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Published: April 28th 2020
Finland day two.
The hotel is a bustle with people, a conference is being held in the hotel. The lobby is stuffed with people, groups of people laptops open, discussing topics important to them. We make our way to the breakfast bar, just off of the lobby. A lovely mix of old brickwork, and contemporary furniture. Giving a lovely vibe of traditions held, living alongside new. The smell of breakfast offerings dances in the air, a greeting for our senses. I find the usual fair of cheese, crackers, bacon and eggs. As well as the object of my desire, local delicacies. I try a pastry with rice in the middle, that is traditionally served with butter mixed with eggs. They have ginger snap type biscuits, and an Oreo type cookie that contains a minty filling. The last local offering was a candy that had a fox on the label. It was a gummy type Candy, typically given out by grandma's. This information, I garner from the servers. We leave the hotel, making our way down the cobblestones to Senate square to join our free walking tour. We are greeted by Sara, a young history student passionate about her city, and
its history. We walk the streets learning about Finland's Germanic influenced buildings. The religion, political, and social struggles, and successes of its people. One building stands out to me on the tour. The think center. It's a public space like a library, it has a cafe, bookstore, and free wifi. This place is free to go, and you can take in a lecture, or discuss ideas for social change. This is why I love the Nordic countries, they inspire creative thinking. Ideas surrounding use of taxes, social programs, and the general health of the country are discussed, and debated.
As the tour wraps up we are left in the warmth only knowledge from a local perspective can provide. Experiences, and adventure await so we waste no time in boarding a city sightseeing bus. The familiar voice of a proper British gentleman greets us over the headset. that voice provides vocal services for all the bus tours I have been on, guiding our experience with expert knowledge. We scoot along old roadways lined with stories laying just behind each and every door. Stories of tragedy, of love, deceit and freedoms. Struggles overcome, and lives forfeit. Presently I watch people going
on with their days, I wonder what they do for work, I wonder what unique experiences they have. Wanting to talk with everyone, but talking to few. My mind wanders, hearing about all the stories of the city, and knowing that it is only the surface of the stories that can be told. I imagine days gone by, Changes throughout the city. Days are gone of tall ships, sails aflutter, and the sounds of a busy harbour front. Today the liveliest thing on the harbour front is a Ferris Wheel looking over the harbour. Or perhaps the boats that ferry people to island ports throughout the archipelago. On the Ferris Wheel we learnt from Sara, one of the cars is a Sauna, and the other is known as the Champagne car. Both are probably a great time, but above our budgets. We have Champagne tastes, but travel on a beer budget.
The cost of our Finnish adventure is even now above even our expectations. Beer is a luxury, and is heavily taxed here. Running between 8 and 12 dollars Canadian, so it becomes a treat with a meal. The street food, and what the locals eat is quite reasonable, but if you are looking for a taste of home, you will pay the price. Most places in town we saw were lesser known chefs who are creating lovely food, or chain restaurants that are European in origin. We find one of the chain restaurants, which is an Italian place. The food turns out to be of good quality, there were no surprises. We find those meals are the best you can hope for with little research beforehand. Whilst heading from the bus tour, and heading towards our lunch choice. We find ourselves engulfed in a crowd of students dressed in overalls. The overalls, or coveralls are emblazoned with screen printing and patches. Megaphones pressed to the leaders lips blaring and chanting statements that excite the mob. It is a peaceful protest regarding taxes, and school fees, or something of the sort. We get many different versions of what they are protesting from the people from the different sightseeing tour stops. We hop back on the city sightseeing tour bus, riding it around for one last loop. Travelling back to our hotel we get a compliment on the Winnipeg jets jersey I am wearing. (Yes I was pandering to their love of hockey, and the fact most of our players are Finnish) it turns out one person was someone Shauna used to work with, from our time living in Banff. It puts in perspective how small the world is. We head down to revisit a portion of our walking tours attractions from earlier. The old market, it is a little artisanal market, with pastries, canned bear meat, pickled everything. Fish, Cheese, coffees, and homemade gifts. We try the cake that was explained to us as the fanciest cake you can get in all of Finland,. It is not eaten often but if you have that cake at your party, people talk about the fact you had this cake. The cake is called Ellen Named after Ellen Svinhufvud a spouse of Pehr Evind Svinhufvud, the third president of Finland. A delightful almond cake, that is light and just sweet enough. After this we decide a rest is needed. We return to our hotel room before heading out for the evening.
