Europe diary, day 8: travel day, Tampere to Helsinki to Rome

Saturday 11 November

I’ve figured out why Finns like saunas so much. It’s not for the heat, it’s for the humidity. The cold air outside is humid with the rain, but the temperature is so much warmer indoors that the relative humidity is very low, and it’s playing havoc with my sinuses and mucus membranes. I was sniffling with a scratchy nose during the night and it’s a bit uncomfortable.

Today was another travel day. We got up about 06:30 and had breakfast, then prepared to leave our apartment accommodation in Tampere. We washed the dishes, stripped the bed linen, and placed all the linen and towels on the bathroom floor as instructed. We also had to take the garbage out, and the instructions said the bins were found in the apartment courtyard. I went out to find them and had to search a bit to locate the courtyard. I out plastic into a recycling bin, but the paper and general garbage were supposed to go into huge rectangular things like giant garbage skips – except they had heavy metal lids and were hooked up to power, apparently to open and close the lids hydraulically. There were a series of buttons on the side and instructions… in Finnish. I tried a few things but nothing worked. Eventually I noticed a handle on the general bin and tried using that to force the lid open, which managed to do the trick. I tossed the rubbish in, but then had to figure out how to close the lid as it was now too far away to reach. But I spotted a rope attached to it and used that to pull the lid down and closed again.

That task done, we checked we’d packed everything and left the apartment, leaving the key on the dining table. We walked over to the train station and bought tickets to Helsinki. I tried using the ticket machine to select seats next to each other, but every single window seat on the train was booked, except for some in the first class cabin which would have cost extra. So we ended up with seats across the aisle from each other again. But when the train pulled out, the window seat next to M. was still empty, and the first stop was over an hour away, so I moved over. But I noticed a weird smell there, which was unpleasant. I went for a walk around the carriage, going downstairs to a section that was for passengers travelling with dogs. Down there were plenty of seats free. M. checked them out and suggested we move down there, which we did, and it was much more pleasant away from the weird smell. M. said she thought it was the guy sitting in the seat in front of us. Anyway, I’m glad we moved.

The trip was just over 1.5 hours long, with only a couple of stops in the suburbs of Helsinki before depositing us at Helsinki central station. We found a luggage storage room and left our bags there for a few euro. The lockers were self-operated using an electronic system, and we had a ticket with a QR code to open the locker when we got back.

We walked out of the station and down the main street towards the park. The day was very dim and grey, but thankfully no rain, and a few degrees warmer than Tampere but still very cold. Shops were just opening as it had just turned 10:00. Many were decorated for Christmas, and there were many trees with lights in the streets. On our way back to the station later we saw workers hanging large wire-frame baubles with lights on cables above the street.

After turning the gentle corner into the park and walking down that a bit we decided it was more interesting to walk along the street shopfronts. M. stopped at a patisserie and we got some snacks. She got a gingerbread pastry and I had one with lingonberries. Both were delicious. We continued walking to the end of the park, where there was an open plaza on the waterfront, with several market stalls selling wooden and fabric crafts, souvenirs, clothing, and so on. There were some stalls selling hot food, and these had small marquees erected with tables and chairs inside so people could eat out of the cold. I went into one to have a look and it was warm inside. One stall was selling salmon soup, which M. said was a Finnish specialty and that I should try it somewhere, but we were full from the pastries, so I didn’t, even though it sounds good.

It started to rain lightly and we put our umbrellas up. We walked back along the other side of the street, stopping in a souvenir shop to get out of the cold for a bit. Among the usual sort of souvenir stuff they had a display full of amber jewellery, and also some amber dice. They looked cool, and not too expensive, so I bought half a dozen to use for games. M. stopped in a craft shop to look around and bought some small souvenir items to give to people back home. The whole time we were in that shop, several minutes, there was a lady serving a customer, sitting in front of a mirror, with multiple layers of cloth of different colours laid over her shoulders. The assistant was talking rapidly in Finnish, presumably about the colour matching with the customer’s complexion and eyes and hair or whatever, and then switching the coloured fabrics to show how they coordinated.

Further along we stopped at a cafe for M. to get some coffee. It was busy with people having late breakfasts and there was a huge buffet of stuff. We realised this cafe was part of a hotel. We went to use the toilets one at a time, and finding them a maze of navigation, going along some corridors, downstairs, and through more twisty corridors. After finishing her coffee, we left to walk back to the station and reclaim our luggage. Then we just had to work out how to get to the airport.

