I’m still not entirely sure about how I made it to Helsinki. I know there were a couple flights on Air Baltic up from Vilnius that morning but, well, let’s just say I wasn’t all there at that point. So much so that the first thing I did upon arrival was to take a nap. Not the greatest way to explore a new city but sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice the adventure for the sake of being able to continue it. And I assure you that this nap was very, very necessary.
With the nap complete I had about 3 hours of daylight exploring left in the day, not because I slept so much but because the winter days are quite short so far forth. With such limited time I headed out of the Hotel Arthur (great prices, great location, right near the train station and a huge park) to explore. I hadn’t done much research about Helsinki, really. But I’m decent at reading a map and I know that the waterfront is always a good place to be. I also realized that it was still well below freezing outside. I headed towards the cluster of landmark dots on the map, looking for adventure and pretty buildings.
My walkabout was brief, mostly because of the cold weather, but also quite rewarding in what I got to see. The small “downtown” area I wandered through offered up some great architecture and harbor views. There was the Helsinki Cathedral, which I actually thought was a political building of some sort, both when I saw it the first time and again 3 weeks later going through my photos. There were a lot of steps involved so I didn’t make it inside on this trip.
And then there was the Uspenski Cathedral which, to me, looks a lot more like a religious structure.
Also, the harbor/waterfront area. This is the “close-in” portion; there is a whole other section a bit further south which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and which I intend to further explore at some point. It was just too darn cold on this trip for me to make it down there on this trip.
There was a cute pedestrian mall area with shopping and trams, too.
Eventually I meandered past the folks enjoying the outdoor ice skating, past the train station and into the aforementioned park behind my hotel.
There were families out sledding and some playing a pick-up game of hockey on one of the ponds in the park. I suppose were I dressed more for the cold I would’ve enjoyed it more but by this point I was pretty much chilled to the core and also getting hungry. I headed back to my hotel to regroup and explore the night’s dining options.
Having been in the Baltics the past three nights where food and drink were ridiculously cheap I knew to expect a bit of sticker shock in Helsinki. What I was less prepared for was the number of restaurants which were closed on Sunday nights. That didn’t bode well for me, especially as I researched each of the restaurants which looked good to find that they were closed that night. Eventually I settled on Pure Bistro – great reviews, a solid set of choices on the menu (though also very few options), near my hotel and they are open on Sundays – and headed out again into the cold.
I made it to the restaurant and immediately had a feeling that it was going to be a great meal. Except for one small problem: I had no reservation. Oops. It seems that they were quite booked for the evening (it only seats about 30 guests) and as a walk-in my options were quite limited. Eventually we agreed that I could have a table so long as I was done in 75 minutes so that they could seat those with reservations. I was tired enough that I knew I wouldn’t dally at the table, plus I don’t typically enjoy sitting in a restaurant on my own. And I really had no other ideas what to do for a meal so I agreed.
There are only eight items on the menu: three appetizers, three main courses and two desserts. It essentially works as a prix-fixe meal, though you can order just one or two courses if you want. Naturally I went for all three. First up, a lamb kofte platter with baba ganoush. Perhaps not typical Finnish fare, but it was quite good.
Next was cod on a bed of brandade with caviar beads and leeks. This was simply spectacular. By far the best thing I ate all week. The fish was moist and tender and full of flavor.
Finally, a gooey chocolate cake with blood orange sorbet.
The three course prix-fixe meal plus a beer came out to around 50 euro which is about the same price as what I paid the prior three day combined for my meals, I think, but the food was absolutely spectacular. And given that the prices on the menu were rather similar to all the other options I’d seen in my research I cannot be too disappointed at all with what I got for my money. Actually, I’m incredibly happy with it.
I know that I want to go back and explore the city more. There is way more to see than the ~4 hours I gave it in my visit but, well, by the end of a 4 day sprint through Europe that’s often about all I’ve got left. More so when most of the days involve lots of local beers. At least when I go back I know to book a reservation at Pure Bistro in advance so as to not risk getting shut out again.
More stories available from the Baltic Beers trip, too.
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