Helsinki – A Short Story

We arrived yesterday and had a day of seeing the city and hearing the history of many rulers and much increasing trade. The Russians ruled. For a long time and were the Russians who spoke French and to this day the Finnish Foreign Service speaks French.

The oldest and still one of the largest churches is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral located next to the port on the highest stone platform overlooking the still active port. We could not enter since it has been closed since COVID. However our guide believes that they were relieved not to have to maintain the elaborate interior because the number of church members were very few.
The Market hall is a municipal building with many stalls unfortunately closed on Sunday (the only day we could see it) and is said to have an elaborate interior.
Rocks form small islands scattered throughout the port. Large ones have a building or two small ones must be a problem for early sailors.
This was at one time the Royal Yacht Club and now is a restaurant but closed because of the pandemic. It is a handsome building from the period of the Russian rule. They left a legacy of fine public buildings built in the nineteenth century fancy pretend Renaissance.
The two headed eagle from the Russian period in front of some of Embassy buildings.
We went by ferry to visit an island fortress from the nineteenth century this phot was taken from the inner courtyard where I and another traveler sat in the sun while our fellow travelers walked over cobblestone paths around the UNESCO site. We found an abandoned coffee shop with lovely tables and chairs out of the wind and in the sun.
Back on land we met match scouts and their scoutmasters and each had a shouted anthem as they approached the Market Square at the port. A lot of kids. In fact I was surprised to see so many.
Sunday found most restaurants closed but I found. Cafeteria where I was able to get some unremarkable food. But I was grateful since I missed breakfast. Tonight is our Farewell Dinner. Everyone on planes tomorrow.

To Helsinki

We had an early start with luggage out by 6:30 and a plane due to leave Ivalo Airport at 9:20. The airport was tiny with zero planes when we arrived and few people to check in. Then the first of the delay messages came on and said the new departure time was 10:10. That meant that our schedule for Helsinki was going to be affected. O well.

These large photos were at the entry to our gate. The languages are English, Sami and Finnish. The messages are so benign that it would be difficult to imagine them in our airports. But they are lovely.
Their COVID testing goes on every day at the airport from 9 to 4. Almost nobody wears a mask except for travelers. On this trip we have wound up by having 10 people out of 24 with COVID. Pretty amazing!
A nineteenth century church related to the Russian Orthodox Church was the first large cathedral in Helsinki.
The open market is in operation every day near the port. The white tents sell handcrafts and the orange one sell food mostly fruits and vegetables. The large ferries mean that a lot of people pass by.
Our local guide says that every year the ferries get larger and larger. That makes sense since the ferries are often the fastest way to get to the towns and the cars which are very convenient once you get to a port take days to go overland because of the mountains.
Dinner tonight is Thai. Not able to do justice to the immense portions but the food is good. And the restaurant is right next to out hotel.

Dinner With Local Family

Our dinner was with a Finnish family who built the own house after planning to do so and locating acreage and furniture and finding 14 windows triple panes and reduced in price because the house was no longer going to be built in Helsinki. The house and other buildings are charming.

The house and 14 windows has 2 stories and was lived in by the family during construction. They had 2 children and all four slept downstairs in what is now the family room with the large dining table adequate for one, two or 20. The lawn extends from the fenced entrance to several smaller buildings. The fence keeps out the reindeer who if they manage to get inside devour plants which I guess taste better than the grass.
An old fashioned refrigerator where fish is being kept at the moment.
The biggest surprise was the sauna. It has two parts, one enclosed with the heater and one with comfortable chairs to relax after the sauna. We walked out to see the sauna up close
You can fit a lot of people in at one time. Another triple glazed window built specifically for this space opens to the woods behind the building. The owners said they of have friends over and all join in the sauna.
Here are our hosts who me lumberjack school. The white tub is filled with cold water to which snow can be added in winter. It had the rather awful look Of a white coffin to me…

I will say we had an excellent dinner prepared by the man of the house because his wife was in a class all day. He is a fine cook. I have a recipe for a flat bread he made which when covered with good butter could easily be a meal for me.

Sami Culture Museum

We had the opportunity to visit the Museum dedicated to the Sami culture. As a museum design it is excellent, small but exceedingly well done.

The map shows the extent of the Sami people over the countries of Norway, Finland and Russia and part of Sweden. There are many Sami languages and in recently the children are learning these languages from pre-school. In pre-school and first grade they learn in Sami, in second grade they learn in Sami and Finnish and from the 4th grade they add English so that they know 3 languages as the leave high school. The red boundary lines above show the language territories.
These are older Sami artifacts returned from Helsinki Folk Museum to become part of this Sami museum. The photos and examples of the handcrafted articles of clothing, tools and household items are presented clearly and beautifully.
Sami costumes are worn on special occasions such as holidays and weddings. Men and women both have colorful and warm clothing and reindeer fur and leather boots and our reindeer farmer who we met after we went to the museum had leather pants made of the skin of a moose.
This is one of the reindeer farmers in his traditional costume as he greeted us. He gave us feed used for the reindeer and banged on a tree to call them to eat. These were all castrated males who are used for pulling sleds and/or getting clues to visitors.
They literally ate the food pellets from our hands and once our hands were empty the wrangler put the rest into two feed trays so that the beast would stop trying to find more food among us. Their horns are covered with velvet, so beautiful but really big and can be very pushy. The horns have blood vessels and nerves and are only on the males for a less than a year. These beauties will be gone in a matter of months. Thayer will grow new and larger ones in Spring.
After a walk through garden and and then various farm buildings we reached a gathering place which on the olden days would house several families to sleep in the winter months. The building could be kept warm by building a fire and using a thick iron grill and stones which would radiate the heat fir a long time. We had tea or coffee here and were able to ask questions about the family’s life.

