5:00 AM: Wake up, eat food, and pack bags for the day
5:30 AM: Get to the ferry
5:45 AM: Arrive at the port and present tickets for the ship, then wait for entry
7:00 AM: Enter ship
This was the plan for the morning we visited Finland.
We drove to the shipyard, though we would’ve walked if we didn’t have baggage. We went past the blur of landmarks which we had seen the day before (exactly why walking is preferable to driving in cities), and in minutes, reached the port. It wasn’t the same port we went to last time: there was a commercial port for ferries, and a more scenic port for leisure (or that’s what I assumed). This port had quite a lot of hustle and bustle, but I was thankful we went to the smaller port: scenic views weren’t to be found. We entered a building quite like an airport terminal – it had the shops, the chairs, and the security, but there was just less of it. We went to a counter, and let my dad handle the questions (which were similar to the questions asked in airport security – how long are you staying in Finland, what are you going to do there …). We sat, bored, and waited for a while, and soon boarding began. I expected the normal ferry, perhaps a large boat.
“We’re going on a cruise?” I asked.
“Yes. Did you like the surprise?” My dad asked.
I loved it. My thought process was simple: Big boat, big comforts. I didn’t know it would be a three hour ride. Nonetheless, I enjoyed. At first we made the mistake of thinking we had a room, but since we needed a place to sit, we looked at the map.
“Can we go to the play area?” I pleaded. The thought of having a playground to ourselves brightened the otherwise dull next few hours. And exciting they were. I forged myself a throne of foam building blocks to rest on, lounged, and jumped on the bouncy castle (did I mention there were TWO of them?). It was a glorious three hours. The only disadvantage was that I was drained out by the time we arrived. And talking about arriving, we had arrived. It felt like mere minutes, but we were there.
We were in Helsinki, and we made a first impression of the nation. Just kidding, we were still at the port, and couldn’t see anything (plus we needed to pick up our baggage). After getting baggage, we took a glance at the nation. It was cool, I guess. Some buildings, nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps we would see something more if we took the big bus.
It worked. We walked to the stop, got the tickets and boarded the large double decker tourist bus. We opted for the top floor, as usual. We could see the streets of Helsinki, which looked pleasant to roam around. We stopped once or twice to see buildings such as the Helsinki Olympics, and some political buildings. Finland was in a weird situation after World War Two: their neighbor, the USSR, had just fought the Winter and Continuation wars with Finland, and Finland seemed to be threatened by the Communists. Finland managed to stay neutral throughout the Cold War.
A gigantic, white building with a huge blue dome. To get there were about a billion stairs, and looking a little nearer, we were in a huge square. I learned the church was called the Helsinki Cathedral, which made sense. It was a cool place where we took pictures, looked at the architecture, and most importantly, my sister and I got to chase pigeons. It was a heap of fun (no regrets).
We got back on the bus for the next stop. The tour guide explained how the world class Finnish education system works: it’s practically anti-South Korea. In Asia, children are working 12-14 hours per day, and education starts extremely early. In Finland, there isn’t any homework, nor are there standardized tests. Schooling starts at seven. I was intrigued.
On the way, we passed a park, where we saw clothes being hung. A curious sight in Europe. In the summer, locals like to hang their winter clothes in the parks and socialize, both impossible in the inhospitable northern wintertime.
“Oh, they’re giving free ferry tours?” my dad said. “Look at the map up here.” He pointed to an area at the top. So next thing I knew, I was on a ferry.
“Where are we going?” I inquired.
“Look at the map,” my dad replied.
I looked at the route. It looked intriguing. A fortress seemed pretty good, and it can’t hurt to see the skyline of the city. We began the route. We went to some scenic waterways. There were trees, and views of the city, so we took some photos. We saw some summer homes. A little less interesting… And finally, the attraction I was waiting for, the fortress. Suomenlinna. Reading history books helped. I knew from its shape that it was a star fortress, built recently, probably by the Swedes. It was built on a large island for extra defense, and it was a really interesting historical site. We decided to get off, and look around the island for a while. We walked around, got a handy map, ate some energy bars, walked on a trail for a while (It was a good trail), and found our first destination: a World War Two museum. I wanted to learn about the Winter and Continuation wars, and there were some cool airplanes there, so we went around, looked at the planes, read a lot, and left. It was really fast-paced, but it was fun.
Second thing we did: split up – my sister wanted to play in a playground nearby, so my mom went with her while my dad and I explored. Turns out, the island was used for defense relatively recently. By recently, I meant around World War 2. After walking around, we saw a fascinating submarine. Not on the outside (which was practically a rusty hunk of metal), but on the inside. I saw about a billion buttons, and it made me really respect the captain of the ship – it looked like hard work. The only disappointment was that I couldn’t stay long enough to discover the purpose of the buttons.
We also walked on a trail, but in the end, I don’t think it was worth it; the view was cool, but really? Was it worth this much time to see a bit of water? Not sure. In any case, we had to meet up with my sister and mom, as the ferry was going to leave.
It was a similar trip back. We saw some bridges, islands, and buildings, nothing out of the ordinary, but we did get a good view of the city. One church really caught my eye. It was similar to the Helsinki Cathedral, but a different color: brown and blue. It also had less symmetry and a few more towers. I don’t know why, but I liked how it looked. We went there, and took a few photos because it was close to the port. Good place to visit, not too busy.
Afterwards, we visited the National Museum of Finland. The most interesting exhibit was about Sami culture. The Sami live in Lapland, which is located in Northern Finland, and there are only a few thousand remaining. Their culture has stayed similar throughout time, and they live lives similar to the Inuit. The other exhibits were also thought provoking, but we were running out of time, and we were also hungry. First we quenched our hunger. We enacted our 2-step plan.
Step 1: Find the nearest gas station
Step 2: Eat
The nearest gas station had pizza, so we ate there, and it was a really good meal. We walked back to the ferry, and our trip in Finland was over. Just like that. The trip home was uneventful. We played for a bit, but I was too tired to actually do much, and I ended up sleeping on the ferry. Another successful day.