Scandinavia to Iberia, by Train

A Holiday Inn isn’t typically where I’d choose to stay, but in Helsinki it made perfect sense. It was centrally located, and provided a view like none other; winterscape as far as the eye could see, and trains – lots of them – within earshot. One such train whisked me into Helsinki Central Station from the airport in under 30-minutes, and once there, I could get to practically any part of the city on Helsinki’s excellent tram network, or for the heck of it, take a metro to Mellunmäki, the northernmost metro station in the world. Obviously, I did. Across the streets of Helsinki, Christmas decorations and festive lights persisted well into the New Year, as if to make up for all the gloominess. Of the many buildings I admired along the way, Saarinen’s Helsinki Central Station might have been my favorite. Home, amongst other things, to possibly the most attractive Burger King on the planet. The Oodi Library being a close second.

Daylight was limited and temperatures were frigid – as one might expect for the first half of January – but the Finns, everyone I interacted with in my short time there, were welcoming and friendly. It helped, of course, that most do speak English. The country actually has two official languages (the other being Swedish), a fact I was thoroughly ignorant about till my curiosity into the overwhelming presence of multilingual signs got the better of me. They drink copious amounts of coffee – more than anyone else on the planet, as it turns out – and often, that’s accompanied by an excellent selection of cinnamon rolls; a combination any self-respecting Nordic would subscribe to. And yet, somehow, the country felt culturally closer to Russia.

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Frietag in Hamburg

Berlin Hauptbahnhof, that awe-inspiring steel and glass behemoth, is incredibly quiet for 7:45 on a Friday morning. We are on platform 7, some 3 levels below the main entrance, awaiting train 794, one of many Inter City Express or ICE trains that ply the German rails everyday. Part of an extensive high-speed network, the ICEs are some of the fastest in the world, and obviously, I’m excited at the prospect of traveling on one!

Our train to Hamburg is late though – not something one would expect from the über efficient Germans! Thankfully, its not particularly crowded, so we do get our choice of seats, and after a quick stop at a Berlin suburb, we are on our way, leaving behind the North German countryside in a blur…

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