Jude in Helsinki

Helsinki is a parent’s dream.  Priority lines for people with strollers in the grocery store?  This is the type of thing I dreamed about as I maneuvered Brooklyn food aisles with a stroller, purse, gym bag, daycare bag and plastic basket brimming with dinner ingredients, all the while trying to avoid knocking anything over or taking anyone out.  Ahh, to then jump to the front of the line rather than standing, literally weighed down, while trying to entertain Jude as I waited to pay.  It almost seemed a selfish thought – having a child includes sacrifice, energy and patience – isn’t the supermarket struggle/juggle part of the deal?  Apparently it doesn’t have to be.  This utopia exists in Helsinki.

In addition to stroller priority in the supermarket, there are other conveniences provided to those with children.  For example, both on the ferry to the island fortress we visited (Suomenlinna), and on the city trolley, I did not require a ticket.  How was this possible?  Any adult pushing a stroller (with a child, presumably) did not require a ticket.  This means you do not have to wait in line to purchase a ticket, and can jump right on public modes of transportation, with entrance priority of course, without any hassle.  Additionally, the Finnish work day, according to our hosts and Patrick’s family, is 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., what could be more child friendly than that?

Public bathrooms abound in Helsinki.  We read in our guidebook that Finland may be the best place in the world for people with disabilities to live.  This translates to ramps and easy access to buildings.  The “kid” food selection at stores is also excellent – there were many high-fiber and other healthy options that Jude would actually eat.

All this and more, packaged into the clean and organized design capital of the world.  Check out the disposable attractive sleeves on our coffee cups: practical and sleek.  (Though I hope they were recycled.)  I even saw a kiddie potty so attractive that I called my mother-in-law over to admire it.  As we stared through the shop window, we agreed it was a very attractive, perhaps the only attractive, potty we had ever seen.  A day earlier, she had seen a children’s toothbrush at the drugstore which had bristles on both sides – top and bottom.  Design and practicality meet – I love this place!

Helsinki has a lot of other things to offer.  Mainly, hair salons.  I have never seen so many hair salons in one place.  Downtown Helsinki is not a very large place, and there are multiple salons on some blocks.  If you were a pin randomly dropped from the sky into Helsinki center (think “pin drop” on Google maps), I wonder how many salons you would be able to see from your landing pad?  I would estimate an average of two or three.

We brought Jude to the aquarium which he enjoyed after some initial hesitation.  One section has glass sides all around and above you, and with little sharks swimming by, you are in a tunnel of safety, but the whole experience is very realistic.  The staff was knowledgeable, and let me give the fish some food, so the experience was also informative and interesting for the adults.

Now the downside: Helsinki is expensive.  We spent four nights there, so we knew we needed a plan to make it economical.  We looked to Airbnb to see about renting an apartment.  It turns out there were not any affordable apartments downtown.  So in the end, we did the family equivalent of couch surfing: we rented a bedroom in a small apartment with a young couple.

At first when we arrived I was worried – their bedroom was right next to ours, so any noise Jude made would be audible to them.  Two-year-olds can be unpredictable, we didn’t know them, and I feared they might regret their decision to let us stay with them.  In the end though, it turned out to be a great move.  The couple was lovely, and they were able to give us restaurant and sight-seeing recommendations, help us with directions, and offer other information and advice.  Strangely enough, neither was actually Finnish; they both knew Helsinki very well, and in the end it was like staying with friends – a little squished, but more rewarding and exciting than staying in a hotel.  Plus we could eat breakfast at home rather than going out.  They introduced us to lovely “Finnish pies” – little circular pies from Eastern Finland that are made with a rye and water crust and stuffed with rice (or potato), served warm, and usually eaten with a slice of cheese or meat on top.  They also shared their coffee which they brought back from a trip to Cuba earlier this year.  Now that beats a Holiday Inn, for less money, any day of the week.

Now a tip for anyone traveling in Helsinki: signs are in Finnish and Swedish.  This confused us at first: why were there two names for every street, only one of which was in our guidebook?  Fortunately, Patrick’s relative, Isa (a Swedish-speaking Finn), explained.  So if at first you don’t think you are on the right street, check your map again and double-check that your street doesn’t match up with one of the two names.  Note: some are quite different, e.g., “Hogbergsg” and “Korkeavuorenk” are two names for the same street!

ALL PICTURES FROM FINLAND: here

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