Tuula decorated their dining table with a blue table cloth and served us hot dogs and macaroni on red paper plates as Risto plunked out patriotic American songs on their electric piano. Celebrating the fourth of July in Finland was slightly surreal, but enjoyable. We appreciated that Donna’s “Finnish Sister” and her husband to put on a holiday celebration for us. They’d been to California several times over the years so being with them brought a much needed feeling of familiarity. They lived with their three boys in a large apartment that had been expanded from two prior apartments, so had plenty of room for all of us. It was located in the heart of the city and close to everything.
I’d taken a long nap that first afternoon, recovering from my mostly sleepless night on the ship, so was wide awake that night. Jill and I took a walk around the park-like bay located only a few blocks from the apartment. I liked Helsinki right away, a big city that wasn’t too big. It looked clean, felt safe, and offered something interesting around every corner. I wasn’t expecting to see so many Russian-era homes. I’d seen pictures of them, but to stand in front of that intricate architecture got my heart pumping. It was cool to walk around after ten o’clock with the sun still out. There were so many people out – it could have been a Saturday afternoon. Beside our path we passed a grouping of trees and I caught a glimpse of something pink and realized it was a naked butt. I diverted Jill’s attention once I realized it belonged to a male. At closer look (and a quick one at that) I realized a bunch of guys were cooling off just outside a sauna that appeared to be made from mud bricks. It was a little unnerving to see a group of young men sitting around buck naked without a care in the world, especially with my daughter within eye shot, yet at the same time I envied their who-gives-a-shit attitude.
Our kids enjoyed these few days with their “Finnish Cousins” in Finland’s capital city. I was happy to see them all playing soccer together in the ample parks. Of the seemingly hundreds of things we did, we spent an afternoon at Suomenlinna, a cool island which has served as a military fortress for hundreds of years and today is popular for picnics It still has remnants of artillery so provided a great playground for the kids. We enjoyed sandwiches and coffee on the rocky shore and watched gigantic cruise ships pass by so close it seemed we could touch them. At one point I sat back on the smooth rocks and listened to the waves lapping, kids laughing, and Donna and Tuula chatting. For the first time in months, I felt myself relaxing.
NEXT: Entering Donna’s Past