Day 1- Stockholm to Helsinki, Temppeliaukio Kirkko
4.10am saw us up,alert and surprisingly okay. We were making the journey from Sweden to Finland today. I shuffled to the bathroom, half-expecting to see semi-naked guy again but I was sorely disappointed. We checked out while feeling sorry for the lonely night shift receptionist (Connect has a 24hr reception).
We waited for a bus just outside the hotel to take us to Telefonplan t-bana station and onwards to Centralen. From there, we got the Arlanda Express train. It was quite swanky.
Arlanda Airport was easy as pie. There is self check-in and security is fast. Boarding was easy and the airport staff zipping about the place on scooters was our morning entertainment. Slightly perturbed by the fact that my passport was not checked at any stage (I could have been a drug-dealing murderer!), I enjoyed the short and underbooked flight.
Once in Helsinki Airport, we got a Finnair bus to the main rail station and continued on our lumbering journey to our accommodation in Ramsinniemi. We hadn’t planned for the amount of snow that was on the ground (it was late March) and dragged our wheelie cases through snow drifts before reaching our spectacularly picturesque hotel, courtesy of Hotwire.
Extremely relieved to be free of our baggage,we got the train back into Helsinki and went to see Temppeliaukio Kirkko, the Rock Church. On the outside, the place was a pile of rocks and snow with a cross stuck on it. Nothing special. On the inside though, it was stunning. Interior carved from the rock, wood beams, plush purple pews and a giant bronze dome. We were lucky enough to arrive 15 minutes before it became available for public viewing. A small trickle of mass-goers exited and gazed at the tourists which vastly outnumbered them.
Most places had closed by the time we got back to the city centre, so we people-watched in a shopping centre for a while before having dinner in an Italian restaurant. After picking up some essentials (read: copious amounts of snacks), we headed back to Ramsinniemi.
We had purchased a day transport ticket, which was proving good value.
Once back at the hotel, we wandered the grounds for a while to take in the view.
Day 2- Suomenlinna and Ferry to Tallinn (Estonia)
We checked out and took lots of scenic pictures on the hotel grounds to bore people at home with. The water was solid. An early bird had built an igloo under the emergency buoyancy aid. One brave man was walking his dog on what is normally a deep lake.
Suomenlinna is a series of small islands just off the coast of Helsinki. (For Irish people: picture the Aran Islands). A regular ferry takes people on the short journey to the islands. Tickets are reasonably priced. (The islands are inhabited so it’s not exclusively a tourist service).
Suomenlinna was beautiful, but pretty treacherous in parts due to thick sheets of ice coating the paths and hills. The snow and ice melted over the course of the day and made the going easier. We walked on the fortress, witnessed the might of the Baltic Sea for ourselves and rambled over to the smaller islands (one of which is a naval training academy).
Many of the buildings were closed for winter and were quite decisively snowed in.
We got the ferry back and were entertained by the regular cries of “Wow Chiwawa!” by two small boys, as they delighted in the waves splashing the boat.
On Mannerheim, we stopped at an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. We retrieved our luggage from the rail station and made our way to South Harbour, after some confusion about which harbour houses the ferry terminal to Tallinn. (The West houses the Stockholm ferry, the South the Tallinn and St. Petersburg lines. Of course, thinking about this now, this makes basic geographical sense).
We arrived at the airport-like terminal just in time to witness a massive brawl, reminiscent of traveller fights at home. Balls to the wall, everybody involved, an ever-growing smattering of blood on the ground.
About a dozen police officers broke them up while our taxi driver waved happily at us, completely oblivious to the violence. I laughed that a guy despondently dragging a crate of beer after him and sporting a bloody and broken nose was my last impression of Finland.
We boarded a raucous ship (the “Superstar”) after watching 3 teenage boys be escorted off the Baltic Princess, bound for Russia. We wondered if they were runaways or stowaways. We sat on a large leather couch outside the on-board perfume shop, with a view of the arcade games. Before the ship had even begun to rumble to life, a man took up residence at the poker machines and proceeded to play two games at once (one machine with each hand). The girls behind us shared a litre of white wine while, bizarrely, the Corrs (an Irish band) came on over the sound system. I traipsed over to the supermarket to stock up and accidentally bought carbonated water for what seemed like the hundredth time that trip. The motion of the ship threw me off-balance while waiting to pay. I returned to my seat, dizzy. (And fizzy. Badum-tish!)
There’s another trip in the works. Early this March, I’ll be taking a week-long jaunt to Stockholm, Helsinki and Tallinn. I’ve been avoiding Scandinavia, thinking it was too expensive. Indeed, Stockholm in particular has a reputation as being one of the most expensive cities you can visit. I was never sure how this could be, as it’s possible to work a budget pretty much anywhere. Turns out accommodation is the killer.
The situation was pretty bleak. So, for the first time I turned to hotwire.com for help and got a pretty great deal on some 3-star hotels in Stockholm and Helsinki. (Comfortable hostels are far more commonplace in Tallinn). All in all, I managed to get 6 nights accommodation (3 in Stockholm, 1 in Helsinki and 2 in Tallinn) and 3 flights (dublin-stockholm, stockholm-helsinki and tallin-dublin) for under 250euro. Now that the booking and numbers are out of the way, the excitement can begin. Fights can be had about the itinerary. Bags can be looked at in despair while baggage limits are read out. This is where the fun starts.