Taylors in Finland

The Grand Adventure

Mary Ann's Fulbright Exchange to Oulu, Finland
August 2001 - June 2002

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Helsinki Fulbright Orientation
Trip notes by John

30 August – 2 September 2001
Sunrise/sunset 0551/2047

Thursday morning we were up at 0515 and out of the house at 0600 to catch the bus to airport. The airport is two kilometers from our house. We flew into Helsinki and took a cab to the Fulbright Center. Next time we will take the bus since the center is one block from the central train and bus station. Often, during our travels, we find a better way to do something.

The Orientation covered many of the things mentioned in Washington, D.C. but now specific to Finland. One of the speakers was Kurt Rice, Regional Security Officer for the U. S. Embassy Helsinki. Finland is very safe – he had only two warnings. Be careful with your personal stuff, especially in Helsinki. You do not have to worry about the Finns but people come from other countries during the summer to ‘work’ the tourists. The other warning was about Saint Petersburg; we should go in groups with organized tours. I read an article in Reader’s Digest where they “lost” wallets in public places and watched the wallets to see what the finders did with them. I recall that 100% of the wallets “lost” in Scandinavia (Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland) were returned intact.

The K-12 teachers were there along with graduate students attending universities in Finland, exchange professors, Finnish citizens who had participated in prior Fulbright Exchanges and even a New York City detective from the upper east side of Manhattan. One of the other K-12 teachers said, “I feel for the Finnish detective going to New York”.

Thursday night in Helsinki was ‘Night of the Arts’ so after checking into the Best Western Seaside Hotel the K-12 teachers (and the two spouses) went to the downtown area to check it out. We walked about for a few hours and then enjoyed dinner at Iguana, a Mexican-style restaurant. The restaurant had two bouncers at the top of the stairs. (Something about bouncers – they look the same in any country!) There were seven of us around a big table. To others it looked like Dave and I had lots of female company. A couple of the teachers were “hit on” while we were there. Then we walked some more to see more of the downtown area. We found one outdoor club playing “torch” songs from the 1940s and 1950s so we stood in one of the entrances and listened for a half hour. They must move the bar, music stand, tables and chairs out and in every evening.

Friday morning we gathered at the Anna Hotel for the 1000 departure of the bus tour arranged by the Fulbright Center. We visited Senate Square and the Helsinki Cathedral there. Because of the Russian influence in Finland and survival of the older buildings some movies have been filmed in Helsinki.

While riding to the Uspensky Cathedral, the largest Finnish Orthodox church in Finland, we saw the President of Finland, walking along the street outside her offices. That was a shock to most of us since she was alone, no entourage or bodyguard.

The streets are narrow, often one-way, and the bus driver was excellent. I am not sure I would want to drive a Suburban in Helsinki let alone a tour bus. Sometimes I thought we were going to go straight through an intersection and then we begin to turn, seemingly just clearing the parked car on the far side; and with a seven-speeds-forward manual shift at that.

One of the churches built recently (well, in the last thirty years is recent here) is the Temppeliaukio 'Rock' Church. The circular church was carved out of solid rock and then covered with a copper mesh and glass roof. Elegantly simple.

Unlike the United States, church and state are mixed here. 85% of the population is Lutheran and religion is taught in the schools. If you are not Lutheran then ethics is taught. The state helps support the church.

The Finnish Civil War, World War II, fighting with Russia and Germany, remain fresh memories to the Finns. Some of the places we passed still carry the bullet and shrapnel holes from mid-century as a reminder of times passed and sacrifices made. A sign of the Finnish culture is that the Finns have paid their war debts and reparations while many other countries have not.

I have walked in the church yard of the Lutheran Church in Oulunsalo. There is one row of headstones near the entrance where the final dates are in the early 1940’s and the ages are all between 20 and 40. Every country has earned its place at the table of peace.

Then we went to the memorial for composer Jean Sibelius in one of the numerous Helsinki parks.

The tour ended when we were dropped off at the American Ambassadors Residence for a luncheon. In addition to the Fulbright members and those involved with the program, the Embassy staff was there and the charge d’affairs introduced the various groups. The luncheon was the highlight of the day.

