Agricultora


Finally Finland (+ Estonia)
June 18, 2009, 12:02 am
Filed under: Food, Travel

It’s a little late, I know, since we got back from Finland almost a month ago, but better late than never I hope.

To state the obvious, Finland is very different from Mexico.  Or, more specifically, our trip to Finland this year was very different from our trip to Mexico last year.  It’s not that we expected it to be the same, but I think we had prepared ourselves for something as exotic, if in a totally different way.  Matt had been to Denmark, but I’d never been anywhere that far north, and I think we both had some sort of “Nordic mystique” in mind.  There may well be that sort of mystique, but in our quick two week trip we found Finland to be quietly lovely, very well organized and well groomed, civilized and dignified rather than exotic.

Islands off Helsinki
Islands off Helsinki

Our first full day there, we did the tourist thing and took a boat cruise around the islands off Helsinki, taking way too many pictures and giggling about ridiculous things because we were ridiculously jet-lagged.  Wandering around that particular harbor (Helsinki has many), we found my favorite building in Helsinki, the Uspenski Cathedral:

Uspenski Dome
Uspenski Dome

Somewhere we have a picture of the outside, I swear…  But the inside really struck me, with its colors and symbols and refreshing lack of crucified Christs.

My second favorite building was a type– the markethall (kauppahalli), most often adjacent to a market square (kauppatori), filled with food and craft and other vendors, and inciting all sorts of greedy and gluttonous feelings:

Kauppahalli
Kauppahalli

This one was either the Wanha Kauppahalli (Old Markethall) adjacent to the main market square, just called the Kauppatori, or Hakaniemi further north, in a neat section of town I think was called Kallio (after the famous church therein) that had a younger, hipper feel to it.

Of course, we focused on food during the entire trip, as per our usual.  Our first incredible meal happened a few days in, when we went with my dad to Aino right off the Esplanade Park near the Kauppatori:

Goose Liver Pate at Aino
Goose Liver Pate at Aino

This was a free range goose liver pate with sea buckthorn berries (one of my new favorite things) and greens.  Matt and I had eaten a late lunch while we were wandering around Helsinki, so only ordered appetizers (he had a mixed fish plate– fresh, smoked and otherwise cured, several different kinds of local fish– that was also great).  Feeling that we hadn’t done the place justice and hungry for more, we returned towards the end of our trip to have several more courses.  It was just that good.

Our first weekend there, we took a daytrip with my dad to Porvoo, up the coast from Helsinki, a port town full of historic wooden buildings with a quiet glow to it, especially around sunset.

Porvoo Warehouses
Porvoo Warehouses
Porvoo Church
Porvoo Church
Porvoo Waterfront
Porvoo Waterfront

Ironically, we had decent Spanish food for lunch in Porvoo…

The next day we took a day cruise to Tallinn.  We boarded a huge cruise ship, both of our first trip aboard anything quite like that, and moved ponderously off through the fog across the Baltic to the city which Helsinki apparently was built to rival in trade.  A city of colors and contrasts, Tallinn perched on the Baltic coast with its backside fore.  Our guidebook had warned us about the Soviet era port, so we were prepared for the worst.  Actually, it wasn’t that bad, but not very photogenic, so I’ll spare you and post prettier pictures of Old Tallinn instead:

Red Roofs
Red Roofs

We found the most touristy part right off, and saw our first mobs of European and American tourists of the trip, especially right around the Old Market, where we had an enormous lunch:

Estonian Lunch
Estonian Lunch

It was supposed to feed two, but it would have fed at least four hungry Americans, and we were trying to save a little room for dinner.

After lunch, we started to wander around Old Tallinn, amongst fantastic old stone buildings and up and down narrow cobblestone streets, walls and towers:

Wall Stairs
Wall Stairs

The occasional vista would show us Old Tallinn against a backdrop of the modern business structures of New Tallinn:

Tallinn
Tallinn

On a smaller scale, there were other photogenic contrasts:

Old Car in Old Tallinn
Old Car in Old Tallinn

It was a city of circles within circles, and in what felt like the innermost, we found the Russian Orthodox Cathedral:

Russian Orthodox Cathedral
Russian Orthodox Cathedral

It rivaled Helsinki’s and was quite lovely, inside and out.  Coming out the back door, we passed an elderly woman coming in, looking back over her shoulder, and at the top of the stairs just outside the door, we found a clue as to what she may just have been doing:

Cat - Fish
Cat – Fish

See the fish?  Lucky cat.

It’s getting late for me tonight, so I’m going to split this post and leave you with a cliffhanger: That evening in Tallinn, Matt and I had quite possibly the most incredible meal we’ve ever had, involving things like sea buckthorn berries and phusalis (guess, just guess, what rare fruit that might be in English), rabbit and duck, and such a heady good feeling throughout and particularly after the meal that we found ourselves giggling at unexpected moments (yes, without enough wine in our systems to explain it away).  More (with picture) later!

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