The Shire

Friday, November 14, 2008

We had breakfast at the hostel and had the rest of the day to explore the city. I honestly think that we could walk from one end of Helsinki to the other in under ½ and hour. The city was tiny but had a great tram system. There are only 500,000 people living in the city versus the 6 million in St. Petersburg so everything seem much less claustrophobic. There were also much less traffic and more bike riders in the city. Down by the docks was a small market. During the summer it is probably huge however it’s getting colder now and there were only a few stands set up.

After looking around there for a while we decided to hop on a ferry and take a trip out to the Sea Fortress Island off the coast. I have to say that this was, by far, my favorite part of this trip. The fortress was set up on two islands and it was a completely self guided tour. There were a few signs to let you know which direction was the ferry dock, however that was the only guidance we had. We could wander around all the old caves that were used as the fortress. Everything was pitch black and just like it would have been at the time the fort was used. A flashlight would have been helpful but we ended up using the flashes on our cameras to light up the tunnels so we didn’t trip on the rocks and winding passages. It was amazing. I felt like I was in the Goonies, traveling through all these crazy tunnels. I’m glad we went in the fall because I feel like in the summer it probably gets very crowded and it would have really ruined the fun of it if there were people all over the place. There were very few other people there at the same time as us. After the tunnels we came to a place that we like to call the Shire. It really looked like we stumbled into a Lord of the Rings book. From the top of the “hobbit houses” you could get a beautiful view of the Baltic Sea. There was no one there to yell at us for doing anything and we were having as much fun as a bunch of 7 year olds without adult supervision. We ended up jumping out one of the windows of the fort to reach a lighthouse on the rocks (Forbidden in Finnish is something like Forbiidden but we just pretended to not understand). 

It’s amazing how trusting the Finnish people are. They are a socialist country and pay 22% tax on almost everything so they very rarely checked tickets on the tram ride and, after spending 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get a ticket for the ferry, they didn’t even collect that. It is very different from Russia where they distrust everyone even when you can prove you are doing everything by the rules.

After returning from the island we ate at a small café and later when to dinner at Chico’s which is an American style restaurant. We only went there because we read somewhere that they had a peanut butter chicken dish and pepperoni quesadillas that we all agreed we needed to try. Unfortunately they did not. I did have a barbecue cheeseburger however. It was awesome. After that we did some shopping at H&M where we ran into basically everyone else from our trip. This weekend was not so much a trip to experience a new culture… it was more a weekend to regain our sanity and see civilization again to get us through this last month in Russia.

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