In mid-December I had the good fortune to travel to Helsinki, Finland to deliver a training class on Windows Azure architecture. This was my first trip to Europe. I had been to Mexico, Canada, and Singapore, but never anyplace in Europe.
The trip to Helsinki got off on an interesting start. After a short flight from Columbus to Detroit, I boarded the flight from Detroit to Helsinki. After a longer than expected wait after boarding the plane, the captain finally announced that the jetway had caused some damage to the plan while pulling away. Turns out the jetway actually ripped a hole in the plan’s skin, and thus the plane was unfit for flight. Apparently duct tape can’t fix all things. We had to deplane and board another plane a few hours later.
The flight from Columbus to Helsinki was long, but not too bad. My flight was scheduled to arrive in the mid-morning in Helsinki. My plan to combat the time difference was to try to sleep some on the plane (trying to adjust to Helsinki time as much as possible) Unfortunately, try as I might, I could only sleep an hour or so of the 7 hour flight. I watched a few movies and burned through the battery on both my laptop and cell phone.
After landing in Helsinki and grabbing my luggage, I headed to the taxi area to catch a ride to my hotel. I wasn’t sure what type of taxi to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect to see BMW’s, Mercedes-Benz’s and Audi’s as the taxis! I guess I’m used to the crappy yellow Ford or Chevy taxis we have in the United States (oh, and don’t forget the funky smell or glass partition). I was able to get a nice Audi as my ride to my hotel. My first experience in Helsinki was off to a great start!
The hotel I stayed at in Helsinki was Hotel Glo. I picked it primarily because it was listed as one of the top rated hotels in Helsinki according to TripAdvisor.com. Well, that and I thought it had a cool name. Hotel Glo was a very nice hotel.
Somewhat surprisingly (at least to me), there was no snow in Helsinki. The weather when I was there was pretty much like Columbus – 35°F, cloudy, and rainy. Just like home. There was also not much sun – so kind of like home there too. The sun was up for about maybe 6 hours each day – from about 10:30am – maybe 4:30pm. It was definitely the dark, rainy season.
Even though it was dark and rained a lot, I did manage to get out a little and explore some of Helsinki. Wow – what an amazingly beautiful city! I didn’t venture too far from my hotel. I basically walked in a circle for a few blocks surrounding my hotel. While I could read many of the street signs, I couldn’t pronounce the names. Many of the people there speak English, but I didn’t want to try to ask for directions and butcher the street names (thus sounding like the stereotypical ignorant American tourist I probably was). I really loved the architecture of the buildings. Many were these massive, old-looking buildings. I don’t see such buildings back home.
Christmas is a fairly major holiday in Finland. There was Christmas music playing in the streets and nearly all the stores I visited. A lot of the Christmas songs were in English, but some where sung in Finnish. It was pretty cool to hear songs I knew being sung in a different language. The stores were beautifully decorated as well. The largest store that I saw was Stockmann. Lights were all over the outside of the building. The store also had some amazingly decorated window displays. People would line up several deep to get a good look at the display.
The food in Helsinki was really good too! About a block from my hotel was a McDonald’s. Yes, I did stop by McDonald’s for lunch once and breakfast a couple of times. I had to see if it was different – it was, but not by much. There was still the famous Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, and Sausage McMuffin with Egg. There were also a few different sandwiches as well (sadly I don’t remember the names).
Anybody that knows me knows that I’m a Starbucks addict. I could not find a Starbucks in Helsinki. I asked a few folks at the office I was working from, and apparently there isn’t one. Sad. But, there was a pretty good substitute – Robert’s Coffee. Robert’s was about a block from my hotel (right next to the McDonald’s), so it was easy to grab a nice coffee before catching a taxi to the office.
I did try some of the local food. I wasn’t sure what “local food” was though. The area I was staying in was a tourist and business area, and that seemed to mean there was a lot of restaurants with other non-Finish cuisines. There was Italian food, American food, French food, and a few others. While not prevalent where I was staying, I did have some traditional Finish fare. I believe the Finns eat a lot of fish and potatoes. Luckily, I like Salmon (and most other fish) and potatoes, so I was pretty comfortable. There is also a lot of reindeer in Finland . . . but at least one less now! Apparently the Finns eat reindeer. I had never had deer of any type before. The reindeer dish I ate was really good – very lean and tender. The desert was great too!
I was in Helsinki for work, so I suppose I should talk a little about that as well. I was leading a course on Windows Azure architecture. I wanted to share a little about me with the group, so I started off by telling people a little bit about where I’m from. I shared with the class that I’m a proud alum of The Ohio State University . . . blank stares. Nobody there had even heard of Ohio State. Crushed! During this trip there would be no “O-H” to be followed by an “I-O”. Helsinki is the only place I’ve been where I haven’t seen another Buckeye!
The class I was leading was spread over 3 days. We talked about many of the aspects that go into creating solutions with Windows Azure – compute, storage strategies, identity management, best practices, understanding costs, etc. There were about 15 people in the class. I really enjoyed my time working with the group. So many good questions and discussions!
I was only in Helsinki for a week. I had a great time there and meet some really cool, smart people. Everybody I meet was incredibly nice! I would absolutely love to go back. Next time, it would be great to see places outside of Helsinki too. I’d really like to visit the northern parts of Finland (the Lapland) area. I heard that is a little more rural area and it would be great to see some of the natural landscape there . . . and maybe a few wild reindeer!
I have many more pictures to share. If you’d like to see those, please head on over to my SkyDrive share.