Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Frozen North

I am in Helsinki. It's a long story. A three hour, incredibly cramped flight from Heathrow and I emerged into bitterly cold air, a long way North of where I started. Strangely, the short, dapper, alert man who sat next to me on the plane was at breakfast this morning in the hotel and I briefly wondered if I am being tailed. I caught his eye as I wandered past with my perfectly boiled egg and nodded to him, but I didn't smile because I didn't want to be construed as trying to pick him up. One needs to be careful with signals, I find. Ambiguity can be so embarrassing.

The bus from the airport was warm and efficient. It arrived at the stops exactly when the timetable said it would. En route, the piles of snow bigger than a car showed just how much snow they have here. A lot, it would appear. Snowploughs had pushed such piles aside such that every street was lined with them.

Walking down to the restaurant last night, I was the coldest I have ever been in my life. It was only -7 when I left at dusk, and [probably -10C when I walked back, but the cold was intrusive in a way I have never encountered before. I am told its because the sea is close and the cold is a damp, humid cold unlike what one normally gets inland around here. I can attest that, whatever the reason, Winter in this part of Finland seems disproportionately cold and I wonder at what possessed people to think it was a good idea to migrate here originally. I think they must have been here a long time.

I had an interesting dinner: Fried perch. I thought originally it was the fish, but after eating it, I think it may well have been the one a parrot spends its days upon. It gave me quite unpleasant heartburn but at least I can say I have eaten perch now. (I took a photo but I seem to have lost the cable for my phone. I didn't think I would own it for long. I am notoriously forgetful. Perhaps I can email it. Aha! Yes!).Actually, I do it a disservice. As fish goes, it was a bit bland and tough, but was edible and probably quite good for me.

I like Helsinki. I find the people here to be unpretentious, unconcerned with the opinions of others with respect to how they dress or have their hair. As a result, it feels a rather liberated place. So unlike home, where prissy judgment based upon appearance seems to be the norm.
As an external observer, that was my impression, but putting that view to a local resulted in a small snort of wry laughter, followed by a pensive pause: "That may be how it seems to you. To us it's very different. Look at this weather! Would you live here if you didn't have to?"A point well made, I suppose.

So, I am sitting in my hotel room, which is much like all the others thus far depicted on this blog, wondering what to do. I really ought to rouse myself to go and find some dinner. But looking out of the window, I see the snow is still falling heavily and the streets are barely passable. A convoy of snowploughs has just gone by, scraping the streets and flinging a trail of sparks as the metal from the blades chips bits off the tarmac. It doesn't look very inviting out there. People are kind of hurrying past.
Perhaps I shall just pop across the road to the kebab house.
Travel broadens the mind they say.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Pete:
You seem to have become a world traveller these days. In the early times of reading your posts, you seemed a stay at home type. These days you seem to always be at an airport, passing through an airport, going to and from an airport or in a plane.

Normally, the snow experience of Helsinki would be replicated in Budapest although always very dry and usually -10C to -15C. The Danube did freeze over a few weeks ago!! However, this year has been far less snowy, but as I write, the white stuff is steadily falling.....

Safe travelling!!

Jenny Woolf said...

Sounds like a night when room service might be the answer. I am usually a bit too mean to use it though.

I have two questions. First, why are you in Helsinki? Ought I to know ?

And secondly, what is that pink stuff around your perch? One of the most nauseating meals I ever had was in New Orleans which featured meat and raspberry sauce. If it is a fruit sauce, then I am not surprised you had indigestion!

Yes, when it gets to February I've had it with snow. It can be quite nice before Christmas, and actually I will say it was charming in Tallinn when I was there one February. Tallinn also has a good line in jolly medieval-style restaurants which make the weather almost bearable, and really isn't that far from Helsinki on the ferry...

PerlNumquist said...

Ooh, no Jane and Lance, I have travelled for work for a long time. Decades in fact. I just didnt write about it much until recently. That said, there are a number of "beer blogs" from various places dotted about my blogging history. Can't imagine the Danube frozen over. Last time i was in Budapest, it seemed so huge and implacable.
Jenny: I am in Helsinki for reasons both dull and technical. It's part of an ongoing saga with a customer that I hope will be resolved this week. It's not really very interesting.
The sauce, however was: it is beetroot hollandaise and made the greasiness of the fish more bearable. I am not a fan of meat and fruit. Pineapple and gammon always seemed an abomination to me: why have your pudding with your dinner? Madness.Frippery. Ostentatious tastelesness!