Finland Road Trip 2016 – Day 5 (Helsinki)

Day 5, Saturday 9th July

Moose count = 1 moose fillet, 0 live moose

Saturday saw a somewhat early start as we were booked on a walking tour with Happy Guide Helsinki and they were kicking off at 10:00am at the Vanha Kauppahalli. We arrived with 20 minutes to spare and so wandered into the market hall while it was quiet. At 10 prompt the other two guests on the walk arrived and the four of us set off with our guide, Valentina, to discover the food of Helsinki. We knew there’d be licorice but there were also good things, and we started in the market hall with cheese tasting, and reindeer (both dried and made into salami, including a delicious dried reindeer heart which was so good I had to buy some). We also tried some smoked white fish and some cured salmon while we were in there. The hall is beautiful as well as practical, and has been restored in a very sensitive manner. The individual stalls are fascinating and you would eat unbelievably well from what you could buy in there.

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From the hall, which is apparently open every day in Summer and Monday to Saturday in the winter, we walked along the harbourside to the open air market (the kauppatori – where Valentina explained that you could identify the food stalls from a distance because the orange tents sold fruit and vegetables and also provided freshly cooked meals, while the white ones were craft and souvenir stalls of varying quality, some really good and some definitely tending to the tat side of things.

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Here we tried so many fruits, and were quickly made aware of the difference between the locally produced fruits and vegetables and the imported ones. The strawberries in particular were night and day different, with the local ones tasting like biting into a mouthful of particularly good jam! The imported ones had nowhere near the flavour. We also quickly became aware of the local gulls. Nets have been put over the area to try and keep them at bay but they’re clever and persistent and they find ways in. Apparently they’re especially partial to ice cream but I got the impression they’d not be too picky and would happily snatch anything that might be edible.

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Our next stop was at the Fazer café and shop, where chocolates were the order of the day. It was hard not to drool, and the ready-packed selections were beautifully wrapped and decorated. As we had a lunch invitation for the following day we picked up a box to present to our hosts, and tried to stop at that.

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The shop is massive with a café (and the inevitable buffet lunch of course) and Valentina bought a mixed selection of chocolates for us to taste, something we’d be grateful for after the licorice ge of the trip! We then wandered into the streets behind the Esplanadii passing lots more of the wonderful Art Nouveau buildings and also  the Finnish Romantic style buildings, and Valentina was able to explain that during the Second World War Helsinki mostly avoided being bombed because they lit decoy fires out on the archipelago to make any pilots think that was where the city was. Whatever the truth of the claim (and I can’t see how it would help in summer) there are still many, many elegant buildings extant and they are everywhere.

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Our next stop was Kaartin Kotikauppa for Karelian pastries. We’d had one on the ferry but it wasn’t too pleasant. These were fresh, fluffy and altogether better than the dense, flavourless effort Finnlines offered. A wander round the shop also had us wishing we had an independent grocer like Kaartin somewhere on our doorstep at home. It looks like a normal “corner shop” type establishment when you first go in, but it’s anything but. It also had a massive beer section through a door at the back where presumably you could buy beers of 4.5% or less. The selection was amazing with beers from all over the world, some of them pretty obscure if the British beers they were stocking where anything to go by. It was most impressive.

Next stop was the dreaded licorice. We’d both decided that we’d try it again even though we were pretty certain it wasn’t going to go well. For this we were guided to the most remarkable sweetshop, Roobertin Herkku. There were so many sweets it was hard to know where to turn. A father and daughter pair who came in were really funny. She was around 4 years old and she was clearly overwhelmed by the options in front of her. A kid in a sweetshop indeed. Several samples of licorice later had confirmed that I really am not keen. However, I can eat it if I must. I just won’t like it. The “reindeer droppings” we’d tried in the market hall were better for me but I’m still not a fan and never will be.

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Next stop was a walk to the Hietalahden Kauppahalli, via the Sinebrychoff brewery (the beer is now markets as Koff because “ after three no one can pronounce Sinebrychoff”) where we again had a stroll round, looking at the various stalls and little restaurants that are set up in there. We finished with an organic smoothie at the Sun Smoothie Bar that made us all sit up an take notice, there was so much ginger in it.

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Valentina said goodbye to us and we walked back to the waterfront to catch a ferry over to Suomenlinna. Again there were masses of museums on the island, a 20 minute ferry ride away. It’s obviously a popular destination, and there was a huge crowd waiting for the ferry. However, they seemed to disperse rapidly when we got to our destination and set off to walk to the fort at the far end of the island. We didn’t bother with most of the museums, just headed out onto the paths. We did stop at the Submarine Vesikko that’s moored there as a museum. Lynne refused to come in on the grounds of not liking small spaces, but I did. I was amused to discover that the crew were all volunteers and they weren’t tested or assessed in advance – they found out if they were suitable or not by going out to sea and finding out what happened! Also, the torpedoes they began with were Italian but they kept malfunctioning, so they switched to British made ones. We made it to the other end of the island, and decided to stop for a beer. There didn’t seem to be much choice but we sat on the ramparts in a gale watching the parascenders wheeling around. After that we decided we were tired and that we’d probably done enough for one day.

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We caught the ferry back and dived into the market hall once more for an iced coffee and a cinnamon bun at Robert’s Coffee, which was very civilised and a very welcome sit down in a quiet place.

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We made tracks back to the hotel then to get organised ahead of a dinner cruise leaving from the market square at 19:00. We had been promised a dinner with lots of lovely scenery but first we’d discovered a leaflet about the 2016 Helsinki cocktail competition. The winner, Pastor Drink and Dine, was on our route so it would have been rude not to call in.

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Of the dinner cruise with Royal Line it was very pleasant indeed, with surprisingly good food considering there’s not exactly much of a kitchen on the boats, and the scenery everything you might hope as we passed countless little islands, and were overtaken by fast moving motorboats and yachts.

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Dinner was a plate of smoked fish and meat or a vegetarian starter with a leek quiche, something we enountered a lot during the trip.

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This was followed by fish (sea bass) or meat (lamb), both very nicely cooked and presented.

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The desserts were a lingonberry pannacotta or mudcake and white chocolate mousse.

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It was a lovely way to pass 2 and a half hours with constantly changing scenery without needing to either drive or walk. There was much to be said for that.

Afterwards we decided that as it was only 9:30pm, and of course still very light, we’d go and take a look at one of Helsinki’s many rock bars, in this case On the Rocks. We bought a beer each and realised that at around €9 a glass we’d better make these last, and then sat down to enjoy the ambience. Someone somewhere seemed to have our record collection so that was good. Unfortunately the band playing in the performance area that night didn’t appeal so we stayed in the bar for a couple of hours and watched the world go by in the station square outside. After that we decided that it was time to move on to Café Mockba.

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Now as Kaurismaki fans this was an essential item on the must see list. Also it was back towards the hotel so it made sense as the final stop of the night. Again the beer prices were alarming, with €18 getting us two cans of (admittedly chilled) Estonian beer, which was it’s fair to say not very good at all! However, the ambience was brilliant with some very friendly locals who struck up a conversation with us that lasted for the two hours we were in there. The only sticky moment was trying to explain Brexit (and this would be something we were repeatedly asked about – all we could do was say “Don’t blame us! We didn’t vote leave!”). By 2 in the morning we were starting to flag and although the bar would stay open for at least another two hours we bailed out. We had a tram tour to do in the morning and a trip to Espoo for lunch lined up. It wouldn’t do to lose the entire morning!

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