The ferry to Helsinki was uneventful, save for a very expensive buffet. At one point I tried to find a comfortable place to sit and maybe sleep for a few minutes, but discovered all the good spots were already taken by folks who were already sleeping! That appears to be the thing to do on the early morning crossing. Pulling into the Helsinki harbor, though, I saw the most brilliant
thing – a tiny island with a tiny house on it! I found out later this is a traditional summer house and all the Finns either have one of their own or have friends with one so they go there for several days to several weeks in the summer.
I’m learning that Finns tend to spend the winter, dark months living like zombies, annoyed at the world, locked away inside their own places and thoughts. But come summer, they light up like fireworks, enjoying the sunlight, listening to music and generally enjoying each other’s company. It is really, from my understanding, a tale of two worlds.
So anyway, off the boat, heavy pack loaded on and meet Jennica and Tommy at the dock. Jennica, as you’ll recall, I met in Prague and Tommy is her significant other. He had taken the morning off work so they could come get me in the car to take my stuff back to the house and then he was going back to the set (he makes TV/Commercials) and Jennica and I were going to wander.
Which is what we did!
We started out by taking a tram back down to the waterfront and having a traditional Finnish breakfast of meat pies and apple
donuts. The atmosphere reminded me of Café du Monde in New Orleans but the food was certainly different. The meat pies were just that, a pastry filled with a minced meat and spice concoction which was quite tasty, once I got over the fact it wasn’t a donut. The donut, though, was a donut and that was all good. The place we ate was where Jen used to work so we got the royal treatment (and considering the President of Finland, who lives across the street, has eaten there, that’s saying something).
Afterwards, we did indeed wander. We hit the fountain (yes I made a wish and no, I’m not telling you what it was) which is a central meeting point, we walked up the stairs to a large church and we went through a park called the Esplanade which had statues and monuments for writers and poets! We even went to a museum where, for some inexplicable reason, the exhibits all had something to do with marriage. There was a chupah set up and a chair with a crown on it (I couldn’t resist sitting in the chair and putting the crown on – I’d
already done the chupah thing).
Honestly though, we just wandered and talked. Every now and again Jennica would point out something or I would ask a question, but for the most part it was just hanging out with a friend. We did, however, run into The Pink One (see, I’m not the only one who gives their friends epithets). The Pink One is one of Jennica’s oldest friends and she met us for lunch and then for drinks
afterwards. A very funny girl! And she was wearing pink (how she got the name to begin with).
I must say, though, there’s this weird fascination in Finland for naming businesses after American cities. We ate lunch at Memphis, had drinks at Texas and passed Amarillo down the street. You never realize how much of your culture is exported until you hear the Friends theme as a ring tone on a cellular phone.
The next day, Jennica had to go to work but we made a plan to meet up at the statue when she was done. This meant I had the day to myself. What did I do? I did what you do in Finland – I got on a boat and went to see a fortress!
The fortress is called Suomienlinna (which is, quite literally, Finland’s Castle). It’s on a series of six islands in the Helsinki harbor and not only does it have a rich and varied history, but it also has the only remaining submarine in the Finnish navy (they had 6 at one point but after WWII had to get rid of them all – I think there were plans to move them to SuomienDisney but in the end
they were scrapped). There was also a toy museum on the island, but they didn’t allow pictures. I did, however, buy a card game where you had to collect cards to make a little blonde haired, blue eyed family and the bad card, the “old maid” if you will, was a little black boy. I had to get it.
The castle itself held a distinguished place in Finnish history. It was never finished, it didn’t quite
do what it was supposed to do and in the end, in it’s one major battle, it surrendered. Over the years, though, various governments have owned and operated it, changing the armaments, updating the
catacombs. Now it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and a prison (the inmates are used as groundskeepers).
After taking the Ferry back to Helsinki, I met up with Jennica in the Esplanade. We listened to a live band for a few minutes (whose name I really can’t remember and they really weren’t that good) before heading off to meet Tommy and then get fixins for a barbecue that night. On our way, though, we decided to stop for ice cream. Let me stop and take a few minutes to talk about ice cream in Europe…
It’s everywhere! If I get fat over here, that’s why. No matter where you turn, if there is a crowd of people, there is an ice cream stand. Usually, it’s one unit of currency for a single scoop in a waffle cone (i.e. if they have Euro, it’s a Euro or two, if they have crowns it’s a crown, etc…) Sometimes there are more flavors than you’ll know what to do with, sometimes, like in Finland, they have just a few. But anyway you cut it, there is ice cream whenever you want one, and when they’re everywhere, you want one all the time! So Jennica and I wanted an ice cream. We hit the stand and the way the cost breakdown worked you could get one big scoop or two little ones for the same price, We both chose two little ones and then went happily on our way. About now, you’re wondering, why is he telling us about getting an ice cream? Be patient. As we’re leaving the stand, Jen hands me a napkin. I look at her, and she responds by saying “I don’t think you’ll need it or anything…”
Those of you who know me know what’s coming next, don’t you?
Yup. No sooner is the napkin in my hand than the top scoop of ice cream is falling down the front of my shirt while I scramble to catch it before it hits the ground. Which I manage to do. Of course, my jacket is a mess, my hands need the napkin and Jennica is laughing hysterically, but I still have my ice cream!
For another thirty seconds.
I take three more licks (and don’t get to the center of a tootsie roll tootsie pop) and the whole thing goes sailing off the cone, forward so there’s no chance of survival, and into the dirt. My altruistic attitude instantly becomes one of “well, I guess someone doesn’t want me to have any ice cream.” Jennica feels bad, certainly, but she still has hers so we continue on. We get about 50m when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, comes a lokki (that would be Finnish for seagull) who dive bombs her and takes a chunk out of the top of her ice cream. We stop so she can scrap the residue off, lokki are disgusting critters after all, and she is not about to eat where it’s landed. We are both laughing at this point, me without an ice cream and her’s cut down in the prime of its half-eaten life. Basically, we are off our guard. I mean seriously, how much more can happen in once little trip with an ice cream cone?
Turns out lokki are not only disgustingly dirty, they are also incredibly crafty! While that first one distracted us, got us to relax,
its fellows came in on a sneak attack a few minutes later, this time taking out the whole cone, knocking it right out of her hands! Honestly, if they had opened season on lokki right then, Jen would have taken out a dozen with her bare hands. Of course, just to prove the point that they were NOT going to stop us, we went and each of us got another cone (single scoops this time, we might be filled with hubris, but we’re not crazy!)
Continuing on, we made our way through the Plague Park (yes, they have a park named for victims of the plague. The big church in the middle of town? Doom Church. The Finns are not a jolly people, despite the fact Santa allegedly lives in Finnish Lapland) and finally meet up with Tommy. The idea is that we are going to meet up with Jen’s sister then go to her parent’s house (they’re out of town) to get their car and have the
Everything goes smoothly until we get to the house and Jennica realizes she doesn’t have the keys to get in. No worries – quick change of plans. Instead of open flames and outdoor beer, we’re going to go back to Jen’s place and Tommy is going to put his culinary expertise to work. And he does. We have reindeer sausage, some kind of pork filet and a marinated chicken (heavy on the meat here). For dessert, Tommy makes some sort of chocolate/banana concoction which like heaven in a (burnt) peel. Despite never finding the keys, I’d say the evening was a complete success!