Days 6 & 7 – Helsinki (Finland)

We woke shortly before our 6am alarm and hurriedly packed our tent and gear. We skipped breakfast (deciding instead to eat on the ferry) and cycled at a brisk pace, the 8km to Tallinn’s port. Once there we whizzed past the long line of waiting vehicles, straight onto the ship’s loading bay, locked the bikes and found the perfect spot in the ship’s cafeteria for the 2 hour crossing. 

We noticed that the ship set sail at 7.20am (10 minutes early!) and noted this for the return journey.
The sky was cloudless and the sea was like a millpond. Before we knew it, owners (which included us) were being asked to return to their vehicles, so we remounted our bikes, cycled past the lines of cars waiting to disembark and were first off…Happy days.

We knew very little about Helsinki and had only a very rough plan of what to do with our 2 days. We decided that we would hug the coastline, exploring the abundant waterfront bicycle paths and cross the bridges connecting the mainland with the numerous islands dotting the bay around the city. We stopped at a lively Sunday morning car-boot sale outside the city hall but had no room for purchases in our panniers. 

Around lunchtime we found a small beach on the island of Mustikamaan (note the absence of Finnish place names in this blog for a reason) and stopped to eat. The balmy weather had brought the sun worshippers out but Vanessa wore her jacket whilst the locals wore bikinis and budgie smugglers.

After lunch we continued around the island, stopping to try our hand at some Finnish style weightlifting, then crossing another bridge back to the mainland and along the shoreline.

They breed them tough here!
We had received a ‘Yes’ from a Warmshower host ‘Lauri” who lives approx. 10km north east of Helsinki city centre. By mid afternoon we decided to leisurely make our way there. On arriving, we found Lauri having only just returned from work, assembling a new fat tyre bike and trying to arrange his 2 week summer break at his holiday home, which commenced the following day (his wife and kids were already there). After a bit of re-arranging, Laurie found space for us to sleep in the lounge next to his grand piano, and offered us both a shower…perfect. 

With our Warmshowers host Laurie
We were introduced to his mother and even got to take her fold-up electric bicycle for a spin…We joined the 2 of them for dinner, tea, chocolate and shared some stories. We declined the offer to use his home sauna (most Finnish homes have these) as we were going to a public one the following day).

The following morning we cycled to the nearest train station and caught the train to Helsinki Central (you can take bikes on all trains). From there we cycled a short distance to Market Square and caught a 15 minute ferry (without bikes) €7 p.p. To nearby Suomenlinna island, which houses a sea fortress and is Helsinki’s primary tourist attraction. We explored the island (there are actually 2 larger and 2 smaller interconnected islands) for the best part of 3 hours. It houses a submarine, a (still working) ship’s dry dock (fascinating) and a labyrinth of connected tunnels and ammunition magazines.

Returning to the mainland and having had our fill of history for one day, we headed for the public saunas where we indulged in the traditional Finnish pursuit of a cold dip followed by an extra hot sauna…Lauri had pre-warned us that the Finns prefer their saunas to be at least 70c compared to the Swedes who opt for a cooler 50c. Clearly the guy in our sauna was Finnish as he kept piling water onto the stones even though it was already unbelievably hot.

‘When in Rome…’
After a cool shower we caught the train back to Laurie’s, grabbed our panniers and then trained back into the city to catch our 7.30pm ferry (which again set sail 10 minutes early!)

Another smooth ferry crossing saw us arrive back in Tallinn at 9.30pm but we weren’t as lucky getting off this time, as we had to wait for most of the vehicles to disembark before us.

 We cycled off towards the Tallinn City campsite which was approx. 3km closer than the site we had stayed at previously. On arriving, we set up our tent on the grass area (there was only one other tent there) before going in to pay, as it was getting late; only to be told that we could not stay because 150 French school kids had pre-paid and reserved the site for 19 tents. Despite our protests (it was well past 10pm and there was no sign of the French kids yet) we were told to pack up and move on. Wearily (Vanessa had already nodded off during the ferry crossing) we packed up the tent and cycled a further 3km to our previous campsite, where we paid before setting up our tent for a second time at 11pm (fortunately it was still in the not quite dark twilight of mid summer). There we fell asleep the moment our heads hit our pillows (actually our sleeping bag cases stuffed with our clothes).