Monday starts the fourth full day for Mark and me in Finland. We spent yesterday exploring the fortress Suomenlinna, located on several small islands, which was a fifteen-minute ferry ride south of Helsinki. We could use our regional transit pass to get on the ferry. Our story with this transit pass causes me great anguish whenever we board the bus. We bought these passes at the main tourist office on Pohjois Esplanadi, a place we considered would know what they’re doing simply because of the high volume of tourist traffic they receive. Our friends Leslie and Ismo live in Espoo, a sleepy suburb of Helsinki, much like Mississauga is to Toronto. The walk from Ismo and Leslie’s house to the bus stop and the ride into the central Helsinki bus station, Kamppi, totals only half an hour. Mark and I are both walkers yet we definitely couldn’t walk to Helsinki; we would need to take the transit. We travel to Helsinki every day and sometimes make an early stop back in Espoo and head out again. It was worth it, after we did the math, to buy a regional transit pass for 48 euros for our weeklong stay.
We were shocked to find out the very first time we tried to use the pass, when the driver told us, in English, that the pass was not valid on this bus. I tried to explain, but the driver waved us on anyway and acted like he didn’t want to hear it. It didn’t make any sense to me that we might have been sold the wrong passes, because when we bought them at the tourist office, Mark was with me, and since Mark does not speak Finnish, I conducted the transaction in English so he could participate. We decided to wait until the following morning, a Saturday, and see what another driver would say when we attempted to board the bus into town.
I showed the pass to the driver and explained, entirely in Finnish, where we bought and it what had happened yesterday night. The driver explained that it certainly was valid on her bus and all we had to do was scan it under the reader by the door. Mark later told me that I didn’t have to do my anguished song-and-dance explanation and that I could have just attempted to scan it to see if it let us on. Regardless, I was happy to have had the opportunity to express my case in Finnish. As bad luck would have it, Mark and I have encountered that first cranky bus driver two more times on our trips into and out of Helsinki. Each time he sees us, he acts annoyed and rolls his eyes at us. This is not an exaggeration. It would even be funny if we were 100% certain that he would let us on the bus. Fortunately, those other two times he just waved us in as though he just didn’t have the energy to explain to us why he thought the passes were invalid. They were the right passes, as Mark and I confirmed this with the advertising we have seen around town, and, more importantly, every other bus driver lets us board no problem.
When we were at the tourist office Mark picked up a map of walking tours of Helsinki and we have embarked on three of them so far. I find it such a pleasure to accompany Mark as he sees Helsinki for the first time. Whenever Mark and I have done walking tours together in other cities, Mark likes to hold the map and read aloud the explanations for each point of interest we see. Yesterday we saw the eastern island of Katajanokka, and on Saturday and Sunday we walked around the Olympic Stadium and Aleksanterinkatu respectively. These walks are all between five and seven kilometres each. There is even a self-guided walking tour of Suomenlinna fortress, but it was the shortest one of all at under two kilometres.
It is beautiful and sunny out now, as I write this at 11.00 local time, and once Mark gets back from rollerblading to the grocery store we are heading out. I have bought some CD’s of my favourite Finnish singers already, and am happy especially to get the latest two albums by Vuokko Hovatta, a singer who started out in the extremely popular Finnish band Ultra Bra. I have also bought some Finnish toiletries that serve as usable souvenirs of my holiday. I like Finnish tar and birch shampoo (two separate scents, not combined) and they will leave my shower, as well as my hair, fragrant with memories of a beautiful summer holiday.