Europe current locationAt 10am I naturally cracked open my eyes. I thought, when I saw how bright it was outside, that it was in fact much later, but it was in fact 10. I went out into the kitchen; D’Arcy was up with wild hair making some cereal. He showed me where the bowls were, and I made my own bowl of cereal out of the box I got in Germany. I asked him about the light, as I’d thought it was limited to three hours a day here. He said that December 22nd was the worst day, but a few minutes were added on to each day, so now they had light for a good portion of the day again. That explains it. Anj walked in a few minutes later. Outside, a snow had fallen overnight, and it was entirely covered with a fresh, white blanket of pure snow. It was beautiful. I never get to see this kind of thing in Texas, so it’s really a novelty. Anj looked out back and got really excited; there were several kids and their father making snowmen.

“Nobody ever does that out there, and I’ve always wanted to go do it,” she told me. She was too nervous to go alone somehow.

“Oh *I’ll* go with you!” I told her. “I want to make a BIG snowman! The biggest one I ever made was this high,” I explained, and motioned about halfway up my leg. This of course was in reference to the Snow Totoro that Molly and I made in Morioka. I thought at the time that place had a lot of snow. BOY was I mistaken!

D’Arcy made us flavored coffee with whipped, frothy milk on top, and we all took the morning to relax and sit. Anj prepared a delicious frittata, and we topped this with Tostitos salsa she’d gotten in Stockholm for about 2.5 Euros (about $3.20). Stockholm doesn’t use the Euro, so I’ll have to change money when I get there. While she was making this, I noticed out if the corner of my eye that the sun had come out, and I looked up. There was, in fact, no sun. It was a light that Anj had turned on. They have a natural light lamp that they turn on for 20 minutes a day at least. Finland is a very dark country and if often cloudy to boot. As such, winter depression is common; the suicide rate here is very high. The light, it’s said, helps combat it.

Eventually Anj had to do errands around town, and I wanted to join her. She showed me how to use the shower and the wall squeegee (bad place for mold here), and a few minutes later I went into the bathroom and closed the door. I disrobed, and right as I pulled my boxer briefs down, the door opened. Anj was coming in!

“WHOA!” I yelped. Fortunately I still had my hands on my underpants, and shot them back up. Her eyes got wide and she quickly shut the door.

“LOCK the door!” she called through the door, embarrassed. This may be Europe, but I’m still American. :) I quickly showered, dried off the walls, and got dressed. Right before we walked out, I copied off all the existing images on my camera so I could start fresh.

A friend called Anj in the elevator, asking if she and D’Arcy wanted to go to see Rod Stewart. She tried to call D’Arcy, but couldn’t contact him, plus she really didn’t think he’d be very interested anyway. She let them know they weren’t going to go. The tires on her car have little spikes for traction on ice. I have always heard about these mythical things called snow tires, but in Texas, we don’t get much call for them.

We drove downtown and stopped for a moment in the parking lot of her dry cleaners. While she ran inside, I waited in the car and took pictures of the first real Helsinki buildings I’d seen. They were nothing special, per se, but it’s nice to know what the “real” city looks like in any case. A woman in a purple coat and wearing an iPod walked past with her dog, and I examined the funky Ford that was across from me I’d never seen.

We continued downtown, and she gave me a little driving tour of the area. I’m not sure what all these buildings we saw were, so I’m not going to link them all here. You’ll have to go check them out in the gallery! Downtown Helsinki is a very vibrant, animated place, with curving streets and loads of people. Everything is closed on Sundays, so Saturday is the day to get everything done, and people were scurrying around quickly doing just that. She pointed out Stockman’s, a very nice department store.

We passed through downtown and ended up on the other side of the peninsula, where we were met with more water. “This freezes solid in winter,” she said, “and people walk across it all the time to the islands over there.” Hard to believe, I thought. It just looks like a big field of snow, and you’d never really know you were walking on water. It wasn’t frozen now because it’s brackish, and the salt keeps it from freezing much when it’s only as cold as it was (right below freezing). However, unlike the ocean, it did in fact freeze at slightly lower temperatures. Big cruise ship-like ferry boats were around, and if I were going to take one to Sweden, this is where they were. It was a better use of my time to take a plane, though.

