Saturday, September 06, 2008

Trip to Finland: Part 2

I've finally felt in a writing mood, so here it is, part 2.

Halfway through our second pint at the pub, the lights all came up to full brightness, and the bar staff began to indicate that it was time for us to finish our drinks and be on our way. It was surprisingly early yet, only 1am, I think. After we finished our drinks and made our way outside, Oliver made some phone calls to see if anyone else he knew was having any sort of after party. It seemed there really wasn't much going on, but we made our way down the street to meet up with a group of his friends, most of whom had just been planning to go home. We convinced them otherwise, and proceeded to go for a wander around Helsinki.

At one point, a very drunk man wandered up to us, to Oliver's friend Evan, from San Francisco, and said to him "You look like Whitney Houston", and then proceeded to follow us around. Eventually, one of the guys in the group managed to convince the strange drunk man to talk to a couple people that we passes, sitting along the side of the path, at which point we all took off at a run, to make sure he wouldn't be able to find us. After that, we all sat on or stood around a bench that overlooked a bay, and just laughed and chatted for a good while, as other late night folk wandered by on the path just behind the bench.

Eventually, some people decided to call it a night. Those of us that remained wandered back into the downtown, and some of them had Kebabs from a little late night shop. (Earlier in the night, though I'm not sure if it was before or after the pub, I had been hungry, so Oliver took me to a little stand that served burgers, and translated the Finnish sign for me. I was very pleased to learn that one of the options was a burger with fried egg, so that's what I had. It was quite tasty indeed, and really hit the spot after having had only airline food for dinner.) In the end, by the time I made my way back to the hotel, it was 5:30am.

The following day started rather late, as may be expected. Oliver and I touched base via text messages at around 1pm, and arranged to meet up at a fountain a couple blocks down from my hotel. This gave me an excuse to get out and wander around that corner of Helsinki on my own for a bit, to find the fountain. I found it no problem, having walked past it the day before. There was no doubt at all it was the fountain Oliver mentioned, being described as something along the lines of "A naked woman on a pedestal, with seals around her spraying her with water." That about sums it up. The European attitudes towards nudity are so much different than North America, where any statue must either be neutered or covered. God forbid someone see brass nipples on a statue of a women! Or a poster advertising an art gallery, with a painting of a nude woman on it. There's a big difference between nudity and pornography, and in North America, in public places at least, there seems to be no difference in how the two are treated. Here, I've seen countless posters and statues as just described, and most people don't give them a second thought.

Anyway, after finding the fountain, I wandered around nearby a bit, keeping an eye out for Oliver, and watching some of the things going on in the park. I found an ice cream stand and had some pear ice cream. It was absolutely delicious. Nearby was a van, parked in a sort of square, beside which stood a man dressed a bit like a pirate. Children (and adults) were taking turns throwing a water balloon at him, as he dodged out of the way, and tried to hit each water balloon with a plastic sabre. It was quite entertaining to watch, and standing in the splash zone provided some refreshment on the warm day. Oliver arrived around 2pm, and went for a cup of coffee and a pastry at a restaurant close by, situated in a wide strip of park between two one way streets.

After that, we spent most of the day just walking around Helsinki, enjoying the weather, with Oliver pointing out landmark buildings and such. We went shopping for wine and cheese, for his wine tasking party on Sunday, and dropped them off at his apartment, where I briefly met Laura, his girlfriend. In Finland, alcohol is sold in government run stores, with only beer sold in some other shops. It's similar to how B.C. was run a few years back, before they started allowing cold beer & wine shops to sell other alcohol. The government run chain in Finland is called Alko. I had brought my camera bag with me from the hotel that morning, but was tired of carrying it around and not using it (I had my small camera that I was using instead) so we walked back across town to my hotel, and dropped of my camera bag. At the hotel, we looked up the number for the Ravintola Salve (Salve Restaurant) and made a reservation for dinner in a couple hours. Oliver then took me to one of the tallest buildings in Helsinki, which has a rooftop bar, and I spent a moment enjoying the view across the city. Unfortunately, there was no free seating, so we instead went back down to, of all things, an Irish Pub on the ground floor, and had a beer, and some pickled herring. I'd never had it before, but it came with herring in about 6 different sauces, and most of them were quite tasty.

Eventually we made it to Salve, which turned out to have a pleasant nautical decor. I had a very tasty creamy salmon soup to start, with potatoes and a slight hint of dill in it. The main course was steak stuffed with a sort of cheese and reindeer mix, with mashed potatoes. I had Koff, a Finnish beer, with my meal. Everything was absolutely delicious, though our main course took a good long time arriving, as I think the kitchen actually forgot about it. It suited me fine though, because after the pickled herring, and salmon soup, I actually needed a while to work up an appetite.

After dinner, Oliver phoned Laura to find out which club she and her friends were at, and we went to join them. They were not far away, at a club called Havana, a Spanish club. Oliver and I joined them, but I didn't dance much, as everyone on the dance floor seemed to be doing Salsa or something, and looked to know what they were doing, which was rather intimidating. I just stayed near the bar and drank Strongbow all evening. When we left the club, we were all quite hungry, so we went to a kebab shop just down the street. Inside the shop, with everyone around speaking Finnish, I had my first real "Wow, I'm in a foreign country" moment, because up until that point, the people around me had stuck mostly to English, even when speaking to each other. I can certainly say that I found the Finnish folk to be incredibly polite and accommodating in that respect. It does help that they learn English in school there, and speak it much better than half the Subway employees in Vancouver. We took the kebabs back to Oliver's flat, and sat down to eat. When it came time to go back to my hotel to sleep, Oliver gave me nice simple directions on how to get back, and I made it back to my Hotel fine, and feeling rather proud of myself for having navigated the route across an unfamiliar town after so many ciders. By the time I lay down, it was 4am, Sunday morning.

Part 3 whenever I get in a writing mood again. (or enough people ask for it that I feel guilty about it)

No comments: