Did you know that Helsinki is way the hell up north?  And that it borders Russia?  And that during WWII it somehow managed to fight both Russia AND Germany?  We didn’t.  But do now!!

We have two full days to check this city out and they are two very different days.

Day 1:  We are tourists

Day 2:  We hang out like normal people (or as normal as we get anyway)…

The whole reason we came this far north was to visit the last of the Au Pairs we are going to see on this trip.  Annika was our third (of seven) Au Pairs and was with us when AJ was in first grade.  She lives with her boyfriend Hannu here in Helsinki and the plan is to meet at 11am in the market downtown and see the sights of the big city.

We went with mystery meat, not the ‘moose meat’

We all sleep in.  The past two days of travel have worn us down and getting some extra shuteye is much needed.  We manage to make it out of the house in plenty of time and are at the market munching on a meat pie1 by 11am when we link up with Annika and Hannu.  Introductions all around and true to form, I manage to wedge my size 11 shoe in my mouth very early in the conversation.  We were talking about AJ’s school and the fact that he does some work in the summer, specifically math.  He can pick any subject but has to do some math.  AJ expressed interest in history and I quipped that history was good but it is better to pick a major in which one can actually get a job.  I then turned and asked Hannu what he studied in college and (drum roll please), it was history.

Thank you, I’ll be here all day.

Hannu took it way better than I would have and still accompanied us for the rest of the day.  Hell, he was the tour for the rest of the day–he grew up in Helsinki and knows this town cold.

We started by heading out to Suomenlinna.  No earthy idea how to say that.  Suomenlinna is a sea fortress built on six islands and on a nice summer day a very popular place to go hang out.  We love islands and there are a ton of things to do on the here.  There are museums, a Finnish WWII submarine to tour, the fortress itself, tunnels through the fortress, cafes, a ship yard and the day we were there a yoga gathering.   To get there you hop on a boat from the market and 10 minutes later you are at the island.  The part that appeals to my cheapness is that our transit tickets cover the ride to the island–don’t need to pay extra and I love this place!!!

We get to the islands and they rock.  Literally–the fortress is built upon huge rocks.  Plus there are aforementioned tunnels.  And huge walls.  And cannons.  Plus, as an added bonus, a coffee stand which gives us an opportunity to relax and warm up, because, and I can not emphasize this enough, it is cold up in this place.  At least compared to Italy and Spain.  We tour the submarine (it is small) and military museum and with Hannu’s help, we got a good feel for the turmoil in the country around WWII.IMG_6008

We were getting some feedback that perhaps a whole day of military history isn’t going to work for most of the group so we head back to the mainland for a walking tour of the city.  Highlights?  Since you asked:  A rock church (or a church built on a rock), the best library ever (and yes, we went to a library and it was that good), yet another (non-melty) church, a walk platz, the city has it all.

No moose meat here!

We ask what traditional food we should eat while we are in Finland and are told that we probably don’t want to do that, and head to a sushi restaurant for an all you can eat buffet.  We check our watches and are surprised to see if is 8pm; the sun is still shining.  We leave Annika/Hanau and head back to our place.  There is a street festival right in our neighborhood, but I make the mistake of laying down on the bed and next thing you know it is morning!

1Any country that serves meat pies is tops on my list of favorite countries!

Gate in Helsinki
This is a motley crew!