High Up in Helsinki – December 4-6

High Up in Helsinki – December 4-6

Helsinki marks the farthest north we have been all semester. It was a big shock for us when it started getting dark around 2pm after not really getting light all day. But anyway, we stepped off the ferry to a brisk evening in Helsinki and attempted to reach the central train station where we were meeting our host. In Helsinki, we were trying something new: couchsurfing. This is where we make an agreement to stay at a host’s place and sleep on their couch, exchange stories & culture, and learn to be like a true Finn.

Our host was Kalevi, a Colorado born, Oregon raised, college kid who liked Finland so much he moved there. And guess what, he gets free education, and a small stipend that helps pay the rent each month. In our last email he told us he would meet us at the central train station around 5:30pm and he would be there wearing a red ski jacket. So that’s what we did. But we needed help in getting there so after we bought transportation tickets (one ticket works for all the buses, metro, light rail—it’s great), we walked outside to the bus station and I asked a guy in his mid-twenties, who was wearing a dashing long coat, which bus we should take. He told us to follow him as he was going by the train station and that he would show us. The conversation that ensued showed that he was very friendly and eccentric, contrary to rumors that portray Finns as shy. He was very helpful and after we were within eye shot of the station he left us to go enjoy his evening.

Outside of the central train station

Outside of the central train station

After meeting Kalevi, we went back to his place to drop off our stuff before leaving for the pub crawl. Kalevi runs the “Helsinki Pub Crawl” every other Friday night here which gets people into the pubs free plus discounts on drinks and food, and a good time. Some of Kalevi’s friends always come, and so do newcomers.

Tiego, one of Kalevi's friends, and everyone in the first bar.

Tiego, one of Kalevi’s friends, and others in the first bar. Tiego was one hilarious dude, and he had a nice coat. But he was a real cool guy. He’s also the head chef at a hotel nearby, got recruited from Portugal. But he was definitely instrumental in keeping me laughing all night.

From the left: Kalevi our host, Chris's girlfriend, and Chris himself. Chris is an Aussie who after meeting the lovely Finnish girl behind him decided to move out and join her in Finland. He was a pretty laid back down to earth kind of guy, and he plays rugby.

From the left: Kalevi our host, Chris’s girlfriend, and Chris himself. Chris is an Aussie who after meeting the lovely Finnish girl behind him decided to move out and join her in Finland. He was a pretty laid back down to earth kind of guy, and he plays rugby.

Chris also pointed out that our table was exceptionally diverse. Kalevi and I were the only Americans. Then we had an Australian, a Portuguese, a Finn, two German girls (real cool, gonna meet up with them in Berlin), and a Canadian. After realizing this, coincidentally Kalevi joins the neighboring table and a middle-aged man walks up to the table. “Any of you Americans?”

“Yeah, I am,” I reply.

“You know Memphis? Elvis?”

We all say, “yes.”

“Well check out this shirt.” He unzips his zipped jacket. Underneath emerges a bright red shirt that he points out is “made from the same fabric as Elvis’s shirts, in the same style, and by the same tailor.”

“Hmmm. It looks good man.” It’s fairly obvious the guy is pretty drunk. But he’s becoming pretty funny so we continue the conversation.

“You know the white suit he wore? It comes in all different colors. I could get them if I wanted.”

“Oh, wow that’s real cool man.”

Suddenly John looks down and notices the man’s tight leather pants.

“Rock on man, those are some sweet trousers.”

He puts his leg up on the bench. “Yeah, they look good with the shirt.”

Some people got weirded out by his leather pants so they attempted to persuade him to leave; but not before he asked us if we could dance or sing like Elvis.

“I wish I could dance like him.”

A few moments of silence proceeded as neither side knew what to say. Eventually, he raised his glass to us and we said goodbye as he meandered around the pub for a few minutes and then disappeared; or rather, we lost interest.

Anyway, after 5 bars, a pizza, a sprite, and Glögg (a delicious Christmas drink), we packed up and began our trek back to Kalevi’s place. But not before Tiego let me ride his bicycle!

It felt good to be back on the bike, if only for a few minutes. Check out the traffic fender sticking off the back left.

It felt good to be back on the bike, if only for a few minutes. Check out the traffic fender sticking off the back left.

