Bonfires, a wedding, and Jimmy the Finnish Rockabilly!
06/20/2008 - 06/21/2008
The overnight ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki really surprised me. I was expecting a small car ferry where I might have to sleep on the deck with the seagulls. I took the Viking Line's Gabriella, which turned out to be a bonafide cruise ship, complete with cabins, restaurants, a disco, duty-free shopping, a children's play area/kid's club, and even live entertainment!
It was so cheap that I went ahead and got a cabin and settled in. The cabin was an interior one by choice, and I was very relieved that it did not have a window. I would be able to sleep in complete darkness at last!
In the terminal waiting to board the ship, I met Jimmy, a self-described Finnish Rockabilly!
Jimmy loves Elvis, the Stray Cats, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and plays guitar in his southern rockabilly band in northern Finland! Jimmy proved to be quite popular on the ship and made many new friends throughout the night.
Once the ship sailed they served the FANTASTIC Viking buffett. I don't think I have seen 8 different types of herring dishes served in one place anywhere else in my life!
At my table I met Michael, an ordained priest fron Seoul, South Korea. Michael was eating these knarly octopus tentacles!
Michael was taking a year's sabbatical from the church to travel. He had been on the road alone since March, and was now nearing the end of his journey. I asked him if he was ever lonely on the road, and he said that he usually slept in dormitory-style hostels with 10-16 other people in the same room to save money, and there was always someone around. He had gone throughout Eurpoe, and referred to himself as a "Pilgrim," travelling light and as cheaply as possible.
Michael has been doing Europe on 50 Euros a day, about $75, including lodging. In the morning he usually buys a baguette and some cheese, and eats it during the day when he is hungry. If his room costs too much, he just buys less to eat that day. I asked him if he has found what he is looking for out on the road, and he replied, "I don't know. I do know that I have found SOMEthing." I told him that he should write about his travels. He said, "I am not a writer. I go places, I see things, I meet people, and then I go back to my parish and tell them about it. That is it."
I believe Michael was either sleeping on the deck of the ship that night (it is very cool that Viking line allows this) or was sharing a room with 3 other strangers to save money. I got his email and hope to hear from him soon. Michael is one of those very special people who move among us almost unseen each day. He still, however, seems to touch everyone he meets in some significant way. Good luck and God bless, Pilgrim.
This is a German student I met named Korbinian. He had been on the road alone for 5 days and already had open invitations from people he had met to stay with them on their couch in Liverpool, England!
Jimmy, Korbinian, and Scott
Leaving Stockholm, you sail through the stunningly beautiful Stockholm Archipeligo, consisting of hundreds of rocky and wooded islands. Some of the islands contain small settlements or summer houses.
I thought this guy's shirt was fitting....
In order to preserve the ship's tax-free status, it has to stop in the middle of the night at an island halfway across called Aland in a little town called Mariehamn. It was midnight when I took this picture.
We took on some cars in the hold of the ship and moved on.
I then met a very cool group of students who were headed back to their homes in Finland after working as counsellors at a summer camp in Sweden for children with special needs. This is Tia...
and this is Kimmo and Veli....
We hung out for a while listening to live music by a Norwegian guitarist before I headed to my dark cabin. I slept like a baby! Thanks guys for the fantastic Finnish hospitality!
The next morning at the ferry terminal in Helsinki I saw this face....
Helsinki has very helpful information agents stationed throughout the city. These helped me find the Euro Hostel, where I was staying.
Here is the Lutheran church, which is one of the landmarks of the city.
Another landmark is the stunningly beautiful Church in the Rock. Instead of building a church on top of the rock, like the other buildings in the city, the designer decided actually to put the church inside the rock, blasting it out and covering it with glass windows and a green dome. I have never seen anything quite like it. I lit a candle and sat in peace for a long time, thinking about Pilgrim.
Exploring Helsinki on foot. Here is a biker shop downtown.
I looked over and saw this when I sat down to rest waiting for the bus.
This is the monument to Sibelius, Finland's greatest composer. It is made up of hundreds of melting organ pipes. Awesome.
The Olympic Stadium from the 1952 Olympic Games. Helsinki was supposed to host the 1940 games, but they were cancelled due to World War II and then pushed back to 1952. There is actually a youth hostel here where you can sleep in a real Olympic Stadium!
I got on a city hop-on hop-off tour, but the bus was very late. When it did come, the driver whose name was Toija, explained that two of their three busses "go kaput!!" If we got off the bus to look around, and waited for the next one, it might take an hour an a half! Passengers started grumbling, and things began to get ugly. Thinking fast, however, Toija saved the day. Instead of stopping to let people off and immediately pulling out as usual, he turned the entire bus into one big impromptu city tour, stopping for 10-15 minutes at each stop and letting us see what we wanted before getting back on. It worked great! Horray for Toija!
This is me at the top of the Lutheran Church steps in the city square. When I finally got up there I swear I could hear the theme to Rocky playing.
