GET HAPPY IN HELSINKI
WHY FINLAND IS THE WORLD’S HAPPIEST COUNTRY
VIVE LA DIFFERENCE
his is the most uncongested city centre I have ever seen, but many Finns frown at Helsinki for being “too crowded.” Well, the Finns are famous for their leave-me-alone attitude and a fierce quest for privacy. For them, a lake-facing cottage (Finland has more than 1.87 lakh lakes) is more valuable than an apartment near the harbourfront market in Helsinki. So the Finns’ obsession for solitude and silence makes for great folklore as well as guffaw-inducing jokes.
I hear this one in a Viking Line ship while crossing the Gulf of Finland:
Two friends meet after ages and go for a beer. After the first pint, Aapo asks Paivio, “How are you?” Paivio mumbles. Aapo, after the second pint: “How’s your family?” Paivio mumbles again. Third pint over. Aapo asks, “You’re still with Nokia?”
Paivio shouts: “Perkele! Have we come here to talk or drink?”
Jari, our host in Helsinki, adds, “Of course we are not like the Italians or those in Southern Spain. There’s a cultural difference.” This difference makes Helsinki a fabulous place to visit, but only if you know how to tackle the cold gusts of wind. If it’s too chilly, go to the harbour-front market and check out the blue fox coats or wear a moose hide hat for five minutes.
For heaven’s sake, don’t complain about the cold weather. They say in Finland: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.
THEY SAY IN FINLAND: THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS BAD WEATHER, ONLY BAD CLOTHES!
THE FINNS’ OBSESSION FOR SOLITUDE AND SILENCE MAKES FOR GREAT FOLKLORE AS WELL AS GUFFAW-INDUCING JOKES
We arrive at the Helsinki Airport – Vantaa fully prepared. Our plan includes my morning walks for photography as my wife Ruchira has refused to wait endlessly during the day if I keep experimenting with my camera. Last year, she had to stand near Banco de España in Madrid for 45 minutes while I tried to capture the setting sun over the Gran Via.
I will not talk about the consequences here.
The first sight of Helsinki under a gloomy sky fails to inspire visitors. My romance with this Nordic outpost starts only when I delve deep into its narrow lanes and leafy corners.
There are superb sculptures tucked behind trees. Take a turn and there’s Huvilakatu – a street full of art nouveau houses, reminding us of Finland’s fabled world of design. Aged trams match the slow pace of this urban life. Pretty neighbourhoods such as Punavuori are full of small, cosy shops.
I barely start appreciating the charm of Helsinki when the unknown road brings me to the seafront. There, through the drapes of the morning mist, I see giant ships The deep green and pale yellowcoloured trams do not evoke as much nostalgia as their counterparts in Lisbon or Kolkata. Yet, they are the best option to reach important landmarks as well as simple residential areas.
We hop off tram No. 2 near a local market at Hakaniemi to eat pork pie and reindeer meat chips. Half an hour later, we are at the entrance of the fabled Finlandia waiting to take wide-eyed travellers and beer-thirsty revellers to the fairylands of Stockholm and Tallinn. I am so happy that I return home and fall asleep. Ruchira’s final warning that we will miss our planned tram tour somehow compels me to emerge from the layers of thick blankets. THE SOUND OF SILENCE
GOLD SPOT The market square, facing the harbour, is one of the most popular areas in Helsinki
SEAFOOD FOR EVERY MOOD Helsinki offers a variety of fish
NORDIC FOODWALKS Both tourists and locals throng the Old Market Hall to taste Nordic cuisine
WORSHIP IN PEACE Rocks were blasted to create the walls of this unique church
THE LOCAL FAVOURITE Freshly grilled salmon with boiled potato is a must-try