I go directly to jail: from the airport to the west wing of Helsinki prison, through heavy, padlocked iron gates to a cell, from which only high impenetrable walls are visible. This is where I am staying, thankfully for one night only, because although Katajanokka jail is now a luxury sleek Finnish design hotel, no amount of blond Scandi flooring and crisp cotton sheets can obliterate the sense of being incarcerated.
My room’s thick walls and tiny windows mean I sleep through the light summer night, though I can’t help wondering who its previous inhabitants were and what crimes they committed. Am I in a murderer’s cell or a rapist’s bed?
The names of inmates are still scratched into the tables of the prison refectory where I have breakfast – no porridge – and down the hallway, staff are preparing for a wedding. It’s a popular place to get married, apparently, which seems bizarre. Usually, at least at the start, people tend not to think of marriage as a life sentence but perhaps the Finns’ approach is more pragmatic.
I’m here to write a piece for a magazine: 48 hours in Finland.
After signing my release papers (aka checking out) I head for the Nuuksio National Park, a vast wilderness just 40k from the city centre. Finland calls itself the country of 30,000 lakes and Kattilajärvi (kettle) Lake seems an apt choice of canoeing spot for someone who really loves tea. I spend the next few hours paddling through crystal-clear waters... [read more]
Illustration by Joda