Day 16, Helsinki, January 25th 2012

Tea 16: Flunssan Nujertaja (The Cold Cruncher), Cafe Java, Helsinki.

Today was another snowy day and my earliest start so far.  I was in town for around 11a.m, though I did experience my first snow related train delay today. A few minutes only, pretty impressive considering the amount of snow and the rather balmy -7’C….  I was meeting up with a person I met on Couchsurfing who had offered to show me around a bit of the city.  I met her in the train station and we went for a little bit of lunch in the university cafeteria.  I had a satisfying portion of Elk medallions.  They were pleasant, a lot milder in flavour than I had expected.  But the portion was good and set me up well for the rest of the day.  We then took the Metro to Kaapeli (The Cable Factory), where I had been the night before.  We visited the photography museum there, which was unfortunately half shut, but that did mean we got into what was open for free, my favourite price!  There was an interesting exhibtion of self portraits from various groups there, as well as a small exhibition that was mostly about the development of human rights.  We then browsed around the small bookshop and headed back out into the cold air.  We took a tram towards the old town and wandered along Kalevankatu and stopped off in a small Greek cafe called Cafe Delicato where we both had a lovely hot chocolate, and Ella had a slice of expensive but tasty looking blueberry cheesecake.  We sat and chatted for a good long while about life, learning, traveling, mono-brow parties and boob inspired pizza before braving it out into the cold weather once more.

We wandered around the old town a little more, occasionally lifting our heads from the inside of our jacket to take in views of the rather beautiful architecture around this area. Yellow townhouses line the streets with sweet windows and pointy rooftops.  The weather seemed to have gotten even colder though so we didn’t stay outside for long, but got onto another tram back into the city centre.  We headed for Cafe Java, which my guide for the day had assured me did a lovely tea, the Cold Cruncher.  And she was right.  The tea was just the ticket, warm and soothing with lemon, honey, ginger and a spiced Rooibos tea all in perfect balance.  It was the perfect answer to such cold weather.  I was made even better with the addition of a good slice of apple strudel cake on the side.  Today was definitely one of those made for sitting in cafes watching the world go by, and observing all the cold people outside rather than being one of them.  My guide, Ella, was an interesting and funny character with a smiling face and plenty of good stories.  She seems to have lived, visited or travelled through pretty much every country in Europe.  Another boost to the confidence levels for the continuation of my travels!

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Day 15, Helsinki, January 24th 2012

Tea 15: Lemo Mate, Eeero’s House, Vantaa.

Today I had a reasonably early start and got into Helsinki city centre at about midday. Today I didn’t really have a plan apart from meeting up with Eeero at around 5:30pm.  I headed west out of the station and had a wander around the parliament building, After all the excitement of the first round of Finland’s Presidential Election the town seems a little quieter.  I’m sure it will hot up over the next couple of weeks before the second round of voting.  The choice seems to be between a Conservative candidate and a Green League candidate.  I know who I’d pick given that choice!  I was hoping to find a decent amount of statues / sculptures in that area, but apart from a couple I think I should have walked further up Mannerheimintie, maybe another day.  I then ended up in the Culture Museum.  That was quite interesting, exhibits from all over the place, and a little bit of education on the origins of the Finnish and Estonian languages.  I pottered around there until it got a bit busy and I headed back into town.  I decided that as I felt at a little bit of a lose end I’d go to the ferry terminal and buy my ticket to Estonia.  Sorted that easily enough and got the tram back into town.

I got off at the stop nearest to Helsinki Cathedral, a huge white neo-classical structure designed by C. L. Engel, it looks as though he expected snow, it is really impressive in the snow, like the top of a huge iced cake.  Quite beautiful. It has many intricate and interesting carvings and pillars, including the Eye of Providence, or all-seeing-eye.  I decided to venture inside, it was quiet and peaceful.  The inside is remarkably minimal, the altar piece and a huge painting in front of me and a few scultures.  The chandeliers are pretty impressive too.  And so too is the huge organ.

 After a little while clicking away with the camera I went back out into the snow and wandered north, got myself some lunch (a freshly baked garlic bread, not the most gastronomic lunch, but it was warm and fresh and satisfying, and super cheap, only 99c!)  I got a little lost but found myself walking along the edge of the river I photographed on my first day here, but now its completely covered in snow, the murky brown ice is now a perfect sheet of uninterrupted snow.  There were some men further around doing a spot of ice-fishing, using huge screw things to cut through the ice, it looked to me as though the ice must be a good foot thick at least.  I meandered along the river some more, through a park and then headed into a bookshop to rest my legs and to wait for Eeero.  I read books about traveling and a TIME magazine publication about the most important historical places on earth.  Then I went and met Eeero.

We went for a bite to eat, I had a really satisfying Falafel in pitta with loads of salad.  After scoffing that down we headed for the Metro and to Kaapeli (The Cable Factory) for the performances we had decided to see.  These were in a part called ZODIAK, a contemporary theatre / performance space.  The event was called ‘The Greatest Love Songs‘ and featured 10 artists, performers and dancers.  The pretext was that the organiser, Maija Mustonen, had been reading peoples love stories and performance ideas whilst listening to love songs, and so she brought together ‘a colourful group of artists and styles’, from an open call, and asked them to design their own performances, based on lovesongs.  Some had written the songs themselves, whilst others chose songs, which included such classics as Whitney Houston’sI Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’, Sam Brown‘s ‘Stop’, and even Squarepusher’s ‘My Red Car’.  The performances were all brilliant.  From the first piece resulting in a cupping of the crotch (the performer Masi Tiitta’s own, not mine…), to the piece that will haunt me for a while:  The excellent Katri Kainulainen, who, wearing only knickers and a bra with extended straps, arms raised straight up above her head holding up the straps so the bar didn’t fall down, entered what was basically a staring contest with me, climbing over the crowd towards me.  I think she won the contest…. but I put up a good fight.  The organiser, Maija Mustonen, who studied at Trinity Laban, herself performed a piece to Maria Callas‘s ‘Casta Diva’, a beautiful and haunting performance, fitting to the song.  And the Jarkko Lehmus (who was with the Scottish Ballet from 2003-2009) performance to the Sam Brown hit was possibly the best piece of the night, performed and choreographed excellently.

Tea today is a new one for the travel tea collection!  Lemo Maté, bought from a lovely little eco-shop aptly named Ekolo.  It is nice and light, the maté leaves are substantial in size so the tea is not too ‘bitty’, for want of a better phrase.