Finland part 1 – Tallinn to Helsinki to Tampere: 4 nights

Wine and early ferries are not a great combo. By the time I was on the boat and moving I could have happily had a nap on the floor. I instead opted for a padded window seat next to the gambling machines. Off the boat, on a tram and a quick buzz to the train station. I would be returning to Helsinki at the end of my trip and saw to reason to linger. Soon I was sitting in a very comfortable Finnish train, Helsinki already miles away. Off the train in Tampere and I was greeted by lots of roadworks and a busy bustling city. Not quite what I was expecting but then again I didn’t know what to expect. Some tourist magazines describe Tampere as the Manchester of Finland, but I’ve never been to Manchester so I can’t really compare. Suitcase dragging behind me I headed across the famous rapids (of which Tampere is famed for and what was once the fuel of the industrial revolution here) in search of lunch.

I’d been recommended the Plevna brewery restaurant in the Finlayson District by a friend. Hearty meat, potatoes and more meat sounded like just the thing. I decided to try the local blood sausage, a lighter and softer version of the Scottish equivalent I know so well. Served with smooth mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce, it was the perfect refuel after a good half day of travelling. Full up on blood sausage and potatoes, I stepped out, google maps in hand to find my hostel. I did not get off to a good start, in hindsight at the speed I walk even with a suitcase I should have just gone on foot but I thought then was a good a time as any to suss out the buses. After a small bus debacle I made it, if a tad exasperated to my hostel. My heart cheered by seeing that it was right next to the Tampere Talo and the Moomin museum, my main reason for choosing Tampere.

I had booked 4 nights at the Dream hostel and hotel. This is one classy hostel, modern design, uber clean. A world away from my less than glam hostel start in London. The hostel was quiet expect for a interesting group of improv comics and theatre types in town for a local improv festival. A nice bunch all in all, with interesting conversations to sit in on over dinner and breakfast. I would soon realise that this part of my trip would become more about chill me time and just enjoying my own company more than anything else. Maybe this was aided by a thorough evenings binge watch of Queer Eye season two and a couple of Finnish gin and tonics. We’ll never know.

I cooked a lot more in Tampere, having breakfast and dinners in the hostel and lunches out. It didn’t feel odd cooking in this hostel, it felt more like the rural Scottish youth hostels of my childhood October holidays. My first full day I decided to dive right in, quite literally, Tampere is described as the sauna capital of Finland so I hopped on the bus and headed for the Rauhaniemi public sauna and swimming lake. When I visited, Finland was in a bit of a heatwave according to locals but the water is still a touch chilly. Arriving at Rauhaniemi by bus from town is quite an experience, you step off at an odd hairpin pin bend dead end and follow a woodland path and peaking through the trees the lake appears. A peaceful oasis a half hour max from the town centre. The sauna not yet open I got into my swimming costume and lathered myself in sunscreen with the help of a nice Finnish lady in the ladies loos. I tried swimming but I was just too cold. Spotting the stand up paddle boarding hire guy, I decided to give it a go. I paid the guy, squeezed into a wetsuit and left my shoes and rucksack locked in his van. Feeling that we had a mutual understanding that he’d watch my stuff and I wouldn’t damage his equipment. Disclaimer I have never done stand up paddle boarding and I quickly found myself in a lake in Finland attempting to do just that. After some tips from one of the instructors who paddled out to make sure I wasn’t stuck. I successfully stood up and but promptly got decked by waves from a far off power boat. Determined I paddled closer to the shore and paddled standing up back to the beach. Success!

Now was time for my first Finnish sauna experience. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer heat. My nose burned and I felt like I might become one giant blister. I quickly bailed and popped into the lake. I repeated this several times. Before coming to the conclusion that I loved saunas and was not going home till I had one of my own. Time flew and I realised I was starving. The sauna food of choice is undoubtedly sausages. I sat slightly soggy and warm, eating a hot dog and drinking coke looking out over the lake. An absolutely blissful day. Discovering I had used all my cash I walked back to town and headed for the Moomin museum.

I love the Moomins, the magic and whimsy and the light and the dark. The illustrations and stories of Tove Jansson are intriguing and beautiful. The Moomin museum at the Tampere Talo is the official trove of all things Moomin. Wonderfully crafted and filled with interactive displays, dioramas, illustrations and a scale model of the Moomin house, the Moomin museum pleases the soul. I would have happily moved in. Despite my lack of eating out in Tampere I made up for expenditure in the Moomin shop. My shopping spree only curbed by my lack of suitcase space.

Moomin’s, sauna, swimming and sunshine, I was falling in love with Tampere already. Even if I did lock myself out of my room that evening and had to sheepishly go to the front desk across the street to be let back in.

To be continued in Finland part 2.