is a sea-faring travel angel a travel mermaid?

Sorry sauna and cider review. Today was so great that I need to talk about it first. Right now.

TODAY WAS GREAT!

I mean, the whole trip has been great, but today was REALLY AMAZING!

I think it started out this morning with a change of attitude.  Or maybe it started last night with my sauna detox and centering, I just didn’t realize it.

This morning I was awoken, again, by the same woman who has woken me up for the last three days.  She was in her mid to late 50’s, and one of those chatty types.  They’re great in hostels, typically, to break the ice and get all the shy kids talking.  I usually love them. I don’t love them when they need to talk about their Danish study abroad at 8:00 in the morning in the dorm room.  That’s how I woke up the first two days. To her nervous laughter and rapid fire chatter.  This morning she didn’t have time to wake me up with chatter, her machine gun snores woke me up at 6:30 am instead.  So I was a little disgruntled and inhospitable when I saw her in the breakfast room sitting by herself.  I could have sat at another table, by myself as well, but that really would have been insulting in hostel culture.  So I didn’t.  I sat down across from her with a smile and took a sip from my coffee.  And to my chagrin I had a delightful conversation about art, fashion, and aging that lasted until I just had to leave or I would miss my ferry to Estonia.  OK Universe. Fine! She was delightful and I was no longer disgruntled.

That alone would have made for a good day.  But wait, there’s more! When I arrived at the docks I discovered that ALL of the ferry trips were canceled for the day, due to rough seas.  Yikes!

Not to fear! There was another ferry, a BIGGER ferry leaving in an hour and a half from the other docks . The docks across town? Yeah, those docks.  “You can make it,” they said.

“OK, I’ll go for it,” I said.

“I’m going there too.” said the woman in front of me.  “If you don’t mind a squeeze, you are welcome to ride in the car with us.  We have room for another.  I think if you try to take the tram you will not have enough time to change your tickets.”

Yep, THANK YOU Travel Angel! Travel Mermaid! Again you are there when I need you  most.  With the help of the Travel Angel and her boyfriend the driver, who happened to be from Estonia and recommended some good restaurants to check out, I arrived at the other docks with plenty of time to get a new boarding pass and stroll onto the BIG ferry with style and swagger.  Or maybe just a little swaying as my top-heavy-backpack-laden self found her sea legs.

The ride and arrival in Tallinn were uneventful, and before too long I had dropped my things at the hostel.  I was out roaming the streets in search of some grub when I wandered past the Opera House.  Just like Helsinki, there was an Opera about to begin, this time Carmen, and this time I was able to get a rush student ticket  in the ninth row for only $5.00!

How, you may ask, did I get a student ticket?  Babson College, my alma matre, does not put an expiration date on their student ID cards. As long as I have to put up with people asking me what high school I go to (yep, about three weeks ago at a festival I was asked not once but twice what high school I was attending) I’m going to take advantage of my assumed student status and rock those discounts at every opportunity.

And that was my super amazing day.

1. New energy

2. New friend

3. Travel Mermaid

4. Practically free fantastic performance.

 

Remember, in travel and in life, the energy you put out is the energy you receive! 

Think Happy!

travel angels can show up anywhere- land, air, or sea!

 

~Aeri

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now you helsinki me

I have spent the last two days exploring Helsinki. It’s been a bit slower than some of my trips, but it was exactly the speed it seems I needed to travel right now. Recognizing when you need a slow trip and when you need an active action packed trip is an important skill for a serial traveler to have. Otherwise you’ll just burn yourself out.

Though it was leisurely, it certainly wasn’t boring. I started off yesterday with a brisk walk to the historic center of town. Passing my first “tourist shop” I stopped in to have a look around and was delightfully surprised by what I saw. Finland has had a great idea! They put hand made crafts in their tourist shops. All those little hand made bags, jewelery, and funky clothes that tourists and hippies love to buy are now what tourists are forced to buy if they want to get “chintzy” souvenirs. Ok, so I did see a “magnet, bottle opener, flags and socks” kiosk a little later, but at least the majority of the shops were filled with these hand made goodies.

I spent the rest of the day taking in the main sights and getting a feel for the town, which really is beautiful. I wasn’t mislead when I claimed it was clean and green. It is! And you can even drink the water! Their tap water is more delicious than many bottled brands I’ve tried over the years, which made me all the gladder to have my reusable water bottle with me.

