Wednesday, March 25

ABBA, lingonberries, and me

What do these three things have in common? Yup, all Swedish things.

Since I was all the way over in Finland for work anyway, I decided to stay the weekend and visit Sweden (great-grandparents on both sides of my family came from Sweden). Although, truth be told, my first idea was to fly to St. Petersburg for the weekend – it has been my dream since I was a teenager to visit Russia. However, since that would have cost me around $300 just for a tourist visa (for 2 days?) I decided Sweden would be just as awesome. And it was.

I flew from Helsinki to Stockholm on Friday night. My flight was scheduled for 7:45, so I arrived at the airport the suggested 2 hours in advance – and it was a good thing, too. As soon as I got to the airport, I looked at the Departure screen and saw that my 7:45 flight had been canceled. Oh, crap. The kind lady at the check-in desk, who spoke excellent English, told me that since I was early enough, they could re-book me on an earlier flight. EXCELLENT.

I spent most of the day Saturday walking around Stockholm. Beautiful buildings and churches and people speaking Swedish everywhere (pictures below, but not of people speaking Swedish). People always spoke to me in Swedish, so I guess I don’t wear a big “I’m an American” sign around my neck. There were some cases where I was able to have an entire conversation without asking the person if they spoke English – like making a purchase at a store:
"lots of words I don’t understand"
I look at the cash register to see the price
"more words I don’t understand" I take to mean ‘will there be anything else?’

Other times, I’d have to ask people if they spoke English, which, most of the time they did. Then, if I paid with a credit card (or had to show my passport, like at the airport), they would repeat my last name and then start speaking Swedish again. Nope, still don’t speak Swedish. Yes, with a name like Blomquist, I probably should speak Swedish, but alas, I don’t.

Side note, someone told me that I looked Finnish – because I am blond. Um, aren’t Swedish people blond?

Stockholm Cathedral

Stockholm Cathedral

Riddarholm Church

Riddarholm Church

Royal Palace

Katarina Kyrka - my dad used to call my Katarina when I was younger. That's the whole reason I went to this church

Gamla Stan - The Old Town

Gamla Stan - The Old Town

Monday, March 23

Helsinki in March

I’m posting this as I’m sitting in the Stockholm airport waiting for my flight to Atlanta. I really can’t believe how quickly these last few days went – and how much I enjoyed them. OK, I arrived Helsinki a day early (late afternoon on Saturday the 14th instead of late afternoon on Sunday the 15th) in order to have some extra time to adjust to the time change prior to being required to actually think clearly and work. I usually adjust quickly to the time change when I travel – London in December was a fluke, I think. Anyway, on Sunday I walked around the city for several hours. It was cold, but I had come prepared (well, mostly). I brought a coat, my pink hat I bought in London (where I wasn’t prepared), and gloves. As you’ll see, my footwear wasn’t actually snow-ready. Anywho, I saw a couple of beautiful churches: Uspenski Cathedral and the Helsinki Cathedral (in Senate Squre).

Statue of Alexander II

Uspenski Cathedral

Helsinki Cathedral

Kim suggested I visit Suomenlinna fortress (an inhabited sea fortress built on six islands just off of Helsinki). It’s a short 15-20 minute ferry ride from Helsinki’s Market Square. Since it was also highly recommended on several travel websites I checked, I made it part of my day. It was amazing to see. Unfortunately, as there was still quite a bit of snow and ice on the ground, my poorly chosen footwear (see below) was soon completely soaked (as were my pants about 6-8 inches from the bottom). Since I had a week of work ahead of me as well as a weekend in Sweden, I really didn’t want to get sick (Kim’s poor family did that enough for all of us), and since I had been out and about for several hours already (something like 7 or 8), after arriving back at Market Square, I called it a day and walked back to the hotel.

Picture of the water from the ferry - yes, that's ice

King's Gate

Picture of Helsinki from Suomenlinna

Can you see the water line on my pants?

I was able to see some other sights during the week, which was nice: the Parliament building and the Rock Church (finally, on Friday). Also on Friday, before my flight to Stockholm, I decided to find the LDS temple – so I hopped a bus (after asking directions from the hotel staff, of course) and found it, after only getting a little lost.

