Nuuksio National Park
Rather than rush to Helsinki, which would be our last stop in Finland, we sought an experience with the nature in Finland. We’d love to drive further into the lake district, but this small national park just outside of Helsinki looked ideal.
There were several short hikes possible, but we opted for a 4km loop, taking in some of the forest, as well as vantage points of the lakes. It was relatively easy going compared to the hikes we’re accustomed to, with a mostly flat trail broken up with very short (but sharp) climbs. It shouldn’t be surprising given how flat the south of Finland is!
The forest was incredibly lush and green, and it was a pleasure to just stare at the moss and search for mushrooms – of which there were dozens of varieties. I don’t know the first thing about foraging for food, so these stayed safely in the ground!
The lakes were a little less impressive though. Maybe if we’d seen them on a clear sunny day? Fortunately, the trail itself was enjoyable enough without the views out across the lakes, nor without soaring mountain scenes.
We arrived in Helsinki around 4PM, and caught the tail end of a flea market. I gave it a wide berth, but as always, Risa was interested in the tea ware, among other things. We stuck our head into the neighbouring market hall, but nothing caught our attention.
We’d paid for an hour’s parking, and rather than waste it, we took off to explore the area on foot. One of our friends sang praises for Helsinki, so we were very keen to see what the fuss was about. It was going to be a long afternoon of walking, so we decided to grab a cup of coffee – and then spent the rest of the day buzzing in a borderline state of nausea/euphoria. I don’t know how strong that coffee was, but even at midnight, after a long day of walking, I was still wide awake and struggling to fall asleep!
We moved the van to a cheaper, and slightly more centrally located parking spot. Just as with Stockholm, we had superb views from our van. We had to pay parking until 9PM, and again from 9AM at a rate of €2/hr. The central market was just a short walk away. We weren’t particularly hungry, but as always, curious to see what was on offer – and certainly didn’t expect to find canned bear meat!
The skyline of old Helsinki is dominated by two buildings – one a red-bricked orthodox church, the other a equally prominent white cathedral.
We raced to try and get to the orthodox church before it closed, but unfortunately we were too slow, and the doors were well and truly locked. Still, it was wonderful to admire the details in the red-bricked, onion-domed orthodox cathedral. Continuity be damned, but we returned in the morning and managed to get inside. It was surprising for me to see that a wedding was just about to get underway, which we could watch from the side of the church. It felt a little voyeuristic to watch a complete stranger’s wedding, so we didn’t stay any longer than we needed. But, of course, this happened on Day 140 – tomorrow, not today.
Back in the current timeline, we made our way to the other of the two churches. On the way there, we got a little side tracked, and ended up in the city museum. We didn’t buy tickets, so it was limited what we could see, but one of those things that we did see was VR footage. It was incredible to experience sightseeing this way, and I think that maybe it was a mistake not buying a 360˚ camera for this holiday – It would be incredible to see it in the future with VR goggles!
The other church, an enormous white cathedral, that seemed to be an interesting mix of styles. It was a surprisingly steep walk up the steps to reach the entrance. Fortunately, it was still open, so we could peer inside. I have used the word cavernous quite freely to describe these large churches, but I can’t think of a more fitting adjective. The feeling of space was incredible – even if the photos don’t convey that. It might have been enormous, but it was quite barren inside, lacking the excessive adornments the orthodox church had.
Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw when we left the church. There were hundreds of young people dressed in togas sitting on the steps below the church, drinking champagne from the bottle. It was quite interesting to watch for a while, with what seemed like initiation rites of some sort taking place. People with megaphones were yelling, some people in the toga were running around, carrying things. There were a few policemen on motorbikes watching from a distance – I’m not sure if they were confused about what was going on, or just waiting for it to get out of hand. We didn’t have their patience, and decided to see more of the city instead.
It’s quite a pretty city, with some nice streets and green parks. It was also seeing some fantastic art nouveau buildings (is this art nouveau? Or something else from the early 20th century?). I absolutely loved the central station, and I was hard pressed to think of one that I loved more – at least from the outside.
We’d hoped to grab some food from the markets we’d walked through earlier, but they were all closed now. Instead, Risa opted to get a meal from a delicatessen in a nearby supermarket, and I thought I would try a local hamburger chain, Hesburger. Risa made a smart choice, and her grilled salmon was delicious. I made a less smart choice, and my McDonalds-clone double cheeseburger was less satisfying than a regular McDonalds double cheeseburger, but at a premium price point.
We walked back to our park, and found that it was quite a popular place. It was half empty when we left, but was completely full now. It was also quite loud with all the party boats travelling up and down the water – it was a Friday night after all.
As I mentioned earlier, with a combination of the noise, and a body riddled with caffeine, we both had a terrible night’s sleep.
It was Saturday morning, and we assumed that it would be quite popular to visit this historic offshore fortress. We caught one of the frequent ferries from the central market. Thankfully we were near cover when a sudden downpour sent the rest of the tourists seeking shelter. Our ferry arrived, and we braved the short unprotected gap, still managing to get surprisingly wet in that distance.
Thankfully the squall had ended by the time we reached our destination. I had no real idea of where to walk, and decided to walk the opposite direction to the rest of the tourists, heading back towards Helsinki across a small wooden bridge. We quickly worked out why this was a less popular direction when we ended up in a small, grey concrete housing complex – it’s certainly not what we were expecting to see here, so we turned around.
To be honest, we didn’t quite know what it was that we wanted to see. We ambled around, hoping to find inspiration as we walked. The old Russian wooden houses were quite pretty, and surprising to learn that they are private residences, as well as the history of Russian occupation throughout the modern history.
We also saw one of the ladies in the enormous Victorian-style dresses that we’ve seen from time to time. I have no idea what this style is – Traditional Finnish? Roma? Something completely different?
We stumbled upon a few interesting old buildings that were possible to enter the damp, dark corridors underneath. It was a little hazardous navigating around the hidden pools of water on the floor, but thankfully my waterproof boots have lived up to their label.
There were pretty parklands, and small cafes in some of the older wooden buildings. We continued walking towards the old external walls. The main section was closed to tourists while they repair the damage erosion and tourism has done to them. There were still a few small areas open to explore, so it wasn’t a complete loss.
The winds were picking up again, but thankfully not too gusty, and our little drone flew without issue. It really was the best way to appreciate the defensive barricades of the island – just a shame that we couldn’t see it with our own eyes.
We were lashed with another few sudden heavy downpours of rain before finally making it onto a ferry back into town.
We made a last ditch attempt to try some of the food that we’d yet to try in Finland, including the misleading looking lihapiirakka – a donut, but filled with meat! It was alright, but I won’t be looking for a Finnish supermarket in the future to satisfy any cravings.
After finally making our way inside the Orthodox cathedral (above), we caught an ever so short glimpse of a Red Bull Soap Box Derby. We were late arriving, so it wasn’t possible to get a prime position. At first we stuck around the finish line, and watched broken racers limp over the line.
We walked a little further up and were able to see them tacking some of the obstacles that were destroying these racers, as well as getting a view of one of the giant screens showing the live racing.
It was hilarious, with some truly well crafted vehicles and costumes competing. We both would have happily stayed much longer, but had to race to catch a ferry to Estonia. We put it off as long as we could, and then regretted it once we got stuck in a combination of congestion and road works. Then we got lost. It was stressful, but as with all times previous, the stress wasn’t necessary, and we had boarded with plenty of time.