Previously on The Espoo Diaries:

“…soothing, sultry manner in which certain young Finnish women speak…”
“…rest of evening all blurred into one…”
“…brightened with a smile from Moneypenny…”
“…delectable choice of drunk Finns dancing…”
“…left Moneypenny to walk home in the company of a relatively
(completely) unknown man…”
“…’Hotel Helka Bathroom Experience’ ™…”

It has been suggested by certain readers of this esteemed publication
that the author’s alcohol intake has been rather high of late. It’s all
liesh… damm liesh, I tal yew. I dirrent go out that mush, I jus has
one dop evre now an then, nevr djuring the weeks erryway… …hic…

So every Monday has good reason to be rounded off with a quick burger at
‘Hesburger’ – Finland’s native answer to McDonalds – followed by a few
drinks at Kaisla, where a group of us internationals got together in the
vicinity of a collection (2 bytes) of Finnish geeks wearing PC related
clothing and playing ‘Magic: The Gathering’ – the card game for the
uebergeek. I felt myself filled with comfort when that warm, homely,
familiar feeling of offending a Dutchman (this time a true Dutch man)
also presented itself later in the evening. Fortunately Moneypenny
stopped by to break the ice and a little later we all headed off home,
now ready to face the rest of the week.

Tuesday would prove to be another exciting day at work – we were busy
with the final preparation for the pilot go-live of the system, which
led to a late night that had to be fed with the monster Scandic burger
from the Scandic Hotel across the road from the office. This
‘beef-lettuce-red onion-tomato-bread’ entity is a ‘system’ in itself,
and amateur restaurant feeders should be cautious in undertaking the
consumption thereof.

Fortunately there is one true solution to bad fast food on a Monday and
Tuesday night – dinner with Moneypenny on Wednesday! We visited a
comfortable restaurant – Töölönranta – skirting the edge of Töölönlahti
to enjoy some Finnish fish delicacies. A celebratory glass of champagne
(Moneypenny had been accepted into photography school), coupled with a
few more glasses of wine found us taking a slow, summery (ok, that’s
‘Finnish-summery walk’) back to Moneypenny’s apartment to finish off
with a good dessert wine and watch a movie or two. Having fallen asleep
halfway through the second movie, Moulin Rouge, we awoke, probably due
to the now already lightening sky starting to lift the dark exterior of
the building. A lack of conversation turned into a 3am photo session
I’ll never forget – my digital camera proving its great inability to
take photos in anything but the sharpest light. (Tourist tip #1 –
Optical zoom is always required.)

Saturday 12 June is the great ‘Helsinki Day’ – with celebratory
activities such as the rock/pop concert at Kaivopuisto, or more
appropriately the ‘concert in the rain’. In truth, Helsinki Day is just
the perfect reason to speak Finnish, get drunk, fall over, speak more
Finnish, get more drunk, fall more over. I chose to be one of the many
brave souls who risked drowning in a sea of mud and rain to get to the
middle of Kaivopuisto to watch the concert that was taking place.
(Survival Tip #8 – Eye protection from short people wielding umbrellas.)
(Survival Tip #9 – Shoulder protection from even shorter people wielding
umbrellas) It was great to see and experience, but eventually the crowd
and the rain was becoming a bit too much and so Moneypenny and myself
headed to Tapasta – a small, busy restaurant – for a great meal.

The rest of the weekend consisted simply of a quiet Sunday spent filling
out time and expense reports (the bane of the modern contractor’s life),
rounded off with a visit from a rather ‘kooky’ (I’m not sure I’ve quite
figured that out yet) Moneypenny, including a nightcap at the ‘Daily’,
the hotel pub downstairs.

Ever since the first time I stepped into the office back in March, my
co-workers have been raving about the fabulous Thai food experience they
had enjoyed at a small restaurant known as “Mai-Thai” close to the
corner of Simonkatu and Annankatu. (Tourist tip #2 – Maps of Helsinki
for mahala at Stockmann, but if you want a *proper, quality* map, head
for Stockmann’s book shop – it’ll set you back about 10€ but its one to
keep) After much deliberation the Mai-Thai was chosen for another visit
the following Tuesday. I tried a dish that arrived at the table having
mostly green beans (my favourite) and some semblance of chicken therein.
As far as the ‘Thai’ aspect of it goes, lets just say this dish could
most definitely have taught even Nando’s a right lesson in hot.
(Although I’m sure Nando’s still has the bigger cock.) The meal left my
stomach groaning “my, my, my… Thai?”.

