As we round the corner towards our 2-year mark in as residents of the great northern country of Finland, Jimmy and I have been making a deliberate effort to see more of our host country. With all this European gallivanting, we would hate to leave after our time here having seen so little of the country.
So a little over a month ago, Jimmy announced that we would be taking a little stay-cation to Finland’s second largest city (and the largest inland city in all of the Nordic countries): Tampere. Just a quick 90 minute train ride basically north of Helsinki, we caught the busy commuter train out on a Friday evening after work.
This was the farthest we have trained in Finland -though we have driven and flown farther- and we were in no way surprised at the efficiency and cleanliness of our train. Finland’s public transportation network runs like a totally dream -impressive, considering the types of weather conditions that they endure throughout the year.
We enjoyed our train ride through beautiful wooded and watery country side, passing through only small towns on our way. When we arrived in Tampere, we checked into our hotel for the night, cleaned up, and made our way out to catch a late dinner.
As it turns out, Tampere has a thriving foodie scene. Aside from the fact that it is, apparently, the best place in Finland for American-style chicken wings (thanks to the Finnish native NHL players who brought the sports-fan favorite back from the States) there are a number of swanky set-course brasseries along side small local favorites.
As it was late and we were starving, we landed at Stephan’s Steakhouse on the river, whose slow and moody vibe was just what we were after. Oh, and steak.
By the time we rolled out of the restaurant, most of the city was pretty quiet and we took a stroll along the river and home for the night, ready to tour the city by daylight the following morning.
Here is a bit of what we checked out:
Kauppahalli: Finnish market hall found in most cities and neighborhoods in Finland. In cities like Helsinki and Tampere, they are increasingly geared towards tourists, with stalls of souvenirs and obscure “traditional” foods, most notably mustamakkara: blood sausage. There are still always some good cafés and stores for pastries, etc. We found the food corner of this kauppahalli to be extremely impressive! We sat at a small counter and ordered the breakfast special: Eggs Benedict, fresh OJ, pastry and coffee. It was a fabulous place to sit and watch the market bustle around us.
Tampere is in a very interesting geographical location. It sits along a series of rapids that connects two large lakes, which differ 18 meters in elevation. If you walk to one end of the city, you will look out over one lake; walk to the other end and you will look out over the other. “Sea to Shining Sea,” but more like “Lake to Frozen Lake.” Along the northern lake, there is a little park (with the coolest playground I’ve ever seen) and Särkänniemi Amusement Park (which also has dolphin shows?!) I would not mind returning later in the season to enjoy a day at the park along the lake! There is also an observation tower with a restaurant, if you would like to dine high in the sky- apparently the highest restaurant in Finland.
Also, how about these tiny little sculptures around the park? I thought I was seeing things at first, but they are hidden in the rocks and bushes!
Along the walk from the northern to the southern end of the city, we enjoyed some of the interesting architecture the city had to offer.
We also observed a large number of stores and restaurants of the adult variety in this area, cementing our notion that this was a young city with happening night life. The names of these stores are not appropriate for all readers BUT were extremely entertaining. We giggled about the over our beers later in the day.
Tampere grew as an important industrial center in Finland, earning the nickname “Manchester of the North.” The rapids that run between the two lakes have been used to generate power for the industry and, as such, the river through town is lines with industrial buildings. However, the city seems to have done an amazing job converting some of these unused spaces into fantastic public spaces. There are now warehouses with darling shops and clubs, chic restaurants and bars along the water as well as many small pedestrian bridges lacing the two sides of the city together. It created a fun outdoor living room feel that I am sure just comes alive in the summer!
On the other end of town, we reached the southern lake, which is also lined with a park and lovely river walk. As we were there in the first part of April, spring was just peaking out its head and people were starting to ride bikes and walk along the river side. The restaurant barges were swabbing their decks and the pubs were setting out their patio furniture. We enjoyed the rest of the day wandering around and enjoying that feeling of winter finally subsiding as the sun actually warms your skin; it seemed to be a contagious feeling as the city joined us, with groups of men in hockey jerseys and scarfs geared up for a big local game, groups of ladies with strollers stopping for a drink and intellectuals reading in the sun over a dark frothy beer.
We made for the train station after dinner at Pork’n’More, a highly recommended joint for “the best BBQ in Finland” ( we really don’t eat BBQ that much, it just seems to have appeared in the last few posts….). If we ever had a slow weekend (ha!), I would love to take another trip up to Tampere in the summer. They run trains between Helsinki and Tampere throughout the night, so it would be a fun place to head up with a few friends to enjoy the fantastic foodie and younger student scene for an evening.
As we experience more of Finland, we are becoming more and more comfortable and settled in living here. I would calk it up partially to the incredible weather we have been having, but it is also in part due to the fact that we understand (and enjoy) Finnish people and culture and have navigated how to be non-Finnish speaking ex-pats in the country. We feel welcome, we feel a part of the culture and we feel comfortable with our lives here.
To any fellow ex-pats, long-term travelers or cross-country movers out there, what helps you feel settled and comfortable in a new country/ city/ state?