Baltics Day 7: All the meats, and a Museum of Broken Relationships

Day 7: Friday, September 9th, 2016

Another day, another early wakeup. I only had one night in Stockholm and it was now time for me to move on to Helsinki. I woke up at 5:45am to take the express bus to the airport. I’d originally planned to take the faster train option, but apparently that express train costs a whopping 30 dollars. This bus was a fraction of the price, but takes 45 minutes instead of 20, unfortunately.

I zipped through security and there was no passport check at any point in my journey, not even to see if it corresponded with my boarding pass, which I though was odd.

The flight to Helsinki is a quick one, clocking in at just under an hour. From the airport I take the train to the downtown area, which is smooth as it could possibly be, due to everything in the Helsinki airport being labeled as clearly as possible.

I arrive in the Helsinki downtown area, and FINALLY I’m in the euro zone where I can easily convert prices in my head and things are somewhat more reasonably priced.

The city is bustling with people when I arrive around 11am. In addition to the usual city pigeons, I encounter a couple of strange birds that look like a cross between a crow and a peacock. How… exotic?

I walk to my hostel, Hostel Diana Park, and check in. The receptionist asks me to complete a form with my passport info and a bunch of other questions that I hadn’t previously completed in the other countries. It reminded me a little of Uzbekistan when we had to turn in our passports every time we stayed at a hotel. Apparently, the Finnish were watching me. And the internet! I tried using the WiFi, but my computer refused to connect as the network appeared to be unprotected. What’s happening here in Finland?

The room isn’t ready, but I use the time to take a long hot shower and discover one of my shower flip flops’ straps is broken, which leads to an interesting dance in the shower to prevent my feet from touching the floor. I plan on throwing them out at the end of the trip, but until then, funny shower dance time!

Feeling as good as new, I sort through my belongings and get organized. Soon after,  the receptionist informs me that my room is ready. Maybe she was annoyed that I was using the hallway couch as my personal closet for the time being, or maybe my room just got ready that quickly. I should mention that I saw zero other people in the hostel at this time, other than the receptionist and the cleaning lady. Looks like I was in for another antisocial day, which I was a little bummed about. It's Friday night, people!

I asked the receptionist for recommendations for lunch, but as it was nearing 2pm, most lunch specials would be ending. I instead opt for the marketplace located on the water front, as recommended both by Spotted by Locals and the receptionist. She said they have hot food as well as produce and groceries.

I walk to the market square near the port, and there are tons of little tents. Some are selling furs, some sell breads, some sell berries, and some sell hot food. I browse all the “restaurant” options before settling on one that appears to have moose meatballs. Then, I have to decide if I’ll get the triple meat platter with sausage, pork and chicken, or if I’ll get the fish platter with squid rings and vendace, or if I’ll get the moose meatballs. It’s my favorite kind of dilemma to have. I settle on the last option, as it appeared to be the most exotic, and because it was served with that amazing lingonberry jam as well as steamed green beans and boiled and spiced yellow potatoes. All of that for TEN EUROS. Did I mention how exciting it was to be back in affordable-land?

I then wander over to the produce area and decide to get some berries for dessert. All the vendors have the same things, but only one has a variety of local berries all in one convenient sampler basket. I get my little basket of Finnish grapes, raspberries, strawberries and some small orange berries. I ask the vendor what it is, since I’ve seen it multiple times now, but only seen the local word for it. “It’s sea buckthorn berry.” Oh. Never heard of it. I eat most of the basket but it’s quite a lot so I save some for later. The sea buckthorn berries are a bit sour as well, so I didn’t finish them as quickly as I’d hoped.

I wander up north from the marketplace and stumble upon the Helsinki City Museum. I hadn’t previously heard of it, but it was free, so I went inside. I’m so glad I did. They had the coolest postcards I’ve seen on this trip so far, made up of vintage photos of the area. The gift shop also had a handful of pins with Finnish slang words on them, as well as a ton of other things I wanted to buy, but I resisted the urge.

There was a time machine exhibit with video from the past and present so you could compare the buildings and transit from a century ago. They even had VR headsets so you could do 360 panoramic views of different scenes.

I headed upstairs to the highlight of my trip so far: the Museum of Broken Relationships. It was a Templar exhibit in the museum, and I had such luck that it was actually ending on September 11th. If I’d planned my trip at any other time, I’d have missed it!

The concept of the exhibit is simple. From the exhibit wall: “The Museum of Broken Relationships grew from a traveling exhibition revolving around the concept of failed relationships and their ruins. […] Our societies oblige us with marriages, funerals, and even graduation farewells, but deny us of the demise of a relationship, despite its strong emotional effect.” The exhibit was a collection of donations of various objects that all had a story behind them. Among the most obvious were the wedding rings from a broken marriage or the wedding dress that never got worn. But then there were other, more fascinating objects, everything accompanied by the city, the duration of the relationship, and the story behind the object.

Some objects and their stories made me tear up with sadness and others made me laugh. One was a perfume bottle from one lover to another, whose contents evaporated in transit, just as the recipient found out that the sender had cheated.

