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22 July 2011

Helsinki Continues!

Day 52-53: Monday-Tuesday, 11-12 July 2011

Finland is simply fascinating. Thanks to Topi, I'm meeting a lot of people, each pretty outgoing and with a very cool life perspective. It's likely that I'm not getting a complete picture of the Finnish people. They say that the collective mood of people here changes dramatically with the seasons; in the winter, everyone is grumpy and generally despondent. And the summertime non-stop daylight can make it very hard to stay sane as well.

I think that everyone here is really smart to know Finnish and English so well, since they're two completely unrelated languages.

I woke up on Monday in the separate guest house at Topi's grandmother's country house. I joined them for breakfast, and since there was no shower, Topi and I went for a morning swim. We soon packed up his grandma's stuff and loaded up the car, locked up the house, and Topi drove us back to Helsinki. His grandma was talking most of the way, and I daydreamed in the backseat as the countryside whizzed by.

We dropped off grandma and left the car with her, and so we took a bus/tram back into the city. Topi got his things ready and went off to work. I stayed in the house for a little bit, catching up with emails and photos, and then Topi's flatmate Aaro came to the apartment, having just returned from his job doing gardening/landscaping.

Aaro rested for an hour or two, and then we went out, walking to the south coast in the city, where there was a nice park and a place to dive into the water. Along the way there, we met his friend Lauri, and we met Topi at the park where he works. (His "work" - he's working for a sort of think tank/nonprofit whose current project is to develop activities and installations to make the park more vibrant for young adults.) Topi clocked out of work early and walked with us through some very posh neighborhoods to the waterfront. There we met Aaro's brother Lauri and his friend Matt (? - it's getting hard to remember all these Finnish names!).

Anyway, at the "beach" we played a semi-intense game of hackey sack ("foot bag" as they called it) and then dove into the water. Lauri and Matt are only around Finland long enough to save money for their next travels. We said bye and on the way back, we bought some groceries to prepare dinner. We made a Greek salad and pan grilled chicken breast.  We ended up just chilling at the apartment.

Tobi taught me a few Finnish words, like Banaa.

It began to rain as we went to bed, and rain showers continued on and off in the morning.

I stayed in the apartment until the afternoon, until Aaro returned. It was about 3pm when I left to explore the city. I saw the church built into the rock, which is pretty impressive to stand inside; it's one of those places to which pictures don't do justice.

I then walked across the city, passing the train station and just getting a feel for the city. It feels like a very nice city, but people keep telling me that people become much nicer in the summertime. I walked to the Tuomiokirkon kappelli, the main cathedral in the city. It's distinctive and striking from the outside, but stark and simple on the inside, a testament to the country's Lutheran religious heritage. Just south of the cathedral was the market square, full of stalls selling pricey but unique food (reindeer meatballs, various types of Finnish fish, soup, etc.).

The afternoon was getting on, and I didn't want to be out too late, because I wanted to meet the guys before dinner. Yet I spontaneously decided to go to Suomenlinna, a historic fortress built on an island. The ferry ride there is included in your public transport ticket (which is valid for 1 hour), so I got a ticket and hopped on the boat moments before it pulled out of the dock. I then rushed (jogged) across the entire island, taking pictures as I went. Suomenlinna is one of the most historic parts of the country, built by the Swedish to counter the growing Russian Empire. Now, it's a collection of fortifications spread across a couple islands. From the rocky shores of the island, there were some great views of the city, with rain clouds in the background. I made my way all the way to the far end of the island, where castle ramparts stood and a big ferry boat was sailing beyond.

I rushed back to the ferry dock as quickly as I could, and I made it back just in time for the 5:40 ferry, which got me back to the city by 5:55, and I rushed to the tram stop to catch a tram before my ticket expired. I traveled to the Sibelius monument, which is in northern Töölö. The monument is in a very nice park. The breeze off the sea was rustling the leaves loudly. It was peaceful and gorgeous. Then I returned to Topi and Aaro's apartment, stopping by the grocery store to get some apples and beer. But no one was answering the phone when I got there, and the intercom was not working. After a few minutes, Aaro called me back - they were at the nearby park playing ultimate frisbee. So I went there and joined them. (The team I was on had a world-champion ultimate frisbee player on it.)

We stayed in and I baked a pizza for myself and Aaro. We watched a couple episodes of Madventures before Topi's friends Henri and Bolo (?) came over. They were itching to go out, and so we left Aaro to sleep and hit the town. We went to mbar and had a couple drinks there; it was interesting that people queued up to the bar to order their drinks. It cost around €7 per drink. Ouch. We shared laughs and loud stories while I admired the local crowd. Helsinki is full of young people and has such vibrancy in the summertime.

We ended up walking around, past the Finnish Parliament, and ending up at an outdoor beergarden next to the Storyville bar. Somehow along the way we ate a food stand burger that had way too much garlic, and we picked up another friend, Tom, who came back to Topi's and passed out.

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