Tuesday, August 5, 2008

7 Hours in Helsinki

I woke up in time to take a look at my connecting flight ticket before we landed, and I realized that I had an 8 hour layover.  I’d never been to Finland, and I’ve been to many airports, so I figured I’d take the road less traveled.  I bought a day pass for the bus that cost nearly the same as three nights in a Mysore hotel and headed out on the town. 

My first new friend was a Portuguese guy who had just taken up the profession of a traveling salesman in the most literal sense.  He’d come back from India with plenty of cheap goods and was now heading west to sell them with a slight “import” markup.  Not a bad life really.  The friendship lasted a bus ride and a few city blocks.

Walking into one of the city’s many pretty pedestrian squares, my interest was piqued by a group of about a dozen singing drunkenly with a guitar, a few near-empty bottles, and many lit cigarettes.  I wandered over amused and I was immediately accepted as a new friend by Irish men in suits covered in mud, an Irish girl, two Finnish ladies, and a local drunk who desperately wanted to be part of the fun.  We sang a few songs, including a few lines of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and a full rendition of “Mercedes Benz,” and, of course, U2.  Once the town drunk and an Irishman somehow managed to fall off a bench while dancing without shirts on, they decided to call it a night.  Besides, it was only 8:00am. 

I continued on and admired the city, which was beautiful and clean and quiet and so completely different from Delhi that it was as bewildering to the senses as jumping from the hot tub to an ice-cold pool. 

Then I made another friend.  She was on my flight from Delhi and was returning to New York and we started talking and walking.  She was born in India, but in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the prime minister, everything was in turmoil and her family found asylum in Iraq for two years before moving to California.  Despite our contrasting histories, we had tons in common and we had a great time in Helsinki. 

We ate at a seaside café that looked out onto boats and islands in the harbor.  The food was delicious and every person with whom I interacted seemed to go out of her way to be perfectly lovely.  On the walk back, the town had woken up and I was struck by how profoundly nice it must be to live there.  Truly, I think anyone could be happy in Helsinki.  Life seemed so easy and clean and beautiful.  

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