Tuesday June 23, 2009

 08 Helsinki 1

We were spoilt again today. We woke to glassy seas, clear blue skies and bright warm sunshine. “The kind of weather Helsinki enjoys only 10 days a year!” joked our guide.

It’s midsummer here at the northernmost point of our cruise, and it feels a bit weird. Sunset last night was around 11pm (it was like going to bed in broad daylight) – and sunrise was just before 4am!

But winter in this place must be doubly-weird, when the sun comes up at 9am, darkness falls at 3pm, temperatures drop as low as minus 15 degrees, and everything ices-up and freezes-over. Which probably explains why, in their spare time, the Finns go a little crazy and have to entertain themselves with sauna contests (to prove who can stand the steamy heat the longest).

Anyway, no one was thinking about winter this morning as the Prinsendam swept into Helsinki harbour – past old battlements set up yonks ago to protect the city from powerful bullies. (Prior to gaining independence in 1917, the Finns had their share of bullying: first from the Swedes, then the Russian Czars, and later the Soviets who ended up swiping a chunk of Finland.)

 08 Helsinki 2

Helsinki has long been loved for its striking architecture, broad boulevards, market square, fresh sea winds and open-air cafes. And the distinctive gold domes of the Russian-looking Uspenski Cathedral were just begging to be photographed.

Temppeliaukio Rock Church

Rock Church

Our coach tour took us through the city, past the Presidential Palace, Senate Square (overlooked by another impressive cathedral) and the Sibelius Monument. We Kiwis wandered the local waterfront markets (buying bags of sweet red cherries and at least one beautifully-soft reindeer skin) … and stopped for a quick look-see at the Temppeliaukio Rock Church – blasted into solid rock and topped with a copper dome.

Next highlight (a short drive out of town) was the picturesque village of Porvoo, featuring medieval cobblestone streets and quaint wooden buildings and a shop that sold chocolate-covered liquorice. (Mmm, mouth-watering!)

Cherry time!

Cherry time!

Then, finally, we found our way out into farmland where a traditional Finnish lunch awaited us at the Savijarvi Homestead – famous, amongst other things, for its equestrian horses (which we got to meet, pat, converse with and be nibbled by).

Another unforgettable Baltic experience? You bet! And we’ve got lots more still to come …

PEOPLE NEWS: Your Midlife Madness friends and family-members are all fit and well and happy (as far as we can tell). And they’re still doing silly things for which we duly award them:

* The ‘Casanova Award‘ went, this morning, to “Hot-Lips” Henry. During a discussion about arguments in the ship’s laundry-room and a report someone had heard about a punch-up on board another cruise-ship, Henry was heard to utter the immortal words: “I’m not a fighter – I’m a lover!”

TOMORROW: We’re in St Petersburg, getting up-close-and-personal with breathtaking Catherine’s Palace and the stunning Peterhof Gardens. So stay tuned …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) under the title for the day’s blog, and type away! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And don’t worry: we’ll make sure they get these messages.