I reached Helsinki after having sat on an endless fjord watching trip in Norwegian waters, after watching faux ABBA sing all their songs in Swedish in Gothenburg, and after having trampled through cold Lapland forests on the border of Sweden and Finland where fabulous life-like sculptures and statues of wood-elves and witches and fairies have been placed by artists (this is located off the Oranki village).
And I did not want to explain to another person why I did not want to try reindeer jerky. And yes, everyone and their uncle saw the Northern Lights from a glass igloo.
Maybe I was missing the quiet I found at the stunningly beautiful and lonely Uto island (there are only 50 people on that island, supposed to be even more gorgeous in winter).
Is that why I was crabby in the city? Maybe also because the air is so full of oxygen I was lightheaded. There were no people jostling you in the magical forest or on Uto. That’s when I realised that I was exhausted by how beautiful our planet is. Did I need civilisation?
That’s when I found Kiasma, the Modern Art Museum in Helsinki. And realised man was competing with nature in the race for beauty. Long sweeping arcs, and built to bring in light.
Everyone talks of Guggenheim, but this is stunning. Of course I don’t remember what was on display in the museum, I just remember the museum itself. The museum cafe had fabulous food and I remember having bought a tee shirt that simply said ‘Kiasma’.
Of course you have to walk around Paavo Nurmi statue (there are many now, I believe) to get the right shot. Perhaps that is why the family was protesting its Olympian nakedness…
Trains and trams are a great way to get around Helsinki. And don’t even think about alcohol. It is very, very expensive, but you have to try the Helsinki Dry Gin once. There is such a wide choice of coffees available in the city, you won’t miss that heady feeling.
They like that black Liquorice there, but you can give it a wide berth to that thing and pick up a bag of Munkkis. Small doughnuts that fuel all those long walks through the city.
Yes, there is a gigantic department store called Stockmann, but you will want to head straight to the basement and put back all the weight you lost walking by eating the most delicious pastries and tarts and baked goodies and pastries… oh, I said that already.
There are enough cathedrals, the Temppeliaukio church is an underground church, a modern marvel carved out of rock, architectural walks (you will wonder how they brought gargoyles and witches and creeper vines and trees alive on stone on the Pohjola Insurance building) and Museums (alas the taxidermy museum/shop is shut I’m told. This is where I first saw the creepiest Victorian Mourning Hair ornaments made from dead people’s hair!) to keep you occupied as a tourist. But you hanker for something else.
And all of a sudden, in the middle of a shopping centre, right by a mall, you see this weird alien egg type structure. You walk around it, your hand tracing the beautifully curved wood. You enter and you are stuck by the silence.
This is the Kamppi church (not for religious ceremonies, but for those who seek silence). Had Greta Garbo experienced the mind-blowing quiet I found here, she would have perhaps never said, ‘I vaant to be left alone’ and deprived the world of a quote. And I spent a futile afternoon searching for the house where Mauritz Stiller (the Finnish director who discovered her) lived.
And yes, there’s a gorilla statue made of tires, and by the docks, a tall statue of a chap caught peeing called Bad Bad Boy (what is it about these peeing statues?). Maybe there was some strange rumour connect when Presidents Putin and Trump had a summit in Helsinki last week.
But I liked a different kind of summit. Despite the hundred munkkis I probably ate, I managed to climb the 426 steps to Mount Halti.
The author is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer's forum, hosts Mumbai's oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.