Turku, Finland: ‘Its cold, people get drunk’
Turku, Finland: ‘Its cold, people get drunk’
A few days into our tenure in the seemingly muted town of Turku, Finland, me and my friend got into the hotel lift, followed by what appeared to be some sort of Viking Hells Angel, his face scarred up worse than Frankenstein.
Ah I see you are not from here, he remarked politely and with unusually acute diction.
Um no, New Zealand and Australia.
Ah, I can’t understand why someone would come to Finland… it’s cold, people get drunk.’
The fact that this guy looked like Satan and sounded like Prince Edward went someway toward answering his own question, that and the everyone getting drunk part. Finland is freaking strange, but I mean that in a good way.
Technically this was my 3rd time in Finland. The first time in 2010 barely counted as I was just using it as a Ryanair gateway to get to Estonia cheaply. I did some very vanilla sightseeing with my one day in Helsinki, the most impressive been Suomenlinna island, an old naval fortress from the days of Swedish and Russian occupation. But the second time in 2012 was where things really got interesting. A few months earlier in Sydney I’d briefly hooked up with a girl called Hanna, from the northern province of Lapland. When I’d told her I’d be in Helsinki, she noted that she’d be moving there and that I should stay with her. Made sense. Except for her not telling me that she was already seeing somebody else. When I arrived from the Tallinn ferry I was greeted by both her and her boyfriend. It was weird. But the weirdness only escalated. That night we were drinking at her place, smashing back shots of Finnish death shots – Jallu and Salmarii – when at about 11, Hanna suggested we all get naked and have a sauna together. I was taken back a bit, but decided to go along with it when I realised that I’d be the weird one if I didn’t go along with it. It’d also make an interesting story (to non-Finns). So I went along with it. Naked sauna time with any and everybody in Finland is just a way of life. But if that was a colourful way to kick off a first night in Helsinki, it had absolutely nothing on Turku.
Two hours west of Helsinki, Finland’s ex-capital isn’t much to look at – it’s basically just a generic modern sprawl centred on a non-descript main square. The only vaguely scenic part of town is the river where the Cathedral sits (the only actual historical building in town) and some nice boat bars. I’d only ended up there in 2012 due to a friend that lived nearby and who wanted to show me a good night out, as I was only there for one night. In that sense it was a resounding success. We went to the boat bars with a big group of her friends, partied hard and I ended up back at my hotel room with two local girls, a bottle of 80% Saaremaa Vodka, and a lot of Angry Birds cola. Mix all that together and use your imagination.
There seems to be something about this town that totally flips the switch on people at night. Maybe it’s the large student population, or perhaps it’s the casual alcoholism – brought on by the town’s bland façade. Maybe it’s the fact that there are basically no out-of-towners here and an obscure foreign accent just really does it for the local girls. I think it’s probably all the above.
As I was only in Turku for one night I couldn’t really speak about the consistency of the place to put on a show for me. But on my first night back this year, I, yet again, ended up with 2 girls back at my place for the most hedonistic night of my life – and you don’t get much more consistent than that. I can also say – with consistency – that this consistently does not happen anywhere else for me. Not that it happened again on my remaining four nights there. I probably would have died of shock if it did. But I still enjoyed the rest of my time here.
Unfortunately, Finland is not a destination for the budget backpacker, or even the moderate backpacker for that matter. Nothing is cheap, and hostels don’t really exist, or if they do, they cost almost the same as a Hotel. To cut our costs we stayed in a place called Omena Hotel, a budget Finnish chain which is pretty good value considering the country. Omena has no onsite staff or keys, but instead provides you with a 5-digit access code, the only room service occurring after you check out. Me and my friend split a 2-bed room for 80 euro a night. To save a little more money, we bought almost all our alcohol on the Tallinn-Helsinki Ferry. They have amazing deals on duty free booze here – we picked up 5L of Vodka for 50 euro, which as well as providing pre-drinks, I also smuggled out at night in a flask. The clubs, Marilyn, Dynamo and Forte all delivered in some way or another, and I also got the best kebab of my life in Turku. I can’t recall the name, but it’s nearly opposite Marilyn club and is next to a burger place.
So yes, Turku is cold, and people do get drunk. And it’s expensive. And has a bored disposition. But these are the catalysts that make it so loose and fun after hours. I would definitely come back, but having reached a hedonistic crescendo in Turku, I think I’m ready to see experience a little more depth to the country. Lapland, famous for its nature, dog sledding and winter time aurora borealis sounds like a good start.
I’ll also leave you to ponder the Finnish instructional video below. No one knows if it’s a joke or for real, but that in itself sums up my experience with Finland thus far. Just turn on the closed captions and strap yourself in.