City #3, July 2013. A great city, almost surrounded by sea. And the best thing is that unlike most cities that are this well-situated, Helsinki hasn’t exploited its coast (yet). No expensive hotels or loud bars, just a few – wooden – ferries to the many islands. Of course there are some bars and restaurants (and yes, they are very expensive: this is Finland, where a  beer costs 8 euros), but they’re quiet. A tourist tip, with romantic potential? Go to Merisatamanranta and take the ferry to Liuskasaari, a small island just 50 meters away. Find a nice spot on one of the large rocks, flat and warmed by the sun. Looking out over the sea, you can watch the big ferries to Estonia and Stockholm pass and fade slowly into the distance. And you’ll probably have the place to yourself, because this is Helsinki and therefore quiet. An ideal picnic spot.

What type of Youropeans? Healthy and wealthy, calm and friendly. The Finns have got their act together.

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City Column

It’s quiet in Helsinki

It is one o’clock. One more spin then. I bicycle past the ferry to Estonia, up through Kaivopuisto Park, and down again, bouncing faster and faster over the cobblestones, in the direction of the harbour. On my way – a distance of at least two kilometres – I see a man and his dog, a couple making out on a park bench, and two taxi drivers leaning against their Mercedes. That’s all. Helsinki is a quiet place; the streets are deserted.

On summer nights when I was a boy my mother used called me to come in when it got dark. (Well, actually, she never called me, nor did she use a washing tub, or say that things were ‘just grand’). Nevertheless, when it got dark, I had to come in, brush my teeth, and go to bed, no more fun. The best thing about mid-June was that it didn’t get dark until almost ten o’clock.

It is half past one in the morning, the sky is blue-grey, orange in the far west. A Tuesday night at the end of June in Helsinki. I tear across Senate Square, earlier that day the domain of pigeons, tourists and ice cream carts, turn onto the Esplanadi, the Finnish Champs-Élysées, and turn up the volume on my earphones. The shuffle throws up Flamenco Blues, but I refuse to believe the procedure is random; it has to be mood-adjusted since it always plays exactly what I want to hear at that moment. Have you ever noticed that? The city is empty, and it’s an uncanny feeling, a bit like a party where everyone has gone home but the last one to leave has forgotten to turn out the lights.

It’s not even twilight. Paul Weller, Wild Wood. One more bike ride? Through Eira, the high-rent district, where the embassies are and the self-proclaimed Finnish elite – the Swedish speakers – live. My iPhone has had enough, and has gone to sleep, like the city. Two o’clock. It feels like night; it is quiet, the birds have stopped singing, the wind has died down, and all I can hear is a tram creaking and rattling a few blocks away. But it is still light, the day is not over yet, and I can stay outside and play.

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