Stop two on our holiday during Passover was Finland. I have been there once before, but only for a few hours, and north of the arctic circle. In 2007 my mom and I visited relatives on the Swedish side in the north, in a tiny town of 600. This visit is in Helsinki, the largest and southern most city.
We used the evening of our arrival to gain our bearings walking around town. We passed through the Central Train Station, the Nordic Macy's (Stockman's), the Senate Square, along the harbor, and up a beautiful double-lane boulevard park. The Finn's are clearly itching from cabin fever, as they were out in force, covering every park bench and seated at outdoor cafes, despite the need for heaters and snowman coats. There are, afterall, remnants of the snowplow piles in every parking lot. On our walk back to our hotel, Dan said, "What is everyone looking at?" Across the street, on the top floor ledge of a six story building were three large birds. My first instinct was that they were some kind of hawk, but after watching a moment, it became clear these were owls. But they were more than twice the size of any owl I've seen. They were light brown in color. Two sat at the ledge and one slightly behind, possibly a spring baby, as it appeared to be smaller. We watched them for at least ten minutes, and we were joined by nearly every passerby, so this didn't appear to be a common occurance.
The next day we took a 10 minute ferry to Suomenlinna Island and spent several hours wandering around this old fortress of five smaller islands connected by bridges. It is actually this fortress, built to protect trade routes from Russia to the west, that caused Helsinki to develop into a major city.
The architecture all throughout town has a very European feel. Many of the large old stone buildings remind me of Paris, or Prague. Although prices have dramatically increased in Prague, and Paris was never particularly cheap, Helsinki and all of Scandinavia are especially expensive. Our basic fish lunch without drinks cost nearly $50 USD. Here, as in Estonia, everyone speaks perfect English (albeit with a Nordic accent). People are friendly enough.
We used our other full day to escape the city with a rental car, driving along the southern coast. We made it as far as Hanko, a southwest town on a Peninsula, which in addition to having been a trade port, a military outpost, and a summer holiday spot, was the port of departure for Finn's who emigrated to the U.S. around 100 years ago. It is quite possible that my great grandmother left from here, before coming through Canada to Colorado, and then on to southern Washington State. It is hard to imagine what she must have felt, leaving then, forever. I don't think she ever had the opportunity or means to return.