Thursday, February 26, 2015

How we almost didn't see Helsinki

Background: D. has a visa that lets him stay in Russia for 6 months at a time, and then he has to leave and come back again. So we usually have to do a border crossing trip in the winter and then in the summer we are traveling anyway. For one trip we went to Kiev as none of us needed a visa to visit Ukraine. But that isn't an option anymore, so Finland is the most convenient destination!

Running to the train....

If we could make the first metro departure in the morning (something like 5:36 am), that would give us enough time to make our 6:40 train. I remembered being in a rush last year, and that was stressful. This time we were doing fine, but then in a moment of indecision decided not to get on the first metro car, which meant waiting several minutes for the next one, which made it seem like we were going to be late. After a nail-biting commute, we were at the departure gate, and then there was another pause as we tried to figure out how to get the door to open to get on the train, being the last passengers. Whew.

Andrei had booked us seats in the children's car which includes a play area. It was nice being right there as I remembered finding it hard walking between there and another car while on the bumpy ride. David attempted to play with some other children, but they were older and a little rough. But it was still nice that he could get a little exercise.

Peek-a-boo from inside the space rocket!

No nap occurred on the train, so once again our task was to keep D. awake until we got to the hotel, so we could all crash.

But first..breakfast. We headed for McDonald's and had to wait a bit for the regular menu to be available. So David and I did some fun escalator laps. Anything to keep him out of trouble! :)

After breakfast and an agonizingly long walk to the hotel due to bags, toddler, gusts of wind, and unexpected staircases, and then a room change, we all got in bed and took a 4 hour nap. We woke up around 5pm and it was dark. That was our day in Helsinki, LOL!

Venturing out...

Last year we somehow managed to get out and walk around that first day, but here we were with it already dark, and I had accidentally picked a hotel in the "business" district, kind of dull...with a harbor view that would have been nice in summer. Anyway, we headed out for dinner and Andrei thought this Nepalese place would be fun. It turned out to be mostly like an Indian restaurant.

Yummy "chips"!

When we got back I was a little confused about what time it was, with the 1-hour difference. We ordered a toy cart up to our room (as per the advertisement on their website), and did some quiet activities. We fell asleep much earlier than our usual bedtime. David had immediately rejected the toddler bed, and wouldn't have slept on the sofa, so we had to squeeze into the double bed.

Chilling before bed...

Another sleepy day...

I had my alarm set just in case, but I didn't think it would be so hard to get up, we were all sound asleep after 9 am, and finally scrambled to make it down to the dining room by 10.00....Scandinavian (Nordic?) breakfast buffets are the best!

After checking out, we had to take everything with us since we wouldn't be returning to that neighborhood. Even though we had a few hours, it was still exhausting to traipse around with luggage and stroller and everyone in winter clothes. I think we are nearing the end of our stroller's getting too heavy to push! I mostly bring it along to hang purchases from, or to corral David in a store.

Andrei&Kalevala :)

Speaking of stores, we ran across a Christian bookstore pretty near our hotel. That made up for walking through a dreary neighborhood in the rain! David managed to wreak havoc even while buckled into his stroller, so Andrei and I took turns waiting outside with him after he had already broken something. I gravitated toward a Fair Trade section, and there were also some neat handmade trinkets. As they were ringing up my purchases at a rather "leisurely" pace, I heard about their church's two charitable funds: one for the Church in developing countries (hence the Fair Trade products), and another for impoverished Finnish pensioners. A sign on the door advertised a "Gospel-Hula," and I just loved how international/eclectic it all was! I didn't get up the nerve to take photos, but the bookstore is called Sacrum if you want to look it up.

Running out of time...

Since we didn't have much time left and things were cumbersome, we parked ourselves in Stockmann and took shifts dashing around to buy a few more gifts. I will admit that I found it exhausting to be making purchases in a foreign country. I'm usually spoiled by having everything be in English and/or Russian, and the Finnish labels on everything were killing me. I gave up looking for specific items and tried to at least find something for lunch, but it was one of those situations where I just wasn't familiar enough with the geography and there was always the possibility of something better around the corner. I ended up back in Stockmann trying to at least get a fresh deli sandwich, but scratched that idea and began selecting some baked goods, thinking Finnish pastries would be tasty. It was one of those set-ups where you have to pull the tray out and use tongs, and then go to the weigh station and get the price sticker. I kept dropping things on the floor. Then when I went to pay, I spotted some desserts, which turned out to be the only thing that I liked out of what I bought. The winning morsel may or may not have been an Oreo brownie. :)

Anyway, by this time we had 30 minutes left, so we hightailed it to the train, where we found ourselves alone in our car! :) It was Saturday, so most people were in the middle of their weekend at that point, and not traveling back yet.

Train wagon (or at least half of one) all to ourselves!

Border crossing

It was pretty funny getting checked by the whole group of officers, too. Usually they split up. At one point I noticed fumes and noticed that an officer assigned to our car was sitting in the back row painting her nails. Yuck!

Funny typo (too lazy to turn the photo)

Now we need to get D. registered again. Still working on that...


  1. Wow! I never saw a train with a children's section before. Our Italian trains sure don't have those! I'm so glad we don't have to go back & forth like that, since we are both citizens. That's a real blessing fo us!

  2. This was the hi-speed Allegro train. Unfortunately dual citizenship is not an option for us. :/

  3. Ukraine's no longer an option? Is it due to all the political stuff, or simply because of your situation?

    And the kids' section looks fun! :)

  4. No, just politics, although we loved Kiev when we went. Not sure if we want to risk it right now.

  5. What a fun train! And - really - you can order a toy cart! What a super idea!

    Some pretty exotic decor in the hotel.... Brought back the hotel we stayed in in Moscow that, for all the world, looked like someone's idea of an "Evil Whorehouse". It was really something. I kept hoping it really wasn't an evil least we made it out without one of those "evening calls".

    I find it so hard to understand why they wouldn't just delightful "grab up" as a full citizen, the son of a full citizen.

    1. Yes, well, it was one of those situations where the hotel advertised different room types, but I think they are actually all the same, it just depends on whether you order a cart or make up the sofa bed! We were supposed to have a "family room," but the actual room was a regular room, they just brought a porta-crib for him. I haven't in stayed in many hotels in Russia, but I sort of know what you mean.


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