Monday, June 16, 2014

Good times Helsinki

With Maya at Maya Latin American Bar & Grill
Due to the tense political situation in and around Russia, Dave and I decided to meet my parents in Helsinki, Finland this year. A brisk two-hour ride on the high speed rail conveniently connects Helsinki to St. Petersburg. Alternatively, it takes about five to six hours to traverse the distance by car. Dave and I flew to Helsinki from Marburg (via Frankfurt airport), while my parents with my aunt Maya rode the train.

The geographical proximity makes Finland the number one tourist and transit destination for St. Petersburgians. Finnish visas are fairly easy to get, and many Russians come here to shop, to ski and vacation on various nature resorts, to take budget flights to destinations elsewhere in Europe and around the world. Once Dave and I announced our travel plans to friends and family members in Russia, several found they could join us here for anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days. Another considerable attraction of Helsinki as a meeting point was that our friends Olga and Ron live here, and having passed an unforgettable New Year's Eve together, we looked forward to spending more time with them this summer. They helped us a great deal with making complex hotel arrangements and restaurant reservations for groups of fifteen to eighteen people.

Olga, Ron, Vadik, Lena, Tanya, and Vanya at Elite Restaurant
Family selfie :)
For nearly seven centuries Finland belonged to the Swedish Empire, from the 12th Century until 1809, when the Russian Empire won the war against the Swedes and took it over. After the Bolshevik revolution, Finland proclaimed its independence and managed to defend itself in the ensuing civil war. A considerable part of Finland's population is Swedish, and Swedish is considered a national language on par with Finnish. All the signs at museums and on maps are labeled in the two languages, and sometimes also in English and Russian. According to Ron, a Swedish-speaking Finn himself, the presence of Swedish is most felt in Helsinki: traditionally, Finns were an agrarian people who preferred to live off the land and the sea, and the Swedes and the Russians built forts and cities. In the past fifty or so years, the dynamic has changed, and today Helsinki's predominant population is Finnish.

Aunt Anya with tablet and lily pads

Dave blogs here about our experiences in Finland through its food culture.

With Lena, toasting Olga's birthday
Helsinki (Helsingfors in Swedish) itself is by far the largest city in Finland, with over 600,000 residents--similar to Frankfurt and a little smaller than San Francisco. It's located directly on the coast of the Baltic sea, though sheltered from the open waters by the massive archipelago of more than three hundred islands. Large cruise ships, ferry boats, pleasure and fishing craft, ice breakers come in directly to the city harbor. One of these days, if it stops raining for long enough, Dave and I are hoping to rent bicycles and ride along the coast--a journey that could last from a couple of hours to a few days and maybe weeks. On Sunday, in honor of Olga's birthday, we did have an opportunity to take a ferry ride to one of the islands for brunch at a newly opened restaurant. The Baltic is a famously moody sea. On the way back, a strong wave pushed our boat against the landing, and a low-hanging log cracked a window of the lower deck. Luckily, the window was made of safety glass and as it broke down into shards, the two women sitting beside it escaped unscathed, rescuing their bags and sodas (protected by lids) from under the glass. 

1 comment:

  1. Rescuing their sodas from under the glass, ha ha ha! Nice to learn about Helsinki, and glad the trip is working out!