When we left off, a Finnish man had just invited us to stay in his home for the night. Guess what, we agreed. We knew there were some risks involved, but we told ourselves that we could always leave if we weren’t comfortable; ultimately, it was the promise of my first real shower in almost six days that won me over.
Our host Marc was a half-Finish, half-German character whose family we met immediately upon arrival at his house. We relaxed and talked on their patio for a while, and they told us that everyone in Finland speaks English because most TV shows are not dubbed over, so eventually you just learn it. He took us to a big lake that was incredibly brown, but had the warmest water I’ve ever swum in (save the Darke County YMCA). While we were there, we witnessed him having an entire conversation with his dog, who ran away to chase a large bunny. I swear that dog understood every word he said and responded with an appropriate facial expression to every phrase. After swimming, Marc even made us dinner. He invited his neighbor over who is also a vegetarian and she brought a salad to the dinner party. It was made entirely of weeds from her garden. She explained to us that weeds can grow anywhere because they have a lot stronger systems, which makes them more nutritious than regular greens. She was impressed that we were so open to trying a salad of weeds and we were impressed at how delicious it was.
Marc was so incredibly hospitable to us the whole time we were there; one of my favorite parts was that he told us a lot about Finland. We asked him about how much sunlight they got in the winter and he said about an hour, and then he clarified and said that the sun doesn’t actually come up, it’s just an hour of not complete darkness. Marc warmly invited us to stay another night at his house, but sadly we had to get on with the trip or we would never make it back to Slovakia. So we left the next morning, but I did leave a shampoo bottle as a thank you, albeit accidentally.
We took the bus the last bit of the ride into Helsinki, and were happy to see that the architecture in Helsinki did not disappoint. I know very well because I waited with our bikes outside of the tourism info station for about two hours while Burke went in to ask some questions. While I was there, three groups of Americans and an Asian girl asked me for directions. I don’t know if I looked American to them, or friendly, or knowledgeable, but when I ask someone for directions, I don’t ask someone who is clearly a tourist. We made our way to a hostel where we met another cycle tourist who had been cycling around Europe for an entire year! Although his trip sounded interesting, I would have much preferred to have conquered a serious part of the world in that year rather than spiral around Europe.
The rest of the evening we explored the city and blended in with the locals. Finland is so expensive that it’s even expensive for its residents, so rather than going to a cafe or a pub for the evening, people, young and old, just bring their friends to a park and hang out. We sat on a bench near Market Square which was as densely packed with relaxing people as the beach on a hot day. There were minstrels and performers trying to earn a few euros, but my favorite people were the ones going from group to group collecting empty bottles and cans from the patrons.
Back at the hostel we were thrilled to use the washing machines. There was no soap in the vending machine and rather than ask the desk if they had more, I took Burke’s suggestion of scraping all the discarded soap around the tray and using it. Definitely not my proudest moment, but it worked:).
After being there for a few days, we discovered there are some funny things about Finland.
Our last day in Finland we rode along the coastline of Helsinki and went to a giant flee market. Burke and I developed a tag team haggle system. I find something I like, ask how much it is, ponder, and then offer a little less. They agree and I say alright I have to go get money from my husband. Then Burke comes over with me and, uh oh, we don’t have as much as I offered, maybe they’ll take this slightly less amount? Yes? Okay? Great. I’m excited to use this system in future travels.
Finally, we headed to the ferry and the last few moments that we spent in the country it began to sprinkle on us. Once we were on the boat the sprinkle turned into rain and eventually a rather heavy storm. Fortunately, we avoided the first storm of our trip by ferrying across the Baltic Sea right into our next destination, Tallinn, Estonia.