Day 10: Helsinki, Part 2



I’m writing this just about a day late. We got in pretty late last night, at least for us – after 11pm sometime – and I was so tired I went straight to bed. Usually I start putting the blog together about 9 or 10pm and it takes at least 2 hours typically; there was no way it was happening last night.

And as I sit here it hits me why I try to be so disciplined about doing it every night: I forget easily! Each day is so full sometimes we can barely remember the day before, much less last week. Trier seems like a hundred years ago. But the pictures help. So let’s see how this goes.

We ate breakfast in the hotel again and headed out about 10 or 10:30. We’ve been watching the weather forecast carefully and it’s been fairly accurate. We knew Tuesday would be the best day to go to the island and it was beautiful until the very end. We anticipated Wednesday being pretty wet, and it was. We weren’t going far, just going to be doing things around the center of town, so would be using public transportation and would be in and out of buildings a lot. It worked well, we managed to stay pretty dry, and of course umbrellas helped.

This is Uspenski, the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe. Built in 1868. Finland was under Russian rule for over 100 years between 1809 and 1917, and there is still a decent amount of Russian culture about.
We both agreed we prefer this level of ornateness to the simple decor of the Lutheran church from yesterday. Old-fashioned I guess.
It’s interesting to me that you had to really look to find the crucifixion reference – in this picture, off to the far left bottom. It seemed like it was very much an afterthought, and not very well done – looked like a cardboard cut-out from a distance, and that whole section around the altar was roped off so you couldn’t get to it to see what it was made of. Just very different from traditional Catholic churches.
The Lutheran Cathedral we were in on Monday, seen in the background from the steps of the Russian Orthodox church. We learned later that huge square in front of the white cathedral (see Monday’s entry) is Senate Square, and considered to the be center of Helsinki, where all big public events take place, including ceremonies and demonstrations.
Next we went to the City of Helsinki museum. It was free and we figured it would be small and quaint and we were right. But it’s always good to get a little local perspective on what’s important to them and we enjoyed it.
We were the only recent visitors from California.

After that museum we walked around a bit, then took the tram to the National Museum of Finland. It has an interesting history but left us a little wanting. Like most countries, humans have occupied this part of the world for about 10,000 years. Unlike much of the rest or Europe, folks from this region weren’t organized in any way until they were taken over by Sweden during the First Crusade around 1150AD. They were a part of Sweden for roughly 700 years. As Napoleon of France and Alexander I of Russia were essentially trying to take over the world, they agreed that Finland would go to Russia and the Swedes would just have to get over it. Which apparently they did (losing a war helped), and Finland became the Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian empire in 1807. Finland remained part of Russia until it gained independence in 1917.

 National Museum of Finland

 

We were hoping to see some interesting WWII history in this museum but it was oddly silent about it. We did a little research afterwards and confirmed our suspicions: we think the Finns are embarrassed about their involvement in WWII because they were on the losing side. Not because they were supportive of the Nazis so much as they were anti-Russia. They were the only democratic nation to fight against the Allies; interestingly, they only fought the Russians. Understandable, I guess, considering they had only won independence from them a couple of decades before.

This was in “The Catholic Room”, lots of interesting items from old Finnish churches, roughly 500 years old.
A pulpit sort of shaped like a boat.
Very decorative room.
One of the Russian Emperor’s thrones.
To the right of the throne was a series of portraits of Russian Empresses, four or five very beautiful and feminine women. And then there was this one. We thought: the Emperor was gay and this was his lover in drag? We later learned that Alexander I was largely believed to be gay, so who knows…
We had lunch in the museum cafe, where, like the day before, they had a buffet of traditional Finnish food. Not nearly as good as what we had at Suomenlinna, but we were hungry and it worked.
Speaking of which: at one point during our day – it must’ve been between the Russian church and the Helsinki museum – we found ourselves in the open air market again. One of the little stands was selling reindeer meatballs. I said to Dan, “See, I bet that mystery meat in the cabbage [from Tuesday] WAS reindeer.” As we passed the girl offered us a sample. “Of course!” Dan didn’t want to at first but he caved and ate the other half. We both looked at each other and went “yep, it was reindeer!” It was actually pretty tasty. One of the reasons we thought it might be “cow” as they told us then was that it wasn’t gamey at all, and we expected it to be. But the meatball wasn’t either. Dan says “great, you just got me to eat Bambi.” I said “Wrong cartoon, try Rudolf.” We get to a booth a few down and it’s selling reindeer pelts (that were incredibly soft) with little stuffed toy reindeer – sans the red nose – sitting all around. Pretty cute and somehow disturbing all at the same time.
By this time it was about 3:30pm. It had rained pretty hard while we were in the museum so we’d timed that pretty good. The Weather Channel app on our phones has had a freakishly accurate by-the-hour forecast. Next was Temppeliaukio Church, AKA “the rock church.” This was built in 1969 and quarried out of natural bedrock. Apparently it’s a huge attraction in Helsinki but we were underwhelmed.

