Day Nine: In Which We Become City Tourists

Saturday was by far our earliest start. We actually saw the sun rise, which isn’t a particularly hard feat since it doesn’t rise until 8am. In fact, we were up for all the daylight hours. For once.

We left our beloved cabin around 7:30am, in a lovely lingering dawn light. As Marijke drove to the airport along the snowy roads, I sat in the back with my face glued to the glass, taking in the snowy hills and pine and birch and the low sun flashing orange-gold from behind it all. My window promptly frosted over, but I scraped away at it and persisted. It was a dreamsicle morning. Goodbye, Lapland. No last reindeer sightings, nor fox nor wolverines nor hibernating bears, but this sunrise was gift enough.


In the Kittilä airport, Marijke and I drooled over the wonderfulness of reindeer pelts (almost literally) (if we drool on them, do we get to keep them?). The leather is amazingly soft– soft–and light, in that it feels like almost nothing, but in a really, really good way. The fur is thick and hearty and plush and wonderful–I just can’t think of a better word–and just needs to be sat or lied on.

We bought a very nice consolation breakfast at the airport cafe and soon were on our way to Helsinki.

Reindeer wraps.

There was something both sad and exciting about heading to Helsinki. Marijke really didn’t want to leave our cabin, and heading to Helsinki meant one step farther from that experience and one step closer to home and work. In the last day in the cabin, I realized I was ready for a shift, partly literally. My hips were starting to hurt from so much lying around.

I love being on a plane. A flight is a wonderful neither-here-nor-there, with no obligations and no expectations and no access to me by the outside world and to the outside world by me, and in the meantime I get to watch that outside world go by simultaneously so tiny and so big beneath me. I used to feel this all the time on flights, this fantastic waking dream-state. Nowadays, moreso, I’m both here and there, thinking ahead rather than reflecting, working or planning or trying to do something I should do. If my butt didn’t get sore, a vacation just flying around in a plane might be good for me. Regardless, I had this feeling of completeness and happiness on this flight, where I was writing and pondering and, often, just looking.

Helsinki was cold and harsh. It was snowing when we got there, a bit bitter. We hailed a driver through Uber to get us to our hotel and he said nothing until halfway through the drive, when I said to my companions, “I wonder what Helsinki is like in the summer.” He laughed. I guess he wasn’t blocking us out through his headphones after all. “Helsinki in the summer? For me, compared to where I come from, there is no summer.” He’s from Nigeria. Talk about a transition. He said his friends in Nigeria don’t believe him when he tells them where he is and how cold it is.

It wasn’t too cold for a walk. We checked into our awesome hotel (it used to be a prison) (true story) but couldn’t get into our room yet, so dropped our things to check out the city. Goals: two churches, a cafe, and a market. We did a little better than that. First stop was the Orthodox Church, which we didn’t know about but saw on the way to our hotel. Beautiful outside. Our taxi driver of later that afternoon (who doubled as a fonte of tourist knowledge) told us about the back and forth history of Finland, being part of Sweden and then part of Russia before winning its independence 100 years ago. This church is from the Russian influence.

I think we almost didn’t go inside. We were walking past it. Which would have been ludicrous, because this:

It was a quite unexpected interior. Celestial, elegant. I had a moment when I walked in–a bit of an “oh, wow.” A feeling of awe and peace, as well-designed churches are apt to inspire. Arches and color, and there was someone very important entombed there, from the size and decorations of the tomb. Also, babies. Before we left, what looked to be three babies were set to be christened. Apparently, up north, the Sami would wash off their babies after baptisms to cleanse them of evil spirits. Clash of the faiths. It didn’t seem like these babies were set for a re-washing, though.

