Last weekend I took a cruise to Finland. Go ahead and chuckle now. Yes, some of the sea was actually frozen. But, for Scandinavians, a winter cruise is an opportunity to get cozy with friends and booze in a little floating city where the gentle rocking of the floor makes revelers as tipsy as the tax-free liquor. Karaoke is a staple activity. After watching in amusement a succession of old men perform slow, sad Finnish standards I got up and belted out “Roxanne”. It was my first time on a karaoke stage and it felt surprisingly good, despite the lack of alcohol in my system (I rarely drink unless I’m offered a complimentary gin and tonic).
A boat trip from Stockholm to Helsinki also brings the chance of meeting some intriguing stranger from your neighbor country. One fellow in our group, Jasper, hooked up with a Finnish gal at the ship discotheque and ended up spending the day in her Helsinki flat when we arrived. Woo. Memories of “The Love Boat” were immediately brought to mind.
The rest of us explored the city. Jen and I lost the group when they walked out onto shore and promptly evaporated into the icy air. After puzzling over their disappearance for a few moments (we only regretted losing Erin) we ventured out on our own. Jen was the ideal traveling companion: positive and curious, enamored with little things like funny Finnish hats and funky Finnish architecture, excited about things as simple as an old baby carriage. Armed with only a small map and warm clothes, we conjured a makeshift walking tour of Helsinki and felt genuinely fortunate to see:
- ice skating at the foot of a tall church,
- an unusually happy little girl wearing a tutu over her winter clothes — she looked us each in the eye and smiled wide as she skipped by,
- gobs of nice signs 1 / 2 / 3,
- an illustration exhibit at the Helsinki Design Museum — the beautiful examples of lettering and children’s book illustrations from the ’30s–’50s were tops,
- a white, white cathedral next to a white sky,
- We Got Beef,
- an outdoor market where Jen found the Finnish licorice she was seeking — she pointed at the bin of individually wrapped candies and said to the vendor in unassuming tone: “I want some”.
More pics with commentary at Jen’s place.