Newsweek magazine has named Finland the best country in the world, and I have to say, I’m not surprised. I’m neither an historian nor a geographer, so I’m not going to try to give you a short course on Helsinki. Or Finland, for that matter. I can only tell you about the little bit that I saw and learned while there for a few short hours. (Actually, the hours in Helsinki are the same length as everywhere else, except possibly Manchester, England, which are the longest I’ve ever encountered, but the hours in Helsinki felt short because there weren’t enough of them.) If you want more info, I’ve included some links at the bottom. I’ll just say that it is a wonderful city, and one I would like to return to.
Helsinki seemed to me to be a busy port and a bustling city. Given that the population of Helsinki is just over half a million, I reckon most of them have to be out and among it at any one time for it to bustle.
A bit like Hobart, it is hard to go anywhere in Helsinki where you can’t see, or, indeed, splash, water. Its position in the Gulf of Finland, on the Baltic Sea, together with numerous islands and peninsulas (would that be peninsuli?) give it an extensive coastline. The salinity of the water in the Baltic Sea, particularly in areas like the Gulf of Finland, is much lower than in other seas. In fact, it is low enough that the Gulf typically freezes over in winter.
I was fascinated to see that along the coast there was a rug-washing place. Perhaps there are more than one, but I only saw the one. Anyway, it is simply a place where people bring their rugs to wash, using an eco-friendly soap I’m told. There are huge racks to dry them on, and a large wringer to wring them out. Apparently it’s just standard practice, and no one loses their rugs. Remarkable.
By the way, if you are like me, you’ve probably been pronouncing Helsinki Hel SINK i all these years. Well, STOP it! It’s pronounced HEL sink i. It takes a bit of practice, but you’ll get the hang of it.
We went to the central market, including a covered market, for lunch. Well, not really lunch, but a snack as our guide kept calling it. It was only a little bite, for which I was very thankful, because half of it was reindeer meat. The other half featured boiled egg and mashed potato as I recall, but I don’t have much recollection of it as I was too busy trying to swallow Blitzen.
The export of reindeer meat from Finland is apparently one of the fastest growing segments of the Finnish food industry. Despite its being rather pricey, there seems to be a constant demand for reindeer meat. It is said to have “the delicious but distinctive taste of game.” Okay. The meat is fine-textured and tender, and extremely low in fat content. I’m sure it’s healthy (for everyone but the reindeer, that is), but it doesn’t suit me. Sautéed reindeer (Poronkaristys, which is what I had) is the best known fresh reindeer dish, but they also eat reindeer steaks and cold smoked reindeer. If you want to read more about reindeer meat, check out: Finland: Reindeer. I’m not going to say anymore about it because I don’t want to think about it anymore.
The other food in the market looked wonderful (the covered market, that is; I didn’t get to wander around the outdoor market). The Finns are not fresh-food-challenged by their northern isolation and climate any longer. I think they were once-upon-a-time. I suppose that would explain the need to eat reindeer…
Another (more digestible) thing the good folks of HEL sink i (say it with me) are proud of is Jean Sibelius. Treat yourself and listen here to the London Philharmonic playing Finlandia.
Memorial to Jean Sibelius
I’ll leave you on that soaring note.
Featured writer: Meandering Matriarch