Two $980 round-trip plane tickets, eight months of waiting and two flights later, Cavan and I arrived in Helsinki, Finland. We had no idea where we would sleep that night, or where we’d go the next day. What we did know was that we had each other, our packs, a bit of food, a bit of money and a huge case of wanderlust.
For the next the next thirty one days, I’ll recount our trek across Finland, Estonia and Sweden (plus a little of Norway and Latvija) as if it’s happening in real time. There will be blood, thievery, epic folk metal, a meat-eating vegetarian and other scintillating things you definitely don’t want to miss.
Lands of bog, lake and troll: day 4
Tuesday 9, August 2011
Tonight we’re going to the arctic circle.
But before that, I woke to a room full of quietly sleeping girls, my nose crusted in blood. Cavan woke one door down from me, to a room of drunk Germans, overturned flasks and empty bottles.
When we arrived at the hostel last night, it was to the bad news that they were full, but! We could wait around to see if there were any no-shows. (Though even if there were, we’d be relegated to separate dorms.) Fine, we said, and waited.
The good news: no one showed and we had a place to sleep. But in the process of waiting, I got a bloody nose, the kind that drips thickly down your throat and from your nostrils like a crimson handlebar mustache. No, I didn’t get clobbered in the face, nor did I trip into a wall (which has happened before). My nose just…started bleeding.
But it dried up and I managed to get a peaceful night’s sleep in the girl’s dormitory, while Cavan tossed and turned as his inebriated roommates stumbled in long past midnight, shushing each other loudly and arguing about whether the window should be open or closed. Thankfully, Cavan managed to survive the night and–despite yesterday’s yogurt-induced excitement–met me in the dining hall where we ate a very greasy breakfast.
Our fourteen hour train ride to Kemijärvi, The Arctic Circle, didn’t leave until 19:00, so we wandered around Helsinki until we found its heart. Actually, it probably wasn’t really the heart of Helsinki, or at least, not for the natives (or so I imagine). But I’ve come to think that a city has many hearts and that they don’t start beating until they’re needed. As tourists, the shopping center was like death. Add to that the fact that we were jet-lagged and homeless when arrived–and, well, you can’t honestly expect us to have been thrilled with Helsinki when it was giving us such a hel of a time.
But now that we’re leaving, the glamour we expected at first start is finally starting to show itself and I’m embarrassed to admit that the heart of my Helsinki was the fish market–probably the most tourist-clogged organ in the whole city.
Tent after tent of full of berry-heaps (orange rowan berries, blood-stained lingonberries, buckthorn berries that looks like orbs of blue carbon), griddles spitting oil from the piles of crispy, grey fish called muikku; there were heaps of reindeer pelts (highly-coveted by Cavan) and trinkets like postcards, antler and bone jewelry and wood carvings. One lady somehow convinced me to pay six euros for a liter of cherries. Painful, but after that gut-congealing breakfast, wanted something fresh and sweet for the fourteen-hour train ahead of us.
We stayed at the market for lunch, which was a strange mix of curry spices, rice, frozen veggies and salmon (all topped with a garlic sauce that mostly consisted of mayonaise) that we shared with a friendly seagull.
Actually, I think I’ve fallen in love with Finnish seagulls. There’s actually a whole article here complaining about the nuisance the gulls create at the market (“If you can’t eat an ice cream at the market without being persecuted by a bird, it is a problem[,]” says one man), but I found them splendidly friendly and entertaining. And much less scraggly than the ones at home; beautiful dusty plumage and instead of screaming at us like the Washingtonian variety, they peep.
It’s 18:50 now, just ten minutes before we leave for the arctic circle. We’ve been sitting in a giant café with high ceilings, stealing their internet and eating a salad made with lettuce rinsed–with extreme caution–in a bathroom sink and carrots and tomatoes sliced on Cavan’s leg (for lack of a cutting board. I know, I can’t believe we Ito pack it either. Shame on me.). They waitresses have been glancing at us for the past two hours, probably wondering when we’re going to leave, so we’d probably better go. I’d be excited for the arctic circle, but we have to live through the fourteen hour train ride first.
(the brickwork of the Uspenski Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox church built in the late 1800s)
(the brickwork of a customs warehouse from the 1900s)
(when it was just a baby)
(the Helsinki Cathedral looking giant and imposing, because of the ominous clouds building in the distance and because it’s just giant and imposing)
(Cavan, making the long trek down the stairs from the cathedral)
You can come home to a place you’ve never been.
the man who pulled the trigger
that killed the robot’s brain
that he has a home, too. That he
when his heart touches his lovers lips.