After nearly seven months away from family and friends, we had our first visitor here in Linköping when my sister came to visit for her spring break. To say I was excited would be a vast understatement. I hadn’t seen a familiar face since moving, so to not only get to see someone, but to have that someone be my sister was beyond exciting. Alex traveled to Sweden with a few friends from school (whom we met up with throughout the trip) and I met her in Stockholm on a Tuesday afternoon. Our first order of business was a trip to Finland via ferry (the same one Jonathan took a while back), then a weekend in Linköping, followed by a trip south to spend a night in Malmö, Sweden and a few days in Copenhagen, Denmark.
We were both excited about our trip to Helsinki. As many of you know, we grew up in an area that has a large population of people with Finnish ancestry, our family included, so we joked about how this was our trip to the “motherland”. The plan was to leave Stockholm Tuesday afternoon, spend a night on the ferry, explore Helsinki all day Wednesday, and spend Wednesday night on the ferry on our way back to Stockholm. We’d then take the train to Linköping to show Alex my new “home”.
We were skeptical of what our ferry cabin would consist of— it only cost us a total of $35 USD for both of our tickets plus the cabin for two nights, so we didn’t have high hopes. Fortunately, it wasn’t that bad. I mean, it was no Ritz Carlton (to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever stayed at a Ritz Carlton, but I’m going assume I’m right), but we had enough space, comfortable beds, and a clean bathroom, so no major complaints. However, our cabin was located below the car deck, on the absolute lowest floor. This led to a series of “Titanic” references in which we envisioned ourselves, in the event of a disaster, trapped on our lower “peasant” level as all fancy people are given lifeboat priority (spoiler alert: we did not hit any icebergs).
After Jonathan’s rave reviews of the buffet (see previous blogpost), we made sure to buy tickets to that for our dinner option. We wasted time before dinner by checking out the on-board Duty Free shop. Alex found some souvenirs and we bought some wine for the room. After some brief shopping, we spent our time like most adults—playing yahztee and pick-up sticks while catching up. The weekend before our trip, I went to Tiger (something akin to a Swedish version of the dollar store, but slightly classier) and picked up some very grown up games—pick-up sticks, dominos, and yahtzee. Luckily, my sister is just as mature as I am, so the games ended up being good investments.
As expected, dinner was great! We knew of that beer/wine was unlimited during the 2-hr reservation, so we were among the first to show up and the last to leave (don’t judge us). This also allowed for multiple rounds of food, the highlights of which included amazing smoked salmon and other seafood, as well as an extensive dessert bar. Alex was less inclined to try the typical Swedish delicacies, such as the several varieties of pickled herring, regardless of my suggestions that she try immerse herself in the Swedish culture while visiting. To be fair, the one time I did “immerse” myself in the culture and sampled several types pickled herring at a “traditional” Swedish dinner, I ended up throwing up afterwards, so I can’t really blame her for not being more adventurous. We did, however, sample some caviar and salmon prepared a half dozen ways. Alex also tried to eat some shrimp but got creeped out because they came with eyes and legs attached (you know, like how shrimp actually exist in real life).
After maxing out the buffet, we decided to check out the “nightlife” on the ship. This included some very weird dance group that wore metallic gold windsuits supporting an aging singer in an 80’s Madonna-esque outfit. This was followed by a decent cover band that no one seemed to appreciate, then a DJ who was able to convince two people to dance. I know I’m not selling this well, but somehow we had a fantastic time. Our first night at the “Fun Club” (that was literally the name of it) did not disappoint.
We arrived to Helsinki Wednesday morning around 10am and spent some time wandering around and pointing at things in the distance we wanted to check out because neither of us had taken the time to actually plan ahead (typical of us and our trips together). We grabbed a nice breakfast, did some window shopping, found a few fancy churches, and ogled the most amazing chocolate selection at Frazer Café (seriously, SO MUCH chocolate, and baked goods!). After a couple hours, we met up with Alex’s friends, Catie, Kelsey, and Merita, who had flown to Helsinki previously and were staying a couple nights in the city. We met on the steps of the Cathedral (for Gossip Girl fans, this totally reminded me of the “Met Steps”; if you have never watched Gossip Girl, ignore that, neither have I because I’m an adult and would never refer to Gossip Girl in a blogpost).
After discussing our options, we decided to all take a short ferry ride to a small island off Helsinki; Suomenlinna. Suomenlinna, which is actually a constellation of 6 small, interconnected islands, is a sea fortress that was built by the Swedes back in the 1700’s to protect against Russian expansionism. Although that didn’t work out as planned, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site popular with tourists and inhabited year-round by about 900 people. Although there are supposedly several shops and museums, we wandered off the designated “path” and found some old cannons, creepy stone tunnels built into hills, and what we assumed to be long-abandoned buildings. Definitely sea fortress-ish.
After we returned from Soumenlinna, it was time for me and Alex to return to the ferry. In anticipation of another buffet excursion and night out at the “Fun Club”, we decided to take a nap. Once we felt fully restored, we conquered the buffet again. Learning from our previous experience, we attempted to go in with a strategy of “pacing ourselves”. This strategy failed miserably, and we ended up struggling to consume what we believed to be appropriate amounts of desserts and wine, not to mention salmon, steak, and pork belly.
Satisfyingly stuffed, we made our way to the Fun Club for another night of….fun. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that Wednesday nights at the Fun Club are when the action happens. Because of our later dinner reservation, we [fortunately] missed the metallic windsuit dancers. Instead, the cover band was playing a mix of American 80’s music and “traditional” music (i.e. almost like polka music), and the over 65+ year olds in the crowd were loving it. Alex and I did some professional people watching, because it was actually fun watching the couples from different places show of their different dancing styles. We then began narrating a “dancing with the stars”-like contest between the couples, even going so far as giving them names. We are clearly very easily entertained.
We took a break from people watching to grab another beer and ended up chatting with some Finnish passangers. Alex and I took this opportunity to show off our extensive knowledge of the Finnish language, which includes (and IS limited to):
-Kantapää (but pronounced more like “gundaba”; which is the “heel” or end of the bread)
-Pannukakku (pancake; our mom makes an amazing Finnish pannukakku!)
-Paska poika (shit boy)
-Yksi, kaksi, kolme (one, two, three)
We also chose to bestow upon our new friends a very off-tune version of the piikkisika song, which our grandmother sang to us growing up:
”Piikkisika, piikkisika, por-quin-pine
Climbing way up high in the northern pine
I’ll take my sot gun and soot you down
When our Finnish friends asked why we say “sot gun” (instead of shot gun) and “soot” (instead of shoot), we said, “because that’s what you guys say!”. They were not convinced, but appreciated our performance nonetheless.
Satisfied with what we viewed as successful cultural exchange, we called it a night and went back to our room. The ferry docked around 10am, so we woke up a little early to grab breakfast and take in the sights as we arrived in Stockholm. We had a few hours before our train to Linköping, so we did a little sightseeing in Stockholm. Then we headed to my new home, followed by a week exploring more of the Nordic region (which will likely constitute a separate blog post, eventually!).