Last summer I visited a good friend of mine and stayed at her house near Helsinki for a week. It was my first visit to Finland and it was the first time staying in a country where I really did not understand the language at all. Finnish is possibly one of the most difficult languages to learn, and it is so different from anything I know. Well, I can make quite a good impression of “moi”, which means hello, and my “kiitos” (thank you) isn’t bad either. So good in fact, that the cashiers at the supermarket frequently started speaking to me in very fast Finnish, which left me looking desperately at my friend for help. What did make thinks easier was the fact that many people in Finland are of Swedish descent, hence Swedish is an official language in many areas. That means lots of signs are bilingual. So whenever I read a word that I understood, chances were it was Swedish, which for me as a German is much easier to understand. And of course, many people in Finland speak fluent English, so it’s not that hard for a foreigner to get along. Yet, I was still happy to have my own personal interpreter with me.
Staying with my friend, I did a lot of lazily hanging around the house and spent less time sightseeing than I would otherwise. But I still did get to see quite a lot. Starting with my first visit to a ski jumping hill, which was quite small compared to the regular worldcup size hills. Yet, it was big enough to be really impressive. I would not want to climb on top that thing, never mind jumping down with nothing but a pair of skis on my feet.
On the way into Helsinki we stopped at the Olympic stadion of 1952 and enjoyed the view of the city from the tower. In the city itself the most notable sights are the various churches. The two standing out the most are Toumiokirkko, the Cathedral and the nearby Orthodox Church, Uspenskin katedraali. Also worth a visit is Temppeliaukion kirkko, the rock church, named such because it is built right into a rock. The large round copper roof kind of makes it look like a ufo from outside.
A short ride on the ferry brought us from the market place to the group of islands called Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland), swedish name: Sveaborg. The islands invite to a nice stroll through the ruins of the old fortress, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and to a relaxing picnic on one of the rocks overlooking the sea. To see even more of Finlands nature and rugged coast line we left Helsinki for a day to drive to Finlands southernmost point at Hanko. What a relaxing afternoon, sitting on the windswept beach watching the sea wash around the rocks and observing the numerous kite surfers in the water.