I spent the past week and a half in Helsinki, Finland. Here's a map of Helsinki.
This was the first time I traveled internationally for work, and I noticed a lot of differences from my personal travels. One big difference is the class of hotel I occupied in Helsinki was much pricier than where I stay my personal travels. When traveling on my own I find cheaper locations (particularly hostels) contain more interesting people and just seem more fun, but I do understand hostels wouldn't jive with the work side of the trip. I do enjoy variety and I sure appreciate that work pays for the pricier half of my travel variety :-) One other difference I want to mention is the drinking. I'm not much of a drinker, but the alcohol sure flowed freely in Finland. I'm pretty sure most of the people drank enough alcohol to pickle a liver just about every night. I did find one drink (actually a shot) that sounded so unusual I had to try it. It's called a Salmari and is a mixture of black liquorish and vodka. When I saw it, I almost had second thoughts, but I downed it. It had a "distinctive" taste. And by distinctive, I mean disgusting. It tasted as bad as it sounds and looks. Ugh, just thinking about it gives me the willies. Oh well, I always say I'll try just about anything once, and I think that was the once for a Salmari shot.
On one night Nokia, the company hosting these meetings, rented an island for a dinner and sauna. The dinner was good, but the traditional Finnish sauna experience was amazing. The basic process for the Finnish sauna is to strip down to your birthday suit and go into a wooden sauna where cups of water are thrown onto the stove. There were bundles of wet birch branches that you could use to slap yourself (or "accidentally" slapping others). I was told this helped blood flow, but I mostly thought it just felt good. Another part of the sauna experience was the conversation. It was a strange situation where people are constantly insulting each other (to understand this you should realize we are all from very completive companies that are constantly trying to one up the others). I think it stayed civil just because all the insults where wrapped with humor. Then when you can't handle the heat anymore, you run to the nearby ocean and jump in. Thinking back I hope nobody was hiding behind a bush with a camera, or some nude images of me might be showing up on the web. It was a great night!
I had a few half days to myself in Helsinki. On one of those I took a 20 minute ferry ride to Suomenlinna. It is an ancient island sea fortress that's defended Helsinki from various invaders for many centuries. It was filled with awe inspiring stone work and there must have been scores of huge cannons that could fire objects larger than the diameter of a human torso. Yikes! I wouldn't want to get hit by one of canon balls.
I plan to post pictures in a following post.