Tag Archives: city break

Finnish-ed and Home

There was a part of me, on the last morning, that wanted to get another crag in. Simon, it seemed, was less enthusiastic. Three days and four crags is a tough ask for any climber, let alone one that is unaccustomed to day after day of intense climbing and another lacking in fitness to continually batter themselves. Simon, it turned out, was absolutely right.

We could’ve checked somewhere out and not climbed but there was no need; we were both more than happy with the week we’d had and i was happy to concede to his plan of checking out a flea market in the morning before leaving the apartment a little early and heading for the airport.

Flea markets, apparently, are very popular in Finland, selling new and old primarily on market stalls in a cross between a British market and a car boot sale. This one was sparse to say the least, with very few stalls and even fewer customers but the building it sat alongside was stunning on the outside and almost designed exactly as i would like inside. Cafes, boutique shops, the whole feel of the place was fantastic and the first served fantastic pastries – i’d been craving pastries since we got there, being in Scandinavia after all! – and a wide range of tea.

The Finns are the best country i’ve been for serving nice, decent tea and for once, there was little need for me to take a box of 80 tea bags. Good job, too, as i’d only taken a handful as we were “travelling light”. I say that, Simon travelled light, i failed miserably, realising as i packed up that half of my electronics hadn’t been used and could’ve easily been left at home and swapped for an extra t-shirt and a thin jumper. More lessons learned that could prove invaluable later in the year.

After finishing our tea and breakfast, i’d arranged to meet up with an old friend Tomi Lindroos. Tomi was one of those that started 27crags and we’d exchanged many emails and messages over the years but never actually met in person; a wonderful example of how modern social networking can be a fantastic thing. He’d seen my posts of being in Helsinki and got in touch to see about meeting. Granted, we hadn’t climbed but it was great to meet him for lunch and chat about climbing, 27crags, North Wales and the world in general.

We bid farewell, hopefully not for the last time, and headed back to the apartment to pack up. We had one last trip in the world’s most awesome lift that must’ve been 100 years old but had not lost any of it’s charm, before some tactical packing saw us leave nice and early. We now had around six hours before our flight left the tarmac.

It turned out we did go to Meilahti again after all, just to have a look really. There is a public park across the road so after craning our necks up and wondering who on earth would classify this as bouldering we sat outside a rather large building that seemed lovely but gave no indication of what it might be. Turned out there’s a reason: it was the parliamentary residence. Our last act in Helsinki was to have a picnic outside the president’s home. That sums the week up.

That wasn’t quite our last act, as we then walked a fair way out of pleasant parks and scenic city into more industrial settings to our train station. By this point, we had everything with us and i was dearly wishing i’d learnt those lessons about travelling light before i’d left home. As the traffic and the buildings grew, i eventually dragged my way onto the platform, grateful that carrying this unholy pile of stuff was nearly at an end.

It felt hot, as it had all week but that was suddenly put into perspective as we walked off the plane on the tarmac in Munich. Suddenly slapped in the face by a swell of hot air, we realised that we’d been the lucky ones all week to be so far north and away from these blistering conditions covering the entire continent. Some German food in a Bavarian airport finished us off, before i admired Birmingham from the air before landing back home.

It felt as if we’d been gone for weeks, not days, such was how much we packed into the trip. The whirlwind hasn’t stopped either, with two pieces since written on Helsinki, one published right here.

It was genuinely one of the best trips i’ve been on and will live long in the memory of the Birthday Tradition. I’ll forever be grateful to Simon, my future father-in-law, who was one of the best travelling companions i’ve ever had. I can only hope that this is the first of many.

“Just win the lottery”

As the rain falls on Helsinki for the first time since our arrival 48 hours ago, we face the prospect of not getting any climbing in tomorrow. Not that either of us will complain.

After another superb day at another spectacular crag – i’m running out of superlatives – i can’t help but wonder, yet again, why Finland isn’t on more people’s radar. I thought Nalle’s ascent of Burden of Dreams may have raised awareness of the area but after four crags visited, the total number of climbers we’ve met remains a paltry six, with at least five of them in their first year or two of outdoor climbing.

Granted, it has been in the middle of the day on a weekday and conditions have not favoured those with the luxury of being able to wait for better but nevertheless, the absence of anyone trying anything harder than 6b+ is slightly baffling. We have been to four fantastic venues and today has not lowered the average at all.

The scene for today: Mellunmaki; a small cluster of outstanding blocs in the eastern suburbs. Once again, it was a short hop from the Metro station that would’ve been shorter had we taken a more sensible route in. Knowing our skin and energy levels were dwindling, and that this was potentially our last chance, we were a little tactical. We got it spot on.

A cluster of 6s fell quickly for me, with Simon ticking off Hantaaki 5+ with consumate ease. In truth, it was too easy for him, being a juggy yet delicate walk up the vertical face. Soon though, i was drawn to the awe inspiring line of Melankolia 7b+ despite the safe knowledge that it was likely a step too far for a single session.

