Over a series of blog posts I will be chronicling my trip to Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.
The Trip There
It always amazes me the sheer incompetence and theater that TSA puts travelers through. No other country forces you through such baseless pat-downs, the weird requirement of taking off your shoes (yuck), and other nonsense that they use in order to somehow protect us from terrorism. Despite their efforts to ruin our day, we passed through security and get on board a Boeing 737 for the long trip to Reykjavík. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand long flights. The seats are cramped, the air is stale and dry, and I quickly run out of productive things to do before my brain starts melting from the inside out. I’m pretty sure I was driving Tracey absolutely bonkers before we finally land eight hours later.
My first glimpse of Iceland only solidified my plans to go back and visit there in the future. Of course, all the crap we go through with TSA is repeated in Reykjavík, because the US doesn’t comply with the EU’s safety regulations. I suspect this is because the EU is actually sane, and is trying to punish us for the shoe requirements. Regardless, after getting some quick snacks which we don’t really understand, we’re on the way to Finland.
I only had somewhat of a vague idea about public transportation and where we needed to go in order to get to downtown Helsinki, but I managed to get us to the proper bus and on our way with some bus tickets. We arrive at the central train station only to find the skies extremely dark, our international sensors disoriented, and in serious need of coffee.
Wandering around for a bit, it begins to pour. We stumble into a coffee shop, power up, and figure out that the hostel is about a 20 minute walk. We saddle up and charge outside, where we promptly get soaked. Finding the Eurohostel, my hair is dripping water as I try to check in. Successfully doing this, we all go take long naps and then eat dinner downstairs. Not very original, but I usually forgive that offense for the first evening in a new continent. After dinner we headed off to explore Helsinki in the twilight. The streets were oddly quiet and empty, even for a Monday evening. Exploring the outsides of a few churches, we wander back and sleep off the rest of the jet lag. As if in competition with the Orthodox church, the Lutheran cathedral was brightly light up in the night sky.
The following day I navigated us to the small ferry to the Suomenlinna island fortress. Our ferry was absolutely adorable and carried one car in the back of the ship. As it went through a quick trip, we passed numerous small islands that had a multitude of houses and sheds in various shapes and sizes. The fortress was a great journey and a lot of fun to explore: the island was basically open and there were a lot of fortifications, beaches, tunnels, gun emplacements, and buildings to explore. One of the highlights were the star fortifications and the old church that now served as a lighthouse. The complex was made up of a few different islands, and there were buildings of various types and ages spread out among it. The Finnish Naval Academy resides on one of the islands, an old 1750s era drydock on another, and fortifications are spread out among all of them.
Coming back from the fortress, we went to the Temppeliaukio church, which is a mostly underground modern church built out of rock and contained a copper dome. It was a stunning building and provided a nice contrast to the other traditional churches in the area.
After this we met up with my friend who lived in nearby Espoo and he took us to a Finnish dinner where we partook in extremely delicious foods of different types. He introduced us to salted licorice and explained a bit about the local customs and behaviors.
Interestingly enough, he said that small talk is an unknown in the Finnish custom. We noticed this when we were walking in the streets or in the trams or metro: everything was silent. Unnervingly silent. Another odd thing about Helsinki is that EVERY building has an external and permanent ladder to its roof, almost without exception. We’re not sure why…
On Wednesday we did some more sightseeing, rode the underground metro to satisfy my public transportation curiosity, and ate a lovely crêpe by the Helsinki waterfront market. That afternoon we went to the Olympic Terminal and boarded the Silja Serenade, an extremely large ferry that would take us on an overnight cruise to Stockholm.