Helsinki on-the-run

Posted on July 23, 2013


One of the best things my sister Ayen has done when she planned our Singapore trip was to have a long lay-over at Helsinki, Finland.  Having 10 hours to burn, it gave us time to leave Finland’s Vantaa airport and explore nearby Helsinki on-the-run.  It was very possible to do so as the airport was only 30 minutes away by bus.  The Regional day ticket only costs 12 Euros per adult and 6 Euros per kid, Jeremy and Gabrielle.  We both agreed we would plan as we go, not to make it complicated and just to stay close to the bus station.  I find most European cities were walking cities and there were lots of interests within its core.  Helsinki proved to be just what we thought it to be – a mix of old and new architecture, shops, flea markets and boutiques. There was enough to keep us preoccupied for several hours.  It sure was a better idea than just to sit and wait at the airport.

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Clearing out of customs, we proceeded to find the tourist information counter.  The best guide we picked up was the 3B/3T tram Helsinki Sightseeing Guide 2013. These two trams literally circles the center of Helsinki and the guide provided points of interests within the route of the trams.  I located the official 2012 copy online.  Comparing the two guides, I found out that the text were almost the same.  Make sure to get yourself one and use the information for a quick sightseeing of Helsinki.  Click on the links below to get the guides.



On our way to Singapore, we started our day at Helsinki with a meal at Vapiano, an Italian restaurant just a few meters away from the bus station.  It was a comfort to my niece and nephew that the food was something they were familiar with.  I appreciate the fact that they cooked the food as it was ordered and that they use literally house-made pasta.  It would be hard to miss the viewing window of the pasta kitchen as we went to get our food.  As expected, fresh pasta gave that satisfaction as any fresh pasta can only give.  We were ready for more exploring after that meal.

Ayen have preselected two tourist spots, Kauppatori Market Square and Helsinki Cathedral by the Senate Square. Walking southeast of the bus station, we found it quite easily.  There were a few streets with more traffic but most streets only had a few pedestrians milling about.  There was no hurried pace, there was no urgency.  The day was blessedly cloudy and cool, making the stroll pleasant.  We located the cathedral right away.  It easy enough to find as it has a commanding presence, raised by several steps from the Senate Square.  The most impressive about it was the old pipe organ that adorned the west wall.  We didn’t get to find the flea market but we didn’t worry.  We have a second chance to explore some more on our way back to Toronto.

On our second try, my sister has better understanding of the tram system and we decided to take it easy and just ride the route of 3B/3T.  Nursing a residual cold and thankful to be off my feet, it was a good option to have.  From the guide, we chose to get off point 29, where we stopped by Cafe Ekberg.  The oldest café in Helsinki, I could not resist to make this foodie stop.  The restaurant has a traditional feel, marble floors and posts, display case and old-fashioned flatware and china, I loved it on the spot.  I could tell that coffee was going to be good and the pastries even better.  I figured it could not last that long if the service was bad.  And I was right to make the assumption.  The coffee was of good quality and the croissant ever so flaky.

After our coffee pit stop, we hopped on once again the 3B/3T tram.  What caught our attention to get us off was the Kauppatori Flea Market.  It was apparently the last stop of 3T route.   Even if it wasn’t, it would be hard to miss.  With rows and rows of orange vendor tents, it was a tourist eye candy.  We finally found what we missed the first time.  As expected the market have anything and everything – souvenirs, hand-crafted home stuff, knitted toques and gloves were the main fare.  Me being me, I paid more attention to the food booths and I was curious about what several booths was selling – Finnish Soup from the Lapland, Creamy Salmon Soup.  As we just recently ate at the café, we tried one steamy bowl just to taste.  It has that satisfying warmth of a chowder.  Fresh chunks of salmon with big potato cubes sunk on the bottom of the bowl.  I was glad the four of us just split one bowl.  I think I would be too full if I attempted to finish one on my own.  I would have tried as it was THAT good.

For the little time that we had in Helsinki, it sure was interesting.  I am most curious now of the other day trips all around Helsinki.  I wonder when would I be able to come back.  Ah well, another trip, another time.  I hope it would be soon enough. :)