Rounding the world – Day 14: Helsinki, Finland…

This morning something interesting happened, I wasn’t compelled to rush through and see everything that could possibly be seen. Why, I’m not sure. Perhaps as this journey has been a speed race across Europe or perhaps because there just is not that much to see in Helsinki. The breakfast buffet at the Glo Art Hotel is by far the best thus far. It was all homemade goodies – eggs, bacon, salad, breads, jams, yogurts, you name it. They even had cappuccino included! I tried to eat as much as possible as to save money on lunch, ha!

The primary goal for the day was to see the Sea Fortress. The boat goes from the main dock near the city center every hour or so. The breeze was chilly with temperatures in the mid-40s, everyone bundled up in various degrees. I suspect it was the locals that had their jackets unzipped and the tourists from warm places that looked like they were ready for the Arctic. I was somewhere in between – fleece with down vest and cashmere scarf. The ferry tickets were around 5 Euro but much like everything so far it seemed tickets were done on good faith as no one checked.
Apparently the 1pm ferry was the ferry to catch as it was full to the brim, so full we had to turn people away. This is on a non-weekend chilly cold day. Go figure! There were a ton of school aged kiddos, which I couldn’t figure out why so many were out but perhaps it was a holiday here. The funniest part was as soon as the boat docked, the swarm of kiddos all got their smart phones out and were on them the whole time. Every where you turned there’d be 10-15 kids on smart phones. It was wild. I suspect there was some common game or Pokemon or something otherwise it made no sense why it would be so ridiculously prevalent.

The afternoon sun was behind the fortress so it didn’t create the best photography session, but alas, first world problems. Given the season most the museums, tours and cafes were closed. Though there was still quite a bit of people, I can’t imagine how crowded it must get in the summer if this was slow season. The fortress was on an island, much like the one outside of Vilnius from a few days back. Brilliant way to create a mote and protection as well as an avenue to bring in supplies. Most of the brick wall of the fortress had been restored with cannons and everything. The trees had already changed to oranges and yellows and reds, creating the most picturesque backdrop for the ruins.

I’m always amazed at how much communication takes place without actually speaking. Like the lady who’s dog was acting all silly trying to get attention and being a puppy. I couldn’t help but chuckle and through eye contact we created a connection on the humor of it. Or similarly, the little kiddo on the ferry who kept walking up to everyone looking all adorable and making silly faces, you couldn’t help but laugh and feel apart of the experience even though you couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying. It’s amazing how many things translate language barriers, it’s like we all know how to understand happy and silly.

I will admit that leaving the Baltic’s and entering Scandinavia, my ear is no longer able to discern what languages are being spoken and how many of them there are. I can’t really tell the difference between Russian and Estonian or Swedish and Finnish. The sounds all blend together into this big unintelligible cloud hovering far over my head. I’ve been trying to learn at least hello, please, yes, no, and thank you in each language but at this point I’ve navigated so many countries it’s all mixing together and I feel dumber than when I started, if that’s even possible.

I’m sad to say my camera strap broke. A few years ago and MANY trips later, I bought a fancy strap from PacSafe that has a metal wire that goes through it so no one can slash it (like that actually happens in real life?). First PacSafe item to fail on me… I’m actually surprised my J. Crew wool coat has done so well. It’s got buttons on the shoulders like a trench coat and with slinging my 60 lbs pack on and off and on and off, they are all still in tack. My cheap umbrella from the CVS had failed a few countries ago, though luckily we’re starting to get too cold to rain. Funny how that’s a good thing!

Anyhow, with all the cold temperatures I was craving that pumpkin soup I had in Tallinn, it was so good just thinking of it now makes me salivate. No surprise, I was not able to find or recreate the experience so settled on a more budget lunch (if you can call eating at 4pm lunch) with a quiche and glass of wine. Somehow wine seems to make every day a little better. Though food and wine costs much more in Finland so the quality of my selections have decreased rapidly given my budget has not changed.

Trying to fit one more thing in, I elected to go to the rock cathedral. Supposedly made out of rock and beautiful. However, my attempts to dodge the cold by trying to walk caddy-corner through a number of shopping malls, did not help as the malls were crowded and difficult to traverse in the diagonal that was needed. By the time I arrived at the church they had just closed. I was able to take photos of the outside, which was quite lovely, a pink granite looking rock, and I can only imagine how beautiful the inside would have been.

Choosing to do everything on foot today to save a little cash, I walked back to the hotel. Midway, I saw a Lutheran church with the doors open. Not being able to withhold my curiosity, I walked up the steps and peaked in. A purple light was glowing and they were holding a white sheet. Completely memorized by what might be going on, I turned around and caught a smile from this lady walking down the street and I thought to myself, how fun that would be to be someone that smiles randomly at strangers, that finds happiness in random people’s curiosity. I couldn’t help but think she must be such a wonderfully happy person. How awesome.

Back to my modern chic castle of hotel where the hallways smell like blueberries and the stuffed Lynx they place in each room greets me as I arrive, today was a good day. The queen size bed is super comfy and I adore the fact the comforter is cut in half so if I had someone else with me, there would be no ‘hogging’ the covers. How cool is that! Having eaten a late lunch and not terribly hungry for dinner, I decided to dine at the hotel and get something small to tide me over.

Turns out the hotel I am staying at owns the fancy sushi restaurant from yesterday, the Michelin recommended one. Go figure! The restaurant at the hotel was quite nice, with multiple tasting menu options. The seasonal one starting with mushroom soup in a homemade bread bowl, followed by the main of sautéed reindeer with potato cakes and vegetables and for the finale a pumpkin cake with homemade ice cream. Yes reindeer – you can eat Rudolph here!! Oh how I wished I had both more money and a bigger appetite as it sounded delightful. Instead I went with the local Finnish fish ceviche (leveret) which was quite mild and nicely paired with a vinaigrette. The perfect amount of food given my late ‘lunch’.

The restaurant is located in the basement and was decked out for fall with baby pumpkins on each table. At the entrance was an old stucco staircase from when the hotel was a castle, they’d sealed it off and put lanterns which created an almost bohemian feel. Having got there at 9pm the only other people in the restaurant was a table of three women from Somalia. Originally they spoke English but when the third join they switched to another language which I couldn’t recognize.

After dinner in my attempt to stay up later, I discovered that unlike the other hotels this one had English TV stations. I watched my first ever episode of that reality housewives show based in New York. It was insane, like all these women do is sit around and gossip – is there not anything more in life. They were incredibly emotional and their reactions to everything were so extreme. Are people even like that in real life? Is that just part of not having any real problems to worry about so all that energy gets devoted to trivial ridiculousness? Is this what the rest of the world thinks all of us women in New York are like? Most importantly, who on earth would watch this stuff? I’m so confused. It was certainly an educational experience and one I do not feel compelled to repeat. For now, it’s off to bed!



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