Anj returned us to the area around Stockman’s, and we took a ramp down into an underground parking garage. This garage was kind of funny because they’d made the walls look like the whole area was one big snow cave. She said that the tunnels down here were at one time designated as bomb shelters, but that didn’t explain why they felt the need to make everyone park in the Rebel base on Hoth. (Indeed, I saw one corridor I didn’t get a picture of that had cables and things running thorough it and I really expected to have a Wampa break through the wall.) We drove around in circles for a while attempting to locate a space, but didn’t have much luck initially. She tried to park in one small space, but while she was doing so, the people who had parked next to it returned, and rather than inconvenience them, she drove off a little more. Luckily a second later she found one against a wall, so there were only cars on one side.

We walked back to the main underground entrance and passed two really cool-looking Alfa Romeos. Down a long hallway we walked, and then took an elevator up to the ground floor in a tightly packed lift. Anj got a cell phone call from someone at that time, and was being very reserved since people were staring at the girl speaking English. Once we were alone in the car, she opened up again. We walked, in the outside area, to a framing/picture store, where she pointed out a print in the window of what appeared to be the head of Donald Duck in a very generic coat.

“This is a very famous Finnish artist,” she told me. “He’s very popular here. He makes these duck pictures in kind of sad or weird poses, like things you wouldn’t normally see one in.” We saw more inside, like a Virgin Mary duck portrait, and one wherein the duck was obviously drunk. I insisted this was a lawsuit waiting to happen, since the head looked entirely like Donald. The situations and clothes did not, however, and maybe this was how he was skirting the issue. She was here to frame a photo print of a lighthouse, and I found some pictures I actually liked for my walls at home. I wasn’t about to buy them here, so I got a picture to remind me. I also found a bunch of cute photos of puppies (like The Dog Collection) but no pugs. :( She spoke the woman, who spoke English (even in Finland…), and got her picture set up to be framed. Anj said something to the woman, and we walked out.

“How do you say thank you?” I asked her.

“You say it ‘kiitos’, with a long “ee” sound. When you meet someone here you say ‘Hey ’, which I always thought was very informal. When you leave, you double it. ‘Hey hey’. In fact, Anj had told the woman ‘kiitos, hey hey,’ when she walked out. It’s not spelled like that, I don’t think, but it’s interesting to hear people say, ‘Hey hey!’ in a sing-songy way.

We entered a mall, which looked very much like any other mall I’ve been in. She led me past the various cell phone peddlers into a sports store, which was effectively just like Oshmans. There was a lot more ski equipment out, however. Anj was looking for shin guards for soccer (football), so we wandered the entire area. There were lots of swimsuits here, which surprised me since it was so cold, and she said all the swimming pools are indoors here, so it’s a year round thing. I found a nice pair of Gore-Tex gloves, but I didn’t need them at all, so I put them back. D’Arcy called, and said he’d worked out. He was asking when we’d be back, and Anj and I surmised he was bored. :) We agreed to go pick him up in a little while. Eventually Anj asked a sales clerk for help, and he led her to them and assisted her with the size. I stopped for a moment to check out the different shoes around, and found a pair of retro Nikes I liked, I think because they look like the ones Reece stole in ‘The Terminator’! The checkout girl looked somewhat like Kirsten Dunst, but with dark black hair and bangs. She also had piercing blue eyes, which really stood out against her raven hair.

We headed next down to the bottom floor and the food court area. There was also a small grocery store here, which was our destination. We walked through and picked up a few groceries. The store was much more like an American one than the German one I’d been to. A large fruit section with apples was to the right, and there was a bakery next to the meat section. Anj picked up some round, flat pastries that she said were a typical Finnish “poor man’s” food, which had some rice in the middle. We were both getting hungry, so I think they looked yummy. As we stocked up on things like mini pizzas, she pointed out the mustard section to me. Mustard is very big here, and they like all different kinds. I also found the alcohol area, selling almost exclusively Finnish beer. They had some neat hard ciders here, including one that was watermelon-flavored. We looked, momentarily, for more cereal, but they didn’t have mine. As we checked out, Anj bought two bags, which I had expected from Germany. They also had the weird cigarette dispenser I’d seen in Dresden. There’s apparently no tipping at all in Finland, just like Japan.

