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A week in Helsinki

Last Wednesday my girlfriend and I woke up at 4 AM and headed to the Zagreb Airport to catch a flight to Helsinki.

I haven’t been in Helsinki since Junction 2016, but with EuRuKo 2022 (the European Ruby Konference - this is not a typo) being there this was the prefect opportunity to visit again.

Above the clouds somewhere between Zagreb and Munich
Above the clouds somewhere between Zagreb and Munich

One hour after boarding our flight in Zagreb we were in Munich where we had a 40min layover. I though we would have to run through the airport to catch the next flight, but to my surprise there was a person with a “Helsinki” sign waiting for us just as we stepped off the airplane.

They took us with a van from one part of the airport to a small border crossing to check our passports. This confused me at first, but it occurred to me later that it was due to the Schengen area rules. Croatia isn’t a member yet so we have to go through passport control.

After the passport check the man took out a key and started unlocking a door that until that point I didn’t even notice existed. This was the first in a series of doors that he opened. Each lead to a hallway that connected to a staircase or elevator and then to another locked door that eventually spit us out right next to our gate. It felt like we were going through a pocket dimension or a worm hole.

A trip that would take about 40 to 50 min of running through the airport was cut short to just 30 min of inter-dimensional airport travel.

The next flight wasn’t as exciting as the previous one. We landed in Helsinki some two hours later and went to the baggage clam to find that our luggage went on trip of it’s own, but neither we nor Lufthansa knew where to. Thanks Lufthansa.

A taxi ride later we were in our hotel. With nothing to unpack we met up with a few friends and went for a walk towards the city center.

Statues at the Helsinki railway station
Statues at the Helsinki railway station

The walk turned into lunch at the Zetro - a tractor (farming machinery) themed restaurant. Inside which everything is dimly lit, there are tractor tables, and all kinds of farming equipment. When you sit at a table the waiters light a few candles without which it would be hard to read the menu.

A tractor turned into a dining table in a room dimly lit by red light
A tractor turned into a dining table in a room dimly lit by red light

Everything on the menu has a cheeky name and a funny description. I ordered the “Momma’s boy meet balls”, while my girlfriend ordered a steak that is allegedly cooked on the bonnet of a Zetro tractor. Both meals were amazing as was the service.

The following day was the first day of EuRuKo.

The organizers really outdid themselves. The venue was the Paasitorni, a beautiful and ornate workers’ house from the early 1900s. Registration was quick. There weren’t queues for food, water or hot beverages - what more can you ask for?

Inside of the ornate room where the conference was held
Inside of the ornate room where the conference was held

All talks are already available for everyone to watch.

My favorites are How music works, using Ruby by Thijs Cadier, Implementing Object Shapes in CRuby by Jemma Issroff, The Technical and Organizational Infrastructure of the Ruby Community by Adarsh Pandit and Looking Into Peephole Optimizations by Maple Ong.

But the magic on conferences is meeting people. I had many wonderful conversations with various people about how they run their applications (thanks Shopify team), and about the internals of the Ruby virtual machine. Exciting times are ahead for Ruby with version 3.2 and beyond.

After the conference we went out for dinner and found a newly opened Korean barbecue named Oppa. This was our first time in a Korean BBQ and it was an experience. We had so much fun, and the food was so delicious, that we came back the next evening with a whole group of friends.

A few pieces of meat on a Korean barbecue plate

On Saturday we took a ferry to Suomenlinna, an island some 10 min away from the city center.

A view of Helsinki from the harbor
A view of Helsinki from the harbor

We saw a few small islands with a single house along the way. It must be wonderful to live in such a beautiful, secluded, wooden house, only 10 min away from anything you might need or want to visit.

A beautiful, red painted, wooden house on a small island right outside the Helsinki harbor
A beautiful, red painted, wooden house on a small island right outside the Helsinki harbor

As we stepped off the ferry we saw a sign on a pinkish-red building that said the island is an UNESCO World Heritage site. It houses the naval academy, a former ship yard, a former prison and a fortress that used to protect the city.

A pinkish-red tower of a building with a clock in it
A pinkish-red tower of a building with a clock in it

The first thing that stood out on this gloomy autumn morning was the bright yellow naval academy. So we went to it first and then returned to the harbor.

Two bright-yellow buildings of the naval academy
Two bright-yellow buildings of the naval academy

The harbor and coastal regions of the island are littered with small wooden homes with a few brick and mortar buildings thrown in here and there. Many of the houses are private, some are hostels, museums, cafes and shops.

A brick and mortar building from the center of the island.
A brick and mortar building from the center of the island.

We visited the military history museum which is split across two buildings (keep the ticket when you enter the first building so that you can enter the next).

One building is full of military uniforms and equipment all the way from the early 1900s to WWII. While the second building is full of modern military equipment.

In the second building you can wear some of the historic uniforms and sit in the cockpit of a jet fighter simulator. Needles to say we had a fashion show.

And there is even a submarine!

A submarine in a dry dock
A submarine in a dry dock

After the museum we went for a walk around the island - which is full of hills, most of which have been hollowed out to make bunkers, caches and armories.

The inside of a hollowed out hill
The inside of a hollowed out hill

To me the landscape was magical. I never imagined that an island could be covered with beech and oak trees on rolling green hills that end with granite rock cliffs in the dark blue sea. My mental image of an island or the seaside is Dalmatia - steep mountainous terrain with sharp white rocks covered in pine and olive forests ending in a teal-azure sea with pebbled beaches.

A cliff covered with in green moss, grass, and trees, looking over the sea
A cliff covered with in green moss, grass, and trees, looking over the sea

We went past the huge defensive walls, the canons looking over the harbor, through the fortress, all the way to the king’s gate and then back to the harbor building - where we sat down in a brewery to wait for the ferry back.

A green bench in front of a large defensive wall made of many gray, dark red and dark blue granite rocks topped off with a brick and mortar gable
A green bench in front of a large defensive wall made of many gray, dark red and dark blue granite rocks topped off with a brick and mortar gable

Back in Helsinki we went to the cathedral and then went back to the hotel to pack our bags for the trip back home.

The Helsinki Cathedral - a tall, white palace with green domed roofs decorated with golden stars
The Helsinki Cathedral - a tall, white palace with green domed roofs decorated with golden stars

Helsinki is a clean, beautiful, peaceful city, filled with beautiful buildings, wonderful parks, wide streets and cozy places. Given the opportunity I would move there in a heartbeat.

Everyone we met was kind, helpful and trusting.

I was surprised how quiet everybody is. Compared to my hometown everyone seems to be whispering all the time.

Coming from a country where people are quite distrusting and a bit paranoid, the trusting nature of the people in Helsinki felt odd. There was nobody to check our ferry tickets, no badge or person to check if we were conference attendees, no check to see if we were hotel guests when we went for breakfast. Croats often joke that we are the world’s best nation in circumventing rules and finding loopholes. In contrast, everyone in Helsinki seems to trusts others to be decent human beings.

I can’t wait to visit the home of the Moomins again.

A white notebook with a gold embossed Moomin
A white notebook with a gold embossed Moomin


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