Monday, July 21, 2014

Finland - The Land of the Umlaut


July 4th - July 11th. Since Michael and I play a lot of Scrabble I often wonder what the tile make up might be in the various countries we've visited. In Finland it is the rare word that doesn't have  duplicate letters and a healthy sprinkle of umlauts. Google tells me the word with the most umlauts is: kääntääjää (Finnish for translator). So you must get extra tiles with ä, ö and ü along with more j and h tiles or there would be no Bingo for you! More on the hard working umlaut can be found here:
 http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=umlaut

I wouldn't mind some "hardcore" punctuation in our daily correspondence.
As we wind down our year of Senior Nomadic adventures we've picked up the pace with shorter stays in  more cities. We flew from Oslo to spend a week in Helsinki, Finland. As expected, the Oslo airport was not only beautiful, functional and people friendly - we had the smoothest security clearance of the whole trip. When you were done you were asked to take a "smiley" button survey to rate your experience. Take a tip TSA - happy people beget happy people.

There are many places I would like to take this simple one-touch survey .
Riitta, our Helsinki host picked us up at the airport. Always much appreciated - however Riitta's car had a manual transmission and she seemed to know very little about how it operates. It made for a wild and crazy ride especially for Michael sitting in the front seat. It was all he could do not to have her pull over and let him drive! Fortunately we arrived safely and found the apartment to be one of the more interesting of our apartments so far. Here's the link: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2302108
The snow boot scraper, a standard fixture in every entryway wasn't necessary in July.
This interactive sculpture was just around the corner. You could sing into the pipes or tap them to make hundreds of different sounds.
Around the corner the other way from our house - a sunny beach side promenade
You may have seen that airbnb recently changed their logo and updated their interactive experience. We are big, big fans of airbnb as you know. After staying in 29 different apartments in 12 months  (with three more to go) we have only positive things to say about this amazing peer-to-peer community. Without airbnb this trip would not have been possible from a cost standpoint. But that aside, staying in peoples homes all over Europe made this a cultural experience that would not have been so impactful any other way. Here's a link to Thomas Friedman's column about airbnb in lastSunday's International New York Times: http://tinyurl.com/oteovgw Give it a try next time you are on the road!

There wasn't a television in our flat, and normally that wouldn't disappoint us, but we had become World Cup addicts and now we weren't sure how to get our fix. Michael did some quick research on pubs that were showing the match so we headed into the city. It was the Germany v France quarter final and it brought out the many German fans living in Helsinki so every bar was full. Even a venue called The Sports Academy that can accommodate 1,000 people on two floors was standing room only! That's where we squeezed in and it was fun, but my fellow France fans and I were very much lost in the crowd.
Watching the World Cup match with 1,000 of our closest friends!
Our host had an LCD projector set up to watch movies from the Internet on a white wall so we were able to stream the other matches from the local television station website and create our own Sports Pub. That was a good thing since some of the matches went until 2:00 am our time.
Michael setting up the LCD so we could watch the World Cup at home.
Not shown - beer, peanuts and a Backgammon game in progress.
Our Helsinki apartment was in a great location. We were minutes from large open parks, the beach side home of the famous Regatta Cafe (where they pay YOU five cents when you refill your coffee) and we were close to the tram line that beelined to the center of the city.

The delightful Regatta Cafe. Great pastries and coffee and a fire pit for roasting your own sausages.
The free walking tour took us all around the city, which is very walkable indeed. The Russian influence became more apparent in its influence on history, culture, architecture and lifestyle as we went along. Hanna was our guide and she was adorable in her fuzzy reindeer hat and I 'heart' Finland t-shirt. She was very proud of her country and as enthusiastic as any of the young guides we've had.

Our tour guide Hanna pointing out the entire bay behind her freezes solid in winter and you can safely walk on it!
I spent a great day at Helsinki's huge market. During the summer there are dozens of produce stalls outside the year-round market hall. I continued to shop mostly with my eyes, since we can't pack anything else, and we are on short hops now, so buying ingredients for cooking is also limited. I made up for it with a steaming bowl of market-fresh Bouillabaisse for lunch. It was brimming with shrimp, mussels and a Finnish twist of smoked salmon. Delicious!

We've been eating just picked berries for weeks!
From the fish monger to my bowl of Bouillabaisse - it doesn't get any fresher!
The indoor Market Hall in Helsinki
I found a natural food and drug store in the market similar to PCC. In keeping with the "If we can't eat or drink it don't buy it" mantra, I decided dying my hair sort of fell into that category since there wasn't anything left over after the fact. So I dyed my ever longer head of curls Strawberry Blonde. The dye was made from all natural ingredients including coffee, chamomile, ground roots, essences of things I cannot pronounce and a dash of Henna. How bad could it be? I mixed the large packet of powder with boiling water until I had a murky swamp green goo that smelled like a bag of pre-mixed salad gone very bad. And I actually smeared this on my head. The results were not bad - but I would say the color is more satsuma blonde than strawberry. I am counting on it fading before I get home, as well as it being trimmed away when I finally get to Coupe Rokei for a much needed cut. I've only had three haircuts in a year!

There was great vintage shopping in Helsinki - I hoped to find some affordable Marimekko but no such luck.
If fur grew on sustainable trees instead of adorable animals I would wear it head to toe!
We celebrated Senior Nomad Day 365 while in Helsinki! We found a little waterside bistro and started with a champagne toast - but when the glasses arrived and contained a scant 1/4 cup of bubbly for $10 and nothing but expensive and uninteresting choices on the menu, we made our excuses and dashed away to find something more affordable and enjoyable. We ended up at a Sushi Bar - Michael's first ever!

On our last day we took a two mile walk to Seurasaari Island. It was a perfect summer day and a lovely journey. The island has an "living" museum made of collection of salvaged wooden houses, a farm, a windmill and a church with volunteers in period costume showing what life was like in rural Finland during the late 19th century. There was also a nude beach that was tastefully fenced off for privacy. For just 3 euro you could experience the national affinity for the naturist lifestyle. Tempting ... but not today. We found a bench in the sun with a view to the sea and settled in for some reading time and a picnic.

Houses nestled on the nearby coastal islands.

One of the old restored houses on Seurasaari Island.
A peek at the past instead of the nudists.
The next morning we were off to take a Ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. Being one not to waste food, Michael took it for the team and had the leftover spaghetti and an ice cream bar for breakfast on our way out the door!

We are so excited about our last two weeks. We will be in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania learning more about their recent history and The Signing Revolution! We'll see you there.

The Viking Line ferry from Helsinki was our first travel by sea.

Debbie and Michael,
Senior Nomads 







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