Hello dear readers. At this very moment, I’m on board the Bore — a ship-turned-hostel in the riverbanks of Turku, Finland. Which, as I learned upon embarking, has not been updated since the 1960s, and with a total of 6 occupants that I’ve seen so far, fittingly lives up to its name.
I have my reservations in writing this blog. For one, when I wrote my first travel blog, the things that amused, surprised and delighted me on my first trip to Asia were so new and exciting to me (street-side Pad Thai for $1! Lady boys!), I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to find subjects in Europe that would have the same effect on me and my story telling. Secondly, I don’t have an editor. Perhaps it’s the years of working in Corporate that have made me wary of the written form - especially in such a public forum - but I know that I’m bound to offend someone, somewhere (I fully expect Southerners and cat lovers to unfollow/unfriend me after this). Please know this is unintentional and/or for comedic purposes. Then, there’s also the fact that the only times I’ve written for pleasure’s sake in the past five years are snarky text messages to my brother and memes for our family dog photos:
Lola at her finest.
My trip hasn’t even technically begun yet when my first story subjects arrive on a Finnair flight from Chicago to Helsinki. They’re a party of five, who are loud (re: not European) and discussing in their southern accents their excitement over flying over a body of water for the first time (Amish?). The sole gentleman in the group is wearing denim overalls - and not in the hipster kind of way. The four girls are struggling to get their suitcases overhead, with their big-ass Kentucky Derby hats on. They look like they’ve never left the state of Alabama, yet alone traveled internationally. And with them are three peculiar carryon bags that seem to have mesh paneling for ventilation. Of course, being a dog-lover, I start thinking this may be the best flight ever with little puppies frolicking down the aisles… maybe they’re wearing cute diapers and have little knitted sweaters on! Maybe one of them will cuddle with me on my lap!! I’m starting not to care if these people marry their cousins if that means I get to be entertained by little puppies.
But as my poor eyesight adjusts, I see the facial outline of an animal far more sinister - an animal that causes some level of panic in me due to severe allergies… the dreaded cat. And wait… not one, not two, but THREE cats are being placed under the rows completely adjacent to me. In an instant, these people have turned into the second-most annoying types of travelers to sit by. Honestly, who brings CATS on planes? How is that allowed? I turn around to see if there are any other seats available and notice I’m two rows from the bathroom. (Sigh). It could be worse… I guess? By the end of the 8.5 hour flight, I have sneezed so much that my nose is red, raw and incapable of any feeling and my eyes are so irritated it looks like I drank blood for breakfast. So OF COURSE the customs officer who checks my passport is very attractive. He observes my passport photo and then looks up at me, trying to recognize someone with less puffy eyes and who doesn’t have snot running down their face. I couldn’t even fake a friendly American smile at that point.
With surprising ease, I find the bus from the Helsinki airport to Turku, Finland’s former capital and second largest city. With its location so close to Sweden, Turku was THE place to be back in the Middle Ages. My friend, Mika, who lives here, will argue it’s still the best city in Finland, with it’s industrial setting, university feel and numerous beer gardens in the summer.
This “beer boat” is housed directly in front of what used to be a Turku prison. As if being imprisoned wasn’t punishment enough, inmates had to watch people onboard the beer boat, enjoying a cold beer on a nice summer night.
Turku is also home to a gothic cathedral that was built in the 1200s and is thought to be the greatest medieval monument in the country. If you’ve read “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett, this is exactly the type of cathedral that we’re talking about here.
As I tell Mika my travel plans for the next two months, he mentions that he has reservations about me traveling to the south of Sweden, as are in my plans. Apparently there are riots at the moment due to some Swedes’ intolerance for migration into their country. I understand not wanting to go to an area of unrest, but am perplexed as to why Mika is being so adamant about me not traveling to the entirety of Southern Sweden until he says, “It could be very dangerous for you since you have dark coloring. They may think you’re a Syrian immigrant.” In Japan, my tour guide admitted that most Japanese people think all caucasians- whether they are European, Australian or Canadian - are American (Non-American friends, if this is news to you, I’m sorry). It appears the same logic holds for Finnish people and those without blond hair.
See, stereotypes are unavoidable.