We went around the corner past the food court (which had a Tex-Mex place) to a liquor store. Alcohol is controlled entirely by the government here, so it’s very expensive. A 750ml bottle of Jack Daniel’s was almost 30 euros (40 dollars) here! Wine wasn’t as bad, and I bought a bottle of French merlot. I took a gander around for Dita, the lychee liqueur I like so much, but they didn’t have that here either. Anj suggested we try elsewhere. It’s French, so hopefully they have it in other parts of Europe. They did, however, have Absinthe – the weird green drink that in olden times made you hallucinate (see Moulin Rouge). I’d heard it was back on the market, minus the chemical that screwed with you, and here was a bottle, but it too was about $40. I wanted to taste it, but a whole bottle was useless to me. I got to use my credit card to pay for the wine, and Anj agreed that Finland is also a credit card culture. You can use them everywhere. Yay! I hate carrying cash.

We returned to the snow cave, and started walking to the car. Anj had passed the automatic parking payment machines, and it turns out she’d left the ticket in the car. We’d probably have to walk back, but she said she thought there was a pay to pay at the gate. In fact, as we drove out, she put in her credit card, and it charged her right at the spot! “I’m so glad to have a visitor, it makes me try new things,” she said. You can also use your card entirely to mark in and out points (D’Arcy does this, but Anj doesn’t trust it) and they just bill you at the end of the month.

We returned home via a road that went past her school, and snacked on our little Finnish pastries. They were better warm, she told me, and with butter on them. “But everything tastes good slathered with butter,” she noted. The middle part was creamy, like a custard, not at all the texture I’d expected as she’d described it as ‘rice’. It was pretty good though. We parked in the street since we weren’t staying very long, and carried all the things inside. D’Arcy opened the door and helped us inside with the things, so we could take off our wet boots just inside the hallway.

We relaxed on the couch, and Anj brought out some of the snack items she’d just bought – some big cruncy corn kernels (dang, there’s a name for these) and what looked like small, flat tater tots. They were actually rice crackers, and had a spicy seasoning. Those were SOOO good, and I found that I couldn’t stop eating them. D’Arcy agreed it was time for lunch, and he grilled up some sausages on the electric one they have on the balcony. This was presented on the table with several different kinds of mustard and a small salad. The sausages were excellent, and having the variety of mustards made it fun.

After finishing our late lunch, we sat around a little before heading out to their friends for computer parts. D’Arcy had a laptop he was giving to Anjanette, but it was used from his company, and was rather locked-down. We had pulled the BIOS battery, but were unable to get into it to make any changes. We all got into the car and drove around the roads to the right and crossed a bridge. A large water tower which looked like a mushroom was off to the left, illuminated by blue light. I really enjoy all the blue lights, actually! D’Arcy was calling off the different license plates, noting which countries they were from, and chastised a driver from Great Britain as he flew past.

“The speeding tickets here are based on income, so when we have to hurry somewhere, Anjanette drives (being a student, she’s officially got little income).” The most expensive ticket in recent history was to the heir of a sausage factory fortune, which came out to, get this, 250,000 Euros ($325,000). For going 80kmh in a 40kmh zone. That’s like going 48MPH in a 24MPH zone. So people don’t really speed here.

We turned into a big batch of apartments, and finally settled next to a small duplex. As we got out, a woman was opening the door, and greeted us in a thick Texas accent. I’d mentioned to Anj and D’Arcy just a few minutes earlier that I wasn’t able to do a Texas accent if I’d not heard one in a while. Now was not a possibility. Christine greeted us warmly, and we had to step over their son, Everett, who was pouting in the entryway for some reason. Their older daughter, Hannah, was milling about, and D’Arcy’s coworker, Devery came out to meet us as well. They were all very nice and extremely friendly. Devery was showing D’Arcy the computer parts, but then demonstrated his latest toy – a USB adapter for his electric guitar. I’m sure Mike, my friend next door, would love this thing. It allowed you to record and mix guitar on a computer! Devery put on a track and started jamming away. I never once expected those sounds to come out of this family man’s fingers. He was really, really amazing! I tried to take a picture, but my flash was not cooperating. I did a number of test images and it was always way, way too dark. After a lot of fiddling, I realized I’d turned the flash intensity down at some point, and when I corrected it, everything was fine. Phew! Thought I’d really broken it! Christine decided she wanted my camera, with Devery’s urging. We didn’t stay very long, though, and said goodbye soon after and returned to the car.

