took of the Russian Orthodox cathedral, so you can imagine how bad the others were:

It's not open on Mondays. The advertised-as-impressive interior was, therefore, regrettably spared the attention of my camera.

This is the best-preserved street of art nouveua houses in Finland:

Sadly, they were preserving one of the biggest houses behind walls of scaffolding, so the street wasn't perhaps at its most photogenic.

The Finns really know how to mess up tourist shots of their iconic buildings:

Beyond the tram power lines and the parked coaches is a sound stage, right at the bottom of the steps to the cathedral.

The sound stage was associated with some gymnastic event. We saw gymnasts from the UK, Finland (or course), Germany, Switzerland and Brazil, plus more that we didn't know where they came from. Here are some of the latter:

As you can see, they're not your normal gymnasts. We bumped into this particular group on several occasions and they had their hula-hoops with them the whole time.

The magnificent view of Senate Square from the cathedral:

I think maybe we chose the wrong day for it.

Inside, the cathedral is unadorned and minimalist. This is about the glitziest part of it:

In other words, it's a perfect example of sleek, Finnish design.

This is the university building, right next to the cathedral:

I was really pleased to see it, because that meant eduroam was in range and I could check my emails over free wireless. It gives you a sense of the scale of Helsinki (and of Finland in general) that a prime location like this has a university building in it rather than some dreary government office building (as would be the case in London).

This bear on the side of a random building really doesn't want anyone to take its torch:

"It's mine!"

I don't know what these guys are doing:

It looks to me like the Finnish take on Russian Roulette.

This is the imposing entrance to some club or other:

Take a closer look at the faces of those virgins, though:

They're not happy people.

By contrast, these giraffes on the balcony of the Zoological Institute look as if they're really enjoying themselves:

I wonder what the meeting was like where it was decided to install them there. "So, does anyone have a good idea what to do with these fibreglass giraffes?".

This church is somewhat off the beaten track, but it's a major tourist attraction. It was billed as being carved out of a single piece of rock, but as you can see it's no such thing:

I was hoping that it would have the word "HELSINKI" written all the way through it,

A man can't survive on a single day's work once a year:

I asked the guy at the till if he was Santa and he said yes. I think he was probably just one of the elves, though.

There are hardly any English students in Helsinki:

If there were, someone would have spray-painted an S over that second R.

This stump is at the bottom of some weird mast in one of the back squares:

The tree must have got to something like 6 inches across the trunk before anyone bothered to chop it down.

You don't see this kind of "here are all the companies inside this nondescript building" signage in the UK:

You do see it a lot in Singapore, weirdly.

Most foreign languages include innocent words that are funny in English:

This one, however, looks to be in English:

Thinking about it, I didn't see anyone with raging face spots here. Perhaps it's an actual thing?

Here's a product which has yet to reach the UK:

Just when you forget you're in a foreign country, something suddenly reminds you.

There are many fruit and vegetable stalls in Helsinki. We must have seen maybe a couple of dozen overall. They're laden with, well, look for yourself:

So, what you have there are green beans, cherries, apricots and strawberries. Every single fruit and veg stall sold green beans, cherries and strawberries, plus one of either apricots, blueberries, raspberries or nothing. That's all they sold. Either their produce is extremely seasonal or Finnish cuisine is entirely dependent on green beans, cherries and strawberries.

Here's a statue built of the usual bird-attracting materials:

The woman at the bottom is holding out a scroll:

"But if you had to hold out a scroll all day, wouldn't you be bored?"

This sea lion is projectile-vomiting water:

Too much of the old vodka last night, eh, sea lion?

Finally, this sign appears several times next to the harbour:

Do not feed caltraps to pigeons.

Overall, Helsinki was a nice, quite compact capital, very civilised and hardly bothered by traffic. It had the feel of a large, provincial European city to it; it reminded me most of Geneva, although I'm not entirely sure why. It's the sort of place where I can imagine it would be pleasant to live if you could speak the language (or Swedish, which appears underneath Finnish on important buildings and street signs).

Of course, I might not think that if I visited in winter and found the sea frozen solid to a depth of 20 inches.

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).