I lunched on smoked salmon and a reindeer sausage at a dock-side tent market, tried some linden berries, and picked up a cinnamon pastry from the Old Market House. Market Houses are great, they are usually long buildings filled with little specialty vendors selling specific things like breads, pastries, cheeses, meats, fishes, etc. You get the picture.

After lunch I bought a round trip ferry ticket to Suomenlinna Island and Sea Fortress. There was a hostel I wanted to check out there, as an option for an extra night in Helsinki, and I heard the island was pretty too.

Pretty is an understatement.  It was EXTREMELY PRETTY. But it wasn’t beautiful. Beautiful landscapes are natural and wild and chaotic. This was a naval fortress so no blade of grass wasn’t consciously planted, but where the landscapers did decide to plant was well done. The buildings were adorable and quaint. The trails were well kept, and the rocky beaches and bluffs (at least, those not adjacent to a rocky wall) were just secluded enough to let a traveler think they stumbled upon a real find. Sadly the hostel was booked full for the next night, so I couldn’t stay, but I spent most of the four hours I had left hatching plans and schemes of how and when I would get back too the island and how long I could stay. I’ve decided that I’m giving myself two years to write a full length novel, and if I haven’t done it by then than I’m moving to this beautiful peaceful manicured little homestead and staying until the book is written. I am definitely adding this place to my list of 1001 places I think you should visit. I recommend planning a ghost hunters tour.  Between the hidden glens, and dark military tunnels, this island was seething with unseen energies.

Anyway, after this very pleasant day full of walking I realized another very important thing on the boat ride back to Helsinki. Pack what you know. What I mean is this. On my Mediterranean trip last winter I packed things I thought would be a good example for other travelers: comfortable flats (chucks) and a good day bag full of zippers, pockets, and clips, newly bought from Sears for the trip. The Chucks were alright…until I lost toe nails after a long day hike in Goreme, Turkey. The bag was terrible! It split a side seam less than three days into my trip. This time I knew better. I packed things I use daily, things that have seen hard use and held up just fine, things that I was comfortable in and knew I could rely on. I packed my Medieval Moccasin shoes, closed toe high tops to be exact, and my Moresca satchel.

On my walk back to the hostel I was at loose ends. I was still pretty full from my Finnish Feast, but I wasn’t ready to go home yet. Luckily, I happened to pass by a bar I remembered being mentioned in a visitors guide provided by the hostel. The bar was called Storyville, and was the “best jazz bar in town.” And it was really pretty great. I enjoyed an amazing cider called Crowmoor that isn’t in the States yet and really should be because it was amazing. Did I mention it was great? I don’t want to be cliché and say it actually tasted like fresh sweet apples but, aw hell. It tasted like fresh sweet apples! It didn’t have that sugary tartness that promises hangovers to come the way most other ciders do. The band, yes there was a live band, wasn’t too bad either. Though I arrived to an instrumental version of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prision.  “Its a small world after all.”

Dinner that night was a travel favorite of mine: warm soup, hard bread, and strong cheese from the market. This time it was carrot soup, a dark rye bread, and Prima Donna cheese. And a few more ciders. Aparently they love cider in Finland, because there were at least a half a dozen different brands. I might have picked up one of each to conduct a serious taste review. All in the name of travel research of course. I’ve been having a couple each night. There have been some wins and some misses. I’ll let you know the final results when I’m done.

A few minutes (well, the internet was slow so it was more like an hour and a half) spent planning the next few days, and I was ready for bed. And that was all yesterday.

Today I had plans to visit the open-air museum on another island nearby, but it was grey, cold, and raining intermittently; so I decided to check out the Finland National Museum instead. I’ll be honest, I’m pretty partial to a good history museum every once in a while. I always find something to inspire me creatively, and I learn a few cool new facts. This time my design idea was inspired by cave man wall paintings. I really like the thick white strokes and simple animal shapes. I think I’d like to experiment with painting white shapes and patterns on leather fairy clothes. My favorite fact? In the 1390’s there was a band of pirates who roved the Baltics called The Vitalians, or “The Victual Brotherhood.” I like that. I think it is a great name for a traveling foodie’s website, or a secret group of extremely severe food critics.

Anyway, by the time I was done with the museum it had cleared up outside, so I took a stroll back down to the docks, this time to buy a ferry ticket for tomorrow. I’ll be leaving Helsinki to spend a couple of days in Tallinn, Estonia. From there I’ll take the bus to St. Petersburg. In addition to adding another country to the trip, planning this little excursion in has saved me tons of money. Rather than a 150 Euro train ticket from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, and 46 Euro for two more nights at the hostel; I’ll be paying 33 Euro for a ferry ride, 17 Euro for two nights in a hostel, and 25 Euro for a bus ride. That’s almost 200 Euro plus food to stay in expensive Helsinki vs. less than 80 Euro plus food to stay in inexpensive Estonia. Yay!!

