A weekend in beautiful Finland

Trip Start Feb 03, 2009
1
6
41
Trip End Jun 2009


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Monday, March 2, 2009

FINLAND!

Some time about 2 weeks ago, 3 other Americans (Genevieve, Kelsey, and Colin) and myself decided we wanted to take a weekend trip to Finland because Helsinki is just 80 km across the Baltic Sea from Tallinn. This past weekend turned out to be the best choice; Colin and Kelsey both have classes on Thursdays but they were canceled, so we did some strenuous research and figured everything out. Colin was pretty hardcore with finding the best places to stay, and we all made lists of things we wanted to see and do. We booked a hostel for Thursday and Friday night, but then had to find another place for Saturday night because the hostel was already full. Colin found a pretty cheap hotel room near the city centre which turned out even better than any of us could have imagined. But I'll try and go from the beginning.

First of all, the trip almost didn't happen. We weren't able to buy our ferry tickets online, because the line we were using apparently didn't get the memo that Estonia does *everything* online. At any rate, we took the 4 AM bus from Tartu to Tallinn and started navigating through the city attempting to find the harbor. 40 minutes later, we were running/jogging as fast as we could (with some very heavy bags) in order to buy our tickets before the cutoff time. As we found out later, we were actually a couple of minutes late, but the lovely ticket-office workers allowed us to buy them anyway. As we stumbled down the gate towards the ship, we heard a beeping/buzzing noise which, we know now, was indicating that the gate was being pulled away as the ship prepared to leave. We got onboard and promptly collapsed as the full realization of our near-miss hit us. We spent the next 2.5 hours alternating excitement and fatigue, but we eventually got into the Helsinki harbor and strolled out into the wind-blown snowy freezing wonder that is coastal Finland.

Colin was a navigational genius in getting us to the Hostel Erottajanpuisto, which is actually located in an incredible spot near a couple of grocery stores and just about 10 minutes away from the city centre. We were all starving by the time we dropped our bags off and the woman working at the hostel recommended the Iguana for a good lunch. Now, Finland is on the euro, and everything there is more expensive than things in the states, which means it's exponentially worse than in Estonia. Food in Estonia is ridiculously cheap, but we adapted to Finnish prices quickly enough. Iguana has a good pizza and salad buffet that was relatively inexpensive, and from there we walked around the town some more before heading back to the hostel for a nap. We woke up, went to a grocery store nearby, and made some quick pasta and sauce while playing spades. For the evening's entertainment we went out to the Arctic Ice Bar, located in the basement of a restaurant and completely made out of ice. It's kept at a constant temperature of -5 C, which is about 23 F for those of you keeping up at home. The entrance fee covers a jacket to be worn inside the bar, and also a mixed vodka drink, so we all got different kinds of fruit juice and stood around the ice table, chatting and (of course) taking pictures. For the rest of the night we stayed in the hostel, talking and playing more cards.

Friday was a day of much walking and sightseeing, as we became complete tourists. We covered about 75% of the southern part of Helsinki, which is where most of the important buildings (churches, government, etc.) are located. We visited the Helsinki Cathedral, a giant white building that dominates the square near the harbor which is also home to a large statue of Alexander II. From there we headed to the Russian Orthodox church which was built in the mid-1800's and is one of the most ornate interiors I've ever seen. Everything was trimmed in gold and the entire place just looked rich. It was almost too distracting, I thought, especially in comparison to the simplistic white design of the Helsinki Cathedral. Next we walked around a little bit until Colin saw two giant spires of a church and decided we should go visit it, if we could find it. (Turns out, it was only about 4 blocks from the hostel) We did eventually find it, and had a brief snowball fight along the way, but the church was, in a word, stunning. Not too plain, not too opulent, everything about it was functional while eye-catching. I took a moment to sit down in the back and just take it all in. Next on the list was the Rock Church, which is appropriately a church built into a rocky outcropping in the middle of Helsinki. It's well-known for its acoustics and is actually quite small inside, but still worth the visit. After a long walk, Colin navigated us to the Sibelius monument, dedicated to the composer Jean Sibelius and his contributions to the world of music. The Olympic Stadium complex, built in 1952, was the next stop for us as it brought us back in a circle to our area of Helsinki. We were able to get into the track stadium, of significance to Colin because he's a runner, and have another small snowball fight. Our last stop before returning to the hostel was a fresh market on the harbor where we had seen salami made out of reindeer meat. As we were buying it, we also decided to get some bear meat. After another quick run by the grocery store, we made use of the hostel's kitchen to make pizzas with bear and reindeer salami. While Rudolph was tasty, I personally thought Yogi had more flavor and substance. The final products were absolutely delicious, much better than any normal pepperoni I've ever had before, and made even better by the fact that we kept reminding ourselves that we were not only in Finland (a place we had all wanted to visit) but that we were doing things that were completely ridiculous and, at the same time, awesome. We ate bear and reindeer meat, where else are we going to do that?

That was about it for the first two days, so I'm going to end this entry here and pick up with another one in a bit.
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