Tuesday, July 24, 2018

EuRoad Trip 2018: Finland Sauna Tour, Reindeer Burgers, and a Herring Cruise

Helsinki, Finland, and the rest of Scandinavia was unseasonably warm. Luckily we brought some warm and cold weather clothes. It was funny because you could definitely tell that they weren't used to temperatures like this. For example the hotels didn't have air conditioning.

We met Emil in a sunny city square next to what looked like a shopping mall. He was very friendly and knowledgeable so I knew we would get along swimmingly. Also while we'd booked a public tour no one else showed up which was great: we didn't have to put up with any other slack-jawed tourists slowing us down and cramping our style.

Helsinki Central Station really rolls off the tongue in Finnish: Helsingin päärautatieasema. Of additional interest is that the station was designed by Eliel Saarinen, father of St. Louis Arch designer Eero Saarinen. Eero Saarinen and Frank Lloyd Wright are the only architects I've found important enough to remember their names so this was a fun connection.

More than once on this trip a Finn has asked us where we're from and when we reply St. Louis they excitedly blurt "did you know a Finnish architect designed the Arch??"

It may have been my imagination but I found the station to be rather archy as well.

Some American patriot must have been walking through this glorious building and said "nice place you got here losers, let me class it up a little with a Burger King."

Some important people from a long time ago. I assume they are discussing when the Burger King will open.

There was a giant mural for Finns to gaze at while wrestling with the age old question: "fries or onion rings?"

Shhhh everyone knows great beers all come from giant conglomerate breweries.

The next stop was another Saarinen related creation: The Pohjola Insurance building. In the Finnish national epic Kalevala, Pohjola is a sort of dark evil place in the northern pole.

Avid AdventureJohn.com readers will obviously find the word "Pohjola" familiar from that Põhjanael beer that I sipped in Estonia. The one that meant "nail of the north" that holds the sky up? Well in the Finnish tales the land of Pohjola is where the pillar that holds up the North Star is located. I'm starting to think this whole "North Star" thing is beginning to catch on up here with these northerners.

Another word engraved in the building's stone was "Kullervo" which is the name of a character from the Kalevala who seduces a woman. Later when the woman realizes she is his sister she kills herself. That old chestnut.

So we were standing outside the building listening to our guide weave his tourist tales when some random man walks up and asks if we'd like to go inside. "Go inside a locked building with a strange man on my first day in the country when no one would probably miss us for days? Sure thing, mister!"

It got reaaal archy in there.

There were lots of cool sort of pagan symbols everywhere like foresty plants and animals.

It turned out the random dude wasn't just showing us around out of the kindness of his heart. He was doing a little marketing aimed at our guide, perhaps convincing him to bring people to the Jean Sibelius program they're running.  Sibelius' Wikipedia says that "He is widely recognized as his country's greatest composer and, through his music, is often credited with having helped Finland to develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia."

We watched a video about the life of the composer and listened to a guy practice some of the tunes. It was fun.

Being bald is so weird.

Listening to a guy play Jean Sibelius in a building with a Kalevala theme designed by Eliel Saarinen is essentially the Finnish equivalent to making love to a bald eagle named Apple Pie inside the Statue of Liberty.

Luckily the one Finnish word I learned is kiitos meaning thank you. It's like the second half of mosquitos.

Back on the street Emil was clearly excited about the experience. He said something like "what are the odds I'd be doing a tour with two people from St. Louis and get my first look inside a Saarinen building?" Right place, right time, right people.

We popped into a hotel that was cool just to look around. I can't remember if it had any additional significance.

Took a little stroll through Esplanadi Park.

Johan Ludvig Runeberg is the national poet of Finland. He wrote the lyrics to the Finnish National Anthem.

It was around this time that Emil told us that J. R. R. Tolkien was a fan of Finnish culture, and that his invented Elvish language included elements of Finnish.

At some point in our various conversations vikings came up. Emil made it clear that the Finns weren't Vikings. He told some story about how the Vikings came to raid a Finnish town and all of the Finns simply hid in the woods. When the Vikings were sufficiently fat and drunk from pillaging the Finns' stores, the Finns emerged from the woods and slaughtered them.

They also dealt with the Soviets in a similar matter. Maybe because it's such a harsh terrain that it makes sense to use it as a weapon? Anyway the Finns would coax Soviet tanks into narrow forest roads then cook the invaders inside with their famous Molotov cocktails. The name came from Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov's lie that bombing missions over Finland were actually airborne humanitarian food deliveries. The Finns sarcastically dubbed these "Molotov bread baskets" and so the "Molotov cocktails" were simply "a drink to go with the food".

Our guide had a funny story about the naked lady statue Havis Amanda. I guess some prudes were crying to the sculptor that this lady was too naked wah wah. So the sculptor lied and told them that she was a mermaid, not a lady. And apparently that made her being naked ok? Just goes to show that lying is always the answer.

