Finally Finland (+ Estonia), Part II
November 13, 2009, 8:54 pm
Filed under: Food, Travel

Ahem.  That was a much longer cliff-hanger than I intended (five months?!), sorry.

I left off when I was about to tell you about quite possible my favorite part of our trip– the dinner we ate right before leaving Tallinn, Estonia– and I was reminded of that dinner pretty recently when I attempted to imitate one part of one of the dishes we had there.  The restaurant was called Aed (Garden), and it was listed in our guidebook as having very good vegetable dishes (other stuff, too, it just indicated that good fresh vegetables might be rare there– something I would question the guidebook on).  It sounded good, but we had no idea how good.  We eat a lot of great food, but I still think it was the best meal we’ve ever had, and there must have been some kind of alchemy involved.  We had very little wine, but we got so giddy that, by the end, we were sitting there giggling at each other, and we stayed too late and had to run to make it back to the cruise ship just as they closed the gates, and we giggled the whole time we were running, too.

Appetizer: Rabbit, Sea Buckthorn Berry Sorbet, etc.

Alas and alack, Matt’s camera (our only, because mine died right before the trip) battery died after I took this one, so we don’t have a photographic record of the rest of that fantastic meal.  I remember the tastes, though…  My entrée was duck, and every single ingredient of every single course was divine.  There wasn’t a whole lot of seasoning, but we didn’t notice the lack because the ingredients were so good.  In fact, I think anything more would have been a distraction.  We asked our water about the food and the chef, and he said they believe in “Pure Food” and that Estonia, with access to wonderful fresh food, has a special affinity for the “Pure Food Movement” (contrary to the claims of the guidebook– who would you believe?).

So do you wanna know which part of that meal I tried to copy?  Several weeks ago, I went down to Carandale Farm and walked around with Dale Secher, asking questions about his experimental fruit plots.  He showed me his beautiful sea berry trees (these are the same as sea buckthorn berries, also sampled to delightful effect in various forms in Finland; I had expected them to be bushes or shrubs, but they were most definitely trees, especially the males, which they allow to grow taller so that they’ll shower pollen on the more closely pruned females).  I unfortunately didn’t have my camera with me because I went straight from work at Gardens of Goodness, but I did come home with a souvenir: a whole flat of frozen sea berries, the larger, sweeter Russian variety that he prefers.  I had bought two small containers of the other, smaller variety at the market and made neat neon orange jelly out of them, but these were better, and what I really wanted to make (at least with some of what turned out to be a half-gallon of sea berries) was some sea berry sorbet like I ate at Aed in Tallinn.

Carandale Frozen Sea Berries

Sea Berry Sorbet

Sea Berry Jelly

The sorbet’s really good…  I have to say that it’s not quite as good as Aed’s, but then, what could be?  It was a magical meal.

(I still have a few cups of sea berries left.  What should I make?  I’m thinking… liqueur?)

Not long after we got back to Helsinki from Tallinn– it might have even been the next day– we took off for Turku, the former capital of Finland.  It’s an older city, and you can feel it, but wandering along the docks, it also feels more industrial, more active in some ways, than Helsinki.  While we were there, they were building the world’s largest cruise ship right there on the waterfront.

Turku Waterfront

Our first full day there, we rented a couple of bikes and rode down to the end of the waterfront, over a bridge and out to the end of Ruissalo Island and back.  It was a gorgeous, sunny Spring day.


We stopped off at Turku Castle (Turun Linna) on the way, our second visit to this impressive medieval building (which we never managed to see during their visiting hours, so we only saw the outside and what we could see of the inner courtyard without picking any locks or breaking down any doors or gates).

Turku Castle

Across the Water

It was also a seriously windy day, but on the way out there, the only annoyance from it was that I kept losing my hat.  I happened to be wearing a kerchief underneath it, so I took it off, used my two hairclips to attach it to the inside of the hat and used it to tie the hat onto my head.  Brilliant!  (First I tied it around the outside, resulting in some much more ridiculous-looking pictures thanks to Matt)


We made it out to Saaroniemi, stared out at the bay for a while–


— and ate lunch at a deserted little cafe there (it clearly wasn’t the busy season yet).


Anyone wondering where we got our suave hats?  Answer: H&M, in Turku.  Nothing quite like an American department store to supply one with overpriced but cheaply-made goods needed in a hurry to make up for lack of forethought.  Although I have to say, I particularly like that hat on Matt, and I’m glad he still wears it.  I left mine behind at our apartment in Espoo for the next guest.

There were very cute sheep relaxing on pasture on the island.


Does anyone know if they’re Finnsheep or some other breed?  I’m not actually sure.  Doesn’t it look like they’re singing?

Despite the wind picking up and making the return trip much more difficult than the way out there, we made it back (huffing and puffing) to the mainland in time to catch the Handicrafts Museum briefly before dinner.

