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20 July 2011

A Packed First Day in Finland

Day 51: Sunday, 10 July 2011

My first day in Finland was one of my longest days, full of so many different encounters and interesting people, and was a very good day overall. (Having non-stop daylight makes it easy to keep going well into the night - but more on that later.) I am yet again amazed at how much I've been able to see, thanks to couchsurfing! It's truly amazing.

The day started early, in Tallinn. I woke up at 6:30am, got my stuff quickly together and was out the door with Charly by 6:40. He rushed to work, and I ambled with my two full bags to the ferry terminal. I got my ticket and joined the big crowd of people pushing onto the boat. The ferry was a big ship, like a cruise ship, with at least 8 levels for cars and cabins. The ride was 2 and a half hours; I charged my laptop, contacted my host in Helsinki, and read a bit of On the Road. Nearly into Helsinki, a young man approached me and sat down at my table. His name was Alex, Bolivian but living in Helsinki. He was part of a Christian missionary group traveling around Eastern Europe to "spread the good news of Jesus Christ." I deflected his proselytizing by telling him about my amazing journey so far. He gave me some tips on what to do in Helsinki and a small religious pamphlet that they were passing out on their trip.

The ferry docked and I walked around for a few minutes to get my bearings. I then called my host, Topias, and asked him for directions. I took the tram to his place, accompanied by an incredibly drunk old man who was sloppily trying to grab the poor woman sitting across from him. It was sad to watch but also extremely entertaining - welcome to Finland in the summertime!

Topias had his friend Tuomas over, both recovering from a big night out, and the three of us quickly went out for some brunch. We went to a bar called Pacifico, which was somewhat Latin/Mexican-themed but felt like a local underground rock music venue. The people there gave off some good vibes, nonjudgmental and friendly. The brunch cost €10, but was all-you-can-eat, and, most importantly, they had Cholula hot sauce! Oh how I missed you! I had the most amazingly spicy meal since that curry in Manchester…

We explored a nearby park and the Linnanmäki amusement park, which was small but had some interesting coasters.

Then we rushed back because Topi had just gotten word from a friend that they were going to an island that afternoon, and the ferry was leaving in less than an hour! So we rushed ahead to the bus station, saying bye to Toumas along the way. We just missed a bus, and it looked like we wouldn't make it, when we Topi's friend said they could drive us to the ferry terminal. So we got off the bus, and after a minute, Janne and Otto swept in to pick us up. The car was running out of gas, so it was a fun ride to the ferry pier. We made it on board, and I met Ellena and Manu.

There are thousands of islands off the coast of Finland, and we went to Iso Vasikkasaari. The ferry only took 15 minutes or so, and we headed straight for the restaurant. After sitting down in the warm sun, it took about 45 minutes before the waitress took our orders, and another half an hour before the food came out. We then went to the park and played some beach volleyball (borrowing someone else's ball) before walking to Otto's "secret" beach. Along the way, there were plenty of wild blueberries that you could just pick and eat. We found the secret beach, but there were people there so we sat on some rocks and dipped into the water. It was refreshing, but not cold. Also, the water was not very salty at all. We tried to climb a rock that jutted out of the water, but it's face was too sheer for anyone to get a grip. Topi cut the bottom of his foot.

We rushed back to catch the ferry, and said bye to Manu and Elena. We stopped for gas as Janne drove Topi and me back to Topi's mom's house. We then had to figure out how to get to his grandma's house. Luckily, one of his friends was around to give us a quick ride, saving us 2 hours on the bus. Then, Topi drove us into the countryside, trying to remember the way to their summer house. We passed the exit and so had to double back a couple times. I was already dozing off for portions of the drive, as we wound back and forth on country roads.

We arrived at the summer cottage later in the evening, maybe 9pm (with the sunlight it felt like 7). Topi's grandma came out to meet us. We soon fired up the sauna and Topi and I got in. We had a couple rounds of going in the sauna and jumping in the lake!

It was extremely relaxing, refreshing, and enjoyable. Then we had some dinner prepared by his grandma.

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