No better way exists than to correct the chemical imbalance of peri-peri
in one’s stomach than with a strong barley or hops based substance to
settle and soothe the strong gastric acids. The substance: beer. The
place: Sports Academy (Sportti). The company: Miss Moneypenny. Bear in
mind this late evening activity was purely medicinal in purpose. In no
way whatsoever was I trying to drink more beer, no matter how much it
appears that way. I had a late night medical ailment that needed to be
resolved in a quick, safe manner. At this venue a long conversation into
Moneypenny’s family history and Finnish heritage took place, which gave
me a lot more insight into the strange ways in which a woman’s mind
works. ;P After what seemed like such a short time the evening was
interrupted by a quick dimming of the lights (no, that’s not a real slow
blink) – the universal sign for ‘Go home and sleep you alcoholics!’.

A small little soccer tournament known as the European cup was taking
place at this very time. (In the end I think some
backwards-language-speaking mostly-island-dwellers actually won the
tournament, but that’s not very important). The imperative of the moment
was for me to get to Sweden so I could show some support for the Swedish
team in the match against Italy taking place the coming Friday. (I mean
honestly, who wants to support the Italians? – They look like a bunch of
dirty Greeks. ;)) A quick forty-five minute flight landed me close to
the what appeared to be sprawling metropolis of Stockholm, having lived
in the ‘Helsinki village’ for quite some time now.

Here I had the privilege of meeting Björn (byurn, not byawn) an
underground member of Moneypenny’s Swedish Special Forces division, and
a rugby player to boot. We also met an old aquaintance of theirs –
Amanda, and we ended up at the Crépery eating some really good crépes
for dinner. Going back to the mission at hand, we were quickly moved
through the city, paying careful attention not to let the enemy notice
our covert movements. Our destination this time was an underground
establishment known as ‘The Vampire Lounge’. It was comfortable enough,
if you are the type of person to enjoy spending time on the set of
movies such as ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (No. I’m talking about everything
*except* the sexual activity, ok!) In actual fact the atmosphere, the
bejewelled dagger and picture of the Virgin Mary inset on the bathroom
floor and the golden skull that carefully watches your bathroom
activities all add up to a very gothic style encounter, but this evening
everyone just turned that right around into a regular sports bar
atmosphere. Upon approaching the bar for a refill I quickly found myself
exposed to the mind-twisting antics of multiple currency conversion
post-beer. The equation goes something like “Rand to Euro, Euro to
Krona, Krona back to Euro, Euro to … oh what the hell, just give
me another beer please” – this is why they invented the credit card – so
you could make the pain last… We closed Friday evening in Stockholm
with a great view over the river and the city from one of the city’s
highest lookout points, and then disappeared into the subway to find our
way to the comfortable Zinkensdamm hostel (Tourist Tip #3 – Save the
krona for the beer) which proved to have a better shower and a bed
almost the same size as the one I had enjoyed at the hotel Helka.

We enjoyed a late start that Saturday morning, taking a walking route
through Stockholm along the river in the perfect weather. On the edge of
Old Town, breakfast consisted of a Cappucino in the sun, before we
joined the tourist buzz in the middle of the island that houses the old
part of the city. Having spent the day wandering through the vast city,
we headed to TGI Friday’s to feed our ravenous hunger with a burger and
cocktails. We then headed back to the bus station for Moneypenny to
reminisce over McDonald’s fries dipped in chocolate milkshake before
returning to the airport. Despite a few questions and queries about my
passport and eligibility to travel in Europe – they wanted to deport me
back to Africa, but just couldn’t – we arrived back in Helsinki later
that evening.

