youre gonna break my heart, my achybreaky heart,
And I just dont think hell understand.
Cause if you break my heart, my achy-breaky heart"
These are probably the last lyrics in the world that I thought I would hear in the
bar/lounge of a multi-ton ferry crossing the Baltic Sea from Stockholm to Helsinki. But
there it was, not quite the same as the original that they play back home, but
not bad for a musician that probably didnt even know what the words meant, only how
to make the sounds along with the music. He even imitated that country twang as best he
could. Every once in a while, if you listened closely, you could tell that he had little
idea of what he was singing.
He only knew that this was a popular tune with the passengers
and if he made the sounds close enough, they probably wouldnt know the difference.
It seems that young Finish men were especially fond of this tune. A group of them, after
being turned down by a few different prospects of the female persuasion, began
cuttin the rug by themselves. Their dance was certainly uniquely Finish. Sort of a
cross between hopping and twisting their feet at the same time.
and I found this amusing scenario to be fairly representative of Helsinki, and from what
we could tell, Finland as well. With a few important exceptions such as landscape art and
poetry, Helsinki has little to call its own. Its warm and very friendly people have been
part of so many different empires, territories, and countries, that they sometimes
struggle to find things to lend them their own identity. More often than not, they easily
adopt things from others, change it slightly, and make it their own.
becoming the capital of the independent Republic of Finland in 1917, this city of 500,000
inhabitants has won over the respect of the international community for its emphasis on
high tech, research, and advanced education. A prime example of this is the city's
dedication to its museums and exhibitions such as the Museum of Applied Arts.
Our first morning, and I do mean morning, we arrived at 7:30 or
so, was spent looking for a hotel and then doing a little sight-seeing. One of the biggest
attractions of Helsinki is the Cathedral of the same name. Completed in 1852, and
currently being remodeled, its brilliantly white façade is simply magnificent in the full
A short walk up the street, and we make it to Uspensky
Cathedral, the biggest Orthodox church in all of Scandinavia.
Mid morning of both this, as well as the next day, was spent in the outdoor market by
in the harbor. Lined with stands offering fur hats and gloves, to cooked as well as fresh
fish, and everything in between, the market made a great venue for people watching and
taking in the local culture.
We also took the ferry over to the zoo, although
I have to admit, it was totally by mistake. Laura got us on the wrong boat (there were
only 2 we had a fifty-fifty chance) on our way to the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress.
The highlight of this part of the trip, however, was most definitely the trip to the
sauna. It seems that the Finish take a sauna before and after doing most anything. They
have these wonderful little rooms built into their clubs, homes, and even workplaces.
Well, Laura was bound and determined that we were going to partake in this long-time
Finish ritual. She managed to find, strictly by luck, one of the oldest and most colorful
sauna in the entire city. This sauna was very much off the beaten path, so much so, in
fact that none of those who worked there spoke any English. Undaunted, we found an easy
solution in having the desk clerk from our hotel call to arrange services and an
A few quick stops on the metro and we began searching for the little hole in the wall.
A friendly local took pity on our looks of confusion, and lead around the corner and up
the hill to the front door. Once inside, we said hello and tried to chat. The manager
called into the locker room, and a young man clad only in a towel appeared in the lobby to
translate for us. Laura was to be first with her massage. I was free to go in and enjoy
the sauna until my turn came, almost 30 minutes later. The young man who spoke English
then showed me the empty lockers, pointed in the direction of the sauna room, and asked
how in the world we managed to find this place. I explained to him the best I could,
Lauras sixth sense for discovering places like this one. He just shrugged and
smiled. Apparently they werent accustomed to tourist being there, but hey were open
and friendly to us nonetheless. I undressed by my locker, and pretty much played
follow-the-leader from there. First a rinse in the shower. Then fill a pail with water and
the into the sauna room I go. The concrete room was about 40 x 40 feet, and about 20 feet
high with two walls of 4-5 levels of 2 foot high stairs leading to the top level topped
with thin wooden planks. In one corner was a gigantic furnace pumping out heat from the
huge pile of lava hot rocks inside. I made my way up the stairs, pail in hand, to the very
top. There I took a seat without making so much as any eye contact with the half-dozen or
so other naked men sitting around me. They would engage in casual conversation (in Finish,
of course). One of them would occasionally beat himself against the chest and back with a
handful of leaves made in to a type of fan shape. Every now and again one of them would
walk down, or come in and they would shout to him to turn the knob on the furnace for more
Man, it was hot in there. I mean HOT. Not a nice dry heat, but a sloppy wet, cut it
with a knife, dont breath in to fast, cant touch your hair because itll
burn your fingers, HOT. It is then that I discovered the utility of the pail full of water
survival, pure and simple. The idea was to splash yourself with it, Im
assuming to avoid self-combustion. Ten minutes or so of this and I was finished, no pun
intended. I made my way back into the locker room. All of the men were seated at picnic
tables chatting and drinking. I spotted the only person I knew, and walked over to start a
conversation. He invited me to join them and so I did. No sooner did I discover that this
sauna was one of the oldest (celebrating 75 years this year) in the city, and my new
friend was visiting from Moscow and could give me some good pointers wit our next stop,
did they come in looking for me to give me my massage. The next 30 minutes were spent
having the battle scars of carrying a 60+ pound backpack around for a month, ground from
my back. My mind drifted as I began to contemplate how great it was that I was to be where
I was, doing what I was doing, and experiencing what I was experiencing.