Helsinki…

It was only a 1.5 hour ferry ride on Nordic Jetline from Tallinn so I decided to sail across to Helsinki for a few days. The ferry ride was nice and easy. The ferry itself was quite nice with a cool, loungy layout. Probably the best part about it is that you essentially leave from downtown Tallinn and arrive right in the downtown Helsinki harbor. No taxis required.

Finland is small, in terms of population (5 million) and Helsinki is smaller with approximately 500,000 in the city itself and a total of one million if you include outlying areas.

Before visiting Sweden, Norway and Finland I always kinda grouped them all into one. I figured they were all very similar but my recent trips to Norway and Finland disproved that theory.

The three countries, while similar, have quite a vast range of differences. If I had to live in one, god forbid, I’d definitely choose Sweden and then Finland after that. If I had to live in Norway I’d just kill myself.

Sweden is very cosmopolitan and trendy and nice… and everyone smells really good. Norway is very small and odd. Finland on the other hand is sort of in the middle.

One very nice thing about this entire region, including the Netherlands as well, is that everyone speaks perfect English. They all prefer to speak their native language but once they detect that you are not a local they instantly switch over to English, so that makes things nice and easy.

Finland, like most of the countries up here is a country full of rules and regulations. And people really love the oppression. Even if there isn’t a car for miles in any direction they will stand there, blank-faced and serious, waiting for the little green man to tell them to walk. When they saw me barely even look for cars as I crossed freestyle I could tell I was really testing their whole world. If someone can just cross without the green man, what’s next? Pure chaos!

I partly came here because I was aware that the Finnish national poker championship was happening this week. As per my MO, though, I slept through the entire day on which the tournament started and therefore missed it. But I did go to Grand Casino Helsinki on my last evening there to check out the poker action.

The casino itself is one of the nicer, more upscale casinos I’ve been to. As well, they had 2 of those electronic poker tables that don’t have a human dealer and all bets are made via touch screen. At first I didn’t like it, which is a first for me. Normally I like ANY new technological innovation… maybe I’m turning into one of those old people now who “just don’t like these new fangled gizmos�. But after about 30 minutes I became used to it and didn’t mind it at all. The pace of play is a bit faster and having some of the stats right in front of you is quite nice. It’d be cool to see a table with a live dealer and real cards which utilized some of this technology… hmmm, perhaps a new business venture for me. Nah. Too lazy.

I then went to the main room where actually the final table of the Finnish poker championship was being played out. The poker room itself is really nice. BUT, I have to say, the competition is VERY good. It actually seemed like I was one of the least aggressive and dominant players at any of the tables I played at! If you want to beat these tables you have to bring you’re A game… I’d put it on par with Sydney’s Star City casino as one of the toughest poker rooms I’ve played in. I ended up losing 600 euros but not due to playing too badly. I put in a great bluff on one hand and the guy called me with an unbelievably small hand. Whether that call was REALLY good or REALLY bad I’ll never know, but he seemed to make the right calls most of the time… I give him the benefit of the doubt. I bet every street and it turned out he was only on a flush draw the entire time with K6 suited. By the river he had missed his flush. I had ABSOLUTELY nothing and sensed weakness so I put in a half-pot size bet, which would normally be enough to scare off most people. But the final card that was dealt was a 6, giving him a pair of 6s on a dangerous board (A Q 9 J 6) and he apparently felt that his 6 was good, even though I had bet strongly every street. Again, not sure, might have been a terrible call or a genius call.

And then I lost the rest when I held K J and the flop came J J 6. I went all in and someone called with A J. So, that was that.

I then ventured out, even thought it was a Tuesday night and almost bound to be poor. But a place called Baarikarpanen, right next door to the casino was decent. Although the crowd was pretty lame, in my estimation. They were playing hip hop, which is fine… although their choice of tracks was odd, including tracks like “Welcome to Miami� by Will Smith, which everyone seemed to think was just great.

All the guys in the place were African and all the girls were white Finns who were obviously there to meet a black guy. When girls go out looking for black guys, and you aren’t black, you might as well be invisible. And so I was.

The lame part was all the Africans were trying so hard to act like American blacks. And all the girls were trying to act like American whites, even though it was very obvious by the way they dressed and the way they danced that they definitely were not. And I saw way too much “raising the roof� than I was comfortable with! So, basically, everyone was posing trying to act like old rap videos on TV. Lame. And so 20 years ago. Embarrassingly I used to be a rapper but I quit in 1991 for two reasons. One: I sucked. And Two: rap was already dead by then.

Helsinki is almost as expensive as Oslo, if not more so in some ways. The taxi meters in Helsinki START at 7 Euro ($11!) and you would think for that price it may not just start ticking away right away, giving you a minute or two of value for your $11, but no, the SECOND the taxi starts driving it begins ticking away at mind boggling speed!

I only ended up staying two days in Helsinki because it sucks and it is expensive and so I am at the airport right now on my way to Riga, Latvia. I’ve heard conflicting views on that place so I thought I better take a $100 Finnair, 1 hour flight there and get the scoop for myself.

I’m getting really tired already though. And this cold (14c or less) weather I’ve been putting up with for the last week is really starting to get to me. My nice Mexican tan is turning grayish already and I feel really sluggish.

If I could snap my fingers and be in Mexico in a moment I definitely would. But as is it’ll be a 20 hour journey from here and so I am thinking to maybe go to Minsk after Riga and POSSIBLY to Ukraine and Moldova after that, but I might just snap and head back to Mexico after this weekend… or at least start heading in that direction. Ah Mexico, how I love you.

But first I will go play some poker and harass some girls in Riga. If it is anything like Tallinn I may get a boost of energy and carry on my Eastern Europe poker tour. If not, vamos.