It was exactly this time last year when I was planning my summer adventure for July 2018. Now, as I am sitting in a sunshine flooded kitchen, it is not difficult to revoke the memories of those scorching days from three months ago. The only difference- it is the middle of autumn in England, the golden rays of sunshine are fighting with a touch of frost from this morning, there is a cup of steaming tea right next to me and my feet are toasty warm- whoever invented the indoor shoes (aka slippers) was a genius! So, let’s get back to the adventure!
During summer I always visit my family in Poland- it is a must! This time though, instead of a straightforward plane journey from A to B, I decided to throw a few more letters of the alphabet in the mix. On a very early flight one late July morning, I left England, changed planes in Amsterdam and early lunchtime landed in Helsinki. If anybody wanted to escape the heat of Amsterdam, then they failed miserably- Helsinki greeted us with sunshine and a couple extra degrees- and no, it is not a complaint. It is a big ‘thank you’- with extra long days, hours and hours of sunshine and warmth, exploring Helsinki (even if for less than a day) was a dream.
I did not have any particular agenda, foregone conclusions or expectations about the city. I did not particularly read any guide books or ‘top 10’- did not even manage ‘top 5’ so as a single traveller I explored Helsinki on my terms and walked, marched, strolled, ate, drank, snoozed whenever and whatever I wanted. All in all, it was supposed to be a holiday rather than a mission of ticking the most popular or touristy places. Once I arrived in Helsinki, I walked to my hotel which took about 40 minutes and gave me the first flavour of the city. Cube like buildings interwoven with charming houses and gorgeously decorated theatres and opera buildings. The smell of the sea, the humidity playing havoc with my hair! I arrived at the hotel, Katajanokka Hotel, a former prison. The rooms, of course, were former cells and the decor (including the staff wearing stripy shirts) did remind you of where you were. Unlike the prison from a few decades ago, the rooms were extremely comfortable and if a hotel serves herrings for breakfast, they can be certain I am going to love them!
Top 5? I definitely managed Top 2. These two buildings are impossible not to be noticed and admired and, both, because they were gorgeous and on my route to and from my hotel, I kept returning to them over and over again. Helsinki Cathedral is absolutely majestic – even more so on a hot, summer day with the blue skies contrasting with the pure white walls of the church. With every single step, you have to take in another breath full of admiration and awe! It is as stunning in the afternoon with the tourists snapping pictures as it is at 5 o’clock in the morning when there is no one around and you cannot sleep because it is light at 3 in the morning. Another example of gorgeous architecture is Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral– it is difficult to miss: built on a rocky hill, with its domes glistening in the sun, red walls nestling fabulous, masterly decorated interior. From there, you can also admire the panorama of the city- whether it is a sunrise or a sunset- worth climbing for!
The rest of my very short time in Helsinki was spent wandering aimlessly (the best way to discover vintage shops, cute cafes, delicious pizza and great bookshops). I took a stroll down the shopping streets and cafe a la Paris, joined dozens of people in their afternoon coffee and sat on the grass in the park a la Central Park, got sucked into one of the coolest book shops for far too long! I visited the market with all sort of souvenirs, fruit, vegetables, winter (!) attire, got jealous of people taking a swim in the swimming pools just near the harbour, ate delicious pizza (do herrings count as trying the local cuisine?), packed my bag and took a very long and scenic route to a ferry terminal. It was time to wave goodbye to Helsinki, get on the massive ferry, catch the wind in the sails (metaphorically speaking as I did not see a single sail), follow the sun and look forward to my next destination- Tallinn.