Week 5: Thursday (Turku and my knight in shining armour)

The first day of the final week of my Humble Tour consisted of a day trip to Turku, Finland’s oldest city. A 2-hour bus ride away from Helsinki (€14), the city has a combination of old and new, and, by a stroke of pure traveller’s luck, also holds Finland’s largest medieval festival (30 June to 2 July this year). The festival pretty much takes up all of the old great square near the cathedral, and contains stalls, market food, games, demonstrations, and a medieval horse tournament.

Yup, that’s right: a horse tournament.

The entry fee of €13 was some of the best cash I’ve forked out, because not only was the jousting (!!) awesome, but I also met my knight in shining armour.

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My knight saluting his fans.

My knight saluting his fans.

My knight in action!

My knight in action!

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Week 4: Wednesday (Porvoo, sunshine, and happiness)

As Finland’s second oldest (14th century) town, Porvoo bears all the medieval characteristics I love: a cathedral, a town square doubling as a marketplace, an endless sea of cobblestones. Add to that the spectacularly sunny weather, beautiful surroundings of water and trees, a good book, and Samantha in a Sundress, and we have a recipe for pure bliss.

I booked buses in advance to Porvoo (€10), and the trip took a very comfortable 50 minutes. I’d arrived at around noon (which gave me some time this morning to prepare a simple dinner for Maaria), and, as with yesterday, had no plans in particular except general meandering and prancing.

My first taste of Porvoo's loveliness, just a few minutes away from the bus station.

My first taste of Porvoo’s loveliness, just a few minutes away from the bus station.

Porvoo cathedral.

Porvoo Cathedral.

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Week 4: Fri – Mon (My lazy Finnish midsummer)

As I’ve learnt and lived over the last few days, Midsummer in Finland is a Really Big Thing. For a country with long and often unforgiving winters, midsummer brings about copious light, greenery, and even sunshine–in fact, the average temperatures in southern Finland exceed Belfast’s, and it’s only been since arriving here that I’ve consistently worn my skirt and dress (or just bummed around Maaria’s apartment in a oversized sleeping t-shirt).

Friday

True to Finnish stereotypes, Maaria’s family has a summer cottage, which is where she usually spends midsummer. This year, with the public holiday falling on the Friday, she decided to take me to the Seurasaari Midsummer Bonfires, the biggest such event in Helsinki. Held in a national park on an island, its main attraction is a series of bonfires–a nod to Finland’s pagan past–lit to celebrate the love and magic associated with midsummer. This also happened to be the first time Maaria’s attended, so we basically had a blast exploring and discovering and midsummering.

Singing traditional songs.

Singing traditional songs.

Raising a pole of fertility.

Raising a pole of fertility.

Ice-creams, matching fannish shirts, and adorable canine photobombers! :D

Ice-creams, matching fannish shirts, and adorable canine photobombers! :D

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Week 3: Tuesday & Wednesday (Travelling, Finland, cooking)

Moi moi from Finland! And thus begins the final part of Samantha’s Humble Tour, which will most likely be full of culinary adventures while I take over my friend Maaria’s kitchen, and essentially become her housewife (yay!). Since I’d spent so much time and energy planning for my English Dream Trip (which I’m pleased to say went without much of a hitch, and which I’ll summarise over the next few days), I honestly hadn’t given the Finnish part much thought apart from spending time with Maaria, participating in midsummer mayhem, learning about Moomins, catching up on some reading, catching up on lots of writing, and rolling around in pure Scandanavian happiness.

Tuesday

Despite the awesomeness of the sleeper train, my general failure at sleeping meant I didn’t really get much proper rest. The train stewardess knocked on my door at 6am to deliver breakfast on a tray, but I was too tired to eat anything, so I sipped on my tea and packed away the food for later.

Breakfast tray on the overnight sleeper train.

Breakfast tray on the overnight sleeper train.

The majority of my trip to Helsinki was fine, but the final leg (Oslo to Helsinki) was a little bumpy. Namely, I had 55 minutes between the “arrival” in Oslo and “departure” in Helsinki—while that might seem like plenty of time, a lot depends on a number of factors. Unfortunately, every one of the “uh-oh” factors were in play for that connection: there was a shuttle transfer from the Oslo plane to the terminal (15 mins with the taxi-ing), passport control, and another security check. With many apologies (and Japanese-esque bowing), I jumped the queues, and made it to the gate just a few minutes after boarding had commenced. But it turned out my haste was uncalled for, as the flight was delayed for some reason. Things got even more interesting once I had boarded, since the system had somehow double-booked a whole bunch of seats, and I kept being ushered to the back of the plane by an air stewardess who, while smiling, had no idea what was going on.

But it all turned out for the best, since the gentleman who sat next to me (another displaced passenger) was a Finn with lots of advice to impart.

The view leaving Norway.

The view leaving Norway.

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