Thursday, 20 March 2008

'Peter... Moses... welcome to Finland!'

So Helsinki is very pretty. I'd been expecting it to be rocking some sort of austere Soviet thing, which was terribly ignorant of me, as it was never part of the USSR, in fact seceding from Czarist Russia just after the Russian Revolution. I guess it's like a neater, friendlier Stockholm - the town centre is really impressive, in that everything's a couple of hundred years old and they've worked really hard to keep it looking just so, so that even if all the shops and restaurants are modern, their exteriors still look impeccably Czarist, and it's basically all the good.

I've heard lots of dire warning about how the Finns are all nasty drunks; it's a bit of a weird one, in that by and large they seem like polite, friendly people, but then every so often you'll come across somebody so epically loaded at, like, 11am, you could probably use their blood for lighter fluid. Then again, you could say the same about Mark, so it really doesn't seem like so much of a big issue.

In fact by far the most alarming person we met (in fact possibly the most alarming person I've ever met) was a fellow hostel guest, who'd come over from Estonia. His English seemed remarkably selective - he'd be speaking at an advanced level one moment, talking complete gibberish the next. We never actually got his name out of him, so bestowed the epithet The Honker upon his weirdo shoulders.

The mentalness started off with low-level eccentricity: he greeted me by offering his hand and then pulling it away; he asked me where the womens' bathrooms were (weird in itself, plus he was probably well aware all the toilets were mixed sex); later on, when I was wanting a nap before dinnertime, he kept talking to me, telling me such 'facts' as Estonia having no football team (er..?) and telling me he'd been captain of the Estonian ice hockey team in 1991 (he'd have been a teenager at the time, if not younger). He also insisted I took an iPod case he'd been wearing clipped to his belt, as he, er, didn't have an iPod and had been merely carrying it around. He also claimed that the case had been made by the Incas, which was remarkably prescient of them, if not exactly prosaic.

The point we realised he was off the Richter scale mental was when we went to bed in the dorm room we were sharing with him. All went well until just before 4am, at which point he sat bolt upright in bed and loudly and distinctly said 'Peter... Moses... welcome to Finland!' He was, we observed, fully dressed. There was precious little sleep on our parts for the next three hours as we were somewhat concerned that he was going to perform the full Charles Manson on us. He spent the time wandering in and out of the dorm, drumming rhythmically on the walls, leaning over other people in the dorm and poking their mattresses. He didn't actually talk that much, but every so often he'd address a sleeper directly, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Predictably he asked me for his iPod case back (I was only too happy to assent), but the real highlight came when he started informing a thoroughly freaked-out Brazilian guy in the bottom bunk that he could get him summer work and that they should go outside to discuss it. The Brazilian grunted something in the negative, and The Honker switched tacks, saying he should come outside because there were four parcels that needed carrying. This didn't especially enthuse the Brazilian, and to be honest we were all amazed that when The Honker went off to whatever godawful place he'd came from (my best guess would be that he's the advanced scout for some sort of spectacularly inept alien invasion, or an actual, proper, real-life village idiot gone on the lamb), we all had our limbs, faces, major organs etc still intact.

In terms of actually, y'know, doing stuff in Helsinki, I basically pottered around on my own while Mark lay in his chemical swoon. Though speaking of people in dark places, I ended up spending most of the afternoon hanging out in city cemetery. Which is arguably kind of creepy, and I guess it was, but it was also really stunning, a massive, wintry public park that goes down to the shore, covered in all sorts of headstones and tombs. There are some properly creepy old skool weeping angel statues and whatnot, but also some really weird stuff that's quite out of the box (geddit?) in terms of burial technology. I really liked one that was just a marble boulder with a little lantern burning next to it, it sort of had a feng shui thing going on (in fact for future ref, I'd quite fancy one of those bad boys when I shuffle off this mortal coil), but the funniest was probably one which sported a marble effigy of the deceased riding a donkey while looking completely shitfaced, seemingly having an absolute ball. Presumably it was meant fondly.

I roused Mark with an offering of some sort of unfathomable milk product I'd brought in a supermarket in a moment of misguided whimsy. It was really odd, just a sheet of curdled milk; to be honest I don't really want to talk about it, but just to say didn't really taste of anything, and had a disconcertingly squeaky, rubbery texture. I forgot to note the name down, but I think if you see one you'll realise it's to be avoided.

Later we went for food, and I continued my general policy of making sure I try new forms of meat (just to check I'm not missing out on anything, like), with some reindeer carbonara. It was by far the best thing I'd eaten on the trip, though that's mainly because it was the first thing that wasn't simply a large block of dairy product, and I wouldn't get too excited about reindeer eating as a lifestyle choice: it tasted kind of like a milder form of beef. So there you go.

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