I awake at 6:30 (fortunately we get an hour back as we journey westward toward Copenhagen) and catch a glimpse of Finland’s World Heritage site Suomenlinna skimming by the railing – an old fort, a tower, and then we are at the port and docking. We have a bus tour of the city scheduled; we endeavor to be ready on time, but Mom has misplaced the key card which she needs to get on and off the boat and by the time we get to the bus they have been waiting pretty patiently for almost 15 minutes. But everyone is very nice to a smiling nonagenarian and her escort.
Helsinki is a small city of only about 600,000 people, so the bus drives in circles to spend the time required to justify the cost of the expedition. We see the Senate Square, the Parliament Building, pass the National Museum twice before going inside, park several blocks from the Church of the Rock and walk a few blocks. Helsinki is all about the architecture –the gleaming white Lutheran cathedral which gives the White City of the Baltic its nickname, the red brick Russian Orthodox church on an opposing hill, and the eco-modern architecture of the Church of the Rock (so called because it is built into a hill so as not to disturb the neighborhood sight lines.
We end at an outdoor café by the harbor for Finnish snacks: rye flatbread with smoked reindeer and mustard; Karelli Pie – a sort of cheese pastry with diced hard-boiled egg on top, then we browse the adjacent food and craft open-air market. After lunch Mom opts again for a nap and I go storming off up the hill to Marimekko, drawn irresistibly by the SALE 40% sign I had spotted earlier. I admire Finnish design in all its maifestations, purchase a few gifts, and amble down the warm sunny tree-lined streets full of mimes, street musicians, outdoor diners – it is like Paris without the horns and humidity. I step into a shop to price their postcards, step out again without buying and the day is transformed. It is pouring rain – I mean a real gully-washer – gutters overflowing, street flooded, rain-spouts fountaining… everyone is laughing at being so caught by surprise.
Luckier than some, I am wearing my nearly-waterproof windbreaker (only because it had a nice pocket for the camera) so I raise the hood, cover my purse with the Marimekko bag, and make a dash for the boat. Fortunately I am not very far from the harbor, and there are a couple of covered arcades to shelter in. I make it through the customs center and wait on the porch looking at the ship with a couple of other soggy but smiling passengers until a helpful and vigilant sprite from the ship spots us and comes over with a couple of huge umbrellas – so of course the deluge stops as suddenly as it began.
Tonight is Formal Night and the Captain’s Cocktail Party, so I shed my wet clothes and we dress for the occation, then go for tea in the Panorama lounge. As we linger over our finger sandwiches, cookies, and mini-pastries, a couple scurries in from the outside promenade- it is pouring rain again. We retreat to our room to watch the lightning and the rain bouncing off the balcony railing.
This first evening shows off the crew: first the cocktail party and introductions, then a full restaurant where we shared our table gregariously, then a Musical Extravaganza – an all-white Motown show, complete with feather boas and choreographed dance moves – I was remembering seeing the Temptations in Las Vegas years back. I talked with “Duke” , the tenor, afterward; he said the group were somewhat limited in their dancing due to the movement of the boat. I thought “yeah, right” but now that I am typing in the quiet of my cabin I am aware of the shifting basis of the boat world I am on.
[Note: Turns out Duke Zoran has written his own blog posts about this trip – Check it out!]