As I write this, I’m in a small apartment in Helsinki. My first time in the city, or Finland, or Scandinavia, come to that. It has a very un-English feel that strikes me as similar to other major European cities I’ve visited—not that there have been so many of those, either, I admit.
I suppose, to begin with, I expected something a little closer to Reykjavík but it’s not quite so quirky. Some of the buildings in the city centre have a stately, almost baronial grandness to them, where others are simply stark and ugly, the way of city buildings everywhere.
There are green spaces and parks everywhere, currently covered in golden carpets of falling leaves. The view coming into land at the airport was one of beautiful autumn colours, evergreen conifers mixed with deciduous birch.
The streets are cobbled and filled with the clank and rattle of trams. A public transport system that is easy and logical, even for non-Finnish speakers. So far, I have learned to say only “hello”, “bye bye”, and “thank you”—“moi”, “hei hei”, “kiitos”.
The road signs are in both Finnish and Swedish, which is an official language of Finland. Everybody, it seems, speaks English, and can identify your need to be communicated with that way just by looking.
Mind you, the people are stylish here, and attractive, in a way that they simply are not in London. The language is fascinating, but very alien, apart from the few words that always cause entertainment. A shop called the Acne Studios, for instance, complete with spotted leopard in the window, or the shelves of drinks called Glögi.
Helsinkii is a very green city, not simply because of the parks. They recycle everything, hybrid cars are encouraged, and it was 25c for the cheapest biodegradable carrier bag in a grocery store. The proximity to the sea makes the air clean—or it would be if everyone didn’t seem to be a smoker.
Still, on Sunday morning there were lots of people taking a brisk walk along the shoreline in the October sunshine. The harbour held everything from small yachts to a couple of giant cruise ships, and even a flotilla of classic tall ships, which were welcoming people aboard to look round.
Bookstores are plentiful, as are shops selling second-hand designer clothes. We even came across one place selling everything Russian. Perhaps this was in celebration of the fact Finland is one of the few countries to fight against Russia and win.
We took a sneak peek at the British embassy, out on the headland in a cluster of other official buildings. Painted pink, it was one of the few not plastered with signs warning against photography, unlike the US embassy just across the road.
Tomorrow I head up into the wilds north of the capital to sample the delights of rural Finland. If it’s anything like the city, it should be a fascinating trip.
This week’s Word of the Week is hysteresis, meaning a state that exists when the pressure has been removed but the strain remains (much like in divorce) or when the state of something depends partly upon its history. The word comes from the ancient Greek meaning lagging behind.
I have been invited to take part in Noir @ The Bar London ‘Chilled To The Marrow’, which takes place on Monday, October 22 from 7:00–10:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:00 p.m.) at The Urban Bar, 176 Whitechapel Road, E1 1BJ. The line-up is Susi Holliday, William Shaw, Mark Hill, Derek Farrell, Jay Stringer, JA Marley, Alex Caan, Barbara Nadel, Zoë Sharp, Liz (Elizabeth) Mundy, Caroline (Caz) Frear, Felicia Yap, and a Wildcard chosen on the night. It’s hosted by Nikki East. Entry is free.
If you haven’t come across Noir @ The Bar events, they’re short readings by crime authors, which take place in cool bars across the UK and across the Atlantic, with book giveaways to boot. They’re always a great way to hear work by authors you might not have come across before, as well as your favourites. If you’re in London on October 22, get yourself to Whitechapel and drink in a treat.