January 28, 2018


We were incredibly fortunate to visit so many places over the summer. After each port, one question we continued to ask each other was, "Which country has been your favorite so far?". Given our short stops, we could never make a fair assessment. How do you choose between Stockholm and Helsinki when you only spent 5 hours in Helsinki? If given the opportunity once again, there's no doubt I'd choose to visit both in a heartbeat.

Our short time in Finland left me with the impression that Helsinki's a small city of well-educated, multilingual artisans. We stopped into store after store, where I goggled over the charming doodles and postcards. Helsinki's freezing and not cheap, mind you, but the people are so very kind, friendly, and happy to help.

A few hours into our visit, we got off the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus for "Church in the Rock", but the church was nowhere in sight from the stop. As we tried to match landmarks on our map to our surroundings, a bicyclist zoomed by, saying, "It's over there!", and pointing Wilson in the direction of the church without us having to initiate a conversation. I hate to say this, but I don't think most New Yorkers would do that for the common tourist.

I was equally as humbled each time I pulled my camera out to take a photo - Finns don't duck down or walk right through... They wait for you to finish taking a photo before passing through!! (And not in a hurried, rude way, either.) Aren't they the sweetest? Don't you want to live there??

Later that morning, Wilson and I stayed back to explore a comic book store while my parents trekked ahead. We met the store owner, and in perfect English, he explained who The Moomins were - I'd seen Tove Jansson's characters throughout Sweden and Finland (later in Denmark, too), and was smitten.

The last little memory I'll share is the image of two chefs at a food festival. We wandered into an outdoor market whose festival featured demonstrations by chefs. As my brother and dad ate salmon (and sampled bear meat - "wild caught", guys), Mom and I wandered around the stands, admiring the pastries, reindeer sausages, and flax crackers. It's no secret that I love taking photos of strangers when they're not looking (oops, that sounds a little too creepy) - I just love the spontaneity and "in the moment" story that's captured. I lifted my camera to capture the chefs as they joked with one another. One spotted me and gave me the biggest grin. She nudged her nearest chef buddy and told him to smile (he didn't know where to smile, despite her pointing to my camera). Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for that photo later in this blogpost ;-)

I think I've sufficiently charmed you with enough stories (but if you need more reasons to love Finland, check out this list.) Here's to Lapland, home to Father Christmas, Angry Birds, and Sibellius. Oh, Finlandia, you are so wonderful!
Sibelius Monument and Park - the only place we could visit before 10 am
Some of my most cinematic shots (or what I like to think as cinematic) were filmed in Helsinki! If you watched my "Sailing the Baltic with Royal Caribbean" video, you might recognize these moments. Missed it? Catch it here.
Church in the Rock
The bookstore where we learned about The Moomins'
Kiasma - Museum of Contemporary Art. Take time to stop by the gift shop - you won't be sorry you did!
Seeing these throughout Europe was a sobering reminder of our need to stand in solidarity with those who have no choice but to abandon their home in pursuit of safety. I can't imagine dropping everything I have and risking it all, let alone having to choose the lesser of two evils in these situations. 

Food market
I told you they were cute ;-)!
Reindeer sausage
Flax crackers. Don't knock'em until you try'em.
Ateneum - Museum of Finnish and International Art

The more commercial streets in Helsinki were tempting to visit, but we chose to stick to the big sights and taste (literally) local culture instead.
Helsinki Senate Square - lots of great boutiques and artisan goods
Helsinki Cathedral
Upsenski Cathedral - we just caught the tail end of a wedding!
Hakaniemi Market Square
The sweetest smelling berries that ever existed. If you give Rick Steves's podcast about Finland a listen, you'll hear about the forests and berries that make Finland sound like the setting of all of your childhood fairytales. 
The stand where I bought my treasured Finlandia journal
Helsinki is the place where many Scandinavians go to for holiday. I can see why.

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