Previously on The Espoo Diaries:

“…I was safe on the plane and nobody was gonna stop me now…”
“…Landing in Helsinki was amazing…”
“…that sun is just an evil ploy…”
“…5 people to run a restaurant…”
“…gijima to the seety, not the township, one-time…”
“…the train station in Helsinki had a James Bondy feel to it…”

And now, in full black and white pixelation, FrozenToe Productions is
proud to present the next installment in The Espoo Diaries:
“Espoo Reloaded”. Guest starring, in alphabetical order, Finnish
Blondes, and, ummm, me.

The evening of the 30th of March saw me making a distinct yet profound
step forward in my journey. I conducted a “hotel-migration-exercise”
which included a relocation to The Radisson Seaside Hotel, on the edge
of the city of Helsinki, about 1km from the city center, on the ocean
front. The strangest thing is that there is absolutely no smell of sea
salt in the air. (Then again, there is hardly any sea, just sea ice).
The constant sight of massive cruise liners entering and exiting the
harbour area instills a strong desire to simply board a ship and
disappear into the Finnish shipping lanes. If an update does not arrive
in the near future, you know where to not start looking.

Make no mistake this move came highly recommended and was in no part due
to any sort of incompetence of the previous hotel. Although something
that did help to make me more bitter about parting was the
extraordinarily high telephone call cost which I incurred by phoning
South Africa (the country rated as one with the most expensive telephone
calls in the world) from Finland (the country rated as having the second
most expensive phone calls in the world) from the hotel (something
insanely stupid to do, but who woulda thought?). Let me just summarise
it like this – I could have held off on the phone calls and used the
bucks to buy Peter’s Ferrari when I returned. (Survival tip #3: dna
prepaid cellphone vouchers).

Now that I was actively present in Helsinki by night, a bit of nighttime
investigation was due to take place. I shortcut the tourist traps
immediately by approaching the lovely blonde-haired waitress at the
‘Viola’ restaurant at the Radisson, who I will only mention by the
moniker ‘Miss Moneypenny.’ I would use her real name – ‘Miss
Vyaryustëërinkintumybluääis’ – but it is rather distracting. So I
commissioned Moneypenny to do a discreet background check of all active
nightlife within the Helsinki region, and the results were astounding.

In short, Friday the 2nd saw me in Helsinki, by night (in 2 degree
temperature, mind you). With hair slicked back and dancing shoes
tightened to my feet I crossed the threshold of my hotel room at about
nine pm and entered the bluster of activity in the late-night streets of
Helsinki. If it wasn’t for the darkness and the time on my cellphone one
would be forgiven for assuming it was simply a mid-afternoon in Helsinki
– it was that busy. My first way point proved to be a small fast-food
restaurant for rather bland “kebab” meat (cooked rotisserie style) on a
bed of rice. Fortunately “peri-peri” is a universal language.

On completion of the task in the alloted time, I moved on to find my
next way point, the nightclub known as ‘Lady Moon’. This was done with
relative ease – the bright neon lights outside were but a small
assistance for my excellent direction finding and detective skills.
Things seemed rather quiet at this checkpoint, so I quickly moved to
checkpoint three – the establishment known as “Molly Malone’s” and rated
as one of the top 50 Irish Pubs in Europe.

I know what you’re thinking. I flew thousands of miles to look for a
Scottish Drink at an Irish Pub in Finland. Don’t question it. Accept it.
The atmosphere was festive and the place was packed to the brim. They
even had a poker table inside where some were conducting a spot of
gambling. (The only designated non-smoking section!!)
(Theme tune #3: Anything by U2, played over and over again.)

The evening grew tired rather quickly as the Finnish Beer consumed my
motor skills (and my bank balance). The price of a pint is between 4 and
5€. Nearing the completion of my evening, I drifted slowly to the door,
assisted by two signs providing me with the further necessary means to
ensure successful completion of my mission – WC – ye good olde ‘Water
Closet’, and ‘Ulos’ – Finnish for ‘out’. (Survival Tip #4 and #5)

A grand exit was executed and suddenly, while in the process of closing
my jacket, I transitioned into a slow-motion bullet-time, sound effects
and all. I glanced around, expecting to see bullets whizzing past
through ever-increasing air-ripples, but the only thing whizzing past
was a couple of snowflakes. I found myself in an eerie state of
cold-induced instant soberness.
Disappointing is not strong enough a word.

My return to the hotel was uneventful, but an impressive sight was the
number of young people, often single females, moving through the dark
streets at a late hour without fear or concern.