We got to sleep real late, like 4 am late, just hanging out back at Kalevi’s learning about Finland and such. So naturally, we slept super late and left around midday to see the city while Kalevi studied. Immediately upon exiting the metro we stumbled past this place:

Someone tell Wayne he's got a job, even his own place lined up here if he ever wants to move. We went in later in the day to enjoy a drink.

Someone tell Wayne he’s got a job, even his own place lined up here if he ever wants to move. We went in later in the day to enjoy a drink.

Not sure why this is here. It definitely doesn't belong. And

Not sure why this is here. It definitely doesn’t belong. And the outback? Since when? But I bet the food was good.

We wandered around looking for a grocery store where we could get some bread, cheese, and yogurt for breakfast/lunch as restaurants were expensive. The Euro is horrible for us.

We wandered around looking for a grocery store where we could get some bread, cheese, and yogurt for breakfast/lunch as restaurants were expensive. The Euro is horrible for us.

A marimba! This guy kept playing with instruments from his boombox and it sounded pretty good. But man I don't know how he did it, because it was freezing. Moscow has nothing on Finland right now.

A marimba! This guy kept playing with instruments from his boombox and it sounded pretty good. But man I don’t know how he did it, because it was freezing. Moscow has nothing on Finland right now.

After eating, we went to the Modern Art Museum as John likes Finnish art. A little disappointed, as the Moscow MoMA wasn’t great, I reluctantly followed. But it was actually a very good museum. It had a lot of interesting art. One of my favorites was a few videos of this artist who posed as being an intern for a company and then sat at her desk staring off into space doing nothing all day, or rather: thinking. It was fun seeing the emails associates were sending back and forth about her, and how they kept coming back to ask her what she was doing. Another day, she stood in the elevator for most of the day because she “had good thoughts on trains. They move, and so does this elevator, so I thought, you know, that I might have good thoughts in the elevator.” I watched all the videos.

Another cool thing about Finland is that people are encouraged to express themselves. We saw people with purple hair, orange hair, women with partly shaved heads, lots of piercings, etc, and no one bats an eye. This particular intern had a partly shaved hair, but none of the associates with any of their questions commented about her hair. It was very refreshing to see this, as we got the impression that people are rarely judged by their looks here, at least in the corporate and public world.

These two photos were perhaps my favorite exhibits:

Ronald the Clown

Man goes to doctor – says he has no friends – life no meaning – world seems cruel – threatening and – uncertain – Doctor says – “Treatment is simple – great clown Ronald – is in town tonight – go and see him – and you will cheer up” – Man replies – tears in his eyes – “But doctor… – I am Ronald. All made with the electrical cord for Ronald’s nose.

Man, as a tree, wth birds perched upon his limbs.

Man, as a tree, wth birds perched upon his limbs.

Next we decided to walk around the city for a few hours before grabbing food supplies for dinner. We had to make sure we did this by 6pm as most of the shops closed by then, government law.

A Christmas market. Unfortunately it didn't begin until the 7th. We missed it by one day.

A Christmas market. Unfortunately it didn’t begin until the 7th. We missed it by one day.

The street we had been down earlier, in the semi light.

The street we had been down earlier, in the semi light.

Cool statue in the middle of the park.

Cool statue in the middle of the park.

Tunnel in between metro and mall.

Tunnel in between metro and mall.

After grabbing food supplies, some muesli to my left, we stopped inside Wayne's for some drink. I got a Chai Latte and wow it was absolutely delicious. I haven't had one since coming to Russia so it was a big treat. I let myself do the Sudoku in the Finnish newspaper while I enjoyed my drink, and pretended to read the comics, in Finnish.

After grabbing food supplies, some muesli to my left, we stopped inside Wayne’s for some drink. I got a Chai Latte and wow it was absolutely delicious. I haven’t had one since coming to Russia so it was a big treat. I let myself do the Sudoku in the Finnish newspaper while I enjoyed my drink, and pretended to read the comics, in Finnish.

Tired of walking, we took Kalevi’s advice and boarded the 3T public bus which loops around the city for some sightseeing. At first I was skeptical, and I often found myself dozing off as I kept getting into my transportation/nap mode, reminding myself that wait, this was a tour and I had to stay awake. But after I learned how to balance this, it was quite relaxing and a very comfortable tour of the city. And we were able to get on and off to take pictures because there was always another bus.

The soccer field in front of the Olympic Stadium. Got some cool shots of some kids playing soccer, er futbol.

