Hi everyone! I’m back and as ecstatic as ever! My holiday was better than I thought it would be. It was just…perfect! The last 10 days have been a breeze.
I didn’t expect Finland to be what it really is. Blame it part on my lack of reading up on places, and part on my very weird imagination! I thought it’s this one tiny country that’s tucked up in the north somewhere with freezing temperatures and people who look like Eskimos. Boy was I in for a surprise!
Finland’s major, probably the only natural resource is it’s forests. And as we stepped out of the airport in Helsinki, we could see how green it was. There were trees everywhere! And very well manicured too… exact same height, and growing absolutely straight. I was dumbfounded by how clean the place was! Not a soul in sight, except our big yellow VW taxi. Imagine, no stray dogs or cows on the road! :P While we drove to our hotel, I noticed how people didn’t jump red-lights, how pedestrians were given first preference and how people stuck to the rules and regulations laid out for them. I mean, it’s a small instance, but you could make out there’s actually a system out there, and that the taxpayer’s money isn’t going to the dogs.
Anyway, our hotel was right next to the harbour, like 100 steps maybe. So the sea breeze felt nice and cool on my face. The temperature, by the way, was not at all freezing, It didn’t go above 18 degrees, so it was pleasantly cool. A light jacket was all you needed. And no, the people were not Eskimos, but very normal looking individuals, and some actually made me drool! ;) But overall, it was a friendly environment. Helsinki’s a simple, down-to-earth kinda place with similar people. They don’t see a lot of tourists, not a lot of Indians anyway, so they acknowledged our presence with a smile.
It was different never to see the sun set. The sun was up till midnight! At 10 pm there it felt like 6 pm in Delhi. I kinda felt sorry for them, coz they’re missing out on the nights. It was a wee bit uncomfortable to see day all day! But I guess it’s OK.
It was summer season for them, so people were quite skimpily dressed! We were probably the only ones wearing woolens. We explored the city mostly on foot, or took a ride in the trams. It’s not a very large place, so it wasn’t so bad. Food though, was a major problem initially, coz everything was made of bread, and in departmental stores, everything was written in Finnish.
After the first 2 n a half days in Helsinki, we took a cruise to Stockholm (Sweden). The cruise was an experience in itself. 10 decks in all, M/S Mariella was a beauty. It had a casino, a discotheque, about 5 restaurants, 2 cafes, saunas and a huge duty-free shop. My folks and I went up to the top deck to admire the view of the Baltic Sea. We thought we’d stay up till the ship starts moving. Bad idea. As soon as it moved, the cool sea breeze turned to an extremely chilly gale. It was so strong, we had to hold each other and make a human chain to prevent us from being blown away! But it was some experience! And the view, of course was fabulous!
Stockholm and Helsinki are somewhat like Mumbai and Delhi. Somewhat. There are more people in Stockholm, we even saw quite a lot of Indians. Stockholm is the economic capital of Sweden. People were different here… they all looked as if they’re models off the ramp! Everyone was dressed so stylishly! But they were as warm as the Finnish, if not more. And Stockholm was definitely more expensive.
There was not a lot to explore there. We saw the Change of Guards ceremony at the King's Castle, which was carried out with a lot of pomp. Then we visited the Skansen Open Museum, which was an amazing walk. It was a sort of a zoo, but not exactly. It’s like a huge park, with li’l lakes inside, and further ahead, you could go see some Scandinavian animals. We saw the elk, reindeer, seal, and of course the brown bear. They were all out in the open, with thick glass screens separating us. So it was quite a sight.
We spent 2 days in Stockholm, and then took the cruise back to Helsinki. This time we stayed in a hostel, Academia I think it was called. And here we had a kitchenette, so that was a relief coz now we could cook. It was in a way, better than staying at the hotel, coz we were on our own. So cooking, cleaning, doing the beds- everything was our responsibility. Felt more like home.
During our 3 days in Helsinki, we visited the Nuuksio National Park which was breathtakingly beautiful and an amusement park, which was nothing like Disney Land I’m sure, but was a zillion times better than Appu Ghar! In between, we also took a train to a small town around Helsinki called Turku. Here we bought a litre of really really fat strawberries and ohhhh my Gooood they were just out of this world. We ate like we were starved for strawberries and later discovered our lips and fingertips had turned a deep red. Gosh I could kill to taste strawberries like those again!
The Nuuksio National Park was 45 mins away from the city, by bus. It was a one and half hour walk in the woods after that. It was just superb. The natural beauty of the place left me gawking, and I found myself wishing I could stay back forever. The lakes around the woods were sooooo beautiful. You have to be there to know what I’m talking about. After the climb, we came to a small inn, where they served us with tea, coffee and some yum freshly baked bread with butter. We could even take a dip in the lake, but the water was a lil too cold for my comfort!
Next day we were to take our flight back to India, and I really didn’t feel like going back! I was too much in love with the place. But I have to admit, I went at the best time. In winters the temperatures can drop to as low as minus 25 in the south of Finland, and minus 50 in the north. Sighhh! I guess no place is perfect, but this sooo was!! I guess I still haven’t gotten over my holiday, don’t think I ever will.