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Monday, August 20, 2012


Sometimes circumstances align in ways too perfect to seem random. After two years of trying to arrange a trip to Estonia with false starts, cancelled workshops, and the like, things came together in such a remarkable way that it was clear that this was how it was supposed to be.

First off, I found out a few years ago that a high school friend who had grown up in Sweden now lived in Tallinn, Estonia. He was surprised when I told him how interested I was in the culture, specifically the history of knitting, of his adopted country. An invitation to visit was extended. I set about trying to find a knitting tour or gathering to base my trip around. I thought I had found a group of Irish knitters who were going to be going, but that fell apart. Then I found an Estonian pair (one of whom, coincidentally, was a friend of my friend) who were putting together a workshop.Then that disintegrated, delaying my trip for at least a year. When the Springsteen Wrecking Ball tour was scheduled, I decided that I really wanted to cross seeing Bruce play in Europe off my bucket list, and I could tie that to a trip to Estonia. I tried for tickets to the shows in Gothenburg, Sweden but got shut out. When tickets went on sale for the last European show in Helsinki (a short ferry ride from Tallinn), I went for that. The tickets I got were not good seats, but I had them. I was going. I cleared the dates with my friend, and then discovered another knitting workshop that would be starting the day after the concert and would include a trip to Haapsalu. Perfect. Beyond perfect. Then that got cancelled. Undaunted, I decided I was going anyway. The ability to combine my loves for Springsteen and could I not?

I took this trip alone. It raised a few eyebrows when I told people that's what I was going to be doing. I'm quite comfortable traveling by myself, and while going abroad to two countries I had never been to before, and whose languages I did not speak (save six recently learned words of Estonian), might have been somewhat intimidating, I was excited to face the challenges that Finnish trams and Estonian menus might present. (I should add that this was my first trip to Europe, so my choice of destinations was a little unconventional, I suppose.) And, I was going to visit with my friend for part of the trip, so I did have someone in the region should things get crazy.

I left Chicago at 3:30pm on July 29, landing in Helsinki at 8:30am on the 30th. I took a bus into the city, checked in at my hotel, had a shower to wake myself up (despite an Ambien, I hadn't slept on the plane), hopped a tram to the market square, and less than four hours after wheels down, I had Finnish wool in my mitts. I spent the day just wandering around in a bit of a jet-lagged haze. Something you should know about Helsinki: street names are on teeny, tiny little signs on corner buildings, and are in both Finnish and Swedish. Streets seem to change names at every turn, and there are a lot of curved streets. The map I had was not consistent in its use of either the Swedish or Finnish, and with my addled brain, I got a bit lost. Getting lost afforded me the opportunity to see some interesting streets and architecture that I wouldn't have otherwise, and I eventually got myself to a place where I could find a tram back to the hotel. At dinner, I had an incredibly delicious alcoholic Finnish blueberry cider. Yum. I retired to my room to watch the Olympics in Finnish. (It was fascinating to watch it when the focus isn't constantly on American athletes and teams, and the coverage isn't all wildly overproduced and interspersed with heart-tugging stories of personal triumph.)
On Tuesday, I had only two items on the itinerary: eat at Wellamo, a restaurant I had found on line and whose sign was too charming to pass on, and see the concert. I took the tram to the central area of the city and walked over to the neighborhood where Wellamo was supposed to be. The address put it in the middle of the block, but it was nowhere to be found. After asking someone, they directed me to a steep set of stairs at the end of the block. I descended. It was clear from the waiter's reaction that he was not used to American tourists finding the place, and certainly not on their first day open after a month's vacation. Despite the adorableness of their sign and the great reviews, it was just okay, and it turned out to be one of the few disappointments of the trip. I later went to the market building which was brimming with food stalls that had far more interesting options. Oh, welll, next time, and there WILL be a next time. I did a bit more wandering and shopping (I happened upon two yarn shops yards from one another, and more hand dyed yarn was procured), andwas walking toward another shopping area when I stumbled on a large group of people waiting in front of the Hotel Kamp, the poshest hotel in town. Judging from the number of familiar t shirts, I knew that I had come upon the faithful: those hoping for a glimpse of Bruce. When you travel alone, with no real schedule or firm agenda, you can do whatever you please, so I waited, too. I ended up next to a member of the Finnish press, and we chatted a bit. She shared snippets of stories from other times she waited to get celebrity shots, and I identified band members for her as they came out to their cars to head to the venue. After all the other band members' cars left (a production that takes the planning of a military operation, it seems), Bruce eventually came out of the hotel. He graciously signed autographs and shook hands around the entire line, which had grown to several hundred people. Somehow I had managed to stay at the front in a really great location, and was able to get a couple of fabulous snaps. After he got in his car to head out, the photographer showed me some of her best shots, one of which was in the paper the next morning.

The concert was, in all respects, amazing, and lived up to every expectation. There have always been tales of four-hour shows, but they were never actually true. Never, that is, until that night in Helsinki. After doing a 35 minute acoustic set for the general admission crowd (some of which I heard from outside), he and the band did a 4 hour 6 minute show: no breaks, no phoning it in. And, there was a full moon over the stage once the sun finally set. I couldn't have asked for a better night.  

Please note: Blogger is being evil about spacing and photo placement. Sorry for any weirdness that may result. Weirdness of content is solely mine.
(to be continued)



dianne said...

Wow! Can't wait to read more! I hope you show us the yarn you bought. I'd love to see what's offered in Europe and how similar or different the yarns are.

monica said...

Wow!! Sounds like an amazing trip!! I am jealous. :)

monica said...

What an awesome trip!! I'm so jealous. :)