The last half of the Finland trip

Trip Start Feb 03, 2009
Trip End Jun 2009

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Here's my recap of the last 2 days we spent in Helsinki, and they were busy indeed. After the strenuous walking from Friday, we decided Saturday was going to be a day to stay relatively close to the city centre. First, though, we had to check out of the hostel because it was booked for our last night there. Our hotel wasn't available for check-in yet, so we took our bags down to the National Finnish Museum and left them in the (guarded) coat-check.

OK, a side note. I love the coat check system here. Basically, every restaurant and major building that doesn't have coat stands handy will instead have a separate room with a ton of hooks and space for coats, jackets, scarves, bags, and other things of all sizes. They give you a little plastic tag with a number on it, and then when you leave, you trade the tag for your items and you're done. It's so great and saves a lot of time and hassle, especially at clubs and restaurants when you would otherwise wind up leaving your coat possibly out of your line of sight.

Back to Finland, the museum was INCREDIBLE. There was a ton of pre-historic stuff, including a 5.5 meter-long sledge that was dated to about 4000 B.C. and a lot of other awesome artifacts like Roman coins and such. The highlight of the museum, at least for Colin, Genevieve, and Kelsey, was the children's museum section upstairs. It was an interactive room with little exhibits where you could experience traditional Finnish life. We built a house out of gigantic Lincoln Logs, I learned out to use a loom, and we all saddled a plastic horse and attached a carriage to it. Overall a good experience for all. Then we picked up our bags and checked into the hotel room, which turned out to be in a fantastic location about 300 meters from the railway station/art museum/ice skating in the town centre. Thanks to the location, we went to the art museum, then ran over to the Helsinki City Museum before it closed, and Colin was able to take some panoramic shots of and around the Helsinki Cathedral. We ran to the grocery store to pick up some food for that evening, but before eating came the ice skating. Helsinki put up a nice big piece of ice right in the middle of the downtown area and prices were pretty reasonable, especially with the student discount. It was Colin's and Kelsey's first time ice-skating EVER, and Genevieve's first time in about 10 years. For me, the last time was about 3 years ago, but it wasn't hard to pick back up where I left off - good enough to not fall, but still not very good at all :) Everyone did very well, though, and I was proud of them. In addition to the skating, this facility has Alpine curling stones, which are not like regular curling at all. They're completely flat on the bottom and have a screw-in vertical handle on the top, and the basic goal is a lot like bocce ball. Still, it's curling on ice, so I did that and got some pictures. I'm now an international curler and ice skater as well. The rink closed at 10, so we went back to the hotel, devoured the bread, cheese, and meat we had bought, and spent the rest of the night watching TV and eventually sleeping.

Sunday was our final day in lovely Helsinki, so we made the most of it by planning to explore the Suomenlinna Island just off the coast. After a fantastic continental breakfast, highlighted by tons of bread and porridge with fruit jams, we left our bags in a locker at the ferry terminal and took the 10-minute ferry to the island. It was bitterly cold and windy, which we expected because we were, after all, on an island in the Baltic Sea. The island is probably gorgeous in spring and summer, but even with its winter clothes on it was an entertaining trip. It's actually a collection of 4 islands all connected by bridges in various points, and we made our way to 3 of them. Highlights of the island for our group included Colin and me going to the King's Gate - the ruins of the old sea fortress fortifications and other cool things - and, my personal favorite event of the weekend: I stood on the Baltic Sea. We walked out onto what normally is a boat pier, but there were about 2 inches of snow on top of the ice where the water usually is :) So I scraped some of the snow off to test the ice, and it seemed fine, so then I took a couple of steps out from the pier. It was a thrillingly terrifying experience, but I'm proud to say I did it. We roamed the island for most of the afternoon, but then eventually we headed back to Helsinki just as the sun started coming out. We went back to a grocery store to get some more bread/meat/cheese for dinner, and took some more pictures of our last hours in Finland. The return boat ride was uneventful, and then we BOOKED IT through Tallinn to ensure that we got on a bus back to Tartu. We wound up in Tartu around 230 AM, and promptly got some McDonald's because it was the only place open. Then it was back to classes for another week!

As for the time since the trip, I survived my 3 days of classes and am now preparing for a couple of days in Vienna. I'm still kind of miffed that my passport has only been stamped once, and that was in Amsterdam. On this trip I'm going to purposely go through customs, even though I'm not declaring anything, just to ask if they'll stamp my passport. I would have liked a Finnish stamp, but on this trip, I should be able to get Sweden, Austria, and Estonia if all goes well. No set plans for the actual time in Vienna yet, but there are museums and exhibitions galore, in addition to some of the most beautiful architecture ever. I'll be happy just to spend my time walking around and, hopefully, not spending a lot of money. Curse that euro! The wonderfulness of the kroon has spoiled me.
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