Thursday, September 13, 2018

Helsinki and our President

One of Mr. Putin's airplanes
Our flight from Kirkenes to Helsinki took us uneventfully through Oslo. Our arrival in Helsinki was anything but uneventful, however. We arrived in the early evening on the day of the infamous Putin-Trump meeting. We had to go through customs as we got off the plane because of the meeting, but that was a relatively painless process. However, it appeared that since we were from the US, we were asked more questions. The train ride from the airport was easy, but once we left the train station, things got interesting. Fortunately, we decided to take a taxi rather than the tram because the trams were completely stopped and had been for hours. The problem was that they were meeting right at one of the main intersections by the harbor. NO traffic was being allowed through there completely cutting off parts of town from the rest of the city. Our hotel turned out to be on the other side of that intersection.

The end of our ride
Waiting for a glimpse of the presidents
Our driver said he wasn’t sure he could get us to our hotel when we hailed him. He did try taking a couple of back roads, but still ending up stuck in the traffic jam surrounding the Presidential Palace where they were meeting. To make matters worse, they were close to finishing so a large crowd of people was hanging around hoping to get a view of the dignitaries. We got out of our taxis and walked the rest of the way to the hotel. The heat was oppressive, but the walk was flat and only one kilometer, so we made it without too much difficulty. We had a nice dinner in the cool basement of our hotel rather than face the heat and more walking.

We did walk past this beautiful Orthodox Cathedral
There will be some fallout over the mess Putin and Trump created with their overwhelming presence. Trump’s coterie included 72 vehicle, three helicopters, and an untold number of secret service agents who arrived days before the summit. Putin’s entourage was similar in size and scope. The biggest criticism we heard was the fact that pedestrians were also prevented from accessing certain streets which meant some could not reach their homes. This is unprecedented in Finland where the constitution guarantees free access to walk anywhere, even on private property, basically without restriction. Just don’t trample the rose bushes.


We stayed at Hotel Katajanokka when we visited Helsinki two years ago. It used to be a county prison. A prison has been on the site since at least 1749. Parts of the building are over 170 years old. The prison was closed in 2002 and converted to a hotel in 2007. The remodeling left many reminders of the old prison. Each of the four wings is open to the top floor with the old iron railing along the openings. A few of the old iron prison doors remain in place in the hallways. In the basement one of the isolation cells was left intact for visitors to enjoy the experience. It is small and windowless as expected. What surprised me was that the pull chain to flush the toilet was not accessible to the prisoner, leaving him to the mercies of the guards.

The rooms are very nice. Most of them are the size of three cells so they are quite spacious and outfitted with all the modern amenities. More windows were cut into the walls to allow more natural light. The restaurant in the basement is cool on the hot summer days and serves excellent food. The prison yard has an outdoor bar where one can also get small plates and snacks on a pleasant afternoon. And the tram stops right outside the front door so we have easy access to public transport even though it is just a short kilometer walk to the main part of town. It’s a good place to stay.

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