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I got off the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki and the reasonably mild weather I’d been lucky to have seemed to have been over. Cold drizzle met me and I happily put my waterproofs on. I hadn’t got all the cold weather gear that I’d need, but had a pile of gear ready at home to be forwarded to me thanks to my mum. On the way to meet Anton, my host, there was a quick visit to a bike shop and the Russian & Estonian sternness had been replaced by joyful people who spoke wonderful English. They didn’t have many suggestions of what to do in Helsinki, but they gave me a map, let me pump my tyres up and mentioned a public sauna nearby that I might like to try out.

I met Anton at a coffee shop as planned, and his thinking seemed to be in line with the guys at the bike shop and thought it was definitely sauna time. We rode over to the public sauna, but it was a bit early so there was no-one else there. We could have set it going ourselves, but instead we rode to his favourite sauna with the idea of coming back the next day.

His sauna was closed, and so were the other two that we tried to go to. It turns out that saunas are like museums and like to close on Mondays. Having been told it was about €10, and maybe a few more for the branches that I’d seen drying out in Russia (used to relieve toxins or stress, or something) not paying €15 to sit in a hot, humid room while being hit seemed OK with me and so we rode back to his place. He had a small apartment in the centre of the city, but it was a bit small and so he mentioned having a bigger place a few km away.

6 km later we got to the side of the water and Anton mentioned that I should lock my bike to a tree and grab whatever I needed off my bike. I didn’t really understand, but it turned out that we would be staying on an island and the only way to get there was by rowing boat. Of course it was.

On the edge of the island we’d be going to I saw a group of people going skinny dipping in the rather chilly water and asked Anton about it. It turned out that was his plan for later too, letting me know it was completely normal, but staring was less so. Back on task I put all of my bags in the boat, better than needing to row back in case something else was required and loaded the boat up. Anton rowed us over, and within 10 minutes we were tying up to the jetty outside the house.

The island is owned by the local government and the houses are rented out for a very low fee to people to act as guardians. Anton paid less than €100 a month and usually went over at least once a week, especially when he needed to clear his head. It was basic, but a quite wonderful place, especially so close to the centre of the capital.

Anton apparently believes in at least 3 saunas a week, and was not going to be denied that night especially with it being chilly and so we set to work preparing wood and heating the sauna up, because of course the house had one. The word sauna comes from Finnish, and it’s definitely an integral part of regular life. Within 30 minutes, the sauna was warm enough and so we entered. It was just perfect until Anton decided to constantly douse the coals to make it ridiculously humid. 10 minutes later, it was apparently time to run outside and jump in the water to cool down. Definitely not warm.

After a couple of rounds in the sauna, and then sitting on the deck enjoying the night air, Anton went off to organise dinner and I went back to the sauna where I laid down and had a quite fantastic nap. Anton had picked up some herring in a jar for me to try, but despite my lack of enthusiasm they were actually quite nice.

Swimming

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Herring

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Being September, it was already out of tourist season and there were no free walking tours. They were only available on the weekend so I got to wander randomly around the city centre. It’s a rather compact one and the highlights, despite Finland not being deeply religious, are the very plain Lutheran cathedral and the magically fantastic Temppeliaukio Church (Church in the Rock) which was easily my favourite place. Other than sightseeing, I found myself a pair of toasty mittens in a second-hand store for only a euro, definitely useful for the road ahead.

Church in the rock

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