Neighbours

New Zealand and Finland have a few things in common. While at opposite ends of the globe our positions geographically are not too unlike and we are both strong in beautiful nature. Of similar size and population we also both know what it is like to have big neighbours.

The Maiden of Finland

The Maiden of Finland

While NZ’s relationship with Australia could be likened to that between Finland and Sweden, we’ve never had to contend with a neighbour like Russia. Today is Itsenäisyyspäivä, when Finland celebrates 98 years of independence from the Russian Republic.

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Even Google is celebrating

I made my second visit to Russia earlier this year when my parents were visiting from NZ. While many Finns have never been and say they never will go, we felt having travelled from the other side of the world it was worth making a visit.

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We could enter visa-free for 48 hours by arriving on a certain ferry, so we travelled one evening, sleeping on the boat. We arrived early in St Petersburg the next day, where we queued for 90 minutes at the passport check before being allowed to enter the city.

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Not the ferry we arrived on

Obviously it’s impossible to see St Petersburg in a day but we managed to visit sites of note, including St Isaac’s Cathedral and the Saviour on Spilled Blood.

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We also visited the State Hermitage, where I realised the enormity of the place after spotting a ‘small cloakroom’ designed for a population bigger than a town I grew up in back in New Zealand.

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There is a huge collection of art …

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… and historical displays….

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…. and rooms dripping in gold.

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For when understated is overrated

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Tips on redecorating your entranceway abound

While fascinating, to be honest I found the displays of wealth that so many could benefit from, at times felt a little grotesque.

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Not available at IKEA

As we left we found a military display taking place in the square outside.

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Despite the tanks, guns and number of personnel there was a moment of levity as we watched a group of women practice their dance moves to the side.

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Heading back to the boat we queued again for nearly two hours to get through security and customs, with checks continuing onboard as food and electrical items are not allowed on.

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While the visit was nice, we have no plans of defecting to Russia, especially as Finland prepares to celebrate its centenary of independence.

Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivä Suomi!

Independence Day Finland

 

To Stockholm by Sea

One of the best things about living in Helsinki is its proximity to the rest of Europe. While Finns say they feel fairly remote, for those of us facing a  26-hour flight home, anything less is a breeze.

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Photo: Marko Stampehl/AS Tallink Grupp

During the summer months you also have the option of visiting neighbouring countries by boat. By boat, I mean passenger ferries, built to accommodate you and 3000 of your favourite strangers.

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With my parents visiting we decided to do the ferry trip to Stockholm, which we’ve been told, pretty much makes us Finnish. We travelled on the Silja Serenade and were welcomed on board by Moomin, musicians and circus performers. The big promenade down the centre of the boat makes orientation really easy.

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As well as bars and restaurants, there’s a big play area for children. I sat in there for two hours while Miko played and recommend taking a book, as you need to stay in the area but not really watch your child the whole time. (Magazines in Finnish are provided).

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To travel, you pay one ticket price, that covers the fare and accommodation for all those sleeping in your cabin. A cabin with a window costs more, but with the Nordic summer sun visible for nearly 24 hours these days, you may not miss having one.

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One of the best things about the trip, that I hadn’t anticipated, was the beautiful views as we drew nearer to Stockholm.

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We had a bird’s eye view of the archipelago as we cruised slowly by, fascinated by the remotely set houses and saunas.

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Stockholm is a city set over 14 islands, connected by bridges. Once docked, we headed into Gamla Stan (Old Town), via bus.

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We passed by beautiful parks full of beautiful Swedish people, before reaching the Royal Palace.

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Gamla Stan is full of little streets to lose yourself in, with stores selling books, shoes, waffles and ice cream.

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We use the Foursquare app for recommendations on where to eat and were not disappointed with the lunch we had at Under Kastanjen.

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After an ice cream in the sun, we headed to the Nobel Museum, leaving Mum & Dad to tour through while we had a drink and people-watched in the Old Town Square.

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Later, on board the boat, we got a window seat and enjoyed drinks and the view, which once again was absolutely captivating. By the time we arrived back in Helsinki the next morning we agreed –  we all had a case of Stockholm Syndrome.

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Good to know:

  • Silja Line ferries dock a bit further out of town. Allow 20-30 mins for the bus into town, which is very easy to catch.
  • The currency of Sweden is the krona (SEK)
  • If you are a Club One member, take your card on board as you can earn points and get discounts
  • The duty free stores onboard have better prices than the cafes for things like chocolate
  • There are also big savings on Finnish souvenirs, like Moomin mugs (19€ on land, 13€ at sea)