Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sick with the flu in Finland

I had been looking forward to this part of our trip ever since we left the U.S., as I couldn't wait to see my friends. I had traveled to Helsinki before, on business, when I worked for Nokia but by then I had already formed a close bond with most of my colleagues because of our daily chats either on the phone or via video conference. Of course, it was impossible to see everyone during this brief visit. Thankfully, my friends stepped up to the challenge and organized a wonderful dinner party for Greg & I.
Temppeliaukio Church
Our one day to sightsee in Helsinki turned out to be very wet so we had to don full rain gear as we waited for a bus from the ferry terminal to the main train station where we could stow our luggage. Free of all encumberments, we used our Rick Steves Scandinavia guidebook's self-guided walking tour to navigate our way around the city on foot. I actually did most of the walk from memory as it was too wet to have the book out very often.
Nikki Mondschein, Irmeli Millner, me, Eija Laine, Marjut Saastamoinen at Farang
Exhausted from my continuing illness, we stopped for a beer at Hemingway Bar before meeting up with my friends at Farang, one of the top-rated restaurants in Helsinki. They had arranged for us to have the 8-course tasting menu, a fantastic and stress-free way to experience the amazing culinary talents of the chef and his take on Southeast Asian cuisine. The meal was blow-your-mind delicious and, coupled with bottles of Alsatian Fleur de Lotus wine and the company of dear friends, the evening was truly magical. It was quite late when we said our heartfelt goodbyes and left the restaurant and, after retrieving our luggage from the train station, piled into my friend Eija's car for the one hour drive to her converted schoolhouse home in Tausta.
Eijalandia, on Eija & Vesku's property in Tausta, Finland
After a good night's sleep in our cozy cabin, nicknamed "Eijalandia," I woke up still sick, now compounded by bronchitis. We relaxed and chatted with Eija's partner, Vesku, an extremely talented artist (of every imaginable medium) and musician while Eija cooked us a delicious lunch of smoked salmon & forest mushroom casserole and baked salmon & crayfish salad. Wanting to show us one of her favorite places, we drove about 20 minutes to a shop called Kasvihuoneilmio which translates to something like "Greenhouse Phenomenon," an appropriate name for the wonderful hodgepodge of arts, crafts, home & garden decor and much, much more that we happily browsed for more than an hour. Driving back through the beautiful Finnish countryside, we stopped briefly at an old farmhouse-cum-conference center where Eija once worked as a cook & waitress. I even managed to pet a sheep; they're very skittish, not at all like my mom's pet goats who come running when you pull in the driveway!
sheep at Myllyniemi farm
Back at home, Eija prepared us a traditional Finnish sauna (pronounced SOW-nah) -- using wood, not electricity -- and Greg & I luxuriated in it's warmth for over an hour. Unfortunately it did nothing to help my illness and I went to bed feeling quite horrible, with sinus congestion and a deep cough. I was sick enough the following day that I actually stayed in bed half of the day but perked up when Eija gave me a eucalyptus/menthol drink (Finrexin) and cooked us another delicious meal, this time a wonderful tasting menu of Finland including fried herring in vinegar, a local specialty pork & potato sausage, potatoes & mushrooms, beets, lingonberries, cheese with cloudberries, and a zucchini & pear meringue pie. YUM!
a beautiful afternoon in Fiskars
On Sunday I felt well enough to go for another drive, this time about one hour away, to Fiskars. Not realizing it until we arrived at the village, I have a personal connection to this tiny town. While I was growing up, my mom made her living as a seamstress and, of course, had multiple pairs of orange-handled Fiskars scissors. To earn a little spending money I often helped her in the sewing room. Little did I know that one day I would visit the place where her scissors originated!
at the Fiskars factory store
Besides scissors, the Fiskars Village is now a vibrant arts & crafts community, something dear to Eija's heart as she herself is a brilliant artist (weaving, knitting & jewelry are just a few of her talents). One of my favorite shops was the littala factory store, a company that makes porcelain. I particularly loved their blue owl design. After further wandering around the scenic river-side town, we treated Eija & Vesku to a nice meal at Martina Restaurant in Lohja, then returned home and stayed up chatting for another few hours since it was our last night in Finland.
Tausta sunset
The following day Vesku drove us to a bus stop along the motorway where we only had to stand about 10 minutes until the Express Bus to Turku arrived. The driver seemed surprised to see us (we had not booked tickets in advance), not least of all because we were obviously not Finnish. It rained off & on throughout the 1.5 hour drive. We caught a local bus from the Turku bus station to the harbor then checked in for our overnight cruise to Stockholm and stowed our luggage in a large locker.
Turku Cathedral
After catching another bus back into the city center, we explored Turku Cathedral, mother church of the Lutheran Church of Finland and the country's national shrine. We then ate a tasty & filling budget meal at Milan Kebab Pizzeria, which offers a Northern European spin on Middle Eastern comfort food: my gyro meat was served over mashed potatoes with blue cheese crumbles and topped with some type of French dressing. Finally, after strolling the pedestrian-only shopping street, we settled in for a microbrew at Koulu Brewery before returning to the harbor to board the ship.
the Finnish version of a kebab platter
For such a civilized country as Finland, the boarding process for Tallink Silja's M/S Europa was more like a cattle call. They literally herded all of the hundreds of passengers, in no particular order, first through two narrow lanes for scanning our boarding passes, into a large and very crowded room, then through a tiny doorway and up multiple flights of stairs to the ship. Exhausted by the effort and still recovering from my illness, I didn't even bother to explore the ship; I just took a shower and climbed onto my top bunk and tried to get some sleep.
the calm before the boarding chaos
I want to end this post on a positive note and mention that despite being sick the entire five days we were in Finland, I still had a wonderful time. This is 100% due to the generosity of my friends and especially to the hospitality bestowed on us by Eija & Vesku. This was the first time during our honeymoon trip that we actually "couchsurfed" and we thoroughly enjoyed getting a more personal glimpse of life in this part of the world. We are already looking forward to catching up with more friends in the weeks to come!

The link to all of my Finland photos is embedded in this post's title.

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