"It's cold as balls"

Having no window or any form of light from the outside made me very confused about what time it was when I woke up on the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki. Or maybe it was the alcohol from the night before. I wasn't sure if it was 4:00 AM or 10:00 AM until I managed to find my phone. Forgetting about the time zone change between Sweden and Finland, and not having cell service in our lower-deck cabin so my phone didn't automatically change, when I did find my phone, I saw that I had a little over an hour until we docked. I lazily stayed in bed and decided I would take my time getting ready. Suddenly there was an announcement that we would be docking in 15 minutes. 

Rupa, Carol and I all scrambled to get ready in our tight quarters, and then made our way out of the madness of disembarking. As soon as we stepped outside, we noticed how distinctly cold it was compared to our previous destinations. As Rupa put it, it was cold as balls. Nonetheless, the thrifty three of us decided to tough it out and walk to the hostel. After dropping our bags off, we went and saw Temppeliaukio Church, or "The Rock Church."

The Rock Church, Helsinki

It opened in 1969 and is one of the most unique churches I have seen. It's built directly into solid rock (hence the name), giving it a Palaeolithic-like feel to it. But the modern architecture of the ceiling reminds you that it is indeed relatively new. 

Temppeliaukio Church, Helsinki

From there, we walked five minutes to see the Finnish Parliament House. It's traditional and simple architecture made it standout among the mostly lavish and unique buildings of Scandinavia. 

Parliament House, Helsinki

It was now time for lunch and decided street food was in order. So we made our way to Old Market Hall, a long building with stalls serving everything from meats, cheese, sea food, coffee, and pastries that has been open since 1889.  We each wandered off on our own. I had a reindeer sandwich (sorry Rudolph), and some pastries. It was delicious.

Old Market Hall, Helsinki

Right next to Old Market Hall is Market Square, which even in the bitter cold of late October had street vendors out and about. We tried a some local jams from one stall including cloudberry and lingonberry, and explored the other stalls before making our way to Senate Square, the oldest part of the city and home to Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, and the main building for University of Helsinki. 

Senate Square, Helsinki

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to our hostel for check-in. I didn't realise how tired I was, but as soon as I laid down on the cloud-like bed in our dorm, I passed out for about three hours and then it was dinner time. Rupa and I went to Sea Horse, the same restaurant that Calvin and his gang went to two years ago that is known for it's traditional Finnish food. 

Despite having slept most of the afternoon, we all curled up in bed afterwards and slept in this morning before heading to Sibelius Monument, a unique sculpture resembling organ pipes that is dedicated to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. 

Sibelius Monument, Helsinki

The rest of the day consisted of cafes. One of my favourite things about Europe is the cafe culture. I could sit for hours and hours in a good cafe, drinking coffee to my heart's content, people watching, reading, and writing. We were all together for the first cafe, Regatta, since it was right across from the monument. It is right on the pier, and has tons of outdoor seating and virtually no space inside to move around because it's so popular. But the views, delicious treats, and cosy fire pit makes sitting outside even when it's freezing is so worth it. But the bitter cold made me not want to take my hands off my steaming cup of tea to take pictures. So the memory will have to do.

Once we took the bus back into the city centre, we parted ways as Carol went to go wander around and nap, Rupa went to the Helsinki Design District, and I went to check out another cafe to continue a relaxing day. 

Once it got dark, we all bundled up to head up to Linnanmaki, an amusement park just north of the city centre for the Carnival of Lights. Every year Linnanmaki has free admission during the Carnival of Lights as a celebration of the end of the summer season. Many of the rides light up, and there are LED light displays almost everywhere you look. 

But the most noticeable thing about the evening was the crowds.

Carnival of Lights, Helsinki

You could barely move in some areas it was so bad. Once we saw most of the park, we made our way out to see the (less than impressive) firework show. We had agreed beforehand to only stay for a little bit of it, then leave to beat the crowd on the tram back into the city centre. We had perfect timing, barely making the tram with the firework display ending as it pulled away with the mass crowds all wandering toward the stop. You could say it was luck, but I'm going to attribute it to savvy travellers who know what's up.