Finland in October. I’ll be honest—I was hoping for snow. Maybe not in Helsinki itself, but certainly out in the wilds of Karelia where I spent the second half of my brief trip. Alas, it was mild, even by UK standards, and there were only a couple of days when gloves were a necessity, never mind full polar explorer wear.

Finnish panorama

Finland is known as the land of a thousand lakes, and for good reason. In fact, there are just shy of 188,000 lakes, so flying into Helsinki it was like looking down onto an intricate paper doily. I expected fir trees—nearly 70 per cent of the country is forest, after all—but not the amazing amount of silver birch, with their startling pale bark and their leaves turning shades of yellow and copper and gold.

And the silence.

The silence had a quality all its own.

Finnish birch trees

Helsinki was as busy and bustling as you’d expect any major city to be. It’s easy to forget, when you’re there, that for a country that is in area the eighth largest in Europe, it has only around 5.5 million people. (To put that into perspective for me, there are over 8 million people in London alone, and 66 million in the UK.)

The rest of this post appears over on Murder Is Everywhere.

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.

Helsinki gothic

The centre of Helsinki was full of ornate buildings like this one, complete with grotesques flanking the doorway.


This building used to be the Chancery for the British Embassy. It is not one of the prettier architectural efforts the city has to offer.

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.

Helsinki gothic 02

More Helsinki gothic architecture

Helsinki old building

not quite sure if this one is a public loo or a train station

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.

Finland from the train

autumn colours on the train ride from airport to Helsinki centre

Helsinki park

Helsinki city is filled with parks

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”.

Helsinki cobbles

cobbled streets criss-crossed with tram tracks

Helsinki tram

the tram system is quick and efficient, and seems to go everywhere

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.

Helsinki crayfish party

Helsinki crayfish party. Don’t ask me what this is all about. I’d no idea that crayfish held parties…

Helsinki street names

street names in both Finnish and Swedish

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.

spotted in Helsinki

spotted this place in Helsinki city centre…

Helsinki glogi

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of 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.

green Helsinki

hybrid BMW charging up on a Helsinki street

Helsinki 10 green bottles man

How’s this for recycling? Man playing amazing tunes on part-filled bottles in Helsinki centre

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.

Helsinki shoreline

Helsinki shoreline with giant cruise ships and cross between New England and Moscow architecture

Helsinki tall ship

The public was welcome aboard the beautiful old vessels in the harbour

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.

Helsinki bookstore

Helsinki bookstore, with Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly and Peter Lovesey all in evidence.

Helsinki Russian store window

Russian store window, complete with old propaganda posters.

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.

British Embassy Helsinki 01

The British Embassy, in fetching shade of Barbie pink.

British Embassy Helsinki 03

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.

Helsinki kinky

Either this shop sold old kitchen implements or some kind of antique sex aids. Not quite sure which.

Helsinki pastries

Plenty on offer for the sweet of tooth.

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.

Upcoming Events

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 HollidayWilliam ShawMark HillDerek FarrellJay StringerJA MarleyAlex CaanBarbara NadelZoë SharpLiz (Elizabeth) MundyCaroline (Caz) FrearFelicia 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.