I really don’t understand. Here I am, a peace-loving, democratically
inspiring, resident of the leading nation in Africa, without criminal
record or fugitive status, from the same place as Nelson Mandela, the
author of Lord of the Rings, and the creator of the Smallpox vaccine and
all in all a decent upstanding citizen of the world. Travelling with a
middle-east war-mongering, oil-hoarding, person from the same place as
Enron, Martha Stewart and Microsoft, and on top of this she can’t decide
if she’s a Finn or a Yank, yet *I’m* the one they question? 🙂
It’s fun to be a third world citizen. 🙂
(Tourist tip #4 – Copies of the return tickets that get you out of the
EU are handy to have at all times alongside your passport)

Another short working week presented itself in the days before the
Midsummer Holiday (Juhannus), which gave us a day off work on Friday
25th of June. It just so happened that the Thursday before was another
important soccer match – Portugal versus England. Now I don’t do much in
the way of selling fruit and vegetables, but I figured for at least one
evening I was going to be a Porra supporter. Better them making it
through than that rowdy, unruly English bunch. I formed a critical
alliance with a Chilean, his girlfriend, and a couple of Finns to be the
underground support movement in the predominantly England supporting
crowd at Molly Malone’s. Our grass-roots support eventually overwhelmed
the pissed and pissed-off English supporters in the penalty shoot out,
and the celebratory mood continued well into the night. The mood finally
waned in the early hours, leaving me to drift home much later with a
head full of memories of a cute yet incomprehensible Finnish girl with
beautiful dark blue eyes.

My next truly focused memory lies on the train to Vaasa. Everything
inbetween is mostly a blur, involving super-quick, super-late morning
preparation for the trip. Nevertheless by some mercy I managed to be on
the right train at the right time to visit Johanna, friend of
Moneypenny, and her boyfriend Jonne, for a midsummer weekend spent at a
traditional Finnish ‘Summer Cottage’. I spent a number of hours that
morning recuperating from the previous evening, but fortunately I was
presented with the delightful sight of two pretty young blonde Finnish
girls sitting in the seats facing me. Naturally I did not even notice or
look at them until their protective father in the other carriage had
finished evil-eyeing my every move, decided I was either decent or
hungover enough looking, and fallen asleep.

We switched trains in a mad dash at Tampere – our train had been a bit
sluggish in reaching its destination timeously – and continued further
into the flat Finnish countryside, this western area of the country now
home to the ‘Finlandssvensk’ – the Swedish speaking population of Finland.

The ‘Summer Cottage’ (with a fireplace especially built for those cold
summer nights) was actually located a short drive south of Vaasa
overlooking a vast expanse of water. Here we were fed to the mosquitos
in traditional Finnish manner. This feasting usually involves the act of
attempting to preserve the sacrificial being with a large amount of
alcohol while luring them into a false sense of security with mosquito
repellent and incense. Following the attempted self-sacrifice we enjoyed
the sunlight, good alcohol, and good company until 23:48 that evening,
when eventually a tired sun decided to finally pull the blue shimmering
covers over its face.

Thereafter the antics continued well into the night, with such
activities as singing (or attempting to sing) in Swedish, cooking
sausage over the fireplace, and much conversation from our well-oiled
tongues, until the sun rose again at ten minutes to four. The bright
orange disk peeking over the waters signalled the arrival of a time to
sleep (for some of us the time had arrived a little sooner) and we all
disappeared to our beds with a flower under the pillow – a tradition
supposed to make one dream of that future loved one. All it brought me
was a green smear underneath my pillow.

Saturday’s late start brought with it a rather wet and chilly day. So
indoors we stayed for the most part, and here I was introduced to the
strange and exotic world of the Moomintroll. Moomin, which are kind of
like small, white, upright walking hippopotamuses are a fictional
creation of one of the well known female Finnish authors, Tove Jansson,
and through the afternoon I delved into this land of Moominmamma,
Moominpappa, Snork, the beautiful blue-eyed Snork Maiden, and a few
other rather colourful characters that Finnish children have developed a
strong traditional affinity for. There even exists a replica Moominland
theme park near Turku, a Finnish city on the western seaboard.

