13 July 2009

Tallinn and Helsinki

My last day in Tallinn was pretty excellent as well. I think it’s one of my favorite cities I’ve been to so far. In the afternoon after I last updated I walked into town with a Finnish girl named Katya (I’m not actually sure if that’s how it’s spelled) before she met up with her parents. Then I met up with Vega, who I met in Warsaw. She’s now in Tallinn for a few weeks teaching Spanish at a camp. We wandered around the old town and chatted while I took some photos since I had forgotten my camera the day before, then we made our way to the Kumu art museum. With the exception of the contemporary art exhibit on the top floor, Estonian artists did all of the pieces in the museum. (Actually, I’m not 100% sure if that’s true, but I’m fairly positive it is.) Gintare (from Vilnius) had suggested that I check it out, as did Sven, so I figured I should check it out. It was really cool and I spent a few hours there. Two of the floors were just a chronological display of important works from Estonian artists, so it walking through the museum was like walking through an art history course. The museum is next to a really nice park, so when I left I wandered through it and enjoyed the pleasant weather.
That night I met up with a whole bunch of people at a kebab place/bar before we went to a park to hang out. A couple of the people I had met the night before, but mostly I met new people and I even got to speak in French for a while because there were some French people in the group! It was more French than I had really spoken during my last semester in France since we had the strikes and all. I ended up trying to go to bed early (well, early for me) since I had to catch my Ferry to Helsinki at 7:30 in the morning. Yeah, that’s right, leave at 7:30. It was brutally early, and I couldn’t believe how many people were drinking on the ship when I got on.

At any rate, it only took me two hours to get to Helsinki. Right away I was amused because I saw some kid (I couldn’t tell if it was a guy or a girl) dressed as an anime character. I’m talking cloak, a fake weapon of some fantastical sort, and spiky anime hair. I thought I might’ve been so tired I was hallucinating, but as I wandered around I saw more people dressed up like anime characters, or in animal costumes, or in other crazy get-ups. Helsinki quickly became my favorite city to people watch. In addition to the outrageous costumes, there were plenty of guys with hearty beards (and oh how was I jealous), tons of metal-looking people, and a bunch of punks with gigantic died Mohawks. I didn’t find out until later that there was an anime/sci-fi convention going on, which explained the costumes.
I was pretty exhausted, but every day is a new adventure, especially when you only have one night in a city. So I had some coffee and went out exploring with Antti, a Finnish guy. He told me I needed to see Suomenlinna, the old sea fortress, so we hopped on a boat and went out to the island. (Well, actually, when we got to the harbor we had a half an hour wait, so we wandered around the Central Market while we waited for the boat.) I was so glad we did, because it’s a cool place to explore and a cool place to hang out. Antti told me that he and his friends would sometimes just go there to hang out, and that a lot of people in Helsinki do that. There are also a bunch of museums (which we didn’t go in), and plenty of tunnels in the fortifications to explore (which we did), and people actually live on the island as well. The views on the coasts were pretty excellent, and I had a great time there. We hung out for a few hours and then hopped on a ship back to the mainland.
We split up there because he was also exhausted and I walked around for about an hour or so before I met Elina, a Finnish girl now living in Helsinki. I was invited to hang out with her and her friends for some cake and hanging out and potential partying, and despite being tired there was no way I could pass that up. It was my only night in Finland, so I had to make the most of it! So it ended up being a couple of us hanging out, and then Antti, Elina, Marjaana, Katri, and I went out to a club. Well, it’s not actually a club, but a movie theatre that opens the terrace for dancing at night, but only until 2am. It was free entry (WOO, something free in Helsinki…I’ll be talking about money in a moment), but my hopes of a free evening were dashed when I walked in and they told me that my super tiny day pack was too big to bring in and I had to pay 3€ to check it. Oh well, I was in and the club was a lot of fun. The dance floor was kind of weird – it was cluttered with tables and chairs in such a way that you would think they didn’t want you to actually dance. That just meant that in addition to dancing on the floor and the speakers, people were up on chairs as well. It was so much fun, but ended too soon (we had to wait on a line for a while before we got in), so then we went to a different bar. After being in central Europe and the Baltics, bar prices in Helsinki had me floored. Oh well, I knew the cities in Scandinavia were going to be the most expensive ones I visited on this trip. But I had a great time hanging out, chatting with everyone, and staying up way later than I thought I would when I got in.

The next day I slept in a bit for some much needed sleep, then Antti and I went to a park for a free outdoor festival that was going on. We went a little while after it started, and the two bands we heard weren’t that great so we left to get some lunch before parting ways. I went to the city center and explored parts that I hadn’t seen the day before. There’s not a lot to see in Helsinki (it’s not really a touristy city, well not to the extent of other European capitals at any rate) and everything is pretty close together. After walking around with my backpack on for a few hours, and hopping into two free museums for a brief time, I sat in the Esplanade Park and enjoyed the nice weather before having to catch my ferry.

And now about money: I cannot believe how expensive Helsinki is! I feel like I’m in an airport! Even groceries are outrageously expensive. If you want a cold beer from a convenience store it’s over 3€ a can. Yeah, 3€. Forget that. And if you want a drink in a bar, forget about it. My Lonely Planet says the best place to go out to bars is in a working-class neighborhood which is where I was staying, but since we were in the center and that’s where all the clubs and everything are we had to pay a bit more. Talk about a shock for my wallet.

And that’s about it for now! At the time of writing this I’m on my way to Stockholm. I’ll hopefully update you from there!

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