Thursday, June 7, 2007

All good things must end...

I think it's finally time to finish up the European portion of this blog. Our final day in Finland we spent around Helsinki. We first went to Saapi's office at the Finnish Medical Association, where they had a very impressive collection of paintings from many famous painters. We then got on the trolley and walked around the city square, saw the old church, and went through a few touristy shops (there were some very cute moose caricatures on various items).

We went to an open-air market down by the harbor, where my mom got cornered by a very fun fashion designer who worked almost exclusively in felt. After a brief fashion show by my mom (she decided she was too pale to buy any of the bright colors in the woman's wares), we moved on to a very old (though beautifully refurbished) cafe for some caffeine.

From there, we moved on to more Merrimekko fabric and clothing stores and Iitala glasswares. Then to Stockmans, the enormous department store. There, my dad was introduced to the price of high and mid fashion these days--he was mortified. Eija also was generous enough to buy me a graduation present of a copy of The Book about Moomin, Mymble, and little My--a sort of Finnish Dr. Seuss equivalent involving the Moomins (mystical, adorable hippo-looking characters).

After a quick bite in the Aalto Cafe of the Stockmans bookstore, we did a bit more wandering to the Helsinki equivalent of Times Square (it's nowhere near the size...not even close), the modern art museum (which Eija doesn't like because it was designed by a Brit), and another fabric shop (mom's got some sewing to do). Then back to the harbor to board our ship to Stockholm.

The cruise was pleasant again, though my mom had been struggling with some digestive issues and spent much of the time in our cabin. My dad and I hung out in the bar area (the cover-song-playing-dude-with-guitar was much better this time around) and talked a lot about education of all kinds.

We got to Stockholm at around 10am and boarded the bus to the central station. We got a locker for our bags and a couple bus passes for later. Then we walked. And walked. And walked.

We finally got down to the Museum of Modern Art, which was pretty awesome. Obviously it didn't have all the incredible works of the more famous museums, but they did have a very impressive collection of Picasso, Chagall, Warhol, and others you'd probably recognize. It was a lot of fun to see these works in person--something I haven't really had the chance to do before.

We grabbed a smoothie in the cafe, then went to the architecture part of the museum (which my mom and dad really loved, but didn't interest me at all--I like nice buildings and all, but I don't have the training to appreciate models of buildings).

Realizing that the smoothie wasn't going to hold us for lunch, we walked back towards downtown and stumbled upon the Taste of Stockholm Festival. Perfect! We had some pad thai (pretty tasteless, but we were hungry enough that it tasted delicious) and went on our way.

After lunch (and after seeing truckloads of recent graduates partying it up literally in the beds of huge trucks), we hit the National History Museum. We were excited to see the Scandanavian Design exhibit, which turned out to be good, but nothing too amazing. I think what I was most impressed with was the glasswork. Throughout the years, they've done some encredible engraving and some even more incredible work with colors. Then we went upstairs to see the 19th Century French artwork (mostly impressionist). After walking around that exhibit for a while (they had all the standards of Renoit, Monet, Degas, etc), we were struck by the incredible lack of color. Either old Scandanavian collectors couldn't afford the best works, or they abhorred the bright colors that were so characteristic of impressionsm.

We headed back to the central station via bus (thank goodness we saved those bus passes for late in the day), grabbed our belongings, and hopped on another bus towards the hotel (all of 6 blocks, but we had a free transfer within the hour, so we decided to use it). The hotel was a gorgeous and luxurious 4-star business hotel near the pedestrian shopping district.

Not long after we got back to the hotel (though long enough to rest our tired legs and feet), we headed back to the Taste of Stockholm. My parents went for some calamari and fries, while I went for some sort of curried chicken plate (when I came back to our seat on a bench and declared "I have no idea what I just ordered," the guy on the other side of the bench started chuckling). The weather turned very cold and windy and it was all we could do to huddle together and drink our Murphy's Stouts.

The next morning, we woke to a beautiful breakfast spread in the lobby, then headed to the station to catch the bus to the airport. Our plane was severely delayed (well over an hour) because of all the security checks that had to happen before the US would let it take off. We finally took off sometime after 11am, and got into Chicago around 12:40pm (short flight, right?). I think we've all handled our jet lag pretty well, but it was very nice to come home to Nat, Julie, Jed, and Sharon taking care of dinner for us.

It was a helluva trip, made me notice a lot more about my own life and culture, and I would absolutely go back in an instant--if only it wasn't so expensive.

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