Somehow Brad had distant contacts in Finland so we decided to go there. And in what we learned is the Finnish way, everyone was very hospitable. When we arrived in Helsinki on August 27th things seemed actually Western for the first time. We saw large grocery stores and everyone looked like they shopped at H&M. We took a metro to an urban campsite which was closed when we got there. We set up our tent and slept without sleeping bags that night. It was horribly cold. The following morning we decided not to pay the campsite and jumped in the lake to clean off. We waved at the metro that crossed on a nearby bridge.
It was Friday evening and we meet a friend of a friend of a friend, a woman named Marjo. We took the train with her to her house in the suburb Lahti. Saturday her four year old was having a birthday party. We told her we would be happy to join everyone for this celebration. We brought the small stuffed Tiger that we bought for the four year old and we were eager to see what a Friday night in Lahti would bring. Marjo's husband Sami was at home making dinner when we arrived. They offered us beds in their children's play room and an amazing dinner. Their home was warm and comfortable. After spending a couple weeks with our backpacks on overnight trains and in houses of Russian strangers this house in Lahti felt like coming home. After dinner Marjo and Sami told us we could us the sauna. It is typical to have a sauna in Finnish homes. And after a sauna the tradition is to drink a beer. So after the sauna we sat outside, in towels, drinking a beer and wondering how we were so lucky to meet these amazing people.
The following morning we woke up to a wonderful breakfast and went to the ski museum. We watched people on a ski jump and ate at McDonald's with Sami and his two boys. That afternoon was Verner's fourth birthday party. A couple of kids came over and everyone ate cake. The adults drank coffee and talked about facebook. The birthday party was really nice. There were some small gifts and everyone jumped on the trampoline.
Alex had a cute daughter that was frightened by Brad and me speaking English. But once Alex and I got to talking it was decided that we should go to the bar and sing karaoke. Sami took a nap before we went out. And once we got there I sang ABBA and Britney Spears. Alex sang some amazing opera songs and I had to persuade everyone to leave at 4 a.m. After we ate a pizza I slept through the cab ride back to Sami's. The following morning we had plans to drive to Sami's mothers lakeside cabin. We tried to push through our hangovers and finally got in the car to drive to the town of Kuhominen. We brought a bunch of food that we ate while we looked at the lake and waited for the wood fire sauna to warm up.
We sat in the sauna and jumped in the lake. It was cold for late August and beautiful. We drove back to Lahti that evening and spent one more night in the comfortable suburban home with our hosts.
That Monday, the 31st of August began our days of hitchhiking and camping for free in Finland. We were headed north, to a small town near Vaasa, Finland to meet Riika, Brad's original Finland contact. Sami spent his lunch break driving us to the train station that Monday. We said our goodbyes and told each other that we would all meet again. These conversations happen a lot in travels. And sometimes they are genuine, this was one of those times. We made our way to Tejo National Park which was much smaller than expected. I saw a lot of moose tracks and I was convinced that we would be attacked by moose or bear while we slept in the tent. I also realized I left my favorite t-shirt at Marjo and Sami's.
The following day we hitchhiked to Turku. Once again we encountered Finnish hospitality. The man that picked us up cancelled his plans and drove us all the way to our desired destination. On September 3rd we spent the day trying to get to Pori, Finland. First, some 19 year old nursing students picked us up. They had recently gotten their driver's license and did not take us very far. Then a man who fixed air conditioners picked us up. He said he occasionally picks up hitchhikers because he travels a lot for his job and that the hitchhikers are mostly foreigners. He dropped us off in the middle of the countryside. We were eating chocolate when some woman with a lot of eye glasses on her dashboard picked us up and told us she would take us to a better spot to get a ride. Finally, some young people picked us up who were going to Pori. They smoked a lot of cigarettes and talked about Finnish music. It had taken us all day to get 120 km, but it was a fun day. We set our tent up behind the train station and went to a bar that ended up being really cool. There was a jazz band and good beer.
We arrived at Riika's on Friday, September 4th. When we got there I had a package, it was my favorite t-shirt that Sami had mailed to me. We spent the weekend with Riika, her husband, their baby, and his parents. They took us to a Finnish food festival, we spent more time in the sauna and played frisbee in their backyard.
We left Finland after we had eaten far too much and found an incredibly cheap ferry ticket to Stockholm, Sweden. Our time in Sweden was uneventful. One night while we were in a bar I said, "I want to meet more people." Brad was relieved. We decided we would spend our time in Estonia together and split up after that. I was starting to feel a little homesick for Ikeda and had anxiety about returning to my parents house. Brad kept talking about Pennsylvania in the fall and his Pittsburgh friends. But I was happy to have slept in so many nice beds and to have those green knitted socks that were a gift from Riika's mother-in-law.