Travel School, Part 2

Last Saturday I went back to Rick Steves' for the class on Tallinn, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg.  She did a good job presenting information about these three places, but she spent more time on St. Petersburg than on the other two cities, and by the end I found myself wishing I were going there.  It looks like a great place to visit, and it has been added to my list of future destinations.  There is no way I could add it onto my upcoming trip, though; even if I took a train from Helsinki, I'd have such a limited amount of time to spend there, it's just not worth it.  The Hermitage alone is big enough to spend two days, and with all the other things to see, it's probably worth at least four days.

At the end of the talk I asked her about her favorite day-trips from Helsinki, and I was disappointed that she actually couldn't name any.  She said she hasn't traveled in Finland much outside Helsinki.  Her only recommendation was to go to the Arctic Circle for the northern lights.  I'd love to take a trip to the north, but there'll be no northern lights in May, and flights are very expensive ($500 and up round trip, about an hour each way).  

Since I've got four nights in Helsinki, and her talk suggested you can see most of what there is to see in Helsinki in a day, I realized I need to figure out how to spend my time there.  So I did some research on my own.

I already blogged about possible day trips from the various capital cities on my itinerary, and of the places I mentioned that are close to Helsinki, the one that sounds most appealing is Porvoo, where "tourists flock to pad about the cobbled narrow lanes of Old Porvoo."  I'm hoping late May will be less touristy than it would be in summertime.

I've discovered some other places to visit while I'm in Helsinki that I hadn't read about before.
  • Suomenlinna is technically in Helsinki, although it's only accessible by ferry. Apparently it's a highly popular place to visit, but again, maybe I'll be there early enough in the season to avoid the worst of the weekender traffic.
  • Ainola, Jean Sibelius's home, might be worth a visit. Hämeenlinna, where Sibelius was born, about 100 km from Helsinki, is another possibility.  There's a Sibelius museum at his actual birthplace.
So even though the travel class didn't give me a lot to enhance my knowledge about Helsinki, it sparked some discovery on my own, and I'm actually happy to have four days there.

As far as Tallinn, again, there wasn't much in the class to enlighten me above what I have already learned on my own, but I came away thinking there will be plenty to see in a day or two.  I'll arrive in Tallinn early on Friday morning, and that'll give me all day Friday plus any part of Saturday I want to take.  There are two ferries on Saturday that take me to the terminal in Helsinki that's closest to my hotel there, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon, so depending on how much I'm enjoying Tallinn, I can hang out there for most of that day.