Onneksi olkoon! is Finnish for congratulations. Today was a day of celebration for what would be considered high school students in Finland to celebrate their last day of school and ring in the start of matriculation exams. Students will spend the next few weeks preparing for the exams which will start in March. This celebration for their last day of school is a tradition known as penkkarit. During the celebration, students will ride around Helsinki on large trucks and throw out candy to people gathered to watch them. Today, I got to witness penkkarit for myself.
Typically, students will be wearing some sort of costume that fits a theme selected by the students themselves. This varies from school to school though, so some schools had normal banners on their trucks while others had memes. Memes truly transcend all language. In addition to throwing candy, there is lots of yelling, singing, and noise-making. The students first ride around Helsinki, traditionally visiting old teachers and meeting younger students, before the trucks go around Esplanadi Park. They go around multiple times, continuously throwing out candy. Lots of kids and adults alike have plastic bags with them to gather the thrown candy.
It was fun standing in the crowd around Esplanadi. The atmosphere felt a bit like a college football game in the U.S. The thrown candy hurts though, so beware if you stand near the roadside during the parade. Most of it is hard candy or caramels.
After the parade, I walked to Stockmann and City Centre which are two big shopping centers. There was a lot of good food, and both are excellent places to just walk around if you’re bored. I stayed long enough to buy a charger and get directions to my next location, Hakaniemen kauppahalli. Hakaniemen is fairly small building that houses a market. The market is very similar to a farmer’s market and reminded me of the Sunnyvale and Mountain View farmer’s markets I went to over the summer, except it was indoors. There was a very large number of meat and vegetable vendors as well as bakeries. I visited Hakaniemen for one reason though: lunch.
I had lunch at Soppakeittiö which is a soup store in the market. It had good reviews on TripAdvisor and soup tastes great when the weather outside is right at freezing. I had the chicken and curry soup which was amazing. It also wasn’t spicy which I was glad for. I’m fairly certain the soups offered each day change and each bowl is served with a basket of bread with some sort of pesto dipping sauce.
The next stop after lunch was the Helsinki Cathedral, but unfortunately I was unable to go inside, so I’ll need to come back again another time. The view from the top platform that the cathedral rests on is breathtaking. It was almost like I was back in Italy for a second because of the stunning similarity to some of the churches on top of hills in Florence and Sienna.
Right near the Cathedral was my last stop for the day, the Helsinki City Museum. This museum is always free, so it’s a great thing to do if you’re on a budget. There was a Time Machine room that I went into first that used the Gear VR Headset to create an experience that ports you back in time 100 years. It was my first time seeing a museum use technology like that, so I was pretty impressed. Finland is celebrating 100 years since its independence this year, which is probably why 100 years was picked for this exhibit.
The second floor houses something called Helsinki Bites which shows bits and pieces of Helsinki’s history. There’s a giant model of Helsinki in the middle of the exhibit in addition to iPads which help you explore some key places on the model. There was also a jukebox display in a small cafe exhibit they had. The jukebox let you listen to songs from Helsinki’s past/about Helsinki which was pretty cool. Close by, there was an exhibit where you could dial phone numbers on a rotary dial phone and on the display showing the numbers, a “response” would show up and you would hear the response video through the phone. It was pretty amazing.
The last part of the museum that was viewable was the fourth floor which was home to the Lounge area and any exhibits they currently had going. The one today was about Helsinki’s smell and was basically a large room with bean bags to rest on while you enjoyed the scent around you. Apparently a perfume maker was involved in the creation of the exhibit. The “answer” for what the scent was was located in a box in the lounge area nearby. Both of these places were nice places to relax a bit after a long day of walking around.
I walked back home afterwards, grabbing some groceries as I went. Walking around Helsinki has been fun because I’ve not seen a city with as much ice and snow as I have here. It’s so cold, most of the lakes and bodies of water around have frozen over! Tomorrow, I’ll either visit the other museums I wanted to visit or I’ll visit the other churches I was planning on visiting. For now, I’m ready to just thaw in my AirBnB.