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Phespirit goes to Finland
Helsinki     February 2004

This will be the last time. The last time Phespirit goes to Scandinavia or eastern Europe or northern North America in the middle of winter while temperatures are rattling around -13°C. Finland will be the last time. With Finland, Phespirit has now sampled all of the Scandinavian sovereign nations. Almost six years had elapsed since his previous visits - to Denmark and Sweden in March 1998 - and Phespirit counted this as a special circumstance transcending all common sense when he arranged his unseasonal excursion. But it turned out bitter bloody cold. So this will be the last time.

Phespirit based himself in Helsinki but, making the most of his time, travelled further afield by train to the towns of Hämeenlinna, Tampere and Turku. Helsinki is indisputably the modern cosmopolitan gateway to Finland. It has the finest historic and artistic national collections, combined with chic shopping, café cool and the bustle of business. Hämeenlinna is a small town with a big castle; Tampere is young, trendy and vibrant (whatever that means in the context of a city); Turku is the old, immaculate one-time capital.

It being too chilly to dwell outside for very long, Phespirit spent much of his time flitting between the warm interiors of various cultural centres: castles and cathedrals, museums and galleries, etc. The art galleries in particular proved to be a real treat. The Ateneum National Gallery has a magnificent collection from the golden age of Finnish 'National Romanticism', whilst the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art is home to oh-so-trendy exhibitions of 21st Century quirkiness. Turku and Tampere are also well served.

Which isn't to say that Phespirit spent no time outside in the fresh air. Indeed, he froze his nuts off at:

The real great outdoors of Finland - the lakelands around Savonlinna - is reputed to be very great indeed, so there is ample reason for Phespirit to return to this country one year. Just during a warmer season.

POSTSCRIPT: a last word about the bitter bloody cold. It would be fatuous to visit Finland in early February and complain about the cold. Phespirit is not complaining. He fully understands the nature of winter at latitudes near 60°N, not least through having been to Estonia in February 2003. Nonetheless, in Finland he found a new temperature threshold within himself below which the experience of cold was without any merit, benefit, comfort or enjoyment whatsoever. And so he tells himself "this will be the last time". Or perhaps not, if his will to see another bit of the world transcends common sense again. But there can be no complaining about the unpleasantness of the bitter bloody cold.

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