We arrived into Helsinki by means of a small ferry from Tallinn, which took just an hour and a half – one of the benefits of choosing a smaller boat! We were greeted at the port by Gary’s friend Sara, who he’d met whilst working in Australia. Her and her family were kind enough to let us stay with them for three nights we were in Helsinki. The fourth night was spent in a place two hours west of Helsinki called Bromarv where we were invited to attend Sara’s ‘Crayfish Party’… More on that later!
By the time we got back to the house and finished chatting, it was too late to bother going out, so we saved ourselves for the following day.
After breakfast, we headed out for a tour of Helsinki’s top tourist attractions, courtesy of Sara! We took the tram in and walked around for a couple of hours covering some pretty countryside views over a lake, the Johan Ludvig Runeberg statue (National Poet and author of the Finnish National Anthem), and to a local market where Gary picked up some chocolate frogs and I found some of my favourite medjool dates. We also saw the Botanical Gardens, a photography exhibition inside Sanoma House, Helsinki Cathedral, the Rock Church and Uspenski Cathedral.
We stopped for lunch at a place recommended by Sara – an all you can eat moroccan buffet. Exactly my kind of place! It wasn’t exclusively vegetarian but there were loads of options and you could pay €9.90 for the cold salad buffet or a little more to include the hot options too. There were so many veggie options in the salad bar that I stuck with that, and it was delicious! Gary wasn’t feeling great, so he skipped lunch and we decided it was better that we headed back to Sara’s to rest before going back out in the evening.
We spent the evening on a mini pub crawl with Sara and her friend Frida – starting with the poshest place in Helsinki and working our way down to reasonably priced drinks! The first place was a rooftop bar which had us drinking in the clouds thanks to a bout of heavy fog. The views were great and I can imagine it would be an amazing place to have a drink on a sunny summer’s evening. Here, a glass of prosecco set me back €12 – a bit of a shock to the system after our €2 beers through earlier parts of our Europe trip! We moved on to a brewery bar next where we tried some house-brewed lager for €8 a pint. It was notably colder than the last few places, so we were grateful for the outdoor heaters and blankets provided by the bar! We finished our mini pub crawl in a couple of much cheaper places with €5 pints and a cheerful, yet slightly dingy atmosphere!
Day three was the day of the Crayfish Party! This traditional Nordic celebration, originating from Sweden, dates back to a time in the 20th century when it was only legal to harvest crayfish in the late summer. Now, families and friends gather towards the end of August to celebrate by eating a LOT of crayfish, amongst other things, drinking and singing traditional songs.
After a lazy morning, we drove to the supermarket to stock up for the evening, loading beers, wine and snacks into Sara’s car. We also bought some ingredients to make some vegan brownies to take with us for the 30 guests expected at the party. Due to leaving late afternoon, we made sure we filled up with a hearty lunch to line our stomachs for the evening! The brownies were baked and the frosting packed ready to decorate once we arrived.
It was a two hour drive to Bromarv, a small village west of Helsinki, nestled between rows of pine forests and surrounded by small beaches – a popular place for Fins to own summer houses. We were staying in huge cabin, which was comprised of a hall and stage (think local village hall), and a large kitchen. After a short speech from the hosts of the party – luckily in English thanks to a number of international guests this year! – we were seated in the hall to begin the dinner. The tables were overflowing with food – bucket sized bowls of salads, pies, bread, dips, and of course crayfish.
There were five vegans out of the thirty or so guests, and we were very well looked after!! We were cooked whole artichokes to replace the crayfish, the idea being that we were also eating something fiddly like the crayfish. A bunch of the pies were vegan too – including one that I still cannot believe was vegan! It was loaded with gooey smoked cheese and smoked tofu and I’m pretty sure I nearly ate the whole thing. They replaced the feta in the salad for avocado, provided vegan butter and clearly labelled everything so we knew which plates were vegan – amazing!
We were given a song sheet with about 20 different songs in and it wasn’t long before the singing started… The songs were in Finnish and Swedish which made it even more hilarious as we tried to keep up with the rhythm and working out how on earth to pronounce anything! Dinner began, but at any time someone would start off a song and everyone would join in. Afterwards, the word ‘skål‘ would be yelled and you had to take your shot glass, lift your glass to your neighbour on your left, then to your right, then directly in front of you before downing the shot. This meant dinner lasted over two hours as we alternated between eating, drinking and singing. There were also a couple of speeches and solo performances thrown in for good measure.
The rest of the evening was spent chatting to others on the cabin porch and playing games adjudicated by the evening’s host. One of which was a game of ‘mingle bingo’ where you had a bingo sheet filled with different events and you had to find the right people to sign next to each event. Eg. Gary and I could sign for the box saying ‘I have never been to a crayfish party before’. It was fun to chat to people and get to know some of Sara’s friends a little better. Tea, coffee and my brownies were then served and the brownies went down a treat with everyone!
Later in the evening, Gary and I decided to explore our surroundings and walked along the path to the beach. We managed to get there just as the sun was setting, so it was perfect timing! By midnight, we’d reached our limits and were ready for bed – a mere six hours before the party was due to end. There are no bedrooms in the cabin, everyone brings mattresses and sleeping bags and crashes out in the hall when everyone has had enough. We realised Sara’s car was parked outside and spotted an opportunity for a cosier nights sleep! Huddled in our sleeping bags, we cranked the front seats back and made ourselves comfortable for the night. Being so far away from the city, the stars were incredibly clear and we even spotted a shooting star – my first!
We awoke at 8am, slightly bedraggled and stiff to a beautifully sunny and fresh morning. Everyone was still out cold as the party had only ended two hours ago! We knew we had a good few hours before everyone would be up so we packed some breakfast, our swimming stuff and a book and walked back to the beach we’d visited the night before. It was such a lovely morning – in our own secluded little beach, complete with beach hut! There was a little floating platform in the water which we wanted to reach – it looked like we could paddle out but as we walked, we realised we were going to have to go fully in to reach it. It was FREEZING but a very refreshing start to the morning!
People had begun to stir by the time we got back, so we helped with clearing up before loading up Sara’s car and heading back to Helsinki. We were all really tired and thanks to an early train To St Petersburg the next day, we had a chilled evening. I cooked up some vegan creamy garlic and wild mushroom pasta using mushrooms from outside Sara’s parents’ summer house, and we all attempted to have an early night. The following morning we had to be up at 5am to drive to the station for our 6.20 train. We actually ended up going to the wrong train station and nearly missed our train to St Petersburg, but more on that in the next post…