Sunday, February 03, 2008

Stockholm to Helsinki. Welcome to Suomi.

Just got back from Helsinki. Lovely Finland. Suomi. DCP and I took a nice little Viking Line cruise over. Two nights onboard and one day in Helsinki. It was… interesting.

Quite the adventure really. The trip over was relatively uneventful. Friday night, lots of drunk people, gambling, just general rabblerousing if you will. A few important observations as we made our way across the Baltic from Stockholm.

The mullet is still in style in Finland. Also known as hockey-hair. Why you ask? There is nothing I can say that will give an acceptable explanation. Aside from the fact that it brings a smile to my face every time I see one.

Being drunk at 3 in the afternoon is not a problem. Here, after hours spent internally debating the moral and social acceptance of this I have decided that Vegas rules apply to cruise ships. And that in Vegas, drinking is heavily encouraged at 3 in the afternoon and so is perfectly acceptable.

Fat people do exist in the Nordic countries. They apparently travel between Finland and Sweden.

When we finally made it to Finland, I had managed to be completely overrun by a lovely head cold. One that dammed me up, dried me out, and made me float. And then we stepped off the boat. Into February in Helsinki, Finland. And it was cold. And windy. And bitter. And we had seven hours in town so damn it we were going to see the sights. We did alright, saw some churches, a temple built into the rocks, saw the 1952 Olympic venue, and walked the streets of Helsinki. It seemed like a city that was old. Almost downtrodden. A city that still relied on its peasant roots. As I said though, I was there for seven hours and had a head cold. Life wasn’t all that good.

It was gray, and dreary. And the mullets were not confined to the boat. And public drunkenness at all hours of a Saturday was quite common. But I enjoyed my time there. Despite the circumstances. Seven hours isn’t a lot of time in one place, so we did what any self-respecting tourist who wants to sample the local culture would do.

We sampled the local fast food joint. Hessburger I believe it was called. The picture was so foul, I almost went somewhere else. But DCP convinced me that this was a cultural experience. And so I stuck it out. I ordered a hamburger with an onion ring and enough mayonnaise to make Costco proud. And it was gross. But it was cultural.

By the way, Helsinki is expensive. They wanted nearly 10 Euros for a kebab meal. Which is actually what drove us to Hessburger.

While trekking back to the boat we stopped at a kioski. Yup, I learned some Finnish while abroad. I politely, in Swedish, asked if I could buy a stamp. She said yes, I then continued, in Swedish, to ask for one to the US. At this point the woman told me, in German, that she did not speak German. Flustered. Confused. Even a little scared. I switched to English, bought my stamp, and left. I still don’t know what happened exactly.

On the way back I learned the difference between Americans and the Finns working aboard Viking Line. We had decided to forego the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we had been eating on the boat because we are thrifty (read cheap). So we plopped ourselves at one of the fine dining establishments on board. I ordered a chicken soup and some ribs. DCP had a salad. Very lady-like. I on the other hand gorged myself.

The soup was glorious. The ribs. Decent. But it was a lot. So I very carefully separated the ribs from the bones and the soggy fries from the non-soggy and asked the waitress for a box. Her response? Vaaaa? Whaaaat? I explained that I would like a box to take my food back with me. There was a lot left. She then asked me incredulously if I wanted all of this. I, being a silly American, said yes. I watched her walk away. I watched her actually have to ask where the take away boxes were kept. And I watched her dump my entire plate into the box.

I, of course, was curious as to what had happened. So when she returned with my box, I opened it. Yup, the whole plate was in there. Bones and all. Silly Finnish lady. No wonder she looked at me like an idiot. She thought I was going to go back and suck on some bones apparently. I didn’t. But the remaining ribs made for a delicious breakfast.

After dinner we found ourselves in a storm. And I have a new respect for the Baltic Sea. We were in a huge cruise boat. And were tossed around like my old rubber ducky in the bath. Tossed so much that we were two hours late coming into Stockholm. It was intense. Luckily, we would have had to sink for me to wake up. Which we didn’t. So I slept right through it. DCP did not. But we made it. No worse for the wear. And with yet another world capital notched onto our well travelled belts.

Our good friend Smek This is a Finn living in Stockholm and can probably explain the nuances of Finnish culture much better than I can. So stop by and throw him a question. Perhaps you’re also curious as to the Finnish love for mayonnaise on hamburgers.

Kiitos and hei sitten.


  1. Hej. My question is this: Did they have a dance show at one end of the cruise ship? As in, a vegas-style (but much more low-rent) choreographed number? We were on Silja lines to Estland, and that shit was crazy! It was like I was on the set of a David Lynch film--complete with drunken handicapped people. I hope that you had a similar experience, for two reasons--a) to validate my own time spent, and b) because I know you love drunk handicapped people/choreography. Happy sailing, and I hope the cold has cleared up.

  2. Thanks for sharing this! A really interesting post. I don't represent a basic Finn, but I do know something about them.

    Personally, I don't like Helsinki, so it would be weird for me to defend it. Between Helsinki and Stockholm, I'd choose the latter.

    Hesburger is like Max in Sweden, I prefer Hesburger. The mayonnaise must come from Sweden, since I have found they have it here everywhere. Since you imply it's not from America (as I thought until today :).

    It's a shitty time of the year to see places in Finland, and in Helsinki it's always windy since it's near the sea. Hats off to you for doing so anyway! If you have time to visit there in the summertime, go to Korkeasaari (zoo) or Linnanmäki (amusement park); if you like museums, go to Ateneum, to see Finnish painting classics and more.

    They should be able to speak Swedish in Helsinki, but 'real' Swedish is as difficult for them as it is for me. Just keep on harrashing them, I love the idea!

    You had a 'normal' experience during the ship journey :) It's always like that. Not my cup of tea. These days you get to see more Chinese and Russian people on the boat, moving in large groups. Those classy Stockholm ladies are very rare there, maybe because they ARE classy :)

    Welcome back!

  3. Welcome back to Routssi :P

  4. @ the good dr. - no choreography. But I plan on making the trip to talinn at some point. I can only hope that my experience will be similar to yours.

    @ smek - mayonnaise might very well be an American thing but it just seems that northern europeans really like to put it on everything. and I think what really caught me off guard in helsinki was the amount of mayo on the burger. because you're right, the Swedes do it too. But this was a glob. oozing outthe sides. soggying my bun. and no one needs that.

    I think I will have to check out the city in the summer. Because it looked like it had real potential.

    @ robban - kiitos

  5. You mean that "American" mayo dressing is just a fraud? :O

    By the way - how is mayo a really American thing?

  6. I don't know that I would describe it as a fraud. But I don't know many people who eat that sort of thing in the US. Although it does exist.

    It just seems that mayo is a staple for the post thanksgiving sandwiches which in my mind makes it american.

  7. No swede I know would volunarily put ordinary mayo on anything...

    If we're talking béarnaise sauce on the other hand, people (mostly men/boys) love it on their pizzas or with their fries. I think it's kinda gross. However, I really enjoy some remoulade with my fried fish.

    /Dennis. A random swede fascinated by cultural differences.

  8. yeah Im not too sure about the mayo thing myself. turkey sandwiches is usually where I draw the line.

    but whatever floats your boat I suppose. like the swedish obsession with ketchup on pasta (which I also love by the way).