After lunch Mary Ann and I walked along the waterfront back to the hotel. We walked through some parks and then watched sailboat races and practice. At one place they were practicing racing starts. The observers were riding in inflatable boats with outboard motors. Multiple pairs of sailboats, about 10 meters, or 33 feet long, would maneuver to be at the starting line just as the gun went off but one of the boats would be deliberately blocking (legally) the other boat, to force the other boat to maneuver. At one point we saw two boats that were about eight feet apart and spinning in circles, twice a minute, with the sails shifting sides every 180 degrees (tacking every fifteen seconds!). It was fascinating to watch.

Helsinki includes 350 islands within its boundaries and the sea is very much part of Helsinki’s life. Yacht clubs, ship builders, freight docks, ferries (that are ocean cruise ship in size), sailboats and powerboats are everywhere you look. Across the street from our hotel was the Carnival Pride, a new cruise liner being built by the Kvaerner Masa shipyards. Lots of scaffolding on it and tarps to protect the work areas from the weather. It is supposed to be finished by December. When we first approached the area I thought it was a building where the street dead-ended.

In one of the parks with one of the largest wooden churches in Finland a couple walked through and began an argument. This went on for several minutes as they walked through the park. Sometimes they would include passersby, but mostly kept to themselves. Definitely not the reserved Finns of the guidebooks. The "give-away" was that the couple was in costume, wearing paper maiche oversize heads with comic faces drawn on them. We never did figure out if they were advertising a play, store or just having fun.

One of the K-12 exchange teachers has a student whose sister lives in Helsinki. She joined us for the evening and we walked about fifteen minutes from our hotel to a water taxi. A two-minute ride to the Saari restaurant on Sirpalesaari island and a one-minute walk to the restaurant. Our table, though lively with conversation, was overshadowed by the other tables guests who were enjoying crayfish, a seasonal specialty, and schnapps. One crayfish and one schnapps seemed to be the order of things. After a while, it became one crayfish, one schnapps and one song. Later still, it became one schnapps and one song.

We are trying the Finnish cuisine and I had reindeer with a wine sauce. The meat was lean and like pot roast. Everyone tried different things. We all ordered different desserts and everyone tried a bite. The ‘hit’ of the evening was tar ice cream. It is vanilla ice cream with tar flavoring from the pitch of trees. Reminded me of the odor of roofing tar pots.

Saturday morning we started to use our two-day Helsinki Expert passes for tram rides, ferry rides and museum entrances. If you are like us and visit several places in a few days you save money. The trams are two-unit narrow street cars with four doors that everyone uses, whether getting on or off. If you have a valid pass or transfer you can get on at any door. They use the honor system here.

Four of us elected to visit Suomenlinna, the castle fort of Helsinki. It is located on two larger islands in the bay. The ferry leaves from the Palace area near the marketplace. We arrived early so we wandered through the Saturday flea market for a while. The weather gods were smiling on us – it was ‘shirt-sleeve’ weather. After the ferry ride and visiting one of the Suomenlinna Museums and watching the Suomenlinna Experience introductory video we crossed to the second island and walked to the far side. We bought our lunch at the Café Piper and sat at a table overlooking the bay, ferries and sailboats. More walking on the fortress walls, visiting the Coastal Artillery Museum and eventually the return ferry. History in Europe is a mix of the old and the new. The island’s dry dock is used in the winter for the repair of wooden boats by their owners. Many of the old buildings are used for museums and displays. But strung through part of the island is a Frisbee golf course. In the states we try to recreate history when we have allowed it to be destroyed or else freeze it in time. In Europe it will always be a mix of the old and the new – or else they would probably run out of room!

Once ashore, we visited some more museums. Many museums in Helsinki are small, often share space in office or apartment buildings and may be spread across several floors. One may not be able to read all the signs but, like music, good art is universal and you do not have to read Finnish to appreciate it.

