Friday, May 10, 2013

The Finnish Adventure-Part 1

Thursday morning we began our adventure by being picked up by our van driver to take us to JFK for our flight. Reading, PA people-all I can say is thank God for DeSantis. The driver was amazing which is good because traffic and construction were a bear. Conveniently we are all veteran travelers, so getting through TSA was not too maddening. Finnair is a delightful airline whose flight attendants have uniforms designed by Finnish designers, though unfortunately we did not have the Marimekko plane. ;) Flying on Ascension Day must be the trick because the flight could not have been smoother. Alex and I watched international films and were laughing hysterically at a German film whose English title was "The Breakup Man." We highly recommend it.
When we arrived at Helsinki Vaanta, we caught the Finnair bus to the train station in the city center. Things I did not think about. Knew my cellphone was not international. Forgot that this would include my Wi-Fi hotspot. We had made a plan to meet the owner of our apartment at 11, but being extra cautious, I wanted to confirm by phone before we traveled on. Of course my gmail had that conversation too far down to retrieve without Wi-Fi. I decided to try the pay as you need internet, but Google kept insisting that I verify since I was out of country and all the instructions were in Finnish. Eventually, a couple euros poorer, I suggested we grab a cab.
Now, I really should point out that there is a story about fear and trust here. I had gone out on a limb and booked through AirBnB much to the grimacing of my Beloved who was convinced this would turn out badly. We found a cheery and well fitted out flat in a neighborhood just beyond city centre, about a 10 minute walk. On the map it looked farther away because it is on a separate island. More anxiety. What if we got out there and the owner was not there? I did not have a working cell. And could not check emails. Eventually, we just got the cab and went out. We got out and discovered we were on the sidewalk and the two men chatting out front were not who we were looking for, now about 10 minutes late.
We knew that we were meeting the owner's father. But then we also noticed that while we had an address of 2 Merikamasatu, there was a building 2B and 2C... so Michael walked up to the next building and there was Pauli, a gracious older gentleman, waiting and ready to show us our home. All that fretting for naught. The place is in fact even nicer than hoped, and within walking distance of two markets, the harbor, Uspenski Cathedral, the Market, and the Esplanade, and in short, it's perfect!
Our building and others share a common courtyard, and playground as well as recycling area, and the tram is just outside the door. And perhaps most importantly, we have our own sauna!
After powering down for a couple hours, and showering, we headed out to the market to buy some essentials for breakfast and a snack. And the adventures began. We wanted skim milk. I found milk that was 1% maito, which I assumed was 1% milk. But then how to know, of the other two options which was whole milk and which was not. Mystery solved by reading the nutritional box and figuring out fat content. We decided to get some rolls for breakfast and later discovered they were actually meat pies. But we found yummy yogurt and cheese and grapes, and stevia for my coffee, and what Michael thought was sugar for his.
This morning's discovery is that he really bought something like cream of wheat. If you are on FB you can see the humorous surprise photos.
Yesterday afternoon we walked through the harbor market, with its requisite souvenir sellers and food vendors including places serving up hot food mainly comprised of "Fish from Lapland!" which apparently is a big deal. We watched the cruise ships with tourists to and from Sweden and Russia. And grabbed cappuccino at Signora's, which is a tiny Italian coffeeshop, selling not only coffee but Italian culinary items, ranging from "real" pasta and sauces to a variety of jarred fruits and preserves and treats preserved in limoncello. We are a bit of an oddity, the American family on holiday in Helsinki in May. So we have great conversations about the Finnish economy, and the grousing about how, without the Russians plowing 3 million euro in touism and business, the Finns would be in the tank. And how Russian is replacing Swedish as the second language to Finnish and English. Which of course thrills our Russian student, Alex.
We were blessed with warmer and sunnier weather than anticipated. So we took advantage of the chance to saunter around. We made plans for a nice restaurant the first night and decided on Kareli which was celebrating Asparagus weeks, and also had a varied and interesting menu. We are here for the white asparagus time. I had some grilled as a starter but decided not to have the all asparagus prix fixe menu. Everyone is very helpful and proud to share suggestions about places to visit and how to get there.
Up today is a visit from Elise who I met in seminary. It makes me look so continental to my kids that I "know" someone in Finland.
Tomorrow we plan to attend church and then take the boat out to Suomelinna, and tour the island and fortress. Also on our list are  taking the bus out to Porvoo, and possibly the ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. But then again the circus is in town, and that sounds intriguing.
All in all, it has been 30 years since I have been here, but navigating is not as hard as I expected even for this old brain. More to follow!

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