Sunday, October 10, 2010

Finland XII: Out and About

(In this 12th installment of my blog series in regards to NHL Premiere 2010, featuring the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki, Finland, we focus on life with Finns in various settings, and how the tourist benefits from traditional Finnish stoicism.)

Finland is the land where everything is slow and warm. Very warm.

You walk into any Finnish building in October, and the heat is ON. Not just barely working, but full-bore, cranked-up ON. From our hotel room, to the souvenir shops, to Central Station, Helsinki, all the way to the Visitor Center at the Summolinna Sea Fortress, you will never, EVER be cold in Finland. You would have to take it to the extreme, in order to be cold in Finland.

It was the best week for that time of year most Finns could remember. Last week was the annual Herring Festival at the City Market in Helsinki, where various types of herring are available for sample (and, purchase) in both cooked and uncooked versions. There are other things at the market, also, such as faux firs, artwork, crepes and numerous ways to serve reindeer meat. But this week, the herring holds sway, and from what I had of it, it's really good herring, also. Of course, it's also really, REALLY fresh herring, just caught less than 24 hours before being served.

Finnish food is very subtlely flavored, but since we stayed at a hotel which caters to international travellers, they actually had such items for us Americans as Tabasco sauce. Scrambled eggs and bacon were as much on the menu at the breakfast buffet each morning, as were the ever-British porridge, wiener sausage and baked beans in tomato sauce. For the Russians, the traditional zakuski of soft-or-hard boiled eggs, cucumber, tomato, meats and cheeses were available. Five different kinds of cold cereal were available, as were every topping imaginable. You could also enjoy some of the world's best breads, as the Finns have the bread thing down pat.

A lot of Finnish restaurants would be closed until at least late afternoon (dinner hour in Finland generally is not before 7:00 PM) but they do stay open until late evening. Lunch is the domain of the two fast-food imports (McDonald's and Subway, who are everywhere) or of places like the Forum shops, a Finnish 'Loondale', complete with Finnish versions of your favorite mall food court eatery.

The No. 1 option for why people go into central Helsinki, however, is the massive, 10-story, 12-floor Stockmann department store. Stockmann's is the place for EVERYTHING -- this store has everything from fashion, to souvenirs for the folks back home, to the toiletries you need for your next trip, to the luggage to haul it all around Europe in, to an in-store deli, and not one but THREE places to grab an ice cream cone while you shop. This massive throwback to old-fashioned consumerism, circa 1967, is the busiest single location in the country. It was so busy there when I walked in, you had to go on a down elevator, in order to go UP on an elevator, to the upper floors. And how old is this building? There are NO escalators to serve the hordes of people who venture out to brave the crowds in order to look really, really good.

Finnish stoicism abounds. Everyone knows that with time, you'll figure it all out, and you will be just like them. Stoic, reserved, and happy just to be warm and in Finland. That's when you know that they've got you, and that you will be back, someday, and for a long, long time. Everyone knows it, whenever that hits, you will be 'one of us'.

I could go on, but real Finns never brag. They're too stoic to blow their own horn.

(to be continued)

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