Finland and Estonia

12 Oct

I arrived in Finland after spending the prior 4 weeks on the road in San Jose Costa Rica, Deerfield IL and Puebla and Mexico City Mexico. When I landed in Amsterdam after my first leg I quickly started rushing towards the gate and the nearest lounge. For some reason I thought I had a quick layover. When I got to the KLM lounge I took a shower first thing which was fantastic! Little did I realize that I still had about 2.5 hours to kill before boarding to Helsinki aka HEL. While there were no beds in lounge I utilized the earplugs from the plane and napped with my phone alarm ready to go. Once on the flight I also quickly fell asleep and had a nice egg roll for breakfast where the stewardess asked me if I was going home! Ha apparently I look Finnish which I took as a huge compliment as all the Finnish people I met are massively attractive and very nice. Once safely in HEL, I headed to Avis to rent my car. Even though I had practiced my manual skills I thought it was probably best to stick to automatic. In the US that would typically mean a nearly powerless Chevy, Ford or Nissan of some sort, but everywhere else that means a BMW or some sort of nice European car with actual horsepower.

It took me a couple of days to get the hang of driving back and forth from downtown HEL to Espoo using the most direct route but I was determined to not have to rely on GPS. The first couple days I used google maps which was actually pretty hilarious because of how it phonetically pronounces every word. The first time I heard it I burst out laughing. “Turn right to exit at juvenmali juvenmalmen nippereri nippert” WHAT?! By the time it finished speaking I’d past the exit. Thankfully I got the hang of it without having to listen to google maps give me a mouthful every time I made a turn. I also had some very interesting experiences at the gym. Women wore make up and heavy perfume, and one even wore slippers on the elliptical machine. People don’t like to sweat and only spend about 3 to 5 minutes doing cardio. A guy next to me on the treadmill ate toast while he walked all of 2 mph and I was going full speed ahead trying not to sound like a beast.

Since I was working Finnish and partial US hours I didn’t get a change to take any organized tours, but every night I tried a new restaurant, mostly in the Kamppi area, all of which were fantastic, Sushibar + Wine (fabulous smoked scallop roll), Lappi (for traditional reindeer filet and whitebait roe), Putte’s Pizza and Bar (gourmet pizzas), and Bistro Kämp in the one and only spg property in Helsinki. On Friday I walked around as much as possible in order to get the “lay of the land” including walking through the Senate square and listening in on a free play, through the esplanade, and along the water.

Saturday morning I checked out of my ghetto Radisson and made my way to the Linda Line to catch the express ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. Apparently many Fins go to Estonia for the cheap alcohol, and nearly everyone started the libations as soon as they got on the ferry. I knew I was in the right place! Beer on the ferry goes for 4.90€ compared to 7€ at restaurants in Helsinki.

I met a nice couple on the ferry from Finland who hadn’t been to Tallinn in over 10 years. As a civil servant the older gentleman gets 6 weeks of vacation a year compared to the 4 weeks industries get. Wow! Once I got off the ferry I headed for the Radisson Blu Olumpia which was worlds better than the Radisson Blu Royal Helsinki, for one there was temperature control! And a fabulous view of Old Town. I then headed straight for Old town which was every bit as adorable as I had imagined. It was already late afternoon at that point and I was starving so I went to Olde Hansa, a “medieval” restaurant serving Elk and Bear and other traditional Estonian foods. I had a complementary schnapps shot, thanks to the hotels coupon, a .5 liter jug of dark honey beer and Elk filet, which was well worth the money. It was incredibly tender and came in a truffle mushroom sauce with juniper berries and spelt. After such a heavy meal I walked  all around to old town square, some souvenir shops and then to the key tourist sites, St. olaf’s church (where I paid 2€ and climbed the very steep narrow staircase to the top) and Aleksander Netsky cathedral through St Catherine’s pass. On my way back to the hotel I bought an A. Le. Coq Estonian beer to try because I couldn’t resist the name. While there was much more to see in Tallinn I decided to go for a good sauna, another thing the baltics, Nordics and Scandinavians are well known for.

Upon my return to Helsinki it was Restaurant Day! Four times a year anyone is welcome to open their own food stand and sell whatever they want. The movement started in Helsinki because of the incredible difficulty in opening a restaurant, but other cities have started to catch on. While I didn’t eat anything from the pop-up food stands, I did have some great rainbow trout during my walk through the esplanade at Kappeli, and a nice pistachio ice cream in the market square. I was tempted to buy an elk or moose rug but resisted the urge. It’s incredibly hard to buy winter items in the middle of summer.

