15 November 2006


Helsinki is cold and beautiful. Yesterday it was snowing. Finns however have the attitude, "this is nothing, it's not even winter!", and refuse to yet wear hats that cover their ears. Its bloody freezing especially when the cold wind blows in off the Gulf Of Finland. Today it wasn't snowing, there was some sun, even, but its still cold (1 degrees). We went out to the island fortress Suomenlinna which is an old mostly Russian-built fortress from the 19th century which guards the seaward passage to Helsinki. Extremely bleak and foreboding, just how I love it. After that we ended up in a Czech beer place drinking the famous "billy goat" (Kozel), one of my favourite beers of all time. This bar is just around the corner from the apartment we are staying in Katajanokka district of Helsinki. our apartment is a one BR apartment with a private sauna (pron saa-ooh-nah no saw-nah) and a fast broadband connection.

Katajanokka is a small connected island down by the waterfront and by all accounts, has the most expensive real estate in Finland, very Potts Point, posh, trendy and old fashioned all at the same time. There are a huge number of beautiful apartment blocks around here, they've got a very distinctive Finnish decorative style similar to art-noveau, if any of you philistines know what that is. I don't know whether art-noveau ripped off Finnish art or vice-versa though.

Sunrise is at 9am and sunset is at 4pm, takes some getting used to!

Wandering around the city you quickly realise how beautiful it really is. Lots of early 18th century architecture with statues of Russian Tsars. Finland only won its independence from Russia in 1918 after the revolution and was quickly mired in a civil war of "whites" against the "reds". The Whites (Tories) won. There is an ambivalent attitude here towards the Russians. During WW2 the Finns fought against both the Russians and briefly, the Germans, and officially they were on the losing side of the war. After the war they had to concede territory to the Russians and pay war reparations, which oddly enough, managed to set up their economy as an advanced industrialised economy (from a basically agrarian base). The Russian attempt to garnish reparations effectively created their shipbuilding and other industrial economy. Today nearly all Finns under the age of 50 speak English very well -- which is great because Finnish (Suomi) has no resemblance to any other European language and every basic words like yes, no, hello, good-bye, thank-you, sound totally foreign to other Europeans.

Anyway we are having a great time here. About to go to a fancy restaurant ('Nokka') now for dinner.

Thursday we are going to Tallinn, Estonia, and Friday we depart for a four day bender with Gordon in Berlin.

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