The Hunt for the Liver Casserole

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Apr 16, 2005

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Flag of Finland  ,
Thursday, April 7, 2005

There are many ferries that run between Tallinn and Helsinki: unfortunately for us, but adding to the general merriment of Finns, most of them are much more convenient for visiting Tallinn for the day (and for the drink) than they are for travellers like us trying to do the opposite. Nonetheless, we found a company that went over in the morning and came back by midnight, and embarked for Finland, new adventures, and new World Heritage sites. We arrived to find Finland colder and wetter than Estonia, but walked around to see the city. They were holding a recording session in the cathedral so we couldn't go inside one of the main Helsinki landmarks, but we did go to another large church, the Swedish one, where they were tuning the organ pipes instead!

There must have been a gigantic sale at Stockmann's, a department store, because we, unknowing foreigners, were nearly the only people not carrying the yellow bags, but we were on a quest of a different kind in the grocery stores. We searched every grocery store we could find for a tin of liver casserole for a Finnish friend in England who had really been missing it. Alas, though, we picked some up only once and that was frozen. We knew it wouldn't keep till we returned. So Heids, we tried, but Helsinki grocery stores just don't stock transportable liver casseroles for people like you far away from Finnish shores.

Helsinki is a big city-like city, very clean (no Tallinn grit) and very modern, with the famous Scandinavian sense of style. It is laid out right on the harbour, but spread out so, although we didn't walk far enough to see it, I think there are lots of parks and green space. We stayed in the downtown section, only wandering far enough to get lost in a labyrinth of a construction site with covered walkways and confusing (well, Finnish) signs pointing the way out- if only we knew what the words "Way Out" looked like.

On the other hand, when speaking, Finns have excellent English and everyone that we encountered seemed to speak it perfectly with no accent. In fact, they spoke so well that I completely forgot to try to say the few words of Finnish that I knew, and didn't try very hard after I attempted to read the name of a cinnamon bun in a cafe and the waitress laughed at my effort and said "Ahh, a cinnamon bun". But Heids, you'll be happy to hear that neither did I tell anybody off in Finnish, so all in all it went well.

Ok, you've probably been wondering where the UNESCO site comes in, so here it is! Out in Helsinki harbour, among the hundreds of islands that look like so many molehills (hmmm- prairie dog hills maybe for those in North America) dug up all over the place is a naval fortress called Suomenlinna which is an excellent example of 18th century naval fortifications, hence the UNESCO recognition. They were built by the Swedish beginning in 1748 who then occupied Finland (do you see the theme in this region?), and the star-shaped fortifications of the Fortress of Louisbourg or Halifax in Nova Scotia (both roughly the same age) are similar in plan. The fortress is spread out over a series of linked islands and guards the entrance to Helsinki harbour. The ferry that we took from Tallinn passed through the very narrow channel between two fortified islands to enter and exit, so I assume that other passages into the harbour are even more difficult. The stone fortress walls still exist and some of the guns are there as well, from old-school cannons to much bigger guns from the First World War. The fortress was built to defend against the Imperial Russian fleet based nearby at St. Petersburg, but by 1808, Russia had captured Finland and held it until 1917 when Finland was able to gain independence during the Russian Revolution. Today, several thousand people live there, and so the city public transit tickets work on the ferry to the island.

After supper and a few more forays into grocery stores after the illusive liver casserole, we went to the Kiasma modern art museum which was a great way to round off the day with a number of very interesting exhibits (which I won't try to describe because it's modern art and you just have to see it!) before going back to Tallinn on the ferry- leaving the ice-filled Helsinki harbour, and slipping between Suomenlinna's silent guns to re-cross the Gulf of Finland. Upon arriving, the border guard seemed surprised to see a non-EU passport and had to adjust the date on his stamper because he didn't use it much (EU citizens show their passports or ID cards but don't get stamps when going between European Union countries).
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