Farewell, Finland!

This blog entry will be written over the course of our last day in Finland. As I sit here drinking tea and blogging at a Holiday Inn in Finland in the morning, I’m a pretty happy and extremely tired traveler. Finland has been just fabulous. For a place I never expected to ever visit, it has become one of my favorite trips of all time.

Rach and I finished our last day in Aland with a biking adventure to the little town of Gottby (about 9km down the road). Little is definitely the right word for Gottby because it consisted of about 7 houses. As we biked there and back, we passed by a water inlet filled with swans – the natural beauty of Aland was just breathtaking!

Rach bikes Aland

Rach bikes Aland

Our last day in Aland proved to be one of the most beautiful days of the entire trip (today is gorgeous, too), and we both had sunburned faces by the end of the day. We also had extremely sore butts from the bikes, and my quads are still killing me two days later. However, the pain is entirely worth it.

We left Aland by way of an overnight ferry. We had purchased deck tickets because all the cabins were full, but we were hoping someone wouldn’t show up to claim a cabin. And we got very, very lucky: we managed to get the only cabin left. This “ferry” turned out to be a cruise ship: casinos, midnight shows, the whole deal. If we hadn’t gotten a cabin, our “deck” seating would have entailed sleeping anywhere we could find a quiet corner – probably with our heads propped against a slot machine. Again, thank goodness for our beds that night!

When we woke up the next morning, we ate breakfast onboard, and then we got off the boat in Helsinki. It was an excellent way to travel! This particular day (Thursday) proved to be our most exhausted day of the trip. Still recovering from biking the day before and nearing the end of our trip, we were both dragging.

We dragged ourselves to our new hotel for the night, and then we dragged ourselves to the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. The 1952 Olympics were held in Helsinki, and the sports museum gave us quite an impressive run down of all Olympic activity – both for Finland and internationally – since the very beginning of the games. If you are a runner, you will really want to check out this Finnish runner: Paavo Nurmi.

After the stadium and museum, we went to the Sibelius Monument, and then on to a cafe. I love all the cafes on this trip; I think I’ve been to a new one almost every day!

Rach and me and the Sibelius Monument

Rach and me and the Sibelius Monument

We finished Thursday with a trip to a church that is actually built into the side of a rock, and right across from the church we found a souvenir shop. The woman at the souvenir shop informed us that we really needed to find a place to buy reindeer powder. Apparently, Finland exports a powder made from reindeer bone. When eaten with food or drink, this natural concoction has the same effect as Viagra. Again, I ask, who knew?!?

Today – our last day in Finland – Rach and I slept in and got some much-needed rest. Then we headed out to explore Suomenlinna, the Finish fortress on an island off of Helsinki. I found the story of its history fascinating. Long story short: it was built in the 18th century when Sweden controlled Finland. Sweden built the fort to protect itself from Russia; the building of the fortress helped build up Helsinki as an actual city. The Swedish later lost the fort (and all of Finland) to Russia, and when Finland gained it’s independence from Russia in the early 1900s, Suomenlinna became a museum.

Rach and I spent a good chunk of the afternoon there before returning to Helsinki to tour the botanical gardens and find dinner. Dinner proved to be quite challenging since many restaurants shut down for the mid-summer holiday. I tend to forget it’s mid summer because I’m not sweltering in the 90+ degree heat that I’m used to. Instead, it’s been 50-60 degress almost every day (12-16 degrees celsius). But in true summer fashion, Rach and I did enjoy an ice cream cone before heading to our hotel.

Rach and I enjoy our Finland summer ice cream.

Rach and I enjoy our Finland summer ice cream.

Now it’s about midnight Helsinki time, and our flight leaves at 6:30 am. It’s been a lovely trip, and it will actually feel a little funny to see the night sky tomorrow evening from home. We haven’t seen it since last Wednesday, June 15.

For a place I never thought to travel, I’m awfully glad I came. As the guide book says, “Maybe the stereotypical shyness of Helsinki’s people is just a cover – they’re trying to keep their city a secret from the rest of the world.” Well, I know the secret now. It’s fantastic, and I want to share.

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