Tom of Finland, where are you??!!!!

Trip Start Jul 02, 2008
Trip End Jul 25, 2008

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Michael and I are on our own today.  Carol and Bob have booked an excursion, and we had planned to just bum around on our own.  We sleep in a little.  I have not been able to get enough sleep on this trip for some reason.  After showering and dressing, we breakfast before heading ashore.  There is a shuttle provided by HAL, but it cost 10$ for a round trip to the center of the city, which is a stones throw away, well, maybe If you're a football player.  If I was older, or infirmed, I would be taking the bus as well, but hey, I'm not even 50 yet!
So off we head, walking through the slightly industrial area towards the city, our goal, the tourist information office in the center of town to buy a Helsinki Card for 50$ U.S.  Seems steep, doesn't it.  We walk to the shoreline boulevard, and enter a lovely bedroom community of older homes.  We argue over the map, of course.\, and decide on a route that will take up to the tramway a few blocks away.  Again, the homes are lovely, I could live in Helsinki.  Very Larry, with their Craftsman lines and colorful gardens.  Once on the tram line, we check out the map, deciding which tram we need to take to get to where we want. 
Only Michael says we need the #1, and not the #3, so we let a number three pass.  As we're waiting, I take a few pictures and notice on the map posted in the tram stop shelter that the #1 does not operate on Sunday, and the number three would have taken us where we wanted to go, in Finnish no less.  I also notice that we don't need the Helsinki Card, that we can buy a day pass on the tram for 3 euros from the tram driver.  A massive savings.  So we wait, and in true Finnish fashion and punctuality, another tram arrives in 15 minutes.  We hop on, buy our pass and within 10 more minutes we are in the town square and walking over to the tourist information office.  And what do I see, but Tom of Finland sailors, only they're not Tom of Finlandesque.  No grand physiques and monumental qualities, but they have the uniform.  It seems the fleet is in town and they are out and about taking photo's.  Another fantasy down the drain. 
We get maps at the Info office, and go over them sitting on the square.  What a charming city Helsinki is , actually we have found all of Scandinavia to be charming, if not a bit wet.  Yes, rain is threatening again, but we persevere.  After a bit of a rest and looking over the maps, we decide to head out to Suomenlinna, a small island just off the coast that houses an old fortification for the city, and a still active naval institution.  And the ferry ride is included in our tram pass for the day.  And we discover it is a World Heritage Site!  This should be cool!
The air is crisp, and the sun plays hide and seek in the clouds as the ferry shoves off.  The harbor is dotted with small islands, complete with picturesque cottages and lighthouses.  It is a beautiful day, and Michael makes another report with me videoing.  Not a bad Katie Cruoc impression.. or is it Connie Chung?  The ferry drops us off at the small pier, and we are immediately struck by how much this is like some of the small tourist island in Lake Erie, only classier.  We head into the nearest shop, the video has killed my camera!  And I have to be able to take pictures.  Then it is through the wall of the fortress and down the  path with the blue markers that will take us across the island.  A nice walk/hike ensues, punctuated with stops for photo ops and to poke around cute shops.  We notice that a lot of locals are here for the day with picnics, and there's even a pair of handsome men tossing an American football.  Lots of children, ice cream and sunshine as the afternoon progresses.  In one shop we find a small gift for our friend Terri, since we had missed her birthday (we were out of town, and so was she!  Hi Terri!  How was Wyoming?) 
We finally come to the battlements on the far side of the island, complete with a pizzeria set in an old bunker, and cool public loos which I promptly duck into, all the water I've been drinking and the hike has caught up with me.
Then up on the battlements to take in the sights, and down into the battlements to see where canons stood and to explore some cool old rooms and such.  It is a beautiful day, despite the few raindrops we feel from time to time.  And the view is spectacular!  But time is ticking, and Michael wants to go see the University of Helsinki.  SO we take the ferry back to the town square to hop on the tram.  Aboard the ferry, once again we feel a few rain drops, and it has gotten cloudier and cooler.  We hope it doesn't rain!  Our city map says there are two campuses for the University, one down town, and the other larger one slightly further away.  We opt for the downtown one since time is getting tight and all Michael really wants is a picture in front of a campus sign.  It is almost 2:30, and we want to poke in a few shops and the open air market at the town square before we head back to the ship.  All aboard is 4:30, and that doesn't leave us a bunch of time.
In and out of the shops, looking at things we don't need to buy and don't want, but it is fun.  And the food stalls at the open air market are very cool with lots of fresh fish and local berries.  It is very colorful and friendly.  I buy a small gift for Ann, whose birthday is today as well.  Then we are off on the tram to look for the University.  Three or four stops later we hop off in front of Café Ekberg, Helsinki's oldest café.  The University should be here someplace.  We walk around the block, nothing.  We ask a young lady in a gallery shop, she looks blankly at me and says she's not form the area.  Hmmmm, an outdated map maybe?  There is a building that looks like an old school, yet it is empty and there is no signage, it having obviously been removed. 
Michael looks sad, so I urge that we go to the other campus.  The city isn't that big, and we do have some time.  At 3:00 we board the tram and head back into the city, quickly figuring out we have to change trams to get there.  At the interchange we come across a cool statue called the "Three Smiths", and a photo op ensues.  Then we hop on the alternate tram and head north to the larger campus.
We know we need to get off the stop where there is a statue called "Motherly Love", and we were surprised to see the subject matter, thinking it would be something else! (see photo).  it is now just after three, and we head off in the direction of the campus.  After a few blocks, Michael is looking discouraged again.  But I urge on, and we finally come to a rather classic edifice, and signage for the University.  It is 3:40.  We quickly shoot the required pictures and head back to the tram, which whisks us back to where we had originally gotten on, with out a change even.  I could get the hang of the trams here.  And the sun has come out again and warmed things up!  Although we are at the tram stop, we still have a walk ahead of us.  It is another 20 minutes back to the ship.  Michael exclaims at one point that he cannot believe we walked all this way earlier.  Ah, how quickly things go by when there is the excitement of discovery in the air, and how far it seems once the fun has been had.  But we pick up the pace, squeezing in a walking workout along with our walk back to the ship.  We arrive at 4:05.  A quick duck into the gift shop to buy t-shirts we could've bought at the town square for half of what we ended up paying, and then we were aboard ship.
Sail out was lovely, we pass the Tallink shuttle ships on our way out, they provide ferry service to Estonia and apparently a lot of Fins go there on holiday weekends because it is so much cheaper. And then it is another night aboard ship.  Dinner, dancing, a glass or three of wine and I am beat.  All the walking, and a dip in the hot tub, has left me pooped.  So I head off to bed, Michael to his favorite slot machine.... tomorrow we are in Stockholm!

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