The End of the Trip

When I read our itinerary and saw a ferry ride listed as our transportation between Stockholm and Helsinki, I think I just pictured a boat. Nothing extraordinary—it would be long and flat and the interior would be spare and utilitarian. Our passage into Finnish waters would be quiet and uneventful. More likely than not, we would spend it sleeping in a twin cot with a single wool blanket, rocking gently as our trusty ship slid silently over the icy waters of the Baltic. In the morning we would wake refreshed and step out onto the deck, filling our lungs with crisp Nordic air as we looked out toward the rocky shore of our destination, a landscape dominated by evergreens and wispy pillars of smoke rising into the heavens from chimneys concealed by the lush foliage. This would be the boost we needed to prepare us for the second leg of our trip—fortified by some 20 hours of rest and relaxation at sea, we would emerge better students. Better thinkers. Better humans.

A few hours and several drinks into the ferry ride, we grabbed a table close to the stage at the ship’s casino and settled in for the live entertainment, an act entitled “The Freak Show” and recommended by one of the bartenders on the upper deck who described it only as “really crazy dancing.” Seeing as the New York Club and Lounge on the 12th floor wouldn’t be open for another few hours and  dinner had already ended, there really weren’t many other options for how to kill the time. As beautiful as the Swedish archipelago is, it all becomes a little monotonous to stare at for hours on end, particularly when the alternative is some cultural immersion in what basically amounts to a Scandinavian booze cruise.

Of course I’m generalizing here, but the magical thing about Finns is that they’re a very serious, generally reserved breed of human, who simultaneously hold very few reservations about what constitutes appropriate content for their children. Pair this with “The Freak Show,” and you basically have 100 blonde Scandinavian families watching with the straightest of expressions as scantily clad men and women, faces obscured by exaggerated stage makeup, interpretive danced among dramatic lighting, stage-smoke, and a 6-foot-2 drag queen who lip-synced Lady Gaga and Britney Spears songs and alternated her act with a 90-pound woman who actually sang the covers but might as well have just been another drag queen. Now add a drunk gay couple and a few friends from New York sitting in the front row cheering and clapping and dancing in their chairs and you have 100 very confused blonde Scandinavian families and one incredibly relieved drag queen.

WORK. IT. GURL.

Suffice to say we took full advantage of what the ferry had to offer before disembarking the next morning in Helsinki, hungover dumpy messes as we were, before swiftly being whisked off to our first stop. Nothing like a little amazing design to get you back into the groove, am I right?

I am right when Alvar Aalto is involved.

I mean, come on. Come ON. I’m not the type of person to throw around the word “inspiration” lightly, but this place…wow. Those bright white bricks, the terra cotta floors, the Moroccan rugs, the blonde furniture, the climbing plants—it was perfect.  

And then the house:

Just stop it right there, Aalto. It’s WAY TOO GOOD.

Helsinki is really, really gorgeous, by the way. I was pretty upset to be leaving Stockholm (I LOVE SWEDEN), but Helsinki was a pretty amazing substitute. Sweden and Finland are surprisingly very different countries culturally, but both Stockholm and Helsinki have a really nice sensibility about them.

Aside from a few museum visits and lectures in our first couple of days in Helsinki, which I don’t have photos of, we also got a tour of the Marimekko headquarters and factory from the head of PR at the company. We weren’t allowed to take photos in the *top secret* areas of the production facilities, but seeing how they produce the fabrics and learn more about the company was so cool. Imagine very big machines and a lot of employees in Marimekko clothes. After the tour, we spent a couple hours wandering through the attached outlet store, which is a dangerous place. So much cute. So discounted. Let’s not talk about it.

On our last day, we all boarded a bus and drove out to the Paimio Sanatorium, a hospital designed by Alvar Aalto in the 30s to treat tuberculosis patients. Situated in a gorgeous evergreen forest, the hospital itself is, unsurprisingly, stunning. I would totally pay to have tuberculosis there.

Probably saving the best for last, from Paimio we went to Villa Mairea, one of Aalto’s most famous homes. Again, no interior pictures allowed, but do yourself a favor and run a google image search. OMG.