 

We went back to the room to rest a bit before dinner, and get some sauna time in. By this time it had stopped raining, there was a bit of sun, and Dan caught a photo of some guys – what’s that called, board surfing? – on the lake, which we could see from our window.

 

For a variety of reasons we managed to do much of this trip at really reasonable prices, so we decided we would splurge a little on food, which we haven’t really done in prior trips. The 9 course meal in Barcelona was one of those. Last night was another, only this time it was 20 courses. It took 4 hours – we were there from 6:30 – 10:30, which is partly why I was so tired when we got back to the hotel finally. Dan took pictures of everything, but I’m only posting the ones that we really liked, or were at least really interesting.

The restaurant was called Olo, and they call this meal “The Journey.”

Every table had this crock of dough rising on it. You’ll see it again later.
This was the first course. We thought it was mostly weird, but I decided to post it because it certainly looked different, and several dishes had aspects to the presentation that you couldn’t eat. The only thing you ate was the egg looking thing. It was a shell of some kind that started to melt as soon as you put it in your mouth, releasing yogurt/berry mixture inside.
And, we got to dress up a little again, something we haven’t done before this trip.
This was the 2nd course and there was nothing all that special about it, but I did like the presentation. Very fresh vegetables – red carrots, radish, and some other greenery I couldn’t identify, in a bed of yogurt sauce, served in this broken dish thing. It tasted really good, but anybody could do it.
I believe this was the 3rd course and it was special. A very thin and crispy rye chip with sour cream and cured egg yolk. It was incredibly good.
I’m not a big herring lover, but Dan is and he really liked this. Baltic herring; the red stick is like a malt cracker. The greens were edible but couldn’t tell you what they were. (Not the green stuff at the bottom though under the rocks – not sure what that was but it wasn’t natural!)
This was Amazing. A semolina porridge with mushroom stock hiding underneath, and topped with roasted quinoa and something else. Great flavors and mix of textures, it was our favorite thing for awhile.
Norwegian king crab with cauliflower.
Maybe because we had early reservations, but we literally got the best seat in the house, the corner of the room but it was at an angle to the street corner. We got to watch the rain come and go, which it did a lot all evening. Never got dark though of course!
There’s the bread, now baked, with 2 kinds of butter and a creamy cheese. Awesome.
OMG does this town LOVE salmon – never seen so much salmon in my life. This was good – with salmon roe (the orange eggs) and cucumber.
Note to Carla B.: this is the dish that changed my mind about lamb! Lamb tartar on an onion foam with spruce sprouts and some kind of sauce which I don’t remember. We both loved it. Surpassed the porridge as our #1.

 

 
We both love peas, these were fresh and al dente, with perfectly cooked perch, and potatoes.
 Sea buckthorne berry sauce with dill and buttermilk ice. Loved it.

 

Dan liked this one more than I did: rhubarb ice cream with goat milk yogurt and licorice. It definitely worked better with all the flavors together.
When they set this down we were like “what the hell?” It looked like steamed cauliflower – which would be odd for a dessert course. Turned out to maybe be our most favorite thing of the entire meal. White currant with honey, whey and goat cheese ice cream. Three very different textures, everything worked well together. It was incredible.
Caramel ice cream in cookies (don’t remember the flavor), standing in chocolate cookie crumbs.
We took this on our way out by the way – so it’s like 10:45pm. Thankfully it had stopped raining.
The window we sat at from the outside.
The view from our room about 11:30pm. It had clouded up again.
I guess we did a fair amount and I had a right to be tired! I can tell it’s getting to be towards the end of the trip, too. Very glad we only have a couple more days. This is a shorter trip compared to the last two, which were 19 and 18 days respectively. This one will only be 13, and we like that much better.

0 thoughts on “Day 10: Helsinki, Part 2”

  1. Perhaps your new place needs a Finnish sauna.

  2. Steve Haas says:

    Happy to report "no" on the shiny nose. No more than usual, anyway.

    re: pace of Helsinki vs. Barcelona – definitely more relaxing. Some of that is the town, some of that is us. We'd said all along we wouldn't push it as hard here. We had talked about doing day trips to either Turku – former capital about 2 hours away – or St. Petersburg – as in Russia, over 3 hours away – but in the end decided no to both. And we were just saying at dinner (it's 9:45pm Thursday as I type this) that we still managed to do quite a bit in Helsinki in 3 days, and we weren't sure there was that much TO do coming into it. The primary reason we stayed for 5 nights had to do with hotel points – the 5th night was free. So there you have it.

    On the way to dinner, Dan said something interesting: Helsinki has felt more relaxing to him, he thinks, because of the sauna experience. That's an element we haven't had before and we've definitely taken advantage of it, trying to get down there once in the morning, once in the evening. They have a nice set up and we almost always have the place to ourselves.

  3. That looks like it was an incredible meal and I'm glad you got to sample Rudolph, although I hear one of the side effects of consumption is a very shiny nose.
    The pace there seems far more relaxing than Bacelona. More vacationy?

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