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Goodbye Helsinki

Well. So that was Helsinki then - a good if exhausting experience, and a wonderful conference space to boot. I'm still coming to terms with the city itself, though - it reminds me a lot of my home town Hannover somehow, especially in the style of buildings. Helsinki Train Station Portal with legless lightbulb gods(Not the train station, though, whose portal is positively weird.) There seems to be no real city centre (especially compared to Tallinn with its well-preserved 1400s old town), and I understand this is partly because a fire destroyed most of the original old town some time ago.

As a result (and partly probably also because of the fjordic landscape) the city seems pretty decentred. I've spent most of the evenings I've been here walking around looking for a centre where some good local restaurants are to be found, practically without any success - where on earth do Finns go when they go out? (Tallinn?) Not surprisingy, most of the few restaurants I did find were packed to the rafters. What's that on top?This is all the more curious since there is a significant amount of tourism coming through town, by the looks of it. Perhaps these tourists just move through without staying for long, and perhaps it's actually a good thing if the city of Helsinki hasn't rebuilt itself entirely in pursuit of the tourist euro, but speaking as a tourist for a moment it's very weird.

The Finns themselves I've encountered seem to be quite nice, if somewhat mute in their overall interactions. Very friendly to tourists, though - even the guy who approached me at the teller machine (presumably to ask for some money) said 'OK, have a nice day' when he found out I didn't speak Finnish. At the same time, there is something of an undercurrent of violence here which is perhaps nothing uncommon in Western European cities - in plain daylight, I saw a pane of glass at a tram stop be shattered by a group of drunk youths without any response at all from bystanders.

What strikes me most, coming from Queensland with its laudably strict anti-smoking laws, is the prevalence of smoking everywhere, indoors as well as outdoors. This is by no means unique to Finland, of course - but for me, coming from a place where cigarettes cannot be smoked in any location where food is consumed, it's not particularly pleasant to say the least. But of course all of these are generalisations, and I'd love to get the country more at some point (also outside of the big, er, smoke).

At any rate, the conference was great and very well organised, and I've been thoroughly impressed with the quality of the papers I've seen. Incidentally, the papers I've blogged here are only a small personal selection of all the sessions running here - and any errors and inconsistencies in their write-ups are mine and not those of the presenters. Signing off from Helsinki now - see you in Brisbane and then at AoIR 5.0 in Brighton at the end of September!