Strawberries, Crepes... and Peas!

Trip Start May 28, 2008
Trip End Aug 26, 2008

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Flag of Finland  , Southern Finland,
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Strawberries, Crepes... and Peas!

EU at last! After two months crossing through Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and Russia it is nice to arrive in the European Union. Border guards and checkpoints are largely a thing of the past, once we clear the final Russian checkpoint where they ask us a few questions about how much currency we have. A Russian border guard came aboard to inspect luggage and passengers before the train crossed over into Finland, and laughed when I told him I had 60 rubles left (about $3 USD).

We still had much business to do when we arrived in Helsinki, and were concerned we couldn't get it all done before leaving later in the day for Rovaniemi. Helsinki was bathed in summer light, full of happy residents and visitors, and proved very welcoming and easy to navigate. In stark contrast to our periodic challenges and minor delays while seeking specific services in China, Mongolia, and Russia; we accomplished everything we needed in Helsinki in a couple of hours! Luggage stowed in lockers, reservation for the next train, ferry booking to Tallinn, ferry booking to Stockholm, and even a DHL box of goodies from the trip shipped home. Helsinki really took some stress off us, and gave us some time for sightseeing we hadn't anticipated.

Our first happy find was a Moomintroll! For those who don't know, Moomintrolls are hairless, friendly, happy trolls that inhabit Finland and hibernate in winter. They were the brainchild of author Tove Jansson, who won many awards for the Moomin books. As a child, the owner of children's book shop in California introduced me to the series, and they became my favorite series of children's books thereafter. As an adult, I have added these books to the library in our home and had just started reading one of them to Stirling as a bedtime story before we left on our trip.

Having thought my enjoyment of the Moomintroll family was a bit obscure, I was quite surprised (as was Stirling) to run into Moomin-everything when we hit Finland. There were stuffed Moomintrolls in the ferry office and shop windows, Moomin candies, Moomin shirts, Moomin cards, and even a major Moomintroll theatrical production opening next month. What we didn't know was that the Moomintroll Family have been adapted for comics and an animated show in Japan and Finland, so they still enjoy popularity in those two countries. Stirling couldn't have been happier, and we had to pry her new Moomintroll doll out of her arms for the quick DHL trip back to San Diego. We've since had confirmation he arrived in California safe and sound, so Stirling is happier about it now.

All the open markets in Helsinki had huge mounds of fresh peapods on offer, so we picked up a bag and followed the lead of the locals, strolling along eating fresh peas. Just about every waste bin around downtown sported a crown of empty peapods, so perhaps this is the pea season in Helsinki. The peas were excellent, as were the fresh strawberries we tried. So much sweeter than back home... even though California produces loads of strawberries. We wondered if perhaps they sweeten more because they are picked later here, or if the endless summer sun contributes to the high sugar content.

Our stroll along the Helsinki waterfront garnered us another treat -- some fantastic crepes at a street café alongside the docks and tourist boats. Helsinki struck us as a very modern city, easy to get around the downtown area, and very clean. Helsinki is below the Acrtic Circle, so there is nighttime here but at this time of year it is not very noticeable. We found it bright and airy, to say the least.

As we walked around the city, we were treated to some local comedy at a wedding rehearsal in the largest church in the center Helsinki. A very pregnant bride-to-be was getting some instruction from the priest about the meaning of her father giving her away and thus giving symbolic permission for the groom to keep his daughter. The bride replied that this was "f**king sexist" while Dad and others in the party struggled to keep straight faces. It looked like a modern family trying hard to preserve old traditions, and was a light metaphor for some European experiences today.

- Demian
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obouhaddou on

prices of produce
Hello demian et al,
It is always a big pleasure to follow you along your fascinating journey. The photo of the produce stand show the prices as well and if I am not mistaken, the fresh peas were about $2 a pound, which is about the same here when you can find fresh peas on the market. Best, --omar

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