Monday, June 21, 2010

Helsinki and Tallinn

Helsinki is an interesting city. Not terribly unique, considering I have been to many European cities, but it has its way of imposing its will on the visitors. That is in spite of the fact that most locals I interacted with speak excellent English, certainly a welcome change from Dresden. However, despite the similarity in language with the Germans, the mindset did not seem German at all. Trains and trams were running late routinely, instructions were often vague, and worse, buses did not announce stops. The name of main train station seemed different depending on which tram or train you are coming by, and many of the other stop names were either too long or had too many vowels (and magically ones got added or subtracted overnight, I am sure), making them indistinguishable from each other!

So navigating all that, I finally find my hotel. I was slightly perplexed by the fact that the Finnish(?) word for elevator sounds suspiciously similar to the word for peeing in Bengali (well, with a million languages in the world, you will end up with such coincidences occasionally, like the Czech word for exit reminded me of an unmentionable sexual act in Bengali, but that does not stop one from noticing).

But the bigger surprise awaited me. At midnight, this is how the conversation went between my friend and me:

Me: You realize that this place is WEIRD?
Friend: Yes, its still not dark.

There you have it. At midnight, there was still light outside, like it is early evening. I have seen sun setting late in Paris and Geneva, but now I knew why Geography textbooks in high school mentioned these parts of the world as land of midnight sun. I dont think I ever saw complete darkness in my short stay there - and my friend says she did not either, inspite of staying up late a couple of nights. That is both good and bad when you are a tourist, good because you can start the day late and still have enough time to explore the places, however you miss out on the night pictures.

Few pretty churches and palatial structures adorn the city, the touristy part of it is remarkably small and walkable.

The most popular area is certainly the market square, an open air market adjacent to the waterfront. On a weekend morning, it was abuzz with people buying useless but tempting articles, and eating delicious meat pie and freshly fried fish. I bought a plateful of fried "vendage", and within minutes had to duck for cover from a bunch of mean looking seagulls hovering above - clearly having and eating your fish required some alert maneuvering.

Next was a short boat ride to Suomenlinna, a former sea fortress, mostly in ruins now. It was still nice to walk around the island, following what remained of the fortress wall, with canon carelessly lying around, and a distant view of the archipelago.

For the first couple of days, it seemed like Finnish food is like Canadian food, as in nothing is local. Eventually we did find interesting local eateries, and I added a new meat in my list, reindeer.

Olympic stadium and the tower was another popular attraction, however the stadium was all dug up. The infamous nude statue of Paavo Nurmi was right there, as advertised.

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia was only a couple of hours away, and I was not about pass this opportunity to visit a new country. The charming old city part maintains its distinctly medieval character, surrounded by crumbling walls and empty watch towers.The cobblestone streets and towering church towers made it a joy to walk around.

We had our lunch at this restaurant called Olde Hansa, which is old, and the the whole decor makes it look even older. The food was good, albeit a bit costly.

And then it was time to head back, by this huge ship! I have never been on a ship which resembled a hotel, a mall and a resort at the same time!

More Pictures here.


tuktuki said...

it's about time for a photo journal...what say?
couldn't quite agree with finnish food being like canadian food, though...ample local flavours in canada, if you know where to look for them :)

Abhishek said...

Refer to your comment at Sunshinejoy

"I never followed this particular community, or any specific blogging community. With that caveat, I will say what I think: I dislike organized activities (be it crime, sports, religion or blogging), where members of the organization decide who can be a part of it. That usually introduces a strong selection bias, and a faux superiority complex among the members, leading to gang mentality.

Now as I said, I have no clue if D.P is/was like that. But I have occasionally seen people advertising their blogs as "member of D.P", which smelled suspiciously similar."

So after getting your post-doctoral you will mention it and hence be known to belong to a specific community of post-doctoral fellows, right? But you'll have earned the right to be part of the community, right? You will have passed whatever selection criteria they set, right? Or will you forsake the use of the title you studied for? Will you?

So people DP selected too have earned their right to be part of it, passing whatever selection criteria DP set.

Use your head before passing fixed judgements about you being suspicious about anything organised, or are you that closet rebel who thrive in their anti- approach to everything, those Black Sabbath types.

Even the UNO in your land of opportunity has the word 'Organisation'.

dipthought said...

@Debashree: I have not been to Canada ;-)

@Abhishek: Firstly, this is hardly the right place to discuss the relevance of closed blogging groups. In case you did not use your observation power, this is a travelogue about my recent Helsinki trip. Ever been there? You should, the cold arctic wind may calm you down ;-)

Since you leave me with no choice, but to respond here, I will. This was a generic comment, and I did have a disclaimer at the beginning. However, now I know, I did not need it, you just proved my suspicion right.

Since this evidently it is too hard a concept for you to understand, let me elucidate the difference between an earned honor/degree and a nominated/bestowed one. You get a bachelors, masters or a doctorate degree, become a doctor, lawyer or an accounted, when, as you rightly mentioned, you clear some predefined selection criteria. This criteria is open (in the sense anyone can see what it is), mostly objective (assigning marks is subjective to some extent, however how much marks you need to pass is not), and accessible to anyone. Whereas getting into a closed fraternity, or getting a honorary doctorate is not, since the selection criteria is neither predefined, nor transparent. Moreover, for the particular closed communities where existing members are the sole judge whether a new member is admitted, is hardly objective . As for your claim, that anyone there earned the right to be there, yes. This is the same as me hosting a party at my place and admitting only a select group of friends, and somehow claiming only those people in my party are the coolest people in town. I refuse to be a part of a self serving community, whose major activity to choose who can be one of them.

I am sure there are/were excellent bloggers at DP. But they are excellent bloggers themselves, why they would need a stamp of approval? And just to make it clear, I never followed DP, nor aspired to be a part of it. My comment was not specific to DP.

Organized activity per se is not bad. It is questionable when you somehow feel superior to others/exclusive by virtue of some other people who feel superior/exclusive having chosen you.

kaichu said...

so this is what the city looks like from the outside. i should do a guest blogging post on the airport, as a special feature :P

dipthought said...

Yep, I am sure you can make it all the more dramatic ;-)