The soccer field in front of the Olympic Stadium. Got some cool shots of some kids playing soccer, er futbol.

Eventually we got hungry and decided to go back to Kalevi’s.

Very clean metro cars. Moscow has nothing on this.

Very clean metro cars. Moscow has nothing on this.

Red metro. One line through the city. Maybe that's why it's cleaner and the cars are bigger. It's a significantly smaller system than Moscow's.

Red metro. One line through the city. Maybe that’s why it’s cleaner and the cars are bigger. It’s a significantly smaller system than Moscow’s.

Once home, we broke out the feast material. Important things first:

Glögg, or Glögi as it says on the opposite side of the box. So delicious we warmed it all in a pot and drank the whole thing.

Glögg, or Glögi as it says on the opposite side of the box. So delicious we warmed it all in a pot and drank the whole thing. One is supposed to put it in alcoholic drinks but that didn’t stop me on the pub crawl and it didn’t stop me this night.

We got to bed a little earlier this night which was good as we had to get up earlier (8am) to make our ferry, and still get one sight seeing thing done.

Big church near the President's building. But we were in a rush so we didn't go inside or see the President's building. The cheap ferry was leaving and we were barely going to make it.

Big church near the President’s building. But we were in a rush so we didn’t go inside or see the President’s building. The cheap ferry was leaving and we were barely going to make it.

Some statues in the middle of the square, and the Finnish flag.

Some statues in the middle of the square, and the Finnish flag.

Helsinki is a bike friendly city. No really, they have elevated bike lanes on the busy streets to separate the cars even moreso from the bikes.

Helsinki is a bike friendly city. No really, they have elevated bike lanes on the busy streets to separate the cars even more so from the bikes.

Back on the ferry. Sad to leave Helsinki, we relaxed in our chairs and tried to nap before getting back to Tallinn. Helsinki was a very comfortable city and it’s people seemed very relaxed. They still had an impression that they were doing stuff, but it wasn’t like Moscow where everyone seems tense and very directional. The Finns probably have the same purposes as people in Moscow, but they seem to do it with a lot less pressure, stress, or rush. It made for a much more comfortable environment.

Back in Tallinn, and it's populated! The atmosphere was much more comfortable.

Back in Tallinn, and it’s populated! The atmosphere was much more comfortable and fun.

This cool cafe that was 1/2 a floor underground. The hot chocolate was really good, but I was still remembering my yesterday chai.

This cool cafe that was 1/2 a floor underground. The hot chocolate was really good, but I was still remembering my yesterday chai. I felt like Croaker from The Black Company inside this medieval looking cafe sitting at an old table in a soft arm chair.

Another shot of the place. It's natural ceilings and all.

Another shot of the place. It’s natural ceilings and all.

Evening came early and we wandered a bit before heading to the train station. Look, the streets are more crowded now. This might be the one experience I say that's a good thing.

Evening came early and we wandered a bit before heading to the train station. Look, the streets are more crowded now. This might be the one experience I say that’s a good thing.

On our way to pick up some munchies for our train ride I stopped and admired:

Check it out. Someone's got good taste here in Tallinn. And the dash wasn't even cracked. They're lucky.

Check it out. Someone’s got good taste here in Tallinn. And the dash wasn’t even cracked. They’re lucky.

There also was also an E28 that parked near our hostel in Kyiv but I kept telling myself I’d get a picture later, and then later, and then it was gone when we were leaving. 🙁

Anyway, our train arrived and we boarded, already getting started on our munchies.

Getting stopped at the border letting the police check our passports and visas. And the cute little dog they brought aboard to check for drugs—that almost everyone snuck petting.

Getting stopped at the border letting the police check our passports and visas. And the cute little dog they brought aboard to check for drugs—that almost everyone snuck petting. We’re doing Complex Analysis homework at the moment, as one can see by the papers. Actually, John is doing homework; I’m messing around with reflections and my camera.

Kind of eerie getting stopped next to these tanks for so long.

Kind of eerie getting stopped next to these tanks for so long.

While drifting asleep I thought that this year would be a good year to invade Russia. The winter is a bit pansy compared to Finland’s, and the Finns kept saying Moscow’s should be much worse because of the wind current tunnel or whatnot. So it would be a lot easier to keep one’s military warm and not freezing to death during invasion. Someone must have heard my thoughts because I was met with a sweet surprise upon my arrival back in Moscow…

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