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
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 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