Like, OMG. *dead*

It’s basically everything that is perfect in the world ever. That is my academic thesis on the topic. Take it or leave it.

Then this impromptu matching-Marimekko-shirts-in-a-field-of-fucking-daisies photo shoot happened, because we’re ridiculous whores.

Workin’ that booty tooch.

With the course officially over and two days left in Helsinki, four of us decided to spend our Saturday taking the ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. We walked around a ton and ate a dope lunch and got caught in a rainstorm and had our ferry home cancelled and then almost got killed in a stampede of crazies clamoring to get on the next ferry as if everybody’s entire life hinged on getting a window seat. What started out as a pretty nice day in a beautiful new city turned into an almost funny series of disasters wherein we wondered if we’d ever get out of Estonia or if we’d be stranded forever at the creepily desolate harbor that looked like a landscape from some kind of post-apocalyptic video game.

We did, however, found the hottest new heavy metal group and shot the album cover, so I guess it was a pretty productive day after all:

Buy it at that indie record shop you’re probably not cool enough to know about on 12/21/12. (Photography and graphic design by Maxwell Tielman)

For our last day, two intense weeks of travel kind of caught up with us and we needed to lay low a little bit, which was convenient because basically the entire city of Helsinki is closed on Sundays anyway. We walked around (including a stroll through the beautiful botanic garden) and made our way to a flea market. Of course. What do you expect?

I’m guessing nobody reading this blog is going to be super judgy about my thrifty/flea habit, even when I’m abroad and arguably could be doing other more refined cultural things with my time, but I actually think flea markets are a really fun and informative way to see a city. Especially on a trip like this where we studied the design of this region for two weeks, it’s always interesting to see what kinds of things people choose to sell, what they choose to value above other things, what locals are interested in buying, etc. etc. It’s an easy and accessible way to partake in a standard, rather unexceptional piece of local culture, which you just don’t get traipsing through museums or on the top of a double-decker bus all day. Sure, you might see more, but you’re not talking or interacting or getting a very good sense of the local community.

So I like fleas for more reasons than just being a greedy bastard. (Plus, we went to a lot of museums on this trip and I was a bit museum-d out.)

Obviously I bought some things because I completely lack self-restraint, including that wall-hanging weaving tapestry thingy on the bottom left, which is about 5.5 feet long and will look great once I figure out where to hang it. I like the patterns and the colors and I think it’s an amount of fiber that my apartment can pull off without being an amount of fiber that my apartment could never pull off. It’s probably from the 60s or so and probably handmade by some hobbyist. I love having homespun pieces like this in my home, even if I didn’t make them and have no idea who did.

Also, more Ultima Thule! Glasses this time! I don’t care that they’re weird sizes, they were 3 euros each and are so beautiful. Eleven pieces of this stuff all for super-cheap is not such a bad haul for one trip, if I do say so.

And then we got home and I got to wake up in the morning to this view. After all the pretty stuff we’ve seen, I think this is still the prettiest.

* * * * *

ADDENDUM: In case you were wondering about me and the drag queen (see above), have just received evidence from unnamed third-party source. (My face got all distorted in the commotion, I don’t really look like the monster from Alien. Or do I?)

I am the wind beneath her wings.


35 Comments

  1. Please Please Please let that daisy photo be your Christmas card.
    Happy Fucking Holidays
    From two ridiculous whores.

  2. Really excellent writing in this entry. Looks like a fantastic trip!

  3. Lovely. I love to go to supermarkets when on holiday, bit similar to your love of fleamarkets. Less stuff to take home :-D
    Have a wonderful weekend!!!

  4. I’m sure Max is a wonderful, wonderful person, but … you’re in Finland and you get your hair cut? You can do that anywhere!!! Lol I shouldn’t talk, my last night in Tampere my flight didn’t leave ’til like 10pm and I was basically out of money, so I went to a movie. THAT SAID, it was a good cultural experience since 1. assigned seating (wat) and 2. they had these giant cupboard things that locked where you could put all your bulky winter clothing (I was there late November) and shopping bags. How smart is that?! Anyway, Finland = excellent. I didn’t make it to Sweden, alas.