I asked about the road signs; Rayko had told me that they were more like the US’s, but they all looked just like the German ones to me. D’Arcy agreed with my thought, and went over some oddities of traffic, including the “always yield to the right” one, which explains why everyone was stopping for me in front of the Steigenberger when I was approaching on the stem of a T intersection. Good thing I never tried to go straight on that road. We crossed a bridge, and suddenly I was very, very sleepy. We decided to go get some coffee at Roberts’ Coffee in the train station. Starbucks hasn’t managed to break its way into the area yet, as people are pretty loyal to locals. Robert’s was about as close to a chain shop as it comes.

The front of the train station looked very retro with its neon sign and I am definitely coming back here with a tripod. D’Arcy parked up on the sidewalk (apparently fine for short stops) and Anj and I walked in. Inside the train station we waited in line at Roberts. I pulled out my change, and Anj pointed out I wouldn’t need 1 cent coins here; they round up to an even 5. I put them in my back pocket to eliminate them from my choices. We wondered how I could order an extra shot in my latte, but the only available cheap item on the menu was definitely for flavored syrup, the first time I was able to deduce the meaning of something from looking at it. It was contextual, of course; outside of a coffee scenario, I never would have figured it out. I decided on a “magnum latte” not knowing what that meant. Irina, our very attractive coffee server, took our order in English, and asked if I wanted two or three shots in my latte. Ah hah, we guessed right, and Anj and I laughed together. “Now we know,” we said together. When she’d delivered it, I asked if a lid I was holding was the right size, which she agreed, then asked if I wanted help getting it on. Sure, why not. She put the lid on and handed me the coffee. “Kiitos,” I told her.

She giggled and smiled, then said what must have been “you’re welcome” in Finnish. Big three-shot latte, 3 Euros. Flirting with cute Finnish girl, priceless.

We returned to the car, stopping only to put sugar in my latte, and we returned home, again parking on the sidewalk. Upstairs, D’Arcy called the restaurant. The friends that were coming with us had taken ill, and he was reducing the number as well as pushing it back; nobody was hungry yet, not with our late lunch. I worked on the logs, meanwhile helping D’Arcy try and get his laptop reinstalled. They had initially been feeling bad about asking me to help fix it, but I was like “Hey, you’re giving me free room and board, the least I can do it return the favor with a little computer work!’ Eventually we ended up swapping hard drives with my laptop so we could go through installation. The help desk wouldn’t surrender the supervisor password for the BIOS, however, and since we’d fried it removing the battery, we were unable to progress any further. D’Arcy checked out a Finnish movie a friend had loaned him, which looked interesting. We decided at this point to walk to the restaurant, as it was nearby, and D’Arcy went down to move the car back inside. A few minutes later, we departed to go to dinner.

We walked up Michelinkatu, the road of their apartment, walking up a slight incline. It wasn’t all that cold, really, and we were just leisurely strolling. Anj pointed out a staircase where kids hide and chunk snowballs; she didn’t know how to curse them our in Finnish, however, so she just tries to ignore them. It has warmed up some, so the snow was a little slushy in places. Anj and D’Arcy both would occasionally stop, pick up some snow, pack it, and then toss it at something. About a ten minute walk from the apartment later, we arrived at Troikka, the Russian restaurant we had reservations at.