But we had more churches and a market to see. We walked to the cathedral, took lots of photos of it in the square, and climbed its steep steps… to find it closed. For a wedding, Marijke surmised. We would just have to hit the cafe. We didn’t know much about Helsinki, but Marijke had read about a cafe on the square and we are indeed lovers of cafes so we stopped in for a coffee and a pastry which turned instead into lunch, a coffee (Marijke and me, beer for Eric), and dessert. The food in Finland has really been surprisingly good. And the cafe offered a view out of the square and the church across it from us, and of the wedding party that indeed emerged to take photos on its steps.

Next stop, the market, to get to it before it closed. The first market we went to looked absolutely lovely and packed with handmade, well-made, locally made pretty things. But it cost 10 Euros to enter. So we took our Euros and walked on. We hit the outdoor market just as it was closing up. It takes a hearty people indeed to have an outdoor market through the winter on a Nordic waterfront. I am not so hearty a person. I was a little relieved that it lacked some interest for us and was shutting down, although not before Marijke and I had the opportunity to fall in love (in LOVE!) with these hats. Aar, I’m a troll! Only, this troll thrives in the sun.

Eric found us a better market. In a–what’s a synonym for lovely? It just fits so many things on this trip–an attractive (ugh) building not far away on the waterfront.

See? Not warm. The market is the neat building cut off on the right side of the photo.

It’s a market like in Grand Central Station in New York, or Pikes Place in Seattle, or the Ferry Terminal in San Francisco. That is to say, it’s great, and was packed with meats and pastries and fish and cafes. It’s a good thing we’d completely stuffed ourselves at the other cafe, because merengues the size of your head.

We make closing time our specialty. From the market, we caught a cab (with our fabulous tour guide cab driver) to the rock church. I was hoping there would be a band playing. Like, maybe, Kiss. No luck, BUT it was built in the 60s, so I think a little rock and roll would be fitting. And I’m glad the cab driver explained that it was built in the 60s, otherwise I would have been very confused by the decor. It seems like he is used to managing expectations.

What is the rock church? you may ask. Perhaps you’ve already looked it up, or perhaps you already knew. Either way. It’s a church that was built down into rock. Not like Petra or Lalibela (definitely look that one up if it’s not familiar), which are hewn into rock, but rather someone blasted out a hole in the Helsinki bedrock and built a church into it. It’s rough, it’s metamorphic, it’s modern, it’s no Lalibela but it’s pretty neat. Plus, they had music playing, and it was a very nice place to experience sitting for a bit in the balcony. Where I pondered igneous and metamorphic rocks. There were these fantastic pockets of what my rusty geologic sensibilities tell me is biotite. How long does that take to form? More or less than my lifetime, or does it depend? Was it born of melt, or of metamorphosis? Must research or ask around when I can get back online.

Not the rock church, but on our way back. We kind of fell for these teamates.

When they kicked us out, we walked back to the cathedral. Is it really a cathedral? I walked in sort of expecting it to be one of the wonders of the world and found it to be decidedly underwhelming. A little claustrophobic, even. Spartan. White, not decorated. I’m sure there is a philosophy behind it, but I found it to be remarkably uninspiring (yes, remarkably so!). Take me back to the Orthodox Church.

Or, better yet, back to the hotel. The daylight was waning, we were getting tired, it was getting colder, and we’d already gotten more exercise in five hours than probably in five days. Plus, we were just exhausted from our day of travel. The coffee had worn off, or the sugar crash had kicked in. Or probably both. Day was done.

And, for once, it wasn’t the nighttime we were waiting for. We checked the aurora forecast, just in case. “No chance in Helsinki,” said Eric. Ha, ha.

The hotel restaurant had gotten good reviews. After a few minutes recuperating from our extreme exertions and settling in to our hotel room, we wandered downstairs to find a cocktail. Which turned into dinner, drinks, and dessert. No disappointments here. As usual, we left our table–eventually–with full bellies and satisfied palates. No reindeer, but some very tasty smoked elk.

I finally got to sleep at a reasonable hour. I don’t know that I had much choice. I was exhausted. Day was done–and done well, at that. Goodbye, Finland.


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