Friday, October 19, 2007

Happy times in Helsinki

Eventually we arrived in Helsinki. And it was here that we would part ways. Some people were headed for the Russian part of their trip whilst the rest of us would be taking the cruise ship (affectionately dubbed “The Love Boat”) back to Denmark. But we couldn’t split without first farewelling our friends in style. What better place to do that than an Australian bar? Truly a fantastic night had by all, but most especially the girls who were able to get very cheap cocktails because apparently it was Ladies’ night. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that every night was Ladies Night. It never ceased to amaze me that I was sitting in a bar in the middle of Helsinki in Finland and I knew people. It sounds really stupid to write it now, but at the time I was fascinated that every time I turned around I knew someone. It wasn’t just in the bar (although when you are inebriated it does tend to become interesting to you) but even in the street. I would be walking down an “off the beaten track” street and happen upon a familiar face. Photo - Bridget and Vikki in the Aussie Bar in Helsinki.

Helsinki itself is more European than Scandinavian. A feeling that is echoed in the fact that they are members of the European Union and embraced the Euro as their currency instead of holding out like Norway, Sweden and Denmark with their Kroners. It may have something to do with the fact that poor Finland has been invaded and jostled about like the only child in a messy divorce. Between being taken over by Russia, commandeered by Norway and seized by Sweden at various points of time during history, you can hardly blame the country for having something of an identity crisis. They are also the only Scandinavian country to have done away with Kings and Queens so there would be no more palace visiting for me. Photo - The old Orthodox church in Helsinki.

I was surprised by the cosmopolitan feel of the harbour and squares that flank the marina area. The markets are old school, with elderly ladies selling crocheted doilies and silver merchants setting up shop next to the men who hung clothing made from furs and skins. But old school is not necessarily old. The ladies crocheting doilies were also selling intricately stitched headdresses for young girls to wear with their ball gowns or horse race attire. The silver merchants also carried items with swirling pearl designs and the fur traders had hung a sign saying that they also stocked faux items as well. I am a market freak, loving the experience of meandering up and down the haphazard aisles, soaking in more than the sights, smells and sounds but the history and general feel of the place. I am flying back to Helsinki in December and am eagerly anticipating a return to those wharf side markets. If nothing else than to smell the coffee from the little coffee stand that marks the centre of the small world that exists on that boardwalk. Photo - The boys in the Aussie Bar in Helsinki.

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