Sunday, August 15, 2010
My confession for the day is that I wasn't actually looking forward to going to Helsinki. A few days ago I may have even tried to get an earlier flight back to the U.S. because I was pretty positive that there would be nothing to do here, but was thwarted by FinnAir's $220 ticket change fee.
When I was looking for tickets to Russia, I knew I wanted to have a layover for a few days in another country. My thought process is that if I'm paying all this money to go to Russia, I might as well fork over the extra $100 for a layover in another country. I didn't know where I wanted to go, I only knew where I didn't want to go-England or France. I'd already been to both countries a few years ago, and it seems silly to repeat places right now when there are so many other countries I haven't been to. So that eliminated both British Airways and Air France as airlines I would be flying. When I tossed in my flight plans to Russia into Kayak, FinnAir popped up as a reasonably price alternative. So my lack of forethought and impulse control grabbed a hold of the situation and suddenly I had a ticket to Russia with a five day layover in Helsinki.
The second key factor is that I am the worst (or best if there was a Biggest Procrastinator contest) procrastinator on the planet. When I booked the ticket I thought, "Eh. I'll look up information about Helsinki another day." Which would be fine if it was during the school year when I booked my ticket because I can be shockingly good at actually being productive during the school year, but it was the summer. When school is not in session I exist in a form that is roughly somewhere between a solid and a liquid. I'm like this semi-solid puddle of a person that drools a lot and watches reality television shows. Did I do any research about what there is to do in Helsinki? No, of course not. So of course I came here expecting there to be nothing to do because I didn't look a damn thing up. When did I learn that Finland claimed independence from Russia in 1918? This morning on the boat to Suomenlinna. And when did I learn that I should go to Suomenlinna because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and rated the #1 thing to do in Helsinki on Trip Advisor? That would be two hours before I got on the boat to Suomenlina when I decided to Google "Things to Do in Helsinki."
Now I'm really glad that the airlines are ruthless bastards about changing ticket dates because I love Helsinki. It's a beautiful city, with lots of interesting things to do. I'm now going to present my list of reasons why Helsinki is awesome.
1. The People Are Very Blond:
They aren't joking when they say that Nordic people are blond. Being here is like being in a live action version of Children of the Corn. It's blond hair and blue eye galore.
On Suomenlina, I was fairly convinced that every time I walked into one of these underground barracks, I was going to be met by a bunch of towheaded children with vacant eyes who wanted to kill me.*
2. How the People Here Sit at Cafes
This is how the tables and chairs along the Esplanade, the beautiful green strolling area right along the port, are arranged. Everyone sits facing the Esplanade so you can talk to your friends and people watch at the same time. At 6 o'clock it seems as thought the entire city is sitting there drinking either beer, wine or cider with friends and people watching.
3. Street Performers are in Abundance Here
The buskers here in Helsinki take it to a whole other level. Where else have you seen someone playing a massive xylophone on the street for spare change? The Disney Marathon was here yesterday, and there was a New Orleans style band playing along the route to help cheer the runners along.
4. The ATMs are called Otto. I think this is hilarious. Hello, Otto!
5. The Coffee
I don't really drink coffee in the U.S. It normally hurts my stomach, and giving caffeine to someone who is pretty sure she has Adult ADD is a terrible idea because it'll make me not blink for hours. On top of that, ever since I started having my brain problems a year ago, I haven't really been sleeping well. I rarely sleep through the night anymore so with the exception of chocolate (because I will definitely pick chocolate over sleep), I try to avoid caffeine. But look how pretty that drink looks. And the Finnish are the #1 consumers of coffee in the world so I figured the coffee must be good. So I had to give coffee a try. I did. And guess who didn't sleep at all last night?** That would be me.
6. I know exactly two words of Finnish
As you can imagine, if you do zero preparation for a trip then you probably don't know a single word of the language as well. Ha! I know exactly two Finnish words:
-hei: This means hello and sounds like "hey!"
-Kiitos: This means thank you.
I was really digging my stellar Finnish vocab yesterday so I greeted everyone I saw with "Hei!" and said "Kiitos" to every person who so much as allowed me to go first on the tram.
So around 3pm yesterday when I decided I wanted a coffee, I came across a sign that advertised a pretty picture of coffee for 2.90 euros with the words "aamu kahvi."
I decided I was going to stun the barista with my grasp of the Finnish language.
"Hei! Aamu Khavi. Kiitos," I said in what I was certain was the most eloquent Finnish she'd ever heard. I pointed to the sign next to me with the advertisement.
"Aamu means morning. That's our morning special. It's 3pm," the barista responded in perfect English. I guess I wasn't passing for a local after all.
Hmmm. So I guess I could amend the title of this section to I know exactly three words in Finnish.
7. No one here knows me so I can try out new hair dos
Another thing I like about Helsinki is that no one here knows me, so I can try out new hair styles and no one will tell me that I look like an idiot.
I'm a huge fan of Jane Aldridge's blog Sea of Shoes, and she recently wore her hair in cute little buns on the top of her head. Since she's a redhead and I'm a redhead, I decided that I would also look awesome in cute little hair buns***. Since I sincerely doubt that this is true, I decided to indulge myself here where no one will burst my bubble.
They'll stay behind in Helsinki, have no fear, but gosh they were fun to try out for a day.
8. There are Hidden Bits of Beauty All of This City
Like this-impromptu street ballet. I'm also a huge fan of The Ballerina Project so catching a little bit of this while waiting for the tram made my heart skip a beat.
Needless to say, I'm really really enjoying this beautiful city.
*Yeah, I'm completely aware that I was a creeper taking pictures of random strangers from behind. I thought it was better than being obvious about it, but in hindsight it's still creepy.
** To be fair this could also be due to my roommate at the hostel. She is a 50something year old Russian woman who snores and farts in her sleep like a wildebeest.
*** This is how my deluded logic works