July 14th, 2010


Helsinki 1

Fairly briefly, because I've been up just about forever--and it hasn't been night yet.

Finland is gorgeous.

We spent 7 hours in the air, between 8 and 9 hours in the plane, but life is like that, and has been ever since I've been traveling.  I used to fly through Helsinki with my parents, when you had to break flights to Europe either in Helsinki or Shannon because you couldn't get to London or Paris with out refueling.  I don't remember what Helsinki airport looked like in 1950-something, but it sure wasn't like it does now--all sleek and nicely laid-out and nice things to look at while you're walking from the gate to immigration.

We were met by Otto (I can't remember his last name, alas) and his wife Paula, who drove us to our hotel in downtown Helsinki.

There's no question that Helsinki is a city--it's got the population density, it's got the department store, it's got the park with the statues of historical worthies (I love it that they're all poets and artists), it's got ittala and Villeroy & Boche and Alain Mikli.  But there are very few buildings above three or four stories tall, and the architecture is (with a few notable exceptions, like the Brutalist complex on the East side of town) very homogeneous, very Belle Epoch, but in a clean, frou-frouless way.  Our hotel is lovely, Arts & Crafts meets Art Deco.  We're in the older section, which makes us happy, in a room with a painted frieze of oak leaves and acorns and a panel over the bed with a snail and a frog peeping through oak leaves.  The stair hall is painted with leaves and birds in rusts and greens, and there are art glass windows on the stair landings.  We're staying here again when we come back through Helsinki at the end of our trip, and I'm very glad.  One night is not long enough to spend here.

Once we'd wandered through the park and the street fair by the harbor, and bought fresh strawberries and green peas to snack on (raw) and had our post-journey nap, we showered and dressed and met our hosts and our fellow guests for dinner on a boat that cruised the archipelago for 2 hours.  It was a lovely evening.  The sun was bright, the breeze was welcome, the boat was comfortable, the food truly lovely.  Ellen and I had ordered assorted appetizer plates that included smoked reindeer (lean, smoky, delicious), smoked salmon, some kind of golden caviar, chopped onion, and something that tasted like sour cream.  She then ate reindeer steak (I tasted it--like venison, very flavorful, with lingonberry sauce).  I had salmon with some kind of green cream sauce--very light, very tasty.  It's strange and wonderful finding flavors I can't quite identify and know I'll never reproduce.  Like dessert:  bread cheese with cloudberry cream sauce.  Which was essentially toasted cheese curd with a sauce that was fruity and sweet and a little acid and not exactly like anything I've ever had before.  I liked it, lots.

And all the time we were eating, we were puttering gently through  islands, some of them uninhabited, some of them with little swimming houses built down at the edge of the gently curving rocks and white or red houses above, hiding in the ubiquitous pointy pines.  It reminded me of Maine, a little, up near Deer Isle where we go and stay with an old school friend from time to time--but broader, bigger, wilder somehow.  And having wonderful conversations with Pat Cadigan and Cheryl Morgan, who I've never spent as much time with as I'd like to before, and Ellen's Finnish translator Johanna Vainkainen-Uusitalo and our hosts Kati and Otto and Paula and Terko (I think--I'm getting a little vague around the edges).

Tomorrow we head off for Jyvaskyla, further inland, but still with lots of lakes.  I can't wait.  I'm liking Finland lots.

ETCorrect my spelling of Jyvaskyla, which needs two dots over the first "a", but I'm not up to figuring out how to do that.