Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Great Finnish Adventure, Part II

...Continued from last week

All right, I know you're wondering whether I made it out of the Turku Archipelago alive. But guess what? I did!! So, without further delay, the second installment.

Day 4, continued. When I arrive in the town of Turku I meet my second couchsurfing host, tall blonde Thomas, who kindly greets me at the train station. Next I venture into the center of Turku proper, where the only truly touristy thing I do is go to the grand 13th-century Turku Cathedral. Then I wander around the Turku Public Library, initially looking for Internet access but getting drawn in by how sparkling and hip the library is. Eventually I end up at the Turku Art Museum high on a hill, a stunning old building with a big photograph of a naked woman outside it advertising the latest exhibit (see photo below). I drink a glass of Hungarian wine in the hushed and relaxing museum cafe. (At left above: Turku public library)

The rest of the day speeds by; I meet with friendly Dafna from Saaritours who helps me plan my bike trip and arranges everything for me. Thomas and I eat dinner at a funky, delicious restaurant called Kerttu; I shop for supplies for my bike trip (1. bread 2. cheese 3. chocolate); then walk back to Thomas's place with a blister that's grown to half the size of my foot (thank God I'll be mostly biking, not walking, the next few days).

Day 5. At last I am on my rented bicyclette! I pedal out of Turku on a super-duper bike path that makes me feel as if I never want to bike in the U.S. again. I am doing part of what's known as the "Archipelago Ring Route," which takes you over several of the 20,000-some islands in the Turku Archipelago via a combination of bridges and ferries. Unfortunately it's early season so many of the ferries aren't running yet. Instead of doing a loop as cyclists normally do, I am doing an out and back route. But hey, it beats sitting at home in Seattle where it's undoubtedly raining. (Um, it's raining here too on this particular day but never mind that).

My first destination is the island of Nauvo, some 45 or so kilometers away. At first the scenery is dull and urban with a few too many cars. But when I take the ferry from the island of Pargas to the island of Nauvo, suddenly I am out in the country, surrounded by the placid Baltic sea and empty(ish) roads.

The ferry is nothing like the monstrosities we have here in Washington state that holds hundreds of cars and passengers. No, this bright yellow raft-like vehicle carries only about three cars and me. We scurry across the water in about 10 minutes. I'm glad it's sunny by this time because there's no place to go inside. Everyone stays in their cars and I stand by my bike. (At right, the ferry from a distance).

Because I fail to consult my map I end up riding almost 10 kilometers too far when I am already exhausted. Luckily a road sign confuses me and I take out the map to puzzle over it. I realize I've gone too far and missed the turnoff for my guesthouse. But just exactly where is it? (The map I have is somewhat less than stellar. Combine that with my less than stellar navigation skills and I have no idea where the h*ll I am.) Thank God for cell phones. In Finland, they actually work everywhere because that's all anyone uses.

A few calls and everything is cleared up. I backtrack, turn off the main road and find myself pedaling along incredibly tranquil roads. Leafy. Sun-dappled. With calm bays and red cottages around every corner. Finally I reach my lodging in a "town" called Gyttja. If you can call a few houses, one guesthouse, and a jetty a "town." (At left, the Gyttja guesthouse.)

To be continued! (I know, the tension is unbearable, isn't it?)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fun Times in Finland

I know you're all *dying* to know just exactly what happened in Finland. You haven't been able to eat or sleep wondering what the hell did she actually do there? How did she survive? Was it dark all the time? And how much cheese did she really eat?

You know, like in the old days when you were on the edge of your seat waiting to hear about my next date with The Doctor or Silent But Deadly Boy or (pick a random silly nickname here). Only now you want to hear the blow-by-blow about my travels through a far-flung country you know nothing about. Well here you have the first half of my ABSOLUTELY AMAZING ADVENTURE (TM). Stay tuned for the rest.

Day 1. Arrive in Helsinki to sunny skies. Utilize amazing, easy-to-use transportation system to whisk myself to the city; meet my couchsurfing host #1, Hilkka, who lives in an apartment just outside the city center.Together we have "evening tea:" that is, bread, meat, and lots of cheese. The sun stays out til 10:30.

Day 2. After a breakfast of dark, delicious Finnish bread, meat, and lots of cheese, meet up with my long-lost friend GalPal #1 and family in Helsinki in crisp, clear weather. We stroll the "Esplanadi," where the outdoor cafes are full and summer is in the air. Jet lag hits full force around 3 in the afternoon. Too bad there's still eight more hours of daylight.

Day 3. Fueled by a breakfast of bread, meat, and lots of cheese, do more sightseeing
in sunny Helsinki, including dining at the outdoor market (with the Baltic sea a few feet away), strolling around the "Kauppatori" (fish market), and visiting the quiet neighborhood of Katajanokka Island, the centerpiece of which is an elaborate Russian orthodox church that sits like a giant ocher confection on a hill overlooking the city.

Day 4. A morning meal of bread, meat, and lots of cheese propel me to the train station where I say goodbye to Hilkka and board a train for Turku, the oldest town in Finland. I am very impressed by the high-tech, spacious bathrooms on the train, so unlike the small stinky stalls one finds on Amtrak. As the rather bland scenery speeds by, I am mentally preparing my four day solo bike trek through the wild and wooly "Turku archipelago" with its thousands of islands.

  • Will I be able to navigate all by myself or will I end up living on some remote Finnish island because I get so irrevocably lost I can't make it back?

  • Will there be food to eat besides Baltic herring and (of course) cheese? Will it be as horrible as American food is in out-of-the-way places?

  • What if I get chased by a moose?

Tune in next time to find out about high adventure in the Turku archipelago!


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Welcome Home to Me!

When would a person such as moi have 1)gotten up 2)walked the dog 3)drank an overly large Peet's coffee, and 4)scribbled pages of caffeinated notes for various articles, all by 9 a.m.?

Or, even better, already have gone to a Nordstrom Rack sale and spent $150 on clothing by 10 a.m.?

When one is jet-lagged of course! Never mind the crankiness that befalls me when I have to return to daily life after a trip. Even the shortest getaway brings on this malaise, so you can imagine what it's like returning from Europe and facing my jobless future in an exhausted state.

Like I said, never mind. We'll let my poor boyfriend bear the brunt of that. I'll just say for now that my trip was full of sun and adventure and bad coffee (but at least there was a lot of it.)

I "couchsurfed" with strangers who were warm and generous; biked across Finnish countryside so tranquil that it was, at times creepy; and ate far, far too much cheese.

I left determined to come back with a career "strategy" but came back only with high cholesterol, More later, when I am coherent. For now, these few pictures can tell the tale.