  5. Is there any better reason to travel than roaming through foreign flea markets ;-)

  6. Loving this post, as usual. The marimekko -shirt picture: so great! I’m not usually a very patriotic person but I can’t help feeling a bit proud that you like Sweden so much. Yay! I haven’t been on a “Finland-ferry” since I was nine,and I just remember thinking how huge they are – but they do have quite a reputation even locally. Maybe it’s time to take another trip…

  7. Thanks so much for these lovely Scandinavian postcards! I’m Swedish and Finnish but have never gotten to visit. That looks like a Raanu rug—a traditional Lapp weaving, wool weft with cotton warp, usually long and narrow. I have an awesome one my parents bought in Finland in the 70s.

    • Oh! Looked it up, I think you’re right! Thank you! I’ll note that when I post about it next, hopefully hung somewhere!

  8. Especially on a trip like this where we studied the design of this region for two weeks, it’s always interesting to see what kinds of things people choose to sell, what they choose to value above other things, what locals are interested in buying, etc. etc. It’s an easy and accessible way to partake in a standard

    there’s your book. i’m a reporter and i’ve learned more about places i parachute into by reading the classified ads (pre CL) and the police blotter in the small town paper than anything else.

    this is a wonderful post, btw, thank you. i don’t know if you know the work of punk knitter felicity ford, but she recently had a wool/knitting fellowship in estonia and srsly got down into it. fascinating.
    http://thedomesticsoundscape.com/wordpress/?p=4001

    and then there’s the $130 muhu island (estonia, gulf of talinn???) knitting book i’m saving up for. you’ll see where aalto got his jones for hot colored moroccan rugs from. http://www.loopknitlounge.com/2011/12/muhu-island-book-just-in/

    it’s the most inspiring art book i’ve seen since
    http://www.amazon.com/Little-Boy-Japans-Exploding-Subculture/dp/0300102852

    terrific post, thanks. i was just beginning to think you’d caught morgan satterfield’s blog-vaporizing twitter/intagram habit.

  9. that would be instagram, so solly.
    and, i am totally with you on the puppy girl. give her a nice long gentle hug from us.

  10. Looks like a fantastic trip! Great pics you took, and stuff you bought.

  11. Loved loved loved to read your experiences here in Scandinavia :)
    When I was reading former posts about our dear neighbor Sweden I was hoping you would visit Helsinki.And you did! I’m so glad you got to do all the cool stuff in here and a word for future trips… the ferries between these two countries are evil.. Most of us don’t have the stomach to stand them :) The only way to do it is be at least a little tipsy.

  12. If I had had a son, I would have wanted him to be just like you! Who would judge you for going flea marketing??? What a great trip — and great photos. I love the rock band. :)

  13. aalto – yes, times a billion. when we went villa mairea a guy in our group was a pianist and sat down and played so beautifully… we all sat there and just took every amazing thing around us. it was surreal actually, a def. highlight of my trip.

    and is there anything better than the look on your dog’s face when you come back from a vacation? i think not.

  14. I’m so glad that you got to take this trip.

    My husband and I have had the distinct pleasure of going to scandinavia twice. On our second trip, we fell in love with Helsinki in particular. Stockholm — of course. Copenhagen — absolutely. Helsinki — OMG WHY DOESN’T ANYONE EVER TALK ABOUT THIS MOST AMAZING PLACE?

    We spent 3 hrs sitting in a square watching finns. They are so wholly themselves, while entirely experimenting to find their cultural identity. It’s *gorgeous* and the tension of that is *everywhere* and I *love it*.

    Ok, I’ve gone seriously overboard in my excitement.

    I now live in New Zealand. There is one little shop here — called Vessel — and they have design things. Not honkey-tonk NZ artists knick-knack carvings to take home, but beautiful pottery and design from NZ. Oh, and Finland!

