When I arrived at Kiev international railway station all alone, the skyline along the east horizon was slowly lighting up with the first rays of daybreak. Following a long journey by train from St. Petersburg, Russia for almost 14 hours was bound to cause much tedium. But things in my case, on that late autumn morning turned out to be pretty exciting with the anticipation of exploring a city still unknown to this lonely, oriental tourist.
First I looked for a place to have a cup of tea, a habitual way to start off the day. Gradually the platform began to become crowded with flocks of people getting down from trains from different destinations. In this part of Europe winter usually lasts much longer than other areas, which is why tourists who had not made most of the sunny days that passed a few months ago, were all on their toes to catch the last glimpse of the city, just around a month before winter. I hardly saw anyone alone-people arrived with families, friends, even some came in groups.
Loners like me were hard to find. Things I later on appreciated while moving around the city, shared just with my small notebook taking it out of my trousers pocket. I found myself consoled with the thoughts of not waiting for a companion still to wake up from sleep on a hasty morning or asking someone over and over again to finish lunch quickly for worries about missing the tourist bus ready to leave the hotel premises right away. The solitary tour kept me away from these troubles.
Rosendo was packed with office work. I tried to reach Julio's cell phone again and again but it was switched off. Basilica caught cold with no mood for a trip while I did not ask Elena to come along for with her presence around probably I would not look at anything else. So, moving out alone was the only option left.
I was actually bound for Helsinki, the capital of Finland. However, having a glance around Ukraine would not be a big deal on the way. When an orange-coloured taxi took me to the middle of Kiev city, I first stepped into a sportswear shop. That was to buy an AC Milan Jersey back then worn by Andrey Shevchenko, the Ukrainian football star whose game I always admired while watching on television at home. I still have that shirt as a piece of remembrance from the Ukrainian capital.
I reached Helsinki three days later because I got off the train once again at the central railway station in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Among other tourist attractions, Minsk appeared to me as a city of statues and monuments commemorating the 2nd World War. I spent a couple of hours time around the Independence Square in Minsk before going back to an almost deserted apartment owned by an old lady where I hired a room for a rate cheaper than any hotel to pass the ensuing night.
When I completed the immigration formalities at Helsinki railway station, I found Helsinki, the Finnish capital to be a lonely city like me. Cars, taxis, buses running by the motorway were few and far between. It was late afternoon with a mildly cool breeze blowing from the north which probably signaled the upcoming winter. Most of the people of Finland feel convenient with English while speaking to foreigners which greatly facilitates all tourists. Finns learn Swedish in schools, but that's a language they whole-heartedly want to forget with a desire to overcome the shadow of past Swedish rule.
One thing surprised me that people of Finland usually speak out a lot of words to make an ordinary expression which is rather unnatural considering the Nordic vocabulary as a whole. None of the Scandinavian languages contain more than 50,000 (fifty thousand) words in general which are too little compared with English, German or Russian languages. But the sentences they often say are quite long and verbose.
Before my visit to Helsinki, I had heard some awkward, prejudiced things about the Finns, like they are extremely addicted to wine which makes them a nation of constant "drunks" and more terribly, they are something of a belligerent nation always carrying "knives". But my first couple of hours in Helsinki proved all these cloak and dagger stories wrong. I received smiling answers from everyone I asked for help, the kind of tiny suggestions tourists usually want to have from natives in an unknown country. Finns do take a lot of beer due to a regular tax holiday on mild alcoholic drinks but that was no wonder for me because earlier on I had seen Russians buying beer cans more than mineral water bottles!
Finland looks like a country covered up in a multi-colored carpet with tall green trees and meticulously designed flowerbeds. The Lutheran Cathedral in central Helsinki attracts most of the tourists. The church was originally built as a tribute to Nicholas I, the Tsar of Russia and until the independence of Finland in 1917, it was called St. Nicholas' Church. It was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel during 1830-1852 in a neoclassical style.
On completion of my short two days stay in Helsinki, I intended to further explore the Scandinavian region but my wallet was slimming down. So, I had no choice except buying a return ticket to St. Petersburg, wherefrom my lonely tour had begun.
The writer is a columnist for The Asian Age
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