More on our adventure tomorrow

Sami Culture Museum

We had the opportunity to visit the Museum dedicated to the Sami culture. As a museum design it is excellent, small but exceedingly well done.

The map shows the extent of the Sami people over the countries of Norway, Finland and Russia and part of Sweden. There are many Sami languages and in recently the children are learning these languages from pre-school. In pre-school and first grade they learn in Sami, in second grade they learn in Sami and Finnish and from the 4th grade they add English so that they know 3 languages as the leave high school. The red boundary lines above show the language territories.
These are older Sami artifacts returned from Helsinki Folk Museum to become part of this Sami museum. The photos and examples of the handcrafted articles of clothing, tools and household items are presented clearly and beautifully.
Sami costumes are worn on special occasions such as holidays and weddings. Men and women both have colorful and warm clothing and reindeer fur and leather boots and our reindeer farmer who we met after we went to the museum had leather pants made of the skin of a moose.
This is one of the reindeer farmers in his traditional costume as he greeted us. He gave us feed used for the reindeer and banged on a tree to call them to eat. These were all castrated males who are used for pulling sleds and/or getting clues to visitors.
They literally ate the food pellets from our hands and once our hands were empty the wrangler put the rest into two feed trays so that the beast would stop trying to find more food among us. Their horns are covered with velvet, so beautiful but really big and can be very pushy. The horns have blood vessels and nerves and are only on the males for a less than a year. These beauties will be gone in a matter of months. Thayer will grow new and larger ones in Spring.
After a walk through garden and and then various farm buildings we reached a gathering place which on the olden days would house several families to sleep in the winter months. The building could be kept warm by building a fire and using a thick iron grill and stones which would radiate the heat fir a long time. We had tea or coffee here and were able to ask questions about the family’s life.

More on our adventure tomorrow

No Formal Border Crossing into Finland

There was a sign that we were entering Finland and Kat out guide stopped to help us celebrate by imbibing in a bit of cloudberry liqueur. The little sweet orange berries made a nice liquor, about 15% alcohol. We each had a tiny taste. There was no passport control, no change of road pattern, no guards.

After miles of small lakes, for trees, various sizes of bushes and brush we stopped for lunch. Truly in the middle of nowhere.

Lots of reindeer antlers as decoration and the key colors of red and yellow decorated our lunch stop. We got there by turning off the main road onto a smaller crushed rock road. We were the only group for what was a very fine home cooked lunch put together by a couple of women with the help of one younger girl.

Back on the road we were about 2.5 hours from our Wilderness Hotel. Much snoozing.

Our motor coach is very comfortable. We are now down to 14 people from our original 24. COVID caught our fellow travelers. We hope to meet them in Helsinki in several days after their R&R. That is a lot of folks to lose. And those of us still standing – or walking or whatever count ourselves fortunate.

Our Wilderness Hotel is beautifully located on a lake and the buildings include sweet log cabins and two larger buildings which have hotel rooms and that is where we are staying. The log cabins are well built and arranged so that each has a view of the surrounding forest or the lake. Well done.

Introducing Finland

We have had some sun every day. In this approach to our last stop in Norway at Kirkenes the blue sky was welcome. The granite mountains here have a good deal of iron in them and the area once had many mines. During WWII the German Army occupied the area and in this period there was a Russian/German fight that made living in Kirkenes hell. In actuality the Allie’s bombed the area often and the entire town was leveled. Today there is a a friendly relationship with Russia because the Russians help to rebuild the town. Russia is 7 kilometers away and citizens cross back and forth for shopping all the time.
Kirkenes is famed for the i kilometer long cave carved into the rock which saved many lives during the war. Whole families would go down into the cave. It was cold but it was safe.
This image was captured from a film we saw about the war. The black and white images show the burning buildings and the gunners in the tanks. The local guide said that some of the soldiers were as young as 14 years old. Germany was running out of manpower.
One of the things I love to do is visit the local grocery store. This one is called Joker and is part of a franchise. Snacks are nearest the cash registers because often the folks who come in by the tourist boats simply want that sort of food. As I went around to see the aisles away from the registers there were lovely surprises b
Frozen foods and packages of butchered meat and poultry and fish were displayed. The range of options may not have up to Safeway standards but there was plenty to choose from.
My biggest surprise was the presence of lots of Mexican spices in the spice isle, and jars of salsa and packages of tortillas. I wondered why they would have packets of spices for guacamole when they certainly didn’t have avocados. But they certainly do have avocados and they come two to a package for about $3 for the package. I say hurrah for the Mexican entrepreneurs.

