Helsinki railway station and I are not going to be good friends. It started
Judging a town by its train station would be as unfair as judging a book by its cliché. 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 – family, friends, home – not 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.