I dunno what’s come over me on recent holidays. Even when I’ve good connectivity, I’ve lost motivation to get up early and write the previous day up. So, for anyone who reads these things soon after I post and share them, my apologies yet again for tardiness. Here, finally, is what Helen and I got up to on Monday 2nd September.

For me, it was odd waking up in Helsinki again. Somewhat remarkably it was my fourth visit to the city. Well, sort of. First time was in 2010, when I just stayed overnight at a hotel with a free shuttle bus from the airport, so didn’t even see the city. Next was 2016, when I arrived at nearly midnight and left at 3pm or so, but did manage to wander around Suomenlinna. Third time was in 2018, when I arrived off an overnight cruise from Stockholm, and left 4 hours later on another boat to Tallinn. So to have had an entire 24 hours here, in the city, and stay a second night seemed long overdue.

Instead of write my diary entry for Sunday, I used the fact I woke up early to watch some of AEW’s All Out wrestling event, paying £19 for the pleasure. Helen woke up about an hour or 90 minutes into that, and we got prepared for the day: showered, dressed, got our cameras, and put a load of nuts in my bag.

Directly outside the hotel was tram route number 4, which we took for 40 minutes or so – through the city centre and out into an inner western suburb. Getting off on a main road, we crossed and entered an arboretum which has seen better days. The rose garden was even worse. But this wasn’t something we’d deliberately aimed for, it was just part of the route.

On the other side were a few roads with pedestrian crossings every 40 feet or so, and a couple of turns later we found a coach park and the footbridges leading to two islands.

The first island has some Iron Age exhibits. Apparently it’s all very interesting and worthy of a visit, but almost everyone just carries on to the second, larger island called Seurasaari. That’s precisely what we did too.

Seurasaari is known for three reasons.

  1. It has an “open-air museum” – lots of buildings from centuries past, moved here from their original locations.
  2. The local wildlife are extraordinarily friendly
  3. There’s a nudist beach

Being open air, you don’t need to pay to see the buildings - but you do need to pay to go into the grounds or, in some cases, the buildings themselves. It’s cheaper in September than the preceding months so we handed over our €7 each and put stickers on our tops.

But before seeing any actual buildings, we wanted to get away from the coachloads of other tourists, and find some wildlife to point at while saying “look at him!”.

The first red squirrel we saw was just behind one of the buildings. Helen had been warning me to not make too much noise or move too quickly because animals are timid, but I had to remind her that they are famously tame here. Accordingly, I held out my hand, pretending I had some nuts, and the squirrel came right up to me to investigate.

Tell you what though, we were hungry. There are loads of paths all around Seurasaari, and everything is well sign-posted - including the cafes and restaurants. So we wandered up the hill to the big deserted place and had some buffet breakfast items, with a view out towards water. It really was very nice - everything, the food and the location.

Doubling back on ourselves, we were looking again for wildlife, this time with a mind to actually feed them some of the nuts we were carrying. Red squirrels were visible here and there but only fleetingly, until we saw a small group of kids trying to entice one to come nearer.

Spying a bit of a clearing in the forest on the other side of the path, with a long log that we might be able to perch on, we headed in and ... wait, look, there’s one. And another one. And, whoa, they’re coming pretty close don’t you think?

So, first, let’s just put some nuts on the log near us and see just how close they’ll come. And while we’re at it, let’s get our real cameras out and not just use our phones.

OK, so they’ll come RIGHT UP NEXT TO US. That’s amazing. There were 4 of them, possibly 5 or 6 - they kept coming near, taking three nuts in their mouth, buggering off to bury them or chase one another about, and then return to us.

Look at him!

Look at him!!

They are amazing, fantastic, hilarious, cheeky little fuckers. Once they’d eaten all the ones we put down next to us, they would reappear and tap whichever of us was sat down on the elbow. All very Oliver Twist “please, may I have some more?” and irresistibly so.

If tapping on our elbows didn’t work, there was a more direct route too.

“Stop getting closer than this lens’s minimal focal length, damn it!”

Word got around a bit. Not just to other squirrels, but birds too. In fairly short order it had got very Dr Doolittle on us.

We swapped our standing and seating roles with some regularity, because we both wanted to try feeding things by hand. Turns out the best way to feed the birds by hand was to stand up and hold an open palm full of nuts. I’m not sure either of us expected the blue tits and great tits to fly up and land on our fingers, but they only bloody did.

We must’ve spent a good 90-120 minutes here feeding all these animals. It was amazing. There were virtually no other people around, we just had 10+ birds and 4+ squirrels all to ourselves, flying and running around us constantly the whole time. To quote Helen, who briefly was in tears of happiness at the experience, it was bloody magical.

Then, when we finally decided to leave and go see the museum – before bits of it shut for the day – we only bloody saw a woodpecker right in front of us.

Look. Enough wildlife. Let’s go hurry round some history.

Mostly it’s just “check out this old wooden building”. There are signs by most of them explaining the year in which it was built and whereabouts in Finland it came from. Being from the 1600s-1800s it’s mostly just dwellings and farm buildings.

Store houses are built on foundations of boulders so that animals can’t get in. We learnt this by ear-wigging tour guide as we hurried past.

This is a sauna. I seem to recall it had the earliest date of any building in the farmstead complex in which it was housed.

