Sunday 3 August 2014

Running round Helsinki in the middle of the night

I am not entirely sure where this idea came from, but last weekend I found myself tramping round Helsinki in the middle of the night. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but at 2am in the centre of a misty reedbed somewhere north of town, beating highly irritating mozzies away, I began to question my sanity. I attempted sleep on a viewing platform, but the insects and cold mist put paid to that fairly rapidly. Instead I carried on along the boardwalk to the island of Lammassaari. Here there were even more mosquitos, so I went back to the reedbed after stumbling along a narrow circular path between millions of Finnish summer houses. I amused myself by singing that Monty Python song over and over again.

Backtrack a bit, why was I in a reedbed? Well it was so as to a) be in prime position as the sun came up and b) to save money and not pay for a hotel. Reedbed free, hotel €100. Easy, reedbed every time, even though the standard of comfort wasn't quite as good. I'd arrived very late anyway, the airport bus hadn't dropped me off until about 1am, and I figured that dawn came early. And also, reedbeds in the middle of the night are pretty cool, all sorts of wonderful noises. Post bus, somehow I had managed to find my way to the shore of Old Town Bay, otherwise known as Vanhankaupunginlahti. I stuck to Old Town Bay.....

Dawn was simply incredible. I had found my way to a hide that faced out onto a pool. If I have experienced a cooler sunrise, I cannot remember it at the moment. As the sun grew in the sky, so the mist seemed to increase. Various birds floated past and there was an ethereal quality about the whole place. Sedge Warblers, Bearded Tits, Water Rail and Reed Buntings provided the soundtrack to a simply glorious scene. It merits photographs, even though photographs do not, cannot, do it justice. You had to have been there. But it was just me and the birds.

Finland, Finland, Finland

The country where I want to be

Pony trekking or camping

Or just watching Caspian Terns

The final bird is of course very special. Can you recognise it? Of course you can, it's a monstrous Caspian Tern, the biggest of the genus, and all mine that morning as it went for an early morning fish. I really lucked out on this shot. Then again, it was kind of what I was aiming for, and despite zero sleep it all worked out. The sun rose steadily and by 5.30am it was broad daylight, albeit with some warmth still to the quality of the light. The small birds were by now out in force, and I was surprised to see Fieldfare moving through.

You're so near to Russia

So far from Japan

Quite a long way from Cairo

After exhausting the possibilities of the hide I decided I would walk around Vanhankaupunginlahti - there is a path that takes in several Lintutorni (bird observation towers), an Arboretum, and lots of interesting habitat along the way. What I had failed to consider was that it was miles and miles, I was knackered, and that Finland has been experiencing a heatwave of epic proportions. By 9am it was probably approaching 30 degrees, and my pace became slower and slower. I had water, but it made little difference, and by 11am or so, and approaching town again, I caved and limped to a tube station for the by then short hop into the centre. My hotel for Saturday night took one look at me and decided I would be much better off in my room than as "advertising" in the lobby for the next three hours, and thus an early check-in was mine. A short swim in the rooftop pool followed by a fantastic siesta sorted me right out, and by late afternoon I was ready to hit Helsinki. And let me tell you that Helsinki on a warm Saturday evening is absolutely buzzing. 

This tram isn't particularly buzzing admittedly, but you don't need photos of lovely Finnish women who are several sheets to the wind.
Despite the obscene cost of alcohol, the Finns drink like I have never seen (Shetland evenings not included...). There was a craft beer festival in the main square, and it seemed people had probably been there all day. I found a nice place to have dinner, Arctic Char being the dish of choice, and then continued my wander around town watching people get increasingly drunk. I must be some kind of old fuddy duddy, as I had no interest in this whatsoever, and so returned unblemished to my hotel and had the kind of sleep I can only dream of. 

The next morning as I walked into town to catch the airport bus the full extent of the carnage of the night before became apparent. The central square that surrounds the train station was a war zone, and needed likely several weeks for a clean up operation. In some corners, drinking still continued. Unbelievable. Perhaps London is no different, but come on! Bodies everywhere. On verges, under bushes, on steps. What these people need is a good reedbed for the night. 

Lots of miles from Vietnam

Altogether now, Finland forever!

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