Katharine Macy (they/them) joined a group of Young Liberals who attended Pride in Helsinki, Finland.
The problem with a 7am flight is it means getting to the airport at 4am. 4am is quite early. This time round, I was accompanied by Lucy who we knew wouldn’t be able to do the walking in the airport, so we had booked assistance and wanted to make sure we got there early.
It went smoother than I thought it would and both of us rather enjoyed the surprising amount of respect people seemed to have for a wheelchair user - even if several times I had to apologise for my driving having not pushed a wheelchair since the summer of my GCSEs. (The smooth airport was far easier than the cobbled street dog Bayeux though, as a tip..).
We met up with Sean at everyone’s favourite: spoons. The flight was smooth and we had a beautiful view of what I suspect I think was Scandinavia and Sean thinks was the Netherlands, and we landed rather abruptly in Finland with the airport being slightly out of the city, meaning there was green trees and then suddenly tarmac.
At boarder control, Sean got to show off with his European passport while Lucy’s assistance drove her far quicker than my legs could keep up with. We met up at baggage reclaim and then quickly found Aleksi, the president of one of our sister party’s who had offered to drive us from the airport.
Check in wasn’t until 4pm so we had a drive around Helsinki, going past the presidents and prime ministers house, and a small tour of the architecture. We said goodbye at the end of the road we were staying in and went for a late lunch in the surprisingly warm city centre.
When 4pm finally arrived, we collapsed somewhat in the air bnb with fans blaring, fully intending to barely move. We dragged ourselves out for a supermarket trip and found loads of beautiful restaurants before deciding to go for pizza that evening.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and we felt it too. Pizza in Finland?? But Aleksi warned us finding Finnish food would be difficult and he was right! Finland, similar to Czech, seems fond of Asian cuisine but very specifically so. There aren’t many restaurants that do bits of this and bits of that like you get in the UK, but as you will see, it was a wonderful opportunity for me to experience food I never had, even if it wasn’t Finnish.
We went back to the Air BnB and watched “Pride”, as I’d never seen it. 10/10 would watch again, brilliant acting and storytelling. We set our alarms to be at Svensk Ungdom’s HQ at 10:30 and went to bed in day light at midnight.
The next day was the serious stuff day. We met up with Svensk Ungdom and discussed the context of Finland, providing us with good knowledge to support them. We shared tips and tricks and began to develop an action plan, as well as beginning the important connections required for such work. For lunch, we went to parliament and met a few of the MPs before a tour of the building itself, it was rather quiet due to it being summer break but a beautiful building with rich history.
The afternoon was ours and we visited the beautiful library and the famous church built into the rock and explored a few bars. I had my first ever kebab - though Sean warned me it was far nicer than most British kebab shops! We then found an English pub and felt so at home drinking Finnish alcohol that we didn’t realise it was 10:30pm thanks to the everlasting daylight. We watched Devil Wears Prada that night as another film I hadn’t seen, I’ll give that one 4/10.
The next day we had meetings again in the morning where we outlined policy and explored ways we can support them as a party. Then in the afternoon we went to a flower crown making workshop and marvelled at the Finnish genes that allowed the others to create such beautiful crows. Ours were…passable.
Next on the list of activities was the Finnish natural history museum (6/10) and the National Finnish Museum (9/10). I hadn’t realised Finland as a country was so young - it was the victim of colonisation and constant fights for land by Russia, Denmark and Sweden. The museum is free Friday afternoons so I’d definitely recommend it!!
The next day was Pride and we woke up early to attend the party breakfast at their HQ. We walked to where the parade began and as it was both mine and Sean’s first ever Pride, we didn’t expect to be stood around so much! It began at midday but we didn’t begin marching until just after 2pm. It was an amazing experience though, the music, the support and the smiles on everyone’s faces was lovely. The communist party were in front of us and the Green Party were behind us, and everyone was nothing but friendly.
We met their party leader, the minister for Nordic relations and equality and the minister for education. They were just normal people hanging around and it was so lovely. Even Lib Dem MPs have one or two people constantly trying to talk or get photos so it was nice to see.
Pride exhausted us somewhat, we had a late lunch by the water and then went back to the Air BnB to change. I had managed to get sunburnt despite wearing SPF 50. In a country with polar bears. And I had worn a patterned lace top, leaving an… interesting burn.
Never mind, worth it. We met up with the others at a lovely bar (spot the theme) and had a chat with them til the evening, then I had my first falafel for dinner. Lots of new experiences! After, Sean and I had a wander, including going to a rooftop bar which gave us such a beautiful and unique view of the beautiful city.
The next day was ours to enjoy. A Sunday we could relax. We had a Buffett lunch which was delicious- one of the best things I’ve ever had included which was yesterdays old pastries mixed with ice cream and cream. We had decided the day before we wanted a boat ride, and after doing some research, we picked one. The boats set off by a market so we luckily arrived a bit early so had time for nik nak shopping! I found a spatula! (And some postcards and a snow globe) We also all bought some jewellery made out of Finnish rock.
The boat trip was fantastic, the small islands are beautiful. The amount of history and information provided was amazing and I’d definitely recommend going on a boat tour. Sean was kind enough to share the translation differences between the English and the German too! (Apparently the German version had fewer jokes..)
After, we ended up at a Finnish restaurant! Hurrah! It was pricey though and we all decided not to go for the bear steak, though we would have had the tidbits had the bear been caught (the waiters reason for them not having any..). All three of us had reindeer which was delicious, and I tried elk as a starter too. Pudding was far more recognisable but just as yummy. We headed back to the Airbnb, “well fed up and agreeably drunk” as my grandmother would put it. I ended up on a zoom meeting with Plus (the life of a Lib Dem never ends), before we watched In the Loop. 5/10 and I paid far less attention if I’m honest.
The next day was mostly packing and moving slowly as none of us really wanted to leave. We ended up at a bakery after checking out to wait until it was time to go to the airport, getting an Uber as Aleksi was unfortunately ill and had to cancel our meeting and our ride back.
The airport was weirdly closed despite it being about 8pm, so heads up if you have an evening flight! Most things shut at 6pm apparently. I made sure to buy some lingonberry liqueur and tea in duty free which, thankfully, was open!
Flying back was absolutely bizarre, throughout most of the flight the right hand side of the plane showed a sunset and the left hand showed utter blackness. We landed only half an hour after taking off and were all rather hyper with tiredness.
After spending so much time together, we said goodbye, Sean driving back to Norwich and Lucy and I being picked up by my parents. I was asleep very quickly, feeling like we’d done a job well done and that it was the beginning of a good working relationship.