Sunday, May 01, 2016

Estonia Spring Break 2016: Day Six, and a big surprise in Helsinki.

(As is my custom when posting trip summaries, I'm backdating them to the actual day of occurrence. Previously: Day Five)

A few days before the trip to Tallinn, Diana began selling me on the wisdom of visiting Helsinki on Sunday, May 1. We'd already talked about doing it. The two cities lie only 50 miles apart, with the Gulf of Finland's waters lying between them. It's a two-hour ferry trip, and a plush ride at that.

What's more, May 1 offered a chance to see Finns at play.

In Finland, the May Day celebration has developed from its pagan origin as a feast of spring into a nationwide urban carnival.

Worldwide, May 1st is celebrated as an international working class holiday. In addition to this, in Finland, it is also a traditional spring feast of university students, and the name day of the catholic saint Walburga, commemorated in former times, when Finland still was a catholic country.

Being a mixture of these traditions, the custom of celebrating May Day has spread throughout the country with many people taking part in it, if only to welcome the long awaited spring.

In Finland, May Day is a noisy urban festival, mainly celebrated in towns and cities. In Helsinki, the capital of Finland, the celebration starts on May Day Eve, as the downtown streets, pubs and restaurants start to fill with people in party mood.

The carnival atmosphere is enhanced by people wearing funny or frightening masks, hats, wigs and other party accessories. Colourful balloons, pompoms, party blowouts, serpentine throws and sprays, noisemakers and horns of various kinds are also popular, especially among children. For some people, the festivities also include a rather heavy consumption of alcohol, in the true Nordic fashion.

My wife's insistence on Sunday made perfect sense, and so the tickets were booked, and we boarded the Tallink ferry at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday. Pastries and espresso were available for purchase, and a benevolent staffer gave me a free booze-filled chocolate egg.

The ferry docked in Helsinki right on time, and nature of Diana's urgency became readily evident in the person of this guy waiting to greet us.

Yes, it's Kim Andersen, card-carrying partner in the famous Three Danes of the Apocalypse act on stage and screen. He knew he was to be in Helsinki on business, and when I mentioned the Estonia trip on social media, he contacted Diana for the sake of connivance -- and boy, did they connive.

Good. My day in Helsinki just got far better.

Amid requisite pleasantries, Kim explained the significance of the weekend's various parties, emphasizing the importance of Sunday for Finland's university students -- in fact, anyone who'd ever been a university student. Hence, these views at a public park as people of all ages celebrated.

Note the nautical-style caps. Everyone was wearing them.

We walked to the city center and found seats at a cafe just in time to witness a local May Day parade. It was fully interactive, with songs, applause and heckling from the crowd.

Grasping the spirit of the day, Diana bought a balloon.

Kim's boss joined us for a while, and a leisurely day unfolded in picture perfect spring weather. It was not to be a time for sightseeing in any conventional sense. Helsinki's streets were thronged, and folks were festive. Kim and I hadn't seen each other in person for many years, and there was much catching up to do. We wandered downtown, having beers and snacks, and talking.

I didn't bother keeping beer notes, or caring where we were. It was too much fun. By 5-ish, we'd arrived at the final stop on Kim's orientation tour: The historic Hotel Torni, a compelling 1930s-era with rooftop bar and a view comparable to Lounge 24 in Helsinki. Here's an internet view.

Naturally, Kim already knew that the bar at the top of the Hotel Torni stocks Sinebrychoff Porter, still one of the finest regional beers, and so our final round was special in more ways than one. Diana had the camera, and captured the scene.

The two-hour return to Tallinn was uneventful apart from eating far too much at an expensive buffet, though food was necessary after a day spent drinking from place to place.

Had we gone to Helsinki for a day trip and Kim not been there to surprise me, it's likely we'd have found a tram, a neighborhood and learned more about Helsinki and the people who live there.

But who cares?

I wouldn't trade this wonderful afternoon with Kim for anything in the world, and I'm grateful to Diana for slyly arranging it. It's a memory to be cherished.   

Next: Monday (Day Seven), and the winding down process begins.

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