• Bulgaria!

    Bulgaria: An old Turkish bridge. Go Now!

    Bulgaria
    The isolated mountains of Bulgaria hide cultural gems around every corner, including this old Turkish bridge in the Rhodopi Mountains. Explore Bulgaria!

  • Italy!

    Italy: Rome' historic buildings. Go Now!

    Italy
    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

  • Denmark!

    Denmark: Landscape. Go Now!

    Denmark
    From cities like Copenhagen to islands, beaches, and vast fields (pictured), Denmark offers incredible history, architecture, scenery, and more. Begin Your Journey!

  • Czech Republic!

    Czech Republic: Astronomical Clock in Prague. Go Now!

    Czech Republic
    The Astronomical Clock in Prague (pictured) makes every tourist list, but the towns, including Cesky Krumlov, and the mountains offer a change of pace. Go Now!

  • Belarus!

    Belarus: Birch tree forest. Go Now!

    Belarus
    Tucked away and often forgotten in Eastern Europe, Belarus is home to low lands and Birch Forests (pictured) as well as hidden castles and a culture unlike any other. Begin Your Journey!

  • Spain!

    Spain: Guell Park and Gaudi architecture. Go Now!

    Spain
    Fusion foods, lively music, historic ruins, and cultural events like the Running of the Bulls and La Tomatina make Spain and Barcelona (pictured) a favorite tourist destination. Explore Spain!

Finland

Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki

July 14, 2005
At the Lakes & in the City with the Locals

After arriving in Helsinki we almost immediately met up with my English roommate Dan and his parents. We drove off to a lake that Dan's mom, Hannalle grew up near and on the way she pointed out some highlights of the city and told us more about the country. She taught us a basic history and explained how the capital was moved to Helsinki after the Russians took the region, desiring a capital closer to St. Petersburg.

Helsinki is relatively modern and with all of the McDonald's it feels more like the U.S. than any other European city I've been to. The city also sprawls like an American city, however it is nearly all apartments rather than houses and it quite abruptly ends, much like Calgary or Edmonton... however the city of Helsinki is still expanding. The people are extremely well educated and everyone grows up learning Finnish, Swedish, and English.

Before reaching the lake we were headed to, we stopped at a place to grab some food. I tried the reindeer meatballs, which were covered in ketchup. I understand why Jacque Chirac said the Finns have bad food. But even if the food was good, it's tough eating Rudolph and feeling good about it. Perhaps I just had a bad first experience.

We arrived to the lake, which is very similar to northern Wisconsin or Minnesota. What struck me was that there were no houses on the lake, it is forbidden by law, so the scene was beautiful and silent. The parking lot was about a kilometer away and the nearest road another five kilometers or so. There was no wind and the lake was absolutely still and silent other than the sounds of us talking and splashing in the water, which was very cold. Later on, a few more people showed up in another area and enjoyed the lake's cool waters. This feels like Finland, authentic Finland.

After our lake trip, we headed to our apartment where Dan's cousin lives and is letting us stay for our trip, about 20 minutes from the bay. The area was odd and the apartments were fairly uniform, but relatively modern and nice on the inside. Each door had a mail slot and a name very professionally placed under glass. The outside door was open except at night and the area seemed extremely safe.

After settling in, we headed out to downtown for dinner at a Thai restaurant. Dinner was excellent, I had beef with numerous vegetables, which was slightly spicy. The dinner conversation was dominated by Benjamin, Dan's young Finnish cousin. He goes to an English speaking school and for his entrance exam into school next year he failed his Finnish language exam. His English was incredible for a five year old and he preferred speaking English to speaking Finnish. He talked about everything, most of which was unrelated to itself and at times difficult to comprehend the logic. His mom made him order and eat, which seemed like extremely difficult tasks given his excitement.

His parents also spoke fairly good English, but I didn't really converse with them at length. At one point I asked if there was a place we could get authentic Finnish food; Dan's uncle responded with "Not in Finland," as he laughed. The Finns have really attached themselves to pizza, McDonald's, Hesburger (the Finnish version of McDonald's) and various ethnic foods. No real loss, I tried those meatballs; Hesburger for me.

July 15, 2005

I got up early and after making myself a sandwich headed into town to see an exhibition "Wood in Modern Finnish Architecture." The exhibition was great, but small and I had finished the exhibit in about a half hour. I then headed to the park to relax and eat, after which I headed to the church built within a rock. The church was odd and entertaining, but soon I was off to meet Dan and Derek at the market.

After we all arrived we caught a boat to Suomenlinna, an island fortress. The island is very picturesque and a nice break from Helsinki. It also contrasted quite drastically from that of Helsinki. It consisted of four islands connected by bridges and all the islands were covered with houses and military structures. On the third island we decided to walk around the outside walls. There were numerous Finns out there drinking and eating when we found a huge gun (obviously on display for the military background, not a live gun) so got on it and posed for pictures. At this point a Finnish military ship came around the corner and didn't look so happy, so as they approached us, we decided to leave, ever so slowly so that we didn't look like we were doing anything wrong, which I don't believe we were doing.

On island four we found huge cannons from the 1800s that the Russians built. We finished our loop back to island three, two, and finally the first island. On this island there were numerous girls sunbathing... despite Derek's insistence to stay, we headed back to Helsinki after a short while.

Back in Helsinki we checked out the church on Senate Square, then up to Olympic Park, where there was a soccer tournament taking place. We watched for a while before heading back into town. I ate at Hesburger which was surprisingly better than the pictures threatened. We also checked out an exhibit called "The Earth From Above" by Belgium photography Jan Arthus-Bertrand. It was incredible so I quickly bought his book, "The Earth From Above."

Continue the above trip to: Estonia

Learn more about Finland Return to Justin's Travel Blog