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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Ascensors, Azulejos, and a side of Port

An early morning arrival at Santa Apolónia Station – a culmination of three rail journeys that started in London – puts me right in the heart of the Alfama district, the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon. Like every other tourist, I’m probably a nuisance to locals here, as I drag my bag up its steep cobblestone streets, awaking everyone in my path. Truth be told though, this is an excellent bit of acclimatization for me. In a city renowned for near vertical alleys, lofty perches and great vistas, Alfama is quintessentially Lisbon.P1070321

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