Day 14, Helsinki / Suomenlinna, January 23rd 2012

Tea 14:  Thyolo, théhuone, Helsinki.

Today I headed to the islands of Suomenlinna.  This is a short boat journey, which if you have a travel-card like me, is included, so is basically free.  The island are an old fortress, which began life in 1748, when the Swedish, who at that time ruled over current day Finland, built it to defend themselves against Russian expansion.  Suomenlinna played a key role in many disputes, swapping hands time and again, until 1918 when it became part of newly independent, Finland.  It is now an UNESCO world heritage site.  The island is quite pretty, the first impression was a little disappointing, the buildings on the first island are similar to those in the city, and quite close to the Swedish architecture in Stockholm.  As I headed further into the complex though things got more interesting, crossing a small bridge I entered the old port area, where currently a wooden Gunboat is being constructed.  This is based on the plans of architect F. H. Chapman.  The main aim of the project is to employ and train young people and to revive and maintain ancient ship-building skills.  They are certainly doing a good job on this project, the ship is still in a skeletal stage, but it looks as if it will be amazing when finished, it is huge!

After that I headed towards some even older looking bits of the fortress.  The complex is huge, and like a rabbit warren, it would be so easy to get totally lost in there if there weren’t maps dotted about.  The building is quite low, barely going over two stories for the most part, but the walls are really thick and, like I say, the labyrinthian quality must of made it an excellent defensive structure.  I headed towards the Kings Gate, basically the original main entrance / first stop off for any wannabe invader.  There are cannon of various ages, some from the earlier period of it’s history and some from the more recent conflict around 1918.  I spent around two hours on the island before my fingers began to get numb through my gloves, definitely the coldest day so far, the exposure of the island to the Baltic Sea and the fresh bout of snowfall all contributed to this.  I hopped back onto the ferry headed back to the mainland.

My mission now: TEA!  Of course.  I almost indulged in a hot chocolate instead, but my tea head was on and I wanted to go back to the shop that had been closed on Sunday, théhuone (Teahouse in Finnish).  I was greeted by a wall of amazing smelling teas.  The shop was inviting and warm.  A pair sat at one table and another lone soul like me at another, so I took a third.  The menu was extensive to say the least, I couldn’t read any of it except for the tea names, and country of origin.  I picked one and asked to smell it.  The smell was deep and reddish, exactly what I was looking for to warm me up, and to give me something different.  The tea was called Thyolo, I presume in further reference to it’s origin, Thyolo in Malawi.  Today I decided to take proper tasting notes, especially because it was a tea I definitely haven’t experienced before.  So here we go:  The tea was smooth and rounded in flavour, delicate in flavour, and no bitterness at all.  There was the slight hint of Rooibos and also a smell it took me ages to pin down, but I think it might have been the very tiniest hint of Passata (tomato puree).  It took me ages to think what it was, and I might still be wrong.  There was an edge of sweetness to the tea, mostly from the Rooibos tones, that refreshed the underside of my tongue along and a slight and pleasant lingering metallic note in there somewhere.  The tea was dark amber in colour, reminiscent of Golden Syrup.  The water was heated perfectly and the timing of the brewing was to perfection, thanks to a little egg-timer used my the assistant.  I also indulged in a delicious seeded Croissant with St Dalfour Black Cherry jam.  It was SOOOO good!  After my tea I chatted to the assistant for a while about tea and travel, she told me how, for her honeymoon, she and her husband travelled for five weeks down very much the same route as I am planning but in a Caravan, it has made me think more about using a different form of transport than the trains and buses I have planned so far…..

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Day 11, Helsinki / Vantaa, January 20th 2012

Tea 11: Green Tea with Lemon, somewhere in the Baltic Sea, near Helsinki.

SNOW!  Proper Snow!  Helsinki is like I had sort of imagined it would be, but even more snowy, especially after the lack of snow in Copenhagen and Stockholm.  Apparently yesterday they had 20cm, and today they must of had the same again.  There is loads!!!  I’ve not seen so much since I was a kid skiing.

I woke up in my cabin at around 8am local time, 7am head time and 6am UK time.  I was lucky in that the cabin I had booked was a shared one, and so I could of had to share with other people, but the ship was quiet and I had the whole thing to myself!  Brilliant!  So after a fairly decent nights sleep I headed downstairs to the Promenade deck in search of tea.  I didn’t get my hopes up and was therefore not too disappointed when I was limited to a small Twinings selection.  How they manage to fit so many tannins into their tea I do not know, I’m starting to think when they say ‘Green Tea’ they just mean they picked the ones out of the black tea batch that stand out a little…. It did the job though and by the time I had drunk that and eaten the extremely dry and chewy cinnamon bun thing (trust me, a camel would have struggled), it was almost time to disembark.  I headed to the top deck and out into the cold air, where I was greeted by lots of lovely, snow-covered islands, even the back of the ship had a little covering.  Helsinki soon loomed up on me and it was time to get off.

I took the tram from the Olympia ferry terminal to the central station and met my friend Eeero, who is kindly hosting me for the next 10 days, outside of the station, after me having seen him, but not him me, outside of the Sokos hotel / department store and me chasing him around for a while.  We went and got my travelcard sorted and headed to his house in Vantaa, a little way north of Helsinki.  After dumping my stuff, meeting his wife and their new baby I headed out into the snow, really really thick snow, and back into the city centre where I filled myself up at a disgustingly satisfying Chinese Buffet and wandered around the city a little to get my bearings a little.  The river running through Helsinki is completely frozen over and a weird murky brown colour, which means I will not be testing my theory that you could easily walk across it, but nonetheless I’m pretty sure that water isn’t moving for a while.  I treated myself to a bar of soap and a wee in a department store and headed back to Eeero’s place.