Travels Part 3: Helsinki and Home

Colourful benches in Helsinki FInland

On our penultimate day in Edinburgh, I was woken at 6am by a soft, rustling sound in the hallway. It wasn’t, as I first thought, a wee mouse. It was DorkySon tip-toeing around the flat, gathering his belongings, and starting to pack.

It seemed that he was ready to keep moving.

In the cab to our hotel in Helsinki, we realised that it was DorkySon’s first time in a country where English is not the first language. We were throwing him in at the deep end: Finnish is very pretty and melodic, but the linguistic rhythms are so different to the romance languages we’re familiar with that we found it a real challenge.

Judging by the cab driver’s bemused look, I completely mangled the name of our hotel and the neighbourhood in which it stood. Over the coming days our embarrassment grew further. Even a simple thank you – Kiitos – took many attempts before we mastered it.

We persevered though – all three of us – because there was a lot to say Kiitos for.

Unicorn on Helsinki street sign

Helsinki is a beautiful city, and two days was barely enough to scratch the surface, but we did our best.

The hotel we were staying in – Hotel Katajanokka – was a converted prison. It was a red brick building near the ferry terminal, and an easy walk to the city centre. There was also a tram stop right by the gate. There were enough of the old prison features incorporated to give you a sense of the building’s history, but not so many that it became creepy.

The hotel provided our first introduction to the excellent European practice of two single duvets on a double bed. SUCH a good idea to avoid fighting over the sheets. It was also the comfiest hotel bed that DorkyDad or I have ever slept in, anywhere in the world. Our first night there we managed a solid twelve hours of sleep.

Thankfully we woke up in time to enjoy the fantastic breakfast.

Finland – with its strong coffee and ten kinds of bread with every meal – is my kind of place. The crispy rye bread with salmon and dill cream was delicious. The soft, sweet, gooey, malt bread which left melted butter trickling down my wrists was delicious. The Karelian pies – palm sized pastries with a rye crust, stuffed with rice or mashed potato – were REALLY delicious, and I had to be dissuaded from filling my pockets with them to snack on throughout the day.

The food in general was excellent. DorkySon slurped blueberry or lingonberry juice everywhere we went. We ate one lunch in what was obviously a local spot overlooking the harbour, and another in a surprisingly good Tapas bar. Dinner at the hotel was also very good, although eye-wateringly expensive. The buffet lunch that DorkySon and I had there on our last day was much better value, and equally yum. Our only real miss was an uninspiring meal in an Estonian chain steakhouse, where we ended up purely to avoid a hangry meltdown from DorkySon.

It was a reminder that city breaks – especially when you’re in a hotel rather than self-catering – can be tricky with kids.  Without a fridge full of snacks to fall back on (or a pocket full of Karelian pies…) we had to settle on compromise meal times that were usually too late for DorkySon and too early for us.

However, there were far more positives about this city than there were negatives. DorkySon – with Formula One never far from his mind – was thrilled to discover that our hotel was just around the corner from the karaoke bar owned by Kimi Raikonnen, so our first walk took us in that direction. There was also lots of activity to watch in the various harbours, interesting architecture, and a couple of very cute little bridges covered in love locks.

Helsinki skywheel and ferry boat

On our first full day, which was warm and sunny, we took the tram up to Linnanmäki, a huge amusement park in the north of the city. The park itself was closed, but DorkySon was keen to see Sea Life Helsinki, and they’re on the same site. It was a pretty small centre, but well maintained, with staff who seemed passionate about marine conservation.

Unfortunately, on our second day, the weather took a turn for the worse. It wasn’t just cold and it wasn’t just wet, it was that combination of the two that makes your cheeks ache. We pulled the puff jackets out from our suitcases, but when we ventured outside it wasn’t for long. Grateful for the warm, comfy hotel room, all three of us scurried inside after an hour and buried our noses back in our books.

We didn’t fly out until late evening on the third day, so there was plenty of time for another good walk around. DorkyDad popped into a specialist hat shop for some browsing; DorkySon found a shop full of Christmas decorations and chose one to bring home; and I annoyed them both by stopping every few hundred metres to take a photo of another brightly coloured bench, cute bicycle, or interesting street sign. My iPhone shots didn’t do much justice to what is a really unique city, which I suppose means I’ll have to go back one day and do it all again.

Eventually, it was time to pack up for the last time and head out to the airport to begin the long journey back to Hobart.

Sitting at the gate and slurping down one final blueberry juice, patting my bag to make sure I’d still got the painted shark stone we’d found in Edinburgh, I found myself strangely emotional at the thought of leaving Europe. Helsinki had reminded me of the early days with DorkyDad when we used to jet off every few months to Prague, or Paris, or Barcelona. We had both loved living somewhere where it was possible to experience an entirely different culture just by travelling an hour or two, and I hoped that all the young people growing up in a post-Brexit Britain wouldn’t miss out on it. What a loss that would be.