Ticket in hand, I felt that my brief yet wonderful time in Helsinki was coming to an end. I knew there was only one more thing I had to do…SAUNA!! I try to sample a country’s spa and relaxation customs whenever possible. In addition to keeping me stress free while traveling, it is a really fun way to get to know a new country. So far I’ve tried Turkish Baths, Swedish Saunas, Korean Spas, Chinese Massage, and now Finnish Saunas. I think that soon I should dedicate an entire post to spa days, but since this post is entirely too long already, I’ll just keep you in suspense.

Kippis!

 

~Aeri

PS- I’m sorry there are no pictures yet.  The internet is very slow here.

 

 

 

 

first star on the right and straight on till morning

Last night I began my Great Railway Adventure. After a day filled with last minute errands and quickly hemmed pants, my dad and trusty airport chauffeur dropped me off at Dulles International Airport yet again- this time headed for Helsinki, Finland with a layover in Iceland. The planes were small, but I guess that’s alright considering that via Iceland, the trans-Atlantic crossing is split into two short flights.

The first flight last night was pretty. We silently glided through the darkness, with puffy white clouds below us hiding the choppy ocean waves I knew were there. The moon shown incredibly brightly in the sky, but it was not too bright to drown out the stars. I felt like I could be traveling to Neverland, following Peter’s directions: just follow the first star on the right and head straight on till morning and there adventure awaits.

The constellation Orion seemed to lead the way. I saw the full constellation out the window, just over the right wing, like I was looking straight across and not up at him like I have done from the ground so many times before. Were we equals last night, Orion and I? He seems like a good man to have in my life. He’s the only one I seem to look to for guidance, and certainly the only one I’ve chased around the world or even around the block. Aloof and unattainable, he has seen and known more than I ever will. Yet he has remained steady and controlled throughout his vast experiences, where I sometimes crave the chaos and instability that my travels offer me.

I thought I would continue this contemplation of my perfect star man, but as soon as I touch down in Helsinki I was overwhelmed by different thoughts entirely- mainly wonderful, “This is so EASY! This place is so BEAUTIFUL!” thoughts.

Because it was and it is. I landed, grabbed my backpack from the conveyor belt, and stopped by information for some directions to the Olympic Stadium, where I had reserved a bed at the hostel within- the aptly named Stadium Hostel. The bus ride was so easy that I barely had to focus on the stops and was able to let my mind wander out the window and take in the wide, amazingly clean streets of Helsinki. This was a city that was so green and blue! It was full of trees and lakes and streams. The weather was a perfect sunny 17 decrees Celsius. For 6.20 Euro I was dropped off a block away from the hostel, and the brief stroll told me that this might be called a city, but it didn’t smell or sound like one. I felt relaxed and comfortable immediately. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the stress and chaos that usually surrounds the first few moments in a new city when you’re trying to find your way to your lodging for the first time, disoriented from the loud sounds and unfamiliar landmarks and still groggy after a recent mind numbing flight.

I practically skipped through the front door of the hostel, checked in, and found my bed ready to be made up in the crisp clean white sheets I had been handed. I had so much extra energy, saved for the stressful first journey that was anything but, that I took a quick shower to wash off the last of my travel cobwebs, repacked my purse with the essentials, and hit the city streets once again.

I was in search of food. Finnish food. A quick stroll through a grocery store and I had an idea of what food prices might be like (expensive!) while I was here. I was also delightfully impressed with their large hard cider selection, a collection I shall be exploring in depth while I am here.

After wandering for a few more blocks I settled on a Nepalese restaurant, not Finnish, I know but a new cuisine none the less. It was a good decision. Nepalese coffee is AMAZING. It is everything I wanted Turkish coffee to be. It was strong and sweet and flavored with exotic spices that I couldn’t place. I think I detected cardamom, but I’m not sure what else.

Now I am back at the hostel and rapidly crashing. I think I’ll take a few moments to plan out the next few days and then I will turn in early. I was happy to find that the festival gods were favoring me again. I landed in Helsinki at the start of World Design Week 2012, celebrating Helsinki as this year’s Design Capital of the World. There will be a lot of fun, interesting and FREE things happening in the next few days. I can’t wait to find out what. When I know, you’ll know!

Cheers,

Aeri