On Tuesday, I treated myself to a three course dinner with wine pairing at Passio. The restaurant has very mixed reviews on trip advisor but that didn’t stop me and it was incredibly close to my hotel in Kampii. The first time I tried to go to this restaurant  the previous week, the kitchen was closed, and the second time they were fully booked. I’ll be damned, but I made a reservation for one on Monday. Come Tuesday, I strolled in there and proudly told the flamboyant maitre ‘d who had turned me down those two times before, “reservation for Sonya” and guess what? he showed me right to my seat without a word. Success! I was in! Except that then I proceeded to wait approximately 10 minutes for any sort of waiter to bring me water or a menu. Ah the joys of traveling as a solo female. The food ended up being fantastic and the three course menu was actually more or less a five course menu. The following day, my final meal in Helsinki was at the recommendation of the hotel, Ravintola Rivoli a French restaurant. I had the escargot and the toast skagen which is a traditional Nordic meal.

While it does tend to get a bit lonely eating dinner every night by yourself, my trip to Helsinki and Tallinn was truly enjoyable and I would love to go back at some point to really experience the northern lights and a reindeer farm. And while I don’t necessarily agree with the socialist economics that are rampant throughout Europe today, it’s always nice to see and learn about different cultures and ways of living. Some things I learned:
– maternity leave is paid for roughly one year
– everyone has 4-6 weeks of vacation and most of the country completely shuts down in July
– most people really take 9 to 5 very seriously

– there is not a lot of traffic
– awkward silence is not awkward
– quite a few people do this weird intake of breathe at the end of their sentences
– The cost of living is expensive

-tons of people are blonde. Like REALLY blonde. No bottle blondes (well maybe there are still some! see girl with makeup at the gym).
– everyone seems relatively happy, although when I told my coworkers Finland topped the list of happiest people on earth, they were shocked and couldn’t imagine why!

Smoked scallop roll

View of Old Town Tallinn from my hotel room

Reindeer at Lappi Ravintola 

One Response to “Finland and Estonia”

  1. Mairead Jennings November 5, 2015 at 6:10 PM #

    Hi Sonya Thank you for your well written and informative articles about your trips to Italy and Finland- Estonia.i have visited all of these places and you certainly brought back memories.Of course I didn’t climb Vesuvius but I was in the neighbourhood. I keep up with all your activities on Facebook and saw the beautiful pictures of Savannah London Patrick Fraley.She is gorgeous and we’ll all celebrate her arrival in STT in a few weeks time. We had a disappointing summer but we’ve had most pleasant temperatures these past few weeks.Except for the dark evenings we’ve had lost summer temperatures lately. I was in Spain for a week recently,weather was great and thankfully things are getting better out there.The Recession had a huge impact on the property market and Catriona and Jose had a tough few years.Things are moving again and there is an influx of buyers from Scandinavia,Russia and Great Britain.The English pound is very strong against the Euro–as is your American dollar–so the demand is there for apartments and villas. Tomorrow I’m going to Dublin.A friend and I are going on the train At 9.00am,going to lunch time recital in the National Concert Hall–Chopin–having a nice meal somewhere and home on some of the evening trains– free travel,it is great. Today I was in Enniskillen in Northern Ireland.I bring a friend there twice a year,so that’s the good deed done. I was in Dublin last week for my niece Aideen’s birthday.She was diagnosed with breast cancer lAst June and is having chemotherapy every third week.She had her fourth treatment a week ago and has to have two more,then radio therapy .She has lost most of her hair,but is in good spirits when the sickness after each treatment eases off. She is fifty four,her mother got cancer at forty eight and died eight years later.We all just hope and pray. I wasn’t on any long haul this yeR.The trip to Central America didn’t materialise– not enough signed on –I wasn’t disappointed,too many excursions to Mayan temples etc. I have been in an abundance of Cathedrals,Buddhist Temples,Hindu Shrines,more than enough for an auld one like me. I have an early start in the morning,and had better get a reasonably early night.I burn the midnight oil abs seldom see the bed before midnight.So what,I don’t have to get up for work or early morning activities Hope that James is in great form and looking forward to the matrimonial activities in 2016. I must send an email to Bob and Nadine soon, I sent a short congratulatory email to Pat on the arrival of Savannah.I’m so happy for the Fraleys, especially Will and Britton.They have their own beautiful little daughter and her sisters will just adore her. See you in a few weeks.I have lots of items for repair,so trips to Charlotte Amalie are necessary.No problem,I’d be going in anyway-how’s that for grammar?? Love to all. Mairead

    Sent from my iPad


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