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.
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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.