Late afternoon with the weather a little clearer we took a drive further
out into the archipelago that stretches towards Sweden, crossing to an
island by ferry and enjoying an ice-cream in the peaceful afternoon sun.
A strange and very different, somewhat quaint yet peaceful lifestyle the
people of this area seem to lead.

Returning to the cottage, myself and Moneypenny continued into
Moominland while Johanna and Jonne disappeared to find a shower and
fresh clothes – such luxuries as running water are not yet present in
these rural areas. The main means of transport to visit one’s neighbour
is boat, and the main means of cleaning up are a sauna or a swim in the
lake. It would seem also that us Africans do not have a complete
monopoly on the longdrop. The Finns have their relative equivalent for
all ablutionary requirements.

Upon Jonne and Johanna’s return, we spent a short while refining our
shooting skills before heading off in search of the beast that was to
provide dinner. Fortunately the hunt was rather short lived – the fridge
easily surrendered its contents for a barbeque, Finnish style. Being the
guest, I chose to take a step back from the *braaiing* activities and
watch, observe, and maybe learn a thing or two. Judging from the goings
on, I’d have to say it’s South Africa 2, Finland 0 – we are definitely
more experienced fire wielders. Not to sound arrogant of course, but
there were a few areas where I felt I could demonstrate a skill or two.
Nevertheless the end result was perfect, so perhaps the Finns have got
it figured out in their own way. With stomachs full and a smile on the
faces there was not much else to do but sit back, relax, and enjoy the
peace with some beers, good red wine and the sounds of Radio Nova
playing cheesy hits from the 80s in the background – the same hits we’d
heard on Radio Nova the evening before of course. Late night
conversation led us into the universal male debate of Britney vs
Christina, and being more pro-Britney I was forced to disagree with
Moneypenny’s view of a superior Christina. As it turned out I watched
‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ a few days later and had to retract all previous
pro-Britney comments because of Britney’s single naive statement in that
movie.

A repeat of the previous evening’s sunset and sunrise took place before
we awoke Sunday morning to a beautiful sunny day. Most of what remained
of our day was spent lizarding in the rare sun. I even had the
not-too-unfamiliar enjoyment of assisting Moneypenny at undressing into
her bikini to catch those few extra rays.

We had a quick lunch of very tasty freshly smoked (is that an
oxymoron?) fish before we packed our single bag and headed back towards
the train station at Vaasa to catch the last train back to Tampere, and
then once again had the I’m-gonna-miss-the-frikkin-train-and-then-what
experience before enjoying a comfortable if crowded trip into Helsinki,
a buzzing metropolis after days spent away from civilization.

One last experience remained before I was due to leave and return to
‘greener’ pastures. Zetor, located in the middle of Helsinki, can only
be classed as, and makes strong claim to be the definitive Finnish
pub/restaurant, complete with tractors for decor and pictures of the
famed Marshall Mannerheim, the well-known and highly esteemed saviour of
the Finnish race. Here I met Yussi, Björn, Gustav (come on Moneypenny,
what about Gustav? :P) and later on a number of other foreigners. I even
managed to steal the glory of a certain american guy who likes to pose
as a South African to impress Finnish ladies. (Bachelor’s tip #3) Now,
for once, he had to compete with the Real Thing(tm).

My months in the land of Finns, Swedes and reindeer had quickly drawn to
a close. Espoo, strange little place that it is, was now set to become a
place in a story once told. The experiences had all been typed up and
copied to a fragile but full hard disk. The Helsinki sun had set and
risen one last time for me when Wednesday arrived on a bittersweet note,
meaning all that remained of the week was a return to the airport to
await the long flight back to a wintery South Africa (Etela-Afrikka).

🙂
Shaun.

Next time on The Espoo Diaries… (the unforeseen edition)

‘…catching up with Moneypenny…’
‘…Moneypenny behind the wheel of a car I hold the liability for…’
‘…Stevie Wonder at the Pori Jazz festival…’
‘…a €5000 fine…’
‘…Sling In, Kaarle, Sling In, Kaarle – is there a pattern developing
here?…’