I'm back! Enjoyed some time sightseeing in Helsinki, enjoyed the ferry/cruise/thing to and from Stockholm, and met a few of Kaisa's friends.
Monday afternoon, we wouldn't be able to board the ferry until about 3PM at the earliest. So we decided to spend the time wandering around Helsinki and just generally being tourists. In doing so, I got a lot of opportunities to see how being a tourist in a northern European city was different from being a tourist in a major U.S. city.
The foot traffic
Okay. Picture, if you will, a sidewalk off of any given street in L.A. Probably a few people walking down it, right? Maybe a food vendor? Okay. Now take that, subtract the food vendors, and multiply it by about five. Then you have an idea of what Helsinki is like. According to Kaisa, only about 15% of the people who live in Helsinki actually own cars, and I can see why. Everything is awfully close together, and the roads are small, windy and covered in pedestrians. You can see an example of just how crowded the streets themselves are to the right (as well as some very cool architecture). Not many pedestrians here, but this is a side street several blocks away from anything in particular. I wish I had a good picture of a busy intersection to give you a sense of scale, but none of the ones I took came out any good. We'll be headed back to Helsinki later on, so maybe I'll get some good ones then, or maybe in the next few days in Jyväskylä.
Much to my relief, virtually everybody I've run into speaks English. There are varying degrees of fluency, but most people seem to be able to converse in it. But while on the ferry to Stockholm, I realized just how obnoxious it must be to live in an area where so many people speak so many languages. Every single announcement over the ship's intercom, or introduction to a show, or whatever has to be spoken in four different languages. Swedish, Finnish, English, Russian. So the poor announcers have to repeat themselves three times in a different language each time. Finland seems to be more consistent at least about this sort of thing. When I was in Stockholm, there wasn't a lot going on in the way of announcements, but only about half of the signs hand any English whatsoever. Sometimes you'd get Swedish and Finnish, and sometimes just Swedish.
I mentioned it above, but now I'm actually going to talk about it. I'm really really jealous of people who live here because they have interesting-looking buildings. I mean, take a look at this. It's just a random side street in Sweden's Gamla Stan (Old Town), and it's still cooler than just about any given main street back home. And both Stockholm and Helsinki (capitols of their respective countries, I might note) have statues and monuments galore. This guy to our right, who I have dubbed Saint Dudeonhorseingston is hanging out near the Swedish royal palace, just outside the Opera House. We went in for a closer look, and it turned out that his name was actually the much less exciting Gustav Adolf the Second. The plaque was in Swedish, so I have no idea what his story was, but Wikipedia tells me he founded the Swedish Empire, so I guess that warrants a statue. The whole area his statue dominates is named Gustav Adolfs torg (Gustav Adolf's Square), which leads to me believe, apropos of absolutely nothing, that the locals call it "Ol' Gusty's square". In Swedish, of course.
Everything in Europe is smaller. The cars, the streets, the trucks, the homes, the appliances, you name it, it's probably crammed more efficiently into a tiny space than anything back home. No jokes, please.\ Take the average apartment fridge, for example. You'll see to the left the fridge in Kaisa's apartment. The can of Pringles next to it is regular size (though apparently here, it's an XXL Pack. This is why we're fat, America). It's only a little bit bigger than your average minifridge. The same goes for the dishwasher, the oven, and even the sink to some extent.\ In addition to that, robots are everywhere. Not the awesome, artificially intelligent kind, but the boring, everyday kind. Instead of the cashier weighing your produce and pricing it for you at checkout, you use a digital scale and tell it what item you're weighing, and it'll print out a label. When you get on the train or subway, the majority of people are going to be using a card and the reader. Want to rent a hotel room for the night and never deal with a fellow human being? No problem. Omena Hotels is completely automated. Book a room online, they'll email/text you your room number and keycode. The keycode expires when you're supposed to check out, and there's no front desk.
And since I know you're all dying to know, I've saved the most exciting subject for last. Are you ready?
Uh. Actually not that much to say about it. It's cold, but actually warmer than northern Idaho in the winter so far. That's probably going to change in January, but it's really not a whole lot colder than the average Tehachapi winter right now. Though it is sort of neat the way all the building designs are clearly meant to accommodate the weather. Two sets of doors in every building, double-paned windows, gutters everywhere, coat racks at every table or entry hall.
That's all I've got for now. The next few days, I'll be spending in Jyväskylä, taking it easy after a few busy days of travel and sightseeing. If you want to get a hold of me, email, facebook, text, whatever. (Don't expect a response to texts, though.) In closing, here's a picture of me in a silly hat.