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My last trip to Helsinki was during the winter months, and the beautiful city was covered with a fresh layer of sparkling snow. At the airport, it was easy to locate the correct Finnair City Bus heading to the central downtown station, a massive granite building with giant statues guarding the door and holding stone lamps aloft. The station is the city’s main transportation hub, and serves airport buses, trains and a limited subway. Outside, there are clearly marked ranks for city buses, and tracks for the tram system that’s the main mode of transportation for the urban population.

 

The airport bus was modern, warm and comfortable, and equipped with snow tires. It was a pleasure to relax and watch the scenery along the way. The bus driver was also very helpful, asking me the name of my hotel when I boarded, and suggesting which tram line at the station would get me nearest to it.

 

During the course of the seven days I was in town, I used city buses, ferries, and the metro, which travels both above and below ground. The entire metro system consists of two lines and 17 stations, but was the best way to access a few of the suburban addresses I was visiting. Otherwise, the extensive— and very easy to use — bus and tram system took me anywhere I needed to go, as well as immediately around the city. The trams also offer several routes designed for tourists, including an architectural tour and a separate route that includes the university’s botanical gardens and the historic Hakaniemi Market Hall.

 

I also made several water excursions by ferry, including a trip to a small island that is entirely comprised of a well-tended zoo. The day before I left, I took a ferry to the nearby island of Suomenlinna, where an historic fort is located. I spent an afternoon there, and enjoyed the sightseeing — but I appreciated the ferry trip even more. The channel was still mostly frozen, and I sat in the front of the ferry, watching as an icebreaker plied the waters just ahead of us, clearing a path. Enormous chunks of ice bobbed in the water next to the ferry, and the cleared path closed behind us as if it had never been there at all.

 

English is widely spoken in Finland, but even if that hadn’t been the case, the transportation network is laid out so logically and clearly that it would be hard to get lost. Though in my opinion, getting lost now and then just adds to the overall experience of being out there in the world, exploring and experiencing other cultures.

Posted in: Globe Tripper

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 About the Authors...

About the Authors

Bobby Gondola
Debra Bokur

Globe Tripper
At Grand Central Station when she was 9 years old, Debra Bokur decided that a different train from the one her parents were boarding looked as though it might be going someplace more interesting, so she took that one instead. She still loves trains, and has since traveled the world as an award-winning journalist, magazine editor and filmmaker. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Debra contributes regularly to Global Traveler Magazine, and serves as the magazine website’s daily feature writer.

Debra is a contributing author to Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry (The Bench Press, 2001). She holds degrees in both Theater and English Literature, and has been the poetry editor of the nationally acclaimed literary journal Many Mountains Moving since 2002. She has also been the travel editor at national publications including Healing Lifestyles & Spas Magazine, American Cowboy Magazine, and Fit Yoga Magazine, and has been a frequent guest on Wine Country Network’s national radio program discussing the topic of international travel.

Debra once lived a double life training horses professionally in the disciplines of dressage and three-day eventing while serving as an editor and writer at several equestrian-themed publications. Her current favorite places to wander are Iceland, Switzerland, the U.K., Israel and Italy. In her new blog, Globe Tripper, Debra will bring us along on her adventures.

Bobby Gondola
Bobby Gondola

World Wanderings
Bobby Gondola serves as Director of Operations & Development at Year Up, a nationally recognized workforce development and higher education program for urban young adults. He leads both the internal operations and external relations. Previously, he was Director of External Relations at Opus 118 Harlem School of Music in New York City, the Harlem-based violin program made famous by Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart. He also worked as a community development consultant in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa.  

Bobby earned a B.A. in painting and politics from Salve Regina University and studied abroad in Rome, Italy. He also holds an M.P.P. in Political Advocacy and Leadership from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, where he was a Public Service Fellow. Bobby lives in Providence, Rhode Island and serves on theWaterFire Providence Board, College Leadership Rhode Island Program Committee, and the Providence Public School Board. He has traveled to all continents, except Antarctica and Australia, which he’ll get to. Eventually.

Aaron Shapiro
Aaron Shapiro

My Driver Project
Aaron Shapiro is a 2011 alumnus of University of Maryland, College Park, where he received a B.S. in Global Health and completed a minor in International Development and Conflict Management. After graduating, he joined the Global Health Corps as a program manager for Gardens for Health International in Kigali, Rwanda. Aaron has interned for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Food Security, the Social Justice Coalition in Cape Town, South Africa, and volunteered at St. Lucia Hospice and Orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania. Aaron has also traveled in Congo, Burundi, Uganda, and Zambia. He is currently working in Washington, D.C. and applying to medical school.

Photo of Natalia Jaffee
Natalia Jaffee

Traffic Lights are Optional in Hanoi
Natalia Jaffee is a 10th grade student at the United Nations International School of Hanoi. She grew up in Potomac, MD and attended Cold Spring Elementary School and Cabin John Middle School. While visiting Maryland in the summer of 2011, she interned at ASIRT and published a personal account of the road situations in Vietnam. Natalia enjoys traveling and has traveled throughout East Asia. In her free time, she enjoys running, playing soccer, cooking, and reading.

Photo of Laura Blanar
Laura Blanar

From A to B Safely: A Transportation Travel Blog
Laura Blanar traveled through Asia, Africa and Oceania with her husband, Adam, for 14 months. Prior to her travels, she worked at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as a research scientist, and in injury and violence at PAHO/WHO as a contractor. Laura holds a Masters of Health Science from the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, with a specialization in health systems, and also obtained the B.A. in public health from the Johns Hopkins University. She has been published in several professional journals relating to injury and public health. In September 2011, Laura entered a PhD program at the University of Washington in public health, with a focus on injury. When not traveling, Laura enjoys running, wood carving and reading non-fiction and mystery books.