Hello Helsinki

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Esplande Park Helsinki
Esplanade Park, Helsinki, Finland
Image: Wikimedia

I had moose for lunch today. Not mousse, but moose. It did not taste like chicken.

We had docked in Helsinki, Finland. I got off the ship because the sun was shining and the ground was firm. After a few days onboard, cabin fever sets in even though the ship is the length of three football fields and ten stories high.

When my feet hit the ground, I was slightly confused. What day is it? What city is this? When working on a cruise ship, there are no days off or weekends to bookend one’s work routine. The passengers book a 12-day cruise, so the staff works 12 days. When the passengers disembark, new passengers come aboard, and the cycle immediately starts over. There are only two types of days: sea days and port days. The day of the week is meaningless.

I had some coffee, sat on a bench, and collected my thoughts. Helsinki, Finland; what do I know about Finland? The cobwebs in my brain parted reluctantly. Finland: Lapland; Reindeer; Olympics; Jan Sibelius. I made my way to Kauppaton Market to have a look around.

band performs at Esplanade in Helsinki
The band Positive Wave performs at Esplanade Park
Image: Wikimedia

As I walked, I noticed the sign on a restaurant across the street that read “Wrong Noodle Bar.” Heavens! I don’t want to go into the wrong noodle bar. What’s wrong with it, I wonder? And where can I find the right noodle bar? About 50 steps later, I turned around and crossed the street. I HAD to know what a noodle bar was.

It turns out that a noodle bar is a Chinese carry-out. I can only guess the meaning of “Wrong.” Maybe there’s something wrong with the noodles. Who knows?

A Beautiful City

My first impression of Helsinki was that, like Copenhagen and Stockholm, it was remarkably clean for such a large city. There was no trash to be seen on the byways. The streets were lined with sidewalks for pedestrians and wide, paved paths for bicycles. The architecture resembled other large Scandinavian cities: rows of modern office buildings separated by older Classical Roman and Renaissance buildings with an occasional Rococo flair.

The people were friendly and colorfully dressed. The young women wore spandex pants and layered tops; the young men sported NY Yankees baseball caps. For business people, the dress uniform appeared to be black suits and white shirts for both men and women.

From a pavilion in the park, a rock band pleaded electronically for the sidewalks to crumble. The band appeared to be comprised of high school students. Eight female singers, all wearing their best Britney Spears outfits, were backed by four long-haired male musicians. They played covers of American Pop songs, the girls singing in unison and gyrating to the music. The boys in the band did their best to look cool and disinterested.

Food booth vendors
Food Booth at Kauppatori Market in Helsinki
Image: Wikimedia

At the market, the vendors’ tables were stacked high with reindeer furs and warm-looking reindeer fur hats. Reindeer and moose-themed souvenirs dominated the vendors’ inventories. Further into the market, I found food vendors. When traveling, I prefer walk-up food vendors to sit-down restaurants; the food vendors are more likely to serve what the locals eat. Today was no exception: many business people on their lunch breaks were eating finger food from paper baskets. Several vendors were selling this food, so I checked it out at a booth.

I Don’t Eat Bait

The smell of the food was repulsive. It was a sardine-sized fish, deep fried, head, tail, and all, served crisp and hot in a paper basket. I was offered a free sample. No way, not me. Growing up near the Chesapeake Bay, I used fish that size for bait. I don’t eat bait, even if it is deep-fried.

Every food booth served the fish, but one booth had something extra: some sort of meatball served with rice pilaf and grilled vegetables. “What is that meat”? I asked the server. “Moose,” she answered. It never occurred to this city boy that moose could be food. Well, I wanted local food, and here it was. I tried to act nonchalant, saying, “I’ll have the moose with lemon sauce and rice, please.” Like a lot of game meats, the moose was dry and chewy. The lemon sauce made it palatable. The rice pilaf was quite good, though.

After lunch, I sat on a park bench to enjoy the sun and watch the passers-by. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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