HEL ain't a bad place to be I've started so I'll Finnish

Have I used that before? Maybe. I know I've used "KUL ain't a bad place to be", which is awful. I also know that my only previous visit to Finland involved me flying late to stay at a hotel near the airport, only to piss off again on another flight early the next morning.

Not so, this time! No, the 2016 visit to Finland is entirely different. This time the early morning after the hotel airport stay starts with a sharp alarm at 7am, which I don't remember setting, and a brutal hangover. I feel ropey as anything. Yeah, you know that Stoptober/Octsober nonsense? Screw that. Hangober is my thing.

Despite myself, I'm glad to be awake. A shower does nothing to fix my head, and in fact I am raging with anger by the time I'm checked out because the guys on the podcast I'm listening to keep pronouncing the Australian capital - that's CANberra - as "canBEARer" and it winds me up no end.

Down at the desk the impossibly young man behind the counter offers to let me leave my bag, so I yoink out my USB battery and a cable and let him take it. I also pay for last night's beers, eventually; his machine tells me I've got my PIN wrong for my card, which is a possibility first time but not second, when I've got the damn thing displaying on my phone's screen. He says "early start, eh?" and I'm sure he can tell just how little I need this. Apparently my passport enables him to bypass a PIN check and I'm paid and out.

The train station is at the very far end of the airport, past the newsagents with fruit machines in, at the bottom end of a ridiculously long escalator. It's around 8am and there's very few people around, mercifully. I get the feeling I've just missed a train, but never mind. The ticket machine also refuses my card so I use a different one and buy a day pass, which is surprisingly expensive. And then, 15 minutes later, I'm off to Helsinki/Helsingfors. I haven't expected everything to be bilingual Finnish and Swedish, but it is.

There's basically nothing picturesque about the journey. My coke zero has helped fix my head a tiny teensy bit. There's a museum and planetarium next to one of the giant stations - they're all giant - but nothing else of note. No-one checks my ticket. 40 or so minutes pass and I'm in Helsinki, with no clue where to go.

My plan is to visit an island called Suemonlinna, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and about 20 minutes on a ferry, so I read. I have free data, plus some offline maps I downloaded, but decide to test out my sense of direction by eschewing them all and playing it by ear.

Firstly, I side step the vomit on the platform and leave the train station by a side entrance, presented immediately with a branch of M&S. This is not the disaster it could have been, and round the front I notice the station is a pretty nice building. There are Big Issue sellers and loiterers and trams and buses. It's sunny. My first guess is to cross the main road ahead of me and veer left, a decision which proves correct as I am rewarded with a pedestrianised street. Pedestrianised almost always means success. On this one there appears to be a craft brewery, which is worth a mental note for later, more so than the "Pickwick Pub" I'd seen 100 yards earlier.

At the end, there's a park. It's a very nice park, with statues and stuff. There's a lot of Japanese people about, which makes me laugh; when I'd used Memrise to try and pick up a few words of Finnish recently, one of the courses had decided the 6th or 7th most useful phrase I'd need would be "Japanese people" and I had boggled at the thought, yet here I was presented with loads of them.

At the end, I see water. This bodes well for wanting to get a boat, and I am full of horrible pride for calling it right without needing a map on the day. Along the waterfront are sellers of various foods, mostly fish based though one of them is offering "giant toast". But not many of them are in full swing yet, which is understandable since it's barely past 9am.

Beyond the fish folk are boats, including the one to Suomenlinna. Excellent. But I figure I should at least see what else is around the area first, and keep wandering. There's a church I can't get a decent photo of due to lighting, and some sea water bathing pools and saunas, and more boats around the corner, plus Finnish Boris bikes. It's all really rather nice.

Back at the ferry stop, there are hordes of people. Most of them are Japanese. I join the queue for one of the ticket machines, leave it to go inside to a booth, discover the booth is shut, and rejoin a now longer queue. This fail is compounded by the staggering behaviour of the woman in front of me. As best I can tell, she's Finnish... so she uses the machine in English mode, seemingly not understanding which buttons to press. Furthermore she buys 4 tickets: one at a time. There is an obvious option for buying multiple tickets in one transaction but she must distrust it, and so goes through the single, adult, pay with card, insert card, type PIN routine four bloody times. Seriously, stop that.

