Finland part 2 – Tampere to Helsinki: 2 nights

Tampere, has undoubtedly set up shop in my travel heart. The lakes and forests nestle into this vibrant city. Its industrial and bold and I love it. I’m quite sad that I’m not there right now to experience it’s autumn colours. The remainder of my time in Tampere was spent going to the sauna, lying on sun soaked rocks next to lakes and walking woodland trails. The high ridge line of Pyynikki where the two lakes meet is truly stunning. Walking past pastel coloured wooden clad houses, you climb up to the top of the ridge. The city falls away and you are enveloped in woodland. Conifers and birches stand tall amongst rugged rocks. At the Pyynikki observational tower, famous for its 360 view and doughnuts, you climb again. Did I mention I have an irrational fear of spiral staircases and a probably more rational fear of heights? Yet I still drag myself up all manner of medieval spires, castles and observational towers. I just love the view. Just hope you don’t meet me on the stairs, as I cling to the railing or wall trying not to freak out. From the top of the tower you can see the lakes of Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi kiss from different heights, making the rapids that are so central to Tampere. After descending the numerous steps (there is a lift if you are so inclined) treating yourself to one of the famous doughnuts is a must. Now I’m not really generally fussed by doughnuts but these spiced, crispy, sugar covered ones are lovely and a must if you are visiting Tampere. Made all the more enjoyable by sitting outside, next to a local with a large husky type dog. The dog having a wonderful time licking the sugar, from the numerous doughnuts consumed here everyday, off the pavement.

Walking from there, I happily scrambled my way down to the other lakes shore, to a beach recommended by the hostel reception. Locals swam, paddle boarded, played volley ball and barbecued to their hearts delight. Everyone was making the most of the stunning weather. I joined them and lay for hours soaking up the sun. Back on the bus to town I got pizza from Pizzeria Napoli, a great restaurant with a free salad bar. After taking a trip round the town on the ‘city train’ I discovered yet more interesting areas. The harbours with their swirling waters, market stalls and the Tampere market hall. With dozens of tiny stalls and restaurants, the market hall is a great spot for lunch or interesting souvenirs. My time in Tampere was coming to an end. I of course spent my last day at Rauhaniemi, swimming and cooking myself in the sauna. It was in this sauna I had most of my conversations, locals chatting about all things, though football featured quite a bit. Young Finnish lads who wanted to know if Scotland played football and if we were in the World Cup. Scotland though having many football teams and a big football culture for better or worse, is notoriously bad at getting into the World Cup. All this was asked and answered via the older Finnish man I had been chatting to. I was only able to master two words in Finnish, hello and thank you. Finnish being a notoriously difficult language, I did however have the luxury of going to the cinema after finding out that some films were subtitled rather than dubbed, and had a very enjoyable evening watching Deadpool 2 for the second time. After one last hearty meal at the Plevna brewery restaurant, I packed up and made my way back to Helsinki.

On my day of travel back to Helsinki the weather broke. Rain and blustery winds. Prepared as ever I had my brolly and my waterproof but none the less arrived slightly disheveled in a dreich Helsinki. Tourists and tour groups everywhere. And though I was of course a tourist myself, after my chill time in Tampere, I felt overwhelmed. I just wanted some lunch that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. And that wasn’t fast food. I settled for a way too hipster shop and cafe and paid €15 for soup. Albeit salmon soup, so I really hope that salmon had a lush life. Full but still feeling uneasy about this busy metropolitan city, I made my way to my hotel. Yes! Hotel! I had decided that after a week of hostels I truly deserved a nice hotel for my last two nights. I chose Hotel Fabian, and I’m so glad I did. Stylish and right near the harbour. It was a haven from the hustle and bustle. I jumped straight into the provided dressing gown and my double bed and just chilled.

After my expensive but ok soup, I decided my best bet for an enjoyable dinner with nice service was to go high end. Bank balance checked, I dolled up and brass necked a table for one at Ravintola Aino. I’m not a fussy eater, so set mystery menus hold no free for me. My waiter was lovely, attentive and chatty. I had a glass of prosecco and the 3 course set menu. The food was delicious. Summer vegetable soup, then white fish and finally a strawberry dessert with a basil and almond cake. Everything was done with class and a tiny bit of theatre.

My final day and I was having sauna withdrawal, I needed a fix. Across the harbour from my hotel was the modern architectural form of the Allas sea pool complex. So after a very enjoyable morning and lunch on Suomenlinna sea fortress and island, I hot footed it to the sauna. It was a world away from Rauhaniemi. I was attracted by the sea pool, having truly got hooked on that cold water shock after a good cooking. Allas was the first sauna I visited with single gender saunas, meaning the option for nude sauna was there. My last and only chance to try a full frontal Finnish sauna experience. I wriggled out of my swimming costume and stepped into the wondrous heat of the sauna, a small high window giving me views of the passing ships and boats. Just sheer sauna bliss. Of course you can still enjoy the sauna in your swimming costume and if you go to Finland, go to a sauna, clothes or no, just go. It’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry. The sea pool was baltic and so not popular with the other bathers, so I had it all to myself for the most part. The Allas sea pool and sauna was overall a great experience if slightly bizarre as it’s slap bang right next to a busy harbour. But well worth it for a sauna fix.

Last night, go big or go home. Which I was the next day so again with no reservation I chanced my luck and got a table at Ravintola Emo. It must be one of the few perks of solo dining. Brilliant service and ideal for people watching, Emo did not disappoint. I splurged and got the four course menu. In a word, spectacular, every dish a wonderful mingling of seasonal produce. The next day was midsummer and I would be up at the crack of dawn heading for the airport. I was sad to be missing the chance to experience midsummer in Finland in its full glory. I’d eaten more fennel than I ever had in my life and my skin felt and looked amazing (thank you saunas). But I was going home and looking forward to a cup of tea. I would then spend the next umpteen hours travelling with ripped trousers (on the butt cheek no less) but Finland was and is firmly cemented in my mind. I am now truly hooked and head over heels for this sauna loving country.

Top things to do, see, eat, experience in Helsinki and Tampere:

– Go to a sauna, preferably a lakeside one. Nudity optional.

– The Moomin museum at Tampere Talo.

– The Pyynikki ridge line and observational tower for doughnuts and a view.

– Plevna brewery restaurant in the Finlayson area for blood sausage.

– Go for a woodland, lakeside ramble.

– If you can eat higher end in Helsinki do, even if you only go once. Treat yourself to one blow out meal.

Suomenlinna sea fortress and island, go early and escape the tour groups and wander this historical island that is still a home to some.

Go to Tampere and experience other areas of Finland.

*Side note*

Rest in peace my linen trousers, you served me well. I wore you to death and then you fell victim to wear and tear. And me getting out of a taxi too quick. I still miss you.