Tales from Finland – When in Europe treat every free of charge toilet like it is the last you will ever see again!

In May 2010 I decided to leave my job in Australia and travel around the world before moving to the USA. This journey ended up involving travelling in 18 countries on 4 continents (North America, Europe, Asia and Australia) and taking me around the world 1.5 times over a 12 month period! I wrote a number of travel emails from that trip and I thought it would be fun to revisit them with some additional info and photos. The following blog is Part 5 of that journey (New York and Finland).

June 3rd, 2010

Hi All,

My short stay in Helsinki, Finland is almost over (I will return to Finland later in August before flying on to Hong Kong). It has been a much quieter pace here than New York City – there are only 5.3 million Finns and only 550,000 here in Helsinki. I have even had a couple of afternoon naps! Weather is a nice change from NYC, 19 degrees celsius and sunny (as opposed to about 30 and muggy). My last day in NYC was spent eating and having a look at the UN building, Chrysler building (tribute to art deco design) and Grand Central Station. The trip to the airport took about 2 hours,then the flight to Helsinki was about 8 hours.

Senate Square – Helsinki

Helsinki is a nice city, easy to walk around,but they also have a good tram, bus and metro system. The language is almost impossible, but I have learnt to say hello and thanks which helps (luckily like most Scandinavian countries, many people speak English here too). Lots of parks etc,and historic cathedrals, theatres, and other buildings to see.

Helsinki
Helsinki

There are a lot of museums in Helsinki but the only one I have been to is the Finnish Aviation Museum (of course!). Where else am I going to see a Saab Draken jet fighter?!

Saab Draken – Finnish Aviation Museum
MiG-21 Fishbed – Finnish Aviation Museum

The weird thing is the almost 24 hours of daylight at this time of year. At midnight it sort of gets dark, but by 3am there is bright sunlight again! Better than 24 hours of darkness that can also happen further north I guess but it’s a bit tricky on the old body clock!

Helsinki at midnight!

My first meal here was reindeer with vegetables,very tasty!

Reindeer meatballs and vegies

I spent most of yesterday at the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress on an island just off the coast, originally built 1748-1750 by the Swedish who used to rule Finland, also used by the Russians who did likewise. Finns are tough buggers, they held the Russian onslaught at bay twice in WW2, even though totally out gunned!

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress

Russia made Finland their territory when they defeated Sweden in 1809 , but with the outbreak of revolution in Russia in 1917 the Finns took their chance and declared independence, this resulted in the Finnish Civil War  of 1918 that eventually saw Russian forces leave the country (Finland was supported by Germany during this war). This wasn’t the end of the matter though, relations between the two nations remained tense and resulted in two wars with the Soviet Union, the Winter War 1939-1940 which ended in a peace treaty, and the Continuation War 1941-1944 where they were allied with the Germans. The Finns stopped a major Soviet offensive, an armistice was signed and then from 1944-1945 the Finns started to fight in the Lapland War to get the Germans out of Finland  (about 200,000 soldiers)!

Finnish soldiers WW2

Finland had to cede 10% of their territory in the treaties with the Soviet Union, but they brought the vastly stronger Soviet army to a standstill, something their former allies could never achieve and they retained their democratic freedom. A small population that you just don’t mess with!

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress is a UNESCO site and has lots of historic buildings, shipyards, museums etc. including the Finnish Military Museum which proudly illustrates the success of the Finnish military in WW2. There is also a WW2 era Finnish submarine there Vesikko (the only one to survive the war). A nice way to spend the day wandering around in the sun.

Vesikko – Suomenlinna Sea Fortress
Vesikko – Suomenlinna Sea Fortress

A travel tip for anyone in Europe – treat every free of charge toilet like it is the last you will ever see again! Most public ones you have to pay for ($0,50 to $1 euro) – this is fine if you have change, if not…..well you have to hold on or improvise. Some are automated others have an attendant – the trick with the auto ones is wait until someone comes out, grab the door before it shuts….although some auto lock if not paid for! Nearly got stuck in one, luckily and old man paid to use it and released the door….I scared him so much he almost didn’t need to use it at all!

Helsinki Harbour

Early tomorrow I fly to Hamburg, Germany then to the city of Bremen to catch up with my cousin and family. I have never been to this city before. Will be fun!

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