First Impressions

 Helsinki map - in wood! - at the Design Museo / 10 July 2015

Helsinki map - in wood! - at the Design Museo / 10 July 2015

Hey! Hei! 

Greetings from Helsinki, where all is well and the sun really is out close to 20 hours a day. I am now half-way through my time in Helsinki and what a perfect Scandinavian introduction. The weather has been a mixed bag of sun, clouds, and rain, but that hasn’t stopped me from exploring the city. Read on for some first impressions.
 

 Helsinki waterfront, with a wonderful market just beyond the parked cars. / 9 July 2015

Helsinki waterfront, with a wonderful market just beyond the parked cars. / 9 July 2015

Finland is not the first place I’ve traveled to where I cannot understand the language, but for some reason I’ve found Finnish surprisingly jarring. Full disclosure I made ZERO effort to learn any foreign languages for my trip—no hello, good-bye, thank you, yes or even no—relying on the advice of friends and ex-pats that everyone speaks English well. While this is true, I’ve realized how limited, and to be honest embarrassingly American, I feel by myself without basic language skills. (Sidenote – many kudos to the Finns for their truly superb English! Much appreciated!) So I’m now doing my best to nail down a few essential words and phrases to at the very least be able to exchange pleasantries. (Note right now my biggest hurdle is pronunciation – definitely a doozy!) Lesson learned.

 Helsinki Central Railway Station, designed by Eliel Saarinen (1919) / 9 July 2015

Helsinki Central Railway Station, designed by Eliel Saarinen (1919) / 9 July 2015

Helsinki, Finland’s capital, has proved the ideal starting point for my trip. Notwithstanding the semi-language barrier and the fact that this is my first time in Scandinavia/Northern Europe, the city feels quite familiar. After only a few days, I’ve been able to traverse most of the city, including some suburbs, and feel completely comfortable wandering around without fear of getting lost. A decent-sized and digestible city, Helsinki reminds me a lot of Philadelphia. It has history and tourists, waterfronts, architecture—both historic and modern, lots of students, and cobble-stone streets. I’m pleased to say, with a little help from Google Maps and CityMaps2Go (available OFFLINE!), I’ve had no trouble navigating the streets. And while the public transportation is reliable and relatively cheap, I’ve done my best to walk everywhere I can, hills and all.

 Helsinki Senate Square / 9 July 2015

Helsinki Senate Square / 9 July 2015

And now for more images, less words. 

 Marimekko - give me all the Marimekko. / 9 July 2015

Marimekko - give me all the Marimekko. / 9 July 2015

Some early Aalto and design crumbs - more to come!

 Interior view of Aalto's Academic Bookstore and Café Aalto. / 9 July 2015

Interior view of Aalto's Academic Bookstore and Café Aalto. / 9 July 2015

 Artek Flagship Store! / 9 July 2015

Artek Flagship Store! / 9 July 2015

 Genius marketing. / 9 July 2015

Genius marketing. / 9 July 2015

I've enjoyed several "night" walks to take advantage of the extended daylight. In case you need proof of the insistent Scandinavian Sun, below, my friends, is Helsinki at 9:45. PM! And those blues and pinks are all natural - no photo editing I promise.

 Eläintarhanlahti / 10 July 2015

Eläintarhanlahti / 10 July 2015

 Kallio Church / 10 July 2015

Kallio Church / 10 July 2015

 10:15 Sunset over streets of Kallio. / 10 July 2015

10:15 Sunset over streets of Kallio. / 10 July 2015

And finally, solo traveling leads to half-selfies...