Tuesday, July 29, 2014

DAY 40 – 25 July 2014; In Helsinki

It was a significant day for members of the Record Drive Team. Lal’s film Vikramadityan was being globally released on this day. Lal, naturally, was tense and anxious. So were all of us – he had done quite a bit of post production work during the drive. Reputations and finance were crucially intertwined in the project. I woke up early and went to the living room to begin the day’s work. I found Anu sleeping on the sofa; he had agreed to sleep over in the guest house so that he could take us around the city during the day. He had taken a day off from work to do that. I got through the backlog of the blog posts and went back to bed. By the time I came around again Lal and Anu were up and about. Anu had even made a few sandwiches of salami and cheese and boiled a few eggs too.
Reactions to the film started coming in as we were about to leave for a walk around the Central Market. The first half of the film was accepted by the first show audience. Lal was sure that the audience would love the second half that contained the juice and substance of the film.
The Central Market is a happening place. The fresh fruits, vegetables and local handicrafts on display make it a favorite with the tourists and locals alike. I was quite taken in by the fresh strawberries, cherries, blueberries, plums, peaches and raspberries that were on sale. The sales persons, mostly young girls, repeatedly request you to sample the display. And if you did not buy they t were not offended. The strawberries were so juicy I asked a young girl where they were cultivated. Prompt came the response, “Everywhere”! The covered market is another attraction on the waterfront. The market was established in 1888, as it says on the building. It has many cafes and foods on sale for a different clientele.

From there Anu, Lal and I decided to take a cruise that promised to show us the important sights of Helsinki. We were not disappointed. The Euro 22 per head trip was indeed worth the money. The informative commentary in three languages added lustre to the sightseeing trip. It is said that King Gustav I of Sweden, while travelling in the Gulf of Finland in 1550, wished to set up a city in Helsinki because he was enchanted by the natural beauty of the place and wanted an alternative trading post to Tallinn. Over a few years people from places like Porvoo were resettled in Helsinki and the city grew. Later Alexander I made Russia the capital of Finland Dutchy within the Russian protectorate in the 18th century. The Soumenlinna is a fortress built on many islands. It is a popular tourist site and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Besides this group of islands there are many with private beaches and residences. These island and properties are approached by speed boats and yachts. Small floating jetties and a simple gate serve to protect privacy. They are among the most sought after and pricey properties in the whole of Europe. The Helsinki Zoo on the Korkeasaari Island is considered the northern most Zoo in Europe with animals from different parts of the world. The Degero Canal is operated in its narrowest part by the use of traffic signals. The Casino Beach Hotel on Koulesari Island looked busy. People here do whatever they can to be out in the Sun. The Cruise vessel, during the 90 minute tour, operated a well stocked café; beer was the hot favourite though.

Once the cruise was over we roamed around to visit the Presidential Residence. As luck would have it the change of guard happened just then – mid noon. The guards come marching down the street accompanied by a marching orchestra. The marching steps are not as spectacular as in some other countries. The highlight was the music played by the orchestra after the change of guard was effected. It was now time for some lunch. We chose one of the many canopied cafes. A lot of local cuisine was available. Mixed vegetables, potatoes, mayonnaise sauce and meat/fish is the staple. A local variety of fish, Vendace, seemed to be the most popular. Since the feet could not carry us much further we got back to the apartment and took some rest.

By the time I got up from the nap Lal told me that Anu had left for Porvoo, where he stayed. He had promised to come back in the night with his wife and daughter. Shaji arranged a get together in the apartment of a few Malayalee friends. It was a wonderful time to exchange views and understand Finland from their view point. Of those who had come three were already Finnish citizens. Dentistry and Engineering were the professions that attracted people from Kerala. We were touched by their gesture of presenting mementoes to us. Later they signed the Campaign Poster and assisted in affixing the green sticker on Finland.

Shaji suggested that we get a good Navigator so that the transit through European cities would be hassle free. We did check out on a few, but the cost was too much to bear for the rest of the journey. Finland is expensive due to the high tax regime. However, the citizens and residents get paid back in terms of social security, health, education and public hygiene. People are peace loving but greatly influenced by environmental and safety issues. Socially required behaviour is inculcated in children by parents and teachers from a very young age. We visited Shaji’s house to meet up with his wife and bubbly son, Rayan.

It was twilight at 10 pm. I moved the luggage into the car and decided to get it ready for the early morning departure to the ferry point. As I was completing that, Anu came with his wife and daughter, Alphonsa. Shaji had sent pasta with them for us. I had a good meal while interacting with Anu’s wife, who too was working as a nurse in Porvoo. It was nearing midnight when we said our goodbyes. The mid-point of the journey had been reached. 40 of the 80 days are over.

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