The Whitest of Christmases

Trip Start Dec 10, 2012
Trip End Jan 12, 2012

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Flag of Finland  , Southern Finland,
Sunday, December 16, 2012

Helsinki is beautiful. It is covered in a thick blanket of snow, about knee deep on Saskia, and we are all captivated by this gentle city.

We are staying at Hotel Fabian which is a 'boutique' hotel in the centre of town. It is small, with about 50 rooms, and looks like something out of a Nordic vogue catalogue. Thank you TripAdvisor, you definitely got this one right. After the most comfortable night's sleep, we all woke at about 5am, not quite having adjusted to the time zone. Eventually breakfast time came about and we all headed downstairs for a sumptuous buffet breakfast. After breakfasting like Kings we headed out to explore and only got twenty metres up the road before we found a beautiful park. Daniel and the girls were in snow heaven, as they threw snowballs, waded through the snow and generally delighted in the abundance. I simply stood there and took in the happiness of it all.

After a midday nap we headed out for a stroll to a local chocolate house that had been recommended to us- the House of Fazer, where we enjoyed some light lunch and some hot chocolates. We then took to the streets to stroll with the locals and ended up doing a bit if shopping. I had promised Alexandra some long boots, and we found a lovely natural brown leather pair in the local equivalent of Myer (Stockmann). Saskia also got a pair (pink of course). The prices here are generally comparable to Melbourne for food, and slightly cheaper for clothes. Who would have thought a Nordic country could prove to be cheaper than Melbourne? When I backpacked through Europe in 1995 I had to avoid the Nordic countries because if the prohibitive cost. We're lucky this time around.

Sunset set in just after 3pm and we headed home just after 5pm. Dined like paupers at the local burger joint where we ordered carrots with our fish and chips (it makes sense to the locals) as we were all ready to crash and it was the only thing near our hotel that was 'simple'. There are lots of lovely restaurants and bars about but the Finnish appear to be a little on the formal side and we didn't want to foist two tired children on anyone at that stage. That and the fact that in our snow gear, we felt a little under dressed.

This morning we headed up to take a look at one of the churches (Tuomiokirkko Cathedral) which had some lovely Christmas markets in front of them. We enjoyed hot chocolate and gingerbread (whilst sitting on reindeer rugs) and whilst we were there it started snowing, much to our collective delight. It was just beautiful. I think it was about -6degrees but we were all rugged up and many of the eating huts had some form of heating. Daniel then went on to try the reindeer meatballs (very tasty) with paprika baked potatoes and vegetables. It's definitely a foodie tour for us adults. The kids, on the other hand, would be happy to live on hot chocolate and gingerbread.

This afternoon we are heading off to an island to part-take in special Christmas gift to the children of Helsinki. Joulupolku, or 'the Christmas path' is an event where children follow a path around a small island and along the path get to partake in or observe different Finnish Christmas traditions. We'll report back on exactly what's involved upon our return.

So, first impressions:

The Finnish are a very stylish lot. There is a strong design emphasis in everything they do and their buildings, streets, shop interiors etc are stunning and spotless. The young men and women are absolutely gorgeous. The shop assistants extremely friendly and pleasant, but otherwise everyone is quite reserved and goes about their own business. You do not hear people speaking loudly, or dressing in a 'look at me' way. Children appear well behaved. There just seems to be a beautiful Nordic simplicity in their way. Having said that, the architecture is a strange mix of Neo-clacissism, Art Nouveau (some stunning examples) and updated Modernism (think Monash Uni Menzies building before its renovation). Sounds like a weird combination in the context of Nordic simplicity but it works beautifully.

It seems safe. There is no evidence of poverty anywhere. Maybe the snow has smoothed over the 'wrinkles', like a societal Botox, or maybe it's just not there. Nordic countries are renowned for their generous social welfare, maybe that's the reason. It's something I'll look into a little, in order to understand this society better. Whatever they're doing, it seems to be working.
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Leonie on

Oh! My goodness what a magical place! Snow everywhere - hot chocolates definitely the way to go! Truly magical!

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