Day 27 - Helsinki

Trip Start May 20, 2013
Trip End Jul 05, 2013

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Flag of Finland  , Southern Finland,
Saturday, June 15, 2013

We passed a quiet and restful night in the Olympic Stadium car park, despite it being so near the city centre. Strangely, there is a van hire company who do short term hire (anything from an hour upwards) who operate from the car park from early morning to quite late at night. They have dozens of vans, and must save themselves a fortune by not having to pay for a yard to park them in. If the authorities turn a blind eye to them, I am sure we and the other camper wagons here need not trouble ourselves too much about what would happen if we park up for more than the allotted 24 hours. My only concern is that they might hire out our van while we have gone sightseeing!

The day was extremely sunny, but with a cold wind, the temperature was not expected to climb much above 18C. After breakfast and a visit to the super loo (luxury), we headed city-wards. Spying a 'Hop on, Hop off' city tour bus stop, we did the hopping on part and, €50 poorer, started our tour of Helsinki.

The sun certainly made Helsinki look nicer than when it was raining. We hopped off at Senate Square where 'Visit Karelia' had various stalls selling local produce and meals. Bands and choirs performed on the stage which was relayed to a big screen. (Sad to relate, I found myself snooping round the video production part of this enterprise. Still, you know what they say - 'You can take the pensioneer out of TV, but you can't take TV out of the pensioneer')

The atmosphere in the square, and indeed throughout the city, was very lighthearted and easy going. The place had an almost Mediterranean feel to it. Every square seemed to have a market or a concert or some other sort of happening. Observing this, and listening to a couple of comments on the bus audio, made us decide that the Finns are indeed schizophrenic - moody and grumpy in the dark depths of winter, but happy and laid back in summer. Lots of the young folk are dressed as Goths, all skulls and spikes and odd hairdos. But they seem very cheerful for Goths. Maybe it's the weather right enough.

We went in search of lunch. We passed a guy playing a bottle xylophone. He was very good, which was reflected in the amount of loose change being thrown in his tin, including, before you ask, by us.

We decided to try the buffet in a department store. Because the restaurant was on the fifth floor, and the escalator above the third floor was closed for maintenance, finding a lift to get you up there was a surprising challenge. But we made it eventually. It was good value for money, and although it was impossible to know exactly what you were eating, comprised totally of Finnish dishes. Of course it didn't include alcohol, but did include 'near beer' which Alison said had a strange wheaty taste. I didn't like it and stuck to water and coffee. All in all, a good €13 worth.

After lunch we continued our tour. On the way out to the cruise liner terminal we noticed that on the sea front a few hundred metres past the main yacht clubs, there was plenty of unrestricted parking and it looked like an ideal wild camping place. There was nothing wrong with the Olympic Stadium, but watching the yachts, ferries and cruise ships come and go would be more interesting than watching novice van drivers crunch their gears as they start their three hour van hire. Possibly less risky too, judging by some of the dents and scrapes on the vans.

We returned to the parking. Saturday afternoon was obviously peak time there. The returned hire vans were double parked everywhere, and if a car driver drove off, his space was snaffled by a cruising member of the van team within seconds. When we departed, two vans both tried for our space.

Driving in Helsinki is fairly easy, although often lanes are shown on overhead signs, rather than painted on the tarmac, so it is easy to end up in a bus lane, or even in a tram only bit. We adopted a three way split in duties. Sean the Satnav did the basic navigation, I tried not to hit anyone, and Alison called out the right lane. It worked quite well. Most of the time.

Surprisingly for capital city drivers, here they are pretty chilled out about how they get about. When a set of lights goes green, they seem to wait till the car in front starts moving before thinking about selecting a gear or releasing the handbrake. As a result only about half the number of cars get through per cycle of the lights as, say, in Rome. Add to that their almost obsessive compulsion to give way to anybody who even looks like they might want to cross over a pedestrian crossing. This means that getting about can be slow and stately. On the other hand, if the procedure outlined in the previous paragraph should occasionally fail, nobody appears to mind if a VW T5 Campervan carves them up and forces its way in. (Or perhaps they are just too polite to show it)

We relocated to our new berth on Hernesaarenranta, and then wandered back to the yacht clubs. We even had an ice cream, although the wind was strong and it made it seem quite chilly. Because we ate out at lunch time, tea tonight is (Swedish) Caribbean Soup and sandwiches.

You can probably tell that we are growing to like Helsinki. It is not at all what we expected. And it is handy that everybody speaks English. Because our learning of Finnish is not going well.

Mileage 3427.
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