Despite coming from Sweden, a neighboring country to Finland, and despite the fact that they even speak Swedish as a second language and that the country was once part of Sweden – I never had any real plans on visiting Finland.
It seemed like a beautiful country, and the thought of visiting northern Finland and go dog sledding would be an experience of a life-time, but it also seemed so… distant…
I know it doesn’t make any sense at all, and luckily, with the Europe Train Challenge, I finally – at the end of the whole thing, managed to reach Finland.
I didn’t know very much of the country.
All I knew was that in Sweden you call it ”the land of the thousand lakes”, that they are the kings of Heavy Metal and that they speak the loveliest, most adorable Swedish accent.
The one thing which surprised me on our visit to Helsinki, was the atmosphere. I had heard that the Finnish people were distant, cold and hard to reach (just like my view of the country itself had been), but they turned out to be quite the opposite: warm and welcoming.
They were more than happy to speak English, the open-air markets seemed more like those in eastern Europe, and a small question to a guy in a bakery led to him excitedly telling us all about the Finnish cuisine, its tradition and what his mother used to make for him as a child.
But I think the absolute best memory I will have of Helsinki was that of 5 am in the morning on the day we were leaving.
Stepping off the tram on the way to the ferry, we had just realized that we were completely lost when we heard someone yelling:
Where are you going?!
Turning around, we saw an old man with a long, white beard and a large round belly standing in the doorway.
He held up the door as we ran across the street in the rain, and entered a small room packed with unorganized papers and dolls from floor to ceiling.
He introduced himself as Santa Claus – and there was no doubt in my mind that it was actually him.
He had it all; the beard, the body, the potato nose, the round glasses and that gruff grandpa voice – it was the most unexpected ending to our stay in Helsinki, but where else would you meet Santa than in Finland?