The church was quite understated, in comparison with old churches in other places. Check out this Jesus.

And this holy boat. Huh?

Some of the larger dwellings had remarkably well kitted out kitchens or rooms in which other crafts were undertaken. Door sizes made it apparent that people were pretty short.

We finished our museum tour at another small cafe for a little more to eat, with them closing up around us since it was 3pm. Being quite early in the day, with lots of daylight left and a still bag and a quarter of nuts in my Man Purse, we took another wander around previously untrodden paths looking for alternative locations in which to feed squirrels and birds.

Finding nothing, we headed back to the log. I was uncertain we’d strike lucky twice - earlier, when buying tickets, Helen had asked if there was a best place to see them and got a pretty curt “they are wild animals. They could be anywhere.” answer.

It took no time at all. Within seconds, squirrels and birds were surrounding us again.

Eating out of the palm of my hand. Incredibly cute.

What followed was even more remarkable than in the morning. When the peanuts ran out we moved onto cashew nuts, and they were so much more popular – especially with the birds – that we were utterly bombarded. I was regularly having two great tits landing on my hand at the same, to my unimaginable delight. At one point, Helen was begging for me to pass her more cashews as she’d run out but I couldn’t get to her because the air was too full of birds!

It’s GREAT when they come up and eat out of your hand!

I have some amazing videos, but this software won’t let me embed them without some serious fucking about with which I can’t be bothered. And as for stills, Helen has a load more which are incredibly impressive. So I implore you all to go check out her Instagram profile. If you like photos and videos of birds and squirrels you really won’t regret it.

Helen just could not get over how amazing it was to have the red squirrels so friendly. At one point, which neither of us managed to photograph, one of them jumped up my right leg onto the front of my shorts! And I loved them, but I really enjoyed the birds way more. Frankly I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t flinching when they came near, but quite the opposite - I spent a LONG time standing there with my palm out, and a great tit or blue tit (or two) would land literally every 4 seconds or so.

On the log, another line of nuts was laid out leading all the way to Helen, and for 2 solid minutes the birds were queuing up to take one, or jump on her hand, repeatedly. Never seen or known anything like it.

With literally only a single handful of cashews left, and the skies getting cloudy enough to threaten rain, it was finally time to leave. Sadly. Helen told me to just scatter the nuts on the ground, but I was, like, come on, let’s just hold our hands out for 30 seconds. It took less than 2 seconds from opening my palm for two great tits to land. Amazing. Within a couple of minutes everything had been eaten, and away we went.

Walking back to the mainland we made plans for revisiting in the future, because that was just a fucking fantastic experience. Since I’ve made a 2020 new year’s resolution that may well involve a fifth visit to Helsinki, seems like a done deal. But anyway, we also had a bus to catch at the time. There’s a terminus stop by the entrance to the island, and a bus leaving as soon as we get there.

It is ROASTING. Like an (apt) mobile sauna. Also, by now it’s actually raining outside. This bus route twists and turns its way along the coastline before heading into the city, and since it was 5pm or so it’s kinda rush hour. Helen wanted to find a souvenir shop that specialised in squirrel merch in the city, but a very brief look (mostly in the train station) yielded nothing.

Emerging on the other side, I was leading us to where I knew good beer could be purchased: Kaisla and the Sori taproom, next to each other, both craft beer vendors of much repute. We sat down outside the latter with a tasting platter, under the large umbrellas avoiding what was now an absolutely bloody torrential downpour.

€20, that. So about 20 quid, for a tasting flight of 5 x 20cl beers. Holy frijoles, this town is expensive to do stuff that isn’t feeding wildlife.

When we finished the beer, we were ravenously hungry - both our earlier meals had just been small snacks. Online we’d determined that “Lost in Helsinki”, just about 100 yards away, sold food we’d be happy with. So out into the pissing rain it was, until reaching their door and reading the “we are closed” sign. Damn it!

There seemed to be little option but to head downhill into the city proper. The first venue, an Italian restaurant, didn’t appeal, and what looked like a nice sit-down burger place was a bit more McDs than external appearance made us think. But a few doors away there was Morrisons. Good.

Not like Morrisons the UK supermarket, but Morrisons the Finnish burger and escalope restaurant. This stuff filled a hole, and gave us the chance to dry off a bit too.

It were still throwing it down when we left, mind. Normally we’d have gone to the supermarket for some affordable beer to drink in the room, but not wanting to walk back we instead got a tram to just outside the hotel and got changed. I like having a hotel beer wherever I stay, so we headed down to the lobby bar/lounge and had a couple of stupidly expensive drinks. You buy from the receptionist at a kind of cafe counter, rather than a real bar, so this wasn’t the best thing in the world. But it ticked a box.

Back upstairs we still had a couple of previous nights drinks left, plus of course the minibar can of gin+grapefruit to be had. Conversation, as it had for the last 4 hours or so, revolved around how amazing it was to have spent most of the day feeding squirrels and birds directly from our hands. Helen was all for just skipping our flights home and claiming asylum right away, but I wasn’t having my airport experience taken from me. As good as Monday had been, it didn’t stop me looking forward to Tuesday with a great deal of gleeful anticipation.

Created By
Darren Foreman