We all met at the hotel. It turned out the other group, although they did not go to the castle fort, were nearby most of the afternoon. We had walked the same streets and visited the same museums within fifteen minutes of each other. During our tour and walks we had seen a wonderful glass-walled restaurant along one end of the Esplanade. Earlier, when passing by, one of the other teachers had made reservations at Kapelli. Delightful food (we tried the Scandanavian hash with reindeer and potatoes; delicious). Besides hearing what everyone had seen or done during the day we were there during sun set and it was fun to see the change in the lighting outside.

After dinner we walked up the Esplanade and went to the Hotel Torni. Mary Ann and I had seen it earlier. There is a gorilla on the top floor, appearing to hold up a one-floor sized yellow coffee cup. Never did find out why it was there. One of the other teachers had read or heard about the hotel-top bar. Anyway, the tenth floor has a lobby with windows to the east, south and west. Great views of Helsinki. We were able to point out many of the places we had visited during the last three days. The churches are the most notable because they are usually on the top of a hill and/or have tall spires. Then you climb a narrow spiral ladder (shades of the down staircase at Blarney Castle in southern Ireland) to the top floor and a small bar with inside seating for, perhaps, twelve people. We found tables on the outside patio and visited from dusk to dark. Definitely a place to visit.

Sunday morning Lori and David had to catch their train. We joined Marie-Camille to visit the Museum of Modern Art and then met Jennifer and Rheda for lunch near the Fulbright Center offices. We tried Molly Malone’s but they didn’t serve lunch so we ended up at Wayne’s Coffee.

We went back to the hotel to collect our bags and caught the tram back to the train station, which is also a bus station. At the next stop after we got on the ‘ticket police’ boarded the tram and started to check everyone’s tickets. We were all OK. If you didn’t have a valid ticket the fine is the fare plus 250 FIM or about 40 USD.

Everyone went their own way and we caught the bus to the airport. We had just missed the earlier plane so no chance to get home early. We had a leisurely dinner at the airport before our flight. When we landed at the Oulu Airport we had to wait thirty-five minutes for our bus. Unfortunately the road and walkways are under construction / reconstruction otherwise we would have walked the two kilometers home. After all of the walking in Helsinki the walk home would have felt very short.

In summary:  Helsinki is a wonderful city. Clean, plenty of things to do and to see, good food, fun shopping, lots of history, easy to get around and enjoyed by everyone.


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Rheda Brown, David Heintz, Marie-Camille Havard and Mary Ann in the Seaside Hotel lobby. (2371)

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Waiting at the Helsinki Railroad Station for Jennifer Ancell. (2373)

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Hot air ballons! (2374)

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Street musicians were just part of the scene!  Rheda Brown in the two-tone blue jacket and Elisabeth Young with the red backpack. (2376)

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Senate Square in the background. Mary Ann in the foreground with Lori Heintz (blue blouse) and David. (2388)

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Standing in Senate Square and looking up at the Helsinki Cathedral. (2385)

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Inside Upenski Cathedral. (2391)

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The Temppeliaukio 'Rock' Church. (2401)

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The Jean Sibelius Memorial. (2421)

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One of the parks along the bay. Note the "ferries" in the background. (2423)

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Circling competitors practicing their racing starts. The "coach" is in the inflatible. (2426)

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More racing. The Gulf of Finland is in the background. (2435)

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The "Carnival Pride" cruise ship is being completed across the street from our hotel. (2370)

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The largest wooden church in Finland. (2444)

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We never figured out whether they were amateurs having a good time or paid actors advertising something! (2445)

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The marketplace at the east end of the Esplanade by the ferry terminal to Suomenlenna. (2460)

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Helsinki Bay with one of the 350 islands inside the city limits and weekend sailors enjoying the summer weather. (2466)

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The island's drydocks, over 100 years old, are still in use. Local sailors rent space to work on their boats during the winter. (2470)

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A view of the island fortress walls from our lunch table. (2473)

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A boat tacking between the islands with fortress walls in the foreground. ( 2474)

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The Esplanade. (2485)

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The gorilla on the Hotel Torni. (I've since recognized the "Brazil" on the cup as a Finnish company brand name.) (2446)

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The bus station, next to the Helsinki Railroad station, where we caught our bus to the Helsinki-Vantaa airport. (2495)

Last Update 2003 11 14

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