Just some random street - I thought it looked cool

The Parliament building

This is a park I walked past every day on my way to work

Statue of Mannerheim (president of Finland after WWII)

Temppeliaukio Kirkko (Rock Church)

There was some orchestra rehearsing while I was at the Rock Church. The acoustics were amazing.

Helsinki LDS temple

I really did have a great time. The guys I worked with were total smart alecs (how do you spell that?), so we got along fine. I thoroughly enjoyed Helsinki and would like to go back any time.

Saturday, March 21

My Helsinki Culinary Adventure

On Thursday night I had a traditional Lapland dinner with Jari (a salesman for the company I work for), Anders and Thomas (two gentlemen I worked with while in Helsinki) at a place called Saaga. I’ll admit it, I was a little hesitant at first, but it was really, really good. Jari ordered appetizers: “A selection of nine Lappish delicacies” which included cold smoked salmon, halibut prepared in a traditional manner (read: I don’t know how it was prepared), reindeer sausage, potatoes, and a mushroom salad thingy (kind of like a potato salad) that was really yummy!

For my main course, I had “sautéed reindeer served with mashed potatoes, lingonberries and pickled cucumber.” Although I never really wanted to eat reindeer, I figured “what the heck, when in Rome” (or Helsinki as the case may be). I actually liked it.

At the beginning of the meal, the gents each had a “traditional Lappish liqueur.” When I asked what it was, they were describing the type of berry that the drink was made from. They kept saying “cloudberry” but since I wasn’t familiar with the word, they weren’t sure if they were translating it correctly. We consulted the English menu – sure enough, cloudberry. Am I the only one who has never heard of it? Please tell me it’s not just me. Props to Jari, Anders and Thomas, though, because it’s difficult enough to explain something in your native language to a person who literally doesn’t know what you’re talking about, let alone in foreign language. I felt like Veruca Salt in the Gene Wilder Willy Wonka movie: Cloudberries? Who’s ever heard of a cloudberry? (Of course, I wasn’t snotty about it) Anywho, when we looked at desserts and I saw “Lappish cheese on a cast iron pan served in cinnamon cream with cloudberry jam,” I knew there was no other option (unless, of course, there had been something chocolate).

found a picture of a cloudberry online - I LOVE the internet

Jari was really cute during dinner – even if I had wanted to order an alcoholic drink (which, of course, I didn’t), there’s no way I could have. Jari, who knows I’m a Mormon, made sure the wait staff knew that I needed non-alcoholic drinks. It was very nice that he was taking care of me.

It was a great evening – the company and the conversation was as good as the food – even better, actually. The service was a little slow so we ended up being at the restaurant for 3 ½ hours, but it worked out.

Just a side note in reference to “Do you speak English?” I ordered a water. The waiter – whose native language is NOT English – asked if I wanted it fizzy or still. Hmmm…

Wednesday, March 18


Lunch yesterday was delicious. Kim, Thomas, Miika, and Thomas - that's not a typo, 2 Thomas' - took me to a restaurant near work that serves meals like mamma makes. I ordered a Swedish dish made with ham and potatoes called skinkfrestelse (nope, I can't pronounce it either - Kim helped me). As we were talking about the different foods they eat here in Finland - foods that include bear (they swear it's really good), reindeer, moose (the poor man's reindeer), etc., they raved about a traditional Russian starter dish: Pickles (from the info I've found on-line, I think they're referring to Sweet and Sour pickles or Russian pickles), sour cream and honey. Take your pickle spear, dip it in the honey, then dip it in the sour cream. They were so emphatic about how yummy this is, I might just have to try it.

Tuesday, March 17

Things to know about Helsinki/Finland

1. Finland has 2 official languages: Finnish and Swedish (since Finland used to belong to Sweden). From what I’ve been told, if a town has a Swedish-speaking minority over 6%, then all public signs and services must be offered in both Finnish and Swedish. Since I don’t speak either, it doesn’t help me at all, but it’s cool. The pictures below are street names - the top name in Finnish and the bottom name in Swedish.

