Weird Helsinki, In Pictures

Here’s one of my favourite photographs I’ve taken in Helsinki. A rather whimsical entrance tunnel to the Rautatientori (central station) metro. Note the ‘cave paintings’.

Speaking of whimsical, here’s a little kiosk in a city centre park where we bought coffee.

And this… Well this goes beyond whimsy into the nightmarishly strange. In the background here, Helsinki cathedral. In the foreground, something I bought in its gift shop. Emo ice cream. A Gothic lolly.

This is licorice flavoured. Salty Nordic licorice flavoured. NO ICE CREAM SHOULD TASTE OF SALTY LICORICE! It was the most nausea-inducing thing I actually managed to eat since I had sea urchin in an all-you-can-eat Las Vegas sushi bar.

Oh yeah – and inside it’s grey. ASH GREY.

Excuse me a minute.

Sunburn And Ice

In Finland, the trees go right down to the sea. The tide is too small and the water too sweet to bother them. And I’m swimming from the shade of the forest, in waters that come winter will be frozen so solid that people will skate from island to island. But now I am swimming in the sun.

As a child I loved to swim. But that was before I went for lessons, where they taught me I was doing it wrong. Maybe I wasn’t graceful – Hell, a lot of the time I was doing the doggy paddle, I definitely wasn’t graceful – but today I swam further than I ever have before, or thought I ever could. To hell with that teacher. I didn’t labour it, didn’t try to win, didn’t thrash. I took it easy and just… made my way.

I suppose it helped a lot that I was in water where I knew, if I ever got tired or felt like I might drown, I could just lie on my back for a while. How can you be afraid of furniture? The Baltic is a good pool for learners, definitely.

And now I am sunburned, having swum in the sun for far too long. It had been lightly clouded most of the time, and I counted that as no sun at all. When it did come out, I was in the sea. You can’t be burned underwater, surely?

Perhaps. But my neck, face, shoulders and upper arms had to come up for air. I look like I’ve been dipped head-first into boiling water. Please don’t think I’m complaining though. I know that at home right now it’s raining, that we’re headed for yet another truly pointless summer. This pain in my neck feels like victory.

After the swim we went for dinner with some friends who inhabit an ecological housing project. I’m not sure what practical difference that makes, apart from the fact that it seems a lovely green place to live and they grow their own fruit and vegetables. So dinner was a really excellent salad, followed by a huge and lovely dessert. Seems a good idea.

Sitting on the balcony of a third floor apartment in Helsinki now. It’s ten at night, but the sun has not yet gone behind the tower blocks across the way. I’ll go to bed when it does. It’s been a long hot day, I’m exhausted and in discomfort.

It is though, a very comfortable discomfort.

The Land Of The Tree

My plan worked… well enough.

Of course I couldn’t sleep on the bus in the end. But I had time to stretch in Dublin airport, drink a coffee to keep me awake until boarding and get my devices recharged. (The new terminal seems at first to be a building somehow designed without power points, but they do have them in the cafe upstairs in departures.)

I suppose I got about an hour’s sleep on the flight. Slightly befuddled then, I managed to get lost inside Helsinki airport. I think due to a shortage of gates they let us out into the departures lounge; I should have realised this when the woman serving me coffee wished me a good flight. There was a lack of signage to the exit – people usually depart Departures in planes of course. I ended up in the international transfers sector, which had a door that only opens to you from the outside, presumably an anti-immigrant feature. I was trapped! The only logical escape was to take the next plane leaving the EU.

Fortunately, I wasn’t quiet tired enough to be that logical. I waited. Some Chinese people entered, I snuck through and was free.

Not a lot to report after that. I met my friend, we played on the beach with her six-year-old daughter and her daughter’s friend. We came home and I managed to stay politely awake through dinner, collapsing into bed around ten in the evening even though the sun was still shining.

It was still shining when I awoke. Well OK, I presume I missed a brief episode of darkness. Helsinki is not above the Arctic Circle. But it was now even hotter. We went to another beach, warmer and more sheltered, where Finnish families from the neighbourhood go to build sandcastles and paddle. This may be a colder country on average, but they have real seasons here. The summer they’re complaining about is a hell of a lot better than the one we’re complaining about.

I went swimming! In the Baltic. The water is lovely. Being almost enclosed it’s a lot less salty than the ocean, so it was more like swimming in a lake. Except it was salty enough to allow me to float with no effort at all. Best of both worlds really.

And I arrived back to find that the world had changed. Though this was America’s day officially (Greetings to the Home Of The Brave, from the Land Of The Tree) it was all going on in Europe. The EU Parliament has thankfully rejected ACTA, yet another attempt by Big Entertainment to curtail the Internet. They wanted us to choose between freedom and their profitability. We did.

But then at CERN they found the first solid evidence to confirm the existence of the Higgs boson. It’s important? Well, it proves that the scientific theory we call the “Standard Model” doesn’t have a huge flaw, that humans do have some idea of how it all works. It’s a major step towards a complete understanding of how the universe works, and how it began.

Freedom, wisdom, and floating in a warm sea. Some days are OK.