As with most business trips, my first visit to Helsinki this week was abbreviated and knowingly distorted view of the city. Here are a collection of my impressions.
It’s not as cold as I thought. I wouldn’t want to work outside fixing roads or anything but for a quick stroll, a sweater and jacket was just fine. Locals tell me November is actually the worst season because the bay isn’t yet frozen so the damp air feels colder. When snow covers everything and the air dries up, it actually feels warmer.
It doesn’t get light until around 8am and it’s dark by the time I leave the office at 5pm. Nothing like the “couple hours of daylight” that people warned me about – that’s only way up North. Here’s a shot of a cloudy sky at 4pm.
The tap water here is so good, they bottle it and sell it overseas.
Everyone has a cell phone and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an iPhone or Blackberry. This is the land of Nokia which accounts for about a third of the capitalization of the Helsinki stock exchange.
People love their coffee but stay away from the energy drinks which I swear are mixed with gasoline.
Many of the streets downtown are still cobbled giving it a charming old Europe feel. The roads around the my hotel are torn up for maintenance and pallets of fresh cobblestones await their careful replacement.
The Finns love hockey. In addition to the local teams, there was quite a bit of coverage of the San Jose Sharks on the local news.
Finns take their winter gear seriously. The local department store had a dizzying array of boots and ski jackets. Everyone wears scarves here like Californians wear sunglasses – a fashion accessory.
The language is incomprehensible. To my untrained ear it sounds kind of like Russian with wonderful, vowel-filled words that plop out like big nerf balls. I love listening to the receptionist at Nokia House (as they call Nokia headquarters here) calls up the taxi cabs for visitors – it sounds like she’s directing a complex ballet routine to a cast of tired dancers.
Finns speak perfect English but sometimes mix up the metaphors in a charming way.
Finns shun ice in their soda pop. Ask for some ice with your can of cola and you’re met with a, “yes, sure, but why?” smirk.
Linus Torvalds, is from Finland.
Every hotel has a sauna which is a beautiful thing.