We took a tram to Market Square and boarded a ferry for Suomenlinna, an island where the Swedes built a fort in 1748 when they ruled the territory that is now modern-day Finland. The fortress is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The ferry was packed with local families and tourists heading out to the island. Once the ferry docked, we joined the throngs who hiked among the ruined walls of the fortress, picnicked on the many green spaces or fished from a stone jetty. As we walked along the island's pathways, we even came across a well-dressed crowd having drinks before entering a theater for a performance of "Peter Pan."
Back on the mainland, we strolled through Market Square, where a New Orleans jazz band entertained the afternoon crowd. Nearby were some of the city's iconic sights, such Helsinki Cathedral, City Hall and Uspenski Cathedral. We snapped photos but didn't opt to tour any of these distinctive buildings.
Exploring on foot, we worked our way back toward our hotel, stopping for dinner at a Nepalese restaurant, where we enjoyed a meal of "momos" (dumplings) and curry dishes washed down with spiced chai tea. Finally we rode a tram to Storyville, a jazz club on the opposite side of the train station from our hotel. There we decided to sit in the open-air cafe across from the main club for a nightcap rather than descend to the club's basement, where a saxophone could be heard wailing into the night.
By this time, both our energy and our euros were waning. As the writer on the travel forum had warned, Helsinki's prices were a shock to the system after our travels in Eastern Europe, where things were much more affordable. A glass of beer, not even filled to the top, averaged $8, as compared to $2 or $3 in Budapest or Sophia. During our 23-hour stay, we spent all the euros ($538 worth) we had withdrawn from the ATM, including our costs for lodging, food, transportation and a few souvenirs.
The night turned steamy when we were caught in a brief but furious downpour. Teens congregating in an open plaza near a museum ducked for cover beneath an overpass, and we straggled back to our hotel, damp but grateful for the respite from the heat. The rain continued to pour during the night, loudly hissing and gurgling through the open windows of our hotel room.
The skies had cleared by morning. After breakfast, we went in search of a store where we could buy a change of clothing and settled on Finland T-shirts from a kiosk at the train station for about $20 apiece. Then it was on to the airport bus and our flight home.
WHEN YOU GO
For further information about visiting Helsinki, go to www.visithelsinki.fi/en or www.hsl.fi.
Joe Tash is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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