Sep 162011
Click here to see this and other images of Helsinki

Veera in her apartment

How wonderful to see Veera! We have spent the past couple of  days catching up on what is new in our lives, talking about the camino that we  did together, talking about what camino we each would like to do in the future,  sipping licorice and mint tea, and exploring Helsinki. Veera is in a practical nursing program and is in the 2nd of her 3 required internships. She  is currently working with psycho-geriatric patients and it is interesting  listening to her observations about learning to recognize as individuals the 22
people on her ward.

Helsinki is not such a big city, and the architecture is on  the whole very basic and functional. It is not particularly charming, it is not  quaint, but I like it very much. It feels comfortable, and lived in. It is much  larger and more sophisticated, but it reminds me a lot of Olympia. Like Oly it lies between the sea and a lake.  My  first walk was around the Helsinki equivalent of Capitol Lake and into downtown! There are posters tacked to almost all shop doors announcing a wide range of types of theater, art, exhibits and music or performance  events which also give me an Olympia-like sense of make-it-yourself community.

Today Veera and I went to the indoor market where multiple  vendors sold fish, meat, vegetables and bread on the ground floor and clothes,  buttons, hats, collectibles on the 2nd. Lots of salmon! Smoked, salted, fresh. As well as reindeer jerky, smoked eels. Many stalls sold bones and fish-heads for making soups.

Many  signs are in both of Finland’s official languages, Finnish and Swedish. (And many include a 3rd – English). Compared to Finnish, Swedish looks almost familiar.
I’ve managed to absorb only two words – “Hei” for hello, and ”kiitos”  for thank you. Well, I guess I also know that “lohi” is salmon and “katu” is street. And that words ending in “n” are often possessives unless they end in “ton” which adds the meaning “isn’t there” to word  as in “less” in English –endless, limitless, etc.. Don’t think I’m going to even master a sentence on this trip!
But I’ve yet bump into anyone who didn’t immediately speak to me in English.

After the market we wandered down to the waterfront. Past couple of large beautiful churches and down a steep flight of stairs
overlooking the Senaatintori (the huge public “Senate Square”). Through an old building divided into small specialty shops, down a narrow alley and finally to the harbor.

There were a couple of huge cruise ships at the docks (much too large to ever dock in Olympia!), and out on the water a couple of tall sailing ships.

Along the quai there are market stalls set up every day, selling items similar to what you might find at Harbor Days – mostly crafts, art, tourist items. There was one cart of fresh peas. I walked away with a lovely little book on “The Best of Helsinki”. Watercolors and brief text describe a variety of places and things to do in Helsinki. It was the watercolor illustrations that hooked me.

We then took a ferry to Suomenlinna. (Suomi is “Finland” and “linna” is castle in Finnish.). This World Heritage site is an amazing
fortification on 6 linked islands that was once used to protect the Helsinki Harbor. The fortifications rivaled Ponferrada for feeling like a “real” fort.
There are huge stone, grass topped walls enclosing a variety of buildings that include museums, restaurants, grassy lawns, the oldest still working dry dock in Scandinavia. There is also a small group of permanent residents, including those who live in un-typical wooden houses built at the time the Russians had control of Finland. (Finland got its independence from Russia in 1917.) Mostly there is a wonderful maze of buildings to wander through, arches/gates/drawbridges that lead to walks along the rocky coast, views of downtown Helsinki.

Lovely light with the beginning of sunset as we took the ferry back to town. We then walked back to Veera’s apartment for more tea, and Veera is working on finishing an assignment before returning to work tomorrow.

Moving most of the day at a nice relaxed pace. Great way to get oriented and adjust to the time change.

Another way Helsinki reminds me of Olympia; it is surrounded by huge natural areas – especially huge dark forests that stretch for miles. I suspect mostly firs, but there were also patches of deciduous trees – which because of their clean white bark I took to be birches. A noticeable difference is how most of the houses –including farmhouses – stay nestled in the forest. Trees were only cut away for the fields (this became less true as my plane approached Helsinki.)

PS Food

Veera took me to a Finnish restaurant for lunch yesterday where I had traditional salmon chowder (more shades of Olympia) – salmon, potatoes in milk flavored with dill. Huge bowl, and perfect for a cool and overcast day threatening rain. Yummy. Meal came with a salad bar – dill variations on potato salad and pasta salad and green salad.

She’s also introduced me to a slipper shaped non-sweet pastry called Karjalanplirakka (the cards say Karelian pastries in English). The slipper crust is made with rye flour. The insides are rice perhaps mixed with something else  – yesterday we had rice mixed with carrots for breakfast. I like them, so today while waiting for my flight to Berlin I ordered one to go with my cappuccino. The waitress asked me if I wanted egg butter to go with it. Willing to try anything I said yes. She squeezed it out of what looked like a large frosting  tube. It proved to be something very similar to the chopped egg in chopped egg sandwiches. It tasted great on the warm karjalanplirakka. To see a picture of my karjalanplirakka click the photo of Veera above. Using next scoll through the photos to the very last one.

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