23.09.2012 - 26.09.2012 13 °C
We travelled from Stockholm to Turku on the all night ferry. The cost was just a little over fifty dollars Canadian each which is pretty reasonable for an ensuite private cabin. The Viking Line ship is large and has casinos and night clubs but after a brief foray we were happy to spend time in our cozy cabin.
Turku is the oldest city in Finland, first settled in the Thirteenth Century. Today it has a population of just under 200,000. It is located at the mouth of the Aura River and is an important seaport. The city spreads out on either side of the river with the "downtown" side being the east side. Turku means something like market place in Finnish.
Arriving at the Port of Turku at 730 am on Sunday morning, we took a city bus from the ferry terminal to downtown Turku.
I would not recommend a Saturday night crossing, nothing is open seemingly in Turku. We walk forlornly in the rain down the deserted streets, all the shops and restaurants are closed.
Finally I see a man walking and approach him. "Hej, do you speak English?" It turns out he does and he says, in response to my question, is there a coffee shop or restaurant open near here, "not now" and ceases eye contact firmly and with finality. We aren't in Stockholm any more. People there seemed to be helpful when asked a question.
Then I spot a woman walking through a park and approach her. She says she speaks a little English and then says, "American" no I say, ‘Canadian’.
She says, I swear to God, "I luf Canada!" Well the Fins have come up several notches in my estimation, and I snuggle under her umbrella and she walks us a few blocks to a hotel where she says we can get food and coffee.
We part gayly, I give her a hug, and Jeff and I bring our wet and bedraggled selves into the hotel lobby. No sign of any restaurant being open. I approach the deskclerk, "Hej, blah blah blah", who advises me that for eighteen dollars each we can have breakfast with the hotel guests on the second floor. Although I wince at the price we agree to purchase breakfast and haul ourselves upstairs. It is a smorgasbord. Bacon, eggs, coffee, breads and sweet rolls, pickled herring, lingonberries, porridge, smoked salmon, different cheeses and cured meats, a feast. We now spend an hour and a half grazing, killing time.
The friendly lady had told me that the Cathedral would open at nine also so we decide to go there as it is now ten thirty. The service is underway when we arrive so we sit on a bench in the lobby listening to the sermon, even though it is in Finnish, I get the gist of what they are doing, it seems a bit familiar, comforting. To me it is an intimate moment in a historically significant Finnish building. The pipe organ and choir are amazing. In recent times I have mostly gone to church for funerals so I have a little cry back in our dark corner. The tone of the choir is so sweet and haunting, we are both surprised by the quality.
Finland is a Nordic country, coming late to Christianity. Turku Cathedral started out as a Catholic Church in the thirteenth century, later becoming a Lutheran church.
24 September, we take the bus downtown, there is a big farmers' market at the square, we wander around and marvel at the piles of orange mushrooms, huge! and the enormous baskets of lingonberries. "Where do you get these?" I ask a vendor and she replies, "In the forest."
The Finns are huge coffee drinkers. Something like nine cups a day. Their coffee is good. We stop at a department store and have a cup and go on wifi. Then we walk back over to Turku Cathedral and have a tour. This is the flagship church of Finland. There is a museum upstairs that has relics going back to the thirteenth century. Turku used to be the capital city of Finland under the Swedes but the Russians made Helsinki the capital when they took over.
We can buy nice baking at the grocery store for less than half of what a cafe charges so we purchase a meat bun, good, and a sweet roll each and eat it on the street. Then we go into a cafe and have a coffee and relax awhile. It is chilly here, close to water, damp, I am wearing a jacket with two fleece tops underneath, knit gloves and a knit cap. I look a fright but nobody knows me. With all these clothes, a money belt and a neck pouch I look pretty stout.
Lots of people ride bikes, being outdoors and keeping active seems important. There are also gambling machines in corner stores and grocery stores, typically being used. There are a lot of grocery stores, even downtown. We saw two in close walking distance to the central area. Also there is a grocery store right near our bus stop, a few short blocks from "home".
In Sweden they use Swedish Kroner but Finland is on the Euro. I am just now getting used to the money.
Finnish is a different language, related closely to Estonian and less closely with Hungarian, part of the Uralic language family. Kiitos is thank you in Finnish. Keetos, long o.
Three shops we see a lot more of in Europe than North America - shoe stores, bakeries and flower shops.
Couch Surfing in Helsinki
25 Sept 2012
We took the ten am train from Turku to Helsinki, nice train, comfortable, smoking car oddly enough.
I had looked for hotels and hostels in Helsinki, various sites including Hostelworld and one hundred dollars a night seemed to be cheap for Helsinki. I had joined Couch Surfing on the advice of a friend before embarking on this trip. Two days ago I put out a request. We were invited by a 26 year old man, Uzair, to spend the night at his aparment. If you have never considered couch surfing, please do look at it as a novel way to meet local people and find out more about how they live. I paid twenty-five dollars to be verified but a lot of people do not do this.
