The Boat to Finland: Adventures in Helsinki

Boat in Helsinki
About Helsinki: Helsinki is the capital and largest city in Finland. It’s a coastal city that encompasses many islands, bays and peninsulas extending out into the Gulf of Finland.
After a few days in traversing Tallinn and surrounding areas, Oihana and I decide to take the ferry to Helsinki for a change of scene. Taking a boat to another country seems charming and picturesque until my stomach decides to revolt. Fortunately, we arrive promptly unscathed by the vomit gods and I’m grateful to disembark.
Spotting a money-changing booth, I nudge Oihana “Should we change over a little money for the day?” I ask her in Spanish.
“Claro” she shrugs. “Why not?”
So we head in that direction. We plunk down some Euros, and I tell the attendant, a girl about our age, that we would like to change 20 euros each, please. She lifts a pencil-thin brow “What would you like to change the money to?”
“Whatever you use here”
“We use euros.”
“Oh.”
Oihana and I collect our money and step away. Then look at each other and laugh until we cry. Talk about foot in the mouth disease. Oh well. It isn’t the first time for either of us. Nor will it, I imagine, be the last.
Lapland Fish Platter
Oihana the Lapland Fish
We stroll out into the crisp Helsinki sunshine. It’s Tuesday midday and, the streets are spotless, quiet and mostly empty, except a few tourists trying to eat Lapland fried fish platters while fending off aggressive, swan-diving seagulls.  I motion eating, Oihana shrugs, and we join them (the tourists and squawking birds). The fish is okay, although unidentifiable and a little on the greasy side.

Uspenki Cathedral, Helsinki

 

Post-meal, we stroll cobblestone streets, stopping occasionally to peruse the wares in tiny boutiques. One in particular catches both of our fancies and we spend nearly an hour wandering around. Handmade clothes (lots of beautiful felt and wool) and art are everywhere, and if I were a woman inclined to frivolous purchases, I’d spend a few hundred euros on a hand-sculpted fairy, looking out at me from under long-lidded, sleepy eyes. But I keep my euros to myself and both of us leave empty handed.Through narrow streets, and wide plazas we walk and talk. Tomorrow is our last day in Tallinn, and it’s unlikely we’ll see each other again for some months, if not a year or more. From neoclassical buildings in Senate Square to Finnish Art Nouveau buildings on quiet side streets, we agree, Helsinki is clean, and nice, but to our eyes less-than-extraordinary. On our way back to the port I make my only non-edible purchase: a string of free-form blobs of brightly colored glass for my mother. I can already see it, hanging from a window in breakfast nook off the kitchen, filtering a rainbow of light that dances among the houseplants, driving the cat to distraction.

The Finnish National Theatre

 

Near the ferry station there is a grocery store, by far one of the best places to edible souvenir shop in any country. I settle on a box of teas with funny names like “Cheery Rainy Day,” and  “Tiger’s Daydream”, and cheese that looks like (and turns out to be) grilled paneer (fresh Indian cheese). Since as always, I’m trying to control my weight and my expenses, I grab a salad for dinner that I can eat on the ferry ride back to Tallinn.
Of course no sooner have I managed to chew and swallow my salad in its entirety than the boat back to Tallinn begins to rock. This time I can’t escape my stomach’s wrath, and for the first time in my life, I am throwing up in public, in front of a commuter ferry full of people. Oihana brings me a glass of water and wraps me in her heavy wool shawl, and I’m too sick to tell her that I’m suffocating.
Back in Tallinn, solid ground awaits me. Oihana walks me off the boat, one hand at my elbow, and the other on my back. She looks at me, question and concern in her eyes. “You okay?”
I nod and do my best to grin. “Turns out, after years of dieting, I’ve finally developed an allergy to salad…” I pause for effect, “looks like cheese and chocolate from here on out.”
Well-accustomed to my snark, Oihana rolls her eyes and we walk towards the hostel through Tallinn’s Old Town one last time, two friends reconnecting in a foreign land.
Practical Information:
How to Get There: Helsinki can be reached via plane, train and boat. From Tallinn it’s a short trip on a commuter ferry, but be sure to take along motion sickness pills to avoid my rather embarrassing experience.
Getting Around: A good part of the city can be seen on foot, but public transport (metro and bus) is reliable and reasonably priced.
Where to Eat: You could eat greasy, unidentifiable fish in the port, for an authentic experience like mine….or head to Zetor for traditional Finnish food served in quirky “country” style surroundings.
Where to Stay: I stayed in Tallinn at the Old House Hostel. It was basic, but clean with shared bathrooms, kitchen, and a living room. It wasn’t my favorite place I’ve stayed (I’m not much on budget accommodations and I despise sharing bathrooms), but it was very reasonable for the price and ideally located in Tallinn’s Old Town, within walking distance of most sights. I’m sure there are great places to stay in Helsinki, I just didn’t stay in any of them…

Copyright 2010-2012 Chris Ciolli. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce texts or images without written consent. First published in the Tipton Times unless otherwise noted.

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