We stepped inside and put our coats on the rack in the doorway, then were led to a table just inside. A small paper read “No Smoking Please” in English, and I wondered if they put language-specific messages for each table. I’ve never had Russian food before, so I relied on them to make suggestions. A sizzling skillet of food passed by, and Anj and I both craned our necks to see what it was. They had reindeer here, but said I could get it anywhere. We decided to get a big appetizer plate that cost an arm and a leg apiece, “cucumbers with sour cream and honey” for Anj, and a bottle of wine. For dinner, D’Arcy ordered borscht, Anj a beef medallion entrée, and I chose the mixed grille. The waiter brought out the wine, a Chilean wine by the name of Casillero del Diablo (Castle of the Devil) which I ended up tasting since I grabbed the cork to smell it. It was okay, but not the kind of red wine I like. It was a bit on the weak side – I like more body. I wondered - if I ever got a wine that absolutely sucked, how do I refuse it? I told Anj and D’Arcy that my only real experiences with Russian culture came from my friend Mark Kalina who used to live down my street when I was a kid. His parents had defected, and became very wealthy afterwards in the US. He eventually moved to California, and I visited him only once after that. I remember, however, that his dad used to listen to a Russian comedian singing, they used to argue in Russian (which happened a lot), and their dog understood only that language.

Suddenly plates began to arrive…and arrive… and arrive. The appetizers were here, and they brought reinforcements. My goodness! The only thing on the table that was not for the guys was one set of pickles and honey, which we also got in our set. They were pickles, not cucumbers, and you put sour cream and honey on them before popping them in your mouth. Sounds gross, right? Wasn’t one bit. They were really terrific, and I kept munching one from time to time. Initially, we started with the plate closest to us, and split it. There was an egg with caviar, an onion filled with something like tuna salad, a potted meat type item, some feta-like cheese, apples, pastrami, and a cucumber and tomato. Each of these treats held its own worth, and nothing on there was remotely distasteful. The different flavors were both new and pre-existing in my memory, but many of them hadn’t even been combined before, just like the pickles. The second plate contained four pieces of herring, which I despised and gave the remainder of to D’Arcy, some other light fish which I didn’t hate, but wasn’t all that fond of either, and smoked salmon. “I never met a piece of salmon I didn’t like,” I said, not surrendering the pink fish to him. This whole ensemble was accompanied by pickled, roasted garlic, that was sweet and two types of bread to spread this on. This, in itself was plenty for dinner, but we’d already ordered! Now I know why D’Arcy only ordered soup.

Anj went to the restroom, followed by D’Arcy after she returned, and they suddenly started talking about a pair of women around the corner from us that they guessed might be prostitutes. The food arrived at that moment, and I was presented by a sizzling skillet (yay!) full of meat, a grain, carrots, and red sauerkraut. The woman slid my meat from the stick and presented a silver pitcher of remoulade sauce to go with it. I started putting all this on my plate, and was making a mess with the grain. Anj and D’Arcy both suggested I take a trip to the bathroom and check out the women, so I excused myself and walked that way. They were sitting just out of my eyeline from the table, and had fur-lined coats (still on in the restaurant) and high boots. The woman facing towards me had a very low cut blouse on and had a very visible tattoo on her mostly-exposed left breast. I passed by and took the stairs down to the bathroom. Inside, I realized that the cool curved walls were covered in nearly same tile I was putting down in my bathroom.

I came back out of the staircase, and the woman facing me smiled. I smiled back and returned to my seat. “A butterfly,” I told D’Arcy, who had given me instructions to check out the tattoo. He’d been ‘helping me out’ all night, pointing out the girl in tight leather pants, and another attractive woman who was sitting right behind me. I dove back into my food, which was tender beyond reason. We debated about the type of grain it was, and ultimately D’Arcy was correct in his suggestion of barley, thanks to the waiter’s information, which saved us a fair bit of Googling. I was already sure, once he’d mentioned it, since I like the barley in my favorite soup, but just hadn’t recognized it. One piece of the mixed grill was different than the rest – it wasn’t beef, and it wasn’t pork. Definitely wasn’t poultry. It might have actually been reindeer, but I’m not sure, even now. Anj’s beef dish was delectable as well, and D’Arcy let me try his borscht, which I’d also never had before. It was very rich, with crème fresh mixed in, and a little tart. Anj was cold at that point, and she put her hand into D’Arcy’s lap.