I buy my ticket using exactly the right money, in Euro coins. This pleases me no end and I send a text to Alex, who likes this sort of thing, forgetting that I'm two hours ahead so he's got an 0735 Sunday morning text from me. Ha.

More and more people keep arriving. It's a huge scrum and getting very unpleasant. Seemingly no-one is interested in forming an orderly queue and once the boat comes in and they open the gates, everyone's pushing and shoving and I'm really hungover and annoyed. Grr. But despite being nowhere near the front the boat is big enough that I could still snarf a seat, which I promptly give up when I realise there's a huge open air bit in the middle where barely anyone else is standing, and is full of all the lovely views of Helsinki's water. It's the least bumpy boat ride I've ever been on, and actually a bit cold.

Our vessel.

There are numerous huge ships which, I presume, run the route to Tallinn. I had wanted to give that a go, but felt nervous about the weather. Estonia will have to wait.

There are loads of low-lying islands, small but inhabited. I'm totally intrigued by them.

Some more substantial buildings appear, and I glance at my watch. Turns out we're coming in to dock.

Throughout the journey, CheckMyTrip has been alerting me about tiny changes in the departure time of my flight, again. I really do need to sort that out, but for now I just curse and ignore them. When we pull up to Suomenlinna, the whole boat jolts to a halt and I let out an audible laugh as I witness around 100 people all fall sideways at once.

Getting off is almost as much carnage as getting on. I'm a bit annoyed by everyone, so head in the direction that virtually no-one is going - straight over the bridge to that adjoining island to visit what looks like barracks.

Honestly, I never find out what they actually are. I only glance at maps a couple of times, and don't commit much to memory apart from the location of the brewery. Really I just want to have a nice wander around a nice place and take some nice photos; 2 out of 3 ain't bad. I have a feeling my photos are pretty mundane.

Beyond what I'll keep referring to as barracks is a cobbled walkway onto another bridge, over which is a sign saying I'm entering a residential area. Eh? People live here? So they do. The flats don't look too auspicious but the location is amazing and they have these great communal gardens, around the back of which is some rocky shoreline with fantastic views. I don't clamber too much, deciding that the scrum must now be over and perhaps the main island won't be too awful.

I walk. And walk. And walk. Back past the ferry terminal and I find the brewery (it's still early, and shut, but I resolve to go later). Through an archway I find some old wooden buildings, a large church, a ballast room, and a Pokemon Go sign. So far, so good.

There's more sea, and more bridges. This appears to be an archipelago, and makes for lots of pretty scenery. Across to the next island and I follow the sign to the submarine; it is closed.

Up a hill and some winding twisting walkways, still cobbled - everything is cobbled, my calves get a huge workout - are some more closed attractions and then some catacombs or something. Actually no, that's surely not the right word, but it's a load of dark dingy rooms with holes in the walls. The darkness suits my head, which is better than it was but still not great.

This bit reminds me of a game called netmaze, from 1992 or so.

On the other side, there's a park. Most people are going in one direction so I go another, and end up on an epic wander around a huge complex of fortifications reminiscent of North Head in Sydney, except better. Sorry bro. The sun, and my talent, preclude me from taking many decent photos but not from attempting. I get marks for effort, right?

This photo I am particularly unimpressed with, but it's the only one which shows off the series of humps which are camouflaged ammo dumps for cannons.

In one such cannon room - there must be a better name for them than that - people have taken to recording a tally. Or maybe it stems from when it was an active military installation? That seems unlikely.

Finally, after much walking, I am at the King's Gate, which seems to be where his maj would land on the island. There's a water bus stop there now.

I've spent the whole time thinking three things: I wish I had my sunglasses with me, I wish I hadn't drunk quite so much the previous day, I wish I could find some calories. But I'm disappointed on all fronts.

