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Published: April 7th 2020
Finland day 1. A city of romance and steam.
Arriving at the airport, we head down the gangway, open minded of what the country will deliver to us. Their terminal is bathed in light, as it streams in through floor to ceiling glass windows and the walls encased in wood. We pass by these portals into the outside world, the landscape has changed since Iceland. The Stark black rocks, lichen hung cliffs. Moss and sub-Tundra plants, are replaced with trees as far as the eye can see. The Icelandic saying goes "If you are lost in the forest in Iceland, just stand up." We blearily travelers wander to the baggage pick up. Standing there we watch people move too and fro, in a chaotic choreographed dance. Dodging and weaving between each other. The language is foreign, though from the same origin as Icelandic, It’s far enough removed from Icelandic to be noticeable. Finnish is just beyond comprehension for my mind to grasp. We head to the taxi line, with our baggage successfully retrieved. Hopping into a cab we exchange the usual pleasantries. Then he asks us where we are from in his Finnish English. Hats off to him,
his English is leagues better than my Finnish. “Where are you from?” “Winnipeg” we state proudly, cautiously optimistic he would be able to identify where it was. There are few Finnish celebrities known through the world, 4 come to mind. Kimi Räikkönen, Mika Hakkinen, The Finnish Flash Teemu Selanne, and the bright new Finnish star, Patrik Laine. Well it seems he is related to Patrik, what a coincidence. Our hockey scouts spend a lot of time in the Finnish hockey leagues looking for talent, so much so we are starting to be known as Finnipeg. As both Teemu, and Patrik played for us. So excited was he, he enthusiastically showed us his taxi i.d. showing he shares the same last name. It is safe to say he sure did know where Winnipeg was. We now shared a bond, we talked hockey the entire ride. He spoke of how Finn’s meet through ice hockey, the love for the game. He talks about his childhood, and how he was going to be a hockey star. As we talk, the look of the houses have changed from the airport's, ultra modern Scandinavian look. The look very reminiscent of the eastern bloc architecture. More
function than style, they have not been painted in many years, other than the street artists whom have added their own mark on the world. The driver explained that Helsinki is many cities that suburb on Helsinki proper. Not even delineated by signage in some cases. One moment you are in one, the next another, then right to another. The buildings now start to gain in height as we approach the edge of Helsinki's downtown. From three story buildings, now the buildings soar to 20 floor or more building. Kids scoot down the street on bikes, or scooters. The feeling we got was of a safe city, no need to be on guard, or on edge. The Finnish people were very stoic, and our driver revealed that Finn’s don't talk to strangers. Accepting this, we changed our perspective accordingly.
The squat Eastern bloc houses giving way to amassing skyscrapers of glass, with clean, modern lines. The skyscrapers are mixed amongst old historic buildings. Stone building with character, and detail just not seen anymore. Old cobblestone roads, zigging this way, and that. Our driver carens onto trolly tracks built into the roadways. My eyes widen, as he assures us that
he is allowed to do this. We surrender our fears, as he is the professional. He turns on to a street that looks like it should be pedestrian only. Rolling down the window to yell at someone in Finnish on a bike, then realizing they only spoke English. switching to yell at them about riding the bike on the road we did not think our driver even belonged on. Our driver looks like a more weathered, and well fed version of Liam Neeson. So we just stayed silent, as he may have a “very particular set of skills”, we really did not want to find out the hard way. We arrived at our destination. The Block was a Tokyo, meets Scandinavia. Perhaps best described as a Tokyo, that does not talk to strangers. As the streets were narrow, and people were bustling everywhere. Our room was directly across the street from the mall where bright billboards would illuminate our room for the remainder of the stay. Not with a steady glow but alternating brightness, and pulses of light. Blackout curtains would solve this, as most places in this part of the world, have long summer days, and blackout curtains are
a must. Modernism would stand starkly in contrast to the cobbled Stone streets. We quickly get squared away, the hotel exceeding our expectations. We headed down to the harbor, but not before making a stop at Burger King for lunch. It's always nice to see how North American ideas are adopted, and executed aboard. As well, It’s one of my guilty pleasures in life, a whopper, no tomato, heavy all, side of onion rings and a refillable soda. After all It's the little things in life. After packing that away, we headed down to market square. Moving slow, feeling glutinous from our bk. We head to the jtline booth to board a ferry to Suomenlinna. Not before passing beautiful sculptures, and Street performers along the way. The city bustles with life. People on bikes ride on bike lanes, as people stroll sharing pleasant conversations. Booths line market square selling handmade, and throw away souvenirs. Fruit stands filled with berries, and stands serving local butter fried fish small enough to look like they belong in someones fish tank with a side of mash potatoes. Their owners enticing you for a look with weird noises so they can encourage you to have
a taste, or buy the lot. The stands fill the square with an circus like energy. Clouds puttering away in the sky as the sun makes its decent for the horizon. We board the top deck of the boat bound for the island sea fort of Suomenlinna. The battlements stand defiantly against the Baltic Sea. The wind has started picking up, and I pull my mother's hand knitted cardigan up against my face, blocking the wind. My rain jacket doned over top to cut the winds assault. We arrive at the fort, and are met with a towering Citadel. We check out the map and preparing the most efficient route, as the sun is hanging low in the sky. Fearing we are near the last ferry back to our hotel. My first stop in the dry docked submarine, 7 euros entrance fee paid I am allowed aboard. My enthusiasm is way more than the Finnish woman whom took my entrance fee. I gain entrance in the forward port hatch. To my left, torpedo tubes. The right bunks, barely large enough to imagine one comfortable night, let alone many nights at sea. Further aft, lay’s the bridge, galley, and engine room.
Followed by the rear bunks and toilet. My mind plays films over of crews on voyages for months on end. Packed in like sardines, Serving their country, and protecting their idea of freedom, and what they thought was right. Unfathomable conditions to today's standards. Thrilled with my little experience, I rejoin my bored wife as she sat outside. I spot on the map Canon batteries, and we make our way there. Climbing to the top of the Canon line, the wind is whipping. Birds at this point knowing it’s a losing battle to take flight, they instead take shelter. We do not stay longer than taking in the views which were stunning. We see abandoned gunpowder stores all with the doors open, but too afraid to go inside. (Yes I am scared of ghosts, but more so vagrants.) We work our way to the other ferry pick up point at Kings gate, as not to miss the last ferry leaving the island. I could have spent the entire day going about the military history of the place, and hearing the stories. Our time on the island must come to an end, back to terra firma. As we arrive back to port, we see the market has packed up for the day. It being September, tourist season is over, things operate truncated hours. One place stays open, Much to our delight, Kauppatorin Grilli. We had spotted it before going on the ferry, and we're excited to try it's exotic fares. With money in hand, and bravery in our hearts we order. “One reindeer hot dog, moose meatballs, and a side of fries.” What to expect? the food came, with due haste, and our adventurous appetites ravenous. We head into a tent set up for eating and none too soon. The ominous cloud that was pushed in by the winds brings a deluge.Rain pelting down, tourists flocked too our little tent whilst we dine. The food was delicious and, rather more pedestrian (thankfully) than expected. The Rain stops as we intertwine our hands and have a romantic stroll back through the old town. With out bellies filled, and our hearts soaring, reminiscent of moments when we first fell in love. We retire to our hotel, in awe of what Helsinki has awakened in us. A rare moment of reckless innocence. It's left our hearts bare too remember what travel gives as gifts. It takes money in exchange for priceless moments. Final sale, no refunds will be given.
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