“You feelin’ me up?” asked D’Arcy, playfully.
“You know it!” she said. A beat later, she said, “It’s so warm and nice.” Another beat passed.
“Oh! You’re talking about your food!” I exclaimed, as she was looking at it. She really was talking about the food, but the timing was perfect.
“Good one,” she said. “Great timing.”
“It’s okay, you’re married now!” I told her, laughing.

We were all completely stuffed at this point, and dessert just wasn’t in our plans. When the bill arrived, D’Arcy nabbed it and said it was their treat! It was so expensive, and they had planned all along just to take me out. I was very appreciative.

We walked outside, and discussed what to do at that point. We could just return home, or we could go downtown. D’Arcy was going home in any case, as he was tired, but we were free to run around all we wanted to. I thought about this, and decided that it was my only Saturday night in Finland, I should go check out the nightlife. As we walked back home, Anj tried to contact a few people to see if they would join us, and also called back her brother about an Easter trip to Scotland. It was funny to see them both walking and staring at their mobiles. Anj and I tromped through the snow in the median by their apartment, then returned to the sidewalk on their side of the street. We passed by some military complex nearby, which had a very disturbing message. Upstairs, Anj changed clothes into her “don’t hit on me” outfit, but was looking kind of tired, and took a quick snuggle on the couch with D’Arcy. I removed all unnecessary items from my coat, and decided only to bring the A75 as the EOS was too bulky. D’Arcy called us a cab, and when we went downstairs a minute later, it was already waiting. Apparently cabs are very quick here. I wondered why he was waiting so long to call them.

We rode in the cab downtown to Molly Malone’s, an Irish pub. We were going to meet Yuri, who is Ukrainian, and Paul, who is Irish, hence the bar choice. A long queue to get in met us, and we got into line. Anj had used a credit card in the cab even, with a remote authorization device. The line slowly moved forward, and Anj theorized it was just to build up excitement for the place, not necessarily because it was actually full; nobody seemed to be leaving. Paul and Yuri still hadn’t left yet, and texted us to let us know. Slowpokes! We got in a little while later, and they told us the “wardrobe is full”, so we had to go straight upstairs. The coat check was what he was referring to. We both walked up the bent staircase with a landing and joined the masses of people listening to a live band. I didn’t mind this so much – the music wasn’t totally deafening, and you could still talk without entirely screaming. I liked this, a LOT, and it’s one of my pet peeves about live music in Austin. We both got drinks at the counter; Anj got a Lonkero, a Finnish drink with Gin and grapefruit juice, and I got a pint of Bass. Initially, we located a small area near the bathroom, but moved to a less active spot when one came available.

A few minutes passed, and suddenly Anj said hello to three girls who walked up. They were Maria, Amanda, and Kelly, three exchange students from Gainesville, Florida who were also in Anjanette’s MBA program. As it turns out, they were also going to Stockholm in the morning and were happy to have me tag along. I sent Kelly a text message so that she would have my borrowed SIM number, and then we all continued to talk. Maria was originally from Greece, but now lives in Florida. Amanda was the youngest of the group at 23, and Kelly had only been here two weeks, but was used to studying abroad, having lived in both Italy and Argentina. Kelly’s parents also both attended Texas A&M, and we laughed about the standard UT/A&M rivalry. All three of them had been out shopping all day, and had actually been in the bar at 6pm. They had left, but now were back on Paul’s urging. I went off and bought new drinks – this time an apple cider for me and a pear cider for the girls to share. They were leaving early in the morning and had been drinking all day, so by now they were tired and waterlogged.

Eventually we snagged the table on the landing on the stairs, which had enough room for all of us to sit. I was having a great time with everyone, and was very happy to learn that the three were going to Stockholm as well as they were fun to hang out with. Amanda had on cool droopy earrings, which were just one strand of silver going through her ear. Kelly and I seem to have a similar sense of humor and were already digging at one another. It didn’t take long to figure out I was a techno-geek, and I ended up showing them my cell phone. They weren’t impressed. In sharp contrast to D’Arcy, they were complaining that it was too wide and wasn’t that radically thinner than their phone.