Another was a destroyed wedding tape that the son of the couple destroyed. The mother was selfish and had a hoarding problem which prevented the father from getting hospice at home when he was diagnosed with cancer. She also tried to put him in a house for the indigent since she didn’t want to use his retirement savings for care because it would cut into what she would receive after he died. The son and his siblings despised the mother, and they (as well as cousins, aunts and uncles) all refused to attend the father’s funeral since they knew she would be there. When the son uncovered the wedding tape during a house cleaning, they “agreed the tape must die. What you see here has been run over with my car, stabbed with a screwdriver, shot several times with a rifle, sawed in half, chopped with an axe, and the tape itself was torched. It was highly therapeutic.”

Objects included nipple rings, a five-cent coin, a broken necklace, airsick bags from an airplane, a needlepoint, a poster for a burlesque show, and a rusty whisk, all with a unique story behind them.

Another object was a broken parachute rig. Three years, Helsinki. It simply read, “I met him on my first parachute jump. I was really scared but this handsome man, who was my tandem jump instructor, ‘saved’ me. Later, he helped teach me to jump solo. We loved to play in the sky and we loved each other. Then he died in a parachute accident."

It was an excellent exhibition and I hope it makes its way to Chicago, or at least a version of it does.

On another floor of the museum, there is a chronicle of various key cultural moments in Helsinki, such as the rise of legal public drinking or skater culture.

I leave the museum and make my way to Senate Square beside the church that was built in 1852. I also check out the governmental palace with the prime minister’s office from the outside, and walk up to the Kaalio neighborhood.

I stop at the Hakaniemi market hall up there and find the bakery section. It’s hard to decide what to get but I settle on a raspberry Alexsanteri, which is like the raspberry snitter I made back home a couple months ago. It’s just a shortbread cookie sandwich with raspberry jam in the middle and covered in pink frosting. It looks delicious and was more sugary than I expected it to be. Not complaining, though.

I walk up further north to the Torkkelinmaki park, which is located near an art installation I uncovered on Spotted By Locals. I look around the park and see a couple sewers but don’t hear anything. Finally I find the placard for the art installation so I know which sewer it is. I still don’t hear anything though, so I lean in closer to the grate and then hear it. It’s a woman’s voice announcing flights as you would hear at the airport. The piece is called “But I shall leave.” It was a fun, quirky Helsinki sight for sure. Around this neighborhood, the power boxes are all painted in unique graffiti art and it’s a very interesting neighborhood, albeit quiet.

As I walk back to the hostel, I see a poster on a random wall advertising a DJ night that happens to be tonight. Yay, something to do tonight, and something to invite hostel people to if they don’t already have plans! The DJ night advertised four DJs, beginning at 10pm and going until 4am. It’s free entrance, and the music will be s variety of vintage and new, afro, boogaloo, cumbia, funk, Latin, reggae and more. Yes and yes and yes and yes please.

I return to the hostel and look up the music venue. Apparently it’s a bar called Navy Jerry’s, and it seems really cool from the website, like something I’d find in Wicker Park back home. It comforts me knowing that it’s more of a bar and less of a nightclub, as sometimes the latter can attract some weirdos and I may be heading to this place alone tonight.

It becomes clear that the quiet hostel will not be forming a group to go out, so I’m left on my own. Just as I’m heading out around ten, I befriend Jaap from the Netherlands, who is here in Helsinki learning about alternative healing, or more specifically, Vortex Healing. I invite him along, but he already ate and will be heading to bed shortly.

I head out and almost can’t find the bar, but then see the bright flashing dance floor lights through the back window. I enter, check my coat and sit down. The music that’s playing reminds me of Soul Summit back home, with a variety of deep funk tracks. The dance floor is empty right now, but the place is packed with people, all sitting in the casual setting at the mismatched coffee tables and chairs, enjoying their cocktails. The place is heavily decorated with 1960s d├ęcor and navy paraphernalia. There are various navy flags covering the ceiling and white boating ropes tied around empty bottles of rum hanging from the walls. A big red neon sign in a medieval font sits above the bar and reads “Navy Jerry’s.” At the bar they list a few dinner options, all only ten euros (!). I get the BBQ pork bao sandwiches, which come as a platter of three. I devour them in an instant and contemplate getting seconds, but I don’t. I check out the cocktail menu and they have the usual waterside-themed drinks such as Mai Tanis and rum and cokes, all for under ten euros. You could get a cocktail and bao for under 20 euros. That’s pretty good! Chant it with me: Euro zone! Euro zone! Euro zone!
Navy Jerry's
I was really hoping to get my dance on, but I felt weird being the solo dancing girl on an empty floor in the corner, so shortly after I ate, I left.

Man, Helsinki, come ON. Those beats were great, and I hope they didn’t go to waste.

I went to bed around 11:30pm at almost the exact same time as all my hostel roommates (a first). God they’re lame. Here’s hoping that Riga tomorrow breathes some life back into this trip.