Heaven in HEL: Unexpected ways Helsinki will wow you

My trip to Helsinki started off rather unfortunate as my host family told me about temperatures rising to plus 20°C this week on our way from the airport to their house last week Saturday. I do quite enjoy warm weather, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t well prepared. They seemed very excited about the expected warmth whereas I immediately regretted my decision of cramming my suitcase with sweaters. I sat in the car, sweating, planning on buying some T-shirts in the city as soon as I found the time to do so.

My project in Helsinki

I’m in Helsinki for a school project called GLOBE, short for Global Language and Labour Orientation in Bilingual Education. It’s a project which encourages students to find a host family and arrange a short work experience project anywhere of their likings. I chose to go to Finland not because I particularly enjoy the often cold weather or because I feel like visiting the sauna weekly, but because of the country’s calming vibe, awesome nature that’s just around the corner about everywhere you go, and because Helsinki seemed like an interesting city to visit. Adding the fact that Finland is one of Europe’s most sparsely populated countries which quite fits my introverted personality.

1. An ideal public transport system

Taking into account the rather small population of Helsinki compared to other cities, one of the first things I noticed when travelling to the Ink Tank Media office by bus and tram was the fact that the morning’s rush hour is not so much of a rush hour as I expected to see in a country’s capital city. Busses were not jam-packed and there were actually enough seats for me to sit down (in the Netherlands, trains are often so crammed in the mornings that no more passengers are allowed to enter the vehicle and they are forced to wait another 15 minutes or so). I was amazed to see, however, how many streets are being renovated during this time of the year: not only in the city’s centre but also in the outskirts of Helsinki. Later I was told that these renovations are being done at this time because there’s little chance that it will start freezing again during these spring months. It’s hard – near impossible – to dig the streets when the soil is as hard as a massive block of ice. It’s a magical mystery to me how the Finns manage to redirect each bus- and tram line without causing any delays in the system, though.

2. Incredible heat and freezing cold

As I mentioned earlier I wasn’t prepared for the country’s irregular weather. I left the house at 8 in the morning on Tuesday, winter jacket zipped up to my chin, hands in my pockets. By the time the bus had taken me to Helsinki’s central station, I had unzipped my jacket and quickly walked to the nearest patch of shade on the sidewalk to escape the hot morning rays that had me sweating my jacket. As soon as I left the tram near the office, however, the icy wind from the Baltic Sea made me zip up my jacket again before entering the office and being hit with another heatwave. By now I’ve learned to dress in layers.

3. Surprising Finnish cuisine

My family at home knows I’m not so much of a meat lover, but I was willing to try out the Finnish cuisine to get more immersed in the culture of the Finns (I still refuse to go to the sauna, though). The pizza topped with reindeer that I had a few days ago was actually really good, and the lamb meat my host mother had prepared for Easter I very much enjoyed as well. Nonetheless, there is this one traditional Finnish dish that I’ve tried but refuse to eat ever again. Mämmi, they call it. My host mother had bought it for Easter dinner but it was only her mother who really enjoyed eating it, she told me. Mämmi is a brown, gooey rye pudding, often eaten with cream and some sugar. As well as not looking very appetising, the taste wasn’t too good, either. Yet the traditional Fazer Mignon egg was really good! I’d love another one of those.

I’m truly enjoying my trip to Helsinki so far and I’m learning new things about Finland and the Finns each day. My host family is awesome and the Ink Tank Media team is incredibly kind. I can’t wait to see what else the city has to offer me in the coming weeks. Moi moi!

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