So it proved but only just; the moves from standing falling very quickly after poor video beta that was soon disgarded. Annoyingly, it isn’t given a separate grade and i’m loathe to create one for an established area i am visiting for the first time. C’est la vie, i’ll enjoy the experience and take my tick on Mini Hueco 7a instead. Not that either were the highlight of the day.

That accolade falls to Simon who, despite my expectations, jumped on the big move of Reebus 6a: a dyno move that required power, timing and skills i’d not seen from him before. Yet again, as with everything this week, i watched in awe as he gainfully threw himself at this new form of climbing, glad to give it a go and take the fall. Our new friend, Tomi, climbing for only a few months and fresh from a crash course in heel hooking from yours truly, also admirably gave it a try, lacking a tiny bit of energy after what had already been a long session.

Simon fell twice while being filmed. I made him wait before his third effort, knowing if we didn’t capture this moment, i’d be kicking myself all the way back to Worcester. Much like the snippet of coaching that i’d offered, it proved worthwhile and like a pro, he leapt for the move and slapped the all important top hold. Job done and a superb effort from a man who can show us all how much we can achieve if only we try.

Granted he didn’t top it out, as i had and struggled slightly with a tricky one at best and advised it wasn’t worth either the effort of the hour of coaching needed to supply the skills to mantle an overhanging and blank top out over a slightly sketchy landing, but here is the lesson to be taken from the week. Yes, he didn’t technically finish the climb exactly but does that matter? Does that diminish his achievement? Absolutely not! In exactly the same way, i didn’t technically finish Melankolia today, or Peppu yesterday, or Meikun Pitkaveto at Meilahti the day before, it doesn’t mean i can’t enjoy the process and come away buoyed by the experience.

In a similar way, we spent the rest of the day revelling in a more typical experience of Helsinki; wandering the city and enjoying all the city has to offer: architecture, Moose sausage and reindeer meatballs by the sea shore, some gorgeous parks overlooking the city, a string quartet and some live music at Storyville. In what was one of the few disappoinments of the trip, we were expecting a jazz night but were instead treated to some covers from a lovely singer called Sanna Kukkonen. Even when it doesn’t work out for us here, it’s still pretty bloody good!

A Break From the Norm

Approximately 10 million people visit Snowdonia every year, so i hear. What i do know is a lot of people travel up from London, Birmingham or West from Manchester, Liverpool and Chester. Spending their weeks commuting through the city, the hustle and bustle of life everywhere, the cars, the smoke, the constant orange glow through the night, you can see why they do.

I understand it as i used to do it. I grew up in the city, moving to Birmingham when i was seven. For the last eighteen months (or thereabouts) that i was there, i even worked in the city centre; either driving or bussing in, seeing literally thousands of people every week. The calm and peace of the countryside is world’s apart.

But what would you do if you lived in that peaceful idyllic little haven? That’s the question i face quite regularly. As beautiful and wonderful as the hills i call home may well be, periodically, i need to leave – to charge the batteries in the same way as those 10 million people mentioned in the first paragraph.

As regular readers will know, this is normally to some different idyllic little haven, quite often abroad. Anybody reading for a while will know of my periodic pilgrimage to Fontainebleau, or my annual summer birthday trip. However, it’s not quite as easy as that a lot of the time.

Going off on jolly foreign holidays can get a bit expensive. While it is TOTALLY worth it, and i wouldn’t change it for the world, sometimes the fact is that i just can’t afford to go. This autumn, for example, i would normally sod off somewhere cool but for two reasons: firstly, i’m broke from this summer in Switzerland and secondly, Fredrik is coming to visit.

So i now find myself in Birmingham for a weekend break. The looks and comments i received at work when i told people of my weekend plans were much the same as i’ve seen before: bemused and confused as to why i’d chose to spend my spare time in the big smoke. The simple fact is that i miss it.

This is where i’m from, what i grew up with and what i know. The anonymity of a crowd, the people watching and midnight kebabs are all things i do miss. That’s not to say i’d change it back, move back to the city, but every now and again, it is refreshing to come back. I was last here for any length of time earlier this year, to work on the Land Rover, as this is home to my mechanic. His name is Dad.

And now I am due for a return. I arrived last night and today have been visiting family – my cousin Lindsay and her husband Rich, with their two beautiful little girls, who had visited last me last weekend but only for an hour, due to work and various commitments. Tomorrow meanwhile i will be going to town with my mum, not with anything in mind, (i’m broke remember) just a wander round to be around people and experience what i’ve been missing.

And that will probably be my fill. It doesn’t take much, and please don’t get me wrong: i’m not doing it to remind me why i left but instead, what i left. There is beauty in life everywhere; sometimes you need to leave to see it.