Helsinki Cathedral. Helsingfors domkyrka, Storkyrkan.

Helsinki City Museum doesn't hold a candle to the St. Louis City Museum. Just saying.

I was very tempted to grab a reindeer antler bottle opener. Turns out I have about 30 bottle openers.

Government Palace

The Government Palace was where unindicted co-conspirator Donny Trump met with his boyfriend recently at the 2018 Russia–United States summit.

We did a quick walk through the Uspenski Cathedral.

Fun fact: on the back of the cathedral, there is a plaque commemorating Russian Emperor Alexander II, who was the sovereign of the Grand Duchy of Finland during the cathedral's construction.

Emil sat us down to have a snack at one point. It was an eclectic selection of items: chocolate, a package of cherry tomatoes, and this horrid salty black licorice. My first run-in with this torture food was in Amsterdam, so I can confirm that there are multiple European nations that hate their mouths. Anyone ever tries to make me eat these again I'm gonna Finnish him right then and there.

Next it was time for the main event: a Finnish Sauna at the Allas Sea Pool. Ooooh ahhh. Emil guided us through its mysteries. Saunas are a pretty big deal in Finland. I guess traditionally when they were building a house they would build the sauna first so that they could keep warm while waiting for the rest of the structure to be completed. Our guide said that sauna is the only Finnish loan word that we use in English.

The first part of this adventure was a trip to the locker room to get my swimtrunks on. There were quite a few naked children in there running around. One notable little naked person was singing "Let It Go" the whole time.

It turns out that I'm not crazy and that there was something fun and foreign going on in there. Not only are fathers guaranteed paternity leave but they are paid some sort of allowance as well. As a result you'll see real live men out in Finland with their children.

We paid $18 to rent two towels. We're not in Eastern Europe anymore!

The nearby Ferris wheel had a couple of wooden cars that stood out from the others. Emil said that they were little saunas!

I stole this picture of the sauna from the Allas website. So you can see the pile of molten hot rocks in the center of the room. You could lade water onto them to make steam to instantly make the room really hot. There was a sort of metal funnel that you could also pour the water into. According to my diligent research it's called a Löylynsielu which means "the soul of steam". Apparently this makes the steam "softer". I don't really know what that means but I did it because it sounded cool.

Right outside the door to the sauna was a roll of paper. You'd tear some off of this then sit on it inside.

We got hot in the sauna then went outside and jumped into the icy pools. We repeated this three times because Emil said it would make us cool. I guess it's common for families to have their own little sauna songs and Emil shared his with us. When you get to be a leathery, weathered old traveler like me sometimes the different countries start to bleed together in your memory but this was a really unique experience that I shan't soon be forgetting.

Emil was kind enough to show us some of the local snacks we should try at the nearby market square before we finally said our farewells.

We stopped at a little shop and sampled their exotic jams. They had jams made from all kinds of berries that I've never heard of. The cloudberries in particular were odd looking things.

They had whole fried vendace fish. They were yummy.

Reindeer burger? Yep.

Tasted like reindeers.

The market had netting over it in some parts to keep the sea birds out of the delicious foods below.

We did a lot of swimsuit air drying around town.

We did some postcard mailing.

There were always plenty of Roma people around panhandling or collecting bottles to recycle.

We popped into a mall McDonald's to see what weird stuff they had.

You know we had to order a McVegan.

Did a little clothes shopping. Pro tip: if you buy exotic looking clothes in other countries when people ask you where you got them you also get to talk about your vacation because technically they asked.

I wanted Lydia to buy this one but she wouldn't. We need way more clothes with tigers on them.

We were sort of killing time at this point. We investigated the Bank of Finland Museum.

This seemed to be a pregnant lady made out of shredded money. I don't know.

We peeked our heads into Temppeliaukio Church, which was built into solid rock.

Its level of rockiness did not disappoint.

As you can see there's just nothing to do in Finland. Time to leave. To the ships!

Our next ferry trip was a much more serious overnighter to Stockholm, Sweden.

Viking buffet on board so serious it required a map.

The room was acceptable. I quickly emptied the mini fridge of their crap and put in my own bottled treats.

Lydia needs every minute of my attention for every minute that she is awake, so me taking a nap is like her least favorite thing in the world.

They had a decent child cage on board.

We waved goodbye to the sauna Ferris wheel.

When it was time for the Viking Buffet it did not disappoint. There were lots of people elbowing for food and lots of weird things to eat.

They had four flavors of caviar.

I tried something called "seaweed caviar" which I assume is not real caviar. It was interesting.

I received my first hint that people around here might like herring when I laid eyes on the ten flavors of herring.

Cold smoked veal among some other cold meats.

Blood flatbread.

Had some fancy cheeses with honey on them for dessert. This was definitely not one of those "lose weight" trips.

The bars and the live music within were surprisingly decent.

I think these were the liferafts.

We woke up with a new country to explore. Hurray! Surely we won't get tired of this one in a few days.

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