Our Baltic Trip 2016, Part 1 - Helsinki Posted on 18 Aug 08:27 , 0 comments

We will be posting some blog entries about our 2016 trip to Finland, Estonia and Latvia. This is Part 1, covering the beginning of our trip in Helsinki.

It was a right, fine flight to Reykjavik. Windy and wild on the runway when we landed and it turned out to be a very close connection. They even held the bus to the next plane for us. Icelandair's Saga Class is a winner! The food was great on the flight as were the movies. We watched “Spotlight” as our film and also checked off all the Icelandic films (some of which we had already seen at SIFF). I knit a LOT while flying, usually starting a new knitting project (generally a shawl) on the runway here in Seattle. One of the Icelandic flight attendants was very interested in my knitting (and the carbon fiber needles). She said that she always had socks on her needles when flying, waiting in her purse for when she had a few moments to fill. After making the close connection in Reykjavik, I found the flight  to Helsinki to be most frustrating for me. I was very tired, but not able to find a comfortable postion to sleep. Mike nodded off, but I wasn't as lucky and consequently was VERY groggy and grumpy by the time we landed.

We took a train (about half an hour) to the center of town. Our hotel was only a few blocks walk…but it was still a hassle burdened with bags and exhausted. It was rainy most of the time we were there, in fact, Mike took a walk and got DRENCHED. Fortunately, we were able to dry out his clothes and (most importantly) shoes on the heated floor of the bathroom. We had a great night’s sleep….on a memory foam bed with down comforters and down pillows at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel. In the morning, at breakfast, there was a shot glass at all of the settings. We wondered about that until a waitress came and filled our glass with our “health shot” for the day. I'm speculating that it was a refined form of cod liver oil (we sometimes take one at home, which has no relation to the stuff my grandmother used to give to me). It was tasty as was the breakfast.

The following day, before our ferry to Estonia, we walked through the Kaisaniemi Botanical Garden, a branch of the University of Helsinki, very close to our hotel. Some familiar plants, some not so much. One of the highlights was several stands of martagon lilies.


Martagon lilies at the Kaisaniemi Botanical Garden


There were birds that looked like magpies with ornate songs in the garden. They entertained us with long, complicated songs….apparently protecting their respective territories. One had the widow’s walk of the central conservatory as his own and he could be heard throughout the upper garden. Obviously a very strategic place. The botanical garden was the first place (many more to come) that I was bitten by a European mosquito on this trip (while sitting on a bench knitting in the pinetum).

An interesting felted beehive hung from a tree. It was shaped like an upside down pomegranate…with the entrances for the bees as little holes around the bottom plate. It was camouflaged with a mass of thin twigs gathered at the top. the description said that it’s purposely made as a hive that can’t be accessed by humans. This, so the bees have all the honey for themselves. I know that bees like straw because it is just the right temperature and insulates them well in the summer and the winter (hence the ancient art of straw skeps as bee homes). I would imagine the felt does the same. I think I shall make one or two for the “back 40” or for Coyote Ridge here at Edgewood Garden.

Felted beehive

Felted beehive "Bee Ark" in the botanical garden. Photo from http://melliferopolis.net/


The shopping areas of Helsinki were decked out in many imaginative potted flower arrays, something we subsequently found in many towns and cities in Estonia and Latvia.


Street flowers near the Helsinki central train station


We wandered through the shopping district and came upon an art installation in a small park, some enchanting polka dot tree clothes, an art installation by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. There were about a dozen clothed trees around the park plaza.

Dressed trees in Helsinki   

Dressed trees in a Helsinki park


It was threatening to rain, so we headed back to our hotel to pack up. After a terribly expensive taxi ride to the ferry, we walked the length of an airport to get to our ferry. It was a MASSIVE ship -- some of the ferries that run between Helsinki and Tallinn can carry over 3000 passengers! We’re used to our small Puget Sound ferries, so this was quite unexpected. The level on which we settled had a bar, a tech/office area, and even private rooms with bunks. We sat in the bar area and listened to a live band doing 1970’s country songs. The ferry was the place where I heard my first native Latvian speakers -- a small pack of nine to twelve year old boys were playing hide 'n’ seek, tag and laughing on the stairs. They were all wearing the same colors, so we speculated that they were on a school outing or had gone to some athletic competition. But, I was too shy about my Latvian to ask them, so never did find out.