There's a dockyard, now disused.

And there's a weird statue I can't make out.

Yet more cobbled walking and I'm back amongst the crowds. All the Japanese people are adults, whereas about 70% of the others are kids, and about 95% of them are glued to their phones. At one point there is some three way yelling behind me, I think most likely related to a Pokemon Go thing as it causes them to run, still staring at their phones. I can't make out what they're saying because it's all Finnish, until the one nearest to me stops and shouts "OH MY FUCKING GOD", which makes me laugh out loud.

Back at the front of the island the brewery is now open, but there's a boat leaving in 5 minutes and so I skip the booze and head back to the mainland. It's the right thing to do, sadly. Boarding is simple, the boat is much less crowded, and I get a seat out on deck facing the water with no-one anywhere near me except the occasional dive bombing seagull. The views as we come back to Helsinki are nice.

Getting back, I am extraordinarily glad I went as early as I did because the crowds are now insane. And not just for that boat - the whole fish market is now chock full of people. I suppose that's what I get for turning up on day one of the annual herring market, held here since 1743 or something. There's THOUSANDS of people. Blimey.

Up the side, there's music coming through the air. Turns out it's a bunch of pensioners playing a brass band version of Under The Sea, all in rotary club of Helsinki garb. They sound amazing, apart from when they're interrupted by the moody cyclists who ring their bells aggressively to barge anyone enjoying the carnival atmosphere out of the way.

Time's a ticking. I'm on a schedule here. Back along through the park and a bit further along, past the Swedish theatre, along a main shopping thoroughfare then double back and along the pedestrianised bit again. There are a bunch of metalheads sat outside the burrito place drinking cocktails and this impresses me, though not as much as the way the craft beer place opposite has now transformed into a godawful British theme thing. Thank fuck it's still not actually open.

I know there's a bar I want to visit near the train station. In the middle of last week I'd looked it up and it was kind of "to the right and up a bit" so I tried to make my way there without consulting a map or the web. By doing so I am accidentally greeted with new stuff, such as an impressive statue in front of an impressive theatre.

A couple of streets away I think, OK, it's got to be near here, I'll turn ... left. This road ends up being a dead end, but I persevere and oh, look! A nice inner city park, and a circus. Fantastic. Apart from the birds who don't move for anyone, even moody cyclists.

Eventually, I consult a map, and discover that the bar I seek is about 5 yards from where I turned left. GOD DAMN IT. So heading back, I walk past some of the local unfortunates who decide that's the right time to start a massive fucking argument, throwing bottles of whatever they've got at each other and generally being unpleasant. Eurgh.

Back on the street I want, I find the bar. It's shut. This pisses me off more than usual because it was already my 5th choice, having been to the websites of 4 others who all said they don't open until 3pm or later on Sunday, if at all. This one was meant to open at midday, damn it. But there's a germ of optimism, because if I'm guessing right that might be a tiny sign that says "but our other branch opens at midday and is just round the corner".

Their other branch opens at midday and is just round the corner. Phew. I steel myself for finally speaking to someone in Finnish, getting ready to say "Puhutko Englantia?". Inside, the barman is already speaking English to a bunch of English people so I ask him for a Finnish stout or porter. They have none, but he recommends an Estonian one, which I choose to wash down with bacon meatballs. This is the right thing to do.

This pub has like 300 beers and ciders. It's fantastic. I charge my phone and drink my beer and eat my bacon and all is right with the world. Then a hen night turns up, which seems strange at 1.30pm on a Sunday where most bars don't open this early. Despite the pub being big and mostly empty, they want to encroach where I am, so I stand up and think about leaving. Instead, I buy a pumpkin ale. It is excellent, surprisingly so.

But then, it's time to leave. I wander back to the railway station and board the 1426 to the airport. All my apps are actually showing that there's a genuine delay, one which isn't likely to be eaten into much, but even so I should still set off with time to spare. There's a lot to do.

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