“Come on, I mean mine sends and gets calls, it’s still small, and I can text message. What else do I need? Plus it only cost ten Euros,” said Kelly. She discovered the camera on my phone and snapped a dorky picture of me, and I took one of her with my normal camera, since “camera phones don’t flatter her.” :) They all got up to leave, and she handed me back my phone. She set the background to the picture of me!

“Hey! You changed my background!” I barked at her.

“Well I figured it would make it easier to figure out whose phone it was,” she said, putting on her coat.

“Just WAIT till we get to Stockholm,” I said. Amanda shook my hand warmly, and told me to make sure and call them when I arrived there. They were all very cool, and I’m really looking forward to going now. Yuri, Anjanette, and I were still sitting at the table after they left, and she decided it was time for Yuri to hook us up with the fun. We went back upstairs and into the crowd that was currently thrashing away to a cover of a hard rock song I can’t remember the name of off hand. They were actually a decent band, and were involving the crowd a lot. As far as I can tell, they were either American or British, but the lead singer was definitely from the US. We were having a grand old time, and Yuri in particular was enjoying himself. Anj told me that when Yuri gets to having fun, he breaks a smile which doesn’t wash away. The crowd got really into the music, and we were getting squeezed, pulled, poked, and prodded in all directions. About half the time, some random girl was pressed up against my back, and I was not at all complaining. ;) A girl at a table nearby kept looking up, catching my eyes, and smiling at me, and I smiled back. I was too far away to talk to her, but the visual flirting was kind of fun. We danced and sang along to such lyrics as “Sometimes I give myself the creeps…sometimes my mind plays tricks on me….” Anjanette grabbed me around my neck with her elbow, in a very buddy motion, and said loudly over the music how funny it was that everyone knew all the lyrics, but they sing them in a Finnish accent. I laughed. The band finally took a break, and I checked my watch. It was after 2am! We had scooted out of the crowd, Anj first, then me when I could break into the mass of people. I had noticed a girl earlier in the room with us that had her hair up in very messy buns on the top of her head, a sort of half-ponytail sort of mess. I said that girl at the sports store looked like Kirsten Dunst, but this girl could have BEEN her. Easily. In fact, we hovered around to see what language she was speaking. I mean why would she be in Finland right now? As it turns out, she was speaking Finnish to her friends, so unless she happens to know the language, it definitely wasn’t her. Another girl nearby was standing alone; we’d seen her most of the night, actually, hanging out by herself. In fact, when I was relaying my story about Berlin to the three girls from Florida, she was standing behind them, listening to me. I don’t think she was there with anyone. At that point, I was getting tired anyway, and Anj had already given me the signal that anytime I wanted to head home she was fine with it. I told her it was time, and we made one brief search for Yuri, but he’d been swallowed into the fun. We located our coats on a back room wall rack that appeared to have exploded with outerwear and then headed out into the night. Rather than take a cab, we decided to walk home.

You’d expect that any city at 2:30am would be starting to die down, but this was not at all the case in Helsinki. The square was still loaded with people moving around everywhere. In fact, you’d probably be able to tell that it was late, but not this late. A thin, model-looking girl was standing motionless on one street corner, which confused us. We wondered what she was doing. Waiting for someone? It had started to snow, and the flakes were tickling my face as we walked. We passed by Parliament and several museums, then walked down a major street. I noticed a very attractive, young-ish girl walking alone in the dark, and I asked Anjanette if it was safe here. She said that during the winter, you only deal with Finns, and therefore, it’s very safe at all hours. Summer, however brings tourists, and also those that prey upon the unsuspecting. In that time it was a little more dangerous. We continued down the road and hung a left, diving across the snow-filled street in front of several racing cars. We crossed a big field of snow, and Anj latched onto my arm when she realized her party shoes really didn’t give her very good traction across the crunchy piles of white.

20 minutes after we left the bar, we were inside her apartment, and both of us were beat. I could hear that Anj took a shower to wash off the smoke stink as I got ready for bed. I’m sure D’Arcy appreciated that! I, on the other hand, had no such worry so I just plopped myself into bed with Lost In Translation playing in the background. It was now about 4am, and I probably didn’t even need the noise to sleep.