Northern Most Point in Europe

The North Cape is a stone mass that sits high above the sea. It has a weather station above the restaurant that is part of the complex celebrating its geographical distinction. Further toward the sea is point that used to fix the spot.

That’s me at the sphere that marks the spot. I seem to making some point but heaven knows what.
Before getting to our destination we drove through acres of tundra and waterfalls and small lakes. There are no tress not even bushes or shrubs. The colors are shades of green and brown sometimes dotted with black. The drive was almost an hour from the ship though this sort of landscape.
This building housed a cinema, a restaurant, gift shop and toilets 🚽 b three floors. And it was warm and out of the wind. All good things.

All the way we saw reindeer often too far away to photograph with my iPhone. We did have two guys with bigass cameras and they might have been able to get photos of them. I was surprised to see single animals not in a pack.

A Sami woman coming to the shop located on her family’s land. That land is also where the buildings were and part of the permission included the need for visitors to shop in the handcraft store also owned by the family.
The boots are made of skins from the reindeer herded by the same family and other items such as hats and dresses far too few to think that exactly the right person would come in to buy. But they are beautiful.
More on this visit but need to focus on packing to prepare to leave the ship tomorrow. More on all this soon.
Whether our America Indians or this in Latin America the simply built teepee covered with the skin of whatever animal is in the territory is the refuge from the weather. The hole at the top allows smoke from any fire inside to leave the space and the skins are impervious to water and wind. Convincing proof that we are all related and need protection and warmth.
This photo was hacked from the film at the visitor center.
Seagulls facing into the wind and coming into to the less windy cove. Seagulls are not dumb.

As we drove back over a pristine road we saw many more reindeer some in tiny groups two or three and much tundra. We had been told that snowplows must keep any road plowed 24 – 7 if there are humans in residence but since the visitors center closes at least that portion does not need plowing and we saw films of the snow plows BIG babies going really fast. They obviously don’t expect traffic.

An important service for our ship is the transfer of cars. I met a woman at breakfast who was on her way to see her children and grandchildren in Kirkenes our last stop in Norway. Her children moved there for work. They were born in a small and most beautiful village where after university they could not find work. Her husband had fished but neither parent wanted their children fish for their livelihood. Her car was on the boat with her and that would save her hours of travel.

Memories of WWII

Norway was taken over by Germany after 50 days of resistance. Many German military were stationed at what was called the Polar Front. One man on the town began a collection of items from the war and although a personal collection, it is considered a very good collection of German uniforms and equipment. It even has a room dedicated to the Gestapo who were by leaders in the station.

Now located inside the museum the animal antlers are said to have been part of the original building.
The gallery owner claims that this watercolor was painted by Adolph Hitler because is signed AH. However it’s dated 1940 long after Germany began the war. His opinion is that Hitler never stopped painting and drawing. Behind this drawing was a collection of other drawings which are depictions of characters in Walt Disney films. The dwarfs are shown as pretty good replicas from the movie. I think now of Hitler and 4 of the 7 dwarfs. I tried to make out which were favored but my own dwarf history is not good.
Four good sized rooms are filled with manikins in uniform sometimes holding weapons that look like toys but are said to be accurate of the period. There are motorcycles and a can that I was told was a great invention called a “jerrycan” jerry being a slang name for Germans. My informant claimed it was a great invention.
The town with museum was reached after miles of water and mountains with tiny specs if villages reached only by boats. The ratio above of massive dark mountains with white fringe near the sea is classic. The sky sometimes had the promise of sun through the clouds but we actually never saw the sun all dat. And our midnight run to the museum was accompanied by a light rain.

This exceptional facade is the main building for the port and has offices for the various agencies connected to this administrative district. For a building in a place with very long nights- the façade is a fabulous idea. Note the broken notch on the far right to indicate a piece of ice – maybe a glacier. And the map is a pretty good replica of the shoreline. And the lines indicate various way finding techniques.

Crossing the Arctic Circle

We crossed the Arctic Circle at 7:36 AM with blowing whistles between the two boats one going north and one going south and crossing at the same time.

This is the sister ship going south. Less than a minute after this photo each ship saluted each other with their ships horns. They also celebrated crossing the Arctic Circle.
The skies remain overcast and the air is colder.
One of the ways to celebrate is to have the sea god who got on the boat as we crossed the Arctic Circle pour ice on. Those who want to celebrate with a local whiskey. I thought there would be few takers but I was wrong.
The Norse god is the guy with the cloak and beard and the pail of ice to dump on volunteers who wish to join the celebration. It must be a guy thing because many men in the group willingly sat down to have ice poured over their head and down their back, only to jump up and yell. And then walk over to the alcoholic libation.
We are docking at Bodo the administrative center for this part of Norway. We also learned that 3 of our group has COVID. Yikes. 3 out of 22.