We found some green ticket machines, and I searched for the airport as a destination, only for the machine to tell me that tickets to the airport could be bought from the blue ticket machines. The green machines are for long distance trains and the blue ones for commuter services. The problem was there were no blue machines anywhere in sight. We had to search for them, and found some out near the platforms. We got tickets and then walked out to the platform for the next train to the airport. It stopped at several stops on the way, taking just over half an hour to get there.

At the airport we went straight in through the security check, which had no queues. Then we stopped at a cafe that had some nice looking sandwiches and other things. M. got a rye sandwich with cheese and egg and salad, while I had a spicy falafel bowl, which included some fruit salad on the side. When I bought them, the woman behind the counter asked if I’d like dressing for the falafel bowl. I said yes and she said they had peanut butter, tahini, or lemon dressing. I chose the tahini, and she poured some from a container into a fancy porcelain milk jug for me. In fact, the whole decor of the cafe was a bit grandmother’s living room, with my falafel salad in a fancy porcelain bowl, and lots of flowers and frilly things around. They also had some amazing looking cakes, with mounds of pink icing and stuff like that.

To pass the time we both went off individually to look around for a bit. Eventually we moved over to the departure gate for our flight to Rome. The plane was parked outside the windows and it looked even smaller than the one we’d come to Helsinki on. It’s an Embraer ERJ-190. On the previous flight we had seats in row 40-something, most of the way down the back. This time we are in row 13, and I thought we’d be right up the front of the plane, but it turns out we’re about halfway back. Once again we enjoyed the complimentary blueberry juice on board, and had a pack of Pringles that we’d brought all the way from Australia to snack on during flights.

The sun went down as the plane crossed Europe towards Italy. We landed, exited the airport, and once again got tickets for the Leonardo Express to Termini Station – after wrestling with a recalcitrant ticket machine in the airport terminal that refused to give two people in front of us tickets, and also refused to accept my credit card for payment. I tried again at a machine closer to the station and that worked smoothly. The train to Termini ran pretty slowly, and arrived something like 15 minutes later than it should have.

This time, at Termini we went down to the Metro lines and caught a train three more stops to Spagna, the closest stop to our new accommodation. From here we walked down Via dei Condotti towards our apartment for the next week. We tried to book the same apartment that we stayed in when in Rome in 2012, but it didn’t seem to be available any more. But I managed to find another one just a block or two away, in the area north of the Pantheon.

We located the door on a small, dark alley, and had to use the torch on our phones to see the labels on the door buzzer to find which one would let us in. Inside was pitch dark until we located the light switch, again using the torch. At the apartment door was a lock box with the key inside, and I entered the combination in our check-in email and after some fiddling with the metal gate that is in front of the wooden door, managed to get us inside. The apartment is nice. A little rustic, but in a nice antique sort of way, rather than tired and run down. There’s an ornamental electric fireplace that just looks pretty and apparently doesn’t provide any heat at all.

After dropping our things, we ventured out for dinner, it being just after 20:00 by now. It turns out that one of the restaurants we grabbed a business card from earlier in the week, thinking we should go there one night, is literally just around the corner from where we are staying! So we tried that first, Ristorante Laganà, but got rejected without a reservation. So we continued the half block or so to Ristorante Pizzeria La Segrete. Here we got a table right away in the tiny dining room – they also had many tables set up on the street outside.

We ordered some bruschetta semplice (i.e. garlic bread), a pizza margherita for M., and a pizza “La Segrete” for me, which had Italian sausage and mixed vegetables on it, mainly zucchini, eggplant, red capsicum, and mushrooms. The pizzas were pretty good, with paper thin crusts. After paying the bill we went for a walk to Gelateria della Palma. I got a cup which I assumed would hold two flavours, but the guy serving me kept asking me for more flavours until I had four: sesame and honey, crunchy black cherry, hazelnut, and pistachio.

From here we walked back slowly to our apartment. Passing by Laganà again, I popped in and made a dinner booking for us for Tuesday night. Once back in the apartment we prepped for sleep. We’ve moved an hour back in time zones again, so it feels later than it is, and perhaps we’re likely to wake up early tomorrow, although we feel very tired so hopefully we can use the time to grab an extra hour of sleep!

Oh, and the weather in Rome is thankfully warmer and more humid than in Tampere! My nose feels much better.

One thought on “Europe diary, day 8: travel day, Tampere to Helsinki to Rome”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *