I (Isabel) had been in Helsinki once many many years ago with my good friend Floriana. Back then the weather was not really in our favour, so we spent most of the long weekend thinking if we could get a visa to get to Sant Petersburg and when we were convinced that this would be too cumbersome, we just rented a car, drove somewhere up north and spent a good amount of time in the sauna of a farm / bed and breakfast that we found along the way. This time around the city gives a totally different impression. The weather is mild, sunny cloudy, it´s almost like one can feel in the air the spring transitioning to the summer. The city is so alive, as if multiplying its energy to use to the maximum every minute of good weather. There are open air concerts, hockey matches in the squares and errr… a Brazilian carnival parading the streets, shaking colourful feathers in the air. Yes, this is unexpected. Also because many of the people watching, seem to perfectly embrace the rhythm of the music and dance away, like there´s no tomorrow. Good for them.
Honestly it is also unexpected to find, literally “The most unusual cucumber shop”, where after chatting somewhat disconcertingly with a man dressed like a kind of old fashioned English gentleman, we get two cucumbers perfectly wrapped and perfectly in synch with our horoscopes, according to the man. The whole thing is so bizarre that Christian and I look at ourselves in disbelief as if to check that we are still in Helsinki, in a small shop near the harbour, and that we have not jumped into some sort of parallel dimension. The man has a laugh and confesses that it is a place to secretly promote a famous Scottish Gin, since the Finnish law does not allow for direct promotion of alcohol.
One does not expect to find either a Californian Godspell choir rehearsing in a church dug out of a giant solid rock. It turns out to be as magical as unexpected and makes me want to go back to sing again.
Continuing with the unexpected, one does definitively not expect to find an old Fiat 500 promoting Moritz beer, which is the quintessential beer from Barcelona. I wonder if the little old car will be a sort of spacial machine that would beam me up to Barcelona, if I open one of the doors and sit down on the steering wheel.
What is not so unexpected is that we spend a fantastic day with our friend Juoni, native Helsinkian, who apart from showing us some of the highlights of the city, takes us to places which I am sure are not so frequented by tourists and also gives us lots of history and geography notes and two comic books about Finnish idiosyncrasies, very funny. It´s a very complete day full of gorgeous Art-Nouveau and 19th Century architecture
a fortress from the 18th century
mixed with cutting edge design.
Lots of walking, trips by boat and trips by tram and a little excursion to the very waterfall where the city was founded. All rounded up with dinner and drinks – Thank you Juoni!
Next stop is Porvoo, which claims to be the oldest town in Finland. It is actually quite cute, even if a tad touristic. This is maybe why we see plenty of American folks, walking in flocks with different numbers. I think they must come from a cruise ship. Aside of that, the town has quite a good supermarket, so we stock up in groceries, a nice old train station, a cute harbour, which is pretty in the evening light and a couple of cobbled streets, adorned with antique shops in wooden houses, which are pleasant to browse.
From there it is quite a drive to Lappeenranta, which is next to the Russian border, and it is merely a scale to break the long drive to our next point further north. However is next to a nice lake, it has a nice fortress and also 2 unexpected things happen. In the random spot that we choose to spend the night next to the lake, we meet an older Dutch couple that also travels in a camper van. We have not mentioned them before, but this is the third time we meet them in our trip to Finland. Don’t know their names and don’t have their photos, but they are quite friendly and every time we meet, we tell each other the places we have visited since we met last time, the places where we did our laundry, etc. Also unexpected, next to the harbour they are building a giant sand castle and part of it represents the famous Gaudí houses, Casa Batlló and La Pedrera.