Here is Marcus, who was having a long day as the transportation coordinator for the hop-on hop-off tour busses.
He was so relieved that I didn't ask for a refund that he offered to drive me over to Uspenski Cathedral in his own car! I told him that I would just walk, and asked him where a restroom was. He said there was a public toilet around the corner that costs money, and then tried to give me a coin for the lock from his own pocket! He also said that he loved the Atlanta Thrashers NHL hockey team, because their goaltender is Finnish!
Walking around the city parks and the waterfront. This is a guy who was singing opera in the park for money! I have never seen a street opera singer before.
A cool sea lion statue in a waterfront fountain.
Vendors by the waterfront.
Finnish tortises on parade.
I like the guard's private little candy cane umbrella...
I finally made it on foot to Uspenski Cathedral, a massive Greek Orthodox church.
Now here's something you don't see every day....
Poster for an artist's show. "Come to show - or I keel you!"
Doing laundry at the hostel I met Lenka, who was travelling alone in her car from her native Czech Republic to "points north." Her goal was to drive to the northernmost point in Europe, and then work her way down the west coast of Norway seeing the fjords. She piloted a Ford Galaxy minivan in her quest. She spoke Czech, a little English which she had picked up by ear, and good Spanish from living and working in Spain for several years. She had three months off from work, and was fulfilling her dream of travelling. Growing up in oppressive Czechoslovakia had a profound influence on her, and now that the country has opened up and she finally has the money saved up, she is hitting the road.
Lenka loves to race 4X4 quads in the mud. Here is a link to some videos she shot and posted on You Tube. They are of some quad events she has attended in the Czech Republic and Germany.
This night was Midsummer's Eve, the longest day of the year and a huge deal in Finland. People all over the country customarily retire with their families to the country where they burn huge bonfires on lake beaches all night to ward off witches and goblins. Helsinki's celebration was being held at a cultural park outside of town, so Lenka drove her car over, which was most convenient in the cold, spitting rain. Lenka has a GPS that speaks Czech in a very commanding voice. She drove along and a man's voice would bark out orders in Czech, "TURN LEFT IN 100 METERS!! ...TURN LEFT IN 50 METERS! ...YOU HAVE MISSED YOUR TURN! REDIRECT THE AUTOMOBILE IMMEDIATELY!!!" It was hysterical! Here is a picture of Lenka's crazy Czech GPS!
Walking around the Midsummer's Eve festival. On Midsummer's Eve it is customary for Fins to take an icy swim at the beach or in a nearby lake.
This guy came out from his swim and then did a handstand to drain the water out of his boots!
There were ladies hand making wreaths out of flowers for the celebration.
Native arts and crafts were on display. I got this good one of sparks shooting out of the blacksmith's anvil.
Is this the world's largest birdhouse?
A Finnish windmill...
For some reason there were many people walking around on stilts.
A highlight was the food. They had Paella, salmon, reindeer, and Finnish Lake fish, which look a lot like sardines.
This is me eating reindeer! It was delicious!
The tradition during the festival is for a couple to get married and then go out across the water in a longboat to light the biggest bonfire.
The married couple is in the front.
Later, when the couple left the festivities. The groom is holding her dress up in back to keep it from getting wet.
This is a traditional midsummer's pole.
As you read this, Lenka is deep in the wilds of Northern Finland. Goodbye Lenka, and we all wish you good luck!
The staff at Eurohostel Helsinki was excellent and amazingly helpful. Here is a picture of Nelli and Viljami. Thanks for all the great assistance guys! You are the best!
Looking around the city the next day. This is the Helsinki opera house.
The Ingman ice cream man!
Sea life Helsinki was surprisingly good.
I have never seen a member of the stingray family with this coloring.
A great Lion fish.
A shark swimming through the aquarium's bubbles was especially cool.
The only restaurant in town that was open was Garlic, a place where every dish contains garlic - even the ice cream! The owner was very gracious in finding a table.
I got this awesome Garlic Chicken with a raspberry cream sauce. Ummmmm!
Such a violent reaction to baked goods just can't be healthy....
These music students were playing down by the harbor. They seemed very happy that I stopped to listen. I gave them a few Euros.
My entire time here in Europe people everywhere have been watching the Euro 2008 soccer tournament. Back at the hostel, the game was on in the lobby. It was Russia vs. the Netherlands....
At one point, Russia scored a go-ahead goal. Instead of people grumbling and sighing as I expected, the whole place actually erupted in cheers! I was dumbfounded. I have never heard anyone cheering for Russia before! Yelling loudest were a group of friends travelling from Latvia. Time expired in the match and the Latvians took the party out into the street! I don't know what I expected from Midsummer's Day 2008, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would end with me chanting Russian football songs in the middle of the street with a group of crazy Latvians!
Happy Midsummer everyone!
Next: Tallinn, Estonia