Reflections on 24 Hours in Helsinki.
This is not a city that I find easy to enjoy. Maybe this is me and not Helsinki. Walking around the city seems bland in comparison with other Scandinavian and Baltic capitals. A kind of hidden vibrancy is missing, something almost invisible cannot be seen.
There were few smiling faces. Many engaged with their headphones, music and phones and not so much conversation going on even in the cafes.
The harbour and marina areas looked tired and uninterested in visitors.
There were indeed many historical looking buildings, some grand and some not. But none enticed anyone inside.
Even the high steps did not seem dangerous or challenging when walking down them. There were in fact few people around. Maybe at different times in the year the feel of this city will be different but in April this city seemed comatose. The only time it came to life for me was when sitting in a hotel bar and in the next room a private function was taking place , maybe a record launch, with a singer and her singing was amazing. Amazing enough to download Shazam and discover who she was. A rasping voice that oozed feeling. The singer is called Katea. The song was California Baby.
Much of the city centre is a melange of shops and shopping malls. There was little evidence of any pavement cafe society even allowing for the April weather. Few smiling faces. The architecture surely can be described as grand but is it beckoning? Even the trams looked sad as they slowly went their way through the city, with less self-esteem and grandeur than Amsterdam or Manchester trams, that would happily sweep you off your feet.
The only sign of life was inside coffee shops and the one that caught my eye was Strindberg down near the harbour area where enough people were inside to give me a feeling that I was not alone on this earth. The other one that also escapes my criticism is the Neuhaus cafe shop, that sold the delicious chocolates but also functioned as a pleasant street cafe. A cup of tea (3 euros for a teabag, but served in a curiously interesting mug) and some homemade mango cheesecake, though no-one ever states in which home it was made, kept me occupied for the best part of an hour.
The shop was run by a highly efficient girl who gave the image of being an academic student ( like a Latin or Greek scholar maybe) who not only ran the shop, sold the chocolates , took and ordered the food, but also made whatever had to be made. Clearly not a British employee.
The boats looked sleepy and disinterested. As though waiting for a different week or month to attract people.
In huge areas there were so very few people walking around. Part of the harbour area had some tents erected that were mini-restaurants selling mostly Finnish food, such as reindeer hotdogs and other more usual foods.
Restaurants in the city centre of course there were many but often impossible to know if they were open or closed. Food was expensive. In many restaurants, just average ones, the main courses were around 20 euros and with a starter and a drink that made a fairly simple lunch cost over 30 euros. It was easy to find set course lunch menus costing 50 euros or more. Lunch seemed curiously to start around 10.30 am and by 11.30 am ” ladies that lunch” could be seen sipping champagne and having important conversations in some of the more eloquent looking restaurants.
There was little evidence of the wonderful and artistic graffiti that adorns many European cities. In the central part of the city rather curiously the only sign of graffiti was on the door leading to the National Library of Finland. In short the best adjective to sum up 24 hours in Helsinki is Neutral.
As in all cities there were a few characters to be seen, together with some interesting takes on hair styling. The exceptionally tall man in the bowler hat I oddly passed twice in very different parts of the city. People observing us might conclude that we were both spies meeting for our assignments. Considering spies there was no evidence of a queue at the Russian tourist board office.
A plethora of expensive shops abounded. Tumi, who some might recall I encountered at London City Airport, when finding a small carry on case there that looked good, then finding the cost was £675 ( and yes I checked the decimal point), was present. I saw one professional beggar in the same position on the same street, who started ” work” at around midday, and who incidentally wore better clothes than I own.
There were sights to see of course, but even these were quiet and few tourists were visible. Maybe I need to go back here on a different day or different season.