Here is the deal: you stay with another member of the couch surfing community. As people get experience they get references which are posted with their profile. By reading through the references you get some kind of idea what to expect. Many of the members are University students but people from all walks of life and every age group participate. It is a mutually beneficial relationship as members are expected to be hosts as well as travellerrs. It is a way to get to know people from different countries and to share information. Go to couchsurfing.org to find out more.
Couch Surfing - apparently has been around for years. I was a bit skeptical and my son more so. What would it be like? We had no references so we were fortunate to be invited.
Since we werre totally green, Uzair took a chance on inviting us. He emailed us to meet him at the White Church at 5 pm. We did not bring a cell phone so rely on my Blackberrry Playbook to communicae with others. We arrived in Helsinki in the early afternoon and the first thing we did was find the white church. OK, walking distance to the train station, we could do it.
Tuomiokirkko, the Lutheran Cathedral, is a signature of the Helsinki skyline, visible from the harbour and from Suomelinna. It is located in Senate Square, just a short walk from the central station or the harbour. Note the green dome showing Russian influences. It was designed by the German architect, Engel. It was built in 1852 and until the Finnish independence from Russia in 1917 was called St Nicholas Church. Now it is called the White Church.
The train station is centrally located only a few minutes to the harbour and shopping. It is constructed in Art Nouveau (National Romantic) style of Finnish granite and sports a clock tower and statues holding globes that light up at night. The station is Finland's most visited building, about 400,000 people per day pass through the facility. The metro station is here as well and buses and trams are right outside.
It is considered one of the world’s most beautiful stations.
The Helsinki National Theatre building was completed in 1902. Located just north of the train station this Art Nouveau building is also built of granite with a red tiled roof. The square is called Rautatientori, Railway Square. Helsinki celebrated 2012 as the "Design Capital of the World."
We purchased a twelve euro regional bus pass which would cover our trip to Espoo where Uzair lives. We met him at the appointed time and off we went by train. The Espoo station has a grocery store and a shopping centre attached. We picked up a few groceries, fruit and chocolate to share with our host and he picked up some new sheets. He lived in a new one bedroom apartment, very clean and modern, the bathroom had a sauna attached. I would sleep in the bedroom, Jeff and Uzair would sleep on the floor of the living room.
Uzair, originally from northern Pakistan, is into mountaineering, photography and world music so he and Jeff had good rapport and I went to bed and enjoyed a restful night. In the morning he left us the keys and we were to just throw them back into the mail slot. This was very trusting, but as he said in his comments on the Couch Surfing website, he enjoyed old people and their wisdom and that is why he invited us. Now we had one good reference on couch surfing.
Uzair made us student coffee which we really enjoyed. Milk and sugar heated in the microwave, add instant coffee and you have a good drink. He had gone to University in Finland to get his masters - he did not speak Finnish but was employed now in Helsinki. Anybody from any country can take their masters degree for free in Finland - in English, this has been so for many years, funny, we had never heard of it. Finnish citizens get university for free like everybody else but they also get a living allowance from the government. Education is truly free in Finland. What a great place.
We found our way back into the central city, Espoo is classed as a separate city but is really like a suburb of Helsinki.
We booked our passage to Estonia with Tallink Line and took a tram around the downtown looking at the sites. Then we took the ferry to
Suemenlinna Island, this passage was included in our regional pass.
Suomenlinna is a World Unesco Heritage Site. The fortress was constructed by the Swedish crown is 1748 to protect Helsinki from the Russians. The Russians took the fortress in 1808 and occupied Finland the following year, ending about 700 years of Swedish involvement in Finland. Tsar Alexander I of Russia moved the Finnish capital from Turku to Helsinki in 1812,
Sumenlinna is home to about 900 residents and is used as a park by Helsinki residents. The naval college is here, museums, an art colony, and even a minimum security prison.
Helsinki is the most northerly city with a population of over one million in the world. It has close ties with the neighbours to the south, Estonia, the east, Russia and the west, Sweden. Although Finland is not considered a Baltic State it is located on the Baltic Sea.
Amber, or Freya's tears in Norse mythology, is a gemstone of note in this area. Fossilized tree resin from ancient forests washes up on shore, golden like Freya's golden tears, wept eternally as she wanders the earth searching for her lost husband. Still, amber is suppose to bring luck and be good for you. Old graves from Viking times, thought to be the graves of sorcerers, sometimes had amber buried along side the deceased, along with other emblems like Thor's hammer and maybe a few horses sacrificed for the occasion. Sorcerers were respected women back in the day, and sometimes they were buried sitting up. As Christianity started to seep in, around the tenth century, some women would cover all the bases and have Christian religious symbols as well. Amulets of Christian and pagan origin can be found in some of these graves. I will buy my amber further south where it will likely be less expensive.