Saturday saw me venture into the streets of Helsinki by day, visiting
the various department stores to get a feel for the bustling activity in
Helsinki at the weekend. I also roamed through various sights in the
city, most notably visiting the University of Helsinki, the place where
Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux Kernel – the core of the
GNU/Linux operating system – studied. Let us just say that I think I can
understand now his motivation for getting involved in such a mammoth
task – yes, the words “sheer boredom” do come to mind… As it turns
out, the University is a relatively small, four-sided building about
five storeys high. As a patron of a number of South African universities
I have to let the scoreboard slide – South Africa 1, Finland 0.

Other sites encountered on my path included a big old white building –
the Chapel, or something – plastered on each end with an “evil
all-seeing eye” symbol. The Matrix has you. Big Brother is watching. You
know the drill. Pretty creepy. Many large, old-fashioned buildings and
an excursion through giant department store Stockmann later
I headed back to prepare for weekend night two – Saturday evening in the
city.

My chosen destination this evening was to be the nightclub “Nosturi”,
less than half a kilometer from the hotel. As it turned out, a 8€ cover
charge got me in to see three live bands – (can’t remember), Melrose and
Mannhai. They were all pretty good, but somehow they all seemed to sound
the same – they all seem to work off a similar sounding guitar/keyboard
riff, and much of the headline act (Mannhai) seemed to be an attempt
to rip off Guns ‘n Roses and AC/DC. They were very interesting to watch,
and prove that good rock music is alive and well in Finland, although
the best tunes of the evening were the cover versions played. Beer
price: 4€.

The thought of these exceptionally high prices when translated into
rands turned my attention to cost-of-living comparisons, and it is here
that I came to a breakthrough revelation in currency and lifestyle
comparisons. Forget about the ‘Big-Mac’ index. A truly relative
comparison would be what I have dubbed the ‘Golden Cap’ index. Why
Golden Cap? Well, if you look at the top of a beer bottle, what is the
usual colour of the lid holding the playful, bubbly golden-brown liquid
inside?

While the Big Mac Index is based around the international comodity of a
Big Mac burger, and the assumption that almost everyone can afford a
McDonalds burger and everyone has to eat, the Golden Cap index is based
on a truer scale. There is no assumption that everyone can afford a
McDonalds meal – the fact is everyone CAN afford a beer, no matter your
financial state. In essence, this index shows that prices in Finland are
not that expensive, while South Africa is probably just as, if not more
expensive when you look at it relatively. I bought a double Johnny Red
and tried to stop myself from thinking of the
equivalently priced full bottle that lies at home.

Of course, no good evening out in a foreign country can be worthwhile
unless some diplomatic tension is introduced. I had seen a guy earlier
in the evening who was with two good-looking ladies (are there any other
kind here?) and he moved upstairs, next to where I was standing. He
then, with hands full of beer glasses, proceeded to attempt to call the
two young ladies from the floor below. I noticed his struggling
attempts, and being on the way to refill my drink at the bar downstairs,
offered to call them for him. What followed proved to be a bungling
game of cross-cultural misunderstanding and resulted in a mildly upset
Finn who happened to be about twice my size. (Viking would be a most
appropriate word). I quickly left him to ponder the subtle nuances of a
South African accent, while I found another beer, the WC and then the
‘ulos’.

Easter weekend found me pursuing various other sightseeing activities,
including visiting the Sibelius Monument (a bunch of pipes welded
together), an entire church carved out of rock with incredible acoustic
qualities – Temppeliaukion Kirkko, and Suomenlinna, the maritime
fortress just off the coast of Helsinki. Saturday evening saw me brave
the extremely cold night to witness ‘Via Crucis’ – a mock crucifixion
that takes place at Senate Square. Included in this weekend too was what
has to be the highlight of any South African’s visit to Helsinki – a
visit to Johannesbergintie, a small street with a great name.

I’ll end this mail on a poignant note. Alcohol seems to be a problem in
this country, probably more so than in SA. Drinking on the streets is
not forbidden and I have now been witness to at least five or six
incidents of unnecessary drunken behaviours in public places in the
space of this past week, including witnessing a phone being thrown at
the wall, less than two metres away from me, in the hotel restaurant
with blatant disregard for all the other patrons. Fortunately I have not
seen anyone being hurt, but everything is not roses here either.
Obviously I do not want to generalize, and I may have even been a
perpetrator of these same or similar actions at some stage in the past,
but the frequency with which I have borne witness to this is alarming. A
lot of this may have to do with Easter and the public holidays making
things a bit too festive – time will tell. Rest assured, more on my
independent evaluation of underlying problems in Finland will follow.

Happy Easter everyone.

Regards to all,

Shaun.

Stay tuned for scenes from our next episode…

Next time on The Espoo Diaries:
“…purchase my tram ticket using my cellphone…”
“…Miss Moneypenny…”
“…Baarikarpanen, who knows what it means, is a small bar/nightclub on
Mikonkatu…”
“…it was snowing at Seurasaari…”