I took an upmarket European train from St Petersburg to Helsinki. There were laptop points, waitress service and TVs, but no hot water for my tea. Back to Europe Proper. The border check was over in about 10% of the time of the one coming into the country from Mongolia – they didn’t even bother to collect the customs form I’d been carefully saving for three weeks. Then within a couple of hours I was in Helsinki, meeting Hanna and Tom.
Hanna’s an old friend and housemate from the original Prague days, and it’s more than two years since I’d seen her last. Tom’s her boyfriend who I hadn’t met before. They are a great couple and were almost overwhelmingly hospitable during my stay. Hanna was concerned that there wasn’t much for me to do in Helsinki, but I ended up having a lot of fun. The first night, as soon as I’d arrived, we went off to a party and then a club. Not enough was happening at the club, so we went around the corner to what turned out to be a gay bar, though I probably wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t been told. There was a strange sealed-off smoking area with plastic windows on two sides and the kind of telephones you have in prison, to allow smokers and non-smokers to speak to one another. I spent most of the rest of the night getting very drunk and talking to Finnish lesbian smokers on the other side of the perspex. It was a funny night; good funny.
The other event I was in town for was Mayday. In England Mayday just means a day off work these days, but in Finland it seems to be a lot more interesting. First there’s the evening before, when apparently teenagers congregate in the centre of Helsinki to drink and fight. We went instead to a small fancy dress party. Tom was Dracula and Hanna was Pippi Longstockings. There were a few pirates and another Pippi Longstockings at the party. There was food, karaoke and then a 4am sauna.
On Mayday proper it seems that moreorless everyone in town puts on a white sailor hat and goes to the park for a picnic. It was odd to see so many people, especially as the streets had seemed almost deserted the previous few days. The sun came out, and it was tolerably warm. We watched the fire brigade trying to put out a dumpster fire and then went off to watch the ice hockey.
Hanna was right to say there wasn’t much to see, but all the same I had a great time. Everyone was unbelievably friendly and pleasant, and it all seemed so clean and well-organised after the last 14 months. Maybe I’ll be back someday.

Big church & square in the centre. The crowd is watching a parade of ferraris.

The second day was a little overcast.

But the second was much better.

The previous photo was taken from this bar on top of one of the highest buildings in town.

Dracula and Pippi getting ready.

At the party.

In the park. Many people, many white hats.

The fire brigade try to put out a fire in a skip.

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