Where the Vikings Live

Finland / Helsinki / Stockholm / Sweden | May 8, 2013

Even if many of my relatives live there – all I know of Scandinavia is based on the tales and myths of my childhood. So when I took off to Stockholm and Helsinki, I had pictures of Pippi Longstocking, Moomins and fierce Vikings in my mind. Going on a plane never sounded good to me – not just because I’m a Railbooker. Getting up at 5 am did not make it better.Almost missing the flight because all transfers to the airport were cancelled didn’t either. Anyhow, after a ride with what must have been London’s best cab driver, I made the plane just in time.

Two and a half flight hours later, and one time-zone further east, I said goodbye to Pippi Longstocking. Stockholm was a bohemian, young and lively city, full of cafés, bars and restaurants. If it wasn’t for the prices, which I must admit are frighteningly high, I could have spent hours shopping in the little boutiques along the shopping mile. On the other hand, our tour guide explained to us that many of the areas where we were walking had been under water not long ago. Those little backstreets I found so charming – old landing stages. I immediately smelled a whiff of Viking spirit and hoped that I didn’t have to give up my childhood myths after all.

The evening brought a lovely dinner – not one of notorious meatballs with cranberries and mash that I had so often been warned about. And after a comfortable night at the hotel, I even got the opportunity to discover Scandinavia the Viking way. Obviously this is not possible onshore so I boarded a cruiser from Stockholm to Helsinki.

A cruise ship is basically just an all-inclusive hotel, turned on its side and put afloat on the sea. If you are worried about getting sea sick you don’t have to! Once you are inside this moving colossus full of casinos, bars, restaurants and shops, you immediately forget that you are at sea. I even caught myself every once in a while watching out of the window being shocked about the environment moving. Watching out of the window though is definitely a must. Passing Sweden’s summer islands (they have more than 30.000 of them) with their tiny red timber houses got me as close to Astrid Lindgren’s childhood stories as I could get. If you want to avoid another flight and see what Sweden has to offer besides the cities, a cruise is the best way to go.

After a surprisingly good sleep in my cabin (and another time zone further east), I stepped out of the moving hotel to find myself in Helsinki, where our Tour Guide picked us up to show us around town. Passing beautiful lakes, which were still frozen in late April, I first saw modern architecture and the famous Finnish design. The famous rock church (Temppeliaukio) is completely built into solid granite and top lit only by a copper dome with 180 windows. As a contrast, we visited Senate Square (Seenatintor) with its historic buildings and its monument of Tsar Alexander II. After all, Russia is very close and the closest big city is St. Petersburg.

But my personal highlight was the Savutta restaurant right at the Senate square. This little restaurant is built in what used to be a prison and for the first time, I really felt the old, authentic Scandinavia. In a small room, with Finnish black and white movies playing in the background, I tasted reindeer salami, Finnish cheese, rye bread and of course lots of fish. And these were just the starters. Although I was 100% sure that nothing could be better, the main course prooved me wrong. Seven hour cooked lamb, potatoes and vegetables, all served in a massive wooden bowl made me forget about the starters. The evening ended with liquorice ice cream, absolutely not my favorite but being in Finland, you cannot avoid liquorice. So in the end I found out, that Scandinavia is both – Pippi Longstocking and a young fashionable area. It is a mixture that you should have experienced at least once in your life.