After only a few hours at school (due to the snow and it being the last day of term), I had a lovely Christmas lunch with colleagues and got home at about 2.30pm. We left soon after so that we could drive to the airport, park in the long term parking and catch the shuttle bus to the terminal. Because of the bad (or good, depending on how you look at it) weather, we were an hour late departing, so by the time we got through customs and got a taxi, it was close to midnight that we reached the hotel. Helsinki is 2 hours ahead so it was actually 2am!
Needless to say we didn’t get up early on Saturday – we ventured out about mid-morning. We walked down into the centre of town, stopping to look at the Tuomiokirkko, Helsinki’s Cathedral. It has a dramatic staircase out the front, which is quite scary when it’s covered in snow/ice and you have nothing to hang on to. We were lucky to not be there with any large crowds so were able to get some good photos. We kept going into town and walked through the Christmas markets, which were lovely. By this point we were all wanting to get out of the cold, so we went and had a look at the railway station and then walked to Temppeliaukio Kirkko (Rock Church). It was awesome being able to take the others there, and say ‘I’ve sung here’! Brought back great memories from our European Choir Tour.
Just outside the Rock Church is a great souvenir shop, so Katharine and Steve used that as a good opportunity to buy some gifts. We then went back to the train station and had lunch across the road at a little cafe. We then continued our adventuring, this time to the Sibelius Park and Monument. For those of you who don’t know, Sibelius is a famous composer, who happens to be from Finland. Near the monument was a park all covered in snow, so of course being the big kids we are, we all played on the swings and things – Katharine even went down the slippery slide! After that we decided to head back to the hotel for a nice warm shower and a game of cards. We caught the tram back into town and found a nice Italian restaurant for dinner.
On Sunday we got up at a reasonable time, had breakfast, and went to the train station to catch the bus to the zoo. Once you’ve purchases your ticket and gone through the gate, you then have to walk across a bridge to the island where all the animals are. It was well below zero and the wind was rushing across the bridge – none of us have experienced anything quite like that before. We walked all around the little island and saw all sorts of things including snow leopards, tigers, monkeys, red pandas, turtles, and all sorts of other animals. We had lunch there and once we had ourselves all rugged up again we caught the bus back to the train station and then found the Helsinki City Museum. It was great to walk around the exhibitions and learn about the history of Helsinki – plus it wasn’t snowing inside!
We then went back to the hotel and after having showers, sat downstairs in the bar, having drinks and playing cards. We then ate at the restaurant so that we wouldn’t have to go back out again. None of us minded the cold, but it was the constant wind and snow that made it a bit harsh. My main problem was that if I had myself all rugged up, every time I breathed out my glasses fogged up, which provided a good laugh for the others.
On Monday we went down to the harbour, had a wander around and then found a shopping centre to have a look at. Adrian bought a Christmas tie and we had lunch at an American style eatery place, simply because it had food from all around the world, so there was bound to be something there for everyone. We went back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and jumped in a taxi to the airport. The drive was quite an interesting one, as the car was slipping around a bit. The driver seemed used to driving in those conditions, so was perfectly in control. We were very early at the airport so once we checked our bags in, we killed the time doing shopping, talking and playing games on the iPod. Katharine and I went for a walk and saw Santa and his elf dressed in traditional costumes. I said ‘Mauri Koonas’ to the lady and they both looked at me funny. We had seen it written everywhere so assumed it was Merry Christmas. It turns out, Mauri Koonas is a famous writer, lol …. oops. Merry Christmas is actually ‘Hyvää Joulua’ 🙂
We got back to London a couple of hours late, but the traffic was shocking. Instead of the usual nice 20 minute trip home, it took us 3 hours!!! Despite this annoying end to our holiday, we all had a great time. I really loved being able to take Adrian, Katharine and Steve back to Helsinki, as it is such a beautiful place with helpful, friendly people.