Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Chillin in Hel(sinki)

Today was one of those really long days, where nothing particularly BAD happened, but I still find myself completely worn out by early evening. I did get a lot done today, even if I had to skip my nap. I woke up really early to take a shower before going to the embassy, only to find a line for the two female showers. At 7 in the morning. What the heck! Change of plans. I ended up just getting dressed and heading to the Russian Embassy a little early, so that I would be at the head of the line.
The Russian Embassy in Helsinki is quite a bit different from the one in Berlin. And, if I may say so, a much more plenty place to process a visa. For one thing, everyone there speaks English (if I had to speculate, I would guess that that is due to the extreme difficulty of learning Finnish, even compared to learning Russian). Also, it's a bit smaller and less busy. Instead of a massive, impressive-looking building taking up an entire city block, the embassy here is surrounded by an overgrown, English-style garden. And they only let a few people in at a time, so there isn't the same mass of screaming old ladies to deal with. Everyone lines up nice and neat in their respective lines - one for Russian citizens, one for those applying for visas, and one for those picking theirs up. It all worked very smoothly. I think I was only there for about 1 hour. Then I hot-tailed it over to the transport office to get a new tram card before mine expired. Afterwards, I FINALLY got my much-needed shower.
I really wanted to take a nap, but the hostel has "lock-out" time from noon til 4 pm for cleaning, so I had to change plans again. I decided to bite the bullet and make the purchases I needed to make for the upcoming train trips, with a little assistance from Mr. CitiCard. I found a little sleeping bag on sale, so I won't get scabies on the ride, and a some new locks to replace those that were lost on the flight to Amsterdam. And then there was H&M. I love it. I wish we had one in Texas. It is everywhere here. And so cheap. I didn't bring a whole lot of clothes with me, and they are all getting really threadbare. I had to get some shirts. It is getting a bit ridiculous to keep wearing these ones I brought. They're really gross.
The upside of the shopping excursion was that I got to visit the "largest shopping center in the Nordic countries." It was huge - like the galleria on crack. They even had a Mexican restaurant (it sucked). I saw two things that just cracked me up. 1). A store called "KKK Supermarket" - it's not like it sounds, just a regular food store. I don't think they're aware of the association. 2). A group of Muslim women vegging out in some massage chairs that were on display. I looked like an anachronism if I've ever seen one.
It was weird being in a place so much like home. I had shopping, especially for clothes, but sometimes it must be done. And it helps when everything is where you'd expect it to be. And unlike the cash-only Russian society, everything is on cards here. Most people even use the smart cards. Even the tourist tickets for the transportation system are smart cards! Maybe that's why they're so expensive...
Anyway, I need to get some sleep. No nap today and I have to wake up really early tomorrow to go collect my passport (with new visa) from the Russians. I foresee another really long day.

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