    I love that shop. Whenever I need a little vacation, I just go to Vessel here in windy Wellington. :)

    At the same flea market in helsinki, my husband and I bought all of the gifts for the people back home. 20 people, $12. And, really cool stuff. I mean, amazingly so.

    Can’t wait to go back. :)

  15. Glad you had a fun trip! Also glad that you enjoyed your visit in Helsinki – though I don’t live there and usually hate going there, haha. :p Great pictures!

  16. I did the reverse trip a few years ago and still miss Stockholm! I was spending about 10 days in Tampere and didn’t get to wander through Helsinki but thank you for this post so I can see what I missed. I can’t wait to make it back there someday . . .

  17. You so DO NOT look like an alien. You look wonderfully happy and adorable. I love seeing a happy face. And the pup sound asleep on the couch? I DIE every time I see her. She’s the cutest puppy face EVER!! Welcome home!!

  18. Welcome home, both of you. Ok, now explain about Linus; I’ve been admiring all the cute pictures, but now I want the story! Where did he come from? How did you pick his name? Any sibling rivalry from Mekko? Spill!!

  19. You were at the Marimekko headquarters and there is no photo of you & the PR person holding a photo of Mekko, dude, WTF??

  20. Right, here begins my ‘Honey, we NEED to go to Finland’ campaign. Watch out husband!

  21. Welcome home and thank you from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful post. I love every single pic and your writing is a pleasure as always!

  22. Dude. Your writing rocks and your enthusiasm inspires. Never. Stop. Writing.

  23. Seriously soooo jealous! What a fabulous trip and what a fabulous year of traveling for you!

    Also, I’m convinced that I saw the same green car in Helsinki. Your photo is significantly better. I blame the fact that I was cold and it was raining that day. Never mind the fact that you are much more amazing.

    http://pinterest.com/pin/282249101617314024/

    Also also, I am impressed by your Aalto photos sans fellow tourists.

  24. Looks fantastic!! I’ve always loved the look of Scandinavia and it’s my dream to move to Sweden one day so loved hearing your experiences, thanks for sharing.

  25. Loved your travel photos. My friend lives in Stockholm with his husband and I’ve been dying to go visit them since he moved.

    Also, regarding the last photo – did you notice the granny in the background? Awesome.

  26. Totally jeals. I want to go to Tallinn because well, my name is Tallin (no relation but whatever I can pretend).

  27. Congrats for surviving the notorius Ruotsinlaiva (as Finns call the drunken ferries between Hel-Sto) ! I’m glad you enjoyed your trip. Note to myself: one should respect own hometown a bit more, and also do some touristy things every once in a while and not always leave abroad to see nice things.

  28. What a lovely post! I’m glad you had fun here in Helsinki. I studied design for four years, but we never went to see Villa Mairea nor Paimio… but I know they are quite special. Fleamarkets have become more popular lately, and the prices are higher, so it can be quite difficult to find good bargains, but those Ultima Thule glasses were a exellent catch! 3 €? Seriously?

    Did you get a chance to see any modern Finnish design? Helsinki has a so called Design District, full on new a wonderful things: http://www.designdistrict.fi/news
    Did they tell you, that Helsinki is also the World Design Capital 2012, so we have all sorts of designy stuff going on this year. http://wdchelsinki2012.fi/en

    What I most love about living in a World Design Capital, is that Arabianranta, where I live, is going to have a Design Dog Park! Hopefully it will be way cool!

  29. Haha, I’m Finnish and it was so much fun reading about your experiences on the ferry! They are mainly places where people go get extremely drunk, especially young people.

  30. OK, as a Finn I just have to love this post. Thanks!

  31. I realize that I am commenting on a post from this summer, but it seemed the most relevant, so bear with me. I just came across this post on Dezeen, which, if you hadn’t seen, you NEED to. Because the next time you fly to Scandinavia, you should attempt to do so inside this MARIMEKKO PLANE. Because that is a thing that exists. Also, you can buy practically everything, which makes sense, I suppose. Anywho…enjoy.
    http://www.dezeen.com/2012/10/29/marimekko-makeover-for-finnish-airline-finnair/

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