Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mission Trip Part 2: The Great White North

After our adventures in Ukraine, we went up to Finland for about a week. I had been really nervous about going back to Finland, I was pretty sure my Finnish would be terrible and I wouldn't be able to communicate with anyone and that no one there would remember me.

We got off the airplane in Helsinki and we had to find a store in the airport that would carry a SIM card for our cell phone. It was so exciting to see the R-Kioski (like a 7-11 in Finland, they're everywhere) - I was able to ask the girl at the counter for a SIM card and chat a little bit, and when I told her that I had lived in Finland for 15 months about three years ago, she complimented me on my Finnish. So I guess it wasn't terrible ;)

We attended church in the Haaga ward, where I served the first 9 months of my mission. It was so surreal to be back and see the people I had known there and to take the same walk from the train station to the chapel that I had taken so many times. After church I took Benjamin for a walk around the neighbourhood (our apartment was only a few blocks away from the chapel) and point out the corner store where we bought milk, the park where we went runnign eveyr morning (including the dirt path where my companion fell and injured herself), even going to our old apartment complex and pointing out the balcony where a companion had climbed up my shoulders and let herself in the balcony door when we locked ourselves out. It was mostly those kinds of little details that I loved seeing in Finland.

At the train station right by my old apartment
The second day in Finland we went to explore Suomenlinna, a fortress built in the Helsinki harbour from the 1600s-1800s that was designated a UNESCO heritage site. There are battlements and tunnels everywhere, and they are almost all open to the public to explore. We climbed through the fortress and up an old lighthouse and watched cruise ships sail by through the tiny lane between islands. We enjoyed a picnic in the Nordic sun sitting on fortress walls hundreds of years old and climbed through the tunnels and through the old cannon holes in the wall to get the best views. When I was a missionary in Helsinki, we used to come here on our P-day to play capture the flag, and it was the best place for capture the flag I have ever seen.

I loved going to the grocery store in Finland and finding my old favourite foods. We ate rye bread every day for lunch and when I woke up in the morning, I always had granola with vanilla yogurt, my favourite mission breakfast. I even bought a mustalaatikko (liver casserole) for Benjamin to try, and he liked it as much as I did! Now I need to find a recipe...

We took a day trip to Turku, one of the cities that I had visited for zone conferences but never really seen. We took a tour through the almost thousand-year-old castle and ate dinner on a boat in the river. We followed it up with ice cream in a sunny park.

One of my most frequent memories in Finland was eating the ice cream. I don't know how they do it, but Finnish ice cream is creamier, richer, and more delicious than any ice cream I've ever had anywhere else. I loved picking up a cone after an evening of tracting or contacting in the park in the summer. I loved sharing all those memories of ice cream on a long golden summer evening with Benjamin.

I personally think that the Helsinki temple is one of the most beautiful in the world. I remember going there often while I served in Helsinki and attending the temple there with Benjamin was another of the favourite memories of this trip. 

After the temple, we went to a restaurant in downtown Helsinki that I had found out about online before we even left on our trip. It is one fo the few places that serves reindeer year-round, and I was not about to let Benjamin go to Finland without eating any reindeer! We got fed all kinds of reindeer and elk and moose by members in Finland, and it is so tasty! We ordered a sampler plate that had reindeer, elk, reindeer sausage, and one other piece of game that I forget. Benjamin got a kick out of "eating Rudolph" as he now claims.

Mmmm, Rudolph is so tasty!
 The only other place I served in Finland was Oulu, about 200 km south of the Arctic Circle. In planning our trip, I was thinking that a flight up to Oulu would be too expensive, so I didn't think we would go. Daddy convinced me that compared to our flights over to Europe, the short flight was cheap, and besides, when would we next be in Finland? I'm so glad he talked me into it, and especially glad that one of my Finnish friends from Oulu pointed me towards a super discount airline over there, because taking Benjamin waaay up north was definitely worth it.

We spent a day in Oulu, wandering around the city (which I had never seen without snow, despite living there for 6 months) and visiting a few members that I had known. It turned out that the night we were there was Institute, which was perfect timing because we were able to get into the church building to show Benjamin around and see lots of the youth that I had known in the branch before, there at Institute! It was also the night of a Branch Presidency meeting, and who should be there as the branch Executive Secretary but a wonderful young man I had tracted into only 3 weeks before I left to go home! It was such a blessing to run into him there and see how well he was doing. I also enjoyed seeing the branch president, who had served as the branch mission leader while I was a missionary.

After a day in Oulu, it was up north for a visit to the Arctic Circle with a quick detour to Sweden. We drove this little beauty about 250 km into the great white north and Benjamin surprisingly fit quite well! You can see in the background the quintessential Swedish institution, IKEA. The little Swedish border town isn't really much of a destination, but it houses the only IKEA for hours, so the Finns from Oulu drive up there and give it plenty of business.

At the Arctic Circle we got to visit the REAL Santa Clause (no pictures, though - we didn't want to spend 30 euros for the official photo) and take our picture standing on the very edge of the Arctic. It was a long day of driving there and back, but I always think that it's such a fun trip to say you've been to the Arctic Circle. Benjamin loved it too.

From Oulu we flew back to Helsinki and then on to Frankfurt. We had one night in Germany before our trans-Atlantic flight, so we put it to good use by finding a beautiful German restaurant in the applewine district. We drank the most delicious apfelsaft (homemade apple juice) and I ate schnitzel, while Benjamin had bratwurst. It was the perfect way to end our holiday, sitting in a sun-filled garden and sipping homemade cider and talking about our favourite parts of our amazing vacation.