Published: July 3rd 2010July 1st 2010
Monday June 28, 2010 - And so a new journey begins. I am sitting in the Riga airport, unable to connect to the internet, but trying desperately to learn the keys on my new swiss netbook. I fear this will be hard for me, but if I get it, going back to my normal keyboard may also prove difficult later on.
I spent the last two days in a frenzy, trying to get my bag sorted and packed, and looking for a netbook to take with me. Amazingly, I bought one after very little consideration on my part (ie I didn't research one for six months ahead of time.) Amazing. Poor Jeroen - he put up with it quite well, even knowing it still meant I would be leaving for the summer. Today we said our goodbyes at the train station, as I had to catch the train to the Zurich airport. I tried not to cry, really. Once there, I had some lunch from the grocery store before checking in. My flight felt long but it was smooth. Now I have a two hour layover in Riga before heading on to Helsinki. From there, I will make my way
back to Basel overland in the next seven weeks. The focus will be seeing the sites in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. I've made a tentative plan, and will now see how well I can stick to it.
Tonight I will get picked up by the kids of a friend of my mom. They live in Helsinki and I will stay with them. Very generous. I am looking forward to seeing the city as well as a few islands nearby that house the zoo and the sea fortress of old. Already I think I do not have enough time there and want to visit more places in Finland, yet this is supposed to be a bonus to my Eastern Europe trip, not the focus.
Ok, I arrived in Helsinki and found the sign with my name on it, where I met Erik and Lilly, who were picking me up. They drove me home, showed me how to get into the city tomorrow, drove me to the mall to grab take out dinner and then drove me home again. I am staying outside of the city and am worried i will never find it, or my way back home
See, I'm really here
But I'm losing my touch at taking pictures of me with the right background scenery.
again. However, tomorrow I'll give it a go. It is 11pm and not yet dark. Birds are singing. This will be an interesting night.
Internet isn't working. Even my computer guru was unable to help. Grrr. Perhaps a netbook was the wrong choice as a traveling companion?
Tuesday June 29 - I went to bed after midnight last night. It was light outside until almost midnight, and I found that plus the one hour time change was enough to make me not sleepy by the regular time. Before 4am I found the sun had already come back. Good thing I had my eye mask ready to go. Take that ridiculously early summer days! I got up around 8am and started to get my day together. Had some fruit, packed things up for the day, and finally got a move out around 9am. Magically, I found the bus stop to get into town, but had just missed one, so it took another 20 minutes or so for another to come. The ride took about 30 minutes, and in this time I had to ask two people where I should get off, as I had never seen Helsinki and was
uncertain whether it continued from there. Luckily, I needed the last stop. From there, I had to figure out where that even was, get lost, and then get found again. I made my way to the tourist information office and asked a bunch of questions to a blank-staring disinterested young man who needs a new job. But he did direct me to the city hall next door for toilets and free internet, so it wasn't all bad. On their computers I was able to book my ferry ride to Tallinn, Estonia, my next stop. They even print for free. Amazing! Checked emails, chatted on facebook with the boy, and then I was (finally) off to sight see. I wandered around, just walking towards cool looking buildings. I am not overly impressed with Helsinki, from what I have seen so far, but I do think some of the churches look really cool. And the day was beautiful - perfect temperature, perfect blue sky. It's summer! From the churches I went to Market Square and looked at the harbor and things for sale.
Around 1:30 I decided to grab some lunch and settled on a quick and cheap doner kepab sandwich
at the indoor market building. I took my lunch outside to enjoy at the harbor. It was so nice. Until I was attacked by a flock of seagulls who stole my food right out of my hand. Seriously. My cheap lunch became not so cheap when I had to buy a new one. Seagulls are mean. So I ate inside the next time, quickly so I could run to catch the 2pm ferry to the zoo. Fantastic. It takes 15-20 min to get to the zoo, which is on it's own island. It was a great zoo. It has a lot of trees and green areas, the requiste wandering peacocks (some with babies!), and all of the exhibits had tons of space. I was really impressed. I walked around for about three hours and then walked over to another island by bridge connection. Well, I think it was another island. Not sure really. I walked along a path until I came to a place where I could put my tired feet in the oh-so-cold water. It felt great. At 6:15 I deciced to walk back and made the ferry at 6:45.
Once back on land I got some more information
from the help people and went to the park to check my email. I was actually checking my email from a bench in front of a free outside concert. Weird. Then the concert went away and a crazy blabbering dude came to sit by me. Then I was done. From there I headed to one of the apparently thousand malls in the area and grabbed me another take away kebap. Chicken this time. Walked to the buses - amazing I could find it again - and waited until mine showed up at 8:55. I didn't realize how physicallu exhausted I was until I got on the bus. Finding "home" took some serious effort. Got off the bus at 9:30, walked home, ate, read, showered, journaled, blogged. I am ready for bed, but at 11:30pm, birds are still singing and it is not quite dark yet. Perhaps some more reading.
Thursday July 1 - Today started out positively gloomy. I left the house without my fleece as it has been so warm here, and it was quite cool, but that is normal for mornings here. What hasn't been normal is a totally cloudy gray sky. That was what I got.
It was cold and cloudy. Not the best day to go to visit the sea fortress on Suomenlinna island. But, the only day I had left in Helsinki, so what could I do? I checked my email, ate a sandwich, and bought some freah peas-in-their-pods in the market and the hopped the boat to the island. It took only fifteen minutes and then I was wandering. First stop, info office. Got a map and followed signs around for a sort of walking tour. Most of the sights are outdoor but there are some museums that charge fees. I wasn't feeling much like a museum, so that was good for my last ten euros. In fact, I still have ten or more euros left! I started out feeling totally cold and disinterested, but snapped some pictures anyway. But shortly after I got there, the blanket of clouds blew away and a blue sky was revealed! This totally made taking pictures a pleasure again. Most of the time I was on the coast taking pics of scenery, rather than just fortress type buildings. It was beautiful. Still a bit chilly with the wind, but pretty. I walked all over the place and
finally took out my book and sarong and laid in the grass to relax. I read for an hour or so before looking at some previously missed sights and a free museum on the way back to the boat. Once back in town, I checked email, chatted, got directions to the ferry in the morning and made my way calmly to the bus. What I mean by calm is that I had to literally run to the bus before it pulled away. I really didn't think I could make it, but luck was on my side. Got home earlier than any other night, showered, made some instant noodles and will not have to pack it all up and start again. I have reservation for several nights in Tallinn (day trips), so that should save me a couple nights of packing up again.
Helsinki last thoughts:
1. This town is full of pregnant women. Most European countries can't get their population to reproduce fast enough these days. I don't think this is a problem for Finland. Unless they are offering money for each kid produced. Then again, what else is there to do on such long winter nights?
2. This town is also full of MsDonalds, the likes of which I haven't seen since Buenos Aires. Damn, people. I could see at least three at a time on my walk to the bus.
3. All the little kids wear something on their heads. Like beanies or bandanas. Is this because they are so fair their heads would burn? Is it a holdover from long long winters? Is it a throw back to Russian grandmas with babushkas? Or are they all just hippies at heart?
4. They say hello in Finnish by saying "hey". It sounds like every conversation is between close friends.
5. I am no fan of the Finnish language. Spoken. Written looks cool.
6. I have found myself becoming a fashion critic as I walk the streets. Hilarious, considering I have no fashion sense or interest to speak of.
There are more photos below