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Day 2: Helsinki

Morning seemed to come very quickly, although it was still dark in Helsinki when we woke up at 08.30. Tim announced that the guidebook recommended saving money by abusing the breakfast buffet if you were lucky enough to have breakfast included in your hotel rate, because food and drink in Finland is so expensive, but when we went downstairs to breakfast we found the buffet was rather difficult to abuse on account of being rather sparse. A bit of scrambled egg and stale bread later, we set off to explore the Finnish capital.

We had already been to Helsinki once before, on a spontaneous daytrip by ferry from Tallinn in 2013, but that was in the height of summer, and everywhere looked extremely different on a freezing December morning. Our first stop was the train station, where we were able to leave our suitcases in lockers for the not-too-extortionate price of €6 each. The station building itself is very imposing from the outside.


The square outside the station was looking quite wintery, with a large ice rink and a huge pile of cleared snow by the side.


We couldn't remember the direction that the main centre of town was in. I chose a direction off the top of my head, which turned out to be the exact opposite of the one we wanted and took us through a park and down to the waterside. It was fun to walk through the snowy park though (and much easier than walking on the streets, which were a bit icy).


If we carried on through the park we might have ended up going a long way out of town, so we retraced our steps back towards the station. Luckily on the horizon we soon caught sight of a large white dome, which we recognised from our previous trip. Within a few minutes we found ourselves outside Helsinki's beautiful Lutheran cathedral.


The white of the cathedral looked particularly stunning against the backdrop of the deep blue sky.


The cathedral is located at the top of a steep flight of steps, which are slightly intimidating at the best of times. Luckily they had grit on them today so despite the snow we managed to make it down without breaking our necks.


image of Helsinki

image of Helsinki

image of Helsinki

image of Helsinki

image of Helsinki

image of Helsinki

image of Helsinki

image of Helsinki

image of Helsinki

image of Helsinki

image of Helsinki

image of Helsinki

As we walked away from the Lutheran cathedral, we caught a glimpse of the shining golden domes dof Helsinki's other (Orthodox) cathedral in the distance.


This cathedral is equally stunning, being situated at the top of a rocky cliff.


We climbed the steps to the top of the cliff...


...and from there also had a view back towards the first cathedral.


We had succeeded in finding central Helsinki now, and everywhere we went was beautiful.


Some of the Christmas lights and decorations looked very special, and we couldn't wait to see them in the dark.


The temperature was just below freezing and we were starting to feel chilled through, so we stopped at a steakhouse for lunch. Steak was well outside our budget, but happily they also served spaghetti bolognaise for about €15. That may be the most expensive spaghetti bolognaise we've ever eaten, but by Helsinki standards it seemed quite reasonable. One of the good things about Finland is that it seems to be socially acceptable to have a jug of tap water with your meal, and so you don't have to spend additional money on soft drinks if you don't want to. The other good thing about Finland is that people seem to speak excellent English, so ordering food isn't the nightmare that it would be if it were dependent on our non-existent comprehension of Finnish :)

After lunch we walked back down to the waterfront and enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the coast. The sea was frozen in places, which was exciting to see.


It started to get dark after 3pm. We spent some time indoors drinking coffee and warming up, then visited a supermarket to buy some provisions for the train. Once it was properly dark we were able to see the Christmas lights in their full glory.


The station building was illuminated and the Christmas trees lining either side of one of the main shopping streets were really pretty.


Some of the lights were low key, but tasteful.


The cathedral, of course, looked amazing against the night sky.


And the square below looked beautifully wintry.


This square was my absolute favourite...


...particularly these wonderful reindeer!


There was just time to fit in an evening meal in a restaurant near to the station before our train to the north was due to depart at 20.52. We got to the station and retrieved our luggage on good time and although I was worried that something was going to go wrong (recalling our rather stressful experience on the train back from Kiev to Bratislava when a stranger had unexpectedly been sold an extra bed in our compartment!), the entire process of getting the train couldn't have been easier. The ticket was a printed pdf which I had downloaded from the railway website and which detailed the coach and compartment numbers. We found the correct place without any problems and were really pleased to see that the compartment was more spacious and luxurious than we'd experienced in Ukraine. The beds were genuinely comfy, though I was quite relieved when Tim agreed to take the top one. The ladder reminded me of one from my Sylvanian families bunk beds :)


The train departed exactly on time and moved slowly through the suburbs of Helsinki, stopping at various local stations. Once we had left the town behind us and pulled out into the countryside, the ticket inspector came around, scanning our tickets and providing us with a key card to swipe back into the compartment if we left it. The compartment door locked automatically when closed and there was also a double catch to turn once you were inside, so it was all completely safe, and there was plenty of space under the lower bunk for our bags. We settled down for a good night's sleep, knowing that when we woke up in the morning we would be approaching the Arctic Circle!

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