I think I answered the question “so, what on earth do you like so much about Helsinki?” so many times, that the moment came to summarize it once and forever.
Here are 10 reasons why I love this city and miss it every time we are apart:
- Serenity. Stillness. Silence. However you call it, but it is unique. Helsinki is meant for practicing mindfulness. And it makes me wonder: why people here even consider paying for yoga classes? The city itself is like a never-ending savasana. Occasionally you might wish for more action, hustle and bustle… but then just close your eyes, inhale deeply, and let all the lingering thoughts fade away. For free.
Photo: Ksenia Kosheleva
- The blessing of a half an hour (tops!) commute. I can get anywhere I want in 15-20 minutes given that my Electra has enough air in the tires. Yes, I am a bit of a reckless driver, wearing heels and cursing clueless tourists for taking over the cycling paths. But, oh boy, every single km/h of those fast&furious rides is a bliss!
- The Unbearable Lightness of (Female) Being: the phenomenon that results from the most laid-back fashion style in all Northern Europe topped with ten months of rubber boots weather. Nobody cares how you look, so after a while you have to make an effort in order to make an effort to meet some vague, almost non-existing beauty standards. Sounds very meta, but it’s true.
- Safe returns in the middle of the night. It might be a soft snowfall in the light of the streetlamps or milky white nights but, irrespective of the season, the only worrisome thought occupying my slightly intoxicated mind is: how much did I spend? God bless Northern Europe.
- The Töölö bay view. It is mesmerizing, no matter which side of the bay you choose: the silhouette of Linnanmäki Ferris wheel, VR trains, architectural icebergs of The Finlandia Hall and The National Opera. NB. Café Tyyni is perfect for the sunrise and Sininen Hyvila – for the sunset.
- Helsinki parks. My biased top-3 looks like this:
#3 Keskuspuisto, The Central Park, stretching 10 km² from south to north that is, just for the record, 2.5 times more impressive than its American namesake’s size;
#2 Sibelius park – ideal for mixing business with pleasure: getting the first tan while observing an army of tourists trying to stick their heads inside the pipes of Sibelius monument;
#1 Hesperia park – my one and only. After all, love does not require any justification.
7. Disney déjà vu caused by the fact that anytime I wish, I can pretend that I am a cross-breed of Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora, connecting to all kinds of fauna, just without going deep into the woods. Baby bunnies chasing magpies right in front of the kitchen window? Check. Meeting squirrels and swans in uncountable amounts, and stumbling across the foxes or bambies poo while jogging? Check. Living downtown? Check. The truth is: Helsinki is the kind of a capital where most of the time the wild life is more accessible than a bottle of wine (scroll down for the things I am not particularly loving ).
- Occasional friendships. It takes time to make friends here. And twice more time to establish “how are you doing?” relationships with cashiers, pharmacy sellers and café owners. Like “good morning” from the construction worker guy, who has been working on the next building renovation for the past half a year. It took a few months of my daily “Huomenta!” to all the brigade, and now he is the one who always waves back from his bulldozer. You think it means nothing? I take it as a personal victory.
- Summer madness. Imagine, that the whole population of one wonderful city puts all its dreams, whims and hopes in one season? Actually, in one month. Summer in Helsinki is now or never. It’s intravenous. No sunscreen rule applied. Just do it. You don’t even have time to post about it on Instagram because one moment too late. Grab a bottle, sit on the nearest rock and watch the sunset becoming sunrise in no time. “Summertime sadness” by Lana Del Rey is a recommended soundtrack (she must have Finnish roots to define the feeling so precisely…)
- And bazillion of other things: takeaway coffee on the stairs of The Cathedral; Ateneum and Kiasma art museums; walking on the sea ice; spontaneous picnics; everybody speaking English; shopping at Crazy Days in Stockmann (I am a devoted customer and not ashamed); jogging like a crazy fitness unicorn because, OMG, every route is so beautiful…
Just to be fair:
4 Things I am not particularly liking about Helsinki (see? only 4!)
- Dining on the verge of bankruptcy.
- Adjusting to the strangest capital schedule ever. Ever heard of the motto claiming that some cities, like New York, Moscow or Seattle “never sleep”? Alternatively, Helsinki does sleep. Or, let’s say, it takes a nap in the most inappropriate time. Living in Helsinki one should get used to uncompromising “Suljettu” (“Closed”) sign on the doors. The restaurants can be “suljettu” on Sundays, Mondays or public holidays (like Mother’s Day, why not?), while coffee places operate workdays from 9 to 16 and Saturday from 11 to 15.
- Having three weather apps on my phone, none of them accurate. The fact that “warm spring” and “hot summer” are oxymorons in Finland is longtime proven by two public holiday infamous for their apocalyptic weather: Vappu – the 1st of May celebration, when it is common to embrace the northern wind and drink sparkling mixed with hail. And Juhannus – Midsummer, when people swim in icy water, wear flowers in the hair, burn bonfires and get themselves busy with all kinds of pagan stuff just not to get traumatized with the thought that half of the summer is officially gone, while they are still wearing scarves.
- Monopoly on alcohol selling. I even don’t want to elaborate why.
All abovementioned things make me mopy and grumpy sometimes. However, like in “paper, scissors, rock” game they are totally beaten by the things I DO love. Finland and I already passed the seven-year itch, so, hopefully, what we have between each other can survive the occasional bickering and long-distance relationship. Just in case, I can always back up with all-purpose line from FRIENDS: We were on a break!©
Meaning: more Helsinki seasons are coming. Pinky swear.