Helsinki's waterfront market.

July 23, 2011

Helsinki, in contrast to New York, is a small city, manageable for tourists and, I would imagine, the locals. I arrive at 9 a.m. and take the short, scenic bus ride to the center of town and the Radisson Blu Plaza hotel, where my assigned roommate has arrived the previous day. His name is Fred, a distinguished gent from Washington, D.C., who also lives part-time in St. Petersburg, Russia, and speaks the language. We quickly find that we have a lot of ideas in common, and we will spend many hours over the next two weeks in lively conversation. Other passengers arrive and we size one another up.

I make my way to the waterfront market for which the city is famous. Booths carry everything from the usual trinkets to fish dinners, reindeer meatballs and furs, and you can get sightseeing cruises along the waterfront or ferries to as far away as St. Petersburg; Tallinn, Estonia; or Stockholm, Sweden. It is a warm Saturday afternoon and the streets and parks are full of people shopping and enjoying live bands. A music festival is under way nearby, which brings out, shall we say, some of the more colorful young people.