We head back to our hotel, and rest a spell.We gather our things, and head down to our waiting taxi. Adventure awaits, Loyle is our destination. The cab driver is younger, in his early 20’s we ask him about the demonstration earlier in the day, and we get yet another explanation. It is the college students returning to studies. They get a little crazy, drinking, dressing up, partying. On the last loop of the bus tour, we saw groups of these overalled students throughout the city. Newspaper hats upon their hats, not yet visibly drunk. This little morsel of information turned out to be a common theme on our following stops in our travels.
We arrive at our destination, Loyly. Loyly translated from Finnish to English, is the steam that rises from a sauna or the heat in the sauna. It is also a traditional Finnish sauna, this is the place to be if you are a tourist. The simple reason this one is so desirable for tourists is, it’s co-ed, as most are not. So if you are travelling as a couple, which most people do. You are not split up to try and make new friends while dressed in your all togethers as my grandfather would say (Your all togethers meaning in the nude. He calls it your all togethers as there are no seams, and he is a cheeky bugger.). The idea of that to my north American mind makes it recoil in horror and hide in a corner shivering….fully clothed. This you do go through the change room, shower process just as you were going to the pool in north America, so eyes on your own work champ. Then bathing suits donned we emerge from the showers, separately but ready for a good sweat. So it turns out…I’m not a fan of saunas. My wife on the other hand, loved it. There are two types of Saunas in this place. The first is the typical sauna, not much detail is expressed in that from the front desk staff, as it is not Finnish. The second is a wood burning smoke sauna. This they spoke at great length about. There is a hoodie wearing Sauna attendant, who answers all your questions, helps you avoid any faux pas and generally makes sure there are no unconscious people knocking about. You can order beers, or drinks if you wish, though they did not have a place where I could take out a large loan, or pawn something, so I passed. The building is stunningly beautiful, with the Scandinavian architecture making a bold statement. Glass and wood run rampant, turning at amazing angles, and together remarkably beautiful. The views from the balcony overlook the Baltic sea where we did submerge ourselves. In my opinion even a toe in the Baltic is enough to say you have been in the Baltic. Myself I went to my equator, and then my sensibilities returned with due haste. It was not unpleasant, but rather refreshing. My time in the saunas was brief, spending most of my time waiting for my sweat drenched wife to emerge from the smoke sauna. With your entrance you are allowed 2 hours admittance, so as to keep the crowds down, which was very wonderful. It led to a wonderful atmosphere where it did not feel overcrowded, or rushed. There was a lounge where you could sit around a fireplace. People leaving their phones in lockers was just a very welcoming highlight, encouraging a more engaging experience. A group of friends in their 50’s migrated as a group from one sauna to another, with a Finnish leader showing them how it’s done. He was speaking English to the group, so I was able to sit back and enjoy their conversation. A group of mid 20’s Japanese men really made me in awe of the wonder, and immersion in the experience. They embraced all facets of the experience and almost ran from the saunas to jump in the Baltic, then hustled back into a sauna to warm back up. We met a few other nice couples, and overall I was glad I did it, but once again…..saunas, not my thing. I enjoy sweating at the gym, though I am told it is to make your skin soft. I have no issue with soft skin, I am wrapped in it, much too my wife's jealous envy. As for sweat, I prefer to be lifting weights, or on a recumbent bike when that event occurs. Regardless I am glad I got to enjoy a Finnish Sauna in Finland, and I would highly suggest trying it. As we retire for the day, we think of tomorrow when we will have to leave this wonderful city. We had very little expectations for the city, but we found ourselves endeared to it. We found the people like a snow capped volcano. Cold and unmoving at first glance, but with a warm fierce lust for life on the inside. The city is beautiful, and with low tourist traffic in the shoulder season. We had a great time, and felt like it was an untapped jewel on our travels. We felt welcomed, and met with genuine and authentic experiences. Those are the things that are important to me as I travel. I want to feel like I am part of the place I visit, not just an insider looking in. I want connections, and moments of pure honest interaction. I felt that in spades, for my sake give Helsinki a pass, so I can keep it just for my enjoyment. We leave Helsinki by ferry on our way to Tallinn in Estonia in the morning. My only thought is what else the country hold, for my trip Helsinki has filled my soul with joy and wonder for what the other countries will hold.
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