Monday, July 14, 2014

Two More Countries Off My Checklist


I took an extended Fourth of July weekend last week to visit Helsinki, Finland and with a day trip across the Baltic Sea to visit Tallinn, Estonia -- two cities, and for that matter, two countries, that I had not been to prior to this trip.  I was looking for a quick, cheap get-away for the holiday weekend.  I had severak options:  Cinque Terre, Berlin, Munich, and Barcelona.  Helsinki won out because I had not been there before, and I wanted to take advantage of the trip with Helsinki's 20+ hours of daylight during mid-summer.

I left early Frankfurt on an early Wednesday evening flight and returned Sunday night.  I arrived in Helsinki at about 10:30PM, and easily found a bus headed for the city center from the airport.  I arrived at the city center just a bit after 11:00PM.  With my iPhone in tow and a city map app opened, I was able to walk and find my hotel quite easily.  Finding places in a new city utilizing electronic hand held devices makes what used to be a daunting task, effortless.  It does help that Helsinki is not a high crime city.  And nearly midnight, it was not so dark yet -- the amount of light at that time seemed like it was only dusk.  So there was no worry as I rolled my luggage through the cobbled streets of Helsinki looking for my hotel.  The information I had read about Helsinki only warned travellers about the ocassional drunkards.  There were no usual warnings about pickpockets, thieves, and scammers, as in other big cities of Europe.

I had visited Norway and Sweden before, both high cost countries.  People warned me about the high cost in Finland.  It was not too bad -- meals and drinks were a litle bit higher priced than what I am used to in Wiesbaden, Germany.  I had found a cheap hotel.  My rule about hotels -- as long as it is clean and close to local transport, it will do.  I won't be spending too much time in a hotel except for sleeping.  I won't spend money on a luxury hotel, unless someone else is paying for it (work or using mileage points).  The hotel provided a breakfast with good selections.  So this helped out a bit in cost savings.  I've also learned to pack snack foods (granola bars, trail mix, water, etc.) that when I go to coffee shops, I only need to buy the coffee drink -- not the pastries that add to the expenses.  Because of the abundance of fresh seafood, good and cheap sushi places were all over.  The ocassional beer, just to sample the local brews, were not so expensive.  I had a great lunch of grilled meats and sausages at a local brewery in Tallinn.  My meals in Finland were standard fare.

I had told you earlier about the amount of daylight this time of the year in this region.  During wintertime it is the opposite -- only 2+ hours of daylight.  So the Finns really take advantage of enjoying their summer.  This time of the year, a lot of them are taking month-long vacations to their summer homes.  Their holidays during winter time are to warm weather locations.  Most of the establishments and tourist sites were open.

Thursday, my first full day, was spent in the city center.  First thing in the morning, I walked to the harbor where there is an outdoor market.  Nearby was the Helsinki Cathedral which was quite a sight -- brightly white, and a wide and steep stairs to get to the church.  The rest of the afternoon was spent taking trams and walking to various venues around the city.

Helsinki Cathedral

On the second day, I took a 30 minute boat ride to the island of Suomenlinna, formerly a fortress made up of several small, inter-connected islands.

Suomenlinna, island fortress near Helsinki

The rest of the afternoon on the second day were spent back in the city center of Helsinki.  I visited Uspenski Cathedral, an Christian Orthodox church.

Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki

The third day, I took a 2.5 hour cruise ship headed to Tallinn.  I spent nearly 5 hours exploring the Old Town part of Tallinn.  I enjoyed a great lunch in Old Town Tallinn.  The city is definitely worth visiting again.  I would have loved to have stayed overnight.  I took a late afternoon/early evening boat ride back to Helsinki.  I still had time to sightsee later that evening in Helsinki.

Lunch in Tallinn

Old Town Tallinn

Market Square in Tallinn

The last day, I ventured around Helsinki including the nearest public beach within the city.  I also took several trams criss-crossing the city to get more flavor of the city, especially the residential neighborhoods.

More photos can be viewed in my flickr account.

My visit to Helsinki and Tallinn went well.  The weather throughout my visit was wonderful -- sunny with temperature in the 70's.  Most people that I had to deal with during this trip spoke English really well.  Both cities are definitely places that I would visit again.  So, two more countries off my checklist of places visited.