Love lock reading 'you are home to me' on bridge in Helsinki

We have been home from our travels now for more than six weeks. The laundry basket is finally empty. The souvenirs have found shelves to live on. Gifts have been given, and the fridge is full once more.

In that time, DorkyDad and I have both had a decent amount of work to keep us out of mischief. The weather hasn’t been great, but it’s been light enough in the evenings that I’ve started running again, and he is back to weeding the garden. DorkySon is making his way through the last term of Grade 3, and looking with ever-increasing excitement towards Christmas. His letter to Santa this year included an apology to Rudolph for trying reindeer in Helsinki – I am pretty confident he will be forgiven.

It doesn’t take long to return to the daily routine, to all that is familiar and comfortable. But like all holidays, this one has left its mark. I think all three of us have taken time to reflect on how lucky we are to have friends and family who we stay connected with, even if they are scattered very widely across the globe; we are lucky that we are able to travel; and lucky that we have a safe, warm house to return to, in a place that we now call home.

Most of all, I think, we are lucky to have each other. As Ernest Hemingway said:

Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.”

Travels Part 1: Hobart to Harris

View from Tarbert Isle of Harris

No matter how many times you’ve done it, there’s still something miraculous and disconcerting about strapping yourself into a metal tube and flying across the world.

Airlines go to great lengths to persuade you that it’s a normal and comfortable thing to do. They try their best to make that tube feel like home. Qantas welcome you with a hearty ‘G’day mate!’ and hand out complementary socks with cartoon kangaroos on them. Finnair design their cabin lighting to resemble the aurora borealis, and Loganair provide Harris Tweed headrests and Tunnocks caramel wafers. But when you undertake ten flights in three weeks, from Tasmania to the Outer Hebrides and back again, the resulting sensory overload means there’s no escaping the strangeness of air travel. Continue reading

Running

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It is running season here.

I’m not a matchy-matchy clothes kind of runner. There’s no Lorna Jane activewear lurking in my drawer.

Instead, I wear one of DorkyDad’s old gym vests that I rescued from the op shop pile. There are battered trainers that I should probably get around to replacing, and a pair of shorts that are older than DorkySon. On sunny days, I pull on a cap that was a freebie at a university event. Red on black: Save the Tassie Devil.

I’m not a competitive runner either. Not even with myself. An occasional glance at the default health app on my phone tells me that I run somewhere between three and five kilometres most days. There are routes I know I can do in 15 minutes (ish) when the air is cool and still. But on those syrupy nights when the sun is still bright above the mountain, I know it’ll be more like 20. I don’t measure time or distance any more accurately than that. Continue reading

November in Tasmania: Spring Turns into Summer

Spring in Hobart Tasmania: ladybird on a finger and young boy in water

It was a teasing start to spring in Tasmania, with several weeks that lurched between glorious sunshine one day and snow the next. I got a little over-excited when we finally had a few warm days in a row, and put all our winter clothes away in the cupboard. Goodbye to those puff jackets and Ugg boots for another year, I thought to myself with glee. The next week I was hauling them right back out again.

Now the warm weather has arrived for good though (crosses fingers tightly) we’re taking full advantage of it. Despite applying copious amounts of Factor 50 every time we leave the house, I’ve already had my first sunburn, and DorkySon is taking every opportunity to swim in the river. First time in, he was fully clothed. Second time round he was better prepared, with beach clothes and a bodyboard, but a rogue wave washed a pebble into his ear and the resulting pain cut his adventure short.

No worries: with the official start of summer this Friday, I’m confident there will be more swimming days ahead. Continue reading

Four Years and Ten Years and Tasmania, Oh My!

Yellow blooms

September has long been one of my favourite months, all the more so now I live in a place where it marks the start of spring.

It’s probably the most unsettled time of year here weatherwise. It’s entirely possible to have a 2-degree night immediately followed by an 18-degree morning, and a simple trip to the shops can involve sunshine, rain, hail, snow and then back to sun again. Thank goodness for layered clothing and rainbows.

It’s a colourful time across the city. The brilliant yellow wattle is starting to look a little tired, but there’s pink and white blossom everywhere, and when I walk through our neighbourhood I catch bursts of honeysuckle on the breeze. It’s beautiful.

This September marks two anniversaries for us. Four years in Tasmania, and ten years of marriage. I’m not sure which of those feels more astonishing now, or which was the more surprising decision in the first place. Continue reading