Ah, Finland, we hardly knew ye. Less than 16 hours in the fair city of Helsinki, we are leaving on a ship for Estonia. You did nothing wrong and we (as a man once said) shall return. Today is the opportunity to go see a country we may never be able to see again, so off on a ferry we go to Tallinn, Estonia. Where we leave AJ. And he complains.
There are some good reasons to visit Tallinn, Estonia. First, the consonant to vowel ratio of their language is closer to what we are comfortable with, rather than the freaky Finlandian words which are decidedly vowel heavy. It is also a sister city with Annapolis, MD, which is 10 short miles from our house. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. A tech heavy city (Skype founded here). All good reasons. But ours wasn’t any of those. We are doing it because we can and it seemed like fun three months ago when I was sitting in my underwear at my computer booking tickets for our summer trip.
One of us wakes up early with the first light from the sun, realizes that it is like 4:30am, marvels at the fact that anyone in this country isn’t bat-shit crazy from the 18-20 hours of light (or darkness), and rolls over and goes back to bed.
Then up at 6:30. Shower, brew a big old pot of coffee and head out to the metro station to buy three day transit passes for our time in the big city, stop at a shop to get some breakfast and then head back to the airbnb to wake up the two lazy bastards. All goes as planned1 other than a small hiccup at the convenance store. I brought my goods up to the counter to check out and included in the basket is a bunch of bananas. The scruffy dude at the counter looks at the bananas, looks at me, says something along the line of “mooomoooomoooomoooo,” and gathers them up and heads back to whence I got the fruit. I follow because that seems like the right thing to do. He puts them on a hidden scale (it wasn’t hidden…I just didn’t see it), punched a button, a sticker is printed, he puts it on the bananas, holds them up and tells me “baawaaanaaafreeemoooouuus.”
I reply: “Sorry about that.”
He blinks. I can see his processor switch from Finnish to English and he replies back with no accent, “No problem. I just don’t know what to charge you.”
Holy crap this place is amazing. Other than the language. That is just freaky.
I’m back in the apartment and at 8am start the bell ringing to get the other two out of bed. There is movement. Slow, but it is there and over the next hour everyone gets showered, dressed, fed and out the door. We head down a block and catch the 0903 tram (number seven if you are keeping score) to the port terminal. Seems like we just did this.
A relatively easy checkin process and we are on a boat almost as big as our cruise ship, but this is a ferry that will carry us across the 80 km/50 miles of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic sea to Estonia, that long, lost, dark land. Couple of differences between the big cruise and the ferry. First is the price–this is uber cheap. Second is the rule on bringing alcohol on the boat; it is forbidden on the cruise line. Turns out this round trip is jammed with Finns heading to Estonia to bulk up on cheap beer to bring back to Finland. One presumes to put down into their storm cellar to pack away for the long, dark nights of winter. Or to drink over the next week. Whatever. We aren’t judging! We are scheduled to leave at 1030, but we push off from the dock at 1010–these dudes don’t mess around! The trip is gorgeous and relatively quick at two hours.
We get out of the ship along with about 1,000 of our closest friends and head to the old town part of Tallinn, capitol of Estonia. We grab some lunch at an outdoor cafe which is a bit of a mistake. It is a very sunny day which almost off-sets the wind (brisk) and the temperature (cold). Fortunately the restaurants all have blankets on their chairs that you can use to wrap around your shoulders to keep you warm, and I wish I was kidding. Two days ago we were complaining about too much heat now we are going the other way. And looking for a store in which we can buy a sweatshirt. And long underwear. Though the hearty Estonians/Finns/Russians are walking around in shorts. Apparently if there is sun, you need to soak it up while you can get it!
Then we are off to walk about the town. We have about four more hours to kill before the ferry takes us back to Finland and the town captures approximately two hours of our time and then we are tapped. We did see some old town walls and towers (one called Fat Margret which seems mean, and another named after a slang term for a penis, which I’ve heard is a German word, but was quite funny), tried to visit the maritime museum (closed) and gawked at the awesome eastern European architecture (think cement formed into squares). Figuring we needed some exercise to work off the lunch, we headed to the town hall and climbed up the stairs to the top of the tower. These are NOT OSHA approved stairs and climbing is the appropriate word. Some of those things were three feet tall and were less ‘step’ then ‘small cliff.’ We persevered (though there was some loud complaining) and were rewarded with great views of the old town.
We then decide to stop trying to find the next great thing, and instead find a place to get a snack and sit where it is warm. It is at this point that we (Jan and I) got separated from AJ. We had appointed him navigator and he was looking on his phone for the restaurant at which we were going to get the snack. We luddites (the adults), having used our amazing powers of observation were fairly certain we knew where it was because we had just passed it 20 minutes earlier. So we kept walking; AJ looked up and we were gone. He caught us and murmured the quote in the title. “Did you forget you left me or did you just not care.” We had indeed left him. But seriously…what the hell can happened to him!
Snack then we wander back to the pier where we once again board the boat. This time the Finns have rolling carts stacked with cases of (mostly) beer and (some) alcohol. They are not joking about getting the booze back home. Two hours back across the water, onto a crowded tram and we arrive back home at 10pm. And damn if there still isn’t light in the sky. These people are crazy.
1 There are two official languages in Finland; Finnish and Swedish. Fortunately over 70% of the population also speaks English (our experience was 100% of the people we talked to) and most everywhere we went there were three languages on signs (including English). It is interesting that Swedish is their second language and English also in heavy rotation given that they border Russia and were under Russian control for some period starting in the 18th century. Of course the whole ‘invading Finland in WWII’ probably left a bad taste in everyones mouth.