I am on a ferry plowing across the Gulf of Finland. Helsinki, where I just spent the last day and a half, is behind me. Tallinn, the capital of Estonia and the gateway to the Baltics, lies a handful of nautical miles ahead of me.
Before I reach a point where I can see Tallinn off the bow of the ship I’ll take a few moments to look behind me to the country I just left.
I arrived in Helsinki on Saturday and checked into a beautiful room at the historic Hotel Kamp right on the Esplanade. The weather was gorgeous so my boyfriend and I took advantage of the sunshine and headed to the local outdoor market. A Finnish friend of mine from college recommended we go there to sample some of the fresh local berries.
Boxes of raspberries and blueberries in hand, we stopped at a crepe stand. The special of the day was a cloudberry crepe. Being adventurous but fearing that cloudberry was a clever euphemism for dried herring (they’ll get rid of all that excess herring any way they can, those tricky Finns!), we asked the staff what a cloudberry was. They held up a bucket of macerated yellow-orange berry mixture and gave us each a spoonful. Sweet but not too sweet, and with a bit of a tangy flavor, it was the perfect filling for a sugary crepe. We ate our fill and put cloudberries on our list of favorite Finnish foods.
From the market we walked to the Senate Square to see the sparkling white domed church, then down to Kaivopuisto, a pretty park on the water. From there we strolled through a neighborhood with beautiful old buildings and up around the ferry terminals in the west. We walked along Bulevardi back toward the main train station, a gorgeous, hulking Art Deco monolith, then headed up to the top of a hotel to drink up a cocktail while drinking in the views of Helsinki.
My friend from university recommended a Finnish restaurant called Lehtovaara, so we headed up there for dinner. Before the meal even started, we were won over by the dark rye bread, which joined the cloudberries on our list of Finnish favorites. The subsequent dishes of lightly salted smoked fish, duck and cloudberries with cream also impressed.
After dinner we went back to Esplanadi for drinks and dancing at Teatteri, which had an open-air bar on the top floor.
Yesterday we awoke to the sound of rain. I guess we should have expected inclement weather, being in Finland and all, but we couldn’t help feeling a little sad. We made the most of it, though, and spent the day indoors. We visited the Ateneum to see the paintings of the Finnish masters (yes, there are a few) and then walked up to the Aalto-designed Finlandia House concert hall on Toolonlahti. We rounded out the day by visiting the Temppeliaukion Kirkko, a modern church dug into a rock in the middle of a city block.
The weather growing colder, we spent the rest of our afternoon sitting in the beautiful library of our hotel drinking tea and hot chocolate and reading The Economist (for those who are having trouble relating to the utter bliss of such a scenario, just content yourself to know that this is my idea of a perfect rainy day).
To our pleasant surprise that evening, the front desk manager upgraded us to an enormous suite. They needed our room for a honeymooning couple that had requested it, and we were the unfortunate casualties of the decision to honor the couple’s wish.
The manager apologized profusely for the inconvenience of giving us such a ridiculously amazing room, and threw in a bottle of champagne (my boyfriend’s request) and a plate of fresh strawberries (mine), as well as a bag of chocolates and a set of L’Occitane body products to assuage our frayed nerves. After a quiet Sunday night dinner, we settled into our palatial sofa to watch a movie and give a champagne toast to the newlyweds.
This morning we woke up at the crack of 7:30 to be off to the ferry terminal for our journey to Tallinn, home of the quaintest Old Town in Europe and every British stag party (Americans, read: bachelor party) since the Czech crown started appreciating against the euro and sterling. I can just barely see land from the bow of the ship now, so I’ll take that as a sign to wrap this up and start planning my next adventure.