Can you ‘do’ Helsinki in a day? You won’t see everything the city has to offer on a Helsinki day trip from Tallinn, but you’ll get a taste of Finnish culture before returning to the cheaper and more laid back Estonia. It’s the best of both worlds for travellers on a budget.
Getting There and Getting Around
There’s more than one ferry company going from Tallinn to Helsinki, but some aren’t so reliable; you could risk being stranded overnight on the wrong side of the water. I chose a two-hour crossing with Tallink (€32pp), having paid online and checked in online to save a few extra Euros. The crossing was smooth, but the facilities weren’t brilliant (limited food choices, few seats and hardly any toilets). However, you can sit in the food court area by Burger King without buying anything, and nobody bats an eyelid.
Patarei Prison is certainly strange, but overwhelmingly sad, rather than creepy, in the evening light. It’s silently and slowly decaying, the once proud fort that’s now shedding its last layer of skin, generous flakes of Soviet-era oil-based paint in muted colours. Tallinn’s formidable sea fortress no longer keeps anyone from the outside world: instead, it’s full of weeds, rust and damp.
Sadly Patarei was permanently closed to visitors from 7th October, as it’s become too unsafe, but it’ll reopen in the future with full access and hopefully a museum in place. In the meantime, you can see the exterior from Beeta promenade, but I want to share why the site is so important.
When I reluctantly bought a chunky red puffer jacket to travel with in 2013, I was pretty embarrassed and filed it under ‘style sacrifices made in the name of adventure’, along with mosquito-proof trousers and walking boots. The thing is, few pieces of attractive clothing are travel-ready, and not much of the contents of your average outdoor shop is fashion-friendly. My jacket had suede elbow patches as a hilarious extra detail, for goodness’ sake.
Though it was really useful for visiting Iceland and Peru, I didn’t feel confident in my bright red monstrosity at all and would’ve preferred something that didn’t remind me of my style mistakes in the late 90s and early Noughties (read: huge Adidas blue and yellow boys’ padded coat, worn circa 1999-2001 and alternated with a lime green fleece. It’s a wonder I wasn’t put up for adoption).
Hygge (pronounced HOO-GAH) is the lifestyle trend that just won’t die. It’s a not-quite-translatable word that represents a feeling of cosiness and contentment, often found through enjoying nature, snuggling up in a warm nook, catching up with a few friends or enjoying some proper comfort food and maybe a mug of hot chocolate.
Though the word originated in Norway as a rough description of wellbeing, it really took hold in Denmark from the 18th century, and it’s now one of the most fundamental pillars of Danish life. The inclusions are broad, from a fun-loving bloke you meet (that’s a hyggelig fur) to a welcoming house bursting with food (just really hyggelig). In contrast, somewhere cold, dark and unfriendly would be uhyggeligt, but so too would someone addicted to technology. Told you it was hard to explain.
It doesn’t feel like 15 years have passed since the 9/11 attacks, nor two years since the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened at Ground Zero. Yet, somehow, they have, and the memorial site at Ground Zero is so familiar and so firmly embedded on the tourist route that a group of lads on a stag party (or bachelor party, to American readers) will nonchalantly pose in front of the two sobering memorial pools, a blow-up doll alongside them.
The stag photos rightly caused controversy this week, but the outrage didn’t extend to the preening and pouting fellow tourists around them. One couple took a kissing selfie, perhaps blissfully unaware of their surroundings or just too self-absorbed to care. The thing is, it’s a privilege to stand at the memorial. It should be a place where you stop to reflect, whether you choose to go to the adjoining museum or not. If you are brave enough to face the Memorial Museum, this is what you can expect.
Last night, for the princely sum of £5 (plus free Prosecco, guys!), I joined a room full of other ambitious 20-somethings and 30-somethings to learn about the barriers blocking our creativity. The venue, Angela Hartnett’s Cafe Murano in Covent Garden, was the ideal backdrop to a Grazia Collective panel of talented women from across the literary board.
“Give yourself permission for the first draft to be rubbish.” Laura Jane Williams
This wasn’t an evening of airy motivation talks about releasing the novel inside us all (bleurgh), or patronising sermons on ‘how to live your best life’ (further bleurgh). It was aimed at any kind of creative woman who struggles to get their project off the ground, whether because of time constraints, work-life balance or the propensity to procrastinate.
It’s not long now until Series 2 of Poldark hits our TV screens, bringing Winston Graham’s popular saga back into the forefront of our minds and making everyone long for a Cornish holiday (preferably with Aidan Turner, a.k.a. Ross Poldark, to feed us a cream tea).
Whilst a few of the filming locations fell outside Cornwall, I’m going to ignore those anomalies and focus on the gorgeous Cornish settings used to bring these local novels to life once again.
Both St. Breward and Minions village were used for their stark landscapes. This created the perfect mood for Ross Poldark’s family home, Nampara, and for the views between Nampara and Ross’ cousin’s estate. The crossroads in Minions ramped up the cinematic quality of these scenes, as did the rising sun at St. Breward as the backdrop to a duel.
Tea is a great unifier. It’s a comfort and a problem-solver; it’s enjoyed all over the world with perhaps a greater fervour than coffee. For travellers, taking tea is a way of absorbing local culture, but it can also be a much-needed break in an otherwise packed schedule. The fashion designer Waris Ahluwalia once said, ‘I like the pause that tea allows.’ He’s not the only one.
Today I’m looking back at a not-so-recent trip to the Czech Republic (my memory was jogged by a friend who’s travelling there this summer) and remembering that brilliant pause, at a traditional tea house in Prague.
We’ve had ‘babymoon’, ‘baecation’, ‘minimoon’, ‘spacation’ and ‘staycation’. We’ve cringed at ‘glamping’, ‘greycation’ and countless other portmanteau travel terms invented to target certain audiences.
Here are some equally terrible potential buzzwords, not yet in common usage, that you might want to prepare for…
Holiday taken in the rainy season, because it’s cheaper. Pack your anorak and make sure that map is laminated, or live to regret it. Wonder why your glasses don’t have mini windscreen wipers. Drop your phone in a puddle and weep. Realise your shoes are nowhere near waterproof. Die a little inside.
It’s a sad truth of practical holiday packing that, the more efficient your clothing, the less fashionable or sophisticated it’s likely to be. I say ‘likely’ because I’ve tracked down some brilliant examples of reversible travel clothing that won’t scream ‘TOURIST ALERT’ when you just want to stick to styles you love.
One thing you’ll notice is these items are often more expensive than your average top or sweater, but remember you’re essentially getting two for the price of one, plus saving space. Spend a little more and you’ll love the results.