Wheel, Swift, Carders, Drop Spindle, Baskets & Fiber

Sod Roofs

Dinner was in a boat on the river with the leader of Slow Food Finland, Pena Arvela, who was very kind, helpful and erudite and could have easily drunk both of us under the table.  We went to a little wine bar after dinner, and he and the owner treated us to some fantastic stuff.  Speaking of drinks, during dinner we asked him what Finnish beer, wine or spirit he’d most recommend to us.  He didn’t speak highly of many local concoctions, but he did mention a liqueur called Mesimarja.  We had to hail several waiters before we could figure out an English translation: Arctic Bramble Berry.  We tried some, of course, and it was indeed quite nice, enough that we picked up a couple bottles at the Duty Free on our way out of the country.  These days, I particularly like a splash of it in a glass of sparkling wine.  Mmm.

The next day, we took a bus up to Rauma, which was founded in 1442, contains “the largest preserved coherent medieval wooden town area in the Nordic region” (from the town’s website) and is therefore a UNESCO world heritage site AND is the home of our new friends Tiina-Maija and Eemeli (her son, who when we met him before his christening was called Epeli; and her husband, whom we met briefly, Jarkko? sorry, Tiina-Maija, I can’t remember!).

Epeli & Tiina-Maija

They gave us a fantastic gift: the use of their apartment in Espoo for almost two weeks, before we even met them (they’re friends of my dad’s).  So of course we visited them in Rauma, which is a beautiful little old town.


Rauma Old Church

Tiina-Maija humored me by taking us to a lacemaking shop/museum where they still handmake lace (lucky for us, they were just setting up to teach a group of school kids how to do it; her hands flew while she put in these pins and swapped bobbins around)–


— and a little museum where they had an old flax wheel on display.

Wheel & Flax

On the left is a simple, small masonry stove, which we saw tons of all over Finland (we very much want one).

She even took us out into the countryside a little ways to show us a farm that raises a very rare breed of cattle called Itäsuomenkarja (we think).


They were beautiful, and the farmer was so nice to take the time out of her busy schedule to show us around.  Tiina-Maija translated, which was key, not only because of the language difference, but because (as my dad is very quick to point out), listening is a whole different thing in Finnish, with many special little noises being made to indicate attention and understanding, and I’m not very good at it.  This is a near non sequitur, but I was listening to an interview with Barbara Kingsolver on NPR this morning, and as she was listening to a caller and about to answer, I swear I heard her make one of the intake-of-breath sounds (a little gasp, sort of) that Finns make when they’re listening.

We couldn’t really thank them enough for sharing their apartment with us, but we did bring them some New York maple syrup, and I made Epeli a hat and socks which he probably only fit the day he put them on (and hardly even then; that hat wanted to pop right back off again, dratted fast-growing babies).

Epeli's Duds

Throughout our trip, it stayed light later and later, and on our way back to Helsinki, across from the train station in Turku, long after dinner time, I took this sun-lit picture of Matt:

Late Sun

Back in Helsinki, this sunset shot was taken at probably around 10pm (but since we never adjusted the time on the camera, I don’t remember for sure– at one point, I think Matt took a picture of the time on our cellphone against a still-light sky to prove it, but I don’t know where that shot went):

Helsinki Sunset

We were having a drink in a bar near the top of the Hotel Torni, thanks to our friends Maija and Heidi (although we took this picture when we went back on our own, since our first visit was after sunset).  Maija and her husband Jukka also introduced us to Eurovision!  It was a coincidence, but we happened to go to Seurasaari on Norwegian Day, which also happened to be the morning after Norway had won the Eurovisian Finals.

Norwegian Day Parade

Seurasaari is a neat open-air museum (where Maija and Heidi have both worked) showcasing “the traditional Finnish way of life…  in the cottages, farmsteads and manors of the past four centuries that have been relocated from all around Finland” (from the website).


It was almost the end of our trip, but we took time out to relax at a little coffee shop that my dad and his friends liked for the view across Töölonlahti to Finlandia Hall.

Finlandia Hall

[Lest anyone continue to wonder, that schmutz in the upper left corner of most of the pictures is a spot on the lens of Matt’s camera, which is currently in a box waiting to be sent back to Fuji for warranty work.]  Before my dad’s goodbye party, we squeezed in one more sightseeing adventure: Temppeliaukio–


— where we caught a dress rehearsal in progress.  The acoustics are fantastic, and the violinist was incredible.  The quality of the light and the beauty of the stone also made it a memorable visit.

The whole visit was memorable.  We met wonderful people (including friends of my dad’s whom we were very honored to get to know a little bit, and to see how he lived during his year in Finland) and saw beautiful cities and buildings, heard great music, ate delicious food, and overall enjoyed our trip very much.  Next trip: more Estonia?

1 Comment so far
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It is nice to read you had a good time in Finland. The sheep in your picture look like they are Finnsheep, and the grey ones are very rare color:)

Comment by Leena

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