Glasgow to Helsinki 16/04/11
The sun comes up on the first day, it’s been a long time coming since I watched it go down last night. It is 6am and I am surrounded by retired Canadian women, forty-two in total I’m told, all on a tour here in Scotland. I have been up all night; dinner, wine, beer and a chocolate ice-cream from a vending machine have all been devoured here in the airport. It’s hot and stagnant, the sky is a blue-grey mist, yellow lights twinkle in the distance. I have lost track of days and time and I haven’t even left yet, but I already feel somewhere else.
To ease the knotted body I find myself inhabiting after awkwardly falling asleep in aeroplane seats for most of the previous day, I decide that an invigorating swim and sauna is what I need. More invigorating than I may have imagined. After finding Yrjönkadun Uimahalli, a historic public baths in Helsinki, I admire its Art Deco interior. A black and white photograph, taken of the pool when it first opened, reveals that it was built in 1928. In the photograph, the pool has no water in it. Instead, a large group of rather distinguished looking gentlemen with dark suits and large beards and moustaches sit in chairs on the tiled bottom.
A blonde attendant in a red boiler suit approaches me and very helpfully shows me to my own little cubicle with a mesh door, not offering much privacy. I have brought my swim shorts, but I needn’t have bothered. I look out to see a rotund bearded man strolling around the pool, not wearing the slightest hint of a bathing costume, and looking very pleased with himself. The pool is occupied by oddly shaped naked Finnish men swimming up and down, all watched over by the same blonde female attendant. After completing a surprisingly pleasant twenty lengths in the pool, I embark upon the sauna, which I find a rather uncomfortable experience, due to not being able to speak a word of Finnish and unable, therefore, to join in the debate which seems to be going on between its sweaty, bare-skinned occupants.
At first I thought my senses had been dulled by lack of sleep, but I have realised that Helsinki really is a pleasantly quiet city. Not quiet in the sense there is hardly anyone here, but literally quiet. People do not shout or talk loudly, even cars make a soothing hum on the city’s cobbled streets. The birdsong can be heard as clear as a crystal bell in the spring sunshine.