Jerseygator's Blog


The Big Finnish (trip)!

Posted in Friends,travel by jerseygator on June 26, 2012
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Kenz gets up close and personal with a Norwegian troll in Epcot.

Have you ever had a moment where you ask the universe for something and it responds in a big way?  A couple of months ago I was visiting Orlando with McKenzie, my BFF Stephanie, and Steph’s niece Chelsea.  While in Epcot we rode the Norwegian ride and afterwords I mentioned how much I wanted to visit a Nordic country.  Less than two weeks later we got the opportunity!  Stephen’s best friend from his teen years was tying the knot in Finland, where he has lived for the last 5 years, and we decided to give the trip as a gift to Stephen, as long as he let us tag along.  Jake and Cecilia graciously let us crash the wedding and our trip to the top of the world was on.  Lesson here…when you ask the universe for something, be prepared for an answer and don’t say no.

We started our trip with a drive up the Jersey Turnpike to Newark airport.  Off in the distance we could see NYC and the Freedom Tower, which is already dominating the skyline.  It’s an impressive site.  We made it through security with only one hiccup…we all had carry on bags only (we travel light) but Stephen had forgotten that he had a little present for Jake in his backpack.  Stephen was pulled over by security after they scanned his bag.  The TSA gentleman joked “Whadda ya got, a beer in there?” at which point Steve realized he DID have a beer in there!  He had carefully wrapped a home-brew for his buddy as a gift and nestled it down into his clothes.  After a laugh, the TSA official told him not to toss the beer, but to check his bag (free of charge) and even walked him to the counter through a side door so he could take care of it.  Don’t believe all the horror stories you hear about TSA…this guy was seriously cool.

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Those Dutch know how to run an airport.

Once Stephen’s bag was checked we were ready to get on board.  Darrol had sprung for slightly more spacious seats, as he and Steve are both six footers.  We had lots of leg room, so were pretty set up for the 7 hour flight.  The movie choice wasn’t much, but we all had books and Darrol had downloaded some movies on his iPad.  We even got a little bit of sleep, which is good, as we left at 6pm our time and 7 hours later were in Amersterdam at 8 in the morning.  Hmmm…where did our night go?  After a brief stint at the Amsterdam airport, we hopped a flight to Helsinki,

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We knew we’d find some McMullens if we just started looking!

Once in Helsinki we picked up our rental car and headed out of town.  The wedding was being held on the island of Pollinge on the crinkly bits of Finland. (Although not Norway, I think Slartibartfast would have approved.)  We got to the ferry and started wondering how we would ever find the B&B or the wedding venue.  Stephen suggested we just start “looking for McMullens” and within 30 seconds we saw the groom’s Mom and brother in a neighboring car.  Jane, Josh and Tracy rode the ferry over with us and we followed them to the wedding site.

Finland is beautiful.  Five times the size of NJ with just over half the people, with the lush summer foliage of an area that knows it’s got to get green while the greenin’ is good.  There were times when it reminded me of Tennessee or Virginia, with it’s slightly rolling hills and green pastures.  It was cool enough for a sweater some days, but sunny and clear while we were there.  Our little B&B was set up like a hostel…2 twin beds and a small powder room in a little room with a big attached balcony that looked over the water.  There was a huge shower room downstairs with a tricked out sauna that we never had the chance to use (next time!) as well as a communal dining area.  Stephen bunked in the room next to us, and we got to meet “Uncle Coop” and Kim, Jake’s uncle and aunt from the states who stayed on the other side of us.  Sitting on the porch well into the night (as the sun never really sets) drinking Karhu beer with Coop, Kim and Steve was a good beginning to our adventure.

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The amazing, soon-to-be-famous fish stew. Seriously, it tasted even better than it looks.

Wedding traditions vary in other countries of course.  There was no rehearsal, but they did hold a rehearsal dinner for family and friends.  We had the soon-to-be-famous amazingly delicious fish stew (which recipe we did NOT get but will, I swear it!), as well as slabs of thick bread and the most scrumptious butter ever.  I literally went back for seconds on soup and butter.  The soup was salmon with potato and dill, delicately flavored with just the right amount of spice.  We met new folks, gave toasts, laughed over traveling mishaps and generally just had a great time.  The bride’s father, Kennut, gave a moving speech about how having Jake in their lives had made the world a smaller place by bringing them new friends and family, a sentiment shared by us and our new friends in Finland.

The wedding was held in a community hall that had been built by the members of the community (of which Cecilia’s family belonged.)  It’s deep, warm wood tones felt very close and comforting, and the homey touches that decorated the tables and ceiling were so sweet.  Have you noticed that, once reaching a certain age (ahem), you’ve been to so many weddings that you can tell right off which ones are going to be fun?  This had that vibe right from the get-go.  We came into the hall the first day we arrived to find the groom’s friends stringing paper hearts from the ceiling, and a laid-back party feel already established.  Red checked napkins and thought out guest placement cards mixed and matched cultures, ages and genders.  I sneaked a peek at my place setting and saw I didn’t know anyone around me but Darrol.  WooHoo!  Time to get to know people!  The day of the wedding was beautiful…someone ordered up some great weather.  It was warm and sunny (I didn’t even need a sweater and that, my friends, is just weird).  The bride and groom walked down the dirt path that led to the community hall and up the front steps while the guests congregated in the grass.  The ceremony was short and very heartfelt.  Jake was so moved by his new bride’s written vows that he was unable to give his own for a bit, as he was overcome by emotion.  Honestly, it was about the sweetest thing I have ever witnessed.

Ultimately, weddings become parties and Finland knows how to party!  Darrol learned very quickly that tapping on the glass does not prompt the couple to kiss, but quiets everyone down so that the tapper can give a speech (*snicker*–he was warned before he actually tapped very long, but I would have liked to have seen his face!).  There are no speeches given, but as a concession one of the groomsmen allowed that “if anyone wants to make a speech, come see me.”  Still not sure if that was to check for content and to lock them in a closet.  The highlight was the Finnish tradition of drinking songs.  There were sheets of lyrics on the tables and someone in the room would start stomping or banging a beat then everyone would burst into song, punctuated by shots of homemade schnapps and ending with everyone belting out “skol!” and downing the drink.  Seriously awesome.  Followed by more awesomeness as Jake’s band (with a fill in drummer) rocked the house down and everyone danced the night away.

The following morning was going to be an outing on the amazing hand built boat captained by Cecilia’s uncle, but the day dawned the opposite of the wedding weather…cold and wet.  Guess we’re going to have to wait until next visit to sail the beautiful Alexandra.  Stephen, Darrol and I said our goodbyes and heading back to Helsinki for the next part of our journey.  Amsterdam!