2. When I walked into the hotel on Saturday afternoon, the front-desk clerk greeted me with a “hey.” I thought this was a little informal, but hey, what do I know. Then, when I went to dinner on Sunday night (dinner Saturday night didn’t count since it was a Thai restaurant and they spoke English with everyone), the hostess greeted me with a “hey” as well. As it turns out, Finns use the greeting “hei” (hello or hi) which sounds like “hey.”

3. As much as I hate to eavesdrop, I’ve been hearing the same word over and over again in conversations. I somewhat figured out its meaning by the context (yes, you can determine context even if you don’t understand anything that is being spoken). So, yesterday I asked Kim M., a guy I’m working with AND a Swedish speaking Finn, what it means. I was right – the word is “joo” pronounced “yo” like “yo, Adrian!” (Kim says it’s not pronounced “yo,” but I can only detect a minor difference when he says both words). Anywho, it means “yeah,” or “uh-huh.” Yo!

Saturday, March 14

Finlandia - Day 1 (well, day 1/2 actually)

Last Friday, I left Salt Lake City for a week long work assignment in Helsinki, Finland. I’ve never been to Finland, so I've been quite excited. I flew from SLC to Paris, and then Paris to Helsinki. Evidently the 2+ hour layover in Paris wasn’t long enough, because on arrival at baggage claim at the Helsinki airport I heard over the intercom: “Will passenger Blomquist please come to Arrival Assistance?” or something similar. Uh, oh. Not a good sign. HOWEVER, I must point out that they did pronounce my last name correctly. WooHoo! Anyway, my luggage didn’t make the connection. Even though I had come prepared with extra undies, a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant in my carry-on, by bag arrived at 9:45 p.m. - the only problem was staying up that late to get my bag.

Helsinki is really quite quaint. My taxi driver made a point of telling my how safe Helsinki is – “you can walk around in the dead of night without fear of violence.”

My hotel room is really cool. MUCH larger than my hotel room in London. It also has a nice flat-screen TV hanging on the wall.

You have to put your room key in this slot in order for the lights to turn on. I guess that stops you from wasting energy by keeping the lights on when you’re not in your room.

When I asked the hotel hostess for some restaurant suggestions, the first two she suggested were a Thai place and an Indian place (the hotel restaurant is an Italian restaurant, and is supposed to be really good). So, I hit the Thai place. Really YUMMY!!

I walked down the street from my hotel to a little grocery store for some bottled water and saw these cool buildings. The pink building (according to my taxi driver) is the old Helsinki Opera House.

More to come...

Wednesday, March 11

Do you speak English?

Blogging two days in a row? Crazy, I know. Anywho, last night I went to Tucano's (Brazilian Grill) with a couple of friends visiting from England. John and I ordered the delicious Brazilian Lemonade to drink. Ellen wasn't sure what to drink, so the waiter started describing his favorite drink - fruits blended with vanilla ice cream, etc. Sounded YUMMY! Anyway, Ellen asked if the drink was fizzy. The waiter gave her a very confused look, so she repeated herself - just in case he hadn't heard her over the cacophony that surrounded us. Still looking confused, he looked to me for a translation. So, being bilingual (speaking both English and American - actually I'm trilingual since I also speak French) I said "you know, carbonated?" Ah, yes, that cleared up everything. After that everything the waiter described was "fizzy."
"Can I interest you in a fizzy dessert?" "Do you want to fill out a fizzy survey?"

Tuesday, March 10

I know it's March, but...

I know I’m about a month late blogging about it, but I had a GREAT Valentine’s Day this year. My youngest nephew is going on an LDS mission to Zurich, Switzerland (yes, you read that right, my youngest nephew is 19). So, on Valentine’s Day, we had a big family day at the Salt Lake City temple as Kyle went through the temple for the first time. My sister even flew in to town for the event.

Kyle - I mean Elder Blomquist

If that wasn’t cool enough, my newest niece Madison (formerly known as Lupita – see Look ma, no hands & Will someone explain this to me, please?) was sealed to my brother and sister-in-law. It really was a privilege to be a part of this day.

Then we all went to dinner – there were probably around 30-40 of us. Being the quiet, subdued family that we are, no one even knew we were there.

Madison and her "twin" McKenzi

Harold, Kathy, McKenzi and Madison

Harold and Mom