Saturday, September 5, 2009

Even the construction is clean

We decided to use this long weekend as a last chance to get away while we were just 3. Helsinki is a very easy train ride away, and as everyone who's been here told us it was the most boring capital city in Europe, we figured 2.5 days is probably just right to do it up.

We're completely loving life. Start with the train ride. They had coolers of Finnish water - the kind of coolers with the 20 liter bottles of mineral water - in each compartment, just available to drink. Then, the railway booked some compartments fully while others were nearly empty. As a service to us and the passengers without kids, a very nice conductor conducted us, and as it turns out another woman travelling with her little girl, into a compartment that only had 4 other passengers total (even though our assigned seats were in the full compartment). Alex basically had the run of the place, and loved climbing on and off many of the vacant seats. She also loved looking out at the scenery as we went by. We never pulled out the DVD player, even once! Although she never ended up sleeping, I still have a hunch she would have if the other little girl hadn't been around ... Alex climbed into her stoller and asked to lay down, asked for her stuffed dog and blanket and pacifier, and was quietly laying there for at least 20 minutes. However, the other little girl was up and about and just as Alex does she was really curious about the "sleeping baby". In any case, she made it to the hotel more than 2 hours past her bedtime without tantrums.

Next comes the hotel. It was a 5 minute walk from the train station and this train station isn't in a super sketchy part of town like some other big cities. Check in took almost no time at all, and our new standard of rating allegedly child friendly places is whether they have the crib in the room ahead of time. Yep, they did so we were able to get Alex down ASAP. The hotel also has a 24-hour lobby snack bar-essentials shop so we were able to get salads and drinks as we were starving. Our room is pretty close to the elevators, so we hunkered down on the huge comfy couch by the elevators to eat, rather than our usual practice of hanging out in the bathroom while Alex sleeps.

First impressions of Helsinki - everything is clean. The air, the streets, the water. Tap water is safe to drink and actually tastes pretty good. Everyone we spoke with spoke English and we heard it on the street. It was also surprisingly busy with bars, restaurants and clubs compared to what we had expected. On the street between the curb and the sidewalk where people can walk is a bike lane. We've also read that there are stands throughout the city where one can essentially use a bike for a 2 Euro deposit that gets returned when the bike is returned to either the original or another stand. How awesome is that?

Saturday we were up relatively bright and early ... of course it's an hour behind for us so it felt like we slept in. Another reason to love this hotel - at the breakfast buffet they had loose leaf tea and individual strainers. I have never, ever experienced this in my life and in my life I've stayed in some fancy places. Also, many of the items available were organic and according to the hotel everything possible is locally sourced. Breakfast was a bit lunch meat heavy for me but there were plenty of yummy breads and fruits and I got to try strawberry soup. I wasn't quite up for trying the smoked fishes as I wasn't sure where they really stood on the "OK for me to eat at this point in my pregnancy" spectrum.

As it is supposed to rain tomorrow, we chose today as the "get outside as much as possible" day and went to visit the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, which you can read about here. As first we were feeling a bit annoyed about having paid the 6 Euros each for a place where everything was closed - we thought for the winter - but later realized we had just come too early when we walked back past previously locked buildings and saw folks in period costume hanging out in the open doorways. We stopped at the cafe for lunch and tried some Finnish cuisine - a hearty cheese and smoked reindeer soup with dark bread and a cheese and tomato pie. Soup was definitely the winner, I guess Terry still has the ordering edge on me. We also learned that the Finns drink more coffee than amost anyone.

Alex was unfortunately lacking in sleep so was grumpy and prone to frequent bursts of unhappiness, so we ended up cutting the visit shorter than we had planned. However, it is absolutely lovely there and between the open air museum, green spaces and cafes we could have easily spent the day. Terry came away with several building ideas for the cabin, and I'm actually OK with them.

After family nap we decided to get a recommendation for Finnish food and unfortunately the lady at reception directed us to a place that, although she was probably right that Alex would be welcome, there was nothing Alex would eat on the menu. Luckily, the map she used to show where it was had a bunch of other restaurants on it and we chose another one. I should stop here and clarify that we ended up at a Lappish restaurant. We think we'll try Finnish tomorrow. The lady at reception was careful to explain that they were different. The food was very hearty and very yummy and right now Terry is researching whether lingonberries and cloudberries will grow in Pennsylvania. They brought us a starter of reindeer salami that Alex scarfed down in 10 seconds flat. Terry and I both ordered different types of reindeer and for a man who doesn't like "sweet meat" - his description of meals that include sweetness or fruit in the sauce or accompanyment - he went to town on the lingonberries served alongside his meat. Dessert was a fried cheese in cinnamon cream sauce with cloudberry jam. The jam was more like fresh berries and we gave Alex spoonfuls to eat. She licked the plate clean and asked for more. I figure if they don't have it in the grocery stores, they will likely have it in a souvenier shop.

As we walked back from the restaurant, we commented on some road construction we saw. It was completely fenced off, with the striped tape threaded through the fencing for good measure. There was a big hole in the ground, but the dirt and tar debris, as well as the equipment, had all been cleared away. Those in St. Pete will attest that this is an astonishing sight compared to what we're used to, and refreshing!

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