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In Training

Helsinki railway station and I are not going to be good friends. It started with the hassles of arriving to find no public phones and me getting acquainted with the local Romanian kids who knew all about the Skype booth but every time I've been there's been something wrong. If you’re thinking I'm being too harsh then exhibit A is charging a Euro for the WC – never a friendly sign.
Judging a town by its train station would be as unfair as judging a book by its clich̩. Railway stations are just airports stripped of ambition. They share briskness and boredom, but at a train station no-one is going anywhere special. Unlike the jetset, the trainset are making regular journeys Рfamily, friends, home Рnot epic journeys worthy of tourist brochure gloss.
In fact there’s always a seediness to most train stations. Anywhere in the world, dubious character’s hang around train stations waiting to take advantage of the newly arrived. Helsinki’s version is almost endearing – a guy whispers ‘Hei hei’ and waggles his eyebrows in the universal language of dodginess. I don’t know what he’s offering – booze, drugs, sex, cheap phone cards – but he just chuckles as I trundle away.
And train stations share with airports the epicenter of expensiveness. You can get ripped off for a sandwich in Helsinki station then amble over to Sokos supermarket and get the same thing for a few Euros. There’s a few little fruit stalls that are stocking berries which are the big snack around this time of year.
On the train it’s a different story. Europeans know how to do trains and consequently they’re still well patronised. The train to Sëinajoki is better appointed than some budget hotels I’ve stayed in, complete with a locker for luggage, small room for making mobile phonecalls (much more civilized than loudmouthing in public) and a decent little bistro that’s a little cheaper than buying at the station. And the kids get looked after too. As well as closed-off little cabins, there’s a dedicated play area with gated entrances, a slide and a small picture-book library. Sure the kids get rowdy, but rugrats bubbling laughter is better than creepy railway advances. Hei hei.


  1. My best advice: get a trench coat, wax your eyebrows and chant 'Hei Hei' at commuters. You'll probably see a different side of Finland.

    As for those juvenile corrals on the choo-choos, that has to be a salient marker of any civilization. I only wish we develop a similar apartheid in Australian cafes, allowing grownups some quality intercourse. While we're at it, let's install a mobile phone quarantine - a Cell Cell. A problem inspired by those same bloody Finns.


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