Helsinki dolls
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Helsinki, Finland

Sitting in the MBar internet cafe, a tendy place with free wifi, which they call WLAN here. There’s WLAN in the hostel I’m staying in as well, Erottajanpuisto, which sounds like it might be erotic, but it isn’t. It is very good though. Old fashioned and small, but friendly and comfortable, and not full of school kids like the place I was staying in in Stockholm. It makes a big difference having a decent place to stay, though coming back from a visit to a bar late last night I couldn’t find it and wandered around the misty streets of Helsinki for about 40 minutes. Many places here look quite similar. There are old buildings, but a lot of modern buildings and a lot of advertizing signs. Earlier I’d made the mistake of locating where I was in relation to a large Pepsi sign on the side of a building. I think that’s where I went wrong last night. There may be more than one large Pepsi sign on the side of a buidling in Helsinki. And the trouble with the logos is that one Pepsi sign looks identical to another Pepsi sign.

I went to an Irish bar called Molly Malones. Going to the local Irish bar when you arrive in a new town is usually the safest option. The next day or the day after you can be a bit more adventurous. One of the best places in Stockholm was an Irish pub in Gamla Stan (the old town) called Wirstroms. An attractive Swedish barmaid served a good pint of Guinness, but instead of asking for the money she placed the till receipt on the bar in front of me. It said 53.00 (which is about £4). Perhaps they think it would put customers off if they spoke the prices out loud.

The bar scene in Helsinki seems a lot more lively than it was in Stockholm, perhaps partly because smoking is allowed here. That does seem to make a difference to the atmosphere. (Not just to the smokiness of the atmosphere.) Also, in Sweden places closed at 1am. You had to go to a club if you wanted to carry on drinking after that, whereas here places stay open until 3 or 4.

I walked past Molly Malones and looked in. It looked deserted. But then walking back past it I could hear music. in an upstairs room there was live music. A pub rock band playing the usual pub rock covers. The place was full of Finns – a wide range of ages and types. Even the Helsinki goths were there, dancing wildly and smiling – very ungoth. This wasn’t a place where people came to look cool, and since the beer here was even more expensive than in Stockholm I don’t think it’s the place where people come to get drunk. They make sure they’re already drunk when they get here. A woman fell against the bar I was sitting at, then dropped her pint of water on the floor. The glass didn’t break, but the water splashed onto someone’s trousers and he said something to her. She said in English: Well, you could have caught it. But she wasn’t English. Her eyes started to fill up and I thought she was about to cry, but then she started laying into the group of men with the one she’d splashed, surrounded by them and about a foot shorter than them shouting at them in Finnish.

Finns know how to enjoy themselves.