We arrived in Helsinki on a Sunday afternoon. After figuring out how to get a transportation pass we took a tram to the train station (but of course not before getting off at the wrong stop with all our luggage first!). We found our correct intracity train, took it to our stop, and was met there by the man in whose apartment we'd be staying. He took us to his place, showed us a few things like how to work the keys/locks, the washing machine, where clean sheets were, and so on, and then left us to get settled in. I ran to the store to pick up a few basics and threw together something for a meal (grilled cheese, maybe?). We got everyone fed and in bed and got a good night's sleep.
Starbucks! Quite the treat for us since there isn't one where we live!
Monday morning we all got up and headed into town to turn in our visa applications. And then we breathed a big sigh of relief. Shannon still had a lot of work to do so we spent most of our first week with him plugging away at the computer while I watched the girlies. The girls and I spent a lot of time at the local parks and we found a really great one nearby. In Finland there are a lot of playgrounds that have someone working at them in the mornings, kind of like a preschool teacher. They also have toys that are communal toys, and we saw this at almost every playground we visited. There were tricycles, buckets and shovels for the sandboxes, balls of every kind, and various other toys that are shared by the children of the community. It was such a blessing for our kids to have these things to play with!
The Church on the Rock. Worth checking out if you're a big fan of architecture or in the area, but not worth a special trip.
The Central Train Station.
View out of the SkyWheel.
The glass is tinted blue, so be prepared for all your photos to be tinted and to need a filter!
So the girls and I spent a lot of time at the playgrounds and local parks. There was a forest right behind our apartment and it was beautiful. There are lots of paved paths for bikes and then other paths cutting through the forest that are more like hiking trails. Everything was so green and beautiful, and it reminded me strongly of home in Alaska, just without mountains. There were fireweed and wild roses just like in Alaska...the whole place even smelled like home. It was so nice for me, especially since we didn't go to Alaska when we were in the States last time, to get a little bit of feeling like I was at home.
No filter or editing on these...it really is this green.
When in Helsinki, if you climb things like this...
You're rewarded with views like this.
There was an observatory in Kaivopusto Park.
Other than Shannon working and the girls and I hanging at the parks, we took a day and went and did touristy stuff. We bought two Helsinki Cards, which I wouldn't recommend unless you either a) really like museums, or b) have children who would otherwise have to pay for things. We actually saved money since we would have had to pay for the bigger girls, but otherwise I'd say it's not worth the money. But. We rode the Finnair SkyWheel. We took a cruise down the canals. We ate yummy food down in Market Square. We took the ferry out to Suomenlinna Fortress, walked around the island, and checked out the submarine that's been turned into a museum. We also went to Linnanmaki, which is an amusement park. But the best part about it, at least for our little family with three kids five and under, was that there were ten rides for free. And you don't have to pay an entrance fee to get into the park, so we spent a few hours there, our girls rode all the rides, and we didn't pay a single euro. It was amazing.
I, the fish snob from Alaska, actually ate the salmon in Helsinki and enjoyed it!
At Suomenlinna Fortress.
Cruising in the canals around Helsinki.
After a week had passed we went to check on our visas and lo and behold, they were already ready! But they didn't start for another week, so we go to just hang out in Helsinki for another week. It was actually a quite needed break, since we headed straight from our crazy summer to leaving the country to a quite busy week with Shannon working all the time trying to catch up on computer work he'd let slide over the summer. So that additional week was very nice, almost like vacation (on a strict budget, since Finland is expensive!). We went back to the amusement park. We visited a farm that was free where the kids could run around and pet animals and play in the "kid-sized farmhouse." We went back to Market Square and wandered around a bit, had some Starbucks, got strawberries (long since out-of-season where we live!), and just enjoyed some family time. It was so nice.
Learning how to wait in line.
Shannon really wanted to ride this roller coaster, so he did! You can buy a ticket for just one ride, which is a little ridiculous since the price is horrible that way, but it works out really well when you only want to do one thing!
He's the one in the back, right, top, with his arms in the air.
We thoroughly enjoyed Helsinki. It was a nice break from most of our other trips to Asian countries...this was Europe through and through. It's clean. Everyone speaks English (or very nearly everyone, anyway). Kids under age 7 travel free on public transportation, as do parents with a child in a stroller. There are elevators in the metro/train stations and sidewalks are stroller-friendly. There are great parks for children and lots of free things for young children to do. The only downside to Helsinki that we found is that it's quite expensive. We ate at home almost all of the time and still spent probably nearly double on food than we do here. And food is not cheap here! But overall we enjoyed it and have actually decided that we'll probably often head to Finland when we have to leave the country in the summer. So I'm already looking forward to next summer and a trip to somewhere new in Finland!
Two days before we planned on leaving we bought train tickets to St. Petersburg. The kids all traveled for free (this time. We learned on the train that technically they should have charged us for one of them...only one free child per adult!) so this was a very economical way to see a new city